Saturday, December 21, 2019

Returning - to This Blog and Aeroparque

First of all, apologies to my readers for an unavoidable absence - though I’ve been in Argentina for more than two weeks now, computer issues have prevented my posting details of my time in Buenos Aires and parts of coastal Patagonia, from which I just returned late Friday night. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, I’m working on a tablet, which makes inserting links and photos more awkward, so you may have to bear with me for the time being.

That said, I’ll offer a short account of my return to Aeroparque, Buenos Aires’s main domestic airport (though it does have some international flights). My flight from the southern city of Comodoro Rivadavia was late but, given that I had only carry-on luggage, I was hopeful of getting home quickly, but it wasn’t quite that simple.
My ticket to Palermo 

I walked quickly to the taxi stands and lined up, but then I spotted a sign telling me I should have a ticket to be in line, and realized that I would have to re-enter the terminal and line up again to get a ticket indicating my destination from a touch-screen machine. This was more difficult than it sounds, as I couldn’t find my reading glasses to decipher the small print in dim light.

Finally succeeding, I lined up again outside and finally grabbed a cab to my Palermo apartment. En route, I spoke to the driver about the absurdity of lining up twice to get a ride and, while he agreed with me on one level, he added that this new system - which began last April - has reduced abuses by the taxi mafias that once controlled Aeroparque access. He once avoided the airport, but now it’s a regular part of his routine, and the passenger knows the fare in advance.

While my first impression was negative, I’ll admit to having had unpleasant experiences in previous Aeroparque visits, and this now seems like a step forward - notwithstanding the need to line up twice.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Monday Musings - Mar del Plata, Money and Baseball

Today’s entry will be a potpourri about Argentina and sports. It ranges from the serious (the effect of Argentina’s Dirty War on my wife’s family) to the utilitarian (money and exchange rates) to the whimsical (my own tenuous link between baseball and Patagonia).

Southward Bound
Maru Sanllorenti's hometown of Tandil
As I prepare to head to Buenos Aires, early next month, my wife María Laura Massolo and our daughter Clío are already there (but will return to California before I leave). Their trip is partly vacation but also a family mission, as the remains of my brother-in-law’s first wife—a victim of Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship—have been transferred from her hometown of Tandil to a new Panteón de la Memoria (Pantheon of Memory) in the Cementerio de La Loma in the coastal resort city of Mar del Plata.
My brother-in-law's first wife disappeared shortly after giving birth in 1976.
Maru's mother Eva and son Manuel at Mar del Plata's Panteón de la Memoria (photo by María Laura Massolo)
Abducted on the street in the Buenos Aires Province capital of La Plata in 1976, Maru Sanllorenti is survived by family members that include her mother Eva (now aged 94) and her son (my nephew) Manuel (now 43), who was an infant when she disappeared. My wife accompanied her brother Carlos (Manuel’s father) to Mardel for the ceremony there, then returned almost immediately to Buenos Aires, where Clío arrived on Friday. Yesterday, both of them attended a talk that Manuel regularly gives to visiting tour groups at the city’s Parque de la Memoria, which includes a commemorative plaque with his mother’s name.
Manuel Massolo (right) recounts his mother's story to visiting US tourists at the Parque de la  Memoria.
Money Matters
I haven’t been to Argentina since last year and, consequently, my recent information on exchange rates, prices, and transactions has been mostly second-hand. Since last month’s elections, though, exchange rates have remained relatively stable, and my wife informs me that a fine Peruvian dinner for three at downtown’s Chan Chan cost about US$10 per person, including three entrees plus a beer per person. It’s not an elite restaurant by Buenos Aires standards, but that’s still excellent value.
Our neighborhood cueva, on Palermo's Cabello street, was closed on the weekend.
Changing money, though, always requires reorientation. Bank lines are long, exchange houses are mostly downtown, and there’s still a difference between formal and blue (informal) rates. The difference isn’t huge, though, and the informal exchange houses known as cuevas are fewer than they once were. My wife has used the one near our apartment in Palermo, which remains open, but Dan Perlman of Casa Saltshaker informs me that street changers have taken over the business near his apartment (including the weekend’s Plaza Francia crafts fair outside the Cementerio de la Recoleta). Street-changing, of course, holds potential risk for the inexperienced—not the least of which is counterfeit currency.

