The Expater: Meet Luxury Lifestyle Blogger, Nina

A luxury lifestyle blog for expat women in Chile? Yes, please! This week I interview travel extraordinaire and journalist, Nina Hobson, on her successful foray into the blogging world to find out about her experiences moving to Chile and her advice to anyone looking to do the same.

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1) Who is Nina Hobson?
I grew up in Yorkshire in the UK and I’ve lived as an expat most of my life now, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

I’m blessed with two fabulously active kids, aged two and four and I’m expecting number three to arrive sometime around August.

With a background in luxury travel, I simply adore travel and good hotels. For me, there’s something about good hotel breakfasts in particular. While having kids has made me adapt my travel plans somewhat, I’m always out exploring with or without my troop.

Things not everyone might know about me:
* I’ve been arrested, detained and narrowly avoided a deportation. What can I say, when in Africa…oops.
* I have a thing for tea and have certificates to back up my tea tasting obsession.
* I nearly joined a sect, or rather I was nearly signed up to one. My father signed me up for volunteer programme in India, but it turned out to be a rather shady sect. I guess this is why they say ‘always trust your mother’ and not your father!

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2) What brought you to Chile?
My husband was working in Nigeria and while the initial plan was for me to join him in Lagos with the kids, for various reasons we decided against the move. He secured a few other job offers, one of which was in Chile. Coincidentally I already had a few friends in Chile and I thought it seemed like a good place to live, especially with young children. Oh and I really, really like Chilean wine.

3) What lead you to create The Expater?
Ever since I was a child I’ve loved to write. I was considering writing a novel, but found it hard to dedicate myself to such a huge project. As a mum of two with a husband working in a very demanding role, I found that I couldn’t devote myself to a regular 9-5 office job and needed something more flexible to keep my brain ticking.

I also got annoyed reading travel blogs that so often missed the mark and found that lots of information for expats was rather boring, dry or just plain wrong. I saw a gap in the market for a luxury lifestyle blog for women like me, that is expat women who move around lots and enjoy life to the full despite often very challenging circumstances.

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4) What are your best tips for those looking to get into blogging?
Just get started. Like any project, it can be easy to get bogged down in the minutiae, in the finer details, and then it can be hard to get going and actually make a start. Your blog will no doubt develop and change as you go, but the main point is just to give it a go.

Having said that, I think it’s useful to think about whom your blog is for, to really identify your target reader and write for that person in mind. Whether you’re writing a personal password protected blog for close friends only, or looking to create a monetised blog to earn a living, it’s good to define the purpose of your blog from the outset.

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5) What are best tips for those looking to work in travel PR or magazine journalism?
Travel and write. It sounds straightforward enough, but basically, I mean that it’s important to demonstrate your passion for travel and/or writing. Starting a blog is one great way, or compiling a photographic bibliography, for example.

Good contacts are also essential and you might be surprised who your friends know. Don’t be afraid to go out and put the word out. I’d advise against getting too stressed about networking though. More often than not it’s an informal chat which can turn into a paid commission or job.

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6) How have you found living in Santiago?
Our flight here was a bit of a disaster – missing bags, missing flight details and very messy bureaucracy. The move into our apartment was no easier, with flooding, sick children and a pregnancy scare making it one week to remember.
However, these setbacks never made me love Chile any less. On the contrary, I think Chile is a fantastic place to bring up children. The standards of medical care are fantastic, the infrastructure is very good on the whole and the people are very friendly. Oh and the weather definitely beats the UK.

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7) What has been the hardest to adjust to? Any tips for future expats contemplating a move?
I’ve lived abroad in so many different countries, that my transition to Chile was actually pretty easy, to be honest. The biggest challenge was securing nursery and school places for my children while suffering from morning sickness. The school admission process here is crazy and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy!

My husband is also from Spain and while my Spanish is definitely not great, I can at least get by.

In terms of advice, I’d recommend learning Spanish. While some people do speak English here, it’s rare and having just a basic level of Spanish helps so much. Some clinics provide translators, but none of the doctors I’ve seen speak very good English and we always revert to Spanish in the end. For everything from shopping at the market, to sorting bureaucracy, it’s so useful to have some basic vocabulary at the ready.

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8 ) As a mother, what are your favourite things to do with kids here in Santiago?
For me, the concept of play cafes is totally new and such a good idea. These cafes which are specially adapted for children with toys and games and good coffee and food for parents are a godsend. They’re so much nicer for parents than the sweaty, dark soft play centres I was used to in the UK.

