Chilean Vineyard vs Chilean Wine.It turns out that working on a Chilean vineyard is not as much fun as drinking Chilean wine, or drinking anything else for that matter.
Picture this if you will; a handful of Latino maidens with tousled hair, skirts hitched to the knee, dancing barefoot in a basket of freshly picked grapes. The tanned field workers, sleeves rolled up exposing bronzed forearms, laugh and play guitar the acoustic guitar in the afternoon sun after bringing in the seasons harvest… Sounds pretty spectacular doesn’t it? The reality is absolutely nothing like the dream I had imagine.
The vineyard is staffed by a handful of international volunteers in lieu of paid staff, skinny and white wearing oversize shorts, backwards facing baseball caps to protect their neck from blistering heat. I opt for a sundress, or denim shorts. If I’m going to be working in the field all day, I might as well also work on my tan. Great fun and good chat, but not a guitar in sight.
The work is hard on the neck and the knees, each of the 7000 vines need to be individually pruned, debudded or otherwise tended to by hand. Trimming the tops is nerve wracking, you need to leave five shoots on each vine, all a hands width apart, but this is nature and grape vines don’t always grow in a way that means you can have both five shoots and good spacing. The buds at the base of the vine grow at lightening speed, and you are essentially doing a 6-hour squat work out that you can feel in your glutes and thighs for days afterwards.
Hard at work in the blistering heat.
Six hours, yes you read that right. At this Workaway, we have to put in six hours a day, in a split shift, which does mean that you are spared the heat of the midday sun. Food is provided for you to cook on your days off, mainly burgers, some vegetables, and lots of eggs. No milk, no potatoes, and sometimes bread. It is a requirement that the volunteers cook lunch and an evening meal together, despite everyone working slightly different shifts. In my second week a mandatory cleaning rota was imposed on the cabin, because, apparently, we are children.
The vineyard and lodged are run by an English/Chilean couple. In the past two weeks I have seen very little of them, save for receiving my marching orders each morning. The volunteers live at the opposite end of the property to our hosts and so there are no social or casual interactions outside of the working day. This was probably for the best.
The husband, who comes from a part of the world not too far from me, has absolutely zero interpersonal skills, a personality deficit. To those of you who do not know me well, or cannot see through the subtly of my writing, for clarity: he has rubbed me up the wrong way on several occasions with snide comments about my appearance and/or intelligence.
I also did not hear the world ‘thank you’ pass his lips until the tenth day I had worked, for the remainder of my stay, he continued to give gratitude sparingly. He does however let the volunteers buy wine from him at the wholesale price. I recognise how very generous this is of him.
Snow covered Andes Mountain range.
What is not is deficit on the vineyard are tarantulas, scorpions and breathtakingly beautiful scenery. When we are not hard at work, we do have the freedom to enjoy the area. The vineyard is located in the Colchagua Valley and is unbelievably stunning. There is a river that runs alongside the volunteer cabin and it is still warm enough for swimming in the afternoon when we have finished the day’s work. On the day that I arrived there had been a snowfall and so the vineyard was set against a backdrop of the Andes covered in snow. It was absolutely stunning!
A 45-minute hike past the vineyard there is a 30ft waterfall and natural pool fed by a glacier run off. It was a little too cold for me to swim, and definitely too high for me to be jumping off. A couple of the volunteers that I was staying with did the jumped into the ice cold water, but they are Canadian, so are used to the cold.
There are hundreds of these not so little monsters roaming the place. I will confess, I slept with the light on the night this was taken.
... and then I said "Why the long face?"
The other volunteers were great company, which was a blessing as there is very little to occupy the time and mind of an evening. There is a DVD player for the Workawayers to use but very few DVDs. There are only so many times one can watch the Hangover Trilogy before stating to go ever so slightly mad.
Gorgeous view over the vineyard as the sun comes up over the mountain.
Although beautiful, I decided to cut my stay short and left at the end of my third week. Not just because the work was hard, but because I had a few pressing issues to attend to in the real world that required access to functional wifi. Three other volunteers made an early exit in the short time I was there, one in the middle of the night without even saying goodbye.
I realise how fortunate I am that I can walk away from the vineyard and not have to worry about paying my rent, or feeding my kids. There are people in the world for whom this is their life, and do not have the freedom to walk away so easily.
I did not leave my hosts with a link to this blog.
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