Sunday, March 25, 2007

curicó, molina, and some teacups

Just like when you make a new acquaintance and then suddenly bump into them repeatedly on the street, or when you learn a word in a new language and realize that everyone has been saying it to you everyday, once I had decided to come to Chile but was still in Chicago, I began noticing it all around me. The wine at the dinner table came from vineyards in the long skinny country, travel channels decided to focus on this slice of South America, and before biting into plums, peaches, and many other fruits I would first have to remove the tiny round sticker bearing the name “Chile.” It isn’t too much of a surprise to see food imported to Chicago from around the world; personally I don’t know of many fruits or wines native the mid-western city, and we have to get them from somewhere. But still, when I’m munching on Italian almonds or sipping tea from Japan, I can’t say that I really know from where my food came. Who picked this plum? What course did this loose tea take to get here? I don’t have the answers.

Recently I traveled to Curicó, a small town about 2 and a half hours south of Santiago. It’s not in the mountains, it’s not on the ocean. Nearly everyone – including many Chileans – followed my announcement of my trip with “Why?” Why would I go to Curicó? True, my guidebook of Chile didn’t say much about it at all, but there was something about it that seemed like the opposite of Santiago. This is what appealed to me most, coupled with the strong desire I felt to hike to a waterfall. The national park surrounding Siete Tazas, outside of Curicó, would satisfy this urge.

I didn’t do much in Curicó, which was exactly the point. I went with a good friend of mine visiting from the States, and we aimed to trade the busy, crowded, smoggy expanse of Santiago for the quiet of a small town and the cleanliness of the countryside. To get to Siete Tazas (Seven Teacups), a series of seven pools of water feeding into to one another with small waterfalls, one first needs to take the micro (bus) to Molina, an even smaller town about 20 minutes away. From Molina, buses leave every couple of hours for the national reserve, and the ride is a full two and a half hours. My guidebook only briefly mentioned this natural beauty, and those who don’t know much about it wonder if it’s worth the traveling. I would argue not only in favor of the Siete Tazas, but also for whole beautiful area surrounding. The Río Claro, crisp and clear, plunges out of the sides of mountains creating waterfalls Velo de la Novia and El Salto de La Leona. Unfortunately we didn’t bring our camping equipment, but hiking down to the river, the mist billowing deep in your lungs, the moisture softly collecting on your face, I felt the journey more than justified itself.

The following day we decided to explore the surrounding area of Molina. Having ridden the bus to and from Curicó the day before, through the vineyards and orchards stretching over the land like a giant blanket until the Andes in the distance, alongside rows of terracotta roofed homes, and past the gigantic buildings labeled Dole and Del Monte, I wanted simply to take a walk and explore. We didn’t take any formal tour of a vineyard, rather hopped off the bus and spent the afternoon on foot saying hello to those in the shade of their porches, to the kids splashing in the river, to the street dogs tagging along for company. While we did buy a bottle of wine labeled the Valle of Curicó, I have come to learn that Chile is responsible for the majority of exported table grapes in the world. Fresh fruit currently their third largest export, Chile sends over $1 billion US dollars to the United States every year.

Walking through Curicó, we met Paulina and chatted while she wove a trenza into my hair. With her own stall full of earrings, woven purses, scarves and crafts, she explained that space for artisans to sell their work is increasingly hard to come by in the town. The physical area on the sidewalk is decided by and rented from the municipality which is becoming less every year. During the summer she spends the weekends braiding trenzas on the beach, and during the winter she travels north to visit family. Further down on the same street, we stayed in Hotel Prat, a bed and breakfast type hostel which had recently changed management and thus been completely repainted and redecorated with lime greens, brilliant yellows and bright oranges. After using the kitchen to cook our own dinner, papas fritas with ají and pizza from a corner restaurant sufficing for lunch, we took a walk down to the plaza and shared in the intensity of the late night chess games under the streetlights.

Visit photos from Curicó, Molina, and National Reserve Radal Siete Tazas.
Informational links for Chile’s exports and Curicó Valley

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