Robert Stanelle

Journey to El Fin del Mundo: A South American Odyssey

Early January, La Plata, Argentina

Here I am wandering the world again. I flew a few days ago to Buenos Aires, known as BA to all the locals. I know BA well as this was my 10th trip to South America and about the 5th or 6th time I had landed in BA. I am very fond of BA. It is a city of about 14 million people perhaps similar to NYC. the natives here trace their roots to Spain, Italy and Germany though and so they claim to be the Paris of South America. It is no Paris but it is pretty nice. A very vibrant city center (where I always stay), great food and restaurants, wonderful street artists and performers and generally pretty good weather. It is of course hot here as it is now summer south of the equator.

As I have spent many days in BA and have traveled mostly north or west from there, I am on a new journey heading a little east and then far south from BA. I am heading mostly down the eastern side of the Andes Mountains to the tip of South America and the most southern city in the world. I shall then cross into Chile and head north up the western side of the Andes to Santiago, Chile. The Andes are about twice the height of the Rockies so it should be interesting. Today I am in La Plata, the capitol of this province (like our states). We are only an hour ride from BA, which is more like Washington, DC, its own federal district. La Plata is about 250K population and actually a fairly dull place. I came here to see only one particular thing - the Museum of Natural Science at the National University of La Plata. It was definitely worth the trip.

The Museum has a fabulous collection of dinosaur skeletons discovered throughout Argentina mostly plus other areas of SA. Many skeletons of prehistoric creatures that I have never seen nor learned of before including huge turtles and various other creatures. Most were various lizards and reptiles of course. They also had some current skeletons of an Asian and African elephants plus several whales. That was of some interest to me as I had just been riding Asian elephants as most of you know. The African variety is MUCH bigger and I would not have ridden that one! The blue whale skeleton was about 90 feet. They also had an anaconda skeleton of maybe 30 feet! The dinosaurs here had mostly different names than those I have known. Skeletons included an 80 foot Plethosaurus and maybe 30 others whose names I cannot spell at the moment. Great fun to see and a very enjoyable day. Tomorrow I am taking a bus to Mar del Plata, the major Atlantic Ocean beach resort escape for Argentineans. 

Early January, Mar del Plata, Argentina

Arrived here early afternoon after a five hour bus ride through incredibly flat land. The area south of BA quickly becomes the Pampas and is the fertile rich farm land of this country. It is flat though as far as the eye can see. Great similarity to the great plains of the U.S., Kansas, Nebraska and eastern Colorado before the Rockies. Same here before the Andes. Similar crops: tall grasses, corn, wheat, potatoes, etc., plus plenty of cattle. Even saw several large fields of sunflowers. May not be Kansas but I think Toto would be fooled here. And these people are one of, if not the, biggest meateaters in the world. A popular sandwich here is a Hamburguesa Completo, a hamburger with lettuce, tomato, cheese, a slice of ham and a fried egg! Elvis would have loved it. Difficult place to be a vegetarian.

Struggled to find a hotel room upon arrival as this place is packed. Ended up staying at a very cheap place that can only be called a dump! Oh well. The town is actually a pretty nice town and there is money here. Lots of fancy highrises overlooking the beaches down below the cliffs. Nice beaches but the water is cold here unlike my time in Brasil where water was warm. Brasil is like Miami though and Argentina is more like northern U.S., plus the further south you go here the colder it gets. The Argentineans love this place though and it is crowded. Unfortunately the weather is also quite cool with a stiff breeze blowing and thunderstorms all this morning. Dry now but breezey and cool still. Seems like Lake Michigan in early June to me. I don´t care to spend much time in the water but am surprised at the number of people in it! On the plus side though is Argentina has the most beautiful women in the world and especially in BA. If you doubt it just ask any Argentine man and they will tell you so. In many trips here now I have seen nothing to contradict them.

Late that afternoon, I went outside and behold - the weather was dry and greatly improved bringing the Argentines out in droves and I quickly remembered why I love this country. The seashore here is miles long and most below cliffs except the main section of about a mile in the center of town. This section is about street level and a filled with a continuous wall of vendor stands and open plazas filled with street entertainers. In addition there were at least three street bands playing and people dancing on the plazas. One rock band, one tango and one mixed music - each about 40 yards apart and each having its own group of followers and enthusiastic dancers. Argentines love to dance and do so with great enthusiasm. They are much fun to watch. Men here are much better dancers than in the U.S. In fact, the tango was originally designed as a dance for men and was danced by men with men, only later were women invited to participate and make it the incredibly beautiful and sexy dance it has become today.

I really love visiting the plazas, street entertainment, fairs and festivals. These are sort of ongoing and almost spontaneous at times internationally whereas ours in the U.S. are dated and planed well in advance. I like the more spontaneous stuff - and therein lies my love for Argentina and Chile! I like to meet people and meet new friends. I have been wearing my "Che Vive" (Che lives) hat and that helps meet people. Earnesto "Che" Guervara was born in Argentina and is very popular here yet today. One might say he is the male equivalent of Evita. People will see my hat and place their fist over their heart indicating that Che lives in the heart of Argentineans everywhere and all those who care about the poor and hungry. (Note Che was killed in Bolivia by supposedly U.S. backed rebels) The hat has started many conversations for me including several last night. One with a group of Argentina university students had me drinking vodka and some kinds of juice (I think) by straw out of a big yellow melon of some kind. Quite good actually! I do love the Argentines - men and women.

This morning the sun was out, the wind had died and the day was beautiful. The folks were marching to the beach in a parade. The water is calm and flat with only small whitecaps near shore. People in the calm water, playing games on the beach, fishing off the rocky breakwaters, boats sailing about, hang gliders in the air, and a glorious day. It is the kind of day where even those who are not beach people (like me) can not help but enjoy the beach. I also noticed ice plants growing on the cliffs above the beach. This is the same growth I have seen all over the California shore, particularly from about San Luis Obispo north to the San Francisco Bay area. I see the temperature, environment and conditions here as very similar. Plata by the way is silver in Spanish. Mar del Plata can thus be interpreted as silver sea but likely means something more like silver by the sea as it was the discovery of silver here that originally placed this town on the map. Now it has grown to a very beautiful town of quite manageable size. And you can buy an apartment here in a high rise quite inexpensively by U.S. standards.

Most SA cities of any size at all have central "peatonals" (pedestrian malls) open only to walkers and shoppers. These range from about one to several kilometers long. They are wonderful places, filled with walkers, shoppers, lovers, families and street entertainers. And Argentines are lovers. I suppose it is the mix of Spanish and Italian blood that overcomes the staid German blood here. Old and young, to hold hands, kiss and otherwise show affection on the streets is quite normal. In fact all Argentines greet with a kiss on the cheek, men and women including men to men. It is the way. In fact I have noticed that even when men argue they end with a kiss on the cheek, a pat on the back and all is okay.

People watching on the peatonals is such a joy. The "familias" are a special joy: parents and children, grandparents and children, brothers and sisters and all the generations. Multi-generations under one roof or close by are still much more common in the world outside of the U.S. and I love it. Argentines also love their ice cream and they buy it in many flavors, eat it with a little tiny plastic spoon, taking small bites and greatly savoring each one. I also had some hot chocolate yesterday except here it is called a "submarino." Basically you are given a cup of steaming hot milk and a little chocolate bar. You drop in and stir in the chocolate bar (submarine it) and you have hot chocolate.

This city is also supposedly the chocolate capitol of Argentina. I am not a chocolate nut but cultural curiosity has forced me to sample several delicacies. Argentines are also pizza and ice cream crazy. The pizzas are quite different then U.S. pizzas, very heavy on mozzarella but limited other ingredients. You can also get fruit pizzas, cheese covered with tropical fruits and heated. And ice cream? Well being a born and raised Wisconsin boy I am obligated by blood to sample and compare as much as possible and it compares very well!

Some friends have asked about the politics here. As many of you may know most of South America has elected leftist governments who ran on an anti-American platform. Unfortunately that is what the Bush administration has done to our country. Bush is very unpopular throughout this continent including Argentina. Graffiti is common here and anti-Bush stuff is quite common. There is the common Fueher Bush, F---- Bush, Bush is only for the rich, etc., but the one I like best so far is "Bush cares for money, he is no Evita." Most of you may know how popular Eva (Evita) Peron was here in Argentina. She came from poverty to power and was considered to care greatly about the poor and less fortunate among the people. It was interesting to see this writer relate his disgust with Bush to Argentina´s own history. I am bothered greatly in seeing America go down so greatly in the eyes of the world but understand the feelings of these people. I never saw any Obama graffiti and he has been facing a very difficult task in restoring our image abroad.

Getting out of this town was now the problem. I wanted to go to Bariloche next but found no bus or plane available for a week. So am leaving in two nights on a long bus ride to Trelew, down way further south. From there I will try to get to Bariloche or another Andes town via the "back door." All part of the adventure and one way or another I am going to get to where I want to go. Trelew is supposedly a Welsh town, founded by Welsh people and still heavily Welsh influenced. Interesting. I will take a long nap on a big bus to get there. 

January, Trelew, Argentina

Well I survived an 18 hour bus ride from Mar del Plata here to Trelew. Got a decent hotel with good bed and shower and I needed it. Will relax tonight and see more of Trelew tomorrow.  The bus ride down to here was definitely a new experience. We left at 10 last night so I saw nothing until I awoke at 6:05 this AM to an incredibly bright blue sky and I see now why that is the color the Argentina National Futbol team wears on their jerseys. Dazzling this far south and in an unpolluted sky. The highway coming down through the pampas and into patagonia is ribbon thin, ruler straight and plate flat. It is barely wide enough for two vehicles and our bus often takes more than half of it. It is the straightest road I have ever seen anywhere. A slight curve will come about every 50 km or so and there will actually be a sign warning you of an almost nothing curve simply because it is so rare.

It is also an incredibly flat and mostly treeless land. Coming down from the north one will see scattered trees along with mostly shrub. Though the ocean is somewhere on our east it is seldom seen as are the Andes somewhere off on our west. Occasionally you will see a hill way off in the distance. As you go further south the wind blows constantly and the trees are gone. Only shrubs and short grassland. Nothing higher than the maybe 3 foot fence posts except a line of electrical poles. There is a narrow gauge railroad running in each direction, north on the east side of the road and south on the west.

There are supposedly HUGE estancias (ranches) here and I believe that as it clearly takes many acres to support a cow. One does see cows, horses and sheep here and there. The cows and sheep look as we might expect. The horses are smaller and stockier, appearing a hardy breed. This southern pampas is very desert-like, extremely hot and dry in the summer and bitter cold in the winter. With no trees and constant wind it clearly takes a hardy breed of livestock and people to survive. You can literally see the stock fattening up for the winter to come.

Right now in Trelew though it is summer and Arizona desert hot, dry and windy. I did get a bus ticket to Bariloche though so my back door approach may have worked. I have a ticket in two days for an overnight bus to Bariloche (13-14 hours), arriving in late morning. Once I get a room in crowded Bariloche I will be fine. From there I will decide my next step as I work my way eventually down to El Calafate and Ushuaia, at the bottom of the country. It appears that Bariloche is the most popular and thus most difficult destination to get to and get a room so hope all will work out after that. My remaining planned itinerary is all in the Andes and has supposedly spectacular scenery: lakes, mountains, glaciers, rafting, etc. Tomorrow will be a quiet day in small, quiet, Trelew - but it will also be a hot and dry one.

Sometimes you get lucky in traveling and Trelew turned out to be a pleasant surprise with one particularly marvelous attraction. The weather was questionable though and my shorts and sandals were clearly going to the bottom of my suitcase for at least the next month. The wind was howling today from the cold south, coming up from Antarctica and my hat would not stay on. Sun is strong and warm but wind is plenty cool.

About Trelew, tre is short for what sounds like town in Welsh and lew is for Lewis something, the name of the guy that got this town started by convincing the Argentine government that a town was needed here to facilitate growth and trade in this southern area of Argentina, Patagonia. Trelew is considered the beginning of Patagonia, the cold southern provinces of this country. This town is mostly flat, rising slightly as it goes inland from the Atlantic. It is laid out as a grid though with comparatively wide streets and easy to find your way around. I had lunch in an old bar and hotel called the Hotel Touring Club. It is over a century old and apparently was the town showplace at one time. Wonderful architecture and decor inside.

The marvelous attraction is the local Museum of Patagonia Paleontology. It seems they work closely with the university museum in La Plata, where I visited last week. This place has many original fossils and dinosaur bones plus quite a few reconstructed skeletons and is VERY interesting. Let me detail a bit. Scientists say the earth was all one super-continent about 200 million years ago. Dinosaurs walked the earth from about 150 - 300 million years ago (Jurassic period). They were just part of life in the early 50-60 million years of that period (early Jurassic) and were smaller and with little diversification among them. They ruled the world for 50-60 million years at the end of that period (late Jurassic) and became HUGE with much diversification among them. The Mid Jurassic is the period when something happened to change the world that benefited the dinosaurs and allowed them to rule. But what? It seems scientists had found many fossils and bones from the early and late Jurassic periods but were greatly lacking in any finds (evidence) from the Mid Jurassic period. All scientists had was a few small findings from Yorkshire, England, and the Colorado River canyon in the U.S. that told them anything about the period: life, climate, environment, etc. Then came Patagonia in Argentina!

While searching for uranium in the southern Andes the largest find in the world of Mid Jurassic bones and fossils of all kings was stumbled upon and the doors of knowledge were opened - and it all happened here in Patagonia! The result of all this was learning roughly how it all worked:

1-The one super-continent of the earth was shaken by tremendous volcanoes and other powerful forces that broke the land mass of the world into the approximate continents we have now. Before that, with only one land mass, the climate was similar throughout and great diversity was not necessary for survival. In fact, the climate was basically very hot and dry (think Arizona) but with massive seasonal monsoons creating temporary wet and tropical periods. If any form of life did not find the climate agreeable it simply migrated to somewhere else in this one single land mass.

2-When the world was shattered into many continents and islands, life at that time landed wherever it was at the time of the split. There was no longer the ability to migrate anywhere, anytime. It was adapt or die and many species were wiped out accordingly. Most of the world now became warm and tropical with abundant rainfall for forests and vegetation.

3-These were ideal conditions for the dinosaurs to flourish. The herbivores had plenty to eat so they grew large, different species developed and they all multiplied greatly. This gave in turn the carnivores plenty to eat so they grew large, different species developed and they multiplied greatly eating everything in their path. Thus dinosaurs came to rule the earth. Well we know that dinosaurs were eventually to die off and become mostly extinct but hey - that is a different story. In any case, a very interesting and fascinating story and it all happened here in Patagonia!

If SA was so tropical back in the dinosaur days how did Patagonia get so cold now? Simply put, scientists say the Andes Mountains did not exist then and this area received warm Pacific breezes. Later eruptions caused the Andes and now their height dumps snow from the Pacific and keeps this area very cold in winter and even sometimes cool in summer.

In summary, I have quietly wandered and enjoyed the simple pleasures of this 90,000 population community. Tonight I take another overnight bus up the mountains to Bariloche, a world class ski resort in the winter and a summer playground  also. It is supposedly always very crowded so my first is simply to find a decent and not too expensive room somewhere convenient in Bariloche. 

Later January, Bariloche, Argentina

I left Trelew at night and enjoyed a 12 hour bus ride to Bariloche. I was on an "executive" bus so we had "primero" class seats that went way back like a good recliner in your living room and were served a nice dinner when we left and a light breakfast before arrival. Slept reasonably well en route. The last daylight hours of the route were very beautiful: Andes foothills, snow capped peaks in the distance, mountain lakes and rivers, plus a totally cloudless incredibly blue sky. Very peaceful and relaxing.

Arrived here in late morning and took care of business first hand. Booked a flight to El Calafate (Glacier National Park area) for end of January and so will spend 10 days here in Bariloche. Also booked an onward flight from El Calafate to Ushuaia for early February so I am now covered to "the end of the world" here. Have also sent emails for hotels in both places. I also struggled some to find a hotel here in Bariloche so hoping for the best in those two places. After six inquiries here I finally secured a place for 10 days at a hotel near the lake. The room had a twin bed and I prefer bigger beds but was happy to find any room at a good price. Room is noisy as it fronts on street and bathroom shower is very small but it all works okay. I am on floor 5 and if I lean out the window and look to my right I have a great view of the lake!

No A/C but not needed. Days are a little warm but nights are mountain cool so sleep with windows open and earplugs in. I have learned to travel with earplugs for sleep on buses and planes as needed and hotels that are often noisier than in the U.S. People around the world live in closer proximity than we do so they are used to the noise around them and I have learned to adapt accordingly. Best of all I am paying only about $30 U.S.) per night and, of course, breakfast is included. In most of the world hotels include breakfast in whatever the local breakfast tradition is. I find it fun to learn about and enjoy the many different types of breakfast eaten in the world. Plus at my hotel the breakfast room is on the top floor (6) with a panoramic view of the lake! Very nice.

A note about breakfast - many Argentines eat some cereal and yogurt but not as we do. They pour a glass of drinkable (thinner than ours) yogurt and then put some cereal across the top of it. Otherwise it is coffee/tea "con leche" (with hot milk) and "medias lunas" (crescent shaped sweet pastries) and crisp toasted bread and butter/jam. Then they eat big lunches and dinners, heavy on the meat. It is a struggle to be a veggie eater here but I am doing okay. Veggie pizzas, pasta and breads mostly. Bariloche (80,000 and swells in summer) is a very beautiful place. Some similarities to a Colorado ski resort but not so fancy and mostly for the rich as Aspen or Snowmass. There is a much more normal middle class feel here - just incredible geography around you and a great walking, eating and shopping town.

This city calls itself the chocolate capital of Argentina, just as Mar del Plata claims. I must vote for Bariloche though. There seems to be a chocolate place on every block of the main districts and they have one place that is the largest chocolate shop I have ever seen. I would eventually succumb to its charms. The same for the bakery. South Americans love their fresh bakery and "panaderias" (bakeries) are also quite numerous with fantastic displays and items to choose from. My one complaint? The line at the post office was over 30 people long so mailing any postcards was a major project.

What am I going to do for ten days? The lake here is perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen so with the weather like it is just reading a book by the lake is very restful. Tomorrow I am taking an all day tour up in to Andes to the Chilean border that will include lakes, waterfalls and mountains vistas. The next day I will take a half day ride on two (I think) of the major lakes. Later options include an all day seven lakes tour, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, fishing, some short trekking, and others. I am sure I will try several as I plan to be outdoors as much as possible. This is one of the (if not the) most beautiful places I have ever been so will try to explore as much as possible.

