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Photo: Fernando Nieto

I’ve only ever only been to a polo game once. It was at a farm in Greenwich and I believe we went more for the fun of having a picnic with friends than to watch the actually game. If only I had then the full appreciation for the skill of the players that I have now, I would have paid a lot more attention.

We were first introduced to the idea of playing polo by our Cork friends that we hung out with in Rio. They said it was terrific fun and the best thing they did in Buenos Aires. The lessons are run by Fernando Nieto, owner of Polo Elite. It was at the time and still is the Number 1 rated “Thing to Do” on Trip Advisor for Buenos Aires and for good reason. (Trip Advisor has been a saving grace for us on this trip). And obviously since neither Nellu or I have spent any real time on a horse the experience had the potential to yield a bounty of comedic material.

Fernando has one of those temperaments perfectly suited to being a teacher. He has a seriousness about his sport but the patience to deal with grown adults who are slightly cocky but also sheepish about being on a horse in the first place. He even took our jokes in stride. (Jokes that we made of course to mask our nervousness about the whole endeavor).

There were just four of us signed up for lessons that day. In addition to Nellu and I, we were joined by a Norwegian couple, Frode and Ida. We could tell straight off they were easy-going so it seemed like we’d get along great. (Oh, Frode and Ida are likely in New York as I write this post. So if you see them, offer to take them out for a beer.)

The day progressed at a smooth pace. We got an introduction to riding, followed by some time getting used to the horses. (We were on the horses before we really had anytime to get nervous about it.) We then got instruction for how to hit the ball while staying on the horse. It turns out it’s all in the shoulder. Then we took a brief break. During our break, we got to watch Fernando train one of the horses for playing polo. It was great to see what we were supposed to look like. It’s was so elegant. Rider and horse moving so seamlessly together.

After our break and snack, we got back on the horses to play our game. Girls against boys with Fernando as the referee (who would occasionally help by guiding the ball into a scoring position). Although we were still clearly newbies, we actually played that game. The best moment for me: at one point Frode and I were going after the ball and our horses opened up to a full gallop. Our horses were competing, doing what they had been trained to do as if they’d been waiting for that moment all day.

Here’s the video I promised. It’s all shot on my FlipCam with a few gorgeous stills shot by Fernando himself.

A few more lessons and I could totally shoot video while riding a horse and hitting a small ball with a club.

Nellu Mazilu, Molly Mazilu

~ Molly

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We have been traveling for a while and have had our share of experiences. One of the most universal to human beings is eating, which crosses all demographics and cultures. For most that know us, I can be described as “trying anything once or twice” kind of guy while Molly, generally speaking, is the opposite. She has been known to turn down foods based on texture, look, smell and even perceptions. Our most memorable culinary experience, so far, occurred in Valparaiso, Chile under the most random of circumstances.

Nellu Mazilu

Along the waterfront between Vina del Mar & Valparaiso.(Photo by Jack Zalium)

Our last day in Valparaiso, we continued our tradition of eating out the first and last day of anywhere we stayed. After perusing the web I picked dinner at Malandrino, the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor. There was one small problem with the plan… Malandrino is closed on Mondays. For “Plan B”, I chose the next highest rated restaurant in the same area of Cerro Concepcion : Bijoux RestoBar. It only had a hand full of reviews that were all nearly perfect and most importantly it was open on Mondays. We had our hostel call in a reservation for 20:00 (8 PM) and made our way to Viña del Mar (what some would call the nicer part of the greater Valparaiso area) for the last day of  looking around.

Fast- forward 6 hours later, we were still walking along the waterfront on the way back to Valparaiso, our scheduled appointment with food lingering and our appetites ever increasing.  We could have taken the bus or train back, but the walk was refreshing and we had nowhere better to go. Molly’s stomach insisted we arrive as soon as possible, as she put it, “they have to take us early”. Sure enough, we arrived 30 minutes early to a darkened street and searched for the restaurant, passing by several people lingering in a doorway. Having reached the end of the street, we realized we may have passed it already so we backtracked. It turns out the doorway with the lingering people WAS our restaurant, just then opening. I guess living in NYC for so long had spoiled us to how most places still operated. No big deal, we went to the corner and had a few drinks while we waited.

Bijoux Interior & Bar.(Photo by Jack Zalium)

Arriving 30 minutes passed our scheduled reservation, we walked into a mostly empty restaurant (only one other couple was seated and almost done with their meal). Was this a bad omen? Had we chosen poorly? We would soon find out. The owner and chef, Sebastian, approached our table and explained how things worked at Bijoux. He had just come from Santiago (and the reason the restaurant opened at 20:00) where he had bought all the ingredients fresh for that night at the market. He further explained that there was no menu and his preparation for us would be based on the ingredients he just purchased and our tastes. He discussed specifically what we would want that night and our likes and dislikes.

Dinner, Nellu Mazilu

A delicious fish main course, on a bed of mashed chick peas.(Photo by Jack Zalium)

I was open to anything and insisted that there was nothing I would not try at least once… or twice, but I wanted something that would showcase the flavors and tastes of Chile. Molly was a bit more selective about her options, but to her credit went with fish and old bread.

