Important Aromas: Touring Cousiño Macul Winery


Wine has always fallen into one of two categories for me: ways that college kids embarrass themselves, and ways useless cultural capital makes some people better than others (See chart below). That being said, I’m twenty-five and began to drink alcohol a year and a half ago, so I never had much to work with.

Cousiño Macul Patio

I’m pleased to say that after touring the vineyard and winery Cousiño Macul and watching the documentary Somm, I now have enough knowledge to appreciate wine.  Theoretically.

After five years, three winery tours, and finally tasting wine, my wine knowledge has grown substantially and can be summed up by the informative video below:

Touring Cousiño Macul

Cousiño Macul Entrance

Since its founding in 1856, Cousiño Macul has remained under the complete ownership of the Cousiño family, which sets it apart from other vineyards established in the 19th century. Six generations later, the cultivation and production is split between the Macul site and another site in Buin.  However, the Macul site gets all the action, in part because of its beautiful and historic French construction.  (Side note, Macul is mapudungun for “right hand.”)

Our BFF, Matías Cousiño; notice Charles is "Macul," mapudungun for "right hand."

Our BFF, Matías Cousiño; Charles is Macul

Why here?  One of the great things about Chilean wines is that the weather and soil conditions are ideal for producing wine grapes:

  • vineyards receive a lot of sunlight;
  • the proximity to the Andes means a huge variation in daytime and nighttime temperatures, which helps maintain the grapes’ acidity;
  • it basically only rains in the winter, which keeps the grapes safe from many fungi and other threats;
  • there are plenty of sloped landscapes…

…the list goes on.


Wine barrels Cousiño Macul

Traditional barrels

And so, Chilean wine is increasingly popular worldwide: around 65 percent of Cousiño Macul’s wine production is exported around the world.

It is also because they keep their gender bias in tact.  You will be pleased to know that the grapes are hand-picked by women.  Because we are more delicate.  Which is also why there are more female surgeons than male surgeons… right?

For information on hours, directions, and booking a tour, check out the vineyard’s website here.  A tour costs $9.000, which includes wine tasting and a special Cousiño Macul wine glass.

 Drinking vs. Tasting: Story Time!

Wine barrels in Cousiño Macul

Edwin, Charles, and I chose the perfect time for a winery tour.  The weather was gorgeous, but apparently not too many people are interested in drinking wine at eleven o’clock on a Wednesday morning.

Consequently, we had Álvaro—chef, sommelier, and tour guide extraordinaire—all to ourselves.  And we were prepared to shamelessly ask more questions than he’d probably heard all year… I warned him that we knew nothing about wine.

We passed the time asking questions, “tasting” wine, and joking about wine culture (read: I was probably mocking more than simply joking).  At some point, Charles offered that a certain wine “smelled strong.”

Álvaro replied, “Yes, it has an important aroma.”

I couldn’t help but comment: the difference between a sommelier and your everyday wine drinker is that the former knows that wine has “an important aroma”—NOT a strong smell.

Our ignorance must have become painful to Álvaro, because he finally responded to one of our questions with, “Ustedes están tomando el vino, no lo están degustando.”  (“You guys are drinking the wine; you’re not tasting it.”)

He disappeared for a moment, returning with a wine glass, which he waved around until the cardboard smell was gone from inside it.  And then he did exactly what the wine snob in the video above had told me to do.

What I’ve learned:

This is science, I promise you.

This is science, I promise you.

Extra!  I recently published “The Sommelier,” a poem inspired in part by this experience, in RiverLit No.14.


Arañas de Rincón: Trophies of 2013

Today I’d like to commemorate the several Chilean recluse spiders who have died at the hands of Edwin or myself over the past couple of months.  After the one I blogged about in September, I’ve decided to document their tragic deaths, basically so that I can have the pictures as trophies.

Now, I must first say that I love spiders.  I had never been afraid of spiders up until this point—between living in Vermont and adoring Charlotte’s Web, I’ve never had a compelling reason to dislike them.  I’d never met a spider that could kill me before.

And then I saw my first araña de rincón, the Chilean recluse spider.  She was perched carefully above the doorframe.  She was quite large, maybe a little under two inches including the legs.  Edwin yelled, killed her, and then I became afraid of these Chilean recluses.

