Archive for October, 2009

25 Oct 2009

The Last Post

2 Comments Chile, San Fernando

Every room comes with a free guide puppy – Julian and Paul bonding
 
We have been in the mountains near San Fernando, about 2 hours south of Santiago, for the last couple of days, being waited on and constantly plied with wine, beer and Pisco Sours, by William and Carolina at their mountain hideaway.
 

View from the dining room
 
One cool hot tub

Paul and Gill have been off on horses with a local guide exploring secret waterfalls and icy-cold pools, while I have been issued the task of stoking the fire for the wood-fired hot tub, making sure it was hot enough for their return. Sometimes I think this relationship is a little lop-sided!

 

Well that’s it! 26 hours and three flights door-to-door, and we’ll be back in sunny Perth … planning the next escapade.

Thanks for reading and as the cartoon says … “That’s all folks.”
 

Besos

Al (Paul & Gillian)
22 Oct 2009

Tick Tick Tick – Welcome To Pucon

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Views of Volcano Villarrica smoking away across Lake

The hypnosis – the sweet whispers at bedtime – worked. I finally shocked them out of their slothful city existences and back to the mountains. We arrived at Pucon early in the morning and a taxi whisked us to Antumalal Hotel, an oasis on the banks of the spectacular Lake Villarrica.


Antumalal Hotel gardens overlooking Lake Villarrica


Antumalal Hotel gardens – view from our bedroom


Waiting for the first Pisco Sour to arrive

Antumalal is surrounded by well tended colourful exotic gardens. It is a small hotel with a history. Architecturally it is very beautiful – timeless even – each of the 22 rooms has windows the entire width of the room that overlook the lake. It was built in 1945 and has changed little since. The corridor walls are lined with photographs of famous people who have stayed here.

I was sitting on a comfy sofa in the hotel lounge, the open fire blazing, the last light of day rippling across the lake, sipping my Pisco Sour, when I heard hushed voices behind me.

“Did you hear there’s a celebrity staying here?”

I listened to their conversation for a while, pushing myself further into the cushion so as not to be seen.

“He’s a lot smaller in real life”

It piqued my curiosity until I could stand it no more. I peered over the cushion. There was a rustle and a bit of a commotion, then lots of shouting, “There he is. Quick.”

In an instant I was seeing stars as a barrage of camera flashes went off all around me.

“It’s Al. Cool. Hey Al …”

I spent the next hour signing autographs and then walked down the corridors with the hotel management deciding which photos should come down so mine could go up – there were some old black and whites of Queen Elizabeth, a couple of James Stewart and one or two of Neil Armstrong. I think I’d like to be next to Emma Thompson I said.

Antumalal is a cool hotel – when you ask for a queen room, you can actually have the room Queen Elizabeth stayed in!


Pucon Volcano Warning System. When this light goes red … RUN!

Pucon is in the shadow of the mighty Volcano Villarrica. On a clear day you can see the Volcano smoking away. It is one of Chile’s most active volcanos and has regularly erupted several times in recent history. It erupted in 1999, and also in 1984 and 1971. It is a time-bomb waiting to go off – tick, tick, tick. The town has a safety plan and in the main street a set of Green, Orange, Red lights warn if you should “Get The Hell Out Of Here”.


Ponchos, chaps and spurs, hanging over the “Rock of Depression”

We have spent the last few days being energetic while keeping a watchful eye on the volcano, just in case:

  • horse riding in nearby valleys, saddled up in traditional Chilean cowboy/girl gear, chaps and spurs and thick wool ponchos
  • hiking in Huerquehue National Park, climbing steep muddy and snow covered trails in search of Monkey Puzzle trees (Chile’s National Tree), volcanoes and pristine lakes;

And now we are kicking back in the hotel, awaiting our masseur and hoping these aches will go away.


Monkey Puzzle tree – puzzled!

22 Oct 2009

Cama Premium

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The only way to travel.

There would be an interior photo if some ^%&* hadn’t stolen our camera.

Short of chartering your own airplane, there is no quick way to get from Valparaiso to Pucon. The best way, however, is by bus. Bus travel in Argentina and Chile takes on a whole new meaning especially if you book cama premium. It is the height of luxury and ridiculously good value.

An attendant welcomed us on board and ushered us into a private cabin – cama premium – first class. The seats are broad and comfortable. A box of food is handed to each of us. We watch a movie. After dinner the attendant does his magic and turns our seats into fully flat beds, covers us in blankets, tucks us in, switches off the lights and wishes us dulces sueños.

In the morning he wakes us to bring us our breakfast, unmake our beds and welcome us to Pucon.

If only all travel was this good!

17 Oct 2009

Pisco Sour – Makes You Happy

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Everybody in Chile drinks Pisco Sour. It rocks! Pisco Sour is the national drink of Chile. Come to think of it, it is the national drink of Peru. The Chilenos claim they invented it, but we all know that can’t be true!

Take a tall shot of Pisco (a strong liquor distilled from grapes)
Squeeze in some lemon juice
Add some powdered sugar
Shake well.
Pour it into a tall glass.
Whisk an egg white and spoon carefully over the top.
A dash of Angostura bitters, and voila – PISCO SOUR.

One Pisco Sour – you are smiling, a broad ear-to-ear smile
Two Pisco Sours – everyone is looking good, really good
Three Pisco Sours – you are dancing … with a streetlight
Four or Five Pisco Sours – you’ll wake up next to someone you’ll swear you’ve never seen before – best stick to three.

