As reported last month, rains have caused havoc in travel plans in Peru and throughout South America. The highlands have been drenched, causing rivers to be rushing torrents by the time they reach the coastal plains.
Last Sunday, I got to experience this first hand while traveling south from Ica. At about midnight, our bus halted. Passengers drifted in and out of sleep, wondering why we were motionless on this black highway in the middle of nowhere. Within a few hours, we were once more traveling, the gentle sway, the gentle song of wheels on pavement lulling us to sleep.
Stranded in southern Peru. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
But again, at 4 a.m., we were stopped. Before sunrise, I walked out to see a long line of buses, trucks and other vehicles wrapped around the base of a cliff, fading around the bend uphill, and into the distance below, ending at water’s edge. On the other bank, another line of buses and trucks wound up that road and around the curve. Between us, the land rolled down to flooded fields. In this pre-dawn light, a broad river raged, red with soil, tumbling to the sea.
A río huayco, the driver told me. In Quechua, huayco means a river that forms in dry gulches, hauling rocks, trees and mud into the lowland valleys—and flooding the landscape for kilometers around.
Our río huayco rolling off to the sea. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
On that stretch of the Pan-American highway just before Camaná, near the village of Pescadores, no bridge exists because this is normally a rio seco—a dry river. But the past few years, with the constant cycle of El Niño and La Niña weather patterns, this river has existed in the summer months when temperatures soar on the coast and the rainy season arrives in the Andes.
The rising sun’s heat was tempered by clouds to the east. But this forebode more rains in Arequipa, Puno or wherever these rivers are born.
"Agua, gaseosa, golosinas," he called out. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
A white van skidded to a stop at the side of the road and its door slid open, revealing mounds of water, sodas, snacks and toilet paper for sale. Passengers heading to Arequipa, Tacna and other southern destinations lined up to pay over double the normal price. The vendor grinned broadly, soles sign (S/.) dancing in his bright eyes.
Finally with the morn, a bulldozer began clearing a channel in that río huayco. Soon the waters ceased to rise. The level lowered enough for the first buses and trucks to cross. Finally at 9 a.m., it was our bus’ turn to slowly wade through the still-strong current.
Our turn to cross. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
This year’s rains have caused havoc all over the region. The Peru-Chile border south of Tacna is closed 7 a.m.-noon (5-10 a.m. Chilean time) to clear 40-year-old anti-personnel mines that the flooding has unearthed. Chile has been wracked with overflowing rivers, from the San José in Arica to the Río de las Minas in Punta Arenas. Travelers report being stranded for up to 12 hours when crossing the altiplano from Bolivia or the Atacama Desert into Argentina.
If you are traveling this season, be sure to pack extra food and water. (Buses only carry enough for serving at mealtimes.) If you will be traveling into Peru’s southern departments of Moquegua or Tacna, or crossing international borders, this is a challenging task because of agricultural customs controls. No produce, whether fresh or dried, dairy or meat products are allowed. Bread is safest bet, as are peanut butter, marmite or vegemite sandwiches. Stock up on drinks and snacks, as well as a book, sudoku puzzles or anything else to pass the time.
And most of all—don’t forget to pack in some extra patience.
Safe Journeys until next week!
Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.
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.
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.
While North America is experiencing an infernal summer, with temperatures in the upper 30s and even 40ºs C (90s-100ºs F) with severe droughts, it’s hard to believe that South America is suffering through the other version of Hades: It has frozen over there.
Since late June, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia have been having their worst cold spell in 16 years. Border crossings between the countries are more frequently closed than usual.
Winter began with a bang, when Volcán Puyehue and the Cordón de Caulle erupted June 4. Flights in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay were canceled because of volcanic ash.
Then it went from fire to ice. A polar front moved into Argentina the end of June. Heavy snows fell in the mountain areas of Patagonia, Cuyo and the Northwest. Snow and sleet were common in Buenos Aires. Many parts of the country experienced below-freezing temperatures.
Ever since, other polar fronts have crept up from Antarctica, affecting South America.
In mid-July, the Uyunisalt flats and southwest Bolivia were slammed with unusual snows and temperatures. Local residents and tourists were stranded for days until rescue teams could arrive. Alpacas, llamas and other livestock suffered from food shortages. Even the super-dry Atacama Desert in northern Chileand western Bolivia received over 80 centimeters (32 inches) of the white stuff.
