Saturday, May 23, 2020

Walled Out? Walled In? Or Both?

Having received an advance from my publisher, I am theoretically updating the current edition of Moon Patagonia, but it’s not quite that simple. When I flew to Chile in late February, after a few days in Santiago I drove south to the volcanic highlands of the Araucanía region and across the Argentine border to San Martín de los Andes and San Carlos de Bariloche. I abruptly returned to Chile, though, when Santiago announced the impending closure of the borders between the two countries.
In mid-March, Chile was about to close the border with Argentina because of the Coronavirus crisis.
I had double-checked and acquired quite a bit of material in the process but, when I left to return to California in late March, I told my Chilean friends—one of whom is storing my car in Santiago—that I hoped to return in November, but couldn’t guarantee that would be the case. February or March of next year sounded a bit more realistic. Even now, that’s far from certain because of the Coronavirus crisis, which is worsening in Chile—though it’s not yet reached the levels of misgoverned countries like Brazil, the United Kingdom and, of course, the United States.
COVID-19 trends are worsening in Argentina and Chile, but still not close to those in the United States, Brazil, or the UK. 
Many people are without work these days, but my own is simply in limbo even if, in theory, I could be working on the book in question. In past years, spending the summer at home in Oakland before heading south after the World Series, I would revise background material such as government and politics. Still, even before I arrived in Chile earlier this year, that was full of uncertainty with the pending plebiscite on a new Constitution—now rescheduled for October 25th—and whether the accompanying political unrest might affect the travel and tourism sector.

The public health crisis, of course, put that issue on the back burner—almost literally, as the Chilean government decided (rightly, in my opinion) that holding an election in the midst of a pandemic was risky. For what it’s worth, the country does not allow absentee voting, so vote-by-mail is not an option; voting was once obligatory, but that is no longer the case. Interestingly, Chile does allow resident non-citizens to vote in its elections.
Open-air dining space at Pucón's Loretano
Besides background material, though, there’s equal uncertainty about tourist services. In my short time in South America, I discovered new restaurants, such as the Peruvian Loretano which, at present, continues serving takeout meals in Pucón. Still, in the aftermath of the public health crisis, many restaurants, accommodations and other services are sure to fail or, at least, change dramatically. It’s too early to say whether Loretano, or even established accommodations and restaurants with a solid track record over the decades, will necessarily survive.
I'd love to try the Peruvian-style ceviche at Loretano again.
Even if the travel and tourism sector re-opens, there’s another obstacle for me (and many other US citizens). Everybody knows, of course, about the notorious vanity wall under construction at the Mexican border, but now the current White House occupant’s minions are taking it to another level entirely. My US passport expires in early September, and I recently learned that the State Department is not processing either new or renewal applications so that, even if Argentina and Chile open up for tourism, it's uncertain (at best) when we'll be able to return.
In early March, when I entered Argentina from the Chilean side, I saw this camper van with Washington State plates. What their status might be at present, I can only guess, but the immediate outlook is not promising for US travelers.
The United States, of course, always used to criticize the Soviet Union and its allies for confining their citizens within their borders—most notably after the erection of the Berlin Wall. Now, it seems, any supposed “reopening” of the US has its limits, as its citizens must contend with walls—not just to keep foreigners out, but also to keep us in.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Erosion of Lonely Planet

Guidebook writing has been my occupation for three decades, though the digital revolution has put pressure on the print sector for at least two-thirds of that time. In the context of the coronavirus crisis, it drew renewed attention last week when Lonely Planet, my first publisher, announced the closure of its Australian flagship in Melbourne and its London editorial office. It is also shutting down its namesake magazine. This will leave it with a reduced presence in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tennessee (!) and Dublin, where it’s presumably cheaper to operate. The Tennessee office replaced its former US headquarters in my hometown of Oakland, California.
The skeletal 1989 edition of LP's Argentina prominently featured the author's name.
I’ve always had misgivings about digital travel content, especially crowd-sourced sites like TripAdvisor. They are vulnerable to anonymous and pseudonymous comments—especially by competitors—but not everything about them is necessarily untrustworthy. I would never even consider a restaurant on the basis of a TripAdvisor recommendation, for example, but if somebody reports claims to have eaten there three days ago, I’ll have reasonable confidence that the business in question still exists (except, perhaps, in times of coronavirus).

