Walking around Valparaiso

more street art

more street art

The painted lady may not have gotten completely dressed, but her hair has been pulled into a tangle behind her ears. The streets of the Cerro Alegre the hill where we reside, down to the Plaza Sotomayor are alive with art and colorful people. I took my camera and Tom followed with his stick.

Many photos later and one periferico, like a goldola on tracks, we reached the square. We walked to a smaller, quieter square and sat next to an old man reading his newspaper. Of course, he was a Chilean who’d worked in the States for 30 years, 17 in Alaska, but he couldn’t afford to retire on his pension. So he’s back here living with family.

He warned us about ladrones (thieves) but we managed to avoid them and walk to a different periferico, ride up, then make our way back to the B&B, stopping at a corner convenience store for an avocado, a juice and a yogurt, much cheaper than the cafes here. We sat on the curb across from the drunk feeding the pigeons and ate our picnic.

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Valparaiso

Valparaiso halfway up to our B&B

Valparaiso halfway up to our B&B

Having just polished off a bottle of Chilean white wine with Tom I may be a touch over enthusiastic but Valparaiso is unbelievable. Of course, theives roam the streets but what streets! A series of magical hills rise steeply from the sea, the houses are painted ladies of the night, tattered, glowing with far too much make up, wall art abounds. Small B&Bs like the one where we are staying have tiny signs, restaurants less, so that passers-by have to search carefully for an entrance. But fresh fish, hot bread, salads, artisan ice creams,  a soft bed and a great bottle of wine all hide here, for a price. This lady gives nothing away but her looks.

Pablo Neruda's house in Isla Negra

Pablo Neruda’s house in Isla Negra

The poet Pablo Neruda has written about this city, “Valparaiso,/how absurd/you are…you haven’t / combed your hair,/ you never/ had / time to get dressed,/ life/ has always/ surprised you.”

Tomorrow we walk through the city, Tom with his stick ( my camera monopod) and me with my camera. Tonight we used his iphone for night shots. The B&B where we are staying is run by a super Chilean whose wife is five months pregnant with twin girls? Sound familiar, Alice and Mary? Our rental car is parked on the street in front of the house, hope it makes it through the two nights.

Our last day in Santa Cruz was bitter sweet, we found an incredible museum devoted  to the collections of the arms dealer. He really has an eye for art and obviously the money to buy it. The drive through wine and arid mountains was interesting. Did you know that premier wines come from vineyards on hillsides where the grapes are stressed into producing the most flavorful fruit. Maybe Valparaiso being on steep hills produces a more exciting and flavorful city.

Visit to Estampa Winery

gentleman riding along a country road

gentleman riding along a country road

A visit to a winery in Chile is not cheap and usually it’s with a tour, but today Tom and I ventured our alone into real wine country.

There are three of four wineries on each road, we missed the first turn and ended up on another. The first sign we saw led us to a private house on an estate where the farmers were drying plums for prunes. The son was very kind and ushered us out most civilly.

The correct turn led us to the impressive modern buildings of Estampa winery, with 400 hectares, 1200 acres of grapes. We were the only guests, so our tour was wonderful. The guide led us to the demonstration gardens where we tasted the grapes of several distinct wines. I never knew the grapes would taste so different. Of course, I liked the Malbec the best… and that was before I knew what they were!

Tom & guide Filipe sampling grapes in demonstration garden

Tom & guide Filipe sampling grapes in demonstration garden

Then we saw the process of wine making. No more casks, since the customers want fruity wines that are popular nowadays. It’s a complicated process that ends up with a delicious product.

I never enjoyed red wines before. Now, here, that’s all I drink. We had a tasting, a complicated procedure of sniffing, sniffing, tasting, swirling, warming, aerating the wine, then sipping again. Tom, who thinks he has no sense of taste, was able to distinguish among three different wines after one lesson. The whole afternoon was astounding, but we had to come back to the hostel for a rest.

Drinking wine knocks you right out on a super hot, sunny day.

Mishap

I hadn’t plan to blog about my accident but Tom suggests that I may forget where and what happened so here goes… On our morning at the Ecobox Andino hotel, I made eggs and toast for breakfast, then set about gathering our drying laundry that I had washed the day before, and packing us up. In the bedroom I bumped rather violently into the corner of the platform bed. As my family and friends know, my skin rips easily and I was faced with a three inch tear in my leg. We mopped it up and I bandaged it but it looked bad so Tom asked the hotel receptionist if there was a doctor in the vicinity. This area of Nevadas de Chillan is extremely rural with little mud huts, rudimentary cottages and farms except for the tourist hotels. But she advised us to check in at the ‘posta medica’ which sounded very primitive to me, like a post office with bandages.

