Uruguay

We were all set to go to Bariloche, the Patagonia resort town in the andes, when this happened:

The erruption of the volcano Calbucco for the first time in 42 years covered Bariloche and the surrounding areas with about an inch of ash two days before we were planning to arrive.  A new plan was required and so we quickly shifted gears and planned a get away across the Rio Platte to neighboring Uruguay.

Given the uncertainty around air travel due to the volcanic ash, we took the two hour boat ride on the Buquebus across the river to Motivideo.  The boat was a great experience, very easy and mellow ride.   We got to see the sun rise over the river

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We then drove from the Urguayan capital of Montivideo to the amazing town of Jose Ignacio.  We spent the first three days at the Estancia Vik, a gorgeous estancia about 10km from the beach town.

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The estancia is simply amazing.   Each room is decorated with the art of a local artists and they were truly unique.  Staff was very thoughtful and accommodating.  Also, it was just fun to live among the animals.  There were cows and horses grazing right outside our door and the kids enjoyed running around and chasing them as well as the Ńandú.  The horse back riding was great as was the kayaking along the river. Despite two utterly botched fishing attempts we generally had a great time.

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We then moved to the Playa Vik.  As beautiful as the Estancia Vik property was, Playa Vik was even more spectacular.  Perched right up on the beach, this hotel is itself a work of art.  Simply amazing design.  It also features a number of beautiful works of art both in the main building and the rooms.

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There were, however, a few small setbacks.  First was the weather.  While we got a few nice days at Estancia Vik, by the time we made it to the Playa, the weather had changed to pretty chilly.  We had some fun climbing around on the rocks on the beach, but a beach town in the cold isn’t optimal.  The second (related) problem is that the season had ended.  As a result everything in the small town of Jose Ignacio was closed.  No little shops, no places to get ice cream, no boats to rent etc..This was also true in Punta Del Este, the major beach resort town about 30km away.  Although there were a few open places, it certainly lacked a vitality of a beach town.  We had to resort to a few local spots for lunch,  but  fortunately managed to avoid Mr. Chivito. Had we been escaping our normally busy lives, a week in isolation might have been a welcome change of pace, but given our relatively quiet existence, it was a bit too quiet.

Bearing the cold
Bearing the cold

We were, however, fortunate to go to one amazing restaurant in town called La Huella.  One of the coolest spots we’ve ever seen.  Right on the beach, super chic but modern and understated.  We are looking forward to our return visit.

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So while it wasn’t the perfect vacation, we are certainly glad that the volcano erupted before we arrived in town and we managed to get to know a new place.

5%: Cinqo por ciento

One of the most difficult challenges of parenting is striking the appropriate balance between putting kids in challenging situations and not asking them to do something  they are unable to do.  By definition, learning anything new requires a child to encounter an unfamiliar obstacle and overcome it.  At the same time, we wouldn’t ask a seven year old to understand calculus  as it would just be impossible for him and cause needless frustration.

This problem is particularly acute for us this year in terms of Jake’s learning of Spanish. We want him to learn the language and have sent him to a school where the majority of the curriculum is taught in Spanish and all of the children are native Spanish speakers.  At the same time, we want to be sure that the environment provides him the tools he needs to grasp the language so that we are not assigning him an impossible task.

Adding to the complexity is that we have to rely on Jake to tell us how he’s doing.  Over the past couple of weeks, each time we ask him how much he understands, he tells us “nothing” or “almost nothing.”  Now, we have suspected that this is hyperbole designed to elicit sympathy, but honestly it has nagged at us.  Have we been pushing him too hard?

Last week, I finally sat him down for a heart to heart and asked him, “seriously, how much do you understand?”  He looked me in the eye and said “5%”  I asked again “honestly, so if the teacher says 100 things, you only understand 5?”  “Yes,” he said. To be sure we were communicating clearly, I gave him an example where I said “no” 95 times and then “yes” 5 times to be sure he was expressing the concept correctly.  He responded that maybe 5% was too much and it was more like 4%.  I was devastated.  I’ve always thought that this trip would be so good for the kids, but maybe it’s just too much.  Maybe, I’ve put my own aspirations ahead of my kid’s ability. I felt pretty crappy and resolved to look into this.

