A Travellerspoint blog

Argentina

Buenos Aires Redux

It feels good to be back "home" in our little apartment, though it is strange indeed to contemplate our return to our real home in less than two weeks.

We have continued our explorations of the neighborhoods of Buenos, and spent an enjoyable afternoon at the Modern Art Museum and playing in the nearby greenspace.

Another day was spent in the leather shops of Calle Florida. We must have gone into at least half dozen places and there were many more. Ultimately we settled on one store which seemed to have the softest leather. We blew some bucks, and each ordered a custom jacket to be ready in 48 hours.

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We met up (for the third time) with our friends EJ and Michael, who treated us to a lovely meal and at least three bottles of Malbec. They have shipped their Land Cruiser back home to England, full of chocolate from Bariloche, (which we heard melted in the heat of late Spring) and left for home yesterday.

We strolled along the Rio de la Plata eating choripan, a sausage and potato sandwich, which is sold in the many stalls nearby. Not good for you, but very good tasting. La Plata is a river in the sense that that the Saint Lawrence Seaway is one. Estuary is probably a better term. From there we walked to a nearby park and got a view of the city skyline through marsh grasses.

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Intrepid Sun Worshippers by the Rio



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This Guy was selling donuts, but he seemed not to notice Nanette
Standing Behind Him.




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On one of our other wanderings, we took the subte to Recoleta, the cemetery of the rich and famous. It is like a small town with alleyways, ornate mausoleums, and saintly Catholic sculpture. "Saint" Evita is buried here, somewhat ironically, given her dedication to the poor and downtrodden. She is apparently in a crypt that could withstand a bomb attack, and there is good reason for that.

Evita was embalmed at the time of her early death in 1953, and then kept by a Peronist union organization while a special burial place was being prepared for her. When the army overthrew Peron in 1955, General and President Aramburu was concerned that her body would become a rallying point for the outlawed Peronist Party. Hence he had it shipped off to a secret location in Europe, purportedly in Italy. There it remained for many years. In 1970 the Montoneros, a left wing guerrilla group, kidnapped Aramburu, and killed him when he refused to reveal Evita's whereabouts. They tried to arrange a his and hers body exchange, but this never took place. In 1971 the army, apparently in a peace gesture, had it shipped to Peron's residence in Spain, though by this time he was remarried. He returned to Argentina a few years later, but without the body. It was not until after his death that Isabelita, his third wife, had it brought back. Evita was then interred in her final (until now at least) resting place. In another ironic twist, Aramburu is also buried in Recoleta.

At one point we thought we saw him, but it was hard to tell for sure.


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Juan Peron's body is in another location, and there have been issues with that too. In the 80's thieves broke into the crypt and sawed off his hands. They have never been found. (Sources for the above info include, Moon Travel Guide to Argentina, Washington Post, January 1, 1997, Scandalous Women, A Blog, October 17, 2008, by Laurel Thatcher Ullrich, as well as NY Times cited below).

According to psychologist Alberto Parkes, as quoted in the NY Times, October 13, 1996, the Argentine obsession with the dead is because of their inability to come to terms with their troubled past. Possible I admit, but also understandable is why there are more shrinks per capita in Buenos Aires than anywhere else in the world, including New York. In Argentina the (dead) body politic takes on a whole new meaning.



While we were in Buenos it seemed positively sacrilegious not to attend a tango performance. The Tango, by the way, was very much a lower class thing for years. It was a long time before it was seen as respectable, and became the national symbol that it is today. We had hoped to go to a Milonga, which are authentic public dances, often with lessons, and attended mostly by locals. The problem was they all seemed to start at midnight, and we old fogies just couldn't wait up. Instead we went to Cafe Tortoni and saw a more touristy production. Okay, but hokey.

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The Author in Cafe Tortoni with Wax Sculptures of Borjes and Guardel

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Another picture of Guardel, the Most Famous Tango Singer in Argentina,
though he was born in France.




On a different walk, we happened to pass a small downtown concert hall and saw that there was a tango concert that evening. That was the real deal. It was great, but unfortunately no dancing. We had seen some street dancing in San Telmo and LaBoca, and so didn't feel deprived.

