Here are some journal entries from a 1-month trip to Argentina and Chile in June-July 2019 for the total solar eclipse of 2 July 2019.
The journal is about as much about travel in both countries as it is about the eclipse itself.
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This map is from the fantasic eclipsophile website of Jay Anderson and Jennifer West:
which even includes an interactive Google Map with the eclipse path overlayed.
Given that July is the dead of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, I decided to head to the place along the line of maximum totality duration on the Eclipsophile analysis that had the best chance for clear skies, plus reachable alternative spots in case of clouds: Bella Vista, San Juan Province, Argentina.
I was thinking the event in Belle Vista was going to be total chaos, with cars jamming the 1-lane highway from the (only) "big" city of San Juan, a 3 hour drive away, and accidents and people crapping in the woods. But they actually had the whole thing super-organized with signage and cops all the way. Traffic through the amazingly beautiful multi-color rock valleys was smooth and I didn't see any accidents. At the viewing site they had set up an almost-Burning-Man-like free festival with musicians and performers and a big video screen showing the live cam and they handed out thousands of free eclipse glasses (yay socialism!). There were food booths, portapotties, and organized parking for the thousands who showed up. Here is a video of the event before the eclipse where you can see the Andes mountain range:
There were probably a few thousand people who showed up to watch.
There were even Jehovah's Witnesses, with their standard literature kiosks in Spanish, English, and even Chinese.
I think it's the combination of the extreme sudden cold and the super-high dynamic range of the light of the event that makes it so impressive and also impossible to capture on photo or video. When the sun is just about to be covered or just popping out again, it is like someone just turned off/on the brightest 10,000,000 watt bulb in existence and the contrast of both brightness and yellow color (relative to the cool dark sky and black moon) gives it this quality people call "diamond" or "glass." In theory we could recreate the effect with local lights, but I've never seen anything like it including with 10,000 watt theatrical lamps.
The quality of the light as you look around right around totality is bizarre.... It becomes bluer and bluer almost like fluorescent or a super bright moon. Cameras generally can't capture this either as they will shift white balance to compensate.
As during all eclipses, a pinhole will cast a shadow that is a little images of the eclipse crescent and so that creates a bizarre situation where the shadows of your bodies and other objects are not symmetric on the left and right.
And just before and after totality, there is this surreal large-scale shimmering of light all over the ground as if we're in a fish bowl or something. Where I was (right on the center line of maximum totality length in Bella Vista, San Juan Province) totality was 2 minutes 26 seconds, but it seemed much shorter. When the blocked-out sun is there with the two triangular Corona flames shooting out and the shiny ring of light around the moon like you see in the high-end photos, it is quite creepy. I can see why so many Kings and Emperors lost their heads over it. But totality is gone before you know it.
During totality, many stars suddenly became visible, but there was a 360 degree sunrise/sunset all around the whole time at the horizon.
I was surrounded by hundreds of thousand-dollar cameras. I didn't even attempt to photo the sun.
I met a bunch of eclipse fanatics from about 5 different US states including the guy in the video with the hat, Tim Dority from Oregon, who had traveled to this obscure part of Argentina 1.5 years prior solely to scope out the best local hotel and make a booking for this eclipse! The spliff-wielding young crowd that you see in the video standing next to us consists of an Argentinian guy, a Chilean woman, a French woman fluent in Spanish, and a Columbian-American woman from San Francisco.
There was press from Argentina and all over the world, including China CCTV (though I didn't see any actual Chinese people there; perhaps CCTV was expecting busloads of Chinese tourists to show up). They all stopped and interviewed Tim with the hat because, well you know, the hat.
Tim took these fantastic photos (you can see him taking them in the video above):
When the sun is just about to go behind the moon, or just popping out from behind the moon, you ge tthe "diamond ring" effect, but you have to imagine the brightness is brighter than any man-made light you've ever seen:
During totality, you can observe the sun without your eclipse glasses, and it is an eery feeling...your mind is not used to such a bizzare object floating in the sky.
It happens that 2 July 2019 was during the part of the 11-year solar cycle when the sun has the fewest and smallest solar flares, and as a result there is this beautiful, symmetric, nearly dipolar corona:
Taking the same shot with a different exposure, we can see the solar flare prominences that do exist (in red):
This video at 2:12 gives you kind of a feeling for what it is like when the sun comes out again, but again not even close because video cannot show the dynamic range difference:
When you use your human eye, you do not see the sun flaring out big like that. Instead you see a tiny, unbelievably bright yellow light source explode out from one corner of the moon.
Here is a professional video of the eclipse from La Silla Obeservatory in Chile, which is probably the highest-quality way to see what it looked like to the naked eye, including some shots with the eclipsed sun and the sky, but it still doesn't even come close to the real experience:
Here is a time-lapse of the eclipse from space. We saw the part of the eclipse at the very end of the NASA video when the shadow was traveling 10,000 miles per hour right before it lifted off the earth (and the terminator came for sunset):
When the sun passed behind the Andes, it was still partially eclipsed, so it created a very odd looking sunset that looked like the fin of a shark swimming under the mountain range. You can see that starting around 9:40 in this Smarter Every Day video:
We did indeed get lucky because here is what the sky looked like just 1 and a half days later in the same province of Argentina:
While the parks were cool, the method of park management was bizarre and quite discriminating.
The first park was called Talampaya and it looks like this:
In Talamapaya, which is a UN World Heritage site, they only let you drive your car to a parking lot (and ranger station and gift shop) that is more than 14km away from any of the interesting rocks. Then, to see anything, you have buy a package tour from the one, government-blessed monopoly "stewardship" private company on a bizarrely overkill 4x4 high-clearance tour vehicle:
that takes you on a set route to 5 different places. At each place you spend not enough time as the guide tells you all about the place in Spanish, then it's back on the tour bus for the next place. You can pop your head out the top of the tour vehicle like you're in the Flintstones or some cheesy "african safari" filmstrip:
As you can see from the video, none of the places you visit require 4x4 vehicles at all, at least in this dry season, and there is no way to do the tour on your own, not even walking.
Even more odd, those mandatory guided tours cost an outrageous amount by Argentine standards (USD $40-50). And while freedom and spending time is not on the agenda, the tour does come with two different stops where they break out a table with a tablecloth, and spread out the red wine, whisky, vodka, and champagne as well as high-end pastries and snacks (see pix):
So basically, the only way to visit this park is the Thurston Howell III option, and this price basically shuts out most Argentinians. So it is the park of the rich. Sigh.
The second park is called Ischigualasto and it has a variety of different kinds of cool rocks such as:
Ischigualasto is also a UN World Heritage site and they decided to go for a different bizarre interpretation of conservation. In this park, you can drive your own car around the 40km dirt road circuit to see the cool rocks, but you can only do so as part of a caravan led by a park ranger who is also your tour guide. And again, each stop only lasts long enough for the explanation in Spanish and the photo and then you're back in the caravan kicking up massive amounts of dust.
Like Canyonlands in Utah, USA, so many of these places are just begging you to explore some little crack or path, but that is simply not an option. You are only allowed to walk on the fancy wooden walkways they have created.
Perhaps Argentinians are so unruly that this is the only way to protect the rare rock formations? Maybe left alone they fill the rocks with graffiti or start crushing them together? Or perhaps this is all just a severe overreaction and money grabbing scheme on behalf of the government and the one blessed private "conservancy" company.
Certainly the rocks in Argentina will be protected better than the ones in Canyonlands, but I find it unlikely that the threat is any different in the two places. I have seen the miles-long wooden walkways in New Zealand along some of the more famous trekking routes, and they seemed excessive there too. The only place where restrictive walkways seemed necessary is Jiuzhaigou park in Sichuan province in China, which receives more guests every day than the mind can even imagine, and all of them are unbelievably rude.
It literally means the "Defunct (Mrs.) Correa" or the "Deceased (Mrs.) Correa."
At first glance as you approach on a weekday in the low season, you are quite sure it is a dump. A gravel road that brings you there is totally empty of cars and plastic trash burns a few hundred feet away along with its unmistakable stench. Detritus is scattered all over the barren hillside with a structure of some sort on top.
But then, as you get closer, you realize the items on the ground are in fact little toy-sized homes complete with patio furniture and shutters, always with the family name and the same "thank you" written on them. And reams and reams of school notebooks filled with a years' worth of study. And car parts. And water bottles.
