Saturday, December 24, 2016

Antarctic Trip: Santiago, Chile, Where it is finally Summer, December 19-24, 2016

View of Santiago from Cerro San Lucia
On Dan's birthday, December 20, we woke up in Santiago, Chile, and we finally had summer in December. The weather was beautiful, dry, warm. Even the evenings were warm. Visibility was bad due to wildfires surrounding the city. Chile, like California, has been experiencing a several year drought leading to tinder dry landscapes.

For the first couple of days, we just wandered around Santiago. We always felt safe and comfortable, but because we carry cameras, many many Chileans would stop and warn us to be careful of thieves. Luckily, we never had a problem.

We visited churches. One of my favorite things in the Catedral de Santiago was this basin with a sculpted set of praying hands that dripped holy water.

Catedral de Santiago
Catedral de Santiago is located on the Plaza de Armas and there is always something fun going on there.

While it was hard to feel like it was Christmas, it definitely was Christmas in Chile. There were reminders everywhere from the Christmas tree in the Plaza de Armas to Santa at the Costanera Center mall to the many street stands selling wrapping paper and gifts. And, after all, most people who celebrate Christmas live in the Southern Hemisphere where it is warm in December. The streets were packed with last-minute shoppers.

We visited Costanera Center the tallest building in South America at 300 meters/980 feet. On a winter day you can probably see the Andes to the east, but on a summer day with smoke in the air, you are lucky to be able to see 300 meters down.

We visited Santiago's fabulous vegetable and fish markets.

Chile is the source of much of the produce imported by California during our winter months. The fragrance of strawberries and cherries was everywhere. And avocados (palta) were ripe and plentiful.

On Christmas Eve day we re-visted the markets with a tour group called Tours for Tips. The markets were even more crowded with people picking up the freshest seafood and produce for Christmas dinners.

On this same tour (it was an off the beaten track tour) we went to Santiago's cemetery. This cemetery established in 1821 now has more than 237 hectares (586 acres) and more than 2 million graves. The cemetery is connected to the subway system with its own stop, and it is so busy that the cemetery uses a monitor similar to those use in airports to display the name of the deceased, time of funeral, and place of burial. The cemetery is for everyone regardless of religion. It is separated between those who have money with the fancier graves and niches and those that don't.

Some of the deceased are buried in these condo like structures. Each niche might have 3 or more deceased enclosed because of the "reduction" system. Some 19th century niches hold the remains of up to 12 bodies. After several years, the bones are gathered and placed toward the rear to allow a new occupant to move in.

Animism is the belief that everything (rocks, rivers, mountain, everything) is alive (even the deceased) and is conscious or has a soul. It's easy to see Animism in practice at this cemetery. There is a special section in the cemetery for children; every year some of the families, including the family, of 5-day old Benjamin Antonio Droguett Cortez hold birthday parties at the niche to celebrate their child's birthday. Benjamin's family places party invitations on the graves or niches of the other children in the lane. Cemetery workers place handmade Christmas cards at each child's niche.

Animita is a Chilean term used to refer to a place of religious or mythological veneration, sometimes developed as a shrine made to remember a tragic event in public spaces. It is also established as a site of informal veneration of persons to whom are attributed some otherworldly characteristic. Those who died in tragic circumstances "leave their soul wandering in the place where they fell or are buried." Once a shrine is formed, "believers can ask him/her to intervene in front of saints or God himself to solve problems." If the prayer is answered, then it is required that a plaque be placed at the shrine. As more and more plaques appear, more people accept the powers of the animita  (sources: Tours for Tips guide and Wikipedia). 

The Romuldo Animita has been around since at least the 1930s with many versions of how he came to die and become an animita. One version is that Romuldo was a mentally handicapped man who lived near the train station. Romuldo often helped his neighbors and he was well liked. One night, several thugs beat and killed Romuldo. Because he was so tragically killed, some people began to ask the now deceased Romuldo for help. When their prayers were answered they thanked Romuldo by placing a plaque saying "Thank you Romualdito for listening" etc on the wall of the train station. More and more people had their prayers answered and also placed their thank you plaques around Romuldo's niche until now the plaques and flowers have flowed into all the surrounding niches. Romuldo's niche is the one with the tall red flowers sitting on the shelf  Wikipedia on Romualdo Ibáñez.

Romualdito's Niche
No visit to Santiago is complete without some wine tours. With Uncorked Wine Tours we visited three wineries in Casablanca Valley northwest of Santiago ending the afternoon with a fabulous wine-paired lunch at the third one.

After having so many elegant meals in Chile, our last supper was at Fuente Alemana which is kind of a quirky diner style restaurant. The stove is in the center and customers sit at the bar that surrounds the cook stove. I had a burger made of minced beef and pork served on a bun with a entire mashed avocado (palto). It was fabulous. No wonder it was visited by Anthony Bourdain.