Nellu Mazilu

Molly’s crab stew with old bread and cheese.(Photo by Jack Zalium)

After our orders were placed, a new arrival came into the restaurant while the other couple left. Sebastian used the same personal attention and discussion as he had used on us with the new arrival, who wanted something meaty to eat that night. After her order was placed, we offered up an invitation to dine with us as we were the only patrons in the restaurant. Alice was her name and she was from London. We found out, that like ourselves, she had quit her modern life and was now traveling the world as well. Her mode of transport was a bicycle. She had successfully transversed Europe from Constanța to Spain and was now challenging Chile for a good cause: Unseen UK (a charity raising money for helping survivors of human trafficking).

Nellu Mazilu

Sebastian posing with the wine. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

In the midst of a really good conversation, our food started arriving. It just smelled and looked delicious, that sadly my pictures cannot do them justice. Sebastian returned and recommended some Chilean wine, which would be difficult to find in stores as they were of a limited batch and straight from the vineyard. The rest of the “food porn” pictures can be found here and here. As we began to eat, we asked if he could join us. Our solo dinner had turned into a dinner party of sorts, complete with the chef. He dove into his training (trained at the Culinary Academy in Valparaiso), where he had grown up (born in Sweden to Chilean parents) and the history of the restaurant (only officially open for 6 months). It was all very personal and cordial.

Nellu Mazilu

Thin crepe skin holding fruit, while covered with chocolate ice cream.(Photo by Jack Zalium)

After a while of talking, back-and-worth, he offered us dessert and wine to complement the dessert. After finishing the desserts and serving them, a bit of chaos ensued when a fresh delivery occurred. Some fresh stone fish had been brought in and I was invited into the kitchen to take a look. How many times can one say one was invited into the kitchen, by the chef, to peruse, touch and play with the ingredients?? This was a first for me.

Nellu Mazilu

Fresh delivery of stone fish arrives at Cinderella-time.(Photo by Jack Zalium)

We returned to the table for some more wine and conversation, this time with the hostess and sous chef joining in. Sebastian showed (taste and touch) us the jaw of a stone fish, some blue corn and the fresh herbs that he would use normally. The atmosphere was lively and joyous as Sebastian and his sous chef posed for some photos.  It is always hard to end a night especially when it is as enjoyable as this one, but unfortunately we had a 3 hour bus ride back to Santiago the next day.

Nellu Mazilu

Attempting to sign the guest book, this is how I felt. Alice pictured along with the sous and hostess. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

We started the day making reservations to get food and then get some rest but we ended up staying more than five hours, going back to our hostel in the early morning hours, meeting some really interesting people and having the kind of experience that we will not soon forget. This is what life-off track is all about although we do occasionally have to pay the price for it in the morning, but it is all worth it.

No it wasn’t the love poems of the famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda that helped me kinda fall back in love with stuff. It was his homes. If you ever find yourself in Chile, visit Neruda’s homes. He has three and Nellu and I have seen two of them. (Pablo Neruda, for those reading who do not know him, was one of the most influential poets of the twentieth centuries. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.)

I know I am a self-declared stuff-hater (seriously I am still trying to figure out how to dump more stuff so I don’t have to lug it around) but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing and visiting all the items that Neruda, an avid collector, had amassed over his very full life.

Neruda's house La Chascona in Santiago, Chile

For a second I thought, I too could be a collector, and then Nellu reminded me of the emotional distress I experienced moving out of our small one-bedroom apartment. Whatever, a girl can dream.

Neruda himself had a similar internal contraction. He had a fascination with the sea but didn’t actually like the ocean. That didn’t stop him from accumulating ship’s mastheads, boat lighting fixtures, seashells and other nautical items. In fact his house in Santiago, La Chascona, was fashioned partly after a boat (his dining room) and a lighthouse (his living room) and La Sebastiana, his Valparaiso home, had panoramic views of the harbor and Pacific Ocean. (We couldn’t take pictures inside the homes but you can take a virtual tour of La Chascona here.)

The view from Neruda's La Sebastiana

But even beyond the nautical theme, Neruda collected everything from colored glass containers to one-off comical items. These include the fake whiskey bottle that reveals cigarette holders inside and the giant shoe in his library, which he used to entertain his scores of friends. And his houses were filled to the brink with his collections (very tastefully not like a hoarder). It seems like he gathered collections in a similar way he gathered friends.

Pablo Neruda collected colorful glass bottles among other things

In doing research for this blog post, I came across the biography Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life in which author Adam Feinstein writes, “It was that joy of being alive which made him such a life-enhancing poet, and it was his generosity in wanting to ‘share’ this joy which gained him so many loyal friends…” You got that sense from touring his homes.

Also interestingly, it turns out that Neruda was a real womanizer, even having an affair with his third wife’s niece toward the end of his life. But that makes perfect sense – it had to take a real charmer for me to fall back in love with stuff.

~ Molly

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