The Himalayas sound remote and far away? Well, the Andes are ALMOST as tall and with spectacular views too.
I dream of the Andes
You can take a VERY short flight from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina (for peanuts if you buy the ticket in Chile) and you get this impressive view. I fell in love with the view in 1991 and it took 19 yrs to see it again. But I did. God’s wonderful work on display!
A lot of my international travels have been part of or enabled by work. Whether is being asked if in 24 hours I could leave for Helsinki to spend 3 weeks there in the middle of winter, or whether the miles accumulated by years of sometimes-weekly travel have allowed me to go out of the country for vacation, work has always been a key factor in my exploring. I would say it is second only to my zest for travel and exploring!
As part of this reflection, I thought it would be cool to capture where all have I been to related to work whether for a one-day meeting to year+ assignments. Here it goes!
In Germany, my discoveries were how great German food is (not just the ones I had known like wursts). Also, my colleagues made it a point of making sure they were showing me places like beer halls and good restaurants and that hospitality -no offense intended- took me by surprise, especially when compared to other countries where I had expected a warmer culture.
Sulzbach/Bad Soden (outside of Frankfurt, Germany)
I have been to a good bit of France but for work these two sites were it. In the Riviera, I enjoyed being by the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean and yet seeing the Alps at a distance, staying in Cannes or Nice, depending on the week and the mood! Paris, well, what can I say. An incredible city even if it was hard to develop social contacts due to the long hours at work and perhaps the language barrier (I spoke basic French then; medium after I left there and focused on learning the language).
View from the terrace of the apartment building where I lived in Paris!
Basically shuttling between client offices in both towns. I was amazed at how small the country is and yet how exotic it felt to me. Den Haag much more subdued than Amsterdam. Amsterdam, just phenomenally interesting. Getting to work with the Dutch allowed to see how their cultural traits are unique and how some of the stereotypes I had heard of showed up in work settings.
Den Haag (The Netherlands)
Amsterdam (The Netherlamnds)
The rest of the European work sites were of shorter durations than the ones above with the longest being 3 weeks. But they all allowed me to explore each of the places and/or visit with friends who lived in those places. Work definitely gave me a good opportunity to see more of Europe. How else would I have spent 3 weeks in Helsinki had it not been for work?!
View of Oslo Fjord
My experiences in Latin America have been phenomenal. Perhaps the cultural affinity or the approach to life, especially in Brazil, but I have seldom been disappointed or failed to enjoy my stay.
Chile trumps all other places in L.A. by sheer duration of my work experience there (over a year). I had worked there many, many yrs before (check my other blog entries) and I got to see more of the country in that year. What a beautiful country!
In Peru, I got to explore more off the beaten path locations by the nature of the work assignment. I got to see many places the average tourist sees and many they would never get to. And, I got to enjoy the food of Lima which is just outstanding!
Brazil offered me good food and great fun besides the work. Spending weekends in Rio or going out for the nightlife of Sao Paulo, Brazil never disappointed.
Sao Paulo (Brazil)
Buenos Aires (Argentina)
Panama City (Panama)
Church in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago
Here I definitely got to see some diverse places from Muslim and Arab Egypt, to deep Africa in Tanzania, to cosmopolitan cities in South Africa (I visited Cape Town too but not for work). I have enjoyed the unique experiences each offered whether it was visiting HIV/AIDS patients in the rural areas around Mwanza, to going for food in very local places in massive Cairo, to getting into the history of apartheid in Joburg.
Johannesburg (South Africa)
Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and Stone Town (Tanzania)
At the Apartheid Museum in Joburg
I got to spend a LOT of time in Toronto and had a lot of fun with a great crew of Canadians whose key contribution to my skill sets was to have me start calling a puck “puck” and not “the thing”. I also learned that I needed better pacing drinking Canadian beer as it was stronger than the American variety. Finally, I learned how to curl (as in the game/sport).
What has been your most interesting and rewarding international work experience??