While the proliferation of digital content is certainly a factor in the decline of print guidebooks, LP’s corporate culture has also devolved from what it once was. In the beginning, the company gave its authors an autonomy to explore and make decisions on the content of their titles. Developing regional expertise over the years, those authors held copyright to their work, and received generous royalties—enough, in some cases to result in six-figure annual incomes.

Arguably, LP’s decline coincided with the devaluation of the on-the-ground regional expertise that first made them credible. In this context, Paula Hardy’s quasi-obituary in the Guardian (linked above) is a blend of naiveté and misinformation, not to mention gaping lacunae. About the time she came on board, in 1999LP was morphing from an author-friendly company to one that dispensed with experienced authors, eliminating their copyrights and royalty contracts.Some were told that (I’m paraphrasing here) “You’re getting a reputation as difficult to work with.”

After the company warned that it might start titles from scratch with new writers, longtime authors learned that continuing with LP would involve fixed-fee contracts for a third or less of their previous income, with no certainty of future employment. Several whom I know opted out—choosing to sell their copyrights to the company, which seemed to conclude that destinations and authors were fungible (in fairness, the copyright buyouts could be generous).
Nothing in Santiago de Chile remotely resembles the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, but an LP editor wanted it as a cover shot.
New editions and titles became the product of multiple writers, some with doubtful qualifications—if an author had collaborated on a guide to, say, Sweden, he or she could just as easily draw an assignment for Myanmar, academic preparation and language skills notwithstanding. Many incoming authors and editorial personnel were neophytes whose geographical ignorance was palpable—in one case that I know of, an editor chose a photograph of Spain’s Santiago de Compostela (population about 96,000) to represent the capital of Chile (population five million-plus).
My first LP guide (left) omitted our names from the cover, but the licensed Spanish-language version  acknowledged us.
In that context, it’s noteworthy that LP stopped putting authors’ names on the covers of their books in the late 1980s, as best I can figure. After signing my first LP contract in 1990, I never had my name on the cover with a single exception—when Barcelona’s Editorial Kairós licensed my Argentina, Uruguay & Paraguay title, it featured both my wife’s and mine (María Laura was also the translator).

I spent ten years with LP, producing titles on Argentina, Chile, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Baja California and The Rocky Mountain States, but was never so fortunate as to have a royalty contract. That said, the flat fees seemed reasonable at the time and, in one instance, LP provided me a supplement when Argentina dollarized its economy, which made it a very expensive destination for several years.

Meanwhile, Hardy’s assertion that LP is the only guidebook publisher to send authors into the field is laughable. I  can contradict that on the basis of my own experience, in part after returning, earlier than I had hoped, from fieldwork in Argentina and Chile to update my Patagonia title. Because of the public health crisis, I have no idea when (or even if) Imay be able to resume the work, but I still hope to do so. A friend, also an ex-LP author, recently informed me that a different publisher has commissioned him to update two of his titles, and I am confident that other publishers will do the same.

The Independent’s Simon Calder seems to share Hardy’s romanticism about the publisher’s struggles: “When this wretched crisis is over, we may begin a new era where travellers will be hungry for resources they can trust, in particular guides researched and written by professionals, which don’t require batteries or an internet connection, and which feed our sense of adventure.

I too would like to think so, but LP seems unlikely to carry that torch forward. After two ownership changes since my time, it is wearing down; the current contraction is part of a process that began decades ago when it jettisoned its most credible and dedicated authors. In both the physical and the publishing world, erosion is a slow but inexorable process.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Ice Cream, Empanadas, and the Pandemic

It’s been more than three weeks since I “escaped” from Argentina and Chile, but I never stop thinking about them. I have many relatives in Argentina, and friends in both countries, who’ve been in touch in the coronavirus “aftermath” (obviously, it’s not over yet), but we express concern about each other and the future (short- and medium-term especially). The public health crisis seems to have hit Chile harder than Argentina, although the latter’s statistics seem incomplete according to the regional live data update at NCOV2019 (disclaimer: this site often seems to be overwhelmed with traffic).
A recent screenshot of Coronavirus stats in South America
Last week, I did receive an email from my friend Gabriel Famá, owner of the landmark ice creamery Heladería Cadore in Buenos Aires, and he’s feeling the pinch of Argentina’s near total lockdown. Though food providers such as himself can remain open for delivery, he was in hard-hit Italy when the crisis began, returning at the end of January “with no restrictions or controls, and look what. A lot of people underestimated the situation.” He comes to work “by car, with one of my sons, to avoid contact on public transportation and we operate with as few employees as possible.”
In non-virus times, Cadore can get really crowded.
Another friend, Marcelo Ferrante of Periko’s Hostel in Bariloche (where I spent a night before crossing back into Chile on my odyssey home), found himself on an RV vacation in Spain, another country devastated by the virus—“With luck I was able to get back to Bariloche, it was difficult but I managed it.” On April 8th, he wrote me, “We had to close on March 20th when the last guests left” (I had departed on the 16th). Then, he added, “I don’t think we’ll be able to open before before June 1st,” which would coincide roughly with ski season, but even that sounds optimistic to me.

