Food Tour of the Casablanca Valley

Luis and I are so happy to report that our new tour to see where our food comes from was a success!  The Valley Tasting tour takes families to cuddle and bottle-feed baby goats, try goat cheese, learn about beekeeping and try honey, don beekeeping gear to see the hives up close, and sample Attilio & Mochi wines (along with other local products). Here are some photos from our May 19th inauguration – everyone had a blast!

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If you would like more information just send me a message to info@milesandsmiles.cl or have a look at our website here.

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Meet Hello Kiddo: A Small Business Supporting Small Minds

It is nearly Christmas! I hope you are all ordering your homemade pan de pascua (traditional christmas cake) and getting ready for the big day. Who else is trying to support local and small businesses this year? Please check out my shopping guide if you need some ideas.

If you have small children, you might want to pay attention to this article. Introducing Hello Kiddo, a small venture run by Natalie (Australia) and her Chilean husband, dedicated to selling only the best items for little ones (and from where M´s Christmas present is from this year!). Read on to learn a little it more about Natalie and Hello Kiddo.

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Who is Hello Kiddo?

Hello Kiddo is our little family business, between my husband and I. He has a day job but is helping me out in his free time. I´m Australian and my husband is Chilean. I came to Chile for love and have lived here for almost 8 years now. I am a stay at home mum to my 22 month old son and have been itching to start a little business on the side from home.

Why did you decide to start Hello Kiddo?

Hello Kiddo started just 10 days ago launching our first product called PLAYON CRAYON. My mum brought a box of Playon Crayons from Australia when she was visiting us when my son was born. I hadn´t opened it until a few months ago when my son was only 18 months old. He was going through a very stong ´mamitis´[attachment to mother] phase, I was kind of tired and felt like bringing out a new toy for him to concentrate on for a little bit and not just me. When I gave him the box, he didn´t look at me for 40 mins. There are mums out there who know the feeling! He was concentrating on the colourful crayons, stacking them into towers. They would fall, and then he would try stacking them again. He had no idea then that you could draw with them too. From then on, I became a big fan of this product, I was convinced that this was a product that all kids could benefit from here. We are now the oficial distributors of Playon Crayon for Chile.

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Photo: Hello Kiddo

What is the Playon Crayon?

PLAYON CRAYON is a box of 12 crayons that come in 2 different sets, (primary and pastel colours).

These sculptural crayons transform coloring into a playtime adventure. They’re still the go-to tool for your children to create fantastic, colorful pictures, but instead of the usual stick shape, they take the form of hollow cones with a bulbous end. Not only is the shape great for easy gripping by little hands, but the crayons are fun to stack into towers, or arrange into patterns. They dance on fingertips like puppets, and can be threaded onto twine for a rainbow necklace. They are a great tool to play with and teach your child about colours and even adding/subtracting when they are older.

The cone shape also means that instead of rolling off the table and underneath the sofa, they spin around in playful circles. They are certified non-toxic by the Art & Creative Materials Institute, USA.  The packaging is 100% recyclable.

On the box it is recommended for ages 2 years + however I gave it to my son earlier and he still loved them.

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Photo: Hello Kiddo

 

What is your favorite thing about living in Chile?

The mountains that I see everyday from my balcony! You would never get this beautiful view in Australia!

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The mountains (in winter)

Do you have a favorite restaurant here?

I love Quinoa (the restaurant) in Vitacura. Its a cool, healthy, vegeterian cafe/restaurant that serves high quality food. I love having brunch there when possible. I used to go more before I had a child.

 

Is there a particular place you love in Chile?

Anywhere that is outside our norm of Santiago life. The south of Chile especially!

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Photo: Yorka Abarca

Many of my readers are mums, or mums-to-be, and would be interested to know how it went for you giving birth here. Can you tell us about that?

Yes I gave birth in Chile. Even though It was a long 18 hour labor at the clinic, I had a very nice experience. The doctors and midwife listened to my needs and complied to the birth plan I discussed with them months earlier. It was exactly what I imagined my birth would be like.

