Perros callejero de Chile (Street dogs of Chile).

Chileans certainly seem to love their dogs.

I can’t really comment on their relationships with felines. Although the absence of cats may be a direct consequence of the abundance of street dogs. I did observe a rusty corrugated roof in Valparaiso groaning under the weight of some well-fed moggies sunning themselves. However, they did display the usual pussy disdain towards the thoughtful offering of cat biscuits, piled in a heap by some cat loving Porteña of Valparaiso.

Dogs, however, are ubiquitous; large, small, furry, wooly, pedigree and mutt, they pervade even the smallest of towns.

Mostly dusty, never threatening nor cowering, often chasing tyres. It would seem this love of rolling rubber is a Chilean canine trait.

Man’s best friend is just that indeed. 

The locals often leave sheets of flattened cardboard to protect these street dogs from the cold pavement, thoughtfully placed in disused shop doorways or on the edge of the busy pavements. It’s not unusual to see small makeshift kennels of cardboard and plastic on the footpath or in an empty nook.

These pooches are well-fed, but owner-less, with containers of agua randomly positioned on footpaths. Most in need of a good brush, or to have the street dust washed away. These four legged furry friends may not have someone to hold their leash or throw a ball, but they are certainly not neglected or ignored.

Chilean street dogs are not loved by one individual, but cared for by the community.

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Nervous sheep, (yet more) wine, gortex and glaciers.

Valle de Colchagua. I’m in Patagonia now, but let’s reiterate that Colchagua Valley was our stopover for an education in Chilean wine – especially Vino Tinto. (Take note Mr Tax Man – you may be finding a few receipts in Spanish in my 2017 tax return.) We were under the warm care of Leanora at Posada (hacienda) Colchagua and her four-legged hostelry host, Cholita. Barely a word of English between them, but Leanora understood our appreciation when we returned to a lit fire in our cosy room, just as I understood when Cholita appreciated her belly rub. Who needs words?

The valley was a tour of vineyards by car on day one, and on day two by bike. The beauty of this valley and its orchards and vineyards was only surpassed by its Merlots and Carmenère. Oenophiles look out for that last variety; it’s French, a grape long thought extinct in France, only to be re-discovered almost 100 years later, alive and full of tannin residing in the Colchagua Valley. And hopefully available back home in Australia!


We survived the drive back to Santiago, although barely. It was a white knuckle drive taking on the snarl of traffic and freeways that accompanied Chile’s Independence Day long weekend. Let’s say the hire car returned in one piece; my relationship with my navigator also arrived in one piece (although this was assisted by a must-needed congratulatory drink at our airport hotel). Who knew your hands could cramp up after nervously gripping a steering wheel for three hours of driving at the excessive speeds that Chileans seem to favour?

The next day, we traversed the length of this long but narrow country for ten hours via shuttle, plane, bus and taxi to arrive at Weskar Lodge in Puerto Natales.

“Wow” doesn’t even begin to describe the exclamations we made when we tossed our bags into the thankfully warmed room, and marvelled at the tryptic of snow-capped mountains that Room 16’s windows exhibited. 


Patagonia to me conjures up images of the last wilderness that clings to the base of South America. An adventure lover’s paradise, for those who appreciate lofty snow-capped peaks, prehistoric glaciers and wind-swept wilderness. 

Although technically it’s not the end of this continent, it is, however, a gortex mecca for backpackers from around the globe, all eager to experience the challenge of hiking in freezing conditions and pushing their bodies to the limit.

Day one was a leisurely cruise down the fjord to a couple of glaciers, where buffeted by antarctic winds we marvelled at frozen blue ice flows from granite mountains, sipped whiskey cooled by glacial ice (Yep, we drank million year old ice tainted by twelve year old scotch), and visited a remote estancia to dine on barbecued carne (a massive pile of charcoaled chunks of sheep) accompanied by the ever-present staple of bread.


Every meal in Chile is accompanied with ‘pan’. A fresh flattened bread roll served straight from the oven, spongy and warmed. The moment I pop one of these moist little treats into my already salivating mouth, the waitress replenishes the bread basket with another. “Please Chile, stop serving pan, it is irresistible”. I’m starting to resemble that doughy round morsel. It’s the first time in my life I regret not being coeliac. 

Oh and those poor estancia sheep, they must get really nervous every time the SS Valparaiso docks. Oops, who’s on the parilla (BBQ) today

Day one was easy; Day two, not so.
Patagonia Day Two. We donned the gortex, beanie (toque for my Canadian friends), gloves, scarf and climbing boots. Today we take on a mountain.