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Deserted Downtown on the Weekend




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On our final excursion, we crossed over the Rio Plata into Uruguay to Colonia. This is easy to do and takes anywhere from one to three hours, depending on the type of boat you take. Colonia is a charming, and yes, colonial city, that is fun to walk around. It is full of old stone houses, cobblestone streets and byways; a very relaxing place to spend the afternoon.



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El Ultima Dia:

Strange indeed. We leave tonight, and as the trip is drawing to a close my experience of it, as with any period of time in the past, is becoming condensed. A little like an accordion being played at the last tango concert, some of the air is being pushed out. Is this the nature of all past experience? Does it all tend to run together over time with certain obvious exceptions? Does it all occupy the same psychological space?

Obviously some things we remember while others we don't. Is it the specific memory of something which gives it meaning? Is what we remember significant, and what we forget unimportant. It's not that simple. Sometimes I remember a detail or a sight that when I reflect upon it seems trivial. For example, I have been known to remember the name of a restaurant years later, and while I concede that food is of the utmost importance to me, I think the name is not. So the memory per se doesn't always confer meaning or imply importance. And besides, as I get older my memory is not as good as it was, and it was never that great.

So where is the meaning to be found? Is it in the sheer number or variety of experience? We all tend to limit the kinds and amount of experience we allow ourselves, and it is also limited by circumstances beyond our control. Should we all become peak baggers, ( like Adirondack Mountain Club 46ers), climbing as many peaks of experience as possible so that we can tally them up and keep track of them. Is travel like that too; like so many stickers on a suitcase, on the back of a car, or patches on a backpack?

I have to admit that I feel a certain amount of "pride" when I look through my passport and see all those country stamps in there. A little like "this car climbed Mount Washington, or Pike's Peak." How ridiculous. Who really gives a f...... (okay if the New Yorker can say it I can too), fuck. Alright, maybe I consider myself a kind of experience junkie. That's pretty silly too when I think about it. Really just a variation of been there, done that.

So what am I really trying to say here? The experiences that seems to matter are those that push us. These can be what we usually think of as bad, such as my prostate cancer for example, or they can be good, like a particular ski run down a steep mountain bowl, where every motion feels like flying. Either way, they challenge us physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

How does travel fit in? Travel pushes you. I want to be clear about this. Travel is not the only way to be pushed. There are obviously many ways, some planned, some not. Travel is one way. It is full of surprises. You don't really know what a place will be like until you get there, guidebooks notwithstanding. It is often challenging; dealing with poverty in Peru or illness in Bolivia. Sometimes just communicating in Spanish, and finding your way around a new place can be challenging. The point is that you are exposed to new things that are literally extra-ordinary.

As I think about this trip, I realize that this is what gives it meaning. It has pushed me in a variety of ways, many of which I can't even articulate or categorize now. I do know that I have certainly been very uncomfortable at times, really joyful at others, and sometimes amazed in a kind of WOW, LOOK AT THAT, way. So yes I have been pushed by much of the last 8+ months, and even before, just getting ready to leave. This has made me grow and expand to incorporate it all and I suspect that process will continue for a while now. In the end, it has made me feel more ALIVE, and GRATEFUL, as I've said before, for the opportunity to undertake this journey.




CODA: Well not really. In the immortal words of Daffy Duck, THAT'S NOT ALL FOLKS. By the time most of you read this we will be on our way to Burma to travel and visit U Kumala, one of the monks that we have taught English to over the past year or so. Now I know that all of you, my faithful readers, have been waiting with baited breath for me to answer the question, WHAT MONKS HAVE TO DO WITH IT? Now you know the answer, sort of. At any rate, I was hoping to blog this trip live as it were, but given the political situation over there, this does not seem advisable. And besides, I have to tell you all about last years trip to teach English in China, and travel to Southeast Asia, as well as trekking in the Indian Himalaya. So you can look forward to more postings from Vagabonding at 60. Actually, though I hate to admit it, I am now 61, but that's okay. I've decided that 59, and definitely 60, is OLD ENOUGH. However, as my late father used to say, consider the alternative.

SO NOW THAT I'VE GOT YOU INTERESTED, PLEASE STICK AROUND AND DON'T CONSIDER THE OTHER ALTERNATIVE (OR ANY OTHERS FOR THAT MATTER)

I'LL LET YOU KNOW SOON ENOUGH WHEN TO EXPECT MORE OF MY SPAMMY POSTS

HOPING YOUR OWN ADVENTURES GO WELL AND CURIOUSLY

JON


PS I LOVE GETTING YOUR COMMENTS. AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, OR COULD BE FOR THAT MATTER.

KEEP IT UP AND KEEP 'EM COMING

Posted by jonshapiro 22:21 Archived in Argentina Tagged living_abroad Comments (9)

Las Cataratas de Iguazu

Located in the tri-corner area where Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet, the falls, more than 200 in all, are famous the world over. Our last major side trip was to fly up there for a few days. Certainly they are beautiful, but to be somewhat of a killjoy, they didn't blow my socks off. Maybe I have gotten jaded after all of the geological wonders of the past months. They are a bit like Niagara, though far less commercial and more extensive. At least on the Argentina side, they have done a nice job keeping away ugly commercial development. The wooden walkways are tastefully done and well placed, enabling you to get up close to the thundering water.

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By spending as much time there as we did, I was able to take photographs at all hours of the day.



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The Devils Throat

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Looking Toward the Brazilian Side





Some "arty" black and white shots:



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And a some close-ups.

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Located in a jungle area there is a lot of wildlife around. The not so wild coatis (at least in some ways), are everywhere. They would rather eat your lunch then find their own, and seem to have a talent for stealing it if you look away.



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For birders it is heaven. All kinds of tropical birds abound, including these guys, plush throated jays.




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But there are many others:


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We took the boat ride, their version of Maid of the Mist, except we were the only customers.


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CLOSER,


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CLOSER, we shouted, until it felt as if the boat might capsize and we were drenched.

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We spent time at the falls with a couple from LA.


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George is originally from the US, whereas his wife, Saraphina, is Bolivian. Although he doesn't look the part, George had a few adventures of his own to tell us about. It seems that a few years earlier, without knowing a damn thing about it, he and a couple of buddies went prospecting for gold in the Mato Grasso of Brazil. They spent several months without finding anything to speak of, and then towards the end one of them discovered a large nugget that turned out to be worth about 30 grand. I envisioned a scene from Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but apparently that didn't happen. They didn't kill each other and split the money. It paid for their expenses with a little left over, but did make a great story.

Posted by jonshapiro 23:02 Archived in Argentina Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

Buenos Aires And the Crazy Politics of Argentina

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The Sexy Couple in LaBoca

We took the overnight bus/cama or sleeping bus (I wish) to the Big Apple of Argentina,and then stayed for a couple of nights in a bad hotel room. After two days of running around like crazy, we rented a small apartment in a nice section of town, Palermo, and set up home here for the next few weeks, until our return.


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Our Corner

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Our Street

There are a number of on-line sites if you want to rent in BA, but it is not easy to tell what the place is really like, and how quiet it is, unless you see it in person. For that reason we waited until we got here. It is apparently unusual to to shop around in person for a short term rental, but we persevered and they accommodated us. The rental agent did not have the authority to do the paperwork, and so we had to meet with an elderly Jewish couple who were renting the place for their daughter. They had us sign off on an itemized list of every piece of furniture, including the number of forks, spoons, glasses and cooking utensils, just to make sure they we didn't break or run off with anything. A bit on the paranoid side.

Buenos Aires is a big, busy city, a bit like New York, but without the same ethnic diversity. Up to 1/3rd of the entire population of 40 million, lives in the greater district. The comparison between NYC and BA works on another level as well, in that some of people from Buenos tend to be more cosmopolitan and better educated, and hence, like New Yorkers, look down at the rest of the country and see other people as hicks. There's that famous New Yorker cartoon with Manhattan and then California, with little in between. While I am originally from The City, I'm a confirmed up stater now after almost 35 years, and I must say it does get tiring to hear how terrible Albany is, when all everyone from downstate knows about is the train or bus station.

