Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Day 4 and 5

Day 4  


Today we slept in until 8, which is 3am in "Wenatchee, so we are starting to let down and enjoy the vacation.  After breakfast we checked out and got the rental car.  Instead of "not having any cars" we wound up with a Peugot, a beautiful, fast, silver luxury car with leather seats.  No explanation for the mix up, as the Avis guy swore he had no cars available the day before, but, somehow, found this one for us.  Same price as the sub compact he promised the day before, $69 per day all insurance, taxes, etc included.  Pretty sweet ride. No problem leaving town, drove 3 hours south, beautiful land and mountains, vast fields of corn, tobacco, cherries, apples and grapes, grapes, grapes.  We turned west off the freeway (the interamerican highway Ruta 5) at San Fernando and drove 42 kilometers west to visit Santa Cruz and try to make hotel reservations for Jan 10-11;  I had tried to make the reservations on line from Wenatchee but could not get through.  I tried again from  Santiago, but still could not get a reply.  Gail really wanted to stay there, so we drove far out of the way to try to make a reservation in person.  On the way we passed Casa Lapostelle but it was not open for tours.  We drove past fields of incredible beauty and fecundity and found the Hotel Santa Cruz.  The front desk man told us they had ONE room available on the fourth floor.  We went up to visit it and it was very clean, but small and only had one hard chair to sit in.  Cost $138,500 pesos (or about $275).  No swimming pool.  No nice library or lobby.  Nothing to do in the tiny town but sit in our one chair and  take turns reading.  We decided to keep looking and told the personnel we would pass and went into their restaurant to eat lunch (it was 2pm by now).  What a pleasant surprise, great food and wine.  We then drove on to Curico and checked into our hotel Villa Descanso.  A beautiful swimming pool so we sat down and read until 7pm.  We went inside to check our computer messages (wireless internet throughout the hotel) and had a Pisco Sour in the bar.  We asked when dinner was served and the answer was they opened the restaurant at 8 and served until 12.  We went back to the room to watch CNN and we excited to learn Obama is well ahead of Hillary and New Hampshire tomorrow may well seal her fate (how sweet to see her be eliminated from the race)  and then at 9 we went downstairs to eat.  Wow, we were the first people in the restaurant and within a few minutes, when people began to arrive, I realized Gail was the only female in the room.  At one point there were 17 men and two male waiters and Gail and 1 female waitress.  This is a business hotel in the middle of nowhere and we did not expect much.  What a surprise, the food was FANTASTIC.  Salmon with capers, shrimp in crepes, mixed salad with artichokes, beans, corn, lettuce and fava beans.  Fried potatoes in cheese balls.  Montes Alpha Chardonney, 2004.  The main Montes Alpha vineyard is in this town and the wine was wonderful, and at $30 a fair price.  The dinner cost less than the wine. What a beautiful country this is.  Tomorrow we begin to visit the orchards and tour with the local experts.  (It was 95 degrees today, and we are surrounded by palms, cacti and verdant field of growing crops.  A pretty good place to be a farmer.)  And the people continue to be very friendly.  There were practically no other Americans here, we talked with a man from Chicago and one from NYC who were here on business, but all the rest of the hotel guests are Chilean.  We are watching a Spanish version of Dancing with the Stars on TV and  are thinking of our children and friends, in the cold weather of the Northern Hemisphere.  (I still do not understand why it seems so normal here, we should be upside down.  How is it possible for us to be standing up when are are on the bottom of the globe?)


Day 5  January 8, 2004           


So using the telephone is not easy in Chile.  We called Rodrigo Gonzalez at Copefrut but it took three attempts speaking Spanish with the hotel staff to figure out how to get an outside line and how to call his cell phone…about 12 digits to call him and he was in his office 200 meters down the road.  He finally answered and welcomed us to visit him at 9:30.   A beautiful HQ for a cooperative fruit company that packed and sold 9 million cartons of apples, cherries, kiwis and a few pears.  The head fieldman, Mauricio Navarro, took us for a tour of 4 orchards.  We took photos, met workers weeding blueberry acres and some thinning Gala's.  Some blocks were hit hard with hail and the pears looked very rough.  Last winter was very dry and they are having a water shortage.  Then in the spring they had frost and a lot of the apples show frost marks and dead seeds.  They prune very differently, leaving far more branches and fruit on the tree, as they are able to sell all sizes of fruit, very large and very small, unlike our system that only wants size 72 to 100 and greatly discounts fruit that does not fit the perfect mold. They have very high mineral content in the irrigation water and it does adversely impact the frost control as overtree sprinklers leave marks on the fruit. It is a climate like Northern California and they do not use wind machine in apples or pears, only in cherries.  In fact this winter when it snowed here, it was the first snow in 53 years.

 'Yesterday was the last day of cherry harvest, they packed 1.3 million boxes of cherries this year.  Later in the packinghouse I took photos of the final boxes being packed.  The ladies doing the packing have been working long hours for 7 weeks and they looked exhausted. The boxes are only 5 kilos, or 11 lbs of cherries.  They are selling for an average price of $24 and the growers are netting considerably more than we do.  Probably explains why Kyle Mathison and Mike Wade have purchased cherry orchards here.  They pay the ladies who work in the packingline $400 per month. The workers in the field average $6-8 per bin of apples and pears. Although the men told us costs of chemicals, wages and supplies have increased 30% in the last two years.  By comparison the newspaper had a long article on inflation and said the overall rate of inflation increased by 7.8% in 2007 (Argentina increased 8.2% in 2007) and everyone here is suffering. I understand that as our dollar is practically worthless.  It costs more to stay in a hotel and eat here than it does in NYC.  So what does the future hold?  Runaway inflation wrecking the hot, growing economy…or a solid growth accompanied by constantly rising prices?  The growers here are afraid as most of their income is in dollars and they say they cannot compete with Washington apple growers at the current rate of exchange since they have to pay so much to ship fruit up north.  A really fascinating mix of facts and opinions.  Tomorrow we go on a similar all day orchard/warehouse tour with Unifruiti, a larger competitor of Copefrut that packed 13 million cartons of fruit last year.  These companies have totally modern orchard systems, equipment and packing facilities.  They are, and will remain, powerful players in the world fruit market.





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