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Max with his crayons! Photo: Hello Kiddo

What is next for Hello Kiddo?

Our wish is to bring more useful kids products and even make things ourselves from home in Chile. My background is in design, so I want to design and make my own baby/kids products. We started with the Playon crayons to test the market and practise what it is like having a small business in Chile. So far so good.

 

How can people order your products?

You can order your box of crayons through our website www.hellokiddo.cl.

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Photo: Hello Kiddo

More Information

Instagram here

Facebook here


Did you like this? Check out these other small businesses I love:

Kids clothes from Ñirre Bebe;

Fun leggings and printed clothes from La Pituka;

Economical books for kids from Editorial Dansema;

Books in Spanish and toys from Pajarito de Mimbre.

 

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

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.

 

 

 

Karun: Leading Change in Fashion

From the wild open spaces to the starry sky, the snug fields of green tucked between snow-capped mountains and the raw expanse of open ocean, Chile has got to be one of the world´s most beautiful specimens of Planet Earth.  It seems only fitting, then, that it is also a country taking the business model and embedding it with an environmental conscience (as we have seen with TTANTI and Apicola del Alba).  This next business is one that is setting a new benchmark in the fashion world by merging concepts of sustainability and responsibility with quality eyewear in a way that is quite simply revolutionary. Enter Karun World, sunglasses and glasses made ´from a different point of view´ which I am so excited to feature on my blog because I love the concept, all that they stand for and the sunglasses themselves which are effortlessly stylish and unique.  Here are some reasons why they should be on your radar too.

They symbolize a new vision

The philosophy governing Karun is that their products form symbols of a new way of being; a new way of thinking of ourselves and how we view the world around us. As founder Thomas Kimber says, ¨it´s clear the world needs a big change. I don´t pretend to change the world by making sunglasses, but prove that we are able to make the best products in a completely different way that respects the planet¨.  They follow a circular and regenerative model, aiming to prove that it is possible to manufacture products that are high in quality and that have a lower impact upon the environment than the usual extractive methods that define the norm. They also see themselves as much than just a company, in fact their Kickstarter page states ¨ Everything we do is a reflection of the dream of a great group of people sharing similar values and way of life. We are working as hard as we can to prove through example that we can change the way we interact with ourselves and our planet¨.

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Photo: Karun

They look to nature for inspiration

Karun is inspired by the wilds of Patagonia and means ´to be nature´ in Mapundungun, the common language spoken by the Mapuche indigenous people. This rugged landscape at the southern end of Chile is a place known for its beauty and raw energy, and this is channelled into the designs.  They don´t focus upon inventing new things, instead they look to nature to inspire them.

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Photo: Karun

They are revolutionizing eyewear

Karun is a Chilean business that is revolutionary. Their first collection (Wood) used fallen trees in Patagonia, carefully selecting them rather than cutting any down, to create unique eyewear that embraced the differences found in each specimen.  After this they teamed up Bureo, a company creating skateboards made from recycled fishing nets sourced from Chile, to make the first glasses in the world made from 100% recycled fishing nets using recycling programme Net Positiva.  Discarded fishing nets cause around 10% of plastic pollution in our oceans and cause major damage to sea ecosystems and marine creatures. Net Positiva was developed by Bureo and launched in Chile in 2014, where it collected some 3000kg of discarded fishing nets in just six months.  Net Positiva works across the USA and Chile to clean up coastlines, and are engaged with various non-profits that remove ocean pollution.

Now Karun bring you The Clothing Collection.  This collection highlights the issue of waste in the fashion industry, where items are mass produced and quickly discarded by consumers.  Jeans are some of the contaminating, with around 3 billion pairs produced annually, of which 80% then end up in landfills.  From there greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are released which cause considerable damage to our soils and water.  The Clothing Collection is the world´s first eyewear made using recycled jeans, combining 75% recycled jeans and 25% bio-resin.  Karun have partnered with Balloon Latam, where a portion of sales from each pair of sunglasses goes towards entrepreneurs in the Llanquihue Lake region of Chile.  Balloon Latam works across Latin America to help develop local economies in a way that is respectful of each community´s identity, cultural conditions and productive possibilities. The designs in this collection are influenced by native Chilean birds such as the Chucao, which is native to the south and known for its emblematic sound, the red-breasted Loica (Long-Tailed Meadowlark) and the crested Kuru, or Magellanic Woodpecker.  Karun has been lauded everywhere, from Cosmopolitan to CNN and GQ.

