The Most Expensive Real Estate in Argentina

Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

When former military dictator of Argentina Juan Perón died in 1974, he couldn’t be buried at Buenos Aires’s exclusive Recoleta Cemetery. It was most galling to his followers that his widow Evita did manage to be buried there with the rest of her family (née Duarte). Eventually, his body was moved to the grounds of his estate in the exclusive barrio of Olivos.

I have visited Recoleta during each of my three trips to Argentina. Why? It is actually the number one tourist destination in Buenos Aires—and it’s free. Just about everyone of note in Argentine history and culture is buried there. Adolfo Bioy Casares the writer is buried there, but the Argentina’s greatest writer, his friend Jorge Luis Borges, is buried in Geneva, Switzerland, where he died in 1986.

One of Many Bronze Commemorative Plaques Marking the Grave of Evita Perón

Among other famous denizens are past presidents such as Agustín Pedro Justo, Bartolomé Mitre, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Hipólito Yrigoyen, Julio Argentino Roca, Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, and Raúl Alfonsín. There’s famous boxer Luis Firpo; Isabelle Walewski, a granddaughter of Napoleon Bonaparte; warlord Facundo Quiroga; writer Silvina Ocampo and her sister, publisher Victoria Ocampo; and William Brown, Irish-born founder of the Argentinean Navy (widely known as Almirante Brown).

The Narrow Streets of Argentina’s Notable Dead

In fact, the last time I stayed in Buenos Aires, I stayed at a hotel right across the street from the west wall of the cemetery.

La Difunta Correa and Other Saints

Some Saints You’ve Never Heard Of Before

This is a repost from Multiply.Com which I wrote some ten years ago:

Oh, oh! I’ve been thinking about Argentina again, and that means you’re going to hear about some more really obscure (but, IMHO fascinating) stuff.

To begin with, Argentina is such a Catholic country that it had to create additional saints native to its own soil. Let’s begin with La Difunta Correa, which means, literally, the Dead Correa:

According to popular legend, Deolinda Correa was a woman whose husband was forcibly recruited around the year 1840, during the Argentine civil wars. Becoming sick, he was then abandoned by the Montoneras [partisans]. In an attempt to reach her sick husband, Deolinda took her baby child and followed the tracks of the Montoneras through the desert of San Juan Province. When her supplies ran out, she died. Her body was found days later by gauchos that were driving cattle through, and to their astonishment found the baby still alive, feeding from the deceased woman’s “miraculously” ever-full breast. The men buried the body in present-day Vallecito, and took the baby with them. [from Wikipedia] All over the country, there are roadside shrines to La Difunta Correa, many surrounded by gifts left by truck drivers and travelers in a hope for a safe journey to their destination. Remember that Argentina is the eighth largest country on earth, and that distances can be farther than one ever imagines, especially on unpaved ripio roads.

There are two other popular saints with shrines all across the nation: Gauchito Gil (“Little Gaucho Gil”) and El Ángelito Milagroso, a.k.a. Miguel Ángel Gaitán.

Gauchito Gil hails from the state of La Rioja. A farmworker, Gil was seduced by a wealthy widow. When the police chief, who also had a thing for the widow, and her brothers came after Gil, he joined the army in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay (perhaps the bloodiest war ever fought in the Americas, with the exception of our own Civil War). When he returned home, the Army came after him to join in one of Argentina’s many civil wars. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Gauchito deserted. He was discovered by the police, who wanted to execute him. Whereupon Gil prophesied to the head of the police detail that if he were merciful, the officer’s child, who was gravely ill, would get better. Instead of being shown mercy, Gil was executed.

When he returned home, the police officer found that his son was indeed very ill. So he prayed to Gauchito Gil, and his son got better. It was this police officer who returned to the scene of the execution, gave Gil a proper burial, and built a shrine in his memory. Today there are hundreds of such shrines scattered throughout the country.

By the way, the Gauchito is not the only deserter hero in Argentina’s past. Perhaps the national epic is Martin Fierro by José Hernández, about a gaucho who deserts from the so-called “Conquest of the Desert”—really a war of genocide against the native tribes of the Pampas—and is pursued by the police militia.

The Nineteenth Century in Argentina was unusually bloody, what with civil war, wars against the native peoples, and wars against other countries such as Paraguay and Brazil. So it is not unusual to find deserters as heroes, which is unthinkable in Europe and North America.

