Parrots in the wild!


You all know that I love parrots, so it was a thrill to see parrots perching on the power lines, flying around in groups. These are burrowing parrots.  They looked black, but they are really dark green, with blue on the wings, orangy underparts, and a red chest spot. A scholarly article suggests that the red chest spot is an indicator of fitness, and individuals that mate that have larger red spots have chicks with larger spots and they are larger, weigh more, and one presumes, live longer. We were glad they held still long enough to get a photo.

We’ve also seen the national bird of Argentina, the rufous hornero (ovenbird). Also some wondeful cream-banded raptors, but we haven’t figured out what they are yet.



Mendoza, Wine Capital of Argentina

Why does Argentina have excellent infrastructure for transportation? With the exception of the vacation crowds in Valle Hermosa at the start of our trip, the roads have been in good condition and with light traffic, to none at all.


Why does Peru have one speed bump per kilometer between Puno and Desaguadero (! There were 77), while Argentina has clear roads with a circunvalacion, or ring road, around almost every city. The contrast is striking. In Peru you can make about 350 km per day, while in Argentina you can often travel 550 km in the same number of hours traveling. Why? In Chilecito, the ring road around the city is being completed and the highway widened to four lanes, even though the population is only around 50,000. In Barranca, Peru, a city of over 100,000 there is a ring road around half the city and traffic on the Panamerican highway is heavy all the time.
On a happier note, there has to be a story behind the old cars on the highway in Argentina. Renaults going back about 30 years are on the roads, and quite a few Willys Jeeps that disappeared from the US long ago. Granted, many of these vehicles are in truly terrible condition, the Willys Jeep with the best paint job I’ve seen was perched on top of a junk yard, yet many are still running.

There’s not a lot to see on the road from San Juan to Mendoza, though there’s definitely food for thought in the flood warning signs we passed. If the water on the highway registers on the flood marker, it is way too late for a person to drive through….

Details Feb. 1, 2015 Sunny, warm in San Juan, heading for the 90s F. Very good hotel breakfast. We planned to leave at 9 am, got all our things to the lobby, paid the bill, etc. and Jonathan went over to collect the car and it would not start. The starter motor turned over, but it wouldn’t start. We dug out the Alamo information and called the help number with the aid of the woman at the desk of the hotel. She was very helpful throughout. The agent in Buenos Aires said we’d left the lights on, which we hadn’t because there’s an alarm. After I told him three times, I passed the phone to the receptionist. He then said he would send someone from Mendoza—she pointed out there is a local Alamo office in San Juan. Finally, he said he’d contact the local guy and call us back. By the time he did that, I’d already called the local guy with the receptionist’s help and he was due to show up in a half hour. When I called him again after an hour he got all huffy about being busy with another client (his office is closed on Sundays), but he did show up, look at the car with Jonathan, and when it didn’t start he loaded us up and took us to the San Juan airport to get a different car. It turned out ok, we got on the road by 11:30 am, and the Alamo agent will repair our vehicle and bring it to Mendoza.
I called Carolina, our contact in Mendoza and she assured us she could meet us a bit later, at 3pm. We arrived about 1:30 pm and though Carolina wasn’t there, her son Lautaro let us in. We also met a longer term renter, William, as he was going out. Our apartment is not at all like the photos, so I asked Carolina if we can move to one of the others. Apparently we can do that tomorrow. She was going to stop by but did not.
At 4 pm we walked down to the Plaza Independencia via Parque Italia, part of the system of five parks in the center of town. We ate late lunch at Café Bute on the main plaza, delicious mixed salad and plate of meat and cheese. The menu tried to explain what “Bute” means and it included so many words I’d need to look up in a dictionary and so much post-modern blather that I decided that “Bute”=”Beaut”, more or less. We walked home via the shady spots—there are huge sycamores watered by a series of canals along both sides of every block. After that we found the superbowl on TV, ok, narrated in Spanish, but it makes a nice end to the evening.

