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Thursday, October 19, 2006

CHILE: A Sentimental Journey

"Night, snow and sand compose the form
of my slender homeland,
all silence is contained within its length,
all foam issues from its seaswept beard,
all coal fills it with mysterious kisses."
Pablo Neruda

In just a month from today I'll be embarking on a long-awaited sentimental journey to Chile. Who would have guessed a year ago that all this would happen, and all because my special friend was dying of cancer.

I had heard Anibal talk many times about his country. He was an exile here, and always longed for his homeland, just as my dear friend and soul-brother Roberto (my friend in Greece) longed to return to Argentina. Both of them died before their wishes could be fulfilled. And now it's me who is heading to South America to follow in their footsteps. (Although I can't get to Buenos Aires this trip, I do plan on crossing the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina's wine country. As Roberto was so very fond of wine, this will be my tribute to him.)

While Anibal was in the hospital his ex-wife came to visit him from Chile. She and I formed a bond of friendship out of the love we both had for him, as did his daughters and I. My friend Patrick, who had made a special trip from Germany to see Anibal, but who sadly arrived too late, also became friends with Anibal's family. So we were invited to visit Cecilia in Santiago. It was an invitation we both knew we could not refuse.

Anibal had educated me about his country's political history, told me many stories about Santiago and how he'd worked in the shanty towns there, and he introduced me to his beloved favorite poet Pablo Neruda. Now I'm reading more to learn about the history and geography of this fascinating land.

Some facts I've learned:
Chile is the longest and narrowest country ini the S.A. continent (6,965 mi in length and an average of 285 mi in width) Chile has long had a history of democratic governments. (This was shattered in '73 by the CIA-U.S. backed military coup that saw thousands of Chileans killed or 'disappeared' and drove my friend and his family into exile) Chile is a land of extremes -- from the Atacama Desert in the north to the fjords and icefields of Patagonia in the far south of Antartica.

We will visit mainly the central valley and west coastal areas of the country beginning with Santiago, Chile's capital, founded in 1541 by the Spanish Captain Pedro de Valdivia. Santiago was Anibal's home and I am looking forward to retracing his footsteps there, sharing the memories of his life, meeting his family and seeing all the places where he and Cecilia and their children lived, worked and played.

On the Central Coast we'll visit Valparaiso, "Pearl of the Pacific", Chile's premier port, which may soon be dedicated as a World Heritage site. Close by are the seaside resorts of Renaca and Vina del Mar. I believe Cecilia has a beach house at Renaca where she has made a little shrine for Anibal so he can rest in peace and quiet solitude by the sea.

The Nobel Prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda, had three houses: one in Santiago, one in Valparaiso and one in the town of Isla Negra. This will be a highlight of my pilgrimage.

Besides these historic cities and the beautiful Pacific seaside resorts, I hope to visit at least one of Chile's famous vineyards. There are several wine tours offered near Santiago. The central Valley boasts an ideal climate for winemaking and Chilean wines are renown.

We plan to take a bus from Santiago to the Andes to cross the border into Argentina. The Andes Mountains rise to peaks of over 6,600 meters. the landscape is semi-arid in the foothills
with permanent snow-capped mountains. There are beautiful forests, canyons, glaciers, lakes and white water rivers. The city of Mendoza, in the Argentine wine region is a short distance from the frontier with Chile. It was founded in 1561 and was originally an Indian settlement. Besides the wineries, there are spas, and plenty of cultural activities and sightseeing as well as adventure sports. The town has good craft markets and we must sample some of the famous Argentine gastronomy specials such as fried pastries, casserole meat, and the classic tenderloin (beef sandwiches) together with the best beef and pork cuts and free-range farm chicken. And, of course, the wine!

Next week I'm attending an educational workshop about Chile to learn more about Chile's culture, history and entertainment.


Divino Vino said...

Oh my. you are going to Mendoza now...hmm. The wines you will find there are about the best to be had. I think Malbec is the next big varietal coming. Its really drinkable but not as light as many as the italian/greek reds. You will see brands that are not popular here, and some that are but at half the price, like navarro correas, altos las hormigas, pulenta, just to mention a few. I am going to tastings and trying to get a part time job in some wine shop for now. Take care and keep me posted.

Wynn Bexton said...

In case you are wondering about my good fortune of the past (I won the trips to Malaysia and NYC) This one is on me. I had planned for it and bought the ticket before NYC fell into my lap.

Wynn Bexton said...

PS, thanks for all the wine info. I've written it down. Any suggestions for Chilean wine?