Saturday, November 18

This morning we have a 10:30 flight from Puerto Montt to our southernmost destination, Punta Arenas (literally “Sandy Point”), on the Strait of Magellan. To get to the airport we have to ride the bus a half hour to get to the ferry, then the half-hour ferry ride back to the mainland, and another hour after that. So we had 6:00 breakfast, 6:30 “bags out,” and 7:00 departure. So I got up at 5:00, did all my morning stuff, had breakfast, and now it’s 6:30, so I thought I’d get a head start on recapping the last day and a half. (I’ll continue on the plane.)

Thursday, November 16

Pargua, in addition to being our “Day in the Life” locale, is where the ferry to Chiloé sails from. So after we left the Andrade family, we were quickly on board the ferry. We arrived at a small settlement called Chacao, on the northeastern tip of the island, and we had a little time to explore there before continuing to Ancud, on northwestern Chiloé.

Black necked swans in a tidal pool at Chacao
Black necked swans in a tidal pool at Chacao

Chiloé is the largest island by far in the Chiloé Archipelago and one of the largest islands in South America. It is a little smaller than Puerto Rico, about the size of Corsica or Crete. The island was devastated by the massive earthquake in May 1960 (which also moved it four feet closer to the continent). What survived is made of wood, which is more flexible than concrete and more capable of withstanding shaking. There are some newer concrete buildings; Pilar mentioned that these will likely not survive the next major quake. And in addition to the risk from earthquakes themselves, tsunamis also pose a significant threat. Our hotel is up on a bluff, high enough so that if we have one while we’re here, we should be okay.

The name of the island, by the way, is unrelated to the name of the country. Chile comes from an Incan word meaning “the end.” Chiloé is Mapuche for “the place of the gulls.”

Our hotel is in Ancud (and is called the Hotel Ancud), but from the little time I had to walk around, there isn’t much else of interest. Our hotel (which is built almost entirely of wood) is built on top of a fort that was built by the Spanish. The fort consists of a rampart and some cannons.

Friday, November 17

After breakfast at the hotel (If you ever stay here, I hope you like your scrambled eggs runny), we climbed in the bus and drove about an hour and a half to the largest city on the island, Castro.

During the drive Pilar gave us an interesting history lesson about the history of human migration to the Americas. I slept through a lot of it, but what I heard I enjoyed. In a nutshell, theories have long held that humans first came to the Americas through Asia and across the land bridge at what is now the Bering Strait. From there they moved south through North and Central America and finally into South America. But recent theories now suggest that humans were in South

America earlier than was previously thought, and that they came by boat from Polynesia. Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition proved that this is possible, but not that it is true. The fossil of Luzia Woman that was found in Brazil in 1975 has more features in common with aboriginals of Australia. But theories are just that.

In Castro we visited four main sites.

Plaza des Armes

The main square of Castro has an adjacent wooden church, one of many scattered all over the island. It also has a pay toilet and some surrounding shops.

Wooden church of San Francisco in Castro.
Wooden church of San Francisco in Castro. Wood is much more capable of withstanding earthquakes.

Palafitos

These wooden houses built on stilts in the water are one of the main attractions of Castro. They were slums, but many of them have been renovated and converted to B&Bs and charming homes. One was even a gym. Others are still in poor condition. All survived the 1960 earthquake and tsunami, but if there is another one, a recent law will prevent owners from rebuilding. And because they are on the lowest point in the city, right on the water, tourists who stay there are not going to survive the next tsunami either.

Palafitos in Castro
Palafitos in Castro
Palafitos
More Palafitos that have been renovated and gentrified.

Pilar called a friend of hers who lives in one of the Palafitos, a fellow tour guide, and we had the opportunity to visit and see the inside. It was a very humble abode, with low ceilings. The oven was wood-burning, but the tour guide’s wife was proud of her new gas range. In the back was an open-air extension over the water. He told us he built that after buying the house 27 years ago. He also showed us a piece of wood from one of the old stilts, rotted and eaten by underwater worms. And he said the piers have to be replaced every ten years.

The artisanal market

The market consisted of a lot of shops selling woolen items in particular, plus the usual assortment of tacky souvenirs.

The fish and produce market

Here we had lunch and wandered among the stalls. It’s housed in a new, modern building. Some interesting fish for sale, including salmon, hake, conger eel, and others I didn’t recognize, plus a lot of shellfish: clams, oysters, razor clams, and some squid-like thing. There were plenty of other strange items, such as stalks of something related to rhubarb only much bigger, dried seaweed in bundles that looked like big tangles of rawhide dog chews, and plenty of more “normal” fruits. They also had something Pilar called a Chiloé bagel. They were round with a hole in the middle, but much more hole than bread. It looked like it might be pretzel-like. I bought some; they turned out to be slightly sweet and the flavor reminded me of egg kichel, a Passover cookie, only denser.

Upstairs at the market were the cocinerias, eateries with a lot of traditional items. Pilar walked us through and explained the menu items. I got something that was essentially a potato pancake stuffed with pork rind. This pork rind, though, is nothing like what you get in bags at US truck stops. It was kind of a cross between bacon and sausage. It was so good it is probably illegal in the US.

Incidentally, in Chilean grocery stores, all packaged food that is not good for you comes with warnings in big black labels. I took a picture of a package of cookies the other day:

It's bad for you!
It’s bad for you!

High in calories, high in sugar, high in saturated fat. After Pilar told us about these warnings, I told her I was angry at her for making me health conscious at the grocery store. But I guess I made up for it by eating that pork rind.

We drove back to Ancud after lunch, had a short break, and then headed by bus along the west side of the island. The landscape on the left side of the bus consisted of lovely wooded hills and meadows with grazing cattle and sheep. On the right side the coast reminded me of Oregon or California, with rocks and cliffs.

Pasture and rolling hills

coastline

After thirty minutes or so we arrived at the beach where we donned life jackets and rode big wheeled carts into an open boat.

