Tag Archives: Travel

Under the araucarias

I spent the second half of November in southern Chile, traveling with my partner, Zachary, and two of our friends. We drove up and down the Ruta Panamericana and were based successively in Puerto Varas, Castro (on Chiloe Island), Villarrica, and, for the final two nights, Valdivia.

I loved everything about this part of Chile: the volcanoes, lakes, national parks, and fjords at the gateway to Patagonia; the convivial people; the good seafood and wine. I hope to return someday. Sadly, this trip was marred to some extent by a bad cold passed among the four of us. It didn’t keep us from doing things, but in my case it precluded full energy and enjoyment.

One highlight of the trip was the day I drove us up and up a gorgeous valley, past blue mountain lakes and ever-changing vistas of the line of peaks, to the border with Argentina high in a pass of the Andes. Near there we walked for an hour in the shadow of snowy Volcan Lanin, under a canopy of huge, ancient Araucaria araucana trees. It was glorious. Also, there were penguins on Chiloe–Humboldts and Magellanics. Our first time seeing wild penguins.

I achieved the goal of packing for 16 days of variable weather using carryon luggage: my TLS Motherlode Convertible backpack, with a Rick Steves shoulderbag/daypack as my personal item. Thanks to quick-drying poly knits and performance fabrics, a bit of quick sink laundry every third evening was all it took. As always, though, the binocs and bird guide, chargers and electronics and toiletries, and the spare pair of shoes took up as much space as the clothing.

Fall news

Portland is finally getting autumnal weather, not a moment too soon for me. Fall has always been my favorite season. It also feels like the real beginning of the year–a legacy, perhaps, of the long summers when I waited impatiently for school to start.

It’s a good time to assess what the year has brought so far, and to look at what’s ahead.

Solar Eclipse: A month ago my partner Zachary and I saw our first total solar eclipse. We viewed it in a gorgeous garden just 40 miles from home, with good friends and perfect viewing conditions. Totality (1 minute, 57 seconds) was magical and went by in a flash. I am extremely happy to have had that experience.

Domestic Affairs:  Zachary retired last month. He’s thrilled about it. I’m happy for him, and glad we’ll be able to travel more. Still, it is an ongoing challenge for me to adapt to working–or just doing what I do on any given day–now that he’s home instead of at work. I’m grateful that we have a big house. We are out of each other’s way a lot of the time.

Writing: Not long ago I turned in the revised ms. and 115 images for my YA adaptation of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The ms. is  being copyedited, so I haven’t yet seen the last of it–but almost. Atheneum, a Simon & Schuster imprint, will publish it next October. [Note: Photo research and permissions is a big  job. Just imagine how tedious it was before everything was digital.] Meanwhile, I’m working on another YA adaptation, this one of Jill Jonnes’s terrific book Eiffel’s Tower. And I’ve written a book for young people about the history of the environmental movement from the 1960s to the present.

Travel: Chile in November! We had such a great time in Argentina and Uruguay last year that we’re going back to South America for a couple of weeks, this time with our friends Fred and Ron. We’ll fly in and out of Puerto Montt, gateway to southern Chile’s volcano-fjord-and-lake country, and we’ll drive around visiting national parks and seeing penguins and other cool things. Also, I expect, sampling some of Chile’s excellent wines. I’ve been studying Spanish on Duolingo and will have a chance to put it to the test. (Fortunately, the Chileans are a kind and generous people.) I’ve also got trips scheduled to visit friends in South Dakota and Toronto, and I’m starting to look at prospects for next year.

And now, those leaves won’t rake themselves . . . .


Death Valley

A couple of months ago Zachary and I had a road trip south on I-5 through California and through the southern Sierras to Death Valley, where we camped and hiked for a few days before returning via smaller highways on the scenic eastern side of the Sierras. We happened to be in the park at an unusual time–there had been a lot of recent rain, so that we saw a rare saline lake in Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, with the Panamint Mountains on the basin’s western side reflected in the shallow water.

Zachary had been to Death Valley once or twice before, long ago, but I never had, and I’d been curious about it for a long time. Our visit was brief, but we were able to see and do almost everything that it was possible to see and do. (A number of roads within the park were closed due to washouts and mud, and in any event my 2WD Taurus station wagon would have been unequal to backcountry roads.)

