March of the Penguins

Click on a photo below and scroll through to see our day of penguins.


Three weeks ago, we arrived in Puerto Madryn, Argentina just in time to see the molting Magellanic penguins at Punta Tomba reserve on the Peninsula Valdez. It was strange that the day was so warm and the beaches so sunny.   After Tierra del Fuego, we expected to see penguins while wrapped in ten layers of warm clothing. But it was beach weather, and the penguins just wanted to play in the water and hang out in shady spots (They particularly like to gather under the footbridges.)   It was incredible to be able to see so many penguins.   These are the last weeks here, as they finish molting and ready themselves to head north and follow the anchovies to warmer water.

In addition to all the penguins, we got to see a Choique (Darwin’s Rea), an ostrich-like bird, as well as several Guanaco, who seem to like hanging at the preserve where they are far from hunters. We felt really lucky–it was a very special day, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.   Enjoy the pictures!



The end of the world-Tierra del Fuego

We landed in Ushuaia, Argentina after cruising some amazing territory.

The highlight here was our trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park, after a drive through the Pipo River Valley. The park was created to protect the southern portion of sub-Antarctic forest. It rambles through the Andes and the region’s forests, rivers, lakes and peat bogs. We saw some gorgeous scenery, although the weather wasn’t great for bird-watching. But we did see an Andean Condor as well as crested ducks and brown pintails. We encountered quite a few of the endemic Fuegian red fox, too. The Pan American highway ends here–it begins in Alaska. I wonder how many have traveled its length through two continents? I’m not sure that will ever have a place on our bucket list—that’s a long road trip!

Here everything is the “southernmost” — the “fin del mundo” (end of the world) is definitely something locals brag about. We sent post cards from the southernmost post office at Lapataia Bay (actually postmark of “fin del mundo”) We passed through the southernmost settlements, saw the southernmost rugby and soccer fields, the southernmost golf course, and drank our southernmost glass of wine. It was pretty cold, this close to Antarctica, but not too bad, at least not after a New England winter.

And when we sailed away, we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow over the water. Unforgettable.

After leaving Ushuaia, we rounded Cape Horn—the southern tip of South America. The weather wasn’t clear, but the winds were friendly enough for us to circle past twice—from east to west and then back around west to east–a very nice thing for the captain to do. Sadly, the photos don’t do it justice but you get the idea.

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Through the Straits of Magellan…

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The voyage through the Straits of Magellan to Punta Arenas was incredible. Hard to believe these waters were navigated in small sailboats back in the 16th century—truly amazing.   The fog was too thick to really see the Amalia Glacier, but it was still thrilling to be in these waters, to slip in between glaciers and through fjords on our way to Argentina.

Punta Arenas,our last stop in Chile, was an affluent Belle Epoque city back in the 19th century. Until the Panama Canal was completed, it was a transportation hub, and the robust Patagonian wool trade created wealth for many families.  The European style of the city is apparent in its center at the Plaza de Armas, and the architecture is stunning. We visited one of the mansions created during that time–the Palacio Sara Braun at the Plaza Muños Gamero.   At the main square, we stopped into the Cathedral, where the bishop was celebrating a special mass for the sailors who were in town—and there were lots of them.   South American naval academies from Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia were all in town on this day, midway through their around-the-world sailing voyage.   This elite group of young sailors were happy to welcome visitors, pose for pictures, and swap travel stories—great fun!

Then we were off to continue our own adventure—through the Beagle Channel and Glacier Alley to Ushuaia, Argentina. We had wonderful weather in port, but sadly, it was mostly cloudy and overcast in the channels—so the photos don’t really do justice to the glaciers and beautiful channels.   But enjoy the photos anyway!

Our ship docked in Puerto Chacabuco

Puerto Chacabuco, Chile – the middle of nowhere!

…but the natural beauty was worth the trip.   After sailing out of Puerto Montt , through the Golfo De Ancud and into the Canal Moraleda, we got here–to the middle of nowhere.  So we visited the Aiken del Sur Private Park in the forests of Patagonia. Although the weather was damp, the wild fuschia was in bloom, the waterfall (Barba del Viejo or “Old Man’s Beard”) was running, of course, and we didn’t get rained on. The park rangers treated us to some empanadas, cheeses, and sweets, not to mention Chilean wine and Pisco sours, topped off by adorable folkloric dance performance by local school children.   Cute!

