Winebox Valparaiso

If you live in Chile, then I´m sure you´ve heard the buzz surrounding the arrival of WineBox Valparaiso.  The colossal aparthotel is situated on Cerro Mariposas, on the site of a former neighborhood dumping ground, and is the first touristic undertaking on the hill.

The site as it originally was.

With Winebox, architect Camila Ulloa has created something memorable but also comfortable, an amazing feat of engineering that is constructed of 25 recycled shipping containers.  The containers were inspired by owner Grant Phelps´ hometown of Christchurch, a city which began rebuilding (after the 2011 earthquake) with containers.



The containers are insulated with newspapers and the rooms are furnished with furniture made of some 3000 wooden pallets. There are nineteen rooms with a private terrace, and two suites.

Phelps has an extensive background in Chile, brought here as a winemaker some sixteen years ago.  He has worked for Casas del Bosque, among others, began the Beso Negro project and has been published all around the world as a sommelier, including in Lonely Planet.  It is only fitting then, that his hotel has an emphasis on wine. There is a wine cellar, dedicated to highlighting small-scale producers, and a store selling over 300 varietals.


On the agenda is a restaurant and bar due to open in 2018, though currently Grant is offering wine pairing dinners and events, as well as tours of the project with barrel tastings of the WineBox wine – first wine ever to be produced in the city of Valparaiso.


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I find this project incredibly fun and a hugely positive venture for the city of Valparaiso.  Visually, it is a stunner and never quite the same anywhere you look. Grant is also a confident and warm personality, a wonderful host and a man who believes wholeheartedly in giving back to Chile, supporting small providers and wine. The next time you plan a weekend away, book a room at WineBox – you won´t be disappointed.

The Nitty Gritty

Address: 763 Avenida Baquedano, Valparaíso

Phone: 09 9424 5331


Facebook here

Instagram here

Tours: Standard tour runs Sunday 12-5pm (English/Spanish) and includes a tasting of 3 WineBox wines for $5000 (duration 1 hour). Private group tours cost $20,000 per person and include a tasting of 7 wines – all personally overseen by Grant – and run for about 2.5 hours.

Lunch: available on the rooftop terrace for groups.


*All images by WineBox Valparaiso*

This post has not been sponsored – I just think its very innovative and fun!

The Good and The Ugly

The day is dark.

The sun has shone but it was a cold, muddy kind of sunlight today, almost as if it is feeling the pangs of a hangover from too much chicha, which I’m sure most of Chile will sympathize with. Outside my window there is a lone tree that I like to stare at whenever I feel like i want to escape the city, because it is fairly easy to ignore the various black power lines that run around it. That is what I am doing now, watching that tree sway in the breeze like it is my lifeline to a much simpler world.


It’s hard to live in a foreign land and not get the blues from time to time. I don’t miss New Zealand but sometimes I am overcome by such feelings of melancholy that the only thing that shakes me out of the dumps is a human-sized chocolate bar, a nap and back to back episodes of How I Met Your Mother.

In times like this, Chile only has to exist and I get riled up. Going to get my carnet (ID card) saw me transform into some kind of fiery beast, especially after we queued for an age to get a number only to be rejected as we weren’t ready with passport photocopies.

“jhojlodfijioasdofno!!” I snarled at the inconvenience and the woman responded by saying:

“The instructions are on the sign!” She then turned, lifted up a fallen-down, wrong way up sign and then placed it back on the floor, still facing the wrong way.  I’m pretty sure horns erupted from my skull at that moment.

There are so many times Chile gets me worked up. Like when I spent 6000 pesos for a curry and was given .. six prawns with a drizzle of sauce and a lettuce leaf. Or the time my Dad spent forever in the line waiting to check in for a flight to the UK, only to get the counter and find they had sold his seat to someone else and it was HIS FAULT (story coming soon!).  Or the time my Mum posted me a really old camera using DHL, and when it arrived they wanted almost $300 in handling fees (it wasn’t even tax and duties that put the price up!). Or the time Emilio was hospitalized and the tecnical assistant made me cry for not speaking enough Spanish, therefore meaning I “had no right to be with him.”  Finding a job here is also enough to make me scream. I am now pretty much unemployed and up to my eyes in debt – but I’m foreign so must be rich right (don’t you hate that?!)

