A South American Adventure
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
‘Oh the Places You’ll Go … Oh the People You’ll Meet’, notes Dr Seuss in one of his books.
I decided on another trip to South America, since I felt a need to experience more of the people and the cultures of this continent and while I still remember some of my Spanish. Our South American Adventure was focused on Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, as I had been to Peru and Brazil years ago. My knowledge of Spanish was sufficient, and the people are most accommodating. August is a good month to leave the heat of Phoenix at 110*F / 40*C and travel to a cooler place. It averaged 60*F - 65*F / 20*C - 22*C in these three countries, as they were heading into their Spring.
In preparation for the trip, I met with an informal Spanish conversation group at the Desert Foothills Library in Cave Creek. It consisted of a number who wanted to continue their knowledge of Spanish. The sessions were helpful. A boost in self confidence is always good when venturing forth. I also contacted the local InterNations group (and met with Mariana from Buenos Aires and Angelica from Santiago; both were very helpful), rejoined SERVAS and googled for English conversation Meet-Up groups in the main cities of Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Santiago. Having used numerous hotel-booking sites over the past 15 years, I decided to focus on hotels.com for these reasons: the rates amongst the other sites are generally within a few dollars of each other; hotels.com offers a free night for each 10 booked, and the choices are plentiful. Before booking hotel reservations, I study the layout of the cities, the location of the major sites, closeness to public transportation, and read various reviews by travelers (e.g. Trip Advisor). We travel with carry-on luggage, and then use local laundry services.
With reservations in hand, thanks to frequent flyer miles on DELTA Airlines, we booked an open jaw ticket from Phoenix to Buenos Aires, Argentina with return from Santiago, Chile - five weeks later. I decided on 2 weeks in Argentina, 1 week in Uruguay and 2 weeks in Chile.
Buenos Aires is a high energy city with many faces and personalities, like most big cities. With a population of over 3 million, Buenos Aires offers something for just about everyone.
Having almost two weeks in the city with a two-day trip to Iguazu Falls gave us enough time to really understand the city and its people.
There is a great deal happening in this vibrant city. Its numerous green spaces - major parks like the Tres de Febrero, Rosedale Gardens, Japanese Friendship Gardens, Botanical Garden and mini parks give residents and tourists alike an opportunity to sit and relax. Sundays are a prime example of this, as you can find young and old alike biking, walking, jogging, skating and boating in Tres de Febrero Park.
One day while walking across a local park, we encountered 20 people sitting on mats practicing yoga breathing exercises while some were using the parcourse apparatus, as others jogged by. The vitality of the city is framed by the ever-present flow of traffic especially on its wide boulevard streets (e.g. Avenida Libertador, 9 de Julio (honoring Independence Day in1816), Santa Fe, Las Heras).
At rush hour, locals queue at various bus stops. It is all so organized and civil. The Metros are beautifully designed with extravagant picturesque mosaics on both the walls and the ground. It seemed a shame to walk on them. The trains are clean and comfortable. We found that using the Metro and the buses was fairly easy. Needless to say, the rush hour is another story (buses and metros are packed). Like with most Metro stations, musicians (of varying degrees of ability) can be found busking. This adds a somewhat festive air to the experience. Having said that, I must add that without a SUBE card, you cannot ride the buses or the Metro. Like with other public transportation cards, they can be filled at Metro stations or local KIOSKS (if you are lucky).
We found the locals to be eager to help us with directions and advice. Knowing some Spanish is quite helpful, as many do not speak another language (like in the US). A visit to the Recoleta Cemetery where you can see the mausoleums of the mostly wealthy families is worth a few hours. The most asked for is the one of Eva Duarte (Evita Peron). It is very unassuming. Since Evita and her husband have had a profound impact on Argentina with regard to social and humanitarian programs, there are always bouquets of flowers left at the site. Taking a guided walking tour of the Recoleta Cemetery is highly recommended. The stories behind the names are amazing. Since admission is free, there is always a steady stream of visitors (but not overwhelming).
