Chile-Argentina 2019

December 2018 - February 2019
Pre-cruise travel in Chile (Santiago, Atacama Desert, Valparaiso); Celebrity Eclipse cruise: San Antonio, Chile, around the Cape to Buenos Aires, Argentina with various ports of call; post-cruise travel in Argentina.
  • Day45

    Day 42 - Airports

    February 9 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 -3 °C

    We were up early for our scheduled 09:00 flight back to BA. Waiting for it, the airline announced the plane had a technical problem (bad battery) and they had to delay the flight!

    The airline is a start up in its first year of operation and has only four planes. The passengers almost revolted, demanding they put us on other airlines to BA.

    We had a scheduled flight back to the US at 22:20 tonight so, when the airline said we'd be flying about 13;30, we were ok. We sat around the airport and took advantage of the meal vouchers they gave us. 13:30 came and went and now the flight was to be at 15:00. Then to be at 16:30. The passengers fumed, the airline wouldn't provide much information and 16:30 passed. Finally they said the "rescue" plane with a replacement battery was to be there at 18:00.

    Now we were getting worried about missing our US flight. The rescue arrived and we took off about 19:00 for the two-hour + flight. We got into BA about 21:15, only an hour before our flight! We had to leave from a different airport a half an hour away and figured we'd never make it. As we were de-planing, I got a message that our US flight had been delayed by 40 minutes so we caught a cab and raced to the other airport. When we arrived the checkin was already closed but I went to the United office and they checked with the boarding crew who said they were still boarding. We checked our bags and cleared immigration and made the flight only moments before they closed the door. Whew!

    With the take off delay, however, we figured we'd not make our connection in Houston. The ten-hour flight from BA was good and we were a only a bit late. We breezed through immigration and customs, checked our bags, and made our Dulles flight with ten minutes to spare. United got us in to Dulles early and Holly was waiting there to take us home.

    A great trip!
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  • Day43

    Day 41 - Up into the Andes

    February 7 in Argentina ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Our tour today followed the Mendoza River up to the border with Chile - an impressive trip.

    The Andes climb up from Mendoza (at 2,500 feet) in three separate ranges: the foothills (topping out around 11,000 feet), the frontal (peaking around 21,000 feet) and the principal (with the highest peak in the southern hemisphere, Aconcagua, at 23,000 feet). We didn't climb the peaks but did get pretty high.

    After picking up other tourists, we caught the Mendoza River outside Lujan de Cuyo and climbed past a tall hydroelectric dam through a series of steep switchbacks and along the reservoir. The we followed the deep valley up the foothill range. The Mendoza (and the glaciers before it) cuts a channel through a variety of rock with the valley walls jumping up well over a thousand feet. Throughout the climb, we marveled at the colors of the rocks, red, yellows, whites, greens, olives, browns, and blacks mixed and swirled in layers and curves. The erosion of these rocks leaves multi-colored fans of gravel falling down the precipitous slopes.

    The Andes are formed by thrusting and folding were the Pacific plate collides with five continental plates along the west coast. Subduction action creates volcanoes that push magma up through the folds to create over 40 extinct, dormant, and active cones along the way.

    The road, Argentina's Ruta 7, is the major route between the country and Chile. It carries 500 to 800 trucks a day and passes through 14 tunnels as it climbs. Also climbing through the valley is the abandoned tracks of the Trans-Andes railway, built in 1907 but closed in the 1970s when the constant clean up of rock slides became too much to bear. The tracks, derelict stations, and rusting bridges remain.

    The Mendoza River valley is deep with the sediment and alluvial deposits washed down from the towering side hills and canyons. The river cuts through these deposits as it rushes to the plains. For miles, the river has cut a tall vertical wall through the sediment that jumps straight up hundreds of feet.

    We topped the foothills and came into a lush valley and the town of Uspallata (6,500 feet). The river valley is barren with only low scrub brush and bare side hills. In contrast, the Uspallata valley is green with tall elm, poplar, and sycamore trees and fields growing vegetables. Here a large tributary feeds into the Mendoza. We stopped for a break at a kind of truck stop.

