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Day 4 – Casablanca Valley

Day 4 – Casablanca Valley

Many museums and other attractions in Santiago are closed on a Monday, which was the perfect excuse to book ourselves on a wine tour out to one of the valleys near the city. It was $195 USD per person so a bit of an extravagance, but I think we got our money’s worth.
Our guide, Andrea from Uncorked, picked us up promptly at 8:50 and we set off on the roughly one hour drive northwest. On the journey Andrea filled us in on a mixture of topics ranging from history, culture, climate, geography and of course wine. All in flawless English and with a lovely, fun twinkle in her eye. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer guide. We were also the only ones on the tour so had plenty of room to ourselves.
The Casablanca region used to be cow country, much like Margaret River.  It is primarily granite soil and the temperature ranges widely during the course of the day from cool mornings to mid thirties in the afternoon, making it great for some of the cool climate wines like sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. Once you’re through the tunnel you feel the difference in temperature to Santiago immediately. The climate is impacted by the Humboldt current, bringing cool water up from the Antarctic and rainfall to the coastal areas in the south of Chile.
The region is relatively young, with vines only being planted in the 1980s. The first winery we visited is the lastest venture by the man who first started to grow grapes at Casablanca, Don Pablo Morandé. Bodegas RE is a boutique winery with a very clear and delightful philosophy.  They focus on bringing together the old and the new with techniques long abandoned and now recently rediscovered. This includes the use of clay and concrete pots for fermenting wine.
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The cellar door and showroom is outfitted with some charming antiques, the floors are old railway sleepers and the building is designed to work with the climate of the area so they don’t need to use air conditioning.  Mum would love this place.
We tasted a new wine we’d never heard of before, carinena. My favourite wine of the day, and possibly the nicest wine I have ever tasted (big, big call so keep in mind this was the first place we visited and only the thrid wine of the day so my judgement was as unimpaired as it could be). The Cabergnan, 2009 was smooth as silk with all the rich flavours you’d expect from a full bodies red.  If they shipped to Australia I would have ordered a case.  Maybe two.
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The red grapes are grown in the Maule valley on vines that are to 160 years old. They are dry farmed, meaning they are not irrigated at all. And they are not grown on trellises, but as bushes, something I’ve never seen before.
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Wine tasting here, at least the ones we were treated to on tour, are not the small tastes you pay for at home, but almost full glass paired with bread, cheese, the nicest olives I’ve ever tasted and balsamic and olive oil. No spittoons in sight. The tour of the cellar and the grounds was just as enjoyable at the wine and Bernadette was very informative and entertaining.
Our next stop was the Kingston Family vineyard. Also very nice but much more like any other winery with stainless steel vats. A pretty outlook though. We were joined by a couple form Arizona who were a bit more into their wines than we were.
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For lunch we stopped at Viña Quintay. I didn’t catch the names of all the dishes, but salmon ad seafood prevailed, with a cheesecake to finish off. Again, we didn’t need to worry about dinner when we got back.
The other things we learnt about the region is that frost can be a real problem. They used to use the old fashioned method of fires along side the rows of grapes, but because many of the vineyards are next to the freeway, and there is fair amount of fog about, that was soon outlawed. They now use fans to move the air about, the igloo effect by misting about the buds, or helicopters to stir the air and bring the cool air up and the warm air down.
As an Australian traveling I always stress a little about how the tipping works. I end up never known if I’ve tipped too much or not enough. There are some guides out there so I just followed along with the. And went for 10% in most cases, though as lunch was included in the tour price I had to take a wild stab in the dark when leaving a tip at the restaurant. I also didn’t realise you’re meant to tip the girls packing your groceries at the supermarket so I feel bad about that. At least there is no haggling in Chile so that is one less thing to worry about.
The location of our apartment has been amazing.  Less amazing is the woeful air conditioning.  Craig would not be happy. Seeing as we are only here a few days it wasn’t worth trying to communicate the issues to the poor girl at the well hidden reception, but paired with the very load garbage collection in the street below between 1 and 2 am we haven’t been getting a lot of sleep.
We found out from Andrea that the roads are closed every Sunday for the cyclists and runners so that answers that question.
That completes our time in Chile. It has been lovely and it is on my list of places I’d like to come back to and explore further. Santiago seems to be a city at hat would be easy to live in.