Now we were warned that hiking in jeans was unwise; however, there is only so much “ski gear” you can carry on a holiday. So with the concerned face of our hotel’s reception staff behind us, we stepped out into the early morning’s frigid air to our transport, ready to become antarctic adventurers.

Luck would have it our small group included a(nother) Canadian. 

Through his humour and our combined support and friendship we encouraged ourselves to the top. We walked through forest, edged around narrow paths with palm-sweating drops, up rough paths that started as loose gravel and morphed into boulders for the final 45 minute exertion to the top. A four hour marathon that found the three of us drenched in sweat – but exhilarated. We made it!

Sadly, several of our party didn’t. But don’t worry! There wasn’t any medivac required; they turned back and consoled themselves in a hotel bar at the entrance to the national park. 

The top, our goal, a glacial lake and the snow-capped Torres del Paine. After the high-fives and with a great sense of satisfaction, it was time for a picnic and the required re-dress into the sweaty layers of clothing that we had removed during the assent. It was not lonely at the top, but it was bloody cold!


So well named, Torres del ‘Pain’. That’s how I felt today. Why did I choose a hotel with so many steps ? Every time I bend my legs it hurts. Ever tried walking without bending your legs? It’s really not possible and it looks really strange. I need a masseuse. IMMEDIATELY. 

We have now been fortunate to spend several nights of laughs and travel stories with our new trekking buddy and his lovely girlfriend, and I feel better that not only I feel this sort of body pain. There truly is relief in pain that is shared. 

Tomorrow I have located a masseuse. Now I just need to explain that my calves and quads are big balls of knots that need work. 

Wonder how you do that with sign language ?

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Good drivers and good legs. Welcome to Valparaiso.

12 September 2016

Valparaiso, the port city on Chile’s Pacific coast.

Home to the oddest collection of brightly painted shacks cum mansions clinging to the side of the surrounding hills.

The houses here are a mixture of corrugated iron, wood, brick and adobe, painted every colour of the rainbow. These des res’s are everything from four-walled tin construction to gothic edifices that even the Addams family would feel very comfortable calling home. The only common trait is they all appear to be defying gravity in the way they cling to the very steep hill sides.

To access the numerous barrios of Valparaiso you have to either make use of the many funiculars, take on the endless stairs or chance the steep cobbled winding roads.

It is said that if you live in Valparaiso you are a good driver and have great legs. Don’t know about the driving, but my glutes are killing me, so maybe I’m developing “Valpo” legs.

The city is filled with dogs of every breed, mostly street dogs, however all very well fed, healthy and friendly. Of course where there are dogs, there is caca. Everywhere you step. It doesn’t really rain here, so what’s deposited today, is there the next.

To the local hound who keeps leaving a steaming pile on our door stop, I’m dobbing you into the collective that’s neutering the Valparaiso street dogs. I know where you live. 


Anyway enough of caca.

Did you know this city was devastated by a major earthquake and tsunami in 2010? Lucky our casa is high up looking over the ocean, well it is now. I’m not sure if it was even higher up the hill prior to the earthquake, and has just been shaken down over the years, however it’s over 100 years old, so it’s now survived two major quakes. I feel reasonably comfortable.

It’s a great city to just get lost in and enjoy the graffiti, ocean views and architecture. 

“Lost” – go with that description. However, if Google Maps could get a grip on the road, staircase and laneway system in Valparaiso we wouldn’t be getting lost quite so often. 

So we have a week in our ridiculously large casa in Valparaiso, giving us an opportunity to wander the different barrios, a day in the local wine region and a day out to a población rural to enjoy a different pace.


The local barrios have been hit by years of graffiti art; some faded, some not artistic, but all make this faded and dusty city an open air gallery.





The wine tour to the Casablanca Valley started off well with a private tour and tasting, followed by a picnic in the grounds. Very civilised.

The second winery tasting finished with a crash … well, more like a bloodbath with a wine bag dripping with a beautiful vino tinto and no-longer complete bottle of Syrah. Oops. Bodega RE, thanks for the replacement bottle. We swear it was the wind that blew the bag over.


Our sojourn to the countryside took the form of a combinación train and bus trip. Depositing us in a small dusty plaza with a church, there were a few bored dogs sunning themselves alongside the tumbleweed. Spaghetti Western come to mind? Me too. (Although there might be a little poetic licence in that description.) There was, however, a donkey and a couple of hombres in ponchos complete with spurs to complete my Chilean countryside postcard.

