CHILE: FROM THE ATACAMA DESERT SOUTH, TO THE END OF THE WORLD.
DAYS 16 – 23: Wine tasting in Chile’s Colchagua Valley and …the end of our travels.
Our last week in Chile was the only portion of our adventure that we hadn’t pre-arranged from the comfort of our Canadian home. Unable to decide upon a specific wine region we decided to wait for sage local Chilean advice: “Don’t miss the Carmenere wines of Colchagua.”
Leaving Valparaiso, we headed southeast toward San Fernando and two unique B&Bs. Both were spectacular – and both were created by charismatic ex-pats married to Chilean nationals. The flavor of these B&Bs differed greatly from each other but both were located near the end of tortuous dirt roads, in sparsely settled areas, nestled deep into valleys, shouldered by the branching fingers of Andean foothills. As we wound our way southeast, we paused at Laura Hartwig Winery then feasted at Vina Casa Silva (with wine of course!) surrounded by polo fields, polo artifacts, and lush vineyards.
Originally designed as a fly-fishing and horseback riding retreat, Tumunan Lodge’s British owner, Will Evelyn, has changed the focus to horseback riding and wine making. Will suggested we might enjoy a personalized tour of his vineyard. I wasn’t interested but Jeff wanted to go. I wondered: why is the tour so costly? How much different could it be from other vineyard tours that we’ve taken in France, America, & Canada. But it was very different and oh-so-much fun!
Accompanied by two slobbery-friendly pooches Will led us down the garden path and into the woods. He explained his goals, his theories, his triumphs, and a couple defeats along the way.
After the tour, Will lined up bottles and we all got to drinking.
Next morning Jeff & I and three others toured the foothills on the best trail horses I’ve ever ridden. Jeff is an experienced rider but my limited experience has been with horses who either plod lifelessly along the trail or threaten to toss me into the brambles because they have too much spirit! Not Will’s pack horses. They were rambunctious but not dangerous. After 5 or 6 hours we weren’t even sore but truly appreciated Will’s wine in his wood-fired hot tub. For lunch, Will recommended Casa de Piedra, a delightful restaurant built by the current owner’s Italian grandfather. http://www.tumunanlodge.com
After a couple days we headed north to another delightful lodge, Mapu Yampay Hostal Gastronomico.
Via email Mapu Yampay’s owner, Ruth van Waerebeek, had warned us that we would need to cross a narrow one-lane wooden bridge. She assured us that this rickety looking creation – elevated at least 4 metres AGL and without railing edges – would hold us “no problem”. If she personally had not guaranteed the safety of this bridge, we might have turned tail and returned to Tumunan Lodge. For our first crossing, I made Jeff get out of the vehicle and walk to the far side of the bridge with instructions to gesture wildly and scream hysterically if the edge of a wheel so much as grazed the edge of the bridge. Of course, the bridge was wider than it appeared and crossing was a non-event. After two crossings I drove confidently, without external guidance.
Belgian-born, Ruth now travels the world for wine expositions in her position as Executive Chef, Concho y Toro Winery. Twenty or so years ago, Ruth worked as a chef in NYC and travelled the Americas independently. On one trip, Ruth fell in love with Chile and then Vicente (or maybe first Vicente and then Chile). Regardless, they have made a wonderful life for themselves, their dogs, and their guests. Vicente presented Ruth’s gourmet breakfast and dinner (made-to-order for my vegetarian taste) in a room supported by overarching wooden beams. It wasn’t exclusively a dining room but rather two tables, each for four people, snuggled into a large room dominated by a massive stone fireplace, three inviting couches laden with enveloping pillows, and memorabilia from her world travels.
Soon, far too soon, it was time to go.
Enroute to the airport for our evening flight we took a slight detour for lunch at Vina Montes. Getting anywhere is convoluted as settlers wisely had selected fertile land close to the rivers that drained from the branching arms of the High Andes.
After lunch, we attempted to visit the oldest building in San Fernando, Casa Patronal de Lircunlauta built 1751 CE, now a museum. I was keen to see memorabilia from the rescue of the Uruguayan boys rugby team whose airplane crashed in October 1972, 55 km east of San Fernando. Years ago, I became fascinated with the story of the sixteen survivors chronicled by Piers Paul Read’s book Alive and the documentary Alive: 20 years after. I especially admire the two young men who walked across the ragged Andean peaks to save themselves and their team mates. One, Nando Parrado, became a celebrated talk show host and the other, Roberto Canessa, a paediatric heart surgeon.
Sadly, the local memory of these boys seems to have faded. We had to ask several locals for directions. We were misdirected two times, once to another museum. When we did locate Casa Patronal it was closed! though the schedule indicated that the museum should be open. I might not have learned anything new, yet I was disappointed.
As I pulled into the airport parking lot, I realized that I likely have to pitch Jeff’s leftover lunch, a juicy chicken breast, into the garbage. I had anticipated seeing a street dog somewhere. Unlike the plight of the abandoned pets in Punta Arenas, throughout the rest of Chile, it seems that the many “street dogs” have owners who let their pets run loose.
I recalled with inner embarrassment the two street dogs in Valparaiso, disgusted with my meager offering of Jeff’s leftover stew without meat. Disturbed from their sunbath, they raised their heads, sniffed the food, ignored the food, then slew a lazy glance toward me before flopping lazily back onto the warm cement. Ashamed that my offerings had been refused, I hastily discarded the containers.
I thought that this chicken would also go to waste until I saw another dog, flaked out on the grass just outside the departure level of the Santiago Airport. Seemed like a very strange place to encounter a dog but then again it seemed equally strange that the dog’s owners lay nearby, entwined on the grass, making out. “Sure you can try to feed it”, they said “it’s not our dog”. I approached, offering my present. The dog squinted through one eye, but otherwise ignored me. At least, I thought, he’s not starving and he won’t mangle my fingers desperate for food. At home, when I give our pampered dog a piece of fresh meat, she consumes it immediately. As I wondered what was wrong with Chilean dogs, he raised his head again, looked at me, and ATE!
I left Chile with a big smile on my face. We loved Chile from top to bottom. When we return we’ll do things a little differently – we’ll spend more time in the Atacama Desert, visit more wineries, and maybe even hike the Famous W in Torres del Paine!