That said, Argentina appears to be relaxing its strict quarantine restrictions, though the details are not yet clear. It's not been so draconian under California's "shelter-in-place" measures but, on an early Saturday supermarket run, I stocked up on Three Twins ice cream which, sadly, has folded under sustained economic pressure exacerbated by the plague.

Empanada Time!
On the bright side, here in the East Bay we have multiple options for Argentine-style empanadas, which are my favorites. There are four places within 2.1 miles (3.4 km) from our home in Oakland’s Temescal district.
9 de Julio Empanadas at the annual Temescal Street Fair on Telegraph Avenue
Unfortunately the one within easiest walking distance, the 9 de Julio Empanada Kitchen, hasn’t yet opened its new physical location in Rockridge, though it appears to be doing catering. Taking its name from the date Argentina’s independence day, it’s the creation of Erica Sanders, an Afro-American woman who moved to Buenos Aires to learn the art of the empanada. In past years, I’ve tasted her product—which features empanada styles from throughout the Americas—at street fairs in Montclair and Temescal, but the public health crisis appears to have delayed the opening.
Windows at the Wooden Table Café have fileteado flourishes.
The next closest is Uptown Oakland’s Wooden Table Café, which I’ve only sampled erratically because I usually pass it after taxiing my wife to work (she’s now telecommuting). Parking is scarce, though, so stopping is a matter of opportunity on my way back home. It’s very specifically Argentine, to the point of offering yerba mate drinks (the current crisis makes me wonder whether Argentines—and Uruguayans—will give up the custom of passing around the mate gourd, with a shared bombilla, among friends and family). It also offers a variety of sickly sweet alfajoresdulce de leche concoctions which are not to my taste. I do like the decorative fileteado on the windows, though.
Javi's Cooking is the empanadería I've most often patronized.
Nearly as close is Javi’s Cooking, in the Hoover-Foster district, whose products I first saw in the frozen food section at Berkeley Bowl West, and later sampled in Javier Sandes’s food truck during an event at Lake Merritt. It’s a place that I’ll make an occasional escapadita to when food in the fridge is scarce, and it also offers facturas (pastries) including my personal favorite medialunas (croissants, of a sort).
With its sidewalk seating, Café Buenos Aires feel more like a spot in the Argentine capital.
The most distant of the bunch is South Berkeley’s Café Buenos Aires (2.1 miles or 3.4 km), which I stumbled upon while taxiing an Argentine political scientist to a downtown event there. It has a wider menu than the others, especially with regard to pastries, but it’s not quite so convenient as the others. It’s a bit more spacious as well but, under current conditions it—like all the rest—is for takeout or delivery only.
María Laura's homemade empanadas - chard in this case - are our default choice these days.
In any event, we’ve not bought empanadas recently. The local price of roughly $5 each would appall most Argentines but, fortunately, my Argentine wife is capable of making them much more cheaply with no sacrifice in quality. Still, I look forward to revisiting all these others, so nearby, in person when our shelter-in-place restrictions relax.

Monday, March 30, 2020

On the Way Home...

