Wine During Pregnancy

by Liz Caskey on April 2, 2014

If you drink alcohol while pregnant, people often feel free to judge you. This topic has become a very relevant theme for me now that I am 24 weeks (six months) pregnant, given that my profession revolves around travel, food, and wine in South America. The morning I found out I was expecting, while on vacation in Europe, I had been consuming about 2-3 daily glasses of wine during the past 2 weeks. That came to a screeching halt until I could meet with my doctor upon return (well, minus one small glass of champagne on the flight home). Much to my surprise, he was extremely laid back about the whole thing, as most Chilean obstetricians tend to be. He advised against drinking much in the first trimester, but my wine tastings (spitting everything) were fine and from the second trimester on, a few glasses or so of wine per week was no problem. He was far more concerned about the consumption of raw foods and not taking certain drugs like ibuprofen—and me staying relaxed. It became very apparent that wine consumption during pregnancy in Chile was very different than the experiences relayed from my US-based girlfriends. I sensed this was a highly cultural topic with “taboo” factors and attitudes varying greatly.

As I dug more into the topic to set up my own parameters that would form the base of my experience during this pregnancy, I outreached to a few female colleagues here in Chile working in the wine world that already had children and had consumed wine throughout their pregnancies, giving birth to healthy babies. Their experiences, along with Emily Oyster’s highly eye-opening book, Expecting Better, that blasts open vague pregnancy “recommendations” and “myths”, has formed the base of my strategy for consuming wine while pregnant.

As Oyster points out, Draconian restrictions stating, “No amount of alcohol is safe”, have their own problems. While there is no question that heavy drinking during pregnancy is bad for you and your baby, this does not automatically imply that an occasional glass of wine is a problem. What about overeating too much of certain food and having too much potassium or magnesium in your system? What about all the junk and chemicals in the SAD (Standard American Diet)?

The fact is that here in South America, similar to Europe, most doctors are much more permissive about light drinking during pregnancy. It seems that some North American doctors must think that most women exhibit no self-control and wouldn’t be able to stop at just one glass. Really? Thanks for the vote of confidence. Well, Chilean doctors here are cool with a few glasses of wine per week, and even in restaurants, I have rarely had an eyebrow raised when ordering with dinner. However, the objective is enjoyment and savoring the wine with food, a very different attitude than pulling up a stool at bar for a drink. Many doctors, mine included, often refer to those times when our mothers or grandmothers would down drink malta con huevo (malt with eggs), or gin & tonics, and drank with no second thought.

Another point that Expecting Better makes is that the glass of wine it is not directly channeled to the fetus. The alcohol from the wine passes into the bloodstream and through the liver, which processes it into a chemical called acetaldehyde and then into acetate. The blood shared between the mother and baby through the placenta can have acetaldehyde remaining in blood stream that could be shared with the baby. The baby’s liver can process some alcohol but not as much as an adult. So, as the author maintains, by sipping small amounts of wine very slowly, your liver can keep up and no acetaldehyde gets sent to the fetus. Speed, and drinking wine with food, really do matter.

How Do Wine Pros Do It?

What about those women in the wine industry? Think of all the mothers worldwide that are wine journalists, winemakers, work for wineries, and whose careers depend on tasting wine, all the time, for their job. Do they take a nine-month hiatus? Um, NO. They employ a strategy and most share the opinion that moderation is key.

Chilean wine journalist Ana Maria Barahona, who pens the best-selling wine guide Mujer y Vino is expecting her second child in May. She has continued her normal, busy schedule of weekly tastings for both annual wine guide and tastings for La Cav magazine. How does reconcile tasting while pregnant? She tastes, spits, rinses and rests as needed. She asserts that every taster/mother knows her own body and limit. She does admit that she did cut back her consumption of wine during pregnancy but will indulge in a glass on occasion with meals (she’s completely cut out, however, all spirits/hard alcohol). In fact, she cites that her OB-GYN is a total wine lover and gave her no restrictions other than common sense. Ana Maria firmly believes that wine is a “food” so you cannot just look at wine as alcohol alone. In her opinion, wine has documented health benefits and in moderation, does not hurt babies. What does she have to base this comment on? Meet her adorable seven year old son, Max, who’s a perfectly healthy, happy, intelligent little boy. From the day he was born, he’s seen his mom working in wine and he loves to smell the wines alongside food. Do we have a budding wine connoisseur in the making? Most definitely…and wine will be an important part of his life—because it is for her.