Fortunately,two days later, we had a meeting at the school with the principal to get a progress report on the kids.  When I asked the principal the same question as to how much Jake understood she told me “100%”

100%?!  are you certain?”

She replied that there was no doubt.  She said that Jake can follow the entire Spanish curriculum and act as instructed.  While his teachers had previously would help him by speaking English from time to time, he had now reached the level where that was no longer necessary. While Jake has complained about this new situation, the teachers all agree that he is now ready to take this step and it is best for him.

I wanted to both jump for joy and run downstairs and wring his neck.  I wish that there was some brilliant conclusion I could make from this story, but at this time I’m just happy that he is making progress.  The one thing I can say is that it’s vitally important to go to a school where they know your kid.  We have been very pleased with the school in this respect and it was reassuring to have a headmistress who was so intimately familiar with my kid.

La Super Vergüenza (The Super Embarrassment)

Since I am a big sports fan, I thought it would be a fun thing to do to follow a local fútbol team while we lived here.  It’s also a great way to integrate into the community since it’s an easy topic to discuss with virtually anyone.  After consultation with some friends, we picked the Boca Juniors as our team.

Boca is sort of the New York Yankees of the Argentine soccer leagues.  They have the greatest history of all the teams in the country. Boca’s hated rival is River Plate.  Their rivalry is similar to the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry but perhaps more intense since both teams are based in Buenos Aires. For a sense of it, it’s estimated that 70% of Argentines route for one of these two teams.   The Boca vs. River games are known as Super Clássicos and have a storied history involving both intensity and tragedy.

The soccer calendar works a bit differently than professional sports leagues in the States.  Here, each team plays both in tournaments and in regularly scheduled league games in the same time period.  So, for example, during April and May Boca was playing both in the regularly scheduled Argentine Football League games on Sundays and the Copa Libertadores on Thursdays.

The result of all this was  there were 3 superclásicos scheduled in a two week period, two games for the Copa and one regular season game.  This was truly unusual and all of Buenos Aires was buzzing about the games.  I had some very interesting conversations with the taxi drivers and others folks around town about the games.

The first game  was a regular season game which went to Boca 3-0 at Boca’s home stadium.  River returned serve by winning the next game, a Copa game 1-0 at their stadium.   The score of the second game was particularly important because the way that the soccer tournaments play elimination rounds with only two games.   If each team wins one game, the team with the most goals wins and, if the number of goals is tied, goals scored at the opposing team’s stadium count double.  So, going into the final Super Clásico, Boca needed to win the game and, if River scored, to win by two in order to advance.

Unfortunately it was not to be.  After a back a forth first half that left the score tied at zero, something completely crazy happened.  As the River team made its way to the field for the second half, some  Boca “fans” sprayed pepper spray into the tunnel the players use to access the field.  Chaos erupted as the River players poured water on their eyes to try and stop the burning.  As the team and officials huddled trying to figure out what to do, a shouting match broke out between the coach of Boca, who apparently wanted to play on and the President of River, who apparently told the Boca coach “I speak only to circus owners, not to monkeys.”    After an hour of debate, the game was suspended.  The players had to wait for about 30 minutes for the fans to clear out so that they could safely leave the field.  The Boca players then created a mini-controversy by applauding to the small group of their hard core fans who remained.


boca3

It’s hard to know what to make of all this, but some basic observations.  First, I was disappointed that a couple of idiots ruined what was going to be a good game.  While their conduct was reprehensible, it certainly doesn’t represent the majority of fans, many of whom took to Twitter to apologize. Second, sadly this does show the sad state of soccer stadium safety.  There are many measures in place, but it seems like the hard core hooligan types have deals with corrupt officials to enable them to sneak all sorts of things into the games.  Third, there was an ugly bout of classism that broke out.  Although Boca is the most popular team in the country, it’s history is that of a working class team and it remains situated in a pretty rough part of town.  After the tragedy, some River fans took to the media to describe the actions as typical of the criminal Boca fans.  Finally, it does reveal a lack of respect for authority that exists throughout the country.  Although the pepper spray incident was unusual, it is absolutely normal to see things thrown on to the field and have fans climbing the walls.   So, as insane as this sounds, it seems as if it was really was just a matter of time.

