Day Tripping!

South America
January 24th 2011
Published: January 28th 2011
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"Phosphoresent - Wolves"
"Doves - Kingdom of Rust"

I have much to write about! It would seem that I have fallen behind in my blogs! So I will break the week or so down into a couple blogs. This blog will be about a couple awesome day trips I went on!

My last day in Santiago before heading down to Concepcion was spent at Vina Aquitania Winery! I wanted to go to Concha Y Toro but a few Couch Surfing friends suggested Aquitania instead. They said it is a more personal and intimate tour because it is a very small vineyard. So, I listened and booked my tour! I have become a master of the Santiago Subway system, so getting to the southern edge of the city was easy. I then had to grab a taxi to the Aquitania property. My Spanish has progressed to the point where I can easily ask for a taxi and give directions. After a quick ten minute cab ride I arrived.

Vina Aquitania is located in the northern region of Canjon De Maipo. Or the beginning of the Canjon you could say. Aquitania lays on the very edge of Santiago, and right at the base of the Andes. The property was quite beautiful. The grape vines ran right up to the base of the mountains. I was surprised at how small the whole property actually was. I new it was small, but I was expecting a bit bigger! The property was stunning just the same!

In the courtyard of the Winery are a few walnut trees. I thought this was awesome. I asked what they did with the nuts. She said they didn't do anything! WHAT... as if!!!! I would be friggin pumped if I had a walnut tree! Anyways, our tour guide was very nice and spoke English very well. My tour consisted of two American girls and myself. So the four of us set out on our tour. We first went to the building where they ferment the wine. Here, she (I forget her name...damn it) explained to us that Vina Aquitania only bottles four varieties of grapes. Cabernet Sav, Pinot Noir, Rose and Sav. Blanc. I asked why they didn't work with Carmenere. She said that its too cold where they are for that variety. Apparently their Pinot is unique to Chile because it comes from the only vineyard located in the Patagonia. Also, they only bottle 2000 bottles of Pinot a year. So its quite rare and it tasted very nice. Extremely well balanced, and not flat like some Pino´s tend to be.

She said that they bottle about 150 000 bottles a year. That is including all their varieties. They don't sell it on the open market - only to hotels and fine restaurants. They also export to the States, China, Japan, and parts of Europe. I don't know if they export to Canada, I never asked.

After we got a quick look at where the fermentation takes place, she showed us where they store their wine in the barrels. It was a very small storage room! They store their wine in French barrels for a minimum of 12 months up to 18 months before they bottle the wine. I think I got that right. Then after they bottle the wine they store them in the cellar for an additional 12 months laying on their side. But I am not sure on this point. I thought I would easily remember, but with my hair, I am losing my memory it would seem. The labeling process was interesting. It is all hand labeled! Three old ladies in the back of the cellar sit there all day. They first clean off the dust and polish the bottles. Then by hand they place the red seal over the top of the bottle then glue the labels on one at a time. Kind of cool actually!

The winery is owned by four men. Three from France and one from Chile. The guy from Chile was actually involved in the day to day operations of the winery. The other three live in France. Aquitania is actually a region in France I learned. The staff at Vina Aquitania consists of a dozen people year round. They hire thirty more to help with the picking during harvest.

I really enjoyed my tour and I loved the intimate small scale operation. It was quite evident how much passion they had for what they did. There was a tremendous amount of pride in their product. And rightfully so, the wine was amazing! Again, I was in awe of how polite and friendly the people at this winery were. They have immense pride in the work they do. I was glad that I decided to skip out on the huge factory that is Concha Y Toro. I cant get enough of Chilean hospitality that comes with places like Vina Aquitania. I would urge anyone to head to this Vineyard!

I started to make my way to Puerto Natales from Santiago. I will write another blog about the trip down there. Well I am sure it will be many blogs! But my first stop was the city of Concepcion. I went down with Ximena my CS host and we stayed for three nights at her parents house. One of my day trips there was to the near by mining town of Lota.

