Saturday, 23 April 2011

A very special post for a very special place - Alta Gracia

Alta Gracia is a small town about 30km south of Cordoba. Buses depart every 15' from the bus station, so getting there is really easy. Apart from the Jesuits related history of this place, which dates from back in the 17th century, with very well preserved Jesuit museums, vineyards and estancias, I visited Alta Gracia for one and only reason: This is where Ernesto "Che" Guevara lived his early years. More specifically from the age of 4 until he became 15. The dry climate of Alta Gracia was perfect for the asthma attacks he so often had. 
The place where he grew up is converted to a brilliant museum with many of his personal belongings, notes, letters, pictures, newspaper clippings, etc.

VILLANYDIA at Calle Avellaneda 501.
This is where the young "Tete" grew up to become Commandate "Che" Guevara

Everything in the museum is put in chronological order. From Ernesto's early years in primary school, to his motorcycle trip with his friend and his days with Fidel Castro. 
Che is a legend for Argentinians and it was the most striking moment in my trip so far, to see people reading his letters to his kids just before he got killed, and not being able to hold their tears....  

"A mis higos" - To my kids

Dear Hildita, Aleidita, Camilo, Celia and Ernesto:
If you ever have to read this letter, it will be because I am no longer among you. You will almost not remember me and the littlest ones will remember nothing at all. Your father has been a man who acted according to his beliefs and certainly has been faithful to his convictions.
Grow up as good revolutionaries. Study hard to be able to dominate the techniques that permit the domination of nature. Remember that the Revolution is what is important and that each of us, on our own, is worthless.
Above all, try always to be able to feel deeply any injustice committed against any person in any part of the world. It is the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary.
Until always, little children. I still hope to see you again. 
A really big kiss and a hug from Papa.

Ernesto Guevara's student ID in Medicine School

With his bicicleta

The type of his legendary motocicleta

and was there !!!

Pictures from Fidel Castro's and Hugo Chavez' visit in Alta Gracia, in 2004


Thursday, 21 April 2011

At the midlands of Argentina: Mendoza - Cordoba

Next stop: Mendoza
There are many crossing points between Argentina and Chile and the most impressive of them involve travelling over the Andes at altitudes well over 3.000m. Possibly the most breathtaking one is when going from Santiago de Chile to Mendoza. Thankfully, there is also a direct service from Valparaisso, which takes around 9h, by bus as usual :)

already at +2.500m altitude and going the highest point of 3.300m

.....through very, very twisty roads full of trucks & buses, overtaking like crazy !!!

Aconcagua is visible only for a few seconds during the bus ride.
At 6.962m is the second tallest peak after Everest.

Temperature difference was a pleasant surprise. The Andes sierra separating Chile and Argentina cuts most of the cool air and humidity coming from the Pacific Ocean, which translates in 8-10 deg.C of temperature difference between Valparaiso & Mendoza. I checked in at Lao Hostel, a very popular choice among backpackers and for a very good reason. Nicely located, with very helpful staff and a welcoming backgarden.

They didn't have available rooms the first night, so that's where I slept....cannot complain really :)

Although there are a lot of things to do around here that can keep you busy for at least a week, like horse riding, rafting, trekking, etc, what really made Mendoza famous is its vineyards. Malbec is a grape variety, originated in France, producing some really fine, complex tasting, very dark colored, red wine.

The latest excellent year of Malbec produce in Argentina was 2004.

The altitude of Mendoza at 800m above sea level, the heat and dry climate of the region are ideal for Malbec grapes.
With over 20 large bodegas and many more smaller ones around Mendoza (mainly in Maipu area), a bike ride around is one of those not to be missed "activities". It takes most part of a day to get there and back, but is so much worth it. Not for the ride, but for getting back half-drunk :)

Even the best ones, fail sometimes....

ghost train 

Mendoza really shines at night....;)


This is the second largest city in Argentina with population well over 3m people, however it manages somehow to keep all the fun and action in a very compact area.
After walking in the city for a while, it becomes obvious that some of the country's wealthiest families live here. Soya & corn corps are the main economic engines of this region, almost all of which goes straight to Rosario for export.
Not vastly overloaded with tourists, Cordoba manages to maintain its local character very successfully. It's a city in its own right and doesn't show any signs of dependency.

Some really worth visiting museums of contemporary and colonial style
can keep you busy for a whole day.

With no doubt, what makes this city set itself apart from the rest of the country is its enormous student population. Cordoba is the educational capital of Argentina with around 10 Universities of all possible disciplines. This directly translates to a very lively and vibrant nightlife for every taste.
From mainstrem clubs, to live stages and traditional argentinian music corners. One thing I have given up hope in Argentina I have yet to find a decent coffee shop. A simple, plain, nice, espresso shot...!
It is really strange because Argentinians do drink coffee. But for some reason they are used to that instant "black-extract-of-whatever-origin", with a Coffee label on the box.

that's what happens if siesta time finds you on the streets :)))

2nd & 3rd generation Greek-Argentinians learn Greek dances !!!!

 At Colectividad Helénica de Córdoba. The last Greek immigrant arrived in Cordoba in 1962

Just accross the road is the Orthodox Church. The hospitality I received was way beyond my expectations !!!

Preparing the church chorus for the night of Jesus Resurrection.
Only Mrs Georgalos speaks Greek, however, they will sing in Greek

Personally, I found Cordoba as appealing as Buenos Aires but much more compact in size. 
Everything you wish, you can find it here...theaters, opera houses, museums, open markets, adventure trips, name it. 
And the climate is great, at least during this time of the year.
I stayed in Cordoba for 4 days in total and I enjoyed every single one f them. I could easily stay longer if I had the time.
But I have to move further north to the NorthWest part of Argentina...a region so much different from the rest of the country.
Stay tuned!!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Valparaiso - Ode to wine

My darling, suddenly
the line of your hip
becomes the brimming curve
of the wine goblet,
your breast is the grape cluster,
your nipples are the grapes,
the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
and your navel is a chaste seal
stamped on the vessel of your belly,
your love an inexhaustible
cascade of wine,
light that illuminates my senses,
the earthly splendor of life.