It’s possible to change at ATMs, but that has its own issues—on the weekend, when our neighborhood cueva was closed, my wife paid a bank charge of US$10 to withdraw approximately US$50 from the machine. I’m not sure what the maximum withdrawal is at the moment, but it’s almost certainly low by international standards. In Chile, I regularly withdraw the equivalent of US$300 per transaction, but Argentina has been roughly half that—making the service charge a true burden.

Baseball and Patagonia
I love baseball and, for decades now, I’ve enjoyed saying that I leave for South America after the World Series and return in time for Opening Day. This year, I’m still stateside, through two weeks without baseball, but I’m looking forward to being back in Buenos Aires (where I’ve played the game myself) in another fortnight.

Actually, the month of October was a big disappointment, as my own Los Angeles Dodgers fell to the mild card (sic) Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series, and I didn’t pay a lot of attention the subsequent rounds or the World Series itself. The Dodgers were clearly the NL’s best but, as they say, anything can happen in a short series. Of all major sports, baseball is probably the likeliest for a lesser team to prevail—there’s really no such thing as an upset.
The top three finishers in the National League's Most Valuable Player voting
Last week, though, the post-season individual awards drew my attention because of a friendly rivalry with my Wisconsin-born but Chile-based friend Todd Temkin, who’s a diehard Milwaukee Brewers fan (his Cerveceros lost to Washington in a one-game playoff for the right to meet the Dodgers). Todd (who splits his time between Valparaíso/Viña del Mar and a farm in Futaleufú) and I disagree on who’s the NL’s best player; his choice is Milwaukee outfielder Christian Yelich, while mine is LA’s versatile outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger.
Dinner will probably take place at Futaleufú's Martín Pescador.
Hand-written menu at Martín Pescador
On one level, that’s a subjective judgement, as they’re both elite players, but Todd suggested that we place a bet on the Most Valuable Player award, “given to a player in each league who has contributed the most to the success of a player’s team,” according to the Baseball Writers Association of America. Depending on which player scored most highly in that poll, the loser would treat the winner to dinner—probably at Futaleufú’s Martín Pescador, with its frequently changing menu.
On my last visit, I enjoyed gnocchi with morels...
and a cheesecake for dessert.
As it happened, Bellinger edged out Yelich for the award, while Anthony Rendón of the champion Nationals came in a respectable third (the vote takes place at the end of the regular season, so the Nationals' playoff success was not a factor here). I’m looking forward to that meal, probably in March, when I’ll be updating Moon Handbooks Patagonia there. If Todd’s not around at that time, though, it could happen in Valparaíso or nearby Viña.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Patagonia's Adventure Connect(ion) in San Francisco

Last week, I attended a promotional event for Chilean Patagonia in the Adventure Connect series, organized by the Adventure Travel and Trade Association (ATTA). At a time when Chile’s undergoing political upheaval, the occasion brought the Magallanes regional representative of Sernatur, the national tourism secretariat, and representatives of several different operators to San Francisco as part of a national promotional tour.
The setup at San Francisco's Hotel Zetta
The event took place in the lobby of Hotel Zetta, where eight different operators were to discuss their services with Bay Area travel companies and invited writers (of whom I was one). The format was a sort of musical chairs in which each operator met with one or more attendees for eight minutes before a timer sounded to move elsewhere. This went on for 2-1/2 hours, with a coffee break that included a giveaway raffle, before adjourning to a conference room for a presentation by Sernatur’s regional director Ximena Castro that was probably most useful to those with less experience than mine in the region. Later, there was a Chilean social hour that included snacks and one of the finest Sauvignon Blancs I’ve ever tasted—especially welcome on an unusually hot San Francisco day.

Ximena Castro addresses the attendees.

The Chileans brought this Sauvignon Blanc along with them and, so far, I've been unsuccessful in finding it stateside.
Originally, eight different operators—some of whom I already knew—were to attend the event. In the aftermath of the recent upheavals in Santiago, though, the representatives of Antarctic Airways—with whom I would have liked to discuss their updated services—and Lago Grey - Experience Hotel were unable to get flights out of Santiago. I already knew the owners of Big Foot Patagonia Adventure and the representative of Vértice Patagonia (operator of mountain huts on the famed Paine Circuit, plus a new boutique hotel in Puerto Natales), and was familiar with Antártica 21  and Australis Cape Horn & Patagonia (both of whom sent US-based representatives). New to me were the Chile Nativo adventure operator and HD Hotel Natales (the rebranded Hotel Cisne de Cuello Negro) in Puerto Bories.

