Brazil and Argentina and Chile, oh my!

I was so excited to finally be healthy enough for international travel, and this trip lived up to all my expectations!

I started my journey with a trip to Miami, where I would pick up the midnight Latam Airlines flight to Rio de Janeiro.  I stayed overnight in Miami and had a whole day to explore, starting with Little Havana, the vibrant Cuban neighborhood.  Had an excellent Cuban sandwich and strolled around Calle Ocho, the main street of Little Havana.

Along Calle Ocho (8th street to those who don’t speak Spanish) you can see the Walk of Fame featuring many Cuban American stars of the arts and other endeavors.  The busiest place was the Domino Park, where (mostly older) folks from the neighborhood engage in spirited competition.

From Little Havana I hopped on one of those double decker tour buses for a glimpse of the rest of Miami.  I love the building with the curves above…designed by Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born British architect. Sadly, she passed away before this building was completed.  We also visited the Design District where there are lots of murals and other art installations.  The very knowledgeable tour guide did not shy away from discussing the side effect of the development here, gentrification that left many of the original low-income residents looking for other places to live.  The last stop was Coral Gables, where many homes are built on foundations of coral.

At last I reached Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and met up with the tour manager and other members of our tour group.  Here’s a view of our great hotel location, on the famous Copacabana beach, as well as one of the favelas, poor neighborhoods that wind up the hills of Rio.  The little elephant is part of a street art project similar to the ones we’ve had in the US with cows.

Next morning we began exploring Rio with a trip on a cog railway through the Tijuca Forest National Park to the top of Corcovado Hill, the highest in the city at about 2300 ft. Besides the fantastic views of the city, the bay, and the ocean, this hill is famous for the statue of Christ the Redeemer.  Cristo Redentor, in Portuguese, was selected a few years ago as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, so now I have seen all seven!

The statue itself is impressive, about 200 ft. high.  The main part of the statue is built in Art Deco style with reinforced concrete and soapstone. The Polish sculptor Paul Landowski carved the face and hands separately and then they were brought up to the mountain and attached to the body.  People come here from all over the world.

Later that day we stopped at a kiosk on the beach for a Brazilian treat–a fresh coconut cut open, with a straw so you can drink the liquid.  Very refreshing!  We drove by some of Rio’s famous beaches, like Ipanema which was made famous by the bossa nova song hit in the 60s.  BTW the girl who inspired the song really exists, and she’s my age now. There’s an amazing diversity of people in Brazil–our local guide, Veni, told us that Brazilian passports are the most popular and most expensive on the black market. The indigenous people, the Portuguese colonists, African slaves, and later immigrants from Europe and Japan have all intermarried, so basically, almost anyone can pass for Brazilian!

Next morning was another hill climb–this time on two sets of cable cars–to the top of Sugar Loaf.  This is one of several UNESCO World Heritage sites we visited.  The statue next to the antique cable car is Augusto Ramos, the Brazilian engineer who first got the idea to build a cableway to bring people to the top of Sugar Loaf.  Everyone thought he was crazy, but now thousands of people visit here every day. Notice there are still a few people going up the hill the old fashioned way (climbing the rocks).  Holding the Gate 1 sign to corral our group is our wonderful Tour Manager, Carol Romero.

After enjoying the views of Rio from a distance, we got a closer view of downtown. The bleachers you can see in the photo at center right are a preview of the Carnaval Experience we’ll see after lunch.

While Rio is no longer the capital of Brazil, it is still the largest city.  While a lot of the new development is going on in the suburbs, there is still a lot to see in the downtown area.  The pyramid shaped building is the main Cathedral. This unusual construction raised a lot of eyebrows when it was first built, but now people have grown to love it. From the cathedral we went to a neighborhood called the French Quarter because of its classic architecture. Here there are many public buildings such as the state theater and public library.  The patterns in the paving stones are characteristic of the Portuguese influence.


We had only a short time between the morning and afternoon activities, and this little restaurant near our hotel turned out to be perfect.  You walk in, grab a plate, and fill it up with the huge variety of dishes on the buffet. At the end of the line someone weighs your plate and gives you a check.  Then you sit at one of the long tables, and a waitress comes by and adds your drink order to the check. On the way out you pay.  It was delicious and took almost no time at all.