January, Bariloche, Argentina

What a great day I had yesterday, I went to the small museum of Patagonia here. I learned about the nine different indigenous groups that originally inhabited the area that is now Argentina and Chile. I was very familiar with two, the Mapuche and the Guarani, but now learned about the rest. They also had an excellent stuffed and mounted representation of the wildlife here, most of which do not exist in North America. I was particularly impressed by the Condor and the Albatross. Most of us will go through life without ever seeing these birds in the wild so I was glad to see them here. They are HUGE birds. The biggest flying birds I know of. To see either one of them in flight while I am here would be a magnificent experience and I will keep a good lookout.

Later I went for a pizza - seems nothing special. But this place wood bakes all its pizzas and then serves them to you on a 2" thick round tree stump platter - while at least part of a tree stump. Very different. Then the weather turned horrible about 10 last night. Very cold, wind and rain continued throughout the night and into this morning. Left me very discouraged as I waited for my tour bus to pick me up and it continued for about the first hour (driving) but then the rain stopped though cold and wind continued all day as did gray clouds but with patches of sun and blue in the later afternoon. Enough to hopefully have gotten some good photos.

Basically spent the day in Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi which is also the name of the large lake here of which Bariloche is built around the north end. During the day I learned the lake is 17 km long or about 11 miles and it is over 650 feet deep! A very deep and very cold lake. Water temperature ranges from about 34 - 40 degrees max as it is all glacier runoff from high in the Andes. The national park itself is about one million acres, a very large park and wilderness. We started with a boat ride on this cold windy lake with most of the locals spending their time in the warm enclosed lower part of the boat. I stayed on the cold, windy, open upper deck to get one pictures I could. Very bracing but much enjoyed it though the wind almost blew you over at times. There were periods when I was the only person on the upper deck but I stayed there for the entire hour ride.

By the way, when I say locals, the south of Argentina is an Argentine playground. Few folks from the U.S. go south of Buenos Aires. I have met only a young couple from Boston and an old couple from Lake Tahoe, 1 Aussie, 3 Brits and 2 Germans to date. Limited English contact and all tours are in Spanish. Anyway, the color of the water is an incredible aqua green and all drinkable as is - that is if you wish a really cold drink! We arrived at a hotel in the park an hour later and then on to a small tour bus. The road was up, down, around and every which way. It was obviously torn right out of the mountain side and it was so rough I have to say "torn" rather than smoothly cut. We took the same road in and out and on the way back I sat on the downhill side. Whoa! There were times we were driving so slow on the edge I thought we would fall over and then times we were driving so fast I thought we would simply drive over! Someone said it was our drivers last day. He was leaving tomorrow for a job as a Hollywood stunt driver.

On the way back I got a little queasy with the up/down and looking over the side to way below at times. One young man (early 20s) on the inside actually threw up and we had to stop the bus! I should also mention it is hard to tell N, S, E or W here, especially inside a van. The sun was directly overhead. The road wound and twisted so much and the cold side of the mountain here is the south side. You have to get your brain thinking in a different way, not so easy when you are on a wild van ride and concentrating more on not wetting your pants!!!!!

The flora was very beautiful on the trip. Many colors of blooming flowers and shapes of trees and leaves completely different then anything we would see in the US. Always surrounded by water color, sky colors and snowcapped peaks. I cannot compare it to the Rockies as the Rockies highest peaks only reach about 14K whereas here they go to 22K+. The whole picture was most like a little bit of Alaska and a little bit of New Zealand based on my experience but clearly different than either.

We stopped at where the Black Glacier off Mount Tronador emptied into the Rio Manso. It is a live glacier that is black because the sediment it picks up off its descent leaves it as such. Looks like the color of a Milwaukee city street a few days after a big snow fall. Very cold here of course but think I got some good photos. Sure enjoyed the experience. The Rio Manso is interesting it that it originates here in Argentina running downhill but then somehow crosses the Andes into Chile and empties into the Pacific Ocean! Ah isn’t nature interesting!

Next we stopped where we hiked a short trail to near the base of Mount Tronador. From here you could see high up glaciers and many (a dozen or more that I could see) long ribbon-like waterfalls coming down the mountain from the high up glaciers. Gave you an idea about the power of the Andes. Then we took the harrowing road back and got on the boat again. As before, most everyone went below and I rode on top all the way again. We had some blue sky on the way back so it looked very different than going out and I got very different photos. Loved the cold fresh air also.

I should mention Mate (pronounced as two syllables - Ma Tay). It is a kind of green tea and THE national drink of this country. You see people drinking it everywhere, all day, and it is said to be very relaxing. Our bus driver and tour guide were drinking it if that tells you anything! Personally I like the drink very much and always bring some bags of mate leaves home with me when I visit here. By the way, when I earlier mentioned breakfast coffee or tea, the Argentines drink "con leche" ( with milk) only in the morning. After noon they drink everything "negro" (black). It is just the way it is done.

January, Bariloche, Argentina

What an incredible day! First let me correct the name of the lake I was on yesterday. It is Lake Mascardi. All the other info about the lake was correct though. Lake Nahuel Huapi is the lake that Bariloche is on and is way bigger than Mascardi. NH is perhaps 40-50 miles long and with multiple arms. It is easy to confuse the lakes here as there are seven major lakes and many additional smaller lakes and there is often only a few kilometers between them. Driving down the road you can turn your head for a few minutes and be going past a different lake without awareness. 

I took a tour this morning called "Circuito Chico" or small circuit of Bariloche, the national park and some of the lakes, particularly large Nahuel Huapi. The panoramas are unbelievable and there are two places, "Punto Panoramico" and "Cerro Campanario" that are perhaps the most beautiful spots in the world. They are so beautiful I am at a loss for words strong enough or vivid enough to describe them though I shall try my best. National Geographic named CC as one of the ten (no order) greatest vistas in the world. I have been fortunate enough to have been to several and have no problem naming this my number one without any hesitation.

When one first sees Punto Panoramico one is overwhelmed by the feeling. If there is a heaven can it be greater than this? Could any God have created anyplace more beautiful than this? How can I be so fortunate to be here and the opportunity to see this? One begins to thank whatever powers they believe in for this opportunity, this grand feast for the eyes. The combination of multiple waters, multiple mountains, trees, flowers, snowcapped peaks and vibrant blue sky is the stuff of dreams. It is what one can only imagine a heaven to be. For the first time in my life I was so overwhelmed by what I saw that I fought tears in my eyes for having this opportunity.

Then later one ascends a small mountain on an ascenso (lift chairs) to Cerro Campanario only to find the vista is higher up and more Grand than the PP and was what National Geographic was talking about. You ask your self the same questions as above. You feel blessed in the moment. Again the combination of multiple lakes, multiple mountains, trees, flowers, snowcapped peaks and vibrant blue sky is the stuff of more dreams. You try to close your eyes and imagine heaven but you cannot keep them closed for how could anything be more beautiful than what lie before you? I no longer fought tears in my eyes but felt them running down my cheeks and rejoiced in the moment. I am fighting tears now as I write this and think of the moment. It was a moment where you can die with a smile now having seen all there is to see. It is ML King´s I have seen the mountaintop. Today I am truly blessed.

Postcards can only capture a small part of such beauty as can a camera. I did take many photos though to capture what small bit of the grandeur that I could. It was just a three hour tour but I am spent with sheer joy. To be in this incredible place and see what I have seen. I pray all readers of my words may all have this opportunity one day.

In a few days I am taking the all day Grand Circuit tour of the seven major lakes. I am certain it will be beautiful but I am also certain that I will likely never see the beauty that I have seen today. I have always though of New Zealand as the most beautiful country in the world but I now place Argentina second and pushing hard to be Numero Uno. If it was not for the often difficult economy I can not imagine why any Argentine would ever leave this beautiful country and continent. The South American continent is so much more beautiful than North America and the natural wonders here are far beyond anything in the U.S., where the Grand Canyon is probably the most unique.

Here in South America you have the highest waterfall in the world (Angel Falls in Venezuela), the widest waterfall in the world (Iguaçu Falls on the Argentina/Brasil border), the tropical jungles of Brasil and the Amazon, the driest desert in the world (the Atacama Desert in Chile), and the incredible soaring heights of the Andes Mountains plus the huge glaciers to the south in Argentina and Chile. And that doesn’t even consider such man-made sites as Machu Picchu in Peru and the farthest south city in the world (Ushuaia in Argentina). I say to everyone I know - visit this continent and include Bariloche. You to will be blessed to do so.

Late January, Bariloche, Argentina

I was so spent with the sheer joy and emotion of yesterday that I did very little today. The great weather is back so mostly spent the day sitting in one of the plazas along the lake reading. Even napped for a bit on the grass under a beautiful tree across from the lake. Walked to the main plaza where there was scheduled  an outdoor concert and folk festival tonight, three man band, 2 guitars and an accordion. Started with Argentine traditional dancers in costume doing there thing for awhile and then just the band with people from the spectators watching starting to dance. I wanted to join in the dancing but couldn’t spot a potential suitable partner in the crowd of couples and families.

The accordion is interesting. In the States we tend to make fun of the accordion has an old fashioned polka band instrument. In the rest of the world, and especially in South America, it is an essential and is in every music group including rock bands. It may be a full sized accordion or it may be a smaller cantina squeeze box but it is always there. Seems to be used much as we would use an electric organ in a music group. I have really gotten to like it and enjoy hearing it. I remember doing the Samba in Brazil to a band including the accordion a few years ago.

Another comparison I was thinking about today, when in Asia last fall I was clearly a foreigner. I stood out in a crowd and few people would say anything to be in the local language. Here? Well the locals look just like us. They are Italian and European Spanish. They would pretty much look at home on any U.S. street and do. So I look like anyone else here and it is not unusual for people to speak to me with a comment or to ask a question about something. It definitely tests my Spanish. When I can’t handle the question though I simply say (in Spanish), "I am sorry. I only speak poor Spanish." Everyone is very nice about it and if they speak a little English they will always ask me where I am from and chat a minute. They are so nice here that it is rare to ever hear anyone blow an auto horn though foot and auto traffic is heavy in the heat of the day.

Yesterday I did here a few more U.S. accents at a few places but they appeared with a large tour group and I did not speak to any. Today at a food stall I ran into the couple from Lake Tahoe I met in Trelew. We chatted a bit and talked about how beautiful this country and continent was and how most folks make in the States just ignored SA and how much they were missing.

I must comment about the hours Argentines work. It can be quite different than in the States. Because there is less corporate involvement here and still many family owned businesses, particularly stores and restaurants, it has shades of the U.S. in the ´50´s except often for the hours. Stores (non-food) are generally open about 9AM - 1PM. The then close as they all go home or out for a big lunch and a little siesta (a good idea in my opinion). They then open again about 4-5PM and stay open until 9 or 10PM before closing and going home. This is tradition, six days a week. It is not so true anymore in BA but still remains true in smaller towns and partially true (depending on the shop owner) in the mid-size towns. Bariloche is a tourist town but I would say a third of the shops still close for lunch. The same comparison holds true for Sundays. Many more places closed here on Sunday than in the U.S.

Food places are different. Lunch places serve from about noon to 3PM. They then close and do not serve again until about 8PM until 12 or 1AM. Argentines tend to eat a good size dinner and they eat it late in the evening. The retired "early bird special" diners in the U.S. would have real difficulty here. I am okay with it but I adjust by eating my main meal at lunch and a lighter evening snack. So as you can see, everyone still works their 40 hours and usually more each week. They just do it in different shifts!

You may also notice I say the States or the U.S. I do not say America or that I am an American. Many folks consider that very arrogant on our part. They may reply, "I am an American also. What part of the Americas are you from?" Think about that. Folks are from CENTRAL America, SOUTH America or NORTH America. America is not a country, it is two continents. We have no right to act like we are America and no one else matters, yet we routinely do so. It is part of our negative image overseas. Even our countries current President often calls us America instead of the United States. You may think little of it but people in other countries notice. I always say when asked where I am from "El Estados Unidos" (The United States). When they ask which state I say, "Wisconsin, medio norte" (middle north). If they still look confused I say we are above Chicago as they all know Chicago. It has been a quieter but wonderful day.

Late January, Bariloche, Argentina

Another wonderful day. Took the grand circuit, "route of the 7 lakes," riding in a big circle around this area of the Andes. We started up Route 40 (the main route N/S in the Argentina Andes) around the SE corner of Lake Nahuel Huapi, the corner on which Bariloche is located. Then turned and went NW on 231 along the shores of Nahuel Huapi to town of Angostura for a brief break. Continued on 231 a bit further than turned N on 234, a dirt road for the next 32 miles. We stopped at Lake Espejo and then at a small hostel and campground on Lake Corentoso. A beautiful location costing a whole $4 pesos a night to camp (about $1.33).

We then continued on to Lake Villarino and Lake Falkner before stopping briefly to see a waterfall, Vullinanco, coming down the river from Lake Hermoso. We then returned to blacktop road and entered Lanin National Park, which borders Nahuel Huapi National Park. Here we passed Lake Machonica before driving down to Lake Lacar and the lovely Andes town of San Martin de los Andes. This is considered here to be the epitome of the smaller Andes towns with a beautiful site and a small beach on the lake. We had a bit over two hours there to lunch and wander. 

After lunch we drove back a bit S on 234 before turning SE on 63, another dirt road. We drove a considerable distance on 63 stopping by Lake Meliquina and several rivers including Rio Filo Hua Hum (love the name). This was a long and rough road but while worth it. I was with a different tour company today who seemed to have a better bus, better shocks, and a very good driver who handled the roads very well. We passed the Rio Trufel and then returned to Route 40 S and W, driving along the Rio Limay most of the way until reaching again Nahuel Huapi and returning to Bariloche.

This was a very beautiful drive. The lakes and the peaks were all very beautiful and at times stunning. I worried a little if I had been spoiled by the beauty of two days ago so tried to concentrate on seeing this ride for what it was, an incredibly beautiful ride. There was a short stretch, maybe 20 miles, I thought looked a little like a Colorado mountain valley with extensive grass, small shrubs and primarily pines on the mountainsides but it was only a short stretch. The flora here is very different and nothing like the Rockies. The Rockies are mostly evergreen and aspen. This area has no aspen but a great number of deciduous trees growing to very great heights. 50-60 feet seemed common and I felt many approached 100 feet. Old trees with large trunk circumference. It is, of course, the conditions here which are quite different than the Rockies.

In reality the Andes are comparatively dry mountains but with huge high up winter snowfalls. I have also learned over my years that the tree line is quite different depending on how close one gets to either of the poles. For example, the tree line in Colorado is around 10,000 feet, in Alaska it is around 3,000 feet which is why McKinley looks so huge. So much of it is above the tree line. I am primarily in the Andes foothills. The peaks in the immediate area are mostly 7-8,000 feet. The tree line, depending on N or S slope, appears to be about 6-7,000 feet on the N and less on the S. As one approaches the higher peaks they are way above the tree line and thus, like McKinley, look awesome. I am sure the tree line will drop as I go further S so will have to see how it looks as we get to even more glaciers. I was surprised that the glaciers in this area are only about 6-7,000 feet but they are on the colder S slopes of course.

In any case, this whole area is incredibly beautiful. I have traveled to about three dozen countries to date. I have seen many beautiful areas from New Zealand to Switzerland to Alaska but I truly believe this area around Bariloche likely top’s them all. Due to Argentina’s depression of about five years ago and the drop in prices here it is also cheap for U.S. folk. That may not last. Come see this place while you can. 

For my fishing friends, I saw fisher folk wading in virtually every river and both wading and boating in every lake, though very uncrowded as a whole. Do not know what success they were having but the incredible locations alone would surely be worth the time even if shut out - but everything I read says there are big trout here. Tomorrow I get on a boat again to travel around Nahuel Huapi. Except for the one day the weather has been beautiful so I have no doubt it will be another great day.

Late January, Bariloche, Argentina

Well perhaps by now you are all weary of my exuberance and superlatives but yesterday was another wonderful day in every way. The GREAT weather has continued also. First we took a bus to Puerto Pañuelo, about 45 minutes away on the shores of Nahuel Huapi. From there we took a boat on this beautiful lake to two separate islands of the national park.

The first was Los Arrayanes, a place where thousands of Arrayanes trees grow undisturbed by man. The trees are quite beautiful and quite different from anything I have seen before. They have a bit of a eucalyptus look but in shades of brown and without the peeling appearance of the eucalyptus. I am told they are a kind of myrtle tree. They grow quite tall, 100 feet or so, and provide a very unique color to the forest. They also grow close to one another and, at least on this island, make other trees struggle for their space. Those that won their space were huge pines and other deciduous trees that were even taller than the arrayanes. We took a lovely 45 minute circular walk through the trees before re-boarding our boat. I am staying in the Hotel Arrayanes in Bariloche. Until this excursion I did not know what that meant.

We then sailed to Victoria Island, another incredibly beautiful place. I can not stop the superlatives about this area of the world. Victoria featured both pines and deciduous that were 150-200 years old and also 150-200 feet tall with huge trunks to match. Beautiful trees. We had four hours before we had to re-board our boat so those who chose, such as I, took a 2.6 mile hike one way to the other side of the island to a small beach (Del Toro) and inlet. The stillness of the water and the overall peacefulness of the walk was another of those things dreams are made of. There was only about a dozen of us on the hike and all respected the silence of the place. No manmade church could ever be so silent or so spiritual. There were only three fisherman in the inlet area and a few sunbathing spouses to disturb only slightly the silence. We spent about 45 minutes in this place just enjoying the beauty.

I dipped my hands in the water and washed my face with the clean coolness. I saw several good sized trout as I did so for the water was clear a good distance out and down. One man took off his pants and waded in to his thighs as his spouse chuckled and took a photo. I watched the silence of a single boat and of three fishermen. All respected the tranquility.

We then hiked back the 2.6 miles through this massive cathedral forest to Bella Vista Hill, a panorama just before the dock area. Again your heart seemed to smile peacefully inside you as if it too could see and feel the complete tranquility and sheer joy of such a place. On the boat out and back we were followed by flocks of gulls begging for scraps of bread and crackers from the passengers. I was soaring as an eagle and begged for nothing. My belly and heart were full from the nourishment that surrounded my body and soul. The only sad part of the day was the boats arrival back at the dock and a quiet bus ride back to Bariloche proper. An absolutely wonderful experience.

Today I was mostly resting, having laundry done, writing a few friends and family and spending time reading by the lake. Meanwhile my spirit soars as I continue to have a most interesting time. That night I went to a concert and that was a chore for me. Why? Because the Argentines eat so late in the evening that it did not start until 10:30PM. The same is true of a Tango show tonight if I can stay up that long again! The concert was a local group who has out a popular CD called "De los Andes a los Beatles." From the Andes to the Beatles. They have recorded a number of Argentine versions of Beatles numbers playing traditional South American instruments and with a very interesting SA touch. It lasted over 90 minutes with encores and it seemed like half that. They were very good and their interpretations were quite interesting. The crowd loved them and many shouts of bravo were heard. The Argentines are very enthusiastic about what they like and I agreed with them. Of course I bought the CD. Very enjoyable though late evening.

