By CATAdvanced Cash

Louis Parks

Around the World, Days 50 – 54 – Chile

Click here to see all the photos from Pucon, Chile.

Day 50 – 2/27/07 – Transfer to Pucon, Chile

So here’s a good one. We showed up at the airport on the wrong day! According to our self made hotel itinerary, we were supposed to check out of Mendoza and into Pucon, Chile on 2/27/07. According to the flight itinerary, we were supposed to fly from Mendoza to Pucon on 2/28/07.

Way back in December, we changed our itinerary to subtract a day from Mendoza to add it to Pucon. We both had an enormous amount going on in the weeks before the trip, and at that moment at the airport, it became evident that Lou “may or may not have” actually called the airline to make the change.

However, once again, LAN proved to be an excellent company. They didn’t panic, laugh at us, or send us home. The agent calmly took our itinerary and went into the back room. The “arrive at the airport one hour before departure” ticked away, but 30 minutes before the scheduled take off, she came back with the price of $50 each to change our tickets. We rebooked, PAID, and rushed through security, and we made it onto both flights (Mendoza – Santiago and Santiago – Temuco).

In passing through Chilean customs we had a second surprise: It cost $100/person in US dollars (cash or credit card) to enter Chile. There was a huge sign saying that there is a reciprocal tax to enter Chile for certain visitors. We learned the US, Canada, Mexico and Australia all charge the same fee for Chileans to enter their countries. Again, here’s a moment where we just knew that the “US started it”, so we swiped the MasterCard and had our passports stamped. The consolation prize ass that the $100 ticket was stapled into the passport and good for the life of the passport. Without even stepping foot outside the airport, we had rationalized that we’d have to come back to Chile because we’d automatically be saving $200.

Lou Chilean Ferrari Since we were going to be in Pucon for 5 days, we decided to rent a car. Feeling a little more comfortable with an international agency, we rented with Avis and on the advice of the guidebook, we took every insurance they offered. The only thing not covered on the car was the radio. We rented a lovely little red Peugeot in excellent condition, and Lou called it his Chilean Ferrari.

Villarrica Volcano, Chile The drive through the countryside was fantastic. There were rolling hills in the forefront of mountains and snowcapped volcano peaks. The mountains were lush green and we passed pastures of llamas, cows, and sheep. We made a few wrong turns in the small towns but they were easily fixed. Our drive from the airport to the hotel took 90 minutes.

This week’s retreat, Hotel Antumulal, was absolutely lovely and Gloria, the manager, was fantastic. The hotel was a 1970s masterpiece in the Bauhaus Style and we were pretty convinced it was architected by Mike Brady himself. The rooms had lush bedding, loads of the blankets and a fireplace. The hotel was on 5 hectares of lands and had numerous pathways to hike around the property in the mornings. Rather than a beach resort, it felt much more like a ski chalet.

Hotel Antumala Lobby Through the package on the Internet, we had breakfast and a $10,000 peso/person credit for lunch or dinner every day. That translated to just paying for drinks at dinner – approximately $7 for a ½ bottle of Chilean wine and two small bottled waters.

The only downside was that the meal service in the dining room was relatively slow. We say relatively because it’s probably a very healthy, socially enabling, gastronomically correctly paced dinner. But to Americans, it took freakin forever to get water, bread, salad, then entrees, and then the check. Each meal was a 2-hour endeavor. But the food was excellent and well worth the exercise in patience. And, we’ve taken it as a message to slow down.

Day 51 – 2/28/07 – Pucon, Chile

Chilean Donughuts After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we drove 10-minutes into downtown Pucon. It’s a charming little town that resembles any tourist or ski village with one supermarket, gear stores, jewelry stores, and restaurants. Lou bought a sweater to replace the one that had been shrunk to a child’s size 6x while being “dry cleaned” in Africa. Julee bought a bra, because these South American women no how to “push up” like no one else in the world.

For lunch, we walked 5 blocks outside of town to a restaurant called Marmonhi, where most of the patrons were local. The food was excellent, but Julee’s favorite was the breadbasket, which came with a Mapuche favorite: Fried Doughnuts (without the glaze). It is the perfect way to start a meal – any meal!

This afternoon’s adventure was fishing. Our guide picked us up at our hotel and we traveled in his jeep up into the mountains about 50 minutes. Lou and I didn’t know what to expect. In fact, we thought we were going fly fishing on a river. As it turns out, we went up to a small mountain lake to troll for wild trout. The altitude meant chillier conditions, and thankfully we were basically prepared. Although the guide did lend Lou his stylin hat.

Chilean mountain lake The scenery and circumstances were picturesque. The lake was breathtaking, with calm waters surrounded by mountains. There were no motors allowed on the lake, so we could only hear cows mooing and birds calling.

And adding to the experience, all the rowboats were pretty old and made completely of wood. They were so charming that we ignored their questionable sea worthiness.

Old Rowboats From the beginning; we had a great feeling for our guide Marcos. His was well prepared with extra clothing for us and had packed a cooler of tea, cookies, juices and sodas. His English was wonderful, so we could easily joke around. It took about a half-hour for Marcos prepare the lines and flies and put the paddles on the boat. Once we were ready to shove off, he gave us our fishing technique instructions, “Pull back when you feel a tug”, and we were off.

not the biggest fish Within 20 seconds of dropping down the lines – Julee had her first fish. And then, the next 6, all in the range of small to smaller.

Convinced it was the lure, Julee and Lou changed reels at then Julee promptly caught a fish on Lou’s once dormant line.

Then, Lou was convinced there was a preferred side of the boat. So, we precariously changed places. That was the magic bullet as finally Lou got a bite and reeled in the biggest fish of the day.

Lou catches a wild troutWe stayed out on the Lake past dusk and didn’t head in until 8:30pm. In the meantime, Julee was freezing despite the long underwear, sweater and jacket. In addition, we both had sore butts! After catching 11 fish between the two of us, we headed back to shore. Just as we made the decision to leave, Julee got one last strike and finished out the night bringing in the last (and her biggest) trout. It was the perfectly book-ended fishing excursion.