Riding to the boat

We headed to three tiny islets just off shore to the only place in the world where two different species of penguins share the same breeding ground. In addition to the Magellanic and Humboldt penguins, we saw various species of seabirds: ducks, geese, cormorants, a blue-footed pelican (which was sitting so we couldn’t see the blue feet), and of course a zillion of the gulls that gave the island its name.

The Magellanic penguins migrate here from southernmost Chile (where we are heading today) to breed. Later in summer they will return south. The Humboldt penguins, which are far fewer, migrate from the Atacama desert in the north.

If I just say the cost of the entire trip was worth it for the opportunity to see these penguins, that might begin to express the wonderment and thrill. Those of us who live in the northern hemisphere have to travel a long way to see penguins in their natural habitat.

I took over a hundred pictures, but the boat was bobbing so much in the waves that it was hard to get good ones, and I only managed to get a handful that were in focus (or that even had a penguin in the picture at all). And I kept reminding myself that this was something not to be viewed with my camera, so a few times I managed to put the camera down and just be there to see it.

We got to watch a couple of fellows struggle to climb out of the water up the kelp at the edge of the islet, only to keep slipping back down again. We watched them walk on trails up to the top of the islet where their nesting grounds are located. Sometimes in groups, sometimes one little guy by itself. We’ve all seen movies of penguins, but here they were without the cute narration ascribing human emotions to them, just being penguins.

Magellanic penguins
Magellanic penguins. They have darker coats than the Humboldt penguins and white stripes on the neck. They are far more plentiful than the Humboldts.
Humboldt penguin
Humboldt penguin. Grey coat and continuous band of white from the breast to the head.
Magellanic and Humboldt penguins
Magellanic and Humboldt penguins together. Can you tell which is which?
Penguins
Three Magellanic penguins and one shy Humboldt
Blue-footed booby
Pilar said this is a blue-footed booby, and I have no reason to doubt her, but it would have been nice to see the white feet.
American oystercatcher
American oystercatcher
Marching penguins
They actually do march up to the top of the island where the nests are.

All too soon we returned to the beach, got carted back to shore in the wheeled carts, and went to to a restaurant overlooking the ocean for dinner of hake. I have to say that most of my least favorite meals have been the group ones. I’d much prefer to wander off to find meals on my own at places where tourists don’t go.

Chiloé was a mixed bag for me. It was an interesting place, pretty in some areas, but certainly not spectacular at the level of what we saw closer to the Andes.

The penguins, of course, made it more than worth visiting. But also, it was fascinating to go to a place that gets very few foreign tourists, where almost no one speaks English, and where we got to see a different side of this wonderful country.

Thursday, November 16

Today was not about seeing beautiful scenery or learning about history or politics or economics or geology.

Today was about people.

Specifically, today was about the people of Pargua, a community of about 800 on the north shore of the Chacao Channel separating Chiloé Island from the Chilean mainland. We spent a good part of the day in Pargua.

First we visited Sol del Pacifica school. OAT supports this school through the Grand Circle Foundation. Ten students attend, and there are two full-time teachers. In addition, they have an English teacher who comes one day each week, and our visit happened to coincide with hers.

Escuela Sol del Pacifica
Escuela Sol del Pacifica

The children were delightful. They came out to meet our bus and escorted us into the school. We went to the small lunch room, where we had tea and cookies made by the children’s parents. There we had a chance to talk with the English teacher about her work and her life as a teacher who visits a different school each day.

Then the children came and brought us to their classroom, where they showed us variously some of the things they are working on and answered our questions as well as possible in our broken Spanish and their broken English.

Finally the children gathered so we could take a picture of them, and after we all took our pictures I asked them if they could sing a song. (The music teacher in my past couldn’t help making an appearance.) The English teacher led them in a song — well more like a group chant or a dance. Then they asked us to sing a song, and I suggested “Head, Shoulders, Knee and Toes.” Surprisingly, only a few of us in the group knew the song, but we did it, and they we asked them to do it with us.

From there we went to what Pilar called a kindergarten but was more like a pre-school. There were about eight kids. As soon as I walked in a boy named Javier showed me a picture of una araña (a spider) in a book. I asked him if he was afraid of spiders (¿Tienes miedo?) and he said no. Then I pulled out my phone and asked him to be in a picture with me, and when he saw his face in the phone, I got the most delighted smile.

Me and Javier
Me and Javier

I got to talk with several of the other children, one of whom was playing a toy xylophone incessantly. Others were drawing pictures. I just wanted to spend all day with them, but we had to leave too soon.

Our next stop was at the home of the Andrade family. We met two of the Andrade children (cousins actually) at Sol del Pacifico. At their home we assembled in the quincho. This is a kind of large shed used for family gatherings on special occasions. (At the Haneck ranch a few days ago we also enjoyed our meal in their quincho.)

First we went out back and watched them prepare the curanto. They burn wood to heat rocks; then they remove the wood and use the rocks as the heat source for cooking. On top of the rocks they put a layer of mussels, then added potatoes, sausage, chicken, and a bread dough made from potatoes and flour. Then they cover the whole thing with branches of myrtle and a large sheet of polyurethane, and weigh it down with rocks and logs. It cooks like that for an hour.

Preparing the curanto. The building in back is the quincho.
Preparing the curanto. The building in back is the quincho.

While it was cooking, we went back into the quincho, and had a toast with cola de mono, a holiday drink that more or less resembled Bailey’s.

After they where we got introductions from three generations of the Andrade family, and then we introduced ourselves to them. Then we helped them prepare the rest of the lunch. I was part of a team that helped Aunt Gladys make more of the potato bread, which we then fried. Others chopped ingredients for pebre, a salsa kind of like pico de gallo. Others helped set the table.

Cooking on the wood stove in the quincho
Cooking on the wood stove in the quincho

Soon the curanto was ready, and they brought everything in and we ate lunch. It was all delicious!

After lunch they showed us some of the handiwork they do. A few of the women showed us how they spin wool into yarn and displayed various knitted crafts they made. Aunt Gladys put some onion peels into boiling water and used it to dye some of the thread.

