Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Falklands Gourmet

When I lived in the Falkland Islands, during 1986-7, nobody would have expected to find haute cuisine in the capital of Stanley - in fact, the diet was so one-dimensional that, with only slight exaggeration, many Islanders would refer to their staple diet of mutton as “364” because it was on the household menu virtually every day. In an economy that depended primarily on wool, the meat itself wasn’t always top quality but on Christmas at least, so went the saying, “we eat lamb.”

At that time, Stanley even lacked a bakery - homemade bread was the rule - and there were only a handful of places to eat such as the Woodbine Café (for takeaway fish-and-chips plus the occasional pizza), the landmark Upland Goose Hotel (whose food was never anything special, and which the Falkland Islands Company recently turned into condos), and the Malvina House Hotel (significantly better, but hardly up to international standards). Still, there was never much reason to eat anywhere other than at home.

This began to change around the time I left, after the British government declared a fisheries protection zone that licensed a growing fleet of foreign trawlers and squid jiggers that had long operated without regulation. With the declaration of the zone, which required foreign vessels to have local partners, a lot of cash came into the economy and tastes began to change. It wasn’t an overnight process, but the presence of British contract personnel, the military, and an increasingly affluent local population - often well-travelled - created a market for more sophisticated food.

The single most important figure in this change was Chilean chef Alex Olmedo, who left the kitchen of the Malvina House Hotel to found the Falklands Brasserie on the site of the late, lamented Globe Store (which angry Argentine conscripts burned to the ground in the final days of the 1982 war). At the Brasserie - the Falklands’ first stand-alone restaurant of any significance - Olmedo had a freedom he may have lacked at the Malvina, and he turned local ingredients into dishes that were unprecedented (here, at least) such as lamb kebabs. In addition, he brought in a diversity of Chilean wines to accompany the food and even wrote a cookbook, A Taste of the Falklands, to promote the possibilities of South Atlantic food.

Sadly, though, Olmedo appears to have become a victim of his own success. Recently, the kitchen at Malvina has upgraded its menu with a new chef from the United Kingdom and, when Penguin News editor John Fowler and I tried to lunch there on Friday, it was so packed we couldn’t get in. Instead, we went to the nearly empty Brasserie for a perfectly decent lamb casserole.

Apparently, the Brasserie will close at year’s end and, while there are rumors that Olmedo has something else planned, he has had to lay off staff. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to talk with him, as he was arriving on Saturday’s plane from Punta Arenas - at the same time I was in the departure lounge waiting to leave for Chile.

That same Friday night, I treated my hosts Ray and Nancy Poole to dinner at the Malvina - we got a table only because of a late cancellation - and the food was superb, beginning with starters such as Upland Goose paté. The main courses included slow-cooked pork belly and, in my case, roast leg of lamb with rosemary (pictured above) and a side of creamed cabbage - all items produced locally.

Ironically enough, farmers here have long considered the wild Upland Goose as vermin that grazed lush green pasture better left to sheep - in fact, there used to be a bounty on goose beaks and farm employees would often spend slow winter days shooting them. In the spring, they collected goose eggs (for household consumption at a time when domestic poultry were few) and snagged goslings for their drumsticks, considered a delicacy. The evidence that geese did indeed thrive at the expense of sheep is anecdotal at best, but there’s a lingering prejudice against them in the camp (as all the rural areas outside Stanley are known). From my own observations, supported by many others, it seems unlikely that the purges have reduced geese numbers in the least.

Given that history, and our own Friday night dinner, it’s ironic that on the day before I returned to Stanley from a trip to Carcass Island, Port Stephens and Bleaker Island, somebody brought Nancy an orphaned gosling found wandering on a road just outside town. Having once nursed another gosling to maturity, she’s doing it again despite the curiosity of her four cats in their new housemate (when he’s a bit older, he’ll easily intimidate the cats). The diet of milk and soggy bread may not be the lush pasture Upland Geese prefer, but the bird seems to have recovered his strength and, despite the likely disapproval of farmers, in a few months he may rejoin the flocks that continue to graze the greens.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

South Atlantic Air: To and Around the Falklands

In 1986-7, I lived for 13 months in the Falkland Islands while researching my PhD dissertation on their historical geography. On Saturday, I returned for the fourth time since then, to spend a week updating their chapter of Moon Handbooks Patagonia. I also traveled to the Islands in 1996, 2004, and 2007.

