Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Beating the Heat, Below the Equator

Published out of Los Angeles, the Huffington Post is really a news aggregator website with a diversity of opinion blogs that are mostly, but not exclusively left of center. It’s far less well-known for its travel page even though, for example, it creates entertaining features such as last month’s digital slide show of the “Top 10 Southern Hemisphere Cool-Off Spots.” Actually, that title is a little misleading, as at least the editor appears unable to count beyond “10,” as one additional destination appears in the list. Then again, that editor could be a former member of Spinal Tap (“it goes to 11,” after all), though probably not a drummer.

As the northern hemisphere summer winds down, it’s still pretty hot in parts of Europe and North America, so I though it would be worth taking a look at Huffpo’s list - especially since five of them are in Argentina and Chile, the countries I cover in my Moon Handbooks. Huffpo readers get a chance to vote on the destinations in question, ranking them from one (“No way!) to 10 (“Packing now!”). No, this scale does not go to 11.

Surprisingly, at least according to Huffpo readers, the number one attraction of the bunch is Chile’s Portillo ski area (pictured above, in summer). It’s not that Portillo isn’t a worthy destination for skiers - many downhill ski records have been set here and the lack of trees increases the skiable terrain - but rather that the hotel and other non-ski facilities lag behind newer Chilean resorts such as Valle Nevado, which has upgraded its non-skiing infrastructure. Short of adding a new wing, for instance, there’s limited possibility of improving Portillo’s classic hotel because the rooms are relatively small.

Third place in the voting went to Buenos Aires, though the editors used clichés such as the “Paris of South America” to describe Argentina’s capital. At the same time, the editor(s) showed a photo of rejuvenated Puerto Madero (with an apparently photoshopped full moon rising behind it; the photo above is mine) rather than the barrio of La Boca, with its tourist trap weaknesses.

Coming in fourth was Iguazú Falls but, astonishingly, the photo caption called it part of Brazil - in fact, it is only partly in Brazil, and the sector of the falls it stresses, the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat, pictured above), is exclusively on the Argentine side. Nor is Iguazú, as Huffpo claims, “a virgin jungle ecosystem” - to be sure, there is plenty of native forest, but the part closest to the falls is as groomed as any Disney theme park.

Huffpo readers ranked the Chilean lakes district fifth, though the editors displayed a summer shot of Volcán Osorno (pictured above) and the Río Petrohué - visiting the vicinity of Puerto Varas in the southern winter would be more like going to Seattle or Vancouver in January or February, with damp wet weather even if the temperatures are usually above freezing.

Equally surprisingly, San Carlos de Bariloche came in ninth as Huffpo published a photograph of its landmark neo-Gothic Catedral Nuestra Señora de Nahuel Huapi, designed by Alejandro Bustillo (the photo above is mine). Though I’m not myself a skier, I would rate Bariloche above Portillo, if only because it offers so many urban diversions in addition to fine skiing at Catedral Alta Patagonia, barely 15 minutes from downtown.

Meanwhile, the Buenos Aires province beach resort of Mar del Plata makes another Huffpo list of the world’s 12 most overcrowded beaches and, in summer, it’s hard to deny that, but off-season - as it is now - it makes a great escape. Its terms of crowded summer competitors, it ranks with beach resorts like New York’s Coney Island, Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana, England’s Brighton (whose pier closely resembles the one at Mar del Plata), but Mardel only comes in seventh on a scale that ranges from “the more the merrier” to “a bad dream.” South Africa’s Golden Mile Beach comes in first.

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