A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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Posts from — October 2008

Argentina’s Napa Valley


Mendoza is Argentina’s Napa Valley, a prosperous place with a mellow vibe, thanks in large part to the world-class wines produced here.

We arrived in this city of wide, leafy streets and ornate plazas after a 17-hour bus ride from Salta (in cama class, thank goodness).




Mendoza started out as part of the Spanish colony of Chile, though Santiago lies on the other side of the imposing Andes.

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October 31, 2008   3 Comments

Fifteen Minutes at the Clinic

When Caroline woke with several angry red bumps on the back of her hand and along her wrist, we assumed an insect – perhaps a spider – had bitten her during the night.

At first, our main concern was about the cleanliness of our US$30 a night room at the hostel.  But as the day wore on, our focus shifted to the red welts as they began itch terribly and then multiply.

Soon red blotches and bumps appeared on Caroline’s arms, neck and back.   Either this was one active insect or something else was going on.  We decided we’d better see a doctor.

The young man working at the front desk of our hostel told us there was a medical clinic just two doors down, so off we went, concerned about Caroline and not knowing what to expect.

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October 29, 2008   10 Comments

Semi-Cama or Semi-Coma?

On the kid’s blog, Caroline explains the difference between full cama and semi-cama service on long-distance buses in Argentina.

October 29, 2008   2 Comments

Around the Bend


Hasan, our guide for the day, picked us up at our hostel at 7 am.

We planned to drive three hours north of Salta to see the Quebrada de Humahuaca, an often-photographed, stunningly beautiful gorge surrounded by multicolored mountains.

Crossing into Jujuy Province, we entered the gorge at the valley bottom, and began the 90 mile drive to the town of Humahuaca.


As we approached the small village of Purmamarca, Hasan pulled the van over to show us the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors, see below), a unique geological formation. We fired off dozens of photographs, both cameras going full speed.


Once we were satisfied we had a decent shot, we headed into the Purmamarca “market,” a tourist trap we hadn’t seen the likes of since Cusco.

Hasan suggested that we meet him back at the van in forty minutes.  We wandered around the village square, looking at the same hats, blankets, sweaters and trinkets we’d seen in a dozen different South American markets.

Call me gullible, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next.

We entered a small courtyard and began browsing through the merchandise.  I stopped short when I saw the Incan wall hanging that I had bought for Dani on the Uros Islands in Peru.  The woman I bought it from assured me that she had made the print herself.


All I could do was shake my head.  As I turned around to leave, there hanging from the wall, was the Ecuadorian wool poncho Conor had bought in Otavalo.  Made locally, we were assured, when we’d paid twelve dollars for it.

Now I was running for the exit, but not before I saw same exact alpaca chullo hats Caroline and Conor had bought from the Quechua children at the entrance to Cotopaxi National Park.

I had to confront my secret fear: That all South American collectibles are made in a factory in China.

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October 27, 2008   9 Comments

ADIP: Salta, Argentina

A Day in Pictures
Salta, Argentina


We arrived in Salta, Argentina after a grueling 23 hour bus ride from Puerto Iguazu. Unfortunately we had to travel semi-cama, and the trip was not nearly as pleasant as the one from Buenos Aires to Iguazu.

To help us recover, we burned some Starwood Preferred Guest Points and checked in to the Salta Sheraton for a free night’s stay.


Comfortable beds and a good breakfast helped restore our spirit of adventure so we set out to explore the town.

But much to our surprise Salta was practically shut down as nearly every breathing soul gathered around TV sets to watch the big futbol game between Boca and River.  (Boca won).


But not every Salteno was watching the game. Spring is in the air here, and so is love. I suppose some things are more important than soccer.


To get our minds back on a higher plane, we visited the striking Iglesia San Fransciso, an extravagant piece of Italian Neocolonial architecture.


Next we rode the teleferico to the top of Cerro San Bernardo for a panoramic view of the city.


As we continued our walk around town, we ran into a couple of very angry, very loud watchdogs. They did not appreciate me or my camera.  I knew better than to challenge their authority.


We ended our stroll on the Plaza 9 de Julio in front of Salta’s Neoclassical Cathedral, built in 1882. It’s one reason this town is known as “Salta la Linda” – Salta the Fair.

All of our pictures from Salta are posted here.

October 24, 2008   2 Comments

Paseo Luna Llena


When we walked through the gate of the Parque Nacional Iguazu the first thing we saw was a set of posters advertising the Paseo Luna Llena, a full moon walk over Iguazu Falls.

The walk is held only four nights a month, and we all recognized the rare opportunity to see one of the world’s natural wonders by the light of the moon. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

We signed up on the spot, then set off to explore the falls in the daylight.

The Argentine park is very well organized with an excellent trail system that brings you within a dozen feet of several of the 270 different falls that combine to make Iguazu.




And while Iguazu may not be the tallest set of water falls in the world (that would Angel Falls in Venezuela) and they may not be the biggest by volume (see Victoria Falls in Zambia), they are breathtaking.  The falls are magnetic; it’s hard to stop looking at them.

When the trails bring you close to the falls, you don’t see them so much as experience them.  The wind whipped up by the water.  The soaking spray.  The deafening roar.  At close range they engage all five senses.


When the crowds began to build just after lunch, we retreated to the Hotel Riotropic for a siesta.  A little rest was in order if we were going to be out watching waterfalls at midnight.

We returned to the park after dark, for an incredibly ordinary dinner — and an extraordinary night.

Around 9:30 pm a guide came to the park restaurant to pick up the tour group.  A thunderstorm had swept through the area, briefly calling into question whether we’d be able to do the walk at all.

But as we exited the restaurant, the skies were clear, the night was cool and the moon was rising.

