Woman calls in fake bomb threat to keep boyfriend from leaving

fake bomb threatIn a time when everyone’s on heightened alert against terrorist attacks, a woman in Chile called in a fake bomb threat to keep her boyfriend from flying off to a new job. MSNBC has reported that Grace Guajardo phoned in the threat to keep Rodrigo Gomez from departing on his Iberia flight bound for Madrid.

The couple, who’ve been in a relationship for over eight years and have three children together, were to be separated for several months while Gomez worked as a cruise ship waiter. Guajardo first tried to get authorities to tell Gomez his father was gravely ill. When that ploy failed, she did what any other reasonable and distraught girlfriend would do — she phoned in a bomb threat.

Ironically, Gomez stayed behind in Santiago, but Guajardo now faces up to 61 days in jail if convicted of making the false bomb threat. Had she pulled this stunt in the U.S., she’d likely be facing terrorism charges and they’d be separated for years — not a few months.

MSNBC currently has a poll going — love story or crazy girlfriend? An overwhelming majority have declared her “the crazy girlfriend”. What’s your vote — is this a story of true love or is she just plain crazy?

Chiloe: Chilean Patagonia’s emerald islands offer eco- and agritourism

I can’t remember who first told me about Chiloe, but I do recall that it was just a few weeks before my first trip to Chilean Patagonia. For a year I’d been planning an itinerary around my personal Holy Grail: rafting the thunderous Futaleufu River.

Located across the Chacao Channel from the bustling town of Puerto Montt in northern Patagonia, Chiloe is a 41-island archipelago. The largest of these is Isla Grande (“Chiloe island”), at 3,241-square-miles the second-largest in South America, after Tierra del Fuego. In 2009, Chiloe was ranked #3 on Lonely Planet’s “Best Places to Visit,” so it’s no longer a secret, but its relatively isolated location, sleepy pace, and often-tempestuous maritime climate tend to appeal to more intrepid travelers.

Chiloe was originally inhabited by Mapuche, Chonos, and Cunco indians, until the Spanish arrived in the mid 1500’s. The blending of indigenous and Catholic beliefs gave birth to superstitions and mythological creatures like the troll-like Trauco. These fanciful beliefs and icons are still a popular part of Chilote culture.

Located in Chile’s Lakes District–a breathtaking palette of cobalt-blue glacial lakes, emerald fjords, snow-capped volcanoes, and native alerce forest–Chiloe’s rural way of life is a direct reflection of its fishing and farming economies. While many of the archipelago’s 130,00 residents still subsistence farm, a low-key brand of eco-tourism has been steadily increasing in the last decade.

Flocks of sheep, not cars, clog the (frequently unpaved) roads, and ox carts, horse, and donkey are the alternate forms of transportation. Milk cans sit at the head of rutted driveways, awaiting pick-up from the dairy co-op. Brightly-painted palafitos (shanty towns on stilts) resemble children’s blocks, and colorful, handcrafted wooden fishing boats dot the coast or repose onshore. Many of the 150 Jesuit-built, 19th century churches are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Miguel A. Gallardo]

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Many visitors choose to sea kayak or do live-aboard boat tours of the fjords and inlets of the archipelago, which is perhaps the best way to take in the spectacular scenery and surrounding views of mainland volcanoes. Land tours, however, provide a more intímate cultural experience, especially for those wanting to experience Chiloe’s nationally-famed cuisine.
Chilean Patagonia has a strong European influence due to German, Swiss, French, Welsh, and Yugoslavian immigrants that arrived in the mid-1800’s to establish small farmsteads, which is reflected in the hearty regional food. Many farmers still make their own cheese, jams, and charcuterie, and keep bees. As a result, agriturismos (farmstays) have grown in popularity the last 15 years, which supplements the island economy.

