Sunday, August 22, 2010

Penultimate Installment

Summer break is over here in Eugene, and I am still writing about summer break starting in Chile in January! The drive back to Valparaíso was uneventful. The high point of the drive was when we took some photos of a giant copper smelting plant which took about 5 minutes to drive through. Copper is used for all kinds of stuff from medicine to space shuttles according to the billboards along the road, and is one of the most lucrative industries in Chile.

Getting close to Valp'o, the traffic became pretty thick. When we had left there was almost none, but summer vacation was gearing up into full swing for the New Year! Charles and Reida showed up at Kate and John's, and we started a new segment of the trip together. First we explored the Casablanca Valley wine region for a day since we still had the car. Kate and John had to work so we were on our own for navigation, but there is only one big road out of Valp'o east towards Santiago, and that's the Casablanca Valley, so we did OK. We ate lunch at a vineyard calledIndomita . The architecture of the building was too much in my opinion, but the food, wine, service and setting were fabulous.

After lunch we had a bit of trouble getting across the highway to our other vineyard, Emiliana, and missed our tour reservation, but they still did a wonderful tasting for us. It was very civilized--sitting at a table with a bi-lingual hostess who poured us hearty tastes of their delicious bio-dynamic wines and told us about the discovery of the Carmenere varietal which had been thought extinct (and was in Europe), but which some visiting European vintner found among the Merlot vines in Chile. It's a delicious varietal; try it if you ever find it. It has more oomph than Merlot, but is easier to take than a big Cabernet or Pinot Noir. This was a lovely vineyard with guinea hens and chickens running about and flowers everywhere; I quite liked their building as well!

Another day while Kate and John were busy dealing with their real lives, Charles, Reida, Seth and I went traipsing about Valparaíso. The city is made of steep watersheds running down to the sea, which create a succession of hills. Each hill is a neighborhood with it's own particular flavor. The famous Chileno poet Pablo Neruda had one of his several houses/wives/mistresses in Valp'o, at the very top of the road system on one of these hills and it is now a museum. It is called La Sebastiana, and you can only take pictures through the windows to the outside (the views are quite lovely), but you really should patiently check out this website: as he was one goofy quirky collector of a man. His houses and belongings were all partially destroyed/stolen by the Pinochet regime (they didn't like people speaking for the common man, and that was what he did) but this foundation retrieved/restored several of his houses around the country.

One day, as Reida and Kate are both very horse-y types (and Charles holds his own) we went on a little trail ride through the hills East of Valp'o at a place called Caballo Puro. They had some awesomely expensive horses there (not the ones people like us got to ride) and one of the hands told us (Kate) about them and all the security they have to have as horse theft is crazy-common. It was a pretty nice place with a nice restaurant and all, but they were a little disorganized, and maybe trying to rip us off the tiniest bit (that's just how things work some places), so Kate had to pull out her "Crazy (yet entirely fluent in Castellano) Gringa personality" to get things straightened out. It was awesome to sit back and watch her "negotiate." I had the nicest horse in the world (Mariposa --means butterfly, and also a kind of Lily), but I could barely move afterwards--oh my achin' knees! I did it though, and we did get a nice view of the landscape. Somehow John managed to slip out of this one. Hmmm.

Each day brought a new mini adventure it seems. On yet another day we headed down for a day trip to the quaint little fishing village of Quintay (notice it has all the letter of quaint right in its name!) which used to have a whaling station but since that is not so legal anymore, one of the universities in Santiago has turned it into a marine science research facility. That is where Kate was about to have her special summer course, which Charles was down there to teach part of, which led to this whole trip we all took to Chile in the first place. Being guests of Kate we got a nice long tour. Their main focus it seems is to help create methods of raising nursery stock of commercially important fish which can be released into their real habitats, thus helping maintain fisheries without the problems that come with many fish farming operations. They had pretty much figured out the conger eel (which is delicious and hearty and a favorite there, and which is not really an eel) and are now working on sea urchins! We saw tiny baby ones which I could barely even photograph they were so small (but they looked just the same!).