This afternoon’s activity was one of the highlights of the trip.  We got to visit one of the Samba Academies that make Carnaval in Rio the incredible world-famous event it has become.  The grandstand you saw earlier is one of about six that mark the parade route, where 75,000 peopIe can watch the Carnaval performances. I always thought Carnaval was just a big party, like Mardi Gras, but it’s so much more than that. To begin with, it’s a serious competition for some pretty huge prize money.  The money goes to the best theme and performance, and is used to support social programs in the favela that the champion academy represents.  We visited Grande Rio, one of the top five of all the academies, at their huge headquarters where they build floats and make costumes. We were only allowed to see artifacts from past Carnaval floats, not the ones they are already building for next March, to protect them from the competition.

The poster in the lower left corner gives you an idea of how huge the Carnaval parade is.  And every possible component of the floats (which can weigh up to two tons) and the fabulous costumes is reused and recycled.  That means taking every sequin and feather off that costume and reusing it next year.  The theme of each academy’s entry is related to the history of Brazil and the people in the favela.  So not only are they sponsoring the various social programs, but they are preserving and passing down their history.

Our Grande Rio guide talked about some events from Brazilian history and how they relate to the themes of Carnaval.  The academies bring in children and young people from their neighborhood and teach them life lessons in teamwork, persistence and responsibility, as well as their history.  To finish off the afternoon they dressed us all in the lavish costumes of the Carnaval Experience.

From the big city of Rio we flew to see another trip highlight, the spectacular Iguazu Falls, on the border between Brazil and Argentina.  We started our visit on the Brazilian side, where we were amazed at the first view of the falls, and continued to be amazed as we walked along the whole length of this amazing waterfall. Iguazu is higher than Niagara and wider than Victoria, for those of you who are fortunate to have seen them.  This toucan peeked out of his knothole to greet us, and we were warned about the other popular denizens of the National Park, the quatis (usually called coati at American zoos). These are adorable but can get very nasty if you mess with them!

The view just kept getting better and better as we walked the trail along the Iguazu river.  You can see the best viewpoint in the bottom photo, although it took me about 20 minutes to walk out about halfway on that bridge, because of the crowds, and I was soaking wet at that point!

The photo in the upper right shows another good vantage point, the observation tower.  There are some 200 steps leading to the tower, so I stood in line for 15 minutes and took the elevator. At the end we saw some quatis in their natural habitat (trash cans!).

Leaving the Brazilian side of the falls, we drove in our tour bus through the border checkpoints to our hotel in Argentina. Next morning we were ready to check out the views from the other side of the river.  There are several viewing areas here that are connected by a small train to the main park entrance, and when Mattias, our Argentinian guide, saw the long line there he quickly led us on a short trek through the woods to the second station, where we were able to get on the next train without a long wait.  Then we started walking the boardwalks you can see in the photos above. It seemed like we crossed 8-10 rivers, but it was really only one huge river with several islands in it.  The views of the falls here are spectacular, but many of my photos came out poorly because of the spray and mist landing on the cameral lens! Still, we got a few good shots!

We stayed again at our Iguazu, Argentina hotel, and the upper left photo shows the view from their roof. Right in front of us is Brazil, on the other side of the Iguazu River, where it empties into the Parana, and on the left, across the Parana, is Paraguay. Next morning we flew to Buenos Aires, and on the way to the hotel got a quick introduction to one of Argentina’s great traditions, the drinking of Yerba Mate’.  Mattias is showing us the traditional mate’ cup which is made out of a gourd. The silver straw is used to drink the tea through a filter in the bottom that keeps the leaves out of the straw. Argentinians drink mate’ all day, every day. To me it tasted a bit like Earl Grey, very aromatic.

From the airport to our hotel we drove along the Rio de la Plata. At first I thought we were looking at the ocean, but it’s just that the river is so wide here, you can’t see the other side!  We got here just in time to see the springtime purple blooms of the jacaranda trees.  Our hotel is right in the center of the city, near this portrait of Evita Peron.

