Friday, January 29, 2010

The Casa Rosada

The President of Argentina, Cristina de Kirchner, lives in the Casa Rosada, the pink house. During our entire trip she has been feuding with the President of the Central Bank and with her own Vice President. She is very unpopular with the people we have talked to and on the way to the airport our driver told us a joke in Spanish that roughly translated is: " Do you know why Cristina cannot drive? She shifts the gears first and then pushes in the clutch." Then we checked the news on line and see that today she made international headlines, even the Seattle Times, for her story on how eating more pork can improve a man's sexual performance. Can you imagine, meat prices have increased here 40% since December and in the meat eating capital of the world, the President is encouraging her people to eat less red meat and more pork. Inflation, political instability and protesters in the street. What a great country. If you are interested read on.

Argentina 2010

  This blog tells the tale of our three week trip to Argentina in January 2010.  If you are interested in wine, pears, apples, tango or trout fishing, architecture, art ,politics, economics, trekking or just people watching and love life there is something in it for you.  You can either begin at the beginning, January 8 in Mendoza, or at the end, January 29 in Buenos Aires.  Or you can jump into the middle in Neuquen or Bariloche or Villa La Angostura.  Wheverever you start, we hope you do not end until you come down here to experience it for yourself.  Enjoy.  Dale and Gail Foreman

In the City of Angels

City of Angels

It is our last morning in Argentina, we return to the City of Angels, the cemetary in Recoleta, to better understand the mystery of poor Rufina Cambaceres. Rufina was the 19 year old daughter of a very rich family when she died suddenly in 1902. After a few days the cemetary staff called the family to report the coffin had been disturbed and when they opened it to check the corpse was covered in scratches. The legend began to be told that Rufina was a ghost and she wanders the narrow lanes of the cemetary looking for her betrothed. They also say that her own mother was having an affair with Rufina's fiance and gave her daughter a potion to make her sleep. Sadly the potion was too strong and it killed the girl. The distraught fiance later killed himself outside the Cafe Tortoni. The family constucted a crypt complete with a statue of Rufina holding the door of her own crypt, trying to open it to escape her fate.
Like Lady Diana and Eva Peron, the world loves a story of a beautiful young girl coming into her prime. We yearn for Cinderella to win the Prince. We cheer when Princess Grace is crowned and cry when her sports car goes off the cliff and smashes on the winding road. Everyone fears the unhappy ending. We tremble to think that although blessed with youth, beauty and riches, all is dust. This cemetary gives us a "momento mori", a time to reflect on life and death. Life is good Life is too short. This trip to Argentina has been great. Seize each moment. And know that there is more to come for those who believe in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Polo Ralph Lauren shop in an old mansion

chic window display

Window shopping

Relaxing in the Park

Perfect finish to a meal at "Ligure"

Professional Dog Walker

Relaxing at Cafe Tortoni (built 1858)

Observations of a Great City!

As we near the end of this adventure I think of one of our family's great travelers Mel Foreman. The memories I have of my father in law, Mel are sweet. He was a sociologist and he loved to study and observe people. He would strike up a conversation with a total stranger in Jerusalem, New York or Hong Kong just to try to understand the mysteries inside another person's head.  He would have loved the complexity and vibrancy of Buenos Aires. While I do not purport to know the fifty different neighborhoods in this city, I too have enjoyed observing the "Portaneos" or "people of the port". Today Dale and I finally completed five different walking tours laid out by Frommers which guided us through several different neighborhoods of the city. I am not talking only about the downtown, busy streets jostling with people and traffic, but the streets where people simply live their lives. There are elegant and sophisticated areas in Retiro and Recoleta that have streets that are chic and blend elegance, history and art. Window shopping is fun and there is an aristocratic feel in the store fronts, buildings and people who live here. There is also life in the open spaces as people and families spend time jogging, walking and picnicing in the parks. Children play, people read the newspaper or even nap on a bench. It is common for wealthy families, living in apartments to hire a professional dog walker. These paseadores will often walk between 10 and 25 dogs at a time! The numerous plazas scattered throughout the city contain sculptures, fountains, green spaces and century old trees. The Plaza de Mayo represents one of the oldest areas of the city and is the corridor of business power and the political and legislative center. Local architects are decendents of immigrants from Italy, Spain and France. So it follows they have long borrowed and even copied all things European. The cafe scene is strong and is an excellent place to meet friends and sip coffee. Locals love theater, tango, sports, especially football, music and just about any other activity that bring people together. Tomorrow we board a LAN Chile flight and begin our long journey home. I carry home images of the beautiful sights we have seen, people we have met and memories of the pleasant places of this grand city.

