Little North Roadtrip: Copiapo, Desierto Florido, Bahia Inglesa

Copiapo

From here the Atacama Desert begins, a barren expanse that stretches to the North and whose stark hills of sandy brown and beige peer downwards  menacingly. As cities go, Copiapo itself is an oasis of green with surprising touches of quality not found in the capital: there are sunshades over children´s playgrounds (of which there are many), colourful apartment blocks with swimming pools, and numerous small plazas dotted with flowers, sculptures and statues.  There is an air of prosperity here, not unusual considering that it has grown from the Earth´s staggering bounty, first from the discovery of silver in nearby Chañarcillo (1832) and today from copper, of which Chile is the largest producer.

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Looking down at the highway to Bahia Inglesa, from 500m up

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Copiapo is the largest settlement between La Serena and Antofogasta, so it sees quite a bit of traffic.  Nothing can really prepare you for just how big Chile is, its gigantic length marring even the most dedicated roadtrippers´ intentions. Copiapo makes a good base to daytrip to the Pan de Azucar national park, the tiny beachside resort of Bahia Inglesa, the larger port of Caldera, or Llanos de Challe national park.

However, Copiapo has a few sights of its own, particularly if you are into history.

This was the site of South America´s first railroad (1852) which ran to the sea at Caldera, Chile´s first telephone lines, its first telegraph lines, and first gas works (Lonely Planet 2009).  When the silver was discovered at Chañarcillo, entreupeneurs flocked north to take advantage of this, running mines staffed by workers paid only in store credit while building for themselves huge estates called haciendas.  The mine went on to become the third largest silver mine in the world.

There are two places where you can soak up history and learn more about mining. The first is Nantoco, a mapundungun word that means ¨water of the well¨. In case you are wondering how the Mapuche influenced so far north, the reason is because many were brought to work in the mines by the Spanish and many local names have lingered until today, such as nantoco and Huasco (gold river). This town was a pocket of wealth in the area and home to many of the wealthy families that made their money mining, including the Cousiño´s and the Subercaseaux.  Today the town is a National Monument which you can visit to see its 19th century church, silver/copper smelter and the former estate of Apolinario Soto (dating back to 1870).

The second place is Viña del Cerro which is an extremely interesting spot 64km from Copiapo that dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries.  Here the Incas had a copper foundry that the Diaguita people used to pay their tribute to the empire. The ceremonial platform and ovens are still visible today.

There are also two excellent museums: the Mineralogical Museum, with more than 2300 materials on display, and the Museo Regional de Atacama, which includes a mine replica.

For nightlife, head to Barrio Alameda and to eat stop at Govinda´s, a casual vegetarian/vegan spot with a kids play area and regular yoga sessions for adults and kids.

Bahia Inglesa

Blink-and-you´ll-miss-it Bahia Inglesa is a tiny settlement overlooking a bay broken by picturesque rocks. This place really does look the way it does in pictures – its water really is that turquoise and the sand really is that white. The waves are tiny and the water is shallow, meaning that this beach is more like a swimming pool, hence the name ¨La Piscina¨.  It is perfect for children, hopeful Instagrammers and those who want to combine their beach visit with delicious food, because it also happens that it has some of the best seaside restaurants in all of Chile (visit ´El Plataeo´).

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The beachfront is lined by scuba diving outfits and souvenir stalls selling shell-laden wares. On either side of the rocks the beach stretches on, and __ in particular is particularly stunning and generally much quieter than Bahia Inglesa, and without all the shops.  This entire area is a sliver of paradise that bears more resemblance to a coastal New Zealand town than anything I have encountered so far in Chile, the only downside being that the beach itself could be cleaner – on our visit the beautiful sand was interrupted with as many cigarette butts as shells and I even found broken glass in places.

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Still completely in love with my Karun sunnies (made from recycled fishing nets) and my La Pituka leggings!

Caldera

Caldera is a large town with all the facilities you´d expect, including banks in case you run out of cash (like us!).  While it is nothing pretty to look at, it does have an absolutely gorgeous church, a plaza de armas that is full of playgrounds, a paleontology museum and a pelican-lined pier that will amuse children, as well as a sandy beach.

Vallenar

Cobbled roads, colourful houses that peer down from the hills and a roaring river awaits you in this large town known primarily for (you guessed it) mining.  While there is nothing much to do beside loll about the pretty central plaza, there are plenty of hotels and restaurants serving colaciones. As in most mining towns where the people have money to throw around, there are plenty of bars and casinos.

The link below is not technically about Vallenar, but the town features in the song and I´ve been looking for the opportunity to include this version.  The song is originally by acclaimed songwriter and nueva cancion Chilena pioneer, Violeta Parra. This version is by musician Karla Grunewaldt, and I think it perfectly captures the heartbreak of the song. The raw lyrics break my heart, as it details the journey north of Parra´s lover, which consequently ended their relationship.

Domeyko

A tiny mining settlement just off the highway, this charming settlement does not warrant a stop unless you need to take a break from all the monotonous driving (although to be fair, the semi-arid scenery around here is unusually stunning). Domeyko does not have a petrol station but there are vendors if you ask around (like we did!).  A lot of the gardens and squares have been beautified with old mining relics which up the charm factor here.

Desierto Florido

Although you can turn off to the Llanos de Challe national park to be swamped in the scientifically bizarre ¨flowering dessert¨, you can also see stretches of it from the highway as you travel north.  This year we had quite a bit of rain, so there were lots of flowers.  Inside Llanos de Challe you have the chance to uncover some of the world´s rarest flowers, including the Garra de Leon.  There are some 220 species of plants here – of which 206 are native to Chile and 14 are found only in Chile.  The garra de leon and the napina are classed as endangered and are almost extinct so count yourself blessed if you spot one! You might also see one of the many guanacos that call the park home, as well as peregrine falcons and foxes.

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Fields as far as the eye can see of pata de guanaco.

Did you like this? Have a look at:

my favorite Chilean clothing businesss, La Pituka;

sunglasses that look at the world ¨from a different perspective¨, Karun;

the unique story of Sewell and mining in Chile;

the town of Ovalle in El Norte Chico;

Humboldt penguin hotspot, Punta de Choros;

the story of Violeta Parra, and four other Chilean icons.

 

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Punta de Choros & Humboldt Penguins

After La Serena the road curls around an undulating landscape dotted with cacti.  Behind us the road twists like a snake – to the side is the sea, a dark blue expanse with frothy white tips and as we drive we pass by windswept townships hugging the hills as if for dear life.

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We were on our way to Punta de Choros, jump off point to visit the Reserva Nacional Pinguino de Humboldt, home to one of only a few colonies of the endangered Humboldt Penguin and a must-see attraction according to the guidebooks.  It´s also home to a rich variety of seabirds such as comorants, boobies and gulls as well as sea-lions, sea otters and (frequently sighted) bottlenose dolphins and whales.   The reserve – some 860 hectares managed by CONAF – is visited by boats staffed by local fishermen-turned-tour guides, and trips take you to the penguin stronghold of Isla Choros as well as Isla Damas, a smaller island with two beautiful white sand beaches.

