5. Private Show of Traditional Chilean Song & Dance
Families, anywhere in the world, are proud of their heritage. In a sleepy suburb outside Santiago, Chile, one local family let us in to their culture, their traditions and their home so much so that we felt like we were extended members. The men were Huasos, or Chilean cowboys, and in conjunction with the women, they sang and danced in traditional Chilean custom. Each song told a story, one about a chicken, another about a child who pretended to be drunk. The kids participated fully, bouncing around the patio in local garb, excited to show off for the Americans. The matriarch, pictured above leaning against the house in purple, was a member of the town council and after the show, she set up a meal inside with the town's mayor.
4. Casablanca Wine Region
Visually stunning and viniculturally delicious, Chile's Casablanca wine region rivals anything Napa to the north can offer. Sitting and sipping under a luxurious summer sun and you can hear the soft breeze rolling down from the nearby mountains to rustle the acres and acres of grapes vines right over the railing. The highlight of a day's winery tour, Emiliana Wineries, was a green haven in every way. Not only did the vineyards sprawl for miles into a wavy green sea, but the entire facility was bio-organic and bio-dynamic. Meaning every animal and plant on the grounds served a unique function for the benefit of the soil, air, etc. Except the peacock. The owner made sure to point out that one allowed luxury. The peacock is simply for added beauty.
3. A Visit to Chilean Congress
Ted Kennedy look-alikes, Politicians updating their status and shout outs on Chilean C-SPAN: not the average tourist's typical South American experience. The name "Harvard" opens a lot of doors. In Chile, those doors lead to the floor of Congress. Our tour group from the Harvard School of Public Health was treated to front row seats for a session of Chile's legislative branch. One of the congressman spent the majority of the session browsing Facebook, while another gave the thumbs up to our group upon exiting. The sprawling chamber of Chile's version of a House of Representatives was crowned by a wall of untreated, unpolished copper (the green wall behind the dais). Like the copper wall, the representatives are of the people - unpolished and working. On the Senate side the copper wall is polished to a grand sheen.
2. Front Row for the Changing of the Guard
Imagine standing up against the Buckingham Palace wall, staring across the yard from the inside out while hundreds of tourists enviously look through twenty foot gates for a glimpse at one of the world's most recognizable pomp and circumstance spectacles. Now move it to the Southern Hemisphere. A visit to La Moneda, Chile's Presidential Palace, requires prior booking but luck allowed for a last minute reservation and private tour of the facility. The tour ended just as Chile's version of the changing of the guard began and since the tour guide enjoyed our American enthusiasm, allowed us to stand right outside the door of the Palace, in the actual yard, to watch the event while all the other tourists leered from outside the gates. It was reminiscent of its British counterpart, with musical numbers, synchronized marches and intense patriotism. But the Chileans give you better seats.
1. Osorno Volcano & Puerto Varas, Chilean Lakes Region
As you head south along the sliver of a nation that is Chile, the cultures broadens to include an Eastern European flare seemingly out of place in this corner of the world. At a hostel in Puerto Varas named Casa Azul a couple of German expatriates have transplanted their Bavarian hospitality to South America. The owner and his wife welcome with open arms and he offered his knowledge and services, garnered from 15 years of living in the area. He led a private tour, complete with lunch, driving us to waterfalls and to the ultimate in Chilean landscape, Osorno Volcano. We drove as far up the mountain as automobile's are allowed. From a scenic vista we boarded a chair lift to the summit, which coincidentally was also home to a ski resort. After indulging in breathtaking panoramas, the valleys sprawling away from the peak like fish from a boat hull, we were dropped off at a hiking trailhead. The descent on foot took us thought wooded glades and over the ebony lava bed, an alien landscape with a curiously beautiful tinge. At the bottom, at the trail outlet, was our driver, the hostel owner, who greeted us with that same German hospitality and a comfortable ride home.