My trip to Viña del Mar was one of the longest travel days I've ever had. The day after I finished covering EPT Madrid, I headed to the airport to begin my journey to Chile, which consisted of a 10-hour flight from Madrid to Atlanta, a six-hour layover, another 10-flight to Santiago, and then a 1.5-hour car ride to our hotel. Despite the exhausting travel, I was more than excited to be new a country, especially one with perfect weather and picturesque scenery. After unpacking and a quick nap, a few of us headed out to find food, and boy did we find it.
We came across an empanadas restaurant a few blocks from our hotel. Without a Spanish speaker in our group, ordering was more like empanada roulette. In the end though, it didn't matter because every empanada we had was so delicious. We went back three times during the trip.
The next day, we set out to enjoy the sights of the city and film our welcome video. Viña del Mar is really split into two areas: downtown and the beachfront. Though downtown has some really incredible tourist hotspots like Quinta Vergera and Reloj de Flores, I most enjoyed the gorgeous Renaca beach.
After soaking up some much-needed vitamin D, we regrouped and went out to dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant. It was there that I was introduced to Carmenere, a wine made from a grape that is almost exclusively grown in Chile. In fact, its nickname is, "The Lost Grape." In the mid-19th century, the Carmenere grape disappeared from European vineyards. It didn't reappear again for 100 years and was found on Merlot vines in Chile. A long-time red-wine lover, I thought it was divine and before the end of the trip, I made sure to buy a couple of bottles to take back home with me to Las Vegas.
Day 1a of the Main Event kicked off the next day. The turnout was 284. For Day 1b, we hoped we'd see another large number in hopes of beating last year's field of 621 players. By the time registration closed on Day 1b, there were 367 entrants that day, bringing the final count to 651. Unfortunately, none of the Team PokerStars Pros made it out of their starting days.
The biggest story to come out of Day 2 was that of Daniela Horno, who finished sixth in this very event last year. With 32 players remaining at the end of the day, she was chip leader. However, after a few big pots that didn't go her way, she was eliminated in 17th place on Day 3. For eight players though, the dream remained alive.
It was 40 minutes before the first player was eliminated from the final table. After one more competitor busted, the final six players stopped the clock to discuss a deal. Twenty minutes later, a deal was struck, and the cheap leader at the time, Felipe Valasquez, guaranteed himself $60,000 while the other five players locked up $40,000. The remaining prize pool was divided up into the following payouts: first -- $36,560; second -- $26,000; third -- $18,000; fourth -- $14,000; fifth -- $10,000; and sixth -- $7,000. With everyone happy, the cards went back in the air, and within two hours, we had a winner.
Here is the video we shot just after the deal was made which also includes a quick highlight reel from the week.
Aliro Diaz, from Chile, took home $76,560 and the title. During his winner interview, he became emotional and dedicated the win to his friend who had passed away the day before. It was a bittersweet accomplishment and one that he shared with a number of loved ones.
After wrapping up our work, a group of us headed to a restaurant just off the beach called Enjoy del Mar. I was a few minutes late, and apparently didn't feel the earthquake that shook the city. We'd just had one a few days prior with no ill effects, so no one thought much of the slight rumble. We ordered drinks and sat back to enjoy the stunning sunset.
Moments after the sun tucked itself under the ocean, we were told to pay the bill and to evacuate. At first, confusion set in. Discussions about what was happening were all in Spanish. When it was explained to me, I learned that there was a tsunami watch and we needed to leave because we were so close to the shore.
As a chronic worrier, I started to panic. Some people seemed quite laid back about the situation, while others, mostly locals, were very worked up. I can imagine they would be after the earthquake in 2010. Either way, in my book, it's better to be safe than sorry, so we headed to high ground.
About a mile away we learned that the tsunami warning had been called off. Our empty stomachs were screaming at us, so we u-turned and headed back toward the casino. With the threat of tsunami behind us, we found yet another Mexican restaurant, drank more bottles of Carmenere, and enjoyed each other's company on our last night Chile.
The next day, I hopped on another plane back to the United States. The plane ride leaving a gorgeous location is never as good as the one arriving.