The first time I heard about the Perito Moreno glacier was back in 1991 when an Argentinian friend mentioned having gone there and it being “espectacular!” as Argentines are prone to say when they like something enough. I finally got to visit it but, in doing my research, I was surprised at its location, well inland in Argentina – I had expected it to be near the ocean closer to Tierra del Fuego.
I had to get to the glacier from Chilean Patagonia which meant a long bus ride from Puerto Natales to El Calafate, the main town right outside the ice fields that give rise to the glacier. It took about 4 hrs or so to get to El Calafate and that included a stop at Argentinian immigrations/customs; faithful to expectations, a slow process and rather rudimentary baggage check with some luggage opened on the road and a sniffing dog walking ON (not around) the open luggage. At that border point, we entered the Santa Cruz province which many say is the personal fiefdom of the presidential couple (now just the wife since he passed away). I am not sure if that is the case or not but the place is certainly vast.
The more one gets away from the border with Chile, the flatter the land becomes. The scenery is impressive but then you get a few hours of that same landscape and I quickly dozed off to make up for the early pickup time (around 7AM).
The bus was full of passengers. Most of them were just getting off in El Calafate which seems to serve as a base for backpackers and other travelers but a few of us stayed on to be taken to the glacier, another 1.5 hrs away. Oh and the bus had its share of people who stank but, mercifully, they were towards the front of the bus and I, being the last one picked up on the road from Puerto Natales, got to sit all the way in the back. I guess the Northern Hemisphere folks in the front of the bus thought that being on vacation meant skipping on those showers for a couple of days. Joy.
So, the bus ride was long and tedious. But what about the main attraction, the glacier? Well, one quickly realizes one is facing a monumental piece of ice! The glacier is almost kissing the peninsula directly across from it. When the “kiss” is “deep”, the glacier splits the water body in front of it in two. I hear this is the only place in the world where that happens. After a few years of the deep kiss, the water level rises on one of the sides of the glacier and pressure builds up such that the kiss is broken up. When I went, there was a very small bridge left between the glacier and the peninsula.
The glacier’s front walls are monumentally high. Nothing helps one get this than seeing large boats come close to the glacier for a close-up. The glacier is constantly making noises as it moves and shifts and, every 15 minutes or so, a piece of ice (usually small) would break off and fall in the water making a good deal of noise.
The park has been very nicely prepared for the tourists with recently built walkways meandering down the peninsula’s face. There used to be a concrete path but one clearly sees the difference of being in a nicely built walkway vs. the more rudimentary concrete path that one can still see from the walkway. There are different paths to follow and one can go as far as one wants or stay as close to the carpark as one wants. One can see both “faces” of the glacier from most of the walkways so one doesn’t have to risk missing that falling piece of ice!
Great walkways (& lots of stairs!) allow getting close up to the glacier – espectacular, ché!
I feel like something is sneaking up behind me… – portrait of the blogger as a young man
El Calafate was not much of a town but one could do some shopping down the main street. We hear that in winter there is nothing much to do. Our guide told us she read a lot and went ice skating on the part of the lake/bay that freezes. Unfortunately, my time there was limited so I could not discover any hidden gems. I had not budgeted staying a night there (which was probably a good thing) so I hopped back on the bus to ride all the way back to Puerto Natales. But I am happy to report that the bus was mostly empty, and most importantly, free of funny smells
I have no better way of describing how the vastness and general flatness of the land (it wasn’t 100% flat) that in this image I have of the Patagonian sky: sky in 3-D. Somehow, one gets a sense of multiple layers of clouds as one stares out and scans the sky. Perhaps it is the same anywhere else but I have never noticed this until this trip. I felt validated when later a fellow traveler made the same observation (minus the “3-D” part)…
The long flat road ahead
The vastness of Patagonia
Certainly, the trip from Puerto Natales was way too long for a day trip and, while El Calafate didn’t seem interesting enough for me, spending the night there would have been better for my body. However, I will say get to see Perito Moreno however you have to as it will be worth your while!
As I said in my previous entry about Mendoza, wines are the other good reason to go to Mendoza – the capital of wine in Argentina.
