the metro

20140211-224712.jpgOK, so nobody really actually “loves” the metro, but when I compare it to my experience in Australia, the metro here is great.  Those of you that come from more civilised locations than Melbourne, like New York, London or Baghdad, probably think the metro here is pretty crap, but here are some of the things I like about the Santiago metro.

Nobody ever runs for the train in Santiago.  Why?  Because there will be another train in a few minutes.  Yes, really, there actually will be.  Not like in Melbourne, where I live 7 kilometres from the centre of town and, if I don’t run for the train, then I have to wait for 8 minutes.  In peak hour.  Providing the next one is not cancelled.  Or delayed.  Both of which are frequent occurrences.  And, if it’s a weekend, I would have to wait 20 minutes for the next train!  You would think I lived in a country town.  Planes from Melbourne to Sydney depart more often!

Another thing, the metro here is remarkably clean.  One Australian friend once took a disbelieving look at the tracks and asked “What?  Do they vacuum it?”.  I used to keep myself entertained while waiting for a train in Paris or New York by looking for the rats, secretly hoping that I didn’t spot something more sinister.  Don’t even talk about the metro in Buenos Aires, where you sometimes have to hold your breath for stations at a time due to the terrible smells.  Yep, the metro here is clean.

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Also, in Santiago, if you want to find out how to get somewhere, like most of the world, you might put the address into Google Maps.  Then, you can ask for directions.  Guess what?  You can use the “Transport” option in the directions function, and it’s linked to the timetables and routes of BOTH the buses and the trains in Santiago!  How far off that are we Melbourne?

Actually, I am probably being a little unfair, comparing Santiago’s metro with Melbourne’s trains since, in Melbourne, our trains still run above ground.  Yes, that’s right, with dangerous boom-gate crossings or, if you’re lucky, a bridge, but with major interruptions to traffic.  Not to mention the land space that they take up that could otherwise be used for green space, bike paths, further development or, yes, even more direct roads.  We do have some “metro” trains, if you count the four underground stations that form part of the city loop.  Sydney, our largest city, is no better in this regard.

Furthermore, Santiago is continually expanding its metro network, with two new lines planned, with opening scheduled for 2016 and 2107 respectively.  I can’t help that feel that Australia, as a supposedly “developed” country, is getting left behind the rest of the world in public transport terms.

Sure, the Santiago metro has its problems, and we all have a complaint story to tell.  Sometimes you stop between stations in 40 degree heat, with only an indecipherable message to explain why, while you wait for train traffic to clear.  Sometimes trains are cancelled, or delays occur, for reasons ranging from suicides, to broken down trains, to God-only-knows-what.  At peak hours, the trains can be sardine-can packed, but it’s usually for an hour at most at each end of the day.  While some of the more modern trains now have air-conditioning, there a still a lot of trains with no air and the heat can be unbearable, both in summer and winter.  People complain about the cost but, at 620 pesos for a peak hour journey (roughly $1.20), I don’t think it’s too bad.

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The reasons I can add the Santiago metro to my list of things I love in Chile is that it provides pretty good coverage of the city, with good connections to buses where required; it’s cheap; it’s relatively reliable; and it’s clean.  You can even use the metro to get to at least three wineries that I can think of!  What’s not to love?

(The buses, on the other hand, well, they’re a different story!)

colectivos

20140208-165828.jpgThe official name is “taxi colectivo urbano” (or “urban collective taxi”), but you’ll hear them widely referred to just as “colectivos”.  These little black cars, with special plates and placards on the roof, are spotted all over the towns of Chile, even some quite small towns, and can be easily mistaken for a taxi by poor, unsuspecting tourists.

They are, in fact, a form of public transport.  They have a designated route that is listed on the placard, and they wait until they have filled the car before they start out, dropping people off along the way, sometimes deviating slightly from the route to drop people at their front door.

Now, I can’t say exactly that I “love” the colectivos themselves.  Many are in pretty bad shape (a seatbelt is a luxury item), and I often get stuck in the middle of the back seat, between two synthetically-clad, fat people on a hot day.  Not pleasant.

But I do love the concept of the colectivo.  Many people in Chile don’t have the means to own a car, and live in areas that are not easily accessible by “normal” means of public transport, like the metro or the bus.  The colectivo provides a relatively quick and direct way of getting where you need to go, at a fraction of the cost.

20140208-165818.jpgI use them to get to some of my English classes that are remotely located in a business district on the outskirts of Santiago.  They take me through places where I would otherwise not dare to venture on my own, not even on a public bus.  My fare is around $1,500 pesos ($3), for what would usually be a $15,000 peso taxi fare.  I see the poorer parts of Santiago, parts that many Chileans don’t often see themselves, and it’s a reminder that I am actually in South America.

The drivers don’t usually say much, but a few of them have gotten used to me, and I’m easily recognisable, so they often already know where I’m going when I turn up at the colectivo stand.  The guy above even wanted to make sure he was in the photo!

They can be particularly useful in small country towns, where other public transport is scarce and people need even more help to get around.  I used them to get to wineries in the Colchagua Valley where it would otherwise have resulted in an expensive tour or taxi fare.

They are unique to anything we have in Australia, and provide a valuable service to the locals, which is why they have their place on the list of things I love about living in Chile.