    Our tour continued up the frontal range. Our guide continued her near constant stream of explanations about the few towns the railroad, the history, the formations, and the rocks and hills in Spainish and English. The tunnels kept coming, the steep side hills kept climbing, and the river churned through the valley - although the flow was noticeably less.

    The road is two lanes, well paved, well-engineered, and carries moderate traffic. The colors of the rocks continued to astound us. Near the town of Polvereda, another military base with not much else, we passed the Vaca River joining the Mendoza. This marks the start of the start of the last range. The river, of course, cuts through the ranges so the road keeps a steady climb even though the mountains climb and descend. We passed a small ski resort, now closed for the summer.

    We soon entered the Provincial Park Aconcagua. This is the jumping off point for hikers wanting to climb the trails around and up the highest mountain in South America. Our tour stopped at the tiny visitor's center and took the short walk to a viewpoint to gaze at the peak, some 15 miles away.

    A bit further on, we started into the third range and turned from the Mendoza to follow one of its three tributaries, the Cueva River. There are customs posts along the way where trucks entering the country are inspected. We passed the tiny hamlet of La Cueva (8,500 feet). The hamlet has only 10 year-round residents but swells to about 100 when the snows cease and the summer tourists start coming. Here we left Ruta 7 for a gravel road to climb into the third range.

    This narrow road climbs a series of switchbacks up the steep side hill with more than a half-mile elevation change in perhaps two miles horizontal distance, although the road snakes maybe ten miles as it climbs. The views over the Cueva valley below and the tall peaks all around are breathtaking. At the top of this climb, at just under 13,200 feet, is the Christ the Redeemer monument. The monument honors the 1904 peace pact between Argentina and Chile and sits exactly on the borderline. You can walk ten steps from one side of it to the other and cross into the other country. The bronze sculpture was made of melted down cannons used in the war. It is a 20-foot statue of Christ holding a cross. The wind at the top was strong and constant and we bundled up to walk around the area. The driver played the San Martin march on the way up the switchbacks (this was one of the passes his army used to cross the Andes into Chile) and played the Argentine national anthem on the way down. The Argentine passengers sang along.

    In La Cueva, we ate a good buffet lunch before starting the return to Mendoza city. We made one more stop on the way at the Inca Bridge. This is a natural formation over the Cueva River formed hundreds of years ago. It sits where a series of thermal springs spout from the mountain base. In the early 1900s, a hotel sprang up to cater to the people coming for chores. The mineral-laden waters deposit a multi-colored sheen of Crystal's over the bridge and sides of the river channel. Thus deposit has protected the bridge from erosion. Our tour wound back down the river canyons to Mendoza, arriving about 19:30, twelve hours since our start. It was a great trip with marvelous scenery and vistas.
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  • Day42

    Day 40 - Up to Villavicencio

    February 6 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    Another bus tour up into the foothills of the Andes. Out of the city (at about 2,500 feet) and climbing gradually through the desert and into the Villavicencio Nature Preserve. While the city gets about 10 to 12 inches of rain a year, the preserve gets only about 4 inches. We were the only non-Spanish speakers among the 13 of us. Our guide explained various aspects of the flora and fauna of the desert. The desert is low scrub with no trees, thorny bushes, agave, and cactus. We went past a limestone mine and a big Holcim cement plant on the way into the preserve (there is a Holcim cement plant in Hagerstown). Then past the new Villavicencio bottling plant. The water is shipped around South America and we'd seen it in Chile, on the Eclipse, and everywhere in Argentina.

    Our route followed the Argentine Ruta 7, formerly the only way to cross the Andes for hundreds of miles north or south. This is also the route taken by General San Martin in 1817, after liberating Argentina, as he crossed the mountains into Chile to continue his liberation campaign. The concrete road was rough and climbed steadily. The bus had trouble making the climb and the driver had to stop several times to repair a hose. The air conditioning worked poorly. We left the paved road for gravel and started up steep switchbacks.

