Géisers for Geezers

Saturday we once again started late. This time, our tour started at 2:30pm and we headed to the salt flats about 30 minutes outside of San Pedro. Our first stop was Laguna Cejar, a saltwater pond. The name laguna translates to lagoon, which to me (and Merriam Webster), is “a shallow sound, channel, or pond near or communicating with a larger body of water.” This was a small body of water, not near or connecting to anything else and fed by underground springs. [Late update – I asked my Spanish teacher how you would say small lake (and showed her the picture). She said laguna. So, I am shocked to tell you that google translate, may be wrong!] We arrived at the laguna and changed into our bathing suits, because, like the Dead Sea, you when you get in the water, you float. The temperature was hovering in the low 30s Celsius (about 90˚F) and so the cool water felt wonderful. Sue and I both kept our hats (and sunglasses) on for the dip and we all (us, hats and sunglasses) came out encrusted with salt. The park had showers (no soap or shampoo allowed) so we had a quick rinse and got changed back into our clothes.

After Laguna Cejar, we visited Laguna Tebinquiche, a small, very salty lake with a very unique ecosystem. The hard environmental conditions including high solar irradiation, extreme temperature differences between day and night, high salt, and arsenic content (related to the volcanic activity nearby), make the lagoon a very difficult place to live. Some of the things that live in the lake are closely related to the earliest types of single and multicellular organisms that lived on Earth. Flamingos are often found at the lake feeding on brine shrimp, but when we were there where none. (Our guide said that most of the brine shrimp were gone and the flamingos had moved on in search of nourishment.)

Ignore us and look at the stars. That is the milky way on the top left with the southern cross at the bottom of the milky way

We returned to the hotel at about 7:30, had a quick meal and got ready for our “evening” activities.  The Atacama Desert is very high and the thin air, lack of light pollution and clear skies make it ideal for observing the sky. Overlooking Laguna Tebinquiche is the Atacama Large Millimeter Array observatory.  We did not go there. Instead, we booked a 10pm to midnight star gazing tour that was about 30 minutes outside of town. However, this tour, like so many other things in Chile work on Standard Chilean time. So, our scheduled 9:30 pick up was actually closer to 10:15 and our 10 p.m. start turned out to be just about 11 p.m. The “tour” consisted of three parts. First, a 30-minute introduction to stars, how they form, live and die. René, the “tour guide” described nebulas (nebulae?), various types of stars and some of the things we needed to look for in the night sky. It was quite interesting and tied in nicely to what we were going to see both with naked eyes and with the telescopes.  Next, he pointed out various stars, constellations, and described how the path of the sun is tracked against the arc of the planets across the sky. (He also talked about the difference between navigating in the northern and southern hemispheres and how it was done. PLUS, we got to see the best constellation: Gemini!) To me, this was the most beautiful part of the evening as we able to see the entirety of the sky. It was simply amazing, and I cannot adequately describe (how often do I say this or something like this) how awe inspiring it is. For the third part, they had two telescopes set up and we were able to see nebulae (I am pretty sure it is nebulae, but maybe not, in which case just pretend that I wrote nebulas), a binary star, stars from various constellations and Mars (Yes, I know it is a planet). (The nebula looked like a tarantula – if you used your imagination, which all sky gazing requires.) All in, it was an amazing evening that ended at just about 2 a.m.

Luckily for us, we had decided that we would take it easy on Sunday and hang out at the hotel pool.

Only kidding, if you don’t know us already, we don’t do lounging very well, so when we planned this weekend, we scheduled a morning tour of the El Tatio geysers. The pickup time for the tour was 5:30 a.m. Just about 3 hours after we put our heads down, the F#%$^@$# alarm told us to get our ancient carcasses out of bed and find the nearest coffee. Not our happiest moment. The geysers (which in Spanish is spelled géisers and pronounced geezers, which is an English term for old people), are about 90 minutes directly north of San Pedro on a series of small, mostly (well, at least somewhat) paved roads. They are also at about 4,320 meters (14,170 feet) above sea level. Have we mentioned that Sue gets altitude sickness? I attribute it to the fact that her brain, unlike mine, needs oxygen to function (mine simply bypasses the need to function). She wears a patch that contains scopolamine and it generally works really well. However at this altitude, it seemed be losing the battle even after augmenting it with chewed coca leaves and some coca tea (I think these helped, because I started to feel better afterwards). Like always she was a trooper, even when she turned many different shades of gray. The area is a field of geysers, some of which run continuously like a fountain and others are intermittent. Sorry, but once again, like I seem to say so often, nature is just unbelievable.

After wandering through the geyser fields for an hour or so, we piled back in the van and started the return trip. Along the way we saw various types of waterfowl, vicuña (which are related to guanacos, our favorite from Patagonia) and wild donkeys. We stopped at a small lake and saw lots of flamingos, which are actually animals, not just plastic lawn ornaments for Florida homeowners.  At one point I asked our tour guide about the weather and he mentioned that they were just about to enter the rainy season. The season lasted from the last week of January until mid-February and they might get rain. Wow.

We returned to the hotel just after 1 p.m. had some lunch (I tried cochayuyo, which we mentioned in an earlier blog and it was delicious! It tasted of the sea) and waited for transport back to the airport in Calama (about 75 minutes away), then after a couple of hours wait, our flight back to Santiago and onward to our AirBnB. We arrived home just after 11 p.m., the end of an amazing and wondrous weekend. We were, to put it kindly, just a bit tired. 😉

Before I finish: This is a naked and unabashed plug for Wikipedia. For those of you who regularly read our scrawls, you know that we often link to Wikipedia articles. It is a free, non-profit encyclopedia that is entirely funded by donations. There are no advertisements or paywalls and while it isn’t a research tool (yes, kids in high school and college, I am looking at you), it does have a massive amount of information for those of us who just like to learn stuff. If you can manage, please help them.

One last weekend in Santiago

This was our last weekend in Santiago, while we are here for nearly two more weeks, next weekend we are heading to the Atacama desert, and then we leave the following Saturday for Mexico City.

Friday night we joined two of Sue’s school friends, James and Rania (friends from where she is taking Spanish, not friends from when she taught school in the U.S.) for dinner at a nearby restaurant called Quital. We arrived at 7:30, and were, of course, the first people in the restaurant. The food was typically Chilean, which means, that there is a reasonable menu of fish and meat plus a few things that Sue would eat. Interestingly, both of them are dietitians in London, although they did not know each other there.  We had a very pleasant dinner and wandered out at around 11pm.

