A Travellerspoint blog

February 2018

Where in the World Are We?

semi-overcast 20 °C

It seems as if the whole world has been turned on its head. Where on earth could we be when the grass is green and the gardens are blooming with roses, hydrangeas and hollyhocks?
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Could we be in England? Maybe. There is certainly a very English teashop selling English pudding – known here as Budin...
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But then there are the lavenders, the roses and the excellent restaurants offering such French delicacies as jugged hare and lamb's sweetbreads – maybe we are in Picardy or Provence...
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But there again there are the many log cabins and A-frame houses just like those of rural Canada...
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And then there's the weather. The warm sunny days stretch late into the evening and we imagine ourselves strolling alongside an alpine lake in Northern Italy as we stop for an ice-cream at a gelataria. Could this be Lake Lugano or Lake Como in July?...
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And the wood-fired pizzas are as good as any we've ever enjoyed in Tuscany...
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The small city of El Calafate may be in southern Patagonia but almost nothing here is particularly unusual to us - in fact it is all very familiar. The 'world' has come to this remote valley at the bottom of the Andes in recent times to witness one of nature's wonders and has brought with it all the trappings of international tourism: German bakeries, French restaurants, Italian pizzarias, and shop after shop filled with tourist trinkets and expensive jewelry on a main street that could be almost anywhere.

Patagonia has been a total surprise to us - maybe we are light-headed from walking around upside down – but anyone expecting wild, rustic and bracing could be disappointed. There's nothing here to frighten the horses: and there are horses. (and sheep and cattle), but no sign of llamas, guanacas or any other wildlife. But then there is the glacier...
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This is Perito Moreno – this is what El Calafate is all about...
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The glacier of Perito Moreno straddles the border between Chile and Argentina and is nearly twenty miles long. The face of the glacier is 250 feet high and is a Youtube star because of the spectacular way that huge chunks regularly break off and crash into the lake...
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The Perito Moreno has to be seen to be believed. Photos simply cannot convey the enormity of this glacier or the power of nature that drives this gigantic river of ice. Unlike most of the world's glaciers, Perito Moreno is not significantly receding at present, but who knows what will happen in the future. This is one for the bucket list.
Now our week in Patagonia is at an end and we are heading back to summer and sophistication in Buenos Aires.

Posted by Hawkson 04:28 Archived in Argentina Comments (4)

The Lighthouse at the End of the World...

sunny 20 °C

As the Andean mountains sink slowly into the Southern Ocean at the toe of Argentina our trip to the end of the world has come to an end. For the next 5 weeks our journey will be all uphill as we wend our way home through Argentina, Uraguay, Brazil and Cuba. But we didn't come all this way just to get our photo taken in the most southerly city in the world...
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We came to see the penguins of Antarctica...
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This gentu penguin was looking a little lost and perplexed when we spotted him on an island beach in the Beagle Channel which separates Chile and Argentina. But more of the penguins later. First a quick look at the city of Ushuaia – a city that today is booming beause of the number of ships ferrying passengers across the 1,000 kilometres stretch of ocean to the nearest point of Antarctica. We chose not to take a cruise but found ourselves surrounded by coach loads of cruise passengers at every turn when we visited the Tierra del Fuego National park.
Fortunately we managed to get some quiet time and some great views of the lakes and snow covered peaks...
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Our next stop took us by small boat to visit the sea-lions and the cormorant colonies on various islands...
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You might be forgiven for thinking these cormorants are penguins – but this lot can fly - as can the numerous seabirds that we saw on our trip including thousands of gulls, geese and ibis...
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And then we came to the lighthouse at the end of the world...
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But back to our lone penguin. Maybe he was perplexed by the sun and the 20 degree weather because, like us, he was expecting it to be chilly and rainy. The Patagonian archipelago of Tierra del Fuego is the closest land to Antarctica and it has a reputation for some of the foulest weather in the world. The sea temperature never rises above 8 degrees and the westerly winds of the Southern Ocean circumnavigate the globe uninterrupted for 12,000 miles. The constant wind whips up waves more than 120 feet high and rounding Cape Horn is one of the most dangerous undertakings for ships of any size. Thousands of vessels have foundered off the coast here over the centuries. But not today. With a warm breeze and blue skies we got to enjoy the sight of thousands of penguins at close quarters. These are Magellanic penguins...
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Some were incredibly curious and totally unafraid...
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However, this handsome big guy was the star of the show and he knew it...
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This king penguin had strayed from his colony on South Georgia Island and was taking a breather along with his smaller cousins on Martillo Island...

