Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chile Day Nine - Part 2

We drove down from Gemini and into the Elqui Valley, we were headed for El Galpon hotel right outside a town called Pisco Elqui. Now Pisco Elqui used to be called La Union until 1936 when the government changed its name to prevent Peru from laying claim to the word Pisco.

For those of you that don't know, pisco is an alcholic beverage made from grapes. Hmm, sounds like wine you say. Well I guess you could say they are related. Pisco is made from muscat grapes and is fermented in much the same way, but after the fermentation it is distilled. There is a bit of a war going on with Peru about the origins of Pisco and who has the right to grow and call their product Pisco, so I am only talking about Chilean Pisco here.

By far the most popular drink made with this beverage is the pisco sour. The sour is made from lemon juice, sugar and pisco, shaken with ice and server in a tall thin glass. Chip and My beloved sampled a few of these. There is also the mango sour, the calefate sour (there is also a beer made from this berry that was sampled and approved), there is the piscola (piso and cola) and something made with ginger ale. All were given the stamp of approval. More on pisco in a few.

We made our way to El Galpon a small hotel outside of Pisco Elqui that has eleven or so small cottages for rent, a great pool and a restaurant. It was off season so I think we were the only ones there. It is run by a man named Anthony. Anthony is Chilean, but had left his home country and spent 20 years living in the US (Pasadena, Beverly Hills, LA, San Fransisco and finally Napa) before the call of his home country called him back in the early 90's. He bought this place and now caters to tourists. The place is planted with lots of fruit trees, we had an avacado tree right outside our door. Is avacado a fruit? We were surrounded by vineyards.

The vineyards here to up the mountain sides and since the wind can be quite intense, they are surrounded by big curtains, I guess they act as wind breaks. But everywhere you look there are vines. There were some around the pool area and the beautiful dark purple grapes hanging from them where just too much of a temptation for this girl. I pulled a bunch off and stuck one in my mouth. I did share them, because I can be nice for short periods of time, and they were good.

We left Star Gazer to a conference call and the rest of us headed down into the town proper. Pisco Elqui is a destination for a lot of people, in the summer they have a festival that fills every hotel and guest house. From what I read, the drunk tourists outnumber the sober people and it can get quite intense and some locals are not happy with the festival. Our group was one of just a few tourists that day.

There are some weird things here in Chile. Like native Chileans with names like O'Higgins – it seems that Bernardo O'Higgins was a hero here. Lot's of Europeans came here and left there names everywhere. And a store front with Buddha on it in a remote Chilean town. Can someone explain that?

We walked around a little bit and decided to get some lunch. Chile Sister picked out a cute little place on the corner, it had no windows just empty spaces where you would think windows would go, totally open to the weather, which I guess is not a big deal here. There was a big fireplace that they light in the cold weather, there was no need for it this day, it was hot. There was a big copper vine that covered the ceiling and at the end of each tendril was a light fixture, it was quite impressive. The floor was gravel. They had big wooden tables with heavy wooden chairs and also booths that were made of plaster that looked like something out of the Flintstones.

We all ordered a natural fruit drink (they can juice just about anything) and water either sin (without) or con (with) gas and then ordered food. Pizza seems to be a very big thing in Chile and this place had a couple that looked good. My beloved had one with pesto and tomato. I had a salad with something else that is very popular here, hearts of palm. I forget what Chip and Chile Sister ordered. But we got a dish to share that was fantastic. It was sundried tomatoes soaked in a local honey with grilled goat cheese. It was so good, I would have thrown my salad to the floor and eaten every piece of it and licked the plate it came on. I only refrained because my salad was so awesome. Sometimes it is weird to me how you can find these little out of the way (I mean we are in the fucking Andes Mountains in Chile for Christs sake) and get food that is so fantastic that it puts well known places to shame. We ate and we were happy.

We wrapped up what was left to bring back to the hardworking Star Gazer and walked around the town a little bit. We when to a little local crafts market and picked up a couple of t-shirts and Chip bought a tennis scort. She was warm and had not brought any shorts – well none of us did – we were at over 4000 feet and who thought it would be hotter than hot in March, which is the fall in Chile? Not us and not the locals who were talking about the weather and how odd it was.

Now our Chip is a tall girl and Chile is a nation of relitively short people. This lead to some issues for her. Tall girl, short doorways. Low hanging roof lines, tall girl. The issues? Head into doorways. Head into roof lines. Head needed a helmet. We did not have one, but I think Chip should invest in one. She did say ouch a little too often, I am thinking she may have a permanent dent in her head at this point.

We go back to the hotel and wait for Star Gazer to finish up her conference call. While waiting we took a little hike up the hill and looked out over the valley. The view was great. It was very green and I did wonder about that nearly empty lake we passed on the way here.