Meet the Chilean Recluse

Araña de rincón en el rincón!Why are they so scary?  First of all, they’re in your house.  Second, I’m not a huge fan of necrosis or possible death.

The spider’s names tell us quite a bit about its behavior: it is often found in corners (rincón) and is reclusive, meaning it usually won’t attack you.  In fact, a Chilean recluse probably won’t bite you unless it’s pressed against your skin.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that, since they’re reclusive, they hide in dark, damp places, such as your bathroom cabinets, your closet, or that pile of clothes that you left at the foot of the bed last night.  And you don’t know they’re there.

The other bad thing is that if they bite you, your skin turns into a gaping, infected wound that either does not heal or else heals very slowly.  If you don’t believe me, just search “Chilean recluse spider bites.”  Not for the weak of heart.

Ways to identify the araña de rincón

Male Chilean recluse spider

  • Brown body and legs; the thorax is slightly lighter than the abdomen and often has a mark on it that resembles a violin (hence the nickname “fiddleback spider” in English)
  • About one to four centimeters in length, including the legs
  • Moves incredibly fast in comparison with other spiders and Spiderman
  • Has six eyes instead of eight

I love you, tiger spider!

Please note that this is quite different from the araña tigre, which cannibalizes the araña de rincón.  This spider has long, spindly legs that can be three times the length of its body.

Two things that come to mind when you see la tigre: 1.) O, blessèd spider!  Depart not from my bedside! 2.) SH***********OT WHERE ARE THE ARAÑAS DE RINCÓN???

Prevention and treatment of bites

The summertime is the busy season for Chilean recluse spider.  They reproduce and hunt more in the summer than any other time of the year, and so you should be especially wary if you’re here to enjoy the heat.

  • When getting clothing, shoes, or other items from a closet or dresser, make sure to shake them out before putting them on.
  • Check the bed sheets before going to sleep.
  • Don’t play in closets or under the bed… or anyplace you might go if you were a spider looking for a dark, quiet place to KILL.
  • Clean regularly!  Move your furniture and other things around to scare those suckers away.
  • DON’T KILL THE TIGER SPIDERS (see pic above): they eat the Chilean recluse and do you no harm!  Seriously, check it out.

If you are bitten:

  • If possible, catch or kill the spider so that you can bring it with you for identification
  • Usually there won’t be pain at first, but the bite will gradually start to redden
  • Apply ice to the bite to slow the process
  • Wash the area with soap and water
  • Get to a hospital for immediate medical attention.  This is very time sensitive!

And with that…

Happy New Year!

Stay cool!  Stay safe!  I, personally, will be heading back to the beautiful snow and ice of the Green Mountain State in another two weeks, so I will be recluse free!

La Sebastiana: Neruda’s Whimsical Valparaíso House

Looks shipshape to me! (Image from travellersplaces.wordpress)

Neruda’s houses are some of the most whimsical national monuments you’ll see in most countries.  It is very fitting that amidst collections of shells, coins, bottles, whosits and whatsits galore, La Sebastiana’s living room boasts the poem “Oda a las cosas,” or “Ode to Things.”

Amo las cosas localocamente,” says Neruda.  Some roughly translate this to, “I have a crazy, crazy love of things.” …But I prefer, “I’m cookoo for Cocoa Puffs!

Pink and Azure Walls that Dance for Neruda

When Neruda began looking for a house in Valpo, he said he was looking for something that was not too high up, but not too low down; private, but not completely isolated; and obviously, it needed to have a view of his beloved ocean.

Something about the view says “Write a Nobel Prize-winning collection” … (Image from )

When his friends found him the perfect house, an abandoned, four-story tower of sorts, he set about to remodel it immediately.  After three years, it had adopted the ship-like qualities of a Neruda house, along with his collections of things, a writing desk with a phenomenal view, and a huge picture of Walt Whitman.  (Neruda was a great admirer of Whitman, who he claimed was the most influential poet in his life.  For a little more information on this, check out this article.)

But the best addition to the house, in my opinion, is the crow’s nest that served as Neruda’s office, pictured above.

“Entonces la pintura llegó también lamiendo las paredes, las vistió de celeste y de rosado para que se pusieran a bailar.”

He later wrote a poem about the house, in which he describes the house as a growing, dancing, and generally living entity, with pink and blue walls that fit perfectly in the context of Valparaíso’s vibrant hills and views.

