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February 13th 2019
Published: February 13th 2019
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The Virgin Mary StatueThe Virgin Mary StatueThe Virgin Mary Statue

San Cristobal Hill, Santiago
The trip is all but done now. All that’s left is to head to the airport and fly back to Sydney. This entry will cover what I’ve been up to for the last few days, and a summary of trip (best and worst, biggest surprise and disappointment).

As I mentioned in the last blog, we checked out late at Vina Vik. We had a couple of hours to drive to my next hotel in the Maipo Valley (just south of Santiago). The GPS that we had been given for the car is extremely difficult to find destinations. Once you have the destination in, it works fine but I keep struggling to find the destinations. This time, I couldn’t find the hotel but I eventually found the winery Santa Rita.

The drive was uneventful, thankfully. Although we have a tag for the toll booths and should be able to drive straight through them, it seems many people don’t have a tag. This causes the traffic to back up at the toll booths so much that even traffic with tags must stop in the jam. But other than that, we reached Alto Jahuel near Buin about 7pm. With checking in and
Casa RealCasa RealCasa Real

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
nearly another hour’s drive to the airport, we were about on schedule.

Again, the drive to the airport was uneventful and I pulled into the first parking lot I could find. It was a good distance still from the airport, so we had to partake in the free shuttle. Thankfully, they seem to be pretty regular and we didn’t have to wait long. Checking in went smoothly and I said farewell to dad as he joined the queue to pass through immigration.

The drive back was fine, but between the traffic and everything at the airport, I was back later than the 9:30 I had told the hotel. I was expecting to have missed dinner but as I walked in at 10:15 I was pleasantly surprised to find the kitchen was waiting for me. They made me a salmon sandwich and I ate it in my very nice room at Casa Real. There was also a complementary bottle of Casa Real Carmenere waiting in my room. I didn’t drink it though, as I decided to take it home with me and share it with my mates.

Casa Real is a hotel at the Santa Rita winery, much like Vina Vik was. However, unlike Vina Vik, the hotel has real character about it. It is in a house that was built in the 1880’s and the grounds are beautiful. I had booked the all-inclusive option too, so there were activities like at Vina Vik. However, once again I had organised a tour to wineries in the Maipo Valley for Saturday. It turned out, however, that the Casa Real tour and wine-tasting also wouldn’t run on a Sunday. But fortunately, I had nothing planned for Monday except to return the car in Santiago, so we organised to do it then after checking out on Monday morning.

But on Saturday morning I was once again picked up by Manuel, who had taken dad and I to the wineries on Thursday. This was good because Manuel actually lived some years in Australia and his daughter still lives in Sydney, so we had much to talk about as we drove between the wineries. Once again, the office had picked wineries and underestimated the time to travel between them.

The first place we went to was called El Principal. The name comes from the title given to the leader of the
Andean MuseumAndean MuseumAndean Museum

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
local indigenous people under Spanish colonial rule. Apparently, we were there late because it takes 40 minutes to drive there, not the 20 that was planned. The Brazilian lady, Alexandra, wasn’t happy but what could we do? Fortunately, she didn’t blame me, and we still had a nice tour.

We started off with a bit of 4-wheel-driving to a vantage point in the vineyard where she explained all about the winery. From there, we headed back to the winery just as the next tour group arrived. So not only had we been late, but the next group was an hour early! They had to wait though, and I was pleased that Alexandra didn’t hurry through the rest of the tour. After looking through where they make the wine, we descended down a lift into the cellar, where we did the tasting. Surprisingly, this is probably the first time I have actually done a tasting in the cellar and it was a nice touch. The wines were very good, but as it was the first winery of the day, I would have to come back on Monday to buy some if I didn’t find anything else, I liked more. Once

El Principal Winery
again, the taxes on bringing wine back to Australia are so high that I really have to keep below the 3-bottle duty-free limit.