After a while Star Gazer was finally able to finish up her call (I felt bad for her) and we decided to go back into to town and walk around and look for a place for dinner. Pisco Elqui has a great old church, lots of little shops, a tarot card reader and a buddist place of some kind. Was not really sure what that was about, but the painting on the building was very cool.

We took some pictures and wandered and wouldn't you know it, we ended up at the same place for dinner that we had lunched at. Luckily the wait staff had changed, so maybe they did not think we were pigs. I tought about getting just the sun dried tomato goat cheese dish for dinner, but I really was trying to keep my cheese intake down to one meal a day. So another salad called my name and it was just as good as the first. I think there was a pizza or two, maybe a steak? Don't recall, but it was all yummy. Our waiter was just very cute, long hair and he moved thru the dinning room singing. Gotta love that. When it came to closing time, they just went over and closed the doors. I wondered what they did about the open windows area's. Maybe that was the reason the tables and chairs were either extremely heavy or part of the building.

We headed back to the hotel again and when we got out of the car we all just stared up at the sky. I have never seen so many stars. I want you to imagine the most stars you have every seen and then multiply that by thousands. It was amazing. We could actually see the Milky Way. And over there was the Southern Cross. Magellanic Clouds, we could see Magellanic Clouds. I know what you are thinking what are magellanic clouds? Cause that was what I said. What are those fuzzy cloud like things. Star Gazer said those are Magellanic Clouds, there is a small one and a big one. They are fucking irregular dwarf galaxies. Wait a minute I can see another galaxy with my bare eye. Yup. But only in the southern hemisphere. Toilets that flush counterclockwise (go flush your toilet and see which direction it goes) and Magellanic Clouds. Wow!!

We all slept like rocks and there was some issues during the night about finding the bathroom, I seem to recall turning right a little too soon and coming in contact with a wall with my forehead.

Next morning we all get up and dressed, some of us taking showers. Others (me) to impatient to wait for the hot water and thinking we had none. Wondering where we went for breakfast, Star Gazer says they are bringing it to us and sure enough a couple of minutes later a little Chilean lady shows up at the door with a big tray. Fresh rolls, butter, cheese, ham, scrambled eggs and the Bill Cosby breakfast, cake. There was also coffee and tea and my beloveds new favorite leche caliente (hot milk) for your coffee. Yum!!!

I gotta say the bread in Chile is pretty good. The eggs, good. The butter, good. The coffee, not so good. The cake kind of tasteless. I was surprised to find out that in general, Chileans do not like spicey foods, in fact you rarely see pepper on a table anywhere. Salt yes, pepper no.

Anyway after breaking our fast we headed further into the valley to a local crafts village. Once more paved road turned into dirt road, bumpy dirt road. I think because we were off season there was not a lot going on. There were a couple of shops open and lots of things hanging from the buildings, but not a lot of people. It seems like someone might have called some of the artists because after a little bit more of them started showing up. We did not purchase anything and Star Gazer and Chile Sister talked about coming back during the season next year.

We got back into the car and on the bumpy road, the car in front of us was flying down the road. We commented that he must know where all the smooth spots were. Hopefully... I pictured his head bouncing off the ceiling of his car.

We started back the way we came and found the pisco distillery that we were going to visit. Fundo Los Nichos. There were the copper stills with old mercury thermometers,

concrete pits in the ground where they put the grapes prior to fermentation. The entire place was old, the process and machinery did not look like they had been changed in 100 years. I thought of the wineries in California and how the board of health would be running screaming for the hills.

They had a room in the distillery where women were no allowed until the 40's I think. Men came into the celler and drank, women could come to the window and get pisco to take home. The tour was in Spanish, very fast Spanish. Not that it really mattered to me if it was fast or slow. The guide would give her speel in Spanish and look at Star Gazer. Star Gazer would translate for us. Well, I think she made some of it up based on her wine making knowledge and I think she copped to this later on. We could follow the tour because we had all been on wine tours and distillery tours and the process is basically the same.

After the tour was the tasting. Most participated and Star Gazer and Chile Sister bought six bottles. Six? They were not buying only for themselves. They have a friend that produces a pitcher of pisco sours whenever they come over so they bought her a couple of bottles.

We headed out and stopped again in Pisco Elqui at Mistral Distillery – not for more pisco – but for lunch. They had a great outdoor place to have lunch. I think there may have been a pisco sour or two, I could be wrong. It was good, but not as good as across the street.

Mistral was a poet that got the Nobel Prize two years before she died. I have never read her poetry but I understand it is dark. It kind of makes sense after reading her bio, a lover that committed suicide, parents that died while she was young, a sister that died leaving Mistral her son to raise, who also committed suicide at a young age. I wonder if it will be the same in English?

After lunch we headed by to La Serena and the puppies we have left behind.

Sorry about the text in some of this. I could not get it right. M.

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