As you climb up the small hill, you reach a shrine where all the walls are completely covered with "gracias" plaques of every manufacture, more car parts, keys, more license plates than Argentina seems to have cars, and left business cards that at first seem like ads.
At the center of it all (next to the votive area with burning candles) are two sculptures of dead Mrs. Correa with a baby nursing at her breast, surrounded with plaques and cards.
Turns out, according to Wiki:
The Deceased Correa (in Spanish La Difunta Correa) is a semi-pagan mythical figure in folk-religion, for which a number of people in Argentina and Chile, especially among the popular classes, feel a great devotion. It has spread, in a limited way, to neighbouring countries such as Uruguay. Every year since its inception in 1840, miracles are said to have occurred at the shrine of La Difunta Correa, and thousands of people have visited there to pay their respects.My guess it is it is more like hundreds of thousands or millions, because the entire area around the Difunta shrine has transformed into this gigantic Nut-Tree or Casa-De-Universe style tourist attraction, with huge parking lots, a row of shops, a giant sundial for no obvious reason, giant murals of babies and boobs, restaurants, and tightly-packed arrays of bright blue painted barbecue pits to facilitate the Argentinians' favorite picnic activity:
Apparently on weekends and holidays, this place is packed with people coming to ask the defunct lady for a favor, or coming back to thank her for granting it.
Lonely Planet has this to say on their website:
https://www.lonelyplanet.com/argentina/san-juan/attractions/shrine-of-difunta-correa/a/poi-sig/1585454/363020Apparently one section is also full of wedding dresses from women thanking her for their desired marriages.
Since the 1940s, this shrine, once a simple cross, has metastasized into a village with basic hotels, restaurants and shops, all dedicated to the legend of Difunta Correa.
The shrine at Vallecito commemorates what is widely believed to be the site of her death. Difunta literally means ‘defunct,’ and Correa is her surname. People visit year-round, but at Easter, May 1 and Christmas, up to 200,000 make pilgrimages here. Weekends are busier than weekdays.
Legend has it that during the civil wars of the 1840s Deolinda Correa followed the movements of her sickly conscript husband’s battalion on foot through the deserts of San Juan, carrying food, water and their baby son in her arms. When her meager supplies ran out, thirst, hunger and exhaustion killed her. But when passing muleteers found them, the infant was still nursing at the dead woman’s breast.
Commemorating this apparent miracle, her shrine at Vallecito is widely believed to be the site of her death. Difunta literally means ‘defunct,’ and Correa is her surname. Technically she is not a saint but rather a ‘soul,’ a dead person who performs miracles and intercedes for people; the child’s survival was the first of a series of miracles attributed to her.
Since the 1940s her shrine, originally a simple hilltop cross, has grown into a small village with its own gas station, school, post office, police station and church. Devotees leave gifts at 17 chapels or exhibit rooms in exchange for supernatural favors. In addition, there are two hotels, several restaurants, a commercial gallery with souvenir shops, and offices for the nonprofit organization that administers the site.
Interestingly, truckers are especially devoted. From La Quiaca, on the Bolivian border, to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, you will see roadside shrines with images of the Difunta Correa and the unmistakable bottles of water left to quench her thirst. At some sites there appear to be enough parts lying around to build a car from scratch!
Despite lack of government support and the Catholic Church’s open antagonism, the shrine of Difunta Correa has grown, as belief in her miraculous powers has become more widespread. People visit the shrine year-round, but at Easter, May 1 and Christmas, up to 200,000 pilgrims descend on Vallecito. Weekends are busier and more interesting than weekdays. There are regular departures to Vallecito from San Juan and Mendoza.
Whatever works, I guess.
In the days after I visited the shrine, I started noticing mini Difunta Correa shrines along the road all over San Juan and Mendoza provinces in Argentina, sometimes only separated by 10-20 kilometers. Some shrines were as simple as a small stone mound and some came complete with minature sculptues of mother and child, but always there was the massive pile of water bottles to quench Mrs. Correa's thirst.
While the trip certainly did have notable highlights including the eclipse and the other items I mention here, in general there was a high background level of difficulty and loneliness due to the unexpected language barrier. I was really shocked at how little English was spoken here, not by locals (which I expected) but by almost all other travelers (which was a big surprise). I think during my entire time in Argentina and Chile, I met only 12 people total (including my Couchsurfing hosts and all other travelers I met) who could speak even one word of English. And I spent a huge amount of time wandering around the various towns and trying to talk to people.
This experience has been so surprising to me because it is so different from my early travels in Thailand, when I could not speak any Thai but I was always able to quickly and easily find other travelers who speak English and are in the same boat as me, and somehow we were always able to get our point across to Thais, either because the Thai business owners had learned enough English to get us through, or because somehow hand signals worked better than they seem to in South America. And because nearly all of the travelers in Thailand could speak English, that also meant I could easily find someone to share a meal or tour or whatever while traveling.
But here, 99% of the other travelers I met are also native Spanish speakers with no English ability. Furthermore, all information available for tourists, whether in brochures, signs, informative plaques, or guided tours, is in Spanish only—something I never experienced before given all the other places I have traveled (even China had more English than here). For example, at the world-renowned El Leoncito observatory in San Juan province, the tour guide, who was clearly full of wonder and enthusiasm and and pride about his telescopes, felt sorry for me and tried to find another Argentinian in the crowd who could translate some things for me.
That makes this type of travel quite lonely most of the time.
Like a Thai who suddenly finds himself transported to the middle of Turlock, CA on a Wednesday morning in November, I often get the sinking feeling that I am the only "farang" in South America, especially since I only visited Córdoba and small-ish cities in the country (equivalent to Fresno and Bakersfield) and not Buenos Aires. In part, this might have been due to traveling in the coldest part of winter; I suspect there will be more (ugly) Americans and obvious Europeans lurking around in the summer season.
Another confounding factor is that while in Thailand, everyone can identify most of the English speakers at a distance of 100m by their height and skin color, here in South America I blend into the crowd (other than the flip flops) and so do the other (potential) English-speaking travelers. So it is not until you see someone fumble with their phone translator or blurt out an awful Spanish pronunciation or just freeze when someone talks to them in Spanish that you can even know who speaks English.
The pathetic 1 month of Spanish preparation I did (phonetics study + 35 lessons of Pimsleur + some other grammar study) was 95% useless, not because of any exotic Chile/Argentina dialect differences (I would be in great shape if that were my biggest problem), but rather because that amount of study is only enough to be able to say about 5% of the rock-bottom basic things I need to say. After 35 Pimsleur lessons, we still haven't learned utterly basic words like "put" and "sell" and "get," and we haven't even studied the words for 500 and 1000, which are rather important in Chile :) I think 5 months would have been the absolute minimum amount of study (at my study speed of about 2-3 hours per day, given that I am working at the same time) to get any value whatsoever from that study while on the ground in South America. That would mean getting through all 5 major units of the Pimsleur Spanish program and going through some top-200-words lists in Anki.
In those rare cases where my phone had working internet signal (mostly in bigger cities), I was able to use Google Translate (sometimes with the voice input feature) to speed things up, but in general using Google Translate breaks the fluency of conversations, makes everyone nervous, and often produces results that are completely worthless (yes, even for English–Spanish, Google Translate's best language pair). And when you combine the errors of voice input with the errors of Google Translate, the result is useless even more often. Plus, Google Translate (or the network or something) always seems to crap out and hang forever at the most critical moments when you really need to understand someone, perhaps because these crucial conversations often happen in the old adobe buildings that block the weak 3G/LTE signals. I have a variety of good offline dictionaries on my phone as well, but they too are just not good/fast enough to break through the unnatural barrier.
As a result, many periods of this trip in Argentina have been intensely frustrating.
Some travelers have the amazing ability to force-learn a language by just blurting out something, without the slightest delay, hesitation, or visible sign of embarrassment or nervousness, and just seeing if they are understood, and then blurting out something else if that didn't work, and by using this method and listening for keywords in the answers they are able to learn the correct language amazingly fast. The absolute key to this method is to not be nervous, not even appear nervous, instead appear confident and dedicated to say whatever you want to say, even though you know you are speaking like an insane person. That, in turn, guarantees that the other person you are talking to does not become nervous and allows both parties to focus on the effort to communicate at hand rather than focusing on possibly offending the other person, or focusing on how each party is utterly failing to communicate with the other. I cannot do this. Generally, the force-learners will just use words from other languages if they do not know the Spanish, and they will use random conjugation for all verbs/adjectives, so the tenses and subject person are almost always wrong. But they speak anyway. I have never been able to do this. I am too embarrassed/chicken to say something completely wrong. I just can't bring myself to use this technique, even though it is probably the rapidest method to getting to the point where one can communicate.
