Monday, December 19, 2011

Adios Santiago

  The snow and the clouds crown this beautiful city.  Hope you can come visit Chile.

Hot in Santiago

It is our last day in South America.  We spent the night at the Santiago Marriott and this morning walked to the huge mall for some coffee.  There is no pollution, the air is clear, the sky blue and the snow capped Andes are just outside our hotel window.  It is going to be 88 degrees and it is hot here.  At the mall a fantastic red race car is on display, complete with two beautiful girls.  We laughed outloud as one car enthusiast asked the girls to move so he could take a photo of the car.  He did not want the girls to be in the photo.  A purist.
We have loved our time here.  A wonderful trip in every way.  But it will be great to be home again.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cherries for sale


Casablanca Valley

Casablanca - Casas del Bosque

  There is a beautiful valley midway between Santiago and the ocean.  It is a cool climate vineyard area that produces world quality Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  They also grow Pinot Noir and Syrah and bring in other varieties from the central valley, two hours drive to the south.  We visited a wonderful new winery, Casas del Bosque.   The vines were planted in 1998 and the winery built in 2000 but they are already winning awards.  Their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was fantastic and the Sauvignon Blanc won best of Chile in 2010.
  The tour was delightful.  They have 23 wind machines on their 245 hectares to protect from the spring frosts.  But at this point there are plenty of small grapes growing so they have succeeded in protecting the 2012 crop.  This is a beautiful land for both fruit and grapes..

Valpariso street art

More street art

Street art in Valpo

Valparaiso has fantastic street art and graffiti everywhere you turn.  Here is a sample of some of the best we saw, some real quality art and also some of the meaningless scrawls that cover most walls.  Art must be in the eye of the beholder.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The old man and the sea

We wanted to cross South America, from Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay to Valparaiso, Chile, from the Atlantic to the Pacific on this trip, and we made it.  A great journey.

The Casino and the Clock in Vina

Vina del Mar - Presidential Palace

About 11 miles north of Valparaiso is the beach resort of of Vina del Mar.  The two cities actually have melded together and over 1.6 million people live here.  While Valparaiso is old and a world heritage site, Vina is new and beautiful.  A beachfront condo here costs over $4.5 million US, more than an equivalent condo in Miami.  The president of the country has a second residence here, called the Palace as contrasted to La Moneda, his home in Santiago.  In order to divide the power, the Congress is located here on the ocean and the main offices of the government is in Santiago, about 90 minutes drive up the hills and into the inland valley.  The beach is beautiful, but the water is cold thanks to the Humboldt current that brings cold water from Antarctica up the western coastline. 

The port at work

Valpariso - the Stock Market

  In Valpariso there are 16 elevators or funiculars built in the 1800's.  Only six are still working but we rode up the hill on the big one overlooking the port.  From the top we took a video of the bustling port.  At ground level there is a stock exchange, the Bolsa.  As the stocks go up and down, so do the elevators.  While some things are very expensive here, these elevator rides only cost 300 pesos, or about .60 cents each so they are a bargain.

Templeman Street, Valpariso

Friday, December 16, 2011

Washington Red Delicious apples in Chile

Chile is a land of plenty.  They grow wonderful fruits of all kinds.  They are a tough competitor for our Washington apples, pears and cherries.  You can imagine our surprise and delight to find Washington red delicious apples in our hotel fruit basket.  They have fresh nectarines from Chile, bananas from Ecuador and apples from Washington state.  Great work by the Washington Apple Commission and whichever sales organization sold them.  Not quite like selling ice to Eskimos, but pretty close. :)

Art galleries and gourmet seafood

It is a little disconcerting to get the bill for lunch and see it is $34,500.  I handed the waiter $40,000 in beautiful blue paper money and thought back to my reading list on inflation and the perils of too much money chasing too few goods.  Even at 511 pesos to the dollar, this is a very expensive country.  The taxi drivers tell us a few people make all the money and the college students are protesting for fee tuition.  Yesterday we saw a banner at the university:  Education is a Right, it Must be Free.  Is there a connection between a $10,000 peso note being worth $20 USD and demonstrators demanding everything be provided free by the government? 

Valpariso, Chile

Fresh fruits, vegetable and flowers fill the streets.  Art galleries and gourmet seafood restaurants compete for travelers.  We heard many people speaking French and there are tourists from the Eurozone and South America.  We even met a man travelling from New Jersey.

