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!!

 

 

Little North Roadtrip: Copiapo, Desierto Florido, Bahia Inglesa

Copiapo

From here the Atacama Desert begins, a barren expanse that stretches to the North and whose stark hills of sandy brown and beige peer downwards  menacingly. As cities go, Copiapo itself is an oasis of green with surprising touches of quality not found in the capital: there are sunshades over children´s playgrounds (of which there are many), colourful apartment blocks with swimming pools, and numerous small plazas dotted with flowers, sculptures and statues.  There is an air of prosperity here, not unusual considering that it has grown from the Earth´s staggering bounty, first from the discovery of silver in nearby Chañarcillo (1832) and today from copper, of which Chile is the largest producer.

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Looking down at the highway to Bahia Inglesa, from 500m up

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Copiapo is the largest settlement between La Serena and Antofogasta, so it sees quite a bit of traffic.  Nothing can really prepare you for just how big Chile is, its gigantic length marring even the most dedicated roadtrippers´ intentions. Copiapo makes a good base to daytrip to the Pan de Azucar national park, the tiny beachside resort of Bahia Inglesa, the larger port of Caldera, or Llanos de Challe national park.

However, Copiapo has a few sights of its own, particularly if you are into history.

This was the site of South America´s first railroad (1852) which ran to the sea at Caldera, Chile´s first telephone lines, its first telegraph lines, and first gas works (Lonely Planet 2009).  When the silver was discovered at Chañarcillo, entreupeneurs flocked north to take advantage of this, running mines staffed by workers paid only in store credit while building for themselves huge estates called haciendas.  The mine went on to become the third largest silver mine in the world.

There are two places where you can soak up history and learn more about mining. The first is Nantoco, a mapundungun word that means ¨water of the well¨. In case you are wondering how the Mapuche influenced so far north, the reason is because many were brought to work in the mines by the Spanish and many local names have lingered until today, such as nantoco and Huasco (gold river). This town was a pocket of wealth in the area and home to many of the wealthy families that made their money mining, including the Cousiño´s and the Subercaseaux.  Today the town is a National Monument which you can visit to see its 19th century church, silver/copper smelter and the former estate of Apolinario Soto (dating back to 1870).

The second place is Viña del Cerro which is an extremely interesting spot 64km from Copiapo that dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries.  Here the Incas had a copper foundry that the Diaguita people used to pay their tribute to the empire. The ceremonial platform and ovens are still visible today.

There are also two excellent museums: the Mineralogical Museum, with more than 2300 materials on display, and the Museo Regional de Atacama, which includes a mine replica.

For nightlife, head to Barrio Alameda and to eat stop at Govinda´s, a casual vegetarian/vegan spot with a kids play area and regular yoga sessions for adults and kids.

Bahia Inglesa

Blink-and-you´ll-miss-it Bahia Inglesa is a tiny settlement overlooking a bay broken by picturesque rocks. This place really does look the way it does in pictures – its water really is that turquoise and the sand really is that white. The waves are tiny and the water is shallow, meaning that this beach is more like a swimming pool, hence the name ¨La Piscina¨.  It is perfect for children, hopeful Instagrammers and those who want to combine their beach visit with delicious food, because it also happens that it has some of the best seaside restaurants in all of Chile (visit ´El Plataeo´).

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The beachfront is lined by scuba diving outfits and souvenir stalls selling shell-laden wares. On either side of the rocks the beach stretches on, and __ in particular is particularly stunning and generally much quieter than Bahia Inglesa, and without all the shops.  This entire area is a sliver of paradise that bears more resemblance to a coastal New Zealand town than anything I have encountered so far in Chile, the only downside being that the beach itself could be cleaner – on our visit the beautiful sand was interrupted with as many cigarette butts as shells and I even found broken glass in places.

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Still completely in love with my Karun sunnies (made from recycled fishing nets) and my La Pituka leggings!

Caldera

Caldera is a large town with all the facilities you´d expect, including banks in case you run out of cash (like us!).  While it is nothing pretty to look at, it does have an absolutely gorgeous church, a plaza de armas that is full of playgrounds, a paleontology museum and a pelican-lined pier that will amuse children, as well as a sandy beach.

Vallenar

Cobbled roads, colourful houses that peer down from the hills and a roaring river awaits you in this large town known primarily for (you guessed it) mining.  While there is nothing much to do beside loll about the pretty central plaza, there are plenty of hotels and restaurants serving colaciones. As in most mining towns where the people have money to throw around, there are plenty of bars and casinos.

The link below is not technically about Vallenar, but the town features in the song and I´ve been looking for the opportunity to include this version.  The song is originally by acclaimed songwriter and nueva cancion Chilena pioneer, Violeta Parra. This version is by musician Karla Grunewaldt, and I think it perfectly captures the heartbreak of the song. The raw lyrics break my heart, as it details the journey north of Parra´s lover, which consequently ended their relationship.

Domeyko

A tiny mining settlement just off the highway, this charming settlement does not warrant a stop unless you need to take a break from all the monotonous driving (although to be fair, the semi-arid scenery around here is unusually stunning). Domeyko does not have a petrol station but there are vendors if you ask around (like we did!).  A lot of the gardens and squares have been beautified with old mining relics which up the charm factor here.

Desierto Florido

Although you can turn off to the Llanos de Challe national park to be swamped in the scientifically bizarre ¨flowering dessert¨, you can also see stretches of it from the highway as you travel north.  This year we had quite a bit of rain, so there were lots of flowers.  Inside Llanos de Challe you have the chance to uncover some of the world´s rarest flowers, including the Garra de Leon.  There are some 220 species of plants here – of which 206 are native to Chile and 14 are found only in Chile.  The garra de leon and the napina are classed as endangered and are almost extinct so count yourself blessed if you spot one! You might also see one of the many guanacos that call the park home, as well as peregrine falcons and foxes.

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Fields as far as the eye can see of pata de guanaco.

Did you like this? Have a look at:

my favorite Chilean clothing businesss, La Pituka;

sunglasses that look at the world ¨from a different perspective¨, Karun;

the unique story of Sewell and mining in Chile;

the town of Ovalle in El Norte Chico;

Humboldt penguin hotspot, Punta de Choros;

the story of Violeta Parra, and four other Chilean icons.