Day 3 – Santiago

Day 3 – Santiago

Technology makes traveling a different beast to the one I knew in my twenties. On this trip in particular we seem to be carrying a vast array of electronic devices of all shapes and sizes. I remember my trip to Europe in 2003 armed with the shared investment of a new and exciting digital camera with shutter lag that meant you could have a nice cup of tea between pressing the shutter button and the picture being taken. We had mobile phone, but google maps was still a twinkle in Larry Pages’s eye.

Having had the obligatory talking to by iiNet before activating global roaming at home, I live in fear of getting home to an enormous bill in case of allowing a megabyte of data download while I’m away. Most of the places we will be staying while on land include free wireless which is awesome. And today I’ve made the breakthrough discovery (that the rest of the world has probably known about for forever, or at least the last 10 years since Google maps was released) that you can download a offline area in google maps that comes complete with directions.
That saves me the anxiety I had yesterday when I realised we didn’t have a paper map to navigate. So old school, who does that now, right?
 The best of directions won’t always mean you do the right things in the right order, and today we estimate we walked a total of 35-40 kms, at least ten of which could have been avoided. I don’t regret a step of it, but the ones that included navigating lots of steep, slippery steps at Santa Lucia hill are going to be felt in my calves and butt muscles tomorrow I expect. Despite going the long way once today I still stand by the impression that Santiago is a great city to find your way around, even if you are navigationally challenged like I am.
We set out at about 8 am. Nothing really opens here until at least 10am, but an early start means you get to enjoy a very comfortable 17 degree walking temperature and you have the place pretty much to yourself. Well, not entirely as there are a number of people out clearing up litter from the day before, and people walking their dogs. 
I should warn you now there will be few pictures of architecture here. There are many pretty buildings, but I have taken pictures of pretty buildings in my previous travels and rarely go back to look at them. Most building photos are likely to be on the iPhone. I should add that this morning while entering one of the main parks, Parque Forestal, we were looking at the cute young pug being walked much more than the very handsome, important building across the road ( I believe it was gallery of some sort).
I mentioned yesterday that Santiago is very pedestrian friendly.  Well that goes double for Sundays, or at this this Sunday. Many of the roads in the city were closed so that the locals could pull on their Lycra and ride or run through the city unimpeded by cars. Lots of these happy runners and cyclists took it upon themselves to express their zeal by riding or running up San Chistobel, yes, that big freaking hill with the Virgin Mary statue at the top.
We got tired just riding the Funicular up the side, but hundreds of folk, in the 35 degree midday heat , braved the steep and winding road to the summit, at which point they all sat around comparing Fitbit results, drinking some kind of sago like tea and eating empanadas, kind of like the MAMILS at coffee shops on a Sunday morning back home.
Back on the flat, at a particular set of junctions street performers busked for the cars stopped at the traffic lights. We saw ballet dancers and jugglers and some guy with a glass ball like David Bowie from Labyrinth. As the lights go green they flit their way amount the cars collecting cash for the performance. Much more appealing than being accosted by boys and their squeegees.
Every day in Santiago seems to be take your dog to work day.  Most ages seems to have a water bowl out for their canine guests and dogs happily seem to go into shops with their people. Some dogs clearly take themselves to work though and are likely street dogs.  Most of these still appear to be well fed. There is a collection of four kennels in the big park that presumably are there for the use of the dogs when the weather is inclement. Apart from the afore mentioned pug we also spotted five dachshunds during our travels today and resisted the urge to rush up and try to communicate with their confused owners that we are crazy dachshund people. 
After we discovered that where we were going didn’t take us as long as we thought, and that the Funicular that takes you up the hill didn’t start running until 10 we performed our first backtrack to climb up Santa Lucia hill. Very pretty with some nice views and crazy crazy steps with somewhat dodgy railing to hang on to and you and it fall to your deaths. If your not very mobile this may not be for you. We saw two ladies with a local guide and were tempted to follow them from a discrete listening-in distance, but decided against it. We did get a good view of the big hill that the crazed cyclists were riding up though.
Having pottered around for a bit we trekked back to San Christobel to find it now in full swing. We bought return tickets on the green trolley cars at the weekend price of 2600 CLP per person (around the $5 mark) and waited in line for our turn. 5 minutes later we got off at ( or at least close to) the top.
We went o have a look at the big statue, as you do.  The huge radio tower at her back it a little distracting. As a side note I find the religious tourism thing a little odd, being an atheist myself. I’ve visited any number of cathedrals in Europe and templates and such like in Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Bali. I always feel awkward as I see people lighting candles, firecrackers or whatever, and praying to their deity of choice. I feel like an intruder, though few have ever seemed to mind and I try to be as discrete as possible.
Once we’d grabbed a drink and a bite to eat and oohed and aahhed appropriately at the view of Santiago from above we ran out of things to do at the top and jumped on the next Funicular to the bottom. That left us with an hour and three quarters until our lunch reservation at the highly rated (TripAdvisor) Peumayan Ancestral Food restaurant in Bueno Vista. In retrospect we could have found somewhere to sit and have a cool or warm drink, but I felt sweaty and wanted to change before lunch so we decided to walk back to the apartment, dump some gear and freshen up. 
On that note, my tip to fellow travellers would be bring more tops that you imagine you’ll need. I’m going through two a day at the moment in an effort to not be too stinky.
The trip home would have been fine if we hadn’t zagged rather than zagged on the way back, taking 40 minutes rather than 20 to return.
Lunch lived up to expectations nicely. They do have a vegetarian option on the menu, but if you’re put off by the fact they also have horse on the menu best to avoid.  We did NOT order the horse and I try not to impose my cultural values on others, but I must say the idea made me feel a bit icky.
The first dish we were given was a tasting plate of different traditional breads. Only one was made form wheat, the rest being various grains, legumes or potato.