Wine tasting in Mendoza
I had Saturday to play around so I opted for a tour of several wineries as I didn’t feel like renting a car and driving around solo in unfamiliar territory. It was a great choice. The wine tour I chose was offered with Trout and Wine. The tour cost about $135 lasted from 9AM until 5PM and covered 4 different wineries. At one of the wineries we were to have a 5 course lunch paired with different wines. The tour was a great idea as the wineries were guaranteed to be open and ready to receive you (though I sensed that would not have been a problem in this season).
At one of the wineries
All the wineries offered us a tour of the facilities as well as a tasting either by sitting down at a pre-set table or by standing around a bar or table (except for the lunch one where we sampled wines paired with the various lunch courses).
Heaven, part dos!
We visited Terrazas which sat us down at a table and where we felt we were just having a chat with a knowledgeable friend about wines.
At Belasco de Baquedano, we were treated to the aroma room where you can walk around and try smelling different scents to train your nose. I actually tried to do the smelling blind to see if I could detect the aromas. I didn’t do too well, I must admit… But the concept was phenomenal.
Aroma Room at Belasco de Baquedano
Our tour guide, Cecilia, had worked at one of the wineries in the past and knew a lot about wine. That, combined with the on-purpose small size of the tour group, made for a great day. Along with me were a Danish father and son, and a California couple. We enjoyed talking throughout the day and exchanging travel stories.
I had asked Cecilia about a good parrillada place for dinner (meaning, a good local place) and she recommended Estancia La Florencia on Ave. Sarmiento which was really a building away from my hotel. The California couple and I decided to go together for dinner and we had a fabulous dinner in a mostly-locals only restaurant with great atmosphere. It was the perfect place for a piece of Argentine steak!
Wine tour ends – Cross back the Andes!
As I flew back Sunday, I got to see Mt. Aconcagua (tallest mountain in the Americas, north of 22,000 feet). Unfortunately, it was on the opposite side of the plane so I could not get a good picture of it but I did manage to get a few good pictures from my side of the plane. Enjoy!
The awesome Andes
My current business trip to Santiago is for 2 weeks so I had a weekend in between to either: walk around Santiago and re-discover parts of it, opt to go and visit southern Chile (Puerto Montt or Pucón, for example; both of which I had visited in 1991), or go to nearby Mendoza, Argentina (capital of Argentine wine country). Because it is peak season in the south (high airfares, no rental cars available, and only 2 days) and due to a colleague strongly recommending Mendoza, I chose the quick trip over the mountains to Mendoza, Argentina, a place I have been wanting to visit because of its wines.
Mendoza, as the eagle flies, is pretty darn close to Santiago. However, the magnificent Andes sit in between. So the drive takes 6-7 hours over spectacular landscape from what I hear. However, I also hear customs on either side of the border can be quite bad so for a 2-day weekend visit, I had to fly. Luckily, LAN had an $82 fare (taxes included) and a 30-40 min flight time so it all became a no-brainer for me. My colleague suggested a moderately priced hotel ($60/night) in a great location so that eliminated guesswork and research time which I didn’t have. She also got me some recommendations for restaurants which was great. Flying over the Andes brings with it incredible winds and both flights gave me a run for my money in terms of scary moments!
Exploring the town of Mendoza proper
I arrived in Mendoza around 5 PM and had no problem getting a taxi at the airport at the rate I had been told ($23A or $8US). The Hotel Internacional where I stayed was OK. The room was not as nice as the pics on the website but the hotel was quite decent for the price. For the $60/night, it included a good breakfast and wi-fi. The location was great, surrounded by good eateries and close to the center of town.
I walked the town Friday after I arrived and on Sunday morning. The contrast couldn’t have been any bigger: the pedestrian part of Sarmiento (the main street) was a beehive of activity Friday but almost deserted Sunday morning. It sports cafes and shops and you can see the locals coming out from their homes to enjoy fresh air – and likely “cooler” temperatures than their own homes.
The not yet crowded Calle Sarmiento
Calle Sarmiento begins to pick up customers!