Aunt Gladys spins wool into yarn.
Aunt Gladys spins wool into yarn.

Finally it was time to go. I didn’t expect to have such a special day as part of my vacation, but it was a day I will never forget.

Tuesday, November 14

As the crow flies it’s only about 80 miles from Bariloche, Argentina, to Puerto Varas, Chile, but to drive around all the lakes took the better part of the day. And that was to our benefit, because we got some beautiful scenery all the way. It was remarkable how quickly the terrain transitioned from the high desert (aka steppe) to forest to mountains.

We exited Argentina after a few hours’ drive; then we drove for an hour more and crossed the actual border into Chile, but we didn’t arrive at Chilean customs and immigration until about an hour after that. Then after another hours we stopped for lunch at a dairy farm with a little restaurant, and adjacent to the restaurant was an antique car museum, consisting mostly of Studebakers. Not the museum we expected to find on a dairy farm in the Andes.

Studebakers on a Chilean dairy farm
Studebakers on a Chilean dairy farm

At the lunch stop we also switched buses and said good bye to Ezekiel, our fabulous local guide from Bariloche. He was the best guides so far. In addition to being very knowledgeable, he had a great smile. I admit I got a little crush on him. And there we also met our local guide for Chile. Her name is Pilar. Fede prepared us for her sharp sense of humor, and this is very true. She is a lot of fun and incredibly well versed in the history, economy, geography, and geology of this area.

Me and Ezekiel
Me and Ezekiel

We arrived in Puerto Varas at about 5:00, and Fede recommended a local restaurant and made a reservation for us there, giving us a few hours to explore the town. It’s a charming resort community on Lago Llanquihue, a glacial lake about the size of Lake Erie. Lots of shops, restaurants, and cafes. And right across the lake are two massive volcanoes: Osorno, which is perfectly shaped like a cone like Mt. Fuji (See the photo at the top of this post, which I took as we were approaching from the highway. Unfortunately, the mountain was mostly covered by clouds and fog for most of the rest of our visit.) and Calbaco, which looks more like Mt. Saint Helens after the side got blown off. (As it turns out, Pilar later told us about the geology of these mountains, and Calbaco and Saint Helens are the exact same type of volcano.) The few hours we had was plenty of time to explore, and we had a really good dinner and then to bed.

Lago Llanquihue and Osorno, viewed from Puerto Varas
Lago Llanquihue and Osorno, viewed from Puerto Varas

Wednesday, November 15

I actually took notes today!

At 9:00 a.m. we got on our bus and headed along the south shore of Lago Llanquihue (Llanquihue is Mapuche for “deep place” — the lake is 1,200 feet deep) toward the Osorno Volcano. The plan was to do a hike on the mountain. The road we drove on was built in 1952; before that, you had to take a boat to get to the other side of the lake.

Along the way Pilar gave us an economics lesson. Chileans are extremely fond, she told us, of money. Until the 1970s Chile was extremely poor, and their only economic driver was mining, especially for copper. Starting in the 1970s, a number of Chilean economists went to the University of Chicago to study under Milton Friedman. Known as the “Chicago Boys,” these economists came back to Chile and transformed the economy. There is a diversity of opinion about how much these economists really helped most Chilean people, but I won’t get into that. What is clear is that today Chile has the strongest economy in Latin America. They export wine to France, salmon to Norway, pasta to Italy, and kiwis to New Zealand. And though all their salmon is farmed (much of it in Lago Llanquihue), they have figured out to use every part of the fish. The eyes are a source of omega-3 supplements. Meat from the head goes into chowder. The eggs become salmon roe in Japanese sushi. They even produce “leather” products from the skin. And what’s left is used for fertilizer and commercial fish oil. Unfortunately, climate change is causing a real problem for their salmon farming industry because salmon cannot thrive in warmer water.

Pilar also gave us a geology lesson. The Andes are the youngest mountain range in the world. This region is also geologically very similar to the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest. Engineers from Seattle have come down here to learn about building techniques, because unlike the Pacific Northwest, where the last catastrophic earthquake occurred before any cities existed, Chile has had some major earthquakes in recent history, including the strongest in recorded history in May 1960. That earthquake called a giant tsunami, and Chilean scientists were thus the first to prove the relationship between eartquakes and tsunamis.

Interesting fact: by law, the media cannot use the word “earthquake” for anything below 6.5 on the Richter scale. These must be called “tremors.”

Chile has 2,300 volcanoes. Calbaco last erupted in 2015, and we saw evidence of that yesterday when we were crossing the Andes and today. These is still a lot of ash on the sides of the roads.

Aftermath of the eruption of Calbaco
After we crossed into Chile, we saw some landscapes like this, the aftermath of the April 2015 eruption of Calbaco.

When we got to Osorno, we were surprised to find fresh snow. We hiked anyway, but only about a quarter of a mile before we had to turn around because the footing was so difficult and slippery, and the wind was fierce. But it was really fun and exhilarating. Back in the ski lodge we enjoyed hot chocolate before getting back on the bus.

View from partway up Osorno
View from partway up Osorno
Hiking on Osorno
Hiking on Osorno
Another view from Osorno
Another view from Osorno

Our next stop was Petrohue (literally “misty place”). We walked through a beautiful temperate rain forest (again, a strong similarity with the Pacific Northwest: much of the vegetation here is the same as in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula).

The pictures speak for themselves.

Petrohue

Bamboo
Bamboo

Petrohue

Petrohue

Petrohue

Petrohue

Petrohue

Fun fact #2. In much of Patagonia, cattle are raised without much or any human contact, so they become more or less feral. When they want beef, they go hunting for cows.

Our next stop was at the mouth of the Petrohue River, where it meets the lake. Here we crossed the river on a little boat operated by Alex, who has a house on the other side. His family operates a restaurant out of their home. There we had lunch in a sunny room overlooking Osorno, and after lunch Alex and his wife Rosita and their daughter told us their story.

