Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Long Trip Home, January 25 to 27

January 25 – Our trip is about over now – today is the first stage on the way home: Back to Buenos Aires and our farewell dinner, then on to home in three flights. Once back at our hotel, we had a few hours before dinner and headed out to look at the second leather shop Alex had recommended. We had found the first one on our previous Buenos Aires stay, but had been unimpressed by the styles. My plan was to scope out the new one and focus on buying the next day because we had time to kill until 4pm when we left for the airport.

So much for planning. We found the shop with only a bit of difficulty, and had to be let in by the store staff, so right away, there was no casual browsing. They started out pushing reversible unlined jackets in lovely colors, but nothing to die for, so I kept looking. I spied a red jacket, but it (like the one in Bariloche) was a bit too yellow. The shop would have custom-made one for me, but our flight out was way too soon for that to work. The sales lady kept trying and stumbled onto one that was the same exact shape as the one in Bariloche without the basketweave trim and in a deep purple. I thought it was black til she dragged me over to a sunlit window. Very flattering, and I was sold.  So much for spending the next day deciding on jackets.

Jim drifted off as we worked on the price. Alex had recommended this place and said to mention him, but the staff (not the owner) were clueless about who he was. They quoted a 6.7 to 1 exchange rate, which made the price quite reasonable, so I gave them a credit card. OOPS! This was a problem because they could only charge in pesos which would come to me at a 4.75 rate, didn’t I have US$$ on me to pay?? I was apologetic, but only had a third of what I needed left over in US cash and was resigning myself to pay full price when they had another option: all I had to do was give them my name, address, email, phone, and driver’s license number and I could walk out of the store with the jacket and they would send me an email telling me where to send a check (in the US) once I got home. During this discussion, the store owner came in, mistook Jim for the father of one of her employees and gave him a big hug and kiss, which did kind of shock him, tho I TOTALLY understand why any woman would want to do this. When the mistaken identity was cleared up, I got a 10% additional discount and my own goodbye hug/kiss in the Argentinian fashion (which I now understood, thanks to Sebastian) from the owner.

Dinner provided one of the best steaks we had in Argentina, and the last chance to see some of our fellow travelers who started heading off to other adventures in the morning.

January 26 & 27 – We got to sleep in, finish our packing for home, and find something to do for a few hours. After we shifted our luggage to our day room, Randy wanted to know where to find the leather shop, so we took him there, and I explored their knits while we waited for him. There was a section with ponchos that were small enough to be big scarves, and I really liked one -- turned out it was kid sized, but the grownup colors available were nowhere near as good, so I got one for myself as an overgrown scarf.

Then we headed to Recoleta to the Saturday artisan's market which was so large as to be undo-able in the couple hours available. I saw things I liked, but nothing I couldn't live without. We joined Alex and others for lunch at an Italian place started by immigrants from Brooklyn and afterwards walked to Galleria Pacifico for ice cream at Freddo, which came highly recommended. By this time, we were out of pesos and not going to convert more. The first Freddo would not take US dollars so we moved on. The second would take a credit card, then the cashier apparently decided to do some currency exchange on the side and took our $10 and gave us pesos in return, which was a much better deal for him than us. Even ordering was a challenge -- it turned out that we got a cup with 3 different flavors and felt very intrepid for managing the interaction with our VERY limited Spanish (better for ordering tacos and margaritas than ice cream!).

Back at the hotel, we cleaned up from walking around in 80 degree weather, and headed to the airport. Our flight left for Lima at 8pm, arriving there at midnight, and our flight to LA left a couple hours later. We cleared customs in LA and got to San Francisco by noon, exhausted and totally off a reasonable time zone, but happy to be home.