La Difunta Correa shrine, Ischigualasto, and Chilecito to San Juan, Argentina, Jan. 31, 2015

On the way into San Juan, we stopped at Vallecito, home of “La Difunta Correa”. The story goes that in the mid 1800s, Sra. Deolinda Correa followed her husband as he went off to battle, impressed into service as was common at the time. Sra Correa died of thirst on the trail, seeking her husband, but her baby survived by nursing its dead mother. Since that time, La Difunta Correa has become the patron of travelers, though her status has not been confirmed by the Catholic church.


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Travelers give gifts of water bottles to the difunta at roadside shrines. Some have hundreds of bottles. The main shrine goes far beyond water bottles. Plaques created in gratitude for safe travels cover the sides of several structures, and gift range from paintings and sculpture to wedding and christening dresses, trophies, toys, and a room full of model trucks, each emblazoned with the name of a transport company seeking safe travels. The site covers about an acre and at least 5 times that area is covered by picnic areas, barbeque grills, bus parking and other amenities. There could be thousands of people visiting at one time, though there were only about ten people there while we were at the shrine. Here is a roadside shrine to la difunta:

Another shrine along the roadside consists of a monument by the roadside, possibly containing a saint, and surrounded by red flags. These honor Gaucho Gil, and show places where near misses took place. It is a change from the roadside monuments to the dead, as the red flags celebrate survival.


1/31 Details: We planned to leave early, but had to wait to pay and had to get gas. We left Chilecito around 9 am heading for San Juan by way of Ischigualasto, a regional park with wild wind-carved sandstone spires. When we arrived we found that part of the route was washed out and only half the features would be visited. It would take at least two hours, so we contented ourselves with a souvenir coffee cup and the general landscape.

We arrived in San Juan at about 4 pm after our visit to La Difunta Correa. It was 38 C (100 F), so we retreated to our air conditioned room in the Del Bono Suites. The room was a nice, a studio with an anteroom containing table and two chairs, and kitchenette. The A/C was essential. When the sun went down and it cooled off a bit, we ventured out for shopping: water, dinner. We didn’t eat at a restaurant because they didn’t open until 9 pm. We just haven’t adjusted to Argentina enough to eat dinner late at night yet.

Chilecito Day 2, Jan. 30, 2015

Motorbikes and scooters are very popular in Chilecito, and many are driven by women. This seems to bring up a new problem. We saw a woman driving a motorcycle with one hand while holding a sleeping infant in the other. We saw a man driving a motorcycle with a small child behind him, then the mom, who was holding the folded-up baby stroller. Do any of these people wear helmets? No. This is difficult to watch–so dangerous.

1/30 Details: Breakfast was the usual, bread, (good) jam and manjar blanco, coffee with milk, also good, but no fruit. We met Augustina’s mom Vicki, the owner, and she gave us directions to all the sights in Chilecito and Famatina. We left for the bodega de vinos La Riojana, where we found this was the outlet store and no tours were scheduled. We could call in the afternoon and find out whether there would be a 3 pm tour. From there we went south toward Miranda, to check and see whether it was really true that our route to Villa Union was closed. Too true, it is closed. Good news for the region, the road is being paved—it was dirt. Bad news for us. On the way back, we wove through Sañogasta, an old town, and came out by the TauroWasi gift shop, where we bought dried figs and a small basket. Back to Chilecito, we went to the main square where we found a place that could put a new chip in my phone for 15 Ar pesos, and we loaded 40 pesos of time. From here we went to Rancho de Fierrito, restaurant that was recommended to us by Contador Miranda.

When we met Sr. Miranda, we were on the plaza by the Banco de la Nacion looking for an ATM. We asked if he knew where there was a supermarket and he answered, “Senores, you are in Chilecito, province of La Rioja.” (i.e., Where do you think you are?). He then directed us to a mini market and when we asked for a recommendation for dining, he suggested Rancho de Fierrito.

