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Published: September 10th 2014
At 5:45 p.m. we are on the bus, rushing along a major highway, having spent a long afternoon at an alpaca farm.
At Quintessence we learned to identify alpacas
by their topknot that looks like a bad hairpiece. A few llamas
were there also – almost twice the height and stiff necked. Over twenty years the owner (who wasn’t there) has been breeding her animals to purer but still natural shades. When we arrived the animals were in pens, curious about the commotion and peering at us as we took pictures of them. Then one of the workers let some out into a grassy yard. They ran out in obvious delight, some jumping and gambolling. Others had a good roll in dusty patches. Most of all, they pecked the fresh grass. One liked to zoom repeatedly around the lawn, rather like a teenager.
The worker took us into a large warehouse that contained all the equipment for making wool. The farm had searched the world for older, working machines because the new ones damage the ultra-fine alpaca wool. He gave us a bit of the carded wool – as light as a dust-bunny! He explained that the wool is
Unique products from many fibres
not washed because it is too fine and couldn’t withstand the process. Then we saw a “sheet” of wool made by folding it over and over on itself. This is done by an attachment to a huge carding machine that presses the wool, aligning the fibers, and cuts it into long strips that are stretched and spun on another machine. I’m sure the process is more detailed than we understood. In any case, the end result is fine light yarn.
This brought us to the jewel of a store selling clothes and yarns of many fibers: alpaca, linen, wool, cotton and many blends in dyed and natural colours. I bought a 100gm ball of mixed natural alpaca yarn, in effect a dark nut-brown, for a scarf. The yarn cost 6950 pesos (about $13); a knitted scarf in the store cost 19,500 pesos (about $39).
We began the day at another winery, San Esteban
, the largest in this winemaking district. We walked up into the vineyard to watch the harvest underway. About six men worked in pairs, using clippers to cut bunches on either side of the vines, quickly filling blue plastic boxes that hold 7 - 8 kilos. They
Picking wine grapes
The experienced workers at Vina San Estaban
must be very experienced because the tally man never weighed the boxes and never sent them back for more. They are paid for the weight they pick. They dumped the grapes from the blue boxes into grey plastic square tubs on a trailer behind a tractor. As soon as the tubs were full, the tractor driver took the grapes to the processing plant. Each evening the winemaker decided which sections to pick next based on intuition and knowledge supported by lab analysis, particularly with respect to sugars. (No sugar or water can be added to wines in Argentina or Chile.) Video
of wine picking.
Eventually we took the bus some distance to the processing plant where we could see what a big operation they have. Finally, the wine tasting: soft barely sweet Chardonnay and a deep Carmanère were my favourites. Also, we couldn’t help exclaiming over the side table of juicy, full-flavoured raisins and the fresh, light-flavoured walnuts.
Unbelievably, it was time for lunch! This was in La Ruca
restaurant, a unique establishment over fifty years old. The architecture was original adobe with a pressed dirt floor. The décor was an eccentric collection of knickknacks, photos, record album covers,
This is perfection for amateur wine tasting
carvings in dioramas, and flags. (When I went to check out the Canadian flag, a woman heard us talking and said, “I have a daughter who lives in Canada.” (Toronto). A man chimed in, “My son lives in Winnipeg.” Neither of them had travelled to Canada themselves.) We had a traditional Mapuche
dish – Pollo Cazuela
, chicken boiled with potatoes, carrots, and green cabbage. In a large bowl we each were served a quarter chicken, a large potato, and a small piece of corn on the cob in delicious rich broth. The usual approach is to transfer the chicken to a supplied plate and have the soup first, although the chicken can be left in the bowl while drinking the soup. Altogether, it was way way too much food. The red wine was one we had tasted earlier in the week at Vina Sanchez de Loria – full-bodied exquisite taste.
It is now 6:40 p.m. and we are speeding along. The terrain has changed from the flatter more cultivated scenery of the Valley to lots of small, rounded hills covered in thick green bush and fair number of trees. As we entered Viña del Mar
, the first high-rise apartments appeared. This is
Casuela de pollo
A tasty, easy way to slow cook chicken
a resort city with lots of condos, weekend homes, and nice houses used only in the summer months. Students are numerous because of the many universities and technical colleges in Viña del Mar and Valparaiso. Some of the students stay cheaply in the summer homes from March to December, as Pablo did.
Our hotel is a Best Western, Hotel Marina del Ray
, on one of the main streets. It has less character than some others, but the phones and internet work better. My room was pokey, cold, and noisy because of a faulty bathroom window. When talking with others in the lobby before dinner, I heard the rooms were “lovely”. Expressing my disappointment, I was encouraged to change. With Pablo’s help and lightening-fast re-packing, I was in a much nicer room before we even left for the restaurant.
What a restaurant! We drove along Marine Drive as the sunset dimmed behind crashing waves and ever-darker sharp rocks. The restaurant was on the second floor of a small building fronted with windows overlooking the sea. All through dinner we exclaimed in amazement as streetlights highlighted the crests of waves and sea foam. Dinner itself was too much food, but our first taste
Chile's Central Valley
Magnificent countryside in the best growing district
of the sea. The appetizer plate held a huge mussel (about 2 ½”), ceviche and shrimps (tasteless small ones, not dressed), with a single cherry tomato. The main dish was pomfret
– a whole fish for each person. Unfortunately, there was a double mix-up with mine, which must have exhausted their supply, because I got a mediocre filleted white fish pan fried with potatoes. The wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, was excellent.
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