Last Tuesday, after managing to change my flight from Chile to my California home, I was killing time until, on the morning of my presumed Friday departure, I received an email from a friend in Puerto Varas. He referred me to a US embassy warning that LATAM Airlines had no scheduled flights to the United States for that day. This alarmed me, to say the least, as I wasn’t sure I could handle yet another postponement during the coronavirus crisis.
The US Embassy's alert suggested there'd be no Friday night flight.
Unwilling to accept the news from a single source—even one with the embassy’s authority—I immediately emailed a friend who works in the communications department at Nuevo Pudahuel, the concessionaire that operates Santiago’s Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez. He told me that they’d received a communiqué to that effect from the airline; there would be a flight to Miami, he added, but availability was doubtful.
Nuevo Pudahuel's website showed my flight leaving on time.
This, of course, alarmed me even more, but when I went to LATAM’s flight status page, it assured me that my 11:55 p.m. departure for Los Angeles was still on schedule, even though many other flights had been canceled or delayed. Just in case, I phoned their local customer service number and got the same encouraging response. Still, I asked the agent to look into further, and she left me on hold for some time before repeating that confirmation. She added, however, that if there were any change in status I should receive an email from the airline by 6 p.m.
Neil Young's lyrics suggested the uncertainty of everything. 
On a hunch, I went to Nuevo Pudahuel’s passenger page which—despite what my friend there had written—also showed the flight to be on schedule. With Marializ Maldonado, who would drive me to the airport, I decided on waiting until 7 p.m., rechecking the online resources before departing. Neil Young’s words to "On the Way Home," sung here by Richie Furay, seemed appropriate.

At the Airport, on the Plane
When that hour arrived, we threw my bags into the car and, via a nearly empty highway, arrived at an airport that is usually swarming with people but was now almost equally empty. After confirming with floor personnel that my flight was still in order, I approached the check-in—with virtually no line—to get my boarding pass and drop my bags. It was a pleasant surprise that, even though my reservation inexplicably indicated only one bag on an international flight, LATAM accepted my second one at no additional charge.
Normally packed on a Friday evening, Santiago's airport was eerily empty.
Passing through immigration and security was equally expeditious, and I found myself with nearly four more hours to kill before departure. That left plenty of time for one last pisco sour—even though the only restaurant serving alcohol was a US chain whose name I’ll decline to mention here, I bit the bullet on an overpriced cocktail. I also ordered a chicken sandwich that was at least palatable but, except in desperation, I’ll never choose to eat there again. 
With many flights delayed or canceled, Nuevo Pudahuel has provided cots for napping.
Only about half-full, with passengers spaced fairly well, this was a bare-bones flight that served only water—no alcohol or even soft-drinks (except perhaps in business class). Having sandwiched earlier, I declined the dinner, but the next morning’s breakfast was perhaps the worst airline meal I’ve ever had. Except for one edible asparagus spear and some soggy mushrooms, it wasn’t even recognizable as food, and I really didn't want to know what it was. Nor was there tea or coffee.

Back in the USA
The baggage claim at LAX was virtually vacant.
On arrival at LAX, the airport was even emptier than SCL had been the night before, and I’ve never gone through immigration and customs faster at any US airport. There was one oddity, however—on board the flight, cabin personnel had distributed a CDC traveler health declaration that asked whether a passenger had been to China’s Hubei Province and other destinations that had seen coronavirus outbreaks.
The CDC's explanation of its health declaration.
There was no screener for arriving passengers, nor anywhere to submit the declaration (which I will now recycle).
Badly drawn, the declaration claimed to be mandatory but also seemed to state that only travelers coming from affected countries would be obliged to fill it out. In the end, though, that was irrelevant—nobody collected or even asked for the form, nor was there any box to drop it in. This, of course, could easily be a metaphor for the current administration’s ineptitude and negligence in confronting the greatest public health crisis in a century.

On the Road Again
My ticket home included a connecting flight to San Francisco, but dealing with security theater and being cooped up in another plane didn’t appeal to me, so I chose to rent a car. I’ve done this before, and often use it as an excuse to explore parts of the California coast and coast range that I don’t know as well, and also to visit a winery and have lunch in San Luis Obispo or Paso Robles.
Despite the crisis, Harris Ranch remains the go-to place along I-5 between Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
This time, though, I chose the most direct, quickest route via Interstate 5 through the Central Valley, where digital highway warning signs advised us to stay at home and avoid gatherings. I stopped at Coalinga's Harris Ranch, a classic lunch break at almost the exact midpoint of the trip; in the current crisis, the restaurant proper is closed, but they’ve set up a tent to take orders and deliver them to your car. I chose a grilled chicken sandwich and a lemonade before continuing north, arriving in Oakland around 4 p.m.
Chaltén was ready for a walk.
Here I’m sheltering in place, and couldn’t even embrace my wife or daughter, though I could give a hug to Chaltén, the rescue husky who’s quickly become part of the family. After that, we returned my rental car to Oakland International Airport and, following a light dinner, I was in bed by 8 p.m. (midnight Chilean time, though).
Our neighborhood's many restaurants mostly remain open for takeaway meals.
I awoke at 3 a.m. and, after indulging in some videos, took the dog for a walk at daybreak. On a Sunday morning, there were few people out but, in a neighborhood with many restaurants, I noticed that nearly all of them now offer takeout. For the time being, at least, this is the new normal.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Stuck Inside of Renca, with the LATAM Blues Again