So, that was our day with the penguins. We have now flown north to El Calafate. No penguins here just lots of ice.

Posted by Hawkson 12:14 Archived in Argentina Comments (4)

The Shady Side of Santiago

sunny 32 °C

The hazy, lazy days of summer are on the wane here in Chile and many stores are having end of season sales and 'Back-to-School” specials. But, with daytime highs still hitting the mid-thirties, it sure feels like August to us. The hibiscus, oleanders and bougainvillea are still in bloom and the Italian gelato parlours are doing a good trade. However, the Santiagans are used to the heat and have created one of the shadiest cities we have ever walked in...
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And walking in the shady streets of Santiago could not be easier. The centre of the city is almost entirely a traffic free zone filled with plane trees and palms. None of the economies of South America have been doing particularly well of late so a lot of commerce takes place unofficially on the street. Santiago is no exception and the shaded boulevards provide good cover for the traders...
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The traffic free areas are also a good place to listen to the many excellent musicians who perform in the city...
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With no traffic to contend with, the Santander bank has spread onto the street and into neighbouring stores where it operates a 'Work Cafe' where everyone is encouraged to just hang out, enjoy the coffee, and do whatever they need to do... it seems like a very good idea...
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Along with the many pedestrianized shopping streets, Santiago has a fast and inexpensive metro system that links all the major sites including the National Museum, the Presidential Palace, and the Plaza de Armas where it is difficult to see the buildings for the trees...
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This is the clock tower of the National Museum where, despite the excellent displays, there is absolutely no information in English...
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At the core of Santiago is the largest urban park in all of South America. The forested park rises steeply from the city centre and is surmounted by a statue of Christ...
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Climbing to the summit is easy thanks to a vertiginous funicular railway that is more than a century old. However, a brand new teleferico (cable car) then transports tourists across the top of the city. Unlike the telefericos of La Paz and Medellin, the Santiago cable cars are not part of the city's commuter network, but it is a great way to get an overview of the place for a few dollars...
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Santiago is a modern cosmopolitan city with French restaurants, upmarket shopping malls, elegant arcades and, of course, American junk food joints, (if you must). Although we have heard that there is considerable poverty in parts of the city and the countryside, judging by the prices in the restaurants and stores there are many Chileans who are seemingly doing very well – there are no four dollar lunches under these sunshades...
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We are now leaving Chile for southern Argentina and Tierra del Fuego. We will be leaving the summer heat behind us, but only for a week, as we go in search of the penguins of Patagonia. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 12:50 Archived in Chile Comments (4)

Valparaiso's Canvas

sunny 23 °C

As a youngster, James romanticized about life aboard the merchant sailing ships in the 1800s - before the age of steam and the Panama canal. It was a time when ports such as Valparaiso, Iquique and Guayquil were thronged by hundreds of four-masters plying between South America and the colonial powerhouses of Europe. The docks of Valparaiso are virtually abandoned today, but the city is as vibrant and fascinating as it has been since its re-birth following total destruction by the Spanish in 1866. The Spanish destroyed Valparaiso in revenge for the Chileans supporting the Peruvians in their fight for independence - but enough of the history; here's a snapshot of Valparaiso today...
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Valparaiso is one of the most colourful cities in the world, (for our friends at home – imagine Chemanius on LSD)...
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Almost every building in the upper part of the city has some form of adornment...
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The artwork makes great scenery for the many musicians and entertainers who work the streets..
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And everyone loves becoming a piece of the art...
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Art is everywhere in Valparaiso; on houses and buildings, on doorways and steps and, of course, for sale in almost every shop. Meet artist Alberto Lagos in his studio in Valparaiso...
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Alberto doesn't paint. He produces ancient-looking photographic prints by using a technique known as Gum Bichromate that was developed in the 1840s.
Valparaiso is a vertical city where hundreds of flights of steps and antique funicular railways crawl up and down the mountainsides. The buildings cling perilously to the steep slopes and sprawl into the many deep gorges that emanate from the harbour...
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Until last year Valparaiso was a major stopping-off place for cruise ships, but a strike by dockworkers backfired when half the cruise lines moved their operations to the port of San Antonio a hundred kilometres south. Valparaiso is still busy at present because it is the mid-summer holiday season in South America and it is the end of Carnaval.