Marie Chaisson, an independent business consultant, who worked as an export manager for Estampa Winery during her first pregnancy, took a slightly different approach. Her palate completely changed while pregnant, and as she said, “I became pretty much worthless in tastings.” As she remembers, “we had a huge tasting (40+ wines) with our winemaker to compare our wines against other Chilean wines in the same category. I kept asking, ‘Don’t you think this wine is off?’” and our winemaker kept shaking his head. It was then that I realized that it was ME that was off! Once I realized my palate was shot, it got me off the hook with clients and journalists.”

Marie drank wine mostly in the first and second trimester, necessary both for her job and her own daily routine. She put her own self-imposed limit around 2 glasses a week. During professional wine tastings, she would spit everything because she calculated she would absorb about half a glass. “Sometimes”, as she noted, “I would have a glass at dinner, just because it was so hard to break the habit!” By the time my third trimester came around, she decided to stop the wine since even one glass made her fell sub-par. Interestingly enough, Marie mentioned that in Chile she feels people judge rigorous exercise regimes more harshly than wine drinking (I completely second this notion!). Most importantly, she believes that a happy and relaxed mother leads to a relaxed baby and most doctors agree that it’s better to have a glass of wine and relax than transmit that stress to the baby. Is the proof in the pudding? Marie drank more wine and did yoga in her first pregnancy with her daughter, Juliette, and had a “Zen baby”. With her second child, she didn’t do much yoga nor drink much wine after changing industries and her son was born very nervous, which eventually wore off after a few months.

So what has my experience been thus far? After finding out the happy news of the little one coming, I barely drank any wine in the first trimester. This was partially because of my doctor’s suggestion, knowing it was the base for everything, and honestly, feeling very tired and nauseated for a good stretch from 6 to 12 weeks. Even over the holidays, when we opened nice bottles of wine with family and I was feeling tempted, the moment the wine hit my lips it tasted off. The wine felt hot and I knew it was my body’s own way of telling me to avoid it for the time being. Was this right or wrong? No, it was simply my experience.

As soon as I hit 13 weeks, the nausea and tiredness fog miraculously disappeared and I had a surge of energy like no other. The desire to sip wine returned. I resumed going to tastings and having an occasional glass of wine, particularly Champagne, a favorite. My nose was like a bloodhound in tastings. I could pick up aromas and nuisances never before sensed. I savored and spit and rinsed and felt glad to at least be able to partake. When I did decide to have an occasional glass, I sipped smartly and slowly with food, always in ½ glass pours and measuring if I really wanted the second half. Often, I realized, I didn’t. But I loved not giving up the ritual, not sacrificing what wine means for me as a way to share culturally. There are many nights my husband opens a bottle and I pour myself a glass of fizzy cranberry juice sweetened with stevia or rooibos iced tea. When I want a little though, there is no guilt, no judgment, just enjoyment.


My Tips for Wine During Pregnancy:

Spit during a tasting: This sounds like a no-brainer but I will repeat it because it can feel like sacrilege, especially if you taste very fine wines (trust me, I’ve been there). If there’s a real knock out wine, like me swooning and wanting to buy a case of the special vintage for my child-in-utero, I will let myself swallow one sip. Ok, maybe two. It must be clearly memorable. Otherwise, as I move the wine around my mouth and oxygenate, I really focus on the present and savoring the flavor. It is possible to appreciate flavor without activating the swallowing instinct.

Drink lots of water: This goes before and after the tasting. Be sure to snack as needed on the water crackers. In some cases, I often will actually rinse my mouth out after each wine with water to clear out any residual alcohol clinging to the palate before drinking the water since it can add up, particularly in the lengthy professional tastings.

Know your limits: Most people can feel alcohol in their system after a couple sips. It comes on first as a slight warm sensation in the stomach, face becoming flush, then that little buzz starts. My personal guidance system is to not feel any effect from the alcohol. In the very few times I have felt it (often when needing to eat more), I stop immediately, eat something, drink more water and put the wine aside and take a little break.

