This was a month-long trip I took in November and December 2002 with a primary focus on Patagonia and the Andes regions. I still remember how constantly I was on the move, so much to see over a HUGE geography. The conventional maps (oriented with the northern hemisphere at the center) don’t adequately scale South America, but new reversed map constructs such as the Upside-Down map better represent land mass proportions. Imagine taking a bus over half the continental USA in a mere four weeks, sightseeing to boot.
These entries were originally emails to friends and family, here they are presented with photos. Enjoy!
Greetings again! I’ve been in Santiago, Chile for the past few days and have enjoyed myself greatly. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the city, but many other travelers I met had fine impressions, and boy were they right! Santiago, like Buenos Aires, is a very modern, first-world city with abundant parks, paseos (pedestrian walkways), beautiful plazas, interesting architecture, and the people refreshingly friendly for a large, and in many ways, congested city.
I arrived the afternoon of my birthday, having spent the first half of the day on a bus crossing the Andes from Argentina — a thrilling ride, down a dizzying series of serious switchbacks to the temperate valley, rife with vineyards, olive groves, etc. I had spent the night before in a small Argentine town near the border, Puente del Inca, so I could hike beneath the massive Cerro Aconcagua (America’s highest peak).
I’m in Mendoza, beautiful Mendoza! What a welcome relief from the tourist-trodden Lake District. This is a spotlessly clean city; shopkeepers seem to sweep constantly (although this unfortunately makes for some dusty air when passing by). And it has beautiful plazas, with grand elephant palms, regal statues, splashy fountains, and plenty of benches perched conveniently beneath shady trees and alongside blooming flower beds. The acequias (irrigation canals) that line nearly every street add a distinctive flavor to the city (but also pose somewhat of a danger if one were to misstep), as well as nourish to the trees that provide much-needed shade during the blistering midday siesta hours.
The canals are leftover from the indigenous Huarpes who ingeniously turned a virtual desert into a thriving agricultural zone (which the Spaniards were quick to capitalize on) by effectively channeling the runoff from the Andes to the West. Despite many earthquakes over the centuries, it still has some decent colonial buildings. Agreeably familiar, it feels very much like southern Spain.
OK I’ve been a bit under the weather the past couple of days, nothing serious, I guess my frenetic pace has finally overwhelmed my body! Too many tours, too many overnight bus trips — although these are quite comfortable, and I always get a kick out of the “bus attendants” who distribute sandwiches, coffee, blankets & such, and always pop in some bizarre B video from the US. These flicks are always so weird, usually with big stars but are terrible productions (I expect they never enjoyed general release).
Yet a month of travel is so little time, I find I am skipping over whole interesting sections of Argentina’s vast geography (I’m saving those for another trip). But yesterday was a restful day, in the pleasant El Bolsón, a smallish valley town flanked by two craggy ranges in the Lake District.
Hey all! I survived the 4-day trek through Chile’s fantastic “Torres del Paine” National Park. It was a spectacular hike, chock full of amazing granite towers (6000+ feet), glaciers, condors, snowy mountains, sparkling lakes, wind, guanacos (relatives to the llama), camping, fireside meals in the refuges, GREAT companionship, beautiful weather — and that’s only the start!
The entire hike was marvelous, and I’ll tell give you the details as soon as I can. Now I must meet some new friends (Brits) for dinner then off to bed. I have a 6 AM bus tomorrow back to Argentina, then off to see the whales! I’ll write more soon…
Greetings again… I finally arrived in Puerto Natales, Chile after a long 8-hour bus ride through the southern Patagonian landscape. It’s beautiful weather down here, 50’s and 60’s with lots of WIND WIND WIND. It’s constantly blowing wildly from the west, it never ceases. You can tell your direction at all times while inside a bus by simply watching the shrubs blowing. The trees, none more than 20 feet tall, grow in an easterly direction. The landscape, at least on the Argentine side, is dry and barren. There’s nothing down here, no people, no buildings, a few scattered towns with seemingly deserted estancias (very large farms). There are birds (rhea, kestrels, flamingos, condor), sheep & cows, and (reportedly) puma. Despite its emptiness, it’s beautiful.