Alex, Rosita, and their elder daughter tell us about life in Petrohue
Alex, Rosita, and their elder daughter tell us about life in Petrohue

Alex grew up on that side of the river, and always thought of Osorno as his mountain. He started the story by telling us that it is no longer his. Once every few days he would cross the river to go into town, and then one day about 27 years ago he met Rosita, and he started crossing the river three or four times a day. He was a poor man and had nothing to offer her. So finally, he said, if you marry me and come back to live with me across the river, I will give you the volcano. So she did, and now it’s hers.

View of Osorno from Alex and Rosita's home
View of Osorno from Alex and Rosita’s home

Eventually they built the newer house, where we were having lunch. They didn’t get electricity on that side of the river until five years ago, but after they had their two daughters Rosita made Alex buy her a washing machine and hooked it up to a generator. She still cooks with a wood-burning stove.

When the volcano erupted in 2015, Alex sent Rosita and the girls away, but he stayed in the house. A big landslide destroyed the old house and their shed but spared the new house. We could see the rocks all around the house, maybe as close as 50 feet.

Alex and Rosita's house
At the right is the new house, where we ate lunch in the front room with the big windows All the rocks are the result of the 2015 landslide.

After lunch Alex took us back across the river, and then we returned to Puerto Varas. We reconvened in the bar for a lesson on how to make Pisco sours.

Then I went for a little walk, stopped at a food truck and got a sandwich for dinner, and relaxed.

What a great day!

Saturday, November 11

It was about a two hour flight from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. We got checked in to our lovely hotel about a mile outside of town, and after we got settled we went back into town for a brief orientation walk with Federico. One of the things Bariloche is famous for is chocolate, so he was kind enough to steer us to the top chocolate shops.

Rapa Nui Chocolates
Rapa Nui Chocolates

Then we all went to get dinner together at La Marca, where I had fresh grilled trout with caper butter that was absolutely to die for. As if that wasn’t enough, I had to get some ice cream, and if I never eat ice cream again, I will die happy having had my last at Mamushka. They piled two huge scoops (Dulce de leche con brownies and Chocolate Intenso) on a cone. Fortunately we have some hiking tomorrow, and we walked back to our hotel from town, so I figure that about makes up for it.

Mamuschka
Mamuschka

Bariloche reminds me of some of the ski resort towns in Colorado, streets lined with hotels, restaurants, and shops. Its central square that looks like it was plucked out of the Austrian Alps. Since the city was settled in the late nineteenth century by immigrants from Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Italy, it’s no wonder.

Bariloche main square
Bariloche main square

The travel books say that the real draw of Bariloche is outside the city, so I’m looking forward to the next couple of days when we get to see the surrounding area.

Sunday, November 12

After breakfast in the hotel, we set out on an excursion to the west of Bariloche. Our first stop was at Cerro Campanario. There we rode a chair lift up to an extraordinary view point overlooking several lakes and the surrounding mountains.

From there we went a short way to a forested area where we had an interpretive walk. We learned about the vegetation and some of the animals in the area.

Chimango caracara
Chimango caracara

Next we stopped at Brazo Tristeza for a hike to another great viewpoint.

Our last stop was at Cervecería Gilbert, a microbrewery and restaurant. Tomas Gilbert, the son of the founder, gave us a short talk about the beermaking process, and then we tasted three of their beers along with a lunch of lamb stew.

Tomas explains the process while his assistant makes the beer

When we got back to the hotel they were cleaning my room and I couldn’t get in, so I went out for a walk on the lawn and found some interesting birds.

Black-faced ibis
Black-faced ibis
Southern lapwing
Southern lapwing
Ashy-headed goose
Ashy-headed goose

Nazis in Argentina

We gathered after a short break for a talk by a man named Hans Schultz. Hans is a historian, writer, and teacher, and he shared with us the story of the Nazis who came to Argentina after World War II. It is a troubling and difficult story, and he provided some fascinating insights. He is a native Argentinian, as were both his parents, but he had two German grandparents. He talked in particular about Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele, and Erich Priebke.

Eichmann came to Argentina under an assumed name. Over time he assimilated into Argentina’s large German community. Eventually, Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal tracked him down, and in 1960 the Mossad captured him and brought him back to Israel, where he was tried and convicted of multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 1962 he was executed and cremated, and his ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean. After his abduction, there was a wave of violent antisemitic activity from far right elements in Argentina, and the Argentine government protested the abduction as a violation of their sovereignty. The UN passed a resolution supporting Argentina’s position, but eventually Israel and Argentina agreed to end the dispute without reparation.

In the case of Mengele, the West German government filed extradition papers against him in 1960, but by the time Argentina approved extradition, he had fled to Paraguay. He later moved to Brazil, and neither the Mossad nor the West Germans succeeded in tracking him down before he died in 1979.

Priebke’s war crime was not related specifically to the Holocaust. He was involved in the Ardeatine massacre in Rome in 1944, in which 335 Italian civilians were rounded up and killed. Two of them he killed personally. After the war he was set to be tried for his role in the massacre, but he escaped from a British prison camp and eventually traveled to Argentina using a falsified visa.

Priebke lived in Bariloche, was a school director, and was a friend of Hans’s father. They were not aware of his crime. In 1994 an investigative team from ABC news traveled to Bariloche to do a story on Nazis living here. Sam Donaldson confronted Priebke, who did not deny his involvement but said he was just following orders. (Watch an excerpt of the interview on YouTube.) As a result of this interview, which showed how Priebke lived freely in Argentina and felt no remorse for his crimes, the government was pressured to placed him under house arrest. Eventually, but only after a series of delays, he was extradited to Italy, where he was (after initially being acquitted by a three-judge panel) convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment under house arrest due to his age and ill health. He lived to the age of 100, dying in Rome in 2013. The Argentine government denied his final request for his body to be returned there to be buried next to his wife. Eventually he was buried in a secret location so that his grave would not be a potential pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.

Hans’s talk was fascinating and he came across as a true authority on this difficult subject. There were some in the group who didn’t seem to appreciate the talk, but I was grateful to have an opportunity to learn some of this from someone with such deep knowledge about it.