Now for a few days of sailing through the Chilean fjords and down to Punta Arenas. The weather may not be the best for viewing (or photographing) these natural wonders, but we’ll find a way to have fun!
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Mountains emerging from clouds

Waterfalls and Volcanoes in Patagonia.

Click on a thumbnail photo and scroll through slideshow using the arrows to see what we saw.


It was smooth sailing, literally, to Puerto Montt, Chile.  A transportation hub in Patagonia, it’s the best way to get to Chiloé and several other points of interest in the area.   Since we only had a day, we stayed local and visited the gorgeous rapids and waterfalls of the Petrohué River at V. Perez Rosales National Park, the lovely “city of roses” of Puerto Rava, beautifully situated on Lake Llanquhue, and then headed to the Osorno Volcano for a little hike. This time, we weren’t hiking up an active Volcano, so it was a little different from our experience in Sicily—but still exciting because of the incredibly beautiful views. As usual, the weather gods smiled upon us, and the dense cloud cover lifted as we reached the top of the volcano.   How lucky we were! We enjoyed a great lunch right across from the lake. It actually reminded us of Tahoe, enormous, peaceful, and deep blue.  What a beautiful part of the world!



Viña and Valpo

Valparaiso/how absurd/you are,/what a lunatic,/crazy port/what a head–

rolling hills,/disheveled, you never/finished combing your hair,/you’ve never/had time/to get dressed,

life has/always/surprised you

–translated from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Valparaiso”


After reluctantly leaving Santiago, we took a quick bus ride to Vina del Mar.   I had been here before, but way back in the days when Pinochet was in power—there were curfews and armed guards at every corner.  But I do have fond memories of the beautiful beaches and elegant clubs in Vina del Mar, and the bustle and artistic culture of its sister city Valparaiso.   Today, many things were as I remembered, some things were exciting and new, but sadly, much of these lovely cities seemed to me victims of neglect and disrepair.

I remember Viña del Mar as an elegant beach resort, but it just looked a bit seedy to me this time. (Perhaps this is because we visited in the shoulder season, after the city folk have gone back home.)   Nevertheless, the beaches are still gorgeous, although the water was way too cold for swimming, even for New Englanders.

When we moved on to Valparaiso, the colorful bustling nature of the city remains unchanged. Also unchanged, unfortunately, was the infrastructure, meaning it hasn’t been updated or improved.   The streets and sidewalks were broken, the wiring and plumbing still dragging remnants of the 1950’s, and the famous acensors of Valparaiso, those rickety old funicular/elevators that carry people up and down the many hills are fewer every year. As they break down they don’t seem to get repaired. Of the original 18, only about 7 are in working order today.

Still, there were some highlights. For me, the first was Neruda’s home up on the hill in Valparaiso—La Sebastiana. This was not open in Pinochet’s days—the poet’s political activism did not endear him with the dictator.  As we learned in Santiago, today Pablo Neruda is beloved throughout Chile, and his spirit is so apparent in the port city.   It was wonderful to visit the home and see his eclectic collections of art, nautical objects, sculpture, and trinkets. The home is in the Cerro Bellavista neighborhood, as is the Museo a Cielo Abierto (Museum of the Open Sky) a museum of murals from the 1960’s and 70’s. Sadly, the Acensor Espiritu Santo, the oldest in the city, was not open due to a recent accident. A small translated excerpt of Neruda’s poem, “Oda a Valparaiso” is this post’s epigraph. What he says of the port city still is true today–she hasn’t even had time to get dressed. (She hasn’t bathed in a long time either.)

That said, the arts scene is amazing. The city has always had a great polychromatic palette, mostly from the corrugated metal and paint salvaged from the port to shore up homes on the hills.  Today, the colors are everywhere. Instead of fighting the graffiti artists’ impulse to cover the surfaces with their original work, the city and its people have embraced and encouraged street art.   This has resulted in an embarrassment of riches all over Valparaiso.  Instead of “tagging” buildings, there is a mutual respect for those who paint  on the buildings, benches and stairways. Apparently, the best way to avoid having someone “tag” your building is to have a mural covering it. Nobody defiles a wall that has been thoughtfully painted.

