Friday, March 18, 2016

Santiago, Chile, Thursday, March 17, 2016

Happy St. Patty's day and greetings from Santiago, Chile.

Today is the last day of our tour of South America.  We toured the city of Santiago, ending with a visit to Santa Rita Winery. 

The architecture in Santiago is beautiful.

Santiago is a beautiful city of roughly six million people.  It's very clean with beautiful architecture.  Even though it's the size of New York City, there is not the feeling of frenzy amongst the residents on the street as in NYC.    

Town square in Santiago.  

We were told by our guide that the temperatures would get up to 90 degrees today, so we dressed accordingly and nearly froze to death!!   The wine tasting warmed us up well enough.  

I've had no alcohol on this trip.  Not the "drink of the day" on the ship, not a single Tito's and Soda, not a glass of wine.  So the wine tasting was particularly nice.  

Jac checks the grapes to see if they are ready to harvest.
It's amazing how much one's 

disposition improves with a simple glass of wine, or two, or maybe even three.  When I commented to Leslie and Jac how I could easily become an alcoholic to get through this speed bump in life ... I was reminded by Leslie that drinking only borrows happiness from the next day.  Dammit!  Foiled again!!  Just when I thought I had a viable solution to what ails me!!

Lunch at Santa Rita Winery.   
Before we left Tampa, I ordered a Starbuck's hot tea.  They put the beverage in two large cups.  The little pansy cups they had in the hotels and on the ship were a waste of a tea bag, so I've carried and used my paper Starbucks cup this entire trip.  One of the cups disintegrated, but I still have one holding on pretty well.   

My Starbucks cup on it's last day!!
One morning when walking through the ship with my Starbucks cup, I was stopped by a woman who asked me where the Starbucks was located.  I responded, "It's on level two." and continued on down the hall.  We've all had a huge laugh over that one.  In fact, our guide Danillo (pronounced Dan-ee-lo) has laughed about that the rest of the trip.  He also loved my dad's remark, "It's exhausting being charming."  He's had a couple of challenging folks on this trip with all the dietary restrictions.  

It's time to go home.    I've just had an incredible vacation with my daughter.  Time that I will cherish forever.  

Jac and I are at the Atlanta airport waiting to catch our flight to Tampa this morning.   As soon as I take care of some medical tests in Tampa ... I'm going to my "safe place" to begin the rebuilding process ... again.  And I have such wonderful memories of my time with Jacqueline to kick off the party.   That's where I'll start.  I have so much to be thankful for.     Jac and I have two more exciting trips coming up in April and May.  And Jeff is graduating from USC in May.  He'll be starting a new life.  All of these things are so exciting.  

I feel I should apologize.  I've been a little "off" with the writing in this blog, missing the humor and zest of previous trips, but including lots of whining.  Perhaps I'll continue these blog entries when I get back to Tampa and beyond.  Sometimes writing helps me see things more clearly.  I don't know where my self reflection will take me, but I do know this ... I will be back!! My light will shine again.  It sure as hell doesn't feel like it right now, but I'll be back.  So don't cry for me Argentina.  I'm heading home.  And all will be well with the world.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Patagonia to Santiago, Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Time Lapse Video from our window this morning.
Today is a travel day.  We packed up and left the lovely Hotel Tierra Patagonia, driving 5 hours back to Punta Arenas to catch our 3 hour flight to Santiago, Chile. 

Before we go, I should show you a few photos of this interesting hotel.
Blending in with the natural surroundings is the theme here.

The "bunker like" look unexpectedly opens into a luxurious hotel.

The unassuming entrance adds mystery to what's beyond the doors.

Local materials are used to blend the construction in with nature.  Check out the logs used for door pulls.

Stacked firewood creates an interesting outside wall.

The hotel almost disappears into the hillside.

Awarded National Geographic's "Unique Lodges of the World" award for it's natural look.
We've arrived in Santiago.  More tomorrow.

Patagonia, Estancia BBQ, Tuesday, March 15, 2016

BBQ at the Ranch.
After the French Valley hike yesterday, Jac and I decided to lay low at the hotel this morning and enjoy a nice breakfast.  What a place to just hang out!  The ever changing view of the mountains is addictive.  One of the girls on this trip tells me whenever one is transfixed on something for a period of time ... that's actually a form of meditation.  Well, hell!!  I'm digging this meditation stuff!! 

Ranch BBQ spot.  

Even this BBQ spot has a great view!  To quote my dad, "We've been looking for something ugly, but can't find a bad view anywhere!"  

Roberto cooks.

At noon, we left the hotel to meet the group for a BBQ at a typical Chilean Estancia (ranch).  A brother and sister team rustled up some grub for us and cooked a whole lamb on a spit. 

It's supposed to be a whole lamb on the rack ... 

