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Rants & Raves

Punta Choros and Isla Damas

This weekend we picked the kids up after school and headed down to the coast to explore the Isla Damas national park area, famous for fauna lining the islands just off the coast.  The Humboldt current runs along the coast of most of southern Chile, with icy cold waters that come up in a subduction zone that brings rich nutrients from the depths up to the surface where fish can gorge themselves, and then a sequence of predators can gorge on them and each other in a fantasmagorific orgy of consumption.  Bottle nose dolphins, orcas and other whales, dozens of migratory birds, sea lions and otters, etc. line the coast feasting on eachother.

The drive on yet another dirt road was fun as always, the thrill has far from eluded me (to date), and led to a windswept peninsula/point with the little town of Punta Choros.  I had found some cute cabins on the web earlier in the day, and they were even better in person.

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We were undeterred by the wind and set off for several great hikes along the coast, with mostly clear skies over the weekend and warm temperatures if you could lay down low enough to get out of the wind!

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Sunsets were fantastic as usual, and a local fisherman sold us a dozen LARGE abalone for about $1.50 USD per… it was yet another abalone orgy, as we prepared them with mayonaise, stir fried with pasta, and ate them on little toasted breads.

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The evenings were fun, we didn’ t have internet connection or tv, but we did have our portable electronics and plenty of electricity to power them…

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The highlight was the “3 hour tour” (we explained the meaning of that phrase to the kids, who thought that it sounded hilarious (Gilligan’s Island) to the islands.  As luck would have it, my camera ran out of battery power very early on the outing, so i missed dozens of great wildlife shots of dolphins and sea lions, which were a thrill to see in such high density in their wild environments.  The dolphins were everywhere, jumping high into the air at several points, and following our boats around playfully as usual (we see quite a bit of them in Santa Barbara shores in California).  Here’s a poor stand’in photo wise:

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Just 30 minutes into our drive back home sunday morning, both the boy asked “when can we come back”, so this clearly ranked as a top 10 destination for them—they really like being in beach cabins i guess?

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Categories
Rants & Raves

Desert drive to coast, yummier than a Dessert!

Emilio and I did an amazing overland trip from Pisco Elqui.  When you look at a map of chile on Google Maps, you get a very false impression that all roads are created equally.  In our part of Chile, maybe 10% of the roads are paved, so a good local map not only distinguishes between paved/not but also between degrees of “not paved”, which range from packed gravel, to packed dirt, to loose dirt, and then the lowest form of them all, loose dirt SINGLE TRACK, roads that are so gnarly that you not only need a 4×4 vehicle, but also to drive with trepidation because at any moment you could find yourself facing down another vehicle, on the middle of a steep hill with no guardrails.  The first leg of our weekend outing was on such a road, south from Vicuna into the Rio Hurtado valley.

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The first hour we probably were making 40km per hour progress, but then the road got really hard core and we were down to 20km/p/h for long stretches.  It took us over 3 hrs to go less than 40 miles.  But it was the most fun i’ve ever had with a 4×4 vehicle, and the vistas were just incredible… the air is so dry, you can literally see mountains in the distance that are 100s of miles away.

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Once we got to Hurtado the road opened up and eventually became paved, as we made our way into Ovalle for a yummy lunch at the local “Social Club”.  Afterwards we continued along a paved road down to Combarbala, through river valleys and past mile after mile of grapes, avocadoes, and other fruits being squeezed from the desert by modern irrigation marvels (we saw several large irrigation damns).

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The cacti were fantastic, some flowering with bizarre fruits.  Late in the afternoon we hit the coast at Huentelauquen and made our way down to Los Vilos, a windy place to say the least, but still charming.  We found a funky little hotel with a great deck view of the bay:

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and then we walked out to the point of town to catch the sunset, followed by a feast of abalones and wine before snuggling up in our beds (i had forgotten how humid the coast is, i much prefer the dry as bone desert air in our village)

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The next morning we did some exploration of the coast between Pichidangui and Los Vilos for possible property investment, the highlight of which was this piece of land, complete with amazing cliff and ocean inlets—a bit pricey at $130,000 USD for 1.5 acres. 

