Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Garden Renovations: Ready For Asado Season

If you've been reading this blog for a while (that's a pretty big 'if', I know), you'll know that I bought my house in Santa Cruz and renovated it. It's a job I really enjoy, despite the stress and hassle it inevitably causes (get in touch with me if you're interested in real estate in Chile and I'll take on all that stress and hassle for you.).

Occasionally, I do things that, with hindsight, I would have done differently. Within the house itself, I got pretty much everything right. The garden came out well also but there was one thing I think I got wrong, mainly due to the fact that the little well I have doesn't contain all that much water...

Growing up in England, I always thought that a garden without real grass wasn't really a garden. So when I designed the garden here in Santa Cruz, I decided to lay down some turf. And I wanted to keep the dogs off the grass so I designed a wall to go around the grass, with the idea that I'd spend the Summer lounging around on it.

Things didn't turn out that way though...all the happened was that, in a place where it doesn't rain for 7 months of the year and the temperature is 30C every day, the grass quickly turned an ugly shade of brown and the only things that grew were weeds. It didn't look pretty and I was losing over half the garden in terms of the space I actually used.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to rip up the grass and open up the space by taking out a couple of the low walls. The grass was a slightly expensive experiment that didn't go as planned and I'm much happier now with the cobble-stone style I replaced it with.

To break up the cement & stones, I put in a bit of brick. It was going to be in straight lines but because of the old antenna, the only way we could get it symmetrical was to do an X. So I took advantage of that and put an old tin under the X filled with a few old coins and a deliberately confusing note for future generations to wonder over when they dig it up. X marks the spot and all that...

I also bought a few old wine barrels to plant things in. Those are Wisteria plants that will climb up the antenna.

I'd already planted this cherry tree in a barrel when I first moved in. In early Spring, I threw some compost on it and a few weeks later, a dozen tomato plants grew out of it.

I'm really pleased with how it all turned out. There's much more space for having people over for asados and the whole back patio just looks so much cleaner and more open. And the dogs now have much more space to run around in, which is better for everyone...

Monday, 22 November 2010

Elqui Valley: Awesome

I haven't blogged much recently. I just can't really be bothered- I love my life here but it's not all that exciting. It's usually just a mix of walking the dogs, hanging out with friends and going to Santiago every now and again. I would be blogging about the flat renovations in Santiago but they're on hold for about a month, so we'll probably restart when I get back from England after Christmas.

But I went last week to Elqui with a lady friend and it's such an awesome place that I really thought I should share.

It's a bit of a drive to get there from Santiago, which is where we started out from on Tuesday morning. It's even more of a drive when you decide to take the scenic route through Ovalle and over the mountains direct to Vicuna, instead of the 5 Norte via La Serena. Still, it was worth the extra time and the 140km of single track dirt road with sheer drops to one side and goats running around trying to force you off the edge every now and again. The views were amazing the constant changes in the colour of the ground was interesting.

See- pretty.

We arrived late afternoon in Pisco Elqui, the last village in the valley with paved roads and a really gorgeous little place full of well-maintained adobe houses.

There's lots of accommodation around as well and we got lucky with the first place we tried. Los Datiles has pretty decent cabanas but the grounds and the garden are incredible, a real oasis of loveliness.

We didn't really do all that much apart hang out, relax and admire the stunning scenery. The green vines against the backdrop of the dry mountains, which look like cardboard cut-outs is just amazing.

But we did make it the 5 km down the road to Montegrande, birthplace of one of Chile's two Nobel Prize winners, Gabriela Mistral (the other being Pablo Neruda, obvio). The museum/house devoted to her is pretty poor but the Plaza and church are nice for a few minutes.

And a few more minutes down the road is the valley's only winery, Cavas del Valle (well, Falernia's also in Elqui but much closer to La Serena. The rest of the vines are all to make Pisco, for which the valley is famous). They make an interesting Syrah which I enjoyed enough to buy a bottle of and a couple of less than interesting whites, both of which I found to be almost undrinkable (although some people really like them). It's well worth a drop in as there are very few truly boutique wineries in Chile and they need to be supported.

We also spent a few hours in La Serena- a very pretty historic centre and a windy as hell beach.