The mystery acquaintance who suggested I visit Chiloe told me to contact Britt Lewis and Sandra Echegaray, the husband-and-wife owners of Ancud-based Austral Adventures. Britt is from the States, while Sandra, a chef, grew up on a farm in Peru. She prepares all of Austral’s land-based meals from Chiloe-grown ingredients, including potatoes (which originated on the island, not Peru, a fact that Chilotes are understandably proud of), as well as mussels, clams, fish, sea urchin, lamb, cheese, orchard fruits, vegetables, honey, seaweed, and foraged native foods like murta, a wild berry used in jams and sauces.

Austral specializes in eco-tours aboard Cahuella, a 50-foot wooden boat. Their six-day live-aboard trips around the archipelago’s fjords, and four-day journeys along the northern fjords of Parque Pumalin (across the Golfo de Ancud) are considered “one of the five unique boat journeys in the world,” by the U.K. Guardian’s travel section. The couple also guide personally-tailored land tours that focus on Chiloe’s culture, food, wildlife (which includes whales and penguins) and outdoor activities such as hiking and paddling. Austral provides guides on all of its tours “to enhance the cultural exchanges.”

After corresponding with Sandra, I immediately rearranged my itinerary, carving out five days on Chiloe. She made a plan to take me around the main island, where we would stay at several of her favorite agriturismos, and attend a curanto. This beloved Chilote social event is a shellfish, potato flatbread, and meat bake believed to have been inspired by Polynesian luau (via Easter Island). The food is traditionally cooked in a pit covered with seaweed or the leaves of nalca, an indigenous plant related to rhubarb. No curanto is complete without Chilote music and dancing, copious amounts of red wine, chicha (fermented fruit cider, usually apple), and pisco sours. If you’re traveling solo or as a couple, and can’t find a curanto to attend, look for a restaurant that offers “pulmay,” or “curanto en olla (in a pot).” It’s not the same experience, but it will allow you to try the foods for which Chiloe is famous.

Chiloe is connected to the mainland by ramps that have been built in the channel to form a motorway. The easiest way to get there is to fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt (LAN is the country’s main international and domestic carrier, but other domestic airlines include Aerosur, Aerolineas Star Peru, and Taca) then take a bus. There are terminals in the main towns of Ancud (North island), the capital of Castro (East coast), and Quellon (end of the road on the southeastern coast), but you can get off in any of the villages en route. Ancud has two bus terminals. Cruz del Sur, the long distance operator, is convieniently located near the Plaza de Armas. The municipal terminal is on the outskirts of town.

It’s about a 54-mile bus ride from Puerto Montt’s bus terminal to Ancud. Chiloe operates on a much slower pace than the rest of the world, but Ancud is a fairly busy, pleasant place to unwind for a couple of days. There’s an indoor marketplace where you can find produce, artisan foods, and handwoven Chilote wool sweaters. I spent night at the charming Hostal Mundo Nuevo, a Swiss-run place right on the bay. For dining, Sandra and Britt recommended Mascaron de Proa (65-621-979, and Casamar (65-624-481). Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to either due to time constraint and getting sidetracked by a nameless empanaderia off the Plaza de Armas.

The day after my arrival, Sandra met me and we rattled off in her pick-up to Tenaun, a one-street, 19th century fishing village on the eastern coast. Seaweed is a major part of Chiloe’s economy, used for culinary, medicinal, and agricultural purposes, and I watched a farmer planting pelillo (agar agar, a species used in processed foods ) on the tidal flats. Mainly, I just wandered the quiet streets, snacking on buttery plum kuchen (coffeecake) and enjoying the solitude. Tenaun is known for its UNESCO-designated church, Iglesia de Tenaún, but the village is lovely: lots of apple orchards, beehives, beached fishing boats, flower-bedecked cottages, and old Mapuche men on donkeys. I stayed overnight at Familia Vásquez Montana (owned by aforementioned seaweed farmer Guido Vasquez, and his wife/cook, Mirella; reservations required, (09-647-6750). Since my visit, however, it has expanded from four to 25 beds, and operates more like a hostal than family home. You can catch a bus from Ancud or Castro to Tenaun three times daily (one-and-a-half hours, approximately).

