Wednesday, January 2, 2013

En Chile – Dia Uno

Long distance flying outside of first or business class is like paying a penance for your sins, you know it’s going to end, but it’s sure not fun while it’s happening.  “Seat Guru” recommended my seat in the small section right behind business class as being better than most of coach, but American Airlines enhanced the experience by not having much padding on the seat cushion.  I’m sure none of you will be surprised that the domestic airline food lived up to its reputation of meager and mostly tasteless.  But with an e-reader, an iPod and some good headphones it was more bearable especially when you add the excitement about the journey into the mix.

My first glimpse of South America was the northern desert of Chile.  It’s one of the driest spots on the earth, home to the nitrate and copper mines that started the mining rush in Chile.  Off in the eastern distance all the way down to Santiago were the Andes, a sharper, spikier version of the Rockies, with lots of snow on the high peaks, and the occasional glimpse of an alpine lake.  Further down were drier valleys with terraced fields on the hillsides, then the gradual signs of civilization (agriculture, vineyards and small towns) which gave way to the suburbs and urban landscape of Santiago de Chile.

Customs and immigration were mostly painless, the biggest event being the payment that the government demands from the citizens of the US, Mexico, Australia and Canada.  It’s a sliding scale based on how much each country charges Chilean nationals for applying for a visa, with no guarantee that they’ll get one.  Americans now pay $160.00, and they finally take credit cards. It used to be a circus, apparently, when you had to come up with cash and many travelers were caught by surprise.

Picked the laziest option for travel to Vina, a taxi ride, it just made it easier for my jet lagged brain to cope.  The entire 72 mile ride was an adventure in trying to communicate in a language neither the driver nor I was too fluent in.  It was fun and we laughed – a lot.

The area around Santiago, on the way northwest, started out looking the hills around Phoenix, quite dry and brown, progressed to the scrub of the mountains around LA, then progressively like the ones further up the California coast until finally we hit the “pinos” (pines) of the Santa Cruz mountains.  Right before the last turn down to the ocean is the Casablanca Valley, a terroir (wine growing region) famous for it’s white wines.  There are several large wineries here, close to Viña , and lots of Sauvignon Blanc, which just happens to be my favorite white wine.

The “hostal” where I am staying, Casa Genross, is owned by a  wonderful Canadian and his equally wonderful and beautiful Chilean wife, who have been here running a B&B for the last 20 years or so.  It is comfortable, clean and most of all hospitable. It’s just up a hill from the flats of Viña central in an area called Agua Santos (holy water). 

I spent most of the rest of the day wandering around the immediate area of Viña, south of the once tidal, but now mostly stagnant estuary that divides the city.  Lots of people out on the streets shopping, walking, eating, and just enjoying the sunshine.  There’s a “marine layer” that has burned off during the afternoon, and generally the weather’s kind of like Santa Cruz in June.
Went to the supermercado - grocery store - to pick up some snacks and agua mineral gasificada and schlepped them back uphill to the hostal.  I managed to stay awake until 8PM.  It’s daylight savings time here and doesn’t get dark until after 9.  Summer!  Yippee!

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