We started with two cocktails based around Pisco sour which were lovely and followed that with a nice rose, because we’re on holidays and we can. The service was top notch and we are very glad we booked as lots of folk were being turned away. Lunch, consisting of the complementary bread plate, palate cleansers between each course, cocktails, a bottle of wine, shared tasting plate and two mains came to 60,000 CLP including a 10% tip ( approx $120 AUD) but given that we’d probably spent $50 for a steak sandwich and a pint each at the Inglewood it was well worth it.nit was also the only meal we paid for all day as we had toast and sloppy marmalade in the apartment before heading out. In retrospect a good move as I don’t recall seeing anywhere open to serve breakfast…
By the time we were stuffed to the gunnels it was 3 pm. The funny things is that in Santiago it seemed significantly hotter at 3 than at midday. I’m not certain if that is scientifically verifiable or the lunch talking. Either way, we had planned to head across town to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos. This turned out to be a longer walk than we anticipated, so if your planning a visit I would recommend checking out some public transport, or going in the morning when it is cooler. 
They have an English audio tour for hire at 2000 CLP ($4 ish AUD) which is recommended as everything is in Spanish. We should have allowed ourselves more energy for the visit as by now our feet were whinging and whining like bored toddlers and we didn’t make it through the whole exhibit. It did give us a taste for what Chile went through during the rule of the Junta and a desire to least more about the history of the country. It is always amazing to realise just how recent some of the atrocities people do to each other world wide really are.
The walk home was hard work and we promptly collapsed fro a nap, not feeling any desire for dinner as our bellies were still distended form lunch. I’ve dragged myself out of bed to write this but won’t be up for much longer.
Day 2 – Sydney to Santiago

Day 2 – Sydney to Santiago

Today was always going to be a long day, made even more so by the fact that we crossed the dateline. It started with a 6am (Sydney time) call from a id blocked number. I didn’t answer it. That may have been a mistake. After a quick brekkie in the hotel we toddled off to the airport for the next 16 hour leg of our journey.

On arrival we discover that the big notice board shows our flight CANCELLED. I thought I handled this set back quite well, but Kingsley thinks I was a bit more panicked than the situation required. We hot footed it to the appropriate gate and asked the man wandering about in uniform what was going on. He told us just to queue up and that an alternate flight had been organised. Crisis averted. There was some very good people watching while in the very, very, very long line.
One and a half hours later we reached the head of the check-in queue to be told by the man there that no, we weren’t on that flight, but that QANTAS had re-booked us on a direct flight and we should  hurry over it to the other end of the terminal.
Sure enough that was the case and we were checked in to the replacement flight without too much bother.
The new flight was due to leave an hour and a half later than the original, but without the stop off in Aukland we’d be spending four fewer hours in transit. Except that our new flight was subsequently delayed for a bit over an hour due to ‘aircraft positioning’ and the fact that the catering wasn’t done while they were waiting for the right position. 
No big drama and once aboard the flight was pretty painless. No cute little iPads this time, in seat entertainment only and not quite as roomy as the last aircraft but we managed to get a little bit of sleep and have arrived on the other side of the world feeling that yes, it does feel like 3 in the afternoon not 3am, which is an unexpected bonus. (I spoke a little too soon. Shortly after drafting this I had a ‘little lie down’. )
View of the Andes.

