We saw it all -- hundreds of penguins, whales diving 15 feet from our zodiac, seals basking in the Antarctic sun, and dolphins playing next to our boat. We managed to cross the ferocious Drake Passage going and coming back without getting seasick. We made lots of new friends from around the world. It was an experience of a lifetime!
Today we spent the morning hiking in the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Tomorrow we will get on the boat and say goodbye to what little Internet there has been in Ushuaia. See you on the flip side of Antarctica!
We spent most of yesterday getting from the north to the far south of Argentina. After a very sketchy landing (so bad that everyone on the plane clapped in thanks that we hadn't crashed), we got our first glimpse of Ushuaia, which was still in daylight at 8 pm. It definitely feels like a small town sitting on the end of the world.
On the plane we had struck up a conversation with an Argentine lawyer who comes down here frequently for criminal cases. At his suggestion we went to Volver for dinner, where I had the best crabs ever. They call it "centolla" and in English it's spider crab.
We walked downtown today specifically to check on the cold-weather gear we rented for the boat trip to Antarctica. We couldn't resist this little penguino.
I also realized I had forgotten to pack a hat, so I bought this fleece headband, opting for the tourist version instead of the one by North Face at 3 times the price.
After hearing tales of 10-foot waves in Drake's Passage, I decided to by some Dramamine just in case I needed it. I initially asked for the patch you wear behind your ear, but apparently Argentina has banned the patch because of some questionable ingredient, so I will just be put to sleep with pills instead.
We had a wonderful lunch of roast lamb to celebrate David's 69th birthday. Dessert comes later at a tea-house recommended by our new Argentine lawyer friend.
The Internet is so bad here that I can't seem to post any pictures.
We needed to go from Cafayate to Salta today and opted to travel as the locals do. The one-way ticket cost $12.50. I am sure we were the only non-locals on the bus, which was completely full.
We had a somewhat rocky start when the bus stopped for about 15 minutes on the way out of town and then we were told to get off and get on another bus. No one ever explained why.
Otherwise it was a pretty uneventful 4-hour bus ride to go about 115 miles, much of the trip with persistent rain.
Luckily the bus station was within walking distance of out hostal.
We decided to go "downtown" one last time before leaving Salta tomorrow to head to the far south.
We have been seeing these amazing desserts since arriving in Argentina and resisting. Today after sitting on a bus all day and having the equivalent of fast food for lunch, we splurged. (I forgot to take the picture before digging in!)
Martín's friend Danian and a very pretty translator named Joanna took us up to the Cafayate Gorge today. We did several short hikes where my walking sticks really came in handy.
One of our objectives was to see the bridge where one of the segments of the Argentine movie "Wild Tales" was filmed. It turns out that it is no longer being used because a better road has been built.
If you saw the movie, you probably remember this is where it all began.
After our tour Damian dropped us off at the Piattelli Winery for lunch. A very upscale place with upscale food and higher but still very affordable prices.
After chicken salad and osso buco, we had chocolate mousse and Malbec sorbet.
I was starting to be afraid we were going to have to walk the several miles back to town when all attempts to call a taxi failed. I approached a nice-looking German-Italian couple and asked for a ride. They were happy to give us a lift.
Tomorrow we will catch a bus back to Salta and get ready to go south.
It didn't just rain last night in Molinos -- it poured with lightning, thunder, and hail. While all this was going on in the middle of the night, I kept wondering if the road to Cafayate would be passable today. As it turned out, there was a lot of flooding. Anything less than a 4x4 would have gotten stuck, as we witnessed. After the first few huge mud puddles, I became less worried that we too would get stuck.
Our route took us by some amazing rock formations. I thought the one above looked like Petra.
This sign reminds us that the area was the site of an ancient lake. And that only a whisper remains.
Just a few kilometers before reaching Cafayate, the dirt road turned into a paved road. But by then Martin's truck was covered in mud.
We had lunch and visited a local winery before saying goodbye to Martin. We are staying in the lovely Killa Hotel, with beautiful gardens and a much welcomed pool.
Which all sounds like the Garden of Eden until you hear the sounds of what promises to be a huge rock festival just across the street. We may need the earplugs we brought for the plane in order to get some sleep.
We started our day with a quick tour of Cachi, including the cemetery high above the city, the church on the main square, and a small anthropological museum. (I need to minimize the number of photos in this post since the Internet is pretty nonexistent here in Molinos.)
We then hit the very dirt road in the direction of Colomé. It was so bumpy that at one point the driver side mirror threatened to fall off. I was very proud to be able to produce some brightly colored duct tape to secure it.
Colomé basically consists of a winery, a hotel no longer being used as such, and the James Terrell Museum, a fantastic experience in light, dark, colors, and perception. A bit challenging for people like me with bad proprioception. No pictures of the inside of the museum because they confiscated our phones and cameras.
You can see just a sample of the vineyards which produce the grapes for the winery. On out tour of the winery, our guide told us about one wine made with grapes that come from vines that are so old no one can figure our what they are. For this reason the named it "Misterioso". After our museum visit we bought a bottle for 95 pesos (about $7) and treated everyone to a taste. Everyone had a different adjective to describe this unusual but delicious white wine. Unfortunately not for export.
After coming back over the same bumpy road, we are now in the small town of Molinos for the night. It is very pleasant sitting out under the huge old tree in the central courtyard of our hotel.
Coming to Salta is like dropping into another world. The Europeans of BA have been replaced by indigenous people with darker skin and eyes. The red Malbec wine is now accompanied by the white Torrontes. But it is still hot and people still worship grilled meat.
We have spent much of our time here walking. Salta has half a million people so there are a lot of streets to traverse. Walking has been pleasantly interrupted by food. There are always baked meat empanadas, coffee shops, lemonades, and delicacies made from dulce de leche.
We took in a private ethnographic museum today because all the public museums are closed on Mondays. It was a small museum featuring really old pre-Colombian relics from the entire Andean region. I kept wondering how these priceless antiquities ended up in the hands of a private foundation.
Catholicism is much more obvious here in Salta. Check out these paintings on what appeared to be a garage door.
We are waiting for our bag of laundry to come back. Clean underwear makes any traveler smile.
And we are weighing our choices among the local competing parrilladas for our dinner of grilled meat. I am sure we have already exceeded our quota of red meat, but oh well....
Although I have no photos, last night meeting up with my friend of nearly 4 decades ago was very special. We went to Kabbalat Shabbat services with her and her husband in a Conservative synagogue. The service was completely sung. Some melodies wrre familiar; others were not. There were people of all ages and everyone was welcoming. It was a very special evening I shall always remember.
Today our only agenda was a tour focusing on those who went missing several decades ago.
First we stopped off at the equivalent of a Starbucks, where for less than $3 you get café con leche with a plate of cookies and a small glass of seltzer. One thing that struck me was how many people were reading real newspapers instead of staring at electron screens.
We then went to Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos, a museum dedicated to the 30,000 who went missing in the '70's and '80's. It was heavy information to see and process so I didn't take photos. Most of the missing were dragged and dumped from planes into the sea. 400 babies were born in captivity and adopted out to rich and powerful Argentines. It was all very grim. I commend the government for going after the military monsters who ran this circus. And for creating a compelling museum to make sure the world knows what happened.
On a lighter note, we took the Metro (Subte) and went to colorful La Boca, where we had been warned not to linger after dark.
We came upon an outdoor tango show, where two pros were giving quite a performance. They took on a novice at the end of the show.
He was a quick study and she was a good teacher.
Back to Don Julio's for dinner. Beef tenderloin and grilled portobellos. Yum!
On to Salta tomorrow!
Buenos Aires is a combination of the old and the new, all with a very European flair. Next to an older Bauhaus building is a modern high rise like this with its embedded art gallery.
Today in the 90+ degree humidity we walked to the botanical gardens, where even the butterflies were flying slowly.
Halfway through the gardens we opted to escape to the A/C of the Evita Museum. I seem to have cut off her beautiful head in the above photo. She was beloved by Argentina's working class, dying an unfortunate death from cancer at age 33.
Tonight we plan to attend Shabbat services with my friend from 40 years ago. It will be interesting to see if we recognize one another.
It seems impossible that snow is coming once again to DC when it is so hot here.
This is actually from dinner last night at Don Julio's, just down the street and renowned for its grilled meat. The chorizo was exceptional. As was the prime rib steak. But the best part of the meal was this flan casero, which was a sweet way to end a savory meal. Here is the outside of the restaurant.
After a breakfast of bacon and poached eggs, granola, a media Luna (croissant), fresh fruit, and coffee con leche, we walked to the subway, where all rides no matter how far you go cost about 35 cents. Six stops later we got out in the Recoleta neighborhood, which looks very much like Paris.
The people of BA love their pets. Here is the window of a pet store.
Sorry Ari. Our suitcases are full. Ari is staying on a farm in Stafford, where he and a bunch of labs get to run around together. He may not want to come home.
We found another empanada restaurant for lunch. It contained mostly tourists, but it was interesting to hear how many countries were represented (the waiter's first question was "Where are you from?")
Our first destination of the day was El Ateneo, an old-fashioned but quite elegant bookstore that looked more like an opera house. (I didn't mean to include 3 copies of the bookstore, but the blogging software is refusing to let me get rid of the extras!)
Our last stop of the day was the MALBA, the Latin American Museum of BA, which featured a thought-provoking exhibit by Francis Alÿs, an Argentine who focused on refugees. He must be expanding his work with all the Syrian refugees.
Since our hotel was far and uphill, we splurged and took a cab home, where we took a well deserved nap.
I am currently sitting in our hotel's patio looking up at the lovely balconies next door. It is a very European city.
Just found this photo from earlier in the day. Looks just like Paris!
This is one of the reasons I wanted to come back to Argentina. The baked meat empanadas are a specialty. This I remembered from my work trips here in 1979. it was cheap and so good!
We were famished after our long overnight flight with the minimal bad plane food. It was more than pretzels but not much more.
We are in the quaint neighborhood of Palermo, which features Bauhaus architecture and a myriad of little stores and restaurants.
Check out our shared mango orange drink that restored our energy to explore some more.
Tonight we will probably look for a restaurant with grilled meat. Argentina is not a destination for a vegetarian!
Tomorrow we will reconnect with my work acquaintance from 4 decades ago and look for a place to hear tango music.
We are going on a month-long adventure starting next Tuesday. We will travel to Argentina with 10 days on a cruise to Antarctica. Our good friends invited us to dinner last night and served marzipan penguins for dessert. What a send-off! Other dinner guests offered us their super binoculars for the trip.
We are struggling with packing for summer in Argentina while it could still be frigid in the far south. My usual little suitcase simply can't handle so many climate extremes. Instead I will take a duffel bag that has to be checked. A month is a long time to plan for. Even the snack bags of vitamins are daunting!
Please come along for the ride. I will try to remember how to write a blog and will be pleased to hear from you.
Since I worked in Colombia in the 70's, I have always wanted to visit the Amazon, which defines the lower border of Colombia. On Sunday we flew into Leticia, the southernmost city, the heat hitting us as we stepped off the plane. We were met by Salomé, a charming Colombian young woman who would accompany us on all our adventures and translate as necessary. After having lunch, we left the Internet and motorized vehicles behind and boarded a small boat, which would then take us 3 hours west to Yoi Ecolodge, situated on land belonging to the Ticuna Indians. On our way we could look across the river at Brazil and Peru. Leticia is the point where the 3 countries meet.
Our cabin was constructed in the traditional style with a thatched roof. We did have an indoor bathroom, but no electricity. We had a solar-powered lantern in our room that allowed us to see how to get in and out of bed at night. We had mosquito netting over our beds. The water we drank and showered in came from rain catchments. It was life with only the basics.
Despite the lack of refrigeration and electricity, our Ticuna hosts turned out wonderful meals and treated us with the utmost in respect and kindness. One of my favorite memories of our 3 days there was waking up to a chorus of birds, insects, and frogs.
Everywhere we went required a boat ride. Our Ticuna guide was Paulo, who spoke Ticuna and Spanish. He managed to help me in and out of the boat numerous times without my falling into the water or mud. Often we were the only boat on the river, but at other times we passed other similar boats carrying supplies or people. The Amazon is a birder's paradise, with bright blue kingfishers to colorful toucans to so many varieties. Getting to and from our lodge required following a labyrinth of waterways, often taking shortcuts through narrow tunnels in the canopy.
Our outings included a visit to another town Puerto Nariño, finding the gray and the pink dolphins in the Amazon and surrounding lakes, fishing for piraña, visiting the monkey sanctuary, learning how to make a traditional woven basket, and visiting several Ticuna villages.
After 3 days without amenities and countless bug bites, we returned by boat to Leticia today. It felt wonderful to have lunch in an air-conditioned hotel. After lunch we took in the local museum.