Our city tour began in this beautiful Plaza de Mayo.  The red building is the presidential office, and Evita used to give her speeches from those arched balconies.  Francis is of course the first Argentine pope, so pictures of him are pretty popular here.  The flag in the square is at half mast to honor some members of the Argentinian Navy whose submarine sank recently.  The pyramid statue in the center represents the mothers of Los Desaparecidos, the disappeared ones. These were 15-30,000 people who were kidnapped and killed by the dictatorship during the Dirty War of the late 70s and early 80s.  The mothers who are still alive and able to get around still come here to protest their children whose bodies have still not been found.  The white kerchiefs in the paving stones represent the kerchiefs they wore in honor of their children. The buildings in the background include the old and new city hall and the Buenos Aires legislature. Buenos Aires is an autonomous city, meaning it is so large it comprises its own state rather than belonging to one of the other states.

In this cathedral the national hero of Argentina, Jose de San Martin, is buried. Every day the soldiers come out of the presidential office and march over to his tomb to guard it…a bit like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

From Plaza de Mayo we drove through some of the interesting neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Here in La Boca, there are lot of murals depicting the spirit of this neighborhood that is proud of (among other things) its football team (we call it soccer) the Boca Juniors. These football rivalries are incredibly competitive, and when Boca plays their top rivals, River Plate, they sometimes have to keep the visiting team’s fans out of the stadium to keep the two sides from fighting each other.

One of the fun tourist attractions in this part of Buenos Aires is an artists colony called Caminito.  Papier mache’ figures look out from the balconies, and artists sell their paintings on the narrow streets. I especially liked the mural carved on the building here, a memorial to the local firefighters.

The abandoned bank building at the top has an Italian name, evidence of some of the many immigrants who make up the population of BA.  One neighborhood of colorful little houses was originally settled by immigrants from Genoa, Italy, many of whom were fishermen and dock workers. They built their homes with scraps of lumber and materials from the nearby shipyards, and painted them with whatever leftover paint they could find.  The brick buildings used to be warehouses of a huge dock that became obsolete just after it was built, because everyone started using container ships and they were too big to get in.  They are now shops, restaurants and offices.  Bottom left is a monument to those killed in the Falklands war, and bottom right is Floralis Generica, a stainless steel sculpture given to the city by a famous Argentine architect. The petals are supposed to open and close with the dawn and dusk, but lately they’ve been having trouble with the solar powered mechanism, and it’s due for a total overhaul.

Our next stop was La Recoleta cemetery–that may seem strange to you but some of my favorite places around the world have been unusual cemeteries. This one may remind you of the ones in New Orleans.  It used to be that rich families paid to be buried in the cathedral, but this practice was stopped for health reasons during a yellow fever epidemic, and families built these elaborate structures to simulate the church buildings.  Inside they may have several coffins with the remains of various family members. The main claim to fame here is the grave marked “Familia Duarte.” This is the final resting place of Evita Peron, the wife of the famous President of Argentina, Juan Peron.  After she died there were plans to have a huge memorial on the scale of the Statue of Liberty, but there was a military coup, and the dictatorship didn’t want people paying tribute to Evita, so her body was moved to various secret places around the world, until it was finally discovered in 1971 and eventually buried here in her family plot.

Returning from our city tour, we checked out the views of the huge city of Buenos Aires from the roof of our hotel.  Later that evening we got a tango lesson–tango is the national dance, and is particularly popular here in the big city.  Next morning we set off into the Pampas for our all day gaucho party. We met this colorful parrot in a roadside gas station/convenience store with a huge souvenir shop. And on the bus our tour manager Carol is showing us the convenience store version of the yerba mate’ ritual.

Arriving at Estancia (ranch) Santa Susana, we sampled two of Argentina’s popular products, wine and empanadas. These were the best empanadas of the dozens of different varieties we got to try on this trip.  They’re basically a turnover, usually deep fried and filled with anything from meat to fruit.  We could see our lunch getting started on the huge grill.  Brazil and Argentina raise a lot of livestock, and we ate beef almost every night in these two countries.  Before lunch I toured the old ranch house, with lots of family memories and artifacts from the old days when it was a real working ranch and not a tourist attraction.

Other pre-lunch activities included horseback rides, carriage rides, and more of that famous Argentine wine.