... Hmmmm!  Oh surely NOT!
In addition to the lamb, they cooked fish, chicken, beef and chorizo sausages.   When the sausages were ready, Roberto and Maria sliced a piece of home made fried bread, filled it with the chorizo and a delicious salsa. 
This tasty Chorizo sandwich was incredible!
Oh my gosh!  This may have been the highlight food of the entire trip.  The chorizo was light, seasoned perfectly and cooked on the open fire just right.  Wow!  I'm not a real lamb lover, so I opted for another chorizo and salsa for lunch. 

Jac said this is the best lamb she's ever eaten.  Unlike lamb in the U.S.  this was lean and had no game taste.

After lunch, we saddled up the horses and went for a ride around the ranch.  We navigated forests, streams and hills to reach a plateau overlooking the ranch and Lake Sarmiento. 
An after lunch horseback ride rounded out the afternoon.

Tonight was the last meal at Tierra Patagonia.  We leave tomorrow for our five hour drive back to Punta Arenas to catch a flight to Santiago, Chile.  So time to go pack the bags.  More later.

These are the racks that Roberto uses to BBQ the lamb.  They looked like crosses on graves.
Girls meet Gaucho.

Patagonia, The French Valley, Monday, March 14, 2016

Another sunrise of the mountains from our window.
This morning, we are off for a real hike.  Yesterday was just a meander around the park with the old folks on this expedition.
Our hike started with a beautiful rainbow to show the way.
Jacqueline, Leslie, Kitty and I set off for The French Valley, an all day excursion which required an hour ride by car, and then a 30 minute ferry ride to arrive at the trail head of The French Valley.

Ferry Ride to the trailhead of  The French Valley.

The hike was not all that difficult.  It varied between just enough up hill to accomplish the work out we were seeking, followed by gentle slopes and more up hill.  The brochure said it was a six mile hike.  Didn't know they were measuring it one way.  So even though it wasn't all that tough ... it was LONG! 

 In 2006, an Israeli tourist accidentally started a forest fire while burning toilet paper,  destroying over 22,000 acres.  The strong winds that are prevalent in the area have eroded the burned trees giving them an erie silver polished look.  What a "shit storm!"    

We crossed the river a couple of times, once using a suspension bridge that would only accommodate two people at a time.  
Suspension bridge only allows 2 people at a time to cross.
The view from the bridge was spectacular looking upstream toward the French Glacier and down stream toward the Horns.  The further we climbed, the more stunning the views became.  

We stopped in the forest for our lunch, carefully prepared by the hotel, smoked salmon sandwiches.  I've never had a better smoked salmon sandwich!  Actually, I've never had a smoked salmon sandwich, period!  But shoe leather would have tasted good at this point. 
Food just tastes better in the woods.
And of course, our guide, Phillippe had peanut butter cookies in his pack.  Had we known earlier, we may have taken him out to get to them!!

The French Glacier

We reached a lookout point, hung out for a while and then began our decent. Our NatGeo guide, Kitty, wanted to take her time going down so she could check out all of the birds and plants.   Not really interested in stopping every few feet with a full blown description of each bird and plant, Jac, Leslie and I took off down the hill. 
Jac takes a panoramic shot of the French Glacier.
Not that it was a race, but we arrived at the ferry station 45 minutes before Kitty and Phillippe, who had to stick with the last man down (Kitty). 

In an attempt to keep my suitcase light, I did not pack my hiking backpack.  When we decided to go on this hike, I needed a backpack, so I emptied my travel pack and used it.  Thus Jacqueline dubbed me "Ms. Troop Beverly Hills."  It's a camouflaged Prada backpack!!  What's the big deal?  I thought it blended with the Patagonia jacket just fine!

When we arrived at the ferry pick up point, we found an area used by day campers to get out of the wind.  Leslie set off on a mission to find the cooler that Phillippe brought along to keep us entertained while waiting for the ferry ride home.  I guess she could smell the beer inside.  It didn't take her long.  She came back with the cooler and a big grin!  Of course, we jumped right in.  The girls had a beer as I raided the cheese and fruit trays.  By the time Kitty and Phillippe arrived, we were warm and happy inside the shelter. 
Waiting for the Ferry in the shelter.

Our ferry arrived at 6:30 and we were headed back to our waiting car for the hour long drive back to Hotel Tierra Patagonia. 
Our Ferry arrives at the dock for the 30 minute ride back to the van.
This was a long, twelve hour day, but oh so fun!!  There is something so satisfying about pushing the body to it's limits while being surrounded by such amazing scenery! Beats the hell out of a gym any day!!  It's therapeutic and a welcome relief from the funk that's been lingering inside my heart all week.  

The walk from the car to the dinner table was the longest walk of the day.  After sitting still for over an hour ... my body didn't want to move.  But it was such a satisfying exhaustion.  Medicine for the soul!  I need more days like this.