South Patagonia, January 20 to 24

January 20 – In the morning, we took a ferry back to the mainland for our long flight to Punta Arenas,  the southern-most city on a continent. (Ushuaia is further south, but on the island of Tierra Del Fuego and it is the most southern city in the world.) We flew over the Andes and I took a bunch of photos from the plane – the glaciers really have the look of ice rivers from 7 miles up. It was unseasonably warm in Punta Arenas, which allowed us to go wading in the Straits of Magellan without getting hypothermia. Our first stop was the NAO Victoria museum, where replicas of important ships (for this part of the world) have been or are being constructed. We got a tour of one of Magellan’s ships – astoundingly small. They also had a replica of the little boat Ernest Shackleton used to find someone to rescue his crew when the pack ice ate their ship, and a replica of Darwin’s ship, the Beagle, is under construction.
Andes glaciers from the plane

Replica of one of Magellan's ships

Replica of Shackleton's boat that sailed from Antarctica
to South Shetland Islands with 6 crew on board.

 We took a short walk around town – found the only Chinese restaurant – and visited a grocery store yet again. Alex recommended a visit to the tallest building the city, with its ‘Sky Bar’. Taste Alert: DO NOT order a margarita! They didn’t have pisco sours, but we should have gone for a local drink instead with calafate berry. We had some difficulty keeping the attention of the waiters because with the temperatures in the high 70s or 80s, the beach below, even at 7pm, was full of bikini-ed girls – a first in their existence, and they used the binoculars at the bar to their best advantage.

Alex led Randy and the two of us to a recommended fish restaurant – I was kind of fished out, so I ordered chicken and discovered that just because something was on the menu was no guarantee that it was actually available to serve. The same thing happened with the wine we selected, and they brought out 3 other similar bottles to choose from. Randy was interested in a local varietal, a Carménère, which was quite good. The most startling part of ordering wine in a restaurant here is that they rarely serve by the glass AND the bottles are REALLY cheap and good. This one cost us $15 and compared well with something that would have been three times as much  (or more) at home.

January 21 – Today was another bus ride day, heading north to Torres del Paine. We stopped at a little burg for a rest stop and I found a fleece hat and short-sleeved shirt (so I would have something fresh to wear when we got back to Buenos Aires). We saw our first herds of guanacos – these are smaller, less wooly, less tame-able relatives of the llama, and we all oohed and aahed at the first herd or two….by the 10th, we were totally over them. We also saw the local rhea, called nandu, both adults and chicks. The boy birds entice eggs from several girl birds (who then go off and cavort with other boys) and the boy gets to hatch the 10 to 60 eggs he has collected as well as look out after the little ones. Kind of an interesting concept in child-rearing.
Nandu flock - the big one probably a dad and the smaller ones are his kids.

Guanacos -- wilder and less woolly than llamas
 The bus stopped when we got our first view of the towers of rock that the park is named for (Torres del Paine is Towers of Blue in Spanish and the local language, so called for the blue-ish tone of the granite). There are two primary kinds of rock in these mountains, which are a bit separate from the Andes, and glaciation is responsible for the stark forms. Once in the park, we stopped at a trail that led past a waterfall between two lakes and then to an overlook to one of the lakes and the mountains. It is REALLY windy here, especially in the summer. The southern tip of South America is the ONLY continental land at this latitude, so the wind whips around the globe with nothing to slow it. In the summer, the land is warmer than the ocean, causing the air to rise and drawing in the colder ocean air. Many of these mountains have only recently been summitted because of their general inaccessibility and the challenges of the wind. We drove through the park which has a lot of lakes and quite a few places to stay.
Our first view of Torres del Paine

The other famous site here the Cournos (Horns)

Jim being windblown

Waterfall between two lakes

Lynn enjoying Torres del Paine National Park
 Our hotel is on the south end of Lago Grey, which has a glacier at the north end, which we will boat to tomorrow. In the meantime, we have a good view of it in the distance along with big hunks of it that have calved off.