On July 21, Chile’s Lake District was whacked with a blizzard. Over two meters (7 feet) of snow was dumped was dumped over the region. More than 12,000 people in Curacautín, Lonquimay and other villages were isolated, and left without electricity and communications. The Chilean government declared the region a disaster area, and had to airdrop food supplies until roads and passes could be cleared. Chillánreceived three meters (10 feet) of snow in four days. Even temperatures in Santiago, the nation’s capital, plummeted to -4ºC (25ºF).
The storms continue. This past weekend, Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the major border crossing betweenMendoza, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile, was closed to snows. To keep up-to-date on the latest border crossing closures between the two countries, click here.
The upside to all this? Snow bunnies are guaranteed prime skiing and snowboarding conditions throughout the region, including Bariloche. Just be sure to bundle up tight!
And according to Pilar Cereceda, professor of bio-geography at the University of Chile, the Atacama Desert will begin blooming between August and September, and last until November.
Since Southern Chile’s Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano complex erupted on June 4, its ash cloud has accomplished a feat many travelers daydream about: Circling the globe. And it didn’t even have to buy a round-the-world ticket.
On its leisurely cruise around the Earth, the cloud first grounded flights in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. It blanketed Bariloche with ash and cinder, and closed the Cardenal Samoré border crossing. After drifting over the Atlantic Ocean, South Africa and other countries on that continent were affected. Across the Indian Ocean, then, to cause Qantas and other airlines to cancel flights in Australia and New Zealand last week.
Within two weeks, Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s ash cloud made full circle, re-entering South America near Coyhaique, Chile. Once again, South American air traffic was affected.
As if never ceasing on its enviable journey, the ashes arrived once again to Africa and Asia, causing the full moon to appear blood red during the June 15 lunar eclipse.
This past Monday, Virgin Australia, Qantas and other air lines once more canceled over 200 flights, affecting the travel plans of more than 40,000 passengers.
According to Australia’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, the ash cloud is traveling some 4,000 kilometers (2,400 mi) per 24 hours, pushed on by strong winds. Satellite images still clearly show the plume, and pilots have reported seeing it.
In the meantime, Puyehue Volcano’s eruption continued to pump out more smoke. Yesterday morning, fine ash fell upon Villarrica, Pucón and the Ranco Lake area. Northwesternly winds pushed the cloud towards Valdivia.
It appears, though, that Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s cloud will be running its course soon. Chile’s Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (Sernageomin) announced yesterday that the volcano has had a significant lava flow, which should stop the volcano from pumping out more ash. Nonetheless, the Puyehue and Ranco Lake districts are still under red alert.
Hopefully as Puyehue-Cordón Caulle settles down and unpacks its bags, human travelers will be able to get one with their journeys around the globe.
As reported last week, on June 4, Southern Chile’s Cordón Caulle on Puyehue Volcano’s slopes erupted for the first time in 51 years. Across the entire Southern Hemisphere, the eruption has been causing travel nightmares not only for common journeyers, but also for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who is on a regional tour. He had to bus to Buenos Aires and boat to Uruguay.
This past week, flights were canceled in Chileand Patagonian Argentina, as well as southern Brazil. On Monday another column of ash, shooting eight kilometers (5 mi) into the atmosphere, forced the closures of airports across the Southern Cone, from Santiago to Buenos Aires to Montevideo.
But South America isn’t the only place being affected by Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s fallout. When winds shifted to the West over the weekend, the ash forced Qantas and other airlines to cancel flights in New Zealand and Australia.
Both Chile and Argentina have declared agricultural emergencies in their Lake and Patagonia regions. Lava flows have oozed down the Nilahue River valley. Over five million salmon were relocated when rising river temperatures caused fishkills.
Friday, rain and ash from the eruption caused an avalanchenear the (closed) Cardenal Samoré border crossing road, which remains closed. To handle border traffic, the Chilean government has increased the number of ferries on Lago Pirehueico at the Hua Hum pass and has reopened Paso Pino Hinchado. Snows may force the re-closure of these crossings.
Chile’s Emergency Management Agency (Onemi) maintains a red alert for the Lago Ranco and Puyehueareas. Travelers are advised to watch the news for further developments. To keep up on Volcán Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s activity, check Chile’s Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería(Sernageomin)website. Earthquake Report publishes an up-to-date chronicle of reports of Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s effects in the region.
