This morning’s a weird one – Drisdelle flew out last night so we’re back to a two-man crew for the first time since Panama.
We’re up early to take a bus on a wine tour, it’s supposed to arrive at nine but before the clock’s even hit eight-thirty the buzzer at the hostel’s front door rings and there’s the bus waiting. I run upstairs and bang on the bathroom door – “Yo Murphy, get the fuck out, bus is here!” Nothing. I can hear the shower going. Try again. “Stop playing with yourself and get a move on!” Still nothing. Weird. I go downstairs and tell the bus driver he’ll have to chill. I head back upstairs to try again and the shower’s stopped – and Murphy walks out of the women’s bathroom. Men’s was out of order, I was banging on the wrong door.
Climb on the bus and aside from the driver and the guide we’re the only ones there. A few loops around town to this hotel and that hotel and the bus fills up quickly, mostly old folks but a couple other people in our demographic. Our guide introduces himself as Patricio and as we’re headed out of Santiago it’s clear the dude knows his shit – he’s bouncing back and forth between Spanish and English and talking non-stop about the history of the area, the history of Chile, the types of vegetation, geology, industry, you name it. He talks at length about copper mining in the area – the biggest copper deposit in the world is here, and Chile’s production is more than any other country, more than three times that of #2 – and lapis lazuli, a bluish stone that’s used in jewelry. Its formation requires several minerals to be in the same place and in the right conditions so it’s found in very few places, and is only mined here and in Afghanistan.
Rolling out of Santiago we pass through a valley that’s agriculture-heavy – Patricio says it’s potatoes, blueberries and grapes, but the kind of grapes that you have hand-fed to you by servants while reclining on a triclinium, not the kind that you chug from a box and later vomit behind Taco Bell. The next valley is where Winetown begins.
Patricio talks a bit about the ethnic make-up of Chileans, about how in the north it’s more Spanish and indigenous whereas many of the folks in the south (where he’s from) are descended from Swiss, German and Croatian immigrants. Speaking of the indigenous people, he pulls out a flute and starts playing ethnic tunes. They’re okay but I’ve heard better.
As we hit wine country he delves into the history of Chilean wine a bit. Missionaries came this way in The Year of Our Lord 1541 and got some vineyards on the go for Communion Hooch, necessary for church cause everyone knows you sing better when you’re just a little bit cut (but not too cut, Karaoke Rule #3). I guess it’s generally regarded as swill and goes by the name pepiño. After Patricio says it’s bad shit and mostly drunk by college students he mentions that it’s used in terramotos (earthquakes), and explains to the bus how it’s also limited to college kids looking to get shitfaced and is pretty bad stuff. “We drank that the other night”, we pipe up. “Oh yeah?”, he laughs, “What did you think?” “Pretty decent!” There goes our connoisseur cred.
As we hit Boozyville we pull off onto a roadside liquor mart filled with other people who want to get licked at 10:30 a.m. This isn’t the main wine tour, but as we’re loading off Patricio tells us there will be some tasting and bottles to purchase. Shit yeah, let’s get the party started! … Inside it’s pretty lame, basically like the NSLC back home, maybe two little booths with samples. The quality is pretty good – one of them is a Carmenere, the best type of wine you can get in Chile, according to Patricio – but the quantity is sub-par and we remain buzzless. We do score coffee and some ridiculous postcards though, of Fuegans (indigenous inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego) in traditional attire. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but holy shit, these costumes are fucking NUTS. Like something out of a Tool video, or Pan’s Labyrinth, or maybe even Labyrinth, except most of the Fuegans have their dicks hanging out, an indulgence from which David Bowie was polite enough to refrain. Sort of.
Back onto the bus and the next stop is Valparaíso, the “jewel of the Pacific” and one of the oldest and most important cities in Chile. Patricio tells us there’s a big arts & music scene here, and it’s a political center as well – in 1976 congress was relocated here from Santiago. It’s a port city ringed by 32 hills and as we roll into town we’re driving on the road – Alemania Avenue – that connects all 32. There are funiculars all over the place to let people get up and down the hills easier and after passing by a disused and dilapidated-looking one, Patricio says “We’re going to ride one of these!” People on the bus get visibly nervous. We jump off and P starts guiding us through the streets – they’re pretty cool, with “layer houses” built over the side of the steeper parts. A layer house looks like a one-storey joint from the front but it has more and more floors as the cliff descends; the ones we saw looked like they typically ranged from five to eight floors. Street art – quality street art – is everywhere. We seriously need more of this in North America.
The hills are steep and Patricio points out that the ladies in Valparaíso have the best legs in the country. Niiiice. We reach a seven-corner intersection where the buildings take on a familiar look – like those you’d see in an old colonial British port town. Fittingly enough it’s because we’re in the British district, constructed here in the 1920’s. This whole area’s a UNESCO heritage site.
We reach the funicular we’re headed down on. Nervous mutterings come from many of our co-tourists. I can’t help but roll my eyes. It’s definitely not new but it has that old-timey industrial look, heavy black iron that was likely overengineered; that kind of shit’s about as reliable as you’re going to get. We jump on and the funicular operator sends us slowly down the hill toward the waterfront.
As it’s historically been Chile’s major port, the waterfront’s main plaza is dominated by the headquarters of the Chilean navy. Heading through the plaza P. informs us that it hasn’t always been here – the plaza used to be the docks, but the water’s receded 300 meters since the port was built. In the middle of the plaza are transparent blocks that we walk over and look down through to the ruined remnants of the old port.
