Guest Post: Taekwondonuts Take Chile

I wrote a post back in August 2015 about 2 months before we left for South America called Surrounding Yourself with People who Support your Dream.  It detailed how important it was for me at the time (and still is) to keep people close in my life who support me deep down.   Additionally to supporting me, I want to continue to associate myself with people who DO things instead of just sit around and judge others.  People who encourage me to say YES but also say YES themselves.  I realized that I would be nothing without these people.

Back in January when our friends Nina and Zach told us they would be definitely coming to visit, whether it was going to be in the Galapagos with the rest of our gang or somewhere else, I think I may have actually shrieked with excitement (this means a lot because I’m really bad at expressing enthusiasm).  Not that I didn’t believe they would ever come, but I felt pure joy at the thought of seeing them and sharing an incredible experience traveling together. I always knew that Nina and Zach were the type of people to say yes, but them coming really got me to thinking about this concept again.  Chile wasn’t on their list, but seeing us was and they weren’t afraid to take an opportunity when they saw it.  Dan and I are so happy that they did.

We had plenty of food mishaps, electrical and water issues, and sober driving problems to overcome as you will read in Nina’s summary of our trip below.  However, those things were hilarious and I think this time together really brought us all even closer!  This post is a little delayed they visited us at the beginning of February but who cares!  It was an incredible week with even better people.

For those who don’t know, I’ve been close with Christie and Dan since college. Although I have had dozens of friends spend time abroad, I regrettably didn’t have the time or means to join them. I decided last year that I’d never let an opportunity pass me by again, so as Dan and Christie were planning their trip, I knew that a visit was in order.

On my plane ride to Chile, I turned to my husband Zach and said “I bet Christie will ask one of us to write a blog post” – and she did, so here we go! I’ve struggled to get one epic week with three of my favorite people in the world into one blog post, so first I’ll answer the questions I’ve gotten the most about our trip.

Why Chile?

Zach and I sat down after a trip to Europe last year and made a priority list of places we wanted to see. Chile wasn’t on that list. After much debate about when to visit Dan and Christie, we decided to pick the “ideal time” based on our work schedules – and in our case, the best timing was the first week of February. I asked Christie where she thought they’d be at that time and she said Chile, so Chile it was!

What did you know about Chile before you went?  What did you want to do there?

That it was the long skinny country on the west coast of South America. I did a quick Google search and learned that it’s actually east of Miami (call me ignorant but this blew my mind). Coming from Chicago in the dead of winter, beaches were on obvious choice. Oh, and wine – more on that later.

If you could summarize the trip in one word what would it be?

WINE.

What did you do in Chile?

Thanks to Dan and Christie’s help, we had a rough plan going into our week (2 days in Santiago, 2 days in Valparaiso, 2 days in Santa Cruz, 1 day in Santiago). Here’s how that all played out…

Day 1 – Santiago

We arrived in sunny Santiago at 7am and were greeted by Dan’s long hair. We settled into our AirBNB and Christie prepared a delicious egg breakfast and we discussed the plan for the day. On Sundays in Santiago, almost everything is closed so it was a quiet morning. We set off to see the city and like two professional tour guides, Dan and Christie took us on a long walk to see the sights. We walked to the Plaza De Armas, Plaza de la Constitución, Plaza de la Ciudadanía, and then to the neighborhood of Bellavista for lunch. We drank terremotos (pisco and ice cream drinks) and people watched in this vibrant neighborhood.

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After lunch we headed to a market full of alpaca wool, gorgeous textiles, and knickknacks galore and grabbed some fresh fruit juices for our walk home.  We picked up a few items from the local grocery store for dinner including some frozen pizzas. As we unwind from the 13 hour flight with some wine and sunset views from our balcony, we experience one of the first hiccups of our trip. Turning on the oven caused the power to go out. We flipped the switches on the circuit breaker with no luck, so I tried to solve the problem the best way I knew how – call my dad. Sadly he wasn’t available so we reached out to the host. She didn’t know how to fix it either. Finally thanks to Christie’s great Spanish skills, the front desk staff were able to flip the power back on for us and we ate our dinner (not in the dark).

Day 2 – Santiago

Mercado Central day! To say I was excited is an understatement. I LOVE MARKETS. I love the smells, the negotiations, the interesting ingredients, the vendors, the feel of being a local. I LOVE THEM. We walk over and spend the majority of the morning exploring the market. We bought some dried strawberries and chocolate covered peanuts before ordering a couple of fresh juices. Christie has a passion/obsession with cats so she made friends with lots of cats that live in the market.

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We decided to head over to the tallest building in South America, Gran Torre Santiago also known as Costanera Center to check out some amazing views. It’s a newly built, very modern building with floor to ceiling windows that provide a 360* view of the city from Sky Costanera. The scenery and views were breathtaking. I didn’t realize how many mountain ranges surround Santiago until we saw the different signs pointing out a different mountain or mountain range at every turn. It really felt like we were getting a tour of the city from the sky.