Boca-Juniors-fans-FILES-B-007Bocafans

Tapas

A couple of little tastes of from the last two weeks; like eating Tapas.

My parents came to visit.  It was so nice having our first guests in BA and showing them the life that we have built.  It also reminded us how far we have come.  So many of the things that were foreign to them are now second nature to us.

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Naturally we took them to our favorite places like Don Julio and La Dorita.  We also took the excellent hop on- hop off tourist bus around BA. It was a great way to get out and see more of the city.  With stops at Teatro Colon (still haven’t been), San Telmo Market, The Obelisk and La Boca it was a great chance to get to be a tourist in our home city

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We also took my folks to  an Estancia (and got a gigantic bus to take us there.

Big Bus!
Big Bus!
The Estancia
The Estancia
New Friends
New Friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a tearful goodbye with my folks, we got right back into the swing of things with an amazing visit to a local artist. We had seen the work of Eugenio Cuttica at the Museo del Bellas Artes.  We loved his work and tired to see if he was represented by any local galleries.  When Michele discovered that he was currently in Buenos Aires and his manager/ wife suggested that we come to his studio check out his works.  Pretty nice sales job if you ask me.  He was a sweet and interesting guy and we had a lovely visit with him.   Of course, we purchased  a painting (the on the right) but only after Michele’s excellent price negotiation.

Lovely but scary
Lovely but scary
Calm
Calm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our time with the  family Cuttico, we dropped by El Obrero for dinner.  Amazing old school steak joint and one of our best dining experiences in Buenos Aires.  The waiter suggested a $7 bottle of wine which was as good as anything I’ve tasted since I’ve been here.  Also, who is my wife for suggesting a run down steakhouse decorated with futbol memorabilia?

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Panorama Shot (Check out the pictures of Maradona)
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Who is this woman?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate continues to soldier on admirably. She went with her school on a two night trip to Rosario to visit the museum of the national flag. We couldn’t be prouder of how she is doing.

When she returned,  we had a family evening at home on Friday to relax. We were sitting around the table when we started to hear explosions. We looked out the window and sure enough it was FIREWORKS for the graduation of the mounted police academy that is next door. Needless to say, we spent the next 20 minutes enjoying the show.

Stumbling upon a fireworks show is an ideal metaphor for our trip. Having given up the normal and certain we have opened ourselves up to the surprising and serendipitous.  Speaking of which, the next day we went El Caurtito a 70 year old pizzeria that hasn’t seen a remodel in 20 years but is serving amazingly delicious stuffed pizza.

Señor Jake likes it
Señor Jake likes it
Yummmy
Yummmy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then visited the fair that the federal government put on for Independence Day weekend.  It was a bit creepy to see such blatant propaganda as the theme of the fair was all the things that the government does (military, education, tech innovation).  The event wasn’t exactly jam packed, perhaps due to the current government’s standing with the local people.

With San Martin El Liberatador
With San Martin El Liberatador
Young patriots!
Young patriots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Independence Day weekend went to two separate Asados, one at the home of Enrique Shaw, who was a friend of our friend Will Price and the second at the home of Keri MacDonald who is a friend of our friendEugenie VanWynen.  We enjoyed both of evenings liberally and continue to be amazed the generosity and warmth that these Argentines have shown to us wanders.

