Cono Sur Trip 2002 – Argentina, Uruguay, Chile

Southern Cone 2002

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!

Chillin’ and Illin’ in Santiago‏

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

17 Dec 2002

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.

Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago, Chile
Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago, Chile

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).

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Healthy Mendoza‏

Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

12 Dec 2002

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.

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Wales and Whales‏

08 Dec 2002

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.

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Tired Feet & Patagonia Express‏

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

02 Dec 2002

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…

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Wind, Glaciers and Song‏

Patagonian local
Patagonian local

28 Nov 2002

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:

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Southbound & Buenos Aires Party

In from of the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) where the Madres de Plaza de Mayo courageously defied the regime in support of their "disappeared" children during the Dirty War
In from of the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) where the Madres de Plaza de Mayo courageously defied the regime in support of their “disappeared” children during the Dirty War

21 Nov 2002

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.

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