Living with a Chilean Grape Grower

Hey again! So I got the name of this woman who grows grapes in Chile from a friend, and I decided to reach out and see if I could stay with her. The week or so around this adventure showed me tons of ways that Chile and the US are both very similar and very different, but the most valuable thing I came away with was the sense that problems concerning water usage are worldwide and the same everywhere.

The city of Vallenar, Chile is at the mouth of a long, steep valley stretching from the coast back into the Andean desert. The area is dry except for a river running through it, and small grape and olive farms line each side. The shade from the south side of the valley puts the farms closest too it in a different cycle than the farms on the other side, meaning that one side of the valley is a bright green and other side is a bright tan color.

The woman I contacted about crashing at her place has a farm in the valley about a ten minute drive from the edge of the city. She grows grapes for Pisco, which is kind of a grape whiskey. Like most places in Latin America, the people in the lowlands are the rich ones, while the people with the views from the heights of the hills are poor. The day after I got there, I decided to go for a walk to the top of the one the nearby hills through a pueblo called La Parotas.

Walking up the road to the hill. 

Walking up the road to the hill. 

I thought I had missed the village until I came to a bend in the road where perhaps 30 people had gathered. Behind them and among them were perhaps 30 policemen, and I was immdiately put a little bit on edge by this whole situation. As calmly as I could, I walked right throught this group, but after getting to the other edge, I was stopped by a woman in plain clothes who asked what I was doing. I got the feeling they do not see many tourists.

She asked me if I was a journalist, which I said I was not, mainly because the policemen where interested in my answer to this question. She was dissapointed, and she continued to explain to me that they were protesting the construction of a new water pipeline to be started that day, and she wanted me to tell the world about it.

The canal on the left and the protest is on the right through the trees. I didn't feel comfortable attempting a picture any closer because of the police. 

The canal on the left and the protest is on the right through the trees. I didn't feel comfortable attempting a picture any closer because of the police. 

The village had (until the day I arrived) a nice canal running through it, which gave this village the rather rare benefit of having flowers and trees to decorate the place. The people living there also drew water from the canal for free, while farmers like the one I was staying with had to pay. I watched as they began to construct a pipeline in the place of the canal. The pipeline will enclose the supply of water, killing the flowers and depriving the village of its free water. But, as my host emphasized later, farmers need the water too, because their farms are dying from the lack of water, and leakage from the canal consumed a lot of the already short supply of water. It was a classic fight between the rich people and the poor people, only over something that there is usually plenty of, especially in a farming area.

The truck is dumping some dirt into the canal. All of that vegetation is absent on the rest of the hill, which is totally dry. 

The truck is dumping some dirt into the canal. All of that vegetation is absent on the rest of the hill, which is totally dry. 

Actually, later, she asked me where I was staying, and I foolishly thought that giving her the name of the person would somehow endear me to here. Quite the opposite in fact. When I told her that I was staying with one of the farmers down below, one of the people who was benefiting from the closure of the canal, she totally withdrew. After first being a cuiriosity, I became an enemy, and I was accused by the crowd of being an instigator, a spy, and some other things not fit to print. I and the police actually laughed about this a bit, and then I went on my way up the hill.

Everyone says that water allocation is the problem of this century, and here is at least one story that might suggest that is true. Years of droughts have taken away all the water that the desert has spaired this valley, and years of droughts have started new tensions in California. What used to be a north-south political divide in California has turned into a coast-not-coast divide both in politics and in economics, and now water is being mapped onto that well. I am not sure what that means, but it is bizzare to see the stuggle in rural Chile and then to read about it in the California news that night.

This is the view out over the valley from the sufi's house. 

This is the view out over the valley from the sufi's house. 

Anyhow, who knows. On that same day, my host I and I went to go pick up her cousin and we went to visit his cousin who lives on the hill. It was interesting to hear them talk about this situation, but I was more interested by this guy on the hill, who is a Sufi who has built his own mosque by hand up there. We say around taking and drinking coffee, and I helped his wife crack walnuts for backlava. Actually, I met a lot of the family of my host (like 4 cousins, her parents, her sister, and her daughter) and I helped her out a little too. She sells avacodos and I went with her to deliver them, which always resulted in a cup of coffe and some interesting conversations.

So I have been having fun and learning quite a lot. Thanks to all of you who have been writing to me - I always like to get emails and I can tell you more about what I am doing there too. I hope everyone is doing well, and always remember to be smart with how you use your water.

Just one last shot of the vineyard. 

Just one last shot of the vineyard.