Measure your pour: A lot of restaurants these days pour larger-than-average wine glasses. I measured a standard glass of wine and found many run around 5 ounces versus the standard 4 ounces. In deeming what seemed to be my own “happy” place in having a small glass of while with food, I poured out 2 ounces (1/2 glass) and got to know what this looked like in several different glass formats. This was the amount I was comfortable drinking slowly, and often never want more. For my birthday, I was looking forward to a glass of French champagne at Baco so the bar served me half a chilled glass with the appetizer, and the other half with my main course. Perfect.

Sip slowly and drink wine with food: I cannot emphasize this enough. Of all of the things I took away from Emily Oyster’s book these recommendations really hit home. I do not drink wine on an empty stomach, nor would I ever go to a tasting in that state. I sip slowly. I relish each little sip. Granted, I won’t lie that I am looking forward to that day in August or early September when I can drink a big glass, maybe even two, of wine but for now, it is perfectly fine. My husband has confessed to loving this new “Liz wine-drinking scenario” since he has no problem in assisting in finishing my share of the bottle.

Make that wine count: This may be my thing as a wine lover, but since I have so little these days, I make it count. If I know I have a dinner party or special occasion, I will save it on another night and drink water. When I do imbibe now, I only drink fine wine. The wines must be amazing, delicious, something truly exceptional to pass my lips if swallowing. Little Baby seems to be in agreement with this strategy. The few times I have swallowed a sip or two in tastings, there’s been some “dance moves” and kicks with very notable reference wines like Almaviva, Cheval des Andes, and Amayna’s sultry Pinot Noir. Obviously we have a wine lover in utero.

Yes, the last photo is my petit baby belly at 22 weeks!


Long Weekend in San Pedro de Atacama

by Liz Caskey on March 14, 2014

Last Friday, we left big city life behind and jetted 2 hours north into the vast, arid Atacama Desert. We touched down in the desolate mining city of Calama. After rendezvousing with our driver, we drove past a “field” of new wind turbines that will provide clean electricity for the entire city. We climbed over the Domeyko mountain range towards the desert oasis of San Pedro de Atacama, an hour away, the jumping off point to some of the most spectacular scenery in Northern Chile.

We arrived at our hotel, Alto Atacama, strategically located three kilometers north of town near the Pukara de Quitor in the beginning of the green Catarpe valley along the San Pedro River. As we emerged from the van into the blinding sunshine, my body warmed up with the sultry temperatures and I felt my mind slowing down. One glance at my phone revealed I barely had a cell signal. Wi-Fi was patchy at bet. Blessing or curse? Ultimately a blessing–I read (gasp) an entire book in two days.

We moved slowly upon arrival, as San Pedro is sneakily located in the pre-altiplano at 2,400 meters, or 7,800 feet. This was one of several trips to the region so we had already explored many remote salt flats, volcanic formations, altiplanic villages, the steaming geysers of El Tatio, and meandering rivers. This geological bonanza was all a relatively short distance from town. Besides relaxing, we were keen to further explore. We wanted to revisit some favorite experiences, get creative with some new hikes we had not yet done, and get a hearty dose of sun before autumn and winter descended on Santiago in the upcoming months.

After leisurely arrival lunch and settling in, we departed in late afternoon to explore the Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley, a few kilometers outside town in the Cordillera de la Sal, Salt Mountains. My husband and I had visited this valley over a decade earlier in our college days and decided it was time to revisit this classic spot at sunset. These mountains are a marvel to behold. Nature over millions of years has carved them with wind and water and their composition is clay and Sodium Chloride (salt). There is no vegetation, just rock formations in colors ranging from reddish-brown to clay to caramel to white. There’s a reason that it is called Moon Valley with its arid, not-hospitable-to-life environment. Taking a hike was not unlike moonwalking, with the sun shining of course. This year in San Pedro they had unusual out of season rain in February so there was a layer of newly formed salt coating the landscape that honestly look like snow.

As we walked in the late afternoon, the wind started whipping up (not a good combo with sand). We went on a little exploration into a canyon with a cave, all formed from salt and clay crystals. The only way to describe the place is as eerie. You hear the formations creaking constantly. They moan, they groan, some even sounded like the pitter-patter of moisture dripping on the roof after the rain stops.

We headed to a bluff for a majestic view of the mountains, valley, Andes, and volcanoes in time for Nature’s nightly show: Sunset. Plus, a pre-dinner aperitivo. As the clock hit 20:00, the sun sunk into the western horizon. Its soft, golden rays turned the landscape golden, then orange, then pink, then purple, and then finally a deep cobalt blue of the early evening sky. I shivered as the mercury dropped. Stunning.

