Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Chile Diary....chapter 2

Santiago to Vina Del Mar

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful. This country is scenic. We started out for Vina Del Mar on an extremely enjoyable drive. Good roads, winding through the foothills of the Andes. We passed through wine country, stopping for a break at one of the vineyards called House of Morande, in Casablanca. It had a restaurant and facilities and one could buy wine too...Restaurante Y Tiende. I was amazed to see columns of white roses growing between the rows of grape vines. Beautiful! We had a light meal consisting appertifs...tostados with an exotic topping of salmon, palta and something else... followed by crabmeat empanadas and beef steak which we washed down with a Late Harvest wine.

The wide blue expanse of the Pacific which opened up before my eyes as we entered Vina was awesome. As we drove to our depto (apartment) I took in the sights along with the distinct smell of the sea carried by an almost constant, cool sea breeze. The depto is lovely too. It’s supposed to be big by Chilean standards. But I tend to compare and contrast with my Indian yardstick. So it fell short by some thousand odd square feet when stacked up against our apartment in Gurgaon. So it’s not very big but very comfortable, with matching furnishing in all the rooms, no over-stuffed or bulky beds and sofas, great kitchen with all the equipment and gadgets one would need, big windows in both bedrooms, living-room and kitchen that provided a good view. Attached bathrooms with hot and cold water just made it splendid. The bathtub was a bit tricky for me, with my physical limitations so a shower was a carefully executed task.

The living-room opens out onto a balcony. This is my favourite spot in the mornings. I carry my cup of tea with me and gaze at the sea, listen to the gulls as they swoop around the rooftops, alighting on some for a while before they make a screechy take-off again. The breeze has a nip in it that early and is very invigorating. The streets below are empty. People here don’t go for early morning walks as they do in India. Life stirs a bit later. On weekdays, one can see people scurrying to work after 7a m. But the walkers, joggers and cyclists come out after 10a m. I was amazed to see so many of them even at 11a m when the sun was a bit hot for me too. I was told these people love the sun but ‘to see is to believe.’

I’ve been here for nineteen days but I haven’t done much of the touristy things like walking around the city, buying local stuff or going for a ride around town in a horse carriage. I haven’t even visited the beach and checked out handicrafts at the ferias (fair). But I have eaten at a few restaurants, even tried sushi, the cooked variety, and gyoza which are delicious. They are dumplings like momos or dimsums but served differently. I also ate a slice of the locally made pizza called Conquistadore... well it did conquer me... yummy. My gormandising experience at a Tex-Mex restaurant was fabulous. I don’t remember the name of the place but the shrimp with pina and leche de coco was awesome, the grilled fish of the day was worth dying for, and the pollo (chicken) with tortillas was mouth-watering too. I was amused at a pub that boasted of Chicken curry and rice as a speciality of UK. The fare wasn’t bad but certainly not a curry as we know it. So their claim for their particular preparation was justified.

I was tickled to find samosas are not only available in the markets here but are also sold by the same name. I even ate some at Manchester, the pub with the English version of chicken curry. Here it was surprisingly a veggie samosa stuffed with a potato filling, served with a sour-sweet mango dip that was a slightly sedate cousin of the Indian sweet mango chutney. The samosas tasted good but they were too oily to the touch as well as to the palate, unlike the original Indian ones.

I discovered a Chilean equivalent of the samosa or gujiya. It’s called ‘empanada.’ It’s an authentic dish and not a take-off on our samosa. It comes in different shapes and sizes but are mostly rectangular. Queso (cheese) is always used no matter what the stuffing is. The vegetarian one, I saw Manu eat, was filled with cheese and mushrooms. The non-vegetarian ones have anything from sea-food to red meats and white meats. Like samosas or gujiyas, empanadas are also made by rolling out maida dough into thin pasties which are stuffed with anything you like and then sealed at the sides and deep fried or baked. Chileans love their empanadas just as much as we do our samosas. They even have restaurants devoted entirely to empanadas.

I like fish, shrimp, prawns and crab all of which we get in India. But my one lament had very often been that they weren’t as fresh as I’d like them to be. Even in Mumbai and Cochin, restaurants couldn’t serve fish or prawns as fresh as they are here. I’ve only had such fresh sea-food at home when the boys went fishing; or when in Cochin fisherwomen carried the catch of the day to our doorstep, early in the morning. At times the fish in the basket would still be alive.

The fruit here is good, but certainly not as fresh and good as the tall claims. At least not in the Malls where we buy our fruit and vegetables, perhaps like the Alphonso mangoes in India the best stuff gets exported. The wines here are also claimed to be the best. However not being a connoisseur of wines, I shall not comment on that. The bakeries are great. The various breads, cakes, pastries etc are certainly very palatable. We get some of the vegetables we are familiar with and some with which we aren’t. I have ventured to buy a packet of some sort of beans that looked interesting, because they have a nice shade of green and they are big; bigger than any I’ve ever eaten. These are not in pods they are sold shelled. Well, they’re still safe in the packet they came in. I’ll record the feedback once I get them into the pan, over the fire and down my gullet.

I must not have done anything a regular tourist does but I have moved around quite a bit, living out of a suit-case and polythene packets. I’ve shifted to four different dwellings in nineteen days; experienced living in a casa (independent house) in a posh area, stayed half a day and a night in a one-star hotel room with a three-star tariff; a night in a tiny apartment with nine other people, six of whom I didn’t know; and the fourth place is where I am sitting and writing at present. It’s a depto, but unlike our apartment block it isn’t a high-rise building. It has just four levels and I’m on the second level. Level over here is what we call floors in India.

It’s an old building with old fixtures and facilities. It has no view, as the windows open out to high-rise buildings that surround it. So it has sunlight shining only in the master bedroom, and that too from 7.oopm onwards. But since I do not occupy that lovely room for me the sun shines nowhere. The gas stove is old but a lot like the ones we still have in India. Only here there is no gas lighter. You either have self igniting stoves or then use matches. It’s been ages since I used a matchstick to light anything. It was funny. There’s no automatic hot running water. There’s an odd gadget on the wall in the kitchen. It has a big switch which has to be turned on. This opens the flow of gas, and a lighted matchstick is then thrust into an opening at the bottom of the gadget and voila a blue flame erupts. This will heat the water for you. I’m still wary of this foreign object and don’t have the nerve to tackle it. Thankfully the ‘nana’ (domestic help) came in yesterday, and lit the flame and so it burns like the Olympic flame or the Amar Jyoti, till someone turns it off.

Before you get all kinds of wrong impressions about my gipsy status, let me mention a massive earthquake measuring 8.8 at the epicentre in Concepcion. This shook us up. We’re fortunate to be safe. But I will elaborate on that tomorrow.


Amar Jyoti.........the flame that burns constantly.



  1. You descriptions bring things to life for me, I can picture the places you are seeing and have a good sense of the foods you are tasting. What a wonderful adventure. Looking forward to hearing more.

  2. You're welcome Marlene, to come along with me, and share my Chilean adventure. I'll be leaving tomorrow so I shall not be on the net till Monday. Hope to catch up with you then. Thanks once again.