I cannot believe what a stupid, stupid decision I made in high school (and later University) to study French instead of Spanish, surrounded as I was by Spanish speakers all around me in the SF Bay Area and with French on the decline everywhere in the world even in 1986 (even the handful of French speakers I met around here admit that French is worthless as a travel language). I hope someone with some sense can get to current high school students facing the same decision and tell them that choosing the supposedly "harder" (but not actually) language or the one with more "prestige" that will look better on their college application (which is stupid) is a total waste of time. I imagine kids in Califorina today are making similar bad decisions by choosing Mandarin over Spanish without having any Mandarin-speaking family or any desire to work in fields that require Mandarin fluency.
Originally, after the eclipse, I planned to head up to Northern Argentina (Salta/Jujuy) and the mountain villages up there looking for another Pai, then to Bolivia to the hot springs in the plains, then over to northern Chile (Atacama and nearby parks).
But I decided that was just a formula for further frustration, as there is even less English spoken up there (with the notable exception of the small tourism black hole of San Pedro de Atacama) and I am unlikely to find anything hard-to-find if I cannot even say "can I get a towel?"
So I headed over to Valparaíso, Chile and the decision seems to have been very worthwhile. While there are still almost no English speakers in Valparaíso, there is a small infrastructure for English-speaking tourists including some really good English-language guided tours and some English-fluent artist types wanting to share their work with foreigners. More later on Valparaíso.
I wish I could have done more of this, but rental cars are insanely expensive in Argentina, at USD$40/day minimum for a stick and USD$71/day minimum for an automatic (I never learned to drive a stick, and now I do not know a single person with a stick on whose car I can learn), plus at least USD$80 to fill the tank every time. If I come back for a long trip to Chile/Argentina, it would certainly be worth it to buy a car and sell it at the end.
The parts of San Juan and Mendoza province that I was able to see on these road trips are some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. Technically this is the Argentine "wine country," so there are some vineyards/bodegas and quaint micro-towns with homestays in adobe buildings. But most of the region is empty high desert.
All along the way, there were random government checkpoints like this one. There would be some lonely, armed uniformed officer or even plain-clothed local guy who would either diligently collect my "documents" (meaning collecting my passport number without actually writing down my name or the country of my passport, demonstrating what an empty gesture of bureaucracy these checkpoints were), or who would demand I open my trunk and surrender my fruit (apparently there was once a horrible grape blight and they have been using this excuse ever since) and pay a fee of around 35 pesos (USD $0.82) for the "service" of checking for fruit. And at the fruit checkpoints I would always have to drive through a strange concrete bridge thingy which looks like, many decades ago, it might have sprayed the cars' undercarriages with insecticide or something, but now we must all drive through there as a symbolic ritual, like a Cargo Cult ceremony.
My trip was sort of like driving on Highway 395 in California from Lone Pine through Bridgeport all the way to the Nevada border, but the scale of it is incredibly more. Much, much more distance. Almost nobody living along the route, except a handful of tiny towns full of adobe houses. Many more types of terrains, crazy, twisty, craggly multicolor canyons, begging you to pull off the 2-lane highway and explore some dirt road or abandoned homestead cabin, with the 10,000ft–22,841ft mountain peaks of the Andes in the distance. There are various parks like Talampaya and Ischigualasto that have cool rock formations as I mentioned above, but in some ways the scenery on both sides of the long highways in the area is even better (in part because you aren't forced to join a package tour, and because you can stop or spend time or explore details anywhere you want to). The roads are sometimes nicely paved and sometimes awful washboarded dirt monstrosities for 50 miles at a time, but everything I found is easy for a 2-wheel-drive sedan.
Pictures do not capture it, sorry. As much as I try to crank up the Saturation I can never get anything even close to the amazing variety of reds, pinks, bright greens, pastel greens, and even some blues that appear in the rocks, and no picture can capture the immensity of it. It just looks super boring compared to the real thing.
Here are some pathetic photos that don't do it justice:
Random dirt road I headed down in San Juan, apparently belongs to the power company:
I was driving down this amazing multi-color road and suddenly came upon this giant bright green hill (the rock is green, not the vegatation) in the distance. And yet again the photo completely fails to capture the actual colors no matter how I try to tweak it:
Google Maps satellite images actually give you a better sense of the crazy rock colors of this area:
The following Google Street View images are probably the closest computer images we can hope to express about the scale, since you can click to pan them around, and they are just a handful of terrains in an endless variety (it almost seemed like I was traveling through a landscape in a game with procedurally generated terrains and they just kept getting crazier and crazier). But the Google Street View images still don't capture the variety of colors. They make all the rocks look boring brown when they are not.
Insane 1-lane tunnel on Ruta Nacional 49; navigate through the tunnel to see how primitive it is, and explore the nearby area in the map to see the environs on this 20ish-mile, never-more-than-1.5-lane pass that I drove in pitch dark from Rodeo to Villa Unión after the eclipse. Fortunately I only met two cars coming at me on the whole route: two gigantic Atacama tour buses. No idea at all how they got though this road let alone the tunnel:
One small village appears to be entirely solar-powered by a nearby solar farm. It has just a few adobe buildings. They like to separate fields with straight rows of very tall, thin trees:
El Leoncito park (where observatory is):
At El Leoncito Park you can hike through multicolor mini-canyons like this:
Pano from El Leoncito observatory with Andes in background:
Burning-Man-like Playa (they call it 'pampa') under the Andes—really have to have an Argentina Burning Man here!:
As soon as you cross into Mendoza province -- dirt road that is sO fr*ckInG wAsHBoArDeD for miles and miles....
Sunset over the Andes from that washboarded road:
Beautiful multicolor canyon on the way to Cachueta Hot Springs that Google Street View completely fails to capture. Hello, Google, the formation is called "Formacion Rocas Amarillas"—yellow, NOT BORING WHITE!!! Look both ways to be doubly disappointed:
...and which ends with this stunning Lake Potrerillos that was mirror-still when I drove here, reflecting the mountains, and again Google Street view completely fails to capture it, argh so frustrating:
After going to disappointing Cachueta hot springs (see below) I attempted the infamous Ruta Nacional 52, which is a 34 mile 1.5-lane dirt road that crosses a stunning array of terrains including some truly insane dirt switchbacks that go on and on and on. Got to play in the snow on the way up too. Fortunately, there was almost no snow on the road and the conditions were pretty good.
Kind of looked like this but with larger patches of snow:
At the end of this route is Hotel and Termas Villavicencio, which used to be a famous rich0person hot spring resort and is still the site of the old fancy hotel where famous people stayed and you didn't. It has been used since the 1800s including by Charles Darwin, and the modern structure was used 1940-1978.
Nowadays it is a building in restoration waiting for a sucker, um, I mean, a wise investor to come and rejuvenate as a hotel. The hotel is located in an enormous nature "reserve", but the "reserve" is privately owned, which is bizarre. Looks like they are hunting for a business plan. Apparently even when it was open, the rooms were incredibly tiny and prison-cell-like.
The hot spring water is strangely absent now, but there were hordes of tourists coming from the paved direction on the day I visted, because this was an Argentine national holiday. Not sure if the hot spring dried up or whether they were heating cold spring water before, but throughout the decades they advertised the usual developed-hot-spring bullshit snake oil like that they had N different kinds of mineral water, each of which had separate medicinal properties. They even required all hotel guests to undergo training with their "doctor" to get a "treatment regimen" before using the hot spring water that was piped into their rooms. Tourists who visit Villavicencio today still gather the cold spring water from some spigot and believe it is magically clean and healing.Hot Springs of the Andes that lists hot springs in the full Andes region.
I had grand plans to see a variety of hot springs in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, but my language issues got in the way of that (see above).
In theory, there are about 50 hot springs in Argentina alone, but in practice there are problems:
With much trepidation I extended my trip down one of those beautiful valleys to Cachueta hot springs.
