Monday, 28 September 2009

Spring Has Finally Arrived

It seems to have been a really long winter. A couple of time this month it's looked like Spring was about to start before the clouds rolled in again and everything looked grey.

It's sunny today and I think this time it's going to last. This morning I went to visit a property and the pear and apricot trees looked so damn pretty. The snow-capped Andes and views towards the coastal range were also rather lovely. Some photos:

Now if you wish to buy this property for sale in Santa Cruz Chile, then please click Chile Investments. To be quite honest, it's a fantastic little orchard and extremely well priced. If I had enough, I'd buy it myself.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Terrible Travel Stories

This is part of a group blogging thingy and nothing to do with Santa Cruz at all.

I've experienced quite a few awful journeys back in the day when lugging a 25 kilo rucksack around in 90 degree heat seemed appealing. But I'll just stick to just the one.

The last really bad trip was in Bolivia. The journey was La Paz to Uyuni, where I would be doing the Salar de Uyuni tour (and as an aside, the Salar and the Altiplano lakes are the most spectacular natural wonders I have ever seen in my life and stomp all over anything Chile has in the north).

The trip started with a taxi driver who, despite my insistence I was late for the bus (I wasn't), insisted on taking me on an unwanted and undiscussed tour of most of La Paz. With the meter running, of course. This, despite the fact that the bus station was 8 blocks from where I hailed the taxi and I knew where we were supposed to be going. All my bags were in the boot of the car so I didn't have much choice in the matter, unfortunately.

Upon arriving at the bus station, I found out that the bus was delayed. By 7 hours. And no, there weren't any other buses leaving in that time. After wasting time by buying an 11 year out of date magazine and eating typical Bolivian gruel, the bus finally arrived. I got on the bus, expecting to be sitting near the front with all the other foreigners (they usually put travellers at the front). Instead, I was one row from the back, directly over the wheel arch, with about 3 inches of leg space and surrounded by friendly but extremely smelly locals who believed that chewing coca leaving and spitting on the floor was the height of sophistication.

The first 2 hours of the trip were then fairly uneventful. I got used to the constant staring from everyone around me. Perhaps the 20mg of Valium I'd bought over the counter at a local pharmacy helped. After 2 hours, the paved road gave way to one of the worst and bumpiest dirt tracks I've ever experienced. This on a 40 seater bus (it had at least 60 people on) with dodgy brakes and completely shot suspension. And remember, I was sitting over the wheel arch.

By this time, the aforementioned Valium had really kicked in. Even with the Valium I failed to sleep. I sat there for the next 12 hours unable to move, my muscles and brain feeling like they were melting. It was like being in a rather unpleasant dream. I don't actually remember all that many details, but one that sticks in my mind, despite the the Valium brain fog, was driving over one particularly deep ditch which resulted in the 5 foot tall Bolivian man sitting next to me being catapulted upwards and smashing his head against the overhead luggage compartment.

Upon finally arriving in Uyuni after 14 hours, my back was killing me, I'd had no sleep and my brain was still foggy from the Valium. It was about 2 degrees centigrade. Not only that, but I happened to arrive on a day when the town celebrates some saint by having a water fight. We were met off the bus by a bunch of children who proceeded to shower everyone with ice-cold water balloons. I found one of the kids later and threw him in a water-filled ditch, much to the amusement of all his friends. It wasn't meant to be funny.

An honourable mention goes to the 15 hour, overnight bus ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in Thailand which involved the most obnoxious group of Israeli travellers I've ever had the misfortune to come across (and if you've ever travelled in South East Asia you'll sympathise and understand what that really means), bongo drums, faulty air-conditioning, crazy overtaking manoeuvres and a change of drivers at 80mph (the new driver had clearly never driven a bus in his life before).

*Dammit. I actually have a far worse story than the one I told. For some reason it slipped my mind. Maybe I'll write about it over the weekend. It involves Dengue fever and Phnom Penh. Nice. Or I could talk about the recent dog walk in the Hamptons that resulted in Lyme disease. Yey- killer diseases!

For more tales of woe try:

Sunday, 20 September 2009

New House And Real Estate In Chile

I would make an awful salesman in general- unless I'd buy a product myself, I find it impossible to convince someone else to purchase it. I always think that the best advert for the product you're selling is to buy it yourself.

