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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

Traditional Shoemaking in Barrio Italia

The girl is standing beside a bench strewn with leather, knives and paper.  Her brow is furrowed with concentration, lips pursed, as she deftly follows the thin lines that dance their way across the dyed hide in her hand.  The light is dim and the air is musty, tainted by an odor that harkens back to a time before shopping malls, a time when each store´s bounty was not churned out by an unknown´s hands but instead painstakingly created, borne of passion, time and skill.  The girl is making shoes, art.

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Shoe making today is a heavily manufactured process where the various stages of production are divided in a factory and shared by a multitude of workers; more often than not, the shoes we buy in mega stores are the result of industrial sweatshops in countries such as China.  Originally, however, this process was undertaken by just one – known as a cordwainer – who would oversee the entire production and perform the various 68 to 390 steps themselves, along with some 15 different techniques.

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Enter Padre Nuestro, a tiny store in Ñuñoa that is outfitted by just one man and his apprentice, a design alumni now pursuing shoemaking. She has been training for four months but the apprenticeship will take her several years.

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A pair of shoes is the result of an arduous process. First shoes are designed, followed by the preparation of lasts and the cutting and stamping of the leather. The pieces are then dyed, sewn, fitted to the last to form for several weeks, and finally assembled.  The process doesn´t end here, as the sole has to be hammered into shape and the shoe then has to be ´finished´ which may include burnishing, rasping, smoothing, and other techniques.

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At Padre Nuestro, your feet are measured and a mold is found that best matches your foot. Over the course of around one month, your shoes are handmade by this two-person team, with the end result a pair of shoes that have been made for no-one else but you.

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There is currently a waiting list of around two months at Padre Nuestro.  The store sells shoes for men only.  

 

Photos reproduced with permission from Padre Nuestro

The Nitty Gritty

Address: Tegualda 1517, local 1, Factoria Tegualda, Ñuñoa. Metro Santa Isabel

Phone: +56 9 8314 0448

Website here

Facebook here

Instagram here.

 

Tip: while you are here, pop next door to Silvestre Bistro to take advantage of the Wild Food Movement that has come to Santiago! Great prices, ambiance, service and delicious food!!  Barrio Italia is a fantastic place to go shopping, plus you are supporting local small businesses and keeping traditions – just like at Padre Nustro – – alive.