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The place is old timey, groups of men eating lunch, also some families. Jonathan had bife de chorizo, a big piece of meat. I had Puchero de pollo. This turns out to be boiled chicken, potato, squash, tomato (raw), chard (cooked), hard boiled egg and thigh/leg of chicken. If it is cooked in a fragrant broth, none of that arrives on the plate. However, we’d been offered some Roquefort spread that went well on everything, so the lunch was a success.
After lunch we went back to the Posada del Sendero and had a nap. After that, we set out for Famatina, recommended by Vicki. We stopped at an archaeological site Cayapa, dated 1592, 12 km north of the ovalo at the north end of Chilecito. It’s several km off the road, but consists of several adobe ruins, and a lot of slag.



Apparently this was an early mining site. It was interesting to walk around. We found glass in the slag, and some sherds, though not the quantity you might expect for a living area. Leaving the site, we saw an animal that Jonathan said looked like a rabbit, but I saw a back that looked like German shepherd. Turns out it’s a Patagonian mara.

From the site, we went on to Famatina, where not much was going on. We continued through town until we found the Finca Huayrapuco, where they grow and process walnuts. They make honey and lots of kinds of jam, and have extensive farm lands that you can walk around, go horseback riding, have tea, and even see the setup for cracking and grading walnuts. The woman there claimed all this is done by hand, but I had a hard time believing that hand cracked and graded walnuts could be a business. Walnut shells are used for mulch over the grounds, when you look down, you notice that everything underfoot is walnut shell.


It’s a lovely setting, well worth the visit. The recreated bedroom had the wildest Art Nouveau iron bedstead I’ve ever seen.

We headed back to Chilecito, sat in the yard at Posada del Sendero for wine, cheese, salami, bread and olives, then retreated to our room with A/C for the evening.
The work on the highway makes our day tomorrow longer, but makes us drive by Ischigualasto, the Valley of the Moon rock formations.

Chilecito, Jan. 29 and 30

The drive to Chilecito started out looking like Missouri, rolling hills and cows. Then it looked like Kauai, steep hills and cows. After that it shifted gradually toward Arizona, becoming less and less green with more scrub that became lower as we drove west, finally culminating with cactus and low scrub that looks like the Sonoran desert, complete with palo verde and saguaro (?) cactus.

1/29 Details: We left Villa Maria at 9 am, arrived in Chilecito at 5:30 pm having driven 550 km. We figured out that gas costs $6.41/gallon. At first we ran into huge traffic in an area called Valle Hermosa where most of the population of Argentina seemed to be vacationing. Traffic was at a crawl for over an hour. It was like trying to drive through Lake George Village on the 4th of July weekend. Quite similar, too. A big lake, river, fishing, stores selling bait, fruit, treats, beach wear, you name it.


We crawled to the north end of the valley.
After that there was no traffic all the way to Chilecito. After unloading and getting our room from Silvia, I went for a dip in the tiny but very nice pool. We birdwatched in the adjacent field, where we saw a meadowlark, and a red-brown bird that we still haven’t identified. Later we med Augustina, daughter of the owners, who checked us in.

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Our hotel, the Posada del Sendero, is easy to find because of the signs put up at the roundabout into Chilecito and at crucial turns in the road. Rooms cluster around a large living area with fireplace. Now that it is summer, however, there are tables and chairs outdoors around the pool and by the outdoor kitchen with large hearth and oven, covered area with picnic table and refrigerator for guests items. We stowed our wine, coke, mineral water, peanut butter, olives, butter…..At 8 pm we went into Chilecito for dinner, understanding that Argentines eat late. We found that the restaurant that was recommended to us was closed until 9 pm, so we went to the main plaza to Robert A. We ordered a bottle of wine and the waiter asked whether we’d like soda and ice (Jonathan laughed) but it turns out that’s how they drink it here. The wine isn’t very good, so soda and ice are just fine. We ended up not having dinner. After 45 minutes, nothing was in sight and we were ready to go home. Our waiter was a bit crestfallen. We stopped for ice cream, Jonathan had flavors with long names, but were mostly vanilla and I had Kion with whisky that turned out to be ice cream with candied kumquats.


It was a long day getting to Argentina. Not much to take pictures of either, so we each took a photo of what we’d like to see:

P1030953smWe’re fulfilling Jonathan’s dream first, heading for Mendoza via Chilecito, also wine territory.


Patagonia comes later in the month. Our flights were uneventful, which is a good thing. I do hate paying $6 for a quart of water, but that’s international travel.

1/27Details: Left Hotel Senorial at 9:30 am for Jorge Chavez airport. Our flight departed for Santiago at 12:30 pm, ate a reasonable sandwich and mini glass of wine for the meal and arrived. 4:30 pm. Local time was 6:30 pm. We ate at a Ruby Tuesday in the airport after I found there was no meal on the flight to Buenos Aires. Flight for BA left at 8:30 pm and arrived at the Aeroparque at 10:30 pm. Migracion and customs went rapidly and we arrived at the Alamo rental desk at 10:58 pm to find no one there. We took a taxi to our hotel, Conventillo de lujo, near the airport (100 pesos). It was a good thing we had the address because the hotel was unmarked and looks like an apartment building. It’s a hotel, rental apartment place, and tango tour center, managed by a Colombian woman (didn’t get her name) and Angel.
They have a covered dining area and kitchen on the first floor and covered rooftop terraces with seating and barbeques on the 4th and 5th floor. The elevator only goes up to the third floor, however. The entire place is decorated with tango theme posters and objects, and each room is named, all very funky looking, but clean and comfortable. We stayed in what may be the smallest, the Milongita, but the A/C worked, the shower was hot and we slept well.
1/28 Details: Ran out of hot water after the first shower, glad I took one last night. We met Ray, who owns the hotel with his wife who is Argentine. He went out for bread, then chatted. Ray and his wife lived in Detroit, where he worked at Ford and they gave tango lessons and brought tango groups to Buenos Aires. They couldn’t find a place that had all they needed for their gtooups so they built one. They have a small dance floor with a big mirror, good for lessons and demonstrations. We ate fresh bread with jam, coffee, banana and were offered oatmeal and eggs, which we declined.
Angel went out to find us a taxi in the downpour because the radio taxis were running 40 minutes wait at least and we were already late for the distnce we plan to cover. Left the Conventillo about 9:40 am got to the airport in about 20 min and had no trouble at the rental desk. While JH filled out the paperwork, I got money from an ATM (limit of 700 pesos per transaction) and bought a roadmap. We set off in the downpour and got out of town from the google earth map with directions that JH downloaded. The highway to Rosario and then Cordoba starts out as 6 lanes, goes down to four, then two lanes each way. It’s divided by a big green central area and we can easily go 100-130 km/hr—a lot better than Peru. Here speed bumps are called “lomo de burro”, burro’s back, compared to “rompe muelle” molar breaker, in Peru.
We left the airport around 10:45 am and were in our hotel, Le Parc Hotel and Suites, in Villa Maria by 3 pm. It stopped raining around 1:30pm. That is pretty fast for 550 km; fast compared to Peru, anyway.

Back down the Andes–1/24 and 1/25

One of the last things I saw in Puno was a shoelace salesman carrying his wares around his neck.


As we turned our backs to Bolivia we were again impressed with the beauty of the puna and the range of environments that we crossed. In two days we went from a high of 4400 m to sea level, passing snow capped mountains, the highest navigable lake in the world, the puna grasslands, utterly arid desert and gorgeous waves crashing on the coast. What a place you are, Peru!


From Puno to Arequipa we saw flocks and flocks of alpaca. It seems to be lambing season, tiny white baby alpaca were postcard cute, trailing around after their mothers or prostrate on the grass resting. There were vicuna, lots of caracara and other birds, high hills in the puna that looked like they were covered with greenish velvet, really tufts of grass. There are flat sea green mosses that spread out in irregular circles, too, looking like they were poured on the ground. It’s a wonderful if difficult environment, with farmsteads spread across the base of the hills. The walk to school must really be 10 miles, uphill both ways.