In my time working as a real estate consultant in Argentina and for the last almost three years in Chile, I've always owned property in the places in which I lived.

Firstly, that was Buenos Aires back in 2004 when the real estate market had collapsed and property was absurdly cheap. Then, when I saw the writing on the wall for the Argentine economy and a stalling of the already inflated property market, I sold up and moved across to a more serious country (Argentina is fun and I love going back to visit but I prefer a more stable place in which to live and work).

After Buenos Aires, I moved to Valparaiso where I also invested in real estate. I'd still be there and had no real pressing reason to leave but I was getting tired of living in the city and wanted a move out to the country. Valpo's still on its way up and will be for a while yet. After a very, very quiet 9 months caused by the economic collapse last September, things have really picked up there again but I sold up fairly successfully in the end and can't complain about how things went in that respect.

I've been looking at houses on a couple of streets in Santa Cruz for the last few months. There are two specifically that are clearly going to rise above average in value over the next few years due to their proximity to the Plaza de Armas, the style of the houses and the fact that most of the properties would make fantastic commercial spaces- restaurants, bars, boutiques, galleries...this is already starting to happen and Santa Cruz is only just beginning in terms of its potential for tourism. There are still some bargains around...but I doubt there will be for all that much longer.

So I bought a house. It's really cute, not too big, in great shape (it needs some renovations but nothing major), has a lovely, private walled garden. Best of all was that I got it for a really great price. Great because the sellers were happy and because I, the buyer, was happy too. That's not all that common! I won't mention how much it cost but I could sell it tomorrow for a profit if I wanted. I don't, though...this is going to be a great little space in which to live and work.

Once the renovations are done, we'll be moving out of the rental house and I'll have a proper office there, Allie will have her classroom and we'll have space for the dogs and cats to bound about outside whenever they want.

So here's the house:

It'll be painted yellow and white in a couple of months.

Cool inside front door...

The living room has this fantastic bank of windows looking out onto the garden.

This huge garage (there are two) will be converted into an independent studio flat to rent out short term to visitors.

The garden needs to be completely dug up and replanted- we're going to have a lawn area, a vegetable patch and trained fruit trees around the walls...

These vines are huge and must be at least 50 years old.

We have a Bird of Paradise plant. Very pretty...

Back before satellite telly, people had antennas. Remember? The house has a 20m high antenna right in the middle of the garden. We're going to keep it and train vines up it...

The dogs already have fun in the garden...

And finally, we have a little shrine. Not sure what to put in it. Any smart ideas???

So if you're interested in investing in real estate in Santa Cruz, Chile (vineyards, fruit farms, houses or commercial property) please get in touch and I'll be happy to help!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

El 18 II

Well, thankfully, I was feeling better yesterday- my Lyme symptoms having all but disappeared again with just some residual tiredness. Not only that, but we woke up to a beautiful day here in Santa Cruz- one of the first full days of Spring warmth and sunshine. A great start to the fiestas patrias.

The 18th September in Santa Cruz, Chile is completely different to the 18ths I've spent in Santiago and Vina del Mar. Here it's actually fun, interesting and, best of all, really quite friendly. The 18ths in Santiago and Vina/Valpo have a little tinge of fear in the air about them- lots of drunk people, worries about crime. It feels a little like people are on edge there. In Santa Cruz, however, things couldn't have been more different.

The day started off with the sound of a marching band playing a tune. The two minute tune continued to be played over and over and over and over for the next 6 hours. Very tedious. They really should teach them to play something different. Anyway, the band was leading a procession of all the local schools down Rafael Casanova, ending in the Plaza de Armas. I don't know where all these kids are from- Santa Cruz is only a small town of 30,000 people max- but there are dozens of schools. There's even an Escuela Especial not, as you might think, for gifted children, but for the handicapped. After they passed through the parade we bumped into a friend: "There must be a lot of incest in the country." Hmmm...

The best part of the parade was the huasos (Chilean cowboys or gauchos) and their horses. There must have been a least a hundred of them all dressed up, including women and little kids. Chilean horses are famous for being sturdy, stoic, hardworking and agile (they kind of mirror the Chileans in some ways). The world record for the highest leap is held by a Chilean horse, a fact immortalised in Vina with that statue of the prancing nag...