Within a few days of our arrival, Nanette has already visited the local Zara and bought some new clothes for the first time in eight months. I have developed a fondness for the blue shirt I have worn for the entire trip, and have no interest in changing it now. We have settled into a very nice, relaxing, pattern. Each day we choose a different part of town to explore, which is easy to do on the subte, (or subway), located just two blocks away.

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Shots of Downtown

On Sunday we went to the antiques market in San Telmo, and began our search for leather jackets which are relatively cheap here, what with all the beef they eat.

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Tango on the Streets

Yesterday we spent in typical Buenos fashion. We lazed around until 3PM, and then went to the Belles Artes Museum for a couple of hours in the afternoon. We went back later in the evening for a piano for four hands concert. The thing we didn't do, which is also typical, is stay up most of the night.

There are foreign restaurants of course, but for the most part parrilla, the barbecued meat that is served all over the country, is also very prominent here. We are enjoying cooking in our own kitchen again, and have discovered a shop around the corner which sells homemade pasta, uncooked, along with pesto and red sauce. All we have to do is boil for about two minutes and we have a delicious dinner. We have found many fresh vegetables and can, at long last, make a really good salad, something that for inexplicable reasons doesn't tend to be served in restaurants.


We also had a grand tour of the city with a woman we first met in Huaraz, Peru. Celeste, who is a personal trainer, told us to be sure to look her up when we got here. She and her younger boyfriend Mariano, a lawyer, drove up from LaPlata, two hours south, to take us around in their car and point out the highlights. Among other places we visited Casa Rosada, The Pink House, akin to our White House, and we saw the parliament buildings as well, where the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo still march to protest the desaparacidos.

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This seems like a good place to insert a short discussion about Argentine politics. I want to preface this by saying that Argentinians are some of the warmest and most hospitable people we met. They love to talk to foreigners, and are very open about sharing their emotions, probably because so many have an Italian background. We loved them, but, to put it mildly, Argentina is a crazy place.

As Feitlowitz indicates in A Lexicon of Terror, it has a history of self-destruction. Many authors describe the country as enigmatic, paradoxical, etc., because since 1930 it has lurched from one economic and political crisis to another. From 1930 there have been at least 9 military coups, several rigged elections, and other presidents have been openly appointed by the army. And yet, the population is the most educated in South America with the highest literacy rate. The country is rich in natural resources, and in the 1920's and later, it was the 8th largest economy in the world. Buenos Aires was often considered the Paris of South America.

So why should they have so many problems? There has been no lack of speculation. Feitlowitz says that the basic structures of Argentina have remained feudal. The strongest elites have continued to be the landowning oligarchy, the Catholic Church, and the military.

Jonathan Brown says in A Short History of Argentina, that there has been a problem with social discrimination since the indigenous culture was destroyed in 1879. Hard manual labor and poverty were always equated with dark skin, and whites lost status if they worked with their hands. The oligarchy favored immigrant gringos over creole workers, and the upwardly mobile immigrants, most of whom settled in Buenos Aires, were quick to adopt the same attitudes toward race and color. Resentment simmered in the working class and, as Brown puts it, every landowner, employer, shopkeeper, and patrona monitored the behavior of their poorly paid employees because they feared a revolt. Authoritarianism which began with the elites, was later embraced by the middle-class and by the army, a largely middle-class institution.

Colin MacLachlan points out in his book, Argentina: What Went Wrong, that by 1880, the oligarchy had created a democratic illusion which continued well into the concordancia and the decada infama (1930-43). During this period which started with the overthrow of Yrigoyen by General Uriburu, three major political parties got together to create a government which controlled the political process for the benefit of the wealthy. Fraud and corruption were rampant. In 1943 there was another army coup in which Juan Peron participated. Three years later he won a reasonably democratic election by margin that only increased as time went on.

