8 of us. Barreling down some back road in central Chile singing “Why, why, why, Delilah?” at the tops of our limited capacity lungs. We obliterated the Tom Jones iPod rendition that blared over the speaker system in driver Oscar’s tourmobile.
Not exactly Ken Kesey’s band of Merry Pranksters, we were too conservative, too old, and possibly too wise for illicit drugs. Nonetheless, it wasn’t quite noon and we were, if not shitfaced, then well on our way. We had already visited two wineries in the Maipo Valley that morning.
The Chilean wine makers were extremely cordial and proud of their output but, truthfully, their wines are still lightweights in the wine world, and nothing I tasted was worthy of laying down for more than a year. Yet, they were eminently drinkable, light, fruit forward, with alcohol levels a sane13.5 percent. The tasting rooms provided spittoons but we managed to slosh down whatever was poured in our glasses and they weren’t chintzy with their pours.
Thus our rather inebriated state by midday. Reservations had been secured at a little country restaurant where we drank three or four of more bottles, but with empanadas, avocado soup, and a hunk of beef on every plate with about a half pound of mashed potatoes sprinkled with paprika for flare, but not spice. I discovered that Chileans aren’t much into spicy foods, preferring sweet to piquant, much to my surprise and dismay. We didn’t sing in the restaurant but scarfed down whatever was put in front of us. It wasn’t fancy, it was hardy country fare, and served as a catalyst to sobriety.
The restaurant was surrounded by grape laden vines, save for the roadside entrance. As I peered out the windows, the Andes loomed sharply and not too distant. The Andes look different than the Rockies. More angular, steeper, yet more graceful, at the same time more foreboding than their cousins in the northern hemisphere. The Andes are the longest mountain range on earth and quite active with plate tectonics – volcanoes and earthquakes. In fact, while at one of the wineries, there was a small temblor. All the more reason to drink. Chileans are universally skittish, the 8.8 quake that blasted them in 2010 fresh on their minds. I can identify, I’m still jumpy from the ’89 quake in San Francisco. Any kind of rumble, my eyes widen and I freeze until quickened synapses cause my brain to identify the rumble as either inconsequential or run for your life.
Back in Oscar’s tourmobile, we napped part of the way back to our gem-like hotel tucked quietly away between Talagante and El Monte. Just outside Talagante, on a country road dotted with roadside produce stands, was an old man with wagon he pulled with his bike. He made and sold delicious bread, buns and focaccia from his mobile panederia. We cleaned him out. We knew we would need lots of bread to go with the half dozen bottles of wine we bought that morning and were compelled to drink that evening.