I had already seen that Cachueta divided their offerings into two parts, a foofy spa with a minimum USD$70 buy-in to all-inclusive spa packages where you have to make a reservation long in advance and wear their stupid robes, and a "water park," which is exactly the nightmare you are thinking:
Making things much, much worse, this happened to be one of the biggest national holidays in Argentina. It's a long story, but I couldn't rearrange my trip to visit on a different day.
The spring was utterly packed, with screaming kids, adults of every shape and size, and, of course, lots of barbecue.
The spring experience itself was unpleasant (I think it would have been even without the crowds, but it might be ok in really low season). As you can see, most of the pools are covered by a thick, transparent plastic wall and ceiling, and there is even a water channel leading from one of the indoor pools to one of the outdoor pools where the plastic is sliced vertically, just as if we are cow corpses in a slaughterhouse and this is our hygienic path to the next processing step. The "Water Park" includes all kinds of horrible features for kids such as a "slow river," whatever that is, but most of those kid features were closed because the water is not hot enough to drive those features in the winter. So there were even more kids concentrated in one place.
The most amusing part of Cachueta hot springs was actually the parking. As you can see from the map, they are in a beautiful but very narrow valley and there is no room for a big parking lot. There is a tiny village with maybe 20-30 adobe structures. As the hordes of vehicles arrived, they were incredibly ready for it. They had people who would guide your vehicle through the narrow dirt streets of the village, around corners you would never have thought possible to navigate with even the smallest of cars, into obscure narrow spaces between houses where they instructed you where to park your car. On the surface, it looked like complete chaos, with cars going both ways on the tiny 1-lane dirt alleys, but there was actually a method to the madness.
Contrast this with Thailand, where it would in fact be complete and total chaos, taking hours just to park, but people would be way less uptight about it.
Sadly, I never got to visit a real hot spring on this trip, which was one thing I had really hoped for. But they were all just too far away or they were in Northern Chile/Argentina/Bolivia which I felt would have been a huge waste to go to right now given my pathetic Spanish (see above). Maybe I can hit them on a later trip after doing proper language study. I had heard that somewhere downstream of Cachueta was a place where normal people could have a normal natural hot spring experience (sort of like the people who soak downstream of Keough hot spring in the Owens valley), but I was on the clock for the insanely expensive rental car and I suspect even that spot was overrun on this day.
Also rather annoying is that nude soaking is not the standard anywhere around South America. I think the only place it's going to happen is one of those hot springs that takes a many-hour 4x4 journey to reach, or maybe one of the hot springs at 14,000ft altitude in Bolivia if you can figure out a place to camp so you can keep soaking after all the tour buses leave.
The valley and the hike and the waterfall were great. Although it was actually between Córdoba and a neighboring trendy town of Villa Carlos Paz (that is sort of like Carmel), Casa Bamba was in a narrow valley where it seemed like you were totally in the mountains. The train stopped at a tiny train platform where there was absolutely nothing around: no roads, no houses except one or two abandoned buildings along the creek, a food vendor on the platform, a river, lots of dogs, and the train track.
There were no labels as to where to go or even in which direction the trail might be or what's at the end of the trail. Only a few people got off the train and they immediately disappeared. I picked a random direction and wandered down the train tracks for a bit and I found a classic hippie-style semi-business guesthouse called Macondo, Refugio De Montana (the only business here, it seemed) with run-down, art-filled rooms. It looked almost identical to many hippie guesthouses I had seen in South-East Asia including one or two left in Pai. Nobody was around, but knocking on a door I found a nice but disheveled man who had no English but tried to explain with hand signals how to get to the waterfall that apparently existed. You had to walk down the train tracks for 1km until you reached two "christmas" trees and then go in the trail there. I found the trail and it was quite nice, but I'm not sure how anyone else does.
Eventually I found a nice waterfall and scrambled up the steep hill to a nice view:
When I got back to the guesthouse, I stopped and wrote the hippie guesthouse owner a set of instructions in English that he can give to subsequent English-speaking passersby as to how to find the waterfall. And he also wanted me to translate this flier, which was way too much for Google Translate to handle (and my phone was about to run out of battery, stranding me in the middle of nowhere with no maps and no language assistance):
Fortunately there were more people at the strange guesthouse now and one of them had a bit of English, so we worked together to translate the flier. Apparently it is local advocacy addressed to the local mayor Rodrigo Rufeil asking him when he will do something about the fact that a mining company has bought all the land around this village of Casa Bamba, and locked the fence through their new property, in so doing completely blocking off access to all the people who live in this village from any roads and requiring them to walk more than 2km along the train tracks, with all their goods, in order to reach their homes from the nearest road. And apparently there have already been some accidents with the trains and people. And said mining company is apparently planning to demolish the mountain visible from the town and the waterfall trail, which is supposed to be in a National Hydrological and Recreational Reserve, to build a quarry. This flier was their attempt to increase awareness.
Even more fortunately, it was the guesthouse owner's birthday and so they were all having a barbecue and shared a bunch of the nice meat with me and tried to get me to drink their herbal hooch and let me charge my phone.
So that was a bizarre but nice South America experience. Things were to get more South American though:villa miseria or just "villa") right before the terminal station of Alta Córdoba. This slum is remarkable, full of barely-houses made from cardboard and steel sheet walls with roofs topped with scrap wooden boards and corrugated steel sheets, also held down by cinder blocks. Everyone in the train stopped talking and looked with amazement at the structures even when we were traveling out of Córdoba before.
I think the train stopped because the people in the favela were blocking the train, but I couldn't see in front of the train. All the passengers were looking out the window in a confused way. They were looking left and right and I saw kids running all over the place in the favela, almost as if they were playing. I wondered if they might be running under the train.
Suddenly, someone from the favela threw a cinder block very, very hard through the window a few inches from my head and glass sprayed everywhere. I only got a bit bloodied on my forehead and ear, but the old lady next to me had her eyelid sliced up by the glass. Fortunately, the cinder block missed any people and came to rest under the now-broken door, but there were several babies in strollers also sprayed with glass. I think the favela kids were distracting the police so that whoever threw the cinder block would not get caught.
In what seemed like an instant but was probably more like 10-20 minutes, some train staff person appeared from the other car of this 2-car train with cotton swabs and alcohol and all the passengers were talking with each other. After a minute or two, the train slowly started up again and came to a stop in the nearby terminal station as a crew was ready on the platform with brooms.
I asked two people on the train (via Google Translate) if this happens often and they said "siempre" (Always) and nothing more. There was at least one city cop on the train, indicating maybe this is a regular occurrence. I asked the cop why they do this and she said "Porque son de la villa, son quilomberos. Siempre hacen lo mismo. No le gusta que pase el tren" which apparently means something like "because they are from the favela/slum, they are quilomberos (troublemakers, rowdy people). This always happens. They don’t like the train to pass." Presumably meaning they don't want the rich people riding this only-for-vacationers train to pass through their neighborhood. I asked an English-fluent Córdoba local if the cop likely used the word "quilombero" with compassion or anger and she said "I don't know...maybe both?"
I wished I could understand the situation of the people in the favela. Was it just one out-of-control kid who threw the cinder block, or was it part of a concerted campaign against the train by the whole favela? Being from the US, I guessed they might all be recent immigrants living there (especially part of the flood of immigrants currently coming in from Venezuela as that country collapses) but several Argentinians insisted that is not the case, that the ultra-sharp economic disparity in Argentina is not on immigration status/racial boundaries, and that most immigrants settle with existing family members into whatever economic level their family members happen to be at, which depends on whether their family members found work or not. But it remains a mystery to me how and why so much of the population lives this low down economically. Wiki says:
Villas miseria are found around and inside the large cities of Buenos Aires, Rosario, Córdoba and Mendoza, among others. The villas draw people from several backgrounds. Some are local citizens who have fallen from an already precarious economic position. In most cases, a villa miseria is populated by the children and grandchildren of the original settlers, who have been unable to improve their economic status.Some police took a report including my name and the old lady's name and did nothing. A few passengers tried to brush glass off my backpack and jacket. Everyone just shook their head and got off the train and left the station.
Even more perverse, this trail has become famous among trail runners!! At the top, in addition to the requisite huge crosses that must appear on every peak everywhere in South America, there is a memorial to one trail runner who fell to his death. I'm really surprised there aren't more.
The way up was mostly snow-filled mountains and there were tons of ski resorts and mini-towns for tourists. Strangely, Argentinians seem to mostly rent their skies in the town of Uspallata which is way, way below the snow line, then haul them up 70km (45 miles) to these ski resorts. Not sure why they don't just rent skis up there.
