Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday, January 31st, Ushuaia


Today, we saw the mountains of Tierra del Fuego from all different views. We drove over them, we hiked up and down them, and we got chair-lifted up them. There are 211 photos on Picasa, and some pretty spectacular scenery. The air down is so clean and smells so good. I never thought I would want to comment positively on air before, but this air makes you want to breathe deeply. Our walks have been truly invigorating, and we've had the best weather imaginable for this place at this time of the year. Except for some slight sprinkles today, and a little bit of wind, it's been clear and calm.

Tomorrow, we sail the Beagle Channel and hike in the National Park. How much prettier can it get?

To see the day's photos, click on: January 31st, Ushuaia

Friday, January 30th, Trelew to Ushuaia


No photos today. The tour had the morning off, and I watched one of the men's semi-finals of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. Rafael Nadal versus Fernando Verdasco, with the match going five sets (five hours 14 minutes). It was the longest in tournament history, and was decided on a double fault on the last point. Rafa won it, as he usually does in five-setters, wearing down his opponent. I felt sorry for Fernando, as he played so well to lose. Now for the final with Nadal and Federer. It should be another epic battle.

In the afternoon, we went to a new museum featuring the paleolithic remains from this area. Unfortunately, I had accidentally hit the switch on my camera which kept me from focusing correctly, and the photos were a bit blurry. Oh well, just imagine a bunch of skeletons of veloci-raptors as in the movie "Jurassic Park". Some quite agressive creatures made their way down the eastern side of the Andes when North and South America got re-connected at Panama after the breakup of Pangea. Armadillos went north, and the meat-eaters went south to go after the marsupials in Latin America. Not a pretty site for a few years.

At five pm, we flew 400 miles south to Ushuaia - the end of the continent. A cold rain forest cradled in the right turn of the Andes. We arrived to brisk weather and many more hours of daylight, and the best meal we've had (beef stew with rice, and a great ice cream dessert featuring a local berry-flavor, combined with chocolate, berries, and cream. With a great local Malbec wine (Mansur de Mendoza) to take us higher, we must be in heaven.

Gregory and Pat

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday, January 29th, Peninsula Valdes


Sorry about not being able to post to the blog until now. The hotel's server went down, and nothing could be uploaded. We flew down to Trelew, and drove up to Puerto Madryn. We've been on the road yesterday and today for most of each day traveling to the areas where coastal wildlife can be seen.

By the way, that's a plate of "green ravioli" to prove that all is not beef down here. While the meals are not as varied or organic as Sonoma County, variety and quality are not suffering. Italian, spanish (including basque), and several variation of Argentinian fare have been presented.

Puerto Madryn, and the Valdes Peninsula, is a treasure of interesting Patagonian animals spread out over a lot of coastal miles. The coast itself is beautiful, reminding me of Southern California without the crowds. As you'll see from the photos of the sea lions and penguins, they get to play in shorebreak not unlike plenty of surf spots along San Luis Obispo.

How strange to dodge armadillos in the parking lot on the way to sea lions on the beach. Or to watch out for penguins underfoot just a few guanacos down the coast. While the landscape looks barren and borring, the life within it is unbundant and unique.

Our tour group consists of Canadians and Americans who all have plenty of traveling experience. Once again, Pat and I are soaking up all of the advice and friendship we can learn and establish to improve our future. Our trip to Africa in the fall has benefitted, as will plans for Asia and the areas in northern South America.

And we continue to have great tour guides. Diego, and his local guides (Diego and Marco) are excellent people and tour resources. They have risen to the demanding appetites of these highest quality group members. We can't wait to see what's next.

To see the photos taken today and yesterday, click on: Thursday, January 29th, Peninsula Valdes

Wednesday, January 28th, Puerto Madryn

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday, January 27th, Buenos Aires


This morning, we went on a walking tour of the San Martin area of town. After a lunch at an upscale shopping mall, we strolled back to find the MALBA Museum (Latin American Art History) closed. So we walked on to the Museum of Fine Arts, visited the Pre-Columbian, Mexican 18th Century, and Photographic Art sections, and took a taxi back to the hotel. Tonight, we'll go to dinner down by the Port (I'll take some photos of the meal), and get to bed early.

Tomorrow, we'll be flying out at 5am to Trelew.

To view the rest of the photos for today, click on: Tuesday in Buenos Aires


Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday, January 26th, Buenos Aires


Today was a combination bus and walking tour of four neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, and the Catholic Cemetery which includes the mauseleum of Evita Peron. I'm surprised at the amount of parks and trees, and the cleanliness of all areas. Even the slums seem tidy and looked after.

To see the photos taken today, click on: Buenos Aires

Sunday, January 25th, Iguazu to Buenos Aires


Today was a transition day, returning from Iguazu Falls to Buenos Aires. We enjoyed a bus ride from the Park into the town of Puerto Iguazu, and stood at the confluence of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, overlooking the Parana River. Diego, our guide, continued his wonderful commentary on the history and relationships of the three countries. Several of us are eager to hear the insights and perspectives of our guides on life in Argentina, and he has not dissappointed us.

We continued our ride on the city municipal bus, and stopped in the middle of town to locate a lunch venue. Some went to an open-air grilled beef takeout place (I took pictures), and others found a restaurant. Both had good offerings, and we returned to the hotel from the bus stop for a lazy few hours of swimming and reading.

In the evening, we took a flight from the local airport to the International Airport in Buenos Aires. We were met by Paula Flores and our bus driver, who drove us back to the Lafayette Hotel to check in and have dinner at the hotel restaurant. On the way, Paula responded quite well to the group's tough questions on the current state of the country's economics, social conditions, and political status.

I had a salad, spinach and chicken ravioli, and fruit/ice dream dessert. Patricia substituted a sole entre, and opted out of the ice cream. None of it warranted photos.

Tomorrow, we take a walking tour of Buenos Aires.

For a look at the few other photos I took today, click on: Puerto Iguazu

I finally finished the Video of the Falls with sound. You can view it at:
Iguazu Falls

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sound Files Coming


We have some extra free time this afternoon, and I will be attempting my first ever YouTube Video from on the road. I recorded the roars of Iguazu Falls yesterday, and I'll be attaching them to some of the photos I took. Stay tuned for a first!


Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 24th, Iguazu Falls, Argentina


Beginning at the 4am wakeup call, I knew that this would be a long day. The hour and a half flight across the northwest corner of Argentina went quickly, and I spent most of the time looking out the window at the rain forest below. What gorgeous land.

The photos of today provide a glimpse into two topics: 1) one of the world's most powerful waterfalls; and 2) the other members of our touring group. After explaining our blog, and my efforts to capture the sights and sounds of our travels, I promised each of the members of our touring group that I would include photos of them in today's batch. Reflecting somewhat their hiking and social personalities, I think I succeeded.

And a special recognition goes to Joanin Dalberto, whose family celebrated his 87th birthday on a train ride with us into the park.

For a look at them, click on: Iguazu Falls



Friday, January 23, 2009

Arrival in Buenos Aires, Argentina


With her head cocked down at an angle, I knew she was only a slight shake away from consciousness. But after 24 hours of wakefullness on a flight from San Francisco to Dallas, and Dallas to Buenos Aires, I felt she needed her sleep more than a wonderful view.

Out my left window, a little before 6am, across from the eastern face of the tallest mountains in the southern hemisphere, at the mouth of the Amazon River, the sun was rising. Soon, ribbons of brown shining flat snakes looked like capillaries carrying the blood of the planet as the sun brightened their surface. It was too dark for a photograph, and I decided to tell her about it when she awoke.

After 36 hours in which we probably have gotten 1-2 hours sleep, we're now in the Lafayette Hotel sorting bags for a short flight in seven hours to visit a magnificent waterfall on the Paraguay/Argentina (Iguazu Falls). It's hot, and we're packing light, and I'm about to shave and take a shower.

Our day today was filled with arriving in Buenos Aires, checking into the hotel, and a walking tour in our neighborhood around the hotel. Dinner was at a nice restaurant which featured beef, chicken, fish, and pasta plates. Pat and I both got the Argentine beef, which was a little tough, and we'll order it rarer next time.

For a look at rest of the photos I took on the walk, click on:
Buenos Aires Photos


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Map of Travels in Argentina and Chile


To follow our adventures, we thought we'd show you a map of the flights in the first part. From January 23 to February 12th, we'll be following this route.

On February 12th, we fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas (on the map at the bottom of Chile) to meet a steamship in time for a four-day cruise back up to Puerto Varas, retracing the route we just flew over. Only this time, we get to see the coastline up close, and stop along the way.

On February 16th, we fly from Puerto Montt to Santiago, and then fly from Santiago north to Calama. We'll make our way from there to San Pedro de Atacama for five days in the high desert of Northern Chile. On February 21st, we fly back to Santiago, and then home.

It's 17,852 miles of flying, and 1,646 miles of sailing, and 358 road miles.

All aboard!


Monday, January 19, 2009

Starting off with Food


One of my friends asked me to be sure and take photos of the meals we had. To start things off, I thought that this email from a friend with experience traveling in Argentina and Chile would set the stage for what will to come.

Hi Gregory, It is a big area that you are covering, and except for the
coastal cruise to Puerto Vara, over our 48 years together, Susana and
I have visited all. Each country is as/more scenic than California and
Arizona together, but each different and wonderful. What I have
written is no doubt more than you wanted, but think of the pleasure
you have given me in writing it!

Gourmet, "individual" cooking is only now getting to these countries
in the sense that they arrived in California (maybe) with Alice
Waters, 30 years ago. But the standard is reasonably high
everywhere--even in a bus station you will find well-prepared basic
items. The basic dinner menu in Argentina is wood-grilled
beef--potatoes--green salad--bread--wine (or Coke/Sprite) or the
previous replacing the beef & potatoes with Italian dishes. Goat is
also commonly grilled. It used to be that it was really hard to find
chicken or fish on a menu, but now they are standard. You might say
the national dish is parrilla (grilled beef): a multi-course gorging
of grilled sweet breads, sausages, and 2-3 kinds of steak/ribs. It
also used to be that grilled meat was always served well done--slowly
grilled over cabracho (one of the hardest woods in the world)--and
that is still the default; but if you are attentive when ordering you
can have medium or med-rare (jugoso, pronounced hoogoso -- juicy). A
punto, which sounds like it would be rare, "a point" in France, is
medium-well done in Argentina. The free range beef is flavorful and a
bit chewier than U.S. meat, and there is relatively little heart
disease considering the highest per capita meat consumption in the
world. In the press, there are raging arguments as to whether to allow
feed-lots. Chimichuri is served on the side with steak and sometimes
bread -- recipes vary from town to town, household to household, and
Argentina to Chile: but it contains lots of parsley, a good bit of
garlic, and a splash of vinegar and sprinkle of salt. Then maybe bay,
olive oil, or someones secret ingredient.

Green salads are ubiquitous and do eat them--you won't get sick. The
custom is a bit different, although you can find anything you like.
You might be served a leaf of lettuce topped with a few sliced
beets, a heap of grated carrots, and some sliced tomatoes--all
arranged separately. You pour your own vinegar and oil on. Salt is
always on the table, but often you have to ask for pepper--Susana says
it is historically expensive. A chopped lettuce salad is also very

Baked goods, particularly the breakfast "media lunas"
(mini-croissants), are wonderful. There are relatively simple, little
pastries, called facturas, that you can have with coffee. The coffee
is wonderful, not like Chile (bleow). The two "equivalents of a
hamberger" are alfahors (all the alph/alf sounding words are of
mid-eastern origin via the Moorish conquest of Spain) and empanadas.
The first is a largish Oreo cookie, with regional variations found
both in Argentina and Chile. You can buy them fresh in bakeries or
wrapped in foil just about everywhere--e.g., at kiosks. Fancy boxes
are sold in the airports at excessive prices -- but a box on the
street in B.A. might be reasonably priced--alas almost all of the
wrapped ones are made by some subsidiary of Nestle. The basic alfahor
is composed of two cookies of shortening bread, filled with dulce de
leche (milk jam--like milk caramel), and sprinkled with powdered sugar
or maybe coconut; but they might as well be covered in chocolate (dark
or white), and in Chile are more likely filled with jam than dulce de
leche. You know what empanadas are -- turnovers -- these are generally
baked, eaten hot or cold, and filled with ground meat, onion, and
chopped egg; or spinach and cheese; and other things. If you don't
crush them, they'll keep for a day w/o refrigeration. They are often
eaten as a dinner appetizer or a stand-alone lunch. For lunches on the
go, besides empanadas, you will see glass-cases stacked with thin,
"crustless" white-bread sandwiches filled with good ham and/or cheese.

The ice cream in Argentina's big cities is wonderful; we look to have
a cone every day when we are there!

If you are lucky, you will at least sometimes escape the parrilla (BBQ
beef) places. And do see if you can eat regionally in the north and
south of Argentina. On our last trip to the north-west of Iguazu (near
Bolivia and Chile), we found it to be mixture of indigenous people´s
diet with potatoes (wonderful), vegetables, llama, plus the Spanish and
Italian influences. I had an outstanding peanut soup--mixed in were
some flakes of parsley, very mild but flavorful. And it was topped
with just a few matchstick potatoes as a garnish. It would please
anyone. At Iguazu Falls many years ago, I was introduced to matambre,
an appetizer dish of rolled, stuffed thin-sliced steak. In the north,
also, for dessert they serve a regional cheese (casiello) topped with
either honey or a jam called dulce de cayote (pronounced cajote) --
technically a pumpkin jam made with a large squash like spaghetti
squash. In the south--Patagonia, the Welsh came and raised sheep
instead of beef (gauchos of the pampas), and there are lamb stews and

It is worth going once to a MacDonalds in B.A.or other big city--they
don't have a drive through, but are otherwise fancier than the U.S.
stores. There might be a special part in the entry set aside for
coffee service; and/or similarly for ice cream service. The menu in
the main part is otherwise pretty much like the U.S. menu, but no
milk-shakes. Strangely, given that food is generally 20-30% cheaper
in Argentina, on the actual dollar prices are a bit higher than the
U.S. or at least were in October. Also, the pizza in B.A. is generally
very good.

Chile is completely different food-wise, except they do have media
lunes. I don't think they value food as the Argentines do, but in any
case, seafood is often on the table, and it's good, but includes odd
things on occasion. In Antofagasta, we had an assortment of local
things served with rice at a stand on the (non-touristy) pier, and it
included some sort of a bright red,very chewy tube worm (like poorly
prepared, flavorless abalone)--Susana recalls the name piure, but now
googling it, I am not sure. I don't eat any raw seafood unless I
really know who prepared it (e.g., not in Atlantic City N.J.)--ceviche
is excepted because I don't consider it raw.

In Argentina, the default coffee is cafe con leche--equal quantities
of fresh double-strenght coffee with steamed milk. In Chile, they put
a carafe of hot water on the table in all but the best hotels, and
provide you with Nescafe (powdered coffee) or tea bags. Again, Susana
thinks it was a matter of cost. The latter is also common in Peru.

When you're in Iguazu, see if you can swim under one of the little
water falls off to the side. When we were there, there was an
"unadvertised" spot were you could slip into a small pool surrounded
by jungle! We also made a day trip to the colonial hotel on the
Brazilian side of the falls that was remarkable.

Our trip to northern Chile was wonderful; particularly because we went
on a cheap tour from San Pedro de Atacama to the south of Bolivia. We
slept in modest hostels, bumpy-traveled by 4-wheel drive vehicle, but
our 4 companions were a lot of fun, and the scenery unique: salt
flats, flamingos, hydro-thermal vents and pools, beautiful rock
formations (like Chile).

It used to be that you could buy silver, leather and woolens in
Argentina and be sure that what you are getting was locally made. Now
the alpaca sweater that I bought in Peru can also be bought along the
road almost anywhere in Argentina. If you ask the vendor where they
come from, they look away or say "up north". They are still a good
value. One doesn't generally bargain for purchases there except at
street-market stands. Prices for craft items vary widely for the same
item -- often over 3-fold. Maybe that is everywhere--so buy when you
see something that you like, and hope that you don't find it the next
day for half the price. No-one starves in these countries and there
are fewer beggers than in Santa Monica, but while half of the
population lives fairly well, half lives quite poorly. So I do carry
dollar bills to give away here and there.

Don't carry much extra money--almost every store accepts credit cards
and there are ATM's everywhere with generally modest charges for
overseas withdrawals. I did get pushed down and my wallet taken in
Santiago -- the only such occassion in a life of travel; so now I
carry two wallets, one for real in an inside (Travel Smith) pocket,
and one with a few pesos for general spending and an assortment of
look-like-credit card plastics in my backpocket.

I hope that you and Pat have fun--I'll look forward to your journal and photos.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Argentina & Chile


In two weeks, we'll be flying down to Buenos Aires to begin a 32-day adventure through the bottom half of South America. An added feature on this trip is that I'm taking a small digital audio recorder (it's so small it fits on the brim of my hat) to try to record the sounds of travel. When attached to photos in a video in YouTube, it brings another dimension to experiencing the trip. Wish me luck trying to upload videos from Patagonia, and check back beginning on January 22nd to come along with us.

Gregory and Pat.