Monthly Archives: October 2011

Argentina’s Haunted Past

The ghosts of Argentina’s recent past ride high in the saddle throughout the country. In the 20th century, the nation suffered two episodes that deeply marked its gaucho character: a Patagonian worker’s massacre during the 1920s and a repressive military regime in the 1970s.

 

Argentina is fast becoming Latin America’s leader in a new form of tourism that is peeling back the veils of these tragedies: human rights tourism. Now travelers can learn more about the country’s experiences that go beyond gauchos, tango and parrilla BBQs. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina helps you to tear away this cloaked past.

 

The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.

In 1976, the military overthrew Isabel Perón, third wife of the recently deceased President, legendary Juan Domingo Perón. A reign of terror then ensued. Youth were kidnapped, tortured and killed. Some of them were activists. Others were targeted only for the “crime” of being young. Up to 30,000 were murdered. Pregnant women were often kept alive to give birth then killed, their children being adopted by families close to the military junta. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo formed to fight for the truth of what happened to their children, and the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, to search for their grandchildren.

 

Resistencia's Museo de la Memoria.

In many cities, the former torture centers have been turned into museums, to remind people of that dark decade of Argentina’s modern history—and to pay homage to those who died. In Buenos Aires, the ESMA (Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada), which was one of the principal detention camps, is now a museum. Both Rosario and Resistencia have museums called Museo de la Memoria. At the one in Resistencia, two of the torture chambers are being excavated for evidence to bring the guilty to justice. Córdoba’s Archivo de la Memoria, across the alley from the Catedral, has a particularly strong ambience. Here, the walls that hid the torture cells have been torn down, revealing the victim’s last words scratched into plaster. (Note: If you are particularly sensitive to energies, you might find this museum a bit overpowering.)

 

Coronel Varela's railcar.

Another obscure chapter in Argentine history occurred in the country’s south during the early 1920s: The Patagonia Rebellion. Because of the horrid working conditions on the sheep estancias (ranches), the workers rose up. From 1920 until early 1922, the entire region saw strikers taking over ranches in an attempt to get landowners to fulfill promised reforms. The military was sent in and a manhunt ensued of the labor organizers and anyone else involved. On some estancias, more than a thousand strikers were killed.

 

The memorial near Estancia Bellavista.

In many of the principle centers of labor organizing, monuments exist to the strikers. At Jaramillo is a statue to Facón Grande. At Puerto Deseado is the railcar that Coronel Varela used to pursue the workers; it is now a museum to the workers’ struggle. Puerto San Julián where the women of one brothel told soldiers looking for a little R&R, “We don’t sleep with murders,” has a memorial to Albino Agüelles. One of the largest massacres occurred in Gobernador Gregores, at Estancia Bellavista. In this village, Estancia Los Granaderos organizes the tour, Tras los Pasos de los Huelguistas (In the Footsteps of the Strikers), which takes travelers to various related sites in the Patagonia. The notable exception to cities with memorials is Río Gallegos, which was the headquarters of the main strike organizer, Antonio Soto. In fact, to this day, it is still quite a touchy topic for the local populace.

 

The Patagonian Rebellion even extended to the estancias in Southern Chile, where the ruling families—the Braun, Menéndez and Noguiera—lived and controlled their Patagonian empires. Although their mansions are mute about their role in this history, you can see the splendor of their lives on full display in Punta Arenas, Chile, from the Palacio de Sara Braun (where you might catch a ghostly image on your photo) and Museo Regional Braun-Menéndez, in another of the family’s homes, to the city’s cemetery gates. Puerto Natale’s Museo Histórico Municipal has a section on the 1920s strikes, as does Museo Histórico e Industrial in nearby Puerto Bories.

 

Grab a copy (or download one) of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina or V!VA Travel Guides Patagonia Argentina. They will take you to these sites—and many more—on both sides of the border and throughout the grand country, in your search for Argentina’s haunted past.

Weekend Beach Getaway in Ecuador for Feriado

It’s almost feriado here in Ecuador and in many other Latin American countries for All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Most Ecuadorians flock to the coast during this holiday to sip on cervezas and savor ceviche while lying on the beach, relaxing away from the commotion of the larger cities. With all the beautiful beach towns studding the Pacific coast, it only becomes a question of where they will spend the extended weekend.

Ceviche on Ecuador's Coast

The most popular coastal provinces are Esmeraldas, Manabí and Guayas. Esmeraldas is on the northern coast and is the center of Afro-Ecuadorian culture in Ecuador. Although the city of Esmeraldas is big, dirty and dangerous, many quiteños head to this province for the nicer, more upscale beach towns of Tonsupa and Casablanca. Atacames is another popular destination, though it tends to be more crowded and rowdy, with bars and discos blasting reggaeton until the wee morning hours. Smaller surfing and fishing villages like Mompiche,Tonchigüe and Muisne have begun to attract foreigners for their laid-back vibes and cheap, delicious food. Don’t leave Esmeraldas without trying encocado, a typical plate of fish or shrimp in a coconut-based sauce.

Canoa

Manabí is chock-full of worthwhile beaches, from the already-popular Canoa and upcoming Jama in the north to Puerto López and the surrounding Isla de La Plata and Parque Nacional Machililla in the south. Isla de La Plata is also known as the “poor man’s Galápagos,” because some Galápagos wildlife, including Blue-footed boobies, live on this easily accessible island. Los Frailes, known to be one of Ecuador’s most gorgeous secluded beaches, is located within Parque Nacional Machalilla, Ecuador’s only coastal national park.

Montañita

Guayas, which houses Ecuador’s second largest city of Guayaquil, is the destination of choice for many guayaquileños. Guayaquil’s elite head to beaches like Salinas, where there is a fancy yacht club. Montañita is one of the most well-known beach towns in the province, and has become especially popular with foreigners. A bit touristy but still down-to-earth, Montañita is a true hippie haven and has a thriving nightlife. To escape Montañita’s crowds, some head to the sleepy fishing villages of Manglaralto and Ayangue instead, which have a more local feel.

Where will you be heading this holiday?

Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead is observed throughout Latin America on November first and second. It’s a day in which people get together to remember those who have passed away: not just in the past year, but even long before. Many people will build shrines in their homes with photos and keepsakes, and even may cook the favorite meal of the departed!

The best place to see it is Mexico, where they go all-out with special food, drinks, music and day-long parties at the cemeteries, but several other places in Latin America celebrate it and it’s well worth checking out. Here is some Day of the Dead information to get you started!

In Guatemala, there are a couple of places worth checking out. In Todos Santos, in the province of Huehuetenango, the locals celebrate November first by partying and drinking all day and having special horse races through the town as well as ceremonial dances. In Sacatepéquez, the locals construct and fly elaborate, enormous and colorful kites: you’ve never seen anything like it.

In Ecuador, celebrations are a little more low-key as families head to the cemeteries to spend the day with departed loved ones. Be sure to pick up colada morada (a thick, purple, sweet beverage made from fruit and served hot) and guaguas de pan (“bread children:” small, sweet loaves of bread in human shape, occasionally filled with caramel or jam). Delicious!

In Search of the Peróns

No other two people epitomize Argentina as much as Evita and Juan Perón. Ask anyone—native or foreigner—who the most famous person is of this southern country is, and it won’t be tango legend Carlos Gardel or rock’s bad boy Charly García, nor will it be literary legends like Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar. The first name to slip off the tongue will be either Juan or Evita. Their presences continue to permeate the landscape and politics of 21st-century Argentina. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina can help you go in search of the Peróns.

 

• Juan & Evita : Photo by Iversonic (http://www.flickr.com/photos/iversonic/2785405124)

By the time General Juan Domingo Perón (1895-1974) and Eva Duarte (1919-1952) married in 1945, Juan was a career military man who had been a coup participant, president and political prisoner, and Evita was a famous actress and co-owner of a radio station. With Juan’s election to the presidency in 1946, this couple forged one of the most lasting political movements in Argentine history. They supported the interests of the working class and poor. Evita was Vice President, Minister of Health, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare of Argentina and head of the Eva Perón Foundation. She led campaigns for social justice and equality, and promoted women’s political rights and involvement. Her death from cancer in 1952 was intensely mourned. When Juan was overthrown in 1955, the military junta kidnapped her body and secretly buried it under a false name in Italy. She returned to Argentina in 1974, when General Perón was in power for a third time.

 

 

Museo Familia de Perón in Camarones.