Nearby is La Biela, frequented by the locals and one of our favorite restaurants. A block away is the high end Recoleta Fashion Mall. On the third floor of the mall is an ATM machine situated directly across from a 1950s style diner with a pink Chevy. In the same area, is the Museum of Contemporary Art the old sanctuary of St Pilar with its small museum, and a mini park which hosts weekend arts and crafts fairs.
FYI: when withdrawing money from an ATM, one is limited to a fairly small amount. Therefore, I used my credit card for just about everything. Do notify your bank before you leave on a trip, lest you risk the chance of having transactions stopped.
Buenos Aires is resplendent with parks. The Plaza de Naciones Unidas aka United Nations Plaza, sits on top of a hill and is home to Floralis Generica, a 20-meter (60ft) steel and aluminum mechanical flower sculpture created by Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano in 2002. It is situated in a reflecting pool and is absolutely fascinating - one of the more intriguing public art pieces I have ever seen.
After walking past the University of Buenos Aires -School of Law (total UBA student population is 300,000), we headed for the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. It was first opened in 1895 and hosts an impressive collection of primarily Argentine artists, in addition to well-known international artists.
In preparation for the trip, I googled and found The English Language Group of Buenos Aires TEGOBA - members of which wanted to practice their English language skills. They were most welcoming. We attended two gatherings and made new friends. TEGOBA was formed about 15 years ago. Fortunately, we were able to attend twice. The members gave us many good suggestions and we discussed our travels and issues of importance to women - like domestic violence, affordable childcare and abortion. TEGOBA has a Facebook page, so I can stay in touch with our new friends. They meet on Friday evenings 8pm–11pm at the Café Fame Novo (last stop on the metro / subte – Subterraneos de Buenos Aires) Line D - Congreso de Tucumán). The metro / subte runs until about 11pm; after that time, you will need to take a bus.
My hotel selection proved to be a good one (ARC Recoleta via hotels.com), as it was a great deal in the Recoleta neighborhood. The rooms were modern and very clean; the balcony was a plus. The staff was most attentive and very helpful; and the breakfast was awesome.
As noted, our two week-stay enabled us to visit many sites and interact with numerous locals and tourists (mostly from Brazil). Additionally, we were fortunate to have good weather with sunshine almost every day. A few of the days were cold, but we were prepared. Buenos Aires is a walkable city; and so, we walked 4 hours or more a day. The public transportation system is extensive and very inexpensive. We got the hang of the bus and Metro (Subte), Getting and filling the mandatory Subte card can be a challenge, as I discovered. You cannot pay for a single bus trip with pesos, you must have the card.
Additionally, numerous four-hour free walking tours provide one with a great overview of the city. The local guides work for tips. They definitely earn their keep, as they are proud to show tourists their city and provide interesting historical facts and figures.
We highly recommend these tours, as they are a good way to get the feel of a city.
Buenos Aires is known for the tango, in part thanks to the late popular Argentine singer, Carlos Gardel. However, La Cumparcita, the most famous tango song and music was actually composed by Gerardo Matos Rodriguez, a Uruguayan. We attended two professional tango shows, one which featured the music of Astor Piazzolla (held in an elegant hall) and the other in a more intimate setting at the Tortoni Cafe.
The La Boca section of Buenos Aires features colorfully painted houses, cafes and art shops.
It is working to establish itself as a serious part of the tourist scene. A visit to the Palermo Viejo and Soho sections allowed for a total immersion in street mural art and graffiti. We were fortunate to have meet Dario Coronda, a local artist who was completing one of his works, many of which deal with the issue of immigration.
Buenos Aires is also home to El Ateneo Grand Splendid, one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. Housed in an historic palatial theater which had a seating capacity of 1,050, El Ateneo is visited by over one million annually.
Modeled after La Scala in Milano, Teatro Colon, one of the finest concert halls in the world, hosts the opera, ballet, classical and popular music concerts. Opera greats: Caruso, Callas, Southerland, Pavarotti, and Domingo; ballet dancers: Fonteyn, Nureyev, Pavlova and conductors: Toscanini and von Karajan and many other of the world’s greatest artists have performed there. I wish I had bought tickets before we left the US because when we arrived their performances were all sold out. We did take a tour of Teatro Colon. And yes, it is absolutely magnificent with a seating capacity of 2,478 (plus 500 standing room only).