View from the lookout at the top of The French Valley

Horns de Paine.

Just another view of the Horns.

When studying the National Geographic brochure to decide which Patagonia excursion we wanted to take, we found a less expensive one with "more rustic" accommodations.  I think we chose wisely!!
Horns de Paine.
WHEN it worked, the wifi only connected in the living room area. So this chair became my blogging spot at the Hotel Tierra Patagonia.  

Patagonia, Laguna Azul, and Mirador Cuernos, Sunday, March 13, 2016

Funny story.  Yesterday afternoon when we checked in to our room,  it was HOT because of the western exposure and the afternoon sun.  So we opened the window.  Last night, when Jac and I went back to our room after dinner, we found the room filled with tiny flying insects.  They looked like blind mosquitoes to me.  They don't bite, but the shear number was intimidating!  The wall and floor were black.   I was so tired, I just brushed them off my pillow and crawled into bed.  However, Jac freaked out!  I suppose there were more of them on her side of the room near the light.  So we called the front desk.  They couldn't have been nicer, moving us to another room just to sleep.  They cleaned out the bugs, and the next morning, we moved back in and haven't opened the window since.

We didn't fully appreciate the breathtaking view from the two-story picture windows in our room, because it was hot and we were late for dinner.  But this morning ... oh my gosh.  The view took my breath away! 
The view from our room at sunrise.
I've always thought the Maroon Bells were spectacular, and they are!  But these mountains in Patagonia go a step beyond the Bells!  Any one mountain standing alone is spectacular, but clustered together they create a skyline of mountain masterpieces of such magnanimous, majestic magnitude ... how do you like all those "m" words?  Hopefully you get the picture. 

Point Grande, The Horns of Paine, Cuernos, and the Towers form a beautiful Patagonian Skyline.
On the far left, Point Grande, home of the Frances Glacier, starts the scene.  Tucked in beside Point Grande, are the Horns of Paine (pronounced "piney").  
Horns de Paine.
These unique  peaks have a thick mid section of pink granite topped with black sedimentary rock formations. 

Looks like someone started painting them black and stopped midway down.  Next in line are Cuerno Principal, Cuerno East and Cuerno West.   And finishing the skyline are the famous Torres (Towers).  People come from around the world to hike the Towers.  

We began our day today familiarizing ourselves with the area driving over 100 miles through the park stopping first at a water fall originating from Laguna Azul, a stunning blue glacier fed lake. 

Paine Water Fall.

Snack time overlooking Laguna Azul and the Towers.
Our guides set up a delicious snack for us overlooking the lake.  The peanut butter cookies were excellent!!   

We returned to the hotel for lunch and later in the afternoon, we set off for Mirador Cuernos, or the "Horns Lookout." 

On a calm day, this area is known for it's high winds.  Well, today was particularly windy everywhere!  When we arrived at Mirador Cuernos, the winds were sustained at over fifty miles per hour and gusts were reported up to 120 miles per hour.  No matter how tightly my hat was cinched down, there was no way to keep it on.  It blew off my head and every single member of the group behind ours - about 15 people - tried to stop it.  In the end, the driver from the van parked several hundred feet away caught it.  Our destination was to be the Horns Lookout.  Struggling into the fierce wind, we made our way to the Salto Grande waterfall for a brief visit. 
Salto Grande Water Fall.  
The wind was blowing so hard that we were unable to safely hike to the lookout point.  It was just too dangerous.

Jac leans against the rail to keep from being blown off her feet!
It was really difficult trying to walk into the wind, but walking with a cross wind was even more difficult!  With each step, my leg was blown in front of me actually causing me to trip myself.  We finally managed to get to the van and made our way back to the hotel.  

It was exhausting fighting the wind, so when Kitty announced that her lecture originally scheduled for tomorrow night was moved up a night, I decided it was a "hard pass!"  She was talking about how we all originated from a single bird cell or something like that and I had no interest anyway.  So I retreated to the lobby area to see if I could connect to wifi and check in with the outside world.  

The meals here at Tierra Patagonia have been fantastic.  The fruit is delicious!   It tastes like fruit should taste.  Very flavorful!

After another outstanding dinner, we wandered back to the room to prepare for our day tomorrow ... a big girl hike.

Video clip showing severity of the winds today.

Our National Geographic Group at Laguna Azul.
Guanaco  family (pronounced "Gwa-nock-o").  These animals are ancient descendants of the camel, but look like a Llama.  They're everywhere.  Nasty little critters spit at us!

Leslie, Roberto (our guide) and Jac got along very well.

Our ride during our touring of Torres del Paine.
Laguna Azul with The Towers in the background.

The Towers.  The most popular hike in Patagonia.  Jac and I decided it was a little too aggressive for us.