Early the next morning, we set off to the remote area near Yerbas Buenas, about 45 minutes from town, to see perfectly preserved prehistoric petroglyphs, carved by the Atacameno people. Dating back over 10,000 years, we saw depictions of llamas (a sign of fertility), chamanes (medicine men), even monkeys, that were in pristine condition. We made a pit stop nearby in the stunning Rainbow Valley with rocks and cliffs in all shades of colors of the rainbow. The soils derived their colors from the different mineral content and were yellow, white (salt), blue (cobalt), green (copper), red mountains, (clay). I had déjà vu several times of Northwest Argentina, only 8 hours away by car by Paso Jama and the altiplano.

In the afternoon, we decided to lay claim to one of the lovely six private pools at the hotel for ourselves and make the most of the sunshine. I delighted in reading a book for hours on end. My husband braved the cold pool water (non-heated!). Okay, it was surprisingly refreshing after being in the sun although I only submerged to my waist. I took a long, long siesta. It finally felt like a real weekend. I didn’t have to do anything, be anywhere, and get anything done. In this day and age that is a true luxury.

Before sunset, we decided to mosey into town for a little paseo. The town is still a backpacker hub with primarily restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops. My husband and I reminisced about our days in San Pedro in the 90s before the town had electricity all day (generator from 8-10pm each night) and was a dusty, adobe outpost. It had changed so much. The petit main square still housed the Iglesia de San Pedro de Atacama, a beautiful, white washed adobe church dating back to 1745, finally being repaired! In the colorful artisan market, we hunted for hand-stitched stuffed llamas and darling Atacameno dolls. I had fallen in love with them at Awasi on a previous trip. However, we weren’t going to use them to decorate our living room or be a placeholder on the dinner table… these were bought thinking about Baby’s future nursery (pending project coming in May-June).

That night after dinner, walking back in nearly pitch black to our room, we stopped to stargaze in the cloudless sky. We could see the Milky Way galaxy with a naked eye. Thousands of stars blinked. According to our guide, who would explain on a hike the next day, we were actually looking at the past. By the time the light from those distant celestial bodies arrives to earth some of them are 400 light years away. Can you wrap your mind around that? Four hundred. Light. Years. San Pedro, and northern Chile, is one of the best places in the world to see the night sky with the high altitude, dry, clear weather, and low light pollution. It is as beautiful at night as during the day. I, at least, always have the sensation that there’s no way we can be alone in this infinite galaxy when I peer up to that endless cosmos.

So were our days in San Pedro. Full of sun, hikes, relaxation, a wonderful massage in the hotel spa, beautiful scenery, and most importantly togetherness without work. One morning, we trekked along the high ridge of Las Cornizas with sweeping views of the green Catarpe Valley below. We ran down the humungous sand dunes into Death Valley like little kids. We arose before dawn to take in nature’s early morning spectacle at Laguna Tebenquiche, an evaporating salt lagoon. Alone without another soul, not even a bird, for miles, we walked across the white, crusty sand towards water’s edge. As the sun peered from behind the volcanoes, the soft light reflected in the water so that the horizons touched. It was one of those moments you give thanks to be alive and realize how beautiful life truly is. It was also freezing cold. Bone-chilling cold. I shivered in my fleece, wishing I had thought to bring my trusty chullo from Santiago. I forgot shortly after as our guides served us steaming cups of coffee and the emerging sun warmed our bodies. Lagoon-side breakfast was a nice start to the week.

As we rode in the van back towards Calama and onwards to Santiago, we took in the final vistas of this beautiful place, one of the driest on earth. It is always amazing to me how after a few days in such stunning natural surroundings that you become “used” to seeing them. Oh right, that pink sunset on the volcanoes is just another daily occurrence. Or contemplating the rolling contours of the land for hundreds of kilometers is something we all do. Being a city dweller, this never gets old. However, Santiago and reality, was calling. So long San Pedro.


Our Little World Traveler

by Liz Caskey on March 6, 2014

Well, amigos, I have to confess that we have been harboring a little secret from you all for nearly the past 20 weeks. Yep, we’ve got some exciting plans brewing for later this year in 2014…

Our first little world traveler is due to arrive in July 2014—and we could not be happier. Ecstatic is an understatement.