The San Telmo Sunday arts and crafts market features just about everything, including plenty of street entertainers and of course food. It is an amazing event held every week. The turnout for it was huge. I couldn’t estimate the crowd, but It was in the thousands, for sure. Focusing on the art scene, we visited the main museums: Bellas Artes, MALBA, Evita Peron, Eduardo Silvari, modern art museum, and various art galleries.
The Parque Tres de Febrero (main park in Buenos Aires) comes alive on the weekends, as locals and visitors alike walk, jog, bike, roller blade and row canoes on the lagoon. Rosedale is the lovely rose and sculpture garden within this park. A bust of Dante is there too! It is a restful spot in this busy city of 3 million who live in the central Metropolitan area and 17 million in the immediate surrounding areas. The total population of Argentina is 44 million.
Another tranquil respite stop is the Japanese Gardens. The beautifully manicured grounds host over 5,000 plants and trees, it is one of the largest Japanese Gardens in the world - outside of Japan.
We visited the Metropolitan Cathedral where the current Pope Francis (then Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio) served high Mass, and Casa Rosada, the center of the government. They are on the Plaza Mayo where demonstrations are held often. On the Monday of our visit, the mothers of young women who disappeared due to sex trafficking were demonstrating to create an awareness of this growing problem. The fence was covered with their photographs. Needless to say, it was very moving.
While in Argentina, we took a two-day trip from Buenos Aires to visit Iguazu Falls (Cataratas). The 90-minute flight transported us into another world. Iguazu is five times the size of Niagara Falls. One of the falls is 269’ (82meters). Half of the water runs into a canyon aptly named Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat). That will give you an idea of the scheme of things. The Argentine government established the Parque in 1934 (about 200,000 acres) in order to protect this natural wonder. Across the Iguazu River is the Brazilian counterpart. Both were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1984. To view the Iguazu Falls from the Brazilian side, one needs a visa (and time) to cross the border from Argentina. We spent an entire day at the Falls on the Argentina side. It was absolutely awesome.
We enjoyed our stay at the Iguazu Jungle Lodge where incredible gourmet dinners prepared by Chef Javier Sanchez were served. Breakfast was delicious, as well.
Back in Buenos Aires we took a day trip to Tigre (via Mitre train from Retiro Station) and then a two-hour leisurely boat trip on the Delta River. What a nice break, as the life of a tourist can be rather tiring.
Sunday at Feria de los Mataderos is quite the experience! Every week, this huge area is filled with arts and crafts, music, dancing and, of course, grilled meats and empanadas. Everyone was in a celebratory mood. Some of the old timers and regulars got dressed for the occasion (gauchos) and danced with abandon.
URUGUAY was a nice surprise. After our two-week stay in Argentina, we took the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay. The ferry station was pretty modern and relatively large. Fortunately, you can change money on the ferry. I was only able to obtain Argentine pesos and Chilean pesos before we left Arizona. It is always good to have some local currency.
After checking in to the historic Don Antonio Posada, we spent two hours walking around this UNESCO site which was established by the Spanish and Portuguese. Colonia´s cobblestone streets give it a romantic feel. The boutique shops, restaurants and cafes add to the charm. Although it was rather windy, we enjoyed our excursion. Fortunately, the next day was sunny and milder, so we visited the various small museums, most of which dealt with the history of the area and the marine culture. We has a chance meeting with Michael from DC who was very well traveled; therefore, we enjoyed sharing travel stories.
We have met some very interesting people during this trip. Uruguay would prove to be no exception. As a member of SERVAS, I had contacted numerous members in these three countries. The Uruguayans were very responsive.
After two days in Colonia, we took the three-hour bus to Montevideo. I found the NH Columbia Hotel (hotels,com) on Rambla Gran Bretana. It faced the Rio de la Plata, the widest river in the world at 137 miles wide and about 140 miles long (who knew!). We spent the next 5 nights enjoying the view from our 7th floor room, as we watched the sunset and people walking, jogging and biking along the Rambla.
The hotel staff in each of our selected hotels were always most helpful and pleasant, and the included breakfasts were awesome.
