Monday, 29 March 2010

Tourism in Colchagua Valley: From Coast to Cordillera

The Colchagua Valley is larger than you'd think. It stretches from the coast all the way to the Andes.

So why not take advantage of the huge diversity the Valley has to offer and spend a few days exploring?

You could, for example, go surfing in Pichilemu (staying at Posada Punta de Lobos). Or maybe just kick back and relax down on the beach.

From there you can head inland to Santa Cruz. Here you can stay at Hotel Casa de Campo or Terravina and eat at Vino Bello and La Casita de Barreales. Go wine tasting and enjoy the wonderful hospitality of the local Colchaguinos. Watch as cowboys (huasos), old and young park their horses outside of shops (and nearly cause traffic accidents..!).

In Santa Cruz, you can spend a couple of days exploring Chile's most celebrated wine region, taking tours at some of the country's finest wineries. Both Ruta del Vino and Ruta Cruz organise tours.

And then from Santa Cruz, you can head over to Tumunan Lodge, where you can hike the foothills of the Andes, horse trek to the Andes, go fly-fishing with experienced guides or, otherwise, just lie back and enjoy the scenery.

There's more than enough only in Colchagua to spend a week or more of your trip to Chile. And if you like it enough, maybe you'll want to buy real estate in Santa Cruz, Chile...

Friday, 19 March 2010

Obtaining Residency in Chile: The Intelligent Way

1. Talk to Francisco Agurto so he can tell you exactly what paperwork you need for your type of visa.
2. Get all the paperwork together and meet with Francisco somewhere nice, like Starbucks.
3. Hand the paperwork to Francisco.
4. Forget about things for 3 weeks and then...
5. ...your 'Visa en Tramite' will arrive in the post.
6. Depending on your visa type, wait 6-8 weeks and then start checking Extranjeria once a week to see whether your visa has been processed.
7. When the visa is ready, phone Francisco and arrange to meet him at 8.50am on any work day in Extranjeria. He'll be waiting with a number which he picked up at 8am.
8. 9am, have your visa stamped in your passport.
9. 9.05am, register your visa with Policia International (in the same building).
10. 9.10am, go to Registro Civil to order your Cedula de Identidad.
11. Pay Francisco 60-80,000 Pesos, depending on your visa type.
12. Laugh at everyone else who could afford to pay 80,000 Pesos but thought it'd be more fun to sit in Extranjeria for hours upon end, have their applications rejected due to missing (or not) paperwork forcing them to return to wait even more time.

Get in touch if you want Francisco's number (email address here). He'll save you hours, if not days, of your time, you won't make any mistakes and you'll get your visa quicker as well.

I now have my Residencia Definitiva. Time taken? 4 months and only 15 minutes total in Extranjeria. Actually, the visa was ready in less than 3 months- I just didn't check because Residencia Definitiva usually takes 9...

Yesterday was quite a good Chile day. By 9.45 am I had my permanent residency and a real bank account, complete with cheque book, credit card, debit card and possibility of getting a mortgage. To anyone outside of Chile, this may not seem like much but, trust me, it's a pretty big deal!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Earthquake in Santa Cruz, Chile: How We Are Helping

We have raised enough money to buy materials to build over 65 emergency houses for those most at need in Poblacion, Colchagua Valley!

For more information about the work we are doing and who we are helping, please visit Saving Poblacion.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Photos of Poblacion After The Earthquake

It's not looking pretty right now but there's a really great opportunity to rebuild this little village better than before...

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Earthquake in Chile: Colchagua Valley Back In Business

The Colchagua Valley relies on tourism. Along with the vineyards, fruit orchards and traditional agriculture, tourism brings in a huge amount of money to the region.

Before the earthquake, things were looking really good for Santa Cruz on the tourism front. Excellent new hotels and restaurants have opened over the past year or so and more and more tourists have been coming to visit this beautiful valley.

It looked like the earthquake might put the brakes on this growth. And it might, a little. But the resilience of the people in Colchagua is amazing and things are returning to normal very quickly.