We have been extremely excited about visiting because it is one of the last places to see the Humboldt Penguin, a cute little guy with a spotted chest and thick beak, that breeds along the coasts of Chile and Peru.  There are only about 32,000 penguins left, a shocking statistic that places them in danger of extinction.  Their population has taken a hit due to:

  • Commercial Fishing –  entanglement in fishing nets; decline of their main prey (sardines + anchovies)
  • Prey fluctuations due to the effects of El Niño
  • Introduction of pests (such as rats) and predators (Andean Fox);
  • illegal trade (zoos and as pets)
  • Human consumption (Northern Chile only)
  • Industrial development such as mining; Punta de Choros is currently protesting of the Dominga mining project in motion for the area.
  • Habitat destruction due to coastal development
  • Habitat destruction due to the mining of guano by increasing mortality due to nest trampling and direct harvest

Information sourced from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Chile has sought to better the odds by making reserves such as this one as well as eradicating rabbits from the island of Isla Choros; Santiago´s National Zoo also has a program to hatch abandoned eggs.  However there is one more issue facing the penguins today more than any other, and that is the effect of tourist visitation.  Penguins are extremely sensitive and not only do visitors trample their breeding sites, but they also deter them from breeding, meaning that any decision to visit the reserve comes with an ethical price to pay, particularly as Conaf has reported that other wildlife populations have suffered as well.  This has become such a pressing issue that my 2009 8th edition of Lonely Planet dissuades tourists from disembarking at Isla Damas.

We turn off the highway and head down an axle-breaking dirt road towards Los Choros, a blink and you´ll miss it cluster of dusty houses in an area that dates back to the 1600´s and the early arrival of the Spanish settlers. This dry peninsula is one of the premier producers of Chilean olive oil and just outside the township there are family-run olive tree farms, where you can stop to pick up a bottle of olive oil, handmade extra virgin soap, locally sourced salt and even learn about the production process.

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Olivas de Olivarez 
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Where olive oil is made!

After Los Choros the dirt road continues past cabañas, sparsely placed along the way, until you arrive into Punta de Choros.  Punta de Choros is nothing to look at – in fact most of the cabañas are basic affairs, with the restaurants serving up average (and below) food.  There are two wharfs where tour boats embark from, and these were swarming with oblivious daytrippers and touts of the more aggressive variety.  It was also extremely cold and windy, despite the fact that just a few hours before we´d been basking beneath the warm rays of La Serena´s sun.  These winds haunted our stay, blowing and banging around our windows at night and forcing us back into our winter jackets and merino layers – and ultimately deterred us from our ocean trip: all boat were prohibited by the Navy from leaving the jetty.

We did make several trips to the neighboring beaches as the coastal scenery is both stunning and dramatic all white silky sand dunes and rocky outcrops. Spring – and this year´s unusual volume of rainfall – had prompted a staggering array of plants, flowers and insects which blossomed in every direction, creating a rich tapestry of reds, greens and yellows.

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We were also lucky enough to see two herds of wild guanacos grazing near the roadside which was simply extraordinary.

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We had a chat with local fisherman Freddy, who identified himself as part of the Chango indigenous group, which many sources label as extinct. ´Chango´ was a term given to the nomadic people that lived between Copiapo and Coquimbo that survived mainly on seafood.   Freddy told us about his grandparents, who´d grown up living in makeshift portable houses that they moved along the coast, hunting guanacos and living off of goats and mariscos. When Freddy was a boy he dived beside mountains of locos (Chilean Abalone), a molusc that Chile highly prizes and which is strictly regulated by the state body of fisheries, Sernapesca.  Today, this loco bounty no longer exists, although Punta de Choros irks much of its living from their extraction, making it one of the principal producers; each year 150 people are permitted a haul of 3000.

We hightailed it out of Punta de Choros with a few litres of Olive Oil and feeling slightly disappointed but also relieved at not having to make the ethical decision to visit the reserve.  We were also excited to continue another 4 hours to the north, to the city of Copiapo and the start of the Atacama Desert.

Pictures below are of the Desierto Florido visible from the highway an hour or so after leaving Punta de Choros.

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Where We Stayed

We rented a cabaña for two night on either side of our drive north. We used the services of Turismo Punta Choros, the more successful tour operator in the area. The cabañas were nothing amazing and certainly not five star, with dated decor and furniture BUT everything worked well, we had a kitchen, plenty of blankets, cable TV, parking, and hot water. I did stop at Cabañas Amarilis to chat with their owners and I highly recommend them.  The cabins were lovely, centrally located with breakfast and wifi included in the rate.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Bring cash as there are no cash machines and very few places accept credit cards.
  • The road is NOT paved and very bumpy – we lost a tyre!
  • September and October are the worst months to visit the reserve as there are high winds and turbulent seas
  • Very busy on weekends, public holidays and in summer so book well in advance

Ovalle & the Limari Valley

In 2014 I remember a disgusting pizza, a delicious juice made of papayas and sleeping on a rockhard hostel mattress with an unimpressed baby.  Oh and I narrowly avoided being pickpocketed too, apparently.

That was three years ago.  Fast forward to 2017 and I didn´t much relish the prospect of returning to the mining town, despite this time being paid to do so.  However I am now a guidebook writer and so one must weed through the bad in order to find something good.

And in 2017´s Ovalle, there is plenty of the good stuff.

There is the Valle del Encanto, for starters, a barren valley punctuated with rock art known as petroglyphs, made most likely by the El Molle people between 200-700AD.  There are also clusters of piedras tacitas, holes in the rockbed floor (you may remember Chile has the biggest site of these at Cerro Blanco), and a cavernous opening believed to have been used for bathing.  The canyon is also home to the loica (Long-Tailed Meadowlark), liebre (the European Hare, introduced as a game animal) and the degu, an inquisitive rodent endemic to Chile, among others.

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Nearby the Valle del Encanto is the Viña Tabali and the Termas de Socos thermal spring resort, and all of these are part of the Limari Valley.  This region is where the majority of Chile´s muscat grapes are grown and harvested to make pisco by the country´s largest pisqueras, Capel and Control (look out for the ¨armed guards¨ signs at the orchard entrances!). The valley is achingly beautiful, much wider than its sister valley, the Elqui, but nowhere near as touristic .  As we drove around the sharp bends beside the Embalse Recoleta and over the wide rivers, we were really struck by how few cabañas and restaurants we saw.

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It is in the heart of this valley (and quite a drive so be sure to check opening times before you leave) that you will find the Monumento Nacional Pichasca, a dry reserve containing the remains of a petrified forest and more petroglyphs.

The Plaza de Armas of Ovalle is interesting enough, but the real must-see of the town is the Museo del Limari which houses a small but impressive collection of artefacts found in the local area.  The pieces date back to the Diaguitas (1000-1536AD), Las Animas (800-1000AD), el Molle (200-700AD) and the Huentelauquen (1000-5000BC).  The museum is also housed in the former railway station, one of the first in South America.

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Outside the Feria Modelo there is an original carriage which is open to visit when the Feria is open.

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Where We Stayed

We stayed at Ovalle Suite Hostal Boutique a new addition in Ovalle and right in the center of town just a block from the Plaza de Armas.  For clp$40,000 we had a super king bed, breakfast, wifi and the most glorious shower – there were TWO showerheads and it was divine!!

 

 

Further Afield

Stop by the Fray Jorge national park, a luscious green oddity amongst the semi-arid landscape, for a picnic or do as we did (because Fray Jorge close at 13.30) and take a break at the Laguna Conchali on the outskirts of Los Vilos. This wetland is a great place to look for birds including (for you Dad!) the Chiloe Wigeon.

 

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And don´t forget to try one of the famous pastries from La Ligua!

