Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Summer Sun in Chile and Returning to Paraguay After 22 Years

Returning to Paraguay after having been an exchange student there 22 years ago was to be the conclusion of our South American travels.  As our excitement built up for Paraguay we enjoyed the summer sun in Chile.  After we got off the ship and spent a couple of days in Valparaiso, Chile it was off to Santiago de Chile.  Santiago reminded us a little of Denver in terms of size, weather and the mountains.  The Andes that surrounded the city seemed a bit taller and a little more pointy than our Rockies.  In comparison to Buenos Aires we thought that Santiago was much cleaner although the air pollution was a little worse on account of the Andes.  Amy and I toured the city and its beautiful neighborhoods by foot.  During our foot tour we encountered crowds of shoppers and tourists hustling about in the downtown area, we visited some Chilean monuments, road a funicular to see some spectacular views of the city and shopped for a pair of new shoes for Amy.  One day while deciding whether to lunch on empanadas or pizza we ran into a Canadian couple we had met on our cruise.  We reminisced with them a bit about the cruise and discussed what sights to fit in before our departure to Paraguay. Although Chile had great weather we knew that the moderate temperatures would soon give way to the heat and humidity of tropical Paraguay.
A government building in downtown Santiago de Chile
Us in a plaza in central Santiago.
View from halfway up on the funicular
Snow capped Andes through the smog
We went to an artesian workshop that made excellent chilean crafts and art.
One of the crafts.  Amy named it 'Cat in a Manger'
High above Santiago
Going back down on the funicular
Amy at one of the large markets downtown.
Our view of the Andes from Aerolineas Argentinas (Santiago-Buenos Aires-Asuncion).
Having not seen my exchange host family in Paraguay for 22 years and only recently having reconnected with them via Skype and Facebook I was a little nervous about our reunion.  The family member that I reconnected with was my then 6/7 year old niece Patricia.  Patricia met us at the airport in Asuncion and although she was a couple feet taller and had a beautiful family of her own we picked up right where we left off as if no time had passed.  My host family was still the warm, loving family that I remembered and were quite generous and welcoming.  The hospitality that they showed Amy and me was amazing.

The apprehension that I had before the trip concerning keeping up with translation for Amy turned out to be not a problem at all.  I only had to translate a small portion of Spanish for Amy while in Paraguay.  The lessons that she took in Argentina paid off as she was able to comprehend a lot of conversations that were going on.

Coming back to Paraguay as an adult allowed me to get to know this  growing extended family better and really made me appreciate how fortunate I was to have had such an experience at such a young age.  Amy and I are looking forward to returning again and cannot wait to welcome one of our Paraguayan family members to the USA as soon as we get back home.
Patricia meeting us at the airport with balloons.
Our hosts were Patricia and her husband Oscar.
Patricia and Oscar's boy Alejandro
A visit to my host sister's house for some long overdue Paraguayan empanadas.
Out shopping one day.
Visited the host family's house I stayed in 22 yrs. ago.  It is now a market, but was closed the day we visited.
Me in front of the school I attended.  Colegio Nacional de Capiata.
Alej has an iPad and kept on moving his fingers across our laptop screen.   He was perplexed why it wasn't responding and we were cracking up.
Amy and I made a lasagna for dinner and we shared it with Patricia's family and my host brother Miguel and his family.
We visited the rural "interior" where another half of the family lives.  This is the front of the house with the cart picking up the trash.
Family making milanesa for lunch.
Host cousins asking Mike about all things American.
Amy enjoying a typical Paraguayan summer drink called 'Terere'.  It is basically cold tea in a traditional cup and straw shared communally.
The home we stayed in before the quinceanera of my host cousin.
Veronica before her quinceanera with her brother and two cousins.
The Paraguayan countryside
River Paraguay
The river Paraguay at sunset.
More of my Paraguayan host family (Thiago, Perla, Humberto and Yessica)
My host sister Evangelina took us for a tour of Asuncion.
Amy and Evangelina in the old train station in Asuncion.
Paraguayan mythological characters in downtown Asuncion.
Walking to the center of Asuncion.
The Paraguayan flag flying in front of the presidential palace.
Cathedral in downtown Asuncion.
Host nephews:  little Alej, Alfredo and Luis Enrique preparing asado for dinner.
Alej, Patricia, Amy, Manuel, Mauricio, Cecelia, Evangelina, Jorge and Mike
Amy at the table with the family.  We ate rice salad, mandioca and asado.
Saying farewell to Patricia and family at the airport. 
The traditional Paraguayan harp was playing as we boarded the American Airlines plane in Asuncion to Miami.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Our Trip On The High Seas To The End Of The World and Back