It is evident that Neruda wanted the house to be filled with life.  Whenever he threw a party, the view that La Sebastiana offered couldn’t be beat.  Moreover, the house features a small bar meant only for Pablo so that the poet could serve drinks to his guests.

And the La Sebastiana museum continues to be the most exciting and stimulating Neruda house to visit.  It’s the only house that you can explore at your one pace.  In La Sebastiana, you can wander from room to room and linger as long as you want, guided by an audio tour that you can pick up when you enter.  In Isla Negra and La Chascona, on the other hand, you must follow the guided tours in order to see the house at all.

Getting There

As with most trips in Valparaíso, visiting La Sebastiana is best done on foot.  The website shows a map of one route you could take.  You can also arrive via public transportation, either on the ‘O’ bus or on a colectivo (it’s a shared, cheap taxi) from the Plazuela Ecuador.

We, of course, walked, taking a long route to enjoy the beauty of Valparaíso.  Along the way, we experienced all the best that Valparaíso has to offer: phenomenal views, statues of famous poets, eclectic architecture, and stunning graffiti.  (And, of course, parks of outdoor exercise machines.)

We were fortunate enough to go on Neruda’s birthday, July 12, which meant free admission!  Wooohooo!  Otherwise it’s 4,000 Chilean pesos; 1,500 for students with IDs.

Just do it…

Valparaíso is the perfect city for the poet’s quirky side—the side that loved to host costume parties and collect bizarre bits of the world wherever he could.  La Sebastiana is a must see if you are anywhere near Valparaíso, as far as I’m concerned.  (Just remember that museums are closed on Mondays!)

If you’re interested in more about Neruda, check out some of my other posts on him and his houses: La Chascona: Neruda’s Santiago House and Rumors around Neruda’s Death.

For more posts about Valparaíso check out Valparaíso: A Canvas of Hills and Walls and Palacio Baburizza: Valparaíso’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Pueblito Los Dominicos: Artisans at Work

Art in Pueblito Los DominicosQuaint, narrow alleys lined with traditional adobe buildings, straw roofs, artisan shops, and the irresistible smell of pastel de choclo—this is the enchantment of Los Dominicos, Chile’s largest artisanal center.

Many people say it’s a must-see for tourists, but Edwin and his mother had never visited.  (The life of a foreigner is so different from that of a local!)

So in hopes of amending the fact that we had forgotten her birthday, we took my mother-in-law on a day trip to Los Dominicos.

A maze of shops

Narrow streets Los DominicosThe Pueblito de Los Dominicos has some 160 shops and unquantifiable amounts of talent.  We enjoyed watching artisans in their workshopschipping away at wooden statues, heating metal for jewelry, or weaving wicker baskets.

Condor in LapislazuliI found the prices to be very reasonable, even in comparison with markets like Santa Lucía.  It’s important to remember that Los Dominicos has a wide range in its quality of work.

There’s a difference between works of art by master artisans and smaller, touristy or utilitarian items.  In Los Dominicos, you can buy both: beautiful artwork to cherish for your whole life and unremarkable souvenirs for your nephews, nieces, or friends at work.

In addition to handicrafts, you can buy plants and pets, or explore art expositions and plays.  We bought a lemon tree and some tomato plants as a gift to my mother-in-law.


The food is a little pricey considering it’s the kind of food that you can find in picadas, the Chilean “hole in the wall” food joint.  If you want to buy the pastel de choclo, it’s probably worth it.  But for other vegetarians out there, it’s slim pickings—salads, cheese empanadas, french fries or maybe mashed potatoes.


Did you know? The Iglesia de San Vicente Ferrer was printed on the back of the 2000 peso bill from 1997 to 2010.

Did you know? The Iglesia de San Vicente Ferrer was printed on the back of the 2000 peso bill from 1997 to 2010.

The Church of Los Dominicos, officially named la Iglesia de San Vicente Ferrer, was built during the first half of the 19th century in the skirts of the pre-Andean foothills.

During the late 1970s, artisans started setting up shops in the small adobe buildings that had made up an hacienda-style pueblito.  In 1983, the church was named a National Monument, and the “little town” next to it was dubbed the Pueblito de Los Dominicos.

It is now owned by the Cultural Corporation of Las Condes.

Visiting Los Dominicos

If you want to learn more about Los Dominicos before visiting, check out this gallery of photos or this video (Sorry, the chick’s pretty awkward).

