At PHL 3 hours early, pitiful that a well traveled person like myself would get so excited that she couldn’t figure out what to do besides go to the airport. Left my kittens, so sad, they are used to having me there almost all the time as I work at home. They are just about a year old and have each other for company. I have arranged a number of visitors too. And yet I worry about them without me. I think they call that an exaggerated sense of self importance. Anyway, with a bow and a “namaste” I said good bye. Picked up my wild child (Dori, 10) at school. She was fairly attacked by her friends as I dragged her out. The drive was like riding with a firecracker she was so wound up: “what time does the flight leave?!! This is the most amazing trip I have ever gone on!!!” Then, “I miss my friends; I want Mommy (tears included).” A minute or two then: “Can we go shopping in
By the time we get to the gate though, she is in full travel mode, relaxed and centered, she does it like an old pro. We talk a little about the trip and she says, “I wonder if
So we flew on American. Connecting through DFW adds 3 or 4 hours to the travel time over a
Our great little package includes a private airport transfer and the day use of a hotel in the Ricoleta district of Buenos Aires, a very ritzy address. Truly a typical hotel in a way that there is nothing typical of
In exchange for a guarantee of a swim later I dragged herself through the parks of the
We stopped for pizza for her and salad with chicken for me at an outside café, both of which were lovely and entirely familiar to my American palate. The former however leaned a bit Italian being baked in a true wood burning oven and eaten with knife and fork, much to the chagrin of my very hungry child. The price was, as reported, probably about half what we would have paid in the states. Service was great and in the style to which I am accustomed with the exception of the Spanglish practiced by the waitress and myself. It’s amazing how successful one can be knowing almost no Spanish. As we ate we got to watch the parade of well-to-do porteños (as those from
Though the weather here is pretty near perfect for me (which is a little warm for most people including my daughter) I am not sure it was worth the effort required for the park tour, elegant Spanish feeling parks canopied with grand acacias. We finally baled out at the sweet little Japanese garden complete with good size pond and masses of mammoth koi carp.
Tonight we do something summarily un-touristy. We will take the overnight bus to a distant smaller city called
Here I sit in Valeria’s office which overlooks one of 2 internal courtyards and stucco walls, a tile porch roof and the top of a lovely ficus tree. I don’t mind the heat one bit but I am glad the ceiling fan is on, I would guess it’s close to 90. My daughter who wanders boldly around in winter coatless is probably dying. I don’t know for sure since she is at school with Romina. Now, this is an opportunity of a lifetime for her (her mother says) so I pushed hard for her to be bold and go along. She had a look that was some combination of terror and exhaustion but went for it. But more on this later…
Last night we grabbed a taxi to the vast bus station (about $3!) where Valeria had arranged and pre-purchased the tickets for us. The driver made sure to drop us off at the right door to pick up tickets for our bus, counter 119 by the way. We walked with purpose into the station and tooled around on the first floor finding nothing recognizable as a ticket counter. Finally I asked someone with my more and more elaborate collection of hand motions and single words and was told that the counters were upstairs. Onto the up escalator we went and found to our amazement all of those counters 1 through 119 and then some. We walked along moving up the numbers and found 118 then 120.
And what a bus it was, mammoth, two levels, with seats only rivaled by Cadillacs from that era in the 70’s in which one felt as though one was driving their living room, plush and tilting almost flat with leg rests that pop up. The windows all covered and Velcroed together with heavy curtains to keep out the light. Once Dori was settled, reclined and tucked under the soft blanket in the AC she declared, “Ahhhhh, this is the life.” Need I mention the sharp contrast with the torturous seats on the flight? It turned out to be a nearly twelve hour ride which could not have been more painless. The driver was amazing, never hard on the brakes nor sharp on the steering all night, and a full time attendant served us a late dinner (composed of what we American would call meat, meat and meat) and a light breakfast complete with, for me, the all important café con leche.