    We passed the old hotel and kept climbing. The view both up and down was spectacular, with traces of the road cut continuing to switchback up the mountainside and grand vistas of the plains below. There were wild flowers scattered among the rocks, snapdragons and jarinna, the regional flower. The switchbacks kept up but we stopped at one lookout at about 6,400 feet. We turned around and went back down to the hotel.

    Hotel Villavicencio, named after the first prospector/settler in the 1860s, was build in the 1940s to provide a spa where visitors could take the thermal baths. The location had been a rest stop for people crossing the Andes long before that. Charles Darwin and the priest who eventually became Pope Pius IX stopped here. It flourished after WWII but fell on hard times in the 1970s, closing in 1978. It sat abandoned until the water company of the same name was taken over by the Danone water company of France. That company donated much of the land that now makes up the preserve. The hotel's facade has lately been restored and the grounds cleaned up. Preserve employees give guided tours (only in Spanish) and show a video (with English subtitles). We wandered around the grounds. Visited the small chapel with a fresco of the Last Supper behind the altar then walked the old terraced gardens, now devoid of flowers but still having the stonework basins and walkways. Our tour returned to Mendoza and dropped us at the hotel.
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  • Day41

    Day 39 - Wineries

    February 5 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    Our tour picked us at the hotel and went around the city picking up others until we had a full compliment of 17. Off to our first winery - Trapiche - while our guide explained points around the city and the countryside. He said that the area is semi-desert and Mendoza and Maipu are oases in this dry land. The vast farms and vineyards grow using irrigation with water from the Andes. He also commented that the biggest "crop" in the area is oil (petroleum, not wine or olives).

    The Trapiche winery is one of the best-known and has won many awards. We took a tour through the museum where we saw the old production machinery and learned that "trapiche" is the basket that holds the grapes when they are pressed. Trapiche produces over five million liters of wine a year and exports much of that. We tasted three of their products, a white Cabernet Sauvignon, a pure Malbec, and a blend. All good! After the obligatory stop at the winery store, we continued to our next winery.

    The Sinfin winery is a much smaller one. It produces about 300,000 liters per year and has another vineyard where it produces about 1.2 million liters. It has modern stainless steel tanks rather than the oak and concrete tanks we saw at Trapiche. Our tour was quite short and we moved to the tasting. Again, we tasted three wines, a white Cab, a Bonarda, and a straight Malbec. The Bonarda is a little-known grape from the Segovia region in Europe. We liked the Trapiche wines better. Our winery guide spent much time explaining the wines and what foods they go with. Finally, she brought out a "mystery " wine in an unlabeled bottle and had us guess the blend. It turned out to be a blend of Malbec, Shiraz. Merlot, and Cabernet Franc - a grape none of us had heard of. It was good. Then she took us downstairs to the cellar and wine shop where she set up their whole line of wines, olive oil, and grappa.

    On to our next winery, Santa Julia is a very large producer, much bigger than Trapiche. Here we stopped at one of their restaurants to eat lunch. They served a delicious three-course meal with one of their wines with each course. A white Torrontes (white) with the first course (a cream cheese, prosciutto, tomato on flat bread). A Tempranillo (red) with the lasagna and a spumante (sparkling white) with the ice cream and fruit dessert. It was a great meal but our palates were a bit dulled from the previous tasting to be very discriminating about the wines.

    It was interesting to watch the social interplay during the tour. Among the 17 of us there were Argentines, Brazilians, Australians, a guy from England, a couple from Denmark, and us. As the tour went on, and especially over lunch, we got pretty chummy. Conversations crossing back and forth over the table in Spanish, Portuguese, and English with the Brasilians chatting in English and me in Spanish.