Last night, Vino Bello re-opened. La Casita de Barreales, one of the best Peruvian restaurants I've been to is also open. The two best boutique hotels, Terra Vina and Casa de Campo never closed and are currently full.

Wineries in Apalta Valley will be reopening for tourists within the next two weeks and I imagine most of the others around Santa Cruz will be doing the same.

So, the two best restaurants in town are open. The two best boutique hotels in town are open. The wineries will all soon be open. That means there's no reason for you not to come and support the local economy. Remember that all the money you spend here trickles down into the local economy and business owners are extremely aware of their responsibilities to their employees, who have generally been amongst the worst affected by this earthquake.

And on my business front (real estate in Chile), this year was shaping up to be a really good one. I've noticed a sudden halt in small-scale investment enquiries but, thankfully, the two large-scale clients I'm working with have not been put off. If those bits of business come off, we'll be looking at potentially us$10-20 million being pumped into the local economy plus the jobs that will be created- just what we need in the region right now.

And I'm pretty hopeful that small-scale investors will return as well. Colchagua is still a stunningly beautiful part of the country and the investment opportunities are as good as they were before. I can't think of many other areas of Chile that offer as much as Santa Cruz and the surroundings villages and countryside for full time living, retirement, second homes and small-scale agriculture.

One of my great hopes is that I can play a part in the regeneration of Colchagua both through the emergency housing work I'm involved in in Poblacion in the short term and in the medium to long term through attracting more and more investment to the area. For more information about investing in Chile, please visit Chile Investments.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Earthquake in Santa Cruz, Chile: Ways To Help

The reconstruction of the Colchagua Valley is going to take months. In the meantime, there are people who are desperately in need of assistance. This area of the country has still not been declared a state of catastrophe, which is, to be honest, quite ridiculous.

Santa Cruz itself was badly hit, as you've seen from my previous blog postings. However, villages in the area have been even more affected. Peralillo and Poblacion have been almost completely destroyed. These pretty, Colonial-style villages have seen almost every single adobe building structurally damaged by the earthquake- most of the homes in the villages.

Bucalemu, my favourite beach town to walk the dogs, was almost completely wiped out by the earthquake and the resulting tsunami.

Official help has been a little slow to come through in this part of the country- much has been diverted further south (where the people need it as much as we do here, of course).

But Winter is coming and many people have nowhere to live: They need roofs over their heads.

So a group of expats and locals have formed a private group which is aiming to help at least 100 families in the village of Poblacion. Poblacion was chosen as it is a very small place that has been badly affected and because it is also home to several well-connected Chileans and foreigners who are extremely capable and good at just getting things done.

We hope that we will raise enough money to build over 100 medias-aguas. These are, to be quite honest, little more than a glorified shed...but roofs over heads are what is urgently required. Later on, government organisations and official charities can improve people's living situations.

Each media-agua costs 300,000 pesos, +/- us$580.

If we raise enough money to deal with the situation in Poblacion, we will move on to the next village. On Wednesday, I plan to visit Bucalemu to see how we can help there.

So far, amongst friends and family, I've managed to raise over $1 million pesos and I'm putting in the same amount from my company. I would expect that amount to increase over the next week. Other members of the group have raised even more. The response from everyone I know has been awesome.

If you'd like to help the reconstruction of the affected parts of Chile, I'd recommend donating to Un Techo Para Chile. This is an official charity that helps build homes for the worst off in Chilean society. I don't expect anyone I don't know to donate to our private cause but please do donate something to someone.

And talking about donating, the special telethon put on to raise money for those affected by the earthquake- Chile Ayuda A Chile- had the goal of raising 15 billion pesos (about us$30 million). In actual fact, the campaign raised over double that amount...a quite incredible response from the Chilean people and Chilean companies.

This disaster has been really hard for so many people and it's just amazing to see everyone's efforts to make things better.