They start them young in Santa Cruz...

I really don't like kids very much but even I have to admit they all look kind of cute in their little costumes...

Later in the evening we headed off to the media-luna for the ramadas (and guess what- not a single pair of cheap Chinese knickers for sale in sight!). It's Marchigue Spring lamb season at the moment which is far and away the best lamb I've had in South America, much better than the stuff they have down in Punta we had some empanadas and some lamb kebabs before calling it a day and heading home.

Huasos just tie up their horses next to the parked cars. I couldn't see any parking 'cuidadores' screaming 'dele, dele, dele no ma' at the riders but that doesn't mean they don't exist...

I think there's rodeo over the weekend so I hope to be able to check that out...

Thursday, 17 September 2009

El 18

The 18th September is a crazy time in Chile. The country's fiestas patrias supersede everything else, including work, commitments and personal debt. The date marks the proclamation of the plan to gain independence from Spain. So it's not independence day as many people believe; the 18th celebrates the day when Chile really decided it was going to go ahead with its desire to become an independent state.

Actual independence wasn't gained until 1821 or 1826, depending on how you look at it. 1821 marks the year the dastardly Spaniards were kicked off the mainland. And 1826 was when they finally surrendered the (quite lovely) Chiloe. Chile actually declared independence in 1812, something which was finally recognised by Spain in 1840. Despite Bernard O'Higgins and San Martin getting all the the plaudits for gaining Chilean independence, the true hero was a fun-lovin' Scotsman called Thomas Cochrane. Without his crazy exploits, there is no way in hell that Chile would have even come close to beating Spain. Venerated in Valparaiso and by the Chilean Navy, Cochrane doesn't get his due from the general populace when it comes to Chilean heroes. You can read all about him over on Corrugated City (and it's a really fantastic story so I'd recommend the read).

Anyway, the 18th is the biggest party of the year. And when I say 'party', I mean excuse for everyone to get drunk and crash their cars into other people for an entire week. It also means dancing the Cueca, Chilean Rodeo (the country's most popular sport after footy), asados and fondas/ramadas which are kind of like country fetes in England but where the stalls that aren't selling chicha or asado are flogging cheap Chinese Hello Kitty rip-offs. Very traditional. Still, they're very entertaining, even for someone who doesn't really care all that much about the significance of the date.

Apart from the drink-driving, there's another negative about the 18th. The societal pressure to spend money is so great that banks take advantage to get their customers further into debt and crime rates go up as people steal to pay for their parties (the alchohol consumption doesn't help). In Valpo last year, this flyer was sent to every house:

It says:

1. If you're driving, don't drink alcohol.
2. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
3. Eat food and drink alcohol in licenced places.
4. Don't park your car in public places that are dark and don't have security. Remember not to leave valuable objects on view.
5. If you leave your house or apartment, make sure you securely close all doors and windows and leave somebody trustworthy in charge of your property.

It's kind of sad that this had to be sent out specifically for a date when everyone should be having fun and celebrating.

Still, here in Santa Cruz things are much more relaxed and chilled out. The crime rate here is significantly lower than in other urban areas and the people are really quite friendly. Santa Cruz is famous for being really, really 'Chilean' and I was looking forward very much to having a great time during the fiestas patrias. Unfortunately, symptoms of the Lyme disease and Human Ehrlichiosis (x2) that I picked up from multiple tick bites from a trip to the Hamptons in July have returned and I'm feeling really, really crappy. I thought I was better as I had almost 6 weeks symptom free, but no... Crippling joint pain, muscle aches, confusion, headaches, chronic tiredness and brain fog are not really conducive to having fun. And the drugs I'm on mean I can't touch a drop of alchohol for at least another 6 weeks anyway. Damn. I live in the centre of red wine production in Chile and I can't drink...

Anyway, I hope that everyone else in Chile has a fantastic, fun-filled and safe 18!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Becoming Chileno

If you ever meet a Chilean abroad and ask them what they miss about home, you always get the same response; misty eyes and 'La cordillera y el Pacifico'.

English people tend to get more and more English when they live overseas. My accent hasn't changed a bit and I even find myself saying phrases I don't remember anyone but my Grandma coming out with. English people are great travellers and as happy as can be when abroad but we never let go of 'England'. The tea and bacon are just too good to forget.