After a series of small earthquakes, southern Chile’s Volcán Puyehue-Cordón Caulle re-awoke last Saturday (June 4) with a 10,000-meter (32,600-ft) high column of smoke and ash. The eruptions are occurring on Puyehue’s (2,236 meters / 7,267 feet) slopes. The present activity is northeast of the vents triggered by the 1960 earthquake, which was the largest in modern history.
The ash stream of the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano. Photo by NASA Goddard Photo/ Jeff Schmaltz
Heavy ash and softball-ball size pumice fell on Bariloche. The fallout drifted eastward over Puerto Madryn. Argentine airports from Bariloche to Trelew will be closed until at least Wednesday.
Early Monday winds shifted to the northwest, blowing ash over Osorno. The Oficina Nacional de Emergencia (Onemi) director of the Los Lagos Region, Andrés Ibaceta, stressed that as spectacular as the eruption is, this is an emergency situation. Tourists should keep away from the Cordón Caulle area.
Travelers are advised to watch the news for further developments. To keep up on Volcán Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s activity, check Chile’s Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería(Sernageomin)website. Erik Klemetti’s Big Think has a good explanation (in English) of the eruption. The BBC and El Mercurio have spectacular photo slideshows.
The Ushuaia-based news agency Sur 54 reports that flights to the following destinations are suspended until at least Friday: Ushuaia, Río Grande, Trelew, Neuquén, Viedma, Río Gallegos, El Calafate, Ushuaia, Río Grande, Comodoro Rivadavia, Bahía Blanca, Santa Rosa and San Rafael. As well, night flights between Santiago de Chile and Mendoza are cancelled.
Flooding and mudslides around La Paz have killed dozens, left thousands homeless and disrupted travel around Bolivia’s capital.
The planned dam at Belo Monte, in Brazil’s Amazonian basin, has been halted by a judge so that more environmental impact studies can be made.
Chile’s president faces tough questions about reconstruction one year after his country was struck by a devastating earthquake. For information about Chile’s tourism infrastructure after the quake, check out VIVA’s Chile guidebook.
Every Friday, Viva Travel Guides combs the presses to round up the most relevant and recent Latin America news stories. Here are the Latin American news stories our office talked about during the week of July 24th to July 29th. For more up-to-the minute news, follow us on Twitter!
Cristina Calcieta’s mystery has been solved. Photo courtesy AFP.
34 Years Later, Argentine Students Crack Murder Mystery
[ARGENTINA] The families of a young couple who disappeared in 1976 can finally lay the remains of their loved ones to rest after their bodies were identified by a group of students and community members in the small town of Melincue. The students linked the timing of the couple’s disappearance with a discovery of two brutalized bodies a rural farmer had made in 1976, and DNA tests proved their suspicions. Under the Argentine military dictatorship that ruled at the time, tens of thousands of suspected left-wing activists were murdered or disappeared. [AP]
Other South American Countries Attempt to Diffuse Venezuela/Columbia Feud
[COLOMBIA / VENEZUELA] After Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez severed ties with Colombia last Thursday, South American foreign ministers failed to bring the two countries back together at a meeting in Quito, Ecuador Thursday. Brazil President Lula da Silva plans to speak with Chavez on August 6th. Venezuela and Colombia have a long history of mixed feeling toward each other, and on Thursday Colombia accused Venezuela of harboring around 1,500 leftist guerrillas and closed the consulate. [Colombia Reports / Reuters]
Troops Kill Mexican Drug Kingpin
[MEXICO] Soldiers gunned down Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, a leader of the Sinaloa cartel during a raid of his hideout in the western city of Guadalajara. In an attempted to escape, Coronel fired on soldiers as helicopters hovered overhead. One soldier was killed and another wounded. “The scope of [his] influence and operations penetrate throughout the United States, Mexico, and several other European, Central American, and South American countries,” said the FBI in a statement. [AP]
Ancestors of Australian Marsupials Arrived from the Americas
[GERMANY] According to genetic research from Germany, well known Australian species such as kangaroos, possums, koalas and wombats share a common ancestor that must have traveled to the region from the Americas. “I think this is pretty strong evidence now for the hypothesis of a single migration [to Australia] and a common ancestor,” said Juergen Schmitz, of the University of Muenster research team. The DNA analysis unfortunately does not tell us when this migration to Australia occurred, but researchers speculate that it may have taken place some 30-40 million years ago. [Discovery News]
Catalan Bullfight Ban Raises Debate in Latin America