If anyone is representative of the conflicted Argentine society it is Peron. On the one hand he advocated for the lower class, the shirtless ones, by promoting social justice. He nationalized certain industries, increased basic wages, and improved working conditions for the poor. For that reason he became the darling of the workers. At the same time he was an admirer of Mussolini and Hitler, and sheltered many Nazis. After the election, he further consolidated his power by ousting anyone, including union leaders and other politicians, who dared to disagree with him. Although he was initially successful economically, things later spun out of control. He was despised by the elite, and to some extent by the upper-middle class intelligentsia, who saw him as a populist demagogue. His wife Evita was also beloved by the poor, almost to the point of sainthood. She gave away millions, advocated universal suffrage, and behaved in an autocratic fashion that brooked no dissent. Despite being a voice for the common people, she reveled in a trip to Franco's Spain, where she was treated like royalty. Other Argentinians considered her a lower-class whore. She died young of cancer, and is still idolized by much of the country.

In 1955, after he antagonized the Catholic Church, originally an ally, the army once again moved in and threw Peron out of office, It also outlawed the Peronist party, fearing it had tilted too far to the left. Peron was exiled to Spain, not to return for 18 years. During this time the army largely ran the country through a series of puppet presidents. The economy was stagnant, or worse, and the workers and labor unions, angry that their party was illegal, protested the rolling back of previous economic benefits through a series of riots and strikes. As in other parts of the world, the 60's were a time of of protest and social upheaval. A small radical left wing group, the Montoneros, and a few others, staged some high profile assassinations and kidnappings. As the 70's began, the number of armed attacks increased in number, as did the retaliations by right wing paramilitary groups. The army became concerned that the country was sliding into chaos, and legalized the Peronista Party once again, hoping this would provide an outlet. The Peronists swept the elections of 1973, but Peron himself was forbidden to run for president. He came back into the country shortly thereafter in what was supposed to be a triumphal return, but instead his right wing supporters opened fire and massacred his left wing supporters. He then denounced the left, after he had spent years encouraging them abroad. Another election was held shortly thereafter, which he won with 61% of the vote. About a year later with the economy still in trouble,, he died of a heart attack, and his third wife took over.

Isabelita, as she was called, unleashed the Triple A goon squad to try and finish off the Montoneros, and was generally seen as a completely incompetent and inept president. The army again intervened in 1976, with the vast support of the middle and upper classes. Even such liberal papers as La Opinion supported what was initially called, The Gentlemen's Coup. Ironically the editor of the paper, Jacobo Timerman, a Jew, initially wrote in support of the generals. Barely a year later, they imprisoned and tortured him for two years. He wrote about his experience in Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.

General Videla took charge along with other members of the armed forces, and implemented El Proceso. It later became known as The Dirty War, in which upwards of 30,000 people, depending on whose figures you use, were tortured and disappeared. Many of these people had nothing to do with radical left wing politics, but no matter. The generals used the excuse of national security, (sound familiar) and fighting communism, to wipe out students and professors, social workers and psychologists, labor union organizers, and virtually anyone who might be friends with them. Jews were overly represented in the disappeared. Most of the country looked the other way. They wanted a return to STABILITY and ORDER. I won't say law and order because that was clearly not the case.

The US congress gave money to the generals " to fight communism," and some members of the Argentine military were trained in torture in the SOA, School of the Americas in Fort Benning Georgia, as were other prominent Latin American dictators. They were also initially advised by the French military, according to Feitlowitz. Although Jimmy Carter, the US president in the late 70's, cut off financial aide, it was quickly re instituted by Reagan, who openly supported the regime in 1980.

Finally, in 1983 after the disastrous Falklands War with Britain, the military was disgraced, and allowed general elections to be held. Alfonsin was elected, and although there were a few prominent trials, he was afraid to prosecute too many from the unrepentant and still powerful military. Menem, supposedly a Peronist, though he instituted a neo-liberal economic policy supported by the IMF, later pardoned all of them. He linked the Argentine peso to the US dollar and initially brought the rampant hyperinflation under control. After being re elected he declined to run again, perhaps knowing what was come, leaving the way clear for Kirschner to become president. In 2001 the country defaulted on its IMF loans, the currency was devalued, and as much as 50% of the population was thrust into poverty. Menem eventually fled to Chile to avoid being convicted of fraud and embezzlement.