Yesterday morning, I was looking forward to my flight home from Santiago (SCL) to SFO via Mexico City, and I decided to do an online check-in—only to learn that LATAM had cancelled that flight. The website offered a link for rebooking but, when I tried to do so, only the Mexico City-San Francisco segment of the itinerary appeared. The leg out of Chile had, apparently, disappeared into the cloud(s).
LATAM's website was not user-friendly yesterday.
This was disturbing, to say the least, because I had made such an effort to return from Argentina to Chile and then to Santiago, having changed my original ticket in the city of Osorno. Still, with some difficulty, I managed to contact LATAM’s Santiago call center and, after trudging through the automated answering system (including a pretty long hold), I managed to speak with a live human—though I worried, at every moment, that we might somehow get disconnected and I’d have to start all over again.

At first, LATAM’s agent suggested a Thursday night flight to New York and thence to SFO but, given the mess that JFK has been with arrivals from Europe (and now spring breakers from Florida, I suspect), that was a non-starter. When I asked about alternatives, he found availability on Friday night’s non-stop to Los Angeles (my original itinerary) and SFO. I jumped at the chance although, rather than take another flight, I may consider renting a car and driving back to the Bay Area.
Renca's Snoopy would prefer to shelter in place...
Still, it was a letdown and, for the next few days, I’ll be biding time in Renca, a non-touristed neighborhood about which I’ve written before on this blog. Like most but not all people here, I’m staying indoors, though I do take occasional walks, avoiding the relatively few folks on the street. Some are wearing surgical masks, but others are seemingly oblivious to “keep your distance” recommendations, and middle-aged men still gather outside the local botillería (liquor store). There’s now a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew throughout the city, though its efficacy in suppressing any virus outbreak seems dubious.
The architectural details may not be the most appealing, but this expanded Renca home suggests the owners are doing well.
Still, Renca is a changing población that, I suggested to my friend Marializ Maldonado, appears to be in transition from working class to (perhaps lower) middle class. The basic housing style consists of side-by-side units known as casas pareadas, which share a central wall and are mirror images of each other. Some people, though, have added improvements such as a second story to their homes, occasionally with balconies, and quite a few now own shiny new SUVs and minivans. Many streets are narrow one-lane alleyways, so people often park on the sidewalks (traffic moves slowly here anyway, so it’s still pedestrian-friendly). At the time the project opened, in 1965, few probably expected to ever own a car.
Many Renca residents park their cars on the sidewalk.
There are other infrastructural improvements. Opposite Marializ’s house, a once neglected park has now become the well-kept Plaza Chile Israel (Israel’s embassy subsidized renovations here), and a formerly graffiti-covered building has become a sede vecinal (neighborhood meeting hall) with a handsome mural. There is daily maintenance, and the plaza remains a garden spot for occasional couples and a very few people who appear unaware of or unconcerned about the public health crisis.
Two years ago, this folkloric event took place on the redeveloped Plaza Chile Israel (Marializ's house is barely visible at the far left).
That said, though I’m getting bored with staring at the computer keyboard and, at times, streaming videos on the iPad, there could be worse places to spend a self-imposed semi-quarantine. I’m still looking forward to boarding that plane for LAX on Friday night, for which I’m saving my last remaining novel, and then getting home to Oakland. There, at least, I’ll be able to work in the garden, walk the dog, and even go for a bike ride (all acceptable under California’s “shelter-in-place” guidelines).
Meanwhile, apologies to Mr. Zimmerman.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

White Line Fever? Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

Last Monday, having heard that Chilean land borders would close on Wednesday the 18th because of the coronavirus crisis, I drove from San Carlos de Bariloche to Argentina’s Paso Cardenal Samoré border post—where mine was the only vehicle in sight. At a roadside booth, as a young Argentine gendarme (border guard) handed me a ticket to present at immigration and customs, he asked me whether I was suffering any symptoms and, then, he himself sneezed!