Saturday we rode the subway all the out to Los Domingos Park and Pueblito los Domínicos, an artisan market that is at the west end of the subway line that is right at the foot of the Andes. We grabbed our trusty Bip! Cards (so named because that is the sound that they make when you enter the subway) and walked over to the station. The 13-stop ride took about 30 minutes. The market is a former monastery and has about one hundred different shops selling everything from artisan crafts to fancy food. It was fun to walk around, but to be truthful all these places are beginning to look the same. Yes, here they sell Alpaca wool , in Brazil they sold hand-crafted knives, Buenos Aires has local leather goods, but all-in-all, the shopping experience is the same. We are not huge shoppers, so we wandered around for a while then headed to the Costanera Center (a short 6.2km walk – mostly downhill, but in 30˚C temperatures.

The Costanera Center has two attractions. First, at 300 meters, it is the tallest building in Latin America. They have a viewing deck at the top, the 62nd floor, that is glassed in, but open to the sky. As we all remember, heights are not my favorite thing, but I strapped on my big boy boots and we headed up the stairs – only kidding – we got into the elevator. The view is pretty astounding. There are very few buildings higher than 10 floors, and Santiago is surrounded by mountains. I will let the photos do the talking.

The second, very much less interesting, thing in the Costanera Center is a huge American-style mall that houses the nice grocery store that we talked about in our last post. We headed down to the first floor and did our grocery shopping. I know not very interesting, but the practical things need to get done. Loaded down with our groceries, we grabbed a cab and headed home.

On Sunday morning, we walked to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. The museum commemorates those who disappeared or were killed during the Pinochet dictatorship, which ran from 1973 until 1990. The museum is very well done and we joined an English language tour for most of it. It is terribly depressing to see what people will do to each other in the name of power. I would highly recommend visiting this museum for anyone who is in Santiago.  

We walked back home from the museum and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. I watched the American Football playoffs via a streaming service and Sue read a book that she has been slogging through for days. (Not really slogging, it’s just a long book — Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen — with only two formal chapters and that bugs me because I don’t like to stop between chapters.)

We had an early dinner with Ann, a woman from Spokane, Wash., who is at school with Sue and Ann’s husband, Kenn. We met at Le Bistrot Viet, a Vietnamese restaurant that Sue and I visited on our first night in Santiago. We sat down around 6 p.m., and didn’t move until after 10 p.m.. They are also digital nomads and we compared notes on places we have visited, plans for the next year and tips and tricks that we found. They are headed to Buenos Aires next and we are hoping to see them again when they pass through Mexico in late April.

I keep meaning to write a few things about Santiago that struck me.

First, the volume of graffiti is just staggering. It seems like all cities have their share of graffiti, but the amount and pervasiveness of it in Santiago is surprising. (While walking home the other day, Ann and I saw a man tagging just a few blocks from a demonstration that included police wearing riot gear.) It is everywhere, mostly tagging, rather than street art and there doesn’t seem to be any effort to remove it. It reminds me of New York in the early 1980s.

The second thing is how quiet the streets are. Most of the cities we have visited the streets are busy with people walking, but Santiago feels like a ghost town. We thought it might be because we arrived around the Christmas holiday, but it really hasn’t changed in all the time we have been here.

Third, nothing opens early. When we walk to Sue’s school in the morning at 9:30, almost nothing is open. There isn’t even any activity in most of the storefronts. Nothing seems to really get moving until the afternoon.

Fourth, many restaurants have a short dinner window. People don’t seem to arrive until between 8 and 9 p.m., but then many of the restaurants are closing up around 11.  At dinner last night we were virtually the first people to arrive and the last to leave. They do generally serve three meals: lunch, once (which means 11, and so is served at tea time) and dinner, so perhaps dinner is not the most popular meal to eat out.

Finally, small stores seem to open and close randomly. There is a little corner store next to our building that was open for a few days, then closed for a while and now it is open again. When we walk around, we see stores open one day, closed the next, I suspect there is some pattern, but we don’t seem to be able to figure it out.

It is an odd city.

Patagonia Flat

We said ciao to the end of the earth and headed to Puerto Varas, where we started with a short tour of two towns on the lake that were settled by German immigrants – Frutillar and Puerto Octay. Puerto Varas is a pretty big tourist destination and the “gateway to the lakes region of Patagonia.” If you need outdoor gear, this is the town for you. But it is on Lake Llanquihue (pronounced Yankee Way – just like the road in the Bronx to the greatest baseball stadium in the world)(it’s a very deep glacial lake – a great place to put the team), a glacial lake with beautiful scenery everywhere you look.

The first night, we went to Santo Fuego, a parrilla (of course), so Robin and Steven could eat meat for dinner. We left satisfied and tired after a long day. We were grateful because the pick-up time for our excursions for the next two days was a luxurious 9 a.m.!

Promptly at 9, Manuela and the driver arrived. Steven and I had been trying to figure out how to get laundry done, but in a harbinger of good things to come, Manuela said she would have the driver take us to the laundry service the hotel recommended. Hmmm, closed, but Manuela to the rescue! She knew a woman who did laundry and would bring it back to us at the hotel before we left the next morning. We dropped off the dirty clothes and started on the 1.5 hour drive to Parque Nacional Alerce Andino to hike through the temperate rain forest to a 3,000-year-old Patagonian cypress or Fitzroya cupressoides,  named after Robert Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle and Tierra del Fuego expedition fame. He got a mountain named after him, too (seems like a worthy reward for the effort he put in to schlep Darwin far enough so he could change our entire thinking on the way the natural world works).

We lucked out with Manuela, because in addition to finding us laundry service, she was an excellent guide to the trees and flowers in the park. We had great timing because everything was blooming so the forest was a deep green, punctuated by tiny red, purple, yellow, pink, and white blossoms. The hike itself is what we have learned is “Patagonia flat,” meaning you won’t be climbing a mountain, but don’t imagine the Midwest either. Rolling hills are a polite way of putting it.

Both on the way in and out of the park, we passed waterfalls on Rio Chaicas. I know I’m starting to sound redundant, but everything we saw was on a grand scale and beautiful. I think part of it was that we didn’t really have any expectations, so we were just amazed at every turn.

Our excursions came with a lunch, so we sat at the base of the giant tree and ate. The whole hike was about 8 km or 5 miles. Perfect for enjoying the environment without overdoing it on our step count.

Back in town, we wandered a bit and then ended up eating at the Hotel Puelche (where we were staying) restaurant – a burger place that had veggie burgers, too.

Steven here – we have done some much in these last few days that we decided to split up the blog – I am taking day two.