The trip would have been only 6 hours, except that it passes through this, the most inefficient customs checkpoint imaginable, at 10,000ft:
Here our bus is waiting behind 2 other buses and hundreds of cars. As soon as the bus pulled up, the driver said something in Spanish about using the bathrooms and the little popup restaurants, and as everyone got off the bus and took their kids to the snow, it it was clear things were not going to be fast.
Each bus pulls up and then everyone waits in a long line for immigration checkin where first the driver and all passengers stand there for about 20 minutes while nothing seems to happen, then each passenger goes up and the processing of each person seem to require an inordinate amount of typing by the immigration officers even though they digitally read the passports. Then after that we all head over to customs, which is not the next room (in any secure sense of assuring order) but rather a room across the hall from where the bus is parked, where they completely unload all the bus luggage and scan the items with their one and only x-ray scanner, while at the same time leading their cute beagle up on the x-ray scanner ramp to sniff the same items of luggage about to go into the machine. The people from the bus have to bring their carry-ons and stand with them behind two rows of benches like high school jocks presenting their equpment to the coach, for a small eternity while the luggage scanning proceeds. The Chilean inspectors then call up whoever looks most like a hippie and forces them to open their bags and justify the contents in front of everyone, while everyone else scowls at them for delaying the process.
From before we even boarded the bus to during the voyage, the crew makes a big deal about how we have to fill out the Chilean customs form. When we are actually standing at Customs, the Chilean officers collect the forms and do not even look at them!!! I had fruit to declare and at no point that I could figure out did they ask for the declared items (though since everything was 100% in Spanish with nobody seeming to speak English, I could easily have missed some announcement about that). Then everyone had to file over by the X-ray machine and put their carry-ons in the machine, slowly, one by one. Finally I show them the fruit and they are shocked like I am trying to get away with something. They spend a minute or two (while the remaining passengers scowl) trying to find someone, anyone, who speaks English. I am finally able to tell them that I declared the fruit and they don't trust me but just don't want to deal with it (like, say, actually looking at the custom forms) so they let me go.
With the way the giant inspect-o-barn is set up, with no obvious instructions and no physical security between steps of the process, it would be trivial to smuggle anything ranging from a stash of drugs to a giant suitcase by simply moving it between stages when nobody is looking (which they almost always aren't).
The whole process is a complete farce.language barrier I encountered in other places, and in part this was because I wanted to get to know some locals and this is difficult when one is moving on every few days.
Valparaíso is under serious risk of becoming such a place: two of the 42 hills that make up the area (Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion) have undergone undeniable gentrification that pushed out many artists, and large swathes of Valparaíso now have UN World Heritage status, meaning that most forms of construction (including new housing construction) are forbidden.
However, despite this extreme risk, Valparaíso has so far managed to avoid cultural annihilation.
Put simply, Valparaíso still has real character.
There are still large numbers of artists living one hill away from Cerro Concepción and even a few who are still thriving in the gentrified areas. The street art scene is still growing, changing, and evolving and it welcomes both local and international artists.
Especially given the large language barrier for non-Spanish-speaking tourists, these tour guides provide a sorely needed service with high quality and a reasonable price.
On one tour, a guide stopped at a particularly complex mural to explain what it has to teach us about the history of Chile, including a student rebellion a few years back for which he himself was a spokesman. On another tour, the guide stopped at murals which seek to bring out into the open reveal little-known human rights violations in Chile's history.
Some locals complain that the now-popular tour companies employ people who either did not grow up in Valparaíso, or who do not have degrees in tourism. I can confirm that both claims are true, however I don't think either has a huge impact on the benefit that customers get since the tour itself was researched and designed by others who are local. In addition, some locals claim that existing tour companies (especially the "free tour with tip" model companies) just make up random crap to sound knowledgeable and impress the tourists. While I obviously can't verify everything I heard, I did take tours from degreed locals and non-degreed non-locals and the claimed facts I did hear matched up.colorful jumble of improvised houses on top of houses connected by insanely steep, windy, curvy unpredictable streets.
This is part of what gives the city its character. The 42 hills (technically, 42 districts that haphazardly span a smaller number of physical hills) have a personality and people feel membership of whatever hill they happen to live on.
The houses are apparently built with no code whatsoever, often piled on top of each other and with amazingly creative building techniques to accomodate the crazy steep ground, and so when fires occur, as they did repeatedly throughout Valparaíso's history including the massive 8.2 earthquake of 1906 and as recently as 2014, hundreds or thousands of homes are lost.
Flat land is almost impossible to come by, except in the approximately 4 by 20 block area of landfill (El Plan) that they have extended out into the sea, including the port.
One day I hiked up, and up, and up to the current but ever-expanding edge of development where there is a rare, large sports field:
I wondered how many future World Cup champions were kicking the ball around that day.
This insane bicycle race over dirt, stairways, and jumps starts roughly as high as I walked, and gives you a sense of how much vertical there is for people going to work/dinner every day:
Motorcycle-based online food delivery services have gone absolutely bonkers in both Argentina and Chile in the last few years, but they are especially popular in Valparaíso because it can be a 30 minute walk, or a USD $8 Uber ride, to and from the flat area where almost all the food is. Perhaps not surprisingly, the delivery companies charge the full USD $8 for a delivery fee, knowing exactly how much pain the customers must experience otherwise, even though their costs are obviously much lower.
The crime, or at least the perception of crime, seems to be one "exotic" element that attracts tourists to Valparaíso in the first place. But that same perception of crime may also be protecting Valparaíso against suffocating gentrification—many tourists visit Valparaíso during the day and then scurry off to the incredibly boring, sanitized, safe haven of Viña del Mar at night, as explained in this video.
It seems there is a certain amount of group hysteria about crime going on here on the part of tourists. During the day and evening, Barrio Puerto is full of a mix of homeless people and old people in walkers milling around what look like improvised outdoor fruit markets. But the reality is that there is a homeless shelter/kitchen in that area, so of course that is where they will go, and they are actually pretty nice. And the old people hang out there because they have lived in that district for decades and the Plaza Echaurren is their social circle. The outdoor market looks haphazard because Valparaíso's main food market building Puerto Mercado, which is right around the corner, has been closed for renovation after damage in the massive 8.8 2010 earthquake, and will open again "real soon now."
For the locals and guides who are advising caution, on further inquiry it seems to be that they do not trust the tourists to be street-smart and think the tourists will walk around with purses and expensive cameras loosely hanging from their body, or walking along loosely holding their expensive smartphones while not keeping an eye out for people running up behind them. They themselves do often walk home at night.
For all the paranoia about Barrio Puerto, the irony is that there was actually a full-on murder in Valparaíso on 21 June 2019, and it occurred at noon in the middle of Cerro Alegre, the supposedly "safe" tourist haven full of high-end hotels and restaurants. A tourist tried to resist two muggers stealing his camera, and the muggers fatally stabbed him, right in front of his wife and daughter, and ran off.
This was a massive, massive loss of face for the Valparaíso police. By the time I got there, Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción (the "safe tourist hills") were being patrolled 24 hours a day by flashing police vehicles which would pass by every point every few minutes.
It's important to understand that Valparaíso is not a static museum like you so often see with major tourist areas: the scene of murals and graffiti in Valparaíso is still growing, changing, and evolving, and Valparaíso not only welcomes international painters but it has both been influenced by and influenced the international scene for both murals and graffiti for decades.
The murals and graffiti are all over the town, even in areas tourists will never see.
Painting re-started up slowly and cautiously after the horrific, tramatic Pinochet dictatorship of 1973–1988, during which people would certainly be hauled away, tortured, and killed for painting anything remotely anti-government, and during which most existing expressive street art was covered up.
Starting in the 1980s, Chileans started hearing about the massive street art projects in Mexico, in part thanks to connections through and encouragement from the Nobel-prize winning poet Pablo Neruda (who died/was killed right when Pinochet got started, but whose idea for an open-sky museum of city-commissioned street art took form in 1992).
Painting accelerated in the early 2000s, in part thanks to influences from international muralists and graffiti writers. In Valparaíso you will see works both by local Chileans and artists from around the world.