 

Their eyewear is special

The materials are 100% Chilean and designed in Chile, and are put together using the finest technology in Italy.  The sunglasses use Zeiss official lenses which offer complete protection from UVA/UVB rays, and are available in either grey or amber, or as optical lenses. They contain German stainless steel spring hinges and have no added chemicals. The current collection come with a hardcase container made from jeans and fully recycled cardboard packaging.

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How You Can Get a Pair

Karun are currently seeking funding via Kickstarter, a global crowdfunding platform that got their other designs off the ground.  The campaign ends in late July, and the first 500 models will be completed by August.  In October all the models will have been completed to be delivered by November.

During the campaign, the glasses have a price of USD$149 which is 40% less than their actual retail price so get in there quick to take advantage!

 

 

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More Information

Website here

Facebook here 

Instagram here

Kickstarter campaign here


If you liked this, you might like to support one of these other amazing small businesses:

TTANTI watches made from fallen Patagonian trees;

Pajarito de Mimbre books & toys;

Apicola del Alba natural cosmetics.

 

Street Art: Museo a Cielo Abierto

 

Largest collection of streetart in Chile

The Museo a Cielo Abierto is located in San Miguel, originally a settlement housing the families of copper mine (MADECO & MADEMSA) workers that today houses some 7000 people.  In 2010, it was falling into disrepair, classed as one of the most populated areas in the Metropolitana region and prophesized to die in 50 years.  Many of the buildings suffered from damage, electrical faults and issues with plumbing. It caught the eye of artists from the MIXART cultural centre, who proposed painting the gigantic murals to residents which was enthusiastically accepted. Extraordinarily, many residents – young, old and from different walks of life – became involved during the endeavor, while the artists themselves collaborated even though they too were known for different styles and from different worlds. The paintings were put onto the most vulnerable buildings, in a sense ´immunizing´ them from further decay, intended as a way to show the world that the people of the area care about their home. This work concluded in 2014.

40 murals that tower on 80m2 apartment blocks

Created by national and international artists, these murals are gigantic.  Many face the road but others you find by walking around the complexes, or painted onto bus stops and other building walls.  Ten of these murals allude directly to Chile and its history, with some being quite political, while seventeen have a free theme expressing ´a love of pure art´.  Last word on the artwork always came down to the residents; ROA, from Belgium, who is known for his macabre style, had his original design (horse eaten by piranhas) rejected.

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Horse by Roa (Belgium)

Artists include Colectivo La Mano: Basti and Jano, Aislap, 12 Brillos Crew, Lo Rekolectivo Ha: Gesak, Santiago Under Crew, Charquipunk + Larobotdemadera, Cruda, Depanité, Agotok, Echoes, Kata Núñez, Jamberta, Roa, Colectivo A La Pinta, Soledad and Sofrenia, Salazart and Inti.

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This mural by Jamberta (Germany) depicts the feelings and frustrations that parents unwittingly pass on to their children (as seen in the words painted on her face). The girl is looking with nostalgia at the flower as it only has nature and the wind to shape it.
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The Offering by Ian
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Resignation by acclaimed Chilean artist, Inti

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Dia del Joven Combatiente (Day of the Young Fighter) by Dasic
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Humanidad by Degra, Nao, Teo, Yono and Mona
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One of the first murals.  This one inspired the locals as it depicts the popular band, Los Prisoneros, who came from this area.
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By duo Aislap, this mural depicts the symmetry of native cultures. In the center there is a Mapuche machi (healer) who is surrounded by Aymara, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), the Ona (of Tierra del Fuego, now extinct) and the ¨digital man¨ who represents the emerging culture of today´s technological world.

