Showing posts with label Ecuador. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ecuador. Show all posts

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Coastal Road Trip, From Canada to Chile?

Often, on this blog and elsewhere, I’ve pointed out that the west coast of South America is a mirror image of its North American counterpart, with vast deserts comparable to those of Baja California, a Mediterranean heartland resembling California, and mid-latitude forests and fjords in higher latitudes.

One of the comparisons I make, in the course of writing and lecturing, is between British Columbia’s Vancouver Island and Chile’s Isla Grande de Chiloé. Superficially, the comparison is obvious – they’re two large islands slightly separated from the continent, by the Strait of Georgia and the Canal de Chacao, respectively (though Vancouver Island is three times larger).
Both are lush and forested, with temperate rain forests and extensive hiking trails, but they have one thing in common that I learned only recently. My Moon colleague David Stanley, who covers the South Pacific but also overlaps with me in covering Rapa Nui (Easter Island), informs me the village of Lund (pictured above) is (in the words of a local website) “the northern terminus of Highway 101, the Pacific Coastal Highway, a 15,200 km highway along the Pacific Coast extending from Canada to Chile” (photograph courtesy of David Stanley).
I have never been to Lund (named after the Swedish city), though I have been to more southerly parts of Vancouver Island. I have, however, been many times to the port of Quellón (pictured above), the route’s ostensible southern terminus, on the Isla Grande. I had, however, never heard of the “Pacific Coastal Route” as any sort of unified entity – in fact, US 101, which runs through Washington, Oregon and California, often heads inland while California’s State Highway 1 almost invariably sticks to the coast.

To the south, Mexico’s Carretera Federal No. 1 runs the length of the Baja California peninsula, but is not always coastal and, where it is coastal, it’s not always on the Pacific. In the rest of Mexico and Central America, the Pan-American Highway often approaches the coast but, in the words of journalist Jake Silverstein, it’s “a system so vast, so incomplete and so incomprehensible it is not so much a road as it is the idea of Pan-Americanism itself.”

There is, of course, no highway through Panama’s Darien Gap, and roads rarely follow the lush tropical lands along the Pacific coasts of Colombia and Ecuador, where most of the people live in the highlands. Peru and northern Chile are a different matter, but in Chile’s Mediterranean heartland and southern lakes region the main highways bypass the shoreline for the central valley.

I’ve never been to Lund and, though I’ll probably revisit Quellón later this year, I’ll still find it hard to think of it as the end point of any unified route – especially since there are several other ferry crossings I’ve not yet mentioned, including one that continues south to Chile’s own Carretera Austral, arguably the best road trip in all of South America.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Declining Dakar: Ecuador Opts Out of Fossil Fuel "Sports"

Several times, in this blog, I have expressed my doubts about the Dakar Rally, an off-road automotive competition that moved to South America in 2008 after terrorist threats in Africa made it impossible to continue on its continent of origin. Since then, the event – whose starting point in my Palermo neighborhood I photographed in 2010 – has aroused objections from archaeologists, conservationist and others, but it’s nevertheless managed to expand from Argentina and Chile to Peru and, this coming year, Bolivia.
Dakar won’t be welcome in Ecuador, though, as its government has rejected an offer by France’s Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) in concluding that Dakar 2014 would cause more damage than it was worth. After the 2013 event, environmental conservation groups in Argentina, Chile and Peru argued that their governments frequently permitted the ASO to ignore their environmental requirements – the Chilean NGO AcciónEcológica maintains that Dakar has destroyed more than 200 archaeological sites but, obviously, the Rally's money and influence have allowed it to continue.

Meanwhile, though, Dakar not only damages the desert environment and archaeological sites, but in the process it also kills and injures people – both participants and spectators. For the long-term health of the deserts and highlands of northern Argentina and Chile, and Bolivia and Peru, and the sustainability of the region’s tourist economy, Dakar’s departure would be a welcome development.

Moon Handbooks Chile, in Saratoga
In just a few weeks – Monday, June 17, at 7 p.m., to be precise – I will offer a digital slide presentation on travel in Chile at Santa Clara Country’s Saratoga Library (13650 Saratoga Avenue, Saratoga CA 95070, tel. 408-867-6126, ext. 3817). Coverage will also include the Chilean Pacific Islands of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Juan Fernández (Robinson Crusoe), as well as southernmost Argentina (Tierra del Fuego and the vicinity of El Calafate) that appear in the book. I will also be available to answer questions about Argentina and Buenos Aires. The presentation is free of charge, but books will be available for purchase.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Miscellanea

Today’s entry will be a summary of events regarding Argentina and Chile, some of them more notable than others.

Chaos at Ezeiza
Over the weekend, things didn’t go well at Buenos Aires’s Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini (Ezeiza), which failed to accommodate the transfer of flights from the domestic airport Aeroparque - a topic on which I wrote two weeks ago. Partly because of a labor dispute, 22 of 62 domestic flights were canceled, and many passengers planning to fly to the city of Córdoba - barely an hour from Buenos Aires by air - had to take a nine-hour bus trip instead; bus companies at the Retiro terminal (pictured below) had to double their frequencies.

According to recent reports, things are gradually returning to normal, but overseas arrivals should be prepared for delays and complications. Even when Aeroparque reopens, that won’t necessarily end the frequent disruptions in Argentine air services.

