Lakes Crossing: Bariloche to Puerto Varas

The Cruce Andino/Cruce de los Lagos or Lakes Crossing, a marathon boat-bus-boat-bus-boat-bus ride from Bariloche, Argentina to Puerto Varas (or Puerto Montt), Chile took the entire day and substantially lightened my wallet, but the experience, in my opinion, was worth every peso and then some. We made the voyage across the Andes on Easter Sunday, which turned out to be a fitting date for the tour, as I was continually reminded by my surroundings that only a divine hand could have wrought the spectacular natural beauty we saw that day.

In the faint morning light, we set sail from Puerto Pañuelo in Bariloche. After discussing the details of the day's itinerary with one of the tour coordinators, we ordered a few medialunas and cups of hot chocolate from the boat's snack bar. Vince, my stepdad, and I climbed the stairs to the upper deck, where we marveled at the mountains looming on all sides of the expansive Lago Nahuel Huapi, while my sister Marianna snoozed down below in typical teenage fashion.

Cruising Along Lago Nahuel Huapi by katiemetz, on Flickr [Vince on the first leg of the journey over Lago Nahuel Huapi – Puerto Pañuelo to Puerto Blest]

Venga a Navegar la Cordillera de los Andes by katiemetz, on Flickr[Signpost at Puerto Blest]

We stopped at Puerto Blest with its lovely pink hotel [photo] for a few minutes before boarding a bus to Puerto Alegre, just 15 minutes away.

The early morning temperatures in Bariloche hovered around the freezing mark, and we were cautioned by the crew to watch our step as we boarded our second boat at Puerto Alegre, as patches of ice had accumulated on the deck.

Cerro Tronador from Lago Frías by katiemetz, on Flickr[Cerro Tronador reflected in the waters of Lago Frías – Puerto Alegre to Puerto Frías leg]

The boat glided over the milky green waters of Lago Frías en route to our next destination. The lake's unique color, which can be appreciated in the photo below, comes from minerals suspended in the water.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat by katiemetz, on Flickr[Thank goodness we didn't have to row all the way to Chile – rowboat outside of the border checkpoint at Puerto Frías, Argentina]

After exchanging some Argentine pesos for Chilean ones, we were successfully stamped out of Argentina at the Puerto Frías border checkpoint before continuing our journey by bus. The actual Argentina-Chile border crossing at Paso Vicente Pérez Rosales is located deep within the Patagonian forest with nary an official in sight.

¡Chau, Argentina! by katiemetz, on Flickr Welcome to Chile! by katiemetz, on Flickr
[Vince and Marianna saying "chau" to Argentina and "hola" to Chile!]

Cerro Tronador from Chile by katiemetz, on Flickr[Cerro Tronador from the Chilean side – Puerto Frías, Argentina to Peulla, Chile leg]

The bus ride from Puerto Frías to Peulla through the national parks (Nahuel Huapi in Argentina and Vicente Pérez Rosales in Chile) offered fantastic vistas of the forest, the Andes, several small waterfalls, and the Río Peulla.

Peulla, Chile by katiemetz, on Flickr[The village of Peulla, Chile]

*We now interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post for a public service announcement.*

How My Stepdad Almost Caused an International Incident

The only hitch we experienced the entire day came when we passed through the border checkpoint in Peulla, Chile. Marianna was first up to the plate with the stern-looking Chilean carabinero. She presented her passport to the officer and waited patiently as he reviewed the details on her photo page. The officer looked up from the passport, unsmiling, and asked in broken English if Marianna knew how to speak Spanish. She shook her head no and beckoned to me for assistance.

The officer asked whom Marianna was traveling with, and I replied, "Her father and me – her sister."

"And her mother? Where is she?"

"She died almost four years ago."

"Do you have proof of that?"

I turned to Vince and asked him if he just so happened to be carrying a copy of my mother's death certificate. The obvious reply came, and I responded with a tinge of worry in my voice, "No, I don't."

After establishing that we didn't have any other documentation such as a birth certificate or consent form for international travel with a minor (Vince had traveled several times before with Marianna, and no one had ever asked him for such proof), the carabineros made us sweat it out as they busily typed away at their antiquated computers.

A few minutes later, having somehow determined that, indeed, my stepdad was not attempting to abduct his own child from his deceased wife, they waved Marianna on through, followed by me and then Vince. We were lucky this time, but we easily could have been denied entry into Chile. For the record, Argentine border officials never requested any sort of documentation to this effect.