Santiago airport was no fuss and straight forward. It is well signposted in both Spanish and English. Australians and Mexicans still need to pay a reciprocity fee on arrival but the process was clear and efficient. Clearing customs likewise, though the guy who served us was a little ray of sunshine – not.
Having done a little bit of research before arriving we booked a shared transport with transvip for $10 USD each. I’m sure there were cheaper alternatives, but it was quick and saved us from the swarm of taxi drivers milling at the exit.
Finding out how to check into our apartment was harder. I had read about this online too, but hadn’t written myself any notes. After a bit of searching around we found the office hidden away on the 8th floor. The lovely girl doesn’t have much English and our Spanish is as close to non existent as to be the same thing. Even so, we managed to check in and use the fancy electronic keypad, reset the room are, shower and generally make ourselves feel moderately human again.
Observations on Santiago so far based on the plane’s approach and the transfer is that those mountains are quite amazing. It is summer here, but those peaks are still well dusted with snow.  The whole coast is rimmed with bright white beaches, or at least that how it looks from altitude. Inland everything was surprisingly green. Lots of fields crisscrossing the countryside like a patchwork quilt.
The up side of staying in an apartment rather than a hotel is that it removes the temptation to stay in and order room service. When we woke up from our nap at 7pm we had to hit the streets to get a lay of the land, some local currency and provisions. 
First impressions are that Santiago seems a very walkable city. At 7, and now getting close to 9pm it is still light and there are lots of families about in the streets and markets.
For those of you who know the adjustment period I had with crossing roads in Vietnam, this city could not be more different. There are traffic lights with pedestrian crossing signs at every street corner and everyone obeys them. The are nice wide pavements, albeit with a fair amount of repair work underway.
All in all, looking forward to a full day of exploring tomorrow, followed by a wine tour in the Casablanca valley on Monday.
Chile, Argentina and Antarctica

Chile, Argentina and Antarctica

This proverbial trip of a lifetime has been over a year in the planning.  And that’s with someone else planning the important things for us (Thank you Alex Cearns and World Expeditions).

Just like many of the people I’ve spoken to about the trip, I was initially suprised that we would be traveling to Antarctica via South America, and not Tasmania as I had imagined.  This is why…

Map courtesy of http://www.free-printable-maps.com/maps-of-continents.htm

We will be going to the Antarctic Peninsula (the bit in the red square).  The trip from Ushuaia, Argentina to the Peninsula via Drake’s Passage should take us a couple of days. Travelling from our side of the world would take us to the eastern side and take considerably longer. So all in all the loooong flight from Perth to South America makes sense, and lets us visit three other countries on the way.

Perth to Santiago, Chile

15 January

We fly via Sydney and will no doubt spend most of that time trying not think about Brian and Craig and their Business Class tickets to Europe.

Santiago, Chile 

16 – 18 January

We will be staying in downtown Santiago.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina (and a bit of Brazil) 

19 – 23 January

Seeing as this trip is actually our belated honeymoon, I thought a few days of luxury were in order.  We’ll be staying in the Sheraton, in the national park on the Argentinian side.

Buenos Aires, Argentina 

23 – 26 January

Staying downtown we may take a bicycle tour to check out the sights.

Ushuaia, Argentina 

26 – 28 January

Before setting off on the boat we have a fun day out planned with Canal Fun Ushuaia which will take us out into the Tierra del Fuego National park.
We’ll meet up with our tour group before embarking on the MV Ushuaia.

Antarctica 

28 January – 8 February

Aboard the MV Ushuaia we will spend the first few days hoping for a calm crossing of Drake’s passage and that the sea sickness meds work.

We’ll then make our way around the South Shetland Islands and the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula visiting an assortment of islands and bases.

Ushuaia, Argentina 

8 – 10 February

A quick stop to get our land legs before heading home.

Buenos Aires, Argentina 

9- 11 February

Just a day.

Buenos Aires to Perth  

11 – 12 February

The long ride home.