But alongside this wall of Englishness, the local culture can still sneak in unawares. Since moving from Valparaiso, I've found myself yearning for the ocean (and on clear days I had the Pacific and the Andes, sometimes all the way to Aconcagua). Every time I see the Cordillera de los Andes from Santa Cruz and around I feel comforted; 'at least I have the mountains', I say to myself. At the moment, I'm looking for a few hectares to buy for myself and build a house. I've found a few options and I'm drawn to the smallest and most expensive because it has the most magnificent views of the snow-capped mountains.

I should also add that despite my English accent being as strong as ever, my actual English is getting worse the longer I live in South America. I found myself saying 'favouritise' and 'it's itching me' the other day, just two of the many mangled Spanglishcisms that seem to come out of my mouth without me even realising what's wrong. Before long, I won't be fluent in my native language which will be rather annoying.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Introducing Sasha

Ok, I really promise this won't turn into a blog about how cute our dogs are...but...on Saturday I picked up Sasha from Santiago. Sasha's a Border Collie, known to be the most intelligent breed of dogs. And it shows...he learned to sit in less than 24 hours and he's now pretty much house trained. Not bad for a 9 week old puppy...

He and Bella have quickly become friends, she's taken on the mother role; protecting him from harm, playing with him (and tiring him out in the process) and very effectively telling him to shut up when he starts to whine or yap. This has made our lives a lot easier..! We've now taken to walking them first thing in the morning which leaves them all burned out for the rest of the day...more rest and a really great way to start for us to start the day as well. Sasha still has energy, though, even after a 2 mile walk. Crazy.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Where To Stay In Santa Cruz

Well, winter is coming to an end and it'll soon be tourist season here in Santa Cruz. In fact, the town is quite famous for its fiestas patrias celebrations so the last two weeks of this month are going to be really busy as well.

If you're looking for a hotel in Santa Cruz, Chile in which to stay, then here are a few options.

First up, I more than highly recommend Hotel Casa de Campo . Situated just outside of town, the hotel is really well designed with huge, high-ceilinged rooms, fantastic breakfasts and some of the friendliest owners you'll find anywhere. It was staying here on regular scouting trips that persuaded us to move to Santa Cruz in the first place and Armando, the owner, has helped us out with so much including finding our house and letting us walk the dog on the farm attached to the hotel.

Next, you could so worse than staying at the Parador de la Vina, a couple of minutes out the other side of town. It's walking distance to Santa Cruz's best restaurant, the fantastic Peruvian, La Casita de Barreales.

Directly opposite the Parador, some new friends are building a 25 room hotel which should be open around Christmas time. It'll be called Terra Vina so look out for that.

A little further out in Nancagua, a 15 minute drive from Santa Cruz is Entre Vinas. This place is owned by a friend's parents so there's a touch of bias but it's a really nice place all the same.

And then there's always the Hotel Santa Cruz. It wouldn't be top of my list as it's quite a lot bigger than the other options and therefore a little impersonal for me but if everything else is booked up, why not? And it's a great place to get all your vineyard tours and other tourism related business organised and booked.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Growing Old In South America

Today, the first of September, marks my six year anniversary in South America. I can't quite believe it's been so long. It was never meant to be so long. It was meant to be 6 months in Ecuador and then a move to, most likely, Barcelona.

What it actually turned into was 3 months in Ecuador, 2 months travelling around in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia, 3 months split between Santiago and Buenos Aires, a further two and a half years in Buenos Aires and now closing in on three years permanently in Chile.

I really enjoy life here. If I were living back in England, I'd invariably have ended up working in a bank, or as an accountant, or as a trader or in some other office-based hell. That was always my original plan from when I was still at school, before going on to study business at university. There are things I miss- the obvious things like friends and family and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes- but I'd rather be living here than there.

Now I have my own business, I make my own hours and my life isn't defined by my job. It's not everything.

Chile isn't for everyone. But it is for me.

Tomorrow I'm heading off to Buenos Aires for a few days to finally sort out something I've been trying to get done for over two years (Argentina really likes to make life hard sometimes). It was falling in love with Buenos Aires that made me stay in South America in the first place. I'm looking forward to catching up with friends and being in a big city that I know and still love -despite our near constant bickering.