Pepo our Chileno man about Valparaiso, not to mention Rock Star and all round good guy rented a shiny red car and drove us out to Casablanca (wine-territory). On the way he scared us (and himself) half to death with his driving; managed to get stopped and fined by the police for going through a stop sign, and finally got us to our lunch destination in one piece – a little shaky but unharmed.


You put the wine in here


Pepo contemplating the long afternoon ahead

We found ourselves at Morande Winery, out on a sunny terrace, with a cluster of empty wine glasses lined up in front of us. At other tables the locals were hopping into Pisco Sours before the wine. We opted to go straight for the wine and the mini-degustation menu – five courses and five excellent wines.


Making a start on the wines


Dish number two – three types of fish in a Pinot-Noir confit
with fried aubergine – superb!

Afterwards Pepo hurtled us down to a small seaside village, with just a few open decked restaurants, a tiny picturesque bay full of grey Pelicans, young boys on body boards, and the local fishermen about to head out to haul in their nightly catch.


The gringo – Paul – saves the day

We have been in Valparaiso for a week, hoping on and off Valparaiso’s many ascensors and exploring the city. Ascensors – funicular cars that make getting around the steep hills a little more bearable – they are old, dating back to the 1880s and creaky and just a little bit freaky.


Ascensors – the easiest way up and down

It is an interesting city – like no other I have been in. It is large, colourful, a bit run-down, and a bit seedy in parts. Walk down the wrong street, at the wrong time of night, and you might just run into trouble. The architecture is amazing – colourful corrugated iron dwellings, perched precariously into the side of the steep hills. From a distance it looks a little like San Francisco; get a bit closer, however, and it perhaps is more like how I imagine San Francisco in the 1940s. Less than 10 kilometres down the road is Vina Del Mar, full of modern day high-rise buildings, garish beach front hotels and casinos – it is neat and efficient and nowhere near as interesting.

It was our last night and Bart held a party (for his French-Chilean girlfriend, Marcela, who is leaving for France) at his very funky upstairs pad with unmatched views across the harbour. It was a small group, about 15 of us, with a private chef preparing an assortment of courses, including a Parrilla (grill) out on the deck. The Pisco Sours were flowing until well into the wee hours. Pepo pulled out his guitar. There was singing and dancing … thump, thump, thump … it is now Saturday morning and I am staring bleary eyed at a pile of unpacked clothes and contemplating the long bus ride to Pucon.

Here’s a small gallery of pics from our week in Valparaiso – go on click here – you know you want to!

11 Oct 2009

Welcome To Valparaiso

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When in Chile! Chilean flag hanging from our balcony

We have rented an apartment from a Dutch guy, because based on our past experiences, Dutch owned and run apartments are second to none. Hmmm, there are always exceptions. The gas pilot that ensures we have hot water keeps going out mid-shower. The toilet doesn’t flush properly. The internet doesn’t work. The beds have duvets without covers, and the kitchen is an assortment of ‘hand me downs’. On the plus side it has incredible views across the port of Valparaiso, but then everywhere in Valparaiso has views.

To get to our apartment you have to go up Ferrari Street. There is no fast way to get up Ferrari Street – it is incredibly steep. Cars crawl up in first gear, and there is no footpath, rather a serious of steps. Fortunately we are only half-way up Ferrari Street, and then a little further up a passage of stairs. I am out of breath just thinking about it.

Our apartment seems to have its own guide, Pepo, who decided he should personally escort us to lunch. We wandered through town, trailing Pepo, and told him we wanted to go to a restaurant by the port with a view, for some seafood and beer. Along the way he dragged us into a restaurant.

“You want to try here?”

“Ah … no Pepo; the port, the view, remember?”

“Are you sure?”

And we continued on. This happened several more times, until eventually with no view of the port in sight we succumbed and entered an establishment of Pepo’s choosing. It turns out it was a good decision on Pepos and our parts. The food was excellent, amazingly cheap, but served in ridiculously oversized portions. Pepo ordered swordfish and mashed potatoes; and a few minutes later, two large plates arrived, the first with two slabs of swordfish overlapping the edges of the plate, and the second, a dinner plate full of mash. Gill’s meal was similarly large. By the time the meal ended we had so much food left over the waitress filled two large foam trays chock full of seafood for us to take away.

At 6pm, the big game – Chile vs Columbia – was being played. If Chile wins, they gain entry through to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. We found a small bar, ordered drinks, and settled down to watch the game. Football is a serious sport in Latin America. Everyone is sitting eyes glued to the screen; a few hardened fans have a headphone clipped in one ear, listening to both the TV and radio commentaries at once. A couple of times (there must be a split second delay), they are up and cheering before the goal goes through. ESP!

Chile wins: 4 -2. Everyone in the bar is very happy, dancing around, kissing, clapping and hugging each other. Out in the street it is chaos. Horns blast throughout town; people are hanging out through open car windows, sunroofs, on the open tray-backs of trucks, Chilean flags waving, chanting themselves hoarse. Downtown Valparaiso is in gridlock. We make our way slowly up Ferrari Street; behind us, the twinkle of lights from Fishing Boats in the harbour, and the drone of car horns. The horns continue throughout the night until we are eventually too tired to hear them anymore.


Very smiley Pepo – Swordfish and Mash for one