Head space in Chile

Chilean cowboys are called huaso and are a common sight in the Colchagua Valley, riding along farm roads and striding the streets of Santa Cruz, their faces shaded beneath distinctive, narrow-brimmed straw hats called chupallas. A good one consists of at least 90 metres of straw, woven in summer after being dried through the long winter months.

Specialist stores in Santa Cruz sell the complete huaso outfit which includes tight-fitting pinstripe riding pants, a riding jacket, leather boots and chupalla. These hats are made in the village of La Lajuela, 12 kilometres west of Santa Cruz, the valley’s main town.

To buy one for a souvenir you must first have your head measured with an antiquated yet precise Heath Robinson-looking contraption made of steel and wood. This is fitted around the head and then the wooden pegs tapped gently into form-fitting shape. If ever you thought your skull might be a perfect shape, think again!

This rather quaint yet fascinating procedure is typical of local experiences. The Colchagua region, in the heart of the country about 100 kilometres due south of the capital Santiago, provides a fascinating mix of traditional with modern, a blend of the Wild West but with historic Spanish overtones and a healthy dash of mystique just for good measure.

Santa Cruz is a sleepy farming town that’s lately been turned into a tourist centre, thanks largely to the establishment of the Ruta del Vino, the country’s first tourist wine route. The only really posh accommodation in town is the Santa Cruz Plaza Hotel, owned by Carlos Cardoen, a Chilean businessman with a remarkable reputation.

Tales of Cardoen’s derring-do verge on the faintly implausible. Both the CIA and Interpol are said to want him on charges of international arms dealing, which restricts his international travel to just one destination, Cuba. The locals on the other hand consider Carlos a major benefactor. Contact me for complete article