South America Post Trip Report: Chile

13 Jan

As my computer has died, I was unable to post throughout the journey, so here I offer a summary of the 2 weeks in South America.

Scheduled Departure Date: December 26th from JFK.  Yes, you read that right.  I was due to depart the day the blizzard hit the East Coast and hit it hard!  Naturally, I called LAN, my service provider, before heading to the airport and, naturally, they told me all flights were still scheduled to depart.  The chances of that were about as much as me fitting into my high school jeans, but I jumped in a taxi and headed to the airport early for fear that I wouldn’t even be able to get there if I waited much longer.  I was so early that I couldn’t even check my bags, so bag in tow I headed straight for the Palm Bar in Terminal 5.  Afterall, snow or no snow, this was my birthday trip.

Glass of wine in hand, I waited for my co-pilot on this adventure to meet me there.  While waiting, I chatted with the bartender and a lovely girl, Ashley, from Chicago on her way back to Dubai.  Little did I know at this point that these people would be my friends for 2 days as we endured the cold, food shortages and general discomfort of being in an airport for 2 days.  Thank God for alcohol! They never ran out of that.

After sleeping on the cold terrazzo floor overnight with no indication if or when we were going to get out, my co-pilot threw in the towel and headed back to Long Island.  I was now flying solo, navigating the obstacle course of bodies in terminal 8, trying to find something other than potato chips and diet coke before I boarded my plane.  The quest was in vain.  It seems I was always just a few minutes too late.  When I went back to the Palm Bar, they had just stopped serving, but promised they would re-open the kitchen soon.  My server from the night before, Hector, happily served me another Malbec.  Deja vu.  We were repeating Sunday all over again.  After 2 Malbecs, I was no longer hungry for steak or fries, so I just relished the fact that I had a comfortable seat in a warm spot instead of the cold floor of the terminal.

In spite of all of the horrors, the camaraderie of my fellow stranded travelers and terminal workers was something to appreciate.  I did not once see anyone lose it.  We were surprisingly calm and relaxed in the face of horrific conditions.

December 27th – My BIRTHDAY! After spending 32 hours in what was really airport hell–no food, massive, confused crowds, bodies lying everywhere and general hygiene issues, my flight for Santiago finally boarded.  Yeah!  I boarded the plane and was asleep before we even left the gate.  I went in to a 13 hour coma, not knowing I would wake up on the other side completely road- worn and without baggage.  Happy friggin’ birthday to me!

December 28th – I arrived Santiago late in the afternoon.  Dazed and confused, I made my way to immigration.  TIP: Pay close attention to signage.  I headed straight to immigration.  Mistake #1.  There is an area just before immigration, and it is very easy to walk right by it, where you need to pay the USD140 visa fee.  You must have this paper in your passport before heading to immigration.  Lesson learned and 40 minutes wasted.

After getting through immigration, I headed to the baggage claim area.  As I approached the belt with one lonely, green backpack working its way around and around again, my spirits sank.  One and a half days delayed? Not a big deal, I thought, and I was just so happy to be starting the big birthday trip.  No luggage?  Crap.  I needed a shower and a drink, and not necessarily in that order!

I grabbed a taxi to the W Hotel.  Taxi ran about USD40.  My friend, Debbie, who had been sitting poolside for days while I rolled around the floors of JFK, met me in the lobby.  It was decided that we needed to immediately head for the nearby mall before everything closed to pick me up a few shirts, etc.  To the relief of my liver and the peril of the general public within sniffing distance, my drink and shower would have to wait.

We were able to grab 3 shirts, a skirt and undergarments to get me through the next few days.  Tired and relieved just to have a few things, we decided to just eat in the outdoor food court area of this mall.  There were at least 10 restaurants to choose from and we choose, what else, Italian.  Italian in South America makes perfect sense, no?  The meal was ok, the wine delicious and the company great.  I was finally there and, baggage or no baggage, I was celebrating this birthday they way I intended, or at least as close as I was going to get it that night.

December 29th – I arranged a private tour guide/driver to take us to a few vineyards and down through Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.  Our guide, John, picked us up at 9:00am.  We had little idea what we were in for that day, but it did not take us long to figure out that this was going to be a day full of laughs.  I cannot say enough about John Gottlieb, his sense of humor and his warm, welcoming personality.  His energy is infectious. He is extremely knowledgable and has seen a great deal in his 60+ years.  It seems, though he never directly said it, he is connected on many levels within Chile.  Definitely a good person to have showing you the country. He is completely young both at heart and in mind.  As we were to find out, he is only one of 8 certified guides in Chile.  Chile actually has no tourism board and he is trying to build and grow this business with certified guides and build the reputation of Chile worldwide.  In a way, he is trying to start the Chile Tourism Board himself.

I would highly recommend him as a guide.  He has a unique outlook on life and is more than happy to share it with you.  This fact made the journey all the more interesting.  I really feel like I took away a great deal from this day spent with a wonderful stranger from Chile. One of my favorite travel quotes, which has become my mantra, is one from Miriam Beard.  “Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sites; It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” I generally feel like my outlook changes with each new adventure, each new connection made, but I know for sure John changed my outlook in the 12 hours we spent together.  Maybe it was because I was looking for a change or needed a change or maybe it was because he just struck a chord with me.  Any way I shake it out, it doesn’t matter.  My ideas of living were changed that day and changed for the better, I think.

At some point in our journey between the hotel and our first stop, my friend, Debbie, told John a bit about her background.  Specifically, she told John that her grandfather, a Chicago police officer back in the day, used to play cards with Al Capone when they were teenagers.  John was so taken with this story that for the rest of the day that was the story he introduced us with to the dozens of people we would encounter that day, from the checkout clerk at the gas station mart to the construction workers at the vineyard to some police officers and more. Though my Spanish is less than up to snuff, it was very easy to understand Ca-pon-eh as is was coming out of John’s mouth.  The looks of amazement on people’s faces were priceless.  He turned us into stars for a day by making sure everyone understood this connection to a “celebrity”. 

We first headed for the Casablanca Valley and visited a winery called Vina Indomita.  For a very small amount in Chilean Pesos, we were shown to a private tasting room where an adorable, young man named Felix, guided us through 4 different wines, 2 white, 2 red.  At the insistence of our guide, John, he poured us a fifth–a bold, peppery red–that was their grand reserve.  As I said, John is a good person to have around!

After we completed the tasting and finished our photo shoot (at the insistence of John, of course) with the workers replacing the stone pavement outside, we hopped in the car and headed for Casas del Bosque.

Casas del Bosque is an absolutely beautiful winery–modern and aesthetically pleasing.  We found ourselves a spot on a sofa outside under the covered patio where we would have our tasting.  We requested reds only here.  Neither Debbie nor I care for white wine, really.  We tasted several good wines, but my favorite was a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah (I think).  We could have spent the entire afternoon lazing about in these beautiful surroundings, but it was time to forge on to the seaside towns of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.

As we wound our way down the mountain toward the seaside of Vina del Mar, I didn’t really see what I was expecting.  I had it in my head that these two towns were going to be polished, popular beach resorts.  To my surprise, Vina del Mar was less than polished.  It is an old seaside town that definitely shows its age.  Not that this is a terribly bad thing.  It is just not what I really expected.  In a way, this area brought me back to South Africa and my drive from Cape Town to Cape Point–the small seaside restaurants, the homes built into the hills–a quaint snapshot of South American living.

Our lunch stop was at one of these small seaside restaurants.  Had John not recommended it, I wouldn’t have even come close to walking in the place.  It was one of those family joints, where locals love to congregate but that hasn’t been touched as far as decor or upkeep goes in about 25 years.  The kitchen resembled that of my grandmothers–very small and antiquated.

We grabbed a table upstairs in the screened-in area.  John ordered some of the seafood specialties of the area.  I, of course, had chicken.  For those that do not know, I am allergic to shellfish, which was the one consistent ingredient on the menu.  We were all happy to get some food into our bellies.  None of us had eaten since our Pringles and Diet Coke at 9:45am.  It was now almost 3:00pm.  The restaurant was called Pica Higuerillas.  We struck up a conversation with a lovely family dining next to us who were spending time in the area for vacation.  John, of course, started with the Ca-pon-eh story and the conversation flowed from there.

Feeling satisfied (or as satisfied as I was going to get in a seafood restaurant), we hopped back in the car and headed for Valparaiso.  My comments on this town are much like those on Vina del Mar.  Not what I expected, especially when you hear about all the great nightlife and what a great place this is to spend a few days.  No matter.  You have to take these places for what they are and find something to appreciate about them.  Since we were not staying overnight, I could not appreciate the nightlife or Chilean men, so it would have to be the view.

John took us on a wild ride up Valparaiso’s most steep street, Calle Ferrari.  Did I mention that John builds race cars and had a Ferrari engine in our “tour” van?  He thought he would show us what it could do, racing up the street, making the wild turns and, oh sh!t, narrowly escaping head-on traffic coming down this road!  Yes, the street barely wider than most driveways was a 2-way street.  With John catapulting this van up this street in the manner of a rally racer, we saw our lives flash before our eyes and it was fantastic!  What fun!!

We parked the car on a random street above the city.  As we strolled, we passed a small hotel/bar that Debbie had talked about with the friends she made in Santiago while waiting for my arrival. It was called the Brighton and the view was fantastic.  We stopped here for a drink.  Much to Debbie’s surprise, her W Hotel pool friends were there when we arrived, so we all sat and enjoyed some wine and a plate of olives and cheese.  Our new friends were from New York, like me.  They were a mother and a set of twins.  One of the twins was spending 6 months in South America for school and then moving on to work on an organic farm in Northern Chile.  It was lovely to spend an hour or so with such nice people discussing ideas and travel.  Three more people to add to the travel contact list.  Life is good!