Summer schedule (October to April): Tuesday to Sunday 10:30 to 20:00 hrs.
Winter Schedule (May to September): Tuesday to Sunday 10:30 to 19:00 hrs.
Phones: 8969841 – 8969842 – 8969843
Theatre phone: 8969840
Avenida Apoquindo 9085, Metro Los Dominicos

Palacio Baburizza: Valparaíso’s Museum of Fine Arts

This post is about how a dire need for a restroom turned into a fantastic fine arts experience.

So as wonderful as the stay was at our lovely little hostel, Casa Valparaíso Hostal, there was a pretty big drawback for us: when we returned to the hostel Thursday night, the water had been cut for maintenance.  This happens occasionally.  Unfortunately, it still wasn’t back the next morning, even by the time we had eaten breakfast.  So we set out, our eyes set on the Palacio Baburizza, Museum of Fine Arts.  They were sure to have some bathrooms for our use.

We got there by way of the mansion’s formerly private terrace—currently known as Paseo Yugoslavia.  The view was phenomenal.

My sexy husband...

West Side of Palacio Baburizza

The building itself looked very promising, so we agreed to pay the 1,000 CLP (about two bucks) admission to use their restrooms and have a look around.

As soon as we entered the building, a guard showed us to the restrooms and became concerned when fifteen minutes later, we still hadn’t returned upstairs.  (Suffice it to say, the bathroom was worth it.)

But our visit didn’t end there.  We explored three floors—four, when you include the basement—of European and Chilean art from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Besides the many paintings on the walls, the architecture, windows, and views all vied heavily for our attention.

This palace was built in 1916 and operated as a museum from 1971-1997, at which point it closed due to maintenance problems.  After many years of work off and on, the museum reopened in 2011.

It was quite the treat, especially on such a clear day.  And all because we needed to use the restroom.  By the way, the day after we left, this happened:

It destroyed two houses and did serious damage to a handful of others, but nobody was hurt.  Chile, you never cease to amaze me.

Feel free to share your most bizarre or rewarding searches for bathrooms… !

For more posts about Valparaíso check out Valparaíso: A Canvas of Hills and Walls and La Sebastiana: Neruda’s Whimsical Valparaíso House.

Valparaíso: A Canvas of Hills and Walls

It would be hard to pinpoint what part of Valpo makes up her heart… is it the history of this bustling port?  Or the National Congress Building?  Or maybe the steep, undulating hills, crowded with colorful houses and funiculars?

Whatever the most important part of Valparaíso may be, her poetry and soul undoubtedly rest in the street art and graffiti that bathe every wall with color and life.

As you can see, there is a vast range of style, skill, message, and location in this “graffiti.”  Not to mention the striking scale of some of the murals.  Check out the mural below, which can be seen from the Paseo Gervasoni.

This is why, when you go to Valparaíso, you go to walk, to observe.  Not so much to do as to feel… and by the end of the day, you will feel tired.  (There are many hills to climb, and your feet are the best way to do it!)

Emz and me from Paseo GarvasoniIf you want to be more structured and intentional about your exploration, plan your graffiti adventures around Valpo’s many paseos and miradores.  (See a list here.)  For example, you might start by taking the Concepción funicular up to Paseo Gervasoni, loop around to Paseo Yugoslavo to visit the Baburizza Palace (See my post here!), which is a beautiful building that hosts the Municipal Fine Arts Museum, and finally work your way to Cerro Florida to visit La Sebastiana.

Historic Neighborhood ValparaísoIf you don’t want to plan it out step by step, wandering the streets of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción will give you ample opportunity to get your eye-candy fix.  This is one of Valpo’s most historic neighborhoods and a big part of why UNESCO declared Valparaíso a World Heritage Site in 2003.  This map gives a pretty good idea of where you’ll be roaming.

But how do we achieve this kind of respect for street art in our own cities?  Comment with your thoughts about how to find the balance between discouraging vandalism and encouraging art.

For more posts about Valparaíso check out Palacio Baburizza: Valparaíso’s Museum of Fine Arts and La Sebastiana: Neruda’s Whimsical Valparaíso House.

Persa Biobío: And they told me not to bring a camera…

Books in La Persa Biobio

The first time I came to Chile, I was told to steer clear from El Persa Biobío because I would be robbed many times before I knew what hit me.  When I had acquired a fanny pack and a Chilean boyfriend, I decided it would probably be safe to give it a try.