Scenes from a cemetary

  "Rich as an Argentine" was a phrase in 1900.  The people buried in this world famous Necropolis ruled one of the richest nations on earth.  But one hundred years and poor policies have changed much.  Now their children and grandchildren have mountains of debt and only difficult choices to face.  How similar is the fate of the future generations of America? 

State of the Union

 Today is the annual State of the Union address so as we enjoy Buenos Aires we pause to give thanks for the blessing of a free country and the chance to fix the problems we face. Two hundred years ago both the US and Argentina were lands of great opportunity, vast natural resources and the destination of hundreds of thousands of European immigrants searching for a better life.  I have read some fine books trying to explain why the US became the greatest power in world history, the richest country in the world (also the biggest debtor) and why Argentina rose to economic strength in 1900 only to fall from grace and be the world's worst serial defaulter nation.  Argentina has borrowed billions from the worlds banks and then failed to pay them back.  They have done this multiple times and even today, the local crisis is because President Kirchner wants to use bank reserves to pay back the defaulted bonds issued a decade ago.  The state of this union is not good.  The President does not trust her own Vice President, wants to sack the head of the Central Bank, and even cancelled her trip to China last week as she is afraid if she leaves the country her own VP and some cabinet members will do things behind her back. She cries out "conspiracy" day after day in the press.
  Yet there are when we go to the airport, there are no long lines at security.  In fact, there is not much security.  You walk through a metal detector and the man looking into the machine is not even paying attention, he is laughing and chatting with his fellow guards.  Pro forma, and then you realize this country is not at war.  In fact, the people here are happy, do not fear terrorist attacks and are enjoying a fine summer without daily headlines of car bombs or failed airline disasters, or soldiers dying in Afghanistan. Their economy is running pretty well, as they are a huge agricultural export economy with plenty of their own oil, gas and all kinds of food.  Their number one export market is China and their Trade Minister is there today signing a major expansion of that relationship.  Their politics are messy, the left wingers still blockade streets to force the government to give more benefits. They have 10% unemplyment and 7% inflation.  Their economy is a mix of social welfare political redistribution and they love to blame America and European bankers for their problems.  Say, it sounds like the state of their union is not that much different than the state of our union.  Except we are still at war and we will eventually solve our economic problems.
 So we spent the day walking through the vast Recoleta Cemetary, wandered through the Art Museum (fantastic European collection) and walked down Alvear Street from one beautiful end to the other.  Ah, Argentina is magnificent.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The apology

Focus on the flowers, not the rain clouds

Apology for the Evil

 Travel brings surprises, it is important to keep a positive attitude and be flexible.  Today as we leave the beautiful Villa la Angostura clouds have formed over the Andes mountains, the first clouds we have seen on this trip. As we drove to the airport to fly back to Buenos Aires, we chatted about the funny, odd and bad things that have happened these three weeks in Patagonia.  When we arrived in Bariloche, a driver was supposed to meet us at the bus station.  No one came and eventually we hailed a taxi and found our own hotel.  This was a bit of deja vue all over again, as a few days earlier arriving in Neuquen we were told a driver would be waiting, holding a sign with our names.  The airport was very busy and there were twenty drivers with placcards, none with our names.  We waited, and waited and waited.  After about 40 minutes, when the airport had completely cleared out, we got our own taxi and found our hotel.  Thank goodness for some Spanish skills.  At the hotel we asked if they has sent a driver as promised, and they acted like they did not know anything about it.  We stayed at that hotel for 6 days, and on the last day, as we were leaving, they slipped the most amazing apology under our door:  "Good morning, we ask for excuses him for the evil moment that you spend last week in the airport with the service of tranfer(sic), since they got confused moving other passengers."
  And then there was the time they gave us the wrong room and we had to push a bit hard to get the suite room we were promised. But you don't want to read about travel problems.  How about travel serendipities?  Well, as we arrived at Loi Suites Arenales, our hotel in BA, the lobby seemed very warm.  It was deserted.  It was in the high 90's and the front desk apologized, saying their airconditioning had broken and it would not be fixed for several days so would we be willing to move to their sister hotel, Loi Suites Recoleta?  What do to but smile and be flexible.  We were tired, it was hot. But then they called an air conditioned taxi and he drove us about 12 blocks to a beautiful 5 Star hotel just around the corner from the world famous Recoletta Cemetary where Evita and two centuries of Argentinian oligarchs are buried. At the new hotel, the desk clerk paid the taxi driver and warmly welcomed us.  He apologized for the inconvenience caused by the broken AC at their sister hotel and gave us a suite.  Then his face fell a bit, he looked at the computer and saw we had paid $85 per night for an online rate at the other hotel.  He pointed to his rate placcard and said, we will honor your price, but the room you are in normally costs $450 per night.  I felt like we should apologize to him for the "evil moment" he was suffering.  But our room is perfect.  The hotel is great. Just mellow out and enjoy the journey.   

