It’s Jim writing again. Stacy said I had to start writing again since she did all of Antarctica. So here goes….
After leaving Ushuaia, Tauck took us out for a great group lunch at an Argentine barbecue restaurant near the BA airport. Despite the odd location, the food was really good and it was a nice chance for the whole group to say their goodbyes before we all went our separate ways. Stacy and I went back to our BA hotel for the night before boarding a flight the next morning (Thursday the 12th for those of you playing along at home) for Santiago.
We were booked to stay at the Ritz-Carlton in the Las Condes neighborhood of Santiago. Las Condes is a very nice, safe, modern neighborhood west of the city center with lots of restaurants within walking distance. Friday was a free day for us before our Tauck “Essence of South America” tour reception that evening, so we decided to take a day trip to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. We talked to the concierge at the Ritz and booked a private tour that included a stop at a winery in the Casablanca Valley.
Our tour guide, Ernesto, and our driver, Sergio, picked us up at 9:00 am and we were off for the coast. Valparaiso is a coastal city about two hours west of Santiago and you drive through a couple of agricultural valleys to get there.
Wine tasting in the Casablanca Valley
Our first stop was at the Bodegas RE winery. Bodegas RE is about “reinvention, revealing and recreating” wines. They specialized in blends of Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, two at a time. They also do some of their fermentation in clay vessels with minimal storage in wood barrels. The wine was tasty if a bit acidic.
After our wine tasting and tour, we got back on the road and headed to the twin cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. The later is newer and the smaller of the two. We had lunch at a cool restaurant called Castelo del Mar that was perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Good food and even better views.
After lunch we headed into old Valparaiso and visited Pablo Neruda’s home. Valparaiso is a port city built almost entirely on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. It is quite challenging to get around on the narrow winding roads. In many places, there are little funicular railway elevators to take people up and down the hills. We had a chance to walk around in the old neighborhoods. The area seems to be coming back, but many years of neglect have taken their toll. Fortunately, the fires we had heard so much about on our news programs had not decimated the city as Stacy and I had feared. The damage seemed to be limited to some of the shanty towns on the perimeter of the city, leaving most of the city core unscathed.
We napped on the long drive back to the Ritz and had a nice dinner at a local restaurant within walking distance of the hotel.