Starving, we had dinner at the hotel. Still trying to warm up, we both had soup (Lou – mushroom sesame and Julee – carrot/pumpkin). In honor of the all the fish we threw back into the lake, Lou also ordered grilled Lake Trout in a light leek and butter sauce. At this hotel, we discovered our favorite cheap Chilean Wine Concha y Toro’s “Cassillero del Diablo”. Fortunately, it’s very easy and affordable to get here in the States.

Day 52 – 3/1/07 – Pucon, Chile

We enjoyed our guide so much that we signed up for a second evening of fishing. This time we requested fly fishing in a river. And, if you ever travel to Pucon, we highly recommend Marco. His website is http://www.flyfishingchile.cl/.

Julee learned to cast in 5 miutes Marco picked us up at 4pm from the hotel. Our first stop was to the super market to pick up some Whiskey, and then we continued about 30 minutes outside of the city to his favorite riverbed. It took about 30 minutes to put on the gear and set the lines, and then we had a quick casting lesson. “10 and 2”. “10 and 2”. It really takes a bit of coordination and practice to develop the rhythm of casting. But Marco was patient and gradually added a few more tips. After a half hour of practicing along the banks, we waded into the river.

Here’s a funny note. When we arrived, there were kids jumping into the river. Check out the snow gear that Julee was wearing.

Lou and Julee fly-fishing. Pucon, Chile At dusk, thousands of mosquitoes appeared and the trout were jumping. Watching them launch out of the water was fascinating and frustrating. They would jump three feet from us but we couldn’t reel them in. In the end, Julee felt a couple of bites and Lou caught the smallest fish on record, which Marco called a “keychain”. Despite the lack of fish, the experience of wearing the waders, being waist deep in the river, and private casting lessons for hours was simply awesome.

The whiskey at the end was a nice touch too.

Day 53 – 3/2/07 – Pucon, Chile

Here’s what was supposed to happen: An all day excursion which included ascending an active volcano with the aid of crampons and ice picks and then sliding down the ice luge to the bottom.

Here’s what actually happened: Julee woke up sick as a dog. Her unidentified bacterial-viral-tapeworm was back with a vengeance and at 6:15am she knew she wasn’t going to make through an all day excursion. A sweaty, weepy mess, she went back to bed. Lou called to cancel the trip and talk to the desk staff.

In the hallway, Lou ran into a frantic couple screaming on the phone. They were trying to catch a bus to Puerto Monte, and their taxi transfer did not show up. Always a gentleman, Lou offered to give them a ride to downtown Pucon (about 8 minutes from the hotel). Pulling out of the driveway, the guy pointed to the bus and said, “There it goes”. Lou raced down the road and finally got the bus to pullover and stop. The couple jumped on, and the bus and sped off. Lou came home. All this before 6:30am.

We spent the balance of the morning back in bed.

For lunch, Lou headed out to the terrace overlooking the lake and feasted on a fabulous steak with mushroom risotto. Julee, having skipped lunch, felt better and couldn’t bare the thought of missing the alternative excursion: The Canopy.

Canopy in Pucon, Chile The bus picked us up at the hotel and drove about 20 minutes to the canopy park. There, we were once again strapped into a harness, given gloves, a helmet and abbreviated instructions in English. There were about 15 of us in our group. In a single file line, we climbed up the ladders through the trees to the canopy platforms.

weeeDespite the rickety feel of the tree houses, we felt relatively safe and the guides ensured we were attached via carabineers to safety lines at all times. Once on the platforms, the guide would reattach our equipment to the correct lines, tell us to sit and then give us a push. We spent the next hour zipping from tree platform to tree platform; it was just like the Ewok village from Star Wars. On the second to last zip line, they even gave us a spin. It was a fantastic way to spend an hour and see more of Chile’s forests and rivers. Once again, our excursion had exceeded our expectations.

A side note from Lou:
One of the guides had a little crush on Julee. Looking for which one was her boyfriend, the guide kept asking all the men on the tour if they were Lou. Needless to say, I was very nervous letting him “secure” my harness to the zip line.

On the excursion, we met two hilarious guys from California. We started talking to them because Lou had “lens envy”. Since Lou speaks fluent “photography”, he struck up a detailed conversation with Thomasz and Lev regarding camera lenses. These guys provided great commentary on the along the way and we have them to thank for our canopy action shots.
We took our new friends dinner recommendation and ate at a lovely Spanish restaurant called Puerto Pucon. It was Midnight once again, so we called it a night.

Day 54 – 3/3/07 – Pucon, Chile

We cruised around Pucon in the morning trying to find a laundry mat so that we could have clean clothes for the grand finale, the Inca Trail. There were several lavadaria’s in Pucon, however, they only offered drop off service and were closed on Sundays (the day of our departure). We finally came across Lavandaria Nelly, and the sweet laundress took pity on Julee’s Spanglish and look of desperation and agreed to do the laundary and come in at precisely 9am on Sunday morning so that we could pick it up.

We then grabbed some pretty questionable empanadas from a roadside restaurant and headed back to the hotel. There, we packed up for our next excursion, which included stealing the robes and towels from our room. We drove back into town and met up with Thomasz and Lev.

Geometricas Termas, Chile While swinging through the trees, they mentioned they planned to spend the next day visiting one of the thermal baths in the area. Since Julee had read “Frommer’s Argentina and Chile” from cover to cover, she had read about the best hot springs in Chile. With “3 stars and a moments” rating, it had to be awesome. Frommer’s never lies. So, Thomasz and Lev put their trust in us and followed us for two hours (70km) through farmlands and winding dirt roads through the mountains.

Lou, Lev and Tomasz Termas Geometricas did not disappoint. It was another occasion where we ran out of hyperbole. It was beautiful, serene, majestic…it was perfect. There were several tiers of hot springs, each a different temperature, carved into a mountain ravine. Some of the pools held only 3-4 people, while others could hold extended families. There were couples, travelers and families with small children there that day. But with so many options, the four of us found a quiet pool and hung out there until we wanted a change in temperature or a change in scenery.

Take the picture already From the last pool, the path led up to a beautiful waterfall, which has the iciest-cold water we’ve ever felt. Just wading to the waterfall and back was nothing less than painful and then numbing. Feeling “refreshed”, we jumped back into the hot springs.

