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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jobs Well Done

The last post got us to Easter Island and this one will take us from there to Santiago. Don't worry, I will be posting about our visit to Rapa Nui after I get a block of time to write and organize the photos for your viewing pleasure; I should be able to do it in Mendoza after we get into our apartment there tomorow night.

Our flight to Lima from Easter Island went off without a hitch. We are becoming more and more impressed with LAN--the large Chilean airline; they are very professional and from our viewpoint the equivalent of any US airline.

Moai vs Boeing

We landed on time in Lima and after an hour to clear immigration, picked up our bags and were soon in a taxi to Miraflores House. We knew that our friend, Dan Saari, and his brother, Dennis, were there by lookng at Dan's SPOT site. Dan and Dennis have been travelling by bus from Quito and eventually will fly home from La Paz, Bolivia, in two weeks. Our taxi pulled up to the hostel exactly at midnight and after signing in and getting our picture taken, we were escorted to our room.

The next morning RA hiked down to the laundry we had used in 2010 and ran into Dan and Dennis who were engaged in the same task. I went down to the common room for breakfast and ran into the owner, Francis, and was catching up with him when the cleaning trio returned.

We took a walk to the huge artisan "mall" where RA added to her jewelry collection and Dan did a little gift buying. We returned to the hostal and agreed to meet the Saaris for dinner. We headed for the cliffs to watch the sunset before hiking to the excellent Italian rstaurant that Francis had recommended.

Dan, Steve, RuthAnn, and Dennis at the Parque del Amor in Miraflores, Lima, Peru

On Tuesday morning (2-21) we waved good-bye to Dan and Dennis as they sped off to the bus station in their taxi. We hopped in our taxi and were off to the airport for our business class flight to Santiago; our attitude towards the airlines was about to change; big time!

When we arrived at the LAN check-in area, there were at least 200 people in line waiting to wend their way through the maze of barricades to the counters. I asked about business class check-in, and we were directed to a counter where there was NO ONE in line! Score at least an hour saved in shuffling along with the economy class crowd. After we were given our boarding passes, we also received a pass to the VIP lounge near our departure gate; comfy chairs, wi-fi, snacks and drinks made the 2+ hour wait acceptable.

Boarding was a breeze as the premium class line was short, and we were some of the first to board the Boeing 767-300. We were allowed to carry on our bags this leg, so we had all of our belongings with us. It was nice not to have to fight others for the over-head bin space due to the low number of seats in business class.

In a previous post, I mentioned the excellent service in first/business class on American Airlines; LAN takes this up notch. As soon as the doors to the aircraft were closed, we were offered champagne or a pisco sour; it was served with a small cup of mixed nuts.

When we reached cruising altitude, it was time for a late lunch. When the flight attendant brought the white "table cloth" for the seat tray, she even addressed us by name and asked us if we had had a chance to look at the menu! We both opted for the filet of beef; RA chose a malbec and I a cabernet to wash it down. Yummy! The desert was a lemon flan with passion fruit and is in the lead for the best dessert of the trip to date.

When I saw the seats we were in, I was wishing that this three hour flight was about three times as along. There were seventeen (yes, that's right 1-7) buttons on the seat "control panel" for adjusting that sucker from head to to toe. It even went more than flat (felt like I was in the dentist's chair); I said good-bye to RA as I sunk out of sight for my nap!

We will be attempting to upgrade from economy to business class for our flight to Miami in a couple of weeks. We both agreed that the LIM-SCL flight was the best that either of us had ever experienced. I see now why first/business class is so expensive and why people use it; when you get off the plane you are rested, well fed, and ready to do what ever it is that you must when back on terra firma.

We landed on time and being first to disembarque, were at the front of the line for immigration. This is where we had to fork over $140/ as we were entering Chile for the first time by air. The little piece of paper the official stapled into our passports is good for the life of the passport.

Our hostal, Rio Amazonas, had called ahead to Transvip for our transportation to the hostal and in just a few minutes we were on our way downtown in a newish air-conditioned mini-van.

