Our two-week Farmers Club adventure in Chile exceeded all expectations, writes member Chris Monk (photos Martin Shirley). Spectacular scenery, fascinating excursions and wonderfully hospitable locals made for a truly memorable trip.
After a comfortable flight, our 14-strong group were met in Santiago by Hughie Arbuthnott, our Spanish-speaking guide whose sense of humour and encyclopaedic knowledge of the country greatly added to the experience.
We spent the first two days acclimatising and enjoying the sights of Santiago, which is home to almost half of Chile’s 15 million population. Led by Hughie, we enjoyed a tour of the capital’s most significant buildings, including the Presidential Palacio de La Moneda, Catederal Metropolitanaand were given a detailed account of the city’s dramatic and chequered history. There was also time for a spot of shopping and dinner at a restaurant where we rubbed shoulders with Sir Mick Jagger who was in town for a Rolling Stones concert!
On day three we moved down to Vina La Playa, a privately owned Hacienda-style lodge at a vineyard in the famous Colchagua Valley. We were shown new grape growing techniques, visited the winery and ended up at the processing and bottling plant to see how the same product is packaged and priced differently for markets throughout the world.
Next we visited a museum in Santa Cruz which included a tribute to the rescuers in the 2008 mining disaster, before heading to the home of the Callejas family in the heart of the Curico fruit growing area. After a wonderful barbeque, our warm & welcoming hosts Jose and Consuelo explained with great emotion how their land had been confiscated in the 1970s by the Russian-backed government of Salvador Allende. This had a devastating impact, with the land laying idle for years until the family bought it back. For me, the moving story and generosity of this remarkable family was one of the highlights of the trip. Later Jose arranged for us to visit a very successful fruit processing plant which was exporting high quality, local, traceable fruit to Europe, China and other parts of the world.
We then moved to Mapuyampay, the comfortable, eco-friendly gastronomic lodge and home of Ruth, master chef for Concha Y Toro, Chile’s largest wine producer. Ruth treated a number of us – including the Chairman – to an impressive hands-on cooking demonstration for a typical three course Chilean meal later enjoyed by the whole group.
After three relaxing days we flew to the remote and beautiful northern Patagonia and had an occasionally bumpy six-hour journey in an old bus along the Austral Highway - described by one wag in the party as the longest farm track in the world. As we travelled towards Malin Colorado on Lake General Carrera there were breath-taking views of glaciers, the Andes and the amazing light blue mineral coloured waters of the deep lakes – a real contrast to the lush valleys of the central fruit and wine growing region.
We had four fantastic days in the area, inspecting the unique marble caves from boats on the lake, riding horses over the hills, fishing, and visiting the confluence of Baker & Neff Rivers. The more adventurous of us also squeezed into wetsuits and rafted down the Barker River rapids under the guidance of our young and energetic tour guide.
Sadly our trip was coming to an end and it was time to return to Santiago and a final meal on the roof terrace of an exceptional fish restaurant. As some of the group were flying off to tour other parts of Latin America, we said our goodbyes to our inspirational guide over a cold glass of Chilean wine and toasted an unforgettable Farmers Club fortnight.