Actually, this kid has already accumulated some very impressive travel statistics since a very early gestational age. Baby has already been on 4 continents (South America, North America, Europe, and Northern Africa), 5 countries (USA, Italy, Germany, Morocco, and of course, Chile now from Patagonia to the Atacama Desert), 15 flights and 25,000 air miles flown (enough for in-utero elite status on Oneworld, I may add). We found out the joyous news while in Berlin in November, a place we’ll definitely remember forever. The composite picture shows some of our world travels together already with Mama.

We are obviously excited, probably a little naïve about all the life changes coming mid-year, and dreaming about all the places we’ll take him/her later this year and in 2015. So far, this has been a very easy pregnancy and we are enjoying every single moment along with that sweet anticipation of meeting him/her soon.

We’ll keep you updated, for sure, and be back soon for a round-up from our latest getaway to Chile’s arid north to the desert oasis of San Pedro de Atacama.



Santiago’s Best Coffee

by Liz Caskey on February 25, 2014

One of the most common gripes I hear among many expats here is “what’s the deal with the coffee in Chile?”…as in, it is often Nescafe or a watered down espresso. Yes, in the past it may have been slightly subpar but that all is changing–quite quickly. Today, while chains like Starbucks and Juan Valdez are cloning across town, my search for the best coffee comes from an appreciation and love for the taste, much like good wine. After our trip to Italy in November, where we spent many an afternoon in a coffee bar sipping concentrated ristrettos and machiattos, I knew I would never look at this humble bebida, beverage, the same way. I came back on a quest to find the best of its kind in Santiago.

First and foremost, let me disclose something about my coffee taste to make sure we’re on the same page. I am an espresso girl to the core. I do not like, nor drink, liters of the watery stuff like my family lives on in the US and makes with a percolator. I do not believe in taking “coffee to go”. The whole point is to sit down and savor each sip and take a moment to share, write, appreciate, meditate. As such, I am looking for the equivalent of an amazing, concentrated chocolate or Bordeaux in the coffee world. I also do NOT love caffeine even though I adore the taste. I do not seek it, nor want it, in the morning to get going. If I have it too late in the day, it gets me all wired and makes it hard to sleep at night, upsetting my bed time and morning gym ritual—not cool. So I am a connoisseur, not an addict. I am a purist about my coffee too—it should be deep in flavor, balanced yet bold, not too roasted (sorry Starbucks, those beans are burnt!), and never ever bitter. I typically do not adulterate with milk unless needing a macchiato and see the use sugar or sweetener as sacrilege, like dropping an ice cup in a great wine. The whole point is that flavor intensity and taking the edge off it with sugar…why?!

Here is the round up, my friends, of my three favorite places in Santiago I haunt frequently for coffee. They are all quite different in terms of style, onda (vibe), and food served. All are places ideal for business meetings or any old excuse to get out for a break any time of the day.

Colmado Coffee & Bakery
Merced 346, Interior Patio, Santiago, Centro. Wed-Mon 9am-9pm, Tuesdays closed.
A wonderful new addition to the Lastarria/Bellas Artes manned by Catalan chef Manolo Aznar, these folks know their coffee. At any time of day, they have seven special ways to prepare your brew—beyond the traditional espresso and macchiato served in most cafes. For example, try coffee from the siphon for perfumed, soft coffee, or delicious French press, or the chemex. Besides serving up carefully selected Peruvian and Colombian brews, all perfectly toasted, they also craft delicious gourmet sandwiches with artisan breads that change on a rotating basis. How about a croissant stuffed with chicken, arugula, pickles and kimchi mayo or their sinful éclairs stuffed with sheep’s milk ricotta from Patagonia and 55% dark chocolate on the top? Umm, yes please! On the weekends, they also put on a proper brunch and even serve proper paella in a nod to the madre patria. Do not miss. You will become, quickly, a repeat customer.

Wonderful Café
Lastarria 90, Santiago, Centro. Mon – Fri 8:30am-9:30pm; Sat-Sun 10:30am-9:30pm.
This handsome café on Lastarria is now a reference point for good coffee and eats in the neighborhood. Hip, young, and delicious, the space is luminous with tall ceilings and the bar has a sky blue Marzocco espresso machine from where the latte art is made. By all means, order a cappuccino and be delighted. They even have imported (sugar free) soy milk for non-dairy alternatives. For all you non-coffee drinkers (sniff, sniff), they have a fabulous list of teas and the mango lassis laced with cardamom which are addictive. At lunch, they serve up sandwiches and fresh salads but the sweets are memorable. Gooey, sticky, yummy cakes like passion fruit merengue pie, flourless chocolate tart, homemade macaroons. Forget about calories, order your sweet, caffeine of choice, and enjoy.