The next day I went rafting on the Rio Manso in Nahuel Huapi National Park. We started with an hour ride out to our launch site on Lake Steffen, where the Manso originates. I was the only person not riding in one of the company vans but in the land rover with the crew and pulling the trailer with the four rafts on. Don’t know why I was but it was great.

On the ride out the crew was drinking and sharing mate. I have mentioned to you all that this is a unique green tea. The traditional way to drink it is for the mate "host" to fill the cup (traditionally a hollow gourd but now many kinds of mate cups) with the green mate leaves. He then adds hot water to the top and lets it steep a moment. In the cup there is a "bombilla," a silver straw with a spoon-like bottom that is filled with small holes and serves as a filter for the leaves. The mate is then passed to someone who drinks it dry or near dry in just a few sips. It is then given back to the host who again fills it with fresh hot water from his thermos and passes it to the next person. It eventually goes around to everyone, same cup, same leaves, same bombilla.

Offering you mate is a sign of inclusion in the group. To refuse your turn on the first round is an insult to the host and should never be done. I have been offered mate many times from some very strange cups in some very different circumstances but I have always drunk it. It is okay to refuse additional rounds with a, No, Gracias." When drunk this way the tea has a very bitter taste and though loved by the Argentines is not to all foreigners taste. I generally pass after the first round.

Arriving at the launch site, Steffen is another beautiful lake with few people and snow capped peaks around us. I immediately walked to the shore and must have seen a hundred trout jump in just five minutes! There were about 38 tourists that ended up in four rafts. I was the only English speaker in the group but 4 of the 5 guides spoke a little English. The guides unloaded the boats and then converted the trailer into a picnic table and served a beautiful lunch with sandwiches and lots of fresh fruit they cut up and displayed very artistically. We were all impressed!

After lunch we hit the water and headed down the Manso. It is a beautiful river that runs very cold as Lake Steffen is fed by Andes snows. Snow capped peaks, many shades of green on the mountain sides and an Argentina blue sky. The water is so clear most of the way that you could count the boulders and rocks on the bottom. It is a wonderful light mint green color that looks like a million bottles of Scope mouthwash have been mixed in. Where the water is deeper it becomes bluer and sometimes very deep blue. Very isolated with a lone trout fisherman about every kilometer or so.

We did get lucky with spotting birds. We passed three blue herons and three sandpipers who paid us little attention. Three ducks flew very close over our heads and all were of colors I had never seen before. In addition we saw up close a Kingfisher which the guide said is rare to see. It was nice. The rapids were mostly relatively mild class 2 and only seven of those. This was mostly a scenic trip and it was that. Very beautiful and peaceful. Now despite that we all did get soaked to the point that three of the five men sharing my raft ended up just diving in the ice cold water.

There were also numerous water fights between rafts. I was plenty soaked and let me say that the intense sun and the wind did dry you fairly fast but it was a very cool drying. Plus we all got soaked again just before leaving the water after near three hours floating down the river. The company had two wooden shelters at the end camp though, one split in two for men and women to dry and change (we were told to bring a towel and change of clothes to leave in the base vehicle), and the other with a fire pit and table where the crew then served HOT mate, tea, coffee or soft drinks plus some warm sopapillas and nut bread. Very good and hit the spot perfectly. I had mate cocino now (two cups) which I love. This is using a mate tea bag (just like Lipton) and adding sugar (takes away the bitterness) and cream as you like. I make mate at home this way and love it. 

After changing and refreshments we headed back to Bariloche with me again in the land rover with the crew. About a ninety minute drive this time again sharing mate. I went to my room and hung my wet clothes up to dry. I needed to go eat, then shower and sleep. All that outdoors fresh air can tire you.

Late January, Bariloche, Argentina

It was my last day in Bariloche and I did absolutely nothing but window shop, eat, read and just relax and enjoy my last full day in this marvelous place. Today was just reflection on how fortunate I feel to be here and the wish that all of my friends and family could see beautiful Bariloche, Argentina. So Ciao to Bariloche and on to El Calafate and the glaciers.

Late January, El Calafate, Argentina

Arrived in this base town for Argentina’s Glacier National Park. I left Bariloche with a bit of sadness as it is a place I truly love and in my heart it felt like a home should feel: peaceful, beautiful, quiet and a place of safe refuge. It is a place I could come back to indefinitely. The flight down to El Calafate was also a thing of beauty. Usually I pay little attention on airplanes, ask for an aisle seat and try to get a nap in. But I was advised by others I had met to ask for a window seat on my right, the mountain side, and I am so glad I did.

We took off into a clear blue sky and I was immediately stunned by the view. When I have flown over the Rockies in the U.S. you might see a handful of peaks out the window. Not here in the Andes!!!! I could see tens of tens of tens snow capped and snow spotted peaks far to the horizon. In addition there were lakes everywhere in a beautiful array of glacial colors. The Andes do not rise slowly to the highest peaks and then slowly back down again. The Andes leap into the sky then plunge to deep glacial lakes and valleys only to leap into the sky again and then plunge again, over and over and over. You clearly see the volcanic peaks that aided in forming this amazing place. They are an incredible sight to behold.

Perhaps best of all we are flying at about 25,000 feet. Over the flatlands of any country you see little but here you are only about 5,000 feet above the peaks!!! It feels as you can reach out and touch them. They are a giant watch swaying to and fro leaving you hypnotized at the sight. I spent the first thirty minutes just gaping out the window. I never take photos out of airplane windows - here I tried several. I was in awe. I imagined being a condor or even superman soaring over this incredible place. With all the colors I thought of Joseph and his Technicolor dream coat. My mind drifted from amazing place to amazing place. About halfway through the flight clouds began to appear. At first they were scattered and wispy and you could clearly see their shadows on the ground so near below. Then they increased though and the peaks began to disappear except for a few high peaks that peeked through the fluffy layer.

Approaching El Calafate we flew alongside Lake Argentina, the largest freshwater lake in this country and an incredible multiple shades of blue and green. It is not a Lake Michigan but it looks a lot bigger than Winnebago, the largest freshwater lake in the states. That was our view as we ascended to the local airport. Surprisingly the land around was very desert like in many shades of brown and barren but for some grass and low shrubs.

Stepping off the plane you were immediately struck by the wind. It is summer and warm enough but the constant wind is what you do live with in this both hard and beautiful land. The next few days I shall spend cruising about the lakes and glaciers, walking where it is possible, and taking some ridiculous number of photos. Sometime during the day I will try to chip off a few hunks of ice, pour me something cold and raise a glass to all of you who aren't here with me.

Late January, 2006 El Calafate, Argentina

Good evening from cold and windy El Calafate. I started out early this morning on a bus to the Moreno Glacier. Not the biggest glacier here but the most popular as it is one of only two advancing glaciers here. We drove out past Lake Argentino. This is some lake as it is routinely over 600 feet deep and has spots of 800 to 1000 deep! Our guide did not mention any monsters but I thought I saw one stick its head up. Wow. Who knows what lives way down there?

The guide also talked about the giveaways after WWII of land in this area by the Argentine government. They were offering 20,000 acres to any European who would settle on the land for thirty years. They got many takers but not all of them stuck it out as this is a harsh place. Those that stayed ended up taking the land of those that did not stick and settling it. We saw the estancia (ranch) home of the now largest landholder in Argentina, a million and a half acre ranch!!!!! I think he owned almost as many sheep from what I could see from the bus window.

You get a few views of the glacier from afar on the drive but not close enough to give you any real impression. Then you enter the parking area and it is whoa, I got to see this! It is very large close up, about 1.25 miles wide and up to 180 feet high and you can see far back into the valley in which it is formed. There is a 2.5 kilometer hillside boardwalk through the forest that gives you many different views of Moreno and I took every step of it, several times. I went wild on the number of photos but the constantly changing weather and changing light on the glacier made each view uniquely different. And the weather was constantly changing. We had rain, clouds, mostly sun and wind always. I am wearing three layers and was cold and wet one minute and sweating and dry ten minutes later - mostly quite cool as the wind blows down from the glacier and you do feel it.

Most of this area is scrub brush but in some of the valleys, like near the glacier, they get so much rain that many tall trees exist. Which accounts, of course, for the rain that fell on us. The constantly changing light was beautiful though. Under clouds the blue ice really comes out. Under sun it is so brilliant white that you can barely look at it without sunglasses. I found it particularly interesting when a single cloud moved rapidly past the sun and you could watch the shade from the cloud move directly across the glacier. Very cool to see. The glacier is old, advances slowly, creaks and groans and it keeps losing parts - much like so many of us! The glacier has us beat though in that it is also still growing and adding parts. I did not get to see any huge parts fall off into the river but did see many small to medium parts fall with a big splash as they hit the river. The creaking, groaning, breaking and splashing was surprisingly quite loud.

The last hour we took a boat ride up to within a 150-200 yards of the south face for a good view of the blue streaks and the cracks and crevasses. The wind was howling so we could hardly hold cameras still and many of us were still cold inside our windbreakers and several layers of clothes - and it is the middle of summer here. In addition, saw several very different birds but no condor. Oh well, maybe tomorrow. I am taking an all day trip, mostly buy boat, to several different glacier and will be sure to dress warm. I think maybe four layers tomorrow.

Late January, El Calafate, Argentina 

It is a beautiful day in El Calafate but first, yesterday. Ah, yesterday. An appropriate word for yesterday I was John Lennon as words danced through my head and Paul McCarty as melodies played. Yesterday was that kind of day. The morning began gray and cold as I left the hotel but by the time we reached the boat docks the sun had begun to peep through and stayed with us most of the day. Now let me say that the sun here is intense but the mean summer temp here is only 57. A nice day is mid to upper 60´s in the town but, of course, it is much colder on the water and near the glaciars.

We left from Puerto Bandera on Lago Argentino and up the Brazo Spegazzini to Glaciar Spegazzini. Lago Argentina is a huge lake that has about ten different arms traveling up various valleys to the glaciar sources of the lake. Brazo means arm in English. There are two arms that are actually blocked by the Glaciar Moreno as it grows and cutting them off from each other. This can last several years as the water rises in the Brazo Rico (the cutoff arm) 6-8 feet higher than the lake. Finally the water lapping at the bottom of the glaciar will break through and form a tunnel which allows the rush of high water to run into the main lake channel. The tunnel then quickly becomes larger and larger forming an ice bridge until the bridge collapses into the main river in a spectacular splash. This all happens within a few days but only every several years. Right now the Brazo Rico is blocked and the people are waiting for the next show expected maybe around March but impossible to predict.

Back to Spegazzini. This glaciar is about one mile wide and height to about 440 feet. It is the highest glacier we are to visit and is formed from three glaciers coming together, the others being Mayo Norte and Peineta. One can clearly see the marks on the surrounding mountains from various glaciar recessions. The peaks in the back where the glaciar is originally formed, Spegazzini Norte and Spegazzini Sur, are spectacular and form an incredible background. And it is cold!!!! The wind generally blows down off the various glaciars, the water is "glaciar milk," water with the silt of rocks crushed by the glaciar in it (the ultimate in "hard" water), it is maybe 36 degrees in the water, the wind is blowing so hard at times off the front of the catamaran (where I spent most of my time for photos) that one has to brace themselves to stand and attempt to hold ones camera still. The combined effect leaves a chill near or perhaps even below freezing most anywhere near the glaciers. Spray, snow flakes or rain, also hits you as it flies off the glaciar. I was wearing four layers and was definitely cold at times. Away from the direct front of the glaciars I was warm enough but certainly not sweating.

Spegazzini, this first big glaciar of the day, already had my mind and heart on a magical mystery tour only to find out it was just the beginning! We passed the smaller Glaciar Seco on our way to the short arm of Bahia (Bay) Onelli and Parque Onelli. Here we disembarked and took a 900 yard walk through the woods to Lago Onelli and my heart was singing so that I am sure it could be heard for miles around bouncing off the snow, ice and spectacular peaks of Onelli Norte, Onelli Central and Onelli Sur. Three glaciars come together here, the Onelli, Bolado and Agassiz, to form the lake and between the three they drop so many chunks of ice that the lake is filled with several hundred pieces baked by incredible snow covered peaks. The whites, blues, greens and browns of the whole scene left you breathless and silent save for the melody playing in your head and heart. We had been told to bring our own picnic lunch and here is where we enjoyed our food. I ate a cheese sandwich and some "ensalada rusa" with some apple juice in this incredible setting. When one travels there are places you stay and there are places that stay with you. Lago Onelli is a place thatwill stay with me forever.

Back on the catamaran we cruised up the Brazo Upsala to the Glaciar Upsala. This is the widest glaciar, about 4 miles, we see and rises up to about 260 feet and this one is REALLY cold. The angle of the glaciar is such that the wind blows that much stronger in your face, the water is barely above freezing and is the deepest arm of the lake with depths to over 2,300 feet!!!! Unbelievable. The brazo is filled with great chunks of ice, many rising taller than our double decked catamaran! We are also reminded that we are seeing only about 15% of each berg as 85% lies below the surface! Here we were fortunate to see some sparkling bright blue bergs and hope my photos will do them some justice.

Was also lucky to see a variety of bird life that were new to me: Black-faced Ibis Storks, Bandurria birds, Pato ai Cerro ducks, Cisne de Cuello Negro swans, Maca Tobiano ducks and a Patagonian Siera Finch. Unfortunately no condors or large colorful woodpeckers which live here. I will continue to keep my eyes out for a condor. From Upsala we cruised over an hour back to our starting point and the bus back to town ending a magnificent unforgettable day and adventure.

Returning to El Calafate seemed a letdown but I quickly found this little town has its charms. First of all I was staying in a little A-frame "cabinita," or tiny cabin. It is so but is also quite charming as it sits in a garden. I have my bed, my little tiny bathroom, a tiny table and two chairs, a small space heater and a little microwave to make tea so it is quite comfortable overall. The town itself has many interesting little shops and restaurants to nose around in. Yes, the wind is your constant companion and is generally not warm! No, I would not wish to live here in winter, but yesterday it was in the 60´s and sun shining so was enjoyable. Today it is the same, a beautiful day. I was taking it easy today, walking and window shopping. Next stop, Ushuaia, and as Ushuaian´s say, "el fin del mundo," the end of the world.

February 2006 Ushuaia, Argentina

Well, here I am at the end of the world, el fin del mundo, at least that is what the towns slogan is and a lot of folks are buying it. The flight in from El Calafate was routine and not particularly scenic until we got close to Ushuaia, then the mountains, valleys and waters came into play - thus the last 15 minutes were quite electrifying. And then there was the wind! I expected wind coming into a place like this and we got it. Our plane was blowing around quite a bit. I can only remember one flight more windy and that was into Newfoundland, Canada, some years ago, a place that has similarities to Ushuaia. The airport is small, not as small as El Calafate and it’s one runway and small terminal, but small compared to most, but then this city is only 35,000 plus cold people. As you enter the terminal you immediately notice that no one is dressed in summer clothing? But it is summer? Today is the calendar equivalent of early August in the U.S. It is supposed to be warm. Ha!

The first thing I bought here was a warm pullover hat and then another sweatshirt. Everyone here is wearing what I would call late fall clothing. People dress generally in 2 - 4 layers as the weather changes 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 times a day. You are always taking clothes on and off. Seldom do you see someone in just a tee shirt of any kind. I have been to Alaska three times and this place is definitely colder than summer in Alaska, which can get in to the 80s or 90s. Here 60s is a good day but then there is always the wind - and it does not blow warm. They say that winter here is not so bad and seldom dips much below freezing because of the ocean stabilizing temperatures. Personally I do not want to find out!

Hotel rooms are scarce and expensive. I had to try several places before I got there last room. This is clearly the most expensive place on this trip and definitely out of my normal budget. They say that is only expensive in summer because it is the season everyone wishes to travel here. No kidding! Who wants to come here in winter?

The harbor has several big ships coming or going on the Antarctica route, minimum of 9 days on up and 3 grand on up. I am told the Queen Mary is docking here sometime by tomorrow morning. Today I took a catamaran out the Beagle Channel to see local wildlife. The wind was again whipping as always. The boat was rocking and rolling, not among my favorite things. One could not stand steady on deck to take any photos. Ten minutes out I find out the boat did not go out yesterday because the wind and waves were too rough and considered canceling today!Anyway, about thirty minutes out it seemed to get better and we could stand on deck at last.

Our first stop was a small island serving as a rookery for Rock Cormorants with a few sea lions also lounging about. Next stop was another small island favored by quite a few sea lions, again mostly lounging about. You do not get off the boat at any of these places but the captain simply maneuvers the boat close for photos. We also passed an old lighthouse and some historic estancias. Most of the time Chile was on our right and Argentina on our left, opposite on the return trip of course. Our last stop was an island that serves as a Magellans Penguin rookery and there were probably 1000 or so about. This was the most interesting stop of the day.

The captain guides the boat right up to where the front is right at the water/beach edge. At the front rail, where I was, you are within 10 feet of the closest penguins. They are an incredibly curious creature. They walk right up close and stare at the boat and you as if wondering what this thing is and who the strange looking creatures are? Really quite amusing. Of course I probably shot one photo for every penguin there! Do not know if I got any good shots though as they do not pose real well for the camera. It is either flapping and chattering about or just plopping on their belly and lying there. Quite nice to see though.

On the ride back we began rocking and rolling again so most of us were glad to just sit in the warm cabin and talk. When we got to port we suddenly had the best weather we had had all day and left the boat smiling.

February, Ushuaia, Argentina

I have been wandering the up and down streets of Ushuaia and forming some general impressions. First of all this town is built on land that rises quite steadily up from the harbor area. The streets and sidewalks are steep. In fact there are several places where the street stops and the sidewalk becomes quite steep stairs. The only place I can compare it to is Valparaiso, Chile, where I have seen the same thing. The housing construction here is quite strange to me and appears very inadequate for the weather conditions. I have taken a few photos of houses and there are many that look more like hunting or fishing shacks in the woods and not at all warm. That has surprised me. I guess the folks here are tough but then you would have to be to choose to live here. I am in three layers and warm hat all day but I have seen two people in shorts and two in bare feet and flip-flops! Of course there was also a man in a white coat and with a net following each of them.

The people that built this place and live here are either a statement on the stubbornness and stupidity of man or the incredible ingenuity of man to build, adapt and create a space for themselves. The wind here always blows and I am not speaking of a gentle breeze. It seems to always be a put your head down, grit your teeth and hang on to your hat kind of wind. Walking you move twice as fast with it at your back as against it. I guess the fishing here is great though. Rio Grandes, up the road a piece, is supposedly one of the finest trout fishing spots in the world pulling in 18-20 pounders. I thought about that and actually checked into it but found it very expensive to fish and, unfortunately, not in my tight travel budget so I guess I will let that big one live a bit longer.