Naturally we also enjoyed some typical Chilean food and some great, inexpensive Chilean wines while we were here.   Some of our favorite dishes are “Machas a la Parmesana” (gratin of razor clams with cheese), or corvina and eel served a thousand different ways. We had a wonderful dinner at Café Vinilo, www.cafevinilo.cl on the restaurant row of the Cerro Alegre neighborhood, Almirante Montt . The chef, Gonazalo Lara, who also leads culinary tours and classes in Valparaiso, prepareds innovative and delicious game dishes.   They are also well-known for exotic ice creams, made from everything from local fruits I’ve never heard of, to corn and black olives.

The slide show will show some snapshots of the street art we passed in our wanderings. These are the images and colors that stay with us. Next, we board a ship which will take us to Patagonia, and will sail through the Straits of Magellan and around Cape Horn.   Looking forward to some adventures!

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3view from Cerro Cristobal

Capital times in Santiago,Chile

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After a long delay in Lima, our plane finally took off for Santiago. We were a bit concerned since multiple delays meant landing at about 4 a.m.   But we called our hostal and let them know we’d be delayed; they assured us someone answers the bell 24/7—we crossed our fingers.   When we arrived, after taking the very reasonably priced airport shuttle service for a half-hour drive, we were exhausted.   We walked up to the door, the shuttle driver took off without waiting, and there was a scribbled paper sign —“Bell does not work, please pull string gently.”   This did not give us a good feeling. You can imagine how happy we felt to see Sebastian’s smiling face, in spite of the hour. The makeshift bell works perfectly well, and this place, Hostal Rio Amazonas, https://www.hostalrioamazonas.cl/?lang=en#quienes-somos was one of the favorite placeswe’ve been on this trip.   The rooms were spacious and quiet, bathrooms modern, the building and common spaces just adorable and full of great original art, with a gorgeous central courtyard, high-speed free WI-Fi and a cute little bar with use of their computers if needed.   We met travelers from all over the world–some RV’ers, some bikers, (both motor and pedal), some “flexitarians” like us who drive, fly, cruise, hike, or whatever works.   It was fun at breakfast swapping tips and travel stories with our fellow gypsies.   And once again, we came to realize that we have barely traveled compared to the year-long treks of some of these people from every stage of life—20’s, 30’s all the way up to 70’s.   This is NOT the seedy European youth hostel of our youth—this is just a nice informal lodging, but with a much lower price tag. So many people just trade in their worldly encumbrance for wings—it’s hardly unique.

We didn’t know for sure until morning that we’d won the location lottery—this spot was absolutely ideal for us! But now for the real meat of the story—Santiago itself.   I’d been to Chile before, but never to Santiago, except for airport stops.   We absolutely adored this very cosmopolitan city. We found it to be clean, safe, super-friendly, and really easy to navigate.   We did the usual tourist circuit.

Day one, sleep deprived, what does one really wish for? Not teaming noise and traffic, that’s for sure. Again, our good luck held out, as the South American Xgames were taking place that first day, so the streets were closed to traffic so that bicycle races could take place.   It made it so much easier to walk into the city center, and to visit the Mercado Central where the daily catch of fish is hauled in for retail, restaurants, and wholesalers.   It’s essential for us to visit a market in every city, as we’re all about the food and the wine.   This did not disappoint. There are 10 or 15 restaurants right in the market, and when you order, they go to the fishmonger’s stall, pick out the fish, walk it across the way to the open-sided cooking area, and then drop it off at the table.   Not elegant, but wow, is it yummy! A fish lover’s paradise, and the gorgeous Chilean whites from the Casablanca Valley are perfect with this simple food.

Ascending Cerro Cristobál, the hill in the Bellavista neighborhood overlooking the entire city of Santiago, gave us a sense of the enormous and beautiful the landscape in the city and its surrounds.   We walked for miles, visiting the Catedral Metropolitana, the underground art spaces, the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes (fine arts and contemporary arts museums are housed there–free on Sunday, which was our arrival day—yeah!).

