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

El Mercado Central and La Vega: Get your market on

To find Chile’s freshest fruits, vegetables, and seafood, don’t settle for Jumbo.  The best is usually going to be in ferias, outdoor marketplaces that are usually open one or two days a week in each neighborhood.  Local, portable ferias will have to wait for their moment to shine, though.  Today, we’re talking about the big fish (and seriously, if you think you’ve smelled fish before, think again): El Mercado Central and La Vega Central.

El Mercado Central, Santiago

El Mercado central

A lovely work of architecture, rich piece of history, and great place to check out the dozens of Chilean fishes and shellfishes that you’ve never heard of before, the “Central Market” has long established itself as a tourist magnet.  When passing through with my partner, the Mercado Central has provided delicious meals and a somewhat romantic atmosphere—there are usually live musicians to enhance the building’s warm, antique feel, even though there is little intimate and private about it.

pescaderíaWhen passing through with Emily, however, it was more of a fight for survival.  If you look like a tourist, they’ll be on you like stink on fish.  Right as I was about to take out my camera to snap a couple shots of the pescaderías, I was intercepted by a man asking where we were from.  Emily was quick to point out that I was, in fact, married to a Chilean.  While her plan was successful in drawing the attention away from our foreignness, it had the interesting side effect of inspiring some terrible marriage advice  “Let him have his freedom,” he told me.  “Or else he’ll run away.  It’s like fishing; get the hook in there, and then slowly reel him in so he doesn’t get panicked.”  IS EVERYTHING ABOUT FISH IN THIS POST??

Don’t be frightened away by bad marriage advice, though.  When you visit, don’t let their seagull-like enthusiasm pressure you into settling on a restaurant before you’ve had time to look around a bit.  A firm “No, thanks” will be necessary at some time or another.  As with most places in Santiago, have your money and valuables in a safe place, especially if you are notoriously a foreigner.

You can get to the Mercado Central by taking the metro to Cal y Canto (on the Yellow/2 Line) and exiting toward the street Puente.


The largest feria I’ve ever seen, with some 500 stands and covering around 60,000 square feet, is La Vega.  This place is huge (map).

American flag in La Vega, Santiago

Emily and I, on our search for Fourth-of-July-inspired fruits, traveled past everything from cherimoya to pig heads to huge bins of olives and pickles… and most everything else anyone would want.

If you’re looking for the phenomenal spice of Peruvian cuisine, there are entire aisles of Peruvian shops.  If you’re looking for personal and house cleaning stuff, they’ve got it, too.  Need some pet food to feed the street dogs?  Got it.  In fact, there are places you can get pets, too.  Or a queen bee and some drones, if that’s what you’re into (we already had ours).

If you’re interested in reading more praise of the Vega, check out this article.  I’m not the only gringo that loves the Vega!

Photo courtesy of Christy Loftus 

La Chascona: Neruda’s House and Favorite Pelirroja

*Update: La Chascona now has audio tours!

Pablo Neruda is a big deal.  Redheads are a big deal.  Being on a boat is sometimes a big deal.  And so it is no surprise to me that Neruda brilliantly combined this trifecta in his Santiago house, La Chascona.

Get it?  Because I'm a chascona?

When I first visited La Chascona in 2010, I instantly became fascinated with it.  A couple of weeks ago, my friend Emily, an accomplice in many misadventures of 2009,  made her way back to Chile, and I seized the opportunity to shamelessly pull out my camera at every Chilean-flavored photo op—considering the fact that we exude gringonda, I might as well embrace looking like a tourist while we’re together.  To Neruda’s houses we go!

Peeking into Matilde's Dining Room Window

Stealth picture: you’re not allowed photos inside the house, as in all Neruda’s houses.

Here’s what you need to know about La Chascona:

  • Chascón/chascona: a Chilean adjective to describe tousled, messy, crazy hair; also, anyone with a habit of keeping unkempt hair… i.e. your friendly pelirroja peligrosa.
  • The Two Faces of Matilde Urrutia: Diego RiveraThe house was built and named for Neruda’s third wife, Matilde Urrutia, who was a Chilean singer and writer with a crazy mess of red hair.  Oh, also, she was eight years younger than Pablo… anything sound familiar?  The house displays Diego Rivera’s famous portrayal of Matilde with two faces: her public persona and her private self, the woman who shared her life with Pablo Neruda.  While her relationship with the poet was still hidden at the time of this portrait, Rivera found a way to hide the outline of Neruda’s profile in his lover’s tousle of hair.
  • At the time it was built, Matilde was Neruda’s mistress, and so the house served as a hidden love nest for the two.  In 1955, Neruda left his second wife and moved into La Chascona with Matilde.
  • La Chascona: looks like a boatNeruda was a passionate man who loved many things, but probably top on his list were collections and anything nautical.  As in Neruda’s other houses, most notably Isla Negra, his collections are displayed throughout.  More intriguing is the house’s unique construction: it is made to look like a boat.
  • Not only does the house look like a boat structurally, but Neruda took the added trouble of directing a stream through the middle of the yard so that guests would feel they were actually on a boat as they ate in the dining room.

    La Chascona patio

    A path replacing where a stream once was

  • Unfortunately, during the military coup of September 11, 1973, the military raided the house, destroying the contents of Neruda’s library and causing damage to the building.  After Neruda’s death, which was two weeks after the coup, Matilde began restoring La Chascona, bringing items to the house from Neruda’s other two houses.

