There was not a hope in hell that we were going to spend another night in the heat of Santiago! So we hired a driver and headed to the coast. My cousin had informed me that the mountain range between Santiago and the coast was as high as Mount Kosciousko – Australia's highest mountain and yet Santiago was only around 100km from the Coast. We had wondered how we would get to the Coast and whether we would go on a long winding road up and down hills and valleys or whether we would have to go around it. Well, to use an analogy of grief that a friend had once told me, and just like the the book that I often read to my children said – you can't go over it, can't go round it, you have to go through it – we were going on a bear hunt!
After the first tunnel we emerged to be greeted by a green Valley which our driver told us was where all the vegetables are grown. This was suprising because you may remember Santiago had first appeared to us like an Hispanic Julia Creek or even further West dry dry dry. But this green valley was a little like the Lockyer Valley at home (well after Santiago anything was going to look green). Then another tunnel and we felt like Dorothy felt when she woke up in oz. We had arrived at Casablanca wine country.
Well clearly it was necessary to make a slight detour on our way to the ocean. We chose to stop at the first organic winery in Casablanca valley. We arrived just in time to tag along behind the winemaker who was doing a walking tour with a couple of yanks. I could imagine many of my friends would have enjoyed this little detour – none more than my good friend Heather out at Nyngan. Companion gardening with legumes, grass and flowers alternating between the rows of vines, chickens roaming freely to keep the bugs at bay and bees to help with pollenating the flowers to attract the bugs away from the grapes, alpacas with soft feet also fitted in to mix for fertilizing and weeding. Valerian was of particular interest to us – apparantly used to make valium in the real world, here it is used to “drug” the bacteria so that the fertilizer they are making in underground storage “matures” more slowly. The winemaker agreed there were no scientific studies to prove this but they were happy because it worked.
Whilst this was all very interesting, not being winemakers ourselves, it is safe to say that the wine tasting was clearly the best part. Sav Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a red blend matched with gouda cheeses made for the perfect stopover. Then just when we were about to leave, they offered us their honey over blue cheese accompanied by dessert wine. Not bad Chile – we are impressed!
Anyway on arrival at Valparaiso we had a quick look at the exterior of Pablos summer house and again marvelled at his ability to live in such comfort on the income of a committed Communist and poet. His most impressive mansion was a bit further away at Isla de Negra and we had no desire to travel any further to see how he lived the high life – I do like his poetry though the fact that he dumped his first wife and disabled child does not auger well with me!
Now all I can say is that the first night in air conditioning was bellisimo! The irony being that the temperature outside was some 10 degrees lower than Santiago during the night and morning anyway – such is life.
I should say also that for this particular journey we were fortunate to have found a driver who had absolutely no idea where we were going once we made it to Valparaiso. I say fortunate because we were able to drive around all the shanty towns and up and down the hills before being dropped at our hotel. According to our real tour guide the next day, tourists should not go into those areas as it is too dangerous with many muggings and other crimes occurring. In fact he informed us that he always carries pepper spray when in the hills. I was lucky to have had my high velocity sunscreen at hand but thankfully did not need to resort to it during our up and down detour!