Keep Calm and Carry On

A dramatic mix of fog and mountains was the first thing I saw when my eyes popped open this morning – ahhhh….if only this were my daily routine.  I’m sure I’d never tire of it as the sky changes daily, the clouds and wind doing a new dance, the sun playfully casting its light and playing chase with the mountains’ shadows.

Well, I guess that’s where my head was today…in the clouds, looking for condors.image  If I had been looking in front of me on our hike to Lago Todos Los Santos, I would have noticed that nasty hole that tried to swallow me.  Luckily, it was a small hole and only caught my ankle, twisting it nicely.  Poor Wes had to help me hobble back to the hotel but Mother Nature provided us with a strong bamboo stick along the path – with my new walking stick, I feel like Gandalf.

After returning to the hotel, getting ice on my foot, and eating lunch, a kind woman asked the desk clerk if they could give us a room so I could prop up my ankle. Since we had already checked out, I certainly appreciated her kindness.

At 3:30 we met back up with our tour group.  Our new guide, Carlos was very helpful along with some of the other members of the tour group who were mostly from India.

Today we sailed for an hour and a half on Lago de Todos Los Santos, a beautiful emerald lake discovered by Jesuit missionaries on November 1, 1636  – All Saints Day (thus, the name).

The fog drifted in and out thoughout the day, but the sun and the wind were our friends – the sun’s rays never failed to stream through the clouds and the wind continued to pull back the veil so we could catch brilliant glimpses of the volcanoes.  First, there was Punta Aldoro, dormant for 1000 years.  Around the next bend came Osorno volcano which last erupted in 1835. Both were massive.

After our lake crossing, we loaded the bus and drove around Lake Llanquihue.  From there we could spot Caltuco volcano which erupted in 1961.  We also stopped for about half an hour to view a water fall.  I couldn’t make the hike to the falls but I was okay with that – I had seen a few small water falls on my infamous morning hike and also, Wes took a video of the falls to share with me (the next best thing).  The best part of these falls was the color – a beautiful light blue.

By the time we reached Puerto Varas, Wes and I were quite tired and were happy to see our Airbnb host, Juan, rushing up the sidewalk to greet us.  We had phoned ahead and asked if he could pick up an ankle compressor for me.  He kindly obliged and had insisted on meeting us in town so that we didn’t have to pay for a taxi.  So first thing he did was to give me a big hug and the bandage.  I liked this guy immediately – his bushy hair and eyebrows reminded me of Albert Einstein.  He  spoke little English so I knew Wes and I would get in a lot of practice.  Wes is actually quite proficient so he and Juan conversed freely.  I could also see right off that they had the same sense of humor!

And Juan loves Puerto Varas!  It’s easy to see why.  It’s a sleepy, quaint town on the shore of a pristine lake, the majestic Osorno volcano centered perfectly on the far shore. I was anxious to explore but igt was late so knew I would have to wait until mañana.

First, we drove to Juan’s cozy abode and settled in – not fancy, but homey with a wooden bar and old iron fireplace, a welcoming fire glowing within.  Our room was small but comfy and had with its own private bathroom.  I felt at home right away.

Juan offered to drive us to a restaurant so of course we invited him to eat with us.  The food at La Chamaca was muy delicioso and I am becoming a big fan of Merluza, a white flaky fish (this is the 3rd time I’ve had it in the past 3 days!). In English, it’s called hake – much better than the type we have in the US.

Before returning to our hacienda, Juan stopped at a drugstore so we could buy some pain/inflammatory drugs.  That should help me sleep!

Today was a good day despite my slight mishap.  Thank goodness for Wes, Juan, and other kind people along the path.  I shall keep calm and carry on.

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Nature, the World’s Great Sculptress

Today I stood in awe of nature’s great masterpiece.

