Friday, June 06, 2008

Final (I think) Chile Post

First of all, I am absolutely certain we brought the southern hemisphere's fall season back with us on Delta Airlines. We have been in the 50's with rain every day in June so far. It is dark and cold and I have the heater going because it is dipping down into the forties at night. For my daily walks with Apolo, I am wearing a hooded sweatshirt underneath my winter goretex. I actually saw the V-shaped formation of a flock of geese flying south over Puget Sound two days ago!

Back to Chile. One of the fabulous characteristics about Chile is that they produce some of the best wines in the world. The growing conditions are perfect and they know what they are doing. We had fun trying different varieties and I was happy to discover cute little half bottles in the grocery stores so that we could sample even more. You cannot go to Chile without visiting a winery. We passed several on a wine route between El Tabo and Santiago and stumbled upon Vina Mar. The guide book had this winery mixed up with another but it did not matter. It was beautiful. The drinking age in Chile is 18 so Kaley was able to try a little with us. In Washington's wine region around Walla Walla, we have discovered that the winery wines are quite expensive. You will not find bargains but in Chile, they apparently sell winery wines at wholesale prices. We found the wine at Vina Mar to be exceptional and brought home three bottles in our suitcases. The price was the equivalent of about $6 a bottle.

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Vina Mar Winery and Vinyard

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Wine Tasting inside Vina Mar

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Inside the winery looking out.

Our stop at the winery was on a Sunday and we were not the only ones. Several families including some with small children walked in to do exactly the same thing. It was a pleasant lovely experience.

Chile also claims a drink called a "pisco sour" as the national cocktail. In fact, when we checked into the Radisson Hotel in Santiago, they gave us four coupons for complimentary pisco sours in their lounge. But here is the real story. Kaley's best friend from Mukilteo is half Peruvian. Her mother, Rosa, grew up in Peru. The Peruvians don't like the Chileans and the Chileans do not like Peruvians and the word dirty comes up in conversations from both sides. In fact, Rosa (in loving jest, of course) told Kaley just the other day it would take her a while to be able to speak to Lucas or forgive him for spending this time in Chile instead of Peru. Anyway, Peru claims both the liquor called pisco made from grapes and the cocktail made with it as theirs. They claim Chile stole everything about it. Pisco and pisco sours are Peruvian, period. Rosa says any "pisco sour" in Chile is not up to Peruvian standards. Now, I have had Rosa's pisco sours made with Peruvian pisco and we used those coupons in Santiago. Rosa's are definitely better. But, whether or not you drink a Chilean pisco sour or a Peruvian pisco sour, be advised that an adult female such as myself is pretty much snockered after about 2/3 of the cocktail. Whew!

This particular Sunday, when we visited the winery and checked into the glorious Radisson, also happened to be my Mom's 80's birthday. She was not with us but we found a nice restaurant for dinner that evening and gave her a toast anyway. The Chileans are supposedly known for their terrific service in restaurants and hotels and we were not disappointed in Santiago. We found a Chilean/Argentinian steak house within walking distance of our hotel. Of course, as usual, we were one of the first groups there even with 7:30 reservations. All four of us ordered various cuts of steak with side orders of salads and vegetables. We had no other plans for the evening so were looking forward to a rather slow dinner. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. The handsome waiter brought us our perfectly cooked steaks almost too soon. I joked that this certainly made up for our agonizingly slow lunch in Valparaiso the day before. Since we felt like we were the only gringo tourists in the entire country, maybe somebody called somebody. Who knows? I do know that my appetite had returned and I ordered the biggest T-bone steak I have ever seen and I managed to eat most of it. It was delicious.

And now some final thoughts about our trip: Dave is such a terrific driver. Chile has new and wide highways and freeways. The most difficult part was the toll booths everywhere and Lucas was bugged that we panicked a little everytime. No one speaks English and having the exact amount of unfamiliar money was intimidating at times. Dave handled the narrow streets of the villages and cities with expertise. After all, he has driven in LA, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Lyon, Rome, London, Edinburgh and Seattle so he knows what he is doing. (By the way, gas is the equivalent of $5 a gallon in Chile.) Kaley was a trooper. She wanted to be able to stay connected to her boyfriend somehow and between Lucas' cell phone and internet cafes, she talked to him every day.

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Kaley talking to Jeff in Portland while on the beach in El Tabo.

Finally, we could not have taken this trip without Lucas. Unfortunately, neither Dave nor I nor Kaley speaks any Spanish. People in Chile do not speak English. Lucas translated for us when we arrived at our casa when we were being shown how to use the scary calephon gas tanks. He spoke for us when we stopped at toll booths and gas stations. He explained the money to us. He translated menus for us and introduced us to local Chilean food. He asked questions for us in the grocery store. (He drew the line at translating packages of feminine products which had no English and almost ran out of the store, though.) He spoke to cab drivers and made telephone calls for us. He translated for us in the internet cafes. In Valparaiso, we bought some art work from a French artist on the street and Lucas switched from Spanish to fluent French when he realized the kid did not speak either Spanish or English as easily. At the winery, he handled the conversations with the winery owners, the wine tasting and all of our purchases. Lucas was a superb guide. We enjoyed seeing where he is teaching in Melipilla. I am certain his students must think highly of him.

Lucas is a diplomat and represents truly the best of the United States to others in the world. We are so proud.