Friday, November 28, 2014
Visiting the archipelago of Chiloé, about halfway between Santiago and Patagonia in the long string-bean of Chile, was like stepping a century back in time. Driving to our hotel we crossed a soft, rolling, green countryside not unlike New Zealand dotted with fluffy sheep and yellow gorse. A farmer was turning his field with two oxen yoked to a plow, seagulls flocking behind.
The island, I discovered, is an exotic place of subtle appeal. In Castro, the main town, we saw palafitos (houses on stilts), fishing boats unloading salmon and shellfish, and a man building a large wooden boat using a chainsaw and hammer. Entering the market, the aromas of
A favourite memory is of the approximately 75 churches dating from the18th and 19th centuries, made of native timber and found in even the tiniest village. Many of the domed roofs look like ships’ hulls, reflecting the local talent for ship-building. Sixteen churches are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Best … the indigenous people, the Huilliches, believe in trolls, ghouls and mythological lore. Although mostly Catholics, they often visit shamans, instead of doctors. Witches are powerful and deal with many disputes. And there are enchanting legends. The Trauco, for example, is a forest dwarf who covers himself in bark becoming irresistible to virgins, a scenario often used to explain unwed pregnancies in villages.
We entered the Chiloe National Park on the west
That evening we recounted the day’s adventures over glasses of full-bodied Chilean wines while savouring a traditional gastronomic treat, the curanto. A hole in the ground is filled with layers of mussels, clams, beef, pork chicken, sausage and potatoes between large nalca (rhubarb) leaves and cooked over hot rocks for hours. Yummy!
Chiloé was fascinating, and I loved its slow-paced way of life. I didn’t, however, wander into the forest at night.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
I faced a challenge: to explore Santiago, the capital of the 6,000-kilometre-long shoestring of Chile, in only 24 hours.
My travel group raced up San Cristobal Hill to the gleaming white statue of the Virgin, a focal point of the city. Surrounded by parkland, the site is popular, and I loved listening to rolling Rs and sibilant S sounds of Spanish. Panoramic views of the city and Andes foothills lay before us with the 64-storey Costanera Centre skyscraper—the continent’s tallest edifice—sticking up like a sore thumb. A slight haze hung over the valley, for Santiago is known for smog.
We lunched at an outdoor patio in the fashionable Lastarria district. Platters of ceviche, fried Conger eel, and pulmay, a stew of mussels, pork, potato and lamb were accompanied by fine Chilean wine. Unusually, the chairs had clips to prevent purses and backpacks being snatched.
At Santiago’s historic centre, the balconies and columns of Spanish architecture reflected the city’s long history (founded in1542). In the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, I gazed at the vast ceiling and ornate design while enjoying the dark coolness. A short walk led to La Moneda Palace (the president’s place) fronted by an expansive parade ground and guarded by soldiers in crisp uniforms, who eyed us suspiciously.
Next was the Central Mercado, one of the world’s best according to National Geographic. I wandered amongst aromas of exotic spices, meats and cheeses; in another section a kaleidoscope of colourful woolen scarves and handicrafts were displayed.
We stopped at the Park Forestal, one of many green spaces lining the Mapocho River. I strolled along the tree-lined walkways, admiring the statues donated by other nations to honour Chile’s 100th anniversary of independence.
From my hotel window, I could see Providencia Avenue below. A mariachi band blared as businessmen in dark suits and ladies, chic and attractive with dark, sensuous Spanish features, flowed to and from the subway entrance. I could see why Chile’s economy is considered the most dynamic in South America.
My best memories are of fine Chilean wine and superb cuisine. We arrived at W Santiago Hotel’s
After, we headed to Bocanariz, a wine bar in the trendy Lastarria barrio, which reputedly serves every Chilean wine. While sampling their best seller, a Pinot Noir Refugio 2012, produced by Montsecano y Copains, we pondered the places we didn’t have time to visit.
The Casa Blanca Valley wine region, for example, is only 40 minutes away. With about 20 wineries, it produces Chile’s best white wine. You can sample cool chardonnays beside green vineyards marching like military platoons up the dry, brown slopes.
We could have visited Valparaiso, a UNESCO heritage city situated on the coast, a mere 1.5 hour drive away. Famous for its multi-coloured houses, numerous art galleries and coffee houses, it enjoys a bohemian, laid-back pace of life.
Leaving, my head was spinning. In spite of a Herculean effort I had only seen a fraction of the exciting, vibrant Santiago.
IF YOU GO, YOU GOTTA KNOW
Currency: 1 $ Canadian = 521 Chilean pesos
Electricity: Chile uses 220 Volts. Bring a transformer & plug adapter.
Chile Information: www.turismochile.travel
Santiago Information: santiagotourist.com
Thursday, July 3, 2014
A few days after a proud, celebratory Canada Day, I think back on the hiking trail that circles the entire country of Wales, and which I was able to happily sample. Much of the trail lies along an extraordinary coastline, consisting of bays, headlands and estuaries sculpted into rugged cliffs. Now and again the trail passes through villages and towns visiting ancient churches, pubs and harbours guarded by looming, crenellated castles. The coastal path is 1,400 km (870 miles) long, well maintained and accessible to all.
When I stayed in St. David’s at the southwest tip of Wales, I hiked to the trail along grassy, flower-blessed fields lined with hedges and walls lush with growth. Part of the Pembrokeshire National Park, the coast is wild and rugged. Waves crashed onto the rocks far below forming caves and stacks. Two hikers were silhouetted against the distant sky. I walked alone and pensive along the twisting trail, climbing stiles and enjoying the wonderful feeling of being part of a grander scheme.
Next day I hiked northward until I reached the village of Porthgain. The ruins of a castle, which once guarded a thriving port that now has passed into quieter times, rested on one side of the harbour. On the other side was my goal, the Sloop Hotel. Soon I was inside, nursing a foaming pint of best bitter.
I marvelled at the intelligence that has created the Wales-encircling trail, a national treasure enjoyed
And if you want to extend your enjoyment of the magical Welsh coastline try coasteering, invented at St. David’s, Wales. You squeeze into a wetsuit, don
If You Go, You Gotta Know
In St. Andrews, stay at: www.warpoolcourthotel.com
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
In Wales road signs are bilingual and locals – even many young people - speak Welsh, an ancient Celtic language. Reminders that this is an old, old land are everywhere. I visited Pentre Ifan, a 5,500 year old
Other monuments to ancient culture – castles – are found around every corner for there are an astonishing 641 in Wales. These old walls, where battles raged to preserve language and culture, come in many shapes and forms. Some of my favourites are pictured here. Caerphilly, surrounded by a vast moat, is the largest in the country, second in size only to Windsor in the UK, and home to the ghostess called the Green Lady. You can walk through the battlements, imagining the sieges, jousts, music and voices that echoed there. Laugharne anchors the town ofthe same name. At one time, Dylan Thomas worked in one of the turrets. In Brecon, the old fortifications have been incorporated into the more modern (1836) Brecon Castle Hotel. And, of course, there is Cardiff Castle, with its stolid walls and colourful clock-tower set right in the heart of the city. It dates to Roman times and includes lavish apartments and an interior Norman keep.
There are many, many more castles. If the old walls could speak, they would tell wondrous tales of haunting beauty, as can only be told in the lilting Welsh language.
If You Go, You Gotta Know
Wales Information: www.americas.visitwales.com