January 22 – Finally some nasty weather that requires warm AND rainproof clothing! I am so excited not to be wearing the same old warm-weather clothes! The glacier and the depth of the lake have both receded in recent years, so it now takes a bus ride, a half-mile hike, and a boat ride to get to the boat we will use to visit the glacier. Rain was threatening and actually started in earnest while we were on the open boat shuttling to the closed-in one. Out came the rainpants! Yay! Another item from the suitcase of unused stuff!  Our local guide showed us photos of how much the glacier has receded in the last 20 years – very dramatic – and the cause for considerable alarm. What used to be a single face of the glacier is now 3 as the ice has pulled back revealing rock that it had swept over in the past. We did a close approach and took lots of photos, which later all see a lot alike. The best part is the glorious shade of blue that much of the ice is.As we sailed back to the start, pisco sours were served, cooled by the glacial ice harvested on the trip. One member of our group, Ida, was celebrating her birthday and got a drink with ice that was older than she was!

Glacier Grey

The glacier used to cover the rocks in the middle and on the right.

Lynn enjoying the nasty weather
Ida, celebrating her birthday with ice older than she is.
 Back at the boat landing, we had the option to hike to a lookout point or go back to the hotel, so of course, we hiked. Randy was with us and we had to cross a 15-20 foot wide ‘bridge’ of gravel. I was hard-pressed to keep up with Jim and Randy, so I urged them to go on ahead while I slogged thru the gravel – kind of like walking thru sand, but not as fun. I was depressed at how far ahead of me they got! When I finally got to the land portion of the hike, I was glad for a few photo ops to catch my breath. I found the ‘boys’ at the point of the peninsula, which did have good views of the lake and glacier, then we headed  back to the bus and hotel.
Randy (in tan) and Jim (in green) at the lookout point.

I love the fabulous color of the ice.
 After lunch, there was an optional hike up to a cave with petroglyphs, so of course we went. It was a fairly long drive, all the way back to the park entrance and a pretty challenging hike up, and frankly, the petroglyphs we found were sort of disappointing, but hiking the hills felt pretty good. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped by a pond that several varieties of birds were using and hiked around the edge for a bit.
Petroglyphs in Torres del Paine National Park
 January 23 – Today was primarily a long bus ride to Argentina and El Calafate, the gateway to an impressive glacier. On the way, we stopped for one last look at Torres del Paine and for lunch at the same place we had had a rest stop at on the way into the park. After lunch there, we had time to burn, so Jim & I thought we’d take a walk toward the town, but the wind convinced us that being wimps was smarter, and we headed back to the restaurant after taking a picture of a horse statue. After we crossed the border to Argentina, we changed buses (a no-no to have a bus or local guide with international rights) and met Sebastian, one of the best local guides we had for the whole trip. He also doubles as a tour leader, so that may be why he seemed so exceptional.
Jim at the overlook as we leave Torres del Paine National Park
 Shortly after we crossed into Argentina, we stopped at a roadside shrine to Gauchito Gil, a local ‘saint’ who was revered by the populace for protecting travelers who gave him a beer. Alex said that on a company training tour a while back, one of the guides, during the stop there, had pantomimed DRINKING the beer intended for Gauchito Gil and that the trip had run into horrendous luck at every turn after that. Alex observed the traditional honoring of Gauchito Gil and watered the area with a can of beer. It might have worked, because we had a great trip and delightful weather for the rest  of our time in Argentina.
Gauchito Gil gets his obligatory beverage and makes the rest of our journey easy.
 Sebastian also told us a delightful tale about why the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas in Argentina) are so important to the Argentines. This was something that always has mystified me, since they were settled by the British in the 1830s and not by the Argentines, who went to war with the Brits over them not that long ago. There are virtually no Argentines living there, and the insistence on Argentinian ownership by a normally logical friend of mine in the US who came from Argentina made no sense. It turns out that a creation story by the original people featured beings from an island to the east. When Europeans first arrived and heard the stories, they put these (as yet undiscovered) islands on the map and lo and behold, hundreds of years later, islands were actually discovered. So the Argentinians had this emotional connection to these unseen and unpopulated islands before the Brits showed up and started using them for a naval base in the south Atlantic.

