The sun is warm on my face as we sip our cafecitos overlooking the break at Punta de Lobos. We have just finished an exquisite lunch just outside the quaint beach town of Pichilemu. As befitting their Spanish roots, Chilenos take their lunch seriously and today was no exception. I’m just getting into the rhythm of the region and starting to grasp that in order to truly understand Chile, the first thing I must do is to let go of my American concept that lunch is usually something hurried through in my car, and truly embrace the Latin ideal of a relaxed, multi-course lunch in which we discuss current events, business, politics, and maybe even indulge in a glass of wine or two.
I’ve been invited by Patricio Parraguez, who has been tasked with the difficult task of not only selling Chile to Hollywood, but specifically the O’Higgins region for whom he currently is employed. Patrico is a man experienced in Hollywood and foreign trade from his years at ProChile and understands that in order to bring filmmakers to the O’Higgins region, he must also promote Chile as a whole, showcasing the infrastructure available in Santiago and the enchanting the port of Valparaiso as well.
I’m spending the better part of the week touring the O’Higgins region, named for one of the founding fathers of Chile, a liberator and General of Chilean revolutionary forces in their fight for independence from Spain, whose likeness can be found on Chilean currency, and for whom many streets, parks, and plazas are named in his honor.
The O’Higgins region is best known for the Colchagua Valley and the old-world vines and the full-bodied wines that it produces. Chile’s remote location separated from the rest of the world with the Andes to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Atacama desert to the north have helped guard it from the phylloxera louse that plagued many of Europe’s vineyards and still produces from the original European Vitis vinifera rootstock introduced by the Spanish conquistadors. With a temperate Mediterranean climate similar to that of Southern California and Bordeaux, it is known for its Malbecs, Cabernets, Carmeneres, and Syrahs. It could easily be used to cheat for Californian and European vineyards off season due to its antipodean position to the Californian coast.
On the O’Higgins’ coast, a little over 2 hours from Santiago, we start our journey with the resort town of Pichilemu. It is consistently rated as one of South America’s best big wave surf locations with beautiful black sand beaches and home to a thriving eco-tourism and adventure sport businesses with farm to table cuisine featuring locally sourced foods and wines. It is home to several international surf contests such as the Quicksilver Big Wave Invitational and recognized by the Save the Waves Coalition for its clean breaks and robust coastal and marine ecosystem. This stretch of the Pacific could easily be mistaken for Santa Cruz or Costa Rica with its eco-friendly wood and glass structures, yet also with its unique stamp that makes Pichilemu like no other place in the world.
Working inland, we crossed though the Colchagua Valley, home to the Chilean wine industry with vineyards sprawled across the verdant valley. With everything from corporate wineries producing hundreds of thousands of cases a year, to smaller boutique wineries and everything in between. Featuring winding country roads, quaint small towns replete with huaso cowboys, and old haciendas built by early Spanish missionaries in various states of repair, it is quite easy to envision the both a turn of the century banana republic or a the basis for a modern wine holiday road trip.
From the Colchagua Valley, we head up to Valparaiso, the historic port town that served as a major port call for ships transiting from the Atlantic prior to the opening of the Panama Canal. Valparaiso was once known as “Little San Francisco” for its neighborhoods precariously clinging to the hills overlooking the port, and has created a gritty bohemian vibe of narrow roads and steep passageways winding up and down its dozen or so cerros (hills). Valpo has always been home to a flourishing art scene, spawning generations of poets, writers, and artists who have covered every available surface in bright colors and murals expressing everything from political statements to romantic dedications both to physical loves and to the city itself. Some of the trendier neighborhoods have been going through a renaissance with numerous hotels, restaurants, museums, and cafes opening up and breathing new life into this once forgotten town.
Immediately to the north is the prosperous modern city of Vina del Mar, primarly established in the 1920’s with the construction of its historic Casino. It boasts a modern beach promenade not unlike Miami’s South Beach or Brazil’s Ipanema and Copacabana. Located a short hour and a half drive down from Santiago, both cities are accessed from route 68 by Variante Agua Santa which provides a spectacular view on its steep drive down to the coast from the Casablanca Valley.
We finished the tour with a couple days in Santiago, the capital of Chile and an economic and political capital of Latin America. It boasts a modern and architecturally significant financial district in Las Condes, a culturally significant Downtown with its Plaza de Armas and the Palacio De La Moneda, the European influenced neighborhoods of Bella Vista, Providencia, and Santiago Cento, to the grittier neighborhoods west of the city. Santiago is also home to the largest subway/mass transit service in South America and second only to Mexico City in Latin America.
Throughout the trip, we visited with local mayors, government officials, and businessmen in an effort to educate them as to the benefits of filming and also to illustrate their willingness to welcome filming to the region. We also met with several local filmmakers who spoke about the developing infrastructure that is capable of supporting commercials or smaller long-form productions, but would require supplementing with American crew and equipment for bigger features.
In conclusion, while Chile might be a tough sell to Hollywood, but for the right project, could pay dividends in the friendly pro-business government, a transparent and straightforward free trade policy that gives foreign investors the same advantages as Chilean nationals, and a sound economy that is considered one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations.