¡Hola from Chile!

December, 2009
Hello, everyone, from HOT Chile!    You have to pronounce it Chee-lay, not Chili (as our guide said unless you want "chili con carne").   We are currently in Santiago, the capital city which has 6 million of the 16 million total in the country. Chile is 3,200 miles long (think Boston to San Diego) and (on average) 100 miles wide!  And we wrote HOT because it is hovering around 90 degrees. By the way, the dialect is distinct from traditional Spanish and is spoken very, very fast, PLUS English speakers in the restaurants are few and far between so far. 

The main drivers of their economy are: copper, paper/lumber, farmed salmon, fruits/produce/wine, and tourism.  Their government is fascinating... president has one four year term, they had a big election on Sunday but no one won a majority, so they are voting again next month (ah, if only we had had that chance in 2000). Posters of the candidates are everywhere, and one looks surprisingly like George Costanza. 

We arrived on Monday and had two amazing meals (no surprise). Chile (unlike Argentina and Brazil) puts an emphasis on fish (but the beef is still great!). My dear friend Natasha had forewarned me that what we call Chilean Sea Bass is not what they call Chilean Sea Bass.  Unfortunately, we forgot that and what we thought was sea bass was really conger eel (served like fish and chips) and very tasty.  who knew?  We have also discovered that the produce is amazing (I will never look askance at Chilean produce in the Whole Foods again even though it’s not local)... particularly the avocados, tomatoes, hearts of palm, and strawberries.

Yesterday we took a day trip to Valparaiso (Valley of Paradise) an old port city on the Pacific. Though it is on the coast, it is still very mountainous, with the houses built all over the mountainside (some similarity to Amalfi Coast).  Then a small town called Viña da Mar (Vineyard by the sea) which looked a lot like Nice, but not as nice. 

Today, we did a short tour of the city (not really much to see - though parts looked like Rome (with the obligatory river) or plazas in Spain and Italy - hmmm....wonder why?), and saw the changing of the guard at the presidential "palace" (it is called that, but the president just works there - all presidents actually live in their own homes!). So they had a big ceremony with soldiers and marching bands...

...and then the street was reopened to traffic.  Yes...the traffic actually goes right past the President' office. Our guide said there is no need here for the kind of security we have at home. 

Then a lovely ride toward the Andes, and a tour of a winery.  It was pretty much what we've seen before (giant tanks, rows of barrels, certificates of awards, etc.). The big difference was that they did NOT try to sell us any wine, how delightful. After the tour we were led outside and served lunch under a huge cork tree! OMG! It was soooo beautiful: the rows of grape vines, a pool filled with lily pads, Greek-style statues holding bunches of grapes,

...a perfect temperature, no bugs.....and the food was fabulous... papaya with ice cream for dessert and the wine kept flowing. Did we mention they use lots of salt and sugar... detox will be needed upon our return. 

Tomorrow (Thursday) we fly down to  Puerto Montt to start our Andes crossing. 

We will see a small waterfall in preparation for the big one at Iguazu. Puerto Montt is a town settled by Germans over 150 years ago--at the northern-most tip of Patagonia (which means land of big feet--hope they let us in).  

¡Bueno from Bariloche, Argentina!

We left Santiago and flew to Patagonia; Puerto Montt to be exact, at the northern end. The climate there is much different. In Patagonia, the wind is the main weather factor. Saw the first of many volcanoes (according to our guide, there are over 1,000 in Chile).  Then, over a three day period, we meandered our way to Bariloche, Argentina (and the Llao Llao, check it out at ) Llao Llao is an amazingly wonderful property in the Switzerland of South America--surrounded by the Andes, lakes, and trees. For a point of reference for this resort, prior readers, note... think the Wharekauhau in the North Island of New Zealand.  A brief linguistics break.  The name of the resort is pronounced "yao yao" when you are referring to it from Chile...but once you’re in Argentina, it is "zhao zhao", go figure. Also, linguistically speaking, my knowledge of French is helpful here in terms of reading but does not help in speaking one bit.   

So, the trip here?  A combination of buses, more buses, a broken-down bus, boats, more boats, and a plane.  The geography on the way here, crossing the Andes, was spectacular--a combination of the Road to Hana and New Zealand yet more rugged, and quite chilly. Waterfalls, snow-capped mountain tops, volcanoes, emerald lakes, blue lakes ,bubbling brooks, beautiful blue skies, etc., perfect weather.  The tour guide put me (Wendy) in charge of the weather (I guess I looked like I needed more to do) and so far it’s cooperating. He’s in charge of everything else. (Geography note: this is only northern Patagonia, so my assumption is that it is only more rugged the further south you go.)  Along the way, we sailed Lake Toda Los Santos into Vincente Perez Rosales National Park to Peulla, a place of primeval forests.  Only 120 residents there.  We had a choice of various Andean adventures, we chose a 4X4 tour (think Boston Duck boats without the attitude).  Our three  favorite parts of this tour were (1) when the llama from the farm we were visiting jumped over the fence, (2) the chocolate brown alpaca, would look great in a sweater, but itchy, and (3) a quiet moment on the Rio Negro--we transferred to a pontoon boat--when our guide turned off the motor and we listened to nature for five minutes  Imagine that, no talking!  During this time, we saw condors flying over head and heard frogs, other birds, and who knows what else.  It was uplifting and spiritual. Another highlight during the trek here was a (what we thought would be a lovely) walk yesterday morning until a wild boar came out of the woods and began to amble toward us.  Of course, having a strong survival instinct, I ran for the hotel while Wayne lingered to get the perfect photo.  It was only after 2 minutes of uninterrupted screaming on my part that Wayne decided to come back to the hotel.  whew! 

What about the food?  Well, they kept touting the salmon (again a primary export of Chile, so sorry Andrew).  So, lots of that. Also, Wayne is in heaven as the only vegetables served regularly are corn and potatoes.  Wayne had a tasty dish, corn pie with beef, chicken, olives, onions, and sweet caramelized top.  Apparently, our local guide added sugar to his as they adore their sugar.  The other meals (until we reached this property) were absolutely unmemorable, except for a bout with maggots in a turkey/ham slice, not ours, luckily.  We promise more appetizing food details in the next issue.

with that, we leave you for now.  We head to Buenos Aires tomorrow for the first real shopping of the trip--chocolate and leather which I expect to be an absolutely splendid combination. 

¡Buenos Dias from Buenos Aires!

It is Christmas Eve in Buenos Aires (about 95 degrees and rainy) and here is our report on this extraordinary city.

We flew into BA (which is what they call it here) on Monday. The city is huge from the air - 16 million people in the whole area. When you get through baggage and walk outside, you see what you expect is the Atlantic, but wait; it is all brown. Because, it is not the ocean, but the Rio de la Plata, the largest estuary in the world - at some points 120 miles wide! Plata means silver in Spanish. The country, Argentina, is named after argentum, the Latin word for silver. Seems the Spanish thought the brown in the river was from silver. Oops...wrongo! It is only sediment. The name of the city is actually City of Trinidad and Port of Buenos Aires (city founded on Trinity day - Nov 2, and the port has really good air). But of course it is just called Buenos Aires.

Monday we did a city tour in the bus. There are over 1,000 statues and monuments! There are 40+ neighborhoods in the city. 
There are really beautiful areas and of course some very poor, run down shanty town areas. We were constantly warned about pickpockets, but no one had any problem, even walking at night. We are in Recolleta, one of the nicer areas. The architecture is very interesting...a mix of French (many French architects came over to work in the city) plus Spanish plus a local flavor. Palm trees and banyans abound. Perfect weather.

We promised more food details.  We were here on our 35th wedding anniversary so went out to celebrate on Monday evening at a lovely French restaurant called Nectarine. The food was amazing.  We started out with a French sushi roll/amuse bouce of smoked salmon on a pea puree.  Then we moved to our appetizers.  I had tomatoes prepared 5 ways (which was a perfect appetizer given that Wayne does not eat tomatoes so I didn’t have to share)...anyway, tomato foam, heirloom tomatoes, a tomato blini, salad with tomato dressing, and sun dried tomatoes.  Wayne went more inventive with pumpkin capellini served with duck magrait, prunes, and almond and garnished with vanilla oil.  Then, we moved to the main course... I had lamb that surpassed anything in Australia New was served with roasted sweet peppers, with Provence salad served with peas and fava beans in rosemary water.  Wayne had a beautiful pork loin.....served with avocado, shrimp, a green curry foam and hearts of palm tempura.  For dessert, I had dark chocolate roll stuffed with chocolate mousse adorned with mango sorbet and surrounded by dark chocolate and orange drops.  Wayne went for the red fruit cake (though it sounds more romantic in Spanish... gateau de frutos rojas) with a pistachio biscuit, red fruit sorbets, and a cheese cake adornment.  Truly glorious.  But the food adventures did not end with our anniversary.  For lunch on Tuesday we had classic empandas at a locals spot--these are meat and/or chicken turnovers which melt in your mouth they are so delectable...particularly when washed down with beer they are very yummy.  Speaking of beer, the alcohol has truly been flowing.  The wine (Malbec is my favorite) is great and hard to put down. To close out our eating adventures in Buenos Aires, lots of Italians here so we had great pizza for dinner on Wednesday night.  We had a BBQ (with the whole parade of meats) at a ranch for lunch on Wednesday. And how could I forget, the ice cream here is also great.

Forgot to mention (regarding our anniversary) that not only did a dozen red roses magically appear in our hotel room but so did a bottle of champagne with strawberries (which no one is claiming... hmmm).  A special anniversary gift was the yummy leather jacket i purchased (made to fit).... a must not miss stop for several of us on the trip... memories of our Viet Nam experience. 

Moving on to other adventures, a highlight of Tuesday was the tango show.  I never realized how many balletic elements are in tango.  It was really great.  Wednesday morning we went to a ranch at a pampas about an hour out of town.  The horses put on an amazing display but our favorite was the 3 day old pony.  OMG, so cute.  After 5 hours on the ranch we hurried back so that 9 of us could take the Jewish tour of Buenos Aires.  Very interesting.  The Jewish community here is quite strong (not quite as strong as it once was...but strong nonetheless).  We visited the site of the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing (now a memorial), the Holocaust Museum, an extraordinarily beautiful conservative synagogue in the pretty-much defunct garment district, and a huge shopping mall financed by a group including orthodox Jews, so there was a mezuzzah at each entrance.  This mall also included the only Kosher McDonalds in the Western Hemisphere.  We did a double-take when we walked up to the McDonalds and "Silent Night" came through the PA system. Gotta love those intercultural experiences.  By the way, Buenos Aires truly is a city of immigrants from all over the world with the latest wave from other countries in South America.

Back to the Jewish Tour for a moment.  it is easy when you are caught up in the magic of Buenos Aires to forget that this is a country that sheltered many Nazi war criminals just after the war including Adolph Eichmann.  We marveled at Evan Peron´s tomb and the amazing cemetery where her remains rest but when we heard about her contributions to the Nazi settlement effort here (she flew to Switzerland with several phony passports), we saw things in a different light.

Time to move on... we are leaving for a plane to Iguazu Falls in a few minutes and will report on those in a day of two.

Oi from Rio De Janeiro

Yes...we are in Rio.  Oi is Portuguese for Hello.  We have only learned a few words of "obrigado" (thanks)...many words are almost like English (telefono, taolette). But you still can't understand what people are saying. Even those in our group who speak Spanish are having trouble.

But before we talk about Rio, here are some perspectives from Iguazu Falls. First of all, it is Iquazu on the Argentinian side and Iguaçu on the Brasilian (yes...Brasil) side. It is pronounced ee-gwa-SU (or ee-gua-SHU in Brasil) and it means "place where the waters end" as it is the place where two rivers flow into a third. We spent Christmas Eve on the Argentinian side and Christmas Day on the Brasil side.  Awesome.  Amazing.  Huge.  Breath-taking.  Majestic.  Thunderous. Magnificent.  Spiritual.  Iguazu has neither the volume of Niagara nor the widest single waterfall impact of Victoria.  But, in terms of sheer magnitude, it wins... it includes over 200 separate falls in a spectacular rainforest setting, with bridges and well-maintained nature walks over the river and up to the edge of the falls.  Whereas at Victoria (in Zambia) we were drenched immediately... at Iguaçu, there was no deluge until the very last stop on the Brazilian side.  Such a treat.  While the falls are off the beaten path, they should not be missed on a trip to this part of the world.  Indeed, they are in the "finals" for an updated "seven new natural wonders of the world" list.  We caught sight of several  coati mundi families (like raccoons) as well as an elusive Fruit Loops toucan. 

Our guide informed us the jungle was full of leopards, pumas, and the like...but even though we made a special request, we saw none of the above. Other than a sumptuous Christmas Eve buffet (in Latin America, Christmas Eve is when the big celebration occurs) the food at the Falls was not memorable.