Even the dogs here wear thick coats. You see quite a few on the streets and every one has a nice thick coat of hair on it. Tough people, tough dogs. The Queen Mary 2 is in the harbor and it is gigantic. Someone told me it was the biggest ship in the world. I do not know if that is true but it is HUGE. There are several trips in the harbor that travel to Antarctica with a few hundred people on board and the QM2 could easily swallow them. In fact, it could swallow every other ship in the harbor and likely still be hungry! I was impressed seeing it. Unfortunately I was not impressed by the passengers. They are basically wealthy folk from the U.S. (probably sailed out of Miami) and they were all over this town today: very loud, aggressive and arguing over exchange rates in shops. I was thinking there goes the "Americano" image again.

Interestingly there were several anti-Bush signs and graffiti even here at the end of the world! All of the glaciers except two in this country are receding due to global warming and many they say will be gone within twenty years. The Argentines are fully aware that Bush was the only world leader who refused to sign the global warming agreement the rest of the world supported. Anyway, the QM2 leaves tonight so the crowds will lessen here. 

February, Ushuaia, Argentina 

Well here I am on my last full day at the end of the world and I have learned a lot more about this area so will ramble some. The peaks around here are only 4-4500 feet but hey look larger since they rise up fairly directly from the water and tree line is low. Appears to be about 2,500 - 3,000 feet, similar to Alaska. Riding through Tierra del Fuego National Park, the southern most park in the world, I felt this whole area had many similarities to Alaska. It is not as scenic here as Bariloche, El Calafate or even Colorado. It is more barren and more of a stark scenery. It is a rugged land. When Magellan first sailed around here he came with (I think) 5 ships and 278 men. He returned to Spain with 1 ship and 7 men!

When it comes to tough though you cannot beat the Yamana natives (now extinct) of this area. The average winter temp here is 24 degrees, the average summer 48 degrees. Yet the Yamana lived naked in the outdoors with only small teepee like huts built from tree branches. It is said that man is meant to be naked and that our natural body oils and such protect us. The Yamana died out when the Europeans came and put them in clothes. The clothes caused them to lose natural defenses and they caught various illnesses from the Europeans and all died in just a few decades. I have always known there was a natural reason I prefer to go naked!

In the national park we took a short walk to a nice overlook by Lapatia Bay, right off the beagle Channel and a short ride on an old narrow gauge convict train used when the Argentina prison (now closed) was down here. The most interesting part of the day was meeting a man from Belgium who said he was born in Argentina. His wife said he was actually born of U.S. parents and is an American but has refused to tell anyone since Bush was in office! Another woman laughed (from the U.S.) and said she tells everyone she is a Canadian! We have become the butt of the world’s jokes.

I was wandering and window gazing in the morning before my afternoon flight to Punta Arenas, Chile, and thinking about some final impressions of Argentina, at least for this trip. Yesterday was a nice day as the wind lied down some and the temp probably reached the 60s, about as good as it gets here. It also stays light here, as you might have guessed, until about 10 PM. I also usually mention the food in my travels but have not said much about it here in Argentina. That is because the food is not really much different then in the states. They are very heavy meat eaters here and have a few specialties like mate and dulce de leche but otherwise quite similar overall.

I will leave here thinking again how beautiful this country is as a whole and that I rank it second only to New Zealand for natural beauty. The diversity is incredible and the Bariloche area is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I have been to this country five times and always think it is my last visit - but yet I may come again, it is that beautiful. Okay, now I really am off to Chile. Though I have been to Chile three times I have never been in the south part so this will be new territory for me. It is the wild part of Chile so should be interesting. 

February, Punta Arenas, Chile 

Well here I am in Punta Arenas, Chile. Left Ushuaia yesterday afternoon. It was, of course, raining, cool and windy again when I left. As I was heading to the airport I noticed a great many posters had been stuck on walls throughout the central area. They featured a very ugly picture of Bush with the words (in Spanish), "If he comes here, shoot him. He must be stopped." Interesting and reflects the passion of the people here. Granted, they were now old posters or graffiti, but one never saw any anti-Obama posters.       

The Ushuaia airport was packed. It seems that all flight arrivals and departures are scheduled in the afternoon period as, apparently, it is the time of day when the winds most lay down and the weather has the best chance of being clear. Add that to the international immigration/customs factor (Argentina/Chile) and the place was really crowded. Ushuaia is built on a small beach/harbor area, the land rising rapidly as one goes inland. Punta Arenas is very different. Flying in to here one is struck by the overall flatness of the terrain and it seems almost pancake like - a tabletop arising out of the surrounding waters. When you are on the ground you realize there is a slight rise here as one moves inland but it takes about a mile here to equal the rise of one or two blocks in Ushuaia. Walking around here is relatively easy due to the flatness. It was, of course, raining and cool but not as windy upon arrival.

I spent my first hours finding a place to stay and orienting myself to this city of about 120,000, more than twice Ushuaia. I am staying at Hostal OHiggins, a former boy’s school where the dorm rooms have been converted to tourist rooms. Small and simple but quite adequate. I was thinking about it last night and realized I have spent about ten years of my life living in some kind of student housing so it seems routine to me. Today it is cloudy but dry so far and the temp is much warmer than Ushuaia. Much less windy and one can walk around today in simply a sweatshirt over a tee and be comfortable.

This town also mostly shuts down on Sundays but found a few things open. Toured the Palacio Braun-Menendez, a very opulent mansion. These are the two families that dominated this land with shipping, sheep and trade interests for over a century and it shows in the places they lived. Every room has a different ornate marble fireplace for example. I also thought about the backs of the people they built their empire on. I then went to the city cemetery here where their two families also stand out, particularly the tomb of Sara Braun, the most powerful woman ever to date in Chile.

Cemeteries in this area of the world are very interesting. Families give great honor to the dead and ancestors are revered at burial. Families, no matter how poor, will spend a great deal of money for burial and plots, tombs or tombstones. Family is much more important than money. A special Argentine friend of mind once told me what is wrong with the U.S. She said, "In the U.S. you live to work. In Argentina we work to live." I think she is very correct. We spend too many hours working so we have no time to really live. I know I used to spend too many hours at work. I did not spend enough time with my children in teaching them the things that are most important in life. I was at the office. As my father used to say, "We get too soon old and too late smart." No one ever lies on their death bed saying they wish they had spent more time at the office.

I have only realized it a year or so ago but somewhere along the path of life I have become Argentinean. I work only to live and I have chosen to LIVE. To embrace the world and all that is in. To experience all that I can of what both God and man have created and to do what I can in little ways to make it better. I may do some work again but only as necessary to LIVE. I have gotten too soon old and too late smart - but at least I have finally gotten smart! Family, siblings, children, grandchildren and living life: singing, dancing, experiencing and laughing joyously together are what IS life. I pray both my children have or will soon learn these lessons, I pray all my siblings have or will soon learn some of these lessons, and I pray all of my friends and family have or will soon learn some of these lessons.

I am a teacher. In my mind I have always been a teacher but even teachers get too soon old and too late smart. The greatest man I believe I have ever known or will ever know was my maternal grandfather, Jacob Andrew Schwindt. He was a welder for thirty years but was also: baseball player, bowler, dancer, songwriter, screenplay writer, teacher, exemplar, renaissance man and friend. He lived. Strangely enough I have Schwindt relatives in Argentina. Perhaps it is somehow in the genes? Yes, I know, I digress, but that is me and for now Argentina is behind me but living is not. I shall now enjoy Chile also.

Sometime this week I will get to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine National Park, supposedly among the most beautiful in the world, and then north toward Puerto Montt by ferry (if possible) or by plane (if must). First though, I shall fully enjoy more of Punta Arenas.

February, Punta Arenas, Chile

Yesterday was a very exciting and very interesting day.  I went on a five hour tour (5-10 PM) to Seno Otway (Otway Sound), a protected area for Humboldt Penguins. It is their nesting and birthing rookery they return to year after year and it was incredible!!!!! There are over 10,000 penguins there: over 4000 adults, 3000 young (year old), and 3000 newborn. These penguins nest in the grasses and soft earth of this area. Many of them a hundred yards or so in from the beach though they walk very slow and it takes them quite a while to get to their nest. The nest is a hole dug into the soft black earth where the eggs are laid and hatched. They back themselves into the nest so only their head and shoulders might be sticking out.

The parents, who mate for life, head to the ocean twice a day, morning and late afternoon, to eat and bring food back to the nest. They are very dedicated mates and parents. We were there as they were returning from their late afternoon foray into the sea. We were only allowed on a roped off plank path that included little bridges over any regular penguin paths between the ocean and their nests. We were able to get VERY close to them and I think I have some incredible photos of both penguins and their nests. They were absolutely hilarious to watch, many times marching in a little penguin parade as they came back in from the ocean.

They fish separately so they get separated from their mates in the ocean. When they return to land they call each other and recognize each other by their calls though there are 10,000 of them. Amazing. The male rears back his head, puffs up his chest and builds the volume of his call sort of like, "uh, uh, uh ,uh ,uh, bray." They end up sounding a bit like a little burro with their braying. The sound was a constant and very interesting to watch and hear. When they found their mate they stopped calling and wattled off to their nest together. I got some photos of several with heads back, beaks open and calling away but they were from a little more distance so not certain how good they will be. All in all it was a wonderful experience and clearly worth the three hour round trip on mostly dirt roads.

We even got lucky on the ride out with spotting six Nandu, a Patagonian Skunk and a whole lot of rabbits (plus about a thousand sheep). The Nandu is a flightless bird that is the Chile/Argentina version of an ostrich or emu but a bit smaller. Very thin legs and neck. The skunks here are fat and roundish with a fair amount of brown in the fur. Why do I mention common rabbits? Because for the first time ever in the wild I saw about a half dozen coal black rabbits! I have seen thousands of rabbits in many countries but they were always some shade of brown (as were most of them here) but this coal black breed was a new thing for me.

Then the 90 minute ride back got real interesting. There were nine tourists in the van all speaking some English: me, two French, two Brasilians and four Argentines. Global warming, war, world affairs and Bush came up and it quickly became the most angry heated discussion I ever encountered in my travels! I actually said comparatively little but the van was ranting about what a disgusting person Bush was and such.

A range of comments I remember included: -How could your country elect such a man? -He is just a stupid f-----. -The U.S. learned nothing from Vietnam. -All war is stupid. -Stupid old men send young men to die but never themselves or their own children. -The U.S. has been going down in the eyes of the world since 1945 and is too stupid to see it. -Europe is weak also. France is weak. England is weak. Europe is all weak. -Wait, the Muslims will rule the world because we do not know how to stop them and Bush only gained them followers. -You can not defeat people who will gladly die for their cause and their cause is to defeat the Americans. -Americans are prudish in their beliefs. They only care about sex and work. -Clinton was a great man who made many friends. Bush only made enemies. -Bush thinks he can force people to do it his way but America has had no power since Eisenhower. -Bush attacked Iraq. Why? They were no threat. Why didn’t he attack North Korea? They are a much bigger threat. -Americans need to get out of their country more and learn about the world. -Americans only know how to work and to make war. They do not know how to live! Obama never mentioned but then he had not been in office as long at the time.

That is just a sampling of the heated comments and they all struck home with me and especially the last one as it related directly to my comments of yesterday afternoon about what my Argentinean amigo had told me. WOW! The rest of the folks in the van were shaking their heads in agreement - Americans do not know how to live. They try to tell others how to live but they do not know how to live. The Frenchmen said he knows Americans, especially Bush, do not like the French but it is because the French hate war and the French know how to live! The ride brought up little I did not know but the group passion and vehemence of the expression was much stronger than I have generally seen and left me speechless. I had heard all these things before but never with such group passion. They had spoken the truth. They had said nothing I could counter. Only the Chilean driver and guide had remained quiet.

I know these words will anger some who read this but I only write what I see and hear - and in politics and world affairs it has not been good.  I had heard these things said before but yesterday the van erupted. Chile is generally a quiet country full of music, dance and markets. I very much like Chile for those reasons. Chile traditionally has not been overly passionate about politics but now maybe even that is changing as they elected the first woman president of a Latin country. I have been coming to South America since 1995. I have been here ten times. I was here with Clinton as our leader, here several times under Bush and now under Obama. The change in attitude has frightened me. As the Frenchman said, you spend billions to drop bombs. Why do you not make friends instead of enemies? Now I will go out and talk to some people and try to make some friends. I do not believe in all my travels I have ever personally made an enemy.

On practical matters, there is no road from Puerto Natales in Chilean Patagonia to Puerto Montt. One must fly or go by boat. I am trying to take a three day ferry ride through the Chilean fiords to Puerto Montt that only travels once a week, on Fridays. I have been informed by Navimag (the ferry company) that the boat has mechanical problems and I need to check back later to see if they will make this weeks trip. At this moment the ferry is still stuck on the other end in Puerto Montt. If the boat does not go this week then I must book a flight. Oh well. We shall see. I prefer a working boat but we will do what we must do.

Each time I arrive in a new country and/or new place I get a bit excited. There is a smile on my face and I want to shout, "Look world, I am ALIVE." In a book I am now reading one of the characters, an old man, says man must travel, he must see new places, it is in his character. It keeps him ALIVE. Today I am continuing to explore new markets, music, food and people.  

February, Punta Arenas, Chile

Well, my hoped for 3-day ferry cruise is out. Seems the boat has blown its engine and has some serious repairs to do. They said it will be at least two weeks before it sails again. Darn. The people that were on it when the engine went apparently drifted for two days before being removed. The word is they partied the entire time and drank the boat dry. That is typical South American - just go with the situation and enjoy. I was on a bus once when that happened. Wine and food was passed up and down the aisles and we had a great time!

Tomorrow morning I will bus to Puerto Natales for several days, returning to Punta Arenas later and and then likely fly to Puerto Montt. I want to see what I can of Torres del Paine National Park. The cold weather is mostly behind me now. Punta Arenas is much warmer than Ushuaia. It has been cloudy but generally dry and probably in the 60s. Quite comfortable. It will, of course, continue to get warmer now as I head further north. 

February, Puerto Natales, Chile

Took the bus up from Punta Arenas this morning, just a three hour ride. Very pleasant. The terrain is basically flat with just a few rolling hills here and there. Lots of sheep with five Nandu again thrown in.The laguna azul was on our east side at times. The trees were generally very short, less than ten feet and heavily twisted from constant winds. Some trees grew in the 15-20 foot range but they were generally "flag" trees, those that have grown with branches and leaves virtually all on one side because the winds have made them that way. They end up looking like a green flag with the tree trunk as the flagpole. The weather here in PN depends on the wind. When the wind blows it is a bit cool. When the wind does not blow it is very comfortable. Sunshine and probably mid 60s.

As I said, it was flat coming up but now you can see the mountains of the two national parks off in the distance: Torres del Paine and O´Higgins. I will be heading into the first tomorrow and then the latter later. Speaking of hotels, I am staying at Grandmother Anna’s. It has another name but the owner/operator is Grandmother Anna. I have a private room with bath and breakfast. She was thrilled when I told her my grandmother was also named Anna. Seems her granddaughter lives with her, speaks English and runs the very "convenient" travel agency next door (where grandma immediately took me)!

I should mention that the Argentina and Chile are very different countries with very different people. The Andes have always formed a natural border that has allowed them to grow quite differently. Argentina was heavily influenced by Europe: Italy, Spain and Germany. Chile was paid considerably less attention by Europe and there is a much greater native population here, particularly the Mapuche who offered great resistance to the Spanish throughout history and, in many ways, still do. Chilean blood is much more Indio and the people here are shorter and darker on average. I am a fairly tall guy in Chile, very average in Argentina. The food here though differs little.

Chile is also a relatively peaceful country at present and perhaps the last friend the U.S. has in SA, though that may change now under the elected woman president. You see less political signs here and much less anti-Bush/USA stuff though I may see more as I head north towards the capital, Santiago. The Chilean peso  trades many per US$ but Chile is not a cheap country, particularly here in the remote Patagonia. For weather you can compare Chile a lot to California. Chile gets a lot of warm Pacific breezes (which Argentina does not) so it is always warmer here. Southern Chile is similar to maybe Vancouver or Seattle except the peaks get higher here. Central Chile is similar to maybe San Luis Obispo or San Francisco. Northern Chile is a death valley desert climate.

I am doing laundry and taking care of business today. Tomorrow I enter supposedly one of the most beautiful parks in the world. 

February, Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine Nacional Parque 

Today was another incredibly delicious day that can best be described as the good, the bad and the ugly plus one incredibly wonderful joyous defining moment. We started out early this morning, stopping on the way to Torres del Paine at the Milodon Cave National Monument. This is a 10,000 year old glacier formed cave where many old bones were discovered including saber-toothed tigers and milodons, sort of a giant bear. It was an interesting walk through and looked much like a cave that would be used in any movies about cave people. If you let your imagination go you could see a caveman with a club swinging at a saber-toothed. Me, I saw Rachel Welch in a small animal pelt uttering one syllable words. Very nice.

Now first, the GOOD. Saw a wonderful display of wildlife, more Nandu, a Grey Fox, a Patagonian Skunk and well over a hundred Guanaco, that Patagonia mountain relative of the llama, alpaca and camel. I think I got some good photos there. The bird life was great. I saw Austral Blackbirds, an Austral Parakeet, several Caracara, several Red-backed Hawk, two Black-chested Buzzard Eagles and at 5:20 PM Chile time - ta da ta da ta da trumpets and a big drum roll please - I SAW AN ANDEAN CONDOR AND IT WAS MAGNIFICENT! It was HUGE and its likely 8-10 foot wingspan looked twice that to me. I was in awe. If it had swept down, grabbed me and taken me to its nest to feed its young I would have not moved. I was frozen with wonder. It was only seconds against a clear blue sky before it glided back into the shadows of the mountain and was gone but it was joyous seconds in time and a lifetime photo burned into my head. What a magnificent creature, white neck and coal black body and wings against the blue of the sky. Its great size gives it almost a prehistoric look as if you have gone back in time - or it has flown far forward. It was my third lifetime mental photograph of this trip. Though not captured on film, it is a moment that will stay with me forever.