We had free time for the rest of the evening. I went into town with Pat, Diane, and Sam, and we had a memorable steak dinner at El Boliche de Alberto. Sam ordered the full rib eye, which would have tipped over Fred Flintstone’s car. I ordered a half rib eye: still enormous! Sam also asked for an order of papas fritas. All four of us shared them, and we probably only ate half. There were also a couple of salads, each of which would have been a big meal in itself.

Grilling meat at El Boliche de Alberto
Grilling meat at El Boliche de Alberto
Sam, Diane, and Pat and some big pieces of meat!
Sam, Diane, and Pat and some big pieces of meat!

Of course, we had to go back to Mamushka for more ice cream afterwards!

Monday, November 13

After breakfast this morning we had another “controversial topic.” this was a talk on the Mapuche people of Patagonia. Like the indigenous people of North America, the Mapuche people who inhabited vast lands in South America were forced to defend themselves against outside domination, first by the Inca empire, and later by the Spanish, Chilean, and Argentinean authorities. Today, the Mapuche people don’t even have the the benefit of any land ownership. There are no reservations. They survive in small communities and are trying to maintain their cultural identity. Cristina, who spoke to us about the struggles of her people, was eloquent in talking about the culture, the social structure, the rituals, and the ongoing struggles of the Mapuche people.

After her talk, we went for a ride of about a half hour to the east and did a river raft float trip on the Limay River. We started at a spot on a ranch we we got to see some genuine gauchos at work.

Genuine, authentic Patagonian Gauchos
Genuine, authentic Patagonian Gauchos

It was a perfect day. The water was crystal clear, and we saw some gorgeous scenery and spotted a number of birds. We ended up at a lovely spot for some lunch and relaxation at the side of the river.

On the Limay River
On the Limay River
Upland geese
Upland geese
Cormorants
Cormorants
On the Limay River
On the Limay River
Heron
Heron

Then in the afternoon we headed to Capalgatas Haneck, a family ranch outside Bariloche. Here we learned about mate, both the drink and the social aspects of sharing it with friends. Then went horseback riding, and finally we had a wonderful supper of various grilled meats and salads. The entire family welcomed us, rode with us, cooked for us, and ate with us. It was a wonderful way to end our visit to Bariloche. We all got back to the hotel exhausted!

At the Haneck ranch
At the Haneck ranch
Ezekiel and Federico illustrate the making and drinking of mate
Ezekiel and Federico illustrate the making and drinking of mate
Giddy-up
Giddy-up

Varied terrain

One of the remarkable aspects of this part of Patagonia is how quickly the topography changes. In the foothills of the Andes there is plenty of rain, but further east is high desert, or what is called the Patagonian steppes. The contrast is truly striking. It is not unlike the area just east of the Cascades. Our local guide, Ezekiel, told me he has a sister in Portland who he frequently visits, and he said that this part of Patagonia is similar to what he has seen around Bend, Oregon.

Postscript

It’s now Tuesday night, and we’re back in Chile. As I finished putting together this post, I realized that I wrote more about Nazis than about Patagonia. There are three reasons for that:

  1. It was a particularly impactful part of my experience in the last two days
  2. Pictures describe so much of the rest of my experience far better than words.
  3. I’ve been bad at taking notes and remembering specific details about the things we’re seeing. I’ll try to do better as the trip progresses. I need to take notes as we go so I can keep track of all the amazing things that have impressed me but that are running together into an intricate weaving of experiences.

These last two days were a wonderful way to get introduced to Patagonia, and I can’t wait to see more!

Thursday, November 9

By the time I got to sleep last night, I didn’t really get to sleep last night. I was still on island time, two hours behind Santiago time, and then I was just restless. Plus, with a 5:00 a.m. wake-up, I kept checking the clock to make sure I wouldn’t oversleep, in spite of the fact that my alarm was set.

I tried to sleep on the plane, but it was a smaller plane and not very comfortable, and there was the requisite crying baby on board about two rows behind me.

But I was determined not to slow down when we got to Buenos Aires. Once we got checked into our hotel, I decided to take a break from the rest of the group and strike out on my own. I’m enjoying spending time with them, and any worries I had about how I would adapt to a group tour after so many solo trips has proven to be completely unfounded, but today I just wanted to have a few hours to get a personal experience of the city. Most of the group was heading to a restaurant Federico recommended for lunch, but I went my own way. I asked Fede for a suggestion on where to walk to see some cool architecture and get a flavor of the neighborhood, and he sent me on a route toward the Recoleta. It was exactly what I wanted to see, and I soon found my self becoming enamored with this beautiful city.

French embassy
French embassy
Brazilian embassy
Brazilian embassy
Just a random house in the Recoleta neighborhood
Just a random house in the Recoleta neighborhood

We are here for just two days now, but we’ll be back for two more days in a couple of weeks, after the excursion to Patagonia. We had a few hours before our orientation meeting at the hotel, and later was a group dinner. Then tomorrow morning we have a group city tour, and we have the afternoon free. Then in the evening we are getting a tango lesson, and after that is one of those touristy tango shows with dinner that is sure to be very touristy but should be fun nevertheless.

Once I got to the Recoleta neighborhood, I stepped inside La iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, which is adjacent to the famous Recoleta Cemetery. Although Fede told us we’ll be visiting the cemetery when we’re back here after Patagonia, I couldn’t resist stepping in to have a quick look around. It is definitely not your average burial ground. This is a place where the dead live in much more luxury than most of us who are living.

Recoleta Cemetery, seen from the neighboring church cloister
Recoleta Cemetery, seen from the neighboring church cloister

Across the street from the cemetery is Buller, a brew pub that Fede recommended. (He told me later that when he still lived here he and his dad used to come to Buller.) I sat outside under an umbrella and had a great pizza with white onions and olives and lots of cheese and no sauce, along with a nice cold Golden Ale.

After I walked back to the hotel, there was still some time to wander around the nearby area, so I found Plaza San Martin and just lingered there for a while.

