Monday, December 11, 2017

Around Ushuaia - Cerro Guanaco & More

Over the past several decades, I’ve made at least ten trips to Ushuaia, often visiting the nearby Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego for its scenic mountains, forests and seashore. I’ve walked many of its trails on day hikes but, until last Friday, the weather had never cooperated for a climb to the slopes of Cerro Guanaco, a 967-meter summit that overlooks Lago Acigami (ex-Lago Roca). For what it's worth, there are no guanacos on this part of the island.
When I first saw Acigami, lenticular clouds hovered above it.
When I first saw Acigami, in early 1979, spectacular lenticular clouds hovered above it and, even though the scan of my old slide may be imperfect, it still brings back fond memories. Later, I hiked the undulating trail along the lake’s north shore to Hito XXIV, a marker that indicates the border between Argentina and Chile (on the Chilean side, its name is Lago Errázuriz). In fact, I have crossed the border there—technically illegally, even if the chances of being apprehended in an utterly unpopulated area are slim (it’s worth mentioning that a Chilean friend, exploring the other side of the border, got lost here, eventually needing help from Ushuaia’s Chilean consulate to return to his own country).
Where the trail divides...
A (somewhat exaggerated) warning at the trailhead
This time, though, my wife and I took the fork that leads along the Arroyo Guanaco and then steeply—very steeply at times—to the summit of the peak. Signs at the trail’s starting point inform hikers that it’s difficult and requires good footwear and clothing, but we found ourselves removing layers in this notoriously capricious climate. Part of it goes through turbales (peatlands) that can get soggy, but there was little evidence of any recent rain—if anything, the rocks and soil along the route were mostly slippery dry. Another hazard was the density of tree roots from the southern beeches that lined the trail—it would be easy to trip over them.
The dense southern beech forests of Cerro Guanaco
We got an early start, around 10 a.m., but before long we found ourselves being passed by younger hikers. That doesn’t especially bother me, as hiking is not a race, but it was annoying that a couple of them found it necessary to share their musical preferences on a quiet backwoods trail. Fortunately, they were fairly quickly out of sight (and audio range), and the rest of the hikers who passed us were polite and quiet.
A footbridge over the Arroyo Guanaco, about midway to the mirador
It’s worth adding that the few signs and trail markers are unclear about the distance and elevation, so we weren’t quite sure what distance was left to the summit. Still, after two hours or so, we came upon a mirador (panoramic point) that gave us views of the lake and surrounding summits, and the end-of-the-road at Bahía Lapataia. It’s there, 3079 km from Buenos Aires’s Plaza de Mayo, that coastal Ruta 3 reaches its terminus.
A view of Acigami and surrounding peaks from the mirador
After a breather at the panoramic point, with our legs and lungs resting from the effort, we decided not to continue to the summit (according to my phone, we had walked only two miles [about 3.2 km] to an elevation of about 1,350 feet [some 410 meters]). That left quite a climb to the top, and we had hoped to visit Estancia Harberton that afternoon but, after a quick lunch at the park’s Alakush visitor center, we decided it was logistically impractical, even with long daylight hours.
A view of Lago Escondido from Paso Garibaldi, on eastbound Ruta 3 from Ushuaia

Perhaps it was a rationalization, but my wife also wanted to visit other sights in the park, such as Lapataia and Bahía Redonda, and we also thought we’d take advantage of our rental car to see the mountains east of Ushuaia, beyond the Harberton turnoff as far as Paso Garibaldi, with its views of Lago Escondido. We eventually returned to our accommodations around 8:30 p.m., in time for dinner at a fine new restaurant—appropriately named Paso Garibaldi!
New in Ushuaia, Paso Garibaldi is an excellent dinner choice.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Would You Like the Good News First? Money & Visa Updates

In the context of southern South America, two topics about which I often write are money and visas, and on both I have good news and bad news. Here, today, I’ll deal with the two topics separately.

Less than two weeks ago, I dealt with the issue of Argentina’s ATMs and the fact that they’re such a quilombo (a slang term, meaning a mess, that derives from an earlier usage that meant a brothel). I haven’t used an ATM in that time but good news is that, according to The Wall Street Journal’s local correspondent Taos Turner, Argentine banks have raised the limit for individual transactions to A$3,300 (about US$192; when I made my last withdrawal, I could only obtain A$2,000, about US$143). This is a step forward, though it still doesn’t come close to the permitted amounts from Chilean and Uruguayan ATMs.
For foreign account-holders, the cost of an Argentine ATM transaction rose by 67 percent in November.
The bad news is that the banks have raised their transaction charge to A$175 (almost exactly US$10), as opposed to the previous charge of A$106.20 (about US$6). That sounds bad, and it is, but with the new withdrawal limit that amounts to only 5.3 percent as opposed the earlier 5.31 percent. In Argentine banking, that appears to count as progress…