The not quite unspoken topic that permeated the meeting was what effect Chile’s recent political disruptions and disorder might have on the upcoming season. There was certainly concern, but also consensus that the Región Metropolitana de Santiago and the coastal region of Valparaíso would be more directly hit than remote Magallanes. That said, cruise ship and hotel cancellations would certainly affect a city like the regional capital of Punta Arenas, which has seen some demonstrations. I recently saw an online story—can’t find the link now—whose headline spoke of “80 percent cancellations” in Chile, but what the story actually said was that 80 percent of hotels and other services had experienced cancellations (which could have been just a single cancellation each for some).

That’s not to dismiss the issue of vandalism and disorder by a destructive fringe, even as the great majority of demonstrations have been peaceful, but President Sebastián Piñera’s embattled government has cancelled the upcoming COP climate conference (at which Swedish activist icon Greta Thunberg was due to appear and also the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Personally, I would not hesitate to travel to Santiago, Valparaíso or elsewhere in Chile at present, even though I’d advise those with little or no experience of the country to be on alert. In a recent newsletter, the private Federación de Turismo de Chile cited the Subsecretaría de Turismo to the effect that  “our tourism continues to function throughout the country and the most popular destinations visited by international tourists, such as San Pedro de AtacamaElqui Valley, the islands of Rapa Nui [Easter Island] and Juan Fernández [Robinson Crusoe], the Chilean Patagonia and Torres del Paine National Park, are operating with normality.” Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez is back to normal, but visitors would still do well to have travel insurance in case of disruption.

And the Money?
For foreign visitors, there may be a bright side to all this. About two months ago, the last time I wrote about exchange rates, both the Argentine and Chilean pesos were slipping against the US dollar, and that has continued with the upheaval in Chile and the recent election in Argentina, when the Peronist Alberto Fernández defeated the incumbent president Mauricio Macri.
The Dólar Blue Hoy app is a useful addition to one's smartphone.
The so-called “markets” (and many individual Argentines) have little confidence in Peronism and, consequently, Argentina’s Banco Central (Central Bank) has reinstituted a cepo cambiario (“currency clamp”) that restricts Argentines’ overseas ATM advances to US$50 per transaction (oddly, it puts no restrictions on the number of transactions per day, but those ATM charges could really add up. Meanwhile, individual Argentines can now officially purchase no more than US$200 per month, a measure that seems to be encouraging the informal dólar blue (visitors to Argentina might consider downloading the Dólar Blue Hoy app, pictured here, on their smartphones). Exactly this will develop as the Macri administration gives way to Fernández remains to be seen, but it seems likely that the informal exchange rate will benefit tourists in the short to medium term.
Chile's peso has also slipped against the US dollar and some other currencies.
In Chile, meanwhile, the peso has dipped to 740 per dollar, a fall of roughly three percent since August. This may affect prices slightly, but if foreign visitors avoid the country because of the perception of instability, services such as hotels and tour operators may drop their prices. In any event, matters are less predictable than they seemed even a few months ago.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Chaos in Chile?

