Category Archives: Argentina/Chile


There’s a great feel here; the people are lovely; the scenery is spectacular; everything seems less expensive than in Argentina, and the food — ah, dear friends, more on that soon.

Puerto Varas is a sweet, little, rose-filled town on the shore of Lake Llanquihue with a bit of a Santa Barbara feel – not much to do but a nice place to be despite the soon-to-be completed high-rise hotels. This is not a charming little fishing village, but it was a good place to catch our breath and get more information about the fire back home… and to eat our first chupes.

My chupe de centolla would give any cardiologist a heart attack just looking at it. It was a large gratin of fresh king crab with cream, Parmesan, a hint of sweet onion, topped with light, buttery crumbs. Think warm, cheesy crab dip but with 95% crab…the real stuff, not Krab…big hunks of crab…and heavy cream… and Italian Parmesan… and eaten with a fork or spoon instead of filling French bread…and all the double-dipping you could want. I found god in a crustacean casserole. What Alan’s chupe lacked in cream, it made up in other shellfish, chicken, and sausage. Price: about $4.50 per chupe.

In general, pescados y mariscos (fish and shellfish) are to Chile as beef is to Argentina. Good, cheap, plentiful and served in gigantic portions. One afternoon, we ate lunch at a semi-touristy place with pictures on the menu. I chose what looked like a small soup bowl of shellfish; Alan chose the salmon which we thought came with a side of ham and cheese. Alan’s dish arrived with two shoe-sized slabs of salmon with sausages, cheese and tomatoes sandwiched between them. Then came a small bowl of broth for dipping my shellfish and a plastic two-quart bowl for discarding the shells. We began to worry. With good reason.

Out came an enormous platter with no less than a dozen GIANT mussels, a couple dozen small mussels, and large handful of clams. Beneath all that was a substantial chunk of smoked meat, a chicken leg, an entire chorizo sausage, and two bagel-sized gordita sort of things stuffed with different meats and more sausage. Oh, and because we thought the photo on the menu probably exaggerated the volume of my entree and wouldn’t be enough, I ordered a little side salad of avo and hearts of palm—enough for four.

There was a huge influx of Swiss and Germans to this part of the country and that is strongly reflected in the kuchen (pastries) and architecture. Most of the houses are covered in ornate wooden shingles that would seem more likely in the Alps than in Patagonia, and the hostels and restaurants are filled with lots of shell mobiles, model ships, etc. Alpine Nautical Kitch is the dominant theme here. Unfortunately, the Chileans got the look of the pastry right, but not unlike the chocolate, the taste just isn’t there.

We bussed down to Isla Chiloe for a couple of days. We only saw a small area but loved it. Again, great feel, friendly people, gorgeous scenery and fabulous food. Oh, and did we mention los peros? There are lots of dogs everywhere – cute, gentle, well-fed, friendly pups. We love Chile.

One of Chiloe’s claims to fame is its wooden churches, designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. We had read about them but didn’t understand the aesthetic appeal until we walked into Catedral San Francisco. Think basic Gothic cathedral but all wood, no stone, no plaster. Wood walls, wooden pillars, wooden arches. Think Norm Abrams on commission by the Medicis (or Phil Harris on crack with a newfound religious fervor).

Our last day on the island, we drove over rock and gravel roads through head high fields of psychedelic yellow mustard flowers to a broad, quiet beach that was deserted except for three guys wearing hip waders and a friendly woman who assisted them in digging a boat trailer out of the wet sand. The quartet then rolled up a chariot of sorts and we were wheeled into the water alongside the boat. From there, we motored around the nearby outcroppings to view sea otters, flocks of black cormorants and other birds, and what we had really made the trek to see — lots and lots of little penguinos – all doing those cute penguin things.


End of the World

Here’s some irony: Our plane touched down on Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) just a few hours before Santa Barbara erupted in flames. We were online early the next morning (middle of the night PST) and began speculating who among our friends and acquaintances had become homeless.