The next day, Sandra took me to lunch at Maria Luisa Maldonado’s agriturismo (09-643-7046), outside of village San Antonio. The adorably fiesty octogenerian is one of the founding forces behind Chiloe’s agriturismo movement, as well as a hell of a cook. She has four guest rooms (seven beds in all) on her farm, which also operates as an informal dining room for overnight guests and pre-booked visitors. We joined Luisa’s son and young niece for a gratifying meal of her farmstead cheese; cazuela Chilote, a rich, flavorful stew of grass-fed veal and vegetables from the farm, raspberry juice from fruit picked that morning, and panqueques con manjar– crepes with Luisa’s own luscious, caramelized milk spread. Heaven.

Another popular agriturismo is Los Senderos de Chepu, in the wetlands area of Chepu, outisde of Ancud. Proprietor Enriqueta Carcamo is the current president of Chiloe’s Turismo Rural association; she and her husband, Fernando offer cheesemaking and other farm activities, horseback riding, and meals sourced from their farm.

My most memorable meal on Chiloe, however, came the day Sandra took me to the home of her friends, Hugo and Wanda Brenni. Hugo, who is Chileno, is the founder of Berkeley’s 35-year-old La Pena Cultural Center (oddly enough, I used to live just around the corner). He started La Pena while working as a cook in the Bay Area, “to create an awareness of solidarity” during Chile’s period of dictatorship.

Hugo prepared our lunch from ingredients grown and foraged on the property or purchased from neighboring farms. While he cooked, Wanda, who is from the States, told me, “What’s amazing about Chiloe is you can just walk down to the beach and collect as many shellfish as you can carry, get king crab from the kids on the corner, harvest wild berries. The local people are so traditional, the soil is so rich…there is always food. That’s the miracle of this place.” We sat down to a lunch of roast duck with a piquant salsa de murta, freshly-dug fingerling potatoes, a beet salad, and Wanda’s sourdough bread, cultured from wild yeast. Miraculous, indeed.

Potatoes in Chile Sauce

Recipe by Sandra Echegaray, Austral Adventures

serves 8

2 lbs. waxy new potatoes, such as Yukon gold, cut into ½-inch cubes
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Drizzle potatoes with olive oil and seasoning, and roast in a pre-heated 350-degree oven until cooked through. While potatoes are roasting, prepare chile sauce.

Chile Sauce

1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup olive oil
1-1 ½ cup dry red wine
4 tablespoon tomato puree
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
2 fresh red chilies, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
finely chopped Italian parsley, for garnish

In a medium size pot, sauté onion and garlic two tablespoons of olive oil for until tender, approximately two minutes. Add chilies and cook until tender. Add tomato puree, salt, and pepper, and sauté two minutes, stirring constantly. Add fresh tomatoes, half of the wine, and oregano. Cover and simmer the mixture at low heat for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rest of the wine, and continue to cook at low heat for 10 more minutes.
Just before serving, add the warm roasted potatoes. Serve immediately, garnishing with parsley.

[Photo credit: church, Flickr user James Byrum]

Daily Pampering: Carmenere wine bath in Chile


This dose of pampering is not to be taken lightly. It can, however, produce some very intoxicating results.

Carmenere, one of Chile‘s finest grapes, is not only delicious to drink but it’s full of antioxidants that are beneficial to your health (in moderation). So, how do you consume the grape and reap the benefits? The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago, found a way to make a good thing even better.

The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago mixed with mineral water and oats with Camenere wine to produce a luxurious Carmenere Wine Bath. You’ll be surrounded by candles and offered a glass of Chile’s finest wine as you literally submerge yourself in a pink, frothy concoction. The results? Smoother, softer skin (and you’ll likely feel a bit more relaxed after that glass of wine, too).