Further good, many say that T del P is the most beautiful park in the world and certainly there are many very beautiful panoramas. Our initial view of the Torres del Paine (Towers of the blue - paine being another form of blue such as the blue/gray of the towers) was from a distance and across Lago Sarmiento. They do immediately impress you and, as we later found out, you see them from many angles throughout the day as they dominate the park. Our next view was across Laguna Amarga, then Lago Nordenskjold (very beautiful), then several points across Lago Pehoe (the best) and then finally across Lago Grey with Glaciar Gray and several other glaciars also in view. At one point we took a short hike to the waterfront of Lago Gray near several floating hunks of ice. We had to cross about 100 feet of swinging bridge over the Rio Pingo which was swinging in the wind and definitely a bit of a balancing act but worth it as was the walk through the trees. That was the farthest point we reached and returned from there via the same road (only road). Many of the views were world class and especially that across Lago Pehoe.

Now, why don’t I sound more excited? T del Paine is very beautiful and certainly ranks with the best but I do not think it is any better than Jackson Hole or Yosemite. Probably equal to Yellowstone but not as captivating as Milford Sound, Banff, El Calafates Glaciars Natl. Park or Bariloches Nahuel Huapi.

The BAD - T del Paine is a postcard park. As you are traveling through it is very dry and dusty and somewhat desert-like. All of the beautiful things are off in the distance and, though they make great postcards and photos, you do not feel a real intimate part of them. T del P requires one to get off, way off, the main roads and hike several days or more into the mountains - and it is rugged hiking, not possible physically or timewise for most visitors. This does not take away from its beauty but takes away from its joy. T del P caresses you, it rubs your back and relaxes you. El Calafates glaciars hug you, kiss you, wrap around you and you feel their fresh cold throughout your body. Bariloche and Nahule Huapi envelope you in the softest of arms and make love to every inch of you in tender and secret ways. Bariloche leaves you wrapped in clouds floating above the water to the warmest of breezes. T and P is a steady date. El Calafate is an affair. Bariloche is a forever love. You are home.

The UGLY - There is not much here in the way of infrastructure. Probably rode 250 miles today with over 200 of it on bad roads - real bad roads. All dirt and rocks and more rocks and bigger rocks yet. We were in a Mercedes van and it might has well have been a 1960 VW Pop-Up Camper Van. My posterior is bruised and battered. But I won’t have to see my physician for awhile. I had a prostate exam and a colonoscopy today and never even had to bend over or lie down. Yes, there is almost always a bright side to everything!

Tomorrow I am going through the park again but on a boat to several glaciars and will see the park from a different perspective. It will be interesting to compare it more to El Calafate´s glaciars. For now it is eat, shower, rest my posterior and dream of my condor.

February, Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine

Well today’s thoughts may be a bit dull compared to the excitement of a condor. Yesterday was miserable day weather-wise. I was taking the boat throughout the lakes of the national parks, Bernardo O´Higgins and Torres del Paine, (they run together and share a long border). It was cloudy at 7:45 AM when we got to the pier and boarded for an 8:00 departure. Well at 8:01 it began to drizzle - and rain - and drizzle - and rain - and on and on for the entire day. We were scheduled to see about 16 "sites" including two glaciars and a cliff called condor hill where supposedly about twenty condors live. Well they tell us we went by them all but we saw very little outside of the glaciars. The cliffs around us were so covered with clouds and fog that literally nothing was visible. If there were any condors out there they were flying on an instrument rating!

The glaciars could be seen because of sheer size, closeness to the water and the bright white or blue coloring. The viewing of the first (Serrano) was still quite hampered as it rose from the water. The second glaciar (Balmacera?) required our docking and walking several hundred yards through a soaked forest on a very wet and slippery up and down path. We were able to get a good view of that glaciar but everyone on the boat was soaked. This was that kind of rain that slowly soaks you until you are chilled thru and thru. With no sun and just a little wind there is never any chance to dry. A lot of hot coffee and tea was consumed by all.

The three highlights of the day: (1) One of the crew gathered ice from the glaciar and when we returned to the boat we were all served "Pisco" over glaciar ice. Pisco is a rum-like drink that is the drink of Chile. It was decent though I prefer wine. (2) We then docked at an estancia and were served lunch in a large dining hall with a big barbeque pit. Beef, Lamb, Chicken and sausages were placed on a huge platter in the middle of each six-person table plus salad, potatoes and vino. The platters were so big that I don’t believe any table cleaned theirs off completely. I was sitting with four Chilenos I had become amigos with on the boat and we shared wine and had a good time making lunch the hit of the day! (3) We returned to the dock and could go get dry.

Summary - We did not see much of what we had planned but we all seemed to have a good time anyway. I was both wet and tired so went back to Grandmother Anna’s and my room. The next morning the weather remained wet and now I had nothing scheduled so I walk to the bus station and see about changing my ticket to go back to Punta Arenas. No problem. I go back to the hostal, check out and take the four hour bus ride back to Punta Arenas where the sun is shining and it is quite nice. So here I am with a day of rest but at least it is in the sun. Tomorrow I will fly to Puerto Montt and will likely get a significant increase in the temperature from my wanderings here in Patagonia. See, I told you it was not an exciting tale but then I guess I really could not stand too much excitement everyday. Maybe mañana as I always experience a certain high when encountering a new destination.

February, Punta Arenas, Chile

Some  few final thoughts on Punta Arenas before heading to the airport and flight to Puerto Montt. I like Punta Arenas. It is flat, a bit cool weather wise, with no special spectacular characteristics, but it has vibrancy to it that I enjoy. The central plaza is filled with vendors, music and dance and it is the activities of the central plazas that I most love in the Latin cultures: art, crafts, music, dance and the people watching of these family oriented places. Young and old are both well represented. There has been a group performing in the plaza the last several afternoons. They are a dance group of four men and a woman and they have performed a slightly different show each day from modern dance to tango. In the states it would be four women and a man or all women as men do not dance much in the states - it is not "macho." In Latin societies dance is very macho and, in fact, it is about the most macho one can be. Dancers are greatly appreciated and admired by both men and women. It is one of the many things I love about these cultures.

Yesterday the group did a predominantly tango show and when it comes to dance, there is no dance sexier than the tango. A man and woman who tango well together are an incredibly beautiful oneness and the ultimate in foreplay. If you have ever seen a couple tango then you know how beautifully expressive and erotic the dance can be. When a group of men dance together in a choreographed tango they often dance shirtless wearing high-waisted cummerbund bound pants and both the men and the women love it. Few people outside of these countries know that the tango was started as a dance solely for men and men danced with men as a couple just as we would dance with a woman: hand in hand and other hand around the waist. It was this way for many years before women were allowed to tango also. So, for men, dance has been the cool thing to do forever. In the states you put your hat on backwards, walk funny, make fun of others and think you are macho cool. The art of self-deception. Here you DANCE and you ARE muy macho y muy fresco. I have an hour before I must leave for the airport. I think I shall go to the plaza and dance a little.

February, Puerto Montt, Chile 

Arrived here in Puerto Montt about 7:20 yesterday evening. The flight up involved some terrific views. About half was obscured by clouds but the rest was quite beautiful. I got to the airport early so I could get a window seat on the Andes side and it was worth it. Great view of some huge glaciars and the high up in the mountains vibrant blue of both the glaciars and some lower lakes. We were flying right along the border so had to guess whether I was looking at Argentina or Chile.

Puerto Montt itself is a disappointment to the traveler. I had heard it was not particularly interesting and that has turned out to be correct. This is a port town on the northern end of the Chilean fiords. Saltwater laps on the rocky shores and the ocean wind remains very strong and cold coming up the fiords. The temp here is about 60 but dropped much lower by the winds. This town was founded in 1852 by a group of 32 German families and most of it looks that old. There is a lot of construction going on though in the city center, a sign of a growing town. In stark contrast the rest of the town appears as a dying town. The buildings are virtually all in various stages of peeling their paint. Graffiti is sprayed everywhere with no apparent effort to clean it up.

The Provincial Government building (like a state capitol) has badly peeling paint and lots of wall "art." The streets are full of litter and there is an odor of unclean water or sewage in many places. The water and rocks at the bay front are filthy with floating garbage and Styrofoam containers. Even the dress of the people seems not as clean. In summary, this is not an impressive place. In the many times I have been to this continent and in the many cities I have seen, this is to me the worst place I have been. And I very much like Chile! Strangely enough, it is only 25 kilometers over the Andes from Bariloche, Argentina, perhaps my favorite place in the whole world. As I have mentioned though, the Argentines and Chileans are very different.

It took me a good walk to find an acceptable hotel. The first place I walked into was horrible and it was listed as okay in my guide book. Anyway, I finally got settled for last night and tonight. Tomorrow I have a noon bus to Valdivia, supposedly a nice city near the Pacific Ocean north of here. On the plus side though, as I walked from my hotel toward the centro plaza, in the first four blocks I heard four different music groups playing in the street! A traditional Chilean band, a family band, a ten-man drum group and a rock band on stage in the plaza. One teenage boy in the drum group was even wearing a Green Bay Packer jersey (of course I took his photo)! That has always been one of the things I love about Chile, it is a land of music and dance. No matter how difficult the conditions of life, the people find time for music and dance and I love that in this country. So I walk a bit tonight again, listen to more music, sleep a little late in the morning and then off to Valdivia.

Mid February, Valdivia, Chile

Valdivia (Val deev vee ah), Chile! . First, last night about 11:30 PM I awake to the loud noise of fireworks going off right outside my room and out over the bay. I look out the window and watch a beautiful display with hundreds of people and cars down below. Some celebration going on but I have no idea why? I have always said there are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened? I was one of the third kind on this night.

Monday I walk to the bus station and settle in to my window seat. I ALWAYS get a window seat when taking the bus. I want to see the countryside as we go through. Planes I usually prefer aisle but bus, window. It was a pleasant ride that reminded me much of central California, rolling hills and brown grassland as we entered much drier territory. It is clearly hotter and drier now though there is usually a nice breeze blowing in from the Pacific. The clouds bypass the drier coast and then dump their moisture on the Andes as rain or snow.

Arriving in Valdivia, I found a nice room at the Hostal Totem. I don´t have the chief´s room but have one befitting a good warrior! Private bath and unusually big and good shower. Checked in and then wandered to the river and took a boat up and down for 3-4 hours to see the sights. The rivers here empty into the not too distant Pacific so are marginally effected by tides and have a little brackish quality at times. The banks can be marsh like with tall reeds and grasses plus an occasional sea lion or two in the harbor. It was a nice little ride. Of course in typical Chilean fashion there were two bands playing as we arrived back at the dock. This is also a harbor town but big ships from the Pacific. Valdivia does not have any of the rough edges of Puerto Montt. In fact, my reading says this is one of the most beautiful and most livable places in Chile. I am thus anxious to see more of it.

Mid February, Valdivia, Chile

I LIKE THIS CITY. So far I can say what I read was correct. This is a very likeable and livable place. This is the Chile I have grown to love. I started the morning by going down to the river and to my pleasant surprise there was an active outdoor market on the riverfront. Under canopies and about 70 yards long, the booths on the riverside featured all kinds of interesting seafood while the other side featured a great variety of fruits and vegetables. The place was a cacophony of noise with the vendors screaming out their wares. At one end was a Chilean jazz band: clarinet, bass fiddle and banjo, playing New Orleans style jazz. All around the market were about ten boats with hawkers shouting their tours and services. In the river were black cormorants, gulls and a half dozen sea wolfs (sea lions) chattering, bellowing and begging for bits of fish tossed out by the vendors. It was dizzying, ear splitting, confusing and orderly all at once and I absolutely loved it.

This is MY Chile. This is Santiago in a smaller version without the traffic and poorer air quality of the capitol city. And this is a city that knows how to use its rivers. Many cities build right on the rivers and/or pollute them terribly. Here there are walking paths by the river, open areas that make people come and sit, well kept and active markets, places for music, all with the community on one side and the University of Austral Chile on the other - a university very involved in environmental programs here. In fact, the air quality here is quite good and, I have discovered, much like San Francisco. The rivers rule here but there are many islands as one travels down the rivers to the nearby Pacific. Like SF, the weather can change dramatically. I believe it was a southern gentleman who said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." Here is like that. It can be 75, 80, 85 or 90 degrees the more one goes inland but go towards the ocean and the fog rolls in, the humidity sticks to you, the wind blows off the ocean and it is 45 just like that.

And such was my experience Tuesday afternoon as we cruised down the river to several islands. Our first island stop was Isla Mancera where we visited a fort, San Pedro de Alcantara, built by the Spaniards in 1645, long before North America was colonized. The second island, Isla Corral also featured a similar fort. In visiting both forts one could easily see why the sites were selected and up to 21 cannons placed there. Both islands are occupied today by Chileans living in smaller villages. On Corral there was a parade of some kind going on to support the average worker and the parade thus featured "average" workers (farmers, etc.), many in native costumes and including an ox cart pulled, of course, by two ox! I much enjoyed that and I think got some interesting photos.

On both islands ethnic Germans had settled after the original Spanish settlers. There were local women selling homemade fruit kuchens. When I was a boy my favorite cook in the whole world was my Aunt Hattie and especially her apple kuchen. Well I bought some here on the first island and it was not Aunt Hattie´s but it was awfully good!

Our last stop was Isla Huapi and since Isla is Spanish for Island and Huapi is Mapuche for Island, the English translation is Island Island. This is a small island that is a natural park and our walk featured various trees and plants that were labeled and also pointed out by our guide. I learned about the national flower of Chile, Longeria Rosea (I think I got that right) plus many trees I had not seen before. They also fed us a nice snack with coffee or tea but that is typical of Chile. Food and socializing are an important part of life and thus also part of any tour. All the well it was very foggy and COLD and me in a tee shirt. Fortunately the guide carried extra things and loaned me a windbreaker which got him some nice tips. Smart guide.

After we docked I heard three different musical groups on the street again in just a six block walk back to my room. The plaza was packed and it appeared the people were waiting for a parade of some sort to start and it was already 9 PM. Ahhh, the Chile I love - but I was quite cold now and I just headed back to my room. Tomorrow is another day and I would put my windbreaker in my backpack. Tomorrow I have no tours. I will not be on the water but will walk, look, listen and explore on foot this delightful city.

Mid February, Valdivia, Chile 

For the last several days I have had the opportunity to wander the streets and doorways and enjoy the charms of this delightful place. So I am going to just sort of chronologically ramble away, as I am wont to do. I started one morning with a walk to the riverfront and the activity of the morning market. I took some time a few blocks away from the market to just sit on a bench by the river and watch the gulls and cormorants cut their slits in the sky, circling and chattering away. I wondered if they were looking for food, simply playing, socializing or laughing at the silly looking humans down below who could not leave the ground by their own power? It was very relaxing to observe them.

I also watched several crews practicing rowing on the river. It seems crew (rowing) is a big sport at the university here and also in Peru and Argentina (Bariloche and Mendoza). The SA Natl Tourney will be held this year here in Valdivia. The smoothness of the crews on the water is lovely to watch. I wandered the busy market for a bit observing what seafood was appearing on this day. The market vendors display such a great number of clams, oysters and mussels that one assumes the supply here is never ending. In addition to the many varieties of fish, you also see the occasional octopus and several things that I cannot identify but do not look very appetizing to me! There was again the three man Dixieland group playing plus a guy banging a guitar and singing with his amigo pounding on a conga drum. 

I then took a noon city tour on an open-topped double decker bus. It was just an hour ride but provided a good overview of the city and some ideas on where to go later. Returning from the tour I ran into Jorge, my boat tour guide from yesterday, as they were preparing to leave for todays tour. We chatted for a bit about his recommendations for a lunch place and about his personal good news. He was excited because he had just gotten a letter from Kings College in London admitting him to their Masters program in Ecotourism and offering financial aid. I was also happy for him. We exchanged emails and I told him if all goes well for both of us I will come visit him in London.

He recommended several good places for lunch and I chose La Ultima Frontera, a Chilean style place located in an old nostalgic house full of "character" (or a bit of a dump in appearance if you like). It was wonderful. I had a vegetarian taco Chilean style with sprouts, green beans, corn mushrooms, zucchini, red peppers, chopped tomatoes plus lots of avocado and my personal addition of plenty of spicy Chilean picante salsa. Great choice. I should mention that I don't always go to restaurants. I hold down costs by buying food at local supermarkets, especially those that have a deli when possible. But occasionally there is a local place I want to try so I do so. Last week in Puerto Natales I had a wonderful vegetarian pizza covered with sliced tomatoes, corn, green beans and slices of avocado. I also usually drink hot tea but today had a strong cafe con leche (coffee with milk), most coffee in the world being stronger than coffee in the states.

After lunch I took a good walk over the bridge to the other side of the river, Isla Teja. Here I wandered the campus of the University of Austral - Chile, first visiting the history museum. This was located in the Casa Anwandter (1861), the former house of a prominent area family. The first floor featured much original furniture and chandeliers while the second floor displayed various old photos and artifacts including many on the Mapuche culture. I was impressed by most of the displays. On one hallway wall there were hung two framed family trees of the Anwandter clan and the Kunstman clan, another prominent local family. They were beautifully done and as the unoffical Stanelle family historian I was insanely jealous! The Anwandter tree featured about 200 names starting about 1800, just before they settled here. But the Kunstman tree was fabulous. Drawn as a tree with many branches and leaves, it featured about 500 names starting about 1850 when their family settled here. In addition, the edges around the tree included sketches of various family homes. Just beautiful!

I then walked over to the botanical gardens also located on the campus. We think of botanical gardens as more of a flower place but I have found in much of the world botanical gardens are mainly a forest with a wide variety of trees and supplemented by some flowering plants. That was the case here. The trees were wonderful old growth though and some very large specimens - and I love the peace of a forest. When I am walking, hiking, trekking, whatever in a forest or park I simply enjoy the sounds of silence: wind, birds, leaves and such. When I hear people talking I want to scream, "Shut up you fools. Listen to the warmth of natural creation." I want to hear the birds singing, the chipmunks chattering, the sound of the deers footsteps and, if I was to burp, I want a wolf five miles away to perk up his ears at the sound! Anyway, I had a little of that in the forest today but certainly not enough (is there ever?). As I sat on a bench in my own solitude, various students walked by chatting away. I thought about youth. To be 20, to be smart enough to not smoke or drink, to read, listen, learn and experience the world, to grab all the great opportunities in front of you which, unfortunately, so few do. As the saying goes, it is such a shame that youth is wasted on the young.

After this respite I walked back to my side of the river and stopped at the Cafe Haussman, another recommended place, for a slice of apple kuchen. Kuchen is VERY popular here. It seems they eat Chilean meals but then enjoy German desserts! I have always considered bananas foster as my favorite dessert but on further thought a really good apple kuchen is hard to beat. Kuchen comes in many fruit flavors but apple is my favorite. It´s strange because I really don´t eat apples - but sure love them in a kuchen.

I then finished the day by strolling over to the central plaza for people watching and there is always plenty of that! Jugglers in the streets at red lights working for tips from drivers. A man and woman with a llama family, dad, mom and baby, offering photos on or with them for pesos, the usual several music groups working for whatever listeners would contribute and two guys doing a comic monologue and then passing the hat. Most interesting was I saw these same two guys doing the same monologue in Puerto Montt several days ago! Evidently they are working their way around Chile and/or South America. I´m impressed!

