Sudden change of plans…

Wow, when traveling in South America, check your flights often. Turns out LanArgentina, or LanChile, or whoever it was that actually does the scheduling, changed my flight to Ushuia, and forgot to notify me. Their new booking had me arriving at the airport an hour after my boat left! Luckily, I decided to confirm my flights yesterday afternoon, and even luckier, I had the travel agent who had booked the flights there with me (she was on the  group trip with her husband, really nice people)-
The upshot was, I had 15 minutes to pack up and get on the bus to the airport in Santiago last evening in order to make a night flight to Buenos Aires, arriving at 12:30am, then change airports, driving across the whole enormous city, to take a flight to Ushuia leaving at 3:30am.Not to mention that it was 85 and humid in BA last night, and about 45 when I walked off the plane here. Who schedules flights at 3:30am? What a crazy country! I did it, arriving sleepless at the really good looking airport here at about 9am. Took a taxi to my hotel, showered, and went in search of coffee and something for breakfast. I now have a whole day, and a half, instead of half a day here.
Ushuia is the sort of place I like, at least for a day or two. It is really at the end of the world, as all the signs say. From my window, I can look out at the Beagle channel, with snow capped mountains.To the left, the town ends about 1/4 mile from the hotel, and then it´s mountains again. There is a rough feeling about most of the place, sidewalks in terrible condition, weather related I expect, houses not in great shape, new construction happening but not much planning in evidence. One street, the main tourist shopping strip, is pretty awful in many ways, dozens of shops selling tee shirts, and doo dads. But, it offers the local population of about 50,000, more shopping options than they would otherwise have. Some stores have pretty high  end sports related clothing, lots of shoes.
I had coffee and a croissant, not a very good one, in the little cafe on the main street that does a land-office business. The waiter must be the busiest man in Ushuia! He never stops moving, taking orders, clearing tables, delivering food. I just came from there again, at 5pm, for a cup of tea and a place to get out of the rain. There he was again, moving as fast as he was at 10am.
I amused myself by doing some sweater shopping for myself, then lunch, then the Maritime Museum, more walking, then tea. The museum is housed in the old jail, and has multiple exhibits going on. Wonderful ship models of all the famous, and some not so famous, sailing ships that figured in the history of this area. An art museum of maritime related art. Some pretty good , some not. I found myself worrying about the watercolors that are hanging in a skylit hallway. The sun will fade them quickly. I didn´t know what to say  exactly, and certainly not in Spanish. I hope they figure it out before they lose the work.They have a lot of stuff about the Yamana people who were making those fires that gave the name Tierra del Fuego to this area. They were a native tribe who did not wear clothes, but were great fire makers and spent lots of time around them keeping warm. Hard to figure why they didn´t develop the clothes habit, but to each his own.The jail part was fun, full of manequin figures of prisoners doing prison jobs in striped clothes. Kind of surprises you when you look into a cell and there is  a guy looking back at you!They built the prison, even made the clay tiles for the floors. Good idea, if you ask me. Gave them some real life skills to use when they are out again. Better than contracting with Bechtel to build them!
Ushuia reminds me of Bodo, Norway, back in 1971 when I was stuck there for 3 days because of a storm. Bodo had been destroyed by bombing in WW2, and it just sort  of grew back. This feels like that. Lots of tourists of all nationalities here. Boats leave from here for Antarctica, so lots of people spend a day here on the way or coming back.I just like it. it feels incredibly remote in many ways, although, as you can see, internet access changes everything.
I´m heading back to my room for a nap. No sleep catches up with you at different times during the day. Tomorrow I board the Mare Australis for 3 nights, ending up in Punta Arenas , Chile. (check your atlas, everyone!). I kind of doubt that they have internet access on the ship, or if they do it would be wildly expensive. So, unless I have a blindingly brillant comment, this is the last email from South America. Hope everyone is well. I´m due back on the morning of the 24th. Love to all, Karen

Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 7:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Santiago, the getting there was worth it