We headed off and drove back past my hotel and on to the next winery at Perez Cruz. Manuel said I was lucky to be going there as they are not always open for tours. We arrived late though and at first it seemed like nobody was around. Eventually we found the tour had started without us and the tour guide was coming back from the vines with a couple from Switzerland. Never mind. The tour of the cellar and the winery was interesting. The winery building is a spectacular wooden structure. The tasting at the end was a little disappointing though. We got to taste 3 wines, but they were all from the cheaper ranges. They were nice, and would be excellent value for money, but with my limited capacity to bring back to Australia, I was only interested in truly special wines.

From Perez Cruz we headed to the restaurant at lunch, which was actually at the Santa Rita winery where my hotel is. It was a very nice lunch with plenty of wine so as I returned to see Manuel, I was expecting to fall asleep on the next drive as our destination was on the other side of the Maipo Valley, all the way near the coast. However, Manuel said we would probably only get there 15 minutes before they close, so he didn’t want to risk it. He suggested we head to Concha y Toro instead. I didn’t mind, so off we went.

It was much closer, but I wasn’t expecting much if I’m honest. Manuel said Concha y Toro is the biggest wine company in Chile, but I usually prefer wines from smaller winemakers. However, he said Concha y Toro has many different ranges and we can choose which ones we taste. I opted to taste 3 of their best wines and thankfully I didn’t prefer their most expensive one! I did pick up a bottle though, which was pricey enough. I was now at my limit so would not have to go back to El Principal on Monday.

With the tour over, I headed back to the hotel. I had a quiet night with another 3-course dinner and more wine and expected to fall asleep easily. However, it was here that I discovered the only downside with Casa Real. The rooms had no cooling whatsoever. While I was fine with it not being air-conditioned, after a hot day it really did need a fan or something to get some cool air inside.

On Sunday morning I didn’t have much planned except to visit the Andean museum and look around the grounds. I was informed that I had lunch booked at the same restaurant as I’d eaten lunch at on Saturday and was given a map of the grounds. Between the hotel and the winery is a lovely park that was very relaxing to walk around. Once I had looked around and taken a few photos, I headed to the museum. It is a small museum but has some very interesting pre-Columbian finds and an interesting section on the more recent indigenous Mapuche culture. I walked back to the hotel at about 1:30 only to be told my lunch booking was at 1pm. Fortunately, the restaurant was able to move it to 2pm, but it would have been good to know that earlier as the museum is right near the restaurant.

In the afternoon, I just relaxed in my room. Thankfully the day was cooler than Saturday, so the heat wasn’t too bad. I spent some time putting together a slideshow/video of my Antarctica photos and was very happy with the results. At 8pm I had a sunset wine tasting so I headed there on time. An English family were also doing the sunset wine tasting so they invited me to join them and we had a pleasant conversation. The tasting was 3 full glasses of wine, so with the conversation we all had at least 1 glass left when it was time to go to dinner. We brought them with us, so the hotel saved some money on their wine bill that night!

On Monday morning I was packed and checked out before breakfast. However, during breakfast I was told there’d been a mistake and my tour wasn’t at 10am but was at midday. I said that was fine because I wasn’t in a rush. I later found out my tour was supposed to be at 2:30pm and they woke the poor tour guide up so I wouldn’t have to wait. Once again, I found that although things were not especially well organised at Casa Real, the
Old MachineryOld MachineryOld Machinery

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
staff really were keen to accommodate me. It made for a pleasant experience.

The tour was with a young fellow called Francisco. We started with a walk around the park, which could have been boring but there is much history I had no idea of when I walked around on Sunday. The building where the restaurant is was the original hacienda (estate home) and was built in 1750. There is a wine cellar there, not quite as old, but old enough that they can’t actually use it for storing wine anymore as it is a national heritage building.

However, the more interesting cellar is the one that gives rise to the name of Santa Rita’s 120 series of wines. During the war for Chile’s independence from Spain, 120 soldiers sought refuge in the cellar one night. They were hidden there and rested up before riding back into battle the next day and winning a crucial victory. So, it was fascinating to be staying at a place that was so important to Chile’s history. But it was a surprise to find that cellar is still very much in use.