September 11. September 11 has a different significance in this country.

In Chile the day is commemorated by visiting one of the numerous memorials to the exiled and ‘disappeared’, marking the day 43 years ago that Pinochet sent the airforce over Santiago to bomb the presidential palace where the democratically-elected President committed suicide rather than face the murder and torture squads that his fellow Chilenos were subjected to over the next 17 years of his dictatorship.


Well I think I’ve covered it all, caca to coups.

Adios chicos.

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Pokémon and Pisco Sours

4 September 2016

Wow those Pisco Sours have a kick.

We were befriended by a local, as you generally are at tourist sites, and there is always an angle. Yesterday we were ‘given’ a mass photocopied poem by a middle-aged man that later cost us $10. He explained that in Chile all universities are private, so the $10 was going towards a university education. I never found out whether the money was for his children or him. Hopefully for him, as the poem was one of the worst I think I have ever read; maybe its beauty was lost in the translation from Spanish to English. He did, however, pass on some sage advice that no university professor lectures on. Shaking my hand, this friendly hombre described the virtues of his homeland, finishing our interaction with “try some wonderful Chilean wine, the amazing seafood and the local drink Pisco. But try only one Pisco, because any more than one and you won’t remember finishing the second”. Well, I only had one Pisco Sour last night and boy does it pack some Chilean punch – my head is about as hazy as the polluted cloud that seems to permanently hover over Santiago.

Yesterday was dedicated to “Bellas Artes”. Most of the government-run galleries and museums are free on the weekend, so being the canny tourists that we are, we immersed ourselves in traditional and modern art.

It was my sort of day. Breakfast in a great cafe tucked off the street in a courtyard, followed by an antique shop, where my partner persuaded me that I didn’t really need to spend mucho dinero on something pretty that will just sit on a shelf. (I’m still not convinced, and besides, I already warned our cleaning lady that there will be more chachkas to dust following this trip.) From there, we toured the “Bellas Artes” gallery.


Museo de Bellas Artes, which lends its name to the whole barrio that it resides in, is a piece of art in itself, complete with its belle époque sweeping staircase and massive glass vaulted ceiling. The marble busts of famous generals, and Monet style ladies with parasols were, well, traditional. The modern art in the neighbouring gallery that has sprung from years of dictatorship was confronting and more inspiring.

We also managed some performance art and witnessed a mass Pokémon ‘happening’. We couldn’t work out why there were masses of people and portable phone charging stations throughout the local park. Yep, that famous yellow Japanese thing (I’m not sure, is Pokémon male or female?) has crossed the Andes. Now the Chileans can get sunburned necks as they head butt each other searching for that elusive character.

Sore, sunburnt necks. The bane of the Pokémon Go generation.

I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Seems quite easy to find…


The live performance was a new one to me. You know those annoying guys who smear dirty water over your pristine car windscreen at traffic lights? The guy who you begrudgingly give two dollars to, wondering (a) why isn’t he in school?, and (b) why didn’t the lights change sooner? It’s a different angle in Santiago: rather than wondering why the lights are taking so long to change, you are entertained by everything from twins folk dancing in traditional dress to jugglers and even acrobats.


Now who wouldn’t pay two dollars to watch a strong man throw a young lady in the air or a Uni student juggle bowling pins between the change of red to green?

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Snow is white, right?

2 September 2016

The Andes is a white snow-capped mountain range that stretches the length of Chile. So why is it that when I look out of my lounge room window I get an amazing vista of a ‘pink’ tinge over these South American frozen peaks?

I’d like to imagine that it’s not smog from Chile’s capital, Santiago. Being located in a valley is not pollution-friendly. Late this afternoon, I’ll go for pink, definitely not orange. It’s a sunset in its full Barbara Cartland glory: A dusty, lusty pink. A shade that’s bathing Santiago in a palate that probably doesn’t do this city justice, although the muted shade does lend justice to this city that I’m having trouble comparing. I only arrived 6 six hours ago, so my opinions may change, but for my Chilean readers, thumbs up – that’s a 10 ‘chilli’ rating from me.

Santiago doesn’t have the faded glory of Buenos Aires. It’s more like a gold rush town that has evolved into a city. A city with culture, with history, and amazing views. For my Canadian friends, think Vancouver, but with more Cerveza and Empanadas. 