As a mother, there are certain other aspects that drive me up the wall and around most of the garden too. Here is an example. Dieciocho, an important day for many Chileans, took us to Luis’ dad’s house for a family BBQ. Emilio cried the whole time and when he was finally happy playing with a ball, the adults took it off him and began to play some kind of ball wrestling that Emilio tried desperately to join. When he began inconsoleable grizzling with a fever, my suggestion that it was time for me to take him home was met with uncomfortable silence.

“But why can’t he stay here? He’s fine!” They all said while Emilio screamed and tried to run away. But I stood my ground and took him home anyway, which was a good thing because he got worse and worse throughout the night and ended up back in Roberto del Rio hospital. This has got to be my biggest pet peeve about having a son with a Chilean: they parent differently to how I am accustomed to. In my experience, the evening is not a time for children to be settling down for bed, instead it’s like a normal time of day. Luis’ parents often turn up randomly at 7pm and want to take him out, and if I say but he sleeps at 8 they just look at Luis. If I say bring him back at 8pm they say “ok 8pm … mas o menos” and return at 11pm. When Emilio is out and starts to cry because he’s tired, people tell me he’s very mamon and needs less sleep.

They also allow Emilio to do anything he wants. If he throws a stone at a person, they laugh. If he hits, they don’t say anything.  Emilio is a very strong-willed boy who also does not like to be touched, and whenever he gets hurt and comes to me, they crowd around and try to pull him away, and then get shocked when he starts screaming. “Manioso … regalon … mamite … agresivo … violento” I am given a rich list of unsatisfactory charactersitics each time which makes me retreat from them like a scared turtle.  Emilio is two and doesn’t talk, and so he resorts to other more extreme ways to communicate.  He also regresses every time someone tries to force him to do something to the time he was in hospital, which appears to have left a permanent scar on him (he started a particular squeal there that he uses whenever he is really scared).

I know they love him and 99% of the time I remember this. 99% of the time I appreciate all the good they have done and are doing, and I am so thankful they are in Emilio’s life. But on days like today – when I’m sick and tired and miserable – that tiny 1% finds its way out.  That goes for Chile too.  I adore this country and it is the only place in the world I have ever travelled to and felt completely and utterly at home. My skin cleared up, my hair shone and I lost weight after just 3 weeks in Santiago, of all places.  I felt at peace amongst Santiago’s ordered chaos.  I don’t want to leave but I don’t have to like everything (and same goes for anywhere including NZ). It bothers me when Chileans get riled up about a complaint about their country, because they usually a) deny its a problem and b) Chile is obviously perfect. Nowhere is perfect (I agree though that there are plenty of gringos who like to moan about everything!)  I hope whoever is reading this blog knows how much I love this country. What other place in the world gets together under the flag so proudly and so happily as Chile during las Fiestas Patrias? This is truly a marvellous place.  As always, let me know your experiences!

Delicious food over Las Fiestas Patrias
Emilio is in some of his too-big Huaso outfit
Empanadas de pino are synonimous with Dieciocho

Querida Recoleta

The Andes mountains loom like unforgiving sentinels over Santiago, their icy tops glistening with fresh sunlight. Beneath them, I see pole after pole of Chilean flags flying high, their blue, red and white colours flapping listlessly in the biting winter breeze. They stand perched above the haphazard houses that line Emiliano Zapata, my street in Recoleta, for no reason other than that Chileans love their nation.The homes here have no uniform standard, so you may just as easily find a bungalow painted pink as you would a three-storey beast of modernity, or a property that has grown substantially from its humble beginnings as occupied land. This is a place where the middle-class rub their shoulders with everyone.  The streets come alive on Dieciocho (18th September national holiday) when neighbors enjoy the cueca together or during a televised football game during summer when couches and TV’s are brought onto the street. The elderly sit on their front steps for their daily cahuin (gossip) and visits to the local corner store involve long waits while the store owner checks up on the latest happenings in the neighborhood.