Torre Monumental seen from Plaza San Martin
Torre Monumental seen from Plaza San Martin. This tower was a gift from the local British community in honor of the centennial of the May Revolution of 1810, though it was not completed until 1916. Originally called “Torre de los Ingleses,” the name was changed after the Falklands War in 1982.

When I got to the hotel for our orientation meeting, I suddenly discovered that the lack of sleep combined with the brilliant sunshine had taken their toll. I did all I could to stay focused on the meeting, but was glad to have about 45 minutes afterwards for a cool shower before we headed off to dinner. Lesson learned: pace myself!

Dinner was at Antigua Tasca de Cuchilleros (the old bar of the knife-maker) in the San Telmo neighborhood. The restaurant was closed except for us. It was a good meal of empanada, steak and french fries, and ice cream, with a salad and wine. But the best part was at the end when our server, who was the daughter of the owners, told us about the history of the house where the restaurant is located. It was built in 1729 and is one of the oldest houses still standing in Buenos Aires. Beneath it was a secret tunnel, one of many in the city that were filled in during the nineteenth century. After her family bought the house, they arranged to excavate the tunnel, and they found many artifacts. Argentine law provides that the state owns everything below ground, but they gave the family permission to keep all the artifacts as long as they made it accessible to the public. She brought us down into the tunnel, and it was fascinating.

Tunnel under the restaurant Antigua Tasca de Cuchilleros
Tunnel under the restaurant Antigua Tasca de Cuchilleros

Friday, November 10

We started the day with a city tour. We took a bus to Plaza de Mayo (May Square). This is the site where the revolution began on May 25, 1810, eventually leading to Argentina’s independence from Spain (on July 9, 1816, although the war continued until 1818). Today Plaza de Mayo is the center of Argentina’s political life. It is surrounded by many impressive edifices.

Casa Rosada (Pink House)
Casa Rosada (Pink House). This is the executive mansion and office of the president of Argentina (though the president does not actually live here). The building was inaugurated in 1898. In front is the Pirámide de Mayo, the oldest monument in Buenos Aires, built in 1811 to commemorate the first anniversary of the May Revolution.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires. Work on the cathedral began in 1753, and it was consecrated in 1791 without the facade, which was constructed starting in the 1820s but not completed until the 1860s. The remains of General José de San Martín, the liberator and national hero of Argentina, are inside. This is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. From 1998 until 2013 the Archbishop was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was then elected pope.

From there we took a quick ride on the subway, four stops, to the site of the National Congress. Our bus met us there and took us to the office of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of May Square). Here we met with a man, Miguel, who shared his personal story. This was the emotional high point of the trip so far.

In the 1976 a military coup overthrew Isabel Perón as president and established a military junta that remained in power until 1983. During their reign, some 30,000 of their opponents, mostly young people, were abducted and killed. They came to be known as “desaparecidos” (disappeareds). The miltary who carried out these abductions would frequently spare pregnant women, killing them after they gave birth and giving their babies to their friends, to childless military families, or to the church.

The Abuelas are the grandmothers of these abducted babies, and the organization is working to find these children, now in their 40s.

Miguel was a baby when his parents became two of the desaparecidos. His mother was pregnant at the time. He grew up with his abuela, and she worked for the rest of her life to find her grandchild. She died a few years ago, and Miguel carries on the search.

Poster in the Abuelas office
Poster in the Abuelas office

So far the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo have found 134 of these children and reunited them with their real families. In many cases, they did not know they were adopted. It’s likely that in some cases their adoptive parents did not know how they came to be available for adoption, but many were complicit in the crimes. (Here is a story of one of the children. It is well worth reading.)

After we left the Abuelas office, we went to one of the most colorful neighborhoods in the city, La Boca. Here we had some time to explore. Street vendors sold art and crafts and souvenirs. Tango dancers invited us to have our picture taken with them. It is a delightful part of Buenos Aires. (See the picture at the top of this post, as well as the ones below.

La Boca
La Boca
Panorama of street in La Boca
Panorama of street in La Boca

After our visit to La Boca our driver dropped us off in front of the Teatro Colón, widely considered to be one of the top opera houses and concert venues in the world. Some of us tried to get tickets for a tour, but they were all sold out for the day. We are hoping we’ll be able to see it when we return to Buenos Aires after our Patagonia excursion.

Teatro Colon
Teatro Colón, which opened in 1908.

The rest of the group went for lunch to one of the best pizza restaurants in the city, but since I had pizza yesterday and wasn’t especially hungry, I decided to wander on my own. There was a nice park across from the Teatro, and the impressive Supreme Court building was also there. In addition, Templo Libertad was nearby. Our local guide told us we would need our passports to get in to see the synagogue and the adjacent museum, and mine was back in the safe in my hotel room. But I decided to give it a try, and they allowed me in with my driver’s license.

The museum was small but interesting, with a lot of artifacts from Europe that came to Argentina with immigrants. Although a few Jews came during the early colonial era, some to escape the Spanish Inquisition, most of Argentina’s Jews arrived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century from eastern Europe. At its peak in the 1960s, there were over 300,000 Jews in Argentina, but during the junta many escaped. The Jewish population today is under 200,000. Argentina has the seventh largest Jewish population in the world. The synagogue was founded in 1862, before the largest wave of immigration. It has traditional synagogue architecture, with the women’s gallery in the balcony.

Templo Libertad
Templo Libertad
Temple sanctuary
Temple sanctuary

When I left the synagogue, I walked back to the hotel, stopping for lunch at a place called Raclette, where you select bread, meat, and toppings and they add raclette for a spectacular grilled cheese experience.

Following a nap, it was time for a tango lesson. We got back in the van and went to Los 36 Billares, a billiard parlor and restaurant with a room in back where we met our instructors and got a basic lesson. It was a lot of fun. I danced with Mary, one of the three “Wisconsin ladies” on our tour, and afterwards Federico asked me if I’d danced tango before, because I was very good! The real treat, though, was watching our instructors dance for us.