Tomorrow we will make a final pass of the souvenir shops and then fly back to Bogota, welcoming a breath of cooler air!
After traveling for over 2 weeks and both battling health issues this week, we needed some down time today. So we went to hang out at the Santa Fe Mall, frequented by the upper class of Medellin. It could just as easily have been Pentagon City, except that most people we saw were NOT tourists.
While David went off in search of a short-sleeved shirt, I sat across from this pop-up store selling mostly plastic shoes and featuring a sign under the full red lips that said "Eat My Melissa." I don 't even want to think about what this means.
Tomorrow we are going off-grid and slipping into the Amazon jungle, so we did things like get Colombian pesos and take care of online business today. Hopefully we will resurface on Thursday with stories to tell about Las Amazonas. God forbid we have another health crisis, because otherwise we may be consulting a medicine man!
When we woke up today, David asked how I would feel about going on the bus trip to Guatapé by myself. Given my reluctance, he walked to the bus stop with me, but soon thereafter got off the bus for the comfort of the bathroom. I of course knew no one else and the tour was in Spanish. But by the first stop for breakfast, I realized I wasn't the only one traveling alone. I struck up an immediate friendship with a guy from New Jersey, a woman from the Dominican Republic, and a man from France. During the course of the day, I found myself listening to or speaking English, Spanish, French, and German. It was a very international bus with a perky guide from Medellin named Angie (don't know the Spanish spelling of her name). I loved it when she called us "chicos", as in "¡Vamonos, chicos!"
Our next stop after breakfast was at the beautiful little town of Marinilla with the white church above. Among the various venders in the square was this guy seeking the equivalent of Colombian snake oil.
Then we visited El Peñol, a rather recently bilt town with a most unique church, which instead of dwelling on Christ crucified emphasizes Christ resurrected.
Finally we arrived at La Piedra, a huge rock which requires 750 stops to get to the top. I opted to send my camera up with one of my travel companions while I drank mango juice with another friend. The views from up above were obviously spectacular.
We then continued on the town of Guatapé for lunch. We were serenaded by these musicians while we ate lunch -- our choice of "comida tipica", fried trout, or grilled chicken.
The charm of Guatapé is the colorful decorations called socalos on the outside of every building. They can depict a business or a personal symbol. The artist of many of the socalos is Nachos, shown below.
Here is Angie, our exuberant guide. This socola is for a kindergarten.
And to end my day in Guatapé, a delicious cappuccino.
Around 7:30 PM we rolled into Medellin once again, thinking about what our personal socalo might be if we were to decorate our houses.
After some long-distance consultation with our doctor friend Deb, David was much improved over his condition in the morning when I left him with such a bad stomach.
I have always wanted to accompany Juan Valdez through those Colombian coffee fields. Today I got my chance. We went with a private guide named Ignacio (Iggy) to the Don Modesta coffee plantation about 2 hours from Medellin, where we learned about coffee from the beginning to the end.
We arrived at to be greeted by a pack of at least 15 little dogs that looked like Jack Russell terriers, some peacocks, a couple of parrots, and a delicious cup of coffee.
Then we headed up the mountain to have a closer look at the coffee plants, of which there are about a million on this farm. The coffee is inter planted with plantains, which provide both shade for the coffee plants and food for those working on the farm.
Izzy constantly talked about the good coffee (exported) and the bad coffee (that left for Colombians to drink). That is hard for me to understand because every cup of coffee I have had here has been delicious and has not caused me any of the physical problems I had been getting with coffee back home.
The beans when harvested by hand are red.
They must have the outer skin removed revealing a slightly slimy bean inside.
Through a bunch of processes the slimy white stuff is removed, leaving a neutral colored bean that must then be dried.
Finally the beans are bagged and sent off to be roasted. All along the way the bad beans are being separated from the good beans.
Here is a picture of a coffee plant in its infancy.
After learning all about coffee, we had a typical Colombian lunch prepared by the wife of the owner.
We stopped through the small town of Concordia to purchase coffee at a store owned and supplied by the owner of the farm.
On the way back to Medellin we got a good view of Cerro Tuso (Bald Hill).
David seems to be frequenting the bathroom today. Perhaps our good luck with food and water is running out.