Cafe at Geometricas Our friends had brought a bottle of wine, so we topped off the afternoon by sitting in front of the fire at the mini-lodge, drinking wine and eating cake, all discussing how outstanding these hot springs were. Tom and Lev also confided that they weren’t too sure about Julee that day on the canopy. Julee was really quiet the entire day and didn’t engage in much conversation. Belted in and flying through the trees, Julee was quiet because she was concentrating on NOT barfing. Needlesstosay, she was doing much better and far more her talkative and not-so-shy self at the hot springs. Tom and Lev found that hilarious.

The drive back down the mountain was equally fun. Lou again pretended that his 1.4 L Peugeot was a “Chilean Ferrari” and he took the turns likes a racecar driver.

Back at the hotel, we had our last Chilean steak and salmon and packed up for our trip to Santiago in the morning.

Our final thoughts on Chile:
The Chilean Lake District is an amazing place. It’s a giant outdoor playground. The food is a little more expensive than Argentina, but it’s still fresh and fabulous and a bargain for US travelers. It’s worth the $100/person to get into the country. We were really not ready to leave.

Day 47 (cont’d) – 2/24/07 – Travel to Mendoza

After a nearly full day in Buenos Aires, we hopped a LAN flight to Mendoza. The single room airport was a cinch and we walked outside into a vineyard. That’s right, they grow grapes at the airport. It was beautiful (and immediate) welcome to Wine Country.

We took a 30-minute cab ride into the town of Mendoza to The Hotel Argentine. It was tourist class hotel right on the main square. The rooms were big and very simple and a bargain compared to the Park Hyatt next door.

Main square in Mendoz After a quick Scotch, we strolled around the main town square, which was a large park. There were street performers and puppet shows for kids, a huge fountain and an evening market. We meandered around killing time before our dinner reservation at Azafran.



Restaurant Street in Mendoza Oddly, the restaurant couldn’t take us any later than 10:00pm. We thought it was because they were closing and wanted to go home. Wrong! They were completely booked after 10:30pm and only had openings earlier in the evening. The meal was superb. They offered two 3-course chef’s tasting menus, so naturally, we ordered them both.

One of the appetizers was avocado extravaganza. At one point, Julee had fried avocado dipped in guacamole with a fresh avocado on top. The main dishes, one steak and one pasta, were divine and we can’t even talk about the desserts. It hurts. It was at this dinner that we coined the phrase “Eat yourself to misery”.

Day 48 – 02/25/2007 – Mendoza Wine Country

And Night 47 was the last night Julee felt like herself. Something happened after that diner that changed her GI track for the next three weeks. But being the champ she was…

Julee went down to the desk in the morning to arrange for a private driver through the wine country. The hotel hooked us up with Gustavo who was fantastic. He spoke nearly perfect English and was a wine fanatic. He gave us great tidbits about Mendoza, life in Argentina and the vineyards.

Man Made parks (transplated oasis) The first thing we learned is that Mendoza is really a desert oasis. All the parks are man made and were built to provide the town with natural air coniditioning and a higher level of oxygen. All of the trees are imported, the parks are man made, and all the small lakes are filled and drained every few months to keep the water fresh.  We also learned that having a dry climate allowed them to very preciesly measure the amount of water that the grapes receive.  Since all water is controlled they don’t have to worry as much about having a bad season because of to much rain.

Wine maker's tasting room He took us off the beaten path to some lesser known, privately owned operations. The only difficulty was that we couldn’t buy any wine. It was just too fragile and too heavy to carry with us.

Gustavo and Julee (post BITB, see blog) Although Julee started the morning with enthusiasm, she basically broke down as the day progressed. By Noon she was lying on the floors of the wineries trying to convince everyone it wasn’t the wine. By the third winery, she was BITB (barfing in the bushes). But, back at the tasting with a smile when she felt better.

Since everything was closed on Sundays, our driver suggested we head to the Mendoza Mall Food Court for lunch. Here’s where we concluded that Malls are the common denominator. The Mendoza Mall looked exactly like any Two Story Mall, USA. We were surrounded by KFC, McDonald’s, GAP, Timberland, Sunglass Hut, the works. And the quality of food is just about the same. Lou had a nasty meat sandwich with an egg and Julee had a French fry and a diet coke.

That night we did nothing. Absolutely nothing. Julee was miserable and Lou took that as his cue for a well-deserved rest. We ordered soup from room service watched 5 hours of Red Carpet at the Oscars on E! It was the only English programming we could find. We were all ready to watch the live broadcast in its entirety when the pre show started over again. After all that waiting and listening to banter, they didn’t show the Oscars live in English on any of the 60 channels that came into the room. So I think we changed over to “Cheaper By the Dozen II”. It was not our best moment.

Day 49 – 2/26/2007 – Mendoza

Sick, schmick. Julee was not going to miss an excursion! So after lunch, we both packed up and prepared for the afternoon’s adventure – paragliding.

Paragliding over Mendoza Our pilot and his wife picked us up at our hotel. We drove a couple miles outside of town and then headed 20 minutes up the dirt road to the top of the mountain. Once at the top, we got our instructions. “Look straight ahead. Run when he says run. Sit when he says sit. Landing instructions will be given at the bottom. “

Lou and the pilot mid flight Within seconds, the pilot hooked Lou into the harness and told him to look straight ahead as they waited for the wind. And whoooosh, they were gone.

From Julee’s perspective:
The pilot’s wife drove us back down the mountainous windy road to pick up Lou and the pilot. At the bottom, I asked Lou, “How was it?” And, all if could say was “fine.” It wasn’t until the ride back up that I could see he was green. Apparently, they had chased an eagle and all that spinning did Lou in.

Back up the mountain we drove and within seconds I was strapped into the harness with the pilot reassuring me that all I had to do was run. And with the next gust, we were airborne. It was incredible. The skies were unusually clear and the view was fantastic. Paragliding with a pilot is absolutely effortless, especially when the pilot told me I could release my death grip on the handles. Once I relaxed at sat back, it was like floating in a lazy boy. My favorite part happened after the pilot asked if I liked roller coasters.