Moral of the Story

Minors traveling internationally with just one parent should carry a notarized document granting written permission from the other parent. In the case where the parents are divorced or one parent is deceased, the traveling parent should carry a notarized affidavit of sole custody and legal proof such as a death certificate or custody order.

OK, now back  to pretty photos of flowers, glacial lakes, and snowy volcanoes.

Pink! by katiemetz, on Flickr Florcitas by katiemetz, on Flickr Aljaba by katiemetz, on Flickr Chilean Flower by katiemetz, on Flickr

[Flowers in Peulla, Chile]

After (barely) getting stamped into Chile, we sat down to lunch at the Hotel Natura, whose dining room features floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the surrounding meadow and mountains. Following our meal, we set out on foot to take in the scenery and shoot some photos before the next leg of our journey, a ride on a catamaran that would take us past not one, but two, volcanoes.

Boats in Peulla by katiemetz, on Flickr[More boats!]

Cascada de los Novios, Peulla, Chile by katiemetz, on Flickr [Cascada de los Novios, Peulla, Chile]

Dock in Peulla, Chile by katiemetz, on Flickr [The dock in Peulla, Chile]

La Bandera de Chile | The Chilean Flag by katiemetz, on Flickr[Chilean flag with the Andes Mountains and Lago Todos Los Santos serving as the backdrop – Peulla to Petrohué leg]

Volcán Puntiagudo, Lago Todos Los Santos, Chile by katiemetz on Flickr[Volcán Puntiagudo (at right), Lago Todos Los Santos, Chile]

House on the Shores of Lago Todos Los Santos, Chile by katiemetz, on Flickr[House on the shores of Lago Todos Los Santos, Chile]

The people who make their homes along the shores of this lake lead a life of relative isolation. As there is no road between Peulla and Petrohué, anyone living in the area must rely on boats as the principal means of transportation. A couple of passengers used our catamaran as a sort of water taxi to get them close to their homes. A pair of smaller motorboats pulled alongside, and the passengers hopped off and went on their way!

Volcano in Black and White by katiemetz, on Flickr[Volcán Osorno (at left) by the shores of Lago Todos Los Santos]

After the breathtaking views along Lago Todos Los Santos, we disembarked at Petrohué for the final leg of our day-long adventure through Patagonia. We boarded a bus bound for Puerto Varas, and we zipped alongside the Río Petrohué and dense forest before the majestic Volcán Osorno and the neighboring Volcán Calbuco came into view. We hugged the shores of Lago Llanquihué as we sped toward the city of Puerto Varas with nightfall fast approaching, and the snowcapped peak of Osorno glowed in the evening light.

Osorno Volcano at Sunset by katiemetz, on Flickr[Volcán Osorno by the shores of Lago Llanquihué, on the final leg from Petrohué to Puerto Varas, Chile]

About 12 hours after leaving Bariloche, we arrived at our hotel in Puerto Varas. I slept like a Patagonian rock that night.

Next up: Puerto Varas, Chile

[Patagonia Series: Intro 1 2 3 4]
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More Holiday Recipes on Hispanic Kitchen

Pan Dulce [Panettone] from Argentina

With Christmas and New Year's swiftly approaching, you probably already have your holiday menu finalized; however, if you're still in search of inspiration, take a look at my recipes for two more Argentine holiday favorites – vitel toné and pan dulce – on the Latin food website Hispanic Kitchen.

If you're hungry for more ideas, Asado Argentina's post on Christmas and New Year's food in Argentina provides a nice overview of some of the country's most popular holiday dishes.

Thank you for following along with Seashells and Sunflowers. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas! ¡Les deseo muy Felices Fiestas a todos!

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Vino Argentino

I don't often write about wine, yet it's an undeniable fact that the fruit of the vine plays a noteworthy role in Argentine culture. Whether it's a copita of inexpensive table wine mixed with a blast of soda water from an old-fashioned siphon bottle or an elegant glass of one of the country's fine malbecs, wine is rarely absent at mealtimes.

Mendoza, often touted as the Napa Valley of Argentina, lies at the heart of the country's winemaking region. The following video provides a brief glimpse of the history of winemaking in Argentina, the climatic and soil conditions of Mendoza that make the region so special for winemaking, and the work involved in the grape harvest or vendimia.

Land of Elements: Mendoza

While we're on the topic of wine, I'd also like to tell you all about an exciting contest open to bloggers from the U.S., Canada, U.K., Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia. The Wine Blogger of the Month contest, sponsored by Wines of Argentina, invites submissions from food and wine bloggers that highlight their experiences with Argentine wine in their countries. One lucky grand prize winner will enjoy a week-long trip to Mendoza and another wine-producing region in Argentina, with flight, lodging and food included!