Apparently we had to take a detour in the night hence the extra hour or so of drive time allowing us to cross some of the interior in daylight. Opening those curtains a bit we discovered what there is the most of in vast
We climbed off in Corrientes’ much smaller bus station relatively refreshed and waited a bit for our friends, as they predicted we might, hence we were fearless. Ah and there they were hugging us and giving an air kiss on both cheeks in that Mediterranean style. We meet Valeria’s now not so new and wonderful boyfriend
The contrast between Corrientes and Buenos Aires is so sharp that the two seem unrelated, the latter so cosmopolitan and the former so much more what I have come to think of as Latin American: full of Spanish Colonial remnants and tropical style houses: stucco, corrugated roofs interspersed with tile and always in every way with their back to the street, walled-in so that we have no idea if this might be an opulent home or a bare bones one.
Romina’s is no exception. We drive into a sort of garage under a section of the house and enter the first courtyard to find a lovely and large maze of a house with a sprawling kitchen and a couple of baths and plenty of rooms with high wooden ceilings and ceiling fans. In the rear courtyard we find a sweet little pool. Oh and a big lovable dog named
Then we wander the river front of the city, a place where all go to spend time and see and be seen.
We come back home in time to open the door for Julieta, Romina’s teenage sister who goes to school in the morning, and for what is usually the largest meal of the day, lunch. The main dish is called milanessa de pollo and looks like breaded chicken breast but when I ask Romina if it is meat she says no. Upon closer questioning of Valeria I discover that here in this country chicken is not meat only beef is meat. We finish the meal with typical local ice cream, deliciously gelato-like and called dulce de leche which is hand delivered at the door as we are finishing lunch.
And so, we drop the girls off at school, 1:30 to 6:30. Valeria and I walk in with them to remind the vice principal of Dori’s presence. The girls (all girls in this Catholic school) gather around Dori to get a better look and maybe a little touch. In this provincial city foreigners are very rare and English is widely studied so this is a grand opportunity for them. As we depart I can only describe her look as one of a deer in the headlights and I have to talk myself down knowing that she will survive this experience with these other little girls handily and have wonderful story to carry home and throughout her life.
Back home us grownups go to do the tropical thing and take a siesta. Amazing how easy that is for me on this warm afternoon. I could easily make a habit of it. I lay on Romina’s bed at the front of the house, shutters pulled, fan running with the street sounds of a car, a motor bike, a small group of children passing, the bells of an occasional vendor and the next thing I know I awake with the light at a different angle not sure how long I slept. This is an especially important nap today as tomorrow is Valeria’s birthday and tonight she has 27 people, family and friends coming for the traditional asado. You might never guess what that is….a meal of barbequed fine Argentinean organically-fed free range beef (all of it is like this since what they have most of is wide open space and warm weather) done over a charcoal fire on a special outside grill permanently housed in a kind of second kitchen at the back the courtyard of nearly every house.
How this event will be for me is dubious. I am essentially a shy person whose response to shyness is to ask questions and tell stories. This approach will be nearly impossible in a Spanish speaking crowd. In addition I am mostly an early bird and guests are not expected to arrive until nine or so with dinner being served around 11! At any rate my plan for my daughter is to collect her from school, feed her a snack and put her down for a nap along with her friend. Two ten year olds napping together, hmmm, I won’t hold my breath.
The first day of spring at home is the first day of autumn on this side of the equator. In
Now 8:30, Valeria has arisen and told me, with an “Oh my gosh” that her guests departed at around three. As I left the music was just getting started. Three men with three of those small deep Latin guitars singing and playing local songs full of longing and sweetness. Dinner was indeed served at eleven, meat, meat and meat. Hors d’oeuvres were a wonderful pastry pocket called empanadas full of….meat, ground in this case, with onion, olive oil, boiled egg, pepper and meat. Three kinds of sausage, different sizes (from varying sections of the intestines I try not to imagine) and different consistencies all beef of course. Then the crowning glory, asado, great slabs of….meat, salted but otherwise untainted. Dori made it only to the empanadas then nearly keeled over before asking me to get her settled in bed.
Interestingly the simple innocence of these provincial people does not trump the Argentinean general dissatisfaction which seems to spring from problems with a very impoverished and corrupt government and spread to life in general. The result is a liberal and open discussion of ones mental and emotional state as well as extremely common use of therapists and anti-depressants. This kind of conversation with a friend of Valeria’s in Spanglish is especially entertaining. One of the tour books I am using seems to trace this to the influx of Jews in the early part of the 20th century. I am unclear as to whether this is the truth or anti-Semitism.