Economically things have improved somewhat under Kirchners 1, and now 2, Christina. However Transparency International ranks Argentina 109 out of 180 countries on its corruption index. This is worse than its score of 92 in 2003, when it ranked the same as Ethiopia, Pakistan and Zambia. As Maclachlan points out (Argentina:What Went Wrong, page 198) "even those that do not engage in corruption are assumed to do so. Laws are perceived to be obstacles that can be suspended by the powerful when approached properly... Individuals feel that they are victimized by those with better contacts or manipulative skills and thus feel exploited by their fellows."

This certainly fits with what I heard from Samantha, our Spanish teacher in Bariloche. It was no surprise to her that the judge released a thief because they knew each other from high school. She would have been surprised if he hadn't done that.

On a lighter note, Paul Samuelson, the economist, has been quoted as saying that there are four economic systems, capitalism, communism, Japan without resources but everything works, and Argentina with resources but nothing works.

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We continued our tour with Celeste and Mariano to LaBoca, the working class and somewhat seedy, port section of town. It proved to be a very interesting place, full of street art.


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We later made dinner at our apartment for our tour guides.


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You guessed it, pasta. They brought us a huge bag of Dulce de Leche, a popular candy in Argentina, but a bit too sweet for us. We got to practice our Spanish all day long. Celeste made us promise to call her when we got back from Iguazu Cataratas, so that we could visit her and her family and have parilla with them. We did call, but couldn't arrange a time to get down there. Almost everyone we met has been like this. They all want to hear that you love them and their country, but I guess most Norteamericanos want to hear the same things.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:11 Archived in Argentina Tagged living_abroad Comments (5)

Mendoza

The bus ride back across the border was long, but there was mountain scenery as we passed close to Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes.


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The Busy Border Crossing


This city, as everyone knows, is the wine capital of Argentina. It was much busier and bigger than I expected, full of noisy traffic at times. I didn't find it as relaxing as Valparaiso or as picturesque, though there were some nice parks and outdoor sculpture.


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Plaza Espana had some beautiful tile work.


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Futball, or Soccer is very big here, as in many parts of Latin America.


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Not everyone is white, though it is less obvious than in other countries.

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Our hostel was alternately very noisy or quiet. During our first two days there was a big rock concert in town, followed by a national holiday, akin to our Labor Day. Things were really hopping, and as a result I had my usual sleep problems. The owners of our hostel were absolute gems, extremely welcoming and helpful, and so we didn't want to move. In general Argentines stay up late into the night, and seemingly get by on very little sleep, much like Spain. This seems more noticeable here than in other parts of the country, and takes some getting used to for this middle-aged vagabonder. It is another way that traveling can test one's limits, especially with sleep issues. At times, I have taken to thumb tacking a blanket over the window to block out noise and light, a bit neurotic I know, but modestly effective. Sometimes I get what I call traveler's depression. I consider it a form of homesickness, a longing for the familiar and the comfortable. It lasts for a few hours, perhaps a day, and then passes. I think this is also part of the process of traveling.

On the national holiday we rented bikes, fought the crazy drivers, and went out to where the wineries are located in the nearby countryside. All were closed, even though we were told they would be open. Bummer. It was NOT a good day. The next day, however, we took a bus ride to some hot springs, and spent the afternoon talking to the locals while having a soak. That was great.

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The nearby country was beautiful.


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Yesterday we took an organized tour of the wineries instead of trying to do it on our own. The second bodega,
which is what they call them here, was small and intimate. It was run by a couple who came over from Europe. We got to sample several reds, and then bought a bottle of their estate Malbec which we enjoyed a few days later. The wine industry in Mendoza is a major business. The owners told us that much of the wine sold under Chilean labels, such as Concha y Toro is actually from Argentina. We also visited an olive oil factory.

On a different occasion, Nanette had some lessons with the sculptor next door to our hostel, though she swears she doesn't remember having negotiated this because she mistakenly took an ambien that morning. Here she is just about to slice off the guys ear, but it's only a bust. Just ignore that maniacal gleam in her eyes.

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We have also restarted our Spanish lessons two hours a day with another good teacher, this time in a group format. My energy for studying Spanish had started to wane, but I have been re energized. Tonight we are going out to dinner with our class at 9:30PM, the normal dinner hour . We will probably cheat and try and eat something ahead of time. We have had some fabulous lomo here. Some of the best we have eaten thus far. As the French would say, boeuf de beurre. It melts in your mouth like butter.

