Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Looking Back

We have been home for almost five weeks now and it is time for a look back at our recent trip to SAm.

This trip was quite different than our last one when we depended on our BMW motorcycles to carry us to Ushuaia.  Return to SAm 2012 used airplanes, boats and buses to get us where we wanted to go.  Fourteen flight segments on three different airlines (American, LAN, and Aerogal) covered most of the miles.  We lived on a large yacht for a week in the Galapagos, and took a bus across the Andes twice on our visit to Mendoza.  Two major items, the Galapagos and Easter Island, were removed from our bucket list.

I replaced my small Asus laptop on this trip with an iPad 2 and a small bluetooth keyboard.  The Blogsy app for the iPad worked very well and when I had a problem with the blog the Blogsy team was very helpful is getting things rectified.  Photos are very easy to to manipulate on the iPad and the touch screen along with the bluetooth keyboard are very complementary.  The only problem I had with the 16GB iPad was running out of memory due to the number of photos I wanted to store.  It will be replacing it with a new 64GB unit before our next trip.

Last year when we visited Buenos Aires and rented an apartment we discovered the best way to explore a large city:  rent an apartment in a good location and use it as your base for exploring the city.  You have the use of a kitchen to cut down on eating costs, a comfortable living room usually with cable TV and wi-fi, and of course, your private bathroom or two.  The cost per night is usually much cheaper than a big hotel and often is competitive with an nice hostel.  The two sites we used for this trip were www.vrbo.com and www.homeaway.com  There are many sites on the internet catering to travelers looking for lodging, but we were quite happy with these two.

We visited many interesting places during our seven weeks south of the equator, but two in particular stand out:  Easter Island and Mendoza, Argentina.  We were on Easter Island for the end of Tapati Rapa Nui which gave us a real insight into the history and people of this remote Polynesian island.  Mendoza is the wine capital of Argentina and we found it to be a very comfortable city after time in the capitals of Ecuador, Peru, and Chile.

We are in the process of planning SAm 2013 to (re)visit some places that intrigue us.  On the list:  Rio  de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Bahia Bustamante, Argentina, Chilean fjords, Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile, San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile, and Mendonza, Argentina.  It promises to be another interesting journey.

Thanks for coming along on Return to SAm 2012; we hope you enjoyed the journey and will come along again next year.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Our last day in Santiago (March 7th) was spent tidying up the apartment and packing for the flight to Miami after another walk around the Centro and having lunch of empanadas and beer at an outdoor cafe just off the Plaza de Armas.

We were able to stay in the apartment until 1930 before getting a ride to the airport for our midnight departure.  The flight went well and we arrived in Miami on time.  It felt good to be back on "home soil" after almost two montha in SAm.  Immigration and customs went smoothly and we were soon in our rental car heading north up the Florida coast.

We drove to West Palm Beach where we went to a restaurant we had read about in USA Today, Relish; we indulged in a couple of specialty hamburgers and a delicious Key Lime Pie shake.  Afterward we walked across the street where I got a beard trim and haircut from a most entertaining barber, Cha Cha.

The next few days were spent visiting family in Fort Pierce and Bowling Green.  On the drive back to Miami for our flight to Green Bay we stopped in Sarasota to have lunch with Joanie whom we had met on the Galapagos trip.  It was fun to hash over common experiences with a new friend.

The flight to Green Bay via Chicago went off without a hitch, but American had messed up my reservation again and RA and I were not able to sit together on the last two legs of our 14 flight segment Return to SAm.

We were greeted in Green Bay with temps in the mid-70s which soon escalated to the 80s for several days before returning to more seasonal, but warmer than average spring temperatures.

The next, and last post on this blog, will be a look back at our latest overseas adventure.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Santiago 2

I have a theory about the fountains in any large city: if the fountains are operating and clean, the city's infrastructure is probably functioning quite well. Santiago's fountains are operating and are clean; the only fountain that was not working had a prominently displayed sign giving the dates of its closure for renovation. So from our point of view things seem to be working well in Stgo.
The best way to get a quick view of any new city is to take a bus tour. We have done this in Buenos Aires, LIma, and now, Santiago. TURISTIK does this in Santiago with red double-decker hop on/hop off buses that take about two hours to cover the mapped route. After looping around the historic Centro, it heads east to the upscale neighborhoods of Providencia and Las Condes. HIgh rise glass towers mark these areas as the new business and residential center (some call it Sanhattan) of greater Santiago. The tour was well narrated in Spanish and English; we enjoyed it very much.
Shades of India

