~The brilliant thing about traveling, backpacking without a set itinerary, is that even when things go poorly, when a fog rolls in to sabotage your cruise, or your driver accidentally kills the turkey running for its life, you are bound to have an adventure. Or at the very least a story to tell. And I love telling stories about my time abroad. This flash essay "Where's the Wines" recounts my experience traveling in Chile. We - my girlfriend at the time and I - took what was supposed to be one of the most scenic cruises in the world, but all we saw was fog. We, did however, meet another couple who more than compensated for the disappointing weather.~
The boat ride through the Chilean Fjords from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt is one of the most beautiful cruises in the world. Or so we were told by dozens of locals in Puerto Natales. Wanting to witness the beauty for ourselves, Jessie and I booked passage on a cattle ferry, the cheapest way to experience the fjords. It was a three-day excursion and despite how nauseous I always got on the water, I was looking forward to it. The boat departed at night, and after a day of rain, as we walked down to the dock, fog hung loosely in the chilled air. It was the off season, the middle of their winter, which meant not many tourists, less than twenty of us waiting to embark. As soon as we stepped onto the ship the smell of livestock overwhelmed us. Our tiny cabin, with room enough only for a set of bunkbeds and nothing else, smelled like a barn. Quickly stowing our rucksacks in our room, we went up on deck. If this was one of the most beautiful places in the world, I didn’t want to miss a moment of it. A horn blared and seconds later we started to move. I looked out over the water, at the snowcapped mountains in the distance, and inhaled the salty air. Peace. Calm. Contentment. We passed what appeared to be an old rusty fishing boat. I raised my camera to take pictures, and the fog thickened. Like curtains dropping down on a stage between acts, the fog settled itself between me and everything else. And for three days, it was all we could see. One of the most beautiful cruises in the world, and I had a front row seats to the most stunning fog I had ever seen.
But alas, we had fun any way. Too cold and wet to go outside, we hung out in the lounge with the other tourists, telling stories, playing games, and dancing. We got along well with another American couple, Dan and Barb. If fact, we hit it off so well that when we arrived in Puerto Montt, they rented a car, a small — think clown car small — one and they invited us to join them on their drive north to Santiago. One of the great things about traveling is the suspension of rules that dictate everyday life back home. In New York, I’d probably never accept a ride from virtual strangers, but when abroad, in the midst of fellow tourists, why not? Jessie and I squeezed into the back seat, our rucksacks on our laps, our legs curled up under us. Dan and Barb commenced fighting the moment Dan turned the key in the ignition. He handed Barb a map and asked her to direct him, but when she flipped on the light, he flipped out.
“But I can’t read in the dark!” She objected, a seemingly valid argument.
“And I can’t drive with the glare.” Also valid, but what good was a map if you couldn’t read it?
Jessie and I looked at each other. If nothing else, it would be an entertaining drive.
We spent a night in Concepción. In the morning, we ate a continental breakfast at the hotel before getting back on the road. Again, once in the car, Dan and Barb began bickering. About what exactly, I don’t remember. But in this distance a loud, determined bark bellowed through the windows, halting their disagreement. The barking drew closer, and suddenly, a huge wild turkey appeared, sprinting frantically. I turned in time to see a dog chasing him. Dan saw it too, but a split second too late. As the turkey veered into the street, Dan swerved. Tha…thunk! The car collided with the turkey. The dog victorious, picked it up in his mouth and trotted away.
“How could you kill it?” Barb scolded, tears in her eyes.
“He jumped in front of me,” Dan defended himself. “He hit me.”
“I don’t care. You could have stopped.”
“I—” he started, then gave up shaking his head.
Silence settled in around us as the heat in the car started to grow uncomfortable. Finally, Barb broke it. We were driving through the Maule Valley, a wine producing region in Central Chile. Barb suggested we visit a winery or two. Take a tour, do some wine tasting. We all agreed until Dan pointed out the fact that we had no idea where the wineries were.
“How hard can it be to find them?” Barb asked, turning her head, glaring at Dan. “I speak Spanish. When we see someone just pull over and I’ll ask where we can find a vineyard.”
So he did. Barb rolled down her window, and addressed her question to a middled aged man walking along the side of the road. “Donde esta los vinos?” The man shrugged. And so Barb asked again, louder, more slowly. “DONDE. ESTA. LOS. VINOS?” Another shrug and he quickly hurried away from the car.
A few minutes later we pulled off the road to get gas and Barb asked the attendant, “Donde esta los vinos?” He too shrugged. Beside me, Jessie smiled, ducked her head into her rucksack and chuckled silently to herself.
Dan stopped a third time when he saw a young woman walking with a baby on her back.
“Donde esta los vinos?” Barb asked and the woman’s eyebrows collapsed into each other. She leaned in close to the car and waited for Barb to repeat the question. “DONDE. ESTA. LOS. VINOS?” Shaking her head, she raised her arm, swept it in a circle, and continued walking.
“DONDE. ESTA. LOS. VINOS?”
“Well that was rude,” Barb rolled up the window and slumped back in the seat. “I don’t know why they’re all ignoring me and pretending they don’t understand.”
It was then that Jessie, a twinkle in her eye, suppressed a ripple of laugher, “You keep asking, ‘Where are the wines?’ If this is wine country, the wine is everywhere.”
We did find a winery. I have no recollection of how we found it, somehow things that go wrong have a way of imprinting themselves more distinctly on my memory than things that go well. The four of us took a tour of the Tabontinaja winery — the tour was in Spanish but Jessie did her best to translate for the rest of us. Then we settled in for a tasting. Standing at the wooden counter, Dan paused with the wine glass half-way to his mouth. His lips twitched and he shook his head, but before he could speak, Jessie raised her glass as if to toast, “Donde esta…” And the rest of us clinked glasses and chorused, “Los Vinos.”
I currently teach writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University. My work work has been published in The Conclusion Magazine, Watchung Review, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, The New Ink Review, Ovunque Siamo, Placeholder Magazine, Parentheses Journal, Brush Talks, Waypoints, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Peacock Journal, Boston Accent Lit, Damfino, Inside the Bell Jar, Blue Planet Journal, Italian Americana, Yellow Chair Review, Drowing Gull, Icarus Down Review, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Atticus Review, and Literary Explorer. I have published book reviews in TLR Online and I have participated in an episode of No, YOU Tell It! When I am not writing or teaching, enjoy sword fighting with my son and taking him on road trips.