Finally, there is another La Rioja “saint” named Miguel Ángel Gaitán, El Ángelito Milagroso, who died at the tender age of one in 1967. When his body didn’t rot, the locals thought that meant it was supposed to be exposed for veneration—and so it was.

Big Bear

Big Bear Lake Is Located 25 Miles Northeast of San Bernardino

I am itching to get out of Los Angeles for a 2-3 day road trip. One place I have never been in Big Bear Lake, which is about a two plus hour drive from where I live. Most of that drive would be fighting my way through the City of Los Angeles. Then I would cut north around San Bernardino and ascend to 6,752 feet (2,058 meters) above sea level. It is a major resort area with restaurants, accommodation, and numerous activities. It’s probably best known for skiing, but that is not what interests me.

My interests are more in the line of looking around and taking pictures. I’m thinking of taking some time off after my numerous medical appointments between now and the middle of June.

Archway Welcoming Guests to Big Bear Village, with Tall Ghost on Right

I know it’ll cost a few shekels, but then everything does.

Unfinished Business Abroad

The East Fjords of Iceland

I still have places to see. Even though I have been to Iceland, Argentina, and the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico several times each, I have missed a number of destinations. These are just some of them.

Iceland’s Far Northeast

I have been to Egilsstaðir where I had to change buses on my way to Höfn and Hornstrandir, but I have never seen Iceland’s wild northeast coast between Seydisfjorður and Borgarfjörður Eystri. As my brother once told me, I am drawn to wild and desolate places—probably because I have lived most of my life in the United States’s second largest city.

This is one trip for which I would have to rent a car, as public transit here is mostly potty. And I would have to be prepared for bad weather at any time of the year. But with a good four-wheel-drive vehicle, I think I can hack it.

Southeastern Campeche State

Look at All the Maya Ruins Along Route 186 in Campeche

Back in the heyday of the Maya from around AD 600-800, the southeast of the State of Campeche was where it was happening. Particularly important was Calakmul, which was a major competitor to Tikal in Guatemala’s Petén region. The only town of any size in the area is Xpuhil. Ruins include Balamkú, Chicanna, El Ramonal, La Muñeca, Hormiguero, Xpujil, and Rio Bec.

This is one trip where I would have to hire a guide with a car. The accommodations and dining are probably acceptable, but not great. And I would need to apply large amounts of DEET insect repellent, as this area is jungle and thinly inhabited now.

Argentina’s Patagonian Coast

The South South Atlantic

I am intrigued by this wild coast and would love to visit Rio Gallegos, Puerto San Julian, Puerto Deseado, and Comodoro Rivadavia, the port from which Argentina launched its attack on the Falkland Islands, or the Islas Malvinas, as they insist on calling it to this day.

The extreme South Atlantic coast of the provinces of Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego are very much unfinished business. In 2006 in broke my shoulder in Ushuaia, which forced me to cancel my ride via a TecniAustral bus to Rio Gallegos, from which I planned to work my way north back to Buenos Aires. But, as the pain was too much to bear, I had to fly back to the United States and get better.

In 2011, Martine and I flew from Ushuaia to El Calafate, and thereupon on to Trelew and Buenos Aires. I’d love to do it by bus, at least as far as Comodoro, from where I could fly the rest of the way.

Obviously, I still have places to go.

Confidenciales

Love Seats (Known as Confidenciales) on Mérida’s Plaza de la independencia

Mérida is a city full of little surprises. At first, one is conscious of the heat and humidity, followed by all that goes into making up a tropical city. Then, after a little while, one notices surprising little things that give the city its own charming uniqueness. Ever since the 17th century, the city’s parks have been dotted with concrete love seats called confidenciales. Rarely does one not encounter (during daylight hours anyhow) young Maya couples seated on them and whispering into each other’s ears.

The Courtyard of the Macay Museum of Contemporary Art

In a tropical climate, nothing is more welcome than cool shade. And it’s not too difficult to find it. When I visited the Macay Museum of Contemporary Art, I was so enthralled by the courtyard, that I sat down on a bench and meditated for upwards of an hour. The building that houses the museum used to be the Archbishop’s Palace.

If I owned a house, I would like one that presents nothing but a wall and a door to the street—with no front lawn requiring frequent maintenance. I’d much rather have a courtyard, invisible from the street with cozy benches and a fountain.

Colonnade by the Plaza de la Independencia, Built in 1821

Finally, I loved all the colonnades. like the one above which is two centuries old. It’s good to get out of the sun when it is hot, and there were always shops in the colonnade where you can get a cold beer or some tropical-fruit-flavored ice cream.