We are staying in the old city of Valparaiso, but just around the bay is the modern resort of Vina del Mar. There are no colourful murals here: just a solid wall of concrete highrises and a seafront promenade jammed with touts toting touristy knick-knacks and knock-offs – not our scene...
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Now for last week's question. The cost of a 3 course lunch with salad bar and coffee in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was exactly $4.52 Cdn each. Tom was almost correct and wins a $4.52 lunch in Canada, (a coffee and a biscuit if he's lucky). However, we are now in Chile and today's lunch of just a mixed salad and a drink cost $21.00 Cdn. each.
Our South Pacific days are coming to an end so here's one last look at the colourful scenes in Valparaiso before we head inland to Santiago and then south to Tierra del Fuego and the Great Southern Ocean...
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Posted by Hawkson 13:03 Archived in Chile Comments (8)

Surprising Santa Cruz de la Sierra

sunny 35 °C

After 2 weeks at altitudes above 12,000 feet with temperatures barely touching the mid-teens we have come back to earth with a bang in the tropical lowlands of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. We are still in Bolivia, but on an entirely different planet. Gone are the chaotic teeming streets of La Paz; gone too are the rotten roads and the dilapidated houses of Uyuni...
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Santa Cruz is the commercial centre of Bolivia and it is a thriving modern city surrounding an elegant colonial core of colonnaded boulevards...
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The people of Santa Cruz are as chic as their city and they would be at home in any southern European capital, but, just like many of their Latino cousins, drivers absolutely refuse to give way to pedestrians – asi es la vida!
In the late afternoon sunshine, when the temperature finally falls below 30, the public square in front of the majestic Basilica is filled with promenaders seeking shade under the palms while meeting friends and buying coffee, milk or cortadito from one of the smartly dressed official vendors...
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This is the Basilica at a quiet moment...
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One thing that sets Santa Cruz apart from similar cities in Spain are the prices. With daytime temperatures reaching the mid-thirties the folks in Santa Cruz tend to follow the Spanish custom of siesta and take a very long lunch break. So here is a question for you. How much did we pay for a three course lunch of soup and baguette, grilled chicken breast with rice and vegetables, all-you-can-eat salad bar, raspberry mousse and coffee? Anyone correctly answering within $1 will be treated to a Canadian meal of equal value. Good luck.

It's mid-summer here and the tropical plants in Santa Cruz's botanical gardens are putting on a show...
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We had hoped to see a sloth in the jungle area of the gardens but the best we could do was this very colourful tortoise...
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...and these enormous weaver bird nests...
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Now we are leaving Bolivia for the Chilean seaside and must say farewell to the llamas, alpacas, guanacas and vicunas of the Andean altiplano.. This is a vicuna - we think....
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We will forever carry with us unforgettable memories of the Uyuni salt flats. Many people visit the biggest salina in the world but the conditions are not always perfect. We were very fortunate to visit when the water level and the weather conspired to give us an amazing display. Here we are on the salina with the salt monument that marks the starting point of the South American Dakar Rally...
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Bye-Bye Bolivia. You are not always beautiful, though you have some very pretty parts, but you are certainly very interesting.

Posted by Hawkson 16:02 Archived in Bolivia Comments (5)

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