We just spent the afternoon in Quintay, but Charles and Reida went back after we left for the course of course and reported that the little restaurant on the beach was most excellent!

Then we headed back to Valp'o for New Year's weekend, when things really get going down there!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Old News

I don't know if anyone is still interested in our Chilean trip, but I have narrowed down the second half of it to a mere 47 photos. Frankly, I guess I don't really care if you're interested or not, as I have discovered Blog2Print, which is a service which will print out my blog posts as a nifty little book. I will then have a completed scrapbook like item in my hot little hands at the end of each year for what I think is a reasonable price. Hence, I choose to plow ahead. If you care to read (or skim) on, please feel free:

After returning to Valparaíso, Seth and I quickly rented a car, which was not quite as easy as it sounds. It helps to have a "contact" when doing this in Chile. John had "tamed one," as Kate put it, and went with Seth to pick the car up from the VW dealer from whence we rented it. Anyhow, we got it and Seth drove us out of Valp'o. That was a little hairy. They like to make extra lanes of traffic where there really aren't any and just cut you off left and right all with a good dose of honking to really keep things interesting. After getting out of there though, the driving was super easy. Hardly anyone travels until after Christmas (remember that's at the very start of their summer vacation), and once you get out of the city, there are hardly any people around anyhow, and quite a few of them cannot afford cars. So on Dec. 23, we drove north up the coast past the touristy beach towns to Zapallar, which would be a touristy beach town if it had any hotels, but it pretty much only has enormously large, enormously expensive, enormously impressive houses. If you had connections...ooh, la, la. There is one hotel: Hotel Isla Seca. It is also pretty expensive, but it sure had a great view, fancy avocado and prosciutto salad, and, of course, Pisco Sours.

The 24th we got up and drove back south about 15 minutes to another small town called Cachagua. At the north end of their bay is this amazing island just covered with PELICANS AND PENGUINS. I was SO mad that I didn't have my binoculars (again, I still didn't know they had been stolen), but we could see them pretty well because it was so close. Still, it was far enough that you couldn't get to it, so they were totally unmolested. It was awesome.

After bird watching, we drove north some more. On John's suggestion, we stopped for a drink at El Pirata Suizo in Los Molles (which looked very small and mellow), and he sold us mango sours. He pretty much decides what you're going to have as far as I can tell. I really could take an entire blog posting to tell you about El Pirata Suizo, so I think you should just go read his website. He was totally crocheting one of those ponchos while we were there, and I showed him my knitting, too. I particularly liked the Water table, which was appropriate because he went on at length about the world's precious, and preciously small, fresh water supply. He even gave us a Christmas present of a little vial of water with a golden bead to represent the fresh water.

After that brief stop we continued to LaSerena, which is on the coast, but we never even found the beach! It was crazy busy with last minute shoppers everywhere. We found a decent enough hotel with a little fridge and since we figured not much would be open on Christmas, we went to the grocery store. It was the absolute most crowded store I have ever been in. It was most of a block big, but you could hardly move. Then when we got up to the checkout, there was, of course, some problem with checking out our melon. We finally got out and back to our hotel at about 6:30. We went back out to look for dinner, but at 7 p.m. everything closed up tight as a drum and the hordes of people just evaporated. It was eerie! We ate our snacks in the room and watched the Simpsons in Spanish on the telly. I got all gloomy because it was all so un-festive and I missed everyone. Even hard salami and knitting hardly improved my spirits.

On Christmas morning we woke up and there was still not a soul in sight. I mean we literally saw: the 2 grumpy people working at the hotel, about 10 cars driving past, two (!!) other people and 1 dog on the streets. This is not a small town. We decided to blow on out of there even though we were unsure of what accommodations might be in store for us; we figured we'd figure something out.