Monday, January 25, 2010

500 year old Myrtle (Arrayan) tree

'City' tour waterfall in the Arrayan Forest

Recreational Area

Correntoso for world class fly fishing

Our City Tour

Yesterday we arrived at La Villa Angostura which I can only equate to Stehekin....remote, beautiful, on a glacier lake etc. After we arrived we decided to take a "city tour". I freshened up a bit and donned my rhinestone decorated platform flip flops, short jean skirt and generously applied lotion to my dry skin. We met our English speaking guide, hopped in the van and ended up taking a 'nature tour" around the area. This involved climbing on mountain trails to view the local 500 year old Arrayan tree (Myrtle tree) forests, hiking to a waterfall downhill (and of course back up again). We even saw a world class fly fishing spot on the shortest river in the world. Fishing is available by special government permit only. 
This all would have been fine and good, except the HUGE black flies in the forest feasted on my lotion covered skin and I could barely walk in my platform flip flops. At one point, as I was ascending the mountain to hike back to our van, I started sliding backwards downhill and was stopped by the young man behind me by my bum. He was mumbling excitedly something in Spanish and Dale was half way down the hill with the English guide helplessly standing by. It was embarassing but actually pretty funny! I ask you.....this was a city tour?  Next time I will forget fashion and wear my tennis shoes and apply bug spray.
Today we simply soaked up the views and enjoyed this gorgeous resort. The pool is lovely and we even have our own private deck overlooking the water. No complaints. This evening we took a taxi to town. We chose a restaurant that featured local specialties and feasted on boar and venison while listening to an excellent classical guitarist. We were the only Americans in the place but must have been wearing a neon sign because the young guitar musician kept playing Beatle tunes thinking it would please us. On our 2 1/2 mile walk home under the light of the moon, we couldn't resist stopping to sample the local chocolates which are well known in these parts. Evidently, it is an old Swiss family recipe. What a perfect end to another wonderful day full of sunshine, relaxation and fun.

Hotel Arrayan viewed from the lake

View from our suite at Hotel Sol Arrayan

Intriguing Patagonia

In our postings, we have tried to describe the vast landscapes and magical views of Argentina. The remarkable contrast of different landscapes never fails to surprise us. Today we sit in Villa la Angostura overlooking Nahuel Huapi Lake. The only way to reach this town was by boat until the late 1950's. The locals did not receive telephone and television services until the 1970's. It is difficult for us to imagine the harsh conditions and tough, cold winters here because we have had perfect sunny skies with 80 degree temperatures. Hard working, peace loving Swiss, German and Italians settled down in this area surrounded by lakes and forests at the turn of the century. When we were touring yesterday, we encountered a small development near our hotel called Puerto Mazana (Port of Apples). The founding father of this town planted 4,000 apple trees. Although the town still holds the name, there are few apple trees left. This is no place to plant fruit, there are simply not enough heat units to grow a good crop. Tourism reigns in this spot. Travelers come far and wide to fish trout, bird watch and view the natural beauty that surrounds us.
Patogonia can be divided into two parts: this beautiful area with forests and glacier lakes and the southern Andean plateau area. In 1880, Argentina developed an immigration program to colonize Patagonia.The Welsh were among the first to come to the southern area to develop farms and ranches. For them it was an escape from the religious persecution and poverty in Wales. There were large estancias or ranches that raised sheep and cattle. This is the vast empty territory where the cattle thieves and bank robbers hung out. There Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid settled down to farm in a small town (Cholia) for a time until they returned to their criminal ways and returned to Bolivia. The best book on this area is In Patagonia, by Bruce Chetwin, and he tells an amazing tale of the real life adventures of Cassidy.  We would like to go further south and visit this intriguing place but will have to save it for another trip. Gail

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chair lift to Cerro Campanario

Views above Bariloche

Magnificent view from Cerro Campanario

Tronador Mountain above the Llao Llao golf course

The Grandest View in the World!

Bariloche is magnificent.Our tour guide Cecelia met us at nine and we joined a van full of people from Italy, Colombia, Argentina and a young couple from LA. The next five hours we drove along winding lakeshore roads past fabulous hotels and villas. We went to the famous Cerro Campanario. Here Gail got to do the wild and crazy thing of the trip. We boarded a chair lift and rode high up the mountain to the most incredible view either of us has ever seen. We could see the Tronador (Thunder mountain for the natives heard giant ice walls splitting off in crashing thunder sounds), which marks the border with Chile. We saw many lakes and all of them of them are ringed by the snow capped Andes. It reminded us of our trip to Switzerland and our hike up to Grindelwald. Except these views are frankly, much more grand and awe inspiring.
We rode back down the mountain on the chair lift feeling much more confident than when we first went up. The van took us across the bridge over Lago Moreno and on a 28 kilometer loop road through the National Park. There are 35 glacier lakes in this protected area. Under the Lopez Mountain, we saw the sheer vertical cliffs where the giant condor lays its eggs. We crossed over the quaint bridge where the waters from Lago Moreno flow gently into its much larger neighbor Lago Nahuel Huapi which is 66 miles long and has seven different lake fingers. It is huge. Then we came to the world famous Hotel Llao Llao. This fabulous place opened in 1934. It has its own golf course, chapel and a room only costs $500 - $2500 per night. We peeked over the hedge around the golf course and got some great photos. Outside the chapel Gail purchased pressed flowers in a frame. A fine souvenir of Patagonia. It's not like staying in the Llao Llao but it will remind us of this beautiful day. If a picture is really worth 1,000 words and beautiful scenery is priceless, then these photos should be the definition of Beauty in Wickipedia.  

Friday, January 22, 2010

Lake view from the Villa Huinid Hotel

A trout breeding lake

Bus to Bariloche

Today we took a six hour bus ride from Neuquen to San Carlos de Bariloche. Buses here are surprisingly comfortable and it was actually fun to sit on the upper deck.  The cost? $12 per person which included two movies and lunch. Admittedly, the views for the first part of our journey were of a vast flat desert but then after four hours we saw the snow capped Andes and I got excited when I spotted my first guanaco (a cousin of the llama). As our bus began to ascend to the lake country, we took note of the trout breeding areas that are a chain of lakes.Hawks and ducks flew around us.  Now I am on a quest to see a flightless rhea (resembles an ostrich).....maybe tomorrow?
It is amazing to see the similarities in landscape with the US and Europe. Buenos Aires reminds one of Paris because of the architecture; Mendoza looks like the Napa Valley because of all the wine production and palm trees; Neuquen has the landscape of the Yakima Valley due to the large tracts of fruit production with a river running through it. 
Bariloche, founded in 1902 by German and Italian immigrants, has architecture like Leavenworth and Bavaria and views similar to Stehekin times ten! The difference is the scope.
Bariloche and the other important tourist town, Villa La Angostura, are on the gigantic Lago Nahuel Huapi. The lake has hundreds of bays, all surrounded by shockingly high mountains. It is 80 degrees here today but the mountains are covered in snow. Tomorrow we get to tour up to the top of several mountains. The sheer vastness and variety of landscape is staggering. I admit, I'm already planning my next trip to Argentina :)  Gail

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Flood irrigation in organic orchard

A part of the irrigation works

Organic orchards in Argentina

   Javier Legaspi and his partners Enrique Scholz and Leonardo Lustig  own a 200 hectare organic orchard about 75 K from Neuquen.  Javier was kind enough to drive me all through the Rio Negro river valley, showing me several orchards on the way to his beautiful tract.  Most orchards here are irrigated by the old fashioned flood method.  Every week or 10 days the water is diverted from large canals into the tree rows, flooding the entire orchard.  100 years ago this canal was designed by an Italian engineer, Cipoletti.  The town is celebrating his accomplishment this year, and indeed this would still be a desert without his dams and diversion canals.
   Javier proudly showed me his new frost control system, some overhead sprinklers that saved most of his crop this past spring.  Most orchards this year have a 15-30% crop loss due to cold weather and fierce winds.  He is fortunate to have a pretty full crop of pears and apples.  His challenge is to grow consistant large size fruit using the organic requirements.  Most of their crop goes to Brazil or Europe and the price has been good for organic fruit, especially in England.  He is a young man with great hope in the future of organic farming.  We wish him well.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