Below are photos from Poblacion:

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Earthquake in Santa Cruz, Chile: Harvest Good News

Thankfully, it seems the worst fears about how the grape harvest would go this year were unfounded. Most vineyards have suffered losses to infrastructure, but in general things aren't as bad as they first appeared. Vineyards are confident that this year will be no different than previous years- apart from the fact that they will need to produce more wine to re-stock what they've lost. There was excess wine making capacity in Chile before the earthquake so, although quite a lot of equipment was damaged, there's enough spare to be able to produce the wine required by contracts with distributors.

Also, because the majority of wineries used new buildings for their wine making, processing and bottling lines they were fully insured against earthquakes...meaning financial losses will be minimised.

This is really positive news, particularly for the workers. They have we just need to put roofs over their heads...

On the tourism front, things are still a little up in the air. Quite a few wineries have based at least a part of their tourism offer on the renovation and use of old Colonial houses. Many of these are either in ruins or severely damaged. The good news is that we're coming into low season so everyone has time to rebuild their tourist bases. Again, excellent news for the local employees and community.

Earthquake in Chile: The Funny Side

It's always good to see good humour in people when faced with adversity. People have been busy with Photoshop and the results are quite entertaining. They all allude to the flaite-ness of the moron looters down in Concepcion and nearby towns:

Friday, 5 March 2010

Earthquake in Santa Cruz, Chile: Harvest Update

Wines of Chile is reporting that the overall state of health for the wine industry is not as bad as first feared. They say that 125 million litres of wine have been lost, representing about 12.5% of production compared to 2009 and that the harvest will go ahead as normal this year. Wineries have been affected to varying degrees, with some suffering serious damage to infrastructure and some nothing more than minor damage and loss of wine. Apparently, production will not be too badly affected.

Hopefully, this will come as some comfort to those workers who have lost their homes. So many people have been badly affected and the poor are amongst the worst hit. They need the work that they get during harvest to survive- this year more than most.

Museo El Huique: Before and After the Earthquake in Colchagua Valley

About 3 weeks ago I went to Museo El Huique. I had been meaning to go for a really long time- it's just the kind of thing I love; an old colonial house with all its original furniture, fixtures and fittings. Rather like a National Trust property in the UK.

The house was built by the Echenique and Errazuriz families and work started in 1829. The chapel was one of the first buildings finished. Over the years, the property was expanded and even included the area's first cinema, built in the 1940s.

In 1967, the reforma agraria cut the Fundo down in size from 6400 hectares to just 40. In 1975, the remaining family members donated the property to the military, which has done a rather good job of maintaining and saving the main house from ruin...

...until the earthquake last week. I passed by a couple of days after the earthquake and was saddened to see the major damage that has been done to much of the property. The chapel spire has fallen and many of the outhouses are destroyed. The gates to the main house were closed but there were workmen there clearing out debris so I imagine the house is in really bad shape as well.

This house had survived many huge earthquakes and even a massive flooding in 1986, when over a metre of water enveloped the property. But, like many other ancient adobe buildings, the earthquake of 2010 proved too much.

It's heartbreaking to see not only the human losses (in life, homes and work) but also the cultural wealth that has been lost forever. These historic properties are a part of the culture in this area of the country, they are part of what makes Colchagua such a beautiful valley and they are worth more than money.

Chile will recover from the earthquake economically but will never recover culturally- and for a new country that didn't have all that much history to begin with, that's really sad.

For more information about Museo el Huique, please visit the official website:


...and after...

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Earthquake in Santa Cruz, Chile

I'm sure that everyone knows what happened by now so I won't go into a huge amount of minute detail. The earthquake has hit Santa Cruz really very hard. My guesstimate is that 80-90% of the adobe structures- houses, churches, government buildings, shops- in the area have either collapsed or will need to be condemned. So much of what makes the Colchagua Valley beautiful has been lost, along with so much history. It's so sad to see.

Not only have many people lost their lives but the earthquake will have a huge impact on everyone who has survived. The worst hit are the poor, as usual. Many now have no home and no prospect of work this year: the vineyards and fruit orchards have lost stock and much of the coming fruit harvest is now lying on the ground, rotting (the grapes survived pretty much unscathed, though).

