Santiago, a modern city with fascinating recent history

After visiting the old town of Buenos Aires, the wilderness of Patagonia, and the wineries of Mendoza, Santiago seemed different. It is a modern city, with highrises and chic neighborhoods.

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Built in 2012, the Costanera Center, at 64 stories, is one of the tallest buildings in the Southern Hemisphere.

…and every U.S. chain imaginable. TGIFridays remains TGIFridays here, not TGIViernes! There are also Domino’s, KFC, and McDonald’s. In fact, the interiors of the large malls are practically indistinguishable from those in Charlotte, North Carolina. The world has morphed toward sameness in many respects.

View of Santiago, sprawling into the haze.

We climbed to the top of a mountain right in the city for that view. It’s Cerro San Cristobal with a 60-foot tall statue of the Virgin Mary.

Rio de Janeiro has Christo Redentor and Santiago has His mother.

Like all the other cities we’ve visited, Santiago has a fresh market.

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The sights and smells (but no sounds!) of fresh fish at the market in Santiago.

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Michael enjoyed fresh watermelon on the street corner.

Chile is on the Pacific Rim, earning its position on the Ring of Fire with regular earthquakes. One of the biggest earthquakes in history was in Chile in 1960. Santiago has seen significant damage in recent quakes in 2010 and 2015. Yet the city continues to rebuild and thrive. There were many museums. Some are quite old, such as the National Museum of Fine Arts, established in 1910.

A twilight view of the Palace of Fine Arts.

The temporary exhibit during our visit was interesting: (En) Clave Masculino, a play on words of both enclave and key to the masculine gender. It included works of male identity and power and submission. Not your typical still lifes and landscapes.

Fernando Botero’s statue The Horse is strikingly modern outside the Palace of Fine Arts.

We visited a museum without art, but rather a history focus, the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.  Memory is important in issues of human rights. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This museum is focused on the atrocities during the reign of Auguste Pinochet, and it includes an international section highlighting more than 20 recent and ongoing human rights struggles across the world.

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago Chile

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights was initiated by the one-time and current President of Chile, Michelle  Bachelet, who was one of thousands detained and exiled during the Pinochet regime, while in her early 20s.

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The Palacio de Moneda, seat of the Chilean government as it looks today.

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The changing of the guard at the palace is on horseback.

On September 11, 1973, the Palacio was attacked in a military coup. Salvador Allende was the president, a Marxist who had lost the support of his legislature and was seen as ruling by decree, trying to gain absolute power.

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A statue of Allende near the palace (no statue of Pinochet)

By 7 a.m. the Chilean navy had captured Valparaiso and tanks surrounded the palace in Santiago.

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Palacio de Moneda on September 11, 1973. Note the smoke from the windows.

By 2 p.m. the coup was complete and President Allende had committed suicide (or been assassinated. Conspiracy theorists continue to debate this.) An audio timeline of this fateful day is one of the primary exhibits in the museum. The lead-up to the coup was aided by U.S. economic  warfare and CIA intervention under Nixon’s direction.

The photo we would have seen in the papers in 1973.

However, Chile jumped from the frying pan into the fire when Augusto Pinochet took over after the coup. His was a brutal rule of torture and disappearances (and probable deaths) for those who opposed him or presented supposed threats.  The museum records that in September 1973 there were 598 dead, 274 missing and 19,083 detained and tortured political prisoners. The Truth Commission’s final report documented 3,428 cases of disappearance, killing, torture and kidnapping between 1973 and the end of Pinochet’s rule in March 1990.

Pinochet’s known victims are cataloged in the museum with names, photos, and any available information on disappearance or torture. ¿Donde estan?

 

Since Pinochet’s departure 25 years ago, Chile has recovered a strong democratic position. In The Economist’s  assessment, Democracy Index 2015, Chile is ranked 30th of 165 countries. Interestingly the United States is at only 20 in the rankings and dropping dangerously close to the “flawed democracy” category over the last 10 years. The lowest contributing factor in the U.S. ranking is political participation. So in this major election year, get out and vote!

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Valparaiso = Colorful in Spanish (not really, but it could)

From the modern city of Santiago to the old cobblestoned streets of Valparaiso is only a couple hours by car, but the differences are huge. Google Maps led us up twisting, turning narrow streets that reminded us of the nearly impassable lanes in St. Tropez, only these were at 45 degrees (and in a manual transmission car!)

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The colorful cityscape of Valparaiso built nearly vertical from the sea.

The whole town of Valparaiso is drenched in color. Like the bright pastels on the attached homes in Cinque Terra, these buildings seemed to have varied colors to make it easy for one building to stand out from its neighbors when viewed from the sea.

