Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Whilst I'm away in Ecuador, here's a quick photo of Amy cooling off last week at my new house in Colchagua. She's getting really big...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Blueberries & Construction

I bought 5 almost full grown blueberry bushes a couple of months ago and planted them at the new house. They were all flowering when I got them and those flowers slowly turned into little berries, which have just ripened. So I had my first fruit harvest a couple of months before the house is even finished. I have to say that blueberry picking has to be one of the world's worst jobs...so time consuming. But I got about 2 kilos of berries from them and next year I'd expect to at least double that.

And the construction is moving along quickly as well. The rafters are almost in place (in the photos, they look a bit strange- they'll be extended out as an external corridor and the roof will look normal). The exterior is being cement plastered at the moment and the electrician is currently putting in all the tubing so we can plaster inside as well. And I'll have the drinking water connected in a week as well so we can then start with the plumbing work.

I have a bet with a friend that I'll be moved in by February 15th. It'll cost me a very expensive bottle of wine from Neyen (unless I can get a discount...I know the winery's CEO) if I lose...But I'm fairly confident.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Travels, Asados & More Travels. Oh, And Construction, Too.

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I've had a pretty busy few weeks. Actually, it's been more of a very, very busy 2 weeks...I was ill with a succession of colds and chest infections for almost a month after coming back from Ecuador so I got behind on pretty much everything I had to do, including blogging...

Here's what I've been up to:

-Caro came to visit for a few days. I picked her up from the airport first thing in the morning and we immediately drove up to Cajon de Maipo. I've never been before and always wanted to. It's beautiful up there...the drive takes you high up into the mountains and we ended up at the Termas de Colina. They're probably just about worth the $6 mil entrance fee, especially if you take a picnic and make a half day of it (we didn't). You need to go as early as possible- we got there at 10am on a Thursday. When we left at midday, it was starting to get busy. Weekends must be a nightmare.

It's a beautiful drive up.

The thermal waters, when empty of people, are really quite nice.

On the Saturday, we had an asado at my house, the first of the season. As usual, a load more people turned up than invited, but as I know this always happens, we were well prepared with a 4kg hunk of Uruguayan fillet steak. So good.


-Caro left on Sunday night and then on Monday morning I headed up to Elqui Valley with photographer friend, Matt Wilson, in the role of assistant (which mainly meant driving, something I'm always happy to do). Elqui is, without doubt, my favourite place I've been to in Chile and somewhere I think I could quite happily move to if the opportunity arose (I very much doubt it ever will). It has everything I love about Chile...stunning scenery, wine, pisco, great food (lots of goat!) and beautiful (and beautifully preserved) Colonial architecture. Perhaps one day I'll be able to afford a holiday home up there in which to spend a few months a year. One day...

It was a really fun trip. On the first day, we spotted an open gate leading up into a vineyard. Now, to me, an open gate is an invitation in so we drove up...and up...and kept on heading up until we reached the very top of the mountain. The views of the valley were incredible and I found my dream Elqui home. Unfortunately, it's in the middle of a privately owned vineyard so no chance of getting my hands on it. But it's a falling down adobe house (just my kind of thing) with the most amazing views.

Whilst Matt was getting the images he needed, I was wondering whether there'd be an irate property owner at the bottom waiting to shout at us for entering his land without permission. There wasn't. And, to be honest, there almost never is. If you have a decent car, people tend not to ask questions. I've seen so many properties for sale in Chile by car and no one bats an eyelid when you drive around- they just assume you have permission...

On the last night, we drove up to the hippy community of Cochiguaz. I'd heard there was a big, sacred rock up there covered in petroglyphs. Apparently, it's the magnetic centre of the southern hemisphere and has the exact opposite co-ordinates as the magnetic centre of the northern hemisphere, in Tibet. I don't really believe much of this but the rock itself was pretty cool. And it was even cooler when the sun went down and it was lit only by the light of the 99% full moon. I have to say it was kind of humbling being there in the middle of the night knowing that hundreds of years before, both the Incas and Diaguitas saw this rock as an important part of their culture.

The sacred rock up in Cochiguaz.

The lovely church in Pisco Elqui.

River shots by a professional.

The images come out like this (that's me on the rock)...

For more images like this, check out Matt's Elqui blog. And don't use his pictures without permission, or you'll get sued.

Crumbling old bridge. The one built to replace it, 20 metres down the road, is not in much better condition, to be honest.

Dream Elqui house...the views are just amazing.

Here it is from higher up.

Looking down on Montegrande from the top of the mountain.

Matt taking his snappy-snaps.

And here's a video of the drive back down (with references to The Fast Show and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels). It was a pretty narrow track with sheer drops to the side. Very fun.

A cloudy sunset looking up the valley.

Last rays of sunshine on the mountains, taken from the cabaƱa.

On the way back down from the valley towards La Serena you have to go past the huge reservoir, Embalse Puclaro. The water level is worrying low as we've had 3 or 4 extremely dry Winters. This old vineyard used to be completely underwater. It's an incredibly eerie place and the dead vines reminded me of Day of the Triffids.

And the house renovation/new construction is continuing apace. I am truly fortunate to have the builders I do down here in Colchagua. I've seen the nightmare that many people go through with builders here and I've not had a single problem with these guys (I've known and worked with them for over 2 years now). During my 4 days away in Elqui, the house moved forward so much- the reinforced concrete pillars are being poured and the rafters for the roof of the old part of the house are done. Only the electrician can put me behind schedule...and I have a suspicion he will. We shall see...

