Monday, February 27, 2017

Brazilian Hospitality

Bom Dia! Como você está?

You won't be able to read that if you don't understand Portuguese. Neither do Mindy or I. This posed quote the challenge for us as we spent the day on a Portuguese-language tour to see the Chilean cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.

No,this wasn't our idea of an adventure, immersing ourselves in order to start learning the language and enjoy the beauty of Brazilian culture. Rather, I had been explicitly clear with the tour operator on Saturday evening when he called me at the hotel to let me know they didn't have space on the English-language tour on Sunday for Mindy and me (that we had already booked). 

"Can you take a Spanish-language tour tomorrow?" he asked hopefully; "otherwise we will have to refund you your money".  

"Neither my wife nor I speak Spanish", I replied, "so we wouldn't gain anything from such a tour. Do you have availability on the English-language tour on Monday? We can change our plans and do that, instead."

"Yes, we can put you on the Monday tour."

Excellent! The tour itinerary looked pretty stellar: two wineries, the twin coastal cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, and a lunch at a high-end restaurant. We were excited that timing had worked out, and with the impromptu run with Team Mora yesterday, it really seemed that everything had lined up perfectly. 

Mindy first noticed that the tour driver who picked us up in the morning seemed to have a weak (VERY weak) handle on English, but she theorized that we would be joining another English group. Or maybe the guides were at each destination? Optimistic thinking, as it turned out. When the driver said something to us in Portuguese, then stared uncomfortably at us as we stared uncomprehending back at him, one of the other participants on the tour translated to English for us and told us that they were all Brazilians on this tour, including the driver. Um.....??!!

From that point, the guides explanations were translated (more or less) through a combination of the imperfect English among some of the participants on the tour, as well as a translation app on one very kind woman's cell phone. At one point, the guide spoke at length as we were driving, gesturing first to one side and then the other. When he finished, a very kind woman on the tour told "They used to mine silver here, but now the mines are closed." It was not the best way to absorb the details of the region, let alone ask questions. 
Mindy and I felt very out of place.

Tours are about more than the words, though, and the language barrier didn't prevent us from enjoying the stunning setting of Emiliana biodynamic winery in the Casablanca Valley.

The alpacas fertilize the soil and eat the leaves, exposing the grapes to more sun (to make them sweeter). Southbrook biodynamic winery in Niagara on the Lake uses sheep for the same purpose. (Of course, they are also aa good tourist attraction at Emiliana.)

If only I could taste everything!

Stunning! And so is the winery building!

We didn't learn until several days later that an overflowing handful of grapes is all that is required to make a bottle of wine...

(In Mindy's defense, our tour guide brought several handfuls into the car for us to eat, so the precedence was set.)

The next winery.....was generally forgettable, including the name. Kind of a tourist-trap shop selling all kinds of stuff. The good part was that they continuously replenished the long line of tasting glasses set up at the bar, and one could ("theoretically") go back several times. We never learned anything about the wine, so it wasn't your classic tasting, but it was tasty!

As we entered Valparaiso, we saw a reminder that Chile is on the "ring of fire" - more or less the circumference of the Pacific Ocean, where earthquakes are common.

Pablo Neruda's house was next; or one of his four recognized houses, anyway. Pablo Neruda was a poet, possibly a painter, and probably a politician. (So it goes when the tour is conducted in another language.) This house, now converted into a museum, is closed on Mondays, so we crowded around the gate for a moment, then climbed back into the van.

The main square in Valparaiso is dominated by a statue of.....somebody. Not sure who.

At this point, with the help of one of the English-speaking guests on the tour, we told our guide that we would dessert his tour and find our own way home from Valparaiso (there are regular buses back to Santiago). Our guide seemed quite concerned by this and exacted a promise from us that we would stay with them until lunch, at which point he would try to find an English tour that could take us on. It seemed reasonable, and so we agreed.

Ultimately, it was a good thing that we did, because this tour we were on stated to get better pretty much right after that. We carried on to an artisans market in Valparaiso, set up on a high hill overlooking the harbour.

Look closely, and you will see these gentlemen are playing checkers (or something like it) with bottle caps for pieces.

Panhandlers seem to work a little harder in Chile than, say, in Toronto. Not only do you have your usual "squeegee kids", you also have others that try to earn "tips" like buskers.

While Valparaiso is gritty, covered in graffiti, and feels old, Vina del Mar feels like another "mini Miami". The two cities are only 8km away, connected by a highway along the coast. 

Though the view was stunning, it was at this point that we realised we wouldn't be able to get the classic shot of Valparaiso - colourful houses clinging to the cliff edge overlooking the port.

Lunch was good, but Alberto, our guide, was unable to find an English tour to take us on. We felt a little cheated, now out of Valparaiso, having missed a walking tour of the city, and still isolated among the Brazilians on the tour. 

I was unhappy as we made our way back into the van, until the driver mentioned the next stop - a real moai from Easter Island! Very cool! Mindy and I had wanted to go to Easter Island as part of this trip, but timing didn't work out. This way, we would get the next best thing - to see a real moai!

Breathtaking to see one in real life - this carved stone statue depicting a god of the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island from 500-1000 years ago. Unfortunately, like so many things, there's another side to this. As a sign of goodwill, the Chilean government had given moai to various countries over the years. One of these "redistributed" moai was given to the city Vina del Mar. As the Rapa Nui gained a voice in political affairs, they demanded the return of these moai which were taken without their consent. Countries all over the world agreed to return the moai to Easter Island. But not Vina del Mar. They have kept this valuable artifact as an important tourist attraction!

According to our itinerary, the tour was over, but Alberto - sensing that Mindy and I were a little underwhelmed by the day - had another trick up his sleeve. He drove us well off the usual path to a rocky outcropping where he knew we were likely to see sea lions!

He can't speak English, but in a lot of ways, he was an ideal tour guide for today!

We finished the tour with a last look over Vina del Mar, and then drove back to Santiago through the stunning mountains as dusk moved in.

Back in Santiago, we found a lively collection of restaurants for our dinner, set to the tunes of the nightly DJ.

And then Mindy made a friend on the way back to our hotel.

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