And painting is still going on right now at an accelerated pace. In 2012, a massive concerted effort by muralists (the Polanco GraffFestival) filled the challenged neighborhood of Cerro Polanco with murals and graffiti, both with the goal of raising their spirits and perhaps also raising them out of poverty with a new flood of visiting tourists. The effort is sort of working, but many tourists are still scared away by exaggerated claims of rampant crime in the neighborhood and many tour guides still won't bring people there (for reasons explored above).
I also visited many murals that were painted in the last few years and saw many being painted while I was there.
While technically still illegal under the old laws left over from the Pinochet regime, pretty much everyone—including the police—recognizes the value of the murals and graffiti for Valparaíso, though for different reasons...
For some, the murals in particular are a beautification, especially when a mural gets painted over lettering or other graffiti. For that reason, many Valparaíso residents happily let muralists paint the walls of their houses (and generally, muralists will ask the homeowner for permission first). While there are almost no rules at all, especially for graffiti, it is clear that most graffiti writers actively refrain from tagging on top of murals.
For some who are invested in the tourist industry, the murals and graffiti are a tourist pull that will generate more revenue, and nothing more.
For some, the murals are a way to make a living: while most graffiti and some murals are done without permission, many murals are actually commissioned and paid for by the local government or private businesses like restaurants or guesthouses. Only a tiny percentage of muralists become famous enough to get paid, but those can make a living off of it and even tour internationally on invited commissions.
For many, the murals and the graffiti are a critical form of self-expression and rebellion against injustices. As you will see below, many of them carry specific political messages that are not always obvious to outsiders but that the artists want others to understand.
For some, graffiti is specifically an anarchist act whose sole goal is to get one's name/tag/mark in as many places as possible, and/or to break the rules as much as possible. It can be a way, sometimes the only way, for those with no money or power to express themselves or feel powerful. The people making this graffiti often don't care if other people can read what they wrote, and for that reason often don't like being referred to as "artists" (since that implies they give a shit about their audience) and simply prefer to be called "graffiti writers." Sometimes the graffiti writers specifically don't want others to read what they wrote, since it may get them in trouble, and this requirement has spawned specific painting styles. Valparaíso is not big on gangs like many US cities, so the tags written generally refer to the writer himself/herself, or (in a case that is kind of looked down upon by other graffiti writers and muralists as the "noob" or "hooligan" thing to do, since the skill level of this writing is generally low) local or international football clubs.
For some in the Pichação camp, graffiti is a challenge to see who can get the most graffiti tags in the most high and dangerous, illegal, and inaccessible locations.
Even the experienced or even paid mural artists have mixed feelings when their murals do get tagged with graffiti. They have respect for the needs of the graffiti writers too, and respect for the idea of impermanence that is kind of built into all of these forms of expression. They will probably judge the tag as good or bad based on the artistic skill shown by the tagger, and perhaps its message. For example, some idiot painted a crude penis over the image of a woman in an amazing mural clearly designed to express the harm of sexual assault, and nobody has respect for that.
As explained in this Guide to Street Art and Graffiti Styles in Valparaíso from a company that does street art tours of Valparaíso (whose guides are all street artists and/or graffiti writers themselves, and which actually brings guests to workshops where the guests practice some painting techniques themselves on actual public walls in Valparaíso), graffiti and murals in Valparaíso have a historical chain of influences and a variety of techniques.
Different painters use spraypaint, brushes, stencils, mosaic, and other tools.Brigada Ramona Parra) style dates back to 1968 communist pro-Allende and anti-Pinochet revolutionaries and can still be found around town (despite most of the orginal artwork having been covered up by Pinochet's goons), as well as influencing other styles:
That mural is just around the corner from this glowing memorial for Allende:
Some artists pre-print and paste up their work:
The strokes may be circular, square or diamond-shaped in different styles.
The rightmost figure is the unmistakeable style of the local, internationally-renowned muralist named Inti:
Chileans will recognize the patches of clothing that the figure is wearing as symbols of various indigenous groups such as the Incans and the Mapuche, symbolizing that all the groups contributed to create modern Chilean culture.
Inti also painted this gigantic mural that takes up the entire side of three buildings and is only visible from a few hills in Valparaíso:
Apparently some, but not all, of the murals that depict Mapuche were painted by Mapuche. In the community of muralists and graffiti writers, there does not seem to be a lot of concern about cultural appropriation.
Just while I was in Chile, some police went down to southern Chile to execute a Mapuche organizer, then subsequently claimed they killed him in self-defense, then claimed there was no body-cam video, then claimed there was body-cam video but the officer could not release it because it contained "private" moments with his girlfriend (he has sex with his riot gear on?), then when nobody believed that, the video was leaked to the press and revealed that they shot the Mapuche organizer in cold blood and that he was unarmed and not hostile. Then the chief of police got sacked. That's about as much justice as anyone can hope for around here. The government apologized for the video (not the killing).genocide of the Selk'nam indigenous people:
As stated in the above 10'x40' English-language mural in Valparaíso near the Pablo Neruda house, painted by muralist Hailey Gaiser in 2017, the Selk'nam people were hunted and killed from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, with the Chilean government delivering bounties for dead Selk'nam with severed hands/ears/skulls as proof. The Selk'nam are now considered extinct, with the last full-blood Selk'nam dying in 1974.
One of the Selk'nam customs was to teach young girls and boys to believe in and fear spirits which were actually adults dressed in costumes like those seen in the mural, so that they would behave themselves. Then, in a rite-of-passage called Hain, the boys were told to unmask the spirits, and upon discovering that they are just men, the boys were taught another creation story related to the sun and the moon, and then the newly initiated men could dress in the costumes and continue to scare the women of the group, who were not in on the ruse, into submission (source, source).
These iconic Selk'nam figures appear in other street art all over Valparaíso:
Un Kolor Distinto is a world-famous Valparaíso muralist couple who have painted murals all around Valparaíso and around the world:
This Un Kolor Distinto mural relates to the frequent landslides/mudslides that occur in Valparaíso during its rainy season, sometimes happening in the three large cemetaries on Cerro Bellavista and unearthing coffins. Their murals generally feature two figures representing the couple themselves, and in this case we can see that the ghosts of the Un Kolor Distinto artists remain together even after being exhumed:
Un Kolor Distinto are famous for painting the largest murals in Valparaíso, including a series of 4 season murals which occupy the entire sides of 10+-story buildings. These large murals were done on government buildings and funded by the government, and the couple used motorized window-washer type scaffolds to complete the work. The couple painted the spring mural when Cynthia was pregnant:
They also specialize in roof art so large it can only be seen from airplanes and drones, and I think there is some in Valparaíso:
The "piano stairway" is always crowded with tourists:
After the Pope first assures us that "blessed be the obedient flock," we are given the schedule:
finally, Elvis tells us to "buy the Gringo dream: Rock'n'roll!"
see full-size, detailed version):
The Plaza del Descanso is entirely done in mosaic, some of the mosaic done by local school children:
Here are some other mosaics in the tourist area:
Jump to 2:38 in this video to see the mural:
Each part of this surrealist mural is rich in images and symbols that Chileans recognize. One of my tour guides walked us through it.
First, at the far left, we have images of Mapuche and other indigenous peoples fighting with, and being mostly slaughtered by, Spanish soldiers and missionaries:
The Mapuche are famous for having resisted Spanish occupation much longer than any other indigenous group, so they are depicted in the mural as doing pretty well in the battle. You can also see the practice by which indigenous people were dragged to cities to serve as amusements in human zoos, though the indigenous person in this picture is strong enough to escape:
Not far behind the Spanish soldiers and missionaries we can see a British soldier taking aim at the Spanish, representing the dual threat that the Spanish colony faced by Mapuche from the south and British forces from the sea, and the uneasy "enemy of my enemy" relationship the Mapuche and others had in Chile with Britain.
You can't help but notice that some of the "Spaniards" morph into modern military police (Carabineros) with modern weapons, and this reflects the ongoing persecution of Mapuche today:
And right behind the British soldier, we have a US/European hippie backpacker tourist and a Chinese tourist, toting their cameras and triviliazing both the ongoing cultural persecution of indigenous people and the citizen rebellions depicted later to the right in the mural (by treating them as a spectacle for entertainment), and also legitimizing the Pinochet dictatorship by visiting Chile when he was in power...
