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Tom Blake

By Tom Blake

On March 2, 2009, Greta and I flew to Santiago, Chile to begin a three-week land tour of South America. We booked a tour guide named Mauricio online to pick us up at the Santiago Airport and transfer us to the Orly Boutique Hotel, where we would stay for three nights.

We also scheduled Mauricio to show us around the city on a half-day tour the following day.

Greta and I were so impressed with Mauricio that we hired him to drive us on a day trip to view the Casablanca Valley wine country and the port city of Valparaiso on March 4. Valparaiso is 75 miles from Santiago. Our first stop in the gorgeous Chilean countryside was at Emiliana, a remote organic winery, about an hour west of Santiago.  

There were only a few other visitors at the vineyard that morning. For 45 minutes, we walked around the grounds seeing peacocks, geese, chickens and other birds eating insects, instead of the winery using pesticides. There were llamas, as well.

When we returned to Mauricio’s car, the battery was dead. The winery did not have battery-charging equipment. Mauricio borrowed a phone and summoned a truck from Valparaiso to fix the problem.

While waiting for the truck, a bizarre event occurred that startled Greta, me, and Mauricio, as well. Seven green and white police motorcycles came into the vineyard with lights flashing and sirens blaring, followed by two army trucks.

The caravan turned in our direction. There were three sharpshooters standing in the back of each truck, holding high-powered rifles and machine guns.

The three of us looked at each other. Had we done something wrong? Were we going to jail? Would we be victims of a military coup? The trucks and motorcycles passed within 20 feet of us and disappeared into the vineyards.

Mauricio asked the vineyard employees what was going on. We were relieved to hear that it was merely a security check in advance of a visit the following day to the winery by Prince Charles and Camilla from the U.K. We were told by vineyard staff that Prince Charles’ hobby was organic farming, which is why the royal couple was visiting Emiliana.

Not to be political, but I admit that I didn’t care much, because I wasn’t a big fan of Prince Charles.

Ten minutes later, the security contingent emerged from the grapevines and left. Soon, we were on our way to Valparaiso, a bit relieved that we weren’t in handcuffs in the back of an army truck. And Mauricio’s car had a new battery.

Fast-forward to Sept. 8, 2022. The airwaves were filled with the news that Queen Elizabeth II had died. Prince Charles became King Charles III, and Camilla became the Queen Consort.

Upon hearing the news, Greta and I looked at each other. I said, “Think about it,13 years ago, we missed by one day of having a nearly private encounter with a future king and queen consort in an organic vineyard in Chile. Not many people can say that.”

We both smiled. In our travels, we’d come upon some firsts for us, including the excitement at the Emiliana Winery in 2009 and being at the ABBA Museum in 2013 in Stockholm on the museum’s opening day. Unexpected events like these are rewards of travel.

Emiliana is the largest organic vineyard in the world. In 2021, more than one million cases of wine were sold.

If you are traveling to Santiago, Chile and want an incredible tour guide, contact Mauricio. There is a great review about him on Trip Advisor.

If you book Mauricio, remind him of this story at the Emiliana Vineyard in 2009. And now, he probably keeps a spare battery in his trunk. 

Tom Blake is a retired Dana Point business owner and resident who has authored books on middle-aged dating. See his website at findingloveafter50.com. To comment: tompblake@gmail.com.

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