Saturday morning I struggled out of bed at 4 a.m. to catch the shuttle to Santiago’s Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez for the three-hour, 7 a.m. flight to the Patagonian city of Punta Arenas. There, after immigration formalities and a crew change in the southern Chilean city, it was onward to the Falklands’ Mount Pleasant International Airport.

The flight from Punta Arenas takes about an hour and 20 minutes, but the Falklands landscape, with its rolling hills and grasslands, often resembles southern Chile and Argentina. It’s a shocking change, though, from the balmy 25° C in Santiago the previous few days - on arrival at Mount Pleasant it was sunny if windy but, by the time I walked out of Stanley’s Rose Bar with my friends Raymond and Nancy Poole around 11 p.m. that night, it was blowing a northerly gale and a sudden storm dampened us by the time we walked the two blocks backs to their house.

Early Sunday morning, Raymond taxied me to Stanley Airport, where the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS) Norman-Britten Islander (pictured above) puddle-jumped me and other passengers to Goose Green, Hill Cove, Saunders Island and my final destination at wildlife-rich Carcass Island. The last time I visited Carcass, six years ago, an unavoidable flight glitch got me there in mid-afternoon and, with my flight out scheduled for early the next morning, I got to see far less than I wanted to.

This time, at least, we arrived by mid-morning and, following Rob McGill’s tea-and-cookies welcome (Rob appears in the photograph above, at the airstrip) - Falkland Islanders make a point of filling their guests’ stomachs - I took a walk along the harbor of Port Pattison, stopping to photograph striated and crested caracaras, black and Magellanic oystercatchers, flightless steamer ducks and Patagonian crested ducks, cormorants and snowy sheathbills, as tiny tussac birds flitted among them.

By then, it was time to return to the lodge - a traditional Islands house refitted to accommodate about a dozen overnighters at most - for a lunch of empanadas, quiche and other snacks prepared by Chilean chef Roldán Guzmán, as a dozen striated caracaras (one of which is pictured above) watched us through the picture window. After lunch, Rob taxied me and an English couple in his Land Rover to Carcass’s Northwest Point, where at least a hundred elephant seals (one of which is pictured below) of varying sexes and sizes stretched along the sandy beach beneath the tussac grass. A small colony of skittish southern sea lions scattered toward the water - some distance away during a very low tide.

After Rob finished some work on a scientific research station, we returned to the settlement by the high route around Carcass’s east side and the Ovens Rocks, a favorite picnic site with residents and visitors, with views toward Saunders Island. By that time, a young Anglo-Irish couple had arrived by boat from nearby West Point Island, where FIGAS no longer lands except in emergencies because of a substandard airstrip (having once landed at West Point with FIGAS, I can confirm that it’s far more exciting than a rollercoaster).

From West Point, Mike Clarke runs boat charters to the uninhabited Jason Islands for £575 (about US$900, for up to six people), with the possibility of staying overnight on the site of the world’s large black-browed albatross colony at Steeple Jason. He also does day trips and overnights from Carcass.

Getting There - on the Cheap
Unfortunately for intending visitors, getting to the Falklands from either the UK or Chile is expensive but, for those who are already in South America, there’s a little known budget alternative. Ever since LAN Airlines began its flights to the Islands, the Argentine government has required them to stop once per month at Río Gallegos, in exchange for the right to pass over Argentine air space. Relatively few people get on or off at Gallegos but, because of Argentine subsidies, the fare from there to Mount Pleasant and back is only £120 (about US$190); from Punta Arenas, it costs at least twice that.

The problem, of course, is that only one flight per month goes in each direction, so this means planning in advance and staying for either a week or a month - but it’s a great option for those who want a taste of the Islands and might want to return when they have more money. Fares are available through LAN’s website.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tacos Chilenos

Despite the title, this article is not about food. Despite the longstanding links between Chile and Mexico, the taco is not really part of the Chilean diet, and the country’s misleading name itself has nothing to do with the spicy peppers that give Mexican food its character (even if, in fact, you can find pretty good Mexican food in Santiago, less so elsewhere in the country).