After some time of taking in the views, we were ready for lunch. After some Google searching and asking some locals for recommendations, we ended up at Liguria. Christie and I both don’t eat meat, so we decided to each order something and split it so we could try different dishes. We saw a couple of items on the menu that looked vegetarian and ordered. Sounds simple enough right? When our food made its way to our table, we realized we made a big mistake. One of our dishes wasn’t vegetarian – in fact it was a big hunk of meat, flattened out and breaded. It was a good reminder that it’s better to ask the server or translate the ingredients before ordering! WHOOPS! The vegetarian pasta dish we did get was delicious and the restaurant was so cute that it kind of made up for our own stupidity.

One thing to note about Chile is that it has a distinct European feel – gelato and ice cream are staples to travel in the country, so on our way home we picked up some gelato to fill the crevices of our bellies. After relaxing a bit, we went on to make our second food mistake of the day – going out for sushi in South America. Dan had mentioned how much he missed Asian food so we decided that sushi should be our next meal. It seemed like a great idea since the entire country is essentially a long coastline, but upon ordering we realized that there’s a big difference in the way sushi is made in Chile. It was kind of like ordering American food at a Mexican all-inclusive resort – it isn’t bad, but it isn’t the same.

Following dinner, we went out for a nightcap at a bar where we ordered some fantastic Pisco drinks and relaxed on a patio in the warm night air. Getting a chance to breathe in a late summer night in the middle of February for a couple of Chicagoans with some of our best friends was such a welcomed treat!

Day 3 – Casablanca Valley and Valparaiso 

In the morning, we picked up a rental car, packed up and started our road trip. Post college, other than long rides with Zach, road trips with friends have been few and far between. Hopping in a car with best friends, windows down, music blaring, and enjoying the open road was SO MUCH FUN. As soon as we hopped in the car, Dan got a playlist going and we blasted “Downtown” which quickly set the tone for a great trip.

Our destination was Valparaiso, which is a couple of hours from Santiago. We also knew that there were some wineries on the way, but didn’t have a set plan of any in particular we wanted to see during the drive. About an hour into the drive, it became apparent we were getting close to dozens of wineries in the Casablanca Valley. Let me digress for a moment to share our surroundings. We’re in a car, blasting music, sun streaming in through the windows, surrounded by majestic mountain ranges, miles of open road in front of us, and VINEYARDS on either side of the road. I wish I could take the car ride and relive it over and over again.

Ok back to wineries..

Christie and I Googled some vineyard options as we drove and found one online that seemed like a good bet. We decided to go to Indomita and on our way there, accidentally ended up at heaven’s gate. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture:

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So it wasn’t Indomita but it was so beautiful we didn’t care – we needed to check it out and drove up a beautiful tree lined dirt road to one of the most stunning buildings I’ve ever seen. As we entered the stunning lobby, I immediately regretted already being married as I wished Zach and I could have had our wedding at the winery instead (ok our wedding day was awesome, but still – it’s that gorgeous). We decided to do a tasting and ordered a sparkling wine, Chardonnay, and Merlot. Our great server was quite a character as he explained the wines, process, and history of the valley. Side note: this was also the moment we realized that having a manual transmission car was a problem since Dan was the only person who could drive which meant he wouldn’t be able to partake with us at any wineries – a theme that continued for much of the trip.

After relaxing and taking in the views of Vina Mar, we decided to make our way over to Indomita (our original destination) where we ordered lunch, more wine, and relaxed in the warm summer air. Indomita is equally beautiful and our lunch there was FANTASTIC. Because Chile isn’t a top tourist destination, many of the wineries were fairly quiet which made us feel like we were on an exclusive private tour of Casablanca.

Once we were sufficiently full and had taken in our surroundings, we hopped in the car and were off to Valparaiso. Valparaiso is a cute and colorful town right on the coast that’s carved into the mountains. It is vibrant and alive, historic and progressive, all at the same time. We grabbed some empanadas at Le Pato where I think Zach and Dan’s lives were forever changed. They talked about their empanadas every day for the rest of our trip.

could write pages and pages about the street art in Valparaiso, but thankfully Christie posted a blog post on it already, so refer to her post for details on how unbelievable the streets of Valparaiso are. After exploring the city for a few hours, we wanted to watch the sunset into the mountains so we made our way to El Internado, which was an open-air restaurant with fantastic rooftop seating that made way for incredible views.

We wrapped up the day on the balcony of our AirBNB, drinking wine from the wineries we visited that afternoon and the guys relaxed with some cigars Zach has brought along. It felt a little bit like we were back in Chicago, sitting on a balcony, drinking wine, and talking late into the night.

Day 4 – Valparaiso 

We were hoping that the weather would be nice so we could relax on the beach, but instead we woke up to an overcast day. Dan had seen a picture of a lighthouse on Instagram so we figured, why not go find it? We hopped in the car and drove up the coast toward the lighthouse. As we passed a churro stand, I knew it was a MUST stop kind of place (I’m a sucker for street food and street vendors). The churro ladies laughed at Christie and I as we ordered our food, but by the time we tasted the dulce de leche we quickly forgot about the awkward ordering experience we’d just encountered. Holy cow. SO GOOD.

