Sunday, January 27, 2008

Photos of Volcan Villarrica II (January 26, 2008)

Frances versus the volcano...too bad it´s not smoking much in this photo!
One view of the mouth of the volcano. What looks like dirt in the foreground is actually snow covered in a thin layer of volcanic rock. The people clustered around the rim will give you a sense of the size of the mouth.
Here´s the best view I could get straight into the mouth of the volcano, with its yellowish walls. The grey haze in the center of the photo is the sulfer dioxide/carbon dioxide gas (cough). The best photo I could get of the smoky snowy-rocky surface
Volcan Villarrica smoking gently at sunset

Volcan Villarrica, Chile (January 26, 2008)

For the past couple of days, I´ve been in Pucon, Chile - another popular lakeside resort with outdoor activities for both summer (rafting, kayaking, canopy tours, hiking, horseback riding, etc.) and winter (skiing, hotsprings). The big attraction in the area is Volcan Villarrica, one of Chile´s most active volcanos. In winter, people come to ski down the volcano; in summer, they come to climb up it. Because the summit climb is non-technical (no ropes required) and the volcano is easily accessible, thousands of people climb it every year. The volcano is 9340 ft (2847 m) high, and according to Wikipedia, is one of only a handful of volcanos worldwide to have an active lava lake within its crater.

We started our climb at about 8:30am in the morning, and it took us nearly six hours to get to the top. The first hour of the hike and the last 20 minutes to the summit were on volcanic rock; the rest of the hike was through snow. We were fortunate to have beautiful blue skies for most of our climb, and we were able to hike in shorts for much of the day, even far above the snow line. We were outfitted with proper mountaineering boots, heavy-duty pants/jacket, gloves, gaiters, helmet, ice axe, backpack and bum-guard for the "glissade" descent - a fancy term for sliding down the volcano on one´s backside. It wasn´t until we were hiking up the really steep snowy slopes that we put on the pants and gloves, and that was primarily in case we fell and slid down the volcano, which did happen to a couple of people in our group.

The climb was great fun, with fabulous views of not only the smoky top of the volcano, but also the surrounding mountains, lake and countryside. The clouds seemed to move so quickly up there: it could be warm and sunny one minute, then cold and grey the next. For a brief while, we were actually in a cloud and couldn´t see anything much at all!

The summit was incredible, not just for the views but for the chance to peer down into an active volcano. I didn´t know quite what to expect at the top, and it´s rather difficult to describe - take a look at the photos. Yes, it was a huge smoky abyss, but despite standing really close to the edge, I couldn´t see that far down into least not far enough to see the active lava lake. What I found really strange was the huge amount of snow right at the top of the volcano. The snow was covered in a thin layer of lava rock, and the whole snowy-rocky mess was constantly smoking. Further inside the mouth of the volcano, the walls of rock were yellowish in color. Every few minutes, a puff of sulfur dioxide/carbon dioxide gas emerged from the volcano, which hurt to breathe and stung my eyes; nothing tops off a six-hour climb like inhaling toxic fumes. Still, it was worth it!

The descent was perhaps the most fun: we reached some pretty good speeds sliding down the volcano, and we´d use our ice axes to brake at the end of a slide. A few times we even formed chains and tobogganed down as a group. Although it took nearly six hours to climb the volcano, it took less than two hours to slide down it!

I´ve been asked to post some photos of myself, so here they are:
Volcan Villarrica in all its glory. Note the ski lifts at the base of the mountain for those who wish to bypass the rocky first hour of the hike.
Here I am about two hours into our hike...four hours still to go, and no top in sight. It was a relief to get off the scree and onto the snow. Our first really steep snowy climb. This was the section where several people fell; if you look closely, you can see slide marks in the snow.
Clouds swirling near the top of the volcano - one minute we´d be in a cloud, the next minute it would be beautifully clear
Heading up the near-final pass

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Chiloe Island, Chile (January 24, 2007)

On Thursday, I took a day-trip from Puerto Varas to Chiloe Island - Chile´s second largest island after Tierra del Fuego. The island boasts ownership of the southern terminus of the famous Pan-American Highway, although that claim is apparently contested by a few other towns in Chile and Argentina.