We even had a chance to visit wineries without even leaving Santiago.   The wonderful staff at our hostal gave us detailed directions by Metro and brief (inexpensive) taxi rides to reach two wineries–the enormous Concha y Toro winery, which gives an excellent tasting and tour of both vineyard and cellars , and the Cousino Macul winery. In between, we had a fabulous lunch at La Vaquita Echa in Pirque. http://www.lavaquitaecha.cl/    It was a long walk from the winery, and we kept asking locals how much farther.   Each one gave the same answer “about 300 meters on the right.”   Three THOUSAND meters later, we got there–but it was worth every step for the traditional Chilean barbecue. There was music and dancing and a great rustic setting—a terrific afternoon just outside of the city proper.

Back in Santiago the next day, we visited La Chascona, the house of Pablo Neruda, http://www.fundacionneruda.org/en/la-chascona/visitors-information which had special meaning to me as a lifelong lover of his poetry.   The entire neighborhood of Bella Vista seems dedicated to Neruda—the restaurants and bars quote him on their menus and walls, photos and memorabilia of Neruda’s days in Santiago are displayed everywhere. Apparently, when he was in residence with his love Matilde nicknamed “La Chascona” (the disheveled one), they had an “open door” policy. Anyone who wondered by was welcomed, and it became Santiago’s version of the wine-fueled bohemian and intellectual drawing room that Gertrude Stein created in Paris. It had an amazing vibe just being among their collections of objects and this quirky and original home. We were especially fond of the portrait of Matilde by Diego Rivera. Neruda is really beloved in Santiago and throughout Chile, and that warmth was palpable in the actual rooms where he made one of his homes.

Since we were staying right on the border between the Centro and the Barrio Bellavista, we had a chance to walk to everything we wanted to see.   And Bellavista has the best restaurant and bar scene. We enjoyed an incredible performance by Hugo Cruz at La Casa en al Aire,www.lacasaenelaire.cl/He is one of the most soulful Tango singers you can imagine–he literally gave us chills.   We also enjoyed Galindo, a great gastropub packed with late-night revelers and serving amazing food. The slide show includes a photo of us enjoying a bottle of “Cristal” at a sidewalk café. ( Not the French champagne Cristal of our New York expense-account days. ) This is the local beer, selling for 1500 Chilean pesos a Litre!($3US) The most popular bar in Bellavista was “Harvard,” aka “The Harvard Club.” This cracked us up; it was full from noon to 3 am, mostly with students from the 5 local Universities.   We took a picture but didn’t light there; we definitely would have raised the average age.   One other happy coincidence—we were in Santiago for the Presidential inauguration.   Since term limits are for only four consecutive years, the conservative president is leaving and the socialist president is taking another shot at it—she served four years ago.   They seem to be alternating, and can do so indefinitely.   But it did my heart good to this peaceful, uneventful transition of power,( especially since the last time I was in Chile, there was serious political unrest and a midnight curfew)—a profound improvement for this wonderful country.

On our last day in Santiago, we took the Metro to the Barrio Brasil, an up and coming neighborhood that reminded us of New York’s Soho or maybe Tribeca, back in the 1970’s or early 80’s. This fringe neighborhood is full of galleries , creative spaces, antiques stores, and street art- fun to visit.   We discovered “La Peluqueria Francesa” –the French Barbershop—rumored to have been created for Napolean when this neighborhood was a French quarter. http://www.boulevardlavaud.cl/   I’m not sure the history is true, but it is a fun, quirky restaurant/bar/barber/antiques store.   Even finding the restroom (disguised by an armoire entry) was entertaining. And the seafood chupe we had was really rich and quite memorable, as was our server Julian, a young Frenchman married to a Chilena, so proud of this special place.

Next trip—and we’re certain we will be coming back to Chile—we’ll visit the ski resorts and the Atacama desert.   But for this trip, we headed to the coast and then down to Patagonia for the glaciers, volcanoes, penguins and guanacos. More Chilean adventures to follow!

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