Tag Archives: South America

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.

Click on any photo below and use the arrows to scroll through the slide show.


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!

Click on any thumbnail image and toggle through to view the pictures.   Enjoy!

Machu Picchu – finally!

Ten years ago, we had booked a trip to Machu Picchu.  We planned to hike the Inca trail to the site and stop in other Sacred Valley sites along the way.    That happened to be about the time that things took a turn, and economic “uncertainty” caused us to cancel the trip.   (No worries, they let us apply the deposit to a much more economical trip—and we ended up kayaking in the Sea of Cortez the following year—not too shabby!)   In any case, it took us these ten years to finally get to Machu Picchu, long near the top of our bucket list.

Since it is now ten years, one bad knee and one bad hip later, we didn’t hike the entire way on the Inca Trail.   We took the combination bus/train route from Cusco, and all of our hiking took place in the ruins themselves.   Perhaps it’s because getting here was a dream deferred, but it was magnificent, gorgeous, and almost overwhelming.    When we arrived it began to pour heavy rain, and we thought our good traveler’s luck had let us down.  But after the extremely scary bus ride in the rain from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu—about 20 minutes of sheer terror—we got to the gateway just as the clouds started to lift and the sun came out.

The astounding scenery of the cloud forest and the mysterious ‘lost city of the Incas,’ about which we still know very little, was well worth the wait.  No more chatter.  Just enjoy the photos.

Click on any image below and toggle through the slide show using the arrows.


High on Cusco

Even before the plane started its decent for Cusco, we could see the tops of mountains that appeared to be level with the airplane windows.   Everyone talks about how high it is in Cusco—but until you’re there, it’s just talk.  At 3,399 meters (11,152 feet), it’s about as high as we’ve ever been without ascending a mountain by trail or chairlift.   So many warned us about altitude sickness, but we both had barely any problem, aside from a little shortness of breath the first day and a mild headache. I had a prescription for Diamox, but decided not to take it after I read the contraindications.  We followed the popular advice for altitude sickness:

1 – drink plenty of water – check!

2–get enough rest and take naps – check!

3—drink lots of coca tea – check!

4—move a little slower – check!

5 – don’t drink alcohol…er…four out of five ain’t bad, right?

Our time in Cusco was brief but eventful.  We visited the Cathedral, and really enjoyed the leadership of Mario, a very knowledgeable local guide.  Wandering the town of Cusco itself was fun, in spite of having to thread through a gauntlet of locals hawking everything from tours to shoe shines, massages to banquets…tourism is big business in Cusco.

Speaking of business, I have to mention the Hotel Casablanca.  It is a very inexpensive budget hotel in a central locaction in the village of Cusco.  The rooms are clean and perfectly nice, with private baths, hot water, cable TV.  There was even a high-speed internet connection, something I never expected in a town where so many of the local people still dress in traditional costumes and carry heavy loads up and down the mountains on their backs.   At times it looks like it could be 500 years ago—and then somebody pulls out their iphone, and the illusion is broken.   The owner of the hotel, Juan, is in his 70’s and moves and speaks very slowly…but he is the most helpful person we’ve ever encountered in our travels.   Not only did he pick us up at the airport, he drove us around a bit first so that we’d have the lay of the land.  In addition to the usual advice about altitude, he had the staff carry our bags upstairs, even our day packs, lest we suffer from altitude sickness, and they immediately served us coca tea in our room.

On the day we traveled to Machu Picchu from Cusco, Juan checked our tickets to be sure we knew the how’s and where’s of getting there—Peru rail, combination train and bus.  Since there is more than one station in Cusco, and the arrangements can be complicated, he not only had a taxi waiting to take us to the station at 5:30 a.m, he was up waiting for us in the lobby, and accompanied us in the taxi to be sure we got off without any problems.  Really sweet!   When it was time to leave Cusco, his daughter, Rocio, checked on our flights and printed our boarding passes without our asking.   The staff brought us tea, water, and served a breakfast of our choosing each morning.   We really thought we felt like part of the family–this was a budget hotel with 5-star service.   http://www.booking.com/hotel/pe/casablanca.en-gb.html?aid=311984

We enjoyed lots of things about Cusco.   Not least was a fabulous dinner at Cicciolina, near the Cathedral.  Great service and outstanding cuisine at a fair price.

On the main avenue, Avenida del Sol, the  stonework of Qorinkancha, an ancient Inca temple once completely covered in gold, stands as the foundation of the church of Santo Domingo, built on the spot–after removing the gold, of course

We also love to visit markets, and the market of San Pedro is fascinating for the produce, meats, breads, cheeses, and for the native Andean people who bring their goods to sell there.   Watermelon is in season, and we saw people munching on big hunks of melon nearly everywhere we went.

Just strolling through the village was a lovely experience, with extraordinary views of the sky and mountains at every turn.  On our last day, we stopped for coffee at the Plaza de Armas, the main square where the Cathedral stands.   While we were sitting and sipping, there were two groups celebrating The International Day of the Woman.   One group gave out purple ribbons, carried purple balloons, and insisted in giving out “abrazos – gratis” (free hugs) to every woman they saw.   A little weird if you’re not accustomed to embracing strangers on the street.  The second group was a bit older on average, with about a 50/50 mix of modern and traditional native attire worn by the participants.   They played drums and carried signs protesting poor treatment of women and workers, as well as lies and corruption of government and politicians. I think they might be called “Occupy the Andes.”   It made for a colorful morning.

Of course, Cusco is the starting point for most people going to Machu Picchu, either by hiking trails, or by rails or roads.   That experience, and the corresponding photos, will have to wait for another post.  Enjoy the pics—click on one and toggle through using the arrows to see the slide show.