The next morning, first the laundry showed up on time – whew! We had clean clothes. Manuela and Ronaldo (our driver, but no not the futbol player) showed up promptly at 9 again. This time we loaded all our luggage into the van because we were checking out. The plan for today was to do shortish (6km) hike along the base of a volcano. According to Wikipedia (which will tell you not to use Wikipedia as a source), there are 105 volcanos in Chile that have been active during the Holocene – which is the current geologic period and has lasted about 11,000 years. We were hiking around the base of Volcán Osorno, which is in the Vincente Pérez Rosales National Park. It is the oldest national park, established in 1926 after Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt visited the area and allegedly suggested that a park be established because it was the most beautiful place that he had ever seen. At least that is what they tell the Americans. The area is a temperate rainforest, so the forests are very green and lush. The hike took us through part of the forest and then across a lava field (the lava was no longer hot as the last eruption was in 1869, so it was safe to walk across) and then back through lower and more scrub-like vegetation. The entire hike was on black sand. We considered climbing up to the top (2,600 meters) of the volcano and sacrificing our cousin Robin to ensure that volcano didn’t erupt, but Manuela recommended against it, and we are afraid of Aunt Es.

After we finished the hike, we took the van to another part of the park (which is huge, something like 250,000 hectares or 1,000 square miles) and stopped to eat our box lunches at the Petrohué waterfalls. The falls are formed from the runoff of glacier water from the volcano so the water is a turquoise blue. As always, my words cannot express the beauty and power of nature, but hopefully these photos and videos will.

The cold tree

We walked a couple of trails near the waterfalls, one of which was full of a tree called Arrayan or Luma (Luma apiculate). The interesting thing about this tree is that it is always cold to the touch. We wandered the trails for another couple of hours and then called it a day.

Ronaldo drove us to the Petróhue Lodge, where were staying for the night. The lodge is on Todos los Santos Lake just on the outskirts of Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales and is rustic and beautiful. The owner is the great grandson of a Swiss archeologist and explorer who mapped the area and then settled here. He (the great grandson) has established a little museum next to the hotel about the history of the area and gave us a really nice tour of it.

Back to me (Sue, that is) – Yesterday was Robin’s last day with us, but we had time for one more hike with her. We couldn’t do the 7-hour Desolation Pass (oh boy were we sad we couldn’t do another death march), so we settled for a 3-hour loop which included the beginning of that hike and then headed back along the beach.

We were a little confused about where the trailhead was so we tried asking a park ranger. Apparently, my Spanish is very bad and I didn’t get across the point that we just needed directions to the trailhead, but he was very nice and used Google translate voice to give us a whole history of the park before pointing us in the right direction.

Wow! We had another perfect weather day in which the clouds lifted to reveal the Osorno volcano (among others). The hike took us from the lakefront, through the forest, across alluvial fields, and along the volcanic sand shores of the lake. We got back in plenty of time for Robin to get ready for her travel back to Atlanta and have a last lunch with us.

Steven and I had booked a hot tub for 4 p.m., so we relaxed for a couple of hours and puzzled over where to go instead of Peru, where there is a state of emergency. We are crazy, but not stupid. The hot tub is heated by a wood fire, so the staff tended it for four hours before it was the right temperature. The water was perfect and we sat in the wooden vats amid the trees feeling very lucky. The pisco sour and beer didn’t hurt either. Tomorrow, we go back to Puerto Varas for one last day of vacation before heading to Santiago and reality.

Today was the last day of our vacation. We spent the morning getting our last looks at Petrohue before we transferred back to Puerto Varas. We wandered around the town, admiring the cloudless view of the lake and volcanos and treated ourselves to T-shirts and ice cream. It is vacation after all. I had lemon with mint and ginger, which has become my favorite soft drink and Steven had something called harina tostada, which is toasted wheat. It doesn’t sound like a great ice cream flavor, but it was. Special shout out to our tour guide Manuela, who went out of her way to find us a special pepper made from leaves she pointed out on one of our walks. Can’t wait to see you again, Manuela!

This has been an amazing vacation. Tomorrow we fly to Santiago to begin the next phase of our adventure.

Onward and upward (plus a bit of downward)

Friday was our last day at the Hotel Las Torres in Torres de Paine. Steven decided to take it easy, but as you know, I never decide to take it easy and so I didn’t. We had a part-horseback, part-trekking all-day trip up Cerro Paine to get a different view of the Towers and because I wanted to do a horseback trip. We thought it would be mellower than the hike up to the base since it was 4 km on the horse and 4 km straight up the hill.

No problem. Robin and I met another couple who were on the excursion and we headed to the stables with our guide, Valentina, to get our horses and a short lesson in how to hold the reins. (An aside: There were five women guides and four of them were named Valentina.)

First off, my pin head didn’t fit in the adult size helmets, so I go a child’s size and I believe my beige one looked way more professional than the bulky black ones everyone else had. Then we put on gaiters to protect our pants from sweaty horses. Finally, we were introduced to our horses and hopped on for the ride.

Everything was going great. The view from the horse was spectacular and we were just walking, so I wasn’t worried about how I would walk when we got off the horse. Only one problem: It had rained the night before and the ground was muddy and semi-impassable at one point. The baqueano (horse guy) found a spot that seemed OK and rode his horse across. Then it was my turn. Well, Blondie my horse had a different route in mind. A route that sucked her legs into the muck like quicksand causing her to fall and me to fall off into the mud. At this point, I am going to turn it over to Robin to describe what happened since I was in the middle of it. And, no, no one got video and I will not be a YouTube fail star.

Robin’s play-by-play

From 8 feet above:

There was some confusion as to which way we should take the horses across the mud flats. The baqueano thought he found the best way, and proceeded to cross. Sue went next and I was behind her. before we knew what happened the front legs of her horse sank 3 feet and down to its knees.

The horse fell forward and floundered and attempted to get up, but then fell again launching Sue 10 feet to the right, and planting her face first in the mud. She was already fairly close to the ground at that point, so it was more of the side launch and the mud plant which made things so damn funny. It was hysterical.

But the grown-up part of me said repeatedly, do not laugh!! This can be a dangerous situation.

Sue struggled to all fours, and began to turn around in the mud in an attempt to stand up. Unfortunately the horse, who was also attempting to regain her footing fell backwards onto SUE launching her face first into the mud again, and this time, pinning her leg under its torso. 

While the mud bath continued, I repeated my mantra, Do NOT laugh! Do NOT laugh!!  I strove to be a bigger person.  I mean, can you imagine if something terrible had happened to her and I had been seen sitting on my horse laughing my ass off and shooting a video. That would’ve been bad. I never would’ve been invited on another trip with them again.

Once she and the horse were out of danger I snapped a few shots which don’t even begin to do the story justice. Look at the ground, it’s the beginning clue to her state of her mud-caked self.

All that said she was a true champ, and incredibly gracious about the entire thing. She changed into some rain pants she had packed and a few extra clothes from the guide and carried on with a smile and a laugh and a great attitude, something that many people would not have been able to pull off!