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View from the road heading towards La Serena and Ovalle

Stay tuned for the next installment chronicling our trip to El Norte Chico!  Follow me on Instagram to see my favorite photos from the road – vlog coming soon!

If you liked this then you may also like:

Santiago Railway Museum;

Photos of Chile;

Cahuil;

Sewell and Chile´s Mines

 

A Story of Sewell & of Chile´s Mines

A mine like Chuquicamata is no ordinary thing – a colossal, gargantuan beast that offers no sense of scale when reduced to a single word. While backpacking around Chile in his early twenties, Ernesto´Che´ Guevara was captivated and shocked by what he saw in Chile´s arid north, a feeling which stayed with him for many years and shaped his future path. As he wrote in 1952:

¨It is a beauty without grace, imposing and glacial.  As you come close to any part of the mine, the whole landscape seems to concentrate, giving a feeling of suffocation across the plain […] Chuquicamata is essentially a great copper mountain with 20-meter-high terraces cut into its enormous sides […] it would do well not to forget the lesson taught by the graveyards of the mines, containing only a small share of the immense number of people devoured by cave-ins, the silica and the hellish climate of the mountain.¨

– The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) p. 79-81

Today, mining is the main economic activity in Chile and one which attracts considerable foreign investment. In terms of minerals, Chile is unrivaled, with more ´geological potential reserves´ than any other nation on Earth (29.2% compared to 11.4% in its closest rival, Peru). Despite falling commodity prices, copper is still Chile´s greatest export of which it has 38% of the world´s reserves.  According to the Ministry of Mining, Chile is also the leading provider of nitrate, iodine, lithium, and the third largest producer of molybdenum and the fourth largest producer of silver.

Gold in Chile

Let us pause for a minute to think about how incredible gold is. The gold that we use and wear today is not of this Earth. Gold is essentially a byproduct of neutron stars colliding to create a supernova nucleosynthesis explosion, something present in the universe when our very own solar system was formed. Gold was there when Earth began, but it melted down into the Earth´s core.  That would have been the end of our relationship with gold had it not been for a great wave of asteroids that pelted the planet about 4 billion years ago. These asteroids brought gold with them, which then became part of the crust and mantle.  This is what we mine today, and Chile is the world´s 15th biggest producer.

Gold has always been prized. The Incas in particular craved gold which they used for everything and anything – the Temple of the Sun in Cuzco was all gold, for example – and when the Incas expanded their empire into Chile one of the first things that they did was set up placer mines, looking for stream-bed (alluvial) deposits.

When the Spanish finally made their way from Peru to found Santiago in the 1500´s, they had their eyes peeled for gold.  Do you remember Pedro de Valdivia from my earlier blog? All he wanted to do was conquer the land until the Strait of Magellan, but he couldn´t do this without financing.  So he captured local Picunche cacique, Michimalonco, and demanded to know where they had been getting the gold to pay their tribute to the Incas.  He was lead to the Marga Marga river, where he found evidence of mining, and swiftly created the Spanish´s´first gold mine in Chile.  

Chilean Nitrate

The War of the Pacific, or Guerra del Pacifico, has only popped up briefly in my blogs, but I should really write about it a bit more because it was such a pivotal moment in Chile´s history.  It took place between 1879 and 1883 when Bolivia, Chile and Peru clashed over ownership of the nitrate (and other mineral) rich desert.  Chilean Nitrate is essentially a type of salt found only in the north of Chile that was in demand for a variety of purposes.  At the time of the war, the desert was technically part of Bolivia though the area was filled with numerous foreign mining companies and mainly Chilean workers.  Chile won, ushering in an era of wealth that President Jose Manuel Balmaceda was eager to use to improve the country´s public infrastructure.  However this made many people unhappy and prompted the 1891 Civil War, resulting in Balmaceda´s suicide and a time of oligarchy in Chile. After the first World War, the demand for nitrate fell dramatically when the Germans invented a form of synthetic nitrate.  Mines began closing left, right and center, leading to huge waves of migration across the nation as people began searching for new work.  Cities such as Santiago and Antofogasta swelled, people forced to lump together in shocking conditions, living on top of each other in the same property, known as  cités and conventillos. 

Sewell: A World UNESCO Site

Sewell is an abandoned mining town more than 2000m above sea level and 60km east of Rancagua. Gold and Chilean Nitrate do not factor in to its story; in fact, this tale revolves around copper.  Copper is one of those amazing metals that occur naturally in nature – you have a chance of chancing upon some if your lucky. The human body is even made of a teensy bit of copper, and it can be found in many of the things we eat.  The world´s largest underground copper mine is located near Rancagua, a labyrinth of underground tunnels inside an extinct volcano that spirals for 2300km; if laid out straight, it would reach from Arica to Chillan.  No-one knows for sure how El Teniente began but certainly the local Picunches knew a thing or two about copper, according to various sources. Back in 1905, Chile was saying yes to as much foreign investment as it could, so when the Braden Copper Company proposed the expansion of El Teniente, Chile leaped. The Company built roads, a railway and the company town of Sewell to house both the concentration plant and its workers, which at its peak in 1968 had 15,000 residents.

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Photo by Yorka Abarca

I turn now to my friend Yorka, the amateur photographer with the dizzying camera collection, to fill me in with some more information (all photos are hers).

¨These people lived comfortably in the middle of nowhere. It was a fun city to live in with a pool, social club, cinema, bowling – a bit like Valparaiso but in the Andes. The museum is impressive. Inside there´s an impressive collection of copper-made antiques, from Egypt to India – it’s like wow!¨

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Sewell is also known as the Ciudad de las Escaleras (City of Stairs) because, being carved into the side of the mountain, it has a unique pedestrian interior of paths and stairways that show great skill.  Life in Sewell was good, with all the facilities and infrastructure you would expect to find in a thriving town, however there were a few things that were not so great. In the early days, conditions were rough. Miners were always dying, especially children younger than 12 who were among the many workers. Many of them slept inside the tunnels or died in accidents that could have been avoided with better training (many were country folk who did things like defrost sticks of dynamite over open flame, according to Company accounts).  Initially, until 1920, people were paid with fichas, special chips that worked only in the company store. In 1919 the entire population of Sewell striked and refused to work until their needs were met, their working day was decreased to 8 hours and their unions recognized.

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A type of apartheid also existed in the town, with the wealthier expats from the United States (who had high ranking jobs and did not work as miners) living separated from the Chileans who they were told not to socialize with. The workers were also expected to be completely dry as all alcohol was strictly prohibited although this didn´t stop the ´guachucheros´ from piling their donkeys high with liquor and traversing to Sewell from the Cajon del Maipo. People were also unhappy about the fact that they could never buy their houses because they were always going to be owned by the Company.   Sadly, in 1945, El Teniente suffered the worst mining accident in Chile´s history, known as El Humo, when a fire trapped workers and killed 355 people, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Inside one of the houses.  Photo by Yorka Abarca.

Sewell was abandoned during the 1970´s when it became more efficient for people to live in Rancagua. Both Sewell and El Teniente passed to Chilean ownership in 1971. Sewell began to be demolished, taking the total buildings down from 100 to 38. until it was decided to preserve the site as a national monument.  It was declared a UNESCO spot in 2006.