In 1978, when I first traveled to Chile—then under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte—there was an 11 p.m. curfew in the capital city of Santiago. That put a dent in the city’s commerce and nightlife—though young people adapted with parties that lasted until dawn—and, of course, its political life. Not so widespread in the provinces, the curfews gradually gave way and, since the return to democracy in 1990, Santiago’s been a 24-hour city.
Chile's capital as seen from the hills of Parque Metropolitano
Or at least until last Friday, when all hell broke loose in apparent response to a relatively modest increase in Metro subway fares. Starting as a social-media encouragement of fare evasion, it escalated into a wider disorder that involved arson, looting and then declaration of a state of emergency by President Sebastián PiñeraAccording to Guardian correspondent John Bartlett (a personal acquaintance of mine), “[T]he headquarters of Italian energy company Enel were engulfed in orange flames as the sounds of helicopters and wailing sirens filled the night sky.”
President Piñera's initial statement on the events in Santiago.
In truth, the discontent is far more than just transport fares, as many if not most Chileans have struggled with dictatorship’s legacy of hyper-privatization on issues like health-care and old-age pensions, even as the country has become—on paper at least—the continent’s most prosperous on a per capita basis. Income distribution, though, is wildly skewed in favor of the very wealthiest—many of them in Piñera’s cabinet.
This stenciled mural in the borough of Quinta Normal suggests the inequalities of contemporary Chile.
Certainly there was need to restore order, but the tone-deaf Piñera made it worse by stating, publicly, that “We are at war...” and sending troops and tanks into the streets. That evoked unwelcome memories of the Pinochet years, even though Piñera himself supported the plebiscite vote that ended the dictatorship in 1990. Speaking more diplomatically, the general in charge of security in Santiago seemed to contradict him in saying that “I’m not at war with anyone.”

Santiaguino friends with whom I’ve been in contact have offered useful perspective on this. Marializ Maldonado, who lives in the working-class borough of Renca, wrote me on Saturday that “We were in the Plaza de Renca, with lots of protestors everywhere. Incredible and unexpected. After a group tried to loot a supermarket, [the authorities] dispersed us with tear gas.” She then went home.

Martín Maldonado (no relation to Marializ), who lives in the middle- to upper-middle class borough of Ñuñoa and teaches at the Universidad de Santiago, forwarded me a brief video of a peaceful cacerolazo (pot-banging protest) there. He suggested that there are two separate issues: One is “a movement that rejects economic policies and claims in favor of health, utilities, salaries and transport.” There’s an incisive analysis of these issues by political scientist Patricio Navia in Americas Quarterly.
Curfews have expanded beyond Santiago.
On the other hand, says Martín, “there’s a covert movement that loots supermarkets, shops, public buildings, buses and the Metro, and then burns them.” The university is closed until at least Wednesday, and the curfew now extends from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. According to the Metro de Santiago website, the city’s subway system has suffered some US$200 million in damages.

Friends outside Santiago tell similar stories. Christián Guntert, a German who teaches at the Universidad Católica in Valparaíso, was returning from a field trip with ecotourism students when he found the roads blocked with burning tires and had to walk into town. There he saw burning shops in the commercial downtown, with firemen and policemen attempting to restore order. Todd Temkin, an American who’s lived nearly 30 years in Valpo and Viña del Mar, said “they burned a couple of supermarkets, a car dealership, and the Cathedral. Lots of looting. Also quite a bit of looting in downtown Viña.” He was, he told me, “heartbroken.”

The Impact on Tourism?
Curfews are expanding to other cities, but I did find one exception to the chaos. Andreas La Rosé, a German who operates the Casa Azul guesthouse in tourist-friendly Puerto Varas, said “Everything is calm, just all supermarkets are closed.” Prosperous Varas may have been spared the destruction, at least to this point, but he worries about how this might affect the upcoming tourist season.

Chilean operators, of course, are hoping against hope that everything remains calm, but there’s certainly concern. While attractions like Torres del Paine are likely to remain so, getting to them through the capital and larger regional cities like Punta Arenas could be problematic. This is a matter that’s likely to come up tomorrow (Tuesday the 22nd), as I attend AdventureConnect San Francisco, an event where many operators from the Magallanes region will be present. I already know several of them, and I’m hoping they’ll be candid about the upcoming season.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Surrealistic Roadie