At 8:30 AM, Wes and I met our tour group, loaded the bus, and drove to Nahuel Huapi lake where we boarded a catamaran for the first leg of our journey from Argentina to Chile.  The mountains loomed overhead, almost close enough to touch.  Conifers climbed about 2/3 of the way up the slopes but the top 3rd was mostly rock, jagged colorful formations jutting out in all sorts of interesting ways.  Usually, I am seeing shapes in the clouds;  today, they were in stone.  I spotted an old man slumped on his throne, a curly headed woman surrounded by her children, and a crocodile crawlingimageover a peak, to name just a few.  Sculpture has always been my favorite art form so you can imagine my joy today as I viewed nature’s sculpture in all its magnificence! After crossing Nahuel Huapi, we took a 3 mile bus drive to get to the next lake, Lago Frías.  This lake was turquoise because of the sediment from the glacial run off from the dormant Tronador Volcano.  Again, an amazing ride but imagemuch shorter.  Seeing the glaciers atop Tronador was definitely the highlight of our second boat ride.

When we got off the boat at Puerto Frías, we showed our passports, then once again boarded a bus to cross the Andes.  Thankfully, the road is privately owned as it is a one way gravel road with no guard rails.  But the views were striking.  And the driver stopped twice for photo ops – once, to take pictures of a 3000 year old conifer called Fitzroya (named by Charles Darwin) which was about 200 feet tall (it’s against the law to chop these down as they are becoming extinct)  and once to take pictures of the breathtaking Tronador which was much closer now.  A rainbow shaped cloud bowed the top of the volcano – picture perfect!

As we left Argentina and entered Chile (leaving Nahuel Haupi National Park and entering Vicente Pėrez Rosales National Park), I began to see a change – much greener on the Chile side due to the greater amount of rain received on this side of the Andes.  The mountains seemed larger too but perhaps that was because they were right on top of us!  I started feeling a bit woozy as we careened around the many curves…around and around and around.  Thank goodness I had carried a lot of ginger with me (great for motion sickness!).  But honestly, I didn’t really mind the curves that much.  The Andes are inspiring!

When we reached Peulla, we quickly went through customs, then dined in the fine Hotel Peulla restaurant on Merluza, a very tasty Chilean white fish.  After lunch, we parted ways with the rest of the group since they were continuing on while we had opted to spend a night at the hotel.  As it is the only hotel around, we are quite isolated here.  But you should see the view from our window – mountains, mountains, and more mountains!   And it’s sooooooooo quiet.  I’m glad we decided to just hang out here and hike around a bit before continuing our lake crossing tomorrow.  I’m savoring the moment!

I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on Creation…

Totally on top of the world today, my senses heightened to a new level!

As soon as we awakened (late as usual – hey, we are on vacation), we headed downhill, ate some scrumptious empanadas, then caught the bus to Cerro Catedral (only 10 pesos, about $1.10).  The drive up was ultra scenic and took only about 20 minutes.  Once there we took a gondola about 2/3 way up the mountain and a ski chair lift the remaining distance.  The gondola was easy but for some reason, fear seized me as I hopped onto the open ski lift – thankfully, it didn’t last long.image

For as we reached the summit and disembarked the ski lift, I let out a gasp, not in fear but in total awe!  The view was simply magnificent! If I were a painter, I would have pulled out my easel and began trying to capture the glorious mountains before me using a wide brush and deep rich water colors. But since I’m not a painter, I tried capturing the landscape with my camera.  I’m afraid I failed miserably.  But my senses were still intact so I simply soaked in in the cool mountain air, and the breathtaking scene before me.  It is a moment I will never forget! Total peace and oneness with the world.

The day could have ended for me right there but it didn’t.  Instead we returned to Bariloche and got one last chocolate and cappuccino fix.  While we were indulging in chocolate, one of the homeless dogs walked up and stared at us for a few minutes before moving on to the another table.  There are many huge black and brown dogs just roaming the streets looking for a handout, all very friendly and polite.  But we didn’t want to poison the poor dog with chocolate so we ignored him.  However, the chocolate and coffee took the edge off our hunger (and I love that the waiter always serves a little mineral water with our coffee to finish it off).

After coffee we strolled along the lake once more, just as the sun was setting.  So peaceful and serene.   On the way back up the hill, we stopped by a beautiful stone church and walked in for a moment of silence.  I love that the churches here are always open.

Then we traipsed up another steep block to El Boliche “de Alberto”, the same restaurant where we had lunch.  Although Wes has eaten a few steaks since we’ve been in Argentina, I have not, so since it’s our last night in this beautiful country, I knew It was about time.  So we ordered a ribeye to share and ended up with two for the price of one.  It was amazing but so huge!  We have definitely eaten well since we’ve been here and the prices have been great.

I hate ate to leave Argentina but am looking forward to our Lake crossing tomorrow and to our time in Chile – so “Don’t Cry for me, Argentina”  – I’m doing just fine!

Hola, Bariloche!

It took 21 hours to get here via a first rate bus driven by a crazy guy who paid no attention to the double lines, weaving around 18 wheelers on a two lane road with a split hair between our vehicles.  Hey… But we made it!  And the drive was well worth it!  When we awoke and gazed out our bus window on Thursday morning, we were greeted by the Andes, looming overhead in purples and grays.  And it only got better.

Within a few hours we drove into our destination, the beautiful resort town of Bariloche.  Many compare it to a town in the Swiss Alps because of the architecture. The town is full of cute shops, restaurants, and best of all, chocolate everywhere you look!

Immediately we hailed a taxi to our airbnb and was met by our kind host, Alicia, who showed us around our dwellings (small but an entire apartment and very quaint with wooden rafters and antiques throughout).  After receiving recommendations from her, we walked 4 blocks downhill to the town center and grabbed a bite to eat, then found a chocolate store to delight our palettes – Ahhh…delicioso and so rich.  A cup of cappuccino helped top it off.

Then it was time to explore and what better place to begin than the Nahuel Haupi lake, only a block away and surely the most beautiful lake in the world!

imageThe vast Nahuel Haupi lake is a perfect Mediterranean blue, smooth and clear as glass, and surrounded my mountains (several of the peaks resemble ones I used to draw as a kid -very sharp and pointy and a few In the distance even have snow on them).  My pictures won’t do this scene justice so hope I can keep clear images in my head.  Of course, the first thing we did was  to find a rock so we could sit and dangle our feet in the chilly water – brrrrrr, just as I had imagined!  Once our feet were numb, we dried off and took a short walk along the lake.

Before it got too late we decided to take the gondola to the top of Cerro Otto.  The ride up was quite steep but oh, what fantastic views.  The most spectacular ones were at the summit however – below us…the crystal blue lake, the deep green firs covering the slopes, and of course, the sweet town of Bariloche. Just can’t get enough of it!  I think Wes and I were both a bit jealous of the guy who was hang gliding across the cliffs and lake- at least he waved at us.  Maybe one day we will try hang gliding ourselves but not on this trip.  So we took a more laid back approach and enjoyed a drink in the rotating restaurant instead.  It was getting late so hopped on the gondola and headed back down.  Tomorrow we visit even a higher mountain – yay!

The evening was muy bueno – enjoyed a drink at der Tiroler (certainly a German influence here) and then dinner at La Marca.  Since we are on a fresh lake, we opted for trout – muy delicioso!

After dinner we decided to make an early evening of it (around 11) so we began the steep climb uphill.  Whew!  Hopefully, we walked off today’s chocolate.  Tomorrow, we may decide to taxi up 🙂 A good day! Buenos noches.

