The past week has been filled with many unexpected events, including one today, in which we learned that we were grounded from taking off from the Temuco Airport by winds gusting to 50km/hr. As we left Helen’s house this morning, Leslie jokingly noted that the strong winds raging outside her house might prevent us from flying to Santiago, and then on to Buenos Aires.for a week in the Argentinian capital. Little did we know that the hypothesis would come true. So…., with LAN Airlines saying that they were only able to refund our flight to Santiago, we are holed up in a hotel in downtown Temuco, waiting to see if the strong winds abate tomorrow, and we can taste a bit of Argentina before flying home.
After our Al Norte adventures, we headed further south, stopping en route at the small city of Vicuna, the birthplace of Gabriella Mistral, one of Chile’s two most famous poets, and a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, where we had two more surprises. At our friendly hostal there, we met Albert Strasser (Nash), a junior at the U of Colorado, and from San Juan Island. He accompanied us that afternoon on a trip up the Equi Valley, where we stopped at a lovely and quaint small organic winery, Cavas del Valle. We toured the wine cellars, learned that the best wines were produced in the moist valley, and that the pisco grapes, for which the region is also known, are grown on the drier slopes of the mountains. We sampled a red, a white and a sweet dessert wine, and purchased a few bottles to give as gifts. Albert purchased a bottle of the sweet variety (a “Lady Killer” wine, according to our guide) to share with friends he’d be meeting in a few days in La Serena. The next morning on our way out of town we were surprised to see a huge group of students celebrating the 16th anniversary of their school. As we stopped to watch the excitement in the town square, a 10 year old girl approached us with two handfuls of confetti to put in our hair to celebrate the event. Her winning smile and friendliness won us over; Val took photos of her and her friends, and we lingered a bit longer before heading south to the coastal city of Valparaiso.
More surprises occurred in Valparaiso, a city of 46 hills. We were shocked to find how difficult it was to find The Yellow House. We parked the car on a steep and narrow cliffside path and walked the tiny alleys as darkness shrouded the city below. The Yellow House (http://www.theyellowhouse.cl) is a hostal which our guidebook highly recommended and our perserverance paid off when Martin, the friendly owner, came to the door at 8 p.m. and offered, much to our surprise, to cook us dinner. (He told us that walking at night in this city was not recommended.) How unusual is that sort of (gourmet) generosity? He turned out to be a wonderfully informed person regarding the city, and he recommended “The German Pirate” (http://myvalparaiso.cl/) as a guide to show us the inner workings of this colorful city. The next morning we headed off for an 8 hour walking tour, trekking up and down the hills, around the plazas, inside closed doors for a look at some of the city’s inhabitants’ lives, and sampling some of the Colonial architecture which has somehow survived the city’s earthquake history. We talked to people renovating an old house stuffed with bizarre collections (everything from Coca Cola memorabilia to pirate paraphrenalia). Our unique guide carried a folder full of old photos, newspaper articles, and other gems; he’d periodically stop, pull out a picture of a funicular taken 90 years ago, hold it up, and ask us to compare the old view with the current one. Sadly, only 4 of the about 26 original lifts remain, but we had several chances to take the rather rustic working ones, giving us more energy to explore some of the many colorful murals done by both professionals and amateurs. Inside the old German Club of Valparaiso we were surprised to see images of the German “P” line of nitrate topsail ships below the glowering image of Kaiser Wilhelm of our home island’s Pig War fame.
Traveling further south along the Pacific coast, we searched out friends of island friends who live near the fishing village of Quintay. This involved asking many people and making some intuitive guesses and then we discovered, as San Juan’s Susie and David had said we would, that we have much in common. Robyn and Patricio graciously included us in their dinner party, hosted us overnight in their lovely home in a gated community overlooking the sea, and gave us suggestions on visiting Isla Negra, one of poet Pablo Neruda’s three homes, the wine country of the surrounding valleys, and the extensive collections in the largest privately-owned museum in Chile in Santa Cruz, Museo de Colchagua. We found this museum truly remarkable. It covers almost all aspects of geological and human history in South America from the Paleolithic through the typewriters and sewing machines of the 1930’s which seem ubiquitous in museums throughout this country. Tiny Santa Cruz has such a fantastic museum because a Chilean alleged weapons dealer, Carlos Cardoen, made tons and tons of money and he can’t leave Chile (Interpol wants to arrest him)!
We were surprised to find that popular Isla Negra was quite leisurely to tour. Despite numerous tourists, groups were limited to about 15 people, staggered every 20 minutes, and one could go from room to room, looking at the eclectic collections of the artist , but only photographing the rambling house from the outside. Neruda not only collected images with words, he collected everything from ships’ figureheads to colored glass bottles to shells of all sizes and shapes to musical instruments to fish art. Many of the rooms which overlooked the ocean had a desk for writing, and one could understand how the poet would be motivated to write with such exceptional views. Another surprise: Neruda loved the sea, but was afraid to go out on it, so he and a few of his many friends would sometimes sit in a rowboat “anchored” on a rock right next to the house, have a drink and talk philosophy, while never having to deal with the sea’s restless motion.
This blog entry concludes our report on travels in this diverse country of Chile. Hopefully our last and final entry will be about our visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where final surprises may await us before returning home on June 7th.
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