I left you at the Falls. It was downhill from there yesterday. We got to the airport, the first flight was on time,our luggage arrived, and off we went in a bus to the international airport. Traffic in Buenos Aires was fierce, but it still took only 45 mins. We schlepped our bags again, into the airport´s scanning machines and eventually checked in. We should have had just about 1 1/2 hours until our flight to Santiago on Aerolineas Argentinas. Up until one minute before the 7pm scheduled departure, no one was at the gate desk, the signs all said on time, no one was around to ask. At 7pm, the gate agent appeared and said that the flight was delayed 1 1/2 hours more. We all went off in search of food, dinner in Santiago looked very unlikely. We did board at 8:15 but the flight was 25 min late in actually taking off, and we landed in Santiago at 11pm. The bus and driver scheduled to meet us was not at the usual place, and we had to manouver our luggage across the airport to meet him. We got settled on the bus, and Ariel was talking about Santiago. Then we realized that the driver was lost in the airport parking lot. He was going in circles. Finally he stopped the bus, jumped off and tried to find someone to ask. We groaned as a group. By midnight we were in the nicest hotel of the trip , in a lovely neighborhood of Santiago, exhausted.
Today, we located working ATM machines to secure Chilean cash, and toured around the city.The highlight of today was touring the Santiago home of Neruda, the poet. His egotism and powerful personality resulted in a unique and beautiful structure. We will see another of his homes tomorrow. The weather is wonderful, cool and moist, just like home. We rode the funicular up a large hill in the center of town, and rode a chair lift down the other side. From there we walked to the hotel.
Tomorrow to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.

Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 7:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Big Falls

There is no way to get around the heat here. Although the computer says the high yesterday was 90, I swear it was at least 100. And I have about 12 other folks who will back me up on this, really, I do.
We arrived here yesterday afternoon, later than planned due to flight changes, and headed directly to the Falls. From the air, it appears to be a pretty big set of waterfalls, with mist rising into the air, but still, from the air it is puny. Up close, it is awesome. I had been dreading the planned boat ride, and had been trying to figure out a way to avoid it. My image was of a rubber raft type of thing, with everyone holding on while we went under waterfalls and got soaked and everyone but me was enjoying the edge of danger.I do not seek the edge of danger, I do not embrace it, I do not welcome it into my life.However, as it turned out, it wasn´t dangerous, not really, and I had a very good time. We walked through the rain forest, on paved   paths, down lots and lots of stairs, some concrete, some steel, some stone finally arriving at the place where you get on the boat. By this time, I had seen the boats from up above and realized that they were much bigger than I had imagnined them. Once the guy handed me my life jacket and a green waterproof bag for my walking sandals and whatever else needed to stay dry, there was no going back.I got on along with the rest of the group, and got just as wet as everyone else and enjoyed it. Just goes to show, you never can really know what something will be like until you try it. I had lots of support from my group-mates, that helped a lot.
The hotel here is bizarre. It is so huge that an entire university foot ball fan club could probably stay here and not feel that they were imposing on the place. The halls are about 10 feet wide, floored in white marble, not air conditioned. They have no design for  the place, apparently adding hallways at random. To  get to my room I almost have to leave a string or something, I keep turning at the wrong place. The art work in the hallways is hard to imagine, black and white drawings of horses, naked people, you name it. Not bad drawings, but really odd in their place. We had dinner here last night, a bad piano player making it hard to have conversation in the echoing room. we all were so exhausted that it hardly mattered.
Today we went first to a bird sancturary, saw lots of toucans, really adorable birds. At first it was pleasant, then it got hot, really hot. Next stop was the Brazillian side of the falls, and a walk, or in my case and with another woman, an elevator ride down  to a series of paths built over the top of a section of the falls where you look down at the fast moving water as it spills over the cliffs. Misty, cool and wonderful.
Our dinner that night was at a Brazillian grilled meat place, where they bring you swords of  grilled meats, and keep bringing them until you plead total fullness. The appetizer selection was adequate for dinner for most of us, but those meats just kept coming. After dinner we went to a ¨¨show¨¨ , dancing and singing and drum playing that went on for hours. It was like Beach Blanket Babylon  meets the Carnaval, with Bugsby Berkely as the choreographer. There were more performers than there were audience members, but they were troopers and kept going, and going, and going. Each time I thought it was the finale, it started up again. Finally we got back to the wierd hotel at 11:30, only to be up the next morning at 6 for a 7:15 departure. We headed back to the Falls, but to the Argentine side. That required passing the border checks again, then heading as fast as possible for the park entrance in order to be on the first train to The Devils Throat Falls area. We walked again in the hot sun to a little electric train that ran through the jungle to the beginning of  a long (1/2 mile or so, but hot) walk on a steel mesh sidewalk across a river to the very edge of a huge waterfall. I was not the only person that morning to wonder if seeing yet another view of the falls was worth the early rise, the hot walk. It was worth it. By the time you get to the end of the walk, the spray from the falls has you drenched, really really wet. The power of the water impresses you when you are right above it, the noise is overpowering and the sense of energy is contaigious. Everyone felt great standing there, and we had a group photo taken, of 15 wet smiling middle aged Americans.


Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 7:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Big fish in B.A.