Luis dancing cueca in 2014


I have lived in Recoleta for two years, down Zapata and also in El Salto, an area close to the hills with tiny brightly colored houses . When I first arrived I saw only the potholes in the roads that caused the traffic to constantly stop and start, and the broken pavements that made walking with a pushchair more like a lesson in off-roading.  I saw the street dogs -the real Don’s of the barrio – dictating the passage of both cars and pedestrians by either refusing to move or by chasing and biting holes in the tyres of cars they did not like. I saw the flaites on the corners with their baseball caps and Nike knock-offs, lolling about purposelessly until their after-dark misdemeanors began.  In short, I felt dirty and more than a little scared here, particularly because then I could not understand a single word anyone was saying …

Underneath my window

But there is more to Recoleta than just the modification of a Spanish that is already difficult to understand.There is also much more than the street dogs and the rather enthusiastic bureaucracy of the Recoleta municipalidad.  Recoleta is a place with a long history, from being an early settlement of indigenous (Mapuche and Inca) to the growing district of La Chimba under Spanish rule, through to today where it thrives as a residential area that is dominated by migrants. Patronato, where you will find the La Vega market and an assortment of imported-from-China clothes shops, is said to be home to the largest population of Palestinian’s outside of Palestine, along with people from many other nations. It abounds in stores selling foodstuffs from Korea,  takeaway kebab restaurants, and even high end dining experiences (such as Vietnam Discovery).

Vietnam Discovery

Recoleta is also home to the national cementary, both of which make wonderful ways to while away a few hours (and a good place to buy cheap flowers!). There is a top-quality park (lovingly maintained by workers who have done an excellent job) known as the Parque de la Infancia that will delight children of all ages thanks to its water fountains, train ride, tree huts and ginormous slides.

Parque de la Infancia


13500_10153283177190097_2801260293221211555_nEven the local council, despite it’s difficulties, is going the extra mile by developing its Escuela Abierta programme to offer more opportunities to the Recoleta youth.  They constantly organize events in the local estadio, such as the recent Indigenous Festival, and they have also implemented a small recycling centre and worm farm.

First worm farm!
Onazu nightclub, Bellavista

Bellavista is also (mostly, as half is technically Providencia) in Recoleta, an area famed for it’s nightlife and restaurants. My favorite eating spot here is Como Agua Para Chocolatewhich is a restaurant so dripping with romance it has a flower-filled fountain.

However, my number one place to eat is not in Bellavista, or in Patronato’s Tirso Molina. It is, in fact, close to my home and so tiny that sometimes you knock your chair against the next table’s. It’s staffed by the same people everyday who live above and it really feels as though you are eating in their dining room (because technically you are!). “Santa Rosa de Lima is a Peruvian restaurant that offers an all-day week-day colacion for 2.200 pesos that includes breads, starter, main and side dish. The food is Peruvian and delicious, but the desserts – especially the suspiro Limeno – are truly heavenly. This is not a five-star experience, but in my opinion sometimes the best food spots do not have menu’s containing trout and foie gras or lots and lots of numbers at the bottom of the bill.

Santa Rosa de Lima, Avenida Recoleta

I do not see the poor side of Recoleta now. This is not to say that I am blind, because it exists here as it does everywhere else. I know that my neighbors struggle and that many sell drugs. I know that many people here work long hours and gain little monetary rewards. I also know that some cause problems and that my window that faces the street sometimes witnesses knife fights and even gun shots. But I also know that people often throw meat over our gates for our dog – just because they care – and that my tattooed neighbor has cleaned himself up completely for his new daughter, who is Emilio’s age and lovely.  Every house here has a personality and many are well-tended to – even though there is no grass I watch my neighbor get up every morning in the freezing cold and fastidiously sweep the area in front of her house. This is also the place that bred my partner Luis and that, despite everything, helped him to grow into the incredible man he is today. And it is for these reasons that I refuse to condemn the people here – many of whom are victims of circumstance – or eagerly wait to move away. There are many things I do not like but there are many that I love, and it only takes a moment to find something wonderful (just sometimes takes a little searching for, that’s all). I am proud to call Recoleta my home and it truly is – my blood is English, my memories kiwi but at heart I am Recoletana.

See my pictures on Instagram: @helen_luise  #queridarecoleta

For more information about Recoleta visit:

Feria down Victor Cuccuini
Lunch in Patronato’s Tirso Molina

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Buying mote con huesillo at the feria
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Victor Cuccuini store
El Salto

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