The war for the Falklands/Malvinas apparently was less about territory and more about diverting the attention of the Argentinians from their horrible domestic challenges, and now that there are a bunch of Argentine soldiers buried on the islands, Argentines actually go there. Plus, Argentina is concerned about future mineral and other rights to Antarctica and sees these islands as critical to maintaining a future level of control. Their maps show both the Falklands/Malvinas AND the Antarctic Peninsula as Argentinian property.

El Calafate is a tourist town whose claim to fame is its proximity to a national park with an impressive glacier. Sebastian and Alex also noted that Chile and Argentina have often had rather tense relations, and that whenever one of them establishes a national park along the border, it is not long before the other matches it as a way of controlling territory. Our hotel, Kau Yatun, was originally a ranch and has become a charming hotel and nearby restaurant, where we went for dinner. If I haven’t mentioned it already, this part of the world sees 10pm as a fine time to start dinner and uses lunch as a primary meal.

Randy was interested in trying out the restaurant behind the hotel (there was also one IN the hotel) and we agreed to join him. He made reservations for 8:30, but when we prepared to hike over, he was told that the reservations had been made IN the hotel. This was not what he wanted, tho others in our group were eating there and enjoying it. The upshot was that the earliest we could get in was 9:15, so we toughed it out. When we got there, the restaurant was clearly less than fully booked and we were mystified by the situation. Until after dinner, when the local dance show started.  Surprise! Clearly, one seating was going to be more workable for the restaurant so they could feature the show, but it is still a mystery why this was not more fully conveyed to us. In any case, the food was meaty and good, the dances were interesting, but it was a late night and our most expensive dinner out for our entire trip.

January 24 – Today was another glacier tour, but this glacier, Pedrito Moreno, made the Lago Grey Glacier look pretty puny. On the way out of town we stopped to look at the black-necked swans in the shallow areas of Lago Argentino, and then again to see caracaras (hawks) feasting on roadkill. Lago Argentino is huge and has many arms. We drove alongside one of them, Brazo Rico (Rich Branch) which looked like it was shallower than normal. We learned that Brazo Rico only has one exit to Lago Argentino and no other drainage points, and the Lago Argentino exit is sometimes blocked by the glacier. When this happens, this part of the lake backs up until there is enough water pressure on the glacier to break through. The worst situation was when the branch of the lake backed up to an extra 90 feet deep, killing many of the lakeside trees. When the water pressure finally broke the ice dam, the excess water caused flooding all along the rest of Lago Argentino as well, including in areas of El Calafate that had been identified for development. The current road and residential areas have been reworked to manage the normal 20 foot backup.
The water has clearly receded from a typical high water mark,but is MUCH lower than a worst case scenario.
At the glacier, we had the option of stopping at the top and looking around, or taking the bus to the bottom and walking back up. I’m sure you can guess which we did. There is a lovely metal grid walkway with lookouts all along the front edge of the glacier. Once again, we took tons of photos, that in retrospect, all look a lot alike. When we realized how big the glacier actually was only occurred when we saw two different boats on each side of the now-open ice dam, carrying passengers – and they looked like toys next to the ice. We also saw quite a few small chunks calve off, but none of the really big precarious pieces broke while we were there.
Lynn at Pedrito Moreno glacier -- it was fairly warm hiking up the walkways, but windy.

That itsy bitsy boat has 3-4 levels above the water and holds hundreds of people.