You go girl!!!

I was not hurt at all. Mud is pretty soft, but hard to get out of once you’ve been sucked down to mid-calf. Valentina gave me a hand and Blondie and I stood and carefully made our way out the mud. Luckily, I had rain pants in my backpack, so I removed the mud- packed gaiters and my muddy pants and put on the rain gear. Don’t worry, I didn’t subject the group to my bare butt –I had another layer underneath. After I cleaned up a bit, I got right back on the horse and off we went.

(Steven’s comment – I am so disappointed that there is no video! Where is a 15 year old with normal TikTok skills when you need them? I am so sure our blog would go viral with video of my wife face planting off a horse into mud.)

The trail stayed pretty slick in spots, so we left the horses a few feet earlier than they typically would and set off on foot. My socks were a little squishy, but other than that I was fine. The trail was a steady uphill and started to look like a moonscape with lots of rock and scree. I never felt out of breath or like it was too difficult, but it was no stroll in the park. Of course, when we got to the top, it was well worth the trek. We ate lunch, took pics, and headed back down.

The way was a little slippery because of the scree, but I only slipped a few times and we were able to make it back down to the horses in about an hour. The way back down was uneventful since Valentina and Robin decided to take a less watery route. The view got even better when the clouds parted and we were able to see all three towers clearly.

I loved the trip, but couldn’t wait to get the mud off me and my clothes. That shower was one of the best of my life!

To end on an extra high note, Steven and I were sitting in the lounge area when a waiter yelled, “Puma!” We all ran to the window and saw the big cat strolling down the path at the hotel. It had just eaten a couple of baby birds and was happily wandering back into the wild.

Saturday morning we said goodbye to Torres del Paine and all three of us agreed that we wished we could have stayed longer. The scale and beauty can’t be conveyed in pictures. We took a four-hour van trip to Punta Arenas because I wanted to see penguins. We didn’t realize that there’s not much else to do here and that it is mainly a staging area for trips to Antarctica, but so be it. It really does feel like you’re almost at the end of the Earth. We are staying in a cute boutique hotel, La Yegua Loca, with a view of the Strait of Magellan.

Sunday we got up at what would normally be before dawn, but here is already full sun, 5:30 a.m., to make a 6:15 a.m. van pickup and head off to the penguin boat. Transportation seems to be the main issue we have with our tour. We really didn’t need the van transfer — we could have walked to the office and gotten and extra 30 minutes of sleep, but we didn’t know that. The boat trip is about 40 minutes and then you walk around Los Pingüinos Natural Monument taking pictures of Magellanic penguins, cormorants and other birds. Penguins can be loud! Just watch the video below.

It was fun and with the patch, I didn’t get sick at all on the boat. Plus, we were very lucky and had sunny skies and calm seas. yay!

After the penguins, we stopped at the only other attraction we were interested in, Museo Nao Victoria, which has replicas of one of Magellan’s ships and the Beagle. It was worth about 45 minutes.

Knowing what I know now, I would not have come down here just to see the penguins since there isn’t much else to do. An extra day in Torres del Paine would have been amazing, but I am not going to complain since I am the one who wanted to see penguins. We even got the timing right since the penguins were nursing their chicks. Overall, a great experience, but I’m just not sure the trade off of two days was worthwhile.

Tomorrow morning we fly to Puerto Montt and drive over to Puerto Varas for the last leg of our Patagonia adventure.

Patagonia – part 2

On Sunday, we did a full day tour to La Leona Petrified Forest. It is about an hour and a half outside of El Calafate. Our driver and guide, Leon, picked us up at the hotel and drove us north through the scrub desert.  We stopped at roadside hotel/bar/restaurant/gift shop, and picked up another couple for the tour. The landscape is very similar to the desert in Arizona but without cacti, just low scrub plants and grasses.

We reached the petrified forest, which is much less of a forest and much more of a huge rock formation with eroded sandstone and basalt. It is very stark, beautiful, and extremely windy. We hiked along the ridges of several the rock outcrops and slowly headed down in the lower portion of the valley. Along the way, Leon explained the rock formations, how the different layers were formed, and how they are eroding at different speeds based on the type of rock that they are. We found dinosaur bones where you could clearly still see the marrow and he explained that one way to test if a rock is a dinosaur bone is to lick your finger and if the rock (only small ones obviously) stuck to your finger, it was likely to be a dinosaur bone. We also saw many petrified trees, some of which looked like they were just bleached wood. It is always incredible to see how well the organic material has been preserved by the minerals, the tree’s rings and features are clearly visible. As we circled down into the valley, I did notice that our van was significantly higher than we were, which gave me some minor cause for concern. Anyway, we hiked around the valley finding lots of petrified trees, interesting geological features and a few dinosaur fossils.  

As many of you know, I am terrified of heights. It is quite frustrating for me. The logic and reason portion of my brain knows that I am not in any real danger, that I have great balance and never stumble or fall when walking, and just because I am near an edge, should not in any way make it more likely I will fall. However, the old reptilian, flee or flight section of my brain cannot grasp these details and just keeps shouting into my head NO! DON’T DO THAT! MOVE AWAY, DON’T GO THERE. Oddly, I have terrible balance, but no fear of heights or the edge of cliffs. Hmmmm, maybe I need more reptilian brain. I work hard to keep my mind quiet and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Our hike out of the canyon was one of the times that I could keep my mind mostly quiet. We zigzagged across one of the walls (which to be truthful was not a sheer drop, but it was a pretty steep drop) and up to the van, rising perhaps 300 meters. Neither Sue nor Robin were the least bit bothered by the climb, I on the other hand, needed a few minutes to collect myself after we reached the top.  

We packed ourselves back into the van and Leon drove us back to El Calafate in time for dinner. Robin craved meat for dinner so she headed off to a parrilla (steak house) while Sue and I headed back to Pura Vida for another home-style dinner. We ordered a bottle of wine called Fabula, which sounded like fabulous to me, but actually means fable. Despite the disappointing name, the wine was great.