The ultimate in Chilean pampering is put together by the Bath Butler, who arrives in your guestroom to prepare the Carmenere bath at your request.

Want more? Get your dose of Daily Pampering right here.

South America’s first W Hotel opens!

Rooftop pool at W Santiago
The W is in South America, and it’s lookin’ good. This good. Check out that view of Santiago.

The W Santiago is South America’s first W Hotel and the building itself was designed with Chile in mind. NYC designer Tony Chi and native Chilean designer Sergio Echeverria gave the building its rockin’ look — “shaped by Santiago’s vibrant culture,” complete with local copper and themes of wine, fruits and vegetables — which you can see in the gallery below.

“When designing, you have to start with the location and its people, and what I noticed here is that friends and family congregate frequently and in large groups,” says Tony Chi. “Chilean culture is about crossing generations and bridging differences, and as a collective sentiment, it is what ultimately inspired W Santiago.”

The hotel features a 90 foot wide private, gated garden entrance filled with music and 50 foot Chilean trees. If you’re into music, you can also “play” the Drum Wall, located in the hotel living room.

The dining options include Whiskey Blue, Red2 One (rooftop bar by that heated pool there), Peruvian-Asian cuisine at Osaka, two French restaurants by Jean-Paul Bondoux and a Tea Library (aw).

If you really like it, you can even purchase a residence there. If you do, please invite me over. Thanks.
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Cuba Libre: Santiago de Cuba

Since it is almost on the other side of the island from Cuba’s most popular destination, Havana, few tourists make the long journey to Santiago de Cuba. The few who do, however, are treated to a unique cultural experience, as Santiago de Cuba has a strong Afro-Cuban history and also is the sight for many Revolutionary events such as the historic July 26 attack on the Moncada barracks and Fidel’s victorious march into the Plaza de la Revolucion on January 1, 1959. In addition, Santiago boast its own brand of salsa called “son,” which means steamy, sizzling nights are ahead of you in such well-known establishments as La Casa de la Trova or Casa de las Tradiciones.

Getting to Santiago de Cuba
From anywhere west of Trinidad, there is only one bus, flight, or train per day that goes to Santiago de Cuba. Normally, it takes 12 hours to get to Santiago from Trinidad, I had a stroke of good luck at the Trinidad bus station when I found out a taxi was heading to Santiago directly, thereby saving me 3 hours of needless stopovers along the way! was in luck! I was very grateful for the ride, got to sit in the front seat, and practiced my Spanish the whole way down, asking lots of questions to my driver Jiovane. Nine hours seemed to whiz by, but I certainly got a better sense of the transportation system in Cuba.

As you would guess, transportation all over the country is quite unreliable. There are essentially two bus lines that travel across the island: Viazul and Astro. Viazul is the preferred bus line for tourists and richer Cubans. Astro is about 20% cheaper, but sometimes a little less reliable and more crowded with Cubans. The other option for nationals is to stand on the side of the road, hold out a peso or two, and hitch a ride with any passerby. The only problem is that few Cubans have enough money to own a car or travel long distances, so you could be waiting a long while for a single car to cross the national highway.

It is impossible for tourists to hitchhike in Cuba. The government considers it illegal to give tourists a ride — even if it’s a few blocks. There are hefty penalties including imprisonment if private transport is picking up a local Cubano or if locals are spotted giving tourists a ride.

My taxi ride to Santiago
National taxis like the one Jiovane drives are not allowed to pick up Cubans, or the driver will lose his job. It’s common to find at least a dozen Cubans at any given bus stop waiting – some patiently, others not so patiently. On our 9-hour drive, we passed at least 10 men waving money in the air, visibly upset that we weren’t stopping to let them in. It didn’t help that there were plenty of seats available in our taxi van. Only once did we pick up a mixed-race couple with their daughter from the side of the road on the last hour of our journey. Jiovane kept repeating, “Lento! Tan lento!”, complaining how they hopped in the car so slowly, which reconfirmed the risk he was taking to give them a ride. We dropped them at a junction about 20 minutes later.