As soon as we arrived in Montevideo, I was contacted (via WhatsApp) by Dinorah, one of the SERVAS members. We were to meet at Rossanna´s home, attend a choral concert at Casa degli Italiani and then return for a welcoming party. Our timing was good. The concert was great and the gathering (where we also met Gianfranco, Cinthya and Liliana) was most enjoyable. Fortunately, the members spoke English. Liliana was kind enough to drive us back to the hotel.
The next day Cinthya accompanied us to the Feria - Sunday market with arts - crafts -food – antiques, etc. The Feria was located near the University Law School and main library. I noticed that photographs of those missing since the 1980s were attached to one of the screens. The history of the military coups in many South American countries is still fresh in the minds of the people, as so many families have been affected.
After lunch at an Italian restaurant, we met with Marisa, another SERVAS member who drove us along the coast to Cafe Hemingway (in honor of Ernest) where we sat and talked. Getting to know the locals is always the best part of traveling.
Daniella picked us up at the hotel the next morning and drove us through some of the immigrant and other barrios to the highest point in Montevideo where the historic museum is situated. She wanted to show us all sides of the city. Uruguay may be the only country in SA not to have had slaves. We saw the huge port with its many freighters and cargo ships, the upscale Prado section where the President lives, the former Grand Hotel with its fountain of the Three Graces, - now a banquet hall for events, Belloni Sculpture, and Church of the Carmelites. We stopped for lunch at the Suarez Cafe near the President´s home. As we headed for the Bellas Artes Museum, we met two young students who informed us that there was a spontaneous strike and that the museums were closed.
Jose Gervasio Artigas, the father of Uruguayan nationhood, is venerated; his statues are everywhere. We took a free four-hour walking tour of Montevideo which began at Independence Square. At first, we were the only two English speaking tourists; then Bobby from Nevada and Brewa from Texas arrived. No reservations are required for these daily walking tours which are provided on a tips only basis. Whomever shows, joins the group. Admiring the architecture, the historical monuments, cathedral, and small parks which dot the city, we came to know why Montevideo was once considered one of the most European of South American cities.
Later, we met Dinorah at the Museum del Gaucho (situated in a former palatial building) and then we admired the fine architecture of the old buildings, stopped in a bookstore, the Spanish Cultural Center and the Joaquin Torres art gallery (He drew the map of South America upside down as a political statement). One day, Montevideo will rise again as a favorite tourist destination.
The economic situation in a number of South American countries is in a current state of flux. The situation is gravest in Venezuela with many Venezuelans looking for work in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile.
During our stay in Uruguay, we took a trip to Puenta del Este, the point where the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped at Casa Pueblo, the home of the late Carlos Paez Vilaro, at Punta Ballena. He was an artist, intellectual and political thinker. At Puenta del Este we took the time-honored photo of the hand sculpture - Man Emerging to Life - five fingers rising out of the sand. created by Chilean artist Mario Irarrazabal.
The Uruguayans are very proud of their native son, Gerardo Matos Rodriguez (1897 - 1948) a musician, composer and journalist known as Becho. He wrote the world´s most famous tango song La Cumparsita in 1916 and is buried in the northern part of Uruguay. Argentine claims to this song continue to create tension.
We flew from Montevideo to Santiago (2hour flight) on LANTAM. We took a taxi to the Altura Suites, a huge condo apartment complex. Our fully equipped one-bedroom apartment on the 18th floor overlooked the park - Cerro Santa Lucia. It was somewhat like overlooking Central Park in NYC but on a smaller and at a less expensive rate. The location - near Parque Forestal and the Museo de Belles Artes - proved to be very convenient. Santa Lucia is one of the three main (green) hills in Santiago. Charming parks dot this city.
We have been fortunate in that most every day of our trip has been sunny. As long time Arizonans that is very important to us.
On our first day we took a tour of the Municipal Theater which was originally built in 1890s
Unfortunately, during the period of the down economy in Chile, some of the art work and a marble staircase were sold. The Opera season will open with an elaborate production of the Barber of Seville. A segment of the Theater is named for pianist Claudio Arau who had lived in the same Greenwich Village apartment house as I did. At that time, one of his students was a friend of mine - a Chilean studying in NYC.