But enough about the snow-capped peaks.

Yes – that’s another blog.

South America.

If you’re looking forward to tales of Mexican beaches, being busted for drugs while crossing the border, discovering a lost tribe in the Amazon, or competing in the Rio Olympics/Paralympics … You will be sorely disappointed (although I’m open to sensible suggestions). 

This blog will be covering three’ish weeks in Chile.

No beaches, nose-bone pierced noses from the Amazon, or PBs (if you don’t understand, forget the Olympic gold).

No podium awards for my wine tasting or food appreciation. This trip is about exploring glaciers, living in a UNESCO city, mountain trekking and getting to know Chileans. 

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Drag Queens and Flak Jackets

28 December / 30 December 2015

Sadly, no white Christmas in Toronto. Just like an Aussie Christmas really, minus the heat wave, budgie smugglers and blowflies.

It’s our last night in Toronto. My last meal of white wine, gluten free pizza and ice cream cake is not resting easily.

I should explain.

Our last meal with our very patient hosts, the Chester family, was an easy and delicious meal of pizza, and as it is our niece’s 5th birthday in a couple of days, the ice cream cake was her selection for dessert. The white wine needs no explanation, nor justification.

However, the combination of pepperoni, ice cream and Ontario Chardonnay is perhaps not a wise mix.

So I suppose after my last blog about tropical paradise you may be wondering what happened next. Well at least I’m hoping you may be mildly interested …

The 12 hour SriLankan Airlines flight from Colombo to Paris that I was dreading, was comfortable and quite enjoyable.

The 4 hours in Charles De Gaulle airport was cold and dark, but bearable.

The 8 hour flight from Paris to Toronto on Air Canada? Well, as I love my Canadian friends and family, and all things Canadian, I will refrain from comment …!

Our two weeks in Toronto has been a whirlwind of tinsel, kinky boots, bagels, ice hockey, subways, drag queens, Children’s Pantomime, Santa, Toronto Police, ice skating, the spirit of Christmas, and even a flurry of snow.

Tinsel. It’s Christmas and Canadians are definitely not afraid of fairy lights, hosting giant hot air inflated Christmas-related characters in their front garden, candy and all things sweet. However, the ubiquitous greeting of “Happy Holidays” (yes, the statement is inclusive to people of all religions and creeds) just isn’t as festive as “Merry Christmas”.

Kinky Boots/Drag Queens. It was a Christmas present of a musical show about a shoe company going into bankruptcy that was saved through the production of “Kinky Boots” designed by a drag queen. I know. Out-there plot line, but great music written by Cyndi Lauper, beautiful old theatre, and what Drag Queen doesn’t perform well under a spotlight with big hair, excessive makeup and perched upon ridiculous high heels?

Ice Hockey. We were lucky enough to watch a live game of this vicious, lightning fast and blood-letting sport on ice. Our nephew and the under-nines York Mills team put up a brave fight.

 
Children’s Pantomime. Santa was joined by a new friend, Krumpas, the forgotten grumpy spirit of Christmas. Krumpas doesn’t leave presents; instead, he leaves a hunk of coal, messes up Christmas decorations and generally creates a bad vibe. Santa’s arch nemesis. The kids loved him. Oh by the way, it was all a misunderstanding; Santa and Krumpas are “besties” now.

Ice Skating. Who doesn’t love ice skating with good friends in the open air? Downtown Toronto has a free open-air ice rink. An hour and a half and I successfully wobbled off the rink having proudly succeeded in my lofty ambition to maintain a dry bum.

Snow Flurry. We ventured out of Toronto to the country for a fantastic night with friends. Toronto has had unseasonably warm temperatures. In fact, my dream of a white Christmas Day was dashed. Fortunately our friends organised a light flurry of the white stuff (yes snow), enough to satisfy my imagined winter wonderland.

 

Toronto Police. A dinner we had downtown with very dear friends resulted in tequila, nachos and a purse being pick-pocketed. [Disclaimer. I have never felt in danger whilst in Canada, and I have always found Canada and Toronto quite safe.]

Unfortunately on this night, when arriving at our second destination for cocktails, one of our party was sans purse. In fact, her credit card company was the first to provide the heads-up. We had Sherlock on the case immediately. Our friend “Matthew” located the credit card in use a couple of blocks away. Intrigued, we followed in hot pursuit, to be greeted by two police cars, numerous flak-jacket attired cops, and a handcuffed “Perp”.