My journey covered the southern and central coast – nearly half the island. We passed through several small towns, but more notably Sancti Spiritus (known only for a scenic bridge), Camaguey (a fairly well-kept colonial city), Las Tunas, and Holguin (with some good northern beaches closeby). We also passed through Biran, the town where Fidel was born. They turned his childhood home into a museum.

Cuban curiosity
Jiovane was very curious about life in the U.S., and even spoke openly about the injustices in Cuba. I was very interested in snapping photos of the propaganda scattered on “billboards” along the highway (Cuba propaganda will be discussed in greater detail in a post tomorrow) , so Jiovane purposefully slowed down at nearly every one of them to let me take good photos. I explained to him that we don’t have any patriotic signs like these in the U.S. When I told him the only signs we have on the side of the road are advertisements for Coca Cola and commercial products, Jiovane laughed and then proceeded to ask me how much my iPhone cost or how much money I make as a teacher per year and how many taxes I pay. I was honest in my reply, and Jiovane was quite silent in response (he was probably struck by the unfathomable numbers I gave him).

Is this the right casa particular?
Ask any independent traveler in Cuba about how they came upon staying at their casa particular, and nearly every one will tell you it is a purely arbitrary happening (unless that traveler made plans several weeks ahead of time). If you’re using the Lonely Planet guidebook to Cuba, there is little to no chance you will actually be able to stay in one of the recommended casas particulares in any given city. This is because of the casa particular two-guestroom policy. It is illegal to rent out more than two guestrooms at a time.

So I wasn’t that surprised when the casa that Margaret (the host of my casa in Trinidad) had reserved for me was unavailable, and I was promptly transported across the street and a few houses down to another casa particular. Manrique, my host, was a perfectly nice gentleman, the casa was in a perfectly convenient location just blocks from Parque Cespedes (Santiago’smain plaza), my room (though smaller and more expensive than the one I had in Trinidad) suited me just fine. I also had to share the bathroom with the other guest, an Italian guy by the name of Andrea, who served as my travel companion for the rest of my stay in Santiago.

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Suena Cubano, where are you?
I had come to Santiago on a mission to find Suena Cubano (the band I had liked in Trinidad) and possibly serve as their “groupie” for the remaining days of my stay in Cuba. I circled the city twice over, asking every music venue in Santiago whether they knew of the band or where it played. The only lead I got was from a man at Santiago’s Casa de la Musica, saying he had seen the band’s director earlier that morning, and that if I really wanted to find the band, I should find the director. He gave me the director’s address, and I embarked on an hour-long manhunt along the streets of Santiago looking for this person.

By the time I found the director’s place, I had been discovered by two “jineteros” (or Cuban escorts who latch onto tourists hoping to serve as longer term companions). When I finally spoke face-to-face with the director, informing him that I was a writer hoping to write about their band, he looked at the men on both sides of me and pretty much scoffed, told me they wouldn’t be playing until Wednesday night (the day I was leaving for Baracoa), and shut the door in my face. My conclusion: my request got me nowhere because I was surrounded by Cubans requesting my attention. I kindly told the “jineteros” that I preferred to walk alone, and they promptly let me go.

Salsa and Son
Andreas and I enjoyed two evenings out in Santiago listening to Santiago’s unique salsa music. On our first night, we went to the Casa de las Tradiciones, a smaller, more authentic music house in the quaint residential neighborhood of Barrio Tivoli. Here, we listened to an 8-piece salsa band as we sipped on mojitos and danced to slow son-bolero music.

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The next evening, we made our way to the more touristy Casa de la Trova, just a block from Parque Cespedes on Calle Heredia. The dance floor was twice as big here; the live music twice as loud; and the drinks twice as expensive.

The following morning, I would be heading to Baracoa along a scenic and winding mountainous road, so I retired at an early hour and readied for my final destination.

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE or skip straight to the good stuff —