We met a woman from Switzerland for lunch, someone we hiked with a few weeks back in Torres Del Paine. We knew she was here via email. We have been busy, as you can see. At the same time, as our journey winds down, I am thinking more about our return and what that will be like. How will our friends react to us? And we to them? Will the US seem different as we view it with new eyes? How will this experience change us.

Posted by jonshapiro 21:46 Archived in Argentina Tagged postcards Comments (2)

The Lake District of Argentina

Renting a car in Bariloche, we took the famous Seven Lakes Drive through more beautiful mountain scenery, to San Martin de Los Andes. This is a small, upscale resort town near the Chilean border, which also has a vaguely Swiss feel. I won't bore you with more mountain photographs, or lake shots for that matter, mainly because they are crunched somewhere in the bowels of my computer, or else they got erased somehow, and hence are lost forever. No great loss I know. After you've seen 100 admittedly fabulous mountain scenes, how many more can you look at without your eyes glazing over. (For those of you just tuning in, feel free to look at previous posts so you'll know what I'm talking about).

Alright, I confess that despite my fear of heights, I am an unrepentant mountain person. I can walk amongst, and gaze at mountains, or pictures of them, indefinitely without ever tiring. Along the same lines, I am not much of an urban type. Urbane perhaps, but not urban. Yes, I like my share of museums, serious theater, and music of all kinds, except rap and country. But don't loose heart here. After a brief stint in the Chilean countryside, we head for the URBAN settings of Santiago, Valparaiso, Mendoza and of course, Buenos Aires. So you city lovers out there will get your time and descriptions. You should also stick around when I start blogging about Southeast Asia, China and India. There are urban centers in that part of the world teeming with more people than you can imagine, unless you have been there. And no, this isn't a commercial announcement, though it might sound like one.

But for now..... what I can tell you is that, yes, we went for yet another hike, this time up the trails of Cerro Chapelco, a nearby ski resort. It took several hours to get to the top and maybe 1/3rd of the way, our friend Natalie decided she had enough, and was going to rest in an open field near a closed restaurant (since it wasn't ski season). The rest of us dutifully carried on, and eventually got to the spectacular summit. It was well over tree line, and the far side had an almost sheer drop of 2,000 feet into an area that looked something like the Grand Canyon, with the addition of spiky, red rock towers. It was, to use the Spanish, increible. We spent some time up there taking it all in, and then descended, thinking we might run into Natalie on the way down. We got to the place where we left her in late afternoon and there was no trace of her. We assumed she went down, and we would find her in the open base lodge.

By now you can probably figure out how this story goes. Naturally, she wasn't there. It was still an hour before it was going to get dark, so we didn't worry too much at first, thinking that she had gone off for a walk someplace and would turn up soon. She didn't show up, and as time went on we became concerned that something had happened, though it was hard to imagine what, since all she had to do was follow the lift line back down. It was more or less a straight shot. Now there is one thing you need to understand about Natalie, and I love her dearly. If you're ever skiing or hiking with her, and there is a choice of which way to go, she will invariably choose the wrong way. In fact, it's reasonably safe to assume that if she goes one way, it must be the other way. She is, what you might call, directionally challenged. Even so, she just had to go straight, as I said. Well, it began to get seriously dark and cold. The sun was setting, and there was only 20 minutes left before the last traces of daylight evaporated. Allen, her boyfriend, was understandably beside himself. We started to look around for help, and noticed a nearby hut that looked like an emergency first aid shelter. Luckily there were a couple of guys inside who had an ATV. Nanette and I tried to explain what happened since Allen had no Spanish. It took a while, but they finally understood that this was a serious situation, and they needed to go and look for her. It would clearly not be good for her to spend the night up there, lost, cold, and possibly hypothermic. Fifteen minutes later they came back, just as it was getting completely dark, with a smiling Natalie, sans jacket, sitting on the back of the ATV.

"WHAT HAPPENED?"

"Oh" she said nonchalantly, " I fell asleep for an hour, and I figured I could find you on the way up. I thought I could catch up."

"YOU WHAT,?" we all said in unison.