The glacier would be impossible to walk over in this area.
 Once we got back to the hotel, we walked into town for souvenir shopping and an informal group dinner. El Calafate is named after a berry bush that has never been domesticated, but makes great jam. Every single jar of jam we saw was in a tourist shop and (I thought) grossly overpriced. We even looked in a grocery store downtown (we arrived just as an army of Japanese tourists showed up) but found nothing. Either the locals don’t eat this stuff or there is a conspiracy to keep the reasonably priced options far from the tourists. We didn’t get any. We did, however, find the penguin-shaped pitchers we had seen near Bariloche in the north. Most of them had photos of the glacier and ‘El Calafate’ printed on them. Yuck. I just wanted a plain white one. We finally found a few unadorned pitchers, but none were white. There was an option for an interesting arty green/blue glaze or a plain solid light yellow-green one. I thought the price was high (2 times as much as anywhere else) but reasonable (half price) if you paid cash. I avoided buying one, but after scouring the town, it was clear that I either had to give up the idea or sign up to pay cash for an over-priced one. Fortunately, the Argentine interest in US currency reduced the price another 20%, but I wonder if I might have found a white one cheaper on the internet.

Bariloche, January 13 to 15

 January 13 – Today we flew to Bariloche, our entry to Patagonia. I had always thought of Patagonia as the mountains in the south, but it is a much larger area, encompassing the lakes region of Chile and Argentina as well as the southern mountains. Our hotel was beautiful, overlooking Lago Nahuel Huapi, a bit outside of town. Alex sent us off in 4 different taxis for our orientation walk in town and each taxi dumped us someplace different, so there was a bit of panic while we tried to figure out where everyone was. The town looks very Swiss, due to the preponderance of immigrants from Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. There are several chocolate factories here too. We had dinner in town with several others from our group, then decided to walk back to the hotel. 
The view of Lago Nahuel Huapi, from our lovely hotel, Villa Huinid
The weather was really quite nice – much warmer than expected, but that created its own difficulties. When we left the US, the forecasts for areas outside of Santiago and Buenos Aires was mid 50s and rainy, so we were ready for the worst. We ended up with one entire large suitcase with warm/rainproof clothing we had little use for and washed out our 4 short-sleeved shirts constantly. It was exciting when it finally got cool enough to wear long sleeves! However, from the standpoint of photography, the mostly sunny weather was terrific.

January 14 – In the morning, we met our local guide, Marta Jereb, a blonde with European heritage. Our first stop was a chairlift that took us to the top of Campanario Hill with marvelous views all around. We got there early before the crowds showed up, and on our way back down the lift, watched the chairs being used to bring up beverages of all types to the snack bar at the top. We drove to a local park that featured a couple interesting trees. One was the false beech, a tree that was originally misnamed. A fungus grows on this tree, cutting off its interior circulation, so the tree grows around it, creating big ugly-looking growths all over. There was also a unique grove of arrayan trees. These are a relative of the eucalyptus and are found in many places, but this grove is apparently the single largest collection of them in Argentina. The bark peals off, leaving an interesting mottled reddish-orange color, and they twist and turn a bit. Very unusual looking. From the park, we headed to a local microbrewery for lunch. The Gilbert family has been making beer here for a long time, and if you like  beer, I guess it was pretty good. Too bad they didn’t do wine on the side!
Lynn and Jim at the top of Campanario Hill, overlooking the lakes
Lumpy beech trees

Arrayan tree

Learning to make beer from Tomas Gilbert
We headed back to the hotel for an afternoon off and Jim & I signed up to do a raft trip down the Limay (Clear) River. This was kind of fun, but it was pretty tame compared to other river trips we’ve taken. From that standpoint, it was good for photography, but not so much for excitement. The river is not far from Bariloche, but the vegetation could not have been more different. Just a few miles out of town, the rainfall drops dramatically and suddenly we were in high steppes that looked a lot like Mongolia without all the animal herds.
Getting ready to raft....
 January 15 – In the morning, we met with a Mapuche woman and learned about many of the challenges the original peoples faced. The Mapuche were amazingly good at fighting off the early Spanish conquerors and were not overcome until there was a tremendous arms advantage. There was a campaign to kill them all, so they tended to blend into the countryside, marry out of their natural groups and submerge their historical knowledge. The people are now reclaiming their heritage effectively and fighting government efforts to eliminate schools in the areas where their children are.