Everything had been going all too smoothly on this trip, until last night that is. As I was changing for dinner, I glanced down at my right leg which was also itchy. I knew quite well what it was, having had cellulitis in Paris some 14 years ago. I also knew how important it was to start treatment quickly. So after dinner we asked the hotel to call a doctor. Dr. Diego Cardoza came to my room around 11 PM. He looked to be about 26 years old, fresh out of medical school and he did not speak English. He quickly confirmed my diagnosis and prescribed 2 medications, which the guy at the hotel desk went out to fill. So by midnight I could go to sleep knowing I was on the mend. We didn't have to pay for the doctor's services and the meds cost all of $15. Quite a contrast to health care in the US.
it turns out I didn't need to go snorkeling on Sunday, but instead I just needed to go to the aquarium at the Parque Explora. A few more fish pictures:
This was one of the best designed parks I have ever seen. There were numerous hands-on things, like this sand drawing device.
And this harp with invisible strings:
The entrance was filled with things that taught the idea of simple machines while having fun.
We then headed up the mountains surrounding Medellin on cable cars, crossing some very poor parts of the city on our way.
At Arvi, our final destination, I had the most delicious warm pork tamale for lunch, partly consumed before I thought to take a picture.
On the way down we talked to others in our cable car (from The Netherlands, Canada, and Colombia). This is a city where people just want to talk to each other.
As if we hadn't walked enough, once back down from the mountain we set out to find the house where drug lord Pablo Escobar met his end in 1993. It turned out not to be so easy to locate, but we finally prevailed and confirmed it with a passerby. I am sure the neighbors in this quiet residential area were shocked when the gun battle broke out, leaving Escobar's bullet-riddled body on the roof of one of these houses. Things seem so quiet and sane in this town, which existed under his terror for years. The Colombians we have met all seem like peace-loving people.
Tomorrow we head off with a guide to visit a coffee plantation. This is our first big splurge, but I am sure it will be a great trip out into the countryside.
I had a most interesting beginning to my day as I waited for David on a park bench. A group of Colombian students studying English asked if they could interview me. They each had a different reason for wanting to learn English, but they universally said it was important. Their simple questions made me think about why I was here, what I expected to get from my trip, and what I wanted to leave behind. The people here are unbelievably friendly and helpful.
Fernando Botero seems to be it when it comes to Colombian art. His work is everywhere. This morning we started out at Plaza Botero, which has a bunch of huge statues like this one. They all bring a smile to one's face because they just seem so large and lovable.
On the Botero Plaza is the Museum of Antioquia, which is dominated by works of Botero but also contains a lot of other works of art. Like the ones above and below.
The special exhibit was Botero's Circus.
But there were also more serious pieces like this one depicting the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993.
One more favorite depicted things of the night.
We then decided to check out the botanical gardens, a huge park in the middle of the city.
This rather large iguana suddenly appeared on the path.
Our favorite spot was the Casa de las Mariposas, the Butterfly House. Here are just a few.
There were also beautiful plants along the path.
We took the subway home and got rather lost trying to find our hotel. But we finally made it home after a day of walking all over this city as hilly as San Francisco. I can see why people say it's charming.
First a final night-time glimpse of Cartagena out our 4th floor apartment window, where we dried our laundry and watched and listened to the world go by. The Plaza Santo Domingo is a hopping place at night. This morning I was awakened early by the sounds of Gregorian chant coming from the church. Catholicism is alive and well in Cartagena.
Today we flew to Medellin. After our one domestic flight on Avianca, I had concluded that they were a bit more trusting than TSA. You can bring on gallons of water. My titanium hip hardly raises an eyebrow. But today as I came out of the security screening, a burly guy said, "Tiene un tenedor." I politely agreed that I did have a fork in my backpack in case I ever decided to eat the can of tuna fish I have been carrying around since I left home. The guard asked me how to say "tenedor" in English. Then he proceeded to keep my metal fork, declaring forks were prohibited. I ask myself how I managed to get through security at Reagan and in Bogota without losing my fork. Some questions just don't have an answer. But I long ago learned that it was hopeless to argue with a security guy.
So my confiscated fork was my excuse to buy this rather yummy chocolate desert to eat with my afternoon tea. Now I have a plastic fork that could do just about as much damage as my old metal fork, but it should sail through all subsequent scrutiny.
We haven't quite plugged into the magic of Medellin, but tomorrow we will hit the streets once again.