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Driving In and Out of Wine Country

grapes won't be ready until April

grapes won’t be ready until April

Today we left the Ecobox Andino hotel and drove north to warmer climate ( that seems really odd) and into wine country toward Talca.

The Pan American Highway stretched through more golden wheat fields, that turned abruptly to apple orchards, blueberry groves and raspberry farms. I imagine most of you eat many of these fruits every week—the shipping of Chilean fruit to the States keeps this economy rolling. We saw plastic crates piled higher than four story buildings, humongous trucks hauling produce and fruit to airports and ports.

After seeing the fish processing further south, this northern fruit exportation looks just as big. We try to buy and eat apples everyday: big, juicy, crisp ones fresh from the orchards.

As we progressed north grape vines began to appear. The vineyards stretch for miles, all trimmed, on wires, perfectly cultivated. We stopped at the first vineyard we came to, a small one by Chilean standards: 11 hectares. Tom thinks about 25 acres, but they produce all the glass bottles for the rest of the wineries in the area.

We had coffee which seemed sacrilegious, but Tom was still driving. The owner was a kind woman whose mother lived for years in Hyannis, go figure. We asked about a hotel but she directed us up a mountain 30 kil. away. When we reached the cabanas, they were in the middle of the woods with few services and no wine. So back we went to Talca, an agricultural city in the heartland, very dull. The town closes up at 9 p.m., but we found a nice hostel and a decent Friendly’s type family restaurant Chilean-style.

Tomorrow we will progress further into wine country.

Good Meals and Bad

Tonight, over a disappointing and expensive tough steak dinner in the Navodes of Chillan, Tom and I were reminiscing about some great meals we have had on this trip, meals like last night in Pucon where we ate “sealed” tuna steak that turned out to be shown to the flame and delicious over a bed of perfect spinach, or a steak in Bariloche where the waiter cooked my half rare, then put Tom’s back on the grill for him (even though  we were sharing the meal as we always do on the road). Or the rice risotto with local cheese and seafood—including the insides of some huge barnacles in Pucon or the razor clams at the country fair in Niebla—or the extraordinary birthday dinner at Don Julio’s fine restaurant in Buenos Aires with Judy, or the meat extravaganza at Des Nievels in BA. Or the incredibly thick, fine pizza with olives and mushrooms in Barrio Norte, BA where we had our apartment, or the ice cream from the place around the corner that tasted of lemons and fruits of the countryside. Or the frothy, chocolate mouse I shared with my Irish friend, Diedre, in Bariloche or the high tea at the Alvear Hotel in BA. And the wine, mostly red, all of it delicious and most of it fairly cheap.

And with that I will stop spilling wine on my iPad and go back to drinking it properly.

A Long Way on Monday

Today we got on the road around 10 a.m. We retraced our route out to Villarica, by the lake of the same name, and found Route 5, the highway to the capital.

Driving through sunny hay fields, we saw huge John Deere rigs were creating the biggest bales I have ever seen. Round pale cheeses with Swiss type holes are sold by the side of the highway, but the traffic passes so rapidly, you take your life in your hands to try to stop. So we waited until we spotted a falls reputed to be gigantic and impressive. We turned off, drove a few kilometers and found a trickle falling over a tall cliff. Apparently all the water that formerly fell is currently used for irrigation. With a disappointing $6 cup of instant coffee, we returned to the highway until Chillan, a sprawling city supporting the mega farms.

We asked a passing gentleman on a side street where to see the sights, and he pointed us towards Nevadoes de Chillan where the big ski resorts are located. An hour later we found ourselves in charming hamlets offering ski rentals and thermal pools. No snow at this season, but the thermal pools were open until 11 p.m.

We found a funky hotel called Ecobox Andino, you should look it up, it has apartments created out of containers—like the tiny houses Julia and Rachael like—they have everything: kitchens, living rooms, decks, entryways, full baths, large bedrooms. They’re amazing and very stylish. We could only get one night here as there are lots of summer tourists. So tomorrow we will push on to the wine country. Small vineyards abound here but they are for personal use, we need to see the larger wineries where we can sample wines and maybe stay the night.