Sitting on a bench in the plaza I also thought about the three rivers here: the Cruces, Cau Cau and Calle Calle plus Island Island. They sure like their repetition in names! I also thought about the special personality of so many of the places I love to visit. We don´t have that in the U.S. (maybe San Francisco or possibly Seattle and its fish market) because we have legislated and regulated personality out of existence. Our laws restrict outdoor food stands, family run "rooming houses," B&B´s, street entertainers (move along now buddy) in the supposed "interest" of safety,” “health” or "cleanliness." No special license, no can do. Our cities have become boring places where the only place to go is a mall - consumerism rules. Internationally cities are not boring but are FILLED with PERSONALITY.

After thinking a bit I strolled back to my room, hit the shower and hit the sack for the day. I had debated booking a tour for the next day but decided I did not want to spend six hours in a van or bus when there was so much to see in this wonderful city. So the next day I got up, had breakfast, and was off to simply see and experience more of this place. I first returned to MY bench by the river and again watched the birds cut the air for a bit.

Yesterday the weather was windbreaker in the AM and then sun and tee shirt all day and today is the same but cloudy. At first there were few birds and I thought maybe they preferred the sun to play but it was not long before they again were filling a good part of the sky. More cormorants and less gulls today. Occasionally a sea lion (wolf?) head would pop up somewhere in the river. This area draws only the fat lazy sea lions who simply beg for food without working for it. Quite a few sculls, both one and two person, were out this morning also. They are beautiful as they cut so cleanly through the water as to barely leave a ripple.

I also thought a bit about the Mapuche and my visit to the museo yesterday as I sat. I have mentioned earlier that Chilean people are generally shorter. While their body trunks are similar to others but it is the legs that tend to be much shorter and stockier. In addition their faces are very circular, almost box-like circular. This adds to the overall impression of shortness as their appearance does not draw the eye to length. Don not misunderstand my comments. They look just fine and I have seen many handsome Mapuche men and beautiful women, they just look different then what our north american eyes are used to.

There is a small cultural center on the riverfront also and I checked into that this morning after leaving MY bench. The outer room had a exhibition of paintings from talented children around the country. The smaller inner room had an exhibition of photographs entitled, "The Heart of Jerusalem," which was definitely a surprise show to me. The photos were good but I think many of my photos are as good and those of my friend, Marcus, better. Just my opinion anyway! I did take the opportunity to sneak a bit of their complimentary cheese and crackers.

Wandering over to the mercado I noticed two vendors walking around that were new today. One was hawking dishtowels and the other selling and carrying a stack of sombreros. I also found out what one of the (disgusting to me) "foods" was that I had been trying to figure out. It is sort of yellowish brown that looks like a cross between an octopus tentacle and an animal penis. It reminded me of my time in SE Asia where cooking and eating an animal penis was so common. The stuff was called Ultes, a word that is not in my dictionary. Turns out it is a strange looking algae/seaweed that they wash, chop up and put in salads like squid or such. I am often tempted to try many things but I was not tempted to try this.

I crossed the street to have lunch at one of the river front restaurants, all of which are quite reasonably priced. It was decorated in a nautical manner with glass-topped tables over a layer of pea gravel and shells. Quite nicely done and the place was packed. I had a house specialty, "Calle Calle Salmon." Salmon covered with a prawn/mushroom thick cream sauce. It came with potatoes sliced like thick fries but then baked instead and served in an onion/red pepper/light cream sauce. Bread came with a spicy Chilean butter/mustard/horse radish spread. Except for thinking the salmon was a bit salty, the whole combination was excellent. I may trying making potatoes that way myself - and I already bake a mean fish! A guitar player entertained us also as I ate my pretty good $6 lunch.

After lunch I went again to a handy bench wishing I had a book. I brought four novels with me but have finished them all and had not yet found an English bookstore to pick up another one. No matter. A wonderful Jose Feliciano type guitar player and singer was set up on the peatonal and I listened to him for over an hour. We chatted between some numbers and I discovered he plays eight instruments and sings. One of the instruments played was a strange sort of flute with a miniature piano-like keyboard. Very nice. He was quite good and, of course, I purchased his CD.

Well, by now it was 5 PM so I wandered over to the central plaza to another bench and the expected parade of the usual characters and suspects but - surprise - I got much more! There was a traditional Chilean music and dance group there in full costumes. Four men and four women dancers and another half dozen playing traditional instruments. The dancers were excellent as they stomped their boots, swung their skirts, and performed traditional Chilean courting and mating/wedding dances. The gathering crowd was enthusiastically clapping to the music and the stomping of the boots. I watched them perform their 15 minute show three times and each show was even better than the previous and enthusiasm higher. They were beautiful to watch and I may have gotten some nice photos. People can be so interesting!

What a pleasant last evening in this city loved by all Chileans and by any foreigners who are fortunate enough to visit this charming place. Now it is back to my room to shower and get some sleep. I have a bus to Pucon right after breakfast tomorrow. A mountain town. Another whole nuevo place.

Late February 2006 Pucon, Chile 

Here I am in Pucon, Chile. The bus ride up was very pleasant as we entered the Andes foothills and Pucon itself sets on a lovely lake surrounded by high peaks so the setting is magnificent. Two volcanic peaks are clearly evident, snow packed peaks and shaped perfectly. But ones initial impression is of a little disappointment as the town itself is the most touristy place I have ever seen in South America. The main drag is maybe six blocks long and every doorway catering to tourists. And packed with people! It took me seven places before I found a room and am paying the most I have had to pay for a room in a year. Definitely a place out of my budget as my hotel is much nicer than I want or need.

There are restaurants and tourist "adventure" places one after another here to where any "charm" has been lost. The best comparison I have is what Estes Park, CO, is today versus what it was 30 years ago. This is today and this place seems to function more like a U.S. tourist place than anywhere I have been. Not my personal preference. I prefer the individual personality of places more than cookie cutter settings. Despite that though, the weather is currently beautiful and I woke up Saturday intending to enjoy myself as much as possible.

Decided to take a rafting trip on the Rio Trancura through the Andean foothills. It turned out to be an excellent choice. Once you get away from the center of the town this is a very beautiful area of the world and the river provided that setting for us. Going down river on our right were heavily forested Andean foothills and on our left two fantastic volcano peaks, the Villarican and the Lanin. The first erupted last in 1988! Just a beautiful river ride. The river was whitewater most of the way and predominantly class III rapids. Not real difficult to negotiate but difficult enough to keep you paddling and mostly alert.

We began the run by putting on rubber wet suits instead of wearing our swim suits. That gives you a clue that it is going to be a bit cold and wet and the river did not disappoint. The water was cold and we did get quite wet. In fact, there was one rapid where I almost left the boat but for my solid hand and foot grips. Very nice overall. There were three rafts and two of the guides spoke some English and both had amigos in Milwaukee, Wisconsin! That was a shock as most Chileans have not even heard of Wisconsin.

The ride ended, of course, with tea and cookies. Always a little food. Speaking of food, one thing I have noticed is that Chileans cut up all their food. We pick up a sandwich or burger and eat it. They use a knife and fork, cut it into small pieces, and eat the pieces with a fork one by one. This seems to be true for all ages. Obviously their meals are much more leisurely! Also I seldom drink soda but when I do it will usually be something citrus-based. Fortunately for me that type of soda is very popular throughout SA. Simba in Argentina and Pap in Chile are two I have tried and find interesting. I was tired from paddling so much so shall rest well this evening and tomorrow, when I plan to not do much of anything but sit by the lake and walk a bit. This is a very nice place and I am enjoying it, especially with such marvelous weather as they have here now. The key is simply to avoid the center main touristy drag of the city.

I have to say that Pucon can grow on you. When one wanders away from the main business drag one finds a pretty nice place. I also discovered that there are three volcanoes near here but you have to be up high and at the right angle to see two of them (Lanin and Quetrupillan). However, the closest one, Villarrica, is very close and dominates the skyline of this city. If the weather is at all clear you see it from everywhere and it is a beautiful volcano. It´s shape is so picture perfect that it almost looks fake in the sky. Nothing can look that perfect. Today I spent an hour just sitting on the deck of my hotel and watching it. It lets off steam with great regularity and about every minute sends a puff into the sky. You can take a guided trekking tour to the edge and look into the boiling cauldron but it requires a professional guide, wearing crampons, plodding through snow and leaving at 4 AM to make the ascent. Even if I were in the physical condition to handle it, the 4 AM would pretty well leave me out!

The main plaza of the city here is located differently in that it is not near the main commercial street. It is about six blocks away. I walked over there today and found a very nice plaza. No concrete or statues to speak of like most plazas but more of a natural city park. There were a variety of artists/crafts booths around the edges and children's playground equipment in the center, also unusual in plazas here. It was a very family oriented place and families with small children were everywhere. I sat for an hour just watching them play. The weather was so nice today that it was okay just to sit. As the saying goes, sometimes I like to sit and think and sometimes I just sit. Today I mostly just sat.

The city partially sticks out on a little peninsula into the lake here so there is a beach area on both sides. One side beach is very small but the other side is a large beach and was packed today. The "sand" is black and actually volcanic ash that I found very hard on the feet but the locals had the place packed anyway. The water was cool but not too cold as many ventured in and stayed in. With the surrounding mountains and volcano the overall setting was very beautiful.

Late February, Temuco, Chile

When leaving Pucon I took a bus to Temuco, the business center in central Chile for the native Mapuche. I am back in my Chile. Temuco is a cool place and I am glad I chose to stop here. All the guide books say Temuco is nothing special, just another city in Chile, though a business center for the Mapuche communities around this area. But all that is what makes it special! It is not a tourist center. Though I am certain there are tourists here, it is not a Pucon or even a Valdivia when it comes to any number of tourists but it is an interesting town, a good town to experience the way native Chileans live, and the Chile that I have grown to love. Historically this area was and still is a Mapuche stronghold and a liberal area of Chile. It was here in Temuco in 1881 that the Mapuche finally signed a treaty allowing a town to be built here. Up until that time the Mapuche had wiped out every attempt at building a town through superior tactics over then Spanish forces. Temuco still goes its own way politically.

The bus ride here was only two hours but Pucon and Temuco are a world apart. Arriving here you immediately sense the "business center" description of the city. Most cities have one central market, but here I quickly found three. But first things first - I had to find a room. I am staying at a very funky old hotel that has lots of "character" and was famous in its heyday. The rooms are huge with old wood floors and thick wooden doors on the baños. My room has three beds, a table and chair, a huge old wardrobe cabinet, and the ugliest old easy chair you can imagine! However, I am right down the hall from Pablo Neruda´s old room. This place has hosted Pablo Neruda (for some years) and Gabriela Mistral, two famous poets who became Chile´s only Nobel prize winners. Neruda was also raised here and a native son to Temucoans. The hotel also hosted two Chilean presidents including the famous Salvador Allende. The walls ooze history older than I am!

After checking in I wandered off to see the city and especially its markets: the Central Plaza Armas de Anibal Pinto, the Municipal Mercado and the old Mapuche market and still the real market of the people, Feria Libre. The Central Plaza is only a block from my hotel so I had to pass it to go to the Feria Libre. The first thing I heard (of course) was a musical group playing the Chilean pan pipes and they were incredible. They were playing different types of instruments I had never seen before and hitting notes I had never heard before. Really great and I liked them a lot. Naturally I purchased both their CDs!

Continuing on about a mile to the Feria Libre I reached the real Chile, the market of the people. Probably 300 stalls spread out over and area of about eight square blocks, selling everything that you might need in this life. The fresh fruit and vegetable stalls comprised the greatest number though. Very colorful and inviting has the hawkers loudly announced their products of the day. Tomatoes, peaches, apples, pears, bananas, etc. all about twenty cents a pound. I bought two pears, two bananas and also purchased some bread and cheese for my lunch and decided to supplement the flavor with what seemed logical to me, Chile peppers in Chile! You could buy about a dozen of them for twenty cents but I convinced a woman to sell me just three for my 100 pesos: one yellow, one green and one red. I then divided by cheese sandwich into three parts and added one pepper to each. WOW! The yellow brought tears to my eyes, the green will leave my crying for a week and the red - well if I had finished the red I would likely be in intensive care now! Oh they were hot! Good experience though.

After wandering about there for several hours I walked over to the municipal market. This has maybe 35 - 40 stalls and a dozen restaurants mostly pushing inexpensive seafood. It is a pleasant enough place but sells more upscale crafts and souvenir type stuff to the tourists that are here. The restaurants all looked quite decent though and I may try one tomorrow. The Plaza market is a very upscale artists and crafts market selling a lot of beautiful and interesting work. It is the kind of place where I could spend a lot as these types of things attract me. I have to remind myself that it is not easy to take these things back and I really have no place to take them back to anyway. I do enjoy the window shopping though and love the different musical groups playing throughout the area. This is my kind of Chile, multiple markets and musica, and I am comfortable here. The next few days I shall wander all the markets at leisure, try some more Chilean food and simply enjoy the culture and atmosphere of this likeable city, enjoying relaxing days in this pleasant place.

I also learned a bit more about the place I am staying. Seems it was built in 1889 and still looks a lot like it did then. I was built by Germans, later managed by a French family and finally in Chilean hands. It is the basic large rectangular box outside with stucco clay walls and huge doors and windows. The first floor ceiling is about 18 feet high. The windows in each room have the very tall old style shutters where you close them and then lock the windows with a two by four across them - just like you have seen in old western movies aka "Bar the door ma, there's bad guys a comin`" The first floor has only 8 guest rooms with a huge dining hall in the center and meeting rooms on one side. The upstairs has about 30 guest rooms. Pablo Neruda lived in No. 9 right at the top of the stairs and center front of the hotel. Seems he stayed there from 1940-60 and probably did most of his writing that won him the Nobel Prize there in the hotel. He also likely drank a lot in the cool old barroom there. Anyway, a great historical atmosphere.

I took a walk one late morning to Cerro Nielo Natural Park, an approx. 90 acre woods about a mile from the hotel. I then walked about 1 1/2 - 2 miles through the woods which may not sound like much but the first half mile was pretty much steep uphill. Of course there was also a road for the more intelligent folk who chose to drive up. There is a nice overlook of the city at the top plus the "Patagua" tree where supposedly the treaty between the Spanish and the Mapuche was signed in 1881 - not too long before my hotel was built!

Also up there is a beautiful old restaurant with old dark wood decor, cool old chandeliers and photos on the walls plus a great looking old fireplace. Evidently they also have live music at night. I decided to take a table by the window and have a cup of tea and a piece of fruit kuchen. The kuchen was a custard like base covered with peaches, grapes, honeydew and watermelon plus coconut shreds on top. Quite tasty. I watched the view of the city and valley below for a bit and thought about what a romantic place this was and how nice it would be to come in the evening, hold hands with someone special across the table, get lost in the music and share a dance or two. Maybe you are thinking the same reading this?

On my much easier walk down the hill I went through virgin forest where the only sound was my shoes and birds in the trees somewhere. The silence was wonderful for the maybe 30-40 minutes back down. Passed some Copihue bushes which feature the colorful Lapageria Rosea (finally learned how to spell it) national flower of Chile. Finally sat in the plaza for awhile hoping to listen to an evening of music. Only heard a little though before the rains came to truly dampen the evening. Looks like it will probably rain most of the evening.

Late February, Concepcion, Chile

First, there is always a certain sadness in leaving places that you like and feel comfortable in. I have felt this in every place I have been to date except for Puerto Montt and now Concepcion. I felt it in Temuco though it was drizzling rain when I left and a good day to leave. In Temuco there was even one boulevard lined with chestnut trees that brought back memories of my Milwaukee boyhood home. We had a chestnut tree down the block where us boys would collect them and, in the way of youth, throw them at each other. Only when I became an adult did I learn that roasted they were delicious to eat and I now love them for a better reason. You usually find something everywhere that stirs something in and for you - thus the sadness at leaving.

Concepcion though was disappointing in most ways. It had a very large central plaza surrounded by peotonals (ped malls) that made it seem even bigger and this was very nice. The Mercado Central though was very shabby. It is located in an old and dark building with little natural light that has not been updated or cared for to any great degree. This gives a dirty feeling to it. There were many restaurants inside that were likely fine to eat at but the dark dinginess of the place held in odors of raw meat and left one not as hungry. I have seen this in old markets before but, fortunately, not that often. The city needs to improve this one.

Concepcion is about 200K population and most cities in Chile seem to fall in the 100 - 250K area except, of course, for the 5 million Santiago.  Population figures give Santiago all the political power and the rest of the country gets little. This city is not getting enough. Much of it may be that Concepcion is a blue collar workers city and a center for workers rights. These people deserve better than they are getting. Even my hotel in Concepcion was disappointing. Old is okay (i.e., Temuco) but shabby is not and my room there was shabby. My needs are simple: safe, clean, convenient, decent bed and warm shower. I had that in Concepcion but it was shabby. My bath towel was even a bit of a rag. As a final disappointment, the one museum in the city I wanted to see was also poor with a very disappointing presentation of the Spanish and Mapuche battles in history.

That being said, the city did show me some of the things I love about Chile. The plaza had a guy giving a speech as loud as he could to anyone who would listen. I guess it was on religion as he was waving a bible though for or against I do not know? Also performing a vocal comic routine in the plaza was the same two guys I saw doing their bit in Puerto Montt and Valdivia! As I, they are evidently working their way north and I have to admire them. There are also plenty of sidewalk stalls of course and I always enjoy wandering among them. I finally tried a drink here I have noticed others buying from vendors in several cities and appears to be very popular in Chile. It is called "mote con huesillos" and I can only guess what is in it from my eyes and taste buds. It seems to be an apple cider like drink poured over hominy grits and with a canned and sweetened whole piece of fruit in each glass. I have seen pears and peaches so far. Mine had a peach and, I must admit, it was quite good. One dictionary meaning of mote is "boiled salted corn" and huesillos is not in my dictionary so your guess is as good as mine.

I probably did not mention that I also had some "mortada" on the boat from Jorge in Valdivia. That is made from white wine with sugar added and berries soaking and floating in it. Also very good very popular in Chile. Concepcion had a great supermarket. I know, laugh if you must, but I look for supermarkets to cut my food costs and especially supermarkets with delis. The food is fresh, you are seeing what the locals eat and you get it cheap. I eat at them as much as possible and the supermarket there was very large with a really good deli. I had a piece of fish and several vegetables in addition to exploring the market in general. But as a whole Concepcion is not a place you are likely to return to.