The weather is much better here in Chile than in the UK so we’ve also enjoyed going to the parks lots too. I love the Parque Bicentario with its flamingos and fish, the Botanical gardens with their amazing views of the city and in the height of summer Parque Araucano with its musical fountains is also a big hit with our kids.

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9) Food – where are your favourite food spots?
OK, I’ll be honest I’m an extremely fussy eater and I’ve yet to find a restaurant here which I truly adore. I’ve heard very good things about 040, 99 and Borago so these are on the list for the next time my husband and I get to go on a date night.

As for cafes, I love the food and ambience at Quinoa. In fact, having lived in Chile just three months I’ve already been there four times.

10) What is next for Nina and the Expater?

Now in Chile, I’m focusing a lot on the life here, so readers can expect a lot more local reviews – spas, restaurants, cafes and so on. I’m also planning to squeeze in a little travel before baby number three arrives and I’m looking forward to sharing my tips on places like the Atacama desert and Valparaiso. Watch this space on my Instagram…

I’m also developing my Facebook page, where I’ll be looking to bring together more expat women from around the globe as well as in Chile so we can learn from each other’s experiences and share ideas.

Finally, I’ve got a few expert interviews lined up – a child psychologist, a mindful eating life coach and a wildlife expert to name but a few. Stay tuned…

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The Nitty Gritty

To read Nina’s blog, have a look here

To follow Nina on Instagram, look here

Don’t forget Facebook! Follow through here

If you would like to feature in the Spotlight On series, please send me an email to helen@queridarecoleta.com.  I would love to hear your stories and share them with other readers. And if you liked this, please give it a thumbs up (it keeps me motivated!).  Coming soon: dinosaurs!!

 

 

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La Serena & the Elqui Valley Photo Diary

Laguna Conchali

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Stopping outside of La Ligua for some of their Chile-famous pastries
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Manjar-filled delight
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Laguna Conchali, outside of Los Vilos. A great spot for bird watching.
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Birds to spot: Chiloe Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Great Egret, Chilean Mockingbird, White-Tailed Kite, White-Tuted Grebe, and more.

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Turbines everywhere on the way between Los Vilos and La Serena

La Serena

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The Japanese Garden
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Cueca Brava in the Mercado La Recova

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Eating papayas makes a delicious way to spend your time in La Serena!

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Inside the Museo Arqueologico

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The La Serena Lighthouse

Vicuña

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Death mask of Gabriela Mistral, South America´s first Nobel Prize winner, and who was born in Vicuña.  The town also has a museum dedicated to her life and achievements.

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Checking out the Pisquera Aba distillery
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Pisco with Maqui, a berry found in the south of Argentina and Chile. Que RICO!
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Visiting the stars with Alfa Aldea. Highly recommended.
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Only Spring and we are already swimming! We found our cabaña on Yapo – no middle man to pay and great prices!

Villa Seca + Paihuano

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Sun-baked goods in Villa Seca! Love to see all that solar energy being put to good use.
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Copao is a fruit endemic to Chile that comes from the Eulychnia acida cactus. The Elqui Valley is a great place to try it, along with deliciously cold and fresh fruit juices.

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Pisco Elqui

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Fundo Los Nichos, one of the few family owned distilleries in the area. Support small!

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More blogs like this:

Ovalle & the Limari Valley;

Punta de Choros ;

Sewell;

Chile in Photos;

Copiapo & Desierto Florido;

Beautiful Photos by Photographer Yorka;

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Punta de Choros & Humboldt Penguins

After La Serena the road curls around an undulating landscape dotted with cacti.  Behind us the road twists like a snake – to the side is the sea, a dark blue expanse with frothy white tips and as we drive we pass by windswept townships hugging the hills as if for dear life.

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We were on our way to Punta de Choros, jump off point to visit the Reserva Nacional Pinguino de Humboldt, home to one of only a few colonies of the endangered Humboldt Penguin and a must-see attraction according to the guidebooks.  It´s also home to a rich variety of seabirds such as comorants, boobies and gulls as well as sea-lions, sea otters and (frequently sighted) bottlenose dolphins and whales.   The reserve – some 860 hectares managed by CONAF – is visited by boats staffed by local fishermen-turned-tour guides, and trips take you to the penguin stronghold of Isla Choros as well as Isla Damas, a smaller island with two beautiful white sand beaches.