Weather was sunny and mild by day, and not too hot. It was, though, so windy that for the first two nights, which we spent in tiny Emigrant campground up off the valley floor, we could not put up our tent. Fortunately it is possible, though scarcely luxurious, for the two of us to sleep in the back of the Taurus, so we survived. Wildlife sightings were few: a roadrunner at our second campsite, and some endemic pupfish on a glorious gloaming walk along Salt Creek. We saw lots of fascinating geology, including a wilderness of rock formations at Zabriskie Point, where we recalled the Antonioni film but did not blow anything up.

Would I go back to Death Valley? I’d love to do so someday, but only with a vehicle capable of getting me into some of the amazing sites in the park’s vast backcountry, such as the Racetrack and the Eureka Dunes. In the meantime, my curiosity about the place and my road-trip yearnings were satisfied.


Buenos Aires and Uruguay

Last weekend Z and I returned from two weeks in South America: three and a half days in Buenos Aires, and the rest of the time in Uruguay.

Barra de Valizas, Uruguay

Barra de Valizas, Uruguay

Buenos Aires is a great city–cosmopolitan, exciting, EuroLatin–and it was a magical season there. The city is full of jacaranda trees, and they were in bloom, so that everything was wrapped in a pale purple haze of blossoms. I was glad to experience one of the world’s great cities . . . but I loved Uruguay.

Uruguay is a green, rolling country, gentle of topography and temperament, and we had a terrific time driving around it clockwise. We took the ferry from BA to Colonia del Sacramento and proceeded up the Rio Uruguay, to Artigas in the northern mining district and then to Rivera (where we crossed into Brazil briefly, as the city straddles the border without an official border crossing), and then through the northeastern interior on tiny dirt roads to the beautiful South Atlantic coast. We spent our last night back in Colonia, where we had a Thanksgiving dinner of grilled meat and delicious local wine, then took the ferry back across the Rio de la Plata to BA, wandered around the charming neighborhood of San Telmo for a few hours, then headed to the airport for the long trip home.

Highlights include:

–the wonderful birds of Uruguay, including rheas, which made me squeal with excitement every time we saw them (we saw them pretty often)

–a visit to a native-animal breeding center in Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, where we saw a lot of well-cared-for creatures, including wild mountain cats, coatimundis, caimans, and capybaras with their babies (we also saw a capy in the wild)

–the people we met along the way, who were without fail charming, helpful, and happy to see travelers enjoying Uruguay (a number of them asked if we were moving there to get away from Trump, which, if only)

–seeing the big old Southern Cross hanging in front of us in the sky above the Costanera in Piriapolis, Uruguay

Lighthouse, Jose Ignacio

Lighthouse, Jose Ignacio

–the Naval Museum in Montevideo, which we finally managed to find just as it closed for a two-hour lunch break, but which we were able to explore at will while the staff took their break, thanks to their courtesy; it has a great exhibit on the Graf Spee and the Battle of the Plata

–the view of the South Atlantic from atop the lighthouse in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay

–watching the Supermoon rise above Puerto Madera on our last night in BA

–“the world’s second most beautiful bookshop,” Ateneo Grand Splendid in BA, which occupies a stunning former theater

Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires

Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires

Lowlights include:

–being unable to escape the increasingly awful news about Trump’s coming reich, and the clouds of dread and anxiety about it that descended upon us from time to time

–my 29-hour homebound itinerary with several very long layovers; but, as I’ve said more than once, that’s what Kindles, disposable toothbrushes, and drugs are for

Will we go back? Maybe, but not right away. This was Z’s second trip in two years to BA and Uruguay, and he’s ready for a change. I hear Chile is a good place to visit . . . .

Iceland, again

North of Dalvik

We spent a week in Iceland last month. It was our second visit to the magical isle, and we are already plotting our third. That sculpture stands on the shore of Eyjafjordur, north of Dalvik as we headed for the Trollskagi coast.

Here we are at the Arctic Circle, where it was refreshingly cool:

At the Arctic Circle

We saw lots and lots of the beautiful, sturdy Icelandic horses. These were on Grimsey Island:


A view of Lake Myvatn. (We hope to return to this area during winter, to soak in hot pools under the Northern Lights.)


The first of three mighty waterfalls we saw on this trip was Selfoss:

Zachary photographs Dettifoss, Europe’s highest-volume waterfall:


Rainbow over Dettifoss:


Finally, a fixer-upper we fell for on Snaefellsnes: