Tuesday February 22, 2005
Last day in Chile! Oh, how we don't want to think that thought, how we want this day to be like all the others - grand and carefree and beautiful - but no, try as we might, it is there, hanging with us like a little dark cloud, high above, all the day long!
We awoke in the hacienda ranch - Casa San Regis - to bright sun and a light breeze, and found breakfast waiting on the veranda by the pool under a shady umbrella. A light peaceful breeze off the vineyards was provided! How very kind!
The vineyards surrounded the hacienda, just as they have for over 200 years now, still productive, still exuberant and beautiful, for many acres on three sides. The planting beyond the pool was separated from us by a tall row of pine trees that apparently were quite attractive to bees at this time of year - the air was full of their busy buzzing, audible from our location fifty feet away! The Spanish word for buzz thus became a topic of conversation - zumbir - as it is so phonetically interesting. Curious isn't it, the things one finds interesting and worthy of ten minutes of your time when the day is as carefree and unplanned as were ours. At any rate, the breeze finally blew to our attention that which had caught the bees' attention - pollen. A fine dust was evident when the sunlight struck just so.
Marcela and Alexis joined us for our breakfast - light meats, cheeses, tomatoes, juice, coffee - and for a few hours of wonderful conversation, we enjoying the place and their company. As they left for an errand, we were invited to explore the grounds - especially the vines being harvested of their abundant white table grape crop, headed for Europe and the US markets. Full plump gorgeous clusters at the peak of readiness. In the field we met many workers doing the harvesting - with love and care as the grapes were just right - rough handling would bruise and batter these tender prizes - and we also met a group of three official looking men - dressed in working field clothes but obviously "in charge" - and one of them, the eldest, turned out to be Marcela's father - the dueña (owner) - a kindly gentle man more than willing to give us the long version of the crop, the methodology, the history, the place.
That walk in the field also provided me with a cute little boost to my ego - as I entered the field, ducking down under the first rows of grapes, I came upon a small group of half a dozen young ladies doing some of the picking. They were dressed in their long skirts with loose blouses and hair up in kerchiefs - ranging in age from 20s to 40s - a bubbly smiling lot who responded well to my Hola and Buenos días greetings with cute little looks amongst themselves about this obviously gringo guy walking by. Then as I passed them I began to hear the chatter behind me: Que hermoso, que guapo, etc. (How handsome, how nice looking). I certainly didn't expect that! And didn't mind it either!!
We finally had to pack up, and left shortly after noon, ready to explore a bit more in this pretty river valley - we had seen a spur off the main road that headed south the day before and headed in that direction. We didn't get very far though. Shortly after the turnoff it became an industrial mining complex and we were turned back. We checked out a miner's cafe, which didn't pass the Ignacio test, and instead headed for a lunch spot we had seen up on the main road - a little diner whose backyard was the river itself.
There we were entreated to a great - but simple and beautifully presented - (We imagined to ourselves that the waitress and cook took extra time in making our plates look just so!! Can you believe it?) - lunch of a pork cutlet, salad, veggies, and wine - what more could we have asked for? - and an interesting cowboy - a huaso - to boot. Or maybe a miner - although I favored the huaso theory. Anyway, this older man came in and stood the entire time we were there - not speaking, not eating, just standing there - he seemed to be waiting for someone to come by, maybe to pick him up, give him a ride - and he was holding a small green branch of some kind of herb, maybe to smell occasionally, to keep bugs away, to use as a small fan? - he who evoked the same image for me as the other man, the real huaso, earlier in the trip had stirred - strength and kindness, steely nerves and compassion, rough and ready yet humble, all in one man, a huaso.
For dessert we finally had a Chilean favorite - the note de huesillo - a fruit compote with soaked puffed up rice as a base. In ours there was a single whole fruit - like a small peach - softened from being soaked in sugary water served on a bed of watery soaked rice. Sweet, cold, refreshing.
As we made our way out, down the valley floor, we passed again through Los Andes, this time taking note - while we were at a stoplight, of all things - of a small blue adobe building that said "Hospital de Los Andes." I asked, "Hey, I wonder if we could get a tour? I wonder if they deliver babies there?" So, off we went. We pulled up on the sidewalk to park and in we went. We asked the volunteer at the entrance, who got the security guy, who took us to the administrator, who called Labor and Delivery, who called the midwife on duty, who came to meet us! She toured us around the hospital - for ninety minutes at least - and was just as pleasant and as well informed as could be.
Oh, we had a look at everything, including a laboring patient who was eight cm dilated, the postpartum floor, the postop floor, the antenatal unit, the operating room, the delivery room, even the locker room! We talked about their protocols for prenatal care, antenatal admissions, cesarean rates - and I was quite impressed with the overall level of care. Most of their protocols mimicked ours (or maybe ours mimic theirs!) The place was clean, simply but well furnished, and seemed like a fine place to either recieve or provide care. There are five ob-gyns on staff and they are a referral center for some types of gyn surgery. Very interesting, indeed!
Departing the hospital thus, the time had come for our final drive - to the airport - to meet Luis from the rental company - to look at some pictures from the early part of the trip - to say our goodbyes. Que lastima - a la vuelta! - How sad - until we return again!
Now, in journeying this far with me, and remembering with me all the fun little side trips and unexpected surprises which awaited us at every junction, you can understand our adoption of a little phrase, insignificant in itself, as the byword for our trip: "No Wrong Turn"