Valpariso, Chile

Valpariso, Chile

High on a hill overlooking a huge bay, the port city of Valpariso spreads a colorful quilt over the surrounding countryside.  This is another World Heritage Site, the gateway from Chile's mines, vineyards and orchards to the world.  Cargo ships fill the harbor and crowds of people swarm the steep hills.  Funiculars and elevators lift people from sea level up to the dizzying heights where they live in polychrome houses.  But pictures are worth many words and here are some of our best.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Santiago, growing in every direction

National symbol of Chile - the crane

Santiago, Chile

   On  December 13 we flew from Mendoza to Santiago, a short 75 minutes in the air.  You may recall we planned to take the bus all the way across Argentina and then through the Andes mountains to Valparaiso, Chile on the Pacific Ocean.  We did bus half way across the Pampas, but by the time we hit Cordoba, we were exhausted and it was very hot and so we stayed there for five days.  We chose to reboot and are glad we did.  We spent the last two days in Santiago and had some great experiences.
   The Museum of History of the Nation is in the Plaza de Armas, right across from the Cathedral. Both places are beautiful and worth a visit.  The history museum begins with the pre Colubian period and goes up through the colonial period, the expulsion of the Jesuits by Carlos (he was worried they had become too rich and powerful and could subvert his empire) and the development post the 1810 revolution, ending in 1973.  Why end in 1973 when Chile has had such remarkable economic growth and success in the last 38 years?
   In 1973 Salvador Allende, the Marxist president, was overthown by a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet.  About half of the people loved Allende and the other half preferred the military.  During the military period there were abuses of human rights and the nation was very much divided.  The curator told us that the history is too painful and recent to be treated adequately in the museum so they have decided to wait until some future date to tell the tale.  Meawhile the museum is full of furniture, painting, cannons, guns, uniforms, displays, maps and utensils from a rich history.  It is a very nice museum to visit.  But when you arrive at the final room and it ends with the shattered eye glasses of President Allende, for he committed suicide in the Presidential palace as the soldiers were coming to arrest him in 1973, it does give you an impression that the museum has already decided whose side they are planning to take when they bring the story up to date.
   Next we walked several miles to the Museum of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize winning poet.  He was a good friend of President Allende, who appointed him Ambassador to France.  He also was friends with Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger, Diego Rivera, the Mexican muralist, and all the left winged artists and intellectual crowd of the 1950s through the 1970s.  His home is fascinating, built of three structures on the hillside of the Cerro San Cristobal in the Bellavista neighborhood.  He was a collector of things and has great paintings, glasses, furniture and objects throughout the three houses.  The tourguide was excellent, and we had an English woman, a couple fro Brazil and the two of us on the tour.  We see very few Americans here, but quite a few Chinese and Japanese businessmen hard at work doing deals to obtain copper, and other industrial materials. 
   The view from our hotel, the excellent Four Points by Sheraton, is amazing. They are building a skyscraper that is 300 meters tall, nearly 1000 feet.  It is the Costanero Center.  Construction began in March 2006 and they are getting close to the top now.  With all the earthquakes in this country, their engineers have plenty of experience and are building dozens of new tall and magnificent buildings.  This is a national capital of a great nation with a fantastic future ahead of it.  It should name the "crane" as its official symbol as the sky is full of huge yellow cranes building for the future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cordoba, Argentina

A magical place for an evening stroll.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Our favorite hotel in Cordoba

Azur Hotel in Cordoba

We decided to change our itinerary and stay five days in Cordoba at this great hotel.

Azur Real Hotel Boutique

We had no idea the Azur Real Hotel Boutique in Cordoba was listed on the "Hot List 2010" in Conde Nast Traveller magazine. We booked this hotel on the advice of Trip Advisor.  It is lovely and the price was right. It is a boutique hotel with only 14 rooms. Here they provide all the comforts of home. I especially like their pillow menu (Menu de almohadas): Duvet, Cervical, Plumas, Soft, Firm and Latex. The message said, "To ensure your dreams are as sweet as possible, the following pillow menu is at your disposal". I decided I like this place! The location is a couple blocks from the cathedral in the city center. Two years ago an old townhouse was rennovated incorporating both traditional elements like exposed brick walls and wrought iron balconies with contemporary furnishings, glass sinks and interesting light fixtures. The roof top includes a soaking pool, gym and spa. The area is furnished with comfortable outdoor furniture situated under a canopy which makes for a lovely spot to relax and read.  We have enjoyed our stay in this hotel so much that we have decided to extend our stay and skip Mendoza, a city we know and love from previous visits. That was a tough decision. Rather than continue on our bus journey across Argentina, we are opting to fly directly to Santiago, Chile from here. We found the travel from Buenos Aires to be exhausting even though the buses are very comfortable. The distances in this vast country are huge and the buses stop frequently making the journeys even longer. 
Dale just finished blogging about both his reading list and reflections on the political and economic situation in Argentina and the world. I have a reading list too that looks quite different than his. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, Water for Elephants by Sara Green, The Olive Farm by Carol Drinkwater, Shattered by Dick Francis and An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor. I had several other titles on my wish list to read recommended to me by my daughter in law but I did not realize that Amazon is not available for download in Argentina. Good thing I have the entire Sir Conen Doyle Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on my Kindle.....that will keep me occupied. Of course Dale and I can always switch Kindles.....hmm......if I am desparate!