                                                          Pablo Neruda - "Ode to wine"

Valparaiso. A wonderful and unique place. You fall in love with it almost immediately. You feel there is a magic glue in the air that keeps you walking around it for no reason, discover its beauties and its secrets.

One of the places that Nobel winning poet Pablo Neruda chose to built one of his houses in 1960 to escape from the madness of Santiago and concentrate on his poetry, which later in 1971 would bring him the Literature Nobel Prize. La Sebastiana he named it, in honor of his first owner Sebastian Collado who died before completing it.

“I feel the tiredness of Santiago, I want to find a house to live and write in peace at Valparaíso. Certain conditions must be given. It may not be too high or too low. It must be solitary, but not in excess. I wish neighbors were invisible. I wish I did not see or hear them. Original but not uncomfortable. Very light, but firm. Neither too big nor too small, far from everything. But close to the stores. As well, it has to be very inexpensive. Do you think I can find a house like that in Valparaíso?” 
(passage from the letter Neruda sent to one of his friends in Valparaiso, seeking for the perfect house)

After leaving Puerto Montt and Patagonia behind, I took the bus to Valpo, which was about 13h away. Just over 1100km but not really worried, I got used to it and also learned to enjoy it :) 

Valparaiso is one the World Heritage places, declared by UNESCO for its preserved architecture, representative of S. America's urban development during the 19th century.

Some pictures will hopefully get you into the mood of the city....

look at this beast :)) 

full of color...everywhere !

houses in the hills are hanging off 

the modern part of Valparaiso & Vina del Mar

about 20 elevators in the city take people to their houses....or you can walk up 

....some endless stairs :)

did I mention about color everywhere??? and they know how to use it

what a poser....hahaha !

this fiat 500 looks so much better than the new model 

Don Juan....he undertook the critical task to shave me. I know he looks like a butcher but after not having shaved for over a month, he proved an excellent choice....I can still hear the scratching sound of his old-time razor next to my ear...

Gabriela Mistral, another great Nobelist Chilean poet. The first South American to win the Literature Nobel Prize.

Valparaiso has been really great. I stayed for 4 days, but honestly I would like to have the time to spend a few more days. 

Moving on, I am taking another bus for a 8h ride over the Andes at 3.500m to Mendoza (piece of cake now!), Argentina. 
This is taking me out of Chile for good. Most probably I will spend the rest of my time in Argentina....but then again you never know....I have heard so many good words about San Pedro de Atacama close to the borders of Chile with Peru & Bolivia :)))

Nationalities of people I have met so far

A probably pretty useless post but here they are, in case you are interested :)

Friday, 8 April 2011

Ruta Canales Patagonicos & Capitan Leonidas

It took me quite sometime to get used to the fact that in this hemisphere, going north means that you are actually moving to warmer places rather than colder ones :)
Patagonian winter is just around the corner and I am making my way to the north...seeking for warmer places....I've had enough glaciers, snowstorms and destination is Valparaiso, but I have to go to Puerto Montt first.
There are many ways and routes to get there. I decided to take the most unusual, less advertised, most expensive and longer one....but promisingly the most exciting & "fun".
4 days on a cargo vessel through the Chilean fjords that is. I don't really remember who told me about this "excursion", I think a guy in Ushuaia, and when I arrived at Puerto Natales, I looked for it. Navimag is the company that runs those "ferries" for many years and their main purpose is to carry goods from the south to the north of Patagonia. Apparently though, they have converted some part of the ferries to carry some passengers, along with the truck drivers....


Weather forecast was pretty ok for the season, although last week, the same ferry had to deal with waves as high as 7-8 meters, for 12 hours and arrived with 8h delay...
In most part of the trip, the fjords protect the ship from the harshness of the Pacific Ocean, but there is a point right after Puerto Eden where it cannot make its way through the little islands and has to get out to the ocean, before it goes back into the protection of the fjords.

horses, cows & sheep...ideal conpany :)

through the fjords....sea is great but is really cold....

the first of the two glaciers on our way

really magical scenery

see that dot in the middle of the picture?? that's COTOPAXI....
a very interesting story :)

It was around 5pm on the second day of the trip and I was at the bridge of the ship, talking to one of the officers trying to understand how they calculate the route from their radar....and from the map also. When I told him I come from Greece, he seemed quite excited and he showed me a single point on the radar that was named COTOPAXI. He told me to come back in about an hour and he would tell me a nice story about it....and so I did....and took the picture above.

COTOPAXI in all its glory :))

The story goes like this: Under that ship which is called COTOPAXI and sitting still in the middle of the sea since 1960, there is a reef which is 3 meters tall above sea level. Capitan Leonidas was in command of the ship back in those years, carrying sugar from the north to the south. Capitan Leonidas, a very experienced Greek seaman, he crashed the vessel on the reef, and there it stands until now. Story has it that he did it on purpose so that the company would get money from the insurance.
"There is no way a Greek capitan to make such a mistake. He surely did it on purpose" were the exact words of the officer I was talking to, while he had a devil's smile on his face. And of course the jury did not believe Capitan Leonidas either....and he was imprisoned. Poor guy...:))

Enjoy some more pics:

the second great glacier !!!

arriving at puerto Montt..... 6am

It was definitely worth it. The scenery was amazing....and you don't really get the opportunity every day to travel with whales, dolphins and albatros along your way.....

Hasta luego amigos