Countless small islands dot the coast of the large island, and some of these harbor penguin colonies, which were the primary reason for my visit. Other people come to see the unique Chilotan architecture: a fusion of indigenous and European architectures, with 16th century Spanish, 17-18th century Jesuit and 19th century Franciscan influences. Chiloe Island´s many quaint churches are on UNESCO´s World Heritage List.
Colorful island buildings with traditional Chilotan wooden shingles
The intererior of one of Chiloe Island´s churches. I was told that the body of the church was built to resemble the hull of a boat, due in part to the many fishermen there.
Penguins congregate on a protected island off the coast of Chiloe Island. In addition to penguins, I also saw sea lions, otters, cormorants and a dolphin.
Desolate beaches and the beautiful Pacific Ocean
I should really have posted a photo of one of the many fish merchants at the island market, but I couldn't resist this one: it's pet food by the sack!

Puerto Varas, Chile (January 23-25, 2008)

Puerto Varas is a lakeside town in Chile, close to two active volcanos: Osorno and Calbuco. Since the mid-19th century, the town has been heavily populated by Germans, and the German influence still remains in the architecture and the cuisine (primarily the cakes). Apparently many of the private schools are German, and many of the residents still speak German.

Although it's a relatively small city (approx. 30,000 people), it's a prime tourist destination for Chile. Visitors come to enjoy water sports or spend time in the nearby national parks. There are plenty of nice restaurants and craft shops, and there's a long (but rocky) beach that was almost as crowded as the ones in Rio! OK, not quite...

Seafood is the cuisine of choice here, and I tried salmon, hake (a mild white fish), crab, abalone and oysters during my stay. The oysters - fresh from Chiloe island and fried in butter - were the best I've ever had! Also of note are the fabulous kuchen (cakes), which seem to be served at all times of day, from breakfast ´til after dinner. There were cakes of peach and custard, lemon meringue, and my favorite: raspberry crumble. Puerto Varas even has an official "Dia del Kuchen" (Cake day!) on Feb. 2. How can you not like a town that celebrates cake?!

Relaxing in the small town was a nice change of pace from the constant travel of the past few weeks. It was lovely to simply sit by the lake with my journal and my raspberry crumble kuchen, and enjoy the sun.
Volcan Osorno, on the shore of Lake Llanquihue
Puerto Varas´historic chuch, modeled after the Marienkirche in Germany´s Black Forest
Puerto Varas´small but crowded beach, with Volcan Calbuco in the distance
Live jazz at Puerto Varas' main square. We happened to be visiting during a music festival, and there were free shows every evening we were in town. Now if only the cake festival had been happening at the same time...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Photos of Bariloche III (January 20-23, 2008)

Mt. Tronador in Nahuel Huapi National Park. One side of the mountain belongs to Argentina, and the other side belongs to Chile.
A pristine lake in the national park reflects blue sky and puffy white clouds
Ventisquero Negro - Nahual Huapi´s own "black glacier." The black chunks in the milky brown water below the glacier are not rock, they´re ice.
Graceful trees along the trail to the base of Mt. Tronador
When we drove into the park in the morning, we crossed this rickety bridge; when we drove out in the afternoon, it had obviously caved in on one side. We arrived just as this bulldozer was clearing a road to the right of the bridge. It´s a good thing the creek was dry or we would have been spending the night in the park!

Photos of Bariloche II (January 20-23, 2008)

Horseback riding through the surreal landscape of Bariloche
The view from the top of our ride
Yellow grass contrasts dramatically with the massive blue sky
A beautiful sunset at Nahuel Huapi Lake
Pink clouds at sunset - it didn´t get dark in Bariloche until nearly 11pm!

Bariloche, Argentina (January 20-23, 2008)

Bariloche (or San Carlos de Bariloche) is a ski and outdoor sports haven in northern Patagonia. It was settled by Europeans in the late 1800s, and the architecture in the center of town is quite Alpine in character. Nahuel Huapi Lake and the surrounding mountains are truly beautiful, but such a change from the subtropical South America I had grown accustomed to these past three weeks! Goodbye palm trees and heavy humidity; hello snow-capped peaks and crisp mountain air.

Like many winter resorts, the main street is lined with an odd mix of mountaineering and adventure sports outfitters, restaurants, tourist traps and high-end clothing shops. Downtown Bariloche´s distinguishing feature is its outrageous number of chocolate shops: there are at least three chocolate factories in town, and there´s at least one chocolate shop per block on the main drag. And these chocolate shops don´t just carry chocolate; they also have a wide selection of candies and ice cream. Bariloche is a dangerous place for a person with a sweet tooth!