    After lunch, we had an olive oil tasting. Besides producing wine, the farm produces olive oil in at least 10 varieties. They set up three for us to taste and a guide explained the fine points of oil production. They grow 97 varieties of olives. Some oils they refine using only one variety to produce distinctive flavors. Others they blend all 97 to produce the oil. The three blends we sampled ranged from smooth to intense. She told us that the intense blend comes from early harvest (still green) olives, the classic comes from mid harvest (red) olives, and the smooth from late harvest (black) olives. We could definitely taste the difference between the smooth and intense oils. After three hours at the restaurant, we boarded the bus back to Mendoza as the conversations continued. It was a great tour!
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  • Day40

    Day 38 - To Mendoza

    February 4 in Argentina ⋅ ☁️ 25 °C

    Up early to check out and over to the air park (it's the air park for the downtown port and the airport for the international port north of BA) for our 9:00 flight. Once there we discovered I'd made the reservation for a 9 PM flight! We were able to get a new reservation, in Business class, for later in the morning and waited for that.

    We had a good flight to Mendoza, cruusing over heavily farmed plains. Our hotel (Villaggio) is a small boutique one in the center of town. We walked around the central square and a pedestrian street.

    Mendoza is a large city (130,000 in the city proper and 1.7 million in the greater metro area). It's 650 miles from BA but only 150 miles from Santiago, Chile, across the Andes. It is the commercial hub of the wine growing region but doesn't seem crowded or busy. Wine is THE business here with 90% of all Argentine wines produced in the area. They also grow olives and produce olive oil and bottle the mountain water for sale throughout the country.

    At a shop on the pedestrian mall I finally found a leather belt I liked. At the hotel we arranged tours for Wednesday and Thursday then went around the corner for a great Italian dinner (with wine, of course).
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  • Day39

    Day 37 - Travel to BA

    February 3 in Argentina ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    The rain last night cooled us down by 20 degrees, high forecast today only 79. It was still grey in the morning and the mist from Devil's Throat added to the grey. We hung around the hotel until leaving for the airport and boarded our mid-afternoon flight back to BA.

    The Hotel Gran Melia, where we stayed, is great! I commented that it's a five star hotel in a five star location (at a five star price). Being in the Park meant we didn't have to spring for a taxi or wait for a bus from the town.

    The Argentine government is in the midst of a program to upgrade many airports across the country. We saw this in BA and Iguazu. Our taxi driver was quite proud that the improvements to the Iguazu airport would be finished by the end of this year. Currently there are 18 flights a day coming in; when the modernization is complete, there will be 30 per day. The construction means temporary jobs and the increased number of flights means more permanent jobs.

    We made it to BA and claimed our hotel (same one we stayed at on the way to Iguazu) then ate at the same restaurant as before, where they welcomed us as old friends. We'll be back again on Friday. Now watching the start of the Superbowl.
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  • Day38

    Day 36 - The Upper Circuit

    February 2 in Argentina ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Leg cramps plagued Gail overnight and she decided to forego our planned Grand Adventure tour. The Adventure was to be an open truck ride through the rainforest and a jet boat ride under the falls. I went to the meeting place but they wouldn't let me go on the tour because I have hearing aids - Park safety rules. I was irritated (nobody likes to be classed as "impaired").
    Instead, I did the Upper Circuit walk. This walk, on the metal walkways, led over the Upper Iguazu River plateau along the long north arc of cascades to the right of the Devil's Throat. Each of the major cataracts is named individually, Bosetti, Adan and Eve, Mendez, Mbigua, and the second largest, San Martin (Devil's Throat being the biggest). The walkway followed the edge of the plateau, with viewing platforms at each cataract and a large one above the middle of San Martin. From above, I could see the jet boats dashing up to the cascading flows on the Lower Iguazu. The park has set up wireless routers along the walkway so you can stay in almost constant connection. The return walkway was further inland across the swift-flowing Upper Iguazu River.

    Since Gail had stayed in the room, I decided to go to an out-of-the-way falls over a two and a half mile path. This is a wide dirt path through a quiet part of the park. The quiet broken by the clatter of helicopters from the Braziluan side every 15 minutes taking tourists on a short ride high above the Falls. When I made it to Arrechea Falls, I found it wasn't worth the walk, being only a small amount of water. At the bottom of the Falls, a couple dozen people were picnicking and bathing in the 100-foot drop of the water.