Driving up the coast a bit more, we found the lighthouse and stumbled upon a pathway that led down to the cliffs along the coastline. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco, you can imagine this spot perfectly – black rocky cliffs, blue waves crashing, sea lions, smell of the ocean, overcast skies, and a fine misty feeling in the air. We climbed the rocks, each forging our own path, and quietly sat to think and take in the scenery. Things were calm until Zach spotted a sea lion in the water, just a few feet from him– then we were on a mission to make friends with the Sea Lion. I named him Sammy. Sammy the Sea Lion swam up to us and reminded us that the best things in life really are free. It was exhilarating to be one with nature, feeling connected to the ocean.

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Next up was exploring Vina del Mar, a touristy town next to Valparaiso with beaches and miles of coastline. We made our way over to the beach, which was packed, despite the cloudy day. The beach was lined with dozens of vendors, selling the same thing booth after booth. There were some handcrafted items, some temporary tattoo stands, people doing hair wraps and braids, food stands, and gifts galore. We had dinner at a latin-fare restaurant and relaxed in our apartment for our final evening in Valparaiso.

Day 5 – Santa Cruz 

Prior to booking our trip to Chile, most of my knowledge of the country could be summed up in one bottle of wine: Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon. In the States, Zach and I buy this wine frequently as it’s one of our favorites. As we planned the trip, we thought it’d be fun to visit the winery itself. I had pre-booked a tour for 1pm at Los Vascos, and since the Santa Cruz area has limited information available about it online, we decided to figure out transportation after our arrival.

We checked into our AirBNB and made our way to the town square to find a ride to Los Vascos. Buses? No luck. Shared cabs? Not a chance. Private car? Expensive and impossible. Shoot. How were we going to get there? How would we spend two days in the heart of wine country without a driver? None of us wanted or expected Dan to continue to drive us but sadly we found that to be our only option. Defeated and frustrated, we reluctantly all hopped in the car and he drove us to Los Vascos. Trust me, I know how this sounds: “poor you, on an incredible trip with your best friends in a beautiful country, and your biggest problem is one of your friends can’t drink with you”? OK you’re right. And we knew it. But in the moment, we felt really guilty.

Once we reluctantly succumbed to Dan’s offer, we hit the road to make it to our tour on time. Upon pulling into Los Vascos, we were stunned by its size. As far as we could see, there were rolling fields of green holding clusters of grapes under the canopies of leaves. Our tour guide greeted us and took us to check out the sites – we saw where they grow, produce, and bottle. Although we had all been to quite a few wine tours in the past, there was something special about seeing a product we consume regularly in the States be brought to life right before our eyes.

On our way to the tasting room we passed a few non-descript trees and were lucky our guide pointed out that they were cork trees. Wine corks are made from the bark of cork trees, and the outer layer gets harvested and replenishes itself over time. Very cool. In the tasting room, we enjoyed the Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon and brought back quite a few bottles home with us.

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Day 6 – Santa Cruz 

The next day, we were on a mission to get a driver. Being in the heart of wine country, we wanted to take in as much as possible. Thankfully we found a driver, forked over some cash and had our driver agree to take us to any vineyards we wanted for the day. YES!

Our first stop was a vineyard that had been recommended to us by multiple people – Estampa. At Estampa, we tried Carménêre which is made from a grape local to the region. We put our taste buds to the test and decided to order both a regular and premium bottle of Carménêre to see if we could taste a difference. We could, which proves that although we have spent a significant amount of our lives drinking, our palettes are more refined than we give them credit for.

Our second stop was Viña Montes which provided some of the most breathtaking views of Chile. We were surrounded 360* by mountains. We spent a huge part of our day taking it slow and relaxing at Montes, taking in the warm summer air. It’s the kind of place you think back on later and grow pains of jealousy of your past self who had it so great that afternoon.

As we were closing in on late afternoon/evening we made a move to the final winery of our trip, Laura Hartwig. It was a relatively unassuming building next to a farm, complete with horses that quickly made us realize that we were definitely not in the city anymore. We took in the lazy, long summer evening until the winery closed and we were forced to close the chapter on an epic day of touring Chilean wine country.

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Day 7 – Santiago 

Our final day we took a slow trip in to Santiago, stopping in the mountains to see some of the gorgeous terrain up close. We ended the trip, much like we started, eating local Chilean fare in the neighborhood of Bellavista.

It may seem too good to be true, but the last night included a final round of churros and a live band bid us farewell.

In closing.. 

It’s hard to wrap up such an incredible experience, and I feel like finishing this blog really means the trip is over. Zach and I truly enjoyed the people, food, wine, art, and views of this vibrant country. Sharing this country with two of our best friends only makes it that much more special. Everywhere I travel, I try to take away a life lesson – Chile, thank you for teaching me that spontaneity is the spice of life. I would have never discovered your magic if I hadn’t taken a chance and joined Christie as she paints her spirit gold!

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