That's Coquimbo giving La Serena the finger.

And that's about all for now.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Chile Investments on Twitter

If you're interested in getting news and views about Chile and finding out about real estate for sale in Chile, then you can follow Chile Investments' Twitter feed by searching for @chileinvest or simply clicking here.

At some point, I hope to have time to actually blog about something. Until then, look me up on Twitter.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


I've been too busy with various things and too lazy to blog about anything recently. So here's a quick update on my life for anyone who's interested:

-Still haven't started work on my flat in Santiago. My builders were due to start a couple of weeks but were then offered a much bigger job so I told them to take it. I'm now starting with others either this week or next Monday for sure.

-Work's picking up after the 6 months drop off due to the earthquake. So if you're interested in real estate in Chile, just get in touch.

-Spring is here and that means lamb season. So I had an asado on Saturday for what was supposed to be 20 people but ended up being in the region of 35. It was really rather good fun. And the advantage of living in Colchagua is that most of my friends are winemakers, vineyard owners or somehow involved in the wine trade. So I came out about 10 bottles up, which cover about 60% of the cost of all the food I provided. Sweet, as it wasn't expected.

Here are some photos:

The poor little lamb:

Hans and Pame:

Jose Miguel, Coka and Isi:

Anne from Hotel Terra Vina, Mauricio, Janine, Isi & Billie:

Giovanna, Viki and Rainer:

Yours truly and Caro
Paola and Mario (it was a long day).

Luiz and Luca:

Will from Tumanan Lodge and Pete, a client I decided to invite along as well- hopefully he wasn't put off by everyone :)

Armando from Hotel Casa de Campo and Soraya

That's about all for now.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Dieciocho. Over. My Waistline Says Thank God.

Just a quick post to say I hope everyone had an enjoyable 18th. This was my fifth dieciocho and the most entertaining so far (I actually don't usually like this date, too many people, too many drunk drivers, no personal interest in the significance of it all).

But I didn't actually really partake in any specific 18th festivities this year. I didn't attend the parade in Santa Cruz like last year, even though it was really fun. I just spent the entire weekend drinking and eating absurd amounts of food over at various friends' houses in Santa Cruz and Poblacion.

Some photos from the 18th itself (I didn't take my camera to the 17th or 19th's asados). And I feigned illness to not have to go to today's...I seriously ate and drank too much this weekend and just couldn't take any more.

I'm at the shady end of the table...

Speeches were made:

Hats were worn...

Posing was mandatory...

Silly photos were taken...

It was a beautiful day and the late afternoon light was gorgeous...

And we somehow made the social pages of El Mercurio. Hilarious. Not so much for Grant, as he will now forever be known as 'Granet'. And yes, El Mercurio miente. I ate a lot this weekend, but I swear I'm not that chunky...

Hope everyone else had as much fun and frolics as I did.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Earthquake Before & After

I really need to get out and take some decent photos of how Santa Cruz looks now, 6 months after the quake. Here's what it looked like the day after...

But I was passing through the Plaza de Armas and snapped a few on my phone. When the sun comes out again, I'll take some more.

This is the street that leads onto the Plaza. It was the worst hit street in town- pretty much the entire block collapsed on one side and half on the other. The fabulous Santa Cruz museum was also partially destroyed a few metres further up.

But they've done a fantastic job of rebuilding, apart from where the Sushi restaurant used to be (without going into too much detail- this is a small town, after all- the owner and renter are not in agreement as to how to proceed).


After the quake...

And now still not even properly demolished...

Next door to the Sushi place.

A good friend lives may remember her car... I'm not a huge fan of the colour of the rebuild, but they did a pretty decent job in maintaining the style of the construction.

After the quake...

6 months on...

Both of these banks were destroyed...

After the quake...

6 months on...

Friday, 27 August 2010

Changing Santiago

December 2003, Cerro San Cristobal.

Anyone who knew me or met me more than about 18 months ago might be a little surprised by the fact that, not only do I rent a flat, but I have also bought one to renovate in Santiago. For years, I loathed Santiago with a maniacal passion and made this clear to anyone who would listen (people learned to back away slowly when my rants were just getting started).