Mendoza is very, very hot this time of the year (90s – but dry) and I doubt everyone has AC at home. So it is nicer to sit in a plaza and enjoy some breezes under the shade of the many trees that line the streets of Mendoza (an odd thing considering it rarely ever rains here and that it is very arid land; the answer is that snow melt is captured and then released to the city and farms via an ingenious curbside open flow system).
The ingenious way to collect water!
Sunday morning, I got to walk almost in total solitude around town, covering all major squares and parks in the center. Mendoza struck me as a town that would be probably a great place to live as it is pleasant, clean, and not chaotic as Buenos Aires. At the same time, the time I spent walking around was probably all that a tourist needs to do in the town itself while visiting (surely, I am omitting some museums or theaters) outside of just chilling (in which case a tourist can do a LOT of that perhaps while enjoying wine, beer or ice cream at a café…).
Need I say? A government building, of course…
Now, while the city is not a grand collection of sites for tourist interest, there are 2 things that make it quite a good choice destination to see: 1. the food. 2. wine country. Food, I will share here. Wine
I ate at Mi Tierra on Friday night where I enjoyed empanadas to start and deer raviolis for dinner. The food was definitely good but I wouldn’t call it spectacular. The ambience of the restaurant is outstanding. (Watch out: the menu offer is only valid if you pay cash!)
Saturday night, I ate at La Florencia on the corner of Sarmiento and Peru, a few steps away from my hotel. This is not the same type of fancy restaurant than Mi Tierra (or a couple of the other restaurants recommended by my colleague, like Azafrán). It feels very local (in fact, most of the customers seemed either local or, at least, Argentinian) and was highly recommended by my wine tour guide. She was right! I was wanting just a normal Argentine piece of steak and fries and this place was PERFECT! The menu was quite broad and everything I saw served looked fantastic. We sat there for 3 hours and we felt we were at home. THAT’S the experience I was wanting and I got it!
I definitely think I chose wisely how to spend a weekend. While another day would have allowed me to go to the base of Aconcagua (I really wanted to do that), I cannot complain because I did get to sample great food and a taste of life in this western town!
So, in 1991, I met BB.AA. Enjoyed exploring it, enjoyed the great food, and enjoyed seeing it with people who lived there. Fast forward to 2000. Company offers me an opportunity to go deliver a training class of 3 days. What to do? Had I ever taught or even attended the training class before? No. But, of course, if they thought I could teach it, who was I to defy corporate wisdom?
Getting there not always half the fun
Back then, there was no direct flight from Atlanta so I was to connect in Miami to a United flight to BB.AA. Due to an earlier cancelled flight to BB.AA., United decided to bump me off the flight. Now, I understand how these things work – most of the time – but I had paid full fare in business class so I do not understand how United made such a brilliant decision to bump off a full fare paying passenger of a large international business. (No wonder U.S. airlines continue to fail miserably in their business model… But that should be a topic for a different blog.) Suffice it to say that the resolution to this was both good and bad. Good, I could still leave that night. Bad, I had to connect now through Sao Paulo to get to BB.AA. Good, they put me on first class on the way down and the way up. Good, the never-ending refills of Dom Perignon. Good, the comfort of the seats. Bad, international first class back then did not have the fancy “seat-cabins” you see today. Good, I could use the first class lounge in Miami on the way back which had fantastic shower rooms. Neutral, the Canadian Airlines flight from Sao Paulo to BB.AA. got sprayed upon landing in BB.AA. as happens in flights between other countries (I assume to kill off any bad germs). Bad, I am allergic to those sprays which meant within 24 hrs. I was bedridden in my BB.AA. hotel killing my day to prepare to deliver the training…
But the good wins
In between landing and getting bedridden, I re-connected with one of my Argentine friends with whom I had worked in Chile in 1991 (the one who got us to ride in the colectivo during my BB.AA. visit in 1991 and to whom I may owe having survived that ride). Had dinner in a non-descript local place and then headed over their place to have some mate. Good to see Hugo and his wife again.
The training class was in a subject I was well acquainted topic so I followed the lead of my co-teacher and was able to add good value to the trainees’ learning experience (or so I think!). I knew some of them from past work and had a great time in spite of not feeling well.