In addition to its many culinary virtues, Bariloche is a wonderful place for outdoors enthusiasts. Horseback riding, whitewater rafting, kayaking, trekking, fly fishing and biking are just some of the activities available during summer. It could be just the sugar talking, but the sky in Bariloche seems bigger and bluer than anywhere else in South America.
A slightly crooked photo from the 18-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. It was fascinating to watch the landscape change during the bus ride, from the coastal capital to the inland desert, to the rising mountains of northern Patagonia.
Vivid blue skies and green rolling hills complement Nahuel Huapi Lake
The view from Bariloche to the nearby snow-capped mountain range
A traditional town building of stone and wood in the main plaza on the lake
A woman fills chocolate molds with dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is an inescapable flavor in South America - it´s in ice cream, cookies, churros, chocolates, and they even serve it spread on toast for breakfast!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Photos of Buenos Aires IV (January 16-19, 2008)

Buenos Aires is a city jam-packed with cafes. One of the oldest and most famous is Cafe Tortoni, founded in the late 19th century. Waiters in tuxedos serve cappuchinos or submarinos (a cup of hot milk with a bar of chocolate to stir in), accompanied by churros. People enjoy a late lunch with friends, or like me, a leisurely submarino and churros with my trip journal.
My new favorite cookie - the alfajor. It's the South American version of the Moon Pie, and it comes with a variety of fillings: chocolate mousse, dulce de leche, jam, etc. After you've had an Oreo alfajor, you'll never go back to the original sandwich cookie.
Beautiful buildings and tall trees line the Av. de Mayo. The white building in the back is a sister building to one in Montevideo pictured here:
The Botanical Garden - a haven of green in the middle of the city
The Argentine flag flies over the Plaza San Martin

Photos of Buenos Aires III (January 16-19, 2008)

Elaborate graffiti in San Telmo, the oldest of the Buenos Aires neighborhoods. The cobblestone streets are lined with antique shops, art galleries, tango bars and cafes.
The Puerto Madero neighborhood, full of nice restaurants and new condominiums
The colorful neighborhood of La Boca, a historic portside area of predominantly Italian immigrants
La Bombonera, the Boca Junios stadium, in the center of La Boca. The Boca Juniors have won a South American record 17 international titles, second only to AC Milan in world soccer. One of the most famous Boca players was Diego Maradona.
A young boy sells refreshments from the window of a house across from the stadium. Many of the homes in La Boca are constructed of brightly colored corrugated iron.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Photos of Buenos Aires II (January 16-19, 2008)

The Basilica de Pilar in the Recoleta neighborhood. Built in the 18th century, this church is a classic example of Argentine colonial architecture.
Ornate family vaults at the Cementerio de La Recoleta. Founded in 1822, the cemetery encompasses six hectares - it's like a small city. Eva Peron and many other famous people are buried here.
A scruffy looking cat guards the cobwebbed coffins of an Argentine family in the Recoleta cemetery. The place is full of cats...there was even a black cat at the entrance gate!
A striking painting in the National Museum of Fine Arts. The museum has a nice collection of European and South American artwork, along with some Pre-Columbian artifacts.
Dancers at a tango show in the San Telmo neighborhood. The tango originated in Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century.

Buenos Aires, Argentina (January 16-19, 2008)

Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina, and it's been called the "Paris of South America." It's a beautiful city on the water, with both massive motorways and narrow cobblestone streets. Flashy skyscrapers with neon signs rub shoulders with ornate 18th and 19th century buildings. The parks and plazas, as well as the many tree-lined streets, soften the cityscape and give life to the busy avenues.

It's a fabulous city to explore on foot, with fountains and statues around every corner. The metro and an abundance of taxis make the farther neighborhoods easily accessible from the city center. There seems to be something for everyone in Buenos Aires - from sporting events and nightlife, to museums and cafes. The cuisine is delicious, eclectic and well priced.
The Plaza de los Congresos and the National Congress building, in the Montserrat neighborhood
The Plaza de Mayo, with the old Cabildo (Town Council). Not viewable in the photo, but also situated in the plaza, are the Casa Rosada (House of the National Government) and the Metropolitan Cathedral. This is one of the main plazas in the city center, and many large streets fan out from it.
The view of the Metropolitan Cathedral from the Plaza de Mayo
The Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world. With 20 lanes of traffic, it's a fun one to cross!
Another Buenos Aires landmark - the Obelisco on the Avenida 9 de Julio