The hostal is comfortable, busy, has a friendly staff, and has a good location near the Univesity of Chile, and some good eating options. It was a good choice.

We bought our bus tickets today at the subway station near the University of Chile. The multi-level station reminded me of the one at Times Square in NYC, but more open and cleaner. Lots of shops, snack bars and small offices for various businesses. Turbus had a small office there where we booked our round trip to Mendoza. It cost about $80 each for the round trip in a "semi-cama" seat. Cama translates as bed in Spanish, so this is a semi-reclining seat; for more money one can also receive a "cama" seat which would be good for an overnight bus trip. We are doing the 200 mile trip to Mendoza during the day as we will be crossing the Andes and the sceney is supposed to be spectacular with a view of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere at 22841 feet.

Here is another link to SPOT: http://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?id=3f084f010e00a9896 There was no SPOT coverage in Rapa Nui, so on the return trip to Lima I shoved it under the window shade and you can see where it finally started to pick up satellites.

Stay tuned for the Easter Island post--it was an enchanting place and a bit surreal at times; you will enjoy the pictures.




Saturday, February 18, 2012

Back to Work

On Sunday night, the 12th, we took an evening walk to the cliffs to watch the sunset over the Pacific. There is a very nice park along the top of the cliff and we walked it from the Parque del Amor to the Parque El Faro (lighthouse) enjoying all of the Sunday evening sights: paragliders swooping along the cliff's edge giving their passengers some exciting views of the city and the ocean below, people picnicing, dogs playing, kids skateboarding, couples strolling arm in arm. After the sun settled into the ocean we made our way back to the apartment to begin preparing for our departue from Lima.

Paragliders and the Lighthouse


On Monday we visited the South American Explorers Club to see what they had to offer. It is a good organization and if you are spending time in Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina would be worthwhile joining with their language classes, book exchange, discounts, extensive reference library and a place to meet other South American travelers.

Our flight to Easter Island did not leave until 0115 Wednesday morning so we were very happy when Charo said we could stay in the apartment until 2000 Tuesday night before going the airport. She called a taxi for us and despite the heavy Valentine's Day traffic we arrived at the airport before 2100. So far, the job was going well.

LAN only allows 8 kg of carry-on luggage in economy class and our bags were each about 11 kg, so they got checked again. Customs and immigration went smoothly so all we had to do was to wait another three hours for our departure. Again, the airlines worked their magic and due to an "equipment" change we only left an hour late. At 0300, our fitful sleep was interruped by the serving of a hot meal! The seats on this Boeing 767 were extremely uncomfortable and neither of us got much sleep on the 4+40 minute flight to Rapa Nui.

Exiting the plane in the pre-dawn fresh air of Easter Island we were met by a drug sniffing dog and friendly immigrations/customs officials. We were quickly leied upon exiting the terminal and taken to our hotel. After waiting about 1 1/2 hours to check in, we were unpacking in our very nice room at the newest hotel on the island, the Puku Vai; our job for the day was complete.

After a short nap, we walked down to one of the two ATMs on the island, got some Chilean pesos and headed for downtown. We had lunch at La Taverna du Pecheur, a French restaurant and suposedly at the top of the heap on this speck of real estate over two thousand miles off the coast of South America. The Lonely Planet did not lie, it was the best meal of the trip to date! From the restaurant's balcony we had a good view of our first moai (stone head) and ahu (platform), the Ahu Tautira.

Eat Here!!

The Ramblers Have Arrived



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cuy Lomo

 Let me introduce the cuy (pronounced kwee). The cuy is the guinea pig that is indigenous to this part of the world.  It is raised in the Andean countries of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.  On an overnight stop in Puquio, Peru, on our motorcycle trip in 2010/11, we saw several pens teemng with the little furry critters just outside the hostel kitchen door. 