Books, the economy and presidential politics

One of the best parts of any vacation is the time to relax and read some good books.  We have both spent time over the last two weeks reading on airlines, in buses driving across the Pampas, and now in this beautiful little hotel in Cordoba.  A good moment to share my thoughts on reading materials for future reference.  Warning:  Gail says this is too long and no one will read it, so feel free to skip to the end.
I have been deeply involved in litigation resulting from the economic meltdown of 2008.  Many of my clients have had their bank lines cut off or reduced and that led to all kinds of unintended consequences.  I want to understand better what exactly happened, why and how to respond to the various attempts throughout the world to fix the problems.  This has also been an election year in
Argentina (they had their own meltdown in 2000-2005, came out of it with a bang due to the rise in comodity prices, and are now slowly recovering from the 2008 recession that reduced their rate of growth.)  They did reelect their president (it's the economy stupid and the economy here is doing better than most places.) 
So I subscribed to La Nacion (Argentina's daily newspaper) last January and have tried to read a few articles on politics and the economy in Spanish every day all year long.  Good preparation for this trip.  It comes on my Kindle every morning and is inexpensive and enjoyable.
It seems to me that the main difference between our US government overspending and the Argentine version, is that we have the advantage of being able to print lots of our own dollars and other people accept them as if they are real money.  
Few countries in history have had a golden printing press.  Certainly no South American country has ever been given that luxury.  So if they print paper money, other folks just ignore it, or laugh at them and refuse to take the pesos.  If America did not have the Exhorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System by Barry , Eichengreen, we would be defaulting on our bonds right now.  Excellent book.  Buy it.
Now if you really want to be frightened, read Endgame: The End of the Debt SuperCycle and How it Changes Everything, by John Mauldin and Jonathan Tepper.  Or, Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis by James Rickards.  These authors know what they are talking about and it does not have a happy ending. Timing is everything, so we may be lucky and have a few more years or decades before the collapse, but when it comes it will be a doosey.
I just finished Churchill by Paul Johnson, and it is a great biography. Before leaving home I read Churchill and Ghandi, and that was also a fine dual biography.  I like Johnson's even better and I really admire Churchill.  He was a great leader, we need someone like him now to get us out of this mess (although he made some major economic blunders during the 1920's that hurt Britian's economy badly for three decades until Margaret Thatcher turned around the socialist ship of state.)
Next, The Party:  The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor.  The Chinese economic model has done very well by taking all the earnings from the people and reinvesting it into infrastructure.  That will not last forever and when the people are tired of being abused by their leaders, we will all hear the explosion.
A little business history to put anti trust law into perspective is in The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America by Marc Levinson. I grew up with an Atlantic & Pacific grocery store in Seattle, most people in America today do not even recognize the brand. It would be like if 40 years from now no one recognized the name WalMart.  Who knew that the Robinson-Patman antitrust law could cause so much destruction, and not even with good economic reasons.  The antitrust law was debased and became a politcal witchhunt.  We would not have WalMart or Costco or Target or BiMart today without the pioneering cost saving work of the Hartford family.  They created the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company which grew into the biggest grocery chain in the world, thousands of outlets, and saved the average American family ten percent every year on their food budget.  What did the Congress give them in return?  Prosecution (and conviction) and persecution for decades.  Why?  Because the populist congress, led by Wright Patman an ambitious small town Texas congressman and state legislatures wanted to save the little guy, protect the small grocer from competition.  This is beginning to sound like a theme, eg big is bad, soak the corporations, break up Microsoft and the banks, raise the taxes on millionaires and billionaires, etc, etc, etc.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.  So you better read and understand history or we will make the same stupid political decisions that got us into the soup.
  The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis is excellent and tells the secrets of the Wall Street bankers who thought 64-1 leverage with other peoples money was a good idea.  Argentina 2001-2009:  From the financial crisis to the Present by Rosanna Zaza, is a Kindle booklet that has solid data.    When Money Dies by Adam Fergusson traces the disaster of hyperinflation in Germany in the 1920's and the consequences.  Paris 1919:  Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret Macmillan, gives us the historical background for the German hyperinflation. 
  There are more books I could list, but you get the idea that things tend to repeat themselves. Economic cycles, populist movements, religious revivals, materialism, antimaterialism, socialism, antisocialism, colonialism, anti colonialism, dictators in Latin Amereica followed by dictators in Latin America,  the ebb and flow and ebb of human rights in China, and in the Arab world, and the need for freedom of speech and assembly in Moscow and Boston (the NYTimes yesterday had photos of police manhandling anti Putin protestors in Moscow and police clearing out the Occupy protesters in Boston...irony anyone) and so goes the human parade. 
There was a great parade here last night, we watched them march through the streets of Cordoba, cheering the fact that today, their Presidenta was sworn in for another four year term in office.  The demonstrators were carrying banners with photos of Evita, their last heroine and compare her to the new new thing Christina.  I watched the live speech the Presidenta made (how could I miss it, it was carried on 10 different channels live and with repeats on the news on all the other channels later).  Her one great applause line brought a standing ovation in the Congress with ten minutes of cheering and pounding and joy; the cameras panned out to the Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada as the thousands of flag waving Peronista supporters cheered her promise.  Let me try to quote her:
"Yo NO soy la Presidenta de los corporaciones, yo soy la Presidenta de la Nacion, de los Argentinos..."  She actually sneerer when she said the word "corporaciones."
She promised to fight against the corporations, against the International Monetary Fund, against the bankers, and against Wall Street and for the people of Argentina. She promised more money and benefits for the people, economic development and jobs, jobs, jobs.  and the people cheered.  I do not think the people who invested in Argentina sovereign debt bonds will ever get paid back.
It felt like I have seen this movie before.  And we will see it again.  And meanwhile the dollar will depreciate and the cost of living will increase and people without a good education will play video games and not study hard and ask for a free lunch and the world will look for a savior. 
There is none except Him who was born in a manger.   We did go to church last night at the Church of the Good Shepard,the priest was a kindly old man with a strong voice and the beautiful old gothic church was crowded with sincere people who greeted one another with the Peace of Christ and are looking forward to a somewhat different happy ending.  Enjoy reading and also spend some time praying for the future of our world. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Reflections on the Advent Season