We boarded Holland America's MS Zaandam on a very hot Argentine day in Buenos Aires.  We knew that the good weather wouldn't last long as our 13 night cruise would take us past Cape Horn into Ushuaia and just a hop, skip and a jump away from Antarctica.  The expected sights and highlights of this voyage were Montevideo, Uruguay; Puerto Madryn, Argentina; the straits of Magellan; Punta Arenas, Chile; Cockburn Channel; Beagle Channel; Glacier Alley; Chilean Fjords; Puerto Montt, Chile and Valparaiso, Chile.  Aside from these ports we were also expecting multiple days at sea, and looking forward to some pampering, delicious meals and nightly entertainment.

Before this cruise Amy and I had gone on a few other cruises, but never really considered ourselves to be the cruising type.  Now, after having experienced the Holland American warm hospitality, excellent service and delicious dining we cannot wait for our next one.   Although the ports of call were not the best/most exciting we thoroughly enjoyed the cruise line and the top notch experience they provided us.

Our room, view 2
Our room, view 1
Bienvenidos to our first port of call Montevideo, Uruguay
Amy on the streets of Montevideo
Saying goodbye to Montevideo
Our first of many great shows onboard; Argentine tango show
Took a cooking class onboard where we learned how to make lobster cakes, chocolate guacamole and seafood ceviche
Waiting to taste our creations.  Like our complementary apron?
Puerto Madryn, Argentina and the ship in the distance.
Playing bath robe bingo.  Mike won $98 the first round and $28 another game.  We were happy because it paid for our drink tab.
Our day at sea.  There finally was a chill in the air as we ventured further south.
Our first formal night.  While walking to dinner, right outside this window we saw black and white, patagonian dolphins playing in the wake of the ship.  
Pancho and girlfriend after a dip in the Atlantic running away from the crazy tourists drawing nearer.
The wind was howling and the temperature was dipping.
Just hanging out
Punta Arenas, Chile reminded us of Alaska
Downtown Punta Arenas with the trees all in blum.  It was a nice cold summer's day.
We had two days at sea while cruising the Beagle Channel and the Straits of Magellan.
Enjoying the awesome surrounding landscape.
Sunset from the lido deck.
Amy insisted on hanging out on the deck in the cold while enjoying the glaciers passing by.
One of many glaciers we saw along the way.
I cannot remember where we were here, but shows just how beautiful the sights were.
Another glacier with a waterfall.
At the end of the world now.  Pulling into Ushuaia, Argentina.
Tierra Del Fuego National Park
Our welcoming committee was a pack of fox cubs.
Selfie from Tierra Del Fuego
Our wind blown faces from the other day with the penguins.  One of the Argentines commented on Amy's nose and how appropriate the red was for the holiday season.  
We spent the day hiking around the park and taking in the views.
Curious looking birds with long beaks
Amy had four layers on and was happy to be shedding one after heating up from our hike.
Came 5 feet away from this little guy.
Bye bye Tierra Del Fuego
Some more curious looking chickens (maybe geese)
Ushuaia, Argentina was our favorite port
A view of Cape Horn from our room.  Rough waters and very cold.
The southernmost town with the jaw-like mountain range behind it.
Sunken ship.  One of many we saw along the straits.
Amy and one of the glaciers in glacier alley in Chile.
Sam, my Indonesian language teacher and our wonderful room steward.
Eating lunch after getting off the ship at our last port in Valparaiso, Chile.
Downtown Valparaiso, Chile
On the balcony of our bed and breakfast.
Right next to our bed and breakfast was a funicular.  Unfortunately, the workers have been on a two year long strike.