Afterwards, Jim & I walked into town to shop and pick up our laundry. I looked at a lovely red leather coat soon after we arrived and decided to see what else was available before committing. It was clear that if I were going to buy leather in Argentina, I would be better off doing it in cash, which I didn’t have enough of for this jacket. We found a very good artisan market and I got a rhodocrosite necklace (the national stone of Argentina, also called ‘Inca Rose; because if its color). We had looked in 2007 for a pendant that was not outrageously priced and had looked on this trip in Buenos Aires as well – the one I liked there was $500 – no way! I was very pleased with both the stone and the price of the one we got –no where near $500! I also found another pair of earrings I couldn’t live without. I may have to purge my earring rack when I get home to make room! Since this was chocolate country and some of my SF friends are into chocolate, we also made a stop at Mamuschka, a chocolatier that Alex raved about, and picked up some goodies.  On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the leather shop again (which was about to close for siesta) and looked at the red jacket, but I became concerned that it was too yellow a shade of red for me, so I passed (and proceeded to mentally kick myself for about a week).

In the afternoon, our group headed inland to visit a Patagonian family for riding or hiking plus dinner. They have German heritage (Haneck) and are hosting visitors with horseback rides and hikes while they wait for their newest venture – tree growing – to progress enough to generate income. Jim and I enjoyed our ride – everyone had to wear a helmet. It would seem that some of the US tendencies for lawsuits may have made it down here too. Afterwards, we learned about a popular drink called Yerba Mate. It is made with a bunch of herbs into which a bit of water is added. Some people also use sugar or honey to conceal the cigarette-butt natural taste of the herbs. The mate is stirred with a metal straw and then shared a sip at a time with a group of people. Water is added to the small vessel with the herbs. This is VERY popular and we realized that one of the objects we had seen earlier in the artisan market (and had no clue what it was) was a yerba mate straw.  Dinner was primarily grilled meat and wine was served from a penquin shaped pitcher that wore a bandana. I was quite taken with the pitcher and looked for one to buy on the rest of the trip.
Marta with the Yerba Mate

Jim and Lynn on our riding adventure -- helmets and all

Our hosts, the Haneck Family

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

North Patagonia, Chile, Jan 16 to 19

January 16 – This day was one of our two long bus days, when we crossed the Andes into Chile and drove to Puerto Varas on Lago Llanquihue (pronounced yahn KEE whey). The most interesting part of the drive was near the border where we could see the ash from the volcanic eruptions in the last year or so that are several feet deep in some places. Puerto Varas is quite a lovely town, with a small vibrant downtown. Our hotel was close in and right on the lake, with a great view of a perfectly conical, glacier-covered volcano on the other side. We walked around and were introduced to several potential dinner spots and a shop for lapis lazuli jewelry. The town was also setting up for a big beer festival the next night.
Ash from the volcano covers the landscape at the pass between Argentina and Chile
Most of us stopped at an ATM to refurbish our collection of Chilean pesos and I was reminded of why Jim & I have moved away from using ATMs in our recent international trips. The exchange rate we got was not impressive (465 vs. 475 or 480 online) AND we were hit with nearly $10 in fees from the ATM’s bank and our bank, which dropped our effective exchange rate to 435. I had been unimpressed with the 455 we had gotten in Santiago with cash, but it started to look a lot better after this.

Jim and I found a couple purveyors of fresh raspberries on the street, and after verifying the official supermarket raspberry options were unimpressive, bought a container, which we enjoyed the next two mornings to supplement the hotel breakfast. We also checked out the lapis shop and I got a lovely bracelet. (surprise: not earrings!!) We joined several of our compatriots at dinner in a little hole in the wall (Donde el Gordito) that had the best salmon I have ever had anywhere.