Another of our surprise encounters was meeting Monica, a young woman from Venezuela, who teaches English language in a private school. She rents an apartment in the building complex where we were staying. During our dinner together, she told us of her trips to the US and her experiences working and traveling in a variety of places. Being on the 18th floor has given us an opportunity to meet some of the tenants, as we wait for the elevator. Some are on 3 month work assignments – like the couple from India who are technology professionals, while others are on 3 week assignments like the engineer from Mexico. I think they all appreciated the new supermarket next door and the laundry room on the 22nd floor.
After visiting the Museum of Bellas Artes, we went to relax in Parque Forestal only to come upon hundreds of young teens and college students who were playing Pokémon Go. It was quite the happening. About an hour later while walking towards the Plaza de Armas, we encountered them again. We spoke with several of them about their enjoyment of the game.
The main Cathedral is situated in one of the sections of this important Plaza. We noticed a huge gathering out front only to learn that the Cardinal from Venezuela was going to say a high Mass. We stayed for the entertainment outside the Cathedral which was in addition to the concert planned for the mass.
During our stay, we also learned that Santiago was hosting the seventh annual EXPO Mujeres Enreprendedores Indigeneos and so we attended the event. Over 100 indigenous Chilean women, dressed in native costumes, presented their arts and crafts for sale. Local South American musical groups added to the upbeat nature of the event.
On Sunday we took another of the Free Walking Tours. Our guide, Alejandro, was very knowledgeable about the history of Chile (spoke about Pinochet - Allende and Luco) and its indigenous peoples (Maupuchi, Selknam, et al). On this four-hour trek his enthusiasm never lessened. We walked from one side of the central core to the other, passing and discussing Plaza de Armes, Cathedral, Post Office, la Moneda, Belles Artes Museum, Forestal Park, crossing the river, the various neighborhoods, Plaza Italia, Neruda´s la Chascona, the Bella Vista barrio, LaStarrias neighborhood, Pio Nono, Recoleta, Teatro Municipal, Plaza de la Constitucion, impressive Parliament building, and finally ending at Cerro San Cristobal - the 850 meter / 2,500’ hill in Parque Metroplitano. Taking advantage of being there, we decided to head for the top. I just couldn´t believe how many people were jogging, walking and or biking. At the top one finds (along with plenty of stairs) a chapel and statues dedicated to the Virgin Mary and a number of interestingly designed crosses, in addition to a spectacular view of the city.
Using Lucero Travel and with Naomi as our guide / interpreter, we took a day trip to Valparaiso and Vin del Mar. Valparaiso, a fairly large cargo port, is charming because of its hilly cobblestone streets and brightly painted artistic graffitied walls.
Although some may be put off by its worn appearance, we enjoyed it. Their weekly Sunday market place, which extends for a few miles, offers just about everything. One of Pablo Neruda´s three homes, La Sebastian, sits on one of the hills facing the sea. Continuing along the coast, one arrives at Vin del Mar, the beach paradise, which is beginning to find itself with new high-rise apartments for the monied set.
One day we visited Mercado Central, the fish market, which is now almost completely filled with restaurants eager to serve tourists and locals alike. After lunch we headed for the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art which was most interesting. The exhibits were well displayed, and the collection of textiles is carefully maintained, as lights turn on only when an exhibit is approached. Here you can marvel at the ingenuity and creativity of the native peoples from over 3,000 years ago.
We arranged for a meeting with Emilio of SERVAS. An electrical engineer, Emilio has been to the US and has a great command of the English language. We discussed a wide variety of topics and in doing so, he prepared me for my meeting the following day at the Ministerio de Mujeres y Egalidad. My meeting at the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality was with Martin Vidal, a lawyer who spoke flawless English. I had learned that this current administration is fairly new (about 4 months). Time will tell if the ambitious goals set forth on May 23rd 2018 by President Sebastián Piñera will be realized. Let´s hope so. Government reports are made public and available to citizens, so the information should be readily available. During my visit, we discussed a wide range of issues: domestic violence, equality pay, gender and sexual orientation discrimination, work place harassment, health care, abortion, immigration, child care, education, women in non-traditional jobs, the privatization of social security and pensions, the impact of international corporations, the rise of tourism and the value of volunteers. I appreciated Martin’s time so very much.