We drove west about an hour to a small town called Vicuña (sorry fiber fans, not a one in sight) and, Lo! life abounds. People were strolling with their kids in the plaza. We had a Christmas dinner of cabrita asada (grilled kid [goat!]) y cervezas. It was dry and chewy--kind of like jerky--but quite tasty. We signed up for a late night astronomical observatory trip and then we drove up the Rio Claro valley to a little town called Pisco Elqui. This was such stunning scenery. It was not the prettiest place I have seen, though it was certainly lovely; nor was it the most awe inspiring, though it was that also to a degree. It was, however, the most surprising. For one thing the hills turned into mountains pretty much immediately and they were steep and dry and covered with almost nothing but pink and brown gritty soil and these cacti. In the valley itself was dark dark green lush foliage of mostly grapes for the pisco, and other foods just for subsistence. There was a distinct line between the two. It was such a shocking contrast. The air was so clear there that the mountains looked as if they were made of paper cutouts. Later we learned that this meant our distance-depth perception was way off and things which appeared very close, or close together, were actually quite distant. Funky.

We wound our way up this skinny, crazy valley to Pisco Elqui. {The Chileans claim to be the home of Pisco, but I think you would get a pretty big fight from the Peruvians if you were to ask.} The first place we tried for accommodation was closed, but a place next door, which I think was called Las Datiles, was open and the woman stood up from her Christmas dinner with her family to show us a little cabin. It wasn't the cleanest cleanest pace in the world, but it was really cute it had a little kitchen, the gardens were colorful and shady, and it was Christmas, so we snapped it up for 2 nights. We simply spent the afternoon lounging by the only slightly green pool (I swam anyway--it was so hot and dry there I figured any green that stuck to me would dry up and die instantaneously once I got out of the pool). A humongous humming bird flew by for a few minutes. It was almost as cool as seeing penguins!

That night we drove back down to Vicuña for our observatory tour. El Observatorio del Pangue is run by a Chilean [PhD. in Astrophysics at the Toulouse University (France)]who simply wanted to share his knowledge with regular people. He chose this area for his little observatory becasue it has like 360 good viewing days a year (did I mention how dry it is here?). There is almost no moisture in the air so it is incredibly clear. There are quite a few big, professional observatories in the area, but you have to be a real astronomer and get on waiting lists and all that to use them. Eric, and his "amateur" assistants will show you all the wonders of the night sky for hours on end if you have the stamina. Eric is tri-lingual English/Spanish/French and his assistant, Christian spoke at least some English, so it was totally clear what we were looking at. They drove us about half an hour in a jeep up and up this gnarky twisty dusty dirt road with pretty steep drop offs much of the way at about 40 mph (it seemed really fast). We got to the site just in time for sunset. It was totally gorgeous. While we waited for it to get dark, they pointed out various stars, planets, other big shiny observatories and the like. It was the last day for tours that month because the moon gets so bright it obliterates everything else. It was just shy of a waxing quarter and we got to look at it through the telescope. It was so big in the eyepiece it was blinding (spots, spots, spots) and Christian took this photo through the telescope with my cheesy little digital camera! We saw gorgeous nebulas, a globular cluster, and towards the end they were showing us reallyreallyreallyreally distant fuzzy stuff. Their computer tracker was broken so they found it all by sight. Wow. It was totally one of the most amazing Christmas nights ever. They even showed us the Southern Cross, it takes a long time to rise all the way, and explained how you have to line up two of the stars to pint to the south pole--not so easy as the North Star. We were SO glad we had left LaSerena behind. I mean wow.