Monday morning, we checked out of Hotel Posada los Alamos in El Calafate and headed for Torres del Paine in Chile. It was about a five-hour drive, once again across the scrub desert.  After about three and a half hours we turned off the road and down gravel road, and at this point, I thought to myself, sheesh, we are in a van with a driver we don’t know, we have no cell phone coverage, on a dirt road and have no idea where we are going. Sometimes I wonder about our decision making. However, it turns out that down the dirt road leads to the border crossing into Chile. We waited in a tiny shack for about 10 minutes for the Argentine immigration guard to do something with our passports and then finally hand them back to us and we were able to exit Argentina. We drove about a half a mile down the road, there was a sign that said “Bienvenido a la Republica de Chile” and the road was paved. We went another half a mile and reached immigration and customs for Chile. Once again, we entered a tiny shack where a young woman reviewed our passports and gave us some sort of paper. It appears that she has ample free time as there was a hair straightener plugged in next to her computer. We walked to the next little building which housed the police and customs. The police reviewed our passports and the piece of paper that the passport woman gave us and then stamped our passports. At customs, we put our luggage through a scanner, but the customs official didn’t seem to look at the scans. Once we finished crossing the border, our driver put our luggage back in the van and drove us about 50 feet to the next little building and put our luggage into a van run by our hotel which took us the rest of the way.

A few scenes from the drive

We are staying at the Hotel Las Torres, which is inside the national park, but still private land. They offer an all inclusive package that includes all food and excursions. The location in unbelievable and it is a perfect place for a respite from the outside world. We have no cellphone coverage and only have single digit speed internet in the hotel itself. Once we checked in, we talked to the excursions team and booked some hikes.

The hike starts on the right at the green/black circle and moves left to the blue lake. The distance/altitude chart moves left to right.

Sue and I decided that on our first full day, we would do one of the most famous hikes, called Mirador Torres del Paine, on our own. It is a 17km hike with about a 1,000 meter vertical climb. We woke up, grabbed some breakfast and hit the trail by 8:30 a.m. The hike is broken into three sections. Section 1 is from the hotel to the Chilean refuge (green circle with a white triangle on the right). It is 4 km up through the scrub desert and across the face of the mountain gaining about 400 meters, not particularly difficult, but there were sections with a 20%+ grade.

At about the 2.5 km mark, the course turned and there was a 300-400 meter stretch of very exposed, relatively sheer cliff. It is called Windy Pass, because typically the wind is blowing right through making it extra scary. We were lucky and had a calm day. Also, Steven is very brave. The path was easily two-people wide and while I was very uncomfortable, we made it through. The rest of the way to the 4 km mark was reasonably steep downhill to a refuge and we arrived there after a couple of hours. At the refuge, there is camping, bathrooms, a small store and picnic tables to sit and relax.

We rested for a little while then headed to section 2, the forest section. It is about 3.5 km, and as the name says, it is through a forest. It is a fairly easy walk, gaining only about 200 meters over the course of the entire section and it took us another hour or so. Section 3 is the tough part (starts at the green circle with a white triangle on the left). It is only 1.5 km long, but gains about 400 meters, with sections that are 40% grade and you are literally climbing over boulders. I hate boulders! The last 250 meters are once again across the face of the mountain, with a fairly steep falloff. This was one of those times that my inner voice could not be quieted. Yes, I know no one ever falls, that hundreds of people cross that rock field every day, that I should be more frightened crossing the road, but no matter what I was telling myself, I could go no further. I told Sue to carry on and I found a nice protected place and waited for her to return. I think she double timed it to the end of the trail, took a couple of pictures and double timed back to me. I am so grateful that she knows how to motivate me, when I need it, but also how to read the terror in my eyes and realize that I can go no further.

Once Sue had returned, we headed down. Now, my usual thinking is that down is always easy, but boy that last section was the hardest easy I have ever had. Climbing down rocks is nearly as hard as climbing up and I was especially glad we had our hiking poles.  Once we hit the start of the forest section, we stopped and ate our lunch as it was just about 3 pm.  The forest was relatively easy, although both of our quads had started to tell us that they were unhappy, we still had quite a long way to go and bunch of height to gain and lose. But mostly it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other to get to the Chilean refuge.

We arrived at the Chilean refuge at 4 p.m. and decided to rest for a few minutes. The remainder of the hike would be a climb of about 75 meters over a 300 meter stretch, along the exposed rock face, then about 3.5 km of relatively slow downward slope all the way to the hotel. We trudged up first 300 meters, reminding ourselves that we did this for fun. Once we reached the top, we turned the corner and were on the final downward stretch to the hotel. We arrived back at the hotel by 5:30 p.m. and collapsed into our room for a little while. We showered, headed to bar, had a drink, some dinner and were both asleep by 9 p.m.. It was a very long hard, but rewarding day. Even if I didn’t reach the end of the trail.

For our second day, Sue and I decided to do a half day excursion with a guide. Robin headed off on a full day excursion to another part of the park to see a glacier. Sue and I, along with about half a dozen other people, hopped into one of the hotel’s vans and headed for a hike that they describe as “Patagonia flat.” The walk is across the Patagonian steppes and features lots of guanaco, some cave paintings, and the possibility of seeing a puma. The drive to the trailhead took about 40 minutes and since it was drizzling, we all pulled on our rain gear. “Patagonia lat” means rolling hills, lots of 30-40 meter ups and downs and one big climb upward to reach the cave paintings. The “caves” are actually covered rock overhangs and compared to the cave paintings in France, they are quite limited. We rested there for a little while, then hiked back down off the rock outcrop and across the steppes. We saw lots of guanaco, learned lots about the plants and wildlife of the area, and happily, at least in my mind, did not see a puma. The whole hike took about 2 hours, it was a perfect amount of effort for us following the very strenuous prior day.

One more day here, then we are off to Punta Arenas.

On to Patagonia

Our last week in Buenos Aires was a bit of a whirlwind. My cousin Robin, an experienced traveler on her own, joined us on Monday. We spent the rest of the week working and visiting the last few places on our must see/eat list. On Thursday night we had a goodbye dinner with our friends Marco ndt Barbara at their place where they provided a wonderful feast, and we said a bit of a tearful goodbye.

Saturday morning we headed to the airport four hours early for our flight to El Calafate, having learned from our trip to Porto Alegre that the line to check in would be enormous. We were not disappointed, but what we did not count on was that Robin is a Delta Skymiles bigshot and her status with Delta allowed us to skip all the lines and check in quickly and easily. We zipped through the security screening and were in the boarding lounge in under 30 minutes. Since we had three hours to kill, we hunkered down and had coffee and breakfast. Good thing because the woman who was cleaning our apartment WhatsApped me a photo of the clothes Steven left hanging in the closet. Steven had time to taxi back, get his shirts, and still have time to finish his coffee at the airport. Usually we are good about checking every spot for left items, but somehow wit slipped our minds.) Our flight was on time (as it seems all Aerolineas flights are – even if they only allow 10 minutes to board) and relatively quiet. Not unexpectedly, we hit some turbulence over the mountains, but nothing to write home about – although, since my mother reads this, I guess I just have.