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The whole gang and the Asado
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Mateo runs a mean Asado
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Enrique’s Asadito
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The chef and I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also visited our favorite restaurant in Buenos Aires Casa Felix .  This is a closed door restaurant that we had visited on our scouting trip to Argentina.  The owner, Diego Felix is an Argentine who married an American so they made a side business of traveling  to the United States and cooking private dinners in a venture called Collectivo Felix .  Last year the gang made us an AMAZING dinner for 12 at our home, and I’d highly recommend this experience.

We had certainly intended to visit Casa Felix,  but hadn’t had a chance to do so as we were trying out new things.  It turns out that our visit coincided with the last night that Diego would be in Argentina as he and his family are permanently relocating to the United States.  Another bit of serendipity!

As we sat down to enjoy our meal, we met a young lady who was traveling alone.  Michele invited her to dine with us, which, to be honest, is not something we would have done in the past.  So our travels have made us more open to new people as well as new experiences, and, as Martha would say, that’s a good thing.

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Making new friends
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Insane corn soup

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Birthdays, broken arms and scarlet fever

Things seemed to progressing along nicely. The kids went to a birthday party at a friends on Friday night and we we were looking forward to fun weekend.

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Science
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Viva la victory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weather was beautiful so I took Kate to the 3 Febrero Park for some roller skating. In the U.S. this would have entailed getting helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist pads and insurance waivers. In Argentina, it involved handing our shoes and $8 to a lady with a pile of roller skates.

I admit that I had a few moments of anxiety, mostly over how mad Michele would be if Kate crashed and broke her arm, but it was a beautiful day and off we went.  The park is gorgeous and there was all sorts of great people watching including a rock band, two comedians, a big group of people doing aerobics and skaters of all levels of skill.  Despite all my concerns, we emerged totally unscathed!

A few hours later, in the safety of our own home, we heard a loud crash followed closely by Kate screaming.  After a painful evening, we took her to the doctors and sure enough, she had broker her wrist doing gymnastics in her room.

Doctor says its busted
Doctor says its busted
Look a cast!
Look a cast!

Medical care here is different from the states because the doctors spend much more time with the patients. They do the examinations themselves and even put Kate’s cast on.  As usual, Kate was undaunted by her injury and valiantly returned to school with her arm in a sling, which is a good thing because two days later was HER 10th Birthday!

Breakfast surprise
Breakfast surprise
Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michele was an absolute champion, decorating the apartment and baking not one, but two birthday cakes for Kate (one for us and one to bring to school).  The big surprise for Kate was that we got her earrings and got her ears pierced, which is nice here because they actually came to apartment to do it.

The kids weren’t the only ones having adventures.  I went to visit the Boca Juniors to talk about their technology strategy, which was fascinating.  I got a nice tour of the stadium and the practice field.  Interestingly, they have so many championship trophies that they are literally scattered about the office.

Practice pitch
Practice pitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also went to Correa a place where they still custom make shoes.  Incredible level of craftmanship.  I left with a nice  brown leather pair, but will have to wait a month until my size 12.5 blue dress pair is ready.

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Kate also had her first friend over for a sleep over.  They had a great time chatting the night away after we went out for some ice cream. Seemed like everything was going great.  The only bummer was the Jake was running a bit of a fever, but it was just a cold right?

We're staying up all night!
We’re staying up all night!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrong.  Monday morning after 4 days of a high fever, we finally brought Jake to the doctors and it turned out that he had Scarlet Fever.  Isn’t that what Helen Keller had?!  Well actually it is, but thankfully with penicillin, it’s not a big deal along if treated properly.

With one kid with a broken wrist and another with Scarlett Fever, we were starting to feel a bit beleaguered I will admit, there were a couple of rough days in there when we felt pretty isolated and frustrated.   What I’ve noticed, however, is that every time we have a bump in the road, we come out of it stronger and more focused on making the most of our time here.  And when you think about it, isn’t this just a metaphor for our entire lives?