At one point Lota was the richest and most developed city in all of Chile. It had the first ever telephone, and other such technology. It´s wealth revolved around the coal mine that went deep under the ocean floor! The mine we visited was called Mina Chiflon Del Diablo, or The Devils Whistle! It was named this because this mine is the only one in the world that has natural ventilation. There is always a breeze going through the mine and, if you could imagine, being in the dark and feeling this breeze. The Devils Whistle!

The former miners, who have worked as tour guides ever since the mine was closed, escort tourists and tell them all about anecdotes, customs, dreams, myths, legends and jokes, and they even invite everybody to turn their torches off and listen to the great protagonist of this story: the wind. Being in a mine deep under the ocean with NO light is quite the experience!

In addition to being unique for not needing oxygen inside, this mine is a clear example of the mines built with pillars, very typical of the 19th century, which may be appreciated in a tour called “Juan Fariña”.

When it was definitely closed, in 1997, 3,000 miners worked there. They still keep their hope that the mine in Lota will operate again one day.

Rumor has it that there is so much coal down there that a bridge joining Lota directly with the City of Santiago might be built. A total distance of almost 600 kilometers. And even though for many people it might turn out to be exaggerated, those who have been down there assert that it might also be a two-way bridge.

The city's coal mines were nationalized by Salvador Allende due to civil unrest and heavy Socialist support, but privatized again under Augusto Pinochet.

Today, Lota is one of the poorest cities in Chile and is trying to turn its economy towards tourism. Tourist attractions include guided visits to the coal mine, White Beach, the Park of Lota (created by the Cousiño family), and the Historical Museum of Lota. Lota also has Chile's oldest hydroelectric power station, the Chivilingo Hydroelectric Plant, designed by Thomas Edison and built in 1897.

The modern city grew with the coal mining industry in the mid-nineteenth century. It was established as a town on January 5, 1875 and became a city on 30 of November, 1881. The name Lota is thought to be derived from a Mapudungun word Louta meaning small or insignificant settle-men.

There is some interesting history in Lota. It is quite poor and was my first real experience with what might be called a Shanty Town. Our tour guide was a former miner. He told us stories of working in the mine. Miners, when they first began to dig in the mid 19th century had no hard hats, head lamps or even boots. They only had sandals and lanterns on the walls. There were many cave-ins and it was dangerous work. Many miners lost their lives. Our guide in Parque Isidora Cousiño lost his father in one of these cave-ins. It was quite interesting and eery being in those mine shafts! You had to keep in mind that you are under the ocean floor. You are reminded of this by the floor covered in crushed sea shells and the water dripping down was fresh salty ocean water. It was rather surreal! Our guide explained how they used to keep birds in cages as a warning sign of gas leaks. If the bird fell over dead...there was a gas leak! Simple as that! They showed us where the miners went to the bathroom. Just a hole in the ground. I didn't have many pictures because my battery died on me.

After we finished our tour we went to Parque Isidora Cousiño. It was a park created by the owner of the mine. He built the park for his wife and imported trees and flowers from all over the world. From Africa, Asia, India, Auastralia, Canada, United States and Europe! It was quite beautiful. Unfortunately the park had a fair amount of damage from the earth quake that rocked this area of Chile a year ago. The lighthouse had fallen and many of the statues. A part of the park actually fell into the ocean! Our guide in the park was awesome. It wasn't a guided tour, we just bumped into this nice old man and asked for directions. He then insisted on giving us a tour. He took us to parts of the park that were closed off because of the earth quake. So we got the V.I.P. treatment! It was great. This little man was so nice, he reminded me of one of those Ewaks from Star Wars!

Both these day trips reminded me of the Chilean work ethic and the pride they take in their work. I hope for Lota´s sake the mine does re-open. I reckon that wont happen anytime soon! I learned a great deal from these two trips and from carefully listening to the stories from the guides. You can see the conviction in their eyes and hear it in their words. They are inspirational people and the people of Lota deserve better!

These were two valuable excursions, and I would recommend them to anyone!

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


Gearing Up!Gearing Up!
Gearing Up!

Lota Mine
Ximena, my CS Host Ximena, my CS Host
Ximena, my CS Host

Heading down into the mine.. UNDER THE OCEAN!
Lota Mine!Lota Mine!
Lota Mine!

Very small, like the 7 dwarfs dug this! just a few feet high!

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