On a hot sticky day we bus along the coast from Valparaíso, Chile to the nearby town of Viña del Mar to get some sun sand and sea. At the beach its hard to even see a spare patch of sand between the crowds of umbrellas and people. After a dip in the sea we abandon the masses and walk up along the path. Suddenly, looking back towards Valpo a huge plume of smoke emerges and spirals upwards. Everyone on the beach below stops and points as the smoke rises and floats out over the sea, blocking the sun. Valpo is on fire! But the city is no stranger to enormous fires and it turns out this one is a relatively small forest fire atop one of the cerros (hills) even though at least one hundred homes end up being burnt. In 2014 a huge fire in Valpo killed 14 people and destroyed 2500 homes. The Valpo fire is just the beginning of a month long series of huge forest fires all throughout Southern Chile. One hundred fires raze landscapes and homes and at least 11 people have died. Days after the fire the smoke finally clears and Valparaíso natives see blue sky again.
Meaning: to party/ hang out/celebrate (slang)
It’s new years eve in Valparaíso- a place full of colourful street art, creativity and one of the biggest parties in South America. At midnight the beautiful city of topsy-turvy houses built on top of one another will be lit up by a huge display of fireworks exploding over the ocean. We climb one of the many cerros (hills) passing sweet old ladies selling alcoholic drinks illegally (one of them our landlady tía) and join the hordes of people awaiting the countdown to midnight. The fireworks finally erupt and everyone cheers and tries to avoid getting sprayed in the face with silly string and beer thrown in the air. After midnight the real party starts. Valpo natives really know how to carretear (party). In the square we drink tia’s homemade drinks and talk shit with our Chilean friends from our hostel and then dance between toilet breaks down dark alleys. The two portaloos are really not cutting it for the hundreds of people in the square. By dawn its time for us little Australians to head home, but for our Chilenos the party is just beginning. The next day is spent in a fog, learning the true meaning of caña (hungover) but the Chileans are still nowhere to be found. Only by evening time on the 2nd January do we see them again, having finally made it home from welcoming in the new year, true Valpo style.
Cruising down the tree lined avenues in Mendoza’s wine region in a Citröen it feels more like the south of France circa 1950 than Argentina 2016. The trees along the winding roads reach out towards each other making a green tunnel that we chug along through, turning up the driveway into a beautiful vineyard. We drink champagne and ‘forget’ to pay for it and then do a tour of the winery. The tour guide tells us about the difficulties of the always-changing weather in Mendoza. Big hailstorms with chunks of ice the size of eggs sweep in from the Andes with barely any warning, destroying the precious grapes. Some wineries use nets to protect the grapes (somehow) but not this place. Though it looks like a classic old hacienda turned vineyard, its owners are firmly rooted in the future. Instead of nets they opt for the more expensive and science fictiony method of hiring a special plane to release chemicals (cartridges of silver iodide) directly into the storm to suppress the formation of the hailstones. At first I thought that I misunderstood the guide but no, this really happens! Apparently it reduces damage by about thirty percent. Mendoza’s love and devotion to its delicious crop sure is sky high.
It’s Christmas day in Bariloche, the pretty little town beside a big blue lake in the northern part of Patagonia, Argentina. We sit with other foreigners at the dining table in the hostel located on the 25th floor of a residential building- the penthouse level. The hostel looks out onto the beautiful lake with windows all along one side. People from all over can be heard talking on a poor wifi signal wishing family members at home Merry Christmas in different languages. Others discuss how different the day would be for them at home- what they would eat, who they would see. I am missing the usual routine of the beach and then a huge lunch full of fresh salads and stupid jokes found in christmas crackers. At the table I open the two presents I have brought with me from home and am glad I resisted the temptation to open them earlier. All of a sudden the building starts to sway and shake. The floor makes an awful creaking noise and I have the sensation of being quite dizzy, like when your stomach drops in an elevator. Everyone goes silent, looking around at each other, panicked faces. I look at the Dutch girl sitting near me and her eyes are wide. Some people grip the table and laugh nervously. We’re all thinking the same thing- 25th floor of an old building isn’t the best place to be. Reading our minds, the Swedish woman who works at reception tells us not to worry. “This building is actually reinforced for earthquakes, so it’s the best place to be right now.” We all smile, relieved. Only afterwards when the furniture has stopped shaking and everyone is gushing excitedly about what has just happened, do I think that the building probably isn’t that safe, but I’m glad of her reassuring words for a few moments of fear.
Meaning: humus – the dark organic material in soils, essential to the fertility of the earth.
“What is humus”? I ask the happy young woman selling helado artesanal (homemade icecream) at the dairy farm in El Bolsón. One of the flavours on the board is humus.
“It’s the top layer of the soil, the most fertile layer,” she tells me. I quickly push pureed chickpeas and tahini out of my mind. Outside on the farm the view is lined with raspberry, blueberry and cranberry vines. El Bolsón is famous for its natural produce- berries in particular. Before arriving at the dairy farm Calli and I had wandered down a driveway lined with cherry trees. We picked some and tasted them. They were the juiciest cherries I had ever tasted, popping in our mouths. They hung from the trees like bright red clusters of treasure. We wandered up to a building along the driveway and found local fruit pickers filling buckets of raspberries. When I asked one of them if we could buy some cherries he smiled and said we could just eat what we could pick. Later on at the dairy farm we decided on the humus flavour. It was chocolate with little bits of sour berries and nuts mixed in, like a little patch of fertile ground.
Meaning: a small berry found on a spiky bush in Patagonia
This little berry is sour but tasty and lends its name to the town closest to the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina. One day we cruise along the light blue mineral water surrounded on all sides by towering green mountains and whipped by the tireless wind. Eventually we arrive at the glacier. The towering wall of ice looks like something out of Game of Thrones and as we watch, huge chunks of ice fall off into the water with a booming cracking sound. Ice chunks pepper the water so its impossible to land the boat. Later on we hike through forests recovering from ancient glaciers and we try some of the sweet berries. It’s said that if you eat the calafate berry you will one day return to El Calafate. Surrounded by this incredible landscape that marks the gateway to the end of the earth, I hope this is true.