Andres Bello 2177, Providencia. Mon – Fri 8am-8pm; Sat 10am-2pm.
This Italian-style espresso bar is cleverly tucked away from the corner of Andres Bello and Nueva Lyon, only steps away from pulsating Providencia. The Argentine owners know their stuff. They are purists about how they pull their shots. Their single, simple espresso, served in a glass shot is quite possibly the best I have had in Chile. I also love that they are now offering up their latte and macchiato cold (perfect for summer) and with lactose-free milk or almond milk versions for those who cannot tolerate dairy. To accompany your sip from coffee heaven, they always have homemade organic brownies on hand, artisan alfajores, and delectable macaroons in addition to lunchtime fare. It’s a quiet environment to write, get work done, have a meeting, and linger over the coffee. It still also feels slightly under discovered—but not for long!


Love a la Carte

by Liz Caskey on February 14, 2014

Here we are again. Valentine’s Day. Some people love this day, other people hate it, but why does it even exist? There are several theories over its origin but many point to the third century during the Roman empire. A saint, called Valentine, was about to be executed for officiating illegal marriages of Roman soldiers. In jail waiting to meet his destiny, he fell in love with jailer’s daughter. Before dying, he supposedly wrote her a letter, signing his name with his own blood “From Your Valentine”. Now, 1,700 years later, we continue to celebrate this day in the name of love.

As kid growing up in the US, we always celebrate Valentine’s Day in school. I never thought much about the meaning of the day beyond the invasion of pink and red colors and sugary sweet heart-shaped candies. Those candies had super subtle messages like “True Love”, “Marry Me”, “My love”, “So Hot”, “I love you”, “Be Mine”, “Kiss Me”, “Yes”, “Love”, etc. We had to exchange red and pink valentines, often made from construction paper, with everybody in the class (whether we liked it or not) and ate red velvet cupcakes or whoopee pies, usually heart-shaped.

Years later as a 20-something single in New York City, the commercialization of the day was too much. It simply created too many expectations. Actually, I remember February 14 not only being a day of love for couples but also “international day to feel lonely” if you weren’t paired off. Cards, chocolates, flowers, massages, champagne, dinner dates flooded every media channel, flower shop, and store. It made you feel totally left out if you didn’t receive anything from that special someone. You were, somehow, unloved. Now, don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against romance or being in a relationship (I am married!). I do, however, find that the way we conceive Valentine’s Day and what it means to love to be quite narrow. Perhaps it’s time to open us to the idea that love is more than an excuse to go out to eat oysters in mid-February or indulge in a box of chocolates.

This year, I decided I am going to have a different Valentine’s Day. And anyone can do this independent of being married, single, in a relationship, divorced or even “estranged”. February 14 is the day of love, end of story. There is nothing more important all year, and actually every day, than love. Love is what connects all of us, with other creatures, with the divine, with ourselves. If this is the case, why not celebrate this day not only to receive love (and tasty chocolate) but also to give love, express gratitude and appreciation to all the people that have touched our lives in the last year? They can be simple acts of love. Here are some ideas.

A simple, homemade gift; a big hug for somebody who needs it (we all need hugs); call an old friend to say you love him; take flowers to a single friend; visit your grandma or mother for tea time and good conversation; make some tasty cookies as a thank you or share in the office; send a card to your great aunt because you have not spoken with her in years; invite friends to a dinner party to celebrate Valentine’s Day together and share that secret ingredient (Love!) which makes every recipe taste delicious. Pay for the coffee of the person standing behind you at Starbucks—without saying anything. These small gestures make us feel so good because we share love with no expectation of it being returned—it comes from our heart. Now, of course, for all you foodies if you really have your heart set on an aphrodisiac menu that’s cool, but the idea is to open up to sharing love, being at the service of others and expressing our feelings—even with us!

