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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El Chalten, our hiking adventure

About 130 miles north of El Calafate is El Chalten. All the local maps indicated we would have 30 miles or more on gravel road, but fortunately we didn’t. Instead we had this:

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Deserted highway on the way to Fitz Roy (the tallest mountain in El Chalten).

Patagonia is a backbacker’s mecca. We saw numerous pairs and triplets of hitchhikers trying to get rides to cross many miles of the desolate terrain.

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Northern entrance to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, still many miles to the glaciers.

The hitchhikers carried heavy packs with camping gear. We didn’t go that route, but did some glamping (glamorous camping), staying in an ecodome. The accommodations offered simple geodesic domes, each with a bed and a small bathroom, with a shower and hot water. The days were so hot we didn’t think we’d need a fire, but after the sun set, we were happy to have our little wood-burning stove.

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Our ecodome village  in the Andes.

The big advantage of staying in the ecodome was the access to hiking trails into the mountains…along with a very comfortable bed, hot shower, protection from the elements, heat, and a fantastic parilla (grilled) dinner.

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The view from our bed. Mount Fitz Roy on the left and Cerro Electrico on the right.

Notice that Cerro Electrico is red while the other mountains look black in the right light. That gave rise to the name Cerro Electrico and the river between the two mountains, Rio Electrico, with red anode and black cathode peaks overlooking the fast-flowing water. A strong current, get it?

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The Cerro Fitz Roy and Electrico  view, even more impressive at sunrise with changing colors.

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Why do men climb mountains? Because they’re there.

The mountain, Cerro Fitz Roy, was named by Francisco Moreno (the scientist and scholar that Perito Moreno glacier was named after). He selected the name Fitz Roy after Robert Fitzroy, the captain of the HMS Beagle that sailed up and down Patagonia’s coast and hosted Charles Darwin on his famous visit to the Galapagos Archipelago and many other South American regions.

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The deck of our ecodome, a nice spot to watch the peaceful sky over the Andes peaks.

Mount Fitz Roy is the tallest mountain in Los Glaciares National Park. It’s not as tall as other global giants, such as Everest, but it’s a very difficult climb, with technical challenges and highly changeable weather. Yvon Chouinard, originally from Maine, was one of the early climbers of the “California route” up Fitz Roy in 1968. Later he founded Patagonia clothing products while his fellow climber, Doug Tompkins, founded The North Face. (Sadly Tompkins died while kayaking with Chouinard in Chilean Patagonia just a couple months ago at age 72.)

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The familiar Patagonia logo is Cerro Fitz Roy! Who knew?

We decided to hike as close as we could get–comfortably–to Fitz Roy. No need for the heavy-duty climbing gear from the outdoor clothing companies, just a few layers and some water. The hiking route was identified as a 6-hour round trip. Ha! Quite a bit longer for us.

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A mile into the hike, the air was still chilly and the peaks were far away.

We kept at the hike, getting much closer,  with only a few hundred feet of elevation change. (It seemed like more.) 🙂

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Warmer now, with Fitz Roy still far distant in the background.

The rise behind us was a serpentine path very much like Quarter Dome on the way up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Of course, we hiked that over 20 years ago!

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Lots of twists and turns still to go…

The last bit of climbing was above the treeline, with nothing but rock and thin air. Michael charged ahead. Nancy took  her time. At the summit of our climb we were about 2,500 feet above our origin, looking down at the lake, Lago Viedma, at the level of the town of El Chalten.

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Look how far we’ve climbed! Nancy is one of the tiny ants at the bottom of the photo, with the yellow jacket wrapped around her waist.

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Michael, cheering from the top. Note that he hasn’t climbed down to accompany Nancy on the home stretch!

At the top, the view was worth the arduous hike. Although Mount Fitz Roy still looks far away, we were fairly close to a glacier slowly melting to create this blue-green lake high in the mountains. Climbers hike to this level and camp close by to start the actual technical climb early in the day.

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Laguna de Los Tres

We dipped our toes in the water. Not that cold!

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A very refreshing break after the climb up the mountain.

At that point, we could have gone on..if we had Patagonia or North Face climbing gear and a lot more energy…but we simply enjoyed the views.

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Nancy has conquered the top of Cerro Fitz Roy.

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Can’t get away from the view without a selfie of Nancy, Michael and Fitz.

Counting steps, we had over 36,000 that day, about 18 miles. The next day was a bit more relaxing, taking a boat tour to see more glaciers.