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Do you have a favorite color? Blue, red, orange. OK, that’s what you paint your house.

While some buildings have a single color, any open outdoor wall space seems to be covered with creative artwork.

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Step out onto your balcony and into the rainforest.

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Could this be Frida Kahlo on the side of a building?

It’s important to look all around, side to side, up and down, and behind you so you don’t miss any of the artwork.

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It’s a long hard climb, but at least it’s a colorful one on the way up.

Some art work is functional.

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Pulso Taller is a clothing and handicrafts workshop.

Much of the art has some symbolic meaning, whimsical or serious.

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Can you find middle C?

At the top of the piano-key stairs were some musicians.

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We overheard a tour guide saying the woman was Whitney Houston. Maybe. Not sure who the others are.

These stairs also led to the Lutheran Church (not too many of those in Catholic Chile). In a five-minute walk we saw the next three:

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A man pushing his head uphill on a skateboard while he bites on a blue rope. What is the meaning?

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Wait. It’s not a blue rope. It’s an octopus tentacle. Now the meaning is clear, right?

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Tigers for Patrick.

As Valparaiso is often described as an artists’ colony, it has attracted folks from around the world to live and create here.

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We wonder if someone from California’s early hippie days escaped the U.S. and set up a home here in Valparaiso.

In addition to its artsy lifestyle, Valparaiso is also a maritime city. The beautiful building of the Armada de Chile (Chilean Navy), stands tall near the center of the town.

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Looking out from the Navy building, you don’t see a pretty sailing port or beach, however. Instead, it’s a busy cargo port.

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Not the greatest view.

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But a very important port for bringing goods into and out of Chile.

On our trip to Valparaiso, it wasn’t boat transportation that caught our attention, but bike transportation. Actually not so much transportation as competition. We were there on the day of the Cerro Abajo, which means”hill down” and is an amazing downhill bike race. (See some good videos at Cerro Abajo.) Crowds gathered in one of the town squares at the bottom of the hills to see the bikers. Some riders are quite the celebrities. Not yet knowing what we were watching, we expected to see the bikers leave from the square, pedal up the hills, and race back down. Not so. They were taken away by car and truck in a caravan parade to the top of the hill.

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What goes up will come down.

We were left to find our way uphill to see some of the action coming down. If the stairs are too much, it’s easy and affordable to find a funicular or ascensor.

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About 60 cents to ride this “train” up the hill instead of taking the steps. And well worth it at the end of the day!

We hadn’t quite reached the top when we heard loud banging noises. Fans “rang” their support with pieces of pipe inside metal wheels.

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Look closely. This guy doing a wheelie has artificial legs.

They rode down steps.

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Biker with flowers on one side and colorful mural on the other…and stairs underneath.

They made sharp turns.

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Quite the banked turn added to prevent crashing into buildings.

Organizers added little touches in case the natural layout wasn’t exciting and challenging enough.

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Go up and down a ramp and ride sideways for a bit. One enterprising biker chose to jump the tape instead. He cleared it.

Some streets of Valparaiso are literally above adjacent streets by 20 or 30 feet. No problem for the bikers. Organizers install take-off and landing ramps and the bikers sail through the air. (Like watching the bike scene of E.T. when the kids floated up in front of the moon.)

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Oops! There’s no more street here.

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Whee! Or maybe OMG What have I done?

The grand finale brought the bikers back into the square. But first they had to jump the curb and maneuver into this small garden space, and fly out over the gap for their final down ramp amid the cheering crowd. With the main street down blocked for the racers, we were still up the hill watching and trying to find a way down without having to climb up numerous steps first. (Valparaiso is all hills.)

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Between one night when this ramp was installed and the next day when the race was to be held, some artist had spray painted white images onto the black. Sponsors didn’t like that so one pre-race activity was repainting the ramp.

A short distance from the naval building is the cemetery. This too is colorful. While some of the flowers are plastic or fabric, most are fresh flowers. We were there on a Sunday and many families were in the cemetery tending the graves, replacing flowers, and having little picnics with their deceased family members.

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The dead in Valparaiso have a peaceful setting overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean.

Some of the crypts in the cemetery are more than 100 years old,

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Pretty fresh flowers on many of the more recent crypts.

But many of the graves on the lawn are more recent. This was the grave of a seven-year-old girl. It appears that her favorite color was purple. She has dozens of Disney characters and flowers to keep her company forever. Someone loved this little girl dearly.

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In eternity, surrounded by playthings and words of love that brought her joy.

By the way, “Colorful” in Spanish is “Vistoso.” Change a few of the middle letters and it is Valparaiso.