I did also get to see how much BB.AA. had changed. Home Depot now had a store there. The dollar now could be used as currency. However, they did not accept any bill that was slightly torn or stained. The irony was that when giving you change, they felt they could give you back torn or stained Argentine bills… Oh, and I got to re-connect with empanadas. Empanadas are a gift from God via Argentina [good eats]. And I got to see how the city had undertaken urban renewal, like in the area of Puerto Madero, making it even more enjoyable to visit.
This particular trip was way too short to explore more of the city but it was sure good to see it again and see how it had changed.
What would others recommend people check out these days? It is 2009, 9 yrs since my last visit which was 9 yrs after my first visit. I feel I am due again and wonder “what’s new, Buenos Aires!”
I have had the opportunity to visit Buenos Aires, Argentina three times: in 1991, 2000, and 2010 (I don’t like the spacing between visits…). The first time was a weekend trip when I was living in Santiago, Chile and the second sent do co-deliver a training session for my company’s office there. The third visit was for a short business trip when I got work -again- in Santiago, Chile (yes, I am blessed!). I will write here about the trip in 1991.
Exploring Buenos Aires
Though we were entitled to be flown back to the U.S. from Santiago for Thanksgiving in 1991, we made a small “business case” to our manager that it would be way cheaper if they paid for us to go to BB.AA. (airfare, hotel and airport transportation). We worked with some Argentines in Chile who flew home every weekend (abt a 2 hr flight) so they encouraged us to go and hang out with them.
We booked a hotel in Recoleta which was a nice part of town. With our friends, we got to explore fantastic food. The well-known area of La Costanera [good eats] did deliver a fantastic steak meal. I remember that I wasn’t very hungry so I ordered half a steak. The steak was as big as the large plate it was served on – of course, to see it I had to work through the pile of French fries on top of the steak.
BB.AA. is a great city to walk around. The architecture (reminiscent of Paris) and the diversity of the people provide a lot of things to look at as you make your way between places to visit. We had to make the ¨obligatory¨visit to the cemetery where Eva Perón is buried, see the Casa Rosada (the president’s house), watch the mothers still marching many years after military left power in front of the Casa Rosada, walk down Calle Florida (a great pedestrian shopping street). Perhaps the most exciting thing we did was take a local bus to go to a colleague’s house. The bus (or ¨colectivo¨) never really stops to let you in nor to let you out so with coaching from our local friend, my other American colleague and I managed to be successful in these 2 maneuvers… A real adventure!
The thing we enjoyed the most though was a gelato chain called Fredo’s [good eats]. The gelato was superb and my personal favorite was the wine cream gelato. I think we stopped at a Fredo’s whenever we saw one.
Asado at a Friend’s
We enjoyed going around town with our friends and glad they were doing the driving. I recall the Ave. Libertador having about 5 to 7 lanes of traffic with no lanes painted on the road surface. I met chaos that night. The best part of the trip was the time we were invited to one of our friend’s parents’ house for a traditional Argentine ¨asado¨ (read, BBQ) [good eats]. True Argentine hospitality! When it came time for the main course, they brought a huge round piece of wood loaded with all the meat that had benn grilled. All the meat meant all of the cow. We were asked to choose a non-¨traditional¨piece of meat. I went for the kidney as I didn’t fancy some of the other crazier parts… Not impressed with the texture of the kidneys.
I flew Pan Am between Santiago and BB.AA. Flying over the high peaks of the Andes on my first ride ever on a 747 was exhilarating and unnerving. It looked as if the mountaintops were going to scrape the underbelly of the airplane. And yet, looking at the cabin of the airplane, I couldn’t fully comprehend how such an airplane managed to fly. On a semi-historical note, my flight back to Santiago was the last day Pan Am flew.
BB.AA. is definitely a town made to be explored and enjoyed. Back in 1991, the country was just enjoying economic stability after the hyperinflationary period and everyone’s mood was great. BB.AA. has changed tons since that first visit as I discovered in later visits – it has become even more exciting and interesting – an Argentines are still a heck of a lot of fun!