We finished the tour with another wine tasting. As
Old Wine PressOld Wine PressOld Wine Press

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
I was going to be driving in the afternoon, I had to spit the wine, but it was an enlightening session with Francisco as we tasted 3 of Santa Rita’s best wines and paired them with cheeses, meats and strawberries.

With that I headed into Santiago. I finally gave up on using the GPS and used my phone even though I didn’t have a cradle for it. Fortunately, I got back to the car rental office with 7% battery left. It all went smoothly, other than a frustrating time trying to fill up the petrol tank until a Chilean who spoke English was able to help me. I then settled in for a relaxing night in a fully air-conditioned hotel room.

Although I had two more days in Santiago, I must confess I had little planned. On Tuesday, during the day all I did was visit the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. I had visited the museum and had enjoyed it last time and did so again this time too.

Tuesday night was the last planned excursion and I was hoping it would be interesting. I had organised, through a friend, a dinner (and wine-pairing) with a winemaker
Concha y ToroConcha y ToroConcha y Toro

Maipo Valley
from MOVI, a group of Chilean independent winemakers. I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, but it was a very fancy one.

The winemaker was named Jaimie and he is the Vice-President of MOVI. This was only the second dinner like this that he had done, so I was quite lucky. Fortunately, we got on very well and I think he enjoyed it almost as much as I did. We got a few looks from the handful of other patrons (it is a small restaurant) as we each had 6 glasses of wine on the table. We kept trying each of the wines with each of the 6 courses. Some worked, some didn’t. Jaimie and I tended to agree on what worked and what didn’t.

The most interesting wine, for me, was the orange wine that worked well with the two dessert courses. I had not had an orange wine before and Jaimie even rang the winemaker to confirm how orange wine was made, as he didn’t want to give me the wrong information. Orange wine is made with white grapes, but made in the same way as red wine, where the grape juice is left with
The Park of Casa RealThe Park of Casa RealThe Park of Casa Real

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
the skins during fermentation. It was very nice, and something I will have to try more of!

The restaurant also knew of Jaimie so we got a bonus 7th course of macarons and a shot of pisco. It was after this, as I stood up to go to the bathroom, that I realised just how much I had drunk throughout the evening. Fortunately, I was still able to stand but it really hit me harder than I was expecting. All in all, it was a very pleasant evening and quite enlightening, so I was glad to have done it.

Wednesday morning, I had nothing to do except to catch a plane to Sydney at midnight. As I was going to be spending many hours sitting on the plane, I wanted to get a good walk in during the day. I had discussed it with Jaimie the night before, and he had given me good advice about heading up to the top of San Cristobal Hill, so after breakfast I headed out.

It was a decent walk to the bottom of the cable car but most of it was in parkland. Even though I had walked the park
The Park of Casa RealThe Park of Casa RealThe Park of Casa Real

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
a few times now, I still enjoyed it. I didn’t have to wait too long to get into the cable car either – one of the advantages of travelling on your own as I was squeezed in to make a 6. The view was fantastic, and I wondered why I hadn’t done the trip to the top of the hill before.

At the top of the hill is a large statue of the virgin Mary and many people go there for religious reasons. However, I would recommend doing the pilgrimage just for the view. Santiago looks its best from up there. After taking many photos though, I headed back down the hill. This time I took the funicular and was lucky enough to get in the front carriage, so I had a great view of the trip down the hill.

And that, was pretty much it. I’ve spent this afternoon processing photos and writing this blog. I will soon have a shower, check out and head to the airport for the long plane ride home. That will be the end of this amazing trip. Every big trip I’ve done has been special in its own way, but it’s
The Park of Casa RealThe Park of Casa RealThe Park of Casa Real

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
hard not to say this was the most special. Antarctica was amazing, but Chile was very special too.