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The Chilean Connection: cows, wine, and Michigan Tech

We visited just one winery in Chile, Kingston Family Vineyards, and we think we picked the best one!

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The Kingstons visited Hotel Tierra Patagonia in Torres del Paine several years ago. They liked the hotel and the sign and hired the carpenter to make this sign for the winery.

Kingston was identified as one of the best Chilean wineries to visit and it was on our route between Santiago and Valparaiso. Surprisingly we found out we had a personal connection by way of Upper Michigan. We also discovered excellent red wines and the best Chardonnay we’ve tasted anywhere in the world.

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The wines are named after the family’s original horses.

The connection story starts with Carl John Kingston, a mining engineer who graduated from Michigan Tech (Nancy’s alma mater) in 1906 when it was known as the Michigan Mining School.

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CJ’s granddaughter-in-law Louise provided this photo of a cow on the campus around the time Kingston attended Michigan Mining School. MTU is now in this location.

Kingston could have stayed in the Keweenaw Peninsula to work at Calumet and Hecla Mining Company or Quincy Mine (which overlooks MTU campus). After all, the Houghton area was and is Copper Country. These Michigan mines were among the world leaders in copper production in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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Quincy Mine, once a booming enterprise, now one of the most recognizable sites near Michigan Tech.

Instead of staying close to home, Kingston traveled more than 4,000 miles as the crow flies to Peru to work as an assayer at Cerro de Pasco Mining Company (in the news recently). Several other Michigan Mining School graduates were already in Peru. Their travels in the days before modern air transportation took months and included passage by boat around the southern tip of South America, a much longer and more treacherous journey than our jet flight.

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Carl John Kingston passport, around 1920

Kingston’s intent was to find copper or gold. After his investment in a gold mine didn’t “pan out,” the land in Casablanca Chile, 12 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean (and more than 6,000 miles and worlds away from Houghton Michigan) became the Kingston Farm. The gold is underground, so the Kingstons believe, but mining hasn’t been economically viable. (Perhaps Michigan Tech should set up a remote research project in Casablanca to develop new methods of extraction. MTU has had many successes in innovation!)

CJ had met and married an American woman, Caroline Los Kamp, while working for the mining company. On their Casablanca farm they raised their family and dairy cows.

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Third-generation Kingstons, Michael, CJ II, and Peter, and their horses whose names would become famous as great wines.

Carl John’s granddaughter, Sally Kingston, returned to Chile after college and married Enrique Alliende. Enrique’s Chilean university studies were in agribusiness. Sally and Enrique now live in Santiago, but every week they spend time at the casa patronal on the farm, managing the overall operation (dairy, beef herd, etc.) Their daughters and families also live in Santiago. So the Kingstons are very much a bi-national family. Now the large farm is 8,000 acres and the family has 2,500 cows.

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Kingston dairy cows. Perhaps the cow on the Michigan campus foretold greater success with dairy than with copper.

Several generations of Kingstons have lived part-time on the farm and part-time in the US. Carl and Caroline sent their son John Carl to Harvard. The next generation went to Yale, Princeton, Vassar, and Sweet Briar. In the fourth generation, Courtney Kingston attended Stanford for her MBA. Living near the Californian wine areas and appreciating the environment of her family’s large Chilean farm, she created a business plan to establish vineyards and a winery on the property. We hope she earned an “A,” for it has turned out to be a great success, one might say “a gold mine”!

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Kingston grapes as far as the eye can see.

Courtney partnered with California winemaker Byron Kosuge to establish Kingston Family Vineyards. While much of the Casablanca region offered white wines, the pair decided to introduce Pinot Noir and Syrah grapes in 1998. The first Kingston wines were produced for sale in 2003.

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Kingston grapes today just about ready for harvest..

Kingston selects the best of its grapes for its private label wine and sells the rest of the harvest to 19 other high-quality wineries. As a boutique winery, Kingston has a few operations that are different from some of the big wineries we’ve visited.

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Each of these cubic tanks is used for individual “block” fermentation rather than giant steel tanks. (It’s in the direction of  small batches and LEAN manufacturing.)

At harvest time the blocks are brought inside for a few days of cold fermentation and then held and tested individually. I asked, and yes, there is some footstomping to break up the grapes for optimal fermentation.

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Sauvignon blanc is aged in steel barrels rather than large tanks.

The civil engineers at Michigan Tech who participate in concrete boat racing would be impressed by another practice. Kingston uses concrete eggs to ferment some of the Chardonnay. The shape means no dead spaces as in traditional tanks and barrels. Some of the grapes are fermented in French oak barrels for rich flavor. Then the two portions are blended in specific percentages to give optimum flavor. It’s good, we agree wholeheartedly!