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Los 33

It is worth closing this chapter on Chile´s mines and minerals with a brief look at an occasion that was broadcast around the world.  In 2010 Chile appeared on my local news in New Zealand when a cave in the San Jose gold-copper mine, near Copiapo (in Chile´s Norte Chico region), had collapsed, trapping 33 men a startling 700m underground.  Seventeen days later, a handwritten note saying ¨Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33¨ was pulled attached to a drill bit, sent down exploratory boreholes by Codelco, the state-owned mining company that took over rescue duty from the mine´s owner, San Esteban Mining Company. The latter had had issues before. Over a period of twelve years, the mine had received various fines for being geographically unstable, suffered various accidents and even 8 deaths in the lead up to the 2010 events.

The whole world – some one billion people in fact – watched a miracle unfold on their tv screens.  On 13 October 2010, 69 days after the collapse, each man was rescued from their dark vigil below, relieved from the depths thanks to a specially designed capsule.  It was a rescue that saw three drilling teams, NASA, the Chilean government and twelve corporations from around the world work together to a tune of US$20 million, money put forth by San Esteban, the Chilean government and private benefactors. Amazingly, all 33 men were alive and their tearful reunions with their family (and sunshine) was recorded for the whole world to see.

During their time in the belly of the Earth, the miners rationed the food and water that was stocked in the mine, fiercely.  One teaspoon of canned fish, two cookies and some water were all that they had to initially live on, dispensed by Mario Sepulveda, who became the group´s unofficial leader during confinement.  After their supplies ran out, they turned to the industrial water used for cleaning and scavenged through rubbish bins, all the while listening – and praying – for rescue.

Much has been made of the love triangle between miner Yonni Barrios, his wife Marta Salinas, and his mistress Susana Valenzuela.  While running a grocery store with his wife ten years before, Barrios had met Valenzuela and begun an affair. Salinas found out and swiftly kicked him out, though they never officially divorced (which seems to be common in Chile despite divorce now being legal).  Fast forward to the 2010 accident when Barrios told rescue staff to deal with his mistress rather than his wife. Huge drama ensued, and Valenzuela was banned from Camp Hope, the makeshift encampment where loved ones would communicate with the miners. When Barrios emerged from the capsule, he was embraced by Valenzuela despite asking for his wife to also be present (she refused).  The pair still live together today, in a poblacion in Copiapo.

If this sounds like it could make a good movie, you would be right.  Los 33 is a collaboration between Chile and the USA that premiered in 2015 and stars Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche (I´ve not seen it yet!).

Shockingly, no charges were laid against San Esteban Mining Company when investigation concluded in 2013.The miners have not received compensation and many of them suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome; Barrios in particular also suffers from a lung condition called silicosis.

The Nitty Gritty

The official page for Sewell is here.

Only select tour operators can visit Sewell. Here is the TripAdvisor link where you can make your own mind up.  Yorka visited the town with Circulo Patrimonial and had a great experience.

Read: Mira Tu published by Felicidad/Aplaplac/Heuders based on the TV series (available in all good bookstores as its a popular book).


If you liked this, have a look at:

The Stories Behind Santiago Place Names

5 More Names You´ll Recognize in Chile

The Original People of Cerro Blanco

20 Things You Didn´t Know About Chile

The Original People of Tierra del Fuego

 

 

 

Quintessence Alpaca Farm

The gate of this farm is colossal – and no wonder, considering that inside is one of the world´s leading alpaca farms.  In front, there are alfalfa fields as far as the eye can see, right up to the looming hills that characterize so much of Chile.  On the day we visited, these fields were being harvested for the alpacas to eat, the tractors rolling over the proud grasses with a gentle hum.

 

 

Upon entering the farm, it is clear that the alpaca is the star. You see them straight away, dainty heads upon tall necks peering over the low fences that corral them in to their paddocks and stables, their eyes alert and docile beneath lustrous lashes. Maria Herlinda de la Garza is the operator of the farm, first pulled into the alpaca world by her then-employer, grocery store mogul, Charlie Fitzmorris, who owned an alpaca farm in Chile and wanted to export to the United States.  After his death, Maria decided to continue working with alpacas because, as she writes on the website, ¨I had fallen in love with Alpacas and their amazing fiber … Their fleece has become my passion¨.

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Quintessence was the result, a success by all definitions of the word, that today exports to some 15 countries around the globe.  They have bred some of the finest animals in the world, and have processed their fibres down to a shocking 12.5 microns, a measurement that is incredibly fine.

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According to their website, Quintessence aims to ¨to create a social responsible  and sustainable company that will safe guard the environment while creating community jobs among local women and men of great skill and experience in this sector of the industry.¨

A tour of the farm can be in English or Spanish, and takes you around the entire grounds including the mill, culminating in the store which contains clothes, accessories and wool processed and created on the farm.

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What IS an alpaca?

There are two breeds of this South American camelid that closely resemble their more familiar – and larger – cousin, the llama. Unlike the llama, they were never domesticated to do heavy duty as a beast of burden but instead have always prized for their fibre, which comes in an astonishing 52 natural colors (as classified in Peru) and their meat. Their fibre (it is not called wool) contains no lanolin and is famed for its soft and luxurious quality that is somewhat akin to hair. The process for obtaining the fibre is similar to getting sheep wool, and the animals are sheared each spring; adults produce between 1420-2550 grams of fine quality fibre and then around 1420–2840 grams of second and third quality fibre.  After being shorn, the fibre is selected due to its color, size and quality, then all its impurities are removed.  It is then washed, spun and dyed with cochinilla, or natural dye.  Interestingly, alpacas never overgraze, and consume around 75% less food and water each day than cows and horses.  They also traditionally live side by side with the Quechua and Aymara people, and this co-dependence is said to be one of perfect balance.

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Why farm alpacas? Because the fibre is …

Warm, thanks to microscopic air particles that provide insulation suitable for all weather because it breathes.

Light, thanks again to those microscopic air particles.

Strong, because the alpaca is accustomed to living in an extreme environment (the Andes mountains) and this passes over into its fleece, making it last longer than most other fabrics like wool, cashmere and silk.

Luxurious in texture, a product of its environment, that is soft and comforting. Amazingly, the alpaca fibre can be processed without any chemicals.

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The Nitty Gritty

Website and blog here

Address:

Parcela 14 La Estancilla, Casilla 73,

Llay Llay  V Región Chile

Cel: +56 9 934 57300

Cel2: +56 9 836 11715

Tours: Miles & Smiles Chile (us!) offer private tours in English or Spanish to Quintessence that can be combined with either Olmue or La Campana National Park. Visit our website here.

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Despite Santiago being such a big city, it is fairly easy to escape and find yourself a sliver of nature for the day.  Some ideas:

Santuario de la Naturaleza

Aguas San Ramon (Parque Cordillera)

Rio Clarillo 

Lago Rapel

Lago Peñuelas

La Campana National Park, the place where you can find yourself walking beneath endangered Chilean Palms, rustling some 40m above like tantalizing dinosaur food, each one hundreds of years old (and my personal favorite).

The Salt of Cahuil

I am currently reading the most amazing book, ´The Omnivores Dilemma´ by Michael Pollan. In it, Pollan explores the production of – and costs behind – our food, from the realms of industrial agriculture, organic farms and small providers, right through to exploring the acts of foraging (see below) and hunting. This is an eye opening book and one that raises many questions, particularly because Pollan himself is such an accomplished writer and researcher.