It was destroyed twice by earthquakes some years ago and it still seems like a somewhat difficult place to make a living. It has the appearance of a city who works hard every day and is simply tired - so the washing and ironing and painting the fence can wait. I felt their burden just walking the streets. So I saw some of the city, stayed one night and taxied back to the bus terminal for my last Concepcion surprise pleasant experience. The taxi driver was about the nicest I have ever had. His son lives in Toronto and married with four sons of his own. He comes to Chile about twice a year and Grandpa has gone to Toronto four times. Between his little English and my podre espanol we had a pleasurable little visit. And he became the first cab driver to ever tip me!!!! He cut 150 pesos off the fare and would take nothing more from me because he just enjoyed our conversation, was pleased to meet me and wished me a good rest of my trip. A pleasant man and a fine ambassador for his city.

Late February, Chillan, Chile

The scenic ninety minute ride to Chillan through valleys and Andean foothills was covered with pines, eucalyptus looking trees and brown grass reflecting shades of California to me. If one has not been here they fail to realize that the Andes are very dry and brown mountains compared to the Rockies we know in the states. Also most Chilean cities either fall on the coast or in the valleys between mountains and thus tend to be scenic places. So here I am in Chillan (Shay on) (about 165K) and it is a delightful place so far. The central plaza is lovely as are several other plazas. The catedral here off the main plaza (as are they almost always) is of a very unusual and unique design. It is concrete and looks something like a cross between the Air Force Academy`s chapel and an airplane hanger! Very different.

Directly off one corner of the plaza is the local peatonal (ped mall) which is very wide and spacious giving one a very pleasant strolling experience. In addition there was a used book fair going on in the plaza and you may remember I am out of books. Well, one dealer had about 60 English paperbacks and I was lucky to find three books of interest and that should easily last me the remainder of this trip and plane ride back. I picked up three mystery novels which are my fun/relaxing reading of choice. I also found a little hotel here just six blocks from the bus station and got a wonderful large and bright corner room with big bathroom for less per night than my shabby room in Concepcion! So add this to the fact there were musicians on the plaza, the weather is lovely and I am happy today in Chillan. I will likely stay a few nights before continuing north. There is supposed to be an interesting outdoor market here I am going to check out in addition to sitting on the plaza a bit, reading a bit and just enjoying the atmosphere.

I spent the next day wandering the markets here and must say they are interesting but no more so than Temuco and, in my mind, fairly similar. Main difference though? The markets here are packed far more so than any I have seen. I guess this is a regional shopping town for the area and it shows. A bustling place. The vendors here, as in all of Chile, work hard. They set up, unload and display their products every morning beginning 6-7 AM and begin to break down about 5. They put in 10-11 hour days seven days a week just to scratch out a simple living. I have always respected farmers but do so even more here. So that is what I did for the day. Bought some fresh bread, fruit and veggies and sat in the plaza and read. I may do the same tomorrow. Don`t know yet where I will go next? I am getting close to the end of this  journey so who knows what I may do? I might just walk to the bus station and take the first bus north to wherever it goes?

I have made some decisions today. Walked to the bus station this morning to check on options and decided to buy a ticket direct to Santiago for tomorrow. Once I get there I will likely continue on to Vina del Mar, a beach oriented town on the Pacific for a few days. Vina is the main beach resort in Chile and sort of an LA/Southern California-like climate.  For my last day here I am just hanging around the markets and plaza and enjoying the people watching of this very busy saturday here. Also reading a bit and taking time to experience more of the great food of this city. The weather was very nice so great time and place to just hang out and relax for a few days.

End of February,Vina del Mar & Valparaiso, Chile

I have arrived in Vina del Mar, sort of the Chile/Pacific version of Argentina`s Atlantic side Mar del Plata. I have had a 8 hour bus ride, it is late here, this place is crowded, I have not eaten yet, so it was eat, shower and sleep for me. The next morning though I am awake and feeling "fit as a ruttin´ buck" again. 

Chillan was a nice place to relax. Good markets, nice plazas, good weather and nice views. The town, like many Chilean cities, has nice views of the snow capped Andes on clear days, which was the case during my time in Chillan. And in addition, I picked a good time to leave as when I woke the next morning it had been raining and was gray, cloudy and threatening more rain. Fortunately I got to the bus terminal without getting wet and found a bus going to Vina del Mar and leaving just as I got there - so I took it! The ride up was gray and cloudy all the way so a good day to have scheduled my long bus ride. The bus goes through Santiago on the way to Vina as Vina/Valpo lies west of Santiago and on the Pacific. The drive gets more hilly mountainous just south of Santiago and continuing west to Vina. Strangely enough, I saw the first blue sky of the day as we entered Vina and a lovely "red sky at night" hope for better weather which we have today. It took me a few attempts to find a decent place to stay but finally did so.

Vina del Mar and Valparaiso are pretty much one city in terms of their borders are known only to local officials. The two have distinct personalities though. Valpo is an ocean going port town and welcomes many large container vessels in and out of the city. Valpo is also built almost straight uphill from the Pacific and homes miles inland may have an ocean view. The hills are so steep that Valpo has 15 ascencsors built on or into the mountainside at various points around the city. They were all built from about 1895 - 1910 as privately owned, for profit. They are sort of ancient funiculars or odd looking elevators that take people up and down the mountain for a small fee. they were and are essential to the growth of Valpo as the hills are so steep they would have prevented any significant growth of the city. It is said that Valpo is the most unique own in Chile and that is probably correct. It is a bit blue collar dock worker rough at the edges, but is also clearly unique.

Next to Valpo and just around the bend of a big rock hill is Vina del Mar or Vina as it is known here. Vina is the place where the wealthy of Santiago have traditionally had their second homes on or near the ocean. It is sort of highrises like Miami beaches and Florida but weather like California. Here the beaches are open though and the highrises are across the street and not built right on the sand like in much of Miami. I like this much better. The views are not blocked quite so much by the obscenely wealthy. The steep hills of Valpo are also absent in most of this area. The weather here is also the good stuff of the California west coast instead of the sticky stuff of the Florida east coast. A little cooler than LA, maybe more toward Santa Barbara, Pismo or San Luis Obispo. Generally very nice.

I have been here several times over the last decade and, even though I am not a beach person, always find Vina relaxing. The centro peatonal, artists and crafts persons are always a pleasure to walk among. Last night there were again traditional dancers and music on the peatonal. The place has a little bit of a Santa Monica feel but not nearly as crowded or busy. I have only been to Santa Monica a few times but enjoy the area. This morning I took a several mile walk mostly along the ocean and let the morning breeze cool me. The beaches were still quite empty but will be packed by mid afternoon. I like it when they are mostly empty and quiet. The silence of only the ocean is very soothing. The ocean was very calm and flat this morning and barely splashing against the rocks or rippling upon the beach. It was a very pleasant walk.

Now I am going to walk to the Plaza Vergara and Quinta Vergara Park, the biggest park here. It is the former estate of the family that founded Vina. I just want to enjoy the peace and the flora of this area. I have not mentioned that so much I think, but the flora throughout South America is so completely different than most of North America and I enjoy seeing the great variety of our world in all things. The Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle Tree I find especially fascinating. Later I shall merely wander the peatonal, listen to some music, take in the sights, sounds and smells of relaxing Vina. For now I am off to the park. 

Well there will be no Vergara Park today. I get to the entrance and it is closed and blocked by police. People are lined up in great numbers outside the entrance to get in. It seems the Chile version (the finals) of American Idol (Chile Idol?) is held the last week of February every year in the park´s outdoor theater and it is VERY popular. So they line up starting in the morning. The rest of the park is closed for crowd control to prevent people sneaking in from every which direction. Three blocks away at the rather grand Hotel O´Higgins is evidently where the finalists are staying as there is also a crowd outside there held back by police. They are holding signs supporting their favorites and screaming everytime they think they see someone. Across the street are the papparazzi selling photos they have taken of these finalists. As one who finds that show a bit dumb in the States, I find this whole thing quite weird here n Chile! Has provided an interesting diversion though. That´s one of the things I love about travel - you never know!

I had a wonderful night in Vina anyway with great weather and lots of laughs. There was this street entertainer guy on the Plaza Vergara that was absolutely hilarious. He had an old beat up drum set with three cymbals, all of which had big pieces missing. He had a big sign printed that said please help him to get his drums repaired - by donations of course! Meanwhile he was playing away, banging the drums and cymbals with two short pieces of wood, and blowing on a piece of plastic (makeshift flute) hanging around his neck. And a running commentary of jokes in Spanish and one liners to different people in the crowd including me and others taking photos. He had no shoes, wearing shorts and a torn up shirt, all dirty has can be and was hilarious! He bought a coke and started splashing it on his face and under his armpits and other plain nutty things. The crowd loved him.

Just down the block was and organ grinder guy but no monkey - he had a parrot that seemed to love to dance and a little kareoke to the tunes. Now tell me, when was the last time you heard an organ grinder? Very enjoyable evening. I found out that Chilean contest in the park was called the International Festival of Song and will go on for a week.

March, Santiago, Chile

Took the bus today to Santiago, a 2 hour ride through the mountains from the coast. Entering Santiago you see the poverty on the edges of the city that you see less of in the rest of the country. Here the areas are called "mushrooms" because they just grow and appear everywhere. This city has about 5 million people, nearly half the country. They keep coming looking for jobs that generally do not exist creating the huge underground economy of street vendors everywhere here. This was my fourth time here and I am just beginning to know this place. Arriving at the Santiago bus station you are immediately in a whole different world simply in numbers alone.

I grabbed a taxi to the centro and checked into the City Hotel. I have stayed there several times. It is a large place just a half block off the centro Plaza de Armas, which is why I stay there - very convenient to seeing the city. In addition, much of the center is a peatonal ped mall, which I love. I do not understand why we do not have these in the U.S.? They are very people friendly. I took a walk on the plaza and peatonal and was instantly engulfed in the pace of the city. Great numbers of people out strolling and moving at a big city pace. Vendors everywhere, the smells and sounds of the city surrounding you. It is a frenetic place but yet I love Santiago. I love the quiet of nature and I love the noise of Santiago. It is the pace of the one that makes the other so enjoyable. And always, on a clear day, the Andes over your shoulder.

And the centro plaza! Always full of artists and entertainers. Delightful place. The cathedral on the plaza is the grandest I have seen in South America. Very large and beautiful but very dark interior. Built back in the days where all churches were dark save for and stained glass windows. Impressive building though, as is most of the architecture surrounding the plaza. On my past trips to Santiago I have often had students with me and was limited to 3-4 days and hitting simply the highlights. Now I had a little more time and plan to see some of the "middle" lights of the city that I have not seen before. I also planned to see Isle Negra, one of Pablo Neruda´s homes, and the nearby small town of Pomaire, a pottery center for over 200 years. Meanwhile,  this is also a great eating city with restaurants and food stalls/vendors everywhere and I am soon off to enjoy the interesting personality of Santiago.

March, Santiago, Chile 

What a wonderful day today. So many feelings and so much to tell. I was off this morning to Isla Negra, the primary home of Pablo Neruda and his third wife, Matilda. Neruda was a great poetic writer, a Nobel winner and one of the great personalities of all time. He owned three other homes, one in Santiago, Valpariso and another I forget at the moment. But he really used only Santiago besides Isla Negra. The Santiago home is named "La Chuscona" which means "the woman with the messy hair." It was named for Matilda but he used in primarily when he came to Santiago on business and met many of his various mistresses there. Isla Negra was his work of love.

The drive down to the coast was about 90 minutes on a smooth road. We did pass an open pit copper mine that was really ugly. Copper is Chile´s primary export and main source of wealth since Chile nationalized it´s copper mines. There are three other large ones in northern Chile. They are all ugly pits. The other interesting parts of the drive down were going through a two mile long tunnel in the mountains and the town of El Quisco, right before reaching Isla Negra. It is named for a cactus here that I think looks much like the tall multi-trunk cactus one sees in Arizona. I saw one growing up out of a rock ten feet out in the Pacific. Strange. There also were a lot of tall trees with peeling bark that are either like California eucalyptus or very similar.

When we reached Isla Negra the first thing you notice is the property itself and the fantastic views. It is maybe about 200 feet on a bluff and beach right on the ocean, filled with large rocks in that area. The kind of land that would probably cost ten million for just the lot in California. He purchased the property in 1939 with then only a one room cottage on it. That room became the dining room as they built out and around it in several directions, always taking advantage of the incredible views. You have heard me say before that that are places you stay and places that stay with you. This home will stay with me forever. I have seen three very unique and incredible homes: one in Vienna, one in Spring Green, WI (House on the Rock) and now Isla Negra. This last is my favorite.

Neruda was a collector of things that appealed to him. These included: ships in bottles, wooden carvings front the bow of old ships (back to the 1700´s), colored glasses, bottles in human or animal shapes, shells, masks, wooden stirrups, pipes, miniature violins/guitars, larger musical instruments he acquired just for their shape and various other things. A true artist in he acquired what he liked.

The first room you see touring the home is the living room and you are immediately struck by the wonderful combination of wood, stone, shells and glass that you soon discover is everywhere throughout the home. He designed the place himself and designed rooms to show off his collections in addition to inspiration for his writing. The living room has a wonderful fireplace but your eyes are primarily drawn to many of his ships bow carvings found in this room. There is a great indian chief, Lord Nelson, Sir Francis Drake, some Michaelangelo angels and others. Later we see more in other rooms including Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish singer. There is only one from a ships stern and 16 from the bows.

Next you enter the dining room (the original one room). You notice the very narrow doors to enter and the guide explains that everything is designed to be as on a ship, such as the narrow doors and curved ceilings. Floors are also wooden and pegged as on a ship. He loved ships and the sea. There are colored glasses everywhere in addition to being used in the building itself. Neruda believed that water should only be drunk from a colored glass and that everything tasted better when drunk from a colored glass. Some say it disguised water and wine. But to him the colors all meant something, whether on a table, in a window, a door or elsewhere. For example he used green and blue glass decor on the ocean side for the color of the sea.

The original closet sized kitchen of the old one room is now a pantry with various service settings in it. He had no heirs but they entertained friends frequently. The dining table (and many other tables) are all wheels of some sort made into tables and covered with glass. Even place mats were nautical with a Captain´s setting for Neruda himself and crew for the rest. You can only imagine the sun setting over the Pacific and rays shining through the various stained glass in the home.

From the dining room you go upstairs to the bedroom. It is the most beautiful, romantic, inspirational bedroom you can imagine. The bed sits at an angle facing a corner consisting of four floor to ceiling glass windows, two on each side of the corner and all with views of the Pacific. A fireplace sits on what would be your right hand side as you lie there. It is all open with no window coverings for it would be a travesty to cover this view. An unbelievable place where no dream would seem impossible. To see the sunset from this room and watch the stars with the one you love has to be magical.

I was in awe. The detail of the house in wood, stone, shells and glass continued through every room.

We went next to his study. The long hallway to enter the study had its walls covered with masks from around the world he had been given as gifts. I found this particularly interesting as I also have a collection of masks that hangs in my humble abode back in the USA. In the study itself are hung many photos of poets he admired including, Keats, Whitman, Poe and others. We stood looking at his desk which, when he looked up, also had a direct view of the Pacific for inspiration. We were told he rose each morning and spent 4-5 hours writing at this desk. He always wrote in green ink as he considered green the color of human hope. He so loved this room and he married Matilda in it in a civil ceremony as he was agnostic. There is only one item in the house that has any religious ties and he purchased that solely for the art of the carving.

In a smaller room off the study he had more collected items including a life-size carving of a horse that he waited 42 years to acquire because he knew that horse as a child. So when he finally acquired it, he built it a special room with big doors to get it into the house! He threw a party for the horse upon acquisition and people brought gifts including three horsehair tails. He attached two to the back and one to the neck and said this horse would never be bothered by flies and named him "The Happiest Horse in the World" because of the three tails.

In another small room he called the refuge there is a very special desk he was given by the sea. He was thinking of a desk for that room when he saw out the window a piece of wood floating in the ocean. He yelled, "Matilda, I think my desk is coming." They both went out and waited hours on the beach until the wood came to shore and he had it made into his second desk. A true poet and romantic in every way.

The last room was unfinished when he died but is now finished. It contains a beautiful shell collection of about 600 pieces. He had a 6000 piece collection he gave earlier to the University of Chile. I cannot even imagine the beauty of that one as just this smaller one was incredible. Pablo and Matilda are buried outside near this room on a point overlooking the ocean he so loved. Even the gravesite is nautical, shaped like a ships bow and surrounded by chain like on a ship. A beautiful resting place for a beautiful man.

After this we went to Pomaire, a pottery center for over 200 years. While most of the group had a fancy lunch I chose to wander the town. The pottery was beautifully done though I thought the town had become overly touristy. The best part for me was when I wandered into an old building back behind a restaurant where a man was actually making the pottery. He seemed shocked to see me but was pleased to have me watch and take some photos of him at work - and his work was amazing. He could turn out bowls, dishes, etc. at a fantastic speed. The old furnaces he used to fire the work were something else also. Enjoyed much watching him. From here it was a beautiful hour plus drive back to Santiago. Now we were facing the Andes on the return and lovely views were all around us. Brought an end to a beautiful day.

What can I say to close about Isla Negra? The difference between it and the other houses I have seen is simple. The Vienna and Wisconsin houses are very unique and interesting architectural wonders but they are not homes in the real sense of the word. Isla Negra is the home of Pablo Neruda. It is the heart and soul of the man revealed in every step, every glance, every cranny. It does not scream but whispers poetry to you as you float through. It is Pablo Neruda. I leave you  with this thought from the pen of Pablo Neruda :

I wake each morning and ignore the clock Time no longer matters I am awake I have been given another day To do with it as I will .... or let it will for me Ever and ever black of night lifts for white of morning There is only the grey of the day What dream will I live today What dream will that dream bring for tomorrow .... If I am granted another day Neither black nor white guides me I live in the shimmer of mother of pearl and color it as I wish.

What beautiful words from a beautiful man.   

March, Santiago, Chile 

It has been another wonderful day as I wandered around this most interesting city. First, I had forgotten to mention one special thing about "Maria Celeste," one of the ships bow figures in Pablo Neruda's collection. She hung in the living room and was the only one in his collection not completely made of wood - she had porcelain eyes. When it was damp in winter and there would be a fire in the fireplace the moisture would gather in her eyes and she would cry. Pablo said she was missing the sea. I liked the story anyway. Also, off the room with the large horse, he had a half bath built. The toilet is quite fancy rose decorated porcelain he got from Paris. In keeping with his French theme the inside of the door is covered with postcards of naked women from the Moulin Rouge area. When you sit on the bowl that is your view. Pablo was an interesting guy!