With all due respect to Merle and Gabo..
In fairness to him, he averted his face and blew into his elbow. When I remarked that he, instead, might have been showing symptoms, he smiled sheepishly and I continued to what might have been the quickest departure ever at what is normally the second-busiest border crossing between the two countries (only the Los Libertadores crossing between Santiago and Mendoza gets more traffic).
Argentina's border post at Paso Cardenal Samoré
The actual borderline between Argentine and Chile
Chile's tentative tactic to deal with coronavirus at the border
On Chile’s side of the border, a handful of vehicles made the process—which included filling out a brief epidemiological questionnaire—slightly slower, but the stroll through immigration, customs and agricultural inspection was still expeditious. Oddly, no official even glanced at the questionnaire, which we had to deposit in a box for presumed data collection. Then I was on my way into Chile, a tale I’ll continue below.
Welcome to Chile!
How It All Started
This trip has changed dramatically since it began in late February, when I arrived in Santiago with the goal of updating the current 5th edition of Moon Patagonia. On arrival in the capital, my biggest concern was the estallido social (social explosion) protests that—whatever their inconsistencies—have brought decades of social and economic inequality into focus. For the few days I was in town, things were relatively quiet, but there was plenty of evidence of the fierce demonstrations that left several Metro stations and other services in near-ruin (the previous link here reports what stations may be closed at any given time).
Information screens let Metro riders know which stations are closed or with limited access.
I was staying in the house of Marializ Maldonado, a long-time friend who is working for the constitutional referendum to replace the one drawn by pro-Pinochet ideologue Jaime Guzmán. Guzmán’s custom constitution disproportionately favors Chile’s more conservative elements—rather as gerrymandering favors Republicans in the United States.
Protestors have defaced monuments such as Plaza Baquedano (informally renamed Plaza de la Dignidad).  This site has since been cleaned up.
Marializ hosted several meetings of activists favoring a new constitution, the vote for which was scheduled for April 26th, but has since been postponed until October 25th because of the Coronavirus crisis. Her Revolución Democrática party considers the rowdier elements who’ve gotten the most publicity in the estallido as outsiders (a term they’ve adapted from English).
The Plaza de Armas at Lonquimay features native Araucarias and a knitted tree apparently left over from Xmas.
When I arrived, the coronavirus issue was not yet critical, and I drove south with the idea that I’d spend two months in Chilean and Argentine Patagonia. That would put me on track to submit a new manuscript toward year’s end, and I began with a long drive that took me to Curacautín, at the northern approach to Parque Nacional Conguillío, where I spent a night at the Bavarian-run guest house Andenrose. The next morning I circled the park via the town of Lonquimay and thence to Melipeuco, the park’s southern gateway but, on this occasion, I decided I couldn’t make the detour into the park.
Feeding time at Aurora Austral, for just three of Konrad's 55 huskies
Instead, I continued to the lakeside town of Villarrica and, after a brief reconnoiter of the town, on to the Aurora Austral husky farm, where another Bavarian expat, Konrad Jakob, offers sledding trips in winter and carting trips in summer with his kennel of 55 huskies and a handful of mixes (full disclosure: I’m a devotee of northern dogs and have recently adopted a rescue husky, after four malamutes and one Akita). I spent two nights in one of Konrad’s cabañas, commuting to Villarrica to update practical information on the city. I only regret that I’ve never seen the area in winter, when I’d love to go mushing.
My cabaña accommodations at Aurora Austral
On the third day, I headed to Pucón, at the east end of Lago Villarrica, where I stayed at my long-time favorite Hostería Ecole, but there was an issue that aroused anxiety even before coronavirus entered the conversation. Some years ago, Chile fiddled with the regulations for non-residents crossing the border with their own Chilean vehicles. Were I unable to cross with my vehicle, it would be disastrous for my work.
Template for the declaración jurada that let me cross the border.
Fortunately, Hans and Verónica Liechti of Pucón’s Travel Aid agency had put me in touch with an American couple who own a house outside town and were in much the same non-resident situation. That couple had found an apparent loophole that allows such vehicle owners to leave the country so long as they obtain a notarized declaración jurada (“sworn declaration”) that they intend to return the vehicle to Chile. They’d done it several times and sent me a template for the document that I completed, printed out, and took to Pucón’s only notary public for verification.