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Glaciar Viedma in Lago Viedma, viewed from our large catamaran tour boat.

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The icebergs from Glaciar Viedma can be huge!

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Too soon, we left the glaciers behind.

We covered a lot of ground (and water) on this short trip. Moving on, we have a few more insights on Argentina before we travel to Chile.

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El Calafate, home of Perito Moreno glacier

Our next Patagonia location was El Calafate. This town is the jumping off point for exploring spectacular glaciers. But first, a bit of other information. El Calafate borders Lago Argentino. Along the shore and growing wild throughout the area are calafate bushes with blue berries.

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The calafate berry and its thorns

The berries taste more like plums than blueberries and they have 1/4-inch seeds. They’re used for jam and alfojore fillings, as an alternative to dulce de leche. Unlike easy-picking blueberries, these bushes have sharp thorns.

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Like picking blueberries at Bedient Farm. Look how full her bucket is. She warned me about thorns.

Near the lake is a very nice park, Laguna Nimez Reserve, with an interpretive nature trail. This is where I saw an Argentinean dwarf armadillo, a pichiy. It was small (around 8 to 10 inches) and hairy. The guide here said that her boyfriend’s family eats these cute little guys. Eew!

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The pichiy simply scurried around poking its head in the ground, oblivious to the people around it.

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Late afternoon reflections of the mountains in Laguna Nimez Reserve.

El Calafate is also loaded with lavender at this time of year, giving the whole town a nice aroma.

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Tallest lavender we’ve ever seen!

Los Glaciares National Park is located here, with some of the most amazing glaciers anywhere in the world.  On the way to the park is a fascinating museum, known as the Glaciarium, that explains the history of this ice field as well as comparisons to glaciers elsewhere and warnings about global warming.

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The Glaciarium rises up from the rugged, rocky land. We realized that the facade has a resemblance to Perito Moreno glacier.

Most of the glaciers we’ve seen elsewhere have been up in the mountains, melting, and displaying all the dirt that has fallen on them. Perito Moreno is not that. It’s brilliant blue, so close we could almost touch it, and expanding rather than shrinking. The most exciting part is that it ends in a river, so it doesn’t just melt but “calves,” creating ice bergs that float down the river.

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As we drove toward the glacier on an 80-degree day, we saw this blue iceberg a couple miles downstream from the glacier face.

That iceberg was enough to ooh and aah over, but as we followed the winding road we came across the glacier itself, truly spectacular. It’s named Perito Moreno after Francisco Moreno, a scientist and scholar who explored numerous areas in South America in the late 1800s. He also created the Boy Scouts of Argentina.

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Viewing Perito Moreno glacier over the Brazo Rico arm.

As the glacier comes down from the Andes, it meets a peninsula of land. When this ice is jammed far enough downstream, it blocks off the water of the Brazo Rico arm from the rest of Lago Argentino, leaving that section of lake 20 or 30 feet higher than the rest. Eventually the ice bridge at that point ruptures, allowing the Brazo Rico level to equalize again, at least temporarily. View the satellite images of Perito Moreno on Google Maps. Quite impressive.

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The giant face of Perito Moreno glacier. It’s alive.

The glacier truly does seem to be alive. It advances up to 6 feet a day, although we couldn’t detect forward movement. But we did see and hear plenty of activity. The glacier is almost 250 feet tall (above the water) at this front point and stretches back almost 20 miles. Behind the face, ice is melting and trickling down through cracks, with some chunks falling. This is invisible from the front, but still makes loud creaking noises and sometimes creates waves.

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Watching and listening for more than an hour. Very peaceful.

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We didn’t really want to turn our backs on the glacier and miss the next section of falling ice.

As we watched, ice fell frequently. Smaller pieces made the sounds of gunshots or fireworks. Larger pieces, some the size of a house, made giant splashes, creating large waves, and a massive spread of ice floes. It’s easy to miss the start of this because the sound is a bit delayed…and then it’s thunderous. Finally the largest chunks of ice floated back up to the surface, the “calves” that moved into the river as ice bergs.

Turn up the volume and go full screen to see for yourself in this video:

We saw another odd phenomenon as we watched and listened for falling ice. We heard a very loud noise, almost like the sound of a whale breaching, but we didn’t see any action on the face. We realized that a large iceberg in front of us had rolled over, probably from a change in center of gravity as parts of it melted.