From left: Juan Bavaresco, Jorge Alvarado & Dr. Gene Kupferman

14 foot ladders

Our Kleppe Tour

Today we toured with folks from the Kleppe operation in Cipolletti which is a town across the river from Neuquen. Jorge Aragon, their general manager, gave us a wonderful tour of not only the orchard operations, but the communities around Neuquen. Jorge has been to Wenatchee at least 15 times since the mid 1980's. He explained the history of Argentina's agriculture from the Peron days until the present showing us the homes built for the workers by the unions and the government. The inflation this year is 7% but the workers just got a 24% cost of living raise.  He says may farmers may not be able to afford to pick their crops.  They also suffered from a cold spring and alot of wind so the pears are smaller than normal, perhaps as much as 30% less to pick than last year.
   But from what we saw, this operation will survive and thrive.  The Kleppe family roots can be traced back three generations. Unfortunately, Sr. Kleppe was home sick, but we did meet his son Pablo who has recently returned to the area from Buenos Aires to run the family business. Currently they farm 13 different orchards in the upper and mid valley, totaling @ 1,600 hectares.They will pack 2.5M boxes of fruit and 80% of it is exported.  They now are cutting back on Red Delicious and Gala apples and are excited to grow Pink Ladies. Their operation produces 50 % apples and 50% pears. They told us this morning that they were looking for a miracle and consider Smart Fresh and Harvesta the answer to their problems. We tasted an apple at the packing house today that was last year's crop and was not only beautiful, but crispy and delicious! We toured their new $2M packing line which has state of the art equipment from New Zealand. In the orchard, Bartlett pear harvest has begun. The pickers are on their first pick and are paid by the hour. We couldn't help but notice how slow they worked in comparison to our pickers at home. Don't know if it was the 100 degree temperature, 12 foot cumbersome ladders or the difficulty finding pears that met size standard that was slowing them down. Maybe it is just a slower pace of life that I too am experiencing in this part of the world. Gail

Big river....Big trout

Our new friends from Montever

Asado by the River

A party for us

Rio del Negro

Viewing the 100 year old pear tree

our best parilla yet

Argentines love a good parilla (pronounced "parija") and the Zetone family provided us with a wonderful experience.  Damian Zetone, who is both a lawyer and a third generation fruit grower, gave us a tour of his vast packing plant and orchards.  We spent the afternoon sitting around a beautiful table that they had prepared for us. The picture perfect setting was in the orchard alongside the Rio Negro with a meal of roasted meats salads and fruit.  They have 2000 acres of fruit trees, 70% pears, and they are probably the largest pear grower in South America.  We talked politics, economics, horticulture and enjoyed their hospitality.  At the end of the meal we drove a few miles to see one of their original blocks and took photos of 100+ year old anjou trees that are still in production. Senior Zetone proudly showed us a pear tree that was 100 years old and still producing fruit. They have just begun the Bartlett harvest and we watched them packing the first fruit for Brazil and Russia.   
    In the evening we met with Gustavo Crisanti and his management team at Tres Ases, another major integrated fruit company.  They too have the most modern technology and were full of questions for Gene Kupferman on how to improve the post harvest storage of fruit.  It was  long, full day and we were happpy to get back to the hotel after 9pm for a much needed rest.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An animated discussion!

We came to NEUQUEN to learn about the fruit industry and to give a presentation to all the growers at the request of Welcome Sauer and his company AgroFresh. Dale's topic was the future of the apple and pear industry. Dr. Gene Kupferman from WSU, spoke on three topics related to the chemical Smart Fresh. The audience was great and they asked many questions. The local newspaper interviewed both speakers and referred to us as "International Experts".
Afterwards we had a great tapas party at the Saurus Winery which included sushi made with fresh Chilean salmon. There were steak sandwiches too, of course. When this winery was developed ten years ago, they dug up a gigantic dinosaur skelton which was on display. It was a great event. Gail

Packing Granny Smith at Cervi

Jorge Cervi, the grandson of Mario Cervi gave us a wonderful tour of his packing facility in Neuquen.  His brother Pablo and sister Cristina, share management responsibilities for the large operation.  They sat down with us for several hours and explained the economic situation for growers and packers.  The government intervened in the wage dispute with unions, and while we were at the office they learned that the minimum wage was increased by 25%.  Bartlett harvest began today and so their cost of doing business rose dramatically.  Still they have an optimistic attitude.  All orchardists need to have a spirit of optimism to stay in the business. They had a story that illustrates why they are optimistic.  In older days the price of a BMW was far out of reach of Argentines.  Yet now with the rise in comodities, 1 KG of Argentine beef is the same price as 1 KG of a BMW.  Either the beef is pretty expensive, or a BMW is alot less expensive than I thought.