El Calafate is desert. Sue likened it to Arizona, but it is much colder and you can easily see the Andes mountains with snow on them. We checked into our hotels and then took the opportunity to meet at the Patagonia brewing company to watch the Argentina vs. Australia match. The USA lost while we flying, so I guess I was spared the disappointment of watching the games. Oh well, and good luck to Tyler Adams – the U.S. Men’s national team champion who went to the same high school as I did, and now plays for Leeds United in the English Premier league. Anyway, we watched as Argentina made easy work of Australia and all the Argentines (and us non-Argentines) enjoyed the game and the result. Afterwards, the main street was flooded with cars driving around honking their horns and there were several impromptu parades down the street.  

We had dinner at a place called Pura Vida. I would call the style Argentine home cooking. Sue had pumpkin soup and lentil stew. Which she said was the first true vegetarian food she has had in a restaurant since we arrived. It was muy rico! Robin had lamb stew and I had a chicken pie. All were very delicious and quite large.

Sunday morning we woke up, put on our cold weather gear (multiple layers, winter coats, hats and gloves and we headed to the Perito Moreno Glacier. Iguazu Falls which we visited a few weeks ago, demonstrated nature’s raw unbridled and immediate power. The Perito Moreno showed us nature’s glory in a whole different way. It stands about 30 kilometers (18 miles) long and about 80 meters (250 feet) tall at the face. The ice on the face is mostly white with an eerie blue that looks like back lighting. As you would expect from an ice formation, the temperature hovered in the low single digits centigrade. Our bus dropped us off that the visitor’s center on the south side of the glacier. The park has about four miles of walkways and steps (many many steps) that went from about 100 feet higher than the glacier (where the visitor center was) to the waterline. Sue, Robin and I walked all of them in our allotted 2.5 hours. Words simply cannot describe the amazing beauty of it, hopefully some of our (read Sue’s) amateur pictures will.

After a quick pack lunch we hit the bus again for a quick drive over to what the sign called “Safari Nautical.” It is a boat ride that takes people right up to the face of the glacier. We were quickly and efficiently loaded onto the boat and we headed up the lake to get a whole new perspective on the glacier. Once again it was glorious. The boat takes you close enough to almost reach out and grab the glacier.

Please try and remember that the face of the glacier is 80 meters tall.

We headed back onto the bus, and back to the hotel, quite exhausted, but with views like this out of the bus.

A Final Weekend in Buenos Aires

Yes, We’re Moving On Again

We’ve arrived at the part of the journey where we begin to say, “We still haven’t done …” At this point, we typically make a list of sites, restaurants and other attractions we have seen in our wanderings and said, “We need to go there,” but haven’t yet done so. Since we leave Saturday morning, we took advantage of the weekend to go on two death marches (one scheduled and one accidental).

But first, I want to mention that Tamar and I went to Teatro Colón to see Tosca. By the time we bought our tickets, there was only standing room only left. I was a little worried about standing up for that long, but I figured we could always leave early since there are three acts. I was worried about nothing. The first act, which was about 45 minutes, flew by so fast, I didn’t even think about being uncomfortable. We could see the whole stage from where we were and the theater is known for excellent acoustics so that wasn’t a problem either. I know nothing about opera, but it was magical. For me it was the combination of the singing, sets, acting and costumes. I don’t know if I will ever listen to opera, but I would definitely go again.

Saturday, we headed to Tigre, a small town just north of the city that sits at the mouth of the Paraná Delta. After a bit of confusion about getting tickets, including waiting on the wrong line with an equally confused Canadian couple, we found out that our Subte cards were already loaded and ready to go. There are two different trains to take: One is just a commuter line and the other travels along the river and into Buenos Aires’ fanciest neighborhoods. We thought we would take the coastal train out and the commuter train back, but we ended up at the wrong station, so we cheerfully took the commuter train.

About an hour later, we disembarked at the station, walked out and saw a McDonald’s. Sigh. We had decided to take a boat ride (thank you scopalamine) so after getting tourist information from the town employees who hang around for that very purpose, we went over to the docks and chose a tour. It’s very casual and there’s no need to book ahead, so we wandered over to a kiosk and bought tickets for a boat leaving shortly. For about 75-minutes we cruised around various canals and rivers looking at the houses and trees. We enjoyed it, although it was difficult to hear the taped narration.

Everyone’s a futbol fan during World Cup

For lunch, we sat by the river and enjoyed burgers. Tigre has a couple of museums, an amusement park and a crafts market that was once the fruit market. Many people use it as a jumping off point for more water sports adventure. We walked around a bit more, but didn’t have a lot of interest in the museums, so we decided to check out the crafts market and then head back on the coastal train. We’re not good shoppers, so we walked by some of the booths an shops and decided to head back. By this time, Argentina’s World Cup match had begun so it was eerily quiet, except around the restaurants that had the match on.

Here’s where the accidental death march comes into play: The coast train doesn’t go all the way back to BA. You have to switch to another line. No problem. We saw the river beaches and expensive houses along the way and were able to find the train platform easily and get a score update — 0-0. We saw a train pulling out as we arrived. Really? It couldn’t wait 2 minutes to allow for the connection? No, the trains in Argentina run on time. We waited about 40 minutes, got on the train and then realized it wasn’t going all the way back to the closest stop to us. Can you guess what happened? You are right. We decided to walk the rest of the way, which was about 6.4 km or just shy of 4 miles. All along the route, people were cheering. I think we were the only ones who weren’t wearing futbol gear.

There was no big Saturday night out after that. We didn’t even eat dinner. Just popcorn and some peanuts. Futbol snacks in honor of the face-saving win.

We had a reservation for a nice all-you-can eat restaurant, Gourmet Porteño, on Sunday. Of course, we decided to walk even though it was a bit more than 4 miles. The restaurant is at the south end of the restaurant row in Puerto Madero. We had been there once before, but it was rainy and chilly and the Puente de la Mujer was closed. This time we lucked out. Not only was it a beautiful late spring day, but the bridge was open, so I got to walk across it. It’s just a bridge, but the views were pretty.

We arrived at the restaurant hungry and a bit warm, but there was AC and plenty of food. I thought it was going to be brunch, but it was lunch, so no omelets or waffles, but plenty of … you guessed it: Meat! There was also pizza, pasta, sushi, salads, sandwiches and, of course, desserts! We had a leisurely meal and then headed over to San Telmo, which is a giant, crazy street market full of my new favorite Spanish word: tanteria, or crap. Among the flea markety items were also nice art, plenty of mate gear, leather goods, jewelry … anyway, you get the idea. Of course, we bought nothing (23 kilos is our rallying cry). If I were on a two-week vacation and heading home, I might have bought a couple of things, but the storage locker and our suitcases are full enough. We walked the full length of the market, which extended for what seemed like miles but was probably 6 blocks, and then resumed our death march back to the apartment. (total distance for this weekend’s death marches – 20.8miles)

Today, cousin Robin arrives in preparation for our very exciting actual vacation in Patagonia! We fly out Saturday morning.