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Even long after falling into the lake, this ice continues to be fascinating.

The park is extremely well done, with miles of wood-and-steel walkways offering viewpoints for thousands of people at a time without crowding.

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The glacier looks a little different from every vantage point.

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Do you see a stocking-hatted man in profile? When we returned two days later this whole section of ice had fallen away.

Less than a mile downstream of the glacier, we found access to the lake. The water seems quite warm, at least in this shallow area, probably in the 60s. Even so, the ice is slow to melt.

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My own personal iceberg!

We’re not done with glaciers. More to see in El Chalten.

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Sun setting over Lago Argentino. We head north to those mountains next.

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Patagonia, starting in Bariloche

Patagonia is the vast southern end of South America, stretching between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and encompassing parts of Argentina and Chile, with the tall Andes marking the international border. We visited three areas and were awed by the mountains, lakes, and glaciers.

We started in San Carlos de Bariloche, a town in the foothills of the Andes, actually fully inside Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi.

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Michael found a nice golf course, Llao Llao (pronounced Shao Shao).

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The 18th hole at Llao Llao is pretty, but the 120-yard carry can be a bit tough.

This was our first glimpse of lavender in South America. Lots of it. We expected to see it in Provence last spring but were too early in the season. Here in Argentina it’s at the peak of its bloom.

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We’ve found our lavender fields again. At Llao Llao golf course, with the Andes rising behind.

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And looking in the other direction, toward the lake.

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LOTS of flowers.

Bariloche was established along the shores of the glacial lake, Nahuel Huapi, hundreds of years ago, with Spanish missionaries arriving in the 1600s. It’s also possible that some German war criminals arrived here in the 1940s.

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Beautiful iron work outside Bariloche’s cathedral.

The lake has its own sea monster, Nahuelito. We didn’t see it. 🙂

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Lake Nahuel Hualpi

We did see something quite rare these days…

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You would think Kodak was still alive and well.

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Twisting Ronaldo Street, very much like Lombard in San Francisco. Another crooked street is John O’Connor. Yes, a bit of Ireland in Argentina.

The national park has a short circuit (Circuito Chico) and a long circuit (Circuito Grande) around parts of the lake. Michael biked the short route, competing with speeding cars on the narrow twisty road. See his route and photos on Strava.  We also drove the long route, passing seven lakes and numerous waterfalls (cascadas).

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Still plenty of water in the height of summer.

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Water and mountains everywhere.

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Shrines along the road honor Gauchito Gil, a Robin Hood figure from the 1800s. Folks add bright red clothing and scraps of fabric.

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Flying over Patagonia’s seven lakes.

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After the golf outing, Llao Llao resort was a great spot for lunch, dinner too.

Bariloche is famous for its chocolates, with a chocolate museum, chocolate factories, and numerous chocolate shops, established in the last century by German and Austrian immigrants. Our favorite chocolate shop was Mamuschka. We made MANY stops here.

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The nesting dolls at the entrance of Mamuschka spin around, watching the tourists in Bariloche.

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Cappuccino, thick hot chocolate, and tasty little bonbons at Mamuschka.

Next, we’re back to Buenos Aires and then on to other parts of Patagonia and glaciers!

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Buenos Aires, She is a Diamond!

We’re on the road again, this time to South America. So what happens now? It’s another suitcase in another hall, starting in Argentina, the land of tango and beef and wine and Evita. We used Buenos Aires as our base for three or four weeks and made side trips to other parts of this long, narrow country.

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One of our two new favorite airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas (and LAN)

If you wonder whether Evita Peron is reviled or revered in modern Argentina, there is no doubt here in BA. She rose from the slums as an actress before becoming the young wife of a somewhat nasty president, Juan Peron. After climbing (some would say sleeping) her way to the top of the country, she was a passionate champion for the poor, underprivileged, children, and working women. Although she died young, she left behind a tremendous legacy.

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Our first glimpse of Evita, larger than life size, but no larger than her presence in the hearts of her countrymen.

Our first stop in the city was to get money. Walking along Florida Street, every 10 feet or so we heard someone say “Cambio. Cambio” under his breath. At least 30 of these moneychangers were operating on the street. We found that we couldn’t even change money at a bank, but the cambio men offered better deals than ATMs. Local residents are anxious to get US dollars. In fact, our travels here came at a good time. The exchange rate has changed by over 50 percent in our favor between December and now. From the time we got here on January 9 we’ve seen a continued climb…and the money kept rolling in.