After wrapping up drinks and taking a few photos, it was time to head back to Santiago.  Poor John thought we would be back by 6:00pm, and we were already past that time.  We hopped in the car and started our journey back to Santiago.  The trip was mostly uneventful.  Mostly.

As we climbed a hill on the highway, a Chilean policeman waved us over to the side of the road.  John thought that then  would be a good idea to tell me I had to wear a seatbelt in the front seat. (I know.  I know.  I should have had it on anyway.  Thanks, mom.) As we both clambered to buckle up before reaching the officer, we were in hysterics.  Too little effort too late!  The jig was up.  John had to go over to the policeman’s car with paperwork, etc.  As they are looking at the paperwork and discussing matters, we can hear him telling the two officers the Ca-pon-eh story.  After that, they were all laughs, smiles and hand shakes.  As John came back to the car, so did the officers, who were now intrigued to meet this famous girl from Chicago and her New York sidekick.  Needless to say, John got off with a “warning” and we carried on, but not before the one officer made some pretty serious eyes at me.  Hilarious!

We finally made it back to the hotel around 9:00pm.  After some freshening and a bit of rest, we head out to the Bellavista area of Santiago for a nice meal and a bit of atmosphere.  Bellavista is a bohemian sort of area with lots of restaurants, shops and live music.  It is an area that is always buzzing, apparently.

We wandered a bit and finally decided on Como Aqua Para Chocolate, mostly because there was no line and we could sit outside.  Most of the other restaurants in the area were completely packed.  We just really needed a seat and some decent food.  Remember, we were working on Pringles, Diet Coke, a bit of dry chicken and a loaf of bread at this point.

The restaurants atmosphere inside is lovely.  I went back to read reviews of this place and saw a lot of negative.  I have to say our server was terrific and the food was delicious as well.  This could be because we were starving, but I really do not think that is the case.  I had a steak in a 3-pepper sauce with potatoes.  Delicious!

Wiped out from our long day and dreading our early morning wake up call, we headed back to the hotel to pack up for our flight to Buenos Aires the next day. I was very disappointed that I wasn’t able to  see more and get more of the flavor of Santiago, but Debbie wasn’t having it.  I would have gone out, but reluctantly headed home with her to “pack up” my handbag with my mall purchases. (I wouldn’t have my luggage until we reached the airport, where it was waiting with 150 other bags). I did, however, convince her to join me at the rooftop bar for one drink.  I choose this hotel specifically for the rooftop pool and bar and had yet to see it.  I would be damned if I was leaving without a rooftop cocktail.  Cosmo ordered, we sat back in the slinky lounge furniture and took in the view.  Beautiful!

We hit the hay after 1:00am and put in the dreaded wake-up call for 6:00am, I believe.  Yikes!  Maybe I should have skipped the Cosmo.  Nah!

I am sorry I didn’t get to see more of the city, but that is the way things go sometimes.  It also gives me a great excuse to go back!

I will come back with the Argentina installments in the next few days.

Tour Guide Details:

John Gottlieb Bracchi

Private Tour Guide Driver in Chile

Chile Touring

Certified Tour Guide

Local Phone 56-2-3215213

Mobile: 569-92998258

Restaurant and Bar Recommendations from a local that I never had time to check out:

Rstaurants: Mestizo, La Mar, Osaka at the W, Osadia, Maltido

Bars: Bar Liguria, Eve, Whiskey Blue, Bar Constitucion, Amanda

9 Responses to “South America Post Trip Report: Chile”

  1. John Gottlieb Bracchi September 19, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    I am still laughing at your story in Chile.

  2. John Gottlieb (@Eagletouring) September 19, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    Thanks very much,for your endorsment,I appreciate and I have never laugh so much ,with your story.

    • kellian70 September 19, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

      Looking forward to another trip with more wine tours!!

      • John Gottlieb (@Eagletouring) September 19, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

        Great,we will do another place this time..FOR YOUR EYES ONLY…did you recieved my song future writer.

    • Kaycee August 30, 2014 at 9:32 am #

      BION I’m imesrsped! Cool post!

  3. John Gambler September 19, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    Great,we will do another place this time..FOR YOUR EYES ONLY…did you recieved my song future writer.

    • kellian70 September 20, 2011 at 10:30 am #

      I did receive the song. Thanks!

      You have now given me motivation to get busy writing about the rest of that trip and all of the other trips I took this year. I start tonight after work.

      • John Gambler September 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

        Great,I have had some comments of friends who have read it,and you have a great ability to write.From now on we will call the furure books.

        Kelly Killian Travels instead of Gullivers travels.

        kisses John

    • Namari August 30, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

      I was really confused, and this answered all my qusoeitns.

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