Sorry for the week-long teaser! It wasn’t really intentional – we just ran out of time to write and also had no access to our computer or Internet all week. So, here we go…
1. Getting pulled over by la policia after drinking a bottle of wine – In Santa Cruz we drove out to a lovely dinner in a rural area at a traditional family owned restaurant. We shared a really nice bottle of Montes wine (for $13) and asked the owner/waiter to order for us (meat for raj and fish for me-although I’m eating meat on this trip, I am still ordering fish when possible). This place was a bit too much for me to handle ordering meat anyway because the lamb was cooking over an open fire about 20 ft from our table (picture attached). There is only so much a newly converted vegetarian can handle. After finishing our wine, the owner brought us our complimentary choice of traditional liqueur for dessert. Without thinking much of it, we hopped in the car to try to find our way back to our hotel. We quickly got lost and were driving through the town trying to find our way through a confusing maze of one way streets and lack of street signs. We were not drunk, but we were still pretty freaked out when we got pulled over at a road block! We played the part of the dumb Americans pretty well though and ended up asking the cops directions to our hotel before they could question us at all. Since they didn’t speak any English, our tactic worked pretty well.
2. What Santa Cruz Wine Valley is like – very much like California’s wine valleys – very warm, sunny, lots of hills, and a strange mix of both lush yet dry terrain. They mostly grow grapes for red wine. We were there during their first week of the harvest, so not only were there beautiful orchards all around, but they were bursting with purple grapes ripe and ready to be picked.
3. Wine tasting by horseback – Our B&B introduced us to a guy named Diego who organizes more adventurous tours of the valley (i.e. mountain biking or horseback riding). We, of course, went for the horseback riding. It ended up being six of us total – Raj, me, Diego, our gaucho, and two girls from Canada. We hoped on our horses around 10:30 am and began a ride through a mix of orchards and steep rocky hills. Our horses were amazing – a mix of the traditional Chilean Criollos and quarter horses. We rode mainly uphill for nearly two hours and then came to a small wood gate. We dismounted and left the horses with the gaucho. Diego guided us through the gate and up some stone steps and we arrived at a beautiful deck overlooking the valley. On the deck was a an old wood wine barrel with a bottle of wine and 4 glasses. This was our first wine tasting! It was so different, and unexpected, and absolutely perfect! The 4 of us shared the bottle (Diego abstained) and some conversation, and then hopped back on our horses and rode back down for another hour or so. It was getting pretty hot, so although I was bummed to say goodbye to my horse, the air-conditioned van that drove us to the next winery (and lunch) was very welcome. The rest of the day followed a more traditional wine tour itinerary. It was a very fun day.
4. GPS getting directions to Santiago airport wrong – Our drive from our hotel in Santiago to Santa Cruz took about 2.5 hours, so we were careful to budget about 4 hours to get to the Santiago airport expecting plenty of time to get lunch and return the rental car. Before we left, we downloaded directions onto my phone. Unfortunately, despite being an International airport, Google maps does not know where the Santiago airport is. We arrived at the location it said was the airport and were more than a bit uneasy to find ourselves in the middle of the city at an office building! To make a long story short(er) we asked directions from a few women on the side of the street and again from a few other drivers (again– difficult due to my pathetic excuse for Spanish) and eventually found our way to the airport just in time rather than significantly early as expected.
5. Raj giving away his burger to the needy – on our way to the Santiago airport, we stopped for lunch along the highway. As we ate outside, a stray dog wandered over to us (obviously, we continue to wear the “we are suckers” signs on our foreheads). We both started putting aside some of our lunch with the intention of giving him some scraps, but Raj decided to go a step farther and actually gave the sweet little guy about a quarter of his burger. Didn’t you know that he was worse than me???
6. Charter plane to Palena – Normally to get to the Futaleufu Valley, one would take a plane to Chaiten, but last year, Chaiten was devastated when its volcano erupted. So, instead we flew in an 8 seater to Palena. The flight plan took us over the bay and we were low enough to see the salmon and trout fish farms. Then we reached mountainous terrain that appeared impossible to reach. There were pockets of lakes high in the mountains that were sapphire blue and sometimes emerald green and several glaciers as well. It was quite beautiful. There was also a lot gray due to the volcano’s ash everywhere – made the glaciers a very strange color. Then, all of a sudden, we left the mountains behind and entered a valley where we landed smoothly on the single, small runway.
7. Ride to Futaleufu Valley – Our driver, Pato, picked us up at the tiny little airstrip and we began the 2+ hour journey to Futaleufu. For the first 2 miles or so, it is a paved rode, but after that, the entire way is dirt/gravel. It was a beautiful, if bumpy drive through the valleys and along the rivers. It made me really excited to get out into the wilderness. There were also a few places where new bridges were being built – a sign of how the area is growing and that the road from Palena to Futaleufu is being used so much more now that Chaiten is no longer the first destination.
8. “The Lodge” in the Valley – We arrived around 1:30pm just in time for lunch that is served family style there. I had somewhat high expectations of this place for some reason. I had done the research on this portion of the trip and had the impression that the lodge would be cushy and comfortable and that part of us would not want to be leaving to stay in haciendas and such. However, the lodge was actually more like a hostel with private rooms. Not the cleanest place I’ve ever stayed and although the staff seemed nice, they weren’t the most helpful we’ve experienced either. It wasn’t until around 5pm that Saturday that we finally found out our itinerary for week when Chris Spellius (owner and former Olympic kayaker) knocked on our door. He came in with Fabian (our fearless guide) and explained that Raj and iI were the only people going on the trip and that they had created a special program for us and that we would be leaving Sunday morning and coming back Friday evening (rather than Monday to Thursday). Also, our first day riding would be the longest – 8 hours! His main question for us was “Can you handle it???” to which we replied “Sure” even though we had know idea still what exactly we were going to have to handle.
9. Why Tovah is no longer interested in Kayaking – That night at the lodge we learned that everyone else staying there was there to kayak the “Fu” with Chris. The ONLY thing they talked about all night was kayaking. They took turns telling personal stories or horror stories they had heard. They talked about rolling and as far as I was concerned, used so many kayak specific terms that they might as well have been speaking another language. In any case, I realized that I am not crazy enough to attempt the stuff they were talking about and that if I ever get in a kayak again, it will only be a sea kayak. No rapids for me!
10. Our 5 day tour through the mountains that have not been ridden this season (due to volcano eruptions that wiped out a town last year) and staying at haciendas with locals who were notified today via radio that we’d be dropping by.) Okay, forgive us, but we can’t possible update you on the past week in this posting – there is simply too much and it really deserves its own section with lots of pictures. For now, let me just tell you that it was absolutely fantastic, that I have every intention of repeating it several times over the years and I highly recommend it to every one!