We knew Chuck’s house was in the middle of the inferno. But a couple anxious days later, he emailed us from Thailand to let us know that firefighters had halted the flames at his back patio and that his housemate and cat were safe. It was one of the very few houses that survived on his street. We’re hoping for word that our other friends in the area were as lucky.

We spent a couple of days in and around Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world (although inhabitants on the small Chilean Islands might beg to differ). The town is unremarkable but provided a great base from which to explore.

A hike to the Martial Glacier provided great views (between snow flurries) of the surrounding mountains and the Beagle Channel (named for famed navigator Magellan’s ship that rounded the Cape Horn). For those of you who live in places with “real” winters and who ski on a regular basis, this may not seem like a big deal. But hey, these Santa Barbarian weather wimps HIKED ON A GLACIER!

A much more challenging day was spent trekking for 7 hours, most of it in ankle-deep mud, through Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. Despite the muck, a few icy gusts of wind, and only a handful of other determined (or foolish) people on the trails, it was a great hike.

Most interesting was the plethora of dams and damage created by el castores–beavers. We were also surprised to come upon a few large conejos, some Woody Woodpeckers that were completely oblivious to us, bizarre Doctor Seuss-looking parasitic growths on some of the trees, and a family of wild horses. Every so often, the trail would wend its way up a peak or back to the water and we would be treated to breathtaking vistas of the outlying islands and snow-covered mountains.

The end of the world may be muddy, but it is extraordinarily beautiful.

“Vistas schmistas” I can hear my siblings saying. Let’s talk food, shall we?

Argentina: Beef, pizza, pasta, wine. That’s about it. The food is good, not particularly interesting, but good. If you are a steak-and-potatoes person, you’d be in heaven here. The beef IS as good as everyone says and, as our friend Michael points out, Argentina is the only place where fillet mignon (or a thick Porterhouse if that’s your preference) is cheaper than pizza. It IS cheap and the portions are huge. And if you really want your cholesterol to soar, the ice cream/gelato is excellent. Don’t worry, we’re mitigating it all with outstanding, ridiculously cheap red wine.

There are beautiful chocolate shops everywhere so Alan made it his goal to find the best chocolate in Argentina. We soon learned that looks are deceiving, or at least our tastes are very different than the average Argentine. What we’ve tried is overly sweet and short on the cacao. Great looking, but dull. But ever the optimist, Alan will continue the quest. [Sacrifices must be made in the search for excellence. –Alan]

The best meals we experienced in Argentina happened to be French (rivaling some of the finest we’ve had in France) and, of course, Mexican, courtesy of Genevieve and Marcelo who created an incredible feast of mole de Puebla and grilled pollo. The mole was way too spicy for the Argentine guests at Enrique’s birthday party (although they raved about it between cooling swigs of dark beer), while we and the Mexicanos all but licked our plates clean.

Next up: CHILE

Mucho Cool

El Calafate

The road to El Calafate cuts a long, gray swath through a cold, windy, desolate desert. Once likely a funky little backpacker/climber village, the town itself is quickly becoming more like an Aspen with chi-chi shops, expensive hotels, overpriced chocolate boutiques, and a casino. We, of course, managed to find a very simple and relatively inexpensive hosteleria and then set out to find a comparable meal.

So we head out to dinner, in search of a basic meal at a reasonable price, and stumble upon an all-you-can-eat parrillla (think enormous slabs of beef, and sometimes pork, roasting over hot coals and a burly guy with machete-sized knife and often a saw standing by to hack off a hunk of whatever you want). There’s a long buffet table full of all sorts of salads, many with heavy emphasis on the mayo; cold sliced meats; cheeses; fried calamari; marinated octopus; egg rolls (yes, egg rolls); and desserts. The place is packed with locals (a good sign) and a fair number of Argentine tourists.