I’ve been listening to the radio a lot. Mostly tango, southern folklore tunes, bad 80’s music in English. A curious event is the thrice-daily broadcast of farmer messages. Since most of the estancias have no phones and are miles and miles apart (for example, on the 8-hr bus ride I saw perhaps a dozen large farms), the only way to communicate is via the radio. They are really interesting, broadcasting births, deaths, party dates, auction information, even just simple greetings. Highly personal at times, always entertaining, I love listening to them. Here are some examples I jotted down:
The saga continues after hangover recovery, on to Uruguay for a great family reunion, then en route to Patagonia…
27 Nov 2002
Here’s the latest of my travel adventures. Wow so much has happened, let’s see where I last left off… oh Buenos Aires, was it? Seems like an eternity ago…
Anyway, after I finally recovered from the Big Gay Night Out hangover, I was ready to rally again by 6 PM, so I reunited with the Argentine juggler since she invited me to this REALLY COOL community theater event in a working-class neighborhood just south of downtown. She said the theater is a converted warehouse (just my type) that was intended to be an arts school, buy that never happened. Anyway the rough-n-tough locals decided to turn it into a community theater and for twelve years have produced barrio-written and performed original works. It receives no governmental funding but has managed to produce very innovative theater and have established a reputation for excellence among porteños…. That night’s performance was called “El fulgor argentino” and was sort of a musical/performance art thingey that dealt with the history of the neighborhood from the 1920’s until now, involving amazing costumes, cool music, probably 100+ local performers (no professionals), incredible puppets, sound efects, etc etc. Wow, I TOTALLY loved it as you can well imagine. Even before the show there were a couple street vendors selling everything from gourmet pizzas, roast lamb on a spit (even I admit it *looked* tasty), more than a dozen homemade pastries, beer, wine, etc. Very different from the Italian sausage crapola normally sold on the streets. I treated my friendly host to both the show and pre-event wine/dessert — the total cost: $9. Unbelievable.
Still having the time of my life here in BA with Bob and Jason — the people are awesome! It’s so European — just like being in Italy and Spain at the same time. Everything is so classy, the restaurants and AWESOME seafood and of course vino. Been spending lots of time with the boys shopping like crazy… Bob’s friend Jason is very nice he’s taking full advantage of the bargains to decorate his new Dartmouth St. condo. It’s actually kinda fun… spent the afternoon in awesome antique shops LOTS of great stuff for ridiculously cheap prices.
I found some really cool antique ceramic tiles with boats and stuff that are really neat but I’m still looking for just the right stuff. I did buy an awesome piece of wall art at a shop specializing in Native American Argentine crafts. It’s really beautiful and unique, most of all it’s not at all “colorful” and so Paul will love it and it will go perfectly in the house. The boys love it too and might buy similar ones. Also there’s some REALLY COOL furniture stores with GREAT pieces chairs, tables, bookshelves, bars that would go wonderfully in the house. They are kinda a Western style, but with some Mexican characteristics, beautiful hand-wrought iron handles. They actually are kind of mission style. And the prices are like a fraction of what they’d cost in the states. Paul would burst down here. Lots of amazing things to buy.
What a better world it would be if everyone had their own Pad Thai recipe and cooked it regularly for others. The perfect combination of sweet and sour, crunchy and chewy, hot and cool. Asian home cooking at its best.
I have my own version, more complex but nevertheless delicious, and I am drawn to this recipe for its simplicity.
Pad Thai, an Easy Stir-Fry
4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles 1/4 cup peanut oil 2 to 4 tablespoons tamarind paste 1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla) 1/3 cup honey 2 tablespoons rice vinegar 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste 1/4 cup chopped scallions 1 garlic clove, minced 2 eggs 1 small head Napa cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups) 1 cup mung bean sprouts 1/2 pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro 2 limes, quartered
Put noodles in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let sit until noodles are just tender; check every 5 minutes or so to make sure they do not get too soft. Drain, drizzle with one tablespoon peanut oil to keep from sticking and set aside. Meanwhile, put tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Stir in red pepper flakes and set aside.
Put remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when oil shimmers, add scallions and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add eggs to pan; once they begin to set, scramble them until just done. Add cabbage and bean sprouts and continue to cook until cabbage begins to wilt, then add shrimp or tofu (or both).
When shrimp begin to turn pink and tofu begins to brown, add drained noodles to pan along with sauce. Toss everything together to coat with tamarind sauce and combine well. When noodles are warmed through, serve, sprinkling each dish with peanuts and garnishing with cilantro and lime wedges.
I prefer the edge: the place where countries, communities, allegiances, affinities, and roots bump uncomfortably up against one another—where cosmopolitanism is not so much an identity as the normal condition of life. Such places once abounded. Well into the twentieth century there were many cities comprising multiple communities and languages—often mutually antagonistic, occasionally clashing, but somehow coexisting. Sarajevo was one, Alexandria another. Tangiers, Salonica, Odessa, Beirut, and Istanbul all qualified—as did smaller towns like Chernovitz and Uzhhorod. By the standards of American conformism, New York resembles aspects of these lost cosmopolitan cities: that is why I live here.