[LATIN AMERICA] After Catalonia, Spain banned bullfighting last Wednesday, many bullfighting enthusiasts and animal rights groups throughout Latin America are having heated debates about the support. The tradition of bullfighting dates back to Spanish colonization in countries like Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Mexico, which is home to the world’s largest bullring. Michel Lagravere, father of Franco-Mexican child bullfighting star Michelito, said the Catalan parliament vote was “more anti-Spanish than anti-bullfight.” [Montreal Gazette]
Diego Maradona’s Tenure Ends as Argentina’s Coach
[ARGENTINA] Diego Maradona confirmed the end of his time as Argentina’s coach on Wednesday. Maradona accused Julio Grondona, president of the Argentinian Football Association, of lying to him and Carlos Bilardo, the national team’s general manager, of betraying him. Although many are blaming Maradona for Argentina’s loss in the World Cup, Maradona pointed out: “Not since 1990 has Argentina made it past the quarter finals.” [guardian.co.uk]
Argentina and Uruguay Reach Agreement on Pollution Monitoring
[ARGENTINA / URUGUAY] An agreement has finally been reached in the 7-year dispute between Argentina and Uruguay regarding pollution of the shared Uruguay River. The controversy began when Argentina raised concerns about contamination of the river from a Finnish paper mill on the Uruguayan side. The agreement was signed at the presidential palace and calls for a joint-scientific committee to monitor and identify pollution from all farming, industrial and urban centers that spill their waste into the Uruguay River and its tributaries. Argentina hopes the agreement will please environmentalists who have been blocking a bridge linking Gualeguaychu to Fray Bentos in Uruguay for the past three years. The UPM mill was built there seven years ago despite Argentina’s objections that it would pollute the river. [Global Times]
UNESCO Takes Galapagos Islands Off the Threatened List
[ECUADOR] After a 14-5 vote, the United Nations has voted to remove the Galapagos Islands from its list of endangered sites. The committee believes Ecuador has made significant progress in protecting and preserving the Islands. The Galapagos Islands had been on the list since 2007 after threatened by tourism, over-fishing and the introduction of invasive species. The Galapagos Islands has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. [Voice of America]
United States Closes Consulate in Ciudad Juarez
[U.S. / MEXICO] The United States announced closure of its consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico indefinitely. A U.S. official said the consulate was closed due to a “credible threat.” Last year, more than 2,600 people were killed in drug-related violence in the city. In March, the consulate closed for several days after a U.S. employee, her husband, and the husband of another staff member were killed. [BBC]
Watch a news report on the situation in Arizona. Video courtesy MSNBC.
Illegal Immigrants Prepare to Leave Arizona as New Law Takes Effect
[U.S. / MEXICO] A controversial immigration law, which could see an influx of deportees returning to Mexico, took effect in Arizona yesterday. Shelters across the border in Mexico are gathering supplies and preparing for a 20-25% increase in occupancy in the coming months. However, some say that many illegal immigrants will simply move from Arizona to another American state rather than return to Mexico. Mexico already extended its annual voluntary repatriation program in anticipation of the Arizona law, beginning the initiative earlier than usual in June. Other Mexican states such as Guanajuato and Chihuahua have also announced employment programs for possible returnees. [ABC News]
Chilean President Rejects Calls to Pardon Officials
[CHILE] In a televised address to the nation last Sunday, Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera stated the sweeping pardons requested by the Catholic Church for military prisoners would not be granted under his government. The 60 military prisoners were convicted of humans rights abuses during the ear now known as the “Dirty War.” The majority of the prisoners live in a comfortable, well-equipped prison build especially from them. Standing up to the Catholic Church was a bold move, however, recent scandal and sexual abuse claims against Chilean priests have tarnished the Church’s reputation in recent years. Despite the rejection, the Church reacted positively saying that at least now the issue of overcrowding and conditions in Argentina’s prisons had been put on the national agenda. [NY Times]
Cuban Hunger Striker Departs Hospital
[CUBA] Guillerrno Farinas, an opposition activist who went on a 134-day hunger strike, has departed the hospital after three weeks of treatment. The 48-year-old psychologist and journalist began accepting food and water on July 8 after an agreement was reached between the Catholic Church and President Raul Castro to release 52 political prisoners. Twenty prisoners have so far been flown in exile to Spain with their families. [AP]