When I Get to the Border…
Loretano is a worthy new Peruvian addition to Pucón's dining scene.
After three nights in Pucón, where I really enjoyed the new Peruvian restaurant Loretano (presently closed for the virus emergency), I headed east to the border at Mamuil Malal; I couldn’t completely contain my apprehension until, when I produced the declaración jurada, the Chilean customs official gave me a smiling thumbs-up. Entering Argentina was similarly routine, despite the presence of a list of various nationals subject to coronavirus quarantine but not—yet—US citizens. I got in under the wire, as that would happen a couple days later.
At the Mamuil Malal border crossing, Araucarias line the road, which passes through Parque Nacional Lanín.
Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes was presumably closed to hikers, but there was no  visible enforcement at Villa La Angostura.
The next few days were relatively routine, as I spent a night at Estancia Huechahue, two in San Martín de los Andes, and one in Villa La Angostura, where Argentina’s budding coronavirus precautions became more obvious. En route there had been evidence for concern, as I saw Argentines from a tour bus still sharing yerba mate, and many still greeting each other with kisses on the cheek—men as well as women. Argentina had closed all its national parks, though, and Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes—a popular hiking destination with an entrance in town, was supposedly off-limits (there were still people crossing the line into the park).
Probably now closed because of Argentina's widespread quarantine, the Bariloche tourist office was keeping  distance between its personnel and visitors.
Then I was headed to Bariloche—arguably Argentine Patagonia’s de facto capital, with the notion of continuing south to El Bolsón and Esquel, and then across the broad steppe to Puerto Madryn and Península Valdés. It was not to be, however, as I heard the next morning that Chile was about to close it land borders and, if I did not return before Wednesday, I would be unable to leave (and potentially unable to comply with my declaración jurada).

That information I heard second-hand but, for confirmation, I walked to the Chilean consulate—which was closed. Nevertheless, I rang the bell and, after a middling wait, was assured that US citizens like myself would be able to cross. I left almost immediately, returning via Villa La Angostura and thence to the border crossing described above. Before leaving, though, I managed to visit the new locale of Helados Jauja, arguably Patagonia's best ice creamery (the mother ship is in El Bolsón).
Helados Jauja has new quarters in Bariloche, with a secluded patio in the back.
When in Chile…
My accommodations at Zapato Amarillo were picturesque, comfortable and - in the current situation - socially remote.
After crossing the border, I headed to Puerto Octay’s Zapato Amarillo guesthouse, where the Swiss-Chilean couple Armin and Nadia Dübendorfer have hosted me many times over the years. On the outskirts of town, its stylishly rustic cabins were also an ideal place for self-quarantine, with nobody else about. I had considered staying several days, and perhaps even continuing to Puerto Varas, but after Armin and Nadia told me that international flights were being drastically reduced, I took their suggestion to drive to the city of Osorno and reschedule my April 29th departure for California. Otherwise, I would be spending nearly six weeks in Chile in virtual seclusion.
LATAM'S Osorno office switched my flight. It's a nice touch both the agent and the client can watch the computer screen.
Osorno’s about an hour away, but I was fortunate enough to find parking in the densely built downtown area, barely a block from the surprisingly small LATAM office (Osorno has an airport, but flights are fairly few). There were also few clients, so I quickly got seated and, though my preferred departure date from Santiago on Monday the 23rd was not available, the agent found me space for Tuesday the 24th. She first suggested the route via New York City, then with Delta to SFO, but having heard of huge delays at JFK immigration I chose to fly from Santiago to Mexico City, thence to SFO with Aeroméxico. Time will tell whether I’ve made the right decision, but I’m due home by 1 pm on Wednesday the 25th.

Then there remained the issue of getting back to Santiago, amid rumors there would be a toque de queda (curfew) at midnight. I returned to Puerto Octay immediately and packed my bags for the Chilean capital, a distance of roughly 970 km (about 600 miles) that I covered in 10-1/2 hours, with just two stops to fill the tank (plus some slowdowns for construction). I got to Marializ’s house at 11:30 p.m., just half an hour before the supposed curfew (that’s still not happened, though authorities are encouraging people to stay home). By then, with all apologies to Merle, I'd seen enough white lines for the day.

Here, until Wednesday, I’m in modified self-quarantine, taking short walks around the neighborhood  but avoiding contact with anybody—and making minimal purchases from the nearby shop. And writing stuff like this as, for the foreseeable future, we’ve had to suspend work on the new edition of Patagonia.
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