Presidents Fail to Reach Antarctica
Meanwhile, despite elaborate plans, Chilean president Sebastián Piñera and his Ecuadorean counterpart Rafael Correa were unable to make their joint visit to Antarctica as the weather intervened - their Hercules C-130 was unable to land at King George Island (pictured below) in the South Shetlands because of dicey weather and had to return to Punta Arenas. Correa, for his part, pledged to return with Piñera at another time.

Piñera and Correa are not the first to experience such disappointment, nor will they be the last. When I flew to King George with Aerovías DAP in 2005, it was two days before the weather calmed enough to permit a landing so that we could transfer to the Antarctica XXI cruise; fortunately, on one of those days, Antarctica XXI was good enough to fly us to Puerto Williams, on Isla Navarino, and then put us up in the new Hotel Lakutaia.

Still, anyone booking the fly/cruise tandem to Antarctica should be aware that it’s subject to weather delays - with side winds, King George’s narrow airstrip can be unusable. That said, when we finally landed and then boarded the ship waiting offshore, Antarctica XXI managed to get us to every place promised - even if it meant steaming faster and that some stops were shorter than we might have preferred. Early December’s long summer days, of course, made it easier to get everything in.

An Argentine Banknote Shortage?
For some time, Argentina has experienced a shortage of coins - a great inconvenience for those riding public transport and making small purchases - but now, apparently, there’s also a shortage of banknotes. According to the Buenos Aires Herald, as the peso declined from par with the dollar to the current four-to-one ratio over the past decade, banknote values have not changed and the mint can simply not produce enough of them because of antiquated technology.

Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri has demanded the federal government create a 200-peso note (the largest at present in 100 pesos), but the Herald says that doing so would be to admit inflation - which the administration denies is a serious problem. In the Herald’s words, “the government has resorted to an alternative strategy whereby it will order the shortfall in banknotes from the Brazilian Mint, hoping that this, plus recent measures implemented to encourage the use of electronic banking, will enable it to sell the illusion that there is no inflation in Argentina.”

The Miner’s Marathon/Telethon
On the lighter side, rescued Chilean miner Edison Peña appeared Friday November 5th on the David Letterman show, where his ostensibly spontaneous performance of the Elvis Presley hit "Suspicion Minds" was a huge hit with the studio audience. It couldn’t have been as spontaneous as it looked - surely the house band rehearsed it with him - but Peña is nevertheless a natural. One of those rare persons who manages to communicate without knowing another language, he even overcame an inadequate interpreter who kept putting words in his mouth.
Having kept in shape during 69 days in the San Esteban mine near Copiapó by running through the shafts, Peña topped off his weekend by entering and finishing the New York Marathon, even if he had to walk a fair portion of it. Limping across the finish line, then icing sore knees, he probably put his health at risk - but that’s what miners often do. Peña stands out because, unlike a large majority of working-class Chileans who might feel uncomfortable with the spotlight on them, he is remarkably extroverted and gregarious.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Frigid Presidential Summit

According to Montevideo-based Mercopress, it will be an icy summit between Chile’s center-right President Sebastián Piñera and his left-of-center Ecuadorean counterpart Rafael Correa tomorrow, but that’s not because the two dislike each other or have ideological differences. Nor does it mean the two countries are at diplomatic loggerheads. Rather, it’s because the two will observe “Chilean Antarctic Day” on King George Island in the South Shetland Islands - where both countries maintain bases.

President Correa will, in fact, be the first president ever to visit his country’s Base Pedro Vicente Maldonado, its scientific research station on Greenwich Island, to the west of King George in the South Shetland group, though several Chilean presidents have visited their Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva (pictured below, it’s also known as Base Teniente Rodolfo Marsh). Like Argentina, Britain and several other countries, Chile claims a slice of the Antarctic, although all such territorial claims are on hold by international agreement.

Meanwhile, in the Patagonian city of Punta Arenas, a week-long celebration that started last Sunday will continue, as Punta considers itself Chile’s gateway to Antarctica (though most tourist traffic leaves from the Argentine port of Ushuaia). According to Mercopress, mayor Liliana Kusanovic has stated that “The purpose of all these activities is to show the relevant aspects of the territory regarding tourism, science research, logistics, culture and government policies, besides creating awareness and a regional identity with Antarctica.” In July, the regional government of Magallanes - whose jurisdiction includes the Chilean sector of Antarctica - announced the construction of a new International Antarctic Center that will include offices of the Instituto Antarctico Chileno.

Piñera and Correa will likely arrive at King George on a presidential plane from Punta Arenas, but tourists will still be able to reach the island with Aerovías DAP (pictured above, landing at King George), which has leased a new 100-passenger aircraft for its summer flights to Antarctica and elsewhere in the region. DAP, which is celebrating its third decade of service in the region, is also the link for the “air cruise” operated by Antarctica XXI, which saves visitors two days’ crossing the gut-wrenching Drake Passage - in each direction.

These trips don’t come cheap - a minimum of US$8,990 per person for a week navigating along the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetlands - but neither do shorter trips with DAP: a day trip to King George costs US$3,004 (taxes included) and an overnight stay costs US$1,000 more. Still, for anyone with more money than time who wants to visit Antarctica, it’s an option worth consideration.
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