The Falls

The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words, and there is really no better example than our trip to Iguazu Falls.  A definite highlight of our trip thus far.  The timing couldn’t have been better as the family was coming off a bout of different illnesses.  We arrived on Friday night and stayed at the Sheraton which is right in the middle of the National Park.  On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we took long hikes through the park seeing the various waterfalls from different vistas.  Saturday we added an “adventure tour” that included repelling off a cliff and taking a zip line through the canopy.  We also saw all sorts of wildlife including monkeys (not just Jake) and coati which are little Argentinian racoons.

 

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Ta da!
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Rainbow over the falls
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Whoa!
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Tiger

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two monkeys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our trip coincided with the Grateful Dead final concert series in Santa Clara.  While I certainly would have liked to see the show, it was great to have this experience at the same time.  Also, the concert was notable for the giant rainbow that appeared above the stadium.  It was therefore only appropriate that we were at a place known for its beautiful rainbows.

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Panorama Rainbow
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Family (thank you Tom Andrus)
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At The Devil’s Throat
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Rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes
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Under the falls
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Getting wet
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On the bridge
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Great view
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Rainbow boy

 

Las Semanas Obscuras (The Dark Weeks)

Every worthwhile pursuit in life has its difficult moments. Whether it’s suffering through twice daily high school football practices, working around the clock to complete some impossible project at work or slogging through sleep deprivation to care for screaming infants, the pattern remains the same. The best experiences in life are invariably accompanied by suffering. So too with our trip. Beginning on June 1 we went through a 5 week period during which someone was sick every day. First Jake, then me, then both Kate and Michele then Jake again, then Michele for a second time. Our sore throats and fevers were not remotely serious, however, they certainly cast a pall over our adventure. Confined to our apartment, our isolation intensified and our journey began to feel like a chore. While the eject button was never actually pushed, it was certainly located and perhaps the safety glass covering it was raised. However, as of this writing, the clouds have parted and the sun is shining through. Everyone is in good health and we are once again energized and excited about the journey. Kate’s cast is gone and she is back to horseback riding.  She recently received a good grade in her Spanish class, which is quite remarkable considering she is in a class with all native speakers.   Jake actually admitted that he was looking forward to going to school and we hear him speaking in Spanish from time to time. Michele and I took an intensive Spanish class for 4 hours each day this week and began to see real improvement in our Spanish. We also had two separate dinners with friends this week, though we are still trying to get used to wrapping those up at 1am.  Winter break has just begun for the kids.  They now have two weeks off during which we are going to Chile to visit the desert and do a little skiing.  We are incredibly proud of them for making it through their first semester and we think that the second semester will be markedly easier for them.

While the prior weeks were difficult, they were not without their moments.  We were invited to watch Argentina play in the finals of the Coupa de America at some friends houses.  Unfortunately Argentina fell to the home team from Chile in penalty kicks, but it was a terrific game.  Our hosts’ son wept unabashedly after the loss and we skipped out on the post game fiesta due to the gloomy mood.

La Coupa: Que Lastima!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a couple of particularly fun meals at Dandy and San Juanino, the latter of which has become a personal favorite. They serve regional cuisine such as empandadas and locro and the house wine comes in pitchers shaped like penguins.

San Juanino!
San Juanino!
Yummy!
Yummy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also visited the Evita museum which tells the incredible story of Eva Peron. While the effectiveness of her policies are certainly questionable to say the least, she was an early advocate for social justice and a charismatic leader who won the hearts of many Argentines. Her story is truly remarkable.

My ladies with Evita
My ladies with Evita
Evita
Evita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also were invited to the big party at the Ambassador’s house for US Independence Day. Although we weren’t in full fledge party mode owing to the aforementioned illnesses, we still managed to enjoy the party and dance a little bit. We met some interesting people including a woman nearing her sixties who told us that we were “about her age” much to our dismay.

Independence Day at the Embassy
Independence Day at the Embassy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were thrilled that the Mitics, our good friends from the states, dropped into BsAs for a two week visit. We managed to catch up with them for a couple of nights and it was wonderful to see old friends. In fact, if they are reading this, I credit them entirely with the turn in our fortunes.

Con mis amigos!  Esutvimos extrañando Aileen
Con mis amigos! Esutvimos extrañando Aileen
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The ladies go shopping.
Friends!
Cowabunga!
Cowabunga!

When people ask me “how’s it going” I tell them it’s like calling someone who is 5 miles into a 10 mile run. I can tell it’s a good run, but at the moment my legs hurt, I’m tired as hell and I still have 5 miles to go. I have no doubt, however, that when the run is finished, it will all be worth it.

El Desierto de Atacama

We began our winter vacation in the Atacama desert in the north of neighboring Chile. After a 5:15 wake up call and an adventure getting our luggage when changing planes in Santiago, the trip was off to a bit of rocky start. Things immediately turned around once we arrived in at the Calama airport and were greeted by Sebastian our guide from the Awasi hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.  The Awasi is just a wonderful hotel and I can’t possibly say enough good things about the service.  We had our own guide who helped us plan our excursions and then accompanied us on each of them explaining the flora, fauna and geology of the region and bringing along little engañitos (treats) to keep our bellies full.

What makes the Atacama region so special is that it is a high desert surrounded by the massive Andes mountain chain with a number of active volcanoes.  The region’s main town, San Pedro de Atacama, is at about 10,000 ft above sea level.  Our excursions took us up to almost 14,000 feet while the nearby peaks reached up above 17,000 feet.  By way of comparison, the highest peak in the continental US is Mt. Whitney at 14.5k.

The region is full of micro-climates including barren salt flats, lush canyons filled with rivers from the melting snow pack and barren rocky terrain at altitude.  San Pedro is built on an oasis where the run off from the Andes has created on aquifer.  The many different climates creates a number different types of spots  to explore.

Our first mini-excursion was to watch the sunset from the ridge of the Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley).  After a long day of travel, I wasn’t sure we would be up for it, but we saw an absolutely spectacular sunset.  This little trip gave us a clue that we were in for a special vacation.

Sunset from Valle de la Muerte
WOW!

The next day we set out for Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) a series of hills and sand dunes caused by the eruptions of the near by volcanoes.  It was other worldly.

The sand dunes from Valle de la Luna
The sand dunes from Valle de la Luna
The family braves the Valle de la Luna

We then proceeded to explore some caves in the area. The kids were thrilled to be wearing headlamps and climbing around.

Headlamps!
Headlamps!
Atop the valley with a view of the sand dunes
Atop the valley with a view of the sand dunes
Climbing
Climbing

We stopped back at the hotel for some lunch and R&R and then headed out to the Salar de Atacama, the actual salt flats.  Again, a totally different landscape but equally otherworldly.  We also go a chance to see a flock of flamingos that inhabits the salt flats, living off tiny little shrimp.

Toto we are not in Kansas
Toto we are not in Kansas
Young Flamingo
Young Flamingo
Professor Kate studies her subject
Professor Kate studies her subject
Jake surveys the scene
Jake surveys the scene

This would have made for a full day, but Sebastian drove us outside the salt flat to a spot just underneath the Lascar volcano (which I adopted as my personal favorite) to watch the sunset.  There is something just magical about a desert sunset and being alone in this vast space, the family just roving around, made for one of the best parts of our trip.

Sunset Yoga
Sunset Yoga
A big hug
A big hug
Mountains at Sunset
Mountains at Sunset
So big
So big
Goofing off at sunset
Goofing off at sunset
Looking at Lascar
Looking at Lascar

The following day the girls stayed back at the ranch while Jake and I headed toward Guatin to hike through one of the valleys.  Once again, the landscape changed dramatically as we descended from an arid desert into a valley filled with pampas grass with a river running through it.

Small rapid
Small rapid
Big catcus
Big catcus
On the trail out of the valley
On the trail out of the valley
At Punta del Inca
At Punta del Inca
King of the Cacti
King of the Cacti

After a nice lunch and a couple of hands of truco, we set out to revisit the Valle de la Muerte.  This type the team was on horseback.

Ride em Kate
Ride em Kate

After a pretty mellow ride we came to the foot of these giant sand dunes.  Naturally we got snow boards and rode them down the hill which made for a pretty terrific adventure

Kate hangs ten
Kate hangs ten
Kate at the bottom
Kate at the bottom

The next day we went for a full day excursion.  We began by climbing to 13,500 feet to visit the geysers of Taito.  It was a beautiful drive and we saw llamas and wild vicuñas (which are small camels).

Whatchu lookin at Willis?
Whatchu lookin at Willis?

The geysers are  really the same geothermic phenomenon that you see in Yellowstone where heat from the earth’s crust warms up water and creates a geyser when the chemicals cause the warm water to shoot upward.  There are multiple geysers at this particular site and it is possible to see brand new holes that will soon result in geysers in a number of spots.

Kate tracks a stray vicuña
Kate tracks a stray vicuña
Family with geysers
Family with geysers
Geyser filled landscape
Geyser filled landscape

After walking through the geyers we then drove over the top of a small pass where we could see the remaining of the Inca trail over the volcano Linzor to what is now Bolivia.  This was my favorite spot of all of our time in Atacama and I hope to get a chance to return some day to hike it.

My favorite spot
My favorite spot
The way to peru
The way to peru

It was pretty chilly at 13,5k feet, so we hustled down the mountain to some natural hotsprings (Los Baños de Puritama) for a quick dip and a picnic.   The kids loved it.

Fun!
Fun!

After yet another wonderful meal at the Awasi (where Senor Apple plied us with delightful Chilean wines) and a two man band played some local tunes, we ended our last day in Atacama with some star gazing.  Atacama is one of the best places to look at the stars in the world because it is high, dry and has very little light pollution owing to the sparse population.  Many of the world’s great observatories are located there.  We went over to the local guides’ home where he had a number of telescopes in his backyard.  We were able to see the Milky Way with our naked eye, including what the Incas referred to as the great llama in the sky.  We also got to see Saturn and the Moon through his telescope.

moon_99_02_23_south

An incredible adventure.  We are really proud of how the kids handled some difficult conditions (cold, altitude, lots of driving, learning to snow board on sand) and we had a spectacular time.  If you are looking for a truly unique adventure, the Atacama desert has our strong endrosement.

Valle Nevado

The desert set the bar pretty high for the rest of the vacation, but we followed up with a great ski trip.  After a two flight back to Santiago, we drove up to the lovely Chilean ski resort, Valle Nevado.  As the crow flies, the resort is only about 40 miles away from the capital city, but the road is a bit of an adventure.  It twists and turns its way up into the Andes with 60 switchbacks (which are helpfully numbered).  The road itself is also tiny so that often times our car had to stop to give oncoming traffic the room required to make a wide turn.  We had a loquacious driver, which Michele naturally enjoyed, and then had the distinct pleasure of trying to rent ski equipment for the kids, which is always a joy, but we managed to get through it all and arrived at the resort in one piece.

Valle Nevado is nestled right in the foothills of the Andes mountains.  Amazingly the resort’s base is at 10,000 ft above sea level.  For comparison, the base of Vail is 8.2k and Squaw’s base is at 6.2k with a peak is just above 9k ft.  The skiable peaks at Valle Nevado are at about 14k feet and the nearby mountains rise to 17k plus, making for some dramatic scenery.

Up in the Andes
Up in the Andes

The resort is a collection of hotels along with a  small village comprised of a couple of restaurants and shops.  The entire set up was incredibly convenient.  Our hotel was right on the mountain and had its own ski and boot room to gear up every morning. Our room was a bit cozy and Michele particularly enjoyed sharing one bathroom with the kids. The restaurants were really excellent including French, Italian and Chilean cuisine, along with the standard ski town fare.  The nice places were actually quite swanky and as part of our package, we had a buffet lunch every day that featured a full Chilean barbecue.  I must admit that  I became pretty fond of the ida of a nice glass of wine being served with lunch.  Much more relaxing than horking down a burger with 10,000 other folks at one of the mid mountain lodges in the states.