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Nancy with Huevo 1 and Huevo 2

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The tanks, pipes, and other equipment in the winery would fit well in Doc Bredekamp’s chemical engineering unit operations lab at MTU.

The tour was excellent and the tasting superb. The Kingston wine was so good, we purchased 2/3 of 0.1% of the output, a couple cases to be shipped to the US. The vineyard produces about 3,000 cases with the Kingston label and is on its way to doubling that amount.

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A tasting of Kingston wines with “hand-made” quality. We know Kathy would like the full-bodied reds.

The vineyard is planning on organic certification within a year or two. Currently one invasive beetle without any natural predators requires a small amount of pesticide. There is an organic solution. Chickens will be brought in to eliminate the beetle. The result will be organic grapes fermented in huevos and organic huevos made alongside the grapes.

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Nancy, a “woman of Michigan Tech,” visits Chilean lands handed down from a “man of Michigan Tech.”

The Kingstons are very generous in sharing their story. In one more “small world” connection, we learned that just a week or so before our visit, a dozen Global Studies students from Bentley University visited Chile and spent some time at Kingston Family Vineyards. Michael graduated from Bentley (as did his brothers Stephen and Tom) so it’s a double alumni connection.

Bentley at Kingston

We certainly enjoyed our visit and would love to be able to return to Kingston Family Vineyards on a regular basis. If only it weren’t so far away!

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Grapes, roses, and palm trees in the Kingston Family Vineyards.

Reluctantly, we leave the palm trees and grapes of Casablanca to explore more of Chile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crossing the Andes, then and now

The distance from Mendoza Argentina to Santiago Chile is only 111 miles “as the crow flies.” But not many crows could follow the flight path over the high Andes. For us, making this crossing by car was relatively easy, though it’s been calamitous for other groups in the past. The drive starts along the Rio Mendoza and follows several of its tributaries.

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These cliffs along the river look almost like the glacier fronts we saw in Patagonia, only red rock instead of blue ice.

With the exception of one section of water, all the rivers we saw were dark and thick with silt. With enough time, this constant erosion will wear the mountains down to nothing. Much of this silt collects in a pretty blue lake formed by the Portrerillos Dam, so much so that the reservoir has lost about a third of its capacity since it was completed in 2003.

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Clear waters run down the mountains, but the river is dark and thick as boiling milk chocolate pudding.

This part of the Andes was formed by tectonic shifts when the land mass of Pangaea broke up more than 200 million years ago. Those initial events and subsequent changes have left fascinating examples of varying geology.

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Mountains are barren, but the valley shows some vegetation.

We almost didn’t get to drive through the mountains. Route 7 which originates in Buenos Aires suffered a bridge washout southwest of Mendoza a few weeks before we arrived.

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Where is the bridge?

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Pieces of the bridge pavement are in the river.

Fortunately a temporary bridge was in place that was sturdy enough for the heavy cargo-laden semis crossing the Andes. Route 7 is the main passageway for commercial travel between Chile and Argentina in this part of the Andes.

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We saw (and drove behind) many trucks slowly climbing the hilly road.

At low elevation, the landscape is a red and arid sight.

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From a distance these looked like giant sand dunes.

Appearing markedly different from the giant red mountains is Puenta del Inca, a rock formation creating a natural bridge over the Cuevas River. Long before the Spanish arrived in South America, the Incas used this bridge for their crossing through the Andes. In the 1920s a spa hotel was built here to take advantage of the health benefits from the mineral waters.

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Puenta del Inca, once a resort spa

As we drove along this route we saw occasional piles of plastic bottles. Many looked like simple littering or even collections for recycling. Not far from the Puenta del Inca we saw a huge pile of plastic bottles, far too many to be unintended. We learned that this represented a shrine similar to the red clothing shrines for Gauchito Gil. In this case, these plastic bottles are full of water for Difunta Correa. She was a young mother who followed her soldier husband and brought her infant child. Unfortunately, she died during her travels, but her baby was found still nursing miraculously from her dead body.

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Difunta Correa shrine along Route 7.

The Andes mountains are large, with snow on the peaks, even in the height of summer. One mountain in particular will be familiar to anyone with the goal of climbing the seven summits, the tallest mountain on each continent. Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in South America and the tallest mountain outside Asia. In 2013, a 9-year-old from the US climbed it with his dad.

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The beginning of the trek to Aconcagua.

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Mount Aconcagua peeks out through the pass behind this cross.