Why did I hate it so much? Let me take you back to December 2003. I'd just spent 3 of the most fun weeks of my life in Argentina, my first stop after Ecuador. Argentina in December is probably the most fun you can have anywhere in the world. Seriously. Schools and universities break up for Summer at the end of the first week, the weather's fantastic, Christmas is around the corner and January and February holidays are coming up. The atmosphere and energy are almost tangible. It's an energy I've never experienced anywhere else. If you don't believe me, go out on Aristides Villanueva in Mendoza for the first or second weekend in December and you'll see what I mean.

So after partying and generally having a great time every single day of the week in BsAs and Mendoza, I rocked up in Chile on a Monday afternoon. And I hated it after my first 13 seconds. In Argentina, everyone queues up in an orderly fashion to put bags on and off the bus. There's no pushing, no shoving. Getting off the bus in Santiago, I was elbowed in the face by an 85 year woman and pushed over twice whilst trying to pick up my rucksack by other Chileans who had clearly been trained in the art of social niceties by a pack of rabid chimpanzees (this was, and sometimes still is, my view of how Chileans act in public).

And it didn't really get much better, to be honest. Santiago was, in 2003, possibly the world's most tedious city. There was nothing to do. Bars and restaurants were either not open on week nights or they were completely empty (in Argentina, they were full every single night until early morning). Everything was grey. There was no atmosphere. I was unsurprised to learn that Santiaguinos have one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

And Santiago Centro was sketchy as hell. In the Plaza de Armas, you could literally see the thieves eyeing up their next victims. A friend had his camera stolen from a pew in the cathedral when he looked away for 2 seconds. Cerro Santa Lucia was also really dodgy at that time and I was warned away from it by everyone I met (a German guy in my hostel got mugged and pretty badly beaten up there, which rather reinforced the warnings).

And it wasn't like I was there on my own and didn't know what to do- I had two Chilean friends who were showing me around (and who became increasingly desperate to show me something fun and interesting to do- they failed, quite miserably, until we went to Renaca after Christmas).

I also spent Winter 2004 living in Santiago, in a freezing house on Salvador con Bilbao. That was a truly miserable experience and I spent the entire time desperate to get back to my home in Buenos Aires, a city I adored with as much passion as I detested Santiago (I had come to Chile to see whether a relationship would work- it did for 4 years).

After moving to Valparaiso in January 2007, my hatred of Santiago continued. But it started to change towards the end of the year when my mum came to visit and we spent a couple of days there. We made the obligatory trip up Cerro San Cristobal via bubble lift and came down the other side in the funicular. That was my first time in Bellavista since 2004 and the neighbourhood had really changed. Patio Bellavista had just opened and that development made me realise that there was hope for the city.

Not only that, but the Costanera Norte, which opened in mid-2006 (I think) had a huge effect on the livability of the city. Anyone who arrived after it opened will have no idea of the traffic misery that people used to have to deal with. To get to and from Vina del Mar, for example, pretty much everyone had to go down Alameda. Alameda! I remember getting stuck in 2 hour + traffic jams on Sunday evenings upon arrival on the outskirts of Santiago on a regular basis. Airport trips, which now take 35 minutes in rush hour and 15 minutes at other times could easily take up to 90 minutes. It was hell. The CN took thousands and thousands of cars away from the city centre and improved the lives of millions of people- not just car owners, but pedestrians, cyclists and public transport commuters as well.

And in the past couple of years, Santiago has improved so, so much in terms of decent restaurants, bars and cultural life. The cultural centre under La Moneda is an incredibly beautiful space and Barrio Lastarria and Bellas Artes have exploded in recent times. There are foreign owned businesses catering to expats and the general security in tourist areas is way better than it used to be. Cerro Santa Lucia is now completely safe to walk around and the Plaza de Armas has constant police patrols. And the fact that a lot of banks and offices have moved up to Las Condes and El Golf has reduced the amount of people in Santiago Centro dramatically, making it a much more pleasant area to wander around.

Although I know I could never live permanently in Santiago (the smog is as bad as ever and I prefer living in the country), I do really enjoy the time I spend there now. It's fun to do all the tourist stuff I never did before. That is something I can honestly say I thought would never be true.