Back on the bus….
8:30 PM, we have just said good bye to our amazing hosts with a few tears caused, for me, by the fact that there is no way of knowing when or if we will see any of them again. I offer the girls our home if they come to the states to study. These people are full of generosity and grace and I feel such gratitude for the time spent with them in the states and even more for the time spent in their home. We spent today mainly outside
Then onto to a point in the river above where the tributary that is full of mud enters. This is a wonderful sleepy beach town where we wander along the waterfront to see the crystal clear river on one side and the wonderful whimsical weekend houses on the other, finally stopping at a small resort to experience a native fish dish that turns out to be so substantial, so rich and buttery and in such a shape that it reminds me of….steak. Throughout our meal we are serenaded by a raucous bunch of about 20 white middle aged Speedo-clad Brazilian fisherman who are stretched out at a long table drinking, playing a guitar and a couple of drums as though it was Carnavale. Very entertaining. Valeria says that Argentineans frequently go to the beach in
It turns out that
Back at Romina’s we pack up and are carried with care to the bus station where we climb on for the next leg of our trip and the last non-bed night until our flight home. Wow we really are hard-core travelers!
Ok so maybe we aren’t such hard core travelers. You know as this itinerary shaped up at home I began referring to it as the Argentinean death march. I would never do this to my clients. One time I had a family that wanted me to arrange something nearly as intense and I really pushed them to consider another approach but they refused. It turned out that they had a great time but then they are Russians and Russians are very tough indeed. And on many levels so are we. My daughter has been traveling on grueling flights followed by punishing itineraries since she was very small. Once when we were flying to
This time though she left home with a little cough and as we proceeded to one difficult night of sleep after another followed by stressful days with people who speak little English and a real lack of vitamin C (though plenty of meat) she has slowly succumbed. Our plan for today, a prepaid one, to go on a mini-trek across a glacier here in
The part of Patagonia where we are staying is the town of
Ok so I guess I’ll go sit around. Too bad I don’t like the book I brought much.
So we ended up moving the glacier trekking excursion to today and we shopped til we dropped yesterday. This being a tourist town, those extremely low prices are hard to find. Even so we picked up an amazing white leather bag with orange and yellow shapes for my preteen (believe me when I say it’s very stylish) as well as some cool gifts as we walked along the one main shopping street. The town is nearly new and the only source of revenue is tourism. Spurred by the weak peso (visitors from the US, Europe and even Japan can be found here) and the fact that el presidente de Argentina has actively promoted the destination, bringing his friends, buying up land and creating a resort of his own thereby substantiating the suspicions that the locals have that he has his own selfish agenda, growth is exponential making the second largest business construction. We ended our shopping marathon at the supermarket where we picked up lunch for our glacier trek. They have ready-made empanadas of a multitude of varieties and since we didn’t share a language with the woman at the counter we just ordered one of each.
We go wild for dinner at the lovely little restaurant called La Tablita, lamb specialists, did I mention that the “meat” of
Then we amble up the hill put of town to our hotel which is today called the Patagonia Park but was owned by Kampinsky, an upscale old world hotelier, until recently and everyone in Calafete refers to it by its previous name and maybe always will. It perches overlooking the town then the lake, made moody by the angle of the sun and the amount and shade of the clouds, with some wonderful views of the snow capped mountains beyond. Other than that it’s pretty average with décor that somehow really doesn’t come together and odd music being played in the lobby that includes Stones covers sung by a very electronic group with a soft female almost Japanese sounding vocalist (think Tumbling Dice). It does have the all important pool however, and one of good size, which has entertained my aquatic daughter on a couple of occasions.