Aconcagua is 22,838 feet tall. It’s such a well-known mountain that North Face has a jacket perfect for climbing it, named, appropriately, the Aconcagua. We walked just a couple miles in the park on an interpretive trail.

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Our view looking south. The distant green rocks may have some copper in them.

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Near Laguna de Horcones high in the mountains were ammonite fossil shells, remnants of the time this area was below the ocean.

Another cross appears at the summit of Aconcagua. We didn’t make it that far to take a photo. Even without making a challenging climb, the trails toward the summit are very tempting for long hikes.

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Aconcagua looms north of our passage. In the distant past, parts of the glacier  visible in the photo have broken off and hurled snow and rocks down the mountain valley to spots this far away.

Our crossing of the cordillera from Mendoza to Santiago took about 5 hours for travel (plus some time for border crossing, photos, and road repairs.) More than 200 years ago, José de San Martín crossed the Andes in 21 days. He led Argentinean and Chilean troops to roust the Spanish from this part of the continent. He started with about 4,000 troops and lost about a third on the passage. (We did not lose either of our troops.)

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Statues to San Martin are all over Argentina and Chile. He is a hero in both countries.

Another Andean crossing in this area was unplanned and had an even greater percentage of losses. A 1972 flight carrying a Uruguayan rugby team among the 45 people on board crashed into the mountains south of Mendoza. After more than 2 months in the cold and without food, 16 people were eventually rescued.  Nando Parrado wrote about the ordeal in Miracle in the Andes, including the 10-day climb he and Roberto Canessa made over numerous peaks of the cordillera to reach safety and arrange rescue for the others. We read this book before making a very easy crossing and were amazed at the strength and perseverance of these survivors under harsh winter conditions.

People magazine just published a story in advance of Canessa’s publishing of his own book, I Had to Survive. Both books provide quite a bit of information about the acts and the angst related to cannibalism of their fellow passengers that kept the survivors from dying. Interestingly, this is the People meta tag: http://www.people.com/article/andes-flight-disaster-survivor-cannibalism-book. Note the emphasis on cannibalism. It sounds a lot like the Donner party.

In the late 1800s, the narrow-gauge Transandine Railway ran from Mendoza Argentina high into the Andes. By 1910 work was completed to connect through the Uspallata Pass to Santa Rosa de Los Andes in Chile. It operated tenuously until 1984.

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Imagine a train running beside the roadway on this bridge over the Rio Poncones. Most bridges are still in good shape.

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Much of the tracks, however, are not in good shape, ripped apart or covered by avalanche debris.

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The highest sections of the tracks were only about 3 feet in width.

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Some railroad sections are covered by avalanche debris. Many protective sheds are in ruins.

In addition to its cargo function, the train served as an unofficial ski lift. As the pass through the mountains was under construction, engineers used skis to get around the work areas. A Nordic Pony Express-style mail service operated for a short time to get mail across the tops of the peaks. By 1910, recreational skiers took the train to the top and skied down the slopes. This led to the creation of the Portillo Ski area. In the early days Chilean Mountain troops groomed the slopes by packing snow with their boots.

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Portillo Resort Hotel from the front. It overlooks Laguna del Inca.

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Laguna del Inca’s blue-green waters come not from glacial particulate, but from the spirit of an ancient Incan princess (according to legend).

By 1966, the resort had such renown that it held the Alpine World Ski Championship that year. A young Jean-Claude Killy won two golds. Today the US Ski Team and others practice at Ski Portillo in July and August when the Colorado mountains are full of summer wildflowers. Seeing the area now with nothing but rocks, it’s hard to imagine snow-covered ski slopes.

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A chairlift travels over one of many turns on the road down the Chilean descent.

Once over the pass, the Chilean road winds down 29 turns. Traveling this route was bad enough now in bright sun and with dry pavement. It must be extremely treacherous with snow. In fact, the passage closes for 40 to 45 days each winter because of impassable conditions.

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This is the Google Maps view of the road!

Plans have been proposed to build Bioceánico Aconcagua, a 33-mile-long rail tunnel through the Andes that would allow rail transport of cargo containers as well as passenger train travel.

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The detailed model in the airport shows the major advantages of a straight, flat border crossing without snow vs. the existing road.

Nominally, completion is scheduled for 2020; however, the biggest barriers are not necessarily the mountains themselves, but the financing and international politics. Locals told us they didn’t expect to see this happen for 10 or 20 years, if ever.

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Almost like a watercolor painting…

 

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Argentinean wildlife, mostly in Patagonia

Here in the austral region (southern, not just Australian), we came across birds that looked like the ones we saw last year in Australia.