We have been extremely excited about visiting because it is one of the last places to see the Humboldt Penguin, a cute little guy with a spotted chest and thick beak, that breeds along the coasts of Chile and Peru.  There are only about 32,000 penguins left, a shocking statistic that places them in danger of extinction.  Their population has taken a hit due to:

  • Commercial Fishing –  entanglement in fishing nets; decline of their main prey (sardines + anchovies)
  • Prey fluctuations due to the effects of El Niño
  • Introduction of pests (such as rats) and predators (Andean Fox);
  • illegal trade (zoos and as pets)
  • Human consumption (Northern Chile only)
  • Industrial development such as mining; Punta de Choros is currently protesting of the Dominga mining project in motion for the area.
  • Habitat destruction due to coastal development
  • Habitat destruction due to the mining of guano by increasing mortality due to nest trampling and direct harvest

Information sourced from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Chile has sought to better the odds by making reserves such as this one as well as eradicating rabbits from the island of Isla Choros; Santiago´s National Zoo also has a program to hatch abandoned eggs.  However there is one more issue facing the penguins today more than any other, and that is the effect of tourist visitation.  Penguins are extremely sensitive and not only do visitors trample their breeding sites, but they also deter them from breeding, meaning that any decision to visit the reserve comes with an ethical price to pay, particularly as Conaf has reported that other wildlife populations have suffered as well.  This has become such a pressing issue that my 2009 8th edition of Lonely Planet dissuades tourists from disembarking at Isla Damas.

We turn off the highway and head down an axle-breaking dirt road towards Los Choros, a blink and you´ll miss it cluster of dusty houses in an area that dates back to the 1600´s and the early arrival of the Spanish settlers. This dry peninsula is one of the premier producers of Chilean olive oil and just outside the township there are family-run olive tree farms, where you can stop to pick up a bottle of olive oil, handmade extra virgin soap, locally sourced salt and even learn about the production process.

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Olivas de Olivarez 
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Where olive oil is made!

After Los Choros the dirt road continues past cabañas, sparsely placed along the way, until you arrive into Punta de Choros.  Punta de Choros is nothing to look at – in fact most of the cabañas are basic affairs, with the restaurants serving up average (and below) food.  There are two wharfs where tour boats embark from, and these were swarming with oblivious daytrippers and touts of the more aggressive variety.  It was also extremely cold and windy, despite the fact that just a few hours before we´d been basking beneath the warm rays of La Serena´s sun.  These winds haunted our stay, blowing and banging around our windows at night and forcing us back into our winter jackets and merino layers – and ultimately deterred us from our ocean trip: all boat were prohibited by the Navy from leaving the jetty.

We did make several trips to the neighboring beaches as the coastal scenery is both stunning and dramatic all white silky sand dunes and rocky outcrops. Spring – and this year´s unusual volume of rainfall – had prompted a staggering array of plants, flowers and insects which blossomed in every direction, creating a rich tapestry of reds, greens and yellows.

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We were also lucky enough to see two herds of wild guanacos grazing near the roadside which was simply extraordinary.

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We had a chat with local fisherman Freddy, who identified himself as part of the Chango indigenous group, which many sources label as extinct. ´Chango´ was a term given to the nomadic people that lived between Copiapo and Coquimbo that survived mainly on seafood.   Freddy told us about his grandparents, who´d grown up living in makeshift portable houses that they moved along the coast, hunting guanacos and living off of goats and mariscos. When Freddy was a boy he dived beside mountains of locos (Chilean Abalone), a molusc that Chile highly prizes and which is strictly regulated by the state body of fisheries, Sernapesca.  Today, this loco bounty no longer exists, although Punta de Choros irks much of its living from their extraction, making it one of the principal producers; each year 150 people are permitted a haul of 3000.

We hightailed it out of Punta de Choros with a few litres of Olive Oil and feeling slightly disappointed but also relieved at not having to make the ethical decision to visit the reserve.  We were also excited to continue another 4 hours to the north, to the city of Copiapo and the start of the Atacama Desert.

Pictures below are of the Desierto Florido visible from the highway an hour or so after leaving Punta de Choros.

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Where We Stayed

We rented a cabaña for two night on either side of our drive north. We used the services of Turismo Punta Choros, the more successful tour operator in the area. The cabañas were nothing amazing and certainly not five star, with dated decor and furniture BUT everything worked well, we had a kitchen, plenty of blankets, cable TV, parking, and hot water. I did stop at Cabañas Amarilis to chat with their owners and I highly recommend them.  The cabins were lovely, centrally located with breakfast and wifi included in the rate.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Bring cash as there are no cash machines and very few places accept credit cards.
  • The road is NOT paved and very bumpy – we lost a tyre!
  • September and October are the worst months to visit the reserve as there are high winds and turbulent seas
  • Very busy on weekends, public holidays and in summer so book well in advance