When I read Latin American literature, I usually do so in English—partly because my own Spanish, though fluent, is more academic than idiomatic, and partly because English is, presumably, the native language of most readers of this blog. I also want to provide an idea of the availability of Latin American literature—mostly Argentine and Chilean—to an English-speaking audience.
Trabucco's novel won the Man Booker International Prize.
Even that is a challenge with Alia Trabucco Zerán’s novel The Remainder which, for lack of a more inspired description, I’ll call a Chilean millennial version of Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realism. Trabucco Zerán is part of the generation whose parents supported Salvador Allende’s “Chilean way to socialism” and suffered (or died) under the lengthy dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Trabucco’s protagonists are three young Chileans, two women and a man, one of whose parents has recently died in German exile but expressed her desire to be interred in her South American homeland. When a mysterious ash storm halts flights into Santiago, the three have to cross the Andes into Argentina—in a loaner hearse—to fetch the mother’s casket at the airport in Mendoza.
Trabucco's characters don't see the same landscape I do when crossing the Andes to Argentina.
Having crossed this border many times—though never in a hearse—I found the stream-of-consciousness narration hard to follow, perhaps because I view the crossing from the viewpoint spectacular landscapes rather than as part of a surrealistic mission that gets even more so when the three amigos have trouble locating the body and, then, getting it released into their custody. The narrators take such liberties with geography that I found it difficult to follow, even as I could sympathize with their quest (I lived in Chile during part of the Pinochet dictatorship, and can still recall measures like Santiago’s 11 p.m. curfew, though I never personally felt any threat there).
Maybe I’ll have to reread this, at a more leisurely pace, to get as much out of it as Chilean millennials dealing with their parental hangover traumas would. On the other hand, I might prefer to see it as a black comedy, perhaps in the hands of nonagenarian film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky (the trailer above is from his cult classic El Topo). Whatever the result, I’d have to say “Don’t try this at home.”

Monday, August 26, 2019

Politics and Pesos...

Three Sundays ago, the government of Argentine President Mauricio Macri suffered a serious setback to his re-election campaign, when Peronist opposition candidateAlberto Fernández drew nearly 50 percent of the vote in the country’s presidential primary elections. Discontent with the economic situation, including high inflation and unemployment, propelled a protest vote against the party in power. Fernández is the odds-on favorite in the general election, which will take place October 27th.
Today's official exchange rates against the US dollar.
In the aftermath of the primary, Argentina’s peso plunged from 45 to the dollar to nearly 60 before rebounding slightly into the high 50s. That fueled inflationary fears—though one might argue that’s something Argentines are accustomed to—but the bigger problem appeared to be the Macri administration’s shambolically inconsistent approach toward the issues.
An extensive wine tasting at Aldo's tomorrow will cost about US$10.
In the short term, foreign visitors may benefit—at least until prices catch up with devaluation. For the moment I’ll just note, anecdotally, that a wine tasting tomorrow at Aldo’s—a premium restaurant just a block off Buenos Aires’s central Plaza de Mayo—will cost only about US$10. That includes accompanying snacks, plus discounts on optional wine purchases and dinner itself, if desired (Full disclosure: I have lunched anonymously at Aldo’s and would certainly recommend it).
In 2014, in Puerto Madryn, I changed my dollars at this auto glass repair shop.
Even if there’s a short-term advantage, politics may mean it doesn’t last, especially if the opposition wins in October. Under the previous government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, foreign exchange controls and currency manipulation made travel in Argentina awkward, and encouraged a flourishing black market where tourists and Argentines themselves would change their dollars under the table in cuevas, so-called “caves”—in one case, in the Patagonian city of Puerto Madryn, I changed my cash dollars surreptitiously in an auto glass repair shop.

Meanwhile, in Argentina’s Byzantine politics, the presidential candidacy of Alberto Fernández seems an odd one because the vice-presidential running mate is Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (no relation)—a political powerhouse in her own right who’s under multiple corruption indictments from which her current senatorial seat provides her immunity.
In 1973, when Argentines chose Héctor Cámpora as their president, they knew they'd be getting Juan Domingo Perón.
Given that Alberto Fernández served both the late former President Néstor Kirchner and his successor/wife, Cristina could be the power behind the throne, so to speak. This is not unprecedented in Argentine politics—in 1973, when Héctor Cámpora won the presidency with Juan Domingo Perón still in exile, the party’s slogan was “Cámpora al Gobierno, ¡Perón al poder!” (Cámpora to the government, Perón in power!).

Trans-Continental Coda
It’s worth noting that Argentina’s isn’t the only currency Southern Cone currency showing weakness. When I left Chile, in mid-April, their peso was at 660 to the dollar. Today it’s almost 720, nearly a ten percent decline. That may make Argentina’s neighbor somewhat more affordable, but its economy (and politics) are not nearly so volatile.

