Here we come, Land!
I met another inspiring tour guide. After Kokko unveiled the real scenery of the local Maldives, this time Felipe took me for another fascinating exploration to discover ancient jobs and occupations that populate 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 at about 60 miles from the capital Santiago, here it is 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 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 part 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”) – resonate Felipe’s words. At this point, feel free to take your shoes off and feel the soil with the bare soles of your feet.
You do not know yet, but by getting out of your car -with or without 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, which cannot be appreciated on your “modern” engine.
This is why you are invited to get on the typical carretón or calessa; a bit rougher the first one -which is also Felipe’s favourite-, and more noble-looking and stylish, the second one. Both, though, much more in tune with the surroundings.
A bike or a horse are the alternative options available for you, in any case, your means of transportation must blend 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 into a transcendental state, while all the pores of your skin will receptively open and pleasantly soaking up the sun, that can get to 35 degrees on the hot days. And so are the fruits, avidly stocking the warmth for the cold night.
The abundant grapes seem to like the temperature excursion typical of the microclimate of Isla de Maipo. Day-in day-out, these fruits wisely transform the stress given by the climate fluctuation 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 has started more than a decade ago when, thanks to his technical knowledge, and international expertise in the sector, he was invited to teach college’s students and to 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 the urban environment pretended to have forgotten about.
VISIT THE OLD JOBS (OFICIOS)
It all gravitates around 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 the 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 her backyard and from other local farms.
You should not get surprised if you will also find wine in the artisan’s bonbons; in Isla de Maipo the pour 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 sensorial full immersion in the countryside style of living could not be completed if you do not encounter the people, the sixth element.
We believe that the 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 them, 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 is able to create 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 emotional reactions in the middle-aged visitors’ eyes while their senses have been triggered by reliving what they were doing, seeing, hearing, and tasting, when they were young.
And somehow -even for a moment- you are there with them.
Before leaving Isla de Maipo, there is another character you would need to know. He is el huaso.
The foreign rhythmic patterns that you have come across in this brief visit now becomes an actual sound. The voice of your huaco – now a day named Mario Julio– for some Chilean tourists have the power to make them time travelling, while the others’ travel will be to an exotic place.
The words he speaks sounds surely Spanish, but you can easily loose the thread of their meaning after they line up in a phrase.
It is a countryside version of the Castilian Spanish spoken in Chile, whose words have though different endings and are spoken in a mellow melody, like the verses of a strange song.
He lives in outdoors 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 that talk about a nomadic lifestyle that not many 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
Raising and falling at 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 have started many hours ago. You might want to sigh and thank this fully dimensional land while lifting your glass poured 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 four-wheeled carrier movement, you know that you are getting closer to your engine in the parking space at the parador, and I will 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