In visa matters, the news is better, especially for Australians and Canadians. Early last year, Argentina suspended its so-called “reciprocity fee” for US visitors, in hopes that Argentines would gain access to the United States’ Visa Waiver Program, which permits cheaper and more expeditious travel to the Colossus of the North. That, however, occurred before a far more xenophobic administration took over the US government, and Chile remains the only South American country eligible for the Visa Waiver (unless you want to count Guyane, which is an overseas département of France). In principle, if the US refuses to reciprocate, Argentina could reinstate the fee for US visitors.
Soon, both Australian and Canadian visitors will be exempt from Argentina's "reciprocity" fee.
Recently, however, it’s taken steps in the other direction. The previous Argentine administration had also inflicted “reciprocity” fees on Australians and Canadians, but the current government eliminated the fee for Aussies last July, and has taken steps to to do so for Canadians by the first of the year. Nationals of both countries will find one less obstacle if they desire to visit Buenos Aires and beyond.

Brazil is also making it a bit easier to visit that country although, in my opinion, it still has a long way to go. I’ve not crossed the Brazilian border in some time, but applying for a Brazilian visa has always been inconvenient. It used to involve going in person but, when I tried to do so in Buenos Aires, the consulate there informed me that they could not issue a visa because my intended visit was too far in the future (to the best of my memory, it was two or three months before). I was able to get one-day service at the Puerto Iguazú consulate, to cross to the Brazilian side of the falls, but they would only accept payment in Argentine pesos, even though the visa fee was advertised in US dollars.
For US passport holders, the pleasure of a day-trip from Argentina to Brazil's side of Iguazú Falls will still cost US$160.
Now, though, intending visit can apply for the visa online, but the Brazilians are still missing an opportunity that the Argentines are taking advantage of—eliminating the visa entirely would do much more to encourage travel to South America’s largest country. In fact, the Brazilians did so briefly last year, when they suspended all tourist visa requirements during the Olympics.

The argument, of course, is that as long as the US and other countries oblige Brazilians to obtain advance visas, it’s only fair Brazil should require the same for citizens of those countries. To some degree I sympathize with that argument and, as an advocate of open borders, I think US visa requirements are far too restrictive. That said, from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, Brazil gains nothing from subjecting potential visitors to bureaucratic obstacles. Argentina appears to have learned that lesson.

Monday, November 27, 2017

¿Peronismo Vegetariano?

Some time ago, I wrote a post that touched on the topic of so-called Peronist cuisine, which almost seems an oxymoron—the working-class followers of Argentina’s legendary strongman Juan Domingo Perón were not exactly known for their culinary sophistication. Still, there’s a stereotypical roster of basic dishes that appeal to the so-called descamisados (shirtless ones) who comprise(d) the Peronist base (perhaps as Kentucky coal miners might appreciate Donald Trump’s overcooked steak with ketchup).
Last week, I decided to try the fare at Palermo Hollywood’s Perón Perón, in an area that’s not home to many descamisados, and is walking distance from our own Palermo apartment. One might argue that it’s an Argentine analogue to Tom Wolfe’s “radical chic,” with middle-class diners indulging themselves with somewhat more sophisticated versions of working-class comfort food. When I arrived around 7:30 pm, relatively early by Argentine standards, a BBC film crew was interviewing chef Gonzalo Alderete Pagés, who spoke more than passable English.
The BBC speaks to the chef.
I was pleasantly surprised with the food. The menu does feature a lot of heavy comfort food such as guiso de mondongo (tripe stew) and various incarnations of milanesa (chicken-fried steak), but I chose to go vegetarian with canelones de acelga (chard cannelloni; I really like chard, and my late mother-in-law made terrific chard pie even though she wasn’t much of a cook otherwise).
I was pleased with my chard cannelloni.

Never before had I seen an asparagus empanada.
The oddest item was an asparagus empanada, which aroused my curiosity as I’d never heard of such a thing before; it was fried but not too heavy, though I would have preferred a bit more asparagus in it. My glass of Domingo Hermanos Malbec came chilled, which is how my late father-in-law took red wine (as do many other Argentines). The wine list focuses on vintages from the Andean Northwest. For dessert, I had a satisfying rich dark chocolate mousse.
The dining area is full of Peronist iconography.
I should add that the service was surprising good, which is not something you anticipate from a movement that prides itself on labor militancy (spoiler: they were all wearing shirts). The décor, of course is a shrine to Perón and Evita (and their would-be successors Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner), and thus more than a bit kitschy. I’d happily go back, but I think I might prefer winter when I could order something like locro, a northern Andean stew whose warm heaviness would be welcome in cooler weather (though this spring has been mild in town).
Peronist sloganeering is part of the décor.

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