Monday, July 29, 2019

In the Falkland Islands, a Week Is Not Enough

As a travel writer myself, I’ve long enjoyed The New York Times 52 Places Traveler, in which a single writer (now one much younger than myself) spends a year exploring the world and producing weekly dispatches from some relatively well-known destinations and other more remote ones. In my own experience, the logistics of organizing several months of travel is taxing enough in my three chosen countries—Argentina, Chile and to a lesser degree Uruguay—that I truly admire the drive and skills of the chosen individual. This year, that individual is Sebastian Modak, whose dispatches appears every Sunday (in print and online).
An aerial view of Stanley Harbour, looking east,
with the city airport at the upper left
For part of 1986-7, we resided in a house belonging to the Sheepowners' Association, at 63 Fitzroy Road.
Yesterday,  Modak’s column dealt with the Falkland Islands, a personal favorite where I spent more than a year as a Fulbright-Hays scholar in 1986-7 and have returned at least half a dozen times. He went, apparently, in early July—“a couple of weeks after the winter solstice”—and says that there were only three other tourists on the Islands (I’m skeptical of that claim). The highlight was penguins, though the only species he mentions are kings and gentoos, which are present year-round (macaronisrockhoppers and Magellanics are migratory summer residents).

Penguins in Winter 
King penguins are the biggest attraction - except for the nearby elephant seals - at Volunteer Point.
On FIGAS's "Round Robin" flights, visitors can view impressive periglacial "stone runs" from above.
To see the kings, at East Falkland’s Volunteer Point, Modak took advantage of Falklands Helicopter Services, a new enterprise that obviates the need for an all-day Land Rover tour from the capital of Stanley, but that comes at a cost of £349 (about US$430) per person, with a two-person minimum (cheaper overland options are possible, but probably not in July). I can certainly concur, however, with his recommendation of the “Round Robin Flights” by the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS) that can give visitors a spectacular aerial overview of the entire archipelago at a fraction of that cost. He also went overland to the settlement of Darwin to see the Bodie Bridge, the world’s southernmost suspension bridge that’s apparently on its last legs (er, towers…) in the peninsula of Lafonia (while I have visited Darwin, I never made it farther south to the bridge).
Darwin from the air
Bodie Suspension Bridge, under construction in 1925 (Creative Commons)
Stranded in Stanley?
Ross Road, Stanley, as it appeared in early 1987.
The Historic Dockyard Museum is part of Stanley's renovated waterfront.
Modak, meanwhile, is almost shockingly silent on the capital of Stanley even though, of necessity, he spends several days there because weather delays his departure from the Islands. That’s not an uncommon occurrence but, for a journalist scheduled to report on 52 destinations in 52 weeks, it’s a major inconvenience. He uses the time to explore Stanley’s pub culture but, somehow, he overlooks a surprisingly creative food scene and the Historic Dockyard Museum—which might the best in the world for a town of its size (about 2,500 residents).
The Tasty Treat snackbar serves items such as St. Helenian plo - chicken and bacon with vegetables and rice in a South African curry,  topped with a fried egg.
Roast reindeer - once culled from South Georgia and now raised on West Falkland - is on the menu at Malvina House Hotel.
While the Falklands is much more than 1982 war between Britain and Argentina, the museum offers a professionally measured description of that conflict, which he says comes up with virtually everybody he meets. That’s not quite my experience, even though my wife is an Argentine who also spent a year there with me (on her US passport). He also, apparently, overlooked the multi-ethnic melting pot that the Islands have become since the war, with Chileans, Saint Helenians or "Saints," and even Argentines (there have always been some and, at one point, there was an Argentine policewoman).
During the 1982 war, Eileen Vidal kept countryside residents current on happenings in Stanley and elsewhere via radio telephone. When we lived there, she always knew where everybody was.
While Modak had some trouble getting out of the Islands he does, in my experience, overstate their inaccessibility and remoteness: “Consumed by a sense of total isolation, I leaned into the rare feeling of being off the map, stuck somewhere and part of a small community of travelers.” In fact, the Islanders themselves have always been in constant contact with the outside world—whether by mailboat, amateur radio, telephone and now Internet—and often express a sophisticated understanding of overseas events. The Internet may be slow and expensive—I can attest to that—but, as he acknowledges, there will now be a second weekly flight from the South American continent (in addition to the well-established connection with Santiago and Punta Arenas, Chile).
In the summer high season, cruise ship visits can nearly double Stanley's population - briefly.
Had he visited in January, when cruise ships can double Stanley’s population for a day, he might have adjusted his conclusion that “There’s no chance of ever being a major destination…” The Islands may be a niche experience, but one that’s likely to grow, especially as the logistics improve for those who prefer to be land-based. That’s my preference, I’ve been back at least half a dozen times, and I’ll do so again soon.