Can I go again? The landing was perfect. The pilot simply stalled the canopy and we dropped what felt like two inches to the ground. Based on my other experiences of hot air ballooning and sky diving, this was by far the gentlest landing.

Goat That night we headed out to the Park Hyatt for dinner. The restaurant was a plush, modern outdoor patio. Since eating was still not on the top of my list, I took it easy with a pumpkin soup while adventurous Lou had the goat entrée, which he says he’s glad he tried, but given the choice of goat or lamb, would definitely chose the lamb.

Not ready to turn in, we went to the casino at the Hyatt. The casino was about the size of a large cruise ship and had slots and tables. For those who are a bit sheepish about gambling, Mendoza is an excellent place to start. The low bid tables have a 2 pesos minimum, which was about 60 cents. So we played Roulette for an hour of so and we were up muy, muy pesos and tried out luck at the blackjack tables. We weren’t quite as lucky there but had a hilarious time.

Day 50 – 2/27/2007 – Mendoza

After breakfast, we headed to the airport and we were shocked when they couldn’t find our flight reservations…

All Buenos Aires Photos click here 

Day 43 – 02/20/2007 – Buenos Aires

We got up and spent a frustrating morning online, trying to find another hotel room. Lou suggested that we give up the search. If we found a new hotel cruising around town, we’d pop in and ask about availability. We were growing attached to the Art Hotel; we just needed to step into the hallway to change our minds or our clothes (which is a great way to meet the neighbors).

Julee reading in the Botanical Gardens, Buenos AiresOur first full day in Buenos Aires officially started by walking towards the Palermo neighborhood, which was about a 30-minute stroll from our hotel. Our first stop was the Botanical Gardens, which consisted of lovely paths, plentiful benches and incredible greenery. We had heard that Buenos Aires was full of beautiful parks, and it was true.

Our walked continued on to the Zoological Gardens, or as we’d say, The Zoo. You’d think after being on Safari, “The Zoo” would be a little mundane. But no, we loved it. We felt just a little bit superior as we identified all the animals in the “Africa” exhibits before reading placards.

After tearing Julee away from the animals, we grabbed lunch at a nearby café. It was there were learned the difference between raw “crudo” ham on a sandwich and cured “cerrano” ham on a sandwich.

Evita Dresses We then walked on to the Evita Museum, which opened on July 25, 2002. The museum is a converted mansion where The Eva Peron Foundation once housed single mothers with children. The guidebook reported that the museum treats her history fairly, looking at both the good and the bad. However, the stories told are definitely skewed towards her public works and speeches of self-sacrifice. The exhibits and commentary only allude to the “bad” and never articulate the accusations against her. That aside, it was a great museum and we did learn quite a bit about the progressive social programs she started including:

  • Securing women’s suffrage in Argentina
  • Creating safe homes for single mothers
  • Founding schools for orphaned children
  • Establishing senior citizen care and communities
  • Passing the Workers Bill of Rights

The museum also displayed some of her amazing clothes that the military (despite the coup) had preserved.

That night we went to Cabaña Las Lilas in Puerto Madero on the riverfront. It was a fantastic parilla (steak house). Julee got the tenderloin and Lou the baby beef. It was an enormous amount of food, and once again, we were blown away by the bill and how “affordable” even the fanciest of restaurants are for those earning the US dollar.

Day 44 – 02/21/2007 – Buenos Aires

Today was our day to see the touristy side of Buenos Aires. We decided to do a half-day “City Tour” bus tour with a bi-lingual guide.

Casa Rosada -   Casa Rosada – Our First Stop was Plaza de Mayo square. This is where all the big Argentine political demonstrations occur. It is also where the Casa Rosada (Pink House) is located. Similar to the White House, the Casa Rosado is home of the Executive branch of the government. Although it had some scaffolding on it, it was fun to imagine Evita addressing her throngs of followers while standing on the balcony overlooking this Square.

 

We also stopped for a few minutes to browse the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral before loading back onto the bus. Unfortunately, the Teatro Colon, the famous opera house and a do-not-miss in every travel book, was closed for remodeling.

Futbol Stadium The next stop was the La Boca neighborhood, which boasts one of the two famous soccer clubs in Buenos Aires. We stopped at the soccer stadium, which was running a fabulous racket. For 9 pesos, we were able to go into the empty stadium to take photos. Brilliant!

Caminito St in La Boca (Birthplace of the Tango) We traveled further into La Boca to Caminito Street, which is characterized by its brightly colored buildings which were once brothels and are now artists’ studios. Once one of the ghettos of BA, it is now a lively tourist spot during the day and credited with being the birth place of Tango in Argentina. There are couples dressed to the nines that accost you to take pictures for pesos. And then there are the understated couples placed strategically in front of restaurants dancing amazing Tango, the best we saw in BA.

The tour dropped us off dropped at Puerto Madero, just down the street from the restaurant from the night before. We grabbed some lunch and walked along the waterfront until we came across an old Argentine Navy battleship that was converted into a museum. Built in 1897, the ship was well presrved from the bridge to the brig. Julee and I both had a great time peeking into all the officer’s quarters and reading the old charts and mission manifestos. Unfortunately, all the writing was in Spanish, so we amused ourselves with some imaginative translations.

Street Performers on Florida St - Buenos Aires After the ship, we headed back downtown to Florida St. This is a famous pedestrian shopping avenue of malls, leather shops, music stores, souvenir shops and street performers. Once you walked down the avenue for a couple minutes, you pretty much get the idea of what is available. The highlight of our stroll was a couple that would freeze their position until someone put money into the bucket in front of them.

 

Back at the hotel, the next challenge was to arrange our tango lessons.  Our friend Mara from Chicago had given us a list of several of her favorite teachers in Buenos Aires. We emailed her favorites, and Jose and Viky were the first to respond. Via email, we set up three hours of tango lessons, one hour each day for the next three days.

All fired up about dancing, we wanted to catch a Tango Show that night, so we headed to the famous Café Tortoni. When we got there, all four shows that evening were sold out. (Rookie mistake. We had been advised to make reservations.) The manager took pity on us and found us tickets for the following night and gave us the cross streets to a venue where a Milonga (tango dance party) was happening.

