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!