Pablo designed a sort of trademark for La Chascona.  Pablo and Matilde’s initials are imposed over waves, a symbol which covers all of the exterior windows.La Chascona SymbolLast but not least, the precious view that Pablo had in mind when building the house… oh, wait… that hideous building in the background was built to look like a cell phone.

Stay tuned for posts about La Sebastiana and Isla Negra!Neruda's words outside of the house

Like a prayer?? (Cusco: Ruins and Dehydration)

After suffering the overnight bus, we finally made it to Cusco early in the morning and hiked our way up to our hostel in San Blas, Cusco’s “artisan quarter.”  We devoted a moment of reflection to September 11th, passed around a sleeve of galletas, and decided to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant in Cusco.  Unfortunately, due to the lack of Peruvian understanding of vegetarianism, Emily and I ended up paying twice the amount that Charles paid… for half the food.  It was probably just a ginger bias-incident… even so, the cream of corn and cream of asparagus soups were fantastic: smooth, creamy, warm flavor in a bowl.

San Blas

There are many ruins around the Cusco area—it’s not just Machu Picchu—and it’s possible to buy a boleto turistico/pass to see all of them.  While in line for Machu Picchu tickets, we met a couple from Washington.  A couple hours later we saw them at Templo del Sol… and then we saw them everywhere else we traveled until we left for Puno.

After Templo del Sol, everyone was feeling pretty exhausted.  We still hadn’t slept. It seemed like nobody was too excited for the night of clubbing we had planned (I know, can you imagine?  Emily, Gabrielle, and Charles not excited for clubbing?). We bought groceries and headed back to the hostel, thinking we’d eat dinner and rest up before going out to walk around Cusco a little.  Neither of those things happened.  I tried an unfruitful attempt at reading some sociology while Em and Chaz talked, and before we knew it, we were all sleeping.  I woke up for a couple minutes around nine to Charles turning off the lights, and after an exchange of two or three words, we decided that dinner wasn’t happening and returned to sleep.

Don’t Drink the Water

I was awakened to Charles whispering, “Brie! Brie! Emily is calling you!” I,thoroughly confused, could scarcely reply, “What? Where is she?” before I heard a faint, pathetic groaning from the bathroom down the hall… “Gabrieeelllle…gabrieeellllllle…”  Apparently Charles had called back to her, and she had responded only with moans for me (there’s a special bond inherent in being in an open-relationship on facebook with someone).

I found her, distraught for her life, on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. She was worried that she had become sick after consuming contaminated food or water.  At this point, I was in a difficult situation.  It was difficult to see her like this, convinced that she was going to die, but at the same time, I knew that we had eaten and drunk almost nothing besides an over-priced lunch.  And it was hard not to laugh at the ridiculous situation.

I brought her a water bottle from the room and told her to drink it—she was dehydrated, and the altitude was only making it worse.  After a few moments of suppressing laughter while I convinced her that she could drink the water, she abided… sure enough, she felt better and wandered back into the room with a headache—easily cured with Charles’ “aspirin.”

At 5 am, when I realized that I’d been sleeping for around 10 hours, I was ready to start the day… the others weren’t.  And so I sat up and watched the city of Cusco grow right out of the ground—something about the earthen, adobe roofs and the way the houses are molded to the landscape… as if Gd himself reached down to form the ruddy clay and breathe life into it.  But at night, what wonder!  As if someone cracked open an egg of liquid light and let it splash down into the valley and creep up the mountains’ crevasses.Houses growing out of the earth

Once we did start the day, the hostel started us off the right way with a delicious breakfast: bread, jam, coca tea, crepes, fried eggs, and passion fruit juice.

Cusco’s Ruins

We packed our lunch and scaled the staircases that lead from the city to the cerros, where the ruins and Cristo Blanco awaited us (with open arms, apparently).

Our first ruins experience was “Sexy woman,” spelled Saqsaywaman.  For me, its primary purpose was setting the base layer of sunburn that I continued to build up the rest of the week.  It was also exciting to see so many worlds intersect: the Incan civilization overlooks the entire modern city of Cusco; the pagan religion is juxtaposed with Christ’s careful watch of the city;  locals mix with South American, Asian, North American, and European tourists in a jumble of languages; and finally, the contrast between the tourists’ lifestyles and that of the people supported by tourism, whether it be through providing tours, selling artesanía, or walking around in traditional garb with a child on your back and an alpaca on a leash, offering to pose for pictures… which also reflects the disparity between social and economic classes.  But perhaps the least tangible, most intuitive and powerful contrast is that of nature and civilization.   The view from above the city is astounding.  I’ve never seen a city or mountains colored like this, painted with the reds, browns, greens, and purples of the earth.  Yet from the adobe roofs to the dry, sparsely vegetated mountains, there is a continuity, a feeling of connectedness that I’ve never felt in a city like Boston.Crosses next to Cristo Blanco

We said goodbye to Sexy Woman after finding some amazing natural slides and joining some children in playing on them.  From Saqsaywaman, we hiked up to the Templo de la Luna, where a man briefly explained to us the symbols and other attributes of the temple: the puma, condor, and snake (which represent the realms of the cosmos), the altar where gold was stored and llamas were sacrificed, and the room’s llama-shaped entrance.  We picnicked above the temple and fled the growing storm clouds… funny, they say it almost never rains in Cusco.  Not until we roll on in.  He's got the whole world in his hands

We rushed through Q’enco and hopped on a colectivo to Ollantaytambo, the town where tourists take the train to Aguas Calientes… next stop Machu Picchu!