Alex zaps Jim with lemon as he preps the clam.
January 17 – In the morning, most of our group joined Alex in an ad-hoc venture to Puerto Montt to the local fish and artisan markets. We all hopped onto a small bus and headed south for 30 minutes to this major port. The fish market had lots of shell fish, and there was a lot of activity in separating said fish from their shells. Sea urchins got the same treatment. At one kiosk, Alex stopped to tell us about a variety of shellfish called ‘Chilean Viagra’ and asked for a volunteer. Jim will eat anything and was standing near Alex, so he got to try it. In the process of prepping it with lemon, Jim got a lemon shot in the eye, and there was a lot of hilarity in general. 
Jim gulps it all at once.
After our introduction, we wondered around and bought some spices and honey that Alex recommended and also got shrimp and crab empanadas with Randy in a TEENSY restaurant. Then it was time to shop, and I found a very nice heavy serape in red wool. The pin-type closure I wanted for it was done by a famous guy who wanted about twice as much as the garment cost, so I passed on it. 

The entire kitchen  (and hosts) at our lunch spot
The lovely lady who sold me the red serape
In the afternoon, we headed out of town, stopping along the lake for great photos of the volcano. We headed towards Petrohue Falls (Saltos in Spanish, meaning ‘jump’ because of how the water jumps over the rocks). This was a beautiful spot with lots of other people and extensive metal walkways to allow much better vantage points than we would have had otherwise. We also took a short hike to a pool past the bottom of the falls that provided a much calmer view of the area and many fewer other tourists. 
Saltos de Petrohue

Back on the bus, we headed to a lake and had dinner with a  local fisherman at his home in a national park. His ancestors had lived there before it became a park, so his holding is grandfathered in and he has built it up to provide lodging and camping facilities for visitors. We took a small launch to his property and walked up to the visitor dining room, and had a delightful meal. 
It was a bit windy for our boat ride to dinner
 January 18 – This was the day we took the ferry to Chiloe Island for a 2-day visit. On the way down, we stopped at a school that the Grand Circle Foundation has targeted to assist. Company employees and contractors have participated in the effort, rebuilding the floors and repainting a school that was targeted to be abandoned. Even though school was not in session, many of the children and parents came to show us around and welcome us. There is still much work to be done, and visitors can make contributions through Grand Circle Foundation, which covers all the administrative expenses so that all of our dollars go directly to the school projects. We were treated to a local dance demonstration by a young (10-12 yr old) couple who had just won a national dance competition. Following that, several of our group danced with the children, rounding out our time there. 
Dance contest winners

Dancing with the 'stars'... Bud, Randy, and Shaila
The ferry ride to Chiloe was pretty quick, and we got a chance to see many of the aquatic birds as we crossed. Chiloe Island is considered by the Chileans to be a sample of what Chile was like years ago. Although it is sort of tucked in along the coast of Chile, it is officially surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The side that faces west is much harsher and more sparsely populated than the east coast. We went south to Punihuil Wild Life Reserve, which has several small rocky islands that host a penguin colony during breeding season. The ride there in our bus was pretty exciting because the main road is being rebuilt and the detour  roads were gravelly, narrow, and steep – kind of like driving in some of the hills around our house – one lane roads with two-way (and frequent) traffic.

Pelicans escorting us to Chiloe Island

View of the Pacific from a Chiloe Island Road...note the shape of the tree. A bit windy here.

The beach at Punihuil Reserve. The two lumpy islands are the penguin rookeries.

After lunch overlooking the beach, we loaded into a large launch to circle the islands and get a glimpse of the Magellanic penguins. The chicks are getting pretty big and nearly done moulting. A major challenge to boarding the boat is a complete lack of docking facilities. The boats are at the end of a long rope tethered to the beach and the boat employees are all wearing hip waders. The solution they came up with was tall-wheeled carts for us tourists – they load us onto the cart on the beach and then push the cart out to the boat for us to hop onto it. The secret is the height of the wheels which kept our feet above water level.
Boarding a boat
In addition to lots of penquins, we also saw seals and other birds. The penquins were not as numerous as those we saw in Antarctica as well as being smaller. They were also much more difficult to see (and photograph) against the rocky islands that were the same color as they were compared to Antarctica with its snow and lighter colored rocks.
Magellanic penguins. The lumpy one of the right is a moulting chick
Back in Chiloe, we got a short overview of the town of Ancud on our way to the hotel, which  was fairly rustic, on a bluff overlooking the ocean. One of the most interesting features of the town (and the Island) to me was the construction. Carpenters here ‘signed’ their work in the shape and design of the shingles they put (mostly) on the front of the houses. I took a bunch of shingle photos and hope to put them in some sort of a collage later. We walked into the town and checked out the grocery stores – we always look for fresh fruit and like to explore other people’s ideas about junk food and chocolate. The central square was quite busy and featured stone statues of several local creatures – like an ugly woman who is irresistible to men whom she seduces. There was also a significant artisan’s market, but we didn’t find anything to die for.
Shingle shapes indicate the identity of the carpenter.