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an autumn day in Casablanca Valley

After a recent bout of rain in Santiago, which brought beautiful fresh snow to the surrounding Andes, we have been experiencing some lovely autumn days. Sunny, almost-blue skies (but for the smoggy haze), temperatures in the low 20s, crisp white snow in the mountains, leaves in a range of rustic colours. It is really very pretty.

On one such Friday, Beth and I decided to make a little day trip to the Casablanca valley to visit a couple of wineries. We caught the metro out to Pajaritos, then jumped on a bus bound for Valparaiso. Between us, we have made this trip a number of times now, and are learning all the tricks. The bus doesn’t actually go into Casablanca town but, if you’ve got no luggage, the driver will happily drop you off … on the side of the highway. From the main highway bus stop, you can often find a taxi to get you to your destination however, the driver who apparently owns this pick-up patch is about 80 years old, with a car seemingly as old.

20130608-095858.jpgWe knew that our first winery was right on the highway, so no need for a taxi, provided we could get the driver to drop us off at exactly the right place and avoid walking a couple of kilometres along a busy highway. Been there, done that! Luckily, our geography is getting a lot better, and I was able to explain to the driver exactly where to stop, and we were safely deposited almost at the gate of our destination, Emiliana.

Emiliana is an organic winery, employing environmentally friendly methods in the vineyard. (Check out their Organic-Biodynamic section on their website. It’s pretty cool.) As we walked up their long driveway, past the post-harvest, naked vines, we saw evidence of many of them – bee boxes for locally produced organic honey, chickens roaming the vines eating bugs, recycling facilities, and a group of alpacas contentedly enjoying their lunch in the sun.

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Inside the impressive tasting rooms, we chose the basic tasting with no tour, four wines for CLP 8,000 (about $16). The first of the whites was a reserve Gewurtztraminer from the Adobe line, but with 15% Sauvignon Blanc, resulting in a wine much drier than the usually sweet German style. We then tasted a 100% Novas Grand Reserva Viognier, with delicate apricot flavours, a winner and a purchase for Beth.

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The first red was a Novas Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon blend with rich leathery notes and toasty oak, a big red that I quite enjoyed. We then tasted the Coyam, probably Emiliana’s most well-known wine, a blend of six different red grapes, including 1% each of Petit Verdot and Mourvedre. With such a small percentage, it makes me wonder why they bother, but I’m sure the winemaker knows what he’s doing.

I have recently been very interested in some of Chile’s Pinot Noirs, having found a favourite in this same wine region, a fuller bodied toasty Pinot reminiscent of the heavier Mornington Peninsula style from back home. The similar cool climate and ocean breezes of the two regions must certainly be a factor. Our host was kind enough to let me taste their Signos de Origen Pinot, a heavier wine than their Novas line. A smart move, as it’s the wine that made it into my shopping cart!

The winery also offers tastings paired with their own organic chocolates or cheese, or with a couple of days notice, can organise an organic picnic in the pretty grounds. For larger groups, and with more notice, a gourmet buffet lunch can be prepared in the “casona”, with a view over the vineyard.

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We took the time to look around the grounds and take some photos from the upstairs vantage point of the tasting rooms before heading off to our next destination.

House, casa de vino, is right next door, a 500 metre walk down the highway. It’s part of the large Belen group of wineries, including labels such as Morandé, Tirazis Syrah, Vistamar, Mandura, and Mendoza-based Zorzal. We had been before for their in-house “vendimia” festival, but had decided to come back and try the restaurant.

20130608-095926.jpgWe sat outside with a nice view of the autumn trees, the gardens and, of course, the vines in the distance. Beth chose the venison-filled ravioli with roasted cherry tomatoes and red pepper ricotta and, having been on a bit of a Syrah trail lately, chose to pair it with a glass of Vistamar Syrah Cab Sav blend. Being a Melbourne girl, I couldn’t pass on the slow-cooked lamb shoulder, served with a mote risotto, onions and myrtleberries. I stuck with the suggested wine pairing, the Morandé Limited Edition Carignan, a light coloured Spanish varietal very popular in Chile. Both meals were delicious, though I expected a stronger flavour from Beth’s venison, which seemed to be lost in the other flavours of the dish.

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As we enjoyed the outdoor setting, we both decided on a second glass of wine. Although not on the wine-by-the-glass menu, we were lucky enough that the restaurant had a bottle of the Morandé Limited Edition 100% Cabernet Franc open, another one of my recently-discovered favourites, and we both opted for that. We decided to skip dessert, and share a small cheese plate instead, which was a nice way to finish the meal.

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We spent some time in the wine store, browsing over the other interesting products available in addition to the large variety of wine, and made our purchases before heading back to the highway to catch our bus home.

This part, we know from experience, is much more difficult than the arrival as you have to literally wave down a bus on its way back from Valpo or Viña del Mar and hope that, travelling at 100 kms per hour on a three lane highway, they manage to see you and stop in time. We must have hit almost peak hour, as many buses zoomed past, either ignoring us completely or indicating they were full (or, on one occasion, making much more suggestive gestures!). We walked almost to the closest toll booth, about a kilometre, to where there is an actual bus stop and, eventually, a kind bus driver stopped about 100 metres down the road from us. We delightedly ran to meet the bus, banishing any lingering thoughts of being left on the side of the highway all night.

We hit peak hour traffic coming back into Santiago, which made for a very long trip home, but we eventually made it to Pajaritos for our metro ride home, arriving two very tired girls, armed with a few bottles of wine each, after a pleasant Autumn day out.

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