So, as promised, here is the summary of the trip. Once again, I will do it as answers to the questions I will be asked when I return home.

What was the Best Thing on the trip?

The best thing, I can’t separate two of the excursions. The first was the “Fauna” excursion in Patagonia. It was a really enjoyable day out and the first time I had taken 1,000 photos in a single day (later beaten by the 1,945 in the Falklands as I tried to capture birds in flight!). The highlight of the day though, was seeing the two Pumas and being just 20 metres away as they sunned themselves. That was really special.

The second was the last zodiac excursion we had in the Antarctic. The photographer Jonathan insisted on joining me in the zodiac and we headed out for a surreal couple of hours on perfectly still water, surrounded by icebergs and fog. It was the crowning day for my photography on the trip. And to top it all off, as we were heading
The Roman Baths of Casa RealThe Roman Baths of Casa RealThe Roman Baths of Casa Real

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
back to the ship, we finally found an elusive leopard seal. Just magic!

The Worst Thing?

There wasn’t much to complain about, really. I can only think of the GPS we had in the car. It frustrated me every time I went to use it and I ended up giving up on it. However, if that’s the worse thing on a trip, you’re doing pretty well!

The Biggest Surprise?

I must say, the biggest surprise was to find out that our ship, the Akademik Ioffe, had run aground the previous Arctic summer and had spent months in dry-dock being repaired. Ours was its first voyage since and yet we were told nothing until we turned up for the briefing in Punta Arenas. I know they had been hoping to get the ship to King George Island in time, but it would have been nice if they had at least warned us that the ship wasn’t already down in the Antarctic.

The converse of this was that there were only 70-something passengers instead of the full complement of 96. This meant dad and I didn’t have to share a bathroom, so it was not all bad.
Merlot and Chardonnay (the Geese)Merlot and Chardonnay (the Geese)Merlot and Chardonnay (the Geese)

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
But another two days in the Antarctic would have been nice.

The Biggest Disappointment?

For the biggest disappointment, it is hard to think of any, but I suppose I would have to say Vina Vik. I have since been told that it is the only 7-star hotel in Chile, and while it was very, very nice, I just didn’t think it was as great as I was hoping. It felt like a project that had a lot of money thrown at it, but it had no character, no soul. Again, I’m not saying it was bad, but it wasn’t as great as I had expected. Also, it wasn’t in the Colchagua Valley as I had originally requested. To be honest, I would prefer to stay at Casa Real than Vina Vik if I came back. But I would also like to explore the Colchagua Valley too.

So that’s all folks. I have to pack and have a shower now, so must run. Apologies for any mistakes in this blog because I am running out of time for editing!

Additional photos below
Photos: 46, Displayed: 34


The Park of Casa RealThe Park of Casa Real
The Park of Casa Real

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
The Park of Casa RealThe Park of Casa Real
The Park of Casa Real

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
The Park of Casa RealThe Park of Casa Real
The Park of Casa Real

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
The Original Hacienda and GardensThe Original Hacienda and Gardens
The Original Hacienda and Gardens

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley
Rapanui Statues in the Andean MuseumRapanui Statues in the Andean Museum
Rapanui Statues in the Andean Museum

Vina Santa Rita, Maipo Valley

13th February 2019

South America
Having travelled to Colombia, Peru & Mexico I can attest to the wonders which South America & surrounds offer. But we've yet to go to Santiago. You've whetted my appetite!
14th February 2019

That's great!
South America is such a wonderful travel destination.
14th February 2019

Sad when a trip comes to an end
We've really enjoyed your trip. Ending in wine country was a great decision. Yo've made us eager for the South American leg of our travels next year. Thanks for sharing.
15th February 2019

Thanks for reading
I look forward to reading about your trip!
15th February 2019

New horizons
Having never been to this part of the world, you've given me some very good ideas for when we eventually get there. The wine sounds fabulous! Thanks for sharing your adventures and photos with us :)
15th February 2019

You're welcome
Thanks for reading!

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