Friday, 21 October 2011

Chile, Land Of Charm

I posted this on Corrugated City last year, but for some reason not here on Colchaguino. It's a fantastic video from 1937 titled, "Chile, Land of Charm" and well worth a watch, if only for lines such as this one about Alameda in Santiago, "Where the younger set of the city enjoy the simple pleasure of promenading."

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Another Construction Update

Things are moving along pretty quickly with the house- the first layer of cement stucco is being slapped on over the steel mesh and the new part of the house is taking shape.

It's so hard to see how a house is going to look when it's just the foundations in place. Last week, before they started to lay the brick walls, the new part looked tiny. Now it looks more like I imagined when I designed it. Another couple of weeks and we'll start putting the roof back on.

And here's some more puppy fun. You have to wait till the end to see who the boss of this family is.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Country House Advances

So the work on the is advancing pretty rapidly, even though from the following photos you might think otherwise...

We took the roof off the other day, saving the tiles and the original beams, of course. The tiles will be re-used for the roof and the beams will be recycled into various other structures, including tables, chicken coops and compost heaps (the original beams are too short for the new roof, which is why they're not being used for that purpose). Everything we take out will be re-used for something.

Once the roof was off, the workers started putting in place the steel mesh and re-bar, which will reinforce the adobe walls. The walls survived the earthquake with barely a scratch, which is pretty incredible- most adobe structures in Colchagua collapsed. The mesh will then be plastered with a thick layer of cement.

The rubble is from the original, separate kitchen that didn't survive the earthquake- we knocked down what was left and rescued all the materials from it.

The foundations for the 45m2 extension are also being laid at the moment and the pillars will be concreted next week I would imagine. The total house size will be about 140m2.

Work on the electrical system will start next week too and the plumber should be coming as well to start installing drains and other plumbing stuff.

The fruit trees I planted 3 weeks ago are now all coming into bloom, which is good to see. I also planted 20 raspberry plants, which have started to flower, and 10 blueberry bushes, 5 of them being 3 years old already and with about 2 kilos of berries that will be ripe in a couple of months. Assuming the birds don't eat them, of course.

The rest of the land is uncultivated at the moment and I'm thinking of leaving it that way. The Spring wild-flowers (otherwise known as weeds to most people) are beautiful and I don't think I want the hassle of cultivating one hectare commercially- it's a huge amount of work for very little money. I might put in a pond and attract the wild ducks that live in the area (there are ducklings swimming up and down the irrigation canals at the moment).

And, finally, here are a couple of gratuitous puppy shots. All three dogs love what will be their new home.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


After my trip to the beach in Ecuador, I was inspired to make the Ecuadorian version of ceviche. I love Peruvian Ceviche but have never been able to make anything that tastes as good as the ones you get in restaurants- I have a suspicion that they all add MSG to the marinade.

My first attempt at the Ecuadorian version was, I will smugly admit, very impressive. I'd even go as far to say it was as good as the one I had at the beach last week.

It's very easy to make and you can get all the ingredients easily at the supermarket. You'll need:

-3 tomatoes
-About a quarter of a kilo of prawns
-One and a half red onions
-3 or 4 crushed cloves of garlic
-A few lemons (limones de pica if you can get them)
-Tomato ketchup

1. Chop up half an onion into little pieces and the crushed garlic and put them in a saucepan with a litre of water, bring to the boil and then add the prawns for about 5 minutes. Add a bit of salt and crushed black pepper.

2. Chop up the rest of the onion into half rings, add a little ground pepper and add about half a cup of lemon juice, then leave it for 5 minutes.

3. Strain the prawns, onions & garlic but keep the water.

4. Mash 2 tomatoes and chop up the other one.

5. Add all the ingredients together, squirt in a bit of ketchup, mustard and vegetable oil- about a heaped table spoon of each. Then add a little under a cup of the prawn water (wait till it's cooled down a bit). Stick in a bit more ground pepper and a little more salt. Finally chop up the cilantro and add as much as you like (I love the stuff so probably put in more then strictly necessary). Stir it all around.

6. Eat (it serves 2 or 3 people).

Next Ecuadorian culinary challenge- menestras, a rather tasty lentil based side dish. Seco de chivo is the long term plan. I need to find a goat first, though.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

This is what I ate on El Dieciocho...

...a beautiful, organic, pasture raised whole lamb from Colchagua, slowly roasted over hot coals. Colchaguino lamb is way, way superior to Patagonian lamb, which has always disappointed me, even when I had it down in Punta Arenas. Lamb is my favourite meat and we get some amazing stuff in England. Colchagua lamb is almost as good as the best in the UK. That's a huge compliment...

Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to get a hold of outside of the area. So if you want one, let me know...

Last week, I went to Ecuador and had a rather lovely time in Quito and also Casablanca, on the coast. We only got half a day of sunshine but it was beautiful there and we had some really good food. I'd been disappointed with Ecuadorian ceviche when I'd tried it before, but this time, made by the maid at the apartment we stayed in, it was...well...wow. It's very different to Peruvian ceviche, more of a cilantro-y, tomato-y and onion-y cold soup with prawns but it's fantastic. That along with menestras (slow cooked lentils) and fish, fried just a couple of hours after being taken out of the ocean has made me think that opening an Ecuadorian restaurant in Chile wouldn't be such a bad idea!!

And at least we could sell decent wine for a fair price, unlike these dollar prices in Ecuador...The horror.