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On the plus side, it does include water and electricity… unlike other properties we saw that were 1/10th the price, but playfully offered as “eco-lots” because you are on your own to produce solar/etc. for your water and power needs.

Here we are at Pichidangui beach, which tata of course wanted to immediately ravage with a quick swim (i held him off till later in the day, in Totoralillo closer to Serena).

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Categories
Rants & Raves

Halloween in Chile

When i was a kid living in Chile in the 1970s, the lack of a Halloween celebration was one of my biggest beefs with the country (the other two were lack of Root Beer, and no saturday morning cartoons).  So it is with surprise and amusement that we now find that Halloween is a serious event here, even in our imageown little town in the mountains.  I have mixed feelings—on the one hand, it is obvious that kids love the fun and the candy, so it is a great thing for children everywhere to partake in.  On the other, the shameless consumerism of made-for-industry holidays like this one (something like 20% of all candy for the entire year is sold for the event, in the USA) is abhorrent and a bummer to see it so far away from its consumer roots in the USA, infiltrating little villages in the Andes!

 

Check out the little dirt roads in our town, with scary kids in pursuit of mischief and candy + artificial colors.

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Categories
Rants & Raves

Pisco Elqui – Mistral Pisco Distillery Tour

Per the namesake of our little town, yes, there is actually some Pisco distillery action in the ‘hood at the Pisco Mistral production plant.  Pisco is a Chilean and Peruvian liquor that runs between 40 and 55 % alchohol levels (80 to 110 proof), and to my untrained palette taste pretty much like a brandy.  In it’s basest form, the stuff is usually mixed with Coca Cola to make a “piscola” drink which gets you drunk in a hurry and at a super low cost.  A bottle of generic Pisco runs as little as $5 USD at the market.  The industry apparently has some hopes of upping the profile of the drink, perhaps because they are loosing out on the “get drunk quick and cheap” market segment to Rum, which is even cheaper still, and comes in from export countries that have a ton of sugar crops which i presume are higher yielding/volume than growing Pisco from wine grapes.  So, towards the end of improving the drink’s reputation and charging more per bottle, the local Mistral distillery has been putting the product into oak barrels to age for a few years, giving it a decidedly woody taste and a yellower color. The tour of the plant is most impressive, particularly in admiring the swanky new “bodega” they have put in place to make the whole thing seem more regal.  Check out the inside:

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The old copper boiling kilns were pretty cool as well, where the grape juic/wine is boiled to extract the alchohol so that it can be condensed and then distilled and later put into the oak barrels.

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But by far, better than the product/pisco that we sampled, was the “disneylandesque” garden and restaurant, which have been built to convey “better than your average piscola” heritage to those visiting:

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Categories
Rants & Raves

The neighbor’s porch is insane!!

So our little house in Pisco Elqui is part of a vacation rental complex run by our neighbor/landlord called Cabanas Elquimista, and amongst the little cabins/houses dotting the side of the valley wall is his house itself, which he built and which has a super groovy hippie good-times vibe going on.  My favorite feature of his house is his porch, which has a completely open/infinity-horizon thing going on because it actually has no railing/safety perimeter, rather, it just extends to an edge and then drops about 12 feet down the ravine… a perilous environment or late night drunken accidents to occur (remember, this is the home of Pisco production in Chile, a brandy like booze of 100+ proof, usually drunk with sugary mixes which makes it go down faster and hit you harder than usually prudent).  Take a look at the porch:

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I tell you, it is positively exhilarating to be on a structure that has both a great view, and a palpable sense of imminent chaos of human bodies flying off the edge into the abyss!

The entire property has that feeling to some extent, in that the houses are all built along the break in the valley, giving great panoramic views from most places on the property, including the pool and the terraced cactus gardens (we are in a desert, remember!)  Here are a few more shots of the environs:

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