"I started up, and after about 1/2 an hour, maybe more, I realized it was quite steep and far, and I'd better turn back.

"YOU WENT UP?," we said incredulously. "Why would you go up?"

"It didn't seem that far," she repeated.

"And what happened to your jacket?"

"I think someone must have taken it. I got up and walked over to the other side of the field where I left it, and it was gone. I couldn't find it."

"YOU LEFT IT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FIELD? Why would you do that?"

"I don't know. I didn't really think about it. I wandered around the field after I put my jacket down, and then felt tired in the sun, sat down and fell asleep."

Allen was starting to loose it at this point, so I said,

"Okay. And then what happened?

"I started down, and there were a couple of different trail junctions that I hadn't noticed on the way up and I, well you know, I must have taken the wrong one because I couldn't get back to the field."

"All you had to do was follow the lift line?"

"I know, but the trail I ended up on was away from it, and then I couldn't figure out how to get back."

"Ahhh," we all said, once again in unison, knowing of her predilection to always go the wrong way.

"It's really not such a big deal. When they found me I was most of the way down, and I would have made it without any help."

It was a little difficult not to react to this sarcastically, but I could see that Allen was practically apoplectic and this would not help matters.

"Okay, it's good you're safe, but how could you go up? That would never have occurred to me."

She smiled sheepishly.

"Never mind," I said. "It all came out right."

Somehow Allen and she got past it, but needless to say, she has taken a lot of ribbing over this one from the three of us. Directionally challenged. Count on it. Maybe her judgment ain't so hot in situations like this either.

The next day, after a good meal and a comfortable night, all is well. We took off on another ripio road looking for a trail to some hot springs, just what we all needed after this ordeal. Unfortunately, the road was in bad shape as it continued toward the mountains, and we didn't have four wheel drive. At a certain point we decided to stop and walk, not wanting to get stuck. It was much further along the road to the trail head than we thought. Natalie once again decided she had enough, and Allen, despite the fact that it was an actual road, albeit with no traffic, wisely decided to stay with her in another nearby clearing. As usual, we persevered, not really knowing how far it was. We finally got to the trail head at around 2:30, and practically ran the last two miles to get the the hot springs in time for a soak. We had come so far and didn't want to give up now. We got there just as a couple of people were leaving.

"Where are the hot springs," we asked.

They pointed up the hill to what looked like a small trickle in the rocks.

"That's it?"

"Yes, that's it. You can squeeze in between the rocks and just about get your body in."

What a disappointment. We had come all this way for that. If we had known, we wouldn't have bothered. Alright we were here and by God, we were going to have a soak if it killed us. We walked up the hill to the rocks. It was maybe, m a y b e, 6 to 9 inches deep. We got rid of a few more rocks and tried to make it deeper, and then tore off our clothes. At least it was hot, and I stretched out to a prone position, not an easy thing to do in this place, and could just about get my back in. We stayed for about 15 minutes trying to make the best of it, and it was better than nothing. Then we started back for the long, l o n g, l o n g, trip back. We got to the road and it was already past 3:30. It was two hours minimum, probably more, to get back to the car, and it was dark, really dark by 6, and I didn't have a headlamp. What was I thinking? Maybe when it comes to hot springs, my judgment ain't so good either. Who was I to criticize Natalie?

We started back, walking as fast as we could. After an hour, the Gods smiled on us. A four wheeled pick up came by, and almost as an after thought I stuck out my thumb. They stopped. "You'll have to ride in the back."

"No problem," we said as we clamored up the side. It was bumpy, but it was sure better than walking. After 15 minutes or so, we came across Natalie and Allen, who by this time had walked most of the way back.

"Can you stop for our friends?" I shouted through their open window. And once again they stopped.

"Hey you guys need a lift or what?"

  • *************************************************

The next day we headed back to Bariloche a different way, on another bone rattling ripio road, though this one was passable without 4 wheel drive.

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It took us through mesa country, and more impressive rock formations, and as you can see I do have pictures.

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We also passed some interesting animal life. Was it a squirrel, or a larger rodent?

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Or was it a woodpecker?

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Posted by jonshapiro 06:38 Archived in Argentina Tagged postcards Comments (3)

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