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These are rheas, we think, not ostriches or emus. Rheas have three toes per foot and ostriches only two. We couldn’t get close enough to count.

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The little pichiy armadillo was digging for his dinner. In the protected Laguna Nimez Reserve, he would not become someone’s dinner. Elsewhere he might be in trouble.

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Llama, alpaca, guanaco, or vicuna, we’re not sure. We need to ask “Is your mama a llama?”

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Most likely a guanaco, not a llama.

Where’s the beef? We had plenty of beef in restaurants, but as we drove around Argentina, we couldn’t find many cows. We did see lots of horses and a few gauchos as well as shy llama-looking creatures that ran quickly away from our cameras.

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A few sheep. Lamb and goats are popular when cooked on the asador grill.

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Lots of burros. Some of the trekking into the mountains requires packing two-burro loads.

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Many of the horses seemed to be roaming wild.

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Modern-day gauchos rounded up their criollo horses for tourists to have cabalgatas rides.

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Foxes are very common in Patagonia. This one was stretching in the sun right next to us with no worries we would engage in a fox hunt.

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A snowy egret at the Rosedal park in Buenos Aires.

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Southern lapwing, gray from a distance and multicolored close up

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Michael’s golf course buddies, maybe ashy-headed geese. They acted the same as Canadian geese on the fairways, leaving lots of droppings.

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Geese rousted from the 18th-hole water hazard at Llao Llao golf course.

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A carancho or caracara bird of prey. We also saw condors high in the sky, too fast to photograph.

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Probably upland geese, strolling through Laguna Nimez Reserve.

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Black-necked swans. Who is the ugly pink duckling?

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Chilean (pink) flamingos and their reflections on Lago Argentina in El Calafate

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Plenty of bees to pollinate the lavender.

We did see trout too, but only on our plates. Trucha from the Patagonian streams is very popular and quite tasty.

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These aren’t really wildlife, but whenever we stepped off the roadside in Patagonia, these little burrs “jumped” onto our shoes and clothes.

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Just another day in Patagonia with a guanaco and a rhea in front of Mount Fitz Roy.

On to Chile…

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Wines of Mendoza, malbecs and more

It’s two weeks before harvest starts in Mendoza. Wine makers are a bit nervous about this year’s vintage because the area has had twice the normal amount of rain this season. Many of the vineyards have netting over the vines because the grapes are very susceptible to hail damage.

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Acres and acres or hectares and hectares of grapes.

The vines and grapes looked fabulous to us. We’ve discovered a couple new favorite wines: Torrontes (white) and Malbec (tinto or red).

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These grapes will be wine in a few weeks.

We’ve also, after a couple false starts, learned how to do wine tasting in Mendoza. It isn’t the rush-from-one-winery-to-another craze that we have in New York (for example, the Keuka Lake Wine Trail experience includes up to eight wineries in one day!) or even Napa and Sonoma. Instead, it’s a more casual tour and tasting and possible meal, spending several hours or a full afternoon at the bodega.

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This looks a bit like the painted barrels at the Keuka wineries a few years ago.

The biggest difference with these wineries versus those back home (in the US) is that you MUST have a reservation here. We met with “Lo siento” (I’m sorry), “Completo” (full), “Cerrado” (closed) at four out of five wineries we tried to visit on our first day. Fortunately, we did get in to Bodegas Salentein.

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Salentein winery, designed to coexist with the natural environment.

Our very enthusiastic guide told us the history of the winery, in existence only since 2000. Even though the winery is relatively new, the wines are delicious. Our host was full of information about the region, the winery, and all things wine. He told us that Argentina has a zero-tolerance blood alcohol level for drivers…except in Mendoza, where it’s 0.05% (not supported by fact checking, but an interesting perspective).

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Salentein winery, with the most informative wine-tasting ever.

At Bully Hill on Keuka Lake we learned “Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Swish. Swallow.” Here the instructions were a bit more instructive and suggested a leisurely pace. Smell the wine and then notice the difference when you smell after you swirl it in your glass. The first sip opens the palate. Swirling the wine in your mouth provides an acidic shock, especially strong on the sides on the tongue. The second sip causes salivation. The third sip finally provides an opportunity to taste the wine for a symphony of flavor. Try it. It’s true.

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Speaking of symphonies, the Salentein cellar hosts piano recitals. Guests sit leaning against the barrels and appreciate fantastic acoustics.

Mendoza has three primary wine areas. Salentein is in Valle de Uco, about 90 minutes south of Mendoza. It’s the newest wine region. Much of the area around Mendoza is considered a desert, but the introduction of drip irrigation has allowed excellent controlled viticulture in the rocky soil. In fact, some of the best wines are now grown at higher elevations in the region, about 4,500 feet.