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The primary neighborhood where we stayed (and returned several times) is Recoleta. We settled in and found our favorite confiteria for delicious cookies, a movie theater (The Big Short in English with subtitles sold out!), and easy walks to museums and galleries.

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This statue of Evita in Recoleta is now fenced in, but it captures some of her dynamic spirit.

Recoleta is known for Cementerio Recoleta, a huge cemetery, one of the world’s best according to BBC and CNN. This is a beautiful, peaceful spot for morning walks. Many of the mausoleums are small upright cubes with stairs descending to crypts holding the dead.

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View of Cementerio Recoleta from our hotel rooftop.

Eva Peron is buried here. When her husband was running for reelection in 1951, she was so high-flying, adored that the common people. or descamisados (shirtless ones), urged her to be his running mate. But she developed cancer and died in 1952 at age 33. Just as she was adored during her lifetime, she is honored more than 60 years later by hordes who visit her grave.

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The María Eva Duarte de Perón mausoleum, the most visited site in Recoleta Cementerio.

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Some crypts are ornate with numerous religious artifacts.

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Others portray the occupant as he was or wished to have been.

Buenos Aires has many parks. One particularly beautiful section of Palermo Woods is the Rosedal, with roses, obviously, and also palm trees, a large white arbor and bridge, and statues of poets.

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Beautiful Rosedal inside this city of 3,000,000 people.

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Another “flower” is Floralis Generica at the United Nations Plaza. Its petals spread from about 50 feet when closed to 100 feet when open during the day.

Tango is everywhere in BA, in the parks, on the streets, and of course on stage.

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The “Broadway” of Buenos Aires has tango theaters one after the other.

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We attended a show with a dozen dancers and a dozen musicians. Accordion is an important part of the performance.

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On weekends many al fresco restaurants have dancers who pass a hat around to collect tips after their informal shows.

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Others seem to tango for pure joy.

Buenos Aires, she is a diamond. As Tim Rice wrote:

You’re a tramp, you’re a treat
You will shine to the death, you are shoddy
But you’re flesh, you are meat,
You shall have every breath in my body

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The heart of the arts center of Buenos Aires.

The city appears to have constant demonstrations.

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We didn’t quite make it to the balcony of La Casa Rosada where the heroine of Evita sang don’t cry for me, Argentina, but we gazed at it from the front, outside a  tall fence. Unlike the US White House, this official residence doesn’t have a grand lawn.

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La Casa Rosada, the Pink House, of the Argentinean government

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Grandchildren of the people of the age of Evita.

If you’re wondering why all the hyperlinks, it’s because they will take you to songs from Evita (music by Andrew Lloyd Weber Evita and lyrics by Tim Rice). In the early 1980s on one of our first trips together, we (Michael and Nancy) went to New York and saw Evita on Broadway. Great show then, with a few memories to help us navigate this part of our trip.

Good night and thank you!

We’re on to a new Argentina next, or at least a new spot for us.

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Our Northern California Getaway

After traveling the world for more than a year, it was great to stop and nest in northern California, Truckee to be specific. We found a home away from home in Stephen and Kathy’s Tahoe Donner house (thank you!), in a large community where many other Bay area residents come to spend summer weekends hiking and winter weekends skiing. Glorious! Given our retired status and the transitional time of year, we were able to enjoy both of these activities and much more.

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View of the Sierras before the snow arrived.

The warm autumn let us get in hikes to some beautiful hikes. Five Lakes is high in the sky between Squaw and Alpine Meadows, with a 4-mile hike up about 1,000 feet in the Granite Chief Wilderness.

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We walked around all five lakes. This is one of the biggest.

Five Lakes is nearly the same elevation as the tops of  Squaw and Alpine, formerly separate mountains, now part of the joint Squaw/Alpine resort but separated by a narrow strip of land. Troy Caldwell owns this land and has been trying to create his own ski resort, White Wolf Mountain.  The towers for a proposed ski lift have been under debate and construction for years, but slow negotiations have kept the project from completion.

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Chairlift to nowhere…

In December of 2011, we visited Eagle Lake, overlooking the western shore of Tahoe Lake. There was almost no snow, but ice thick enough for playing hockey.

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Chris, Liz, Meghan, the two Pats, and not our dog on nature’s ice rink at Eagle Lake, winter 2011

This fall we returned to Eagle Lake to see it still looking pretty but now pretty different in warm weather.