I began this morning by walking several miles east, first to the Palacio Cousino and then on to Parque O`Higgins. The weather was good and it was a pleasant walk, much of it on paseo peatonals. I so much prefer to walk over taxis. When you take a taxi you see nothing. The city whizzes by you. When you walk, you slowly take in the city and see things you otherwise would not. This morning it was a beautiful reddish castle-like building of interesting architecture. I read signs in windows and think about whatever comes up. Passing a Cafe Haiti I thought about them and Cafe Caribe. These places are macho coffee shops catering to a almost totally male clients. They are jokingly referred to has "coffee with legs" as all the hostess servers are women in very short skirts or dresses (very short!). They are both chain coffee places and it is something I have seen only in Chile. Beats the heck out of Starbucks.

I also thought about the "Italiano Gigante." Hot dogs are very popular here. Though I do not care for them the IG is about 15" long and covered with three long thick strips of avacodo, mayonaise and tomato salsa. The hot dog is not visible. You see them eaten everywhere and they are very colorful. You also notice a lot of beggars with birth or other physical defects. I noticed one man with a spine problem I have seen every time I have come here. This is how he survives. Most other nations do not have any significant support system for the crippled or the aged. If there is no money in the family (or no family) to care for them they must survive anyway they can. It makes me especially thankful for our own social security.

From Parque O`Higgins I took the subway west and north towards the Salvador Allende Museo. He had been elected President of Chile in 1970 with promises to bring about reform for the poor and to nationalize much of industry to stop other nations (which was mostly the U.S.) from stealing the country`s wealth. He was forced out of office within a few years by the rich of Chile, with strong support from the Nixon administration and U.S. wealthy business interests, by a revolt led by the Chilean military. We then supported the brutal dictator Pinochet (later charged with a multitude of crimes against humanity) right up until 1989 until he was forced from office. During this entire period this brutal dictator and his dictatorial military rule were supported by every U.S. President except the humanitarian Jimmy Carter. Another place in the world where we stuck our nose in and had no business doing so, but our politicians and other greedy businesses never seem to learn from our constant mess ups. They just line their pockets and smile all the way to the bank - which they often own.

Anyway, I get to the Museo and a sign on the door says closed as they have moved - but it does not say to where? Oh well. Walking to the place from the subway stop (about a mile) was a bonus anyway. First I stumbled across a local several block long fruit and vegetable market where I picked up a lunch of tomatoes, bananas, peppers, bread and cheese. Added a bottle of water and I was set. Second, I ran into a man who is a teacher in Chile of physical education and wanted to talk and practice his English with me. So we walked awhile and had a nice chat. I then walked two more blocks to a park, sat under a nice shade tree and had lunch.

After that I took a subway again several miles north to the Museo de Bellas Artes. They were open and I strolled on in. Enjoyed a wonderful special exhibit done in wood by a lovely young Chileno woman named Pilar Ovalle. She came in while I was viewing her work so was fortunate enough to meet her and ask about several pieces. She was quite nice - but then I did compliment her on her work! She had 24 pieces on display and four really caught my eye, one tree, one tree within a tree, one rolled up flying carpet, and one condor with nest. All wooden, all quite large, all very interesting.

I then walked back toward Cerro Santa Lucia and an area of artists crafts shops looking for a small gift or two for friends. From there walked back down the busy shopping peatonals towards the hotel. The stores here are packed. The fall school semester starts next week here and back to school sales are keeping stores wall to wall people. I have certain things I buy in certain places that I have discovered are me. I buy underwear in Chile (MOTA Slip Rib Traditional in any color but white) and shoes in Brazil (they just fit me better and I like the styles) and leather in Argentina. Just like the stuff. But shopping the last few days as been out, simply too packed.

It is funny, this city can be so crowded and then you enter a park that is so peaceful and quiet. It is a city of sardines pocketed with Garbo respites. It is a city of energy that moves at a not so frantic place. I suppose like many cities, it is a city of contrasts. I have had a fairly frenetic day. It is time for a mote con huesillo drink and quiet. Manana.

March, Santiago, Chile 

Another wonderful day in Santiago! Started out this morning by taking the subway metro about two miles north to Barrio Providencia. Barrio by the way is the Spanish word for neighborhood. I am staying in Barrio Centro. Yesterday I visited Barrios Brasil, Paris Londres and Santa Lucia. Today I was off to see Barrios Providencia, Bellavista and Patronado. I just took a short walk around Providencia before continuing south and west into Bellavista, my goal today includes to see the second most used home of Pablo Neruda, La Chascona, named for his third and last wife, Matilda. Ironically enough, she was his mistress when he was still married to wife #2. Another fantastic place and wonderful experience. Neruda was known as the people´s poet for the way in which he wrote, using words that were understood by all. The more I learn of the man the more I admire his greatness.

So let me ramble a bit about this additional incredible home. It also consists of several buildings with gardens and patios in between making a great "party" house, and it did see many. Here I was a one person tour with a wonderful guide. I believe he said his name was Consuelo but I thought that was a female name so really not sure - but he was great. Him and I hit it off so I got many stories that he normally does not tell. First, you all need to know that the house was sacked by the Pinochet regime and 75% of Neruda's things were ruined or damaged. As much as possible has been lovingly restored.

The first room we entered was one of the bars (there were three) and the adjoining dining room. This home also carries the same nautical theme as all his homes. There were only the three. A fourth was in the planning stage when he died. These two rooms were filled with colored glass as was his custom. He believed the enjoyment of food and drink was enhanced by sight, the presentation, and colored glass thus enhanced the meal. The west wall of the dining room was glass overlooking the garden and what used to be a pond/fountain with a nautical rope bridge over it. The bench across the east wall of the room is various wooden slats designed to look like a piano keyboard. Reminded me of the movie, "BIG."

He entertained constantly because he thought it was very sad to eat alone. Friends and colored glasses made food a joyous occasion. He was just a friendly guy who talked to everyone and knew how to live life to the fullest. He had grown up very poor and now that he had something he would share it with many. He had a set of what appeared to be salt & pepper shakers, except they were labeled "marijuana" and "morphine." More of his collections were housed here such as salt & pepper shakers and paintings of watermelons. He loved watermelons and called them the green whale of the summer.

By now Consuelo and I had really gotten to talking. He had asked me what I knew about PN and Chile. I told him things about Neruda including his politics and support for Allende. I informed him I was aware of how the U.S. supported Pinochet and drove Allende from power and that I would apologize for Nixon and U.S. behavior if I had the power to do so. Now we were really friends! He said he found most Americans arrogant and he could not believe he was with an American who understood what Nixon and Kissinger had done to Chile. He quoted Kissinger, "Pinochet is a son of a bitch, but at least he is our son of a bitch." Chile went through very hard times because of the U.S. He then commented about hating Nixon and both Bush´s as they were evil men who cared only for money.

Most interesting though, he said that, "I love the American people but your government throughout history has been the most criminal in the world. In my life every Republican president has been a son of a bitch. Only Carter and Clinton have been good men who understood Chile and South America." Never before have I had anyone speak directly about the Republicans but only about Bush. He had lived in NY for four years before returning to Chile and evidently that four years had a major effect on him.

He also repeated a common world and especially Latin America theme, "You Americans do not know how to live, you only know how to work. You only care about money. In NY I saw people work 60, 70, 80 hours a week. They leave the house at 6 in the morning and come back ten at night. They go to the bar and drink to forget work, they take their Prozac and other pills. They have no life. They are not happy. They have money but they don´t know how to live." I loved this guy!!! Every American needs to understand that this is how the world looks at us. This is why they laugh at us when we try to brag about money or economic power. They think, "So what?" Stick your money where the sun doesn´t shine. You don´t know how to live.

I know some of you are going to say what about the money we give to all these countries? That is all simply "Toro Mierda." We give no money to the people. We give money to crooked leaders to buy American economic influence while they simply line their own pockets. I do not know if America will ever wake up in my lifetime but I am going to keep shouting to the skies until they do or I die.

Well, back to the house and my tour. Leaving the dining room we went through a secret passage that led to a winding staircase and the upstairs guest suite featuring a small living room and nice bedroom. In the bedroom there was a TV with the insides removed and displaying some of his silverware collection. He called it "Improved TV." Has we went through all the rooms Consuelo continued to point out little nautical themes and the many places where P y M appeared for Pablo and Matilda.

Going outside to another building where his main living quarters were I asked him about rain? He said that PN had a large collection of umbrellas and umbrella stands in every room so that one was always available for everyone who was there. He also mentioned that PN was never a collector of anything. PN said he did not collect, he just liked things, and he was a "thingist." I can identify with that.

Going up another set of outside stairs, we entered the living room. It was somewhat round and shaped to look like a lighthouse. Even table lamps were like lighthouse lanterns. Near the fireplace hung a portrait of Matilda painted by Diego Rivera. In it she had two faces. Rivera had wanted to paint it with PN and M but PN pointed out he was still married to wife #2 and he could not be in a painting with another woman, so he painted both faces as hers! Rivera was smooth however and Consuelo pointed out how if you look closely you can see PN in the picture also. Yes, you can! I will not tell you where just in case you visit yourself one day.

He also told me that M kept a tight rope on PN and that all his friends disliked her because she was always telling him what to do and often ruining good parties! Despite that, the corner of the living room had a small intimate two person bar only for P and M. I asked Consuelo about a boat, noting that PN loved the sea but no one ever mentioned a boat? He laughed and told me PN could not swim and was afraid of the water but .... did I see the boat in the garden at Isle Negra? Well, of course I did but thought nothing of it has it is a small old beat up wooden boat. That was PN's only boat! His friends would kid him about not having a boat so he went and bought that one, put it in the garden and it never left the garden after that. PN would put on his captains hat, take a few bottles of wine, and go sit in the boat. PN said that when you drank enough wine the boat began to move very well!

We then entered the library off the living room. It was fairly barren now but once held about 8000 books before the place was ransacked. Several books he had written were there to review and one especially caught my eye. PN had written a book of questions for children and this book was an excerpt repeating some questions and giving the answers the children gave. It was beautiful and I intend to get a copy as soon as I can. Sample questions: Q- Where do dreams go after you dream them? Q- Is there a sillier name than Pablo Neruda? Q- If all the rivers are only sweet water, why is the ocean salty? Answer - From the tears of the poor people. That answer was close to bringing my own tears.

I also saw several odd items such as a big clock and a several feet long pair of shoes. Consuelo explained these things came from poor villages and had hung over shoe shops, clock shops and such as signs because the poor people could not read so they hung the product. Entering the bedroom it was surprisingly simple and non-descript. The only room in any of his houses that was simple.

The last room in this building was the reading room with a slanted and squeaking floor to again seem like a ship. He had his reading chair in there with large windows behind him and facing the fireplace and a large portrait of an ugly woman. He said the portrait kept him reading because whenever he put down his book he would look up and see this ugly woman! He could not stand to look so would go back to reading. How can you not love this guy - the people´s poet who knew how to live! An incredible man in every way. The last "room" on the tour was really another building containing the third bar and with an open wall to a large patio and the garden for entertaining. It was evidently a most popular room.

Well, my day was only half done! I the walked the short distance to Cerro San Christobal and took the funicular and walked to the top for the great views of Santiago. Unfortunately the view of the Andes was not good today. Santiago is a city that generates a great deal of smog and air pollution that hangs over the city (sort of like Los Angeles) and it is worse in summer, blocking the Andes view. I have been up here four times now and only once had a great view. It was the morning after a big rain when the air had been cleared and still was. When you do get the view it is magnificent.

I went back down to have lunch in Bellavista and then started the maybe mile and a half walk back to the Mercado Centro and Barrio Centro. I wandered the markets for a bit and picked up some fruit for later. Had an ice cold Mote Con Huesillo and have had at least one a day as they are delicious. Thjey do contain corn and peaches but still not sure what the liquid is? Apple? Peach? Some kind of tea or?? Don´t really care! I love the stuff.

March, Santiago, Chile

It is a Saturday in Santiago, Chile, and that can only mean a day filled with music, song, dance, fun and fantasy and today  met all my expectations as Saturday in Santiago always does. What have I seen and heard today:

1- About 30 musicians and 90 singers doing mostly religious numbers on the plaza. A pleasant diversion.

2- Five guys with a saxophone, two types of guitars, bongo and conga drums doing South American bossa nova music.

Very peppy and enjoyable.

3- Five guys with a flute, three types of guitars, a drummer and various other instruments doing very Chilean music. Really good group. Bought their CD. Voted them third best group of the day but close to second.

4- A semi-nude with hands bound in chains golden painted mannequin who moved to break in his chains when you placed a coin in the hat.

5- A silver painted "American" Indian mannequin who did a little hatchet dance and move when you placed a coin in the hat.

6- A mime who did the usual people imitations.

7- A guy doing a stand up comic routine.

8- Another mime who did the same but different people imitations.

9- A lone guitar player and singer.

10- A lone religious singer.

11- Another guy doing a stand up comic routine.

12- Several face painters doing children.

13- At least a half dozen tarot card readers.

14- A children's dance contest to recorded music.

15- A robotic dancer mannequin who performed when you placed a coin in the hat.

16- A Michael Jackson moon walker / robot type street dancer.

17- A clown selling balloons.

18- A different clown selling balloons.

19- A very funny guy doing a dancing, singing and comic routine with a six foot female puppet named Sophia. This guy got my vote for todays best on the street. He did a first number with Sophia that was so cool you actually believed the puppet was singing instead of the recording. The guy moved beautifully and used the puppet wonderfully in touching members of the crowd and creating much laughter. It was a ballad in Spanish. His second number was Nat King Cole´s Unforgettable duet and him and Sophia were hilarious as a sexy team of lovers playing to the crowd. He then went into a comic routine asking for people to fill the hat with money and it worked. More people put money in his hat than any other group or person I saw perform all day. He and Sophia then did a closing Spanish ballad called "Senora" that was again hilarious in involving many senoras in the crowd. I loved the guy and watched him perform several sets. I was so impressed I am thinking of stealing his act and moving to San Francisco with it! WOW!

20- A four person, two men, two boys, drum group that woke you up with their energy.

21- A five piece plus one dixieland group, clarinet, trumbone, banjo, drummer and a fantastic washboard player plus a cute blond roaring twenties type of dancer performing. The washboard player was near old as me with metal thimbles on every finger and a tremendous amount of energy as he danced all around the circle while playing. The dancer was very good. She was wearing taps and obviously has had years of lessons. She used a red feather boa with her black costume and a true roaring bundle of energy flapper girl. She tried to get me to join her in one dance and I did, of course, performing a weak charleston with her - me being the weak part! They did a lot of other great numbers: I Love Paris, Blackbird, When You`re Smiling, and When the Saints Come Marching In.

22- A thirteen member Chileno traditional dance group in costume with four musicians and nine dancers. These kind of groups are always wonderful to watch and get a good hand clapping crowd response.

Now this does not even count the two dozen painters/artists displaying and selling their work, the dozen or so folks in some kind of different character costume, the fifty/sixty chess players and near as many spectators around them on the gazebo in the plaza, and the five or six dozen others all doing something or another in an attempt to make a few pesos - AND ALL IN ABOUT A FOUR BLOCK SECTION ON THE PLAZA DE ARMAS AND JUST EAST ON THE AHUMADA PEATONAL. This is Saturday in Santiago! And now you know why I love this city!

Oh sure, there are other things I love here. I love the way the high rises are not so high that they block out the sun and create narrow canyons of darkness. I love the wide streets and the wide paseos. I love the way the paseos have so many trees and benches they are almost little pedestrian parks. I love the way the paseos are lined with small vendors working to make a few pesos. I love a cold Mote Con Huesillo. I love the way each of the barrios has its own personality. I love the bustle of the Centro Mercado. I love the artists and crafts persons. I love the beauty of the architecture on the Plaza de Armas. And most of all ........ I love Santiago! Come, join me in Santiago on a Saturday and I will show you Chile at its finest. 

March, Santiago, Chile

Sunday in Santiago has its own magic. It has many shades of Saturday but clearly holds a distinct personality of its own. On Sunday the Paseo Estado, north side of the Plaza de Armas, and the Paseo Huerfaños, just east of the plaza and intersecting Estado, change their personality and turn from their normal facade of store fronts and shopping into a lovely street bazaar. Vendors set up 50 stalls or more each week and take over the area for the day. It makes Sunday special. The stalls along Paseo Estado feature both new and used books and a variety of small antiques that are particularly interesting to browse amongst. Antiques here are quite different than antiques in the states and you find some interesting items that you have to ask what they were for. My favorite items though were the old carved wooded horse riding stirrups and some of the spurs used. They were beautiful and were unique to Chile. I did pick up three old books in English: a 1924 excellent condition copy of Treasure Island and two Zane Grey novels from the 40`s.

The Paseo Huerfaños has entirely different items for sale. They include current traditional clothing, lots of hand crafted jewelry and a variety of trinkets. Most of my female friends would likely have enjoyed wandering among the jewelry crafts. And both streets if they also liked browsing antiques. The rest of the plaza and paseos has much the same type of street entertainment as Saturday but only about half as much. One new today was an excellent puppet show where the two paseos crossed that went on for most of the afternoon to considerable laughter and applause. Several comics and clowns were there, the enthusiastic drummers were there and, best of all for me, Sophia was again there with her lover singing and floating among the spectators she charmed to no end! My favorito act in Santiago.

The Plaza de Armas is a very special place. Surrounded by 250 year old buildings and larger than most plazas, it includes the equivalent of over 100 park benches. There are times when it seems none are vacant. Add that to the many chess players on the gazebo I have mentioned, the 15 - 20 artists always in residence on the plaza, the surrounding restaurants and constant other unique characters and it is always a wonderful place for individuals or families to observe and partake. On Saturdays and Sundays, it is truly magical.

Monday, I took the subway out to the wealthier sections of town and walked the streets of Barrios Los Condes and Providencia. The local supermercado there spoke volumes of the difference from the Centro. The quality of the products was a clear upgrade plus an excellent deli section where I picked up a good veggie salad and some fruit for later. Then, after wandering the other shops for a bit, I caught the subway back to the Centro. I wandered among the shops and bookstores near the Universidad de Chile for awhile and just enjoyed the rest of the day. My time here is now  growing short and that always brings a little reflection and sadness as I just wander and try to imprint everything on my mind for my recall as I later please. 

March, Santiago, Chile

Well, that is about it for me and this journey. I wandered the centro and plaza area for a few more days, letting my memories sink in. Tomorrow I will rise and head to the airport for the long flight back to the states. Some last minute thoughts? I really like the fruit here. Is that because it is the end of summer and it is all in season here? Or is it because it is picked and sold fresh without all the chemical spraying and artificial ripening? I suspect the latter. The students started back to school yesterday so I guess that is always the real end of summer. School uniforms are common here so you now see them everywhere. This is a delightful place, a wonderful country and a magnificent continent. I hope to return again one day. Ciao.