This last point is so important. We need to focus on giving ourselves some self-loving today, it is totally validated. Get that massage; wear that cocktail dress that makes you feel super sexy and good in your own skin. Watch your favorite movie for the hundredth time (because why not) and order in sushi, take a bubble bath with a glass of champagne (and even drink the whole bottle alone if you want), or savor a bit of something that causes you ecstasy—for me, that would be a macaroon from Pierre Herme in Paris (not in the cards, unfortunately). The point is to give love and THEN receive it…but always because you deserve it.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! A big virtual hug to you all.


Sustainable Water

by Liz Caskey on February 4, 2014

Water. The vital liquid that is abundant in nature, falling freely from the sky, belongs to everyone. Or it should be that way. We hope that some day that’s the case because at this time in Chile, it is apparently not at all. Actually, the water rights in this country are private property and can be sold, rented, or bought just like any other commodity, without much government regulation nor environmental protection. The “Water Code” created in 1981 was a law that allowed water to become private property under the constitutional guarantees in Article 24 of Chile’s constitution. At that time, it was declared a model example of efficiency in the free market. After becoming legal, this law gave the government the power to grant water rights, all free and “perpetually” with no end, to private parties. This simple but profound action has permitted those water rights be sold/rented without taking into account any considerations for their use. Today, the system is, quite simply, broken. Chile is at the beginning of a water war.

First, we have to start with the basic idea that fresh water (not salt water) is a vital element for the human body given our bodies are more than 50% water. We die, quickly, when deprived of water. As a resource on this planet, fresh water is usually provided constantly thanks to the ongoing cycle of evaporation from the ocean and plants pumping humidity and oxygen into the air. Chile, for example, is an oasis that is maintained because of the glaciers in the Andes and the cold Humboldt Current generating cloud cover, which feeds the coast with humidity from its condensation. This is all a way of saying that fresh water is part of nature. It seems completely absurd to declare a “right” to fresh water and apply economic conditions to its use. What’s next? The air we breathe?

But today in Chile, there’s a precarious water balance thanks to the booming (foreign) mining industry. Many of these companies are not Chilean nor are they obligated to return to Chile what they use and extract—water included. Huge agro-exporters also irrigate acres and acres of fields for fruit that will be exported to feed the rest of the world, not Chileans, using that precious, limited fresh water run off which every year is diminished in the increasingly arid Central Valley. The big problem then is how the Chilean nation can allow this development to continue as its water decreases over time—and quickly I may add.

To highlight this point, there are a couple wars happening over water in Chile. They are not minor instances although often the true consequences do not become apparent for years to come.

For example, in Talca, agricultural workers protested the agreement between the Spanish energy giant Endesa and the Chilean government’s Water Works department (Dirección de Obras Hidráulicas/DOH). This agreement would allow this foreign enterprise to extract water from the Laguna del Maule, the main water source in the region, for its different energy projects. What this really means is that both the control of the water and regulation would be managed by a private, foreign company. This is a huge concern since this water resource is utilized by those who depend on the agriculture in the Maule for their living and well-being. Even if the future construction of the Los Cóndores electricity station generates 150MW, it must also be considered that the Laguna del Maule also permits more than 13,000 agricultural workers to irrigate their land. This is equivalent to 500,000 acres or about 20% of the total irrigated land area in Chile. This supports the lives of more than 400,000 Chileans. How did this project get put into the hands of a foreign company with no governmental regulation nor control whatsoever?

Another example in the north, in the Huasco Valley, is Barrick Gold. This Canadian gold mining company perforated the glaciers, which feed the valley below, causing an environmental crisis which ultimately reduced the size of the glaciers and water flow by more than 50%. These glacial waters sustain agriculture in the valley. In Copiapo, now a huge mining zone, there used to exist a community of small farmers and growers. These agricultural workers now must compete with large mining companies for said water, forcing many to leave the area since there’s simply not enough water for both industries.
More than a water war between the small agricultural growers (including many wineries) and the big (foreign) mining companies, the government needs to intervene with laws that control its usage and put fresh water back into the hands of Chileans. The companies that diminish and contaminate fresh water should not only be fined heavily, their concession/license should be terminated immediately and the industry closed. There’s no amount of fines that can recover nature after the fact—that glacier is gone. Those lives won’t come back. That is prevented before, not after, and the price is too high to pay. If Chile wants to continue to keep this rich and beautiful country as its home, the only solution is to keep control of its water and protect it—NOW!

Written as column for Revista Placeres in January 2014. All opinions stated belong exclusively to the author.