While the Argentine occupation left large numbers of land mines,  demining efforts have been successful and no civilian has ever been injured.
This being The New York Times, it’s worth mentioning the readers’ comments, of which there were just 17—almost all of them superficial and a couple astonishingly ignorant. One Patty Mutkoski of Ithaca lamented that there was no place for “long walks” because of “all the land mines left over from the war.” As someone who undertook multi-day treks on both East and West Falkland only four years after the conflict, and has seen the results of removal efforts since then, I can assert that there are many fine hiking opportunities around Stanley and also on the outer islands, such as PebbleSaunders and Carcass. The biggest obstacle is not land mines, but rather the almost incessant winds.
A hike along the headlands of Saunders Island passes through The Rookery, with large colonies of black-browed albatrosses, cormorants, and penguins.
Another reader, Barbara from California, bemoaned that she “didn’t understand why the USA was sending troops to the Falklands [in 1982], and I still don’t, now.” Perhaps that’s because the United States never sent a single soldier there; in fact, the Reagan Administration made every effort to appease Argentina’s military dictatorship before finally providing rhetorical support for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s counter-invasion. Another commenter, MBV from New York, dismissively proclaimed that “There’s nothing to see here, and it shows.” Just because Modak missed an opportunity doesn’t make that true.

Post-Post Script

Thursday, July 11, 2019

This Year's Eclipse (and Next Year's?)

Chilean eclipse-chasers filled the beach at Caleta Los Hornos (photo by Marializ Maldonado)
I couldn’t attend last week’s solar eclipse in Chile but, indirectly at least, I had a sort of presence. When my longtime friend Marializ Maldonado, at whose house I often stay when in Santiago, asked to borrow my car to drive north to the Coquimbo region, I immediately said yes, and she was able to view the event at the beachside locale of Caleta Los Hornos, north of the city of La Serena.
In the minutes before totality, at Caleta Los Hornos (photo by Marializ Maldonado)
Partly, this was a favor to a friend, but it was also a favor to me, as it’s best not to leave a car unused for months, as I do by necessity in the outskirts of Santiago. Marializ also often does me the favor of paying my highway tolls as, for some incomprehensible reason, Chile’s online payment system does not want to accept my US credit cards (though I use them regularly when I visit Chile).
The Coquimbo region is home to major international observatories such as Cerro Tololo (CTIO), part of the US National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
Marializ arrived just five minutes before totality, which she described as “two intense and beautiful minutes” on the Pacific shoreline. The most vivid account I’ve read, though, came from the New York Times, whose “52 Places” columnist Sebastian Modak saw the event from the European Southern Observatory at La Silla—also pointing out that this was only the third eclipse to pass over a major international observatory in the last 50 years.

The eclipse turned out to be an economic bonanza for the region. According to the local daily El Observatodo, the event attracted more than 300,000 people over five days, and those visitors spent more than US$82 million. Many if not most arrived by private car, presumably from Santiago as Marializ did, but there were also numerous foreign eclipse-chasers. Plenty of people also witnessed it from the Argentine side of the border, though cloud cover obscured things in Buenos Aires.
Path of next year's eclipse
There's no guarantee of clear weather as next year's eclipse passes over Volcán Villarrica.
For Chileans and others who missed this year’s eclipse, there’ll be another chance soon enough. On December 14th of 2020, the moon will once again block the sun in the southern lakes resort district around Lago Villarrica and the town of Pucón, but that area’s marine West Coast climate—resembling Seattle’s—mean that clear skies are no sure thing. A few years ago, some friends and I planned to do a small plane flyover of Volcán Villarrica’s steaming crater but, after several days of fine clear weather, the clouds moved in the next morning and made the flight impossible. Across the Andes, where Argentina’s Patagonian steppe usually has clear skies, could be a better option.
Next year, the rain-shadow steppes of Argentina's Neuquén province might be a better place to observe totality.

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