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Friday, February 04, 2005

South America: Dec 21 (Santiago wineries)

At this rate it's going to be next December before I finish recapping our trip. Here's an account of our next day, Monday Dec 21:

This was sort of a wasted day. The downside of being on a tour where the itinerary is set--this day was spent visiting two wineries on the outskirts of Santiago. Anj and I (esp Anj) aren't all that into the winery-visit thing, so in retrospect we would have liked to have spent this day otherwise. To explore Santiago, say; or, as Anj pointed out, we could have made a daytrip to Valparaiso. (The latter seems esp appealing after reading what for me was the best chapter of "Clandestine in Chile"--"Two of the Dead Who Never Die: Allende and Neruda", regarding Valparaiso and nearby Isla Negra. )

Eugenio and Marcelo picked us up at the hotel and drove us to Cousino Macul, a small winery. There was the usual tour of the cellars, the big oak barrels, the tasting. We did meet a couple interesting people. Unlike the subsequent tour of Concha y Toro, there were a few other younger people on the tour with us at Cousin Macul. One was a Portugese guy, who it turned out had was in the final days of a five month trip through Central and south America. He had started in Cuba, travelled through Central America (incl a 4 week Spanish course in Guatemala), and then to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and finally Chile. We also met a young Brazilian couple from Fortaleza (in the NE of Brazil, as we later looked up). I ended up exchanging contact info wih the guy, as he expressed interest in visiting San Francisco (and esp after visiting Rio, we hope to travel through Brazil sometime). He spoke English rather well--turned out he had spent a year of high school in Washington state as an exchange student.

We drove from Cousino Macul towards the site of Concha y Toro. I wrote in our journal that Eugenio started discussing Pinochet and Allende with us, but don't remember specifically what. We did make an interesting stop at a scenic roadside spot (in San Juan?). There were stone blocks memorializing, Eugenio explained, an assassination attempt on Pinochet; it took a couple questions before we understood that the town had erected this as a memorial to Pinochet's bodyguards who died defending him. (It must have been the assassination attempt in 1986 described here.) A couple photos here.

After lunch on the patio of a nice place across from the entrance to Concha y Toro, we endured the lengthy tour there. The grounds were beautifully landscaped, and featured live chickens, pheasants, and sheep wandering arounds, but the sun was intense and the tour was the usual. It was mostly older (and no doubt wealthy) Americans on this tour; we met, for example, a trustee of the University of Alabama who was playing with his fat new Nikon digital camera.

On the drive back to Santiago, Anj and I got to tag along for the first "professional visit"--a stop at a private hospital, Clinica Santa Maria. It was very modern and clean--better facilities than usually encountered in the U.S.--but private and rather expensive. In fact, the prices for seeing a doctor, for a night in the hospital, etc., were listed up front, on the wall as you checked in. This was an unplanned visit, but Eugenio got the receptionist to find a doctor who spent a few minutes talking with us, and walked us through the emergency rooms.

We got dropped off at the hotel, and walked over to Cerro Santa Maria. Oddly, we had to sign in before entering the park. Cerro Santa Maria was another spot that I thought I vaguely recognized from "El Gringuito", and as in the movie, and as Anj and I had noticed elsewhere, there were a number of PDA-uninhibited young couples. I was surprised to later read Littin mention this in "Clandestine in Chile" as well: "What most caught my attention that Friday, after so many years away, was the number of young lovers strolling the terraces that overlook the river. Arms around each other's waists, they seemed to be loving one another slowly, heedless of the time slipping away pitilessly. Only in Paris had I seen so much loving in the streets, and that was years ago. I remembered Santiago as a city of private sentiments. Now I found myself witness to s sight that had gradually died out in Paris and was, I thought, gone from the world. I thought of something that I had heard not long before in Madrid: 'Love blossoms in times of the plague.' "

Some photos we took at Cerro Santa Maria here.

We walked back along the sidewalks of O'Higgins Boulevard, which were now packed, with people going home from work, and going in and out of the stores. We stopped in a couple, as I started looking for soccer jerseys. The stores were packed, department stores that could be in a U.S. mall. But I was unsuccessful in finding any soccer gear, until we noticed that one of the blind street merchants--there were quite a few--had Argentina and Brazil t-shirts. I bought one of each for him, for 4000 peso apiece (approx 6 dollars). Another street vendor who sat next to him, this one with sight, helped complete the transaction.

Eugenio later mentioned to us that the government has encouraged and licensed such street vendors. Conversely, we noticed how few beggars/panhandlers we encountered in our limited experience walking around the city.

We had dinner that night at Le Due Torri, a nice Italian place not far from the hotel, on the recommendation of the concierge. This was our first extended experience trying to order in Spanish. Although the waiter didn't speak much English, he was patient and helpful, and even pulled out a Spanish-English cheat sheet from his wallet (though after we got our orders, we thought he may have had some stuff wrong on his cheat sheet).

After dropping off the parents, Anj and I headed off the Suecia, the nightlife district. Since it was Monday, it was pretty quiet along the 3 or 4 blocks that were lined with bars and clubs. We could envision it being quite a scene on the weekends. Many of the places had people outside trying to recruit passersby into their joints. After walking the whole length, to the river, we walked back to one of these places, "Louisiana" where one guy had hooked us by talking to us in English as we walked by. Turned out he too, had spent quite a bit of time in the U.S. In fact, he'd spent much of his childhood in Miami, where his parents had moved--until he got deported a couple years ago, after getting involved with some gangs, which led to an armed robbery of a jewelry store.

We had a couple beers at that spot, listened to a sort of folk-y singer do some covers of American songs from the '70s (he looked what I imagine is a Chilean stereotype, kind of hippie-ish, with long hair and an acoustic guitar--though I'm not sure where I picked up that stereotype), and then cabbed it back to the hotel.


Cynth said...

Hey Suman! What's the hold up here? I know you and Anj have been busy, but some of us schmucks need to live vicariously through your travels! Seriously, I need the escape from my studies.

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