The next day we explored around the Elqui Valley. It attracts a lot of "alternative" people. ( I find that term a bit distressing because it sounds like "substitute" or somehow not as good, but I can't think what else to say). There is good energy there apparantly. It sure felt like it to me. I actually had to buy hand cream it was so dry, and I found some totally organic locally made stuff. It was great. It's a bit too moisturizer laden for me here in Eugene, but it was most welcome there! We drove here and there looking at murals (this is of Gabriela Mistral, a local woman who became one of Chile's most beloved and prestigious poets), tasting pisco and visiting a nifty artist/artisan market. I bought a little dream catcher and a long hanging decoration of seeds and sticks and pods and limes and whatnot, which seemed to be a common decoration around there. I didn't even think of it as "food or seeds" when we went through agricultural customs in Atlanta. Good thing or I would have given myself away. I just can't lie to customs (as certain people now know). We had a fresh corn and chicken casserole dish called pastel de choclo (choclo is corn in Chile. If it is crowded, it is "achoclonado"-- all packed together like corn kernals!) for lunch at the Mistral Pisco Distillery resaurant, and then we had Argentinian barbecue for dinner at a place called something like Sabor Calor that had the big old wood burning grill right in the bottom half of their building. It was run by a Chilean artist and her Argentinian cook husband, who live in the US half the time also. She had her art and other local artists work as well. A lovely dinner under the stars topped off a few days full of positive energy in the Elqui Valley.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not The First Earthquake

I am a surprisingly linear person for being so disorganized and forgetful. I know it has been 6 months since we went to Chile, and 3 months since I posted on this blog, but I cannot stand to just skip ahead to current events. So here is a post I started writing on March 17th. Maybe I can finish it with less detail and just get it the heck done, since my memory has largely fogged over already:

While we were in Chiloé, we took a "day-hike" to one of the most gorgeous places I have been. We drove to the western side of the island, then took a boat across a river (from the north bank to the south) down to nearly the mouth at the Pacific. The crazy thing about this river is that it didn't use to be quite so low and wide. The world's biggest ever recorded earthquake in 1960 sank the whole valley something like 6 meters (of course John claimed everything was 6 meters). We got out and told the boat driver we would be back by 6 pm and started walking. We walked past a farm and through a field with a cow (I hope it was a cow and not a bull)(where we also saw an amazing red-blooming tree of some kind) to avoid some of the worst mud of a very muddy trail.

After about a quarter mile we came out onto a bluff overlooking the longest empty beach ever. It was amazing. I thought, "We're there! That was easy." Yeah, no. Kate and John point at the far headland with an island cut off the end of it (can you see it in the distance?) and say "That's where we're going." It doesn't look so far. Yeah, no.

We start walking along the beach where we see amazingly large leathery kelp, enormous whale bones, beautiful huge sea urchin shells, a shipwreck and even a real life message in a bottle!

We walked up over the closer headland through a seemingly endless sea of these red and green fern-like things.

It turns out they were about the only vegetation that could stand up to the ...

...(wait for it) ...

... COWS! Remember, the only way to get to this area is to walk (or ride a horse) and there was a herd of cows (and a barn) happily munching away!

So we walk on and on after passing the cows. When we went through areas with trees that meant going through their DEEP mud. Luckily there was one gorgeous view after another. After about 1 1/2 hours John started to say "We're almost there!" Yeah, no.

Finally we top the final hill and there it is --yeah, yeah!--Parque Ahuenco. The tide was too high to get out to the island with the Humboldt Penguins, but I could see them through the binoculars! We also saw a pair of Steamer Ducks. They are so funny--big huge gray things that don't even fly.

Taking up the strand again in JUNE here:
We had a well deserved lunch with the caretaker of the property in her little cabin. Not much of a house, but amazing views! If you want to live in the middle of absolutely nowhere for awhile, let me know. They have a hard time keeping reliable caretakers for very long stretches of time at such a remote place. If you stay for more than an afternoon the caretakers come meet you with horses to carry your big packs. There's nowhere for the horses to run away to, so they just run on the beach looking like they should be in the movies. The caretakers listen to the radio at noon every day and if someone is coming it's announced on the radio. So many people live on little islands and things around southern Chile, without any TV or phones or much in the way of electricity or mail delivery, that's the only way they know what's going on. Even kids' high school exam scores are announced!