(I have linked to the Book Depository site, as this is where I buy all my books unless it´s for my Kindle. Over the last few years, I have never had any issues ordering to Chile and arrival times range between two weeks to three months, depending on how functional the postal network is at the time, as well as how Customs are working given they continuously strike).

Here in Chile, a nation where UHT milk reigns supreme (read my essay here) and where the battle against soft drink is real, we are both blessed and unlucky. We are unlucky because the murkier side of food production, namely big business, has got its claws firmly sunk in to everyday society, at least in Santiago anyway (essay here).  How else do you explain the proliferation of fizzy drinks at every meal and the goody bags overflowing with lollies at each birthday party (at a recent birthday party E sat down at the table to his individual paper plate laden with different packets of biscuits, chocolates, cakes, candies, as well as being surrounded by bowls of various chips, lollies, and other unusually colorful things).

We are blessed because – as I keep saying over and over – it is still possible to buy nearly all that you need in the local feria, (market), a place which forms the vital breath of the outer lying comunas, including right here in Recoleta. We shop from this ragged tumble of stalls each week, sometimes more than once, and it is there that we fill up our reusable bags and pull-behind shopping trolley (the most practical shopping invention, and one unfortunately relegated to the elderly in New Zealand). It is here where Chile shows itself at its most exotic, the place where I feel all manner of emotion, from being humbled, surprised and even uneasy as I walk past realms of fruit and vegetables, deciding which stall vendor best deserves my hard-earned pesos.

This is a country that produces in its truest sense, where even in the starkest of places you can find life springing forth with more colors than a Monet painting (i.e. the Desierto Florido in the Atacama).  And it helps the rest of the world grow food too, in the form of fertilizer composed of Chilean Nitrate (NaNO3) which is found only in the deserts of Northern Chile. For a foodstuff a little more direct, that you can apply directly to your plate at the dinner table, you can use sea salt, famously harvested near Pichelemu, in a tiny place called Cahuil.

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To some, a trip to this patchwork of colorful pools beside an estuary marks no big occasion, but to others (like myself) this is a trip into the heart of food, for is there another ingredient more essential to a meal than salt?  Salt is one of the five primary tastes humans have evolved to recognize, and its addition can help the release of certain molecules into the air, heightening a dish´s aroma, while also overriding bitterness and balancing other flavors. It also helps to balance fluids inside your body, and contains two of the most essential elements for all living creatures on the planet, namely chloride and sodium ions.

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Salt has also been recorded as far back as our records go, to preserve food that would otherwise decay and become hazardous to eat, and the indigenous of Chile were no different. The original inhabitants of the Barrancas area, where the Cahuil saltpans are today, worked this spot for hundreds of years, taking advantage of this naturally salty river flowing on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Close to this meeting point are the ´cuarteles´, networks of various pools measuring 20 square meters each, all with different levels of water that will eventually evaporate to leave behind salt. The process begins in spring once the rains have finished and the estuary decreases in water level, allowing the pools to be cleaned.  The water then re-enters, decanting via small gates between each pool, and by the time summer rolls around the salt is ready to be extracted, although this is a highly sensitive process that depends upon humidity, rain and other external conditions. The pools, with their different levels of water, therefore place the salt at a different proximity to the mud, thereby creating different types of salt. There is the ´flor de sal´ which is very fine, and then the ´espumilla´, or regular sea salt, while the bottom layers are used for things like leather tanning and the removal of snow on roads.

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The saltpans of Cahuil have been declared a ´Living Human Treasure´, a remarkable slice of culture and history that you can take home with you in the form of bathing or cooking salt, available with a variety of additions such as merken, seaweed and smoked salmon.  For me, this is a spot where you can immerse yourself in nature which swims and flies all around you; it is here where I have seen more birds than anywhere else in Chile, so if you are a budding ornithologist you should put this place on your list.

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The Nitty Gritty

How To Visit Cahuil:

Open all year round and completely free; though production begins from September and finishes in March. It is located 2km south of Cahuil in the sector of Barrancas. Check out the map here.

What The Family Thought:

You cannot use a pushchair or wheelchair if you want to explore between the pools as the paths are not very wide, however the pools are not deep so they are suitable for toddlers to walk around (with supervision). My 3 year old son really enjoyed himself. There is not much else to do in the area although it is geared up for summer visitors in the form of cabañas, probably to house the streams of Santiaguinos who escape the city in the hotter months to relax by the beach. Cahuil makes an excellent day trip from the Colchagua Valley or from Pichelemu.

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Where You Can Shop:

Agricola Tinajacura sells pasture raised chickens that live glorious lives beneath the sun (they are fed a mixed grain), beside grass-fed lamb.  The chickens (both laying and broiler) are moved outside from 3 weeks of age, where they live always on the grass, which supplements their diet with bugs and flowers, an area which they spend less than 24 hours on a time (so no living on top of their waste and more ground gets fertilized). The lambs eat only grass and the land is untouched by fertilizer. The animals receive no hormones.

Santiago & Viña Organic Pastured Cowshare is run by expat, Frank Szabo, where you can order a percentage of grass-fed beef cuts. Orders are in bulk and killing takes place at selected times during the year.

La Paloma Saludable delivers fresh milk and eggs from the farm as well as a plethora of organic foodstuffs.  Email orders only.


More Like This:

For a restaurant that serves foraged food, visit Silvestre Bistro;

to learn more about the local feria and Chilean food, read Fantastic Food;

to read about my favorite walking spot, read about La Campana National Park;

to discover some of the interesting history of Valparaiso, visit City of Artists and Dreamers;

for a list of local small providers you can support, browse my Local Business Directory.

 

 

 

Meet La Pituka: Happy Clothes

Winter in Santiago just makes me feel so blah. The sky is grey, the houses are freezing (most don´t have insulation) and in general there is a feel of waiting in the air … waiting for warmer days, longer evenings and las fiestas patrias. My absolute favorite month in Chile is September; if you are new to the city, just you wait – soon the sky will be a deep cloudless blue, dotted with volantines and the sound of flags flapping. This is the month when the sun begins creeping out for longer and longer, when the nights fill with the sound of music and laughter, when you can finally show the world some skin and banish those heavy jackets to that forgotten corner of your bedroom.

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I cannot wait to say goodbye to winter, not least because I am one of those people that really suffer without a daily dose of sunshine. The weather mixed with post-partum hormones and a pretty isolated life has meant that I have been incredibly gloomy lately. In an attempt to lift my dark mood, I have been taking advantage of the Estadio Recoleta, not really a stadium these days but a smidge of greenery in an otherwise urban landscape that people use for their sporting needs. The Recoleta council (municipalidad) also offer a smorgasboard of free exercise classes every day, from Samba to Step, pilates and yoga. There are also paid classes too, including tae kwon do and swimming.  I have been going to Zumba, held in the morning every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and in the afternoon and evening on Tuesday and Thursday.

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Santiago during winter. Photo: Me

According to the internet, Zumba is a dance craze beloved of some 15 million people across 180 countries. It was created in the 1990´s by Alberto Perez in Colombia, and contains elements of cumbia, salsa, samba, reggaeton, hiphop, merengue, mambo, chachacha, soca and axe. Although a typical class, which is around an hour long, involves things like squats and aerobics, it doesn´t feel like exercise at all – it is dance. It is also crazy fun. Since I have been going to Zumba it feels like a huge pressure has been lifted from my mind, and I highly recommend giving it a go. The problem when you exercise is that you need something to wear, something that does the job and holds everything in place. What about if you could find gear that did that, but that also had some flair and personality? The athleisure market is flooded with designs to make you look good but these often come with a high price point, and are often made in sweatshops or overseas. This just doesn´t fly with me, particularly because I am all about supporting small businesses and things made in Chile. But the search isn´t futile!!! There are options and here I present to you one of them, La Pituka, who create beautiful leggings and other items right here in Chile.