We didn’t have the exact address, so we wandered the streets of the intersection listening for tango music. Silence! We did see a bunch of people milling about in front of the Armenian Cultural center but we figured they were Armenian and gathering for an Amenian event. It wasn’t until we danced in front of a neighborhood cop that he pointed out the milonga was in the basement of the Armenian Cultural Center.

We wouldn’t recommend this event, but they did offer free group lessons (in Spanish). It was so crowded we could barely move and the dance floor quickly turned into a battlefield. So we broke for safety and watched. At 12:30am, a new lesson was beginning and the dancers were still going strong.  We were going to bed.

Day 45 – 02/22/2007 – Buenos Aires

Recoleta Cemetery resembles a small city street Julee had read in Frommer’s that there is a tour in English of Recoleta Cemetery on Thursdays. Lou couldn’t imagine why tourists would want to visit a cemetery and much less need a guide to such a depressing place. To our surprise, we were both pretty impressed completely entertained. Rather than grass and headstones, Recoleta was an amazing assortment of elaborate mausoleums in a wide variety of architectural styles. Each row of mausoleums actually resemebled a city block, with structures that resembled banks, churchs, modern homes, and dilapidated fixer-uppers.

Abandoned Tomb Recoleta is where Argentina’s rich and famous, including Evita herself, are laid to rest. It is exhorbitantly expensive to purchase a mausoleum in this cemetery, as several resting places are “on sale” for 1million US. There are also high maintenance and janitorial fees that must be paid each year to keep these tombs in shape. Many families simply could not afford to keep them and quite a few have fallen into disrepair.

A colony of cats also seem make their home in the cemetery and jot around like the own the place. We were told that some local ladies come to feed them every day. Lou asked the guide if there were any Jewish people buried there, and she said that while there are no religious restrictions, there is a Jewish cemetery on the other side of town.

We both enjoyed seeing all the tombs but we were completely taken with our tour guide. She was probably in her 30’s and was so passionate about her country. A proud “Porteno” (Buenos Aires local), she loved to talk about what made Argentineans such an eccentric people. She would carefully look around to see if any Argentines were around as she whispered stories about dead bodies that would go missing for years and suddenly turn up again in abandoned cars.

She also informed us of a common taxi scam. If you try to pay for your taxi with a large bill, the driver could swap it with a phony and give it back to you claiming you gave him the counterfeit. The cabbies would repeat the process with each customer until they’d swindled you out of 100s of pesos. Luckily we didn’t learn this lesson the hard way, but nonetheless, change your large bills for smaller ones at money exchanges or retail stores.

We had to skip out on the end of the two hour tour to make it to our first tango lesson on time.

Our teachers Jose and Viky, http://www.joseyviky.com.ar/, were adorable. They were very personable and patient and had great senses of humor. They had a very impressive English vocabulary and we could understand them, almost perfectly. The funniest part of the first lesson was when they were describing one of the steps in the basic pattern. Right in the middle of the step, the lead waits or does a “pau-zah”. Every time they said “Pau-zah”, Lou gave me the funniest look. Finally it dawned on me that he wasn’t getting their Spanglish. They were saying “pause” as two syllables and not one. Once we had that straight, we flew through the lesson.

Realizing that we were traveling, Jose and Vicky did their best to find a teaching location close to us. It only took us 30 minutes of walking in circles before we realized they had arranged our first lesson at a gym just 5 minutes from our hotel.

Gaucho Show That night we took in a tango show at the famous Café Tortoni. They had a small theater (sat about 40) in the basement and somehow we managed to get a table in the front. The show was ok. Actually there was a lot more singing and bad acting than Tango dancing but we really enjoyed ourselves. The most impressive act was two gauchos (cowboys) swinging little balls on strings which was great fun to watch.

 

Julee with half an Agentine Steak.  La Brigada Restaurant Buenos Aires After the show we went to another Parrilla (Steakhouse) in the San Telmo called La Brigada for dinner. Once again we were amazed at the gigantic cuts of excellent beef and good wine. All veggies look away. That photo is of only half the filet!

Day 46 – 02/23/2007 – Buenos Aires

After breakfast at the hotel, we headed across town for our second tango lesson. This time we rented space in a proper tango school. Again, Jose and Viky wowed us with their teaching and their demos.

mmm, which pair? Having had two lessons, Julee had to now get “Tango Shoes”. On our friend Mara’s advice, we headed to Comme Il Faut, a very exclusive shoe specialist. We walked in and Julee just said “6.5 and black please”. Out came 30 boxes of shoes of all different designs for her to try on. It was a very “Pretty Woman” experience. Since the shoes were about 1/3 the price they would be in the States, Julee rationalized that two pairs were defiinitely better than one.

That afternoon, Lou headed back to the hotel to work on the blog and Julee headed out to Palermo Viejo, a hip barrio with lots of cafes and boutiques.

For, dinner we headed out to Piegari, an excellent Italian restaurant across from the Four Seasons. As typical Americans, we tried to order salads, one entrée per person and we were contemplating a side when the waiter said, “No! One risotto. You split. That’s enough”. We loved that he kept us from ordering an obscene amount of food. True to Argentianian portions, one entrée for two was plenty! It was also amazing to see the restaurant booming at Midnight. There were even parties, with kids, waiting for a table.

Milonga (Tango Dance Party)Being the night was still young, we took a taxi into San Telmo for an “underground milonga”. What’s that? A loft party with tango dancers and music. It was fantastic. It was a lot like a Tuesday night at Julee’s dance studio but it was on a grander scale. We danced a few tangos together and than a teacher found Julee and wouldn’t let her go. She got a few pointers on the floor and we watched some guest performers . We called it quits at 3 AM to grab a few hours sleep before our 10am lesson.

 

Day 47 – 02/24/2007 – Buenos Aires and travel to Mendoza

For tango dancers 10am is considered dawn, but these sweet teachers were awake and cheery for Julee’s private lesson. They focused on womens’ styling and dancing in the unbearably high heels until Lou joined the lesson at 11am. It was hard to say goodbye Jose and Viky, but we hope to bring them to Chicago to teach at Julee’s studio in the near future.

