Here we come, Land!
I met another inspiring tour guide. After Kokko unveiled the real scenery of the Maldives for me, Felipe led me on another fascinating exploration, this time to discover the ancient jobs and occupations of the rural Chilean countryside.
I would invite you to join him for the tour too.
Your wandering starts in the middle region of the Maipo Valley; by zooming in about 60 miles from the capital Santiago, you’ll find your next arrival and departure, Isla de Maipo.
To initiate the adventure, you need to cross an imaginary gate, beyond which the concept of time as you know it will change. Past the portal, everything goes at a much slower pace than the one you are accustomed to in your urban environment. The smells become more intense, the breeze feels fresh and pure, the colours are more vivid and the connections between things appear to be more obvious.
In some parts of this world, the stars and clouds are someone’s natural roof, and wild animals their chosen companions.
‘Bajamos a la tierra’ (‘here we come to the ground’) – Felipe’s words resonate. At this point, feel free to take off your shoes and touch the soil with the bare soles of your feet.
You do not know yet, but by getting out of your car – with or without your shoes – you are abandoning what is known as ‘civilisation’ and you have already stepped into the passage gate, embarking on an exploration of traditional views and tastes that cannot be appreciated via your ‘modern’ engine.
This is why you are invited to get on the typical carretón or calessa: the first one (which is also Felipe’s favourite) a bit rougher, the second more noble-looking and stylish. Both, though, are much more in tune with the surroundings.
Bikes or horses are the alternative options available for you; in any case, your means of transportation must blend in with the environment.
The small group of sun-proofed faces you are travelling with is departing! Your hosts are waiting.
ON THE TRIP
The hypnotic beat of the trot can guide you into a transcendental state, while all the pores of your skin will receptively open and pleasantly soak up the sun, which can get to 35 degrees on a hot day. The fruits are doing the same, avidly stocking the warmth for the cold night.
The abundant grapes seem to like the temperature variations typical of the microclimate of Isla de Maipo. Day in, day out, these fruits wisely transform the stress induced by the fluctuating climate into pure sweetness, which is very much enjoyed by all the palates.
Although he is aware that the main reason for the tourists’ visit is to get closer to the wine and its production process, Felipe has a plan. Everything started more than a decade ago when, thanks to his technical knowledge and international expertise in the sector, he was invited to teach college students and develop local guides. His dream was to invite tourists to his beloved countryside and to develop a destination ‘with what was already there’ – he tells me – and, especially, to shine a light on the local producers, the guardians of old trades and skills with their knowledge and traditions that those in the urban environment pretended to have forgotten about
VISIT THE OLD JOBS (OFICIOS)
It all centres on the land. There are the seasonal organic plantations of the chacraderia, the essential ingredients of the daily healthy diet: tomatoes, lettuces, peppers, cucumber, garlic, all watered by virgin subterranean aquifers and grown in a soil that is laboured manually. Here the only engines at work are the muscles of the horse that pull the plough. No tractors exist here.
You and the others can get involved in the cosecha (harvesting) and sembradura (seeding) activities, learn some tricks and even take part in some hands-on workshops, if you wish.
You will step into a glass tunnel that will permit you to witness the moment the beekeeper opens the colmena (beehive) and observe how the Queen Bee and her workers create the magic of the royal jelly, the propolis and the honey.
Don Gabriel Valdivia built this tunnel in 2005 to share his passion with the countryside guests, while Francisco – another renowned and passionate beekeeper of Isla de Maipo – will provide you with proper suits to get even closer to the bees if you will allow it.
Elizabeth Romero has found a way to blend many products of the region into one. As an expert artisan of chocolate, with the raw material imported from Belgium she creates tempting cases for many of the local crops.
Embedded in chocolate you can find apricots, peaches, avocados and cherries. The regional damascos, durazno, palta, and guindas, together with the grapes, apples and pears used for the fillings, come directly from Elizabeth’s backyard and from other local farms.
You should not be surprised if you also find wine in the artisan’s bonbons; in Isla de Maipo the pouring of sweet grape juice will be the ever-present soundtrack of your visit. And if you trust your guide’s advice, you will not miss the ones blessed with the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Your full sensorial immersion in the countryside style of living could not be completed if you did not encounter the people, the sixth element.
We believe that interaction is what makes tourism different and profoundly valuable, and this is the primary ingredient, without which Travolution Travel
cannot work. ‘At the end of the day,’ Felipe adds, ‘It is what makes this kind of tourism a real experience. This is not a Disney excursion, you know! And if you need to use the toilet, it will be your hosts’ one.’
Although tourism is only a complementary activity for the locals, they had to embrace the role of anfitriones (host), which was completely unfamiliar and a bit uncomfortable for them at first.
They had to get over their natural shyness and learn how to tell their own stories to the curious visitors.
But the effort of stepping into unknown territory can create an incredible bond between host and tourist, through which emotional memories are released and intense responses are generated.
For you and the other visitors, the trip will turn into a discovery of a way of life forgotten or left behind on the way to the city, some generations ago. But if you are too young to remember that, or that is not exactly your cultural background, you can still spot traces of emotion in the middle-aged visitors’ eyes as their senses are triggered by reliving what they were doing, seeing, hearing and tasting when they were young.
Somehow – even for a moment – you are there with them.
Before leaving Isla de Maipo, there is another character you need to meet. He is el huaso.
The foreign rhythmic patterns that you have come across in this brief visit now become an actual sound. The voice of your huaco – nowa– has the power of time travel for some Chilean tourists, while for others it takes them to an exotic place.
The words he speaks surely sound Spanish, but you can easily lose the thread of their meaning after they line up in a phrase.
It is a countryside version of the Castilian Spanish spoken in Chile, although the words of the latter have different endings and are spoken in a mellow melody, like the verses of a strange song.
He lives in outdoor environments in order to stay close to the wild animals he looks after, his cows and horses that live free-range in the region. He has many stories about a nomadic lifestyle that few can imagine.
I can picture him, next to his animals – considered as part of his extended family – while he is falling asleep looking at the stars in some open field in central Chile. A captivating image of freedom.
BACK TO THE ENGINE
Rising and falling to the trot of the calessa – made heavier by the fresh foods and presents carried by the satisfied visitors – you are now approaching the end of the circle you started many hours ago. You might want to sigh and thank this multidimensional land while lifting your glass filled with the local nectar that the land and the care of its men have crafted, loudly celebrating the special moment with your fellow travel mates.
Sipping the wine in synchrony with the movement of the four-wheeled carrier, you know that you are getting closer to your engine in the parking space at the parador, and I would not be surprised if your heart is already filled with nostalgia for the Isla of the valley and its hosts.
A final look at the sight, a sip. Salut!
Photo credits: Felipe Silva Arriagada