    We spent the late afternoon reading in the room. As we readied for dinner and dusk closed in, so, too, did a large, heavy thunderstorm. It went on for several hours with rain so heavy we couldn't see much beyond the hotel pool. That cooled the temps down to the low 70s. More rain is forecast overnight and tomorrow.
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  • Day37

    Day 35 - The Devil's Throat

    February 1 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 35 °C

    Made arrangements for a tour for today and tomorrow then took the small, narrow-guage, open-air train to the station at the upper Falls. This placed us on the plateau above the falls where the river flows to the lips of the different cataracts.

    We walked the 3/4 of a mile walkway over the swiftly flowing river to the viewing platform next to the Devil's Throat cataract, the biggest of them. The walkway was full of visitors and the viewing platform pretty packed. The immense volume of water thunders over the lip and drops into the narrow gorge 270 feet below. The water pours down with so much force that the bottom is obscured in the mist thrown up by its fall. We took pics and a video before retracing our path to the shore. I p the s yr ed the video on my Facebook page (Septerisk-fb Brong).

    We waited in the shade and had some cold drinks. Temp was already 97. We took a rubber boat trip along one of the quieter channels away from the edge along with15 others and listened as our guide discussed the geology, animals, and ecology of the area. We saw only a few birds and flowers since it was midday and the smarter animals were resting in the shade (not us dumb humans). Walked back to the hotel to cool off. Later, had a couple drinks and a sandwich in the bar area while we watched the sun go down and the falls grow dark.
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  • Day36

    Day 34 - To Iguazu

    January 31 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 35 °C

    After breakfast at the hotel we taxied to the downtown airport and caught our flight to Iguazu. Argentina is in a heatwave and BA was in the 90s. Iguazu is in the jungle and even hotter - 99 by my Weather Channel app - and humid.

    The Hotel Melia, where we're staying, is inside the Iguazu Falls National Park. We took their offered upgrade to a Falls View room. It's a beautiful hotel in a fabulous setting with the infinity pool below, the 270-foot tall Devil's Throat cataract throwing up mist about two miles away and Brazil on the left bank of the river below. It's a park and there are animals all over. When we checked in, they warned us to keep the balcony door locked because the Capucin monkeys have figured out how to slide it open and raid the minibar for the snacks!

    I spite of the heat, I cajoled Gail to go for a walk. There are several miles of steel-grated, elevated walkways along the river and past different cataracts with viewing platforms at strategic points. The shaded paths wind through the thick jungle with palm and fig trees wrapped in vines. We took the lower circuit and strolled along with many other visitors.

    The Falls has numerous cataracts (275, to be precise), some (relatively) small - 50 feet wide - and others hundreds of feet across. It is a 200-foot drop (higher than Niagra) in most places and stretches more than two and a half miles (wider than Victoria). The name comes from the local Guarani name for it - "y-guasu," meaning "big water." The peak flow (and we're pretty close to peak flow season) is more than 1.7 million gallons per second! It roars and booms and THUNDERS!

    The walkway provided great views of the main set of cataracts. At one point, it stopped only about 50 feet from the cascade of water coming from 100 feet above and crashing onto a ledge right in front if you, spraying (refreshing) mist over you before tumbling another 100 feet below.

    We spotted a couple toucans squawking in the trees above. A family of coatis ambled along and across the walkway, so near (and so unconcerned of the humans) we had to step out of the way. (Coatis are racoon-like mammals with ringed tails.) A black and white iguana rooted through the forest litter only a few feet from the walkway. We came back soaked in sweat but exhilarated.

    After a shower we had a fine meal in the elegant dining room. A professional couple danced tangos to recorded music to entertain.
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  • Day35

    Day 33 - Travel Day

    January 30 in Argentina ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    Travel back to BA today. Our bus took us to the airport as we bid goodbye to windy, chilly but impressive El Calafate. A good three hour flight landed back in hot, humid BA. Checked into our hotel near the downtown airport then went out to get mosquito repellent for our visit to Iguazu Falls tomorrow. Had a great dinner near the hotel and relaxed in the room.Read more