We slowly realize that we’re the youngest ones seated and that we’re amidst what feels like the Early Bird dinner stop on a bingo junket to Reno. People are jostling for position in the buffet line before heading over to The Meat. Then they request their favorite cut and the butcher/cook/parrilla dude lops off a gigantic slab o’ beef — a small portion weighing about a kilo.

Again, the average patron is not a professional athlete bulking up–they are a 70-something, out-of-shape tourist–but they are equally as aggressive and as committed to protein loading.

Periodically, we would hear the clatter of a plate hitting the ground. We wouldn’t see much of a commotion until a white-haired head would pop up and a few others would assist the elderly eater to her feet. “No, no, I’m fine,” we would imagine her saying, “just get me a fresh plate and don’t lose my place in the parrilla line.”

Perito Moreno

Perito MorenoA bus and boat ride from El Calafate brought us to one of the most spectacular — and certainly the coolest — things we have seen in all our years of travel. While most of the planet’s glaciers are receding at an alarming rate, Perito Moreno continues to advance at the rate of about two meters a day. At 30 kilometers long, 5 kilometers wide, and 60 meters high, it is a truly awesome sight accompanied by the thunderous sound of enormous ice walls calving off into the water.


It Takes Two


Tango is Argentina’s national dance, passion and blatant obsession. It is everywhere in Buenos Aires. There are lavish shows in huge theaters, performances in tiny cafes, impromptu dancing on sidewalks when the music wafts within audible range, and on any given night there are milongas — public dances — throughout the city. Young and old, novice and professional come to tango for the sheer joy of it. At 11:00 p.m on a slow Sunday night, the millonga at Cafe Ideal, one of the oldest cafes in Buenos Aires, was just getting started. Nearly a hundred people were sipping drinks, enjoying the live music and dancing what has been described as the closest thing to having sex with clothes on. These are “real” people who just want/need to tango. Had we remembered to pack our dance shoes, we’d have been out there swishing and swaying with the rest of them.


La BocaDespite Lonely Planet’s paranoia-inducing warnings, we loved the portside, touristy little barrio of La Boca which is full of colorful cafes; wild murals; rich, gritty history; and, of course, lots of tango.

Although it is only a small fraction of the size of Paris’ famed Pere RecoletaLachaise, Recoleta Cemetery boasts some lovely, elaborate funereal architecture… and is populated by a few gentle cats who seem to receive more food than the other permanent residents receive flowers.

There is so much more to explore and enjoy in Buenos Aires but it’s time for us to trade our Tevas for hiking boots, head southward and test our Patagonia threads in the real Patagonia.


Don´t Cry For Me (us) Argentina


BA is considered by many to be the “Paris of South America” and it has a decidedly European, rather than South American, feel. It is a large, lively, slightly neurotic and theatrical city — sort of San Francisco-Paris-Madrid on a cheap Malbec hangover.


Our hosts, Genevieve (Mexican-born, lived in South Africa, educated in Switzerland) and Marcelo (Argentine of Italian descent) have both worked in theater all over the world and have an extraordinary home full of objects d’art from their work and travels. With theatre paraphenalia and African sculptures everywhere, eclectic collections of every kind, eight hysterical cats (including Malcolm X, the magnificent king of the pride; Mozart, who has a heavy streak of Golden Retriever in his personality; Moliere, a black beauty; Mustafa and Morticia, cautiously friendly), Los Gatosa mix of international music playing at any given moment, and a fun, funny, fascinating family, we began our vacation on a perfect note in the perfect place.

Their home is in barrio San Telmo. A colorful, slightly funky, quickly gentrifying neighborhood full of antique shops, art galleries and tango schools, it is famous for its Sunday crafts fair which sprawls for no less than 20 blocks. As luck would have it, this particular Sunday was also a once-yearly celebration which we quickly discovered was no ordinary tzchotchkies-for-tourists affair. Oh no nos amigos — this was something else altogether. Alan describes it as “Cabrillo Arts Show Meets ComicCon.” I would only add “and Fellini Directs.”