Street Art in Barrio Bellavista
Two days later we did the walking tour of the Centro (outlined in our guide book), most of which we had seen from the bus but now could more thoroughly explore. It was Sunday morning and we stopped at the Catedral Metropolitana to listen to the mass and explore some of the chapels. Later, as we walked through the large plazas and saw the clean fountains, we had a more intimate feel for the city. Near the end of the walk, we came to Cerro Santa Lucia, signed in with the nice lady at the entrance, and climbed to the top via pathways and steep stone steps to a birdseye view of downtown. After a couple of hours on our feet, we just had to plop down at the first sidewalk cafe and have our juice, coffee, and media lunas!
Architectural Contrast

Catedral Door

There are a Lot of Stray Dogs in Santiago
Sculpture Along the Alameda
The Rich/The Poor
Fountain at the Base of Cerro Santa Lucia
Yesterday, we ponied up a bit more cash to TURISTIK and took a day tour to the Pacific Coast to visit the deep water port of Valparaiso and the Garden City of Vina del Mar. Valparaiso is the legislative seat of the Chilean government located about 80 miles northwest of Santiago. The city is built on 42 hills that radiate from the port area making it difficult to get around on foot. It is said that the women of Valparaiso have the most beautiful calves of all the women in Chile! We would to like to spend more time in this sprawling UNESCO World Heritage site; that may be next winter as it has been added to the growing list of places to see south of the equator.
Chilean Naval Headquarters in Valparaiso
A Building Within a Building!
By law the old building cannot be demolished, so after an earthquake the new building was built inside the walls of the old. This is adjacent to Plaza Sotomayer, the main square in downtown Valpo.

Harbor in Valpo

Flower Clock in Vina del Mar

A moai from Easter Island at the Museo de Arqueologia e Historia Francisco Fonck in Vina del Mar. He looks lonely and quite out of place!

It's a BIG door into the Apartment Building!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Santiago 1

Santiago is a city of approximately 5 million souls lying in the shadows of the Andes Mountains just to the east. The snow covered peaks make a nice back drop to the many tall buildings in the Centro and some of the outlying suburbs. It has many green areas, some along the Mapocho River and others on the small urban peaks of Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal. One of the nice things about spending several days in a city with no set agenda is that we can pick and choose what we see and when we see it. We have a nice apartment to retreat to after several hours on foot exploring various areas of the city.

Sculpture Near Our Apartment

Cerro San Cristobal rises over 2800 feet above the city and is topped by the nearly 50 foot high statue of the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepcion. The funicular takes people to the Terraza Bellavista overlooking the city, but they must climb the stone steps to reach the base of the statue. Pope John Paul II said mass here in 1984--the park must have been absolutely overrun with the faithful!

The Ramblers Looking to Have Fun on the Funicular!

Meeting Halfway

Our building is the left of the two towers in the lower left-hand corner of the picture. The Central Market is the low building to the right with the cupola in the center.

Statue of Pope John Paul II on the Terraza Bellavista

Virgen de la Inmaculata Concepcion

Tree Branch with Seed Pods

On another day we walked to the Cementerio General, a literal City of the Dead with over two million graves on a 200+ acre plot of land. Many of the deceased are in mausoleums, but the wealthier folks have built family tombs that are more like temples. Salvador Allende, the president who died in the 1973 military coup, is here as well. The cemetery is divided into streets and avenues with many plazas scattered throughout.

Tomb of Salvador Allende

Allende Family Crypt

Family Tombs

I've Never Seen that Name Before

This is How the Majority of the People are Buried

The most sobering place, however, was the Memorial del Detenido Desaparecido y del Ejecutado Politico. The leader of the coup that put an end to Allende's rule was General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. He oversaw the torture of over 35000 political opponents during his 17-year reign; there were also over 3000 people who "disappeared." The thousands of names on the wall at the memorial is mind-numbing and the tombs of those who were executed for their political beliefs likewise. There are four faces peering out from four rough hewn blocks of stone on the small bridge in front of the memorial. We have once again come face-to-face with modern history in a foreign land.

The Wall

One of the Four Faces

Many of the deaths occurred in 1973 shortly after the coup.

Some of the tombs of those executed for their political beliefs; again, many in 1973 and many in their 20s and 30s!


Saturday, March 3, 2012


The Lonely Planet guide to Argentina says that Mendoza is a trap! We agree! Our five day stay there was only long enough to ensure that we will be back. It is a small, walkable city with some very attractive squares and parks, wide side walks lined with umbrella shaded eating establishments, and, of course, the center of Argentina's fast growing wine industry.