And, then it was the end of our time in Santiago. Back at our hotel we waited for our Christmas Eve taxi to the airport. On Christmas Day we were in three countries: Chile, Mexico, and Los Estados Unidos.

Casanoble Boutique Hotel friendly staff and excellent location near Belles Artes Museum for sightseeing and subway connections in Santiago.
Uncorked Wine Tours has elegant small 2-6 person tours around Santiago.
Bocanáriz Restaurant has over 400 kinds of wine from Chile. We thoroughly enjoyed our wine-paired dinner.
Tio Willy restaurant on an outer corner at the Mercado Central (fish market) for lunch. We shared the crab smothered in cheese--excellent.
Museum of Pre-Columbian Art One of the best museums I've been to with all labels in three languages: Spanish, Portuguese, and English. All pieces are beautifully displayed and lit.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Antarctic Trip: Valparaiso, Chile, December 22, 2016

We took a day away from Santiago and caught a bus to the port city of Valparaiso. Valparaiso is about 70 miles northwest of Santiago. It is a city of steep hills and funiculars. Many of the buildings on the hills of Concepcion and Alegre are decorated with murals and expressive graffiti. I don't know many details about this city but all the color made me happy to just be there.

One of the many Funiculars
View of the busy port and the surrounding city of Valparaiso

And, on the tram ride back to the bus station, I saw Santa Claus on his motorized sleigh.

Valparaiso is a wonderful city for strolling. Tours for Tips has a tour which would probably be great. Unfortunately, we didn't know that so we explored on our own.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Antarctic Trip: Patagonia, Chile, December 15-19, 2016

View of Lake Toro in Paine del Torres National Park
We weren't stranded in Antarctica after all. We left on December 14 as scheduled except that we had to leave very early and I finally saw the sunrise in Antarctica. The charter plane flew from a Chilean Navy Base on King George Island to Punta Arenas, Chile. After a night in Punta Arenas, we were off to Patagonia Camp in Torres del Paine for the next part of our adventure.

We loved our hillside accommodation at Patagonia Camp which is made up of separate yurt structures with the addition of luxury bathrooms.

The view from our yurt at Patagonia Camp

Despite the rainy weather, we hiked at the Torres del Paine National Park everyday. The easy Fauna hike was first. The trail runs through grasslands littered with the bones of guanacos. Since food is plentiful, it is a killing grounds for pumas. We saw lots of bones, lots of guanacos, but no pumas.

The guanaco (pronounced "one-ah-co) is a member of the camel family and while related to llamas, it is more ancient.

Guanaco looking for challengers or predators

The hike took us as far as a rocky outcropping that formed a ledge over the ground. Under the ledge, first peoples created art using earthen pigments. The art seems to show humans, a handprint, pumas, and even a condor.

The rock wall under which the ledge is formed 
Gray Fox

Our guide told us that Guanaco males fight to the death when their alpha status is challenged by another male. One of the ways of fighting is to run after the challenger and attempt to neutralize the challenger by biting and ripping the testicles. We were almost at the end of the fauna hike when I heard a stampede coming our way allowing me to document the exact sequence of events our guide had just described.

Covering the guanaco jewels

It was a near miss and the challenger galloped away winded but still intact and able to procreate.

That was exciting!

Another story our guide told us related to an emu-like bird called a rhea. Male rheas have sex with about 17 females. The male makes a nest and one by one the female rheas come and lay their one egg in his nest and then leave. The job of raising baby rheas falls to the male who cares for his babies for about seven months. While the male is fulfilling his paternal duties, the females go on to procreate with other males.
Daddy Rhea

Baby Rheas
Even though it was cool and quite cold in Patagonia, we saw both flamingos and fuchsias thriving.

Grey's Glacier

On Day two we hiked near Grey's Glacier and beyond through a forested area containing trees at least 150 years old. Most of trees are beech and in Patagonia they are very slow growing.

During the night it poured, but we woke to a beautiful rainbow over our view Toro Lake.

It continued to mostly rain through our hike to the Los Cuernos Overlook (the horns). In fact, once we got to the overlook, the horns were not visible.

Dan hiking along a dead forest of burned beech trees

The tidy yellow plants are called "Mother-in-law's pillow" They are quite thorny

Looking for Los Cuernos
Porcelain Orchids (a rare green orchid)

Lunch was at a nearby picnic grounds. After lunch we watched birds and a cute armadillo stop by to look for crumbs.

 Later in the day we saw Chile's National Animal--a South Andean huemul also known as a South Andean deer that is barely visible in this photo.

After 3 fabulous (even with the rain) days of hiking, we migrated to summer in Santiago.

Patagonia Camp, a luxury camp with great food, wine, and scenery.
Torres del Paine National Park: