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DO cry for Argentina ;)

We are jumping continents again… back to finish my South America adventures…

Argentina was the first country I visited in South America.  The trip had an unusual origin.  I invited a friend who had just come back from a five month sabbatical in South America to a wine dinner with some Aussie friends.  They asked him his favourite country and he replied Argentina.  At that point I had never been to South America.  It was my missing continent so when my Australian friend decided we should go, I was in.  She was married so we only had 10 days since she was leaving her husband at home in Canada.

That’s when I discovered Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world!  So we wouldn’t be seeing all of it in 10 days… I decided we could spend some time in Buenos Aires, drink wine in Mendoza and check out Iguazu Falls.  It was a magical trip.  What was most amazing is that the logistics mostly worked.  We never got to the Brazilian side of the falls (despite paying a hefty fee and enduring insane archaic bureaucracy to get a visa so we could spend a day in Brazil) because there was a strike…  There were also strikes and protests that meant we never got to eat steak as the strikers were blocking its delivery to restaurants.

part of the culture

Welcome to Argentina!  You should absolutely go!  Just recognize that it is the kind of place for which the term banana republic was created.  It’s a gorgeous country full of natural resources and some of the world’s most beautiful people.  Part of the reason Danny was so keen on Argentina was how many attractive people he met there.  I’m not sure what they put in the water but he was right 😉  While strikes and protests can mar your travel plans, there are lots of lovely people in Argentina.  You feel so sorry that their country is such a mess as they don’t deserve it.

My first trip was back in 2008 when the economy was only starting to recover from the most recent economic catastrophe so there were a lot of cynical Argentinians jealous of Chile.  Buenos Aires was once the Paris of South America and it was the 10th wealthiest nation per capita in 1913.  They did elect Macri and there is finally some hope.

That’s the Argentina that I visited the second time.  When you take the Australis ship you can do a return trip or you can go in one direction.  It’s very expensive and I didn’t get the sense I would see a lot more returning to Chile so chose the Punta Arenas – Ushuaia route.  Ushuaia bills itself as “The End of the World” as there is no population settlement further south anywhere in the world.  It’s where you go if you want to check out Antarctica (so I will likely be back at some point ;).

You likely want to spend the extra to get a transfer to your hotel when you leave the ship.  I was cheap and did not… it all looked easy on the map 🙂  It wasn’t very many blocks to drag my suitcase but what I hadn’t realized was that the entire journey would be on a steep incline with questionable infrastructure like sidewalks… I made it without succumbing to a taxi and the reward at the end of the journey made it very worthwhile.  I would highly recommend the Alto Andino Hotel.  It’s quite small, the staff are very friendly, there is a good breakfast and – the biggest treat – there are sweeping views of the mountains and the Beagle Channel from the top floor. On top of all that, I also had a Jacuzzi bath in my room.  Ushuaia is a small frontier town so it’s an easy walk (without a suitcase!) to find souvenirs, food or drink.  I did have an incredibly difficult time finding water, though. so you may want to pack some.

beautiful breakfast

Just to make sure I knew I wasn’t in Chile any longer, there was a giant protest!  Welcome to Argentina…  Didn’t do anything especially memorable in Ushuaia.  It’s really a transit hub – but it is in a gorgeous location so worth a day if you end up there on your way to somewhere else.

Getting back to Santiago was challenging.  There are only a couple of flights a day from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires so I spent hours at the airport.  It was one of the most abysmal airport experiences of my life.  I had far more fun drinking beer at the outdoor café in Arusha watching the tourist groups come and go and local Tanzanians hang out.  The food and entertainment options were extremely limited and the pizza I finally decided to try tasted like cardboard!  They made it fresh so I was hopeful but maybe they forgot the yeast… At least I didn’t have to switch airports!  LAN Argentina changed my flight several times and I had to call them to finally sort everything out to make sure I could connect to Santiago and what airport I needed.

Argentina is like a telenovela star.  Gorgeous –  but temperamental and difficult at times.  She drives you crazy but she is so seductive you can’t resist… The people of Argentina need your pesos.  Go and meet them.  You’ll fall in love…

 

participating in the local economy…

It is always my goal to try and help the local economy in all countries that I visit.  The easier it is to navigate, the easier it is to acquire information and meet locals so that you can get a better sense whether you are impacting the lives of individual citizens or governments or giant corporations.  Communism is in theory about the people so should make it easier to boost the bank accounts of ordinary people through tourism but it is generally the opposite.