The Saturday market we visited was in Imata, drawn by a huge pile of sheep fleeces and alpaca fleeces..


Details 1/24: Rain overnight until about 8 am. The sun came out, we left the hotel at 9 am and had no trouble finding our way out of town, even the turnoff for the shorter route. Start mileage 167395. We arrived in Arequipa about 2:30 pm. Total for the day was.

We ate Jonathan’s birthday dinner at the Camaroncito, but with the menu from the adjoining Casona del Virrey. It doesn’t matter which menu you order from, as they are both owned by the same group. The food was excellent, deep fried pork ribs, with potatoes, green beans/carrots; I had osso buco that came with sautéed red pepper, onion and zucchini and pasta with green olives. JH started with the quinoa soup that was creamy but contained no milk products. We came back to the hotel to eat dessert, the complimentary birthday cake, chocolate with coffee/chocolate fudge filling/frosting. The hotel delivered it to our door shortly after we checked in. Very thoughtful to notice the date from his passport.
This hotel, Los Tambos Arequipa, has the best service I’ve ever had. The cake, the help in finding a mechanic who would make a house call, directions, general cheerfulness. I’ve never seen greater willingness of staff to find out information of any kind for a guest. Cost s/. 210 per night. Current exchange rate is just over s/. 3=US$1

Details 1/25: Left Arequipa at 9 am. Weather 21 C. Made our way out of Arequipa within 15 minutes, and that’s saying something, not one U-turn required. Stopped to change drivers twice, and arrived in Nazca at 5 pm. It took 2 hours less going downhill (to Nazca) than uphill (to Arequipa).

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Hotel Nazca Lines gave us the rate we found on (US$68), exactly what we paid last time. This despite being quoted $140 per night on the phone, and $85 on arrival. They have great towel sculpture. Our first visit is to the right. Our second visit, below. Despite the elephants, we enjoyed our stay less this time, it took 3 tries before they gave us a new remote for the A/C. It just needed new batteries, but the guy was sure it didn’t, until it died and the A/C wouldn’t go on after dinner. Our patio hadn’t been cleaned lately, so anything you set down on the tiled bench came up with a layer of dust. I used a towel to clear an area to set laundry to dry, then the towel was red-brown with dirt. Also turns out that the floor wasn’t cleaned out there either and we had to brush red-brown footprints off the sheets when I came in and put my feet up. We ate in, this time, also a mistake. The pisco sours didn’t have enough ice, though they weren’t strong at all. The pasta with chicken and garlic included no chicken. This was pointed out when the check came and the waiter offered to add some chicken….. This is a great place to stay if you are going to swim and eat dinner in town.

Making Lemonade 1/23

Once the rain stopped it was a gorgeous day. We began by getting up very early, being first in line at the Banco de la Nacion to pay for a car inspection, one of the steps to getting our needed permit. Then on to the police that do the inspection to present evidence that we’d paid where we were told in no uncertain terms that they would do the inspection but we need the original of a document (gravamen) that can only be issued in Lima. This despite the fact that we have an exact official original copy of the required information with the only difference that it was issued in Puno–this duly noted on the form. He was having none of this.

We spent the morning begging favors from our friend Cecelia in Lima, who could get the copy and send it to Puno, but today is Friday. We spent the rest of the morning and through lunch trying to work out alternate plans and hoping something would happen to make a miracle happen.

Determined to take the rest of the afternoon off to think, we drove to Sillustani, an archaeological site about a 40 min drive outside Puno. Our friend and fellow archaeologist Arturo Ruiz worked at Sillustani in the 1970s and made a key find of a burial deposit of more than 100 gold objects. Subsequently, and probably due in some part to Arturo’s efforts, the site was developed for tourism. There’s even a commemorative coin of one of the burial towers, or chullpas. It is a beautiful, and a guidebook tipped us off to the birds in the surrounding lake. We saw a family of caracaras (2 adults, 1 juvenile) and several others new to us. It was a dream afternoon.