More Information

Metro: Departamental

Parking: On the street

Other: The murals are located within a poblacion. While the area is perfectly safe in the day, it is recommended to be vigilant with your personal security and belongings.

Tours: Miles & Smiles Chile offer private guided tours in English and Spanish.  This trip can be combined with the Palacio Cousiño.

 

If you liked this, you might like:

5 Names You´ll Recognize in Chile

Valparaiso

Birds Eye View of Santiago

Ghosts of Recoleta General Cemetery

Autumn Giveaway!!

Valparaiso: City of Artists, Dreamers + Explorers

If there is one place that stirs my soul, calls to me and befuddles me, it is Valparaiso. This city is equal parts beautiful, ugly, maddening, exciting, awe inspiring and bewildering. This is the place that for hundreds of years saw the arrival and departure of Chile´s visitors, and was even pillaged by pirates.

The Spanish birthed the city as a port, naming it Valparaiso de Arriba – a completely unoriginal name considering that it was bestowed a further six times across the globe and in multiple locations in Spain itself. The English nicknamed the city Valpo, which has affectionately stuck, but perhaps its most interesting name would have to be Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes del Puerto Claro.

As a port, Valparaiso wasn´t very good – it was far too open during storms – so work began in 1912 to improve it. Land was reclaimed over a period of 18 years resulting in a quay and breakwater that number 700m long and 20 storeys in height.  Although the opening of the Panama Canal greatly affected Valparaiso in the past, today the port is thriving with copper and fruit exports, as well as cruise ships.

 

Fun Facts

  • Valparaiso is also the headquarters of the Chilean National Congress
  • It has the oldest stock exchange Latin America
  • The first public library opened here
  • The Picunche and the Chango people were the original indigenous inhabitants
  • In 1814 the Battle of Valparaiso was fought between British and the United States ships, as part of the War of 1812
  • Plaza Victoria was the location of slave trading. Slaves would be brought by boat to Buenos Aires, from there they would cross the Argentine pampas and the Andes by foot before arriving into Valparaiso and taken to Lima. Many would die of hunger, exhaustion, disease and even suicide.

Places To See

  • Paseo 21 de Mayo for the best views over the harbour and its where you can find the Naval museum and the furnicular Artilleria (Cerro Artilleria)
  • La Sebastiana, former home of the Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda
  • Plaza Sotomayor, which is also the headquarters of the Chilean Navy, and where you can join a shared or private boat trip of the harbour
  • Cerro Concepcion and Alegre (visit Color Cafe for cheap, GOOD food in quirky shabby chic!)
  • Palacio Barburizza, an art museum, located in the Paseo Yugoslavo
  • Ascencor Polanco, which is a vertical lift taking you up to the viewing deck of a watchtower
  • Museo del Cielo Abierto, a series of eclectic murals created between 1969 and 1973. Take Ascensor Espiritu Santo
  • Explore the Mercado Cardonal and the Mercado Puerto (latter under reconstruction)
  • Museo Lukas, to discover more about local cartoonist Lukas
  • Mirador Diego Portales for amazing city views

Note: This city is built for walking – on foot. Pushchairs and even wheelchairs will have a harder time, particularly as some of the most interesting places involve a stairway.

Suggestion: Why not combine a trip to Valpo with one of the Casablanca Valley wineries? Casas del Bosque is reputedly the best, or try House of Morande (family friendly), the Casa Botha restaurant (great food), Attilio & Mochi (independent), Bodegas RE (organic + traditional) or Matetic (heaps of activities!)?

 

For more fun day trip ideas have a look at:

La Campana National Park, one of the last places to see the Chilean Palm;

General Cemetery, Chile´s oldest with up to 11 generations buried;

Museo del Aeronautico,Museo del Aeronautico, to learn more about aviation;

Quintay, picturesque fishing village with a whaling history;

Museo Interactivo Mirador, for a fantastic day out for all the family;

The South of Chile, highlights from Pucon, Caburgua, Frutillar.