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Ten Questions with Tienda La Pituka

Who is La Pituka/Quien es La Pituka?

We are two partners, a mother and daughter team comprised of Soledad Herrera, publicist, and Alejandra Bianchi, photographer.

Somos dos socias, madre (Soledad Herrera Amigo, Publicista) e hija (yo, Alejandra Bianchi Herrera, Fotógrafa).

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All photos: La Pituka

Why did you start the store/Por que hiciste la tienda?

We started with the underwear as it was something that we saw overseas but didn´t exist here in Chile!  There was only things cut by laser without a design, and so we began investigating how to make clothes and stamp it. In 2011 we started our store in Barrio Italia where we sold things like necklaces, rings and hair accessories, all made by hand.

Comenzamos con la ropa interior ya que fue un producto que vimos en otro país y en Chile no existía!!!, solo la ropa de corte láser sin diseño… entonces comenzamos a investigar como hacer la ropa y estamparla… mientras tanto comenzaba la tienda La Pituka ( año 2011) en Barrio Italia vendiendo accesorios hechos a mano (collares, aros, tocados…)
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Photo: La Pituka

Which are you favorite products/Cuales son tus productos favoritos?

The leggings – they are so comfortable, great to go out in, to wear while walking, or sports or for yoga or pilates.

Las calzas … es que son muy cómodas, geniales para salir a caminar o para deportes y yoga o pilates.

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Photo: La Pituka

What is your bestseller/Cual diseño que lo que mas se vende?

Generally that would be the designs which are very feminine, with lots of flowers and color, although the Rupturistas have been popular, such as the collage with matryoshka nesting dolls (below) or the asymmetric designs with one leg different to the other. The idea is that we make a certain amount using one design and then later we discontinue it.

Generalmente son diseños más bien femeninos, con harta flor y colorido, aunque los rupturistas también tienen buena acogida como un  colage con matrioshkas que realizamos hace un tiempo ( o los diseños asimétricos, como una pierna diferente a la otra), el tema es que hacemos cierta cantidad con un diseño y luego lo descontinuamos… esa es la idea.

Mamushka
The bestselling print using design of Russian nesting dolls. Photo: La Pituka

How can people buy and where/Como podemos comprar y donde?

Through our Facebook page, where we can post to anywhere in Chile, and we are currently working on having a ´buy now´ option on our website. Physically we are based in Pucon and in Santiago we will have a store in Barrio Italia, opening at the end of August.

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Photo: La Pituka

What makes your products special/Por que son especiales tus productos?

Each item is made by hand, with affection, and we put a lot of thought into choosing the best fabrics and making sure that we give work to Chilean women.

Por que están hechos uno a uno con total cariño, nos preocupamos de elegir las mejores telas Chilenas y de dar trabajo a mujeres Chilenas en su confección. 

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Now for the general question that I ask everyone! Where is your favorite spot in the capital, Santiago/Cual es tu lugar favorito en Santiago?

Outside of the city, in the Cajon del Maipo.

Afuera de la ciudad, en el Cajon del Maipo.

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Cajon del Maipo. Photo: Me

And in all of Chile/Cual es tu lugar favorito en Chile?

Alcohuaz, in the Elqui Valley.

Alcohuaz, en el Valle del Elqui.

What is next for La Pituka/Cual es el futuro de la tienda?

To begin making a wider variety of women´s clothing that are perfect for the office while still using the best Chilean fabrics and colorful styles in full print!

Comenzar a confeccionar una gran variedad de ropa de mujer, siempre con nuestro estilo colorido, pero perfectamente de vestir como para la oficina, con las mejores telas Chilenas y full print!!!

The Fine Print

Facebook here

Instagram here

Website here

Santiago store: Galeria Italia Mia, Av. Italia 1548, Ñuñoa (Barrio Italia)

Pucon store: Urrutia 235, Pucon

 

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Did you like this? Here are some more blogs that highlight local businesses:

Karun sunglasses made from recycled fishing nets and jeans;

Ñirre Bebe kids clothes and accessories made by hand;

TTANTI fine watches using fallen Patagonian trees;

Pajarito de Mimbre books and accessories that focus on Chilean culture;

Apicola del Alba natural cosmetics;

La Farine Pan a la Antigua traditional breadmaking in Curacavi.

 

 

The Stories Behind Santiago Place Names

Being a history buff of considerably nerdy proportions, I have long been observing the street signs in Santiago and across greater Chile. Many of the names pop up several times – for example, Av. Caupolican exists in Providencia, Cerro Navia, Peñalolen, Renca, Santiago Centro, Ñuñoa, Quilicura, and many more, as well as being Theatre (Teatro Caupolican) and a Square (Santa Lucia).  So without further ado, let´s dig a little deeper into who these people really are …

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Looking out over a (smoggy) Peñalolen

Caupolican (birthdate unknown-died 1558)

Like Leftraru (Lautaro), Caupolican suffered a name change from the Spanish: Kalfulikan was his actual name.  Kalfulikan has gone down in history due to playing an important role in the poem, La Araucana, and is one of the most famous historical figures from the Arauco War.   He became Toki in 1557 after the death of Leftraru, a role he had for one year before famously being impaled in a gory and well-publicized death meant to scare the Mapuches into finishing their resistance. In order to become chief of all the united tribes, Kalfulikan had to demonstrate his strength to the caciques, which included Colo Colo.  To do this, he famously held a thick tree trunk on his shoulders for two days and one night. According to the writer Fernando Alegria, he he had one son who was blind in one eye that his wife Fresia famously threw at his feet when he was captured,  refusing to raise the child of a man who could allow himself to be captured. Ercilla writes that Kalfulikan fought to the very end, and actually jumped upon the spike himself.

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Photo taken in the Mapuche museum in Curarruehue

Tegualdas

In the famous poem, La Araucana, Tegualda meets author Alonso de Arcilla while frantically searching through the fallen casualities of war for her husband.

Cerro Blanco

Formerly known as Apu Huechuraba, this hill was a spiritual hub for local Picunche people that was given a name change due to its white rock, used for the first version of Puente Cal y Canto.

Plaza de Armas

This central square is believed to have been originally inhabited by Incas before being taken over by Pedro de Valdivia, Ines de Suarez and their troop in 1541. The term Plaza de Armas was given due to it being frequently patrolled and defended over the years against uprisings.

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Baquedano

Named after the soldier and politician, Manuel Baquedano, who served during the Guerra del Pacifico and who briefly became Chile´s president in 1891.

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Bernardo O´Higgins (1778-1842)

In 1810, the Spanish government was being controlled by France which was not supported by many of the local leaders here in Chile. On the 18th of September, they got together to self-govern until the time came when Spanish rule returned to Spain. Tension grew as people became divided between their loyalties to the Spanish Crown and the desire to become an independent nation.  O´Higgins was a well-born (though illegitimate) man who famously fought against the royalists, was exiled to Argentina and who later became the Supreme Director of Chile when independence was won after the Battle of Maipu.  During his time in power, O´Higgins proposed various radical reforms but was accused of being abusive of power; in 1823 he was relieved of his role during a political coup lead by his former friend and ally, Ramon Freire.