A traditional Thanksgiving?

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the U.S., so my work was closed. Sue and I decided that since we had been back in Buenos Aires for three whole days, it was important for us to leave again – no more accurately, we decided that since we had a free day, we would head to Uruguay. There is a little town called Colonia del Sacramento just across the river Uruguay from Buenos Aries and there are ferries that run back and forth every hour or so. Sue got us tickets for a 10:30 a.m. outward bound ferry and an 18:00 (6 p.m.) ferry back.

As many of you might remember, Sue gets terribly seasick, just looking at the water. She has scopolamine patches that really help her but have the side effect of making her terribly thirsty. She put on her patch the night before and in the morning we headed for the ferry. We sat out in the sunshine at the back of the boat and enjoyed the breeze and the rays. It has turned quite warm here and ride to Colonia took an hour and a half, and was very enjoyable.

We disembarked and walked around the town. We were expecting a cute little tourist town, with colorful buildings and a nice little central square. It was quite disappointing. First, the town is fairly run down, I guess the pandemic has taken its toll. Second, many of the places were closed, we suspect because Uruguay was playing in the world cup that morning. We made of the best of what was there, wandering through the town and walking along the river. Sometime around 2 o’clock we sat down and had lunch on the terrace of a little restaurant that overlooked the river.

After lunch we wandered some more, but by 4 p.m. we were done, and headed back to the ferry terminal to await our return trip. Once again we sat outside in the back of the ferry and enjoyed the breeze and sunshine. We both agreed that the best part of the trip was the boat ride. We cleared immigration in Argentina for the fourth and final time during this trip and headed back the AirBnB.

We had a quick change and headed out for dinner. We were meeting Marco at 9 p.m. at La Cabrera, one of Buenos Aires’ best steak restaurants. I believe the total count of vegetarian entrées on the menu was two. One was pasta, the other was grilled vegetables – and that may have been a side dish, not a real entrée. Not surprisingly, Marco and I each had a huge hunk of meat, while Sue had grilled vegetables. The food, wine and desserts were all great and finished up the meal right about on schedule – three hours after we sat down.

Today, we took a bit of time and made reservations for a weekend trip to the Atacama desert in Chile. It looks amazing and is the driest non-polar desert in the world. We will write more about that once it gets closer.

This coming weekend is our last in Buenos Aries before we head to Patagonia so we are going to pack a lot in.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends in the U.S.

Family Fun Time

Boy, they really know how to eat meat in Porto Alegre (Yes they do!! YUM)! Aside from that, Vitor and family went all out entertaining us and making sure there was never a dull moment.

Vitor wanted to show us how beautiful the sunset is over the river Jacuí, so we went to Cais Embarcadero, which is a park along the river with restaurants and bars (and an Insta sign, of course). We got there with perfect timing and the sunset was gorgeous. One thing we have learned is that a sense of time is not a Brazilian strong suit. We decided to eat dinner there and were given an estimate of one hour to get a table … more than two hours later, with me and Alexia in desperate need of food (they were talking about eating the barstools) , we were seated. Phew. Meat (and a veggie burger) did the trick. At least it was worth the wait and the company was excellent, as usual.

Friday night, we went to Sargent Peppers, where the house band — yes, you guessed it, the Lonely Heart’s Club Band — plays covers of ’80s and ’90s music include a few Brazilian pop tunes. There were 10 of us and we sang, danced and ate (mostly meat). The band was a lot of fun, but for me, the highlights were the man who sells roses on the street who showed up at the beginning of the second set and sang three classic Brazilian tunes and the fact that all the waiters get on stage and sing Hey Jude with the band.

The Rose Man Singeth

In case you were wondering about the playlist, here is pretty much the first set:

  • Betty Davis Eyes
  • Stand by Me
  • Every Breath You Take
  • I Will Survive (sung by a very large Brazilian man; it was a little discordant)
  • Sultans of Swing
  • Swept Away
  • Sugar
  • I Saw Her Standing There
  • Pride (In the Name of Love)
  • Don’t Look Back in Anger
  • Don’t Stop Me Now
  • Don’t You (Forget About Me)
  • I Shot the Sheriff
  • With or Without You
  • Watermelon Sugar
  • Memories
  • Believe
Na na na nananana nananana Hey Jude

The second set had more Brazilian tunes, but here are the songs you will know. (Admit it, you know all these songs.)

  • Hey Jude
  • Under Pressure
  • Let’s Dance
  • Dancing with Myself
  • Psycho Killer
  • Titanium
  • Suspicious Minds
  • Dancing Queen

They were still playing when we called it a night at around 1:30 .

Saturday, we headed back to the beach. Well, back to the beach for me, but for Steven it was the first trip since someone around here has to support our crazy lifestyle. It was supposed to be very hot and it may well have been in Porto Alegre, but the gale-force winds were blowing at the beach so it was a little chilly, but very relaxing, especially when there’s a hammock. Steven loves a good hammock. They are nap-inducing.

Vitor’s friend Marcelo invited us for coffee after he joined us for lunch (guess what Vitor made (the steaks he BBQ’d at the beach were amazing!) so we could see his beach house. In case he forgets, he said, “Mi casa es su casa,” so if we ever want to go back, we can stay in one of the six bedroom suites and maybe even invite all our friends. Thanks, Marcelo 😉 Marcelo also told us that the beach, Praia do Cassino, is the world’s longest at 254 km (about 150 miles).

The one downside of the brisk wind was that we were a bit too chilly to hang out to stargaze. We still haven’t seen the southern cross, but we have time.

We decided on sushi for dinner (we being Alexia and I), but the boys wanted burgers because they hadn’t had enough meat at lunch (while the steaks were delicious, according to Vitor, if it doesn’t have bacon, then it is a light meal – and there was no bacon). The hamburgers they got were only slightly smaller than an LP in diameter. They typically come with cheese, an egg, peas, corn, onion, lettuce, and tomato. If that’s not enough, feel free to add bacon. It’s hardly a surprise that there was a bit of meat left over.

Meat, left; meat, center; Steven eats meat, right.

Vitor cooks meat (well, lamb meat) for our last night in Porto Alegre.

Sunday, we went to an art fair in Parque Farroupilha. It’s a huge park that houses an small amusement park, trails, the weekly art fair, and a Saturday farm market among other attractions. There, Steven bought a meat knife. He is very proud of it, so don’t be surprised if he cooks you meat the next time he sees you just so he can show off his knife (OMG! it is a fabulous knife! Vitor explained the knife rules: 1. Never use the knife to cut vegetables especially onions- that is a sacrilege. 2. Never use the knife to cut raw meat -use a stainless steel knife for that. 3. (This one was for Sue) – you can’t use the knife on the owner to cut their throat when they are sleeping, even if they are snoring, just use the pillow.