For reasons that, as a nonnative Spanish speaker, I have never been able to fathom, taco has two separate and utterly unrelated meanings here. In one usage, a taco is a traffic jam (¡un tremendo taco!). I’ve seen many of those in Santiago (though I generally get around public transportation here, I did have to drive yesterday and found myself briefly bumper-to-bumper at rush hour).
In Chile, women wear tacos.
At the same time, tacos (in the plural) mean a woman’s high heels (tacones of four or five inches are not unusual) and, if Olympic competitors had to wear them, Chilean women might bring home more gold than has ever come out of the country’s mines. In general, urban Chilean women wear high heels to work, but I’ve seen them in the most unlikely places - once, for instance, I met a small group who were trying to hike the coast range summit of Cerro La Campana in shoes more suitable for the boutiques of nearby Viña del Mar.

In another instance, in Santiago, I saw a woman on high heels while using crutches - perhaps the ultimate example of “unclear on the concept” - to get around the city’s infamously uneven sidewalks, which can be treacherous enough for those with sensible shoes and total orthopedic health. In fact, at one time, even Carabineros policewomen dressed in skirts and (relatively low) heels that would have made it difficult to run down a malefactor - not to mention their disadvantages in a hand-to-hand scuffle. According to Carabineros lieutenant Guisela Soto Valenzuela, “We have used trousers since the year 2000, thank God, because for women in operative units it was difficult to run with skirt and heels.” Now part of the security detail at the presidential Palacio de la Moneda, the 25-year-old Soto Valenzuela adds that, “In any event, the default option in the palace detail is trousers and boots.”

There are signs, though, that the everyday default option of heels continues to change. According the daily Última Hora, the Asociación Chilena de Seguridad (Chilean Insurance Association) and Sernam (the national women’s service) have begun a campaign to get Chilean women out of their heels and into sneakers, at least to get to work. Their statistics tell them that heels cause 800 multiple contusions, 830 hand and wrist contusions, 1,400 knee contusions, 3,600 ankle sprains, and 7,000 accidents en route to or from work, at a cost of 32,600 lost work days.
On the Metro, tacos are not recommended footwear.
Frankly, that doesn’t seem a huge number in a country of 16 million citizens, even if only half of them are women and many of those women would have no need for them (I’m discounting the handful of men who might wear heels). Yet the warnings are clear: yesterday, leaving Estación El Golf on Línea 1 of the Metro, I photographed the above warning: “Walk Safely. Walking is Good for You. Wear Sneakers on Your Way to and From Work.”
Even if well-intentioned, a campaign against sexist violence used cluelessly homophobic language.
Lately, though, Sernam has sparked a far greater controversy with the language of its recent campaign publicizing the issue of violence against women. Common on buses and Metro trains, these display images of men such as the soccer referee depicted here, who says that “Every weekend I get called ‘faggot’ at the stadium.” Then, continues the ad, “A faggot is someone who mistreats a woman. Let’s say it to those who deserve it.” The campaign’s pejorative language has engendered strong condemnation from gay organizations in the country and, at the very least, it's clumsy - if not reprehensible - to try to equate wife-beaters and homosexuals.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Observations from Santiago

Normally, when updating my guidebooks to Argentina, Buenos Aires, Chile and Patagonia, I first fly from Los Angeles with LAN Airlines to Santiago, which is my mobile base in South America - the place where my car is parked, at a friend’s house on the outskirts. Earlier this year, though, LAN started three flights weekly from San Francisco, across the Bay from my Oakland home, to the Peruvian capital of Lima - with easy connections south to Santiago, and that was the flight I took yesterday.

At SFO, LAN’s check-in (pictured above) was crowded and a bit slow, but airport security was quicker than I expected - a long line to get into the secure area but, once we did, it went fast. Thanks to a business-class waiver, I managed to talk my way into the first-class security line and got through much quicker.

It was only at the last minute, though, that the gate staff confirmed my seat in business class, which was packed - not an empty seat that I could see. With a midday departure, the lunch was exquisite by airline standards - a shrimp and scallop ceviche, a cheese sample, a savory green salad and a grilled steak (a little overdone by my standards, but onboard food does have its limits) What really stood out was the wine list, which included an outstanding Sauvignon Blanc from Chile’s Matetic, a Malbec from Argentina’s Salentein, and a Syrah from Chile’s Concha y Toro.