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Eagle Lake, autumn, 2015

Michael’s bike rides gave him lots of views of Donner Lake, Donner Pass, and Lake Tahoe. He made the 10-mile climb up about 1,200 feet to Donner Pass.

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Michael’s “selfie” from the top of Donner Pass

We also enjoyed the hiking trails inside Tahoe Donner, particularly the interpretive nature trail past a beaver dam.

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Extensive beaver dam inside residential area of Tahoe Donner.

Of course, the neighbors living just behind this spot  were not all that excited about losing their trees to beavers.

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They had to put their poor trees in cages to keep the beavers away.

We learned that the rather tall trees in the area, including many in S&K’s yard, are Jeffrey pines, that smell like “pineapple and vanilla.” I’ll vouch for the vanilla, actually very lovely, but still haven’t discerned any pineapple. We had never heard of this, but when the Jardims visited us, Philip (retired biology teacher) knew all about it.

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Smelling the Jeffrey pine for essence of vanilla (yes) and pineapple (not really). Try it!

The Donner area is of course known for the Donner Party, 87 people who arrived at the east side of the Donner Pass in October 1846, with early snows stranding them with limited food, clothing, and shelter. Some tried to make it over the pass but the major rescue didn’t happen until February. Only 48 survived. The Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center tells the story of this awful four months, with a few references to the cannibalism that eventually occurred.

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The top of the base of the Pioneer Monument represents the 22-foot depth of the snow when the Donners were stranded here.

While the Donners (and Reeds and Breens and Murphys and others) were freezing and starving at this time of year, we were enjoying daily visits to the rec center with outdoor pool heated to 80 degrees and our choice of three hot tubs. Michael also got in half a dozen rounds of golf, with Nancy as an occasional caddy and ball finder.

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The Nakoma golf course yielded 36 lost (and now found) balls on 18 holes! One hole alone had 10 just off the tee. The golfers were probably too embarrassed to look for them 🙂

We really felt like locals, participating in the Truckee River cleanup (very little river to clean, hardly any water now), taking advantage of the community flu shot drive, going to Thursday night trivia competition (and winning several free pizzas!) and getting a CSA share for the first time (unless you count growing up on a farm as Nancy did.)

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We DO NOT want a repeat of Hong Kong flu (although this particular vaccine variation probably won’t prevent that strain, but better safe than sorry!)

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Some of our CSA bounty. What do we do with all this?

By the end of October we were starting to have hints of winter arriving. Dusting of snow in the mountains showed where the ski runs will soon be. Winds whipped up on Lake Tahoe. By the way, there is a theory about how Lake Tahoe got its name. (This may be the only place you’ll ever hear of this theory.) The Mandarin Chinese words for big and lake are da and hu. So when Asians traveled across the Alaskan land bridge, moved south to Truckee and saw this big lake, they called it DaHu. Native Americans kept the name and it was eventually anglicized as Tahoe.

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Note how low the water level of Lake Tahoe is. That first step off the dock to your boat is a doozy.

Stephen and Kathy hosted the Thanksgiving for the masses in the Bay area. Truly “A lovely time was had by all.” Thank you!

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A mess of O’Connells, Meblins, Jardims, Kalishes, and a few one-offs.

As fall turned to winter, Michael salivated for skiing. In recent years, the area hasn’t had much decent snow until January. But just for us, big dumps in November, so skiing at Alpine started by Thanksgiving. In fact, Michael recouped his season ticket costs by mid-December and got in 25 days of skiing (400,000 feet of vertical) before we left in January.

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Stephen’s long arm doing a ski selfie including Michael, Chris, and Pat Brien

By Christmas we had had several one-foot dumps of snow, a very good start to a great ski season we hope (for Stephen’s sake) and good for California’s drought conditions, as the snow will provide plenty of spring runoff.

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Plenty of wintry forest for cross country skiing.

More O’Connells arrived for the year-end holidays. Kevin and Dennis from Texas. Daniel, Paul, and Claire from Maryland. Liz and Jesse (honorary O’Connell) from Virginia.

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We recreated Treat Box sandwiches, a delicious reinvention of Egg McMuffins.

The new year started with a lovely winter wedding, welcoming Alison to the O’Connell clan.

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Alison said she was warmer than Tom. She had boots; he had shoes. No cold feet though for either… (photo courtesy of Meghan O’Connell)

Our new year continues with three months in South America. First stop, Buenos Aires.

 

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