December 1st we observed that Christmas decorations were nowhere to
be found in Buenos Aires or Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Now we
understand the reason this was so. Yesterday, December 8th was a
national holiday and all the stores were closed. It was the day of the
Virgin, a day when families and stores prepare and decorate for
Christmas. Churches held Mass. Today we see nativity scenes set up in
the churches and the stores decorated with Christmas trees, ornaments
and lights. But the commercial element of Christmas is nothing like
back home. Last week I checked my Facebook account and saw Christmas
postings everywhere with Christmas cartoons, comments about Christmas
shopping and people bragging that they had finished addressing their Christmas cards. (I can brag about
that myself this year).  We do not see this kind of intense
pre-Christmas frenzy in Argentina. It is early in the month I know,
but in America I saw Christmas lights on display before Thanksgiving.
The crazy shopping that goes on during Black Friday
makes up about 25 percent of our nation´s annual retail sales. This
modern consumer culture seems so wrong and just plain exhausting.

Last week we saw school children celebrating their last day of school
in the park. Families are picnicing together as they enjoy the warmer
temperatures. Next to the occasional Christmas decorations displayed
in store windows are lots of summer plants and flowers. People are
anxious to be outside to soak in the green grass, trees in the plazas
and parks in the city.  All this stands in contrast to the Advent
meditations of winter that I am used to in my northern tradition. I
like the idea that the spring and summertime bring nature
life. This will be the lense through which I observe, reflect, and
engage in Advent this year while in South America. The four weeks
before Christmas is meant to be spent preparing for Christmas day or
the birth of Christ. Advent will be a time for me to reflect on the
hope of Christ´s return and the peace, joy, love and new life He
offers those who believe in Him.