Thursday, April 2, 2015

A New Favorite

Last solitary walk through the vineyard - Santa Cruz


Without a doubt, from North to South, Chile has far exceeded my expectations.  The diverse landscape from the golden Atacama Desert to dramatic Patagonia and the cloudless skies of the Colchagua Valley, I’ve definitely fallen in love with this country.  Even though I’ve been able to spend about 2 ½ months here, I still feel that there is much to explore.  And so whenever I am able to travel again after this journey is complete… a return trip to Chile will be at the top of the list – specifically more time for Torres del Paine in the far south and the Lakes District in the middle. 

San Pedro de Atacama

Cerro Castillo Wilderness, New Zealand Camp

Laura Hartwig Vineyard - Colchagua Valley

Obviously, the natural beauty of this country has captivated me, but the people have captured my heart as well.  So many Chileans have greeted me with a warm welcome – starting at the border crossing back in January when the Chilean couple spotted me a few extra pesos to be able to pay for my taxi to get into their country.  And as recent as this morning, a wonderful gentleman at the airport ticket counter was more than accommodating as a strike in Buenos Aires canceled our flight.  When I asked his name to thank him for going out of his way to help us in making alternative travel plans, he proclaimed with a playful, sheepish grin that he was Carlos Santana.  Muchas gracias, Mr Santana.  I love your work. 

But I must say, I’ve found it interesting that the Chilean people are the only people to ask me “Why did you come to Chile?”, as if to say, “Why in the world would you come to this country when there are so many other places to visit?”  My response was always an emphatic “Why not?!?”  It’s almost as though they are surprised that people choose to visit Chile over their “love to hate them” neighbors in Argentina.  Truth be told, my original plan was to spend 3 months in Argentina and a couple weeks in Chile.  Somehow, the itinerary flip-flopped and I couldn’t be happier… even though I can’t fairly rate Argentina as I have yet to visit.

The last time I wrote, I had just been in Santa Cruz a few days.  And now my month working at Hotel Vino Bello has come to an end, all too quickly.  I really don’t have much exciting to report about my time there but I just have to express my thankfulness for landing in such a beautiful setting and working alongside some wonderful people.  Nearly every day was spent at the hotel, whether I was working or just enjoying the tranquility of resting under a giant willow tree, surrounded by vineyards. 

Backyard at Hotel Vino Bello

On my days off, I had the pleasure of enjoying one of the nearby vineyards for a tour and tasting.  These vineyards included our neighbors - Laura Hartwig, the oldest vineyard in the valley – Viu Manent, the feng shui designed – Montes, and the super modern assemblage vineyard – Estampa.  But the best tour and tasting, by far, was Mont Gras.  I learned more from our guide, Marcelo, in the first five minutes of the tour than I had learned in years of enjoying the fruit of the vine.  My tour tasting buddies were typically fellow volunteers and roommates Josh and Majo, who were great company!  They also shared their great meals with me as well as their extensive movie collection.  I doubled the number of movies I’ve watched in the last year from 3 to 6 during my time with them.  In return, I was able to give Majo a crash-course in government as she and Josh are huge fans of “Homeland” and “House of Cards”.  

Cellar of Laura Hartwig


Cellar at Montes

Tasting at Estampa with MaJo, Josh and Cassie

Tasting at Mont Grast with Josh and MaJo

I also had the pleasant surprise of making new friends with guests from the hotel, Terri and Jennifer, co-workers from Vancouver.  When I greeted them at check-in, they were surprised to hear English.  When I showed them to their room, I spent a half hour chatting with them and then thought I better give them time to settle in.  When I saw them again later in the afternoon, they asked if I had a day off.  I told them, “Tomorrow!”  They said, “Perfect, come join us for a vineyard tour!”  So I joined them at Montes and then for dinner afterwards, and they were super kind to treat me!  Later, on their last night, we pulled together some chairs around the fire pit on the patio, and enjoyed a bottle of Laura Hartwig and leftover pizza.  We swapped stories of travels and families and dreams and life.  Super cool chicas… two more to add to the list of “It’s the People.”    

Tasting at Montes with Terri and Jennifer

And then, during the last week, I had the pleasant surprise of getting a new roomie in Cassie.  Cassie from Pittsburg has landed at Vino Bello for a few months, as part of a break from her teaching job in Cuenca, Ecuador.  Cassie is a good time.  Although she never revealed her age, she told us she was old enough to be our mom.  But Cassie seemed super comfortable hanging around a bunch of “kids” half her age.  She took early retirement from teaching and has made home in Ecuador on and off for the last few years.  I hope I’m still as adventurous as she is at her age.  I hope our paths cross again!

Last night at Hotel Vino Bello - Moms and Pops got to meet my friends!

But really, the person I owe all of this part of the journey too is my Workaway Hostess/“Mom”, Janine.  Janine gave me a warm welcome to Santa Cruz, as she does with all her Workaway volunteers.  She was kind to take the time to tour me around the area, arrange vineyard tours and tastings, and let me pick her brain when it came to the ins and outs of the hospitality industry.  Janine left California over 30 years ago to start teaching in Santiago.  Now that she has retired from teaching, I'm pretty sure she is busier than ever with running the hotel, restaurant and most importantly, being Grandma to sweet 2-year old Emma and 6-month old Mila.  Janine has done an incredible job of welcoming many “kids” into the Vino Bello community through Workaway, and for that I’m extremely thankful.

And then, my last night walking through the vineyard by myself, it was like “Déjà vu all over again”.  The first rain storm since I arrived had left its mark with a beautiful full rainbow over the valley.  And opposite the rainbow was yet another incredible Colchagua Valley sunset.  My parents visit was delayed a day because of plane problems in Peoria, otherwise they would have been there to share the moment with me.  But instead, I was able to share the moment with the Lord, and thank Him for His goodness in my life.  Sometimes I just can’t believe it.   Seriously, can’t believe that this is my life.  AH!  So grateful!  In so many ways!  Gracias a Dios!






So, the moral of the story is this: If you, like me, create a list of countries to visit… in my humble opinion… Chile should skyrocket to the top of the list.  But that’s just me.  You might get a different response from my parents after their 5 days in this country.  But that story will be in the next blog… stay tuned for “Moms and Pops South American Adventure” trip digest.  It starts with Pops being detained at customs upon arrival.  How’s that for a cliffhanger?

Throw your hands up for Bariloche, Argentina!



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