The grape harvest started this week. This weekend was supposed to be Santa Cruz's Vendimia festival- Chile's biggest. It's obviously been cancelled and everyone is counting the cost.

But through all of this, the people of Santa Cruz have shown the most extraordinary attitude. We've seen none of the looting or trouble that has scarred other affected areas. Things have been orderly and calm. The clean up started immediately and by Sunday morning the streets were clean and passable and the petrol stations were rotating a generator between them, ensuring that fuel supplies remained in place. It has been fantastic to see this town and the community pull together.

When the quake hit at 3.34, I didn't quite know what to do. I tried to stand up but was thrown back into bed. So I just sat there, assuming it would end soon and assuming it couldn't get any stronger. But it didn't and it did. By the half way point, I was wondering how my house was still standing. And it still kept on coming. The only way I can describe it is that it was like being in a small boat in a big storm. It's quite unnerving when something as constant as solid ground becomes liquid.

To be quite honest, I really didn't feel scared. This is not me trying to be cool; it's just that I've never experienced a big earthquake before, just some strong-ish tremors, so I had nothing to reference it against. Afterwards, I knew it had been really powerful but it wasn't until the morning when I went out and spoke to my neighbours and saw the devastation wreaked that I started to comprehend what had happened. I asked one neighbour if it was worse than '85. He called out to his friend across the street and about 12 people shouted in unison, 'Si, po!'.

I cannot believe how lucky I have been. My house suffered barely a scratch. I didn't even lose a glass. The worst that happened was a shelf of tools fell on my car and left a dent in the wheel arch. So unimportant.

On Tuesday I went to Valpo to visit my house- all fine as well. The road there was a mess but was passable in most places, apart from a detour through Melipilla. Lago Rapel was badly hit, the road torn apart but by the time we came back on Wednesday afternoon, it was already well on its way to being fixed.

The response to the damage caused has been incredible in this part of the country. Things are getting back to as normal as they can be. It's really very impressive to see and it makes me proud to live here.

What the region- and the country- needs is for people to keep coming here as tourists or as investors. It's really important that people aren't put off visiting the country. Don't feel shy to come and tour the Colchagua Valley. You may think that it's not the right time, you may feel guilty but this is when we most need you to come.

Please come and stay in the hotels here, spend money and buy wine. Come and buy property- this is still a fantastic place in which to invest. This is not a marketing plan of mine, I'm not trying to take advantage of a terrible situation. I love the Colchagua Valley and I'm desperate to help the area rebuild itself. This is my home now and we need your help. Trade and investment will be the key to regenerating the region. If you are looking for a vineyard, fruit orchard or land for sale in Chile, please contact me via the link in the top right hand corner of this page.

Photos below:

In my house, all the wardrobes fell over. Sasha, my puppy, was trapped underneath. Thankfully, he's being crate trained and his cage, made by a guy here in Santa Cruz, survived the weight and the puppy got out ok.

The church on the Plaza de Armas was badly damaged and will need to be pulled down, I think.

The road leading onto the Plaza de Armas was seriously damaged. I imagine that the entire street will be demolished. A friend lived in one of these houses but thankfully came out alive. Her car- not so much.

This was the scene at 8.30, 5 hours after the earthquake struck.

This used to be a sushi restaurant.

By late afternoon on Saturday, the road had been pretty well cleared and by Sunday it was open to traffic. Very impressive.

The town centre was also badly hit.

Multihogar looked like it'd been ransacked.

The Imprenta Koqui didn't make it.

This house actually looked almost identical before the earthquake.

Bomberos- the aid distribution and registration centre. They've been doing a great job.

The Apalta Valley was badly affected as well...

...and wineries lost millions of litres of wine, causing the irrigation ditches to look this colour.

The road through Lago Rapel on Tuesday. By Wednesday afternoon, work crews had filled in most of the cracks and were busy preparing the tarmac.

I'll post more photos over the next day or two.