We do a very quick walk around the waterfront. Not a lot of traffic – San Antonio is taking most of the traffic coming in from Asia these days – but a fair number of navy vessels and pleasure craft, including several with the Canadian flag inexplicably painted on them (but still flying Chilean flags).
Our bus rolls up nearby and we climb back on. That’s it for Valparaiso, down the road to Viña del Mar. Patricio gives us a quick rundown on its story – it’s slightly newer than Valparaiso and was built by VP’s wealthier folks before the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, which is what started the decline of the port here as ships no longer had to go around South America to get to Europe.
We reach VdM in a few minutes via a coastal road. To my right is a billboard – Arctic Monkeys. Playing tonight. It doesn’t say where, but presumably it’s got to be somewhere close? Murphy’s stoked although we have no idea how we’ll get back to VdM from Santiago. When we get back to Kombi we’ll try to figure something out.
As we’re rolling into town, Patricio is pointing out castles up on the hill overlooking the water. Damn. There’s a river cutting through the middle of the city – to one side is the commercial district and to the other is the touristy stuff, i.e. the casino. Upcoming events at the casino include Barry White, Sade and the Bee Gees. Have to assume the Bee Gees thing is a tribute?
We make a quick stop at a clock made of flowers:
Back on the bus, we keep heading along the waterfront. There are several expensive- but empty-looking apartment buildings – Patricio says they’re mostly owned by Chilean actors, athletes, etc., but very few people actually live there. We pull up to a small museum called the Fonck – not to go inside, but to have a look at this bad boy parked out front on the lawn:
That’s the real shit, too. One of the few Easter Island heads that can be found outside of Easter Island. Rather than get Foncky we walk around the corner to a fancy joint selling lapis lazuli, copper and silver trinkets. Small penguin sculptures, earrings, chess pieces, wine stoppers, all at silly prices. A silver + LL penguin a little bigger than my thumb: $300. Pfffffttshshsshs. Get the fuck out of here with that. We find a penguin about the size of a regulation CFL ball, also in lapis lazuli and silver, for about $2800. We reckon a person could buy several flesh-and-blood penguins for that kind of cash, provided you’ve got the right hook-ups.
Back on the bus, out of VdM and finally we’re off to get our drank on. En route we pass hillsides completely inundated with palm trees – P says they’re “Chilean honey palms”, and you can get honey from them. Now I was always under the impression that honey came from bee vomit so I looked this up… “Syrup” might be more accurate, I think. Apparently these things were almost extirpated until the government introduced laws that force companies to plant twenty trees for every one they cut down.
The bus pulls off the main road and down a dirt track through the vineyard and up to a large stone building atop a hill. The tour doesn’t start for almost an hour so we’re free to walk around the vineyard or have a drink or a meal at the restaurant; we opt for the latter. I grab a plate of gnocchi while Murphy scores a mustard pork loin and we split a bottle of cab-sav + carmenere blend. We’re almost done eating and the bottle’s history but we’ve still got twenty minutes… Ohh monsieur? Another bottle, por favor. While we’re smashing back the second bottle Pat comes by and chills out with us and tells us some more about the wine coming out of this area – apparently the climate in this valley is cooler than in most of Chilean wine country and production here is relatively new. He stands up and it’s time to wine taste, our group has mustered up, shit – we’ve still got half a bottle left. We pound it back.
We sample a few wines and they’re all pretty good. They have more tasty-cups than tasters so we get to double-fist some of the samples. Classy. After the tasting we head into the bowels of the winery:
Now to me, that looks like a shit ton of wine, but apparently this is a fairly modest operation by local standards. Next is the lab where they test their batches to make sure they conform to all of the different import requirements of their export markets:
And after that we head down into the basement:
And we were off, back on our way to Santiago. First things first, figure out the Arctic Monkeys show. Oh shit, it’s here in Santiago! And… pfffft… tickets are $100+ a pop. Yowza. And… now… they’ve sold the entire stadium. Holy shit.
Taking her easy around the hostel, we hang out with a couple of girls staying there named Marleise and Susan. Susan’s this really funny German chick, really cute and her eyes seem to pop out her head excitedly anytime we say anything to her. Marleise is meeting up with a local guy she met online, she asks if we all want to tag along. Tagging along on what sounds like a date seems weird but fuck it, why not?
A few blocks down we meet the guy, an Argentinian who’s working in Santiago as a software developer. As we start walking toward a joint with food and drinks I whisper to Murphy, “Dude, he looks EXACTLY like a young Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” His hair, complexion, beard, even his clothes, it’s uncanny. Really cool guy though, I’ve never hung out with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but I suspect he’s not as chill as this dude.
We grab some sliders and drinks at a Spanish fast food / cafeteria type place in Patio Bellavista, kind of an open-air courtyard full of taverns and international food places. Mahmoud leans over the table and tells Murphy he reminds him of RedFoo… I can’t help it, I have to call him out on his resemblance to Ahmadinejad, not sure how he’ll take it but he immediately starts laughing, pulls out his phone and shows a pic his friends made with him on one side and the real Ahmadinejad on the other. Amazing.
The girls don’t seem keen to stay out so we head back as well, grabbing a bottle of rum on the way and having some nightcaps before calling it a night.