Valparaiso, Chile

                                                               Mesquite Trees

January 22, 2010

Another foggy morning found us in the port of Valparaiso, Chile.  Fortunately, by now we knew that the sun would eventually burn off the fog, especially if we were headed inland.  This is another working port where they don’t want people walking around.  This is good, because we had a good long shuttle bus ride to get to the cruise terminal.  Once at the cruise terminal we had to go through security to get to our tour buses.  Our tour was considerably delayed by a woman with a walker who got onto our bus rather than the correct one for her tour.  We were surprised that it took so long to figure out the source of the problem with the passenger count.

Our tour was titled “Live The Chilean Spirit”, and involved two major things Chile is famous for: wine and horses.  By now you are probably detecting a pattern in our choice of tours.  The choice is more about learning about the significant aspects of the culture rather than about consuming alcohol.

Our first stop was at the Viño Mar winery in the Casablanca Valley, an area especially suited for growing white wine grapes.  As you can see from the photo, we had perfect weather, and the winery is beautiful.  They have many acres of grapes, and the building shown in the photograph houses every part of the wine-making operation.  The property was also a great place for birdwatching.  We were given a tour that taught us the entire process of wine-making, including the hand-made sparkling wines.  Following the tour we got to taste one of their white wines, a 2008 Chardonnay that was wonderful and that was grown right on that property.  The Casablanca valley is specifically suited to growing white wine grapes, which like cooler temperatures.  Then we tried a 2007 Merlot that was grown in the Maipo Valley, a location more suited to growing red wine grapes.  This was also a very nice wine.  And even though they are excellent wines, they are still inexpensive.  Our guide taught us proper technique for tasting wines.

After our wine tasting we reboarded our bus and headed for the most anticipated part of our trip - Puro Caballo - a fundo (what we would call a ranch) where they breed and raise Chilean rodeo horses.  

We were told that these horses are the second oldest breed in the world and that they came originally from Spain.  We were greeted by Christian (photo below), the owner of the fundo, who is Chilean by birth, but who spent twenty years in Houston, Texas and developed a great ability with the English language while there.  We immediately were given Pisco sours (or mango sours) and some wonderful empanadas.  While enjoying those we were introduced to the Chilean Rodeo horse and his rider, a huaso (or cowboy), whose traditional outfit includes a manta, a waist-length version of a poncho, that is passed down through the generations.  The designs on them are akin to the plaids of the Scottish clans.   We have noticed that the people who breed these horses, or the ones in Peru, are very passionate about their horses.

Seeing the animals demonstrate their skills helps us to understand their passion.  The Chilean rodeo horse helps with the process of branding calves, and the huaso never needs to get off his horse.  The horse learns to pin a calf against a bolster in the rodeo ring with all four feet off the ground long enough to brand the calf.  They did a “sort of” demonstration for us with a steer named Charlie.  They don’t try to pin Charlie, as that is something you really can do only once - the calves don’t like it much.  They did the traditional rooster/hen dance where the huaso on his horse dances with a woman; in this case the woman was Christian’s twelve year old daughter.  As we have seen before, the dance was very beautiful.  The Chilean rodeo horse has short hands (forearms) which makes them not as tall, and probably more maneuverable; they can stop on a dime.  They are also trained to walk sideways, similar to what the Andalusian horses do.

After the rodeo demonstration we went into the dining room for lunch, which included the traditional foods, including the wonderful salsa which they call “pembre”, and of course the obligatory wine.  We were treated to more music and dancing while we ate, and then it was time to say goodbye.  We were sorry to have to leave, because we had a wonderful time.  It would be nice to see a complete rodeo with these horses.

                                                      Puro Caballo Chilean Rodeo Horse                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

© Susan L. Stone 2015