Perpetrator. Of crime. Sorry, I was channeling the whole “Law and Order” evening.

I mean, what man stealthily steals a wallet full of credit cards, and then settles in for an evening of fine dining and wine only four blocks away from the crime scene, expecting to get away with using a credit card under the name of “Janice”. I’m no criminal mastermind, but really, if you’re going to spend big on Buffalo Wings and  Pinot Gris after racking up $2800 at Hudson Bay, perhaps use that little rectangle of the bank’s best plastic and move to another suburb. Sorry, this has to be said: “You had access to several credit cards, you’ve already shopped in Canada’s best department store and you couldn’t buy a decent hat or outfit. If the Toronto police didn’t get you, the fashion police certainly would have.”

(PS > Although the story is real, all names have been substituted to protect the innocent.)

Christmas Spirit. Our Canadian family were overflowing with it. Turkey, roast veggies, homemade apple pie, great Niagara wine and three beautiful children. Christmas isn’t the same without children screaming with excitement as they disappear under a flurry of wrapping paper.

The last three weeks has been a pleasant blur of curry, elephants, snow and reindeer.

Stay tuned. Next year is South America. Arriba! Arriba! Epa! Epa! Yeehaw!

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Back to Civilisation and Drugged to the Eyeballs

14 December 2014

It’s the little things, like an ensuite bathroom, room service (that is no reflection on Sanjeev, our houseboy at The Kandy House) and the absence of rats freefalling from the ceiling that makes you appreciate life’s “creature” comforts.

Brings you back to nature when you realise the comforts being provided are for the “creatures”, not me. 

At The Kandy House, my nightly routine was making sure all food stuffs were sealed in the fridge or a locked box (for my Canadian friends, it’s kind of like a bear box, but for the less-vicious-but-just-as-curious resident rats and ants) and my daily morning routine at was to sweep up the dead bugs and gecko poo. 

It wasn’t all bad though; the view was amazing and the master bedroom had a beautiful four poster bed with views down to the valley below. Sadly, that wasn’t my room. My room contained two children’s beds with garish Candy Pink and Powder Blue mosquito nets. They contrasted so nicely with the canary yellow walls.

  

It’s not everyone who can team pastel pink, yellow, blue, forest green and mission brown. Nor should they!

Sorry, my inner “interior decorator” is having a bitch-fest. 

Now I’m in a brand new hotel in Colombo. A red heaven. I suspect the hotel has been designed to cater for a Chinese clientele. Everything is red; it’s like a brothel with room service. Not that sort of room service, although my room does get a daily service and I do leave money on the bed. (I swear it’s a tip for the house boy. Okay, that’s still not helping my cause, is it…?)

Anyway.

Best thing after The Kandy House is no rats, and (as yet), no cockroaches. I even suspect the monkeys won’t be swinging by the infinity pool on the 26th floor. 

  

To follow in the tradition of our latest four trips away, I’ve spent a frustrating day at the local hospital. Why is it that I seem to spend at least one day of my holiday negotiating the various idiosyncrasies of my host country’s healthcare system? Am I getting old ? (That was a rhetorical question, so no comments on WordPress, thank you.)

Blindly, I was shunted from waiting room to specialist with no apparent coherent system in operation. 

Don’t worry – no operation was necessary; just water in my inner ear, not ideal before a 24 hour flight to Canada. 

So as my ENT specialist used a high-powered vacuum the size of skewer in my ear, he asked me if I was enjoying my holiday in Sri Lanka. 

While I winced from the pain of my eardrum being sucked into a tube the diameter of a darning needle, Dr Wickarama wondered why I was gripping his surgical table with white knuckles, and why I wasn’t responding to his friendly questions:

Well, Dr Wickarama…

  • A: My ear drum is flexible, but not that flexible.
  • B: How am I supposed to hear your inane bonhomie when my ear is filled with an industrial size vacuum that would be more at place in my home then in a specialist theatre.

Weird I know, but I had to see what was sucked out. No brain matter was evident (no surprise there) nor any bugs. That cockroach story is definitely an urban myth.

So now I’m armed with enough drugs to stop an Ebola outbreak. And not to be taken with alcohol. 

As if! 

How am I supposed to wash down that many pills? I mean, really, I’m being dosed up with that many drugs, what’s one more into the mix?

  
I know it’s not responsible; I’m just kidding. (Well, kind of…)

Just don’t tell Dr Wickarama.

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