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 ?