Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Trip to Chile - Part 1 - Geography

“Chile, that remote land that few people can locate on the map because it’s as far as you can go without falling off the planet.  No one passes by casually, however lost he may be, although many visitors decide to stay forever, enamored of the land and the people.”
Isabel Allende – “My Invented Country”

“Where exactly is Viña del Mar?” If you had asked me that question about a year ago I would not have been able to answer, notwithstanding that it has been Sausalito’s sister city since 1960 and the plaza in the middle of Sausalito is named after Viña. However, through an unexpected set of circumstances, at the beginning of last year I became involved with an effort to revitalize that relationship. That led first to a visit to Sausalito in July by a delegation from Viña led by their dynamic mayor, Virginia Reginato (which coincided with a visit to San Francisco by the Chilean Navy’s training ship, La Esmeralda), and then, at the beginning of November, to my own trip to Chile together with Sausalito’s mayor, Herb Weiner – the first time for either of us to travel to South America.  

July 2010 - Viña Comes to Sausalito
November 2010 - Sausalito Goes to Viña    

As reflected by the above quote from Isabel Allende (who coincidentally has an office here in Sausalito), perhaps one of the most obvious observations about Chile is that it is distant – actually quite a bit farther away than I first thought. My hazy pre-2010 impression was that it was significantly closer than Japan (to which I have traveled often), and was due south of California. However, that initial impression of proximity was put to a final rest after a 3.5 hour hop from San Francisco to Dallas followed by an additional 10 hours on to Santiago (it turns out that Viña is almost 500 miles further away from Sausalito than Sakaide, our Japanese sister city). In addition, a more careful investigation of the globe shows that Viña is almost directly south of Providence, Rhode Island. So much for my sense of distance and direction (and hence the somewhat geography lesson-orientation of this post).

Another obvious observation for the visitor to Chile is “Thank God for air travel.” Apart from being remote, Chile is isolated behind the Atacama Desert in the north (the driest place on Earth), the Andes rising to 20,000+ feet along most of its eastern border, and the turbulent seas of the Cape Horn at its southern tip (does anybody remember the storm scene in “Master and Commander” (best watched after taking some Dramamine)?).

The final observation about Chile is “long and narrow” – I have seen “dagger,” “ribbon” and “pencil” all used as metaphors. The country is about 2,700 miles long and, on average, only about 110 miles wide – a 25:1 ratio. Turned 90° to a east/west axis and placed on top of the United States it would run from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

On the first leg of our trip Herb and I traveled together. We flew into Santiago where we spent three days, and then made the drive down to Viña del Mar where we spent another four days participating in various sister city activities in Viña and the adjoining port city of Valparaíso.

On our way to Viña we passed through the Casablanca Valley, one of Chile’s most important wine regions. The following map shows the Casablanca Valley and Chile's other wine regions which collectively stretch for several hundred miles north to south, but still comprise only a small part of the total length of Chile (see the red lines on the map).

Following our stay in Viña, Herb had to return home, but I continued on further south. First I flew from Santiago to Temuco in the Araucanía Region. Incidentally, Sausalito’s latitude in the northern hemisphere (37° 51’ N) corresponds almost exactly to the southern latitude of a town named Los Sauces (37° 58’ S), not far north of Temuco (by way of comparison, Viña del Mar’s latitude would put it just north of San Diego in the northern hemisphere). An interesting coincidence since Sausalito’s name derives from “sauce,” the Spanish word for the willow tree.

After a quick tour of Temuco, I drove further southeast to Pucón on Lake Villaricca were I spent three nights exploring the area, including an introduction to the culture of the Mapuche, the largest group of indigenous people in Chile. From Pucón I again drove further south, passing through the beautiful riverside town of Valdivia on my way to Puerto Varas, where I spent three more nights before flying home from Puerto Montt back to Santiago and then on to the U.S.

The area I passed through is home to several volcanoes, including the Volcán Puyehue which has been erupting since June causing some significant problems in some areas due to the ash fall out.

Volcán Villarrica (from Pucón) and Volcán Osorno (from Puerto Varas)

It felt like we were constantly on the go while were in Chile, but in fact I managed in the two weeks to see only a very small part of the country. There is much, much more there to see, both to the north and the south of where I was, not to mention the entire agricultural heartland between Santiago and Temuco, the home to many of Chile’s finest wine production areas.

Finally, although Chile’s natural beauty is unforgettable, as Isabel Allende’s quotation also suggests, the Chileans themselves are at least an equal draw. The individuals we met were some of the friendliest I have encountered anywhere and went out of their way to make us feel welcome. Thanks to all, including those pictured below, who made our trip so special.

Additional photos and information about our trip, as well as Sausalito’s sister city relationship with Viña del Mar, can be found on our sister city Facebook page at In my next post I will turn to one of my favorite topics -- the most interesting things we had to eat and drink while in Chile.

1 comment:

Freddie said...

Chile is a awesome place for holiday and adventures. Cerro San Cristóbal is a nice holiday destination in Chile.