Our instructors demonstrate the tango
Our instructors demonstrate the tango

The night ended with a touristy dinner theater/tango show at Esquina Carlos Gardel. Our instructors told us that this style of tango is nothing like traditional tango as it is danced in the milongas. It is highly choreographed and includes highly acrobatic lifts. (If you watch Dancing with the Stars, as I do, you know this ballroom style of Argentine tango. At the milongas, dance clubs where regular people go to dance (starting and midnight and often not ending until 6:00 am), everything is improvised. In any case, the show was fun and entertaining, though toward the end I found my eyes closing, and I probably missed four or five of the dances, waking up each time for the applause.

Later I found out from several of the other tour members that they were dozing during Miguel’s talk and I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time staying awake for the tango.

As I write this I’m on board our flight to Bariloche. The couple who sat down next to me are from Florida, but originally from Bay Shore, just a few miles from my home town. I feel like there’s a cliche that expresses this kind of coincidence.

My Travel Mates

I thought I should take some time to tell about the other people on my tour. Without exception, I’ve enjoyed getting to know them all. I may be the youngest person on the tour, but I’m inspired by their energy and impressed by their travel experiences, which in several cases make mine seem minimal. I am also possibly the only non-retired person on this trip.

Pat is from Denver, a former teacher who still does some substitute teaching. This is her first OAT trip, but she’s done a fair amount of travel.

Leona and Janice are cousins from Illinois and Arizona respectively.

Ann, Mary, and Maureen are three friends from the Madison, Wisconsin, area. They’ve been on a number of OAT trips to some far-flung places like Nepal, Bhutan, and India.

Sam and Diane (we call them the Cheers couple) are from San Francisco. They have traveled all over southeast and central Asia, Iran, Africa, plus all the “normal” places.

Shane is also a multi-trip OAT veteran. He is from the SF Bay area, married, but traveling solo.

Ed and Louise are from southern California. For a while they traveled around the USA in a motorhome.

Jane is from Boston but now lives in Florida. She started traveling after her husband died a few years ago, and it has become her happy obsession.

Juergen and Monica are newlyweds from the SF Bay area. They are originally from southern Germany.

Jane, Juergen, and Monica did not come to Rapa Nui with us; they met us in Buenos Aires. Pat, Leona, and Janice are not continuing on the Iguazu extension at the end of the trip.

Our tour director is Federico Ferraro. He is originally from Buenos Aires but now lives with his partner and their young daughter in El Calafate, one of the stops later on our tour.

Tripmates
Dinner at Antigua Tasca de Cuchilleros.Left side (front to back): Federico, Leona, Shane, and Janice. Right side (front to back): Monika, Juergen, Jane, Maureen, Mary.
Tripmates
(left to right): Sam, Diane, Ann
Tripmates
(left to right): Louise, Ed, Pat

Sunday, November 5

We had a very early start this morning, departing from our Santiago hotel at 6:55 to get to the airport and fly to Rapa Nui. We flew on a 787 Dreamliner, my first time on this plane. Instead of window shades, they have buttons under the windows that allow you to darken them or “open” them. Other than that, it’s an airplane.

We landed at the airport here early this afternoon after a 5 1/2 hour flight (it’s two hours earlier here than in Santiago). We were greeted by our local guide, Tongariki, who presented each of us with a lei, and we rode in a van to our hotel, dropped our bags, and headed to a nearby restaurant for a lunch of scrumptious tuna and cheese empanadas.

Then we visited two extraordinary sites: the extinct Rano Kao volcano, and the Orongo ceremonial village.

Rapa Nui (literally “Big Rapa” to distinguish it from another island called Rapa that is, apparently, smaller) was formed from three volcanoes, all of which have been extinct for over 200,000 years. They form the three vertices of the triangular-shaped island. Rano Kao is at the southwestern tip.

The crater at Rano Kau
The crater at Rano Kau

Along the side of what remains of the mountain is the Orongo site. Tongariki explained to us that this settlement was used once each year as part of a ritual competition associated with the Bird Man Cult, part of the later history of the Rapa Nui people. (The moai for which the island is best known for were constructed between approximately 1250 and 1500. The Bird Man Cult arose in the later 1500s, and the competitions started around 1760 and ended n 1878. In the competition, the people awaited the first sooty tern to lay an egg on a tiny isle just off the coast. Then the competitor climbed down the side of the mountain, swam across to get the egg, and bring it back. Whichever competitor retrieved the unbroken egg won the competition, and the leader of his clan became king.

The offshore islands where the sooty terns laid their eggs
The offshore islands where the sooty terns laid their eggs
Dwellings at Orongo
Dwellings at Orongo

From the Orongo site we returned to the hotel, and later we met for dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Our hotel, the Taha Tai, is in Hanga Roa, the one and only “city” on the island. To call it a city is kind of an exaggeration, though, as it is quite small. There are only about 6,000 people living on the entire island, 87% of whom live in Hanga Roa. There is a single (Catholic) church, an anthropological museum, which we visited on Tuesday, and plenty of hotels, markets, restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops that sell miniature moai carved from wood and stone.

Monday, November 6

We got an early start and visited some truly spectacular sites. We drove from our hotel to the south and then east along the southern coast of the island toward the easternn vertex. The island is just about 15 miles from west to east and 11 miles from north to south. Along the way we stopped at several moai sites.

The statues were built as repositories of the sacred spirits of clan leaders after they died, and they were considered to be alive. The moai were carved into the rock at Rano Raraku, the quarry at the volcano located near the eastern vertex, and when the front was complete, they were cut away from the mountain and slid down and then transported to the site where they were erected, and then the back was carved. There are many theories around how they were moved and raised.

When the first Europeans arrived on Easter Sunday, 1722, the moai were all still standing. But over the next 150 years, they were toppled, likely in wars between the various clans on the island. Those that are standing today were restored since the middle of the 20th century.