Feria San TelmoIn addition to the usual bad crafts and robomimes of Feria San Telmo, there were people in elaborate costumes and fully staged booths. Among them: Samuri warrior; very old Rapunzel (complete with old prince drinking a cup of coffee); guys in gorilla suits; Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks; Eco-woman in a trash can; Edith Piaf impersonator; and Alan’s favorites, septegenarian Batman, Robin and the Joker. They weren’t selling anything. They just wanted to dress up and have their pictures taken — for ego, not for money.

I met the Julia Child of Argentina. Evidently, she had the first popular television show and best-selling cookbook — several decades ago. So the aged pair — “Julia” brought along her sister — had a large booth oufitted with a crumbling copy of the now antique book and signature mixer. They stood for hours, with a petrifying crepe to one side, beating together an egg and some farina. It was about 90 degrees outside so “baking” demonstration took on extra meaning for us all.


The city is full of colorful murals at every turn and we took many as we explored the different barrios. We also strolled through MALBA, Floralis Genericathe modern art museum which we enjoyed more for its design than contents because the best of the collection was closed off. However, just a few blocks away, we were able to view Floralis Generica, a gigantic metal sculpture that opens and closes using some sort of solar control.

Late one afternoon, we stumbled into multiple art show openings at Galeria Borges. The Art of Advertising show was a knock-out. At some point, we were asked by an Italian The Last Tupperphotographer if we would pose for a photo that might someday appear who-knows-where. (Look for us next time you’re in Italy at a swanky art opening.) Our favorite painting depicts 13 women at a long table, talking among themselves and cooing over a plastic bowl. See if you can guess the title.

We also happened upon The International Photojournalism Exhibition & Awards show. From sports to social justice to AIDS, every piece was striking.

And, of course, there was wine flowing everywhere. It may have been the Argentine version of Two Buck Chuck, but it was damn good.


First a few thoughts on the eve of our departure from the U.S….

Tomorrow, for the first time in eight years, Alan and I will land in a foreign county without feeling the need to adopt Canadian accents or identify ourselves as “Californians-who-hate-Bush.” We won’t have to struggle to explain the idiocy and greed that has ruled this land. (We were in India for the 2000 election/robbery and people asked us why Americans weren’t rioting in the streets. I have to confess, I didn’t have a good answer and wondered why myself.)

No, tonight I am truly proud of being an American. I am overwhelmed by the profundity of what has transpired and what can be. For the first time in many, many years I am truly, gratefully hopeful; and I am truly grateful that together we have been able to share this extraordinary moment in history.

And now from Argentina…

As we had hoped and expected, everyone here is thrilled when we introduce ourselves as “Americans celebrating Obama’s election.” Other travelers, taxi drivers, hostel managers, shop clerks, EVERYONE. At the fabulous French restaurant, after a long talk with the owner, Pasqual, we were teated to champagne. On a more somber note, I (Harriet) talked with one of the “desaparesidos” in Plaza de Mayo who said that because of Obama’s election, she felt hopeful for the entire world

For those of you who may not know or be too young to remember, in 1976 a military coup led by Gen Jorge Videla began the 7-year “Dirty War” when an estimated 30,000 supposed “dissidents” were abducted, raped, tortured, murdered — “disappeared.”

A year after Videla’s brutal reign began, a group of mothers of the desaparesidos marched in Plaza de Mayo to demand information about their missing children. The march has continued weekly for 30 years, but very few madres remain and the demands for retribution and information have given way to a small vigil of sorts. PoliticosA new faction of the original group also marches each week, but their focus is more political than personal and they seek social justice for current, as well as past issues.

That a mother–who lost her newly married 21-year old son and his wife, both students, 30 years ago–can feel hopeful, is both inspiring and, hopefully, prophetic.

In addition to witnessing the madres (, we stumbled upon a few other colorful, and evidently common, political rallies.