The contest ends on August 1, 2011. Click here for contest details. Uncork a bottle of malbec or torrontés for inspiration and start writing! ¡Suerte!

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Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Argentina

The Immaculate Conception, 1492, Carlo CrivelliThe Catholic feast day known as El Día de la Inmaculada Concepción (or El Día de la Virgen), celebrated on December 8th, is a public holiday here in Argentina.

As a non-Catholic, I admit that I'm not exactly up on all the details of the Church's dogma, various saints, feast days, etc., but I still find the information interesting.

When I first learned of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I mistakenly assumed that this feast day celebrated the conception of Jesus. Thankfully, there's always the handy-dandy site Wikipedia to clear up the confusion on pressing questions of faith:

The Immaculate Conception of Mary is, according to Catholic doctrine, the conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain of Original Sin....The doctrine states that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved by God from Original Sin and filled with the sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth.

According to Artcyclopedia, "The idea is central to the belief in her absolute perfection and purity as the vessel of Christ's incarnation."

While some will head to church to honor the Virgin Mary through prayer, from a cultural perspective, the most important aspect of the Día de la Virgen lies in the fact that it's the unofficial start of the holiday season and the day when almost all Argentines set up and decorate their Christmas trees. Since my family never trimmed the tree on a pre-determined day, I decided to jump on the Argentine bandwagon, and now I break out the ornaments on the 8th, too. Here's a post about our Christmas tree from last year. [I'll have photos of this year's tree soon.]

The lighting of Necochea's community Christmas tree also takes place today, complete with music by the Banda Municipal and a performance of the "The Nutcracker" starring a local ballet troupe.

Fake trees are the order of the day here in Argentina, with live Christmas trees being extremely difficult to source. Apparently, the local government does offer small pines for sale at Parque Miguel Lillo (the municipal tree nursery is located there), but honestly, I've never really investigated that option. My friend Cherie at tangocherie keeps a small, potted evergreen on her terrace in Buenos Aires to decorate at Christmas.

I'm content with the artificial tree my stepdad gifted us and the collection of ornaments that I brought with me from the United States. Every ornament represents a memory of a Christmas past, and I derive a lot of pleasure from unwrapping them, reminiscing about them, and placing them on the tree.

Do you have a special day to decorate your Christmas tree? Tell me about it in the comments.

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Notes on the Argentine Approach to Cooking

Argentine home cooks' approach to the country's food classics tends to reflect something of the national character: fly by the seat of your pants, make do with what you've got, and don't stray too far from what you know. The beauty of Argentine dishes lies in the fact that they deliver simple flavors and rarely demand pricey, obscure ingredients or kitchen gadgets for their successful preparation; however, those with perfectionist tendencies would do well to work up some culinary courage before tackling these recipes, as they're often plagued by a dearth of specific instructions. Here are some of my notes on the challenges of cooking estilo argentino.

1. The Recipes
One of the biggest problems with Argentine recipes is that they often don't exist in the first place. Tucked away in the mind of Daniel's great-aunt Rosa lies an absolute treasure trove of gastronomic knowledge. Without fail, her meals turn out flavorful, succulent, appetizing, [substitute your choice of adjective here]. Does she have any of this vast repository of recipes documented? Sadly, the answer is "no."

añejo [Old Argentine cookbook] by reiven on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]Should you be fortunate enough to encounter a written recipe, it's often lacking the most basic details (e.g. exact amounts, temperature, estimated cooking time). It's easy to get lost in the ambiguous directions and inexact measurements—puñados, pizcas and poquitos—doled out in heaping helpings in some of these recipes.

To avoid precision, Argentine cooks also love to list the amounts of key ingredients as "a gusto" (to taste). Salt and pepper to taste? OK, I can handle that. But when virtually every component of the recipe reads "add to taste," the collection of ingredients ceases to be a recipe.

Friends in my chorus actually teased me a bit the other day when I translated a well-written English-language recipe for dulce de leche brownies for them to Spanish. "It's so...detailed!" they exclaimed. Cue sigh.

2. The Measurements
Your average Argentine does not own measuring spoons, measuring cups or any other standardized measuring implements (nor does this fact keep him or her awake at night). I remember the look of wonderment on the faces of Daniel and his mom Hilda when I unpacked my set of gleaming stainless steel measuring cups and spoons and my Pyrex liquid measuring cup.