After the tango lessons, we headed back to the hotel to pack up. The only hold up was our laundry. Due at 10am, it finally arrived around 1pm. Fortunately, the hotel staff extended our check out time so that we could pack.

The Perfect Empanada Having found the perfect empanadas the day before, we headed back to our favorite café for our last lunch in Argentina. With the clock ticking down to departure, we had one more event to cross off the list. We had to get gelato at Persicco.

Dulce de Leche Gelato at Persicco  Our friend Mara again gave us very specific instructions to obtain the perfect gelato. And WOW, she was right. We both ordered the Dulce De Leche and we were in heaven.

 

Gelato Delivery Fleet The Argentinans must feel the same as Persicco has there was a fleet of gelato delivery scooters. Just another reason to love Argentina.

At 3pm it was time to head to the airport for our flight to Mendoza. We were excited to head to wine country but sad to leave this amazing city. Buenos dias, Buenos Aires.

All El Calafate Pictures click here

Day 40 – 02/17/2007 – Travel to El Calafate, Argentina

Our Argentina TripIn preparing for our 4th flight in 4 days, we came up with a list of lessons learned thus far.

- The best thing Julee’s mom told us to pack were small packages of tissues and wet naps.
- Having antibiotics with us has been a godsend. We have both had sore throats, and we each taken a course of Azrithromyacin.
- The most tiring part is the packing and repacking. Some days it’s the entire suitcase (easy) and other days we are packing up the daypacks for extreme heat, extreme cold, or the unknown.
- If the hotel room is small, one person should vacate for at least an hour in the morning giving the other person room to sort out their shit.

Our morning flight to El Calafate, which is in the heart of Patagonia region in the south of Argentina, was a cinch. From the one room airport, it was about a 20-minute drive into the city. It was the first time we’d encountered a cab driver that spoke NO English. Not a single word. He kept trying to talk to us and all we could say was a phrase our friend Chris taught us “Lo siento, pero mi espanol es muy malo”. Translation: I’m sorry, but my Spanish is very bad”. It’s a useful phrase but it’s just enough to trigger a Spanish response. So we had to change it to “Lo siento, pero mi espagnol es NADA”.

Downtown El Calafate The hotel Kosten Aike was very comfortable and looks a lot like a mountain chalet. In fact the town of El Calafate looks a lot like a ski village with cafes, Internet cafes, souvenir stores and restaurants. According to Frommer’s, 300 people originally inhabited the town. Once the airport was built, tourism to the glacier exploded and now 20,000 people live and work in El Calafate – nearly all related to tourism.

Our only agenda for the day was signing up for our excursion tomorrow. Luckily, we met a nice mom/daughter combo at the Art Hotel who had just returned from El Calafate and they gave us the scoop on the glacier hikes. Based on their advice, we knew exactly what we wanted do, “BIG ICE”. Thankfully, they told us not to sweat all the warnings regarding the difficulty (18 – 45 yrs old only, physically fit, good knees and backs, etc).

After checking in, we headed downtown (which was two blocks away) and signed on the dotted line. They gave us a few more warnings in person, but we were convinced we could rise to the challenge.

Lou with MateBack in town, we discovered one of the local customs is drinking Yerba Mate. Ever in search “native” experiences, we immediately went to a café and ordered a Ceremonial Yerba Mate. It’s a very bitter tea, tempered with sugar, served in a hollowed out gourd and sipped through a metal straw. When we ordered, the waiter said “Is this your first time?”

He carefully took us through the ceremony and was a little surprised we liked it. Apparently, it’s so bitter that most foreigners do care for the taste of the tea. We liked it and drank an entire ceremonies’ worth. In fact, Lou drank to the point of a buzz.

For dinner, we followed our Bible, Frommer’s 2005, and went to Las Tabilitas. We of course ordered beef and red wine. It was fantastic. It was a very straightforward dinner. Huge filets, served naked – so salt, no pepper, no sauce. And they were delicious. We know we keep harping on the prices but they are unbelievable. We had 2 enormous glasses of malbac, a large green salad, 25 ounces of filet, mashed potatoes and pumpkin, and tip for $26 US. That’s only two martinis in Chicago.

As far south as we are, the days are long and the nights are short. It only started to get dark around 9:30pm. We had a 6am wake up call so we called it a night.

Day 41 – 02/18/2007 – “Mini Trek is for Pussies”
(Lou made me write that)
There are several ways of visiting the glaciers in El Calafate. You can drive to see them from a distance, take a boat ride to the front of the glacier, a 4-hour mini-trek that includes about a ½ hour walk on the glacier or you can do the 10-hour “Big Ice” adventure.

First View of Perito Moreno Glacier Big Ice started at 7:30am with an hour’s bus ride to “The Balconies”, a series of wooden walkways and terraces from which you can view the front of the Perito Moreno Glacier. The glacier has a 5 km (3.1 mile) front and rises 60 meters (200 feet) above the water. It was an awesome site and Lou’s first glacier! (Julee’s been to Alaska.) We could hear rumblings all around, but the ice was not calving (falling into the water) in front of us. We could only hear the powerful echoes.

From the Balconies, we got back into the bus for the transfer to the dock. At a small landing, we boarded a transfer boat and crossed Lake Argentino right in front of the glacier. Cramped into the belly of the boat, we couldn’t really see the glacier, but it was an easy 10-minute crossing.

Calving glacier after splash On the other side, we disembarked at a small compound of 3 cottages and bathroom facilities. There, we were saw our first big piece of ice crash into the water. There was thunderous boom and then splash. It’s such a powerful feat of nature, you feel like clapping when it happens.

At this point, the guides gave everyone a last chance to back out of the 7 hour hike. Thankfully, four very large Russian guests in street clothes opted to join the less strenuous tour as someone had really sold them the wrong trip!

With the Inca Trail less than a month away, Lou and I felt we HAD to do it as conditioning and wondered if a tourist’ activity could really be that hard.