In the US, we think of the guinea pig as being a cute little pet that is easy to take care of, soft and cuddley to hold, and an easy answer for the kids' request for a pet.  In this part of the world, the cuy is thought of as food (tastes like rabbit or the dark meat of chicken)!  For hundreds, if not thousands, of years the cuy has been an important source of protein to the locals.  We have seen it being roasted on the street, on menus in many restaurants, and the main course on the table in paintings of the Last Supper in every major church we have visited in this part of South America.  Cuy is supposedly appearing in markets and restaurants in the US and Europe as a delicacy.

Walking around in the large cities here it is easy to see the influx of American epicurean culture:  McDonald's, Burger King, Dominoes, KFC, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday's, Papa John's, Subway, and Tony Roma's, to name several, are present here; many local imitators such as Bembo's (a Big Mac competitor) are also present.  This brings us to Alfonso Arroyo de Bolognese.

About twenty-five years ago, Sr. Bolognese had a dream of starting his own restaurant chain to comptete with the gringo invaders.  He was very adament about offering something with  a local flavor to ward off the foreign tastes; he settled on cuy.  The only problem:  the cuy is quite small and does not afford a lot a lip-smacking flesh for the discerning diner.  So he embarked on a very agressive breeding program to increase the size of the cuy in order to allow various cuts of the animal to be offered on the menu.  By the time Sr. Bolognese  opened his first restaurant three years ago, he had produced the "super cuy," about the size of a small pig, which is a source of ribs, ham, and bacon--cuy style.  

His new chain, Cuy Lomo, has been attracting many tourists as well as local diners.  He has three locations here in Lima and has plans to expand to Cuzco and Arequipa.  He also has long range plans to serve the "super cuy" in Bogota, Quito, and La Paz.  There are a few diplomatic hurdles to conquer as the neighboring  countries are a little wary of what the "super cuy" will do to the small, mom and pop purveyors of cuy.

Stay tuned for future developments in this new and exciting "food fight."


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sights Around Miraflores

The Parque del Amor is just a couple of blocks from our apartment and affords a great view of the Pacific. The center piece is a large statue of a couple aptly entitled "The Kiss". The mosaic encrusted walls on either side of the statue have quotes about love from various authors. Watch for the Ramblers!!
The Kiss

We would like to have a meal at La Rosa Nautica before we leave Lima

This is the Parque Kennedy--note the wi-fi sign! This city is wired!!

Scores of cats being fed and watered outside near a church off Parque Kennedy
Singing for fuel??!
We're off for our mid-afternoon walk. We want to stop in at the Albergue Miraflores House to visit its owner, Francis. We stayed there in November, 2010, and will be there for two nights after our trip to Easter Island. They have a good book exchange and RA wants to stock up for the next part of the journey to Chile and Argentina. Ciao, ciao!

Time to Move

 Monday, the 6th was moving day; our job:  get from the apartment in Quito to the apartment in Lima.  We met Diana shortly after 0600 for the drive to the airport arriving a little before 0630, within our three hour cushion for the international flight to Lima on Lan.

Traveling economy on this leg did not allow us to carry on our carry on bags, so for the first time we had to check them.  The plane left on time, we got a muffin and something to drink for the journey, and arrived on time!! Hurray for the airlines!  Customs and immigration went quickly and we were soon in a new Hyundai Elantra complete with suited driver on the way to Calle Madrid in Miraflores, an upscale suburb of Lima.  The 45 minute drive across midday Lima brought back a few memories from our two previous visits.  It was fun to pick out things we recognized and were a bit familiar with.

The apartment here was rented from a young Peruvian musician who is currently living in Chicago.  His sister, who lives in the apartment above us, met us and after exchanging a few forms and some cash we were in.  This place is great!  It is new, modern, light, and airy with two bedrooms, three full baths, modern kitchen, a nice sized dining/living room with furniture that is actually comfortable, wood and tile floors, good wi-fi, and a couple of flat screen tvs!  We are just a few block from the high cliffs overlooking the Pacific and a short walk from a multitude of restaurants and parks.  Vivanda, the super mercado, is five blocks away and we visit it daily to stock up on groceries, especially the wonderful french rolls that are still warm when we get home if we have timed it right!  Las Brujas de Cachiche, where we ate on our bike trip 2010/11, is less than two blocks away--supposedly one of the best places in town for Peruvian food.

