Sunday, January 15, 2006

Viña del Mar

3:30 AM

I crawled out of bed at 10:00 this morning. Needed some coffee! Down in the lobby, I asked if there were a “Starbuck’s” around. Not in “Viña”, but there is good coffee at the "Restaurant del Mar” on the beach, across from the casino, I was told. Outside, it was chilly and breezy, with low clouds. The ocean was calm.

Ordered a cappuccino and chocolate croissant. Looking around me, the diners were clearly older (like me), and have some money (unlike me). I was served a raisin and cream-filled pastry. When I told the waiter it wasn’t right, a manager came out and said that when the waiter took my order, they had chocolate croissants, but in the mean time they sold out. (“So you just decided to substitute and not tell me?”) Annoyed, I finished my coffee and left.

Chile's credit economy makes it refreshingly easy to use credit cards. I think Panama was the last country they were widely accepted. Walked around, exploring Viña del Mar. Stumbled upon the pastry shop district. “Now this is an important discovery!”

At the hotel later, tried connecting my computer to the internet, but they’re subscribed to “Telefonica”, who seems to very tightly control access and has turned the internet into a big "profit center". (In Cusco, with registration, “Telefonica” allowed free internet access, I suspect as a precursor to making it a paid subscription service.) Used the hotel computer to check e-mail through MSN's "Hotmail", a slow, clumsy service I really hate.

Received a very nice, lengthy note from Kim Foster (a former co-worker at Mondavi), which reminded me that I have a responsibility (to myself and others) to keep going!

Max called to say that one of his cousins has died. He needed to take care of some things, but would come to the hotel later in the afternoon. So I went out to find an internet connection. After an hour of trying to connect at one café, I gave up. It is common in internet cafes for the staff to have little technical knowledge of computer networks. If I can't solve the problem, I'm often out of luck. My solution: find a pastry! A nearby German-style bakery showed promise, but the pastry was disappointing.

Max wanted to show me some of the nearby beach communities, and along the way had a few errands to run. First, we stopped at a wine store in Viña. Max wanted a bottle for tonight. I was shocked to see the prices some of Chile's finest wines have reached: "Le Dix de los Vascos" at about $85 and "Clos Apalta", around $120 a bottle.

Next, we visited Julio Gajardo. According to Max, he's Chile's oldest hippie. Julio reportedly had a birthday gift for Max (whose birthday is Wednesday.) Julio is an artist who paints cats and horses. His apartment overlooks the beach where the Aconcagua River flows out into the Pacific.

He welcomed us and offered wine. I couldn't refuse. It was a tasty red wine, but there was only a little left. No worries: he went to the kitchen and refilled the bottle from a box of "St. Helena Tinto". (They affectionately refer to boxed wine as "carton-ay".) My "educated" palate had me thinking this was a much more expensive wine!

Max Mills, wave rider, photographer, poet, and philosopher, with "Chile's oldest hippie," Julio Gajardo.
Update November 21, 2007: I learned from Max that
tragically, Julio passed away yesterday. Such a sweet smile to leave us.

Max shares a "Surfer's Path" (brother Drew's magazine) story with Julio. The story is about surfer-winemakers, featuring, among others, Max.

Julio's a character and a bit of a rascal. On his wall, he pointed to pictures of his last love: a young lady in her twenties (probably thirty years younger than him). They were together five years. Max showed Julio the cover of Yvon Chouinard's autobiography Let My People Go Surfing. Yvon selected one of Max's photos for the cover. He then shared an article in Drew's "Surfer's Path" magazine, which featured Max as one of the surfer-winemakers. Julio exclaimed that he loves to see when his friends are successful! He allowed Max his choice of paintings displayed around the apartment.

Julio signs his birthday gift to Max

Out on the estuary below, thousands of white birds gathered. Max and Julio explained they're "Golondrinas del Mar", sea swallows, and that they migrate from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. A little bird that undertakes a greater journey than mine, and with "just the clothes on its back!"

After leaving Julio's house, Max showed me Cachagua and Zapallar beaches. We walked along Zapallar, a cove that really reminded me of Carmel, California. I wasn't sure why we were lingering here, then Max took me up to a house on the hillside, the home of his best friend, Benjamin. We were greeted by Benjamin's parents, Jack and Suzanne Dill.

The cove at Zapallar, Chile. Jack said this little town is sometimes likened to Carmel, California, a comparison I had already sensed walking along the beach.

After only a few minutes there, Jack informed us it was time to go for a walk with their new black Labrador puppy. We went back down to the beach, but following a different route that took us out along the rocks.

Twilight on the bay at Zapallar, Chile

I walked with Jack, while Max accompanied Suzanne. Jack and I talked about traveling. In the past, he drove in rallies, both on- and off-road, including one across Europe and Asia that finally ended by crossing Australia from west to east – in a Porsche 911 Targa! He recommended I read a book about "A.T. Tschiffely’s Ride" (on horseback from Buenos Aires to Washington D.C.)

Jack was a military officer, and still speaks in a very direct manner: “Tim, come.” “Tim, sit.” He's a fascinating fellow. Returning to the house, a helper was in the kitchen preparing dinner. I didn't even know we were joining the family for dinner until Max and I were invited to sit down. We were joined by Jack and Suzanne's children, Benjamin, Emma and Jessica.

Jack selected tonight's wines. He served a "Casillero del Diablo" Sauvignon Blanc to accompany a large portion of abalone (which I've only had the pleasure to taste a couple times before) and a salad. Next, he poured a "Gracia de Chile" 2004 Carmenere (from Maipo Valley.) Being the wine "expert", Jack asked what I thought about this wine. It’s a young-tasting wine, with lots berry flavor and acid. I told him "it could use something rich, like lasagna.” He called it a “feminine” wine.

A few minutes later, the main course was served: lasagna. Jack smiled. He didn't want to spoil the surprise.
Finally, a Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 was served: a very heavily-oaked wine, with dill-like American oak barrels very apparent - a style not as much to my liking.

This being summer vacation, there was a constant flow of teen-age traffic through the house. Jack and Suzanne's kids apparently have a wide circle of friends from school, and many came by the house. It was pretty funny, as Jack acted perturbed by all the commotion, though I think he really enjoys the activity. Earlier he had given me a tour around his beautiful garden, pointing out various niches where he said he tries to hide.

From the dining room table, someone controlled the stereo by remote control. The stereo was playing music from one of the kids' tiny MP3 players. Jack Johnson's music was filling the house. After dinner, Max had a circle of young ladies gather around as he related a story about surfing with Jack Johnson. He even has Jack's Hawaii number stored on his cell phone, which had all the girls begging for it.

About a dozen teens and "20-somethings" came through during the evening. It was a kick to momentarily become a part of this family's circle.

Jack's father, Sir John Greer Dill, is one of the few foreign nationals to be buried at Washington's Arlington National Cemetery. Suzanne's family are owners of the "Lider" supermarket chain.

At the house of Max's good friends, Jack Dill and his wife, Suzanne, family friend Trini

The summer lifestyle here is very strange indeed! These people don't like to go to bed! Around 3:30 a.m., I finally crawled into my bed at Park Inn. I'm back in mosquito territory again. It has been months since I've had to swat any.


babycondor said...

Another lovely photo--nice timing on the wave. I want to be there!

timtraveler said...

It's a lot like Carmel, California, without the boutiques.