Factoid: Sebastián Piñera, the current President of Chile was the CEO of LANTAM airlines.
He had to sell all his shares before assuming the elected position. In view of the current situation in the US, I found this most interesting.
A few days later, we headed to the Centro de Orientacion Familiar Nazareth (COFNA) in the La Florida section of the city, a fair distance from the center of Santiago. My friend Ida’s sister (a nun) is the director. Sister Francesca explained to us, in Spanish and her native Italian, that their focus is on providing counseling and a variety of social services to poor families. The compound is huge... plenty of trees and plants, along with two horses who are temporary boarders. The center is also used for temporary housing for women and families in need and for religious retreats.
We visited all of Pablo Neruda’s homes. The Nobel prize winning Chilean Poet had three homes all under the administration of a foundation. They are: La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso and Isla Negra where he and Matilde Urrutia (his third wife) are buried. Each house is distinctive in its own right; all reflect Neruda´s very eclectic style. It gave us a better insight into Neruda’s personality.
Near La Sebastiana in Valparaiso is a small sculpture garden, Plaza de Los Poetas. It features life-size works of Gabriela Mistral (aka Lucila Godoy Alcayaga), the first Latin American to win a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945, Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize in 1971, and Vicente Huidobro, a poet and influencer in the avant-garde literary movement.
Before the trip I sent out a query through InterNations - Phoenix Chapter, an international networking organization for Ex-Pats and globally minded individuals. Angelica from Santiago and Mariana from Buenos Aires replied. A few weeks later when we met, Angelica asked if I would contact her sisters, Cristina and Jacqueline, during our trip. This would prove to be one of the main highlights of our trip. We met with Cristina and her husband Rene for vino and tapas in the Lastarria area near where we are staying. We learned that we had a mutual love of travel. In no time, we became fast friends. It was so wonderful to have made this
The very next day, Jacqueline came for us and drove us to Pueblito del los Dominicos. Once a Catholic monastery compound with San Vicente Ferrer church as its historic anchor, it is now a high-end arts and crafts village. Paintings, photography, jewelry, leather work, glass, wood, gem stones, batik, handicrafts like crochet and knitting are displayed and sold. One can meet the artisans, as they work in their individual ‘stores’. When I told Jacqueline about Emilio, she urged me to invite him to join us. We all went to her home for lunch. She prepared a feast with shrimp, pisco sours, then pork / rice / beans / salad.
Chilean Independence Day was a few days later. We were invited to join Jacqueline and her family for their traditional celebration – endless eating and socializing … chorizo sausage, empanadas, asado: meats and vegetables skewered like shish kabob and roasted on an open grill (parrilla), salad and red wine. Oh My! The best part was that we got to meet her adult children Maximilian (studying to be a dentist), Alberto (in the tourism business) who informed me of the health benefits of the Maqui berry as used by the Mapuchi natives of Chile, and Amaya (studying to be a doctor), and their friends (Mathias, a psychotherapist and Stefi, in the finance industry). It was impressive that all of these young adults spoke English so well. Jacqueline and her family will always be held close in our hearts.
Our five-week trip came to an end – all too quickly. We left with memories to last a life-time.
Jose, one of the front desk employees drove us to the airport. The staff was very accommodating. The return flight was from Santiago to Phoenix via Atlanta on Delta. Since the flight was not full, we were able to get a whole row for each of us, so we could lie down and sleep.
At the Santiago airport, we were able to get a discounted rate for the Delta SkyMiles Club, since we have American Express credit cards. In the Atlanta airport, we were able to use our passes for the United Frequent Flyer Club, even though we were flying on Delta. It gave us a nice chance to relax. When we returned home, I received an invitation to a fundraiser to benefit the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Casa Segrada Familia Pediatric Hospice Clinic in Santiago. What a small world this is! I attended the event which was very successful and I met Ken Ross and Kenneth Smith, the Honorary Consul to Chile in Arizona. Life offers us many interesting and unexpected opportunities. AND SO … Where to next?