Big Ice Trek Big Ice continued with a 20-minute brisk hike through the woods to the equipment center. There, we were each outfitted with a harness and crampons to put in our backpacks. Once the group of 20 was geared up, we took off on a lightening speed hike up and around a dirt mountain trail. At one point, we had to hold onto a rope for leverage against a steep slope of falling earth. The hike was along side the edge of the glacier, and that alone was breathtaking.

After 40 minutes, we reached the entry point of the glacier. The guides helped everyone into their harnesses and strapped us into our crampons and gave us a quick rundown on glacier crossing technique:

1. Keep your feet wide apart so that the metal edges of the crampons do not catch each other
2. Walk uphill like a penguin taking very small steps
3. Lean back when walking downhill and take very strong steps that truly pierce the iceGroup walking on ice

Being that Julee takes “directions” very seriously, you add 1,2,3 and Julee looked like a spastic cartoon character waddling across the ice all day.

Julee with her crampons (Glacial Sandals) Note from Julee: As many of you know, I am very sensitive to certain words. I simply do not like the way they sound and prefer not to use them. In fact, in college, a group of friends and I developed a list of “Words We Do Not Like”. As you might imagine, “crampon” is the latest addition to the list. So from now on, the devices shall be referred to a “glacial sandals”.

Glacial Blue Water Walking on the glacier felt like walking on a snow cone, with shaved, crunchy ice on the top supported by a solid center. We literally walked to the middle of the Perito Moreno glacier. It was a rigorous hike to lagoons, over crevasses, next to water chutes 100 times more powerful than the waterslides at 6 Flags, and around ice walls. The ice of the glacier is so compact; it turns the deepest, truest blue you’ve even seen. And the water is delicious – most of the hikers filled their water bottles from one of the lagoons. This was another situation where we knew words wouldn’t really do the experience justice and we hoped our pictures would be to capture the icescape and the colors.

Even after 5 hours of hiking on the glacier, I (Julee) felt like a baby horse not yet sure of my footing next to the guides who were running all over the glacier and scaling ice walls.Julee walking like a penguin

Although the guides cross the glacier hundreds of times each year, the glacier changes slightly every day. So they were picking out our path as we went along. There were a few times we’d take a huge leap over a running stream, only to double back to find a safer path.

Although the guides could all give commands in English, the bilingual guide was a little new and a little shy. When we stopped, the head guide was spend minutes explaining the movement, size and geological history of the glacier. He’d wave his arms explaining the forces of nature and rattle off very big numbers in Spanish. Then he’d cue the English-speaking guide to translate, and we’d get “The glacier is bery bery old”. And to follow up, “The ice is bery bery deep”.

Our boat coming to pick us up At the end of the day, we hiked back to the side of the glacier, took off the equipment, hiked back through the mountain, dropped the equipment at the station, and hiked back to the cabins, got back onto the boat and then onto the bus. We left at 7am and we got back at 8:30pm. It was exhausting but fascinating and exhilarating.

That night we walked the two blocks to town, had pizza and beer at a pub and then walked 5 blocks to the edge of town to hear the music festival. At 10:30pm, it was just getting started, but it looked exactly like any live music concert in Chicago. The band was on a big stage; there were sponsor signs everywhere and festival food lining the edges of the field. Granted it was on a small scale, but we called it “Lalacafate”.

Day 42 – 02/19/2007 – El Calafate

Today was the day we promised ourselves we’d “take it easy”. Lou’s throat was still a mess. He’d taken a picture of the back of his mouth into the mirror (very clever) and emailed it to his doctor, and we were waiting to hear his e-diagnosis.

So, laying low consisted of moving from café to café trying to find the fastest Internet connection. We literally had water and sandwiches in one café, the moved across the street for coffee and broadband, and then finally down to the locutorio (internet café) for two computers and Skype.

Small and Cozy TwinAt 5pm, we hopped on our flight and headed back to Buenos Aires so exited at the thought of staying put for 5 nights. Back at the Art hotel, the staffed greeted us with smiles and had already put our laundry in our room. But, they hesitated to bring up the suitcases. We thought that was a bit odd until we got into the room.

This was the week the Art Hotel was nearly fully booked and we were in the “Small and Cozy Twin”. They didn’t want to bring up the bags because there was no room for the bags!

Up in the room, we spent an hour or so searching the Internet and the guidebooks trying to find an available room under a specific dollar amount. Stressed about finding nothing, we went to sleep around Midnight bummed that we’d have to somehow change hotels in the morning.

All Iguazu Photos click here

Day 37 – 02/14/2007 – Travel to Buenos Aires

The flight on Iberia from Madrid to BA was LONG. Since it was a daytime flight, we opted not to take Ambien. It’s amazing how much longer 12 hours is when you are awake for some of it. (Julee still managed to sleep for about 9 hours. Putting Julee on a plane is like putting a toddler in a car seat. As soon as Julee starts to feel vibrations she’s out cold. She wakes up to feed, burp, and then is able to fall right back to sleep again. I am not sure how she does it.)

We landed in Buenos Aires around 9:45pm and it took about an hour to get the luggage. We had both heard stories about how dangerous Buenos Aires had become since the Peso was devalued a couple a years ago during their last “financial crisis”. Coincidentally, as soon as we got off the plane, an airport security officer handed Julee a flyer warning against accepting “verbal solicitation” for a taxi. The flyers and guidebooks advise using a taxi service or “remise” with a booth at the airport. So, we went to the first booth we saw and put in our order.

It was about 20 minutes to the hotel, and we got our first taste of the CRAZY driving in Argentina. You know those gates at tollbooths to keep you from going though the speed pass lane without stopping? Well, our cab driver hit one!

We spent the night at the Art Hotel on the recommendation of our dear friend Mara. (She’s a true jet setter who spends several weeks a year in BA perfecting her Tango). We used this hotel as our home base for our stay in Argentina. It’s an old Victorian mansion remodeled as a hotel. Our room was cozy with just enough room for a queen size bed, two suitcases and a wireless connection. And the bathroom has everything in miniature to fit the comforts that you are accustomed to. But it’s charming, and the staff is wonderful.

