Travelling along the west coast of Chile on a cruise boat is a photographer’s
dream! Mountains rise directly from the shore while clouds mask some of the more
distant peaks. It was another one of those mornings where I take two hundred photos
before breakfast, and am right back at it after the eggs have a chance to settle.
The ship pulled into Punta Arenas, which earns its designation as an industrial
port. There were few of the tourist trappings we have become accustomed to and it was
good to make my way into a small town on the southern edge of the continent. The
shoreline was hard rock as befitting an area just on the edge of what is recognized as one
of the most difficult sailing areas in the world. My lack of Spanish prevented any
interaction with the locals though I did make my way to a small grocery store and
purchased a beer-to-go for my walk back to port. The ensuing search for a bottle-opener,
lead me to believe this was not a common occurrence.
The next day we put into Puerto Cochabamba where we had booked a tour of the
city’s historic highlights. If you’ve ever wondered about those photos on the Internet with
an ordinary bus being stuck in some impossible position—they could have been taken in
Chile. We were captive on a regular tour bus that was navigating streets, which if
designed at all were from the days of horse drawn carriages. I have been driven about on
buses where drivers appear to be magicians in the way they negotiate tight places; this
driver’s skills were not at that level.
Lectures on board the ship had made me aware of 16 churches in the city that had
been designated by the UN for their historical value. These churches were similar in that
their roofs were patterned after an upside down ship to provide protection for the
worshippers. The concept was brilliant and the churches were meticulously maintained
but after the first three I had the idea and did not need to see the remaining 13. I did not
buy the poster that explained the minute differences between each structure.
A stop at the city’s museum lasted longer than necessary and caused Sandra to
remark, “If that is their best museum, they have a ways to go before they welcome
international tourists.” I was more forgiving and left to take pictures of the nearby
buildings and overhead wiring.
Sometimes a major event shapes how we recall a trip, other times its a series of
things that contribute to the overall memory of an event; these can be good or less than
expected and still have that same cumulative effect. For us the trip to Chile added up to a
less than overwhelming cache in the memory bank. There was nothing that failed entirely
but I would have to say, reflecting on our memories of Chile, the mood is cool at best.
Travelling has taught me that as North Americans, how we apportion our time is
subject to our watches, much more so than the population in some other parts of the
world. My impression of Chile was that punctuality came about, as if time of day was
determined by reading a sundial—and it was a cloudy day.
We had reserved a couple of days after our cruise to explore Santiago before
flying home and had found a reasonably comfortable hotel downtown. The proprietor
was kind enough to help us find a wine tour for the next day; it seemed like a perfect fit, a
tour of a Chilean winery.
To say I was a bit nervous when the tour bus had not yet arrived 40 minutes after
the prescribed time would be a bit of an understatement. The innkeeper who had sold us
the tickets was nowhere to be found and the young lady at the desk had a less than
working knowledge of English. A bus did eventually arrive—not the small personal tour
we had been promised, but we had a bus and we were going to a winery.
Sometimes knowing when to be quiet is as important as knowing what to say, and
it sounded like the tour guide was trying to make up for being late by providing non stop
information on the 45 minute ride to the country. Non stop chatter in a language that you
have not mastered wears thin on the ears of listeners well before 45 minutes, I am not
sure of the exact time but I think it was at about the six minute mark.
We arrived at the winery and things took a turn for the better. The Diablo winery
did an excellent job of handling the crowds there to tour the facility, and providing the
information about their products and samples.
I have toured a few wineries over the years and this one would rate as one of the
best, not only for the quality of vintage they produced but for the structure of their
gardens and the information provided. The garden area featured samples of the varieties
of grapes used in the winery, clearly identified on signs. The tour guide did an excellent
job of answering questions from grape production through to marketing; a visit to the
cellars where the barrels were stored was a refreshing break from the Chilean sun.
We had an excellent lunch on the outdoor patio and an opportunity to visit the gift
shop before heading back to the bus for the trip into town.
This was where things went awry. One couple on the bus had purchased a
different tour than the rest of us, had been invited to a private lunch—and perhaps more
sampling. The rest of us waited 45 minutes in the bus for them to arrive, no updates and
no apologies. It was a quiet ride back to the city centre, I think the guide picked up on the
vibes being sent her way by the rest of the passengers. No one needed the chatter, but an
apology would have gone a long way and I am sure she got a clear message in the tip jar
at the end of the trip.
It was off to home the next afternoon; I wanted to get some pictures of the
downtown market and a few skeins of wool for Amanda. Our flight was not till later in
the day so I had time, flagged down a cab and jumped in, but half way to the market I
realized I had committed the cardinal sin of not picking up a card from the hotel desk. I
did not know the name of my hotel and had nothing with the address on it for the journey
home—panic hit, and I had but one choice.
“Can you pick me up in two hours and take me back to the hotel?”
“Hotel, I thought you go to the shopping centre,” answered the driver.
“When I am done, can you pick me up and take me back?”
“Sure,” he said with the confidence of a man assured of another fare. I suspect my
voice betrayed my nervousness and he knew the tip would make it worthwhile. “Right
here one clock,” he said, pulling over in front of a massive structure that offered fresh
produce in endless rows of stalls, and another area for hardware. There were some
buildings surrounding the market with signs advising no entry, and unsavoury characters
of both sexes in the doorways. That was not my concern.
I did my shopping and made my way back to the sidewalk a few minutes early,
just as the cab rolled up—I jumped in and told him he would have a fare to the airport if
he waited a few minutes at the hotel.
“I will wait right here” he said as he pulled up in front of the hotel “The
Embassy;” how could I forget that?