Barrio Yungay

Named after the Battle of Yungay of 1839, where the Chilean Army destroyed the Peru-Bolivia Confederation which united the states of Peru and Bolivia together.

Diego Portales (1793-1837)

A former entrepreneur, Portales was an influential and powerful politician known for drafting up the Constitution of 1833, backbone of the Chilean state for more than 100 years. He was murdered in 1837 when conspirators from the Chilean army captured him for being pro-war against the Peru-Bolivia Confederation.  After his death, the Chilean public united in support for the government and the War of the Confederation.

Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna (1831-1886)

Of Irish and Basque heritage, Mackenna was a man like few others. Known as the ¨hero of the Chilean Independence¨, he is noted by Memoria Chilena as being a former fireman, senator, historian, writer, philanthropist, social agitator, diplomat, and defender of modern ideals. Over the years he took up many causes including the occupation of La Araucania, and was fiercely mourned when he died.

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Jose Manuel Balmaceda (1840-1891)

The 11th President of Chile, serving from 1886-1891. His disputes with Chilean Congress lead to the Chilean Civil War of 1891, which resulted in Balmaceda committing suicide.

Autumn Giveaway!! (1)

 

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Did you like this article? Have a look at these:

5 Names You´ll Recognize in Chile

5 More Names You´ll Recognize

The Original People of Cerro Blanco

The Original People of Tierra del Fuego

20 Things You Didn´t Know About Chile

Meet Ñirre Bebe: Kids Clothes with Style

Seeing as though I am trying to always support small Chilean businesses, it makes sense that this applies to my family, too. I have two boys that drive me crazy I love more than carrot cake, Obolo chocolate and Indian spices combined, something which is all consuming but also strangely isolating.  Pretty much all of my sons´ clothes have been loved before (and will be loved again – just not by me!) which is a good thing because, as any parent in any country will know, if you listen to all the magazines and help books you apparently need a truckload of expensive stuff just to survive year 1.

It goes without saying that sometimes I want my kids to look stylish but since the buggers grow so fast and get so dirty, I also have to find gear that is economical but that doesn´t skimp on quality.

Enter Ñirre Bebe.

I have been coveting one of their fox emblazoned tshirts for E ever since it first popped up in my Instagram feed. The fox, or ñirre in Mapundungun (and zorro in Spanish), is an animal that I am quite fond of because it always reminds me of the south of Chile, where I´ve  often seen them scavenging by the road.

We have two hats, a pair of pants (for M) and E´s tshirt. The material of the clothes is quite thick with a bit of stretch and actually feels incredibly luxurious. To say I am impressed with everything would be an understatement – I am already preparing to buy more!

Ñirre Bebe is fronted by Johanna Fuentes and I recommend following her on Instagram because the photos are just gorgeous.  I am so excited to reveal a little bit more about this #smallchileanbusiness so let´s get reading!

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So cute! Photo: Ñirre Bebe

Ten Questions with Ñirre Bebe

Who is Ñirre Bebe and what is the story behind the store/Quien es Ñirre Bebe y como empezo la tienda?

Ñirre is a venture from the 9th region that is headed by Johanna Fuentes (me); I am an artist.  The objective of the brand is to create modern clothes at the forefront of trends for infants and children up to 4 years. Priority is given to monocromatic tones to create an urban look for modern children.

Ñirre es un emprendimiento de la novena región el cual es llevado a cabo por la Artista Visual Johanna Fuentes (yo).  El objetivo de esta marca es crear ropa moderna, a la vanguardia de tendencias internacionales, para bebés y niños de hasta 4 años, privilegiando los tonos monocromomáticos en sus confecciones, es un estilo inspirado en lo urbano para chicos modernos. Ñirre empezó en Junio del año 2015 en la ciudad de Villarrica (antes teníamos otro nombre). 

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Photo: Ñirre Bebe

What does ñirre mean and why did you choose this name/Que significa ñirre y por que tiene ese nombre?

 Ñirre is a Mapundungun word for ´fox´, which is the language of my people, the Mapuches. This name was proposed by my mother, who is a dressmaker and a big influence on my work. We grew up beneath her sewing machine, which she in turn learnt from her mother, and I remember watching one grandmother using her old Singer machine while the other would be weaving on the loom (telar) while we watched, intruding or as we say, ¨echando a perder¨.  Later I studied Visual Arts which really helped me, such as with shades, materials, and above all, creation.

Ñirre proviene del Mapudungun, el pueblo originario del cual pertenezco y significa   “Zorro”  y el nombre lo propuso mi madre, ella es modista, y gran influencia en mi    trabajo, nosotros crecimos bajo una máquina de coser, ella aprendió de mi abuela,  en mi caso ellas son la gran influencia una de mis abuelas cosía en su antigua Singer, la otra tejía a telar, y aprendimos mirando, intruseando como decimos… “echando a perder”. Luego estudie Artes visuales, lo cual me ayudo sin duda a complementar, tanto en la utilización de tonalidades y materialidad, pero sobre todo la creación.  

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Photo: Ñirre Bebe

Which are your favorite products/Cuales son tus productos favoritos?

I don´t have a favorite, but I do really like to make products for newborns due to their details and small size.

No tengo un producto fijo, pero sin duda lo que mas me gusta confeccionar es la talla RN (recien nacido), ya sea por las detalles, y por el tamaño de la prenda que es minima.

Where are you based/Donde vives?

In Villarica, in the 9th region.

En Villarica, novena region.

Where is your favorite place in Chile/Donde esta tu lugar favorito en Chile?

The commune of San Juan de la Costa, in the province of Osorno, where I lived and worked for more than a year for the Fundacion Superacion de la Pobreza (Overoming Poverty Foundation).  This was one of the best experiences I have ever had because of the people, the landscape, the permanent contact with nature, the fact that you can cross the street and reach the sea … I now return every summer with my partner.

Provincia de Osorno, comuna San Juan de la Costa, vivi y trabje ahi durante mas de un año, para la Fundacion Superacion de la Pobreza y fue sin duda una de las mejores experienciias que he tenido.  Su gente, los paisajes, estar en contacto permanente con la naturaleza, cruzar la calle y llegar al mar es lejos, lo mejor … vuelvo todos los veranos ahora con mi compañero.

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Photo: Ñirre Bebe

Do you have a favorite place to eat in Chile/Donde esta tu lugar favorito para comer en Chile?

The truth is that I don´t have a favorite place as I prefer homecooked food, but if we are on holiday in San Juan then I like to visit Glorimar, which is in Bahia Mansa.

La verdad no tengo uno fijo favorito, me gusta la comida hecha en casa, pero si cuando vamos de vacaciones al sur, San Juan esta Glorimar (la señora Gloria cocina con mano de monja) queda en Bahia Mansa.

What is next for Ñirre Bebe/Que es proximo para la empresa?

Next we will register our brand, mainly to stop plagiarism, and we hope that this summer we will have an online platform where we sell online. And of course we will have new designs coming out!

Estamos proximos a registar nuestra marca, para evitar plagios principalmente, y esperamos para este verano contar una plataforma online, en donde vendamos en linea y no a pedido. Los nuevos diseños estan saliendo siempre.

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Photo: Ñirre Bebe

 

The Nitty Gritty

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For the Love of Bread: Meet La Farine Pan a La Antigua

Chile is having a love affair with bread.