The ever-present street dogs gnaw on the hippies' pan flute and piss on their feet. Elderly Chileans in the street, protesting against massive corruption in the Chilean pension system ("no AFP," a campaign still going on today), either beg the tourists for money or mug the tourists for money:
And just behind them at the bottom we see Chilean students, dressed up in their all-black or all-white-with-tie school uniforms and therefore known as Penguinos, protesting government corruption and weilding slingshots and water pistols (?) against the government's automatic machine guns. One of my walking tour guides was a spokesman for the Penguinos when he was in high school:
all the while the press trying to get a good, sensational shot for state-controlled TV:
But notice right behind the students is a member of the FPMR (Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front), an armed Marxist-Lenininst guerrilla group that attempted to assassinate Pinochet and attempted to kidnap or assassinate other officials during the Pinochet dictatorship. Notice he is firing a bullet to the right:
That bullet travels about 15 feet across the mural to its very right edge where it hits senator Jaime Guzmán, a close Pinochet ally who particpated in drafting Pinochet's constitution and was a fervent supporter and ideological symbol of the "business-friendly" neoliberal policies of the Chilean Chicago Boys. The FPMR successfully assasinated him in 1991:
Though Guzmán did not hold an official position in Pinochet's government, in the mural Guzmán is a symbol of the Chilean government allowing the US to flood Chile with investment control and lots of consumer goods, as depicted in the remaining parts of the mural. Guzmán clutches an uprooted tree (representing his policies of planting non-native trees like eucalyptus for profit and killing native trees) and his ankles are tangled up up in cords from some of the consumer goods.
We see a horrific, Ronald-McDonald clown-like figure in paratrooping gear showering Chile with money and hundreds of types of consumer goods that Chileans grab at all throughout the mural below this point. Some people identify the horrific figure at the top as Trump, but as the mural was painted 2-3 years ago it might just represent the US threat in general.
The taxi with the terrified driver is labeled "Plaza Ecuador, 2 de Febrero" but I wasn't able to figure out the reference. I thought it represented the FMPR's assasination attempt on Pinochet, but that is the wrong day. If anyone knows the answer, let me know:
Not sure what the meaning is behind Mickey Mouse being throttled by a figure with wooden mask. The figure's clothing probably provides a clue to Chileans; maybe it represents indigenous people fighting back against foreign capitalism? If anyone knows the answer, let me know:
Also not sure the meaning behind the lady holding up a pair of underwear. If anyone knows the answer, let me know:
Or who is the dark monkey-like character, the farmer-looking guy to his right, or the grandma trying to pull him up. If anyone knows the answer, let me know:
The same artist also painted this giant full-color mural around the corner, and apparently it is loaded with local references to Valparaíso politicians and other scandals, and inside jokes:
This Pinochet-tired graffiti says "more orgasms, fewer coups:"
This one says "traveling does not necessarily make you more sensitive," I guess a jab on the annoying tourists:
Here are a whole bunch of other cool murals:
had come alive thanks to video mapping art from a local Valparaíso video art group called MapMachine:
The artists had photographed and generated custom content to go overtop the existing mural, and used 3-D projection mapping software to perfectly perspective-distort and align the projected image over the existing mural.
This is really a new frontier in Valparaíso. There are so many amazing visuals everywhere around the town that the possibilities are endless. And this form of expression is non-destructive, so it is less likely to be shut down by police.MEZ, my video art.
After several days of communicating around the small (but growing) community of VJs and video artists in Valparaíso, we had managed to locate two venues, a projector, a camera, some lights, and a variety of other tech needed to make it happen.
The first venue was an eccentric sculpture garden belonging to Jose/Pepe of Taller Manojo, right along Gálvez passageway in the center of the tourist area of Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre:
We set up MEZ and Jose and friends did some live experimental electronic music:
We did that for two nights, and managed to convince some passers-by to come in and play for a while, though in general we found that the audience of mostly Chilean tourists was pretty conservative and would only come into the sculpture garden if invited/encouraged to do so.
This was in the dead of winter (low tourist season) and it was about 2 C so that also didn't make for a huge crowd. But it was fun trying out the space and seeing what happened.
The second venue is the Plaza del Descanso, a famous plaza of Valparaíso entirely decorated in mosaic which often has Afro-Columbian drum circles and large groups of dancers in the evening.
Joaquin Lagos and other folks from MapMachine helped a ton to secure the venue (and keep it open a bit later than usual) and find the myriad of supplies needed to get power into the plaza. We even did a shopping trip to the Valparaíso equivalent of Home Depot looking for material that would be suitable for a rear-projection video screen, eventually settling on two taped-together shower curtains!
Many thanks also to the nearby Patrimonio Tattoo shop for power and help with storage and other logistics.
Joaquin also set up some projection mapping using another video projector on a wall nearby the plaza using previously generated material and also the output of MEZ:
The crowd reaction was interesting. I had seen the same drummers and dancers in the square the week before, and I had assumed they would love to play with MEZ. What I didn't understand was that this group of people are serious about their music/dancing in a similar way that football club members are serious about their sport. They come here every week to practice, and there is a strong element of district pride associated with it, as at some point they will compete with other dance groups from Valparaíso and maybe all of Chile. So, for some of them, the presence of MEZ was a bit of a distraction. They tried to concentrate on their dance moves but sometimes peered up onto the screen!
To a certain extent I was distracting them, but there was also a degree of tunnel-vision I think, since they did take frequent breaks but still didn't play with the screen. They had become used to this routine and were not that ready to try new things that pop up along the usual route.
For others in the square who were not practicing, some of them had fun playing but others were similarly conservative and just stayed sitting on the benches on the edge. Perhaps they thought the screen was there only for certain dancers as part of an organized routine.
It sounded like a music festival, but we suspected it was a protest. We headed down there to have a look.
On Pedro Montt, the main street of town, we encountered a crowd of several thousand marching in a joyful, often-musical parade, stopping sometimes for song and dance:
Issues being highlighted by the different groups in this protest, which was organized on Facebook, included:
They were really good at crowd dynamics. There would often be waves of jumping that flowed down the protest, with chants like "Anyone who doesn't jump is [the current national education minister]" or "Anyone who doesn't jump is a cop!"
The protest was entirely peaceful as it made its way down Pedro Montt to Plaza Salvador Allende, where protesters were stopped by police barricades and and proceeded to demonstrate with signs, music, and dance.
Here we see a somewhat ironic pan between a commercial food vendor, a socialist/communist group for health and education, the women's rights group, and other student and teacher groups set up on the stairs:
Here is what the march down Pedro Montt looked like. The marchers in the video may or may not have been aware that they were marching right under a mural exactly about the ability of the masses to protest against suit-wielding plutocrats:
After the protest groups had stopped in Plaza Salvador Allende and sung and danced for about one hour, all of a sudden I noticed a group of black-clad people gather in the middle of the crowd, between the socialistas and the pro-choice group. They were completely separate from anyone else. They got their black clothes and masks out of their backpacks in full public view. They were totally obvious about it and didn't hide their faces while getting geared up.
They then headed together over to the police barricades and started to try to knock them over. They didn't seem to know how the barricades worked physically, and were unable to topple them properly until about about 10 minutes later. At 0:57 the black-clad group is fighting someone to the ground and then kicking them on the ground (possibly a teacher; see later):
In the meantime, they hauled over a yellow plastic dumpster and set it on fire, and in the process one of them also set themselves on fire and had to be quickly patted out by another black-clad member:
At this time, a crowd of unsurprised looking onlookers was gathering at the nearby corner, while most of the shops on this corner partially pulled down their steel gates and removed their street signs and kept watch to see what was going to happen. Various street vendors got out large tarps they had prepared just for the purpose.
The black-clad group also hurled a few molotov cocktails and set off a few smoke bombs. But, for at least two of the smoke bombs and one of the molotov cocktails, they accidentally set them off right at their own feet. Those shots which did come off completely missed any target.
It seems plausible that the black-clad crew are hired false-flag provocateurs, but if not, they are really really incompetent.
Also around this time, some regularly-dressed older women (possibly teachers) went into the crowd of black-clad folks and yelled at them, trying to get them to stop this action (knowing exactly what the consequences would be). You can just barely make out some of them here as the black-clad folks pull down the last barricades:
As soon as the black-clad crew finally did topple the barricades, they beckoned to the rest of the protest crowd to keep marching on. Apparently the original goal/plan of the protest march was to march another 10 blocks or so to the Congress building.