Formally, the flight from SFO continues to São Paulo (Brazil), but even through passengers had to disembark in Lima - and, for my part, I had to change planes for Santiago-bound flight from LAX. The main problem with this flight is arriving at 6:30 Chilean time, which is 1:30 a.m. California time, which can make for a rough first day.

I left California’s warm weather - we’re having a late Indian summer - for equally warm spring temperatures in Santiago. Fortunately, because Santiago sits about 600 meters above sea level, it cools off at night, and my early morning arrival was pleasant enough except for the awkward hour.

The Albanian Connection
What do the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Albania have in common? Well, with a new passport in hand for the first time in a decade, I had to pay Chile’s so-called “reciprocity fee” levied against citizens of countries that collect a similar visa fee from Chilean citizens. When I last paid the fee, in the year 2000, it was US$40 for American citizens, but that’s risen to US$140; Canadians pay US$132, Australians US$61, and Mexicans and Albanians US$30 - though, as far as I could tell, there were no Albanians in the queue.

I’ve written several posts about the futility of reciprocity fees, so I won’t repeat them all here but will add that this was the longest line I’ve ever seen at Santiago’s Aeropuerto Arturo Merino Benítez (SCL is looking surprisingly good, by the way, in the aftermath of the massive February earthquake). All I’ll say is that we can only hope that the United States accelerates its proposal to extend the visa waiver program to Argentina, Brazil and Chile, to everybody’s benefit.

Taxis for Nightowls
In other news, last week the city legislature of Buenos Aires approved yet another taxi fare increase, on top of a 26 percent boost that took effect only last month. This time, though, it’s more selective, as it will affect those who dine out at what are normal hours in Buenos Aires - after 10 p.m. -and partake of the city’s hyperactive nightlife, as a 20 percent fare increase will apply only until 6 a.m.

By global standards, Buenos Aires taxis remain cheap but, given the phenomenal increase since 2002, it’s not hard to imagine where they’re going.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vino Argentino: an English-Language Guide

In California, the leaves on my backyard grapevines are yellowing and falling softly to the ground but, in the southern hemisphere, the vines are leafing out and, soon enough, the fruit will be forming for next year’s harvest. That means it’s time to tour the austral vineyards again and, though I’ll be heading to Chile rather than Argentina next Monday, it's still a good excuse to review Laura Catena’s Vino Argentino, a detailed and lavishly illustrated account of Argentine wines, food (including recipes), and wine regions, with suggestions for wineries to visit as well as places to eat.

Despite its Spanish-language title, Vino Argentino is a English-language book subtitled “An Insider’s Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina” but, as the previous paragraph suggests, is more than just that. Laura Catena, for her part, is the daughter of Nicolás Catena (founder of the Catena Zapata winery, pictured below) and now president of the company, but she is also a Harvard and Stanford graduate, an emergency room physician, and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. Though she spent much of her youth in Berkeley where her father was a grad student in economics and took an interest in California wines - frequently visiting the Napa valley - she spends about a third of the year in and around Mendoza province, where she learned the family business.

While the Catena family business figures prominently in her background, the book itself goes well beyond narrow self-interest. In a single volume of fewer than 250 pages, she covers all the regions and many micro-regions: Mendoza city (including the subregions of Eastern Mendoza), Maipú and Luján de Cuyo, Perdriel, Agrelo and Ugarteche, Tupungato, Tunuyán, San Carlos, Patagonia, and Salta. Geographically, the one notable omission is San Rafael, in southern Mendoza province. She also profiles major figures in the Argentine wine industry such as Susana Balbo, who is largely responsible for giving the fruity but dry white Torrontés a higher profile.

Published by San Francisco’s Chronicle Books, Vinos Argentinos is both a thematic account of Argentine wines and a selective guidebook for wine-oriented visitors, even suggesting an ambitious itinerary that begins in Buenos Aires and visits all major wine regions in 14 days. While it offers numerous recommendations for wineries and restaurants (several wineries have their own), it’s short on accommodations information. Its main drawback, though, is that it’s a bit big and heavy to carry comfortably in the field - in that sense, it’s a reference book more suitable for planning which regions and vineyards to visit.