This country adores its pancito. People line up morning and evening to buy the day´s haul, scrounging about in bottomless bins for the freshest options before placing that ubiquitous yellow bag on the scale to be weighed. From the traditional panaderia, where they make four roll marrequetas that are cooked with water in the oven to create a crispy crust (read an amazing article about it here) through to amasanderias where they prepare all other types of Chilean bread like the humble hallulla or (my favorite) pan amasado, bread really is a staple part of the daily life here – best enjoyed with lashings of avocado, olive oil, lemon juice and salt.  And of course no lunch outing would be complete without a free bread basket and pebre.

It makes sense, then, to draw attention to a small place making big waves in the bread world.  La Farine – Pan a la Antigua is located in Curacavi, just outside of Santiago near by Kross ¨preservative-free¨brewery and Apicola del Alba natural cosmetics (and maker of my favorite conditioner ever).  I found them because Casa Luz, one of my favorite restaurants in Santiago, has used their bread and highlighted them on Instagram. They have just opened up their new store and make a great side stop on your way to Valparaiso or the Casablanca Valley.  Let´s find out a little more shall we?

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Ten Questions with Josefina from La Farine – Pan a la Antigua

1.Who is La Farine/ Quien es La Farine?

We are a family that decided to learn the trade, from the art of making bread to how to sell this ancestral product in Curacavi.  We are a 6 person team with the whole family involved: Daniel, Josefina, Pia, Miel, Violeta and Hernan.  Each person has a different role to play.

La Farine es una familia que decidio aprender el oficio, desde el arte de hacer el pan hasta como vender este ancestral producto en Curacavi.  Somos un equipo de 6: Daniel, Josefina, Pia, Miel, Violeta y Hernan. Toda la familia involucrada, cada uno cumpliendo roles en los diferentes momentes de esta actividad. 

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2. Do you have any family history making bread/ Tienes una historia de familia trabajando con el pan?

Not at all. Daniel is a chef and life was slowly taking him down the bread path, and then after an adventure in France we realized that we wanted to dedicate our life to it.  We are creating a family tradition.

No para nada. Daniel es cocinero y la vida lentamente lo fue llevando por el camino del pan, ahora en nuestra ultima aventura por Francia nos dimos cuenta de que realmente era lo que nos quieramos dedicar. Estamos creando una tradicion familiar. 

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3. What is the motivation behind the store/Que es la motivacion de la tienda?

Our daily motivation is to make good bread, to recover the most that we can from this ancient tradition and to reach more people eery day, so that they change the bread that they normally eat for something that is more nutritious, with intense flavour and aroma.

Nuestra motivacion diaria es elaborar un buen pan, recuperar en lo que mas se pueda esta tan antigua tecnica y poder llegar dia a dia a mas personas, que la gente cambie el pan que consme normalmente y se atreva a comer un pan realmente nutritivo, con sabor y aromas intensos.

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4. What type of bread do you make/Que tipos de pan venden?

We make bread from all over the world as well as some of Daniel´s own recipes. We make country bread loaves, Batard, Brioche, Bagels, Rye (40% rye flour) Pan with olives or chocolate, hamburger buns, Focaccia, Pizza, Fig & Nut, Turmeric & Cranberry … and anything else our customers ask for. The interesting thing is that we use sourdough and we are always seeking to perfect our product.

Hacemos panes del mundo y recetas improvisadas por Daniel. Hogazas Pan de Campo, Baguette de tradicion, Batard, Brioche, Bagels, Moldes de centeno al 40%, Pan con Aceituna, pan Higo Nuez, Hogazas Curcuma & Cranberries, Pan de Chocolate, Pan de Hamburguesa, Focaccia, Pizzas … y tambien lo que nos pidan nuestros clientes. Lo interesante es que utilamos masa madre y prefermentos. El intenta perfeccionar el producto constantemente.

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5. Which bread is your favorite/Cuales tipos de pan son tus favoritos?

The sourdough with linseed and the baguette.

Hogaza integral centeno y baguette de tradicion.

6. Which bread is very ¨chilean¨ to you and why do Chileans stereotypically eat so much of it/ Cual pan para ti es muy ´chileno´ y por que los chilenos comen tanto?

The truth is that I don´t know why Chileans eat so much bread – we have the second highest consumption in the world – and the bread that we eat is not very healthy with an infinity of ingredients that generate sicknesses and obesity. Of our breads, none are Chilean as our inspiration is linked to cultures far from Chile where there exist more varieties and a different culture of bread-making.

La verdad que no se como los chilenos comen tanto pan – somos el segundo pais qe come mas pan el mundo y comemos un pan muy poco saludable, con una infinidad de ingredientes que lo unico que logran son generar enfermedades y obesidad. De nuestros panes, la verdad es que ninguno es Chileno, nuestra inspiracion esta muy ligada a culturas lejos de Chile donde existen mas variedades y una cultura de pan diferente.

7. What makes your bread special/ Por que tu pan es especial?

What I think makes our bread special (and all those who make these types of breads) is that we take our time seriously, respect processes to the letter, love what we do and are constantly inspired by master bakers from all over the world. The use of the sourdough gives the bread that something special: it gives greater durability, flavor and aroma as well as being easier to digest. For example, we have customers who are intolerant to gluten but who can eat our bread. This type of bread was invented more than 4,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt and we are simply recovering some of the oldest techniques in the world.

Lo que yo creo que hace especial tanto a nuestro pan como al de todos los que hacen este mismo tipo de panificacion es que nos tomamos enserio el tiempo, respetamos los procesos al pie de la letra, amamos lo que hacemos y no inspiramos constantemente por maestros panaderos alrededor del mundo. El uso de la masa madre le otorga un valor especial al pan. Le otorga mayor durabilidad, sabor y aromas mas intensos. Mucho mas facil de digerir. Por ejemplo tenemos clientes que son intolerantes al gluten pero pueden consumir nuestro tipo de pan. Nosotros no inventamos este tipo de pan especial, lo inventaron los egipcios hace mas de 4.000 años, Lo que nosotros hacemos es simplemente recuperar la tecnica de unos de los oficios mas antiguos del mundo.

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8. And now for some general questions! Where is your favorite place for food in Chile/ Donde esta tu lugar favorito para comer en Chile?

The island of Chiloe. where I discovered the culinary traditions that are still maintained there, as well as their myths and legends.

En Chiloe, descubri que la tradicion culinaria se mantiene en esas tierras. Asi como sus mitos y leyendas.

9. And your favorite place you have visited in Chile/ Donde esta tu lugar favorito en Chile?

The south of Chile.

El sur de Chile.

10. What is next for La Farine/ Que quieres para el futuro para La Farine?

The truth is that we don´t think that far into the future as we are 100% focused on doing a good job in the present.  I think that time will show us new paths and options, but in essence we will always be following the same goal – to make good bread.

But if we are dreaming, we would love to be able to plant our own wild wheat, make our flour and be completely self-sufficient.

La verdad es que no pensamos tanto en el futuro de la farine , estamos 100 % enfocados en hacer un buen trabajo en el presente, creo que el tiempo nos ira mostrando nuevos caminos y opciones, y que en escencia sigamos siendo siempre los mismos y con el mismo objetivo , hacer un buen pan.

Pero si se trata de soñar, nos encantaria poder sembrar nuestra propia variedad de trigo salvaje, tener nuestra harina y ser completamente autosuficientes.

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