It’s hard to know what is controlled by the government, advertising is suppressed and not everyone is comfortable expressing an honest opinion.  That doesn’t mean you give up though, just that you have to try harder.  As I earlier expressed, I really wished I had done more homework before I arrived in Havana and highly encourage bringing a guidebook!

Of course the other thing that works in every place is to chat with locals.  You might meet some on the Malecon.  It’s a seafront promenade that stretches for seven kilometres.  Personally I found it a little underwhelming and having to navigate several lanes of crazy Latin drivers without traffic lights just made me feel as though I was back in Pompeii risking my life on the roadway so I could catch the bus back to Rome.  There is a lot I like about Latin people but their driving habits are not in that category.  Nevertheless, as long as no one plows you down getting there, it offers a great view of Havana.

great atmosphere

great atmosphere

I preferred to meet my locals in Old Havana where the traffic is mostly on foot.  The most fascinating conversation I had was when I was buying souvenirs on Calle Obispo and met an American who was relocating to Cuba.  He was a big fan and an entertaining guy.  A liberal Republican!  He had lots of interesting views involving a few conspiracy theories.  Much to like.  Much to question 🙂  I had been lured in by a young Cuban entrepreneur promoting his wares on the street so felt I was supporting the local economy.

Also spent some time at Sloppy Joe’s, a restoration project of a Havana institution.  It is definitely new Cuba and an interesting

hipster cuba :)

hipster cuba 🙂

counterpoint to all the crumbling buildings.

The other thing I would recommend is taking a shared taxi.  I didn’t do it on purpose.  The taxi to Plaza de Revolution was so expensive I thought I would walk back but instead just managed to get lost in Nuevo Vedado.  It was illuminating though.  I found a hotel where Cubans would stay rather than foreigners.  Of course, that also meant the guy at the front desk couldn’t call me a taxi.  It was Mother’s Day so taxis were at a premium.

I discovered that it appears the street names in Vedado are marked on stones at ground level rather than signs above eye level… why it is easy to get lost.  Since I had to find my own taxi, I attempted to figure out how to get to a main street and managed to get back to Avenida de los Presidentes, a place I knew well from my earlier experience lost in Havana.  It wasn’t easy to find a taxi that wasn’t filled with passengers but finally a car stopped.  I had read about the shared taxis so figured it was better than being lost.

It was a great insight into the real Cuba.  There are two currencies – local pesos and tourist pesos (which are equivalent to a US dollar).  I had been living in the tourist peso economy and the taxi driver was quoting the fare in local pesos.  The other passengers were lovely and helped me to figure it all out and I think we both won.  It cost me almost nothing and the driver got a crazy tip.

I would definitely encourage you to seek out the real Cuba and support the new entrepreneurs.  One of the easiest ways is dining at paladares.  You will need to seek them out as they are typically on the second floor and advertising is very minimal.  I used my guidebook and discovered a great one and a classic one.

classic cuban cuisine

classic cuban cuisine

The classic one was El Gijones at Prado #309.  You can look out on the Prado and eat a very reasonably priced meal of pork, rice and beans.  Classic Cuban fare.

Even better is to seek out Paladar Los Mercaderes (Mercaderes #207).  It’s a charming, romantic space complete with

capitalist cuba ;)

capitalist cuba 😉

fresh rose petals on a marble staircase.  Some equally charming young men were at street level trying to lure me in but I told them I had already selected it as my dinner location.  I was really early so got incredible service and took my server’s suggestion to splurge on the lobster in coffee sauce.  It’s a Cuban splurge so not too bad on the budget and it was delicious!

It also allowed me to have some intriguing conversations with young Cubans.  Coming of age in Cuba in the 21st century is definitely an interesting experience.  They have grown up with a rich culture and a history longer than almost any in the New World but capitalism is seductive and they sense the need for change.  You can’t begin to debate the merits of capitalism or socialism in under a half hour but I told them Cuba was trending and their lives would be memorable… most memorable for me… they didn’t know what trending meant… why you need to see it now 😉

 

viva la revolution!

It is strange and somewhat disconcerting to be a tourist in a Communist country.  Of course, you can just follow a tourist guide around and not think about it or stay in a posh resort that is wholly capitalist despite the national politics.  I always like to try and understand a place when I visit to the extent my few days immersed in the local culture will allow.

drifting through havana

drifting through havana

Since I only had about five full days in Cuba, I decided to just stick to Havana so that I could try and get a good sense for it and save the rest of Cuba for another visit.  There is plenty to do – and think about – in Havana so I was never bored.  I also went on these crazy walks all over Havana that lasted for hours and frequently resulted in me being lost for some portion of the walk.  The wonderful part of that was that I discovered Havana in a way I never would have just speeding by in a pretty refurbished automobile from the era of Trump’s fantasy America.

I did feel that I should do that at least once, and since I had gotten lost trying to walk to Plaza de Revolución, it seemed a

an eerie place

an eerie place

good case for a fancy ride through Havana.  I would definitely recommend at least one ride in a classic car.  Mine was very expensive compared to everything else in Cuba but, as a gringo, I just accepted I was contributing to the economy.

Plaza de Revolución is a lot different in person that it looks in photos.  There is the fancy metalwork saluting Fidel and Che, which is a compulsory tourist photo.  The square is gigantic and generally eerily empty.  The military presence is very obvious and you realize you are in a police state.  It feels like someone is watching from a hidden camera every moment.  There are lots of signs marking where you can no longer wander.

welcome to china!

welcome to china!

Communism and other forms of dictatorship make me nervous.  I was relieved to get out of the Plaza de Revolución and to another part of Cuba that felt hopeful and festive.  When I was in China, my hotel was close to Tiananmen Square and, despite being a major hosting venue for the Olympics, which had just ended, no taxi driver seemed capable of finding it so I spent a lot of time in Tiananmen Square.  It is an unnerving place to be deposited.  Mao is always looking at you and there are plenty of dudes with rifles milling about.  One of the most bizarre sights was the soldiers standing guard in front of a giant display of the silly Olympic mascots.  There should have been a sign saying “Welcome to China!  It’s complicated.”

All countries are complicated but Communist countries increase the complexity by an exponential degree.  Theoretically, all this communism is FOR the people and offers them a better life than the capitalist pigs would have allowed.  But it’s never really gone down like that.  Every supposedly Communist state is a little different.  ALL love propaganda!  All are comfortable suppressing the truth, controlling the media and rewriting history.  Visiting a Communist country really makes one appreciate the freedoms and benefits of democracy even if not all of its attributes are sublime.

When I was in China, it was entertaining to read the history of Shanghai through the Chinese government’s eyes.  In Cuba, you can get the same experience by visiting the

ya gotta love propaganda ;)

ya gotta love propaganda 😉

Museo de la Revolución.  It is located in the former Presidential Palace so worth visiting just for the architecture.  You will certainly learn about the Cuban Revolution.  You won’t learn much beyond that, though, and it’s all glory and sacrifice and the 1960s.  Just another aspect of Cuba that feels like a time capsule.

fidel is watching you...

fidel is watching you…

It’s important, though, to note that young Castro was a noble guy.  He did some good stuff.  It’s easy to go communism bad, capitalism good, but it’s not at all that simple.  Probably why the vast majority of the people who score high on happiness and quality of life on those international indices live in socialist countries. The best system includes elements of both.

And Castro and team did some remarkable things in Cuba.  They defeated the United States of America!  They got rid of the mob and the casino culture that had overtaken the economy.  They sent young disciples out to rural Cuba to teach everyone how to read so that Cuba now has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.  They also have free education and healthcare and some basic food is provided by the state.  It’s an idealistic concept that would have appealed to the very young men and women who masterminded the Cuban revolution.

The tough part, though, is how to sustain that kind of system and how to be able to interact with a world that doesn’t share the same system.

the iconic che

the iconic che

The original system was more crazy fever dream than well-reasoned new political and economic philosophy.  As an example, I learned that Che Guevara was appointed President of the National Bank of Cuba and Minister of Industry in addition to being in charge of Agrarian Reform.  OK, first, TOO many major jobs.  Second, SERIOUSLY, who appoints a dude who’s a doctor and a guerilla war expert to run the money stuff???

I would encourage you to go to Cuba and check it out for yourself.  Go with an open and inquisitive mind.  There are some good ideas there.  There is a lot of idealism.  There is a lot of pride.  There is also naivety.  Cuba is an example of incredible idealistic ideas brought to fruition – but it is also a cautionary tale that it’s really important to have a plan that’s sustainable and pragmatic enough that your revolution will actually achieve the ideals you hoped it would for the long term.  The hardest part begins the day after the victory parade…

 

 

in cuba the present IS the past…

I still have a little more to say about South America but decided it was time to change locales for a few posts…

You may recall I bumped Cuba up the travel list because I was worried it would be flooded with Starbucks before I got to see it the way I had always romanticized it.  Of course, all that is in question now, which means making a visit soon is likely not as urgent but I would still encourage it.

While I love the internet, it has been responsible for the commoditization of global culture.  I first noticed this in the twilight of the twentieth century when most people still hadn’t figured out how to use the internet.  Even then there was global media, cheap travel and far easier ways to share ideas than had ever existed before in human civilization.

As someone who grew up in the middle of nowhere and dreamed of having access to what was actually going on in the rest of the world, it was exciting.  I was also able to start travelling a lot and quickly understood that it also meant that so many places looked alike that had once been unique.  The trendy bars in Sydney, Paris and San Francisco all looked shockingly similar, devoid of elements that made them reflect their unique local cultures.

What I discovered is that if you got a little more adventurous, you could still find something that surprised you in a delightful way.  It might be in Cambodia, Tanzania or Romania.  It was likely to always be in an emerging market.

In Cuba, things go a little further.  Not only is it unique but you feel like you are visiting history without a time machine.  In Cuba, Fidel, Che and Ernest are still in their prime.

It feels a bit like you are on an acid trip (or how I imagine an acid trip would unfold 😉

There are several shrines to Hemingway.  Pretty much anything associated with Hemingway has a plaque at minimum.  It’s very surreal as there is almost no advertising or promotion in Cuba – except when it comes to the big three.  Coming from a market economy it is both comforting and disconcerting.

But you can just go with the kitsch and not obsess over its moral implications 🙂

worth the price!

worth the price!

One place you really should hit is El Floridita.  It’s been around since 1817 and about 100 years later it acquired a new Catalan immigrant owner, Constantino Ribalaigua who invented the frozen daiquiri in the 1930s.  Neither he nor the daiquiri may have become so famous had it not been for one of his patrons – Ernest Hemingway.

These days there is a bust of Hemingway along with memorabilia and a lot of tourists!  It is the most expensive daiquiri in Cuba (but still cheap by first world standards) and absolutely worth it.  It’s a daiquiri factory still set in the 1950s.

If you are a Hemingway fan, you can also try a mojito at La Bodequita or just hang out at Hotel Ambos Mundos where Hemingway was a resident from 1932 to 1939.

If following Fidel is more your thing, you should head for the Hotel Habana Libre.  It originally opened in 1958 as the

it's 1960 in havana

it’s 1960 in havana

Havana Hilton with Conrad Hilton himself in attendance.  At the time it was Latin America’s tallest and largest hotel and likely the swankiest.

On January 8, 1959 Fidel took residence in suite 2324 as his headquarters.  In October 1960 all American hotels in Cuba were nationalized and the hotel was renamed the Hotel Habana Libre.

a daiquiri worth seeking out

a daiquiri worth seeking out

It’s now owned by the Spanish Melia chain and a great place for a fantastic daiquiri – the best I

the view!

the view!

had in Cuba and about half the price of El Floridita.  There is also a nightclub on the top floor but it wasn’t open when I stumbled upon it on my walk around Havana until you figure it out unofficial excursion.  I was hoping to get a drink and take cool photos of Havana.  Luckily I shared my goals with one of the hotel employees and she took me in an old-fashioned operator controlled elevator to a high floor that felt like something out of the Jetsons.

You can live in the past – or at least visit it 😉  I highly recommend exploring the past and present intermingling in one of the only places left in the world where that experience is still possible.

the evolution of toronto

We will get back to Chile but first a little more on Toronto.

Toronto is the largest city in Canada and, even decades ago, when I made my first visit and the population was considerably smaller, it was an overwhelming place.  I was fortunate in that, in the early days, I always had local guides.

As a child, Toronto seemed as remote and glamorous as Oz and I had no idea how I was going to get there – just that it was a goal.  My interest was further piqued when I met Nancy who was visiting relatives in my remote middle Canada small town.  She didn’t actually live in Toronto but rather in one of the bedroom communities surrounding it.  A trip into the city was no big deal.  We became pen pals and I plied her with questions about the city.

My first Toronto guide was Marissa.  Somehow my Toronto stories always begin elsewhere.  Marissa was living at student residence in the University of Calgary that summer.  It was a popular accommodation choice for students with well-paid jobs in the oil industry.  She was Italian, the first I’d really known.  The Prairies are too cold to attract many immigrants from sunny climes.

At the end of that summer I was heading to London, Ontario to attend the previously mentioned fancy business school so would be about a two hour train ride from Toronto.  She invited me to visit and stay with her family in Downsview.  The Prairies are scarcely populated.  Not all countries are represented but there is a lot of diversity.  Lots of people have several different national groups in their DNA.  Toronto is different.  There are enough immigrants from certain countries that they can band together and create a replica of the old country within the new.

toronto-iconic-streetcarSo I was introduced to Toronto by way of Italy!  Marissa was first generation.  The house was decorated with lots of Roman looking knick-knacks.  We ate Italian food.  We went to the neighbourhood bakery to pick up cannoli.  There was great controversy because her brother’s girlfriend was Jewish.  I wasn’t used to cultures with so many rules.

That’s when I discovered there were all sorts of cultural communities within Toronto.  Almost any cultural group had enough members immigrating to Toronto that they could band together.  Often a few people started the pattern and then others followed because they knew there was a community to welcome them and immigration would be less daunting.  The early arrivals established a safe place, which attracted new arrivals looking for a mix of new opportunities and familiar tastes and smells.

Modern day Toronto is possibly the most multicultural city in the world.  About half the population is composed of immigrants and over 200 ethnic groups and 140 languages are represented.  This means that Toronto is full of festivals and events.  If you are OK with crowds, that’s when I would come.  There are festivals for almost any interest you might have.

One of my most significant festival memories was a festival called the International Caravan.  Apparently, it died out in 2005 and it wouldn’t be the same even if it did still exist.  In those days, Toronto was smaller and it was phenomenally safe for a large city.  Its nickname was “Toronto the Good”.  The concept of the International Caravan was to get a passport and go to national associations all over the city to try the food and see the music and dance of the old country.

The festival was created in 1969 to try and bring together the various national groups who tended to live in their silos in different communities.  I went to my first Caravan the first year I actually lived in the city.  My boyfriend had grown up in the city and we journeyed all over town, walking countless blocks, even to neighbourhoods with a shady reputation.  Sure, there was haggis and elaborate Ukrainian dancing and I was young and desperate to learn about all the countries I couldn’t yet afford to visit but what it really taught me was that there were all these different neighbourhoods, each filled with a unique character developed by the melding of all the cultures that had settled there.

1985 Toronto was a harbinger of 21st century Canada.  21st century Toronto is a city where you experience the entire world.  Next year is Canada’s 150th birthday so the celebrations are likely to be better than ever.  Check out a festival.  Or just pick a neighborhood and wander.  That’s where you will find the real Toronto, the one that left such an imprint on my life…

YOU ARE what you buy – and do…

I am not planning to become a political commentator but, thanks to my grandmother’s son, I have been incredibly political my whole life.  When I was young, people thought I would be Prime Minister and I kind of thought they might be right 😉  But once I got to the big city and discovered the ugly compromises it generally requires, I resigned as the Secretary of the Young Progressive Conservatives at the University of Manitoba.

It didn’t mean that I stopped caring or totally abandoned politics.  When I was so hoping for the Hillary win, I was thinking of my dad, wishing he was still alive so I could call him to discuss – and remembering when we watched Jimmy Carter get elected.  One of my favourite memories.  Jimmy was a far more interesting outsider than Donald and still one of my favourite Presidents.  The truth is, people, Presidents are just part of the machinery and – if you don’t have a corrupt, incompetent system – they often set the tone rather than develop and pass all the legislation so I judge them more on what they do after they get that famous – and Jimmy has been a superstar.

It’s odd talking about Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump in the same sentence.  I do think there is a chance though that he is a different guy than we have seen.  I am going to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Hey, my grandmother inspired me and I have adopted a lot of her values in my adult life and I have a lot of admiration for her but that lady scared the shit out of me through most of my childhood 😉  She was one of the toughest people I have ever met.  She had some totally kookoo ideas. Despite the fact that she was fond of her Native Canadian son-in-law, she said things that were shockingly racist and made me uncomfortable.

She never had a passport.  She took long bus trips when she was so elderly most people couldn’t have made it up the steps.  She was a fighter.  She loved her family.  She loved westerns and young people.  She was a force of nature and I am so happy she was part of my inspirational life.

But she was not perfect – and she had the kind of world view some of the people who voted for Donald Trump had.  Politically, she was a hot mess.  I think it was the Conservatives she hated her whole life.  I know it had something to do about the price of eggs during that administration.  She was a farmer.  My father would argue with her but it never mattered.

I have been reading and listening copiously the past few days.  My takeaway is my very special privileged life.  I was raised in a place that isn’t dissimilar to the disaffected people who made Donald Trump President.  I was crazy ambitious so I turned myself into one of the elite who is sometimes resented by members of my own family.

I’ve toggled between the worlds – along with lots of other permutations and combinations, having now been to 58 countries – and it has made me far more sensitive and understanding of the entire world order.

Trump is an opportunist who seized on stuff I never would because my moral compass is WAY higher but there is value in us all getting out of our normal perspective and trying to understand – and more importantly respect – the other guy.

Sure, Trump is a bully and a lot of his supporters are bullies.  BUT I am NOT really an elite person.  I am a girl who passes for elite…

And lots of the elite are bullies too.  I managed to finagle my way into a very elite university program only to discover I had no way to bond with all these rich kids who had not been able to arm wrestle at eleven because part of their day was spent carrying ten gallon pails full of chop, which is pig food for all of you non-farm people.

I am trying to find something positive about the Trump presidency but I am listening to Colbert as I type this and it’s tough.

Trump is no ME.  He doesn’t understand at all the people who voted him in.  I hope they will call him out if he doesn’t represent them.  The big challenge is that the world is a complex place.  We are lucky in western democracies to have systems that can generally protect the average person.  We already know that I wanted Hillary… but I think I really liked Bernie better.

The truth is politics is a tough, messy business.  As is life.  It is SO hard to find a solution that will responsibly let national citizens prosper and thrive.

I’ve never known how my father voted.  Only that he really cared about the world.  Not even about democracy.  He seemed to be onboard when I decided at about age thirteen the best political system was likely benevolent dictatorship… but finding the right dictator such a tough call that democracy was the next best and workable option.

As a REAL OUTSIDER, what I would suggest to Americans is that they need to talk TO each other, rather than AT each other.  That is their biggest problem.  The elite can be pompous and insensitive.  The frustrated can be angry and unreasonable.

You may not like it but the world is constantly changing and you just need to accept it and try to find the best way to embrace it.  I have so much sympathy and compassion for the people in the Rust Belt whose jobs have been taken over by a robot or a cheaper worker but you have to realize those workers used to be really poor – as you were a century or so before – so they are grateful for the jobs, which have made THEIR lives better…

The big change that has happened in the last hundred years is that there is a lot more wealth.  The bad part is that we have allowed that wealth to become concentrated in too few hands.  A lot of us are victims of marketing.  If you really want to change the world and bring jobs back to your region, support your local entrepreneurs – even if it costs a little more.  We need to rebuild our sense of community.  We can’t stop globalization and it is not all bad – but we have lost each other’s back…

Enter the Trump machine… It’s up to you.  We can stop him.  He doesn’t have a lot of original ideas…

 

the beauty at the end of the world

Patagonia is not a land for wimps.  I had been drawn to visit by a travel article that made the trip to Cape Horn sound like an adventure.  The Australis team is very zodiac-experienceprofessional and you feel that you are in safe hands.  It will be an adventure but draped in first world safety standards.  Quite different to being trapped on a runaway elephant sans driver in the Thai jungle…

It was my first time on a zodiac though and I had seen enough of the Strait of Magellan by then to know I did NOT want to be in that water!  First you are suited up in lifejackets.  You then go through detailed instructions, which are repeated every time.  It isn’t particularly difficult but you do need to follow the procedures to avoid tipping the raft.  It’s an adventure for small-a adventure people.  People who likely don’t swim with sharks, climb Mt Everest or paraglide over the Grand Canyon.