The nation’s capital echoes with their footsteps, but that is not where the journey begins. You must go deep into the Patagonia, to Camarones. When he was a child, Juan’s family moved to this small Atlantic coast village where his father was the Justice of Peace. The family’s home is now the Museo Familia de Perón. The extensive exhibits recount his family’s history, and explain the socio-political revolution he and Eva launched.

 

 

 

 

Museo Evita.

The majority of sites related to General Perón and Evita, of course, are in Buenos Aires. Here you can imagine Evita waving to the masses of workers and poor from the balcony of the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada. Take a tour of this sprawling, rose-colored building in the city’s heart and visit the museum, which has much information on the Perón period. Then head north to Palermo neighborhood, to Museo Evita. This museum, located in the former Fundación Eva Perón, is dedicated to her life and works. Afterwards, make the pilgrimage to the upscale Cementerio Recoleta, where her black-marble tomb draws thousands of devotees every year. (It isn’t hard to find: It is always bedecked with flowers and other gifts to this “Spiritual Leader of the Nation.”)

 

 

Evita, however, was never buried alongside her husband, General Juan Domingo Perón. For many decades he was interred in working-class Cementerio Charcarita, on the west side of Buenos Aires. But now the General lies in rest even further away from his belovéd Evita. In 2008, his body was moved to a new mausoleum in his hometown San Vicente, 64 kilometers (39 miles) south of Buenos Aires. This imposing monument on his former estate begins beneath an image of Eva crying on Perón’s shoulder. A waterway then leads visitors to his new resting place. Also on the grounds is Museo 17 de Octubre, which is dedicated to the Peróns. The Duarte family has refused to allow Eva to join her husband.

Evita's grave.

The search for the Peróns doesn’t end there. You can look for it in the social movements and politics of Argentina. Evita still is so revered by many homes that you can find her picture displayed alongside loved ones.

Fantastic Nature Reserves on Argentina’s Patagonian Coast

The most talked about spot on Argentina’s Patagonian coast is Puerto Madryn. The whales, elephant seals and other wildlife at Playa El Doradillo and out on Peninsula Valdés draw thousands of visitors every year. Sports enthusiasts come for the prime windsurfing and scuba diving. The new V!VA Travel Guides Patagonia Argentina takes you there—and to lesser-known places on this Atlantic Coast that every traveler should put on the itinerary.

 

The restringas at low tide.

Las Grutas, an über-popular summer balneario (resort) with a Mediterranean-village feel to it, is barely on the foreigners’ radar screen. At low tide, the sea here—the warmest in all Patagonia—retreats up to two kilometers and forms pools in the rock-bed restringas. You can walk south along the coast to the fascinating Piedras Coloradas, El Buque, with a rock formation that looks like a ship and lagoons filled with mussels and small Patagonian octopus, and Cañadón de las Ostras, where 15-million-year old fossilized oysters stud the stone. Inland are Salinas de Gualicho, Argentina’s largest salt works and perfect place for star gazing, and Fuerte Argentino, reputed to be the refuge of the Knights Templar. Las Grutas is within a large nature reserve, protecting migrating whales and dolphins. Vuelo Latitud 40 is a migratory bird refuge and research center.

 

Whales can be spotted all along Argentina's Patagonia coast.

Further south on Ruta 3 is Parque Marítimo Costero Patagonia Austral, Argentina’s newest national park and the first one dedicated to preserving marine habitat. It stretches from Camarones in the north all the way to Caleta Córdova, near Comodoro Rivadavia. Within the park is Cabo Dos Bahías, home to 13 main species of birds, with a population totaling over a half-million residents, including Magellanic Penguin and Antarctic Giant Petrel, as well as a sea lion colony. The upscale resort at Bahía Bustamante is another prime birdwatching spot. In spring, whales are seen all along this coast. The best place to access this new park is at Camarones, which was the hometown of Juan Perón.

 

 

The Ría Deseada's beautiful landscape.

Puerto Deseado is the gateway to the Ría Deseada Nature Reserve. This over-40-kilometer canyon is the product of a freak geological accident millions of years ago, when the glaciers were receding. It is now a natural lover’s paradise with five types of cormorant, Magellanic Penguins, terns, skuas and dozens of other birds. Fur seals and sea lions tread the waters, and guanaco and rhea roam the plains. Kayak up the ría, following in Charles Darwin’s footsteps, to the Miradores named for him. Off shore from Puerto Deseado is Isla Pingüino, with Patagonia’s only colony of the yellow-tufted Rockhopper Penguins.