Perhaps all these things speak to me of comfort and relaxation, which is always a good thing when one is on vacation. Wherever I went, I found time to relax in the main plaza or a lovely courtyard or a welcoming colonnade. I always made sure that there was some relaxation time wherever I went. I saw a lot of wonderful places, and I had a good rest.

Places: South Iceland 2001 and 2013

Looking South from the Island of Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar

These are my oldest image files. They were converted from my Kodachrome slides from a trip I took to Iceland in 2001. Before I went to Iceland, there were parts of Europe that fascinated me. After Iceland, I was fascinated only by Iceland. Was it that I have an inborn need for wastelands like Patagonia or the Southwestern Deserts of the United States or the Peruvian Altiplano? I think so.

With the above photo, I was trying to see if I could find Surtsey, the island that was created by a recent volcanic upheaval beneath the sea. (The island still exists, but it is gradually getting smaller.)

The Ice in Iceland

The Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon Near Skaftafell

One of the most incredible sights in South Iceland is the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon visible from the Ring Road on the way to Höfn in Hornstrandir. On one side of the road are these incredible chunks broken off from the giant glacier Vatnajökull; on the other, is a black sand beach dotted with tiny chunks of transparent ice like diamonds in a black satin setting.

The lagoon and beach are so spectacular that it is almost impossible to just pass on by. Even the bus to and from Höfn stops for a half hour or so. It’s not long enough for a boat ride on the lagoon—but it makes you want to come back, as I did in 2013.

Ice like Diamonds on a Black Sand Beach (Breiðamerkursandur) 2013

Why I Want To Return

My two visits to Iceland have merely whetted my appetite. I have read all the major Medieval Icelandic sagas, most of the novels of Iceland’s lone winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (Halldor Laxness), and the superb books by Jesse L. Byock on Medieval Iceland. Plus there are parts of Iceland I have not seen, such as the Eastfjords, the stretch between Bru and Akureyri, Siglufjörður, and the Sprengisandur route through the middle of the island.

Places: Puerto Montt, Chile 2015

Puerto Montt in the Fog

This is the beginning of a new series based on places I have visited since 2001 and always illustrated by my own photographs. In common with all the places I decide to feature is my desire to go back and spend more time in the vicinity. I visited Puerto Montt briefly in 2015 on a trip I started in Buenos Aires, going on to Iguazu Falls (on the Argentina side), San Carlos de Bariloche, Puerto Varas, Valparaíso, and Santiago.

In her book Among the Cities, Jan Morris describes Puerto Montt as the southern terminus of the Pan American Highway. Actually, it continues on the Island of Chiloé across Reloncavi Sound as far as the town of Quellón, from which one could travel by ferry to Chaitén. The port was named after Manuel Montt, who was President of Chile from 1851 to 1861.

The Cathedral of Puerto Montt, Built Entirely of Native Alerce Wood

The Sea Creatures of Puerto Montt

The highlight of my visit to Puerto Montt was the incredible fish market, which Jan Morris described very picturesquely back in 1961:

And wettest, strangest, most southern, most remote, more alien than any melon-flower are the sea creatures of Puerto Montt, dredged through the rain out of the Pacific. There are heavy eels with muscular flanks, big flat fish like slabs of fat, giant clams, crinkled oysters by the million, mountains of spiky urchins, glistening and globular.

If I weren’t on a bus tour, I would have loved to stay for a giant seafood dinner, but I was scheduled to take an all-night TurBus sleeper to Valparaíso.

Unfinished Business

I would dearly love to go back to Puerto Montt for that seafood dinner, and then head across the sound to the Island of Chiloé, which is famous for its UNESCO-recognized wooden churches and wet forests. The Chilotes dispute with the Peruvians the development of the potato, which grows extensively on the island, and which is served with seafood in a local stew known as curanto.

Reliving a Transcendent Moment

There It Was: Mount Chimborazo

This post originally appeared on November 12, 2016, shortly after I returned to Los Angeles from Ecuador.

The text is from Matthew 18:22: “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” It refers to how many times one must forgive transgressors. That inspired the Swedish author, Lars Görling, wrote a novel entitled 491, which was made into a film by Vilgot Sjöman.

This is a very roundabout way of remembering the route Dan and I took as we emerged from the twisted warren of unmarked streets which is Ambato, one of Ecuador’s largest cities. We were looking for the E-35, which is the Pan-American Highway. Instead we were on E-491, which took us through a number of towns and villages which were not on my map of the country. Nor, for that matter, was E-491.

Then, as we rounded a hill, quite suddenly, we saw the volcano Chimborazo dead ahead of us. The clouds had moved aside, allowing us to see the glaciers on Ecuador’s tallest mountain. If you measure altitude from the center of the earth rather than sea level, it is the tallest mountain on earth, looming in splendid isolation from the rest of the Andes.

A Herd of Wild Vicuñas

As we drew closer to the mountain, we espied a large herd of wild vicuñas on both sides of the road. Dan and I stopped to take pictures in the rarefied air, which must have been 15,000 feet altitude.

Throughout its length, E-491 was spectacular. Even the Indian villages along the route were more interesting. And then, as we approached the city of Riobamba, we crossed the Pan-American Highway. We spent the night in a spare, but scrupulously clean hotel near the railroad station. By then, we were on the “wrong” side of Chimborazo, which was now covered in clouds.

That was the end of our getting lost: The next day, we easily made our way to Cuenca in about five hours.

The Equatorial Bulge

Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador (19,347 Feet or 5,897 Meters)

The Earth is by no means a perfect sphere. If you are standing at either the North or South Pole, you are some 21 km nearer to the center of the planet than if you were near the Equator. The reason for this is that the rotation of the planet exerts a centrifugal force that makes of the Earth more of an oblate ellipsoid. The illustration below exaggerates this phenomenon, but gives you the general idea:

Earth as an Oblate Ellipsoid

One upshot of this phenomenon is that some of the mountains nearer the Equator are actually higher than any of the Himalayas, including Mount Everest. The so-called Equatorial Bulge calls for a more accurate measure of a mountain’s altitude than distance above sea level—especially as the bulge means that sea level is correspondingly higher. A more accurate measure is distance from the center of the Earth.

Using this measure, Mount Everest just barely makes the top ten list:

The Highest Mountains on Earth Measured by Distance from the Earth’s Center

According to this chart, the highest mountain is a virtual tie between Chimborazo in Ecuador and the South Summit of Huascarán in Peru. In fact, by this measure eight of the ten highest mountains in the world are in the Andes, the only exceptions being Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Everest in Nepal.

Tomorrow, I will repost a blog I wrote about my visit to Mount Chimborazo in 2016.

Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku: Gate of the Sun

I must think I’m going to live forever.Trapped in my apartment during the quarantine, I am thinking more and more about returning to Peru and including the altiplano of Bolivia. Here I am at age 76, thinking of a strenuous trip at high altitude to one of the most fascinating (albeit difficult) places on Earth.

In 2014, I spent some time on the western shore of Lake Titicaca, on the Peru side. I even took a tour on a launch to Isla Taquile and one of the Uros Isles, but as the boat left the dock, I discovered that I was beginning to suffer the effects of food poisoning. The former afternoon at Sillustani, I ate something in a farmer’s house that violently disagreed with me. What is more, I was hours away from a toilet. Under the circumstances, I was not able to appreciate the beauties of Lake Titicaca, and in fact I took no pictures that day.

Map of Lake Titicaca, Showing the Location of Tiwanaku at Lower Right

Just as I returned to Tierra Del Fuego after breaking my shoulder there in 2006, I plan on returning to the Peruvian side of the lake, and adding some parts of Bolivia to the mix. I find myself suddenly interested in the Aymara-speaking peoples of the Andes.

A funny thing happened to me in Puno during my last visit. It was a bitterly cold morning, as it frequently is at that altitude (12,000 feet or 3,700 meters). I had neglected to bring a scarf with me, and I badly needed one. Enter a poor Aymara woman laden down with hand-knitted handicrafts. I walked up to her and brought a beautiful scarf at a reasonable price. Apparently, I made that woman’s day. She broke into a big smile and was almost prepared to welcome me into her family.

Over a thousand years ago, there was an Aymara empire centered at Tiwanaku in modern-day Bolivia. It lasted until AD 1100 when a massive and persistent drought led to a drop in the level of Lake Titicaca, leaving the Aymara fields high and dry. Hundreds of years later, the Inca took over; but their empire was short-lived once the Spanish conquistadores began to move in.

Walls of the Kalasaya Complex at Tiwanaku

Since the eco-catastrophe that destroyed the Aymara empire a thousand years ago, the Aymara have become a scattered people indulging in subsistence agriculture and the herding of llamas and alpacas.