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Leaving the space between vines untilled helps the soil to retain nutrients. Drip irrigation provides excellent moisture control, unless, of course, there is too much rain.

We stopped at Dominio del Plata in the second area, Lujan de Cuyo. Interestingly Google Maps failed us here, putting most of the wineries in odd places. After driving in circles on gravel and potholed roads we found our way around using a photo of this map, 100% accurate.

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The best map we found for Lujan de Cuyo wine region.

The folks at Dominio del Plata were too polite to tell us we were arriving after the end of lunch and tastings and served us some complimentary wines, even though they were busily getting ready for a Valentines Day event that night. This winery is where we learned about torrontes.

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Torrontes, crisp, fruity aroma, citrusy flavor

It’s a fruity, but dry and citrusy white wine. Interestingly, the wine owes its development to a lady vintner, Susana Balbo. She is known as the Queen of Torrentes for her efforts to develop and promote this special wine. This winery too is relatively new, formed in 1999.

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We bought torrentes and rose malbec with the Crios label for under $15 for both.

On another day we were armed with reservations. We visited Bodega Catena Zapata, one of the oldest wineries in Argentina, also in Lujan de Cuyo. It represents a merger of Italian and Argentinean, the Catena and Zapata families, and was founded in 1902.

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Winemaker Domingo Catena and his wife Angelica Zapata

A modern bodega and the characteristic logo was established using a Mayan pyramid design signifying that this is an American (as in “the Americas”) wine, not like traditional Italian wines.

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Catena Zapata, possibly the best wines in Mendoza.

This winery too has a modern influence from a woman. Laura Catena is from the fourth generation of the wine-making family. Although she earned medical degrees from Harvard and Stanford and works as an emergency physician in California, she also visits the winery regularly to provide direction. Her scientific approach enabled a better understanding of the interaction of sunlight at high altitude with the grapes, which allowed the development of the “highest” wine, Alta, grown at 4,757 feet.

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Looking down on one of the Zapata vineyards. This landscaping looks like it could be a Mayan symbol, a bird maybe?

All the Zapata wines are aged in oak barrels. US barrels provide a buttery flavor and French barrels invoke a spicy flavor. The barrels are toasted inside for extra flavor. Zapata uses a “medium” toast.

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Thousands of oak barrels rather than steel tanks at Zapata.

Our next winery was Melipal. Second time was the charm here. We were turned away on our first visit late on a different day,  but the grounds and small dining area looked so appealing we had to come back.

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Can’t pass up a winery with such pretty lavender (Melipal)

This time we did just a tasting with lunch, not a tour. Hardly a tasting, actually a five-course meal!

Collage created using TurboCollage software from www.TurboCollage.com

Lomo (beef) to postres (dessert) and everything in between at Melipal was delicious.

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The not-so-glamorous side of winemaking, Melipal’s bottle-washing operation

After this, it was time for siesta, a nice nap after lunch before dinner at 1884 Francis Mallmann. A renowned Argentinean chef, Francis Mallmann is known for his cooking with open fire. Coming full circle, the restaurant is a joint venture with Zapata.

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The outdoor “kitchen” at Mallmann.

The cooking with fire had several stations. The grill at the top left (in the photo above) was for steaks and other meats. The rounded hut at the right was the asador for roasting whole goat and lamb. The open fire at the front had vegetables and fruits roasting and sauces boiling…and added plenty of heat to the eating area.

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The wood fire on the left drops down hot coals which are moved to the right to cook the meat on the grill.

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Michael had the seven-hour roasted lamb, so tender he wasn’t even given a steak knife.

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The dining area is outside. At the end of the night our clothes smelled like we had been at a campfire.

Our final day in Mendoza included a three-hour lunch at Bodega Familia Zuccardi, another of Mendoza’s best wineries. This is in the third Mendoza region, Maipu, although this winery also has some grapes at the higher altitudes.

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Zuccardi Q for quality. Some of these wines are available in the US, even at Costco!

We bypassed the tour for a tasting lunch, quite a gourmet feast accompanied by six wines! (See the food photo below.) Courses in the three-hour meal included (clockwise from top): 1 basil, cherry tomato and garlic-fennel, blue cheese pear “snacks.” 2 garden salad with a basil sorbet (served in a closed jam jar filled with smoke!) 3  rabbit tempura with vegetables 4 tasting teas with delicious mini-alfajores. 4 vacuum-packed lamb with chard blinis. 5 corn cake, trout and avocado salad. 6 breads with olive oil cream. 7 basil rocks and frozen foam, watermelon, and caramelized tomatoes.