A Day of Remembrance

March 24 – Today was “The Day of Remembrance” in Argentina, a national holiday commemorating those who “disappeared” in the coup of 1976.  We expected there to be protests at Plaza de Mayo since we had seen signs going up on our first day in town.  Plaza de Mayo is surrounded by government buildings, the most prestigious being the “pink” president’s mansion.  One theory states that the mansion was painted pink because they used pigs’ blood which eventually faded to pink;  another theory believes it was a joining together of the two main parties whose colors were red and white.  At any rate we didn’t hear of any protests but we were busy remembering the dead in our own way.

imageSo, our first stop today was at the Recoleta cemetery where 4,800 people are buried – mainly wealthy or noted politicians or military figures.  The cemetery is massive yet very serene. As we strolled through the maze of mausoleums and crypts, I was impressed by the ornate statues and doors – no two looked alike.   Occasionally we even peered through the glass to behold huge wooden coffins and beautifully decorated altars.  One of the most visited graves, of course, was that of Eva Peron, the 2nd wife of President Juan Peron. Eva was well-beloved by the people for her work on behalf of the poor.  Sadly, she died too soon of cancer in her early 30’s.  Many books and movies (i.e. Evita) have been written about her.  What a fascinating woman!  But many other important people were buried here as well.   Next time I visit, think I will take a tour so I can hear more about the history of these noted Argentines.

After walking among the dead, we decided we needed to add some color to the day so we taxied over to La Boca, probably BA’s most colorful neighborhood. It was lunchtime so we sat in one of the many outdoor cafes, La Perla, where we could people watch for a while.  Most of the restaurants drew in crowds by having tango dancers perform outside in front of their restaurants – I can’t get enough of tango!  After lunch, we strolled through the streets and got a glimpse of a llama – 1st one I’ve seen!

Our next point of interest was Puerto Madero (after a short nap at the hotel).  Finally we reached water!  The port was a great place to stroll before dinner.  An old ship museum sat off to one side and a huge white suspension bridge illuminated the black sky.  Before leaving the port, we found a table next to the window at Puerto Cristal restaurant and feasted on crab crepes, paella, and a rich caramel dessert.  A great way to spend our last night in Buenos Aires!

Laid back in BA

Today was pretty laid back.  Wes and I slept late and ate a leisurely breakfast in the club room before venturing out to discover more of Buenes Aires.  And what better way to travel through the city than by Subte (subway)?  Walking over to the Subte was simple and we were delighted to discover that the Teatro Colon was right on the way.  Regretfully, the shows were already booked for the evening and the tours had shut down early due to an important holiday tomorrow.  What’s the saying…you snooze, you lose!  Aw well, it wasn’t on the top of my list but would have been interesting.  But my real focus today was on seeing a few of BA’s famous neighborhoods so within a few blocks of the theater, we located a Subte stop and paid a very reasonable fee to get us to Palermo Soho.

The subways here mirror those in New York City and are the fastest and cheapest way to travel to some parts of BA.  And there are always musicians to entertain you while en route.  I promise, one guy played the keyboard like he belonged in Carnagie Hall. Why hasn’t he been discovered yet?  He’s playing on a subway for a few pesos, just trying to survive.  Such talent!

When we arrived in Palermo Soho, we strolled for a few minutes around Plaza Italia, admiring yet another of BA’s historical statues, then walked a few blocks down the street until we spotted a local curbside cafe, El Preferido, where we plopped down and ordered a scrumptious lunch.  When the waiter didn’t seem in any hurry to bring us a menu, I had to remind myself that Argentines take their time to eat (no such thing as grabbing a quick bite).  So I leaned back in my chair and just enjoyed gazing at the surrounding tree lined streets.  Yes, this was my kind of neighborhood, I immediately decided – very Bohemian.  No wonder it’s frequented by young Argentines and foreign travelers alike.

After lunch, we meandered further eventually coming upon Plaza Serrano which was covered with people wandering in and our of the cafes, bars, and multiple arts and crafts booths.  Since we had done enough shopping yesterday, we decided to leave Palermo and head over to Recoleta where Eva Peron is buried.  The subway was quick but the walk from the station to the cemetery was not.  Thus, by the time we reached the cemetery, one of the most noted and beautiful in the world, it had closed. (But not to fear, we will reschedule this stop for first thing tomorrow morning).  imageSo Wes and I enjoyed strolling through the park, especially under the branches of one of the grandest trees I’ve ever seen.  It reminded us somewhat of a banyan tree but much larger.  Wish I knew the name of it!