By the time we got to the hotel, it was midnight. We grabbed water and Pringles from the minibar, bagged our laundry and
repacked our backpacks as quickly as possible. We fell asleep at 1:30am and we were up at 7:00am for our flight to Iguazu.
Day 38 – 02/15/2007 – Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls

After our nap, we ran downstairs for the continental breakfast, which is included in the hotel stay. We had ordered the cab the night before and it was right on time. Thankfully, the domestic airport was only 15 minutes from the hotel.
Our destination was Iguazu Falls. The Falls sit on the border of Argentina and Brazil and can be viewed from both sides. It is actually a series of 275 waterfalls fed by the Rio Iguazu and declared a World Heritage Area by UNESCO in 1984.
(Frommers)
Iguazu Sheraton We landed in Iguazu and booked a taxi to the Sheraton Hotel, which is the only hotel inside the national park. It’s a discotastic Sheraton but the location was unbelievable. The lobby and terrace looked out onto the Falls, and they were stunning. (There are loads of tour groups and as you might expect, the average age of the guest there was 65 and a half.)

Hungry per usual, the first task was lunch. Having read that the Sheraton had the best restaurant in Iguazu, we thought it was a no-brainer. We were salivating for some Argentinean beef, and so we ordered hamburgers. OY – they were horrible. First of all, the patties were maybe 1/8” thick, they were green, and they came to the table bubbling, which means they were right of out of the deep fryer. They were THE WORST HAMBURGERS we’ve ever eaten. We had to hike off our anger immediately.

Iguazu Falls The Sheraton was literally 50 yards from the head of the trails. We just started walking and at the fork in the perfectly marked trail, choose between the superior (upper) and inferior (lower) trails. Both are beautifully designed catwalks over streams, through the jungle, and between rocks. Both trails have fantastic lookouts at all levels of the falls, including the feeder rivers, middle terrace and base. The tiered falls are stunning. The rushing water forms falls of all shapes and sizes. There are massive thunderheads and small linear streams, with an overwhelming amount of verdant jungle and rocks. Julee’s first comment, “Niagara Falls sucks.”

Giant Lizard and aardvark type creature at common at Iguazu Like the tourists who feed the baboons in South Africa, the tourists here feed the Coatis (aardvark like mammals). These raccoons sized animals travel in packs of 10 – 15 and are all over the trails and will come within inches of tourists. There were also a number of and Tegu Lizards. They were huge! One of the lizards near that cafe had to be 3 feet long. Unlike the lizards in South Africa, who would take off when they felt vibrations, these lizards stuck around.

We took about 2 hours to walk both trails. Fearing the rigors of the Inca Trail, Julee made us do the lower trail again at “hi speed” just for the exercise. (If you’ve ever watched Friends, it was a very “Monica”.)

About 3pm, in the scorching heat, we headed back to the Sheraton to the pool. Everyone heads to the pool. It is “jungle hot” with blaring sun in Northern Argentina in the summer . After a long swim, sun we decided to nap before dinner. Interestingly, there were a ton of channels on the tube. But every program was overdubbed in Spanish. Unlike all the other countries we’ve been to, we couldn’t even get CNN or BBC. We ended up watching 2 episodes of “Studio 60” which we downloaded from iTunes. No nap.

That evening, we paid 80 pesos ($25US) to hire a taxi for the evening. It drove us into town (about 15 minutes), waited and then drove us back. We read in Frommer’s about “La Rueda”, and it was fantastic. We finally got our first Argentinean beef. It came as two HUGE filets. Lou nearly cried it was so good. For $35 US, we had 2 glasses of wine, 2 bottles of water, 2 diet cokes, 2 salads, a plate of pasta and enough beef for 4 people. We were heart-broken at leaving an entire filet on the plate. Future plan – share the beef.

Dinnner at La Rueda Note: When you pack for a 9 week trip in a 26″ bag, you tend to bring a small range of clothes and everything must go together. Since our color palette was white, black and kahki, Lou and I had inadvertantly matching outfits nearly every other day.
Day 39 – 02/16/2007 – Iguazu Falls

boat under falls We had until 5pm before we needed to leave for the airport, so we opted for the Gran Aventura – a buffet of activities. It started with a 6 km jungle tour, a short walk to the river and then the main attraction, a boat ride under the falls. We piled onto a tour boat, put on the stinkiest life jackets we’ve ever smelled, and put everything into a provided waterproof bag. We sped down the river towards the Falls. They stop the boat to give you a moment to take photos and then plow into the spray of the falls. It was thrilling. You can’t believe it’s safe.
After the aventura, we headed back to the pool and then a much needed shower in the locker rooms (since we had to check out of the hotel earlier that morning). Then Lou bought me a Valentine present – a mani and much needed pedi at the spa. And of course, he got a mani too. He’s Lou!

Then, it was back to the airport for another flight. Thus far and for the duration of our trip, LAN has been a great airline. The agent not only gave us great seats on a full plane, he also checked us in for our flights for the following morning. They continually practiced customer service that some American carriers couldn’t even conceive of.
Here are some tidbits regarding our experiences flyging LAN airlines:

- Even the seats in economy are comfortable.
- They play “Just for Laughs”, which is like candid camera, throughout the duration of a domestic flight. There’s no sound. Just the picture. But every once in awhile, the entire plane just busts out laughing.
- There is always turbulence climbing and descending.
- You can tell you’re in South America, because the women in the cartoon safety movie wear miniskirts.

Back in Buenos Aires, we realized our first “rookie mistake” of the trip; We forgot to write down the address of our hotel. Problem 1: Being relatively new, Art Hotel wasn’t listed in the local phone books at the airport. Problem 2: We had used the all the battery in the laptop on the airplane and didn’t have an adapter plug on us. Problem 3: All the stations at the Internet cafés were booked. Finally, a super cute British couple heard us and said that Art Hotel was in their guide book, “Time Out Buenos Aires” and we quickly copied down the address which is now permanently in Julee’s purse. Needless to say, we made it home just fine. Back at the hotel Julee was craving pizza, so we ate at a delicious café, Los Maestros, right around the corner. Pizza and Beer. Buenos Noches, Buenos Aeries.

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