After lunch, guess what? We turned around and walked back. A little food and a swig or two of beer in my tummy made it more bearable, but we really had to hustle. Our feet and lower legs and some of our backsides which shall remain nameless were well coated in mud and ox poop by the time we got back to the boat landing. We didn't make it back to the boat until a bit after 7pm. The boat driver was starting to worry. I guess an hour late is starting to be significant even in Chile.

On the short drive back to John's sister's house we stopped at a little campsite/hostel/rental cabin place which is trying to run mostly on solar and wind power.

You can really see the sunken landscape from their view.

On the road agin then we saw a pudu, an adorable little deer like creature that only lives in southern Chile.

I was SO glad to get back to the comfort of Joan and Dan's summer house and Joan's delicious warm meals and pisco sours and ohuitas (after dinner warming digestive fresh herb teas; not sure of spelling though)! Ahh, comfort after "adversity."

We should all be so lucky as to have a gnarly day-hike be the hardest thing we have to face. Remember to donate to Doctors Without Borders (click on the Knitters Without Borders link to the right) or your favorite humanitarian relief charity regularly.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

More on Chile

Yes, our friends (and their cat, dog and duck) are OK. Valparaíso experienced several minutes of 7.0 shaking--which was apparently pretty darned terrifying, but Kate and John's house held together, as did their science labs. John's mom, who is 89 and lives in Santiago, was also OK. Many of the science labs in Santiago were wrecked however. The water in Valp'o has to keep getting turned off for repairs, and of course the cities you hear about on the news are in real trouble; the small towns that were swept out to sea by the tsunami are largely just gone.... There are still aftershocks happening as well. It's bad.

We are all so thankful that the people we know survived (again!), but it has been hard to think about glibly posting more photos of our excellent adventure in this situation. Maybe it's important to get the word out about Chile even more though, so I'll work on it.

In the meantime, please make a (another?) donation to Doctors Without Borders (linked trough that red and brown and white Knitter woman drawing in the right sidebar) or the Red Cross or another legitimate emergency relief organization. People need help everywhere these days it seems.

Tell people you love them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mission Impossible

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: narrow down 535 photos to a manageable amount for your blog without putting the readers who aren't your mother to sleep:

Well, the Andes are too big to leave out, so I'll start there. This is as much as we saw them, but even from an airplane they were quite impressive. This was taken on a flight to Chiloé, which is the first big chunk that has gotten detached down where Chile starts to turn into an archipelago on the South-West coast. How did we ever choose where to spend our limited time in this diverse country, you ask? John and his sister Joan grew up in Chile, so Joan and her husband, Dan, decided to purchase a vacation home down there near a little town called Dalcahue (which means the place where dalca--traditional boats--are made), where one of the members of one of their oldest and closest "family friends family" lives with her Chilean husband and their family. It was nice to have such a fine reason to choose this attractive, yet mellow region, which may be easily overlooked by most tourists.

Kate and John arranged for us all to fly down to Puerto Montt where we rented a car and drove to the ferry to Chiloé. John informed us that for years there has been a huge political debate about building a bridge across this channel. The Pan-American Highway goes across on the ferries (see the semi?), but the water is swift, shifty and very deep, so that's basically impossible and would wreck the marine environment/cost a ton to build, but they have to talk about it every few years. Political wrangling over boondoggles is alive and well everywhere I guess.
Anyhow, Seth and I love ferries and had a great time on our crossing. We saw PENGUINS swimming along nearby and humongous pelicans and some sea lions and it was sunny and it was our second full day in Chile and it was sunny and we were happy. Well, we were happy except that by now I had realized I didn't have my binoculars and I wanted to beat my head against hard stationary objects in self-chastisement every time I saw anything cool a bit far away. [When we made it home to Eugene after 3 weeks of this feeling, it turns out that we think maybe they were stolen from my bag while it was lost for a day on our way there. Still a bummer, but at least not my fault!]