So our real glacier excursion begins with a civilized pick up time. The bus is comfortable although the driver looks way too young. There is no guide aboard and the youthful driver speaks only Spanish and that softly so we are not sure when we stop if it’s for el bano or an overlook. The country we cross is extremely reminiscent of west
But we ride along the banks of
We round one bend and sprawled before us across the lake is the glacier itself. We can see how this is truly a river of ice flowing from the snowy peak and undulating down and down and finally entering the water as a wall of ice. It takes my breath away and the bus is all a-whisper in “Oh my Gods!” in about a half a dozen languages. We ride along the edge of the water a while, alternately seeing then not seeing, and it is an astounding surprise each time it appears. Finally we reach a launch for the boat that carries us across the lake along the front of the ice to the trailhead to climb on. Luckily there is no rain and even plenty of spots of sun but the wind off the ice is chilling. We motor very close and the sight only gets more amazing with crags and cracks that are that same astounding color as the lake, made more brilliant by the sharp contrast with the external opaque white ice. Plenty of little bergs can be seen and little bits break off and fall in as we watch. In sharp contrast the national park employee on the mic drones on first en Espanol then in English about park rules.
We climb off and onto the golden brown rocks of the opposing shore and are divided into groups by language, one for Spanish and one for everyone else, which is to say for us very lucky Americans, the English speaking tour. We are with Italians and French and Japanese and a couple from
Interestingly there is an arc in the lake the top of which meets the glacier. In the winter, as the glacier advances it frequently cuts one side of the arc off from the other side. The north side connects to the larger part of the lake and has a creek that outlets eventually to the Atlantic but the north side, called the Rico Arm has no egress and is quite small. When the glacier disconnects this arm from the rest of the lake then continues to melt and calf, the water level rises and rises, usually only a few meters, before the glacier recedes and lake breaks through but back in ’88 the dam lasted two seasons and the lake level rose right into the forest and took with it many trees, an explanation for the fallen giants we saw along the trail. When it broke through the whole thing was quite dramatic and films of the event are available all over Calefete for sale.
Then we head for the little gravelly plateau to be fitted for our crampons which are strapped around our shoes very tightly. Our guide gives us some simple instruction in a combination of limited English and body motions. Keep your feet far apart as you walk so as not to hook the crampons to each other. When you walk up the glacier make small steps with your toes pointing out. When you walk down keep your back straight, don’t lean forward because you will begin to run then possibly roll. Keep your gloves on as the ice can be sharp.
And we climb on. I can’t help but grin the whole time. Using the crampons is a truly counter intuitive experience for people used to ice in the winter. I feel like a squirrel climbing a tree, they stick on each step like Velcro. Very cool. I need a pair of these at home. The ice looks like mounds of meringue. It has lots of cracks and in the cracks are puddles and streams of that opalescent water. Our guide shows us a sink whole where there was a river below the ice that eventually collapsed. The resulting hole becomes a drain of melt water that, because we are in the southern hemisphere, flows clockwise. We find an arch and each member of the group takes a picture standing in it.
We climb a hill and our guide tells us this will be our highest point. The wind howls but the sun is shining, thank goodness, and the process of getting up there has warmed us. The view down seems fairly far but we certainly have made almost no progress toward the mountain and it becomes clearer how vast this ice field really is. We cross one hill and find a wooden table with a number of tumblers, a bottle of whiskey and a bowl of confections. Our guide adds ice from the glacier (and water for those of us who don’t partake) and here we toast our good fortune in experiencing this glacier first hand. These guys have to carry all of these accoutrements up each day as this river of ice is on the move at such a great rate that the table may disappear or be found in a puddle or river or in the lake itself. Finally we walk like ducks, close to the edge overlooking the lake. The terminus of the glacier bows inward a bit and we can see the face of the other side. Here we wait in the wind for it to calf…and wait….and wait…..and wait a little more. Oh well, not today.
We meander off the ice and unwrap our crampons and reenter a world made richer by this experience. We hike back through that exotic forest and sit in a nice little pavilion, just as it begins to rain in earnest, and eat the lunch we packed, in our case our empanadas of various kinds, some pleasant surprises, a spinach one for me, and some not so pleasant, onion and potato, ewww. While we sit in view of the mountain but not the glacier we hear a thunderous crash, the calving we were awaiting. I run into the space overlooking the ice and see….not a thing, not even a splash or a wave. Finally we make our way back to the boat and begin the crossing. As a final gift the sun shines through the rain and over the Rico arm of the lake we see a brilliant rainbow!