I have finally gotten over my cold, but, unfortuately, RA is battling hers.  We have been sleeping late, eating late, and not venturing out until early afternoon.  Two days ago we took a tour of LIma in a double-decker, open-top motor coach.  It was three hours well spent with a tour of the Monasterio de San Francisco allowing us to stretch our legs a bit.  We toured this location three years ago and were happy to see that the bones of the approximately 70000 souls were still there in the catacombs!

Monasterio de San Francisco



Sunday, February 5, 2012

La Mitad del Mundo

Supposedly located on the equator (with modern measurements it is actually a few hundred yards away), this complex makes for a fun outing.  In 1736, the Frenchman Charles-Marie de La Condamine came here to measure the length of a degree of latitude which contributed to the birth of the metric system.  In addition to a yellow line drawn on the pavement to indicate the equator, there is a large monument, museums, a tourist train, a mini-zoo, restaurants and lots of schlock shops.

The monument contains a very good ethnographic museum and a viewing platform high above the ground.  We spent about three hours there enjoying the ambiance of the place and having a very nice, relaxed lunch.

Trash Bin

 Entrance to the Complex

Bust of La Condamine 

View From Monument 

Do I Have a Split Personality? 

 Guess Who?


 Next stop:  Lima.  We are watching the Super Bowl, in English this year, but are missing all of the ads as local ads are aired here during the time outs.  GIANTS WIN!!  YES!!

Old Town Quito

We by-passed Quito on our motorcycle trip in 2010/11, flying by it on the "Quito 500," a busy and fast-moving highway that afforded us a few glimpses of the sprawling urban complex of 2.6 million people.

 On Monday, the 30th, we settled into our lovely apartment on the north end of Quito.  We almost lose track of each other in the three bedroom, 2 1/2 bath, three level dwelling.  Quito is in a long, deep Andean valley oriented roughly north/south.  From our hillside perch, we look west across the valley and see the sparkling lights at night; in the morning, we check the peaks above the city to get an idea of what the weather will be.  It is often foggy at night and then burns off during the day.  When we go out, we usually walk downhill and then take a taxi back up to the apartment.  

Diana, a recent graduate of Brigham Young University, is our contact here.  She manages several properties for her parents in Quito and else where.  On Tuesday, she was our personal guide to old town Quito, a Unesco World Heritage site.  Quito sits about 9350' above sea level, so the first thing we did was to punish our lungs a bit more by taking a 20 minute ride on the TeleferiQo to get a bird's eye view of the city at 13500'!  Unfortunately, we lost sight of the city about half way up the mountain as we entered the clouds.  We walked around on the viewing paths a bit, then headed back down to see the old town.

We visited Plaza Grande and Plaza San Francisco before gaping in awe at the interior of La Compania de Jesus.  I think nearly every square inch of the interior is gilded.  No picture taking is allowed inside, but I did get one of some of the ornate stone work on the outside.

La Compania de Jesus

 After a delicious lunch at Vista Hermosa (the rooftop had a great view of the old town), we drove to Basilico del Voto Nacional. It is built in the Gothic style, which, to be honest, looked a little out of place among the predominately Spanish style architecture.  Most Gothic cathedrals have many gargoyles decorating the exterior, but here they are replaced with iguanas and tortoises!

No Gargoyles Here

 For a couple of bucks, you can climb the twin clock towers or the spire over the nave.  To get to the spire, we had to walk along wooden plank bridge above the nave, but below the roof of the cathedral--a new experience.

The Spire

 The Walk

 Rooftop Bling

 It was a nice, relaxing visit to the old town and a beginning to our stay in Quito.