In the huge dining room we had lunch and a show of impressive tango and other Argentine folk dances, including this man who was an expert with the boleadoras, leather straps with hard stone balls at the end.  They are moving so fast you almost can’t see them in the photo.  These were a favorite weapon of the gauchos.  Gauchos were known in the old days as free spirits, who traveled from ranch to ranch, working whenever or wherever there was work to do.  The advent of barbed wire fencing on the pampas inhibited their freedom, and many gauchos ended up contracting with a particular ranch. They don’t really exist any more, outside of places like Santa Susana.  The other gaucho tradition I enjoyed was the belt studded with silver coins, worn here by Cirillo, the head greeter, horse wrangler and generally in charge here.  The number of coins on his belt show that he is definitely a big shot.

After a demonstration by Cirillo and his men of how they train their horses and cowboys, we headed back to the city.  That evening we had our “farewell dinner” for the members of our group who were not continuing with us to Chile. We ate in one of those rehabbed warehouses near the docks, and took a walk afterwards to view this beautiful bridge by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. You may have seen his Sundial Bridge in Redding, CA or his new transit station at the World Trade Center in NYC.

Next afternoon we flew into Santiago, the capital of Chile.  Our hotel was in the suburbs, which I usually don’t like, but downtown Santiago tends to roll up the sidewalks at the end of the workday, and like many other places in South America, there is a lot of development and activity outside the core of the city with its limited streets and aging infrastructure. In this case, our location was ideal.  The hotel was literally across the street from the tallest building in South America, Sky Costanera.  The first four floors of the building were a huge shopping mall, including a super market, and the fifth floor is a food court with every kind of cuisine imaginable, from KFC to a lovely sitdown seafood restaurant.

Next morning we started out for a tour of the city. We enjoyed seeing this typical example of street theater, with the artists soliciting money from motorists.  There is also a huge produce and seafood market. Chile has no livestock, like in Brazil and Argentina, but it does have 2000 miles of Pacific coastline and plenty of wonderful seafood.  We stopped at a viewpoint and could see the top of that tall building that was cutoff in the previous photo!

Our walking tour started with the main cathedral square, where we saw a group of school kids enjoying the inlaid map of the area. The cathedral is impressive, especially the solid silver altar piece.

Our local guide, Nelson, showed us around the various government buildings, including the courthouse and several ministries, along with monuments to heroes of independence.  Salvador Allende was the socialist politician and physician who ran for president four times and was finally elected in 1970.  His efforts to nationalize many companies and natural resources, including Chile’s rich copper mines, led to US intervention and a coup by the CIA that resulted in his death. He was replaced by the military dictator Pinochet.  Under Pinochet’s rule, one of the things that changed was the pension system for public employees, and the government offered an incentive bonus to get people to sign up for the new, less expensive system.  The people protesting above represent a group of teachers who never received their bonuses. The banner reads, “Pay your historical debt!”

After the morning tour, I spent my free afternoon exploring the Sky Costanera. I had lunch in the food court (grilled salmon with potatoes and salad for about $8!) and then bought a ticket for the elevator that takes you up to the observation deck on the 62nd floor.  Here you have spectacular views of the city and the Andes Mountains in the distance.  I felt right at home in Chile–like Portland it’s an hour from the mountains in one direction and an hour from the ocean in the other direction.  It’s springtime here in November, and there were flowers blooming everywhere and people selling delicious strawberries and blueberries on the street. As the mural shows, the tower is a little shorter than the Empire State Building and a bit taller than the Eiffel Tower. After the huge lunch I wandered through the supermarket and found some great fresh fruit and cheese to take back to the hotel for dinner.

Next day’s agenda was a trip to the Chilean coast to see the cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.  This cute little rest stop convenience store gave us samples of their wine and pastries. Valparaiso is about 65 miles from Santiago and traffic can get interesting.  Arriving in Valparaiso we drove through the downtown area and up to the first viewpoint. The city is the second largest in Chile and the most important seaport.  Outside the port and downtown area, the city meanders up and down the surrounding hills in what looks like random fashion.  There was never any city planning on these hills, lots of narrow, steep streets and stairways. Several private elevators are used to get people and goods up to the higher reaches of the city.

This “elevator,” really more of a funicular railway, took us up to the next level of the city.  I agreed with Nelson, who said the city looks like San Francisco, but in the 50s, before it got all gentrified. We’ve seen a lot of street art on this tour, but Valparaiso has the best.

Here are some examples of the narrow, steep streets and stairways and more of the wonderful art works of Valparaiso. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

After enjoying the streets of Valparaiso all morning, we had free time for lunch in a neighborhood full of restaurants.  This place was open and the specials on the board looked good. I love the chandelier made from a tree branch! I’m eating risotto with shrimp here, with my tour group friends Maria and Lorraine.

