Glasses of red wine lined up on a table

Wine tasting in a Santiago wine bar… hands down the best wine bar I’ve been to.

12-13 November – Days 113-4

Santiago, Chile
Distance: 0kms

One of the cool things about Santiago I noticed straight away is that they have ‘public’ pianos on street corners and in parks and plazas throughout the city where anyone can just sit down and pump out a few tunes. It’s excellent! It’s also lovely and warm here; the city has that feel that Sydney gets in early summer.

The other thing that was hard to ignore was the amount of rubbish everywhere. Mountains of it. Apparently, the public servants are striking at the moment as a part of a pay dispute, so rubbish just isn’t being collected. The strike also meant that several of the public institutions such as museums and national parks are closed.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Chile is holding a national election next Sunday. It’s almost certain that the next President will be a woman – given that the two primary candidates are female, it’s hard to see it any other way. Which is excellent! It’ll be the first presidential election where voting is not compulsory and it’s widely thought that Michelle Bachelet will win, returning to the top office after a stint as President from 2006-2010 when (according to one of my tour guides) she was the first female national leader not just of Chile, but of a South American country. I also happen to know that she was awarded an OAM last year.

Military changing of the guard

The very elaborate changing of the guard ceremony outside the Presidential Palace in Santiago

Chile – and Santiago particularly – is working for me… I think it’s at least partly because it reminds me of home. There’s good food, nice coffee, exceptional wine, lovely weather and this sense that I just can’t put my finger on but I think it might be something close to civil order. As in people drive in a way that’s predictable, and more generally seem to ‘live’ in a way that is similar to Australia. I like it!

Funnily, other than Australia, Chile and Argentina are the only two countries I’ve visited (and I’m not just talking about this trip, I mean ever!) where people use ‘how are you’ as a way of saying hello rather than a genuine enquiry into the state of someone’s welfare.

I did a couple of city walking tours here just to get a sense of the place. It was interesting – and very impressive – to see how the country has developed and changed since the Pinochet, who came to power in 1974 after a military coup in 1973, transferred power to a democratically elected government in 1990. It’s all so very recent…

Adrian also got Beamsky serviced. Other than having a few screws loose and therefore in need of tightening (the bike, I mean), all was fine. So we’re good to go for the final few thousand kilometres to the most southerly point of the South American continent!

One of the many historical buildings in Santiago

One of the many historical buildings in Santiago

Santiago wine bar help you assess how you're doing!

Santiago wine bar art…to help you assess how you’re doing!

11 November – Day 112

Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile

Distance: 359kms

Today was another border crossing day – and I can confirm that, consistent with our first experience, crossing between Argentina and Chile is a relatively smooth and seamless process. The ride over the Andes was beautiful (albeit cold), with snow by the road and mountains on all sides.

Malbec in Mendoza

Old wine barrels (that are still in use!!)

Old wine barrels (that are still in use!!)

8-10 November

Mendoza, Argentina
Distance: 0kms

Our long weekend in Mendoza started with a full day winery tour – as well as an olive oil factory and a small artisanal chocolate factory where they also produced homemade jams… and absinthe! The weather couldn’t have been better.. it was just a lovely day to be out in vineyards. We went to three different types of winery… a small boutique producer, a mid-sized one and finally a massive commercial operation which looked more like a soft drink factory than a winery. At each stop, we had tours of the production facilities and were told about how their particular wine was produced (and what was special about it). It was very interesting – and enjoyable; we got to taste some pretty nice wines.

Industrial winemaking... inside a mass producer's factory

Industrial winemaking… inside a mass producer’s factory

The next day – Saturday – Mendoza ran out of water. Literally. The first inkling something was amiss was when I tried to drop off a load of clothes at the Laundromat around the corner from our hostel. The woman said no and to come back on Monday because ‘there isn’t any water.’ When I pressed further, she just shrugged in a pretty relaxed manner and repeated that there wasn’t any water, so I couldn’t get my washing done. Still, back at our hostel we seemed to have water so I didn’t really think much more of it… until a few hours later, when the water stopped there, too.  Apparently it happens reasonably often… the city temporarily runs out of water, so literally turns off the taps to certain areas of the city, one at a time. The irony is that Mendoza is one of the most ‘first world’, progressed places we’ve been in for a loooong time… yet sometimes there’s just no water… and the people are so relaxed and matter of fact about it. It really gives the term ‘water crisis’ a new meaning.

We’ve been spending our time here relaxing, exploring the city in foot, checking out the local markets, parks and monuments and hunting down the most delicious empanadas. It’s lovely!


7 November – Day 108

Chilecito, Argentina to Mendoza, Argentina
Distance: 638kms

6 November – Day 107

Cafayate, Argentina to Chilicito, Argentina
Distance: 496kms

We had two long days on the bike for a couple of reasons… firstly, there aren’t too many places between these cities… and secondly, we wanted to have a few days off the bike in Mendoza.. which effectively had to be earned! Probably the most interesting thing that we saw was an olive farm that extended at least 20 kms along the main road and was at least 100 trees deep (if not more). I’ve never seen so many olive trees in the one place!

Happy goats

A happy goat!

A happy goat!

5 November – Day 106

Cafayate, Argentina
Distance: 0kms

Today was a ‘holiday day’ which involved reading our books in a café on the main square, hiring pushbikes to ride to some of the local wineries and a goats cheese factory, delicious gelato and lots of sunshine! It was great. The pushbiking didn’t quite turn out as we expected… after starting with a 4km slightly uphill (although note that even a slight incline over 4kms at midday in the blazing Argentinian sun is hard work!!!) ride to Piatelli Vinyards, we were told that there wasn’t a tour for another 30 minutes, and the next English tour was in an hour and a half. So we decided to return later, after we’d been to some of the other wineries in the area… only… they were all closed for a lunchbreak too!!! The end result was that we had a lovely ride around the area without any wine, and then after an icecream in town, jumped on Beamsky to do it all again.. this time with wine!

Piatelli was excellent… not only was the tour fantastic, the wines (especially the Malbec) were delicious… as were the little chocolates they provided to go with the reds. We also got to meet the American owner of the vineyard who just happened to be in the country, at the vineyard, while we were there.

Piatelli vineyard - such a beautiful spot... with a great Malbec!

Piatelli vineyard – such a beautiful spot… with a great Malbec!

We then went to a local goats cheese factory for a tour and some tasting… it was interesting although as it was all in Spanish, I only got about 45% of it and Adrian a somewhat less (because he stopped concentrating after the first couple of minutes and decided instead to just enjoy the surrounds!!). Interestingly, they play classical music to the goats while milking them to keep them calmer and happier – thus producing more and a better quality milk.

4 November – Day 105

Purmarca, Argentina to Cafayate, Argentina
Distance: 351kms

The route from Salta to Cafayata is apparently known as being one of the most spectacular roads anywhere, and it didn’t disappoint. Wow! We’ve seen some pretty spectacular scenery over the last couple of days – and the trip in general – however I think  yesterday and today have really taken the cake.  Huge rocks in an incredibly diverse range of colours… red, orange, grey, white and more… and textures… smooth, marbled, lined, gravelly etc etc. Today was definitely one of the most spectacular days on the bike. Nature is amazing.

More desert... still beautiful!

More desert… still beautiful!

We ended up in Cafayate, in the heart of Argentinian wine country. And we’re happy about that! We’ve been looking forward to Argentinian wines for a while now… and our first taste, with dinner, did not disappoint!