Of course, it’s also useful as a reference to Argentine wines in a general and specific sense - as well as an encouragement to prepare traditional dishes such as empanadas salteñas (from the Andean Northwest, they’re spicier than their standard Argentine equivalent) and rib-eye steak with chimichurri (a savory marinade that also serves as a sauce). For a true experiment, readers can attempt an helado de Torrontés - with “the flowery perfume of Torrontés wine and the creaminess and grainy texture of homemade ice cream.”

Laura Catena in Person
For residents of the Bay Area, Laura Catena will participate in a wine tasting and book signing at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, next Wednesday, November 17, at 4:30 p.m. I'd personally love to go but, by then, I will be walking the streets of Santiago de Chile as I begin to update the current edition of Moon Handbooks Patagonia.

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.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Argentine and Chilean Coastlines Rate Highly

Annually, National Geographic Traveler magazine (for whom I write occasionally) produces an annual survey of “destinations rated” and, in the new November-December issue, this year’s list evaluates the “world’s great islands, beaches and coastlines.” In a print magazine, of course, there’s not room for much more than a list of all 99 places - Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula comes in first - but the online version goes into more detail.

I was pleased to read that two Southern Cone destinations - the Chilean fjords (No. 4, pictured above) and Argentina’s Península Valdés (No. 10) made the top ten of places “In excellent shape, relatively unspoiled, and likely to remain so.” Chile’s Viña del Mar (No. 56) made the mid-list as “a mixed bag of successes and worries, with the future at risk.”

In fact, there are two sets of Chilean fjords. One lies along the west coast, where Navimag passenger ferries between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales make occasional incursions from the inland sea of the Aisén and Magallanes regions to the edge of the Southern Patagonian Icefield, and the Skorpios cruise line visits Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael and offers a longer tour of the continental glaciers.

In this case, though the article doesn’t make it clear from the beginning, the fjords in question are those on the south side of the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, visited only by the relatively small vessels of the Cruceros Australis line. Traditionally, their Mare Australis and Via Australis vessels (carrying about 120 passengers each) shuttle between the Chilean city of Punta Arenas and the Argentine port of Ushuaia; this season, they will be adding the Stella Australis, capable of carrying about 200 passengers with greater amenities, to the fleet.

This, of course, contrasts with huge cruise ships that carry thousands of passengers and are, fortunately, incapable of navigating the narrow glacial channels in question here. According to one of Traveler’s anonymous panelists, “Local officials are aware of the damage cruise-ship operators have done elsewhere and working to create a sustainable tourism strategy.” Cruceros, for its part, has created an elaborate statement of its own environmental goals.

Meanwhile, on the Atlantic coast of Chubut province, Argentina’s Península Valdés draws praise for facilities “that are set up in a way to minimize their impact on the local environment.” The anonymous commentators, though, differ in their assessments: One dissents that “Development is relatively unregulated” and, from personal experience, I would say that the growth of the gateway town of Puerto Pirámides (pictured above) is cause for some concern.

Península Valdés, like most of Argentina’s Atlantic coast, is a desert, with no surface streams and an annual rainfall of only 246 mm (less than ten inches). Over two decades and at least half a dozen visits to the reserve, I have seen Puerto Pirámides expand from a oversized fish camp to a substantial village, with many more hotels and restaurants, that depends on groundwater for its existence. Some of those hotels, such as the Hostería Ecológica del Nómade, are designed to limit their environmental impact, but the town’s growth is nevertheless a serious concern.

That happened a long time ago in Viña del Mar (pictured above), Chile’s traditional seaside resort, whose proximity to the capital city of Santiago ensures an invasion of tourists not just in summer but year-round on weekends. According to Traveler, “overbuilding has damaged the ecology of its beaches, and peak season crowds and traffic are poorly handled.” For my part, I prefer the neighboring city of Valparaíso, with its quirky geography and colorful hills neighborhoods.

One other coastal destination caught my attention in this month’s Traveler, but it’s not part of the ratings game. A photo gallery on animal migrations includes a nesting colony of black-browed albatrosses - to my mind, one of the world’s most beautiful birds - in the Falkland Islands. I’ve been to several albatross colonies there, most notably on Saunders Island (pictured above), but I don’t recognize the one in the Traveler photograph; from the topography, my guess is that it’s remote, hard-to-reach Steeple Jason Island.
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