We boarded the train that connects the different parts of the park and rode about three miles into the jungle, to the Estacion Garganta del Diablo.  We disembarked and began a mile walk on a metal catwalk through the jungle and over the Rio Iguazu to The Devil’s Throat.

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October 22, 2008   4 Comments

Full Cama


Most Americans would rather have a root canal than endure a 17-hour bus ride. Almost any form of transportation is preferable to riding the dog.

Not so in Argentina.

More than one person had told me that Argentine long-distance buses were comfortable and affordable.  But we were all surprised by how enjoyable it is to travel on them.

Truth be told, by the time we had reached Puerto Iguazu after the overnight journey from Buenos Aires, none of us wanted to leave the Crucero del Norte bus. Because we were traveling full cama.

We boarded our bus at 7:30 pm at Retiro station and were due to arrive in Puerto Iguazu at 12:30 pm the next afternoon. Our seats resembled overstuffed recliners and were ingeniously designed to fold out into comfortable beds.


Each “cama suite” had its own flat screen TV, and they didn’t play the overheated action films so prevalent on long-distance buses. We got a Meg Ryan movie first followed by the always excellent Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah.

From the moment we boarded the “service” began.  Within the space of ninety minutes we were offered complimentary whiskey, wine and champagne – all this before dinner.

Around 11 pm they dimmed the bus’s interior lights and, almost in unison, our 24 fellow passengers converted their seats into beds.  Dani, the kids and I slept pretty soundly until breakfast was served the next morning at 6:30 am.

When pulled into the Omnibus Terminal right on schedule, Caroline and Conor were actually disappointed to leave the bus.

So I shared with them this good news:  We have at least two more long-distance bus rides in our near future.

But here’s the bad news:  The only service available on our 23-hour trip from Iguazu to Salta is semi-cama.

Something tells me that after you’ve traveled full cama, semi-cama ain’t gonna cut it.


October 20, 2008   6 Comments

Hasta La Vista, BsAs


It’s hit me. Our time in Buenos Aires is drawing to a close and now we must say goodbye to the life we’ve built here over the last five weeks.

In a short time we have made little routines and found favorite spots.

This is my kind of adventure:  Yellow bananas on the counter, a pot of coffee brewing, clothes unpacked and folded in drawers.

Outside, after we’ve slept in good and late, there are museums to discover, restaurants to sample, markets to stroll through.  Seems I am most satisfied having adventures from a home base.

As my friend Kate put it, “It’s enough stimulation and challenge to try to make a nest in an unfamiliar tree.”




When we leave our Buenos Aires nest we will miss the sweet couple who owns the lavandaria two doors down, the vegetable and fruit man who offers samples of mandarinas with a twinkle in his eye, the pleasant amble to the Scalabrini Ortiz Subte stop, the lady at the fresh pasta shop who is charmed by the kids’ Spanish, a bedtime snack of sliced apples dipped in dulce de leche, sweet medialunas from the bakery across the street.

Amazing sights await us.  And I know we will find other places to love.  But I don’t think we’ll be in another single place long enough to feel this sense of belonging.

BsAs has thrilled us with its green spaces and flowering trees, elegant architecture, walkable neighborhoods, and excellent food.

What great place to spread out the school books, cook dinner and relish the beauty of routine.


October 17, 2008   5 Comments

Xul Solar and Mr. Puffy Pants

If you haven’t visited Caroline and Conor’s blog recently, you should check out their latest posts on the odd Argentine artist Xul Solar and the day spent partying with Mr. Puffy Pants.

October 15, 2008   2 Comments

Long Walk Home


This past week we booked an estancia tour to ride horses, have asado and see a gaucho show.  The tour company called it a Fiesta Gaucho.  Sounds like a fun day, eh?

Yet when it was over, I felt a sadness that was difficult for me to shake. Here’s what happened.

We boarded a full tour bus and drove 50 miles north of Buenos Aires to Don Silvano’s Estancia.  When we arrived we went for trail ride, played bocce and walked around the grounds.

Shortly after 1 pm lunch was served, a typical Argentine asado with about five different types of grilled meat.

Then the music started.  Several entertainers took the stage and began singing Argentine folk songs and performing traditional dances.

As the program began to wind down, the emcee noted that there were visitors from thirteen nations, and he began calling people to the stage to sing a folk song that represented their country.

“South Africa!  Where is our guest from South Africa?”

The burly man who had been sitting next to me on the bus took the stage, and after some minor arm-twisting, he sang a song in a language I did not recognize.

The audience got into the spirit, and began calling for countries to take the stage. Columbia. Venezuela. Peru. Japan. Each performance and country were warmly applauded.


Surely they’d be calling for the United States soon.  What if we were the only Americans?  What would we sing?

After several more performances, including a group of twenty Australian senior citizens warbling their way through “Waltzing Matilda,” it dawned on me:  There would be no calls to hear from the United States.

It’s not that we weren’t welcome; we surely were.  But there was no rush to celebrate us either.

At that moment I felt the full force of the last eight years.

And it became very clear to me that, in the eyes of the world, we had squandered the idea, the spirit, the goodness of America.

Later that afternoon, as the party moved outside for the gaucho show, we found ourselves sitting next to a woman from Malaysia.  She began telling us about her travels, then about her country.

When we told her we might visit Malaysia as part of our trip, she said very straightforwardly, “You in the West are very privileged.  In Malaysia, we could never take that much time off.  There is always work, school. Things we must do.”

On the bus ride back to Buenos Aires, I couldn’t shake my melancholy.  I thought about what the Malaysian woman had said.  We are privileged.  Privileged to live in a country that for most of its history has been a symbol of hope and opportunity.

Soon America will turn the page. I hope we return to our better selves.  But it’s going to be a long walk home.

October 13, 2008   9 Comments

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