We all got on the zodiac without incident but everyone was pretty quiet and there wasn’t even a lot of photos being taken.  No one wanted to tilt us into the Pacific Ocean.  The zodiac driver employed only modest speed and tried not to scare us.  I am always fascinated watching pampered first world travellers morph into greater adventurers.  Even by the return trip to the ship, you could see people were relaxing on the zodiac and the driver gunned it once he knew we could handle it.

That was probably because the harder hike was indeed harder.  By Navy Seal standards, a walk in a particularly pleasant park but we had been expecting something more 60+ friendly.  Everyone made it but our tour leader just quickly led the way without paying too much attention if everyone was right behind her.  There was enough elevation for heavy breathing and. in some places, you had to pull yourself up by grabbing a rope and making your way along its length, frequently through enough mud to destroy your footwear for any other future purpose.

22-stunning-patagonian-landscapeIt was all quite exhilarating and the view from the top made it totally worthwhile. And this is a luxury cruise, so all physical efforts are rewarded with hot chocolate, whiskey or both.

There is a lot of time on the ship to chill out – or be brave and take photos in the frosty air.  I did a lot of the latter.  Luckily, I grew up in one of the coldest places on the planet so freezing my fingers off for a photo seems a fair trade-off.

In the afternoon, we got to put our zodiac skills to use a second time.  This time we just cruised around a couple of islands admiring cormorants and penguins.  It’s always amazing to see wildlife in abundance IN THE WILD in our over processed modern world.  Patagonia has done a good job of maintaining its natural splendor.

cormorants posing for tourists ;)

cormorants posing for tourists 😉

Part of the credit goes to Doug Tompkins, one of those rare local hero types who can actually turn money made from being a good businessman to money spent actually doing something good for the entire world.  He was the guy who created, along with his first wife, The North Face and Esprit.  He first travelled to Patagonia in the 1960s and in 1968 did a famous trip with Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia Inc.) where they put up a new route on Mount Fitzroy.  Growing disillusioned of the environmental impact of the fashion industry, he channelled his Esprit profits into conservation.

yes I know I'm cute ;)

yes I know I’m cute 😉

He moved to Chilean Patagonia.  At first, he explored the wilderness of the region, eventually setting up the Foundation for Deep Ecology, The Conservation Land Trust and Conservacion Patagonia.  He also married Kristine McDivitt Wear who had been the CEO of Patagonia Inc.  North Face meets Patagonia… quite the love story.

Not surprisingly, they both shared the same retirement goals – land conservation, environmental activism and biodiversity.  Tompkins used his retail riches to buy up land in Patagonia to save it from mercantile uses.  This land grab by a foreigner was regarded with suspicion by locals.  He was at various points accused of being a spy, of buying up land to create a Zionist enclave, and of planning to ship Chile’s fresh water to parched lands overseas.

Instead, his goal was to turn the land into national parks working with the national governments of Chile and Argentina.  It appears he has made great progress in convincing everyone that there is benefit for everyone in creating national parks in Patagonia along with wildlife protection, biodiversity and sustainable organic farming practices.  It all sounds a little too good to be true but go to Patagonia and see for yourself.  The end of the world is a stunningly beautiful place full of fresh air and star-studded skies.

Sadly Doug Tompkins died in 2015 while on what he thought was an easy kayaking trip with a bunch of old friends.  No doubt it was probably a manner of death he would have chosen for himself.  Kristine continues on their legacy and the future looks promising.  According to The Guardian, the Chilean government announced the day after Tompkin’s death that Pumalín Park, one of Tompkins’ earliest acquisitions, would become a national park in March 2017 but the website suggests that it is already open.

Writing about Doug and Kristine is a great antidote to thinking about the US election and how most of the rich people spend their money.  I am incredibly hard to impress but Doug Tompkins goes on the hero board.  What a wonderful world it would be if this is what all billionaires did with their riches…

 

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