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Driving back to Puno around 5 pm we heard that the form we need could be collected in Lima at 9 am Saturday, put on a bus “express” to Puno and arrive 18 hours later, bringing us to dawn Sunday. Everything is closed. On Monday, we could take the paper to the police, collect our form and then proceed to a customs agent where for somewhere between $250 and the sky’s the limit, we could get the form. The problem–by Tuesday, when we might get all the way out of Peru and maybe into Bolivia after that, we would not be able to make up the days lost and we would lose our reservations everywhere.

We threw in the towel, start our return to Lima tomorrow, and pick up again with a flight from Lima to Buenos Aires on the 27th.



Desaguadero means “Storm Drain”. How about “the pits”?

There are no photos from our drive to Desaguadero. We started off bright and early expecting to get to Bolivia. Instead we got bogged down so deeply in bureaucratic mire that we were barely able to back out and return to Puno. How bad was it? Customs agents seemed to have a real sparkle in their eye when saying that there was no way on earth they could help you get the necessary papers that no one ever mentioned you needed but that you should have known about all along.

None of these papers are available within  a three day drive, and don’t bother with copies, only the originals will do–and there’s no overnight express. Only the 18 hour bus “express”. Possibly the most demoralizing part of this is the genuine pleasure that people seemed to take in not helping. This started with the Peruvian customs post, went on to the customs agents–we visited three before caving in and returning to Puno. Of course we’d gone to Migracion first to get stamped as leaving Peru, and of course only one person could un-stamp our passports, and he just went to lunch. An hour and a half later, we went back to Puno determined to get the papers, find a customs agent, get the temporary export permit for the car and GO. After all, the Bolivians had filled us in on everything that we needed for the temporary import permit, and we have all that paperwork. We didn’t even get a chance to try it out.

See Jonathan’s facebook page for the ugly details.

Change of direction toward Puno 1/21

To ease our way into high altitude, we decided to skip Moquegua and go up to Puno, to have more time at high altitude before crossing the border to Bolivia. We need out wits about us and I didn’t want to be feeling sick.

Arequipa to Puno. Weather sunny to slight overcast. Temperatures from 23 down to 14 degrees. Car still overheating, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

Within an hour of leaving Arequipa we found ourselves in the puna, high altitude grassland that stretches for miles up to the Misti volcano that overlooks Arequipa. Part of this area is a reserve for vicuna and guanaco, the wild relatives of llama and alpaca. I thought Jonathan was kidding when he said, “There’s vicuna, pull over!” We watched the six animals graze for a while. Later we saw mixed flocks, mostly alpaca, but also the occasional sheep, cow and perhaps llama or guanaco. We saw a sharply variegated black and white hawk and Chilean flamingos wading in shallow lakes.


We arrived in Puno around 2:30 pm and were resting by 3. We benefitted from our two days in Arequipa but Puno is 3850 m, about 1500 m higher than Arequipa. You pant going up stairs, sometimes your fingers and toes tingle and you have a slight headache. I hope this will pass overnight. We walked down to the Plaza de Armas and found a pasacalle in full swing. A man carrying a decorative banner announcing the group led men wearing black and white and playing Andean flutes that look like oversized recorders. Beside and behind came two rows of women dancing and whirling in traditional highland multitiered skirts, pollera, singing along with the music. Two women led, marked by wearing many more skirts than the others. The group danced their way around the Plaza, past the cathedral, down the street and away.

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We ate dinner at Mojsas, where I had quinoa soup and Jonathan had alpaca with potatos and a stripe of blueberry (sauco)- chocolate reduction. Very good. The place filled with foreigners as we sat, more languages than we could identify.

Puno spreads up a hillside in sectors that join along the lake. That means that the walk to almost anywhere is uphill, so we huff and puff from place to place. The cathedral is nicely lit at night, and I could see the crescent moon behind it.


This is high altitude weather, cold in the morning, hot at midday and cold again as soon as the sun sets. Since it’s the rainy season, it has been raining every evening, and for a while in the morning, but much of the day is clear and bright.

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