But I don’t want to simply recite the history, all of which is available to read about on the Internet. What was so special was to see these magnificent artifacts and imagine the effort and commitment that went into their creation. And when Tongariki spoke about them and told the various stories, he used the pronoun “we.” How moving it was to feel so connected to the spirit of his ancestors. At one time there were estimated to be 15,000 Rapa Nui people living on the island. The Europeans who came introduced smallpox and syphilis. Peruvians took them as slaves. And internal warfare took its toll. By the 1860s there were just 111 remaining Rapa Nui. Tongariki and all the remaining three to four thousand are their descendants.

Visiting Ahu Tongariki was the visual highlight of the day. The 15 moai standing there left us in awe. But Rano Raraku was truly astonishing. Here there are many moai that were completed but never erected. Some are buried up to their necks (thus giving many people the impression that the moai are merely heads). Some are still lying face up, only partially completed and not yet cut away from the mountain. Some were slid partway down the mountain. It is not known why they stopped erecting the moai. Possibly overpopulation and the depletion of natural resources on the island were contributing factors. Many mysteries remain. Tongariki shared stories based on the traditions of his people. Archaeologists have other conflicting theories. But we will never know for sure when people arrived on the island, how the Rapa Nui people built, moved, and erected statues weighing as much as 90 tons, or why they were toppled. All we can do is marvel at the magnificent achievement and try to find our own personal connection with this nearly lost culture.

Ahu Tongariki
Ahu Tongariki
Uncompleted moai at Rano Raraku
Uncompleted moai at Rano Raraku
Moai partially buried on the side of Rano Raraku
Moai partially buried on the side of Rano Raraku
At Te Pito Kura, Tongariki explained how his ancestors built stone chicken coops.
At Te Pito Kura, one of the other stops we made, Tongariki explained how his ancestors built stone chicken coops.

We ended the day’s excursion with a stop at Anakena, on the north shore. Here was a beach with fine white sand and water protected by a cove. A few of us had a most refreshing swim in the cool, clear, clean ocean water, a welcome break from the heat and humidity.

We were on our own for dinner this evening, but we all went together to a restaurant, Te Moana, recommended by Federico. Then we went to a traditional dance show. The dance was well done and included both traditional and more modern Polynesian-style dance, with drums, ukulele, guitar, and accordion. Much to my embarrassment, when the performers came out into the audience to pull people on stage to dance along with them, I got selected, and several of my tourmates got pictures…

Tuesday, November 7

We had some free time this morning. I set off with Pat, one of the other solo travelers in the group, and we walked up to the church and to a market in town, and then explored some of the shops. Then we made our way to the cemetery. I was struck by the array of deeply personalized memorials, many very recent (I saw several from earlier this year) and some for very young infants and children decorated with dolls and teddy bears and toys.

Church in Hanga Roa
Church in Hanga Roa
Grave at the Hanga Roa cemetery
Grave at the Hanga Roa cemetery

From there we headed to the museum, where we were set to meet the rest of the group to go to lunch. The museum is small but is packed with information and artifacts illustrating the geological and anthropological history of Rapa Nui. Among the artifacts is an eye from one of the moai made of coral and stone. This discovery led to the determination that the empty concave spaces where the moai eyes would be did have actual eyes. A few of the moai around the island have been restored with eyes, but most don’t have them.

From the museum we walked to the home of a woman who has a catering business, serving traditional meals to tour groups. She was a lovely woman named Uri. Her family built the house 60 years ago. She served us empanadas, tuna ceviche with rice and cabbage, and banana pastries for dessert. Her yard (like much of the island) was filled with dogs and chickens, including two broods of baby chicks.

After lunch Tongariki picked us up and we visited several more sites. My favorite was Ahu Akivi, the only place on the island where the moai look toward the water, although they are actually set back a couple of miles from the shore.

Moai at Ahu Akivi gaze out at the ocean
Moai at Ahu Akivi gaze out at the ocean

Sadly, it rained most of the day, and we missed the opportunity to visit Ahu Tahai at sunset. But Federico surprised us in the hotel bar with a wine and cheese party. We all sat around and chatted and stuffed ourselves on snacks. Afterwards, everyone called it a night, except Maureen, one of three women from Wisconsin who are traveling together, and I, who decided to walk to a nearby restaurant to get salads. (We also split an order of fried shrimp.)

Incidentally, as news of the election results came in, everyone in the group seemed to be delighted with the gains by the Democratic party. I think it’s true what Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

Wednesday, November 8

This morning was free until noon. I set off on my own after breakfast to revisit some of the places Pat and I went to yesterday so I could get pictures when it wasn’t raining, and I visited Tahai, which we missed yesterday because of the rain.

Moai at Tahai
Moai at Tahai

At noon Tongariki picked us up and took us to one final site, Vinapu. Here was some construction that looked so sophisticated, with stones piled in perfectly aligned seams. The moai here are all toppled and not restored.

Ahu construction at Vinapu
Ahu construction at Vinapu.

Then we headed to the airport, and Tongariki presented each of us with a moai necklace. As I write this we’re flying back to Santiago. Today we lose the two hours we gained when we flew to the island.

I will never again refer to Rapa Nui as Easter Island. I told Tangariki as we bid him farewell that his ancestors would be proud of the way he represented them to us. He truly honored them. And I was honored to have met him and learned from him about the stories of the Rapa Nui people.

Iorana, incidentally, is the Rapa Nui word for “welcome,” and it is generally used as a greeting, much like “aloha” in Hawaii. So to all who read this I say, “Iorana.”

P.S. I wrote most of this on the plane this afternoon. I am finally finishing at 12:45 a.m. We have breakfast at 6:00 and then off to the airport by 6:45. I hope you appreciate my staying up so late to finish this for you.

Worrying

I’m a worrier.

I don’t know why I’m a worrier, and I’m not going to worry about why, because I have enough other things to worry about.

But here I am, just about two weeks from my next big trip, and I’ve got all these things I’m worried about. Will I pack efficiently? Will I forget anything? What if the airline loses my luggage? What if I don’t get along with the other people on the tour? I might not enjoy the tour. I might get sick. On and on it goes…

Continue reading “Worrying”