But as soon as the barricades were clear, the military police were already ready (given so much advance warning) and they entered the square at high speed, using both water cannons and tear gas to quickly disperse the entire square in a matter of minutes. Here you can see a big group running around the corner as they are being swept up by a water cannon on the side street. All the onlookers, young and old, are running but also still smiling. For many of them, it seems like a game, which, I guess, in a weird way, is a testament to how far Chile has come since Pinochet. You can see the guys that were holding the socialist/communist banner hanging out in the middle of the side street that everyone retreats into:
It is actually somewhat surprising that this event was broadcast at all on TV (which is still entirely state-controlled and very right-leaning) but of course the TV coverage featured only the black-clad riot and did not mention any of the issues or show the joyful part. To its credit though, the TV reporter did mention repeatedly that until the footage shown, the protest had been completely peaceful and that the black-clad group consisted of a very small number of people. And the reporter did mention that some teachers at the protest were yelling at the black-clad people:
After a very short time with the military police water cannons and tear gas, the square was almost completely empty of people, and the police brought out a troop carrier and chased some protesters (or someone) across the nearby park:
All the while, local shops had already started to open again, and before the police were even done chasing people, street cleaners suddenly appeared with soapy deck brushes to scrape off the yellow tear-gas residue from the pavement.
The smell of tear gas was still in the air, and you could feel it irritate your throat, but ordinary Valparaísans were already starting to walk through the park again, holding the collar of their shirt up to their mouth, to get to wherever they wanted to go, even though there were many easy detours available. Buses and other traffic starting entering the intersection almost immediately, turning off their route only because one of the giant green military police vehicles was blocking their way.
I was very confused about everyone's non-chalant behavior.
Until someone informed me that this exact ritual happens every week or two in Valparaiso, with different mixes of groups and issues. Everything, including the planned march to Congress, the black-clad crowd, the water cannons and tear gas, the rapid shop closure and opening, the cleanup—it's all part of the standard pattern.
All the protesters who were not teachers were college and high school kids, and they were having the time of their life as seen in the videos, but everyone else in Valparaiso just shakes their head at the ineffectiveness of this repeated ritual, which they believe has lost its power since it has become a regular thing. So they do not show up at all.
I walked over to the congress building and it was completely surrounded by two layers of fencing and there was nobody there at all.
Meanwhile, there are massive multi-million-dollar theft scandals being exposed weekly in every part of the Chilean state (government, police, military), and income inequality continues to widen beyond its levels that are already record-high for South America. The health system and other social benefits are notably worse than in Argentina, income disparity is much higher in Chile, and unemployment is still rising in Valparaiso.
About the only 'good' thing to happen is that a police chief lost his job for ordering the assasination of a Mapuche.
That's about as much justice as anyone can hope for around here.
This is what democracy looks like?
Whatever Chileans do, they like to do it in a big, warm group. Meals, parties, whatever, there is an element of social unity and warmth and a positive desire for inter-dependence that is clearly lacking in, say, the San Francisco Bay Area.
One night after doing the MEZ screen I returned to my guesthouse at 2am (actually, I had been locked out for 2 hours due to someone else's error and was especially exhausted and angry) and the proprietor was just getting back along with a huge crowd of Chileans who occupied the common area with Latin musical instruments of every variety and at least 20 bottles of wine and other hooch. The proprietor asked me if I'd like to join them for music and dancing. "Now?" I said. "Yes!" he said, as if that's a perfectly normal thing.
Turns out this is a group of his friends, some of whom are related to each other but not all, who have music in common and come to Valparaíso now and then to perform. Many of them are music professors and they play traditional string and wind instruments. They were playing songs from all over South America and when one started the others all seemed to know the tune already and joined in.
They had come to Valparaíso to hear one of them play and sing at a prestigous venue she had been invited to, and now, already drunk, they decided to hang out all night and play some more.
Here are some audio samples:
One of the revelers could speak English and she explained that her father, who was an expert in a 4-stringed Lute-like instrument, was a communist party member and folk music author, and so their whole family had to flee to Canada after he was targeted by the newly installed Pinochet regime. Even before he escaped with his family, he had to adapt his music. Instead of overtly mentioning the government, he'd have to write a children's song about how all the children will "jump to the left" and be happy.
She described some pretty greusome training that she and her friends had to receive as kids, like that if you hear your parents screaming in pain in the next room, you still shouldn't give the names of any of their friends to the policeman torturing them.
She lived in Canada her whole life but recently returned, and despite the continuing government problems, she feels much more fulfilled here and has no desire to return to Canada. She feels people focus much more on what is important here.Argentinian food or Chilean food on Google, you get a lot of promising lists of interesting-sounding dishes, and I actively looked for these items when I was travelling. But it turns out most of those dishes are either only found in narrow regions of Chile/Argentina, super hard to find anywhere in the country, or are not actually Argentinian/Chilean dishes at all.
The on-the-ground reality in Argentina and Chile is that food here is boring. Really boring. I have never visited a place that is so amazingly bereft of any variety. I had no idea that humans could exist in such a narrow culinary world without going insane.
Even the Thai menu in Thailand, which really only has about 10-20 core dishes, is vastly more diverse than here, and a lot more tasty too.
I lost between 15-20 pounds of weight during the trip because I frequently found myself wandering through cities for hours and hours, sometimes for miles, desperately trying to find something other than the basic 5. I was often so disappointed that I end up declaring defeat and getting an empanada, the default food.
It is as if every Argentinian/Chilean were actually a lonely bachelor in a New York apartment, unable to cook anything and just able to combine some basic ingredients as he saw his Mom do one time when she was in a hurry.
As you walk down the street of a medium-sized city like Mendoza, Argentina, you see literally hundreds of restaurants all with distinct styling and price ranges...but they are all just serving the basic 5 categories!!! It's like in the dsytopian future of Demolition Man where all restaurants have become Taco Bell.
I thought there might be some hidden subtlety to the preparation of the basic 5, but even high-end expensive places produced identically unimpressive renditions. Perhaps worst of all were the high-end looking restaurants with English menus labeled as "bar restaurant de tourismo," where the food prep is so bad it's almost spiteful.
It is sort of like how small US towns have identical diners with the same hamburger and hot dog menu, but at least almost every US town also has Mexican, Chinese, and Thai restaurants, and people actually go to those restaurants.
It took me forever to locate a black-sheep restaurant in Mendoza that was serving Peruvian food, and even that restaurant had to include the basic 5 as well even though they are not Peruvian. But at least I could get something different. In large cities you may also be able to find Mexican restaurants, but even the Mexican fare is dull and without spice.
I really really wonder what would happen if someone came to Argentina/Chile and tried to open a chain of restaurants selling, well, real food. Would the locals simply try to order Lomitos and leave in frustration? You would figure that if the market were open to other types of food, someone would already be succeeding at it.
I ordered a "bife de chorizo" and got a 2-3" thick massive chunk of meat that was falling off the edges of my plate it was so big. But it was very soft and tasty.
In Córdoba I splurged at a high-end Parrilla place and had some mouth-watering pork ribs that were falling off the bone and fantastic:
however it appears that the restaurant owner might be from the US, so I'm not sure if this was representative.Lomo a lo pobre) or strips of beef, and maybe a fried egg. I don't understand how french fries can have such a magical property.
How is it that serving strips of beef and sauteed onions becomes a different dish when they are on top of a big pile of french fries? This region is insane.pastel de choclo, a sort of corn pudding with beef/chicken, raisin, olives, and egg:
Choripán, which is basically a hot dog bun containing spicy Chorizo sausage ("pan" means bread), and as junk food goes, that was actually pretty good. But the Chorizo sausage is not traditional Argentinian or Chilean food so that probably explains why an actually spicy, tasty ingredient got allowed in.
Here's a similar-looking sign from Chile that follows the same format and even uses most of the same words, but I think in this case it might be a sarcastic poster because the guy is the rector of a University:
At first I thought this might be part of the massive teachers' strike going on in Chile now (where the 'crimes' and abuses were low pay and long hours), but looking at the blog mentioned at the bottom, it seems to be a campus sexual harassment case where students keep having to attend class with their abusers: Google Translation of blog page.
It appears to say that they are very happy with their Catholic faith, and tells any potential vistor wanting to push another faith to pass by, and that "our prayers are with you."
I'm guessing it is their version of the "No Jehovah's Witnesses" signs often posted in households in the US. I saw the Jehovah's Witnesses were quite active in Argentina and Chile, even at the eclipse site.
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