And thankfully, there was an open cathedral right next to the cemetery so we quietly entered and stood at the back for just a few minutes, listening to the mass.  Although neither of us are Catholic, we do appreciate the serenity and beauty of mass.

By this point we were so relaxed that we decided to stay in laid back mode so we sat on a couch in the outside bar overlooking the park, just sipping on a cool drink and nibbling on guacamole.

After resting a while, we became total slugs so ended up hailing a taxi to haul us back to our hotel.  I figured that was it for the night but I was mistaken.  The clock struck 10 and we knew it was time for dinner (that’s when Argentines eat and we definitely want to fit in) so we walked over to La Chacra – a true Argentine restaurant, complete with a fiery spit grill cooking all sorts of juicy red meat, heads of deer and buffalo accusingly peering at us as we ate, and a big brown horse to greet us at the door.  Wes said the place reminded him of Texas!  The food was definitely up to Texas standards, especially the lamb, so juicy and tender!  Such a great way to end our lazy day!

Kathy’s Walkabout in Argentina and Chile

Here’s yet another travel post – this one in South America.

My buddy, Wes and I arrived in Buenes Aires, Argentina yesterday morning at 9:30 AM.  Although neither of us had slept much on our 10 hour flight from Houston, we were determined to be good little travelers and not give in to our strong desire to nap once we arrived at our hotel, The Sheridan Libertador.  So after being told they had upgraded our room (yay for free snacks and wifi), we set out on foot to visit BA’s oldest barrio, San Telmo.

My first impressions of BA?  An interesting mix – Mostly Euopean (the architect, the narrow cobbled streets, the green plazas breaking up a sea of stone and brick), New Orleans (the wrought iron balconies), and also New York City (the smells of humanity and street vendors, and of course, bustling pedestrians).

San Temo was quite a walk but well worth it.  This is Sunday and Sunday is fair day.  What a fun beginning!  The streets were lined with arts and crafts booths as well as musicians filling the air with lively tunes and entertainers drawing small crowds along the way.  Our favorite was the

imagemarionnette who appeared to be very drunk.  (Check out Wes’s video on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153143436762560).

At Plaza Dorregos we plopped down at Todo Mundo, cafe to enjoy a light lunch and people watch.  Then we walked to the other side of the plaza to have an expresso and cookie at Havanna – I have a feeling I will be drinking too much coffee here as it is so wonderful!

But the shopping was the best. I purchased a Bahama type hat plus a paper thin vest with leaf prints. Wes was very patient as I shopped, however, I did hear a sigh escape from him once or twice :).

The most amazing part of our afternoon, however, was our stop at El Zanjon, a beautifully restored 1830’s house in which a labyrinth of tunnels was discovered buried underneath.  Some historians believe that this is the location of the first settlement in BA in 1536. I’m sure our guide was well informed but since he spoke only Spanish, I was quite lost.  Regardless, I found the tunnels and the artifacts found therein to be quite fascinating!

Even though we were extremely tired that evening, we opted to enjoy a nice dinner and tango show at El Querandí.  The evening was filled with surprises – so much more than either of us had expected.The 3 course dinner was superb, and the show simply spectacular!  The old house was elegant, antique chandeliers dimly lighting the room, a stately wooden bar lining the wall, and tables dressed appropriately  with red roses and small dangling lamp shades.  The space was intimate and we were fortunate to be seated at a table close to the stage.  The musicians, the singers (especially the elderly man who had the audience eating from his hands), and the tango dancers were all so amazing! And it wasn’t just modern tango – this show depicted the history of the dance so it was interesting seeing the changes in fashion as well as the different styles of tango, some much more athletic than others but all so intense and passionate!

Needless to say, our first day in The Southern Hemisphere, in South America, in Buenos Aires was a memorable one!