January 19 – Today, we hopped on our bus to drive to the most populated area of the island, the middle of the east side, a village called Castro. We stopped along the way at the location of one of the travel brochure photos for this trip – a set of the palafitos or stilt homes, placed so that they are convenient to the water for the boaters but not inundated by the tides. The tide was out when we stopped and it looked kind of shabby. 

When we got to a local market, we were divided into teams with a shopping assignment: we wree to locate and purchase (for less than 1000 pesos) something for which we only had the mapuche word – no hope of translating, and little or no English spoken. We had done something similar in Mongolia and found that our pronunciation was so wretched (or the locals so willing to toy with us) that what we bought had no relationship to what we were looking for, so I approached this adventure with some skepticism. When we entered the market, we were a bit ahead of our teammates (who had the cash), so I asked the first lady what our word meant (Que es …..) and she immediately pointed to fingerling potatoes which she was willing to sell for 1000 pesos. Because of the Mongolia experience, I moved a bit further on and pointed to more fingerling potatoes and asked what they were and got the Spanish name (papas something), and then was unsure who to believe. By now, Corinne and Marty and surfaced and we shared our ‘research’ and they went off with the cash and with much difficulty, talked yet another purveyor into parting with a bag of fingerlings for 900 pesos. It turned out that the first lady had been totally truthful. I think it helped that we had a printed word to work from instead of just an auditory memory – no written anything in Mongolia. We also bought a short but enormously fat carrot, and apple empanada and a luscious periwinkle skein of wool, (which I have no idea what I am going to knit it into). 
Indoor market with lots of goodies
 Back on the bus, we visited one of 16 cathedrals built entirely with wood (except for tin exteriors) using vaulted designs intended for stone. It was absolutely wonderful inside. Alex connected us with a local medicine woman and we learned about herbal remedies. Our next stop was a knitting cooperative, teaching women how to use natural dyes and to make things to sell. We got a demonstration on how to make knitting yarn from raw wool and then how to dye it. I bought a wonderful pair of heavy socks. 
Wooden Cathedral


Jim with our co-op hosts
 Our last adventure of the day was to drive out into the country to visit a local family and see how to make (and enjoy) a ‘curanto’ meal – cooking in a pit with hot stones. Normally, they do this inside a building, but it was so unseasonably hot, that they set up the pit outside. Once the stones are heated, layers of food are added on top, starting with clams, then potatoes, and various types of meat and sausage. A layer of leaves is added, then some breads, then lots more leaves, plastic, and sod to hold in the heat. One side gets a vent, and the whole thing is ready to eat in about an hour. 
Adding more layers of food to the curanto

Plastic and sod on top to hold in the heat
 While we waited, we were invited inside for a pisco sour and a cooking demonstration. Once again, Jim was in the right (or wrong?) place at the right time and got pressed into service, apron, chef’s hat and all. He got to mix up the potato, flour, and egg dough with his hands (carefully cleaned first) and then help to make the round little breads which baked rapidly and we scarfed down eagerly. Dinner was plentiful and wonderful.

Jim starting his cooking. It looks like Alex is in the back having a drink....

Jim doesn't look like he's enjoying doing the mixing nearly as much as Alex is enjoying watching.