Our fabulous host, Vitor, bought me a mate cup that is really beautiful. I really enjoy mate, but not just for the drink, but because of the ritual that goes with it. I hope I find some other mate drinkers when we settle down. The mate in Brazil is different from the Argentine mate. It’s got a lighter flavor and greener color. I’m not going to play favorites, though. I like them both.

You’re never going to guess what happened after the art fair. Try not to faint. … We went to a vegetarian restaurant! It was an all-you-can-eat buffet and it was delicious! It’s a good thing everyone ate a light lunch because our last dinner was another meatfest. While the giant leg of lamb and rack of lamb ribs were cooking, everyone “snacked” on sausage that contained cheese.

We got to say goodbye to everyone, including Vitor’s brother, sister-in-law and one of their kids while we shared good food and wine. It was a fitting ending to a very family-oriented week. We had a blast and are thinking maybe we should learn Portuguese next. (That is the imperial we meaning Sue. I am unlikely to manage to learn enough Spanish to order in a restaurant, let alone actually hold a conversation).

Thanks to Vitor, Alexia, Alice, and Lucas for opening their homes, showing us around their city and state, and putting up with our TERRIBLE attempts to pronounce Portuguese words.

Ciao for now, Porto Alegre.

Family, Friends, Food and Football

This weekend was all about family. When I was in college, my parents hosted an exchange student from Porto Alegre, Brazil, named Vitor. Our families have been close ever since and we think of Vitor and his family as our family. My mother decided that for her 85th birthday she wanted to visit Vitor and his family. Sue and I had already planned to be in Buenos Aires and so we quickly agreed to hop a flight and join her and her traveling partner, my sister, Judie. 

Tonight’s cast of characters:

  • My mother: Turned 85 on Saturday and is still walking 3 miles a day
  • Judie: My much younger sister (she and Sue are the same age – currently 39 and holding) Judie is MUCH older than I am. She was born in April; I, in June.
  • Vitor: Our brother from another mother and chief host of the insanity that is to follow
  • Alexia: Vitor’s fabulous wife who is smarter, better looking and in every way better than Vitor
  • Alice: Alexia aad Vitor’s daughter; she has recently passed the Brazilian equivalent of the bar and is beyond wonderful. She speaks fluent English and is happy to help everyone with everything.
  • Lucas: Alexia and Vitor’s son; He always has a smile and is just starting at college. As a teenage boy, he has an appetite that doesn’t end.
  • Bruno: Alice’s boyfriend who is also a lawyer, speaks immaculate English but has two strikes against him in my book because 1) he drinks Budweiser and 2) is a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.

…and now back to our story…

Mom and Judie arrived on Thursday morning. For reasons we cannot recall, Sue and I decided to book our flight on Friday at 5:30 AM (IN THE MORNING). We figured that we would get to the airport at about 4, as we didn’t expect that it would be crowded. Boy were we wrong! Luckily Aerolineas Argentina has a “great” system. Everyone waits on huge lines until your flight is about to depart and they call up your flight and you bypass the line. At about 4:45 they called our flight; we bypassed the rest of our our line, checked in and were on our way. Boarding started at 5:10 and amazingly we left on time for the 90-minute trip to Brazil.

4 a.m. at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, a smaller Buenos Aires airport. Boy, do I look sleepy!

Vitor picked us up at the airport, whisked us to our AirBnB and then to his place. We met up with everyone and then piled into two cars for a trip to a winery called Casa Valduga, about 90 minutes away. We arrived at lunchtime and headed for their restaurant. The food is served continuously, by which I mean the waiters carry trays of food from table to table and you can take or not as you choose. I was not aware of this when the service started, so by the time we reached the seventh or eight dish, all of it either meat or pasta, I was struggling. The food was fabulous, and I was very full. Luckily, after lunch, we headed to a winery named Casa Miolo for a tour and some tasting. It was nice to walk around and stretch our legs. The tour was in Portuguese, but come on, it is a winery, so we all know what they do and how they do it. After the tour and tasting were done, we headed back to Vitor and Alexia’s house and relaxed for the evening.

Saturday was my mother’s birthday party, so preparations needed to be made. Vitor ran here there and everywhere getting meat, meat and more meat. Alexia made salads, vegetables, tabouleh and potato salad. The rest of the cast tried to help or just stay out of the way. The party was held in a party room at Bruno’s parents’ apartment building. Many of Vitor’s family and friends showed up and quite a few spoke enough English to have conversations, which is really great because my Portuguese is even worse than my Spanish, which is nearly non-existent. The “boys” (Vitor, Bruno, and Bruno’s dad and brother) fired up the indoor BBQ (what a great invention!)  and promptly roasted approximately one full herd of cattle.  The challenge tonight was to try each different cut of beef without bursting – it was a tough challenge, but I rose to the occasion. Sue was of no help whatsoever as she is a vegetarian. The party lasted until after midnight and everyone was exhausted by the time we got back. I would like to take a quick moment to say how welcoming everyone was. Many had never met us nor my mother, but that didn’t seem to make a bit of difference to them. In their minds, we are friends of Vitor and Alexia and therefore we are friends of theirs. It is so nice to make new friends.

Luckily for us, Vitor planned a quiet day of football on Sunday. In the morning, we watched American football on TV (there was a game being played in Germany, so it was on early in the day). We had a “light” meal of about 30 pounds of pasta and Alice’s wonderful homemade sauce. Then we hopped into the cars and headed for the nearest 50,000-person stadium to see the last game of the season of SC Inter. We sat in some box seats behind the goal and what we in the U.S. would call the bleacher bums. The area by the goals is all standing room only and the crowd sings and chants the entire game. Inter scored their first goal after 11 minutes and then piled on, winning 3-0. I hope the videos give you some idea of the electricity in the stadium.

Goal #3
The bleacher bums sing and chant the entire game

After the match we retired back to Vitor’s and watched more American football and had beer, wings and pizza – because we hadn’t eaten enough the previous few hours/days. Somewhere around midnight, we called it a weekend.

For those of you trying to keep track of where are/will be here is our schedule for the next few months:

11/15 – 11/21 (or 15/11 – 21/11 depending on how you read dates) – Porto Alegre Brazil

11/21-12/3 (21/11 – 3/12) – Buenos Aires

12/3 – 12/17 (3/12-17/12) – various stops in Patagonia

12/17 – 1/26/23 (17/12 – 1/26/23) Santiago Chile.