In Santiago, everything closes early on Christmas Eve and stays closed on Christmas, so naturally we decided to go somewhere else where everything was closed: wine country, or at least one of the many wine-making areas of Chile. We chose Colchagua Valley, mostly because there is a hotel there, Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza, that had a restaurant that would be open.
We rented a car for what should have been a 90-minute drive, but we figured it would take longer because of the holiday and we were right (no big deal). But let’s backtrack. Our comedy of errors began when we tried to get a taxi. Cabify is big here, so we called one. He was supposed to arrive in 3 minutes Excellent! But, as we waited and watched the little car on the map, we noticed he didn’t turn at the appropriate corner. OK, rerouted. 5 minutes away. Then, he did it again. 7 minutes away. Then, he texted us to say he was outside our building, which he clearly wasn’t. We replied, asking him where he was. No answer. OK, cancel, try again. The next guy showed up promptly, but then decided to take us on a tour of the side streets instead of going on the highway, which we could see from the road. A 15-minute drive took 40. Finally, we arrived at a gated building that said Budget Rent a Car. We went in only to find, in our broken Spanish, that we were at the office, not the rental car spot at the airport. We walked back out the the street to call another taxi, when the very kind Budget worker came running after us to tell us one of the workers was coming to give us a ride to the airport!
At the airport, there was more confusion. Hmmm, somebody (me) had booked the car for a Budget near the apartment, not at the airport. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyway, another very nice Budget agent found us a car and said that our mistake was small compared to the people who book cars in Santiago, Cuba! Finally, we were off and yes, it took an extra hour or so because of traffic, but the drive wasn’t bad and Chile is a beautiful country full of mountains, farmland and vineyards (and many people selling watermelon on the shoulder of the highway).
We were a bit leery because the hotel advertised that it had a casino and visions of Las Vegas danced in my head. I should know better by now. First of all, Chile does not commercialize Christmas the way the U.S. does. Christmas music is minimal and people did not greet us with “Feliz Navidad” anywhere. In fact, I think we said it more to others. Maybe Chileans haven’t figured out how to capitalize on holidays for tourism, or maybe they don’t care, because the hotel was pretty dead and that was fine with us. The casino turned out to be a room full of slot machines — and it was closed. They do offer more activities at other times, if you happen to be in the Santa Cruz, Chile, area.
The hotel was a little compound with several buildings, a pool, a museum, gift shop, wine shop, restaurant and bar. Image what you think of as typically South American architecture. You got it! Tiles, painted furniture, bougainvillea, wooden beams, etc. Very relaxing. We arrived Friday evening and wandered around town. There was the obligatory Christmas fair with artisan goods as well as junky stuff and various stores. We love a good grocery store, it’s a cultural experience, and there were several, all packed with holiday feast shoppers.
Food can be a challenge for us (me), so we retired to the room and looked for a good restaurant. We lucked out and found Casona Bistro. We felt a little odd because we were the only ones there (another couple arrived later, but they sat outside), but the bistro was in a house with a view of the mountains so we decided just to enjoy. Our waiter was very friendly (a theme in Chile, it seems) and indulged our bad Spanish. We discovered he is from Colombia, so we started joking about how I wanted a giant emerald and Steven learned how to say, “She is not worth it” in Spanish (ella no vale la pena), which became a running joke. The food was delicious as was the wine the waiter recommended.
Saturday morning, we had booked a tour of the only winery that was open, Laura Hartwig. I mostly did it because I thought we were getting a horse-drawn carriage ride, but when we got there, we learned that the place stayed open only for us (and the horses had all gone home for the holiday). We got a general tour of the vineyard with a very lovely guy who spoke Spanish and then translated when we didn’t understand because we told him we were trying to learn. We tried three wines with cheeses and had a chill conversation. We tried to hurry because we realized that we were the only reason he was working, but he wouldn’t hear of it. We were buying a couple of bottles when he said he had to go. As we were leaving the vineyard, he hurried by us with his backpack. It was 11:56 and he was trying to catch a 12:10 bus to Santiago. He again insisted it was OK. We gave him our contact info, so maybe we’ll hear from him again.
We had eaten breakfast at the hotel, which had a nice variety of foods(everything from eggs and toast to cold cuts and cheese) and juices (and a honeycomb that dripped fresh honey into a bowl!) and skipped lunch. We wanted to have Christmas dinner at the hotel (mostly because it was the only place opened) but the menu was set and was king crab and turkey. OK, never mind. We were assured that the room service would be available. We had massages schedule at 4 so we went down to the pool and relaxed until then. We had booked therapeutic massages, but Wow! Both of us felt like the massage therapists had really pounded the knots out of our old muscles.
We relaxed by the pool some more (it’s a tough life) and then decided we were hungry. Room service menu is available meant salad or pizza, so pizza it was. We watched “The Glass Onion,” which was fine entertainment for the room but not nearly as good as “Knives Out.” It was a surprisingly good time considering that we were sitting in a hotel room eating mediocre pizza (and drinking a very nice Chilean wine that we had bought the day before in our wanderings).
Sunday, we decided to go for a drive. A tour guide in the hotel had mentioned a hike up a hill in a nearby town, but when we got there, we couldn’t figure out where it was (her directions were go the center of the town and go up the hill on the path. We found the center of the town, and could see the hill, but could not find the path). Our contingency plan was to keep heading west until we hit the ocean — so we did. Guess what? Things were open. The little town of Bucalemu, Chile, was like a little Jersey Shore town, only smaller and you didn’t have to pay to be on the beach. Oh, there were horses on the beach and a bunch of old fishing boats. But other than that. we tried mote con huesillos, which is a refreshing drink made with dried peaches and poured over wheat berries, and discovered cochayuyo, an edible kelp, but didn’t try it. We bought some snacks and a fridge magnet (naturally), wandered a bit, and headed back to the hotel for more pool-sitting since outside the walls of the compound it was a ghost town, BUT the restaurant was open for dinner! We had another good meal and bottle of wine.
Monday, we had another hearty breakfast and then drove back to Santiago without incident, even stopping in a supermarket along the way for provisions.