After a short siesta yesterday, I took a taxi to the National Museum of Art. On  a map, it does not look far, but in a taxi you realize how large this place is. My analogy to New York fails when I compare the actual size of central Manhattan, where I usually hang out,  with this sprawling city. There are interesting neighborhoods all over. Some day I will return with a few weeks to spend and get to know at least one area well.
Last night for dinner my friend Anne and Iwent to the neighborhood of Palermo Hollywood, great name, eh?, and had a unique fish dinner. I had an article from the New York Times magazine a month or so ago about Buenos Aires eating, and this place caught my eye.It specializes in the fish of the rivers of Argentina, and esp.pacu, a cousin of the piranaha which , according to the article, can grow to 60 lbs. The fish is served in portions for 2, on  wooden planks with salad and potatoes. No plates. Just your own knife  and fork. Very fun, very good –
gotta go toIguasu.

Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 7:06 am  Leave a Comment  

More Buenos Aires

First, please excuse the typing. this keyboard is just the worst. This is the last time I will use it. I do enjoy receiving emails, so don’t hesitate.
This city is enormous , fast, complicated, hot, beautiful, rude, and wonderful. The museums and parks are lovely, the architecture is among the most wonderful I have seen in any major city. Much of the look is Beaux Artes, early 20th cent. Wth modern buildings tucked in all over. Most buildings are white or gray, except for the famous pink house which is the official government house for the president. it is where Eva Peron waved to the multitudes. Yesterday we visited the Plaza de Mayo, across from the pink house and home to all of the revolutions of Argentinian history. We witnessed a large demonstration, apparently by the unemployed. There were many young appearing men with masks over their faces and wooden sticks in their hands, confronting the police and halting traffic in the plaza. It was a  confusing experience to wonder just what the protestors were looking for, and to be frightened by the mask and stick wielding guys.It was over very quickly, no violence , but it was a sign that all is not well in Argentina.
Last night we all went as a group to a tango show, dinner theater performance. The space was built out to resemble a turn of the century tenement, but much more colorful than what I imagined is the norm. Apparently, the residents of this area were able to get left over lots of paint, and used them to improve their poor surroundings. It was a “canned” thing, of course, but the music and dancing were very good and over all it was enjoyable.
Today we walked around in the Recolleta cemetry, where many of the citys rich and famous are buried in above ground mausoleums. The place is also famous for its cats, lots of cats. The architecture of the mausoleums is so diverse and so crowded together that it becomes a  jumble. Many tombs are of the art deco era, some are early 19th cen, some are mid to late 20th cen. In any case it is something to see, once. Ariel, our guide, said that he hates the place, because it represents the way the country focuses on the wealthy and ignores the poor, or something like that. Oddly, he was mostly very critical of the protestors yesterday. He especially reacted to the implied violence that the masks and sticks represented, I think.
Tonight I will have dinner with my friend Anne, and tomorrow we fly to Iguasu Falls. It is supposed to be even hotter there, will I survive?

Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 7:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Buenos Aires

For me, this is pretty hot weather. It was 93 yesterday, and about 90 today. Yhere was a big thunderstorm last evening, and it seemed to cool off, but this morning is hot again. The worst part, for me, is that the air conditioning in the hotel was not working at all yesterday, or last night, and now is working minimally. So, there is no respite from the heat. My personal body operating system is not designed to operate in this climate, so I’m feeling a bit under the weather today. I left the group and came back to the hotel for a rest and will join them in a few hours. Yesterday we toured the Boca neighborhood, sort of Disneyland for tourists, then I went to a wonderful museum of modern art with a couple who wanted to see it too.Turns out that the group is going there today. Works out for me, I can hang out and let my body rest.
Buenos Aires feels like New York in Spanish. The weekend was pretty quiet, but Monday morning is very busy, noisy and full of energy. We all walked to the Teatro Colon,the great Theater of Buenos Aires, which is avaliable for private tours, but not today because they were exterminating! Perhaps tomorrow. We also walked across the widest street in the world, and then to a pedestrial shopping area with a lovely air conditioned indoor mall created largely from a 19th century building. Lovely. And it had a bookstore and a cafe. I bought a book of short writings by Borges, and had some tea. Uneventful  so far today. Tonight we will go together to a tango show..hasta luego.

Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 6:53 am  Leave a Comment  

From Uruguay to Argentina

Yikes, this is the most difficult keyboard yet, so no capital letters, please be tolerant.(I have corrected most of the obvious errors before adding this to the blog,it’s less authentic, but more readable).
We left Montevideo and had a lovely lunch on a sort of estancia, but the main product is fruit jams, not meat. Ariel’s family joined us.His brother, and his niece who is 13 ,were especially fun to talk with.The owner of the estancia is a Guinesss world record holder for several of his collections, like key chains and pencils, and he has built a small museum to house this collction of collections. Odd, but amusing. Lunch was lots of local specialties, including our first empanadas which were excellent, and finally some grilled chicken, a welcome break from meat.
Our next stop was the very old  Colonia de Sacramento, a Unesco world heritage site where the Spanish and Portugese vyed for control of territory in the new world. The place is charming, but the day turned really really hot, and I sort of melted down . I found a nice cafe and had my favorite hot weather drink, orange juice  and tonic water. I then relocated to a shady park to wait , along with several others from the group, to head towards the bus and to the ferry to Buenos Aires.
Huge ferry, must have held a thousand passengers, in airplane seats, and with airplane like boarding and exits. Arriving in Buenos Aires, high rise buildings are the first thing you see, like New York from Brooklyn Heights.We all collapsed, showered and headed out to dinner. nothing amazing,until after we ate.  5 of us,who seem to have formed a sort of group of our own, decided to try mate, since there was a mate bar right next to the restaurant. At first it tasted bitter and strong, but as we added more and more hot water, after each person takes a sip from the bombilla.. or straw with a sieve at the bottom, we liked it more and more. Perhaps it was the mate or perhaps we had enough wine at dinner, but we had so much fun. We were giggling llike teenagers at a cute boy, although half of the group  are lesbians! We caught some taxis home and crashed. Today it is really realy hot again, and I am dreading the heat. Catch you later.

Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 6:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Montevideo, Uruguay

Hi everyone,
Last night, we met in the hotel lobby at 830pm, to take taxis to a museum, then to dinner. The museum was open that night from 8pm until 1am. It was the Night of Museums, and what a wonderful scene! This museum was a lovely house, built at the turn of the 20th century, with materials mostly from Europe. On the first floor there was a dance performance to classical music, then on the second floor a modern dance troop was doing something with shadows on neighboring buildings. It was great to see so many people, there were hundreds, and more in lines waiting to get in when we left. On the way to the restaurant, we passed by another ¨Night Museum¨¨ activity. A Charlie Chaplin movie was being projected onto a screen on a pedestrian mall sort of place, and several dozen people, of all ages, were sitting on chairs, and on the ground enjoying the silent but always powerful Chaplin. Night Museum was a impressive and exciting idea!

We started the day  today with a 30min walk along the ramblas, the waterfront promenade that surrounds most of Montevideo. So many local folks do the same, we felt right in the flow of life here. The weather is just perfect, at least for me. It is about 70- 75 during the day with a lovely breeze. I´m  so glad sunblock was invented!
Our little bus was waiting for us, and we headed to the south, toward Punta Del Este. The road hugged the coast, and rivers emptied into sand bars and eventually into the Plate River, and to the Atlantic. It is so hard to discern the difference here between the huge river and the ocean, mostly the color of the water is the only clue. The river is browner, the ocean bluer. My sense of direction here is really bad, east seems west, the sun sets over what looks like the ocean, but is really the river! It´s a good thing I´m not driving the bus.
Our first stop was a town , Pirianopolis, with a  huge old hotel on the beach. We roamed around the first floor, admiring the terrazo floors with floral patterns and the vintage photos of the hotel in it´s heyday. We continued on to the outskirts of Punta del Este for lunch at the most amazing hotel I´ve ever seen. It is a landmark on the coast. If you can imagine a building that goes 9 stories down a hillside, all white, with the oddest shapes you have ever seen . It looks like Gaudi covered one of his buildings with a sheet of white icing. We ate lunch at a long table under a bamboo shade, looking at the ocean. It was heavenly. The only thing that cold have improved the scene would have been a collection of lounge chairs for a nap. Unfortunately,our guide, Ariel had other plans for us. We re boarded our little bus and headed into the town. It is the current ¨´hot spot´´ for the international jet set crowd, with high rise hotels and huge houses occupied for only the 2 winter season months, Jan. and Feb. At the harbor we observed  several enormous sea lions, nothing like our cute little harbor seals at home. These guys have heads the size of boulders covered with thick manes of fur. They fight each other for the scraps of fish thrown from the men cleaning the days catch.
We also stopped to take photos at a large hand sculpture, a symbol of the town. The fingers are about 10 feet tall, and stick up from the sand on the beach. It is odd, and has no companion sculptures to give it a context, but is is fun to see.
The trip back to Montevideo was quiet, except for the periodic banging from the toilet in the back of the bus. The door became increasingly hard to open, from the outside or inside. Whenever someone tried to get out, they needed assistance from a fellow passenger to push the door open! I was sitting near the back and so performed several emergency shoves to open the door. I chose to wait until we got back to the hotel to use the toilet. It felt a bit too much like  performance art!

Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 6:37 am  Leave a Comment