Then, on Christmas Day, we moved on to Rio (pop. 7 million).  A fascinating city of contrasts--extreme poverty (in the favellas/slums) and over-the-top hotels and condos (in Ipanema Beach)... extraordinary diversity across ethnicity lines... a free and easy lifestyle that expresses itself through the samba, Carnaval (four days of partying like Mardi Gras but south of the border), and a ¨let´s hang out at the beach" orientation. Other descriptors for this city:  thongs, Speedos (both worn by all, in their respective gender, regardless of those individuals’ size), in your face, uninhibited, steamy (in all respects), energizing. The city includes the largest urban rainforest, mountains, bays, the Atlantic Ocean, and is overseen by the almost overpowering Christ the Redeemer statue.  Nearly everyone has seen the photos, but to be in the presence of this statue was awe-inspiring.  And to be there the day after Christmas when the cardinal was officiating at a mass was more awe-inspiring still.

We walked on Copacabana beach and boardwalk which has the world's smallest McDonalds - a little hut like you find on many Caribbean beaches - the kitchen is underground! Thousands of people sunbathing and enjoying the water there.  The beach is beautiful - clean white sand several kilometers long. No air conditioning in the favellas, so the beach is the destination of choice (and the temperature has been hovering upwards of 95).  The name Rio De Janeiro means "River of January" because when the Portuguese "discovered" it in 1502 (don't tell the natives) it was January 1st and they thought they were on a big river....but it turns out it was a bay off the Atlantic (so they were no smarter than the Spanish in Buenos Aires).

On Saturday morning, we got up to see the sun rise over the Atlantic. Wow!!  After a visit to Christ the Redeemer... 

...we did a bus / walking tour of the downtown part of the city - learned some history and about the current culture (10% upper class, 10% very poor, 80% middle class. But, for example, a teacher here earns about 450 Reals / month ($250 US)). Then we had a traditional lunch at the oldest cafe in Rio (hmmm...heard that before). The cafe was incredible - and the lunch featured black beans and rice and a choice of meats from boiling pots full - pigs ears, feet, pork lips, pork ribs, several kinds of beef... plus extraordinary desserts.  Our local guide informed us that Portuguese desserts are the best and I think he was right.  pecan tarts, all kinds of flans, beautiful truffles, fruit tartes, on and on and on. We tasted most of them.  Yummo!  Then we went to a Samba school. Preface: this is a very Catholic society, so even though it seems very loose in some ways, it is traditional in others. So they have Carnaval (same as Mardi Gras) in the 4 days before Lent. And they have a VERY BIG DEAL competition the last night (from 7pm - 7am) where the top 12 teams square off to show their floats and sing and dance before upwards of several hundred thousand people in a set of grandstands several blocks long. So each team has a huge warehouse where they build their floats and practice and keep everything VERY SECRET!!!! But we got to go in and they had a few musicians and several women wearing skimpy costumes (I mean 1 yard of fabric probably outfits all of the women!). I forced Wayne to pose with one of the women, very funny.  And then they had us (well, Wendy plus the other women) dancing with them!! Like a Latin Bar Mitzvah!  and we got to try on some costumes and headpieces (VERY HEAVY! - How do they dance in them for hours??).  One way to burn off the calories from nonstop eating.  

On Sunday, we enjoyed the beach some more then took a cable car up to Sugarloaf Mountain for amazing views and had an amazing lobster dinner. Speaking of food, we haven’t really had a chance to do extensive sampling of the food here in Rio but can thank our hotel for providing amazing and creative fruit drinks each morning--strawberry/orange, açai juice, parsley, mango, guava... and don’t miss the caiparina (sp?)--lots of fruit, lime is traditional--even more sugar, and the Brazilian answer to vodka.  Oh my. 
On Monday (our extra day), mere mortals might have chosen to relax, but first we took a walk around the neighborhood and visited  a grocery store with a full aisle of beans and rice.  Next, we checked out the subway prior to shopping in Ipanema (quite successful), then we took a fantastic tour of the favellas which should not be missed.  Our Land Rover took us into the heart of approximately 10 block area/200,000 residents (on the side of a hill with many cinder block squares stocked one on top of another,  as children age they build another residence on top of their parents’ home!) where we exited the vehicle and wandered up and down the narrow walkways.  Fascinating.  This is a low income area but full of energy, excitement, and wonderful people.  On the outside, the houses are cinder blocks and run down.  But, in the inside, they look quite lovely.  

We think Rio totally deserves the Olympics and we can’t wait to hear how the city is transformed.  

Well, we are ready to leave for the airport. We heard "The Girl from Ipanema" at least 100 times in the last 4 days so we won’t  miss that!  Thank you for joining us for our trip... we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

Adios and Tchau.

South America 2009 - Photo Album

You can see our Shutterfly photo album for this trip. 
Click on "Full screen" for best viewing.