This morning the Crowne Plaza Hotel gave our group its own breakfast buffet in one of the ballrooms; I think yesterday we broke their restaurant. It worked out OK; the buffet had cereal, juice, and plenty of bready things to eat, plus the same eggs and fruit that we had had yesterday. It's a beautiful clear morning: on the way back to our room after breakfast I got a photo where you can finally see the Andes:
We boarded the Blue Bus at 10:05 on the dot (Eduardo posted a schedule) and set out on the drive to Valparaiso, going up and down over the ridges of mountains between Santiago and the coast - and at one point directly through one! (Tunnels are fun.) Patricia told us she wants to eventually live in one of the little valleys to the west of Santiago; you can buy a one-hectare parcel of land (the minimum size) for about $8000, which is affordable for many Chileans.
Once we reached the second valley west of Santiago, we started to see vineyards.
Wine is a huge industry in Chile, since grapevines grow best on hillsides with poor soil, and well, Chile has lots of those! We passed the only organic vineyard in Chile, where they plant the vines in alternating rows with flowers that act as natural pesticides. Every vineyard, however, has some roses planted along the road and between some blocks of the grapevines.
They started doing this on the theory that insect pests would go to the sweet roses rather than the grapevines, but now it's an old and beloved tradition.
We pulled off the highway at "Las Lagonillas" - the little lakes, I think - and drove half an hour more to our lunch destination, a sort of farm with a restaurant and an arena for rodeo shows. (The Chilean cowboys, we were firmly told, are called huasos, never gauchos! Gauchos are in Argentina!) The daughter of the owner met us on her beautiful horse
The restaurant had a rustic flavor, with exposed beams, a sand/gravel floor, and a generally Southwestern feel. Which now that I think of it is appropriate: Chile is about as far south and west as you can get on this continent!
Lunch featured delicious braised beef served with mashed potatoes, a sort of antipasto plate
and strawberries and cream for dessert. When we had finished, we went outside (it was hot in the restaurant) and strolled around the grounds. We saw the rodeo-show ring,
admired the horses
and other local wildlife
and enjoyed the flowers.
Before returning to our bus, the ladies' room called to me, but it turns out I wasn't the only one it was calling to! There was a ridiculous line and the buses were anxious to leave. Since the men's room wasn't occupied, one of the men started ushering ladies into it, blocking any males from entering whenever a lady was present. A very gallant gentleman!