Mendoza lies just east of the Andes Mountains and is basically an oasis in the desert. The indigenous Huarpe people used the snowmelt from the Andes to irrigate their fields and this continues today augmented by the large aquifer that is beneath the region. Being in the foothills of the Andes, many of the wineries have vineyards located at different altitudes which enhances the quality of the wine they produce.

We did an all-day wine tour of Maipu visitng three wineries and having lunch at the old family home on the last visit of the day. Tempus Alba, Finca Flichman, and Luis Segundo Correas were the places we visited on our nine hour tour. If we had drunk all the wine presented to us, we would have consumed nearly 1 1/2 bottles of wine each! We paced ourselves in order to make it through the day. The mid-afternoon parilla (barbeque) meal on the veranda at San Luis capped off a wonderful field trip.

Tempus Albus

Ready to Taste at Finca Flichman

Flichman's Private Cellar

San Luis

The weekend we were in town the Megadegustacion (Megatasting) was being held. Two blocks of one of the main streets off the central square were blocked off and over 200 wineries were dispensing their wares from the tented booths. The weekend after we left was the annual Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia (National Wine Harvest Festival) culminating in a parade and the coronation of the festival queen. McDonald's was even running a special for the occasion: a double hamburger, two empanadas, and small bottle of wine for $47 (that's pesos--about USD$11). Oh yes, most of the many fountains in the squares around town were spewing red/rose colored water while we were there--definitely a wine oriented place.

McDonald's Special

Colorful Fountains

One evening after an early dinner and stopping in at the Iglesia, Convento y Basilica de San Francisco (mass was being held) we heard a band playing in Plaza San Martin (General Jose de San Martin was instrumental in the independence movements in Argentina, Chile, and Peru in the early 1800s). We stopped for a look-see and spent the next 45 minutes there listening to music, speeches and watching traditional dance troupes from Argentina and Chile. It was a birthday party for San Martin whose statue dominates the center of the square!

General Jose de San Martin

The next evening we took a funky looking open top bus--La Bateau--on a ninety minute tour to the huge Parque General San Martin and the Cerro de la Gloria with an incedible monument to San Martin and his liberation forces.

La Bateau

Very Detailed Sculpture

A visit to Mendoza would not be complete without a late morning breakfast at a sidewalk cafe. Offerta #1 cost a little less than USD$3 and included a small juice, water with gas, cafe con leche, and two media-lunas (small, sweet croissants). In fact, it was so good, we ordered a third!!

Breakfast with the Ramblers

The return bus trip to Santiago was much more pleasant than one to Mendoza. The sky was clear over the Paso de la Libertadores, we saw Mount Aconcagua, got our jamon y queso sandwich lunch and only had to spend one hour at the border (a 6 1/2 hour trip vs the nearly 10 hour ride a few days earlier).

We are currently enjoying Santiago in our lovely small, but new and modern apartment located near the centro. We have only a few days left on our current South American experience, but are already thinking about and planning next year's winter get-away south of the equator!

View of Santiago Centro from our apartment balcony (yes, there are flying bicycles here!)



Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Over the Andes

On Thursday, the 23rd, we took a 15 minute taxi ride from the hostal to the bus station. The Alameda Bus Terminal is one of several in Santiago, and it is a very busy place. Certain bus lines run out of different terminals and this one is the main hub for our choice, TurBus.

We spent the hour before our departure watching people and guarding our luggage; we had been warned that the bus station is not a place to be lackadaisical about our belongings. It took about 30 minutes to load the bags on to the bus, so we departed about twenty minutes behind schedule. The buses all travel with two crew members, a driver and steward, who swap places half way through the journey.

As soon as we were on our way, we were all given a pillow and little snack bag that consisted of a snack bar, a cookie, and a small container of juice; we were hoping for a sandwich as we did not have anything for lunch!

It took about 3 1/2 hours to reach the Chile/Argentina border on a road that climbed to 10000 feet; at one point we went through a series of numbered hairpin curves (29 was the last number we saw). The map below shows the switchbacks quite graphically.

The border crossing was quite busy and it took us about 3 1/2 hours to pass from Chile to Argentina. We finally arrived in Mendoza about 21:45 and checked in to our new home, Modigliani Suites, a little after 2200. The young man at the reception had called TurBus so he knew we would be late and waited past the normal closing time for us. He pulled out a map of the city and quickly gave us a tour highlighting points of interest and, of course, the low down on some good restaurants.

We are leaving Mendoza in the morning for the return bus ride over the Andes. We've had a great time here and you will hear all about it in the next post. A sneak preview: we were just interviewed on live radio at Plaza Italia on the opening night of a three day event celebrating the Italian heritage that is quite strong in this wine producing area of Argentina; we supposedly were on air just after the Italian Consul!