Whozits and whatzits galore

Locale of of Calle Placer The Persa Bio Bio is basically the biggest flea market you’ll ever see.  On weekends and holidays, the streets to the northeast of the metro Franklin slowly fill with food stands, blankets or tarps overwhelmed with goods, and endless streams of people.  Around 10 a.m., vendors that begin to open their sliding metal doors seem to transform into hungry hands that peel back their shops’ sardine-can lids, revealing merchandise that is equally as cramped as that cluster of canned fish—and much more diverse.  It is a bustle of everything I can imagine anyone would sell: antiques, toys, books, clothing, furniture, electronics… you name it.  But don’t take my word for it, check out the testimonial below of loyal Persa customer, Mario.

Books: Persa Bio bio

I am a lover of used books, and it’s something of a tradition for me to buy cheap used books on the Fourth of July.  It was this tradition that first brought me to the Persa Biobío.  Unfortunately, books in Chile are expensive, and there’s no way to get around it—even pirated copies and smutty books are usually not worth the 4,000-8,000 pesos that vendors might charge.  But it certainly is fun to root around in the stacks and stacks of yellowing and worn books.  For those of you interested in finding specific books or books of better quality, check out some of the shops near metro Manuel Montt or the Calle San Diego, which is where I celebrated my Independence Day tradition this year (I’ll post about it soon!).  While I was disappointed by the availability of books, I was satisfied with the many opportunities to grab a delicious empanada or listen to some live music.

Street musicians in persa biobioAll in all, the Persa has proved to be a very entertaining place, and I would recommend it, even if you are as notably gringa as I am.  It’s always hard to visit some of these local markets as a tourist—simply because you have no idea where you are or what you’re getting yourself into—but I don’t see it as an unsafe place.  I think some of the warnings I had heard about the Persa were extensions of stereotypes that have stuck around from this area’s history (What history, you ask?  Just keep reading!).  Moral of the story is, the next weekend you’re in Santiago, you should grab your fanny pack, hop on the yellow line (línea 2) to the Franklin metro stop, and enjoy exploring!

History of the Persa

Buildings in the Persa Bio bio

What is now most popularly known as the Barrio Franklin, home to the beloved Persa Biobío, used to be known as the Barrio Matadero—the Slaughterhouse District.  As you can imagine, the Barrio Matadero was historically outcast because of disease, poor living conditions, delinquency, and relative geographic isolation.

Photograph inside the Santiago slaughterhouse/ matadero

It all started in 1847, when a slaughterhouse was opened on Franklin Street in the southern periphery of Santiago.  Poor laborers, often immigrants, moved to the Barrio Matadero seeking work.  They made up most of the barrio’s population and lived under terrible conditions.  The picture to the right shows slaughterhouse employees who started their day at 2:30 a.m., working barefoot so as to not contaminate the blood that would be later collected and used in other products.

Entrance to the Matadero -- Barrio MataderoNear the beginning of last century, there were several state initiatives to build better housing for the workers in the area.  Along with this construction came the installation of various shops, including those that would take advantage of the flourishing leather industry, such as tanneries, shoe shops, and the National Glass Factory.  To this day, Franklin Street is associated with the shoe industry and has many locales to buy shoes, although they are no longer made in that area.

During the Great Depression, vendors took to the streets.  This began the tradition of informal and improvised markets in the sector.  By the 1950s, when countryfolk or campesinos began to immigrate en masse to the “big city,” there was plenty of work to be found in the Barrio Matadero.  Furthermore, as Gran Santiago expanded, the Barrio became more and more integrated into the life of the city.

Street vendors at the Persa Biobío

Spare parts at the persa biobío

The informal markets grew to the point that when the slaughterhouse closed in 1979, shoppers continued to frequent the ever expanding informal stores that offered a cornucopia (haHA!  I used cornucopia!) of products at low prices.

Financial crisis in 1982 solidified and formalized the Persa’s place in Santiago.  The tannery and slaughterhouse’s huge warehouses were finally ceded to the street vendors and shops that make up the Persa as we know it today.  Over the following two decades, the Persa was extended all the way to the Calle San Diego, establishing the Persa as one of the most important commercial centers of Santiago.