One of the larger towns on the north side of the island is called Ancud. We had a great time exploring the market, buying cheese, and machas (clam-like deliciousness). Although it looked really cool, we did not buy any dried shellfish or dried kelp. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures at our first feria artesenal. It had the best knit wear and woven items of all the places we eventually visited there. When we got out of the car, I thought we were just looking for a cake for the niece's birthday. That taught me not to carry my camera everywhere! The yarn was all quickly spun singles of rough wool (very rainy down there, not good for fine fiber sheep), but the designs were quite creative. Here I am just now modeling some of my purchases.
That incredible hand-woven, bi-color shawl with elegant crocheted edging cost under $20!! The socks were $3!

In general we found the things that were only for tourists, such as hotels, to be a bit spendy for what you got, but all the things intended mostly for regular Chileans, such as socks and food, to be relatively affordable.

Dan and Joan's house is like summer camp, one big room with a kitchen, dining and sitting area at one end, than a bunch of twin beds separated by big window blinds in between. I was so excited because I never got to go to summer camp. Ok, so maybe their house is a little spiffier than most camp cabins. Still, I had fun living my little fantasy. This is a tidal channel and when the tide goes out dozens of birds swim or fly in to do their bird things on the mudflats. Nifty gulls, a big hawkish thing called a caracara, parrots, black neck swans, and many more. Mom would love sitting with her morning coffee and bird watching out the big front window. I know I did. People who know me well will laugh to hear I was always among the first 3 people up while I was down there! Didn't want to miss a second of summer camp.

One of our field trips was to go with the up the hill neighbor, Michael to the mussel farm that he helps manage. It was huge. We learned all about the life cycle of the mussel and the mechanics of farming them. Each of these rows of floats has TEN kilometers of line attached up and down in loops 10 meters deep.We saw all sorts of groovy gooey squirmy sea creatures/plants among the mussels. Quite a few folks sampled the mussels raw with lemon juice and declared them delicious. I'll have to take their words for it!Nothing like a bright orange P.F.D. to make one look one's best.

After we got off the little boat we wandered up the little hill in the little hamlet and looked at the little old church. The shingles all over Chiloé are amazing. There are several profiles, but this is the only place I took close up photos. The shingles are made of a type of wood that is from a slow growing tree (whose name I've forgotten..Kate?) which can live for 3,000 years. It is of course quite rare now, and it's use is supposed to be tightly regulated, but there are loopholes (surprise, surprise). The shingles really do last a long time. What a patina. The churches all have this beautifully simple yet graceful aspect to them.

The graveyard was the most amazing jumble of a place I'd ever been. One of my 5th graders described it this way: "It looks like they just did it themselves!" This was a pretty shocking idea to an American kid, and it describes it perfectly.

Other nifty things in Chiloé were the giant gunnera plants

and the seaweed that looked like plastic which people would collect to sell for agar production.

Such a rich environment. Too bad the ozone hole is right down there. Put on that sunscreen.
Oh, and don't forget the neighbors' sheep who wander about the adjoining property! Like I said, they aren't the finest wool, but they are apparently quite sturdy and yield plenty of wool for the ferias arteseñales (artisan craft markets) to be quite well stocked with woolen items.

They also use various local plants to make woven animals and trivets--which retain their lovely naturally grassy scent.

It was nice to see so many things that were clearly locally made. It always makes me sad when I travel and see that Chinese made trinkets have replaced local handcraft. There's some of that in Chile of course, but it seemed much less common than in Mexico. Also there are mostly just regular stores. There are big groceries and department stores, but they haven't taken over every community like the big red-T or the bigger W-mart chains have here.

Wake up! There's plenty more where this came from. Go make yourself a cup of nice strong fair-trade organic shade-grown coffee, and gird yourself for the next installment!