Collage created using TurboCollage software from www.TurboCollage.com

A “simple” lunch at Casa del Visitante at Zuccardi (click to enlarge)

One of Mallmann’s trainees, chef Vanina Chimeno, created an excellent restaurant that is a great alternative after meat overload. We had lunch and dinner at Maria Antonieta on our first day in Mendoza. Lovely, organic produce with a cleansing cucumber lemonade instead of wine.

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The fresh produce as our centerpiece showed up in that day’s menu items.

We’ve heard there is good wine in Chile too, so that’s where we head next.

 

 

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Our Argentinean Food Experience

Beef. It’s what’s for dinner in Argentina. Much more, of course.

We went to a top-rated restaurant early in our stay in Buenos Aires. It’s called The Argentine Experience and sounds like a touristy activity, but it was actually very helpful. For example, we learned that you can make more wine cocktails besides just sangria.

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Michael with his Razzisima cocktail of raspberries and rose wine.

We also “made” empanadas (actually we just put the already prepared filling into a shell and sealed it). However, we learned something about empanadas. The flat ones are generally meat filling and the taller ones are cheese, upright so that the cheese doesn’t leak out.

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Carne (meat) empanada at the back and queso (cheese) at the front.

Next we learned how to order beef in Argentina, very important. While the beef here is excellent, if it’s overcooked, it’s much like any other overcooked meat anywhere. So we learned to order the level we like of medium rare (juguso = juicy) vs. medium (a punto = to the point).

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A visual aid: Juguso is medium rare, juicy, red, Kathy-style beef.

Success! When we visited one of several parrillos (steakhouses), we did, in fact, get nicely grilled medium rare lomo (tenderloin) steaks. Yum!

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Lomo (steak), papas fritas (fries), and a nice malbec wine!

You might ask, “Do Argentineans eat vegetables?” Yes, they do, but you need to look for good salads and sides. The ensalada (salad) is typically served with just oil and vinegar for a DIY dressing. One simple salad was spinach or lettuce with blue cheese and walnuts, quite tasty. Olives are popular here too.

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An excellent tomato and avocado salad from 1884 Francis Mallmann in Mendoza. The secret: a little sugar in the salad dressing.

Even the pizza is good, probably because of all the Italians living in Argentina. Estimates are as high as 60% of the population, or more than 25 million, for the number of Argentineans who have Italian heritage. That means good Italian food choices here if the beef gets to be too much. The helado (ice cream) in Argentina is a lot like the gelato in Italy too. In Buenos Aires, helado is available on almost every street corner, just like gelato in Rome.

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Almost every pizza comes with olives.

We visited an interesting restaurant in El Calafate, Isabel Cocina al Disco, highly rated and very affordable for all the backpackers. We weren’t in the mood for loud disco music, but we stopped in to see what the appeal was. It turned out the “disco” was not music, but a”disk plow” that in this case was used for traditional cooking. It’s a flat round cast iron pan that could be used over a camp fire by the gauchos. The food created in that disk was great, described appropriately as having grandma’s stamp of approval.

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Traditional chicken and vegetables “al disco.”

Scott, one of Nancy’s US clients, said that we MUST have a cappuccino and alfajores in Buenos Aires. We took his advice, not once, but many times. What’s an alfajore? The most delicious sandwich cookie, with a variety of wafer tops and bottoms and dulce de leche in the middle, then often dipped in chocolate. (The alfajores in El Calafata had calafate jam in the center.: And the cappuccino here often has a chocolate and even a dulce de leche layer.

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Scrumptious cappuccino from Llao Llao in Bariloche. Another bit of Italian influence.

Once we discovered alfajores, we scoured the streets looking for confiterias where we could purchase these by the quarter-kilo (about a half pound!) Apparently, we aren’t the only people in Argentina with a sweet tooth. Every hotel breakfast included medialunas, sweet croissants, along with half dozen types of dulce de leche cookies, bars, and other treats. Lots of lemon meringue pie for breakfast!

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The alfajore with a face is actually a mountain of dulce de leche covered with chocolate. It looks a bit like the chocolate “god” we had in Grasse.

Traditionally, Argentineans drink mate tea. This is a somewhat bitter (to us) tea that is extremely strong. The mate cup is stuffed nearly to the top with dried tea leaves and has a metal sipping straw. Then small amounts of hot water are added to the tea…over and over again. We saw lots of folks walking around with their metal thermoses of hot water so they could drink their mate all day.

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Acres of mate cups for sale at the markets.

All this food needs to be accompanied by wine. We found some really great wines on our trip to the wineries of Mendoza. Stay tuned…

 

 

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