2015-07-29 13.18.59

Ski beard
Ski beard
Roughing it
Roughing it

Perhaps the most important thing for us was that kids really learned to ski on this vacation.  We had taken them skiing previously, but having them ski every day for 6 days enabled them to really turn the corner.  Kate went from screaming in terror when facing a steep hill to zooming down the same hill without stopping.  Jake really threw himself into learning to ski and was able to rocket down the slopes, though perhaps his control was lacking.  Kate was more methodical in her approach, slower but more controlled.  A great metaphor for kids in general and how different they can be.

The kids took a lesson each morning and we were lucky to have a great teacher in Claudia.   We would  meet up afterwards for lunch and then they’d return to the slopes together with Michele and me for some afternoon skiing.  Skiing with my kids is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life.  I am very much looking forward to many years of it.  After ski was really terrific as the best place was part of our hotel, so we spent quite a bit of time in the bar/lounge playing truco and enjoying some apres ski drinks.

Kids being silly with Claudia
Kids being silly with Claudia

After a few days on the mountain and some less than stellar conditions, we decided to decamp for the capital city of Santiago and the comfort of two separate hotel rooms.  Santiago is dramatically different from Buenos Aires.  Much more orderly and calm.  It’s kind of like a larger version of Portland; mellow and proudly so.   Highlights included a nice local meal at Confiteria Torres where I got to try the famous Chilean corn pie, Patio Bellavista which is a central shopping, restaurant and tourist area, the funicular to the hills above the city and  strolling through the boho district nearby, enjoying the street art and book shops.  It was a great end to a wonderful vacation.

Chilean Streat Arrt
Chilean Streat Arrt
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View from above Santiago

With our big vacation behind us, we are now focused on the second half of the school year. Michele and I put on a little play for Kate to get her excited about getting back to school which seems to have been successful.  Jake’s protestations are more muted and infrequent.    When we returned to BA we made it a point to visit some of our favorite places which was both fun and comforting.  All and all we are happy and  energized to back in our adopted home.

The Come Back!

Our apartment now feels like the clubhouse of a team on a winning streak.  Everyone is happy and feeling good and loose.

The most important driver is that the kids are comfortable in school.  They now get up in the morning without any yelling, wrestling or  hurling of things (verbal or otherwise) and are ready to leave on time.  Who are they?  When we asked Kate the rationale for the change, she quickly answered “I just made up my mind that I wasn’t going to let anything bother me any more.”  If only we could figure out how that happened!

As in most things, success has bred confidence which breeds more success, which breeds more confidence and so on.  A couple of highlights.  Michele and I went to a great restaurant (878 Thames) which could reasonably pass for hip.  We have begun taking the bus as our primary means of getting around the city which is both more interesting and less hassle than taking taxis.  Michele went out with her girlfriends on Tuesday night.  We managed to go out for dinner Wednesday at 9:30 and though the food at Vcitoria Brown Bar was disappointing, the scene was awfully cool.

On Thursday  Michele went for a 2.5 hour lunch in Puerto Madero where she got to see how the locals truly live (you’ll have to ask her).  I tried out my own local restaurant Guido’s Bar where I am working out my strategy to become a regular.  The  kids attended a birthday party on Friday that they enjoyed.  Saturday night when Michele and I went to a movie at 6:45 and then met our friends out for dinner at 9:30 Oviedo where we dined until after midnight.  We have gone native!  Sunday was gloomy and rainy so we took the kids to Las Cañitas for a long family lunch at Novociento before suffering through the Minions movie.

We took what BsAs could dish out and now we are turning the tide.  Feeling good about the journey.