Vintage Tea Cups Collage Sheet [free download from DoverPublications.com] by autumnsensation, on FlickrThe other day I was researching recipes for vitel toné, a holiday favorite here in Argentina. One of the recipes I came across (by a noted Argentine chef, no less) called for half of a taza chica (small cup) of vinegar. How small, exactly, is this cup? Now, I recognize that using a "half of a small cup" instead of a standard 1/2-cup measurement won't spell the difference between life and death; however, in recipes requiring more exactitude, for example, baked goods, using sloppy measurements may lead to a less-than-desirable result.

Then, of course, there's the recipe I saw a while back that called for 17 teaspoons of sugar. I don't know about you, but I'll pull out my 1/3-cup measuring cup and call it a day. Hell, I'll even use a 1/3 of a "small cup" rather than count out 17 teaspoons.

True to her Italian roots, Hilda makes tallarines (tagliatelle) from scratch. The first time I watched her make the long strands of pasta, I commented to her that I'd like to jot down the recipe. She replied, "Oh, sure. You just use one egg per person and a handful of flour for every egg." Never mind the fact that my hand is about 50% larger than hers.

3. The Ovens
In the beginning, I used to ponder why hardly any Argentine recipes give an exact cooking temperature. I later discovered that when your oven offers three choices—yellow, orange, and red—achieving anything more precise than "medium heat" becomes a real challenge. I'd like to be able to blame this issue on the fact that my oven dates to the 1960s; however, a quick trip to the local appliance store confirmed that even brand spanking new ovens lack a thermostat/temperature control (unless, of course, you're prepared to shell out about $4,000 pesos [US $1,000] for the one oven in the store with a thermostat, which most people, myself included, are not).

My Oven's Temperature Gauge by katiemetz

Perhaps I'm a spoiled yanqui, but I really crave more precision than that provided by a needle bobbing between the "yellow zone" and the "red zone." The oven thermometer I purchased has helped me tremendously, but the process of regulating the oven temperature still gives me a headache, given that just a barely perceptible flick of the wrist makes the difference between undercooked blobs of dough and incinerated ones.

Let's get kitchen confidential. Share your culinary trials and tribulations in the comments.

[Photo credits: reiven and autumnsensation]

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Elizabeth Lovelace: Photographer in Mar del Plata

The relationships I've forged through my blog never cease to amaze me. In the case of my friend Elizabeth Lovelace, we got acquainted after she commented on Seashells and Sunflowers earlier this year. As coincidence would have it, it turned out that she currently resides just an hour and a half away in Mar del Plata. Stranger yet, Liz and her husband once lived in the exact same town that I did back in Pennsylvania. El mundo es un pañuelo. It's a small world.

The first time I visited Liz's home in Mar del Plata, I couldn't help but smile when I saw her photograph of the Philadelphia landmark Boathouse Row hanging on the wall. The conversation came easy that afternoon, and I found that we have a great deal in common. Liz further endeared herself to me that day by plying me with homemade chai tea, fig preserves, bagels and, of course, Philadelphia cream cheese.

Sometimes as an expat, you're so eager to make a connection with someone (anyone!) that you find yourself drawn to an individual simply for the fact that he or she shares the same mother tongue or country of origin, with little or no basis for the friendship beyond those simple commonalities; however, I can say with 100% certainty that Liz is someone whom I would happily befriend regardless of the circumstances.

One of the passions that Liz and I share is photography. While I indulge in picture taking merely as a hobby, Liz has taken the next step and chosen photography as a profession. The tagline on her photography blog reads, "Hallando la belleza de los momentos simples" (Finding beauty in simple moments), and I think this phrase speaks perfectly to her aesthetic as a photographer.

Liz invited me to her very first photo exhibition at Casa del Mar a couple of weekends ago, where some of her lovely work was on display. If you happen to be in Mar del Plata on Saturday, December 11, Liz's photos will be featured at Casa del Mar for the "Noche de Museos" event, as well.

Elizabeth Lovelace, Photographer - Mar del Plata, Argentina[The artist with two of her photographs]

You can view more of Liz's photos on her blog FotosEli. Feel free to join her Facebook page, too, for updates. She's fully bilingual (Spanish/English) and available for portrait sessions, weddings, quinceañeras, and more in Mar del Plata.

Elizabeth Lovelace, Photographer/Fotógrafa
Mar del Plata, Argentina
Email: fotoselimdq@gmail.com

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