For dinner this night we find a lovely little café, kind of artsy, that specializes in crepes, both sweet and sandwich-y. What a cool spot clearly made for cool people like us and with the bonus of overlooking the skate board park which is heavily used by teenage boys who are as good as any I have seen in
So we have decided to jettison any further early rising glacier exploration in favor of an extremely creative way to separate tourists from their dollars: A hybrid tourist bus and four wheel drive vehicle with tires nearly as tall as me. This rides into the vast ranches that cover the craggy mountain on the edge of town and gives us some wonderful lake
We arrive actually after
In the morning we fairly roll out and onto a city tour, big tour bus, guide in both Spanish and English, this is a very clean tour, what I mean is no dirt at all. First stop is the convention center or main municipal square of the town, the place of the Pink House, where the president works, but not where he lives. What is not mentioned is that the Argentinean people have been known to burn down their leaders’ residence if they are displeased enough so
Possibly the most interesting (and disturbing) thing on the square is the area where the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo have silently protested every Thursday afternoon since their children have become victims of the reign of terror that took place in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Those “disappeared” included babies taken from mothers for the ruling class (how sick and twisted is that?) as well as a large collection of men that the government then in power felt threatened by. Some ninety or so of these babies, now in their 30’s have been discovered, however none of those threatening men have been accounted for. Not much news on this from our sparkling clean guide.
Our tour continues on an exploration of the wonderful still gritty district known as La Boca which grew on the banks of the second port and was populated by impoverished French Basque and Genovese immigrants who found work there. The original houses were all made of corrugated sheet metal, and many still are, and painted a multitude of colors, sometimes a number of shades upon one house as a result of the use of left over
The original port is called Puerto Madera and it came into existence as a result of a political favor of some kind. It was constructed in a section of the river that silted up in a few decades. Dori and I have dinner there this last night after an ATM adventure. Though had used one in
So Puerto Madera has become a very upscale office complex with buildings belonging to Microsoft and the like. The original brick dock yard done in an English style in the mid-19th century has been converted to a collection of restaurants and office buildings reminiscent of Faneuil Hall in
After dinner we walk along the river and find a spot to get my daughter’s dulce de leche fix. We walk across a wonderful modern suspension bridge for pedestrians that has a tall angled tower with cables connecting to the base reminiscent of a harp. Pretty cool! By the way, the city finally settled on a functional port furthest down the river, easily accessible to the sea and not prone to silting. And it only took about 250 years!
Did I mention I love this hotel? I think it’s one of my favorite I have ever seen or stayed in; certainly it’s my favorite city hotel. All the basics are there (clean, good service, well equipped) but really my ardor is about the design, ultimately minimalist, a collection of rectangles laid all around from the couch to the flat screen TV to the recessed rectangle of lighting on the ceiling over the rectangular table, even the toilet and bidet take on this shape. They really hit the design, I find it flawless. The almost classical grounded stability of those shapes makes the place supremely peaceful.
Today we do what I want (said in a demanding tone), in my mind the two things, along with seeing La Boca, that cannot be missed in this city. First stop is
There are lots of people wandering the “
So the place just blows me away. It’s one of the highlights of my trip to
She does stick with me to find Evita’s grave, having seen the musical right before we left. (The day we departed she sang “Don’t cry for me” in the shower.) It was, as you might guess, the busiest spot in the place. Interestingly,
Next stop was the nearby MALBA:
There are only a few names I recognize a lovely Frida Kahlo self portrait with a parrot, a few Diego Rivera’s but the stuff I love is by artists whose names don’t even sound remotely familiar. As is often true of art of the last century, it is a combination of disturbing and humorous, one piece is more thought provoking than the last. It even holds my daughter’s interest…sort of. She and I both get popped for taking pictures. It’s wonderful for me to find all of the descriptions and explanations in each gallery strictly in Spanish. This stops me from focusing upon the words and background of the artist and forces me to really experience the art in a purer form, our own
So we use the last ten peso note I have to catch a taxi back to our hotel. When I hand the driver our bill he sees it has handwriting on it and refuses it. We find ourselves in a stale-mate as this is the only note we have and we are unable to successfully communicate this to him. Finally with something that is no doubt a curse he keeps the note and waves us out of his car. We head to a touristo café that will take our credit card and have our last jugo de naranja fresca (freshly squeezed orange juice) and people watch while we wait for our airport transfer.
Ok, I have softened on
We are on the final leg, flying home over night through