Tapati Rapa Nui

Tapati Rapa Nui is a two week festival held in early February; we were fortunate to be there for the last three days of the 2012 celebration. The island's population increases about 50% during this time and the island wakes up from its normally quiet South Pacific demeanor.

The festival involves cultural, music, dance and sports competitions between two "clans"; the winning clan has their nominee for queen crowned at the end of the two weeks. The athletic competitions are probably the most interesting: canoe and bareback horse races, spear throwing into a banana tree trunk, "luging" down the steep slope of an extinct volcano at 40 mph on a sled made of two banana tree trunks tied together, and a Rapa Nui version of the triathelon: paddle across a crater lake on a reed raft, run aound the lake with two bunches of bananas, then cross the lake again on the reed raft.

The delightful parade was held the night before the coronation and we thoroughly enjoyed the floats, music, and dancing. Hundreds of islanders, and tourists too, have their scantily clad bodies painted from an earthen palate (ie: mud). Points are awarded for the complexity and beauty of the painting.

We attended the coronation which began at 2200; after about ninety minutes of music and dance entertainment, the moment arrived. A light rain started just as the queen was announced, then the plastic chairs we were sitting on quickly became "umbrellas". We made our way to the street, paid an inflated taxi fare to the hotel and called it a day.

Let's Party!

Cece (from our tour group) Joined in the Fun!!

The Parade



Saturday, February 25, 2012

Au Bout du Monde

Au Bout du Monde (end of the world in French) is the name of an excellent Belgian restaurant in Hanga Roa, the capital of Easter Island. We had a delightful meal there on the rooftop terrace looking out to the sea crashing on shore. The chocolate mousse served there was the best dessert we had while on Rapa Nui.
Easter Island (63 sq. miles big!) was populated from 400-800 AD by Polynesians from the south Pacific. At its peak it may have had a population approaching 20000, but this was decimated by clan warfare, the taking of slaves by the Europeans, and a small pox epidemic brought on by contact with Europeans. The current population is about 5000 permanent residents (out numbered by the 6000 horses there). The island was "discovered" by Dutch Admiral Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday in 1722, hence the name (Isla de Pascua in Spanish); however, the native name of Rapa Nui is still commonly used. After spending a few days on the island, Rapa Nui just seems the more fitting moniker. Lying approximately 2400 miles off the coast of South America, it is appropriate to describe this small island as the most remote populated place in the world as well as having the most remote airport in the world.
A note of interest about the runway at the airport: in the 1960s it was extended to its present length of nearly 11000 feet by the US government to provide an emergency landing strip for any space shuttles that might be launched into polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force base in California. To the best of my knowledge, all of the shuttles were launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Our tour of the island consisted of two full days in a small bus or van with an excellent guide and 10-15 other tourists. We saw all of the major sites that were accessible by road; some in the northwest part of the island can only be reached by foot or horseback.
Approximately 1000 moai populate the island, and the only ones standing today were re-erected in the last 100 years by various scientific and research groups. All but seven of the moai faced inland; and due to clan warfare, earthquakes, and tsunamis, when they fell, they all ended face down, many with broken necks. Over 400 are still in the "nursery" or quarry, and there is no definitve theory as to how they were moved to the various locations around the island. "Walking" the moai (which can weigh over 100 tons!) has been gaining credence as a way of moving these stone carvings. Think of something tall and heavy and how you can rock it back and forth to make it go where you want it to; add lots of rope, many men, and a decent path to follow and this theory makes sense. No matter how you look at it, the moai are full of mystery and that adds to the allure of Rapa Nui.
Rapa Nui


Ahu Vai Uri
Warning Sign
Ahu Ko Te Riku
Ahu Akivi (seven moai facing the ocean)
Which moa is Ronald Reagan?
Puna Pau, the quarry where the pukao (topknots) were carved
Ahu Vinapu (toppled moai)
Rano Kau Crater
Rano Kau Crater
Orongo Ceremonial Village
Petroglyphs and the islets of Moto Nui, Moto Iti, and Moto Kao Kao (big island, small island and pointy island)

Cliff Slip!

Ahu Vaihu (eight toppled moai with pukao scattered about)

Ahu Tongariki (15 moai)

Rano Raraku (quarry)
Tukuturi (the only kneeling moai with Ahu Tongariki in the background)
Unfinished moai in situ
Warning Sign
Cemetery in Hanga Roa
Pretty Leaves