After lunch we did some more walking and learned a little more about the history of this place. I had always wondered about the connection with Valparaiso, Indiana. It turns out that the town was originally given the prosaic name of Portersville after its founder, David Porter. Porter became a ship captain in the navy and fought in several wars. The war of 1812 found him in command of the USS Essex, in Valparaiso harbor, when the British attacked. 25 US Marines lost their lives, and are buried in the cemetery here. Because of these events the Indiana town’s name was changed from Portersville to Valparaiso.

From Valparaiso we traveled a short way along the coast to the beach resort of Vina del Mar.  This is the first place I’ve seen a Municipal Casino! Maybe something for American towns to think about?

The statue on the left is a Moai, one of the mysterious figures found on Easter Island (Rapa Nui). Several of our group members left from Chile to visit Easter Island. For some reason no one really understands, Easter Island is now technically part of Chile, even though it is 2000 miles away. I’ve also included a photo of the unique little bathroom stall in the women’s room where we stopped on the way back. Not sure why they need a special stall just for girls, but it is pretty cute.  The last photo shows us stalled in the brutal Santiago traffic!IMG_0769

This was our last night in Chile together, so of course we had another farewell dinner.  I was very impressed with our tour manager, Carol, and with Gate 1 Travel in general. This was my first time traveling with them and they definitely exceeded my expectations.  My flight wouldn’t head back to Miami until late the next evening, around the same time as Carol’s flight, and she was able to get us a late checkout from the hotel and a private car service to the airport.

I arrived in Miami the next morning and planned to stay overnight again to make the cross country trip back to Portland.  Once again I hopped on the tour bus and this time I took the Miami Beach loop.  We had another great guide, Ivery, who was very well informed about the history of Miami, Cuba, and the whole state of Florida. He narrated as we drove by all the classic Art Deco hotels on the beach.  The one that’s painted like pink and blue clouds is undergoing serious renovations.

In the upper left photo you see the famous Hotel Fontainebleu, where I remember going with my mom and dad on our Florida vacation in the early spring of 1955. I think that was the last time I saw Miami Beach! In the upper right corner is the picture postcard view, and below it, shoppers at the weekly farmers market.

The top photo shows the Miami Beach Convention Center where a young Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston and announced to the press that he was converting to Islam and changing his name to Muhammad Ali.  Below from left, the Holocaust Memorial, a former police station with yes, that’s right, a car attached to the side of the building, and the Liberty Tower in downtown Miami.  Liberty Tower became famous in the early 60s when many folks escaped from Cuba after the revolution. Here is where they received special expedited immigration processing.

Everywhere we went on this trip we were offered free glasses of the local specialty. In Brazil, it was Caipirinha, a sort of white lightning mixed with sugar and lime. In Argentina it was great wine.  In Chile, they drink Pisco Sours, which are also the national drink of their neighbor to the north, Peru.  On the last night in Miami, I had one more Pisco Sour in the restaurant on top of the MIA airport hotel, where I watched the sun set and thought about all the fabulous places I was privileged to see on this trip.

Next stop, Australia and New Zealand in late January!


8 thoughts on “Brazil and Argentina and Chile, oh my!”

  1. I enjoyed reading your travel blog Andrea! You have a unique style when taking your photos. They are stunning. They bring back memories. Chile is beautiful! I hope to see it next year. Now, I need to create my travel movie. They take a lot of time and I’m a bit lazy.


  2. Andy, Goodness gracious, what an incredible trip! Gayland and I have used Gate 1 three times and were always pleased with the tours and the guides. Now I need to signup for this one. What a treat you’ve given your fellow travelers.


  3. Wonderful account of your travels! Thanks for allowing me to be an armchair traveler and view your travelogue in the comfort of my office. As for me, I am going to Lockhart, Texas for barbecue at Black’s. I am forwarding this blog to my friend, Judy. If you remember, she is your competitor for logging travel miles. JoAnn

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Enjoyed your blog as we were in Argentina at the same time. Yes, we have used Gate 1 tours also….great job!
    I like your style of travel writing and hope I can share our trip with you.
    Are you going to Tasmania ? It is a treat.


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