 

 

 

Cabo Curioso

Another place to follow in Mr. Darwin’s footsteps is at Puerto San Julián.  It was at this port that the Patagonia legend was born. With a deep history of pirates and explorers, this safe harbor also drew HMS The Beagle in for a spell. The Circuito Costero, stretching 22 kilometers up the coast, is a fantastic place to hike. The landscape is bedecked with birdlife, wild horses and ruins from Patagonia’s recent past. Cabo Curioso’s giant oyster fossil-studded cliffs caught Darwin’s imagination, and stirred his mind to theories of evolution. In the city itself, a waterfall forms at low tide, with a lagoon where flamingos, black-necked swans and other waterfowl can be spotted.

 

To enjoy the stunning natural beauties of these places, come in spring or fall, when migratory marine mammal and bird populations are at their peak. In summer, you’ll get to experience the culture of migrating Argentines on vacation. All of these destinations have year-round campgrounds, which make them affordable destinations even for shoestring travelers.

 

If your trip will take you all over this great country, pick up a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina, which is available in print and e-book formats.

Pebguins are also spotted all along this coast.

Seven Wonders in Argentina’s Most Forgotten Corner

It’s springtime in Argentina. Summer is nigh on the horizon, and everyone will be packing up the tents, boarding trains and heading out for vacation. But there is one corner of the country where only the most loco traveler would ever journey during those months when temperatures there soar above 50ºC (120ºF). Even the animals seem to disappear for cooler climes, making the great escape from the Gran Chaco.

 

Spring is the best time to head into Argentina’s Gran Chaco region. With several great expanses of national parks, indigenous cultures, premier fishing and other delightful wonders, it is incredible to think this Argentine corner has been for so long forgotten. But not any longer. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina takes you there.

 

Seven marvelous places to put on your itinerary are:

 

1 – Resistencia

The capital of Chaco Province is Argentina’s Sculpture Capital. The entire city is an open-air gallery, with over 200 works on display. Resistencia is also the jumping off point for day trips to Parque Nacional Chaco, which protects red quebracho forests where nearly 350 species of bird and endangered jaguar and maned wolf (agaurá guazú) reside, and the Reserva Provincial Isla del Cerrito, a former leper colony that is now a birdwatcher’s and angler’s Eden.

 

2 – Roque Sáenz Peña

Chaco’s second largest city is where you can soak in one of Argentina’s best hot spring resorts and visit the city’s zoo which has a very successful endangered species breeding program. From Sáenz Peña, hop the train to the remote Campo del Cielo, where an asteroid plummeted into earth over 6,000 years ago.

 

Wichí women

3 – El Impenetrable

Thick thickets of the world’s hardest hardwoods and thorny brush give the northwest corner of the Chaco its name: The Impenetrable. This region has two natural reserves, Reserva Natural Loro Hablador and Reserva Natural Provincial Fuerte Esperanza, both near Fuerte Esperanza. You can learn about the Wichí and Q’om indigenous cultures in villages like Misión Nueva Pompeya and El Sauzalito.

 

4 – Villa Río Bermejito

This small village on the banks of the Río Bermejito on the edge of El Impenetrable is one of the best kept secrets in the entire country. Get ready for a whole lot of chillin’ here, with boat cruises on the river, sunning on golden beaches, visiting indigenous hamlets and dropping in the ol’ fishing line for dinner.

 

5 – Formosa

The capital of Formosa Province, just a skip across the river from Paraguay, is home to Laguna Oca nature reserve, with bird blinds to watch its 176 species of avifauna, camping, boat trips and swimming.

 

Formosa's mysterious beings.

6 – Parque Nacional Río Pilcomayo

Camp in this national park, taking a morning dip in the lagoon, watching the yacaré sunning on the banks and hearing the howler monkeys at dusk. The nearest village, Laguna Blanca, has the wonderful Museo Regional del Nordeste Formoseño, explaining local history and the mysterious beings that wander the Formosan countryside.

 

A yacaré working on its tan.

7 – Bañado La Estrella

 

South America’s third largest wetlands has a richly diverse landscape. The indigenous call this, “The River of Birds. Bañado La Estrella is, indeed, a birdwatcher’s paradise with over 300 species present include Jabiru, Black-faced Ibis, Roseate spoonbill and Glittering-bellied Emerald hummingbird. The best months for birdwatching are April to October.