An Englishwoman in India, The Memoirs of Harriet Tytler 1828-1858 Edited by Anthony Sattin
Harriet wrote her memoirs when she was in her late 70’s. She was a Victorian woman and represented her class and period well.
Her grandfather and uncle were prisoner’s of war in France under Napoleon. Her grandmother and mother lived nearby for 15 years so the family could be together. After the battle of Waterloo, they were released and returned to England. That is where her mother met her father while he was on furlough from India.
Harriet was born in 1828 to a British military family in India. At 11 years old, as was common practice at the time, she was shipped off to England with two younger siblings to continue her education. When they landing in England, their clothes were so outdated everybody laughed at them. Her brother was immediately sent on to boarding school where two older brothers were waiting for him. She and her sister lived with a family they had never met before for about a year, until her aunt came to collect them. Her aunt was strict and cruel and Harriet hated every minute of her time there.
At seventeen she started her journey back to India to be reunited with her parents who she had not seen for 6 years. She traveled by steamer and by land until she reached Aden just off the Red Sea. The group traveling with her were friendly and she had a happy time. At Aden she received a letter from her brother-in-law in India and feared her sister was sick. It was worse, her father was dead. When she finally reached Calcutta, there was nobody to meet her. She saw her mother two weeks later only to discover that she was on her way back to England with the younger children. Harriet was to stay with another aunt and uncle who was serving the in Punjab Campaign.
At 19, she met and married Robert Tytler, a Captain in the British Army who was also a widower with two children.
This woman did not have an easy life.
On May 11, 1857, she was living in Delhi, eight months pregnant with two small children at home. That was the day of the Great Sepoy Mutiny. The “Sepoy” was the Indian soldier serving in the British Army.
“It is wonderful to think how unanimous they were, Hindus and Mohammedans, in the one object of exterminating the hateful Christian in India. On this occasion the Mohammedans and Hindus were one, their bitter antagonism to each other, which had always been our safeguard so far, was for the time overcome. The gullible Hindus, two to one in each regiment, firmly believed Prithee Rai’s raj would return and then they would be masters of India. The wily Mohammedans, who were using these poor deluded men as a cat’s paw, encouraged the belief, knowing all along that they would soon find their mistake, for the Mohammedan meant to reign by the edge of his sword, which would also be used to proselytize the poor idol worshippers.”
However Philip Mason notes in the Introduction: “Harriet, of course, like everyone else, has heard of the cartridges (smeared with pork and beef fat) but does not seem to have known that the original offensive cartridges were withdrawn (therefore confirming that the rumor was true). Like every other young wife in India at the time, she thinks that the Mutiny was a deep-laid plot, instigated by the sons of the king and spread by wicked Muslims who played on the fears of the simple gullible Hindus.”
Harriet ran for her life that day. She, pregnant, with her two children, 2 and 4 years old, eventually loaded themselves onto an already overloaded carriage and rode hard out of town. Her husband riding back and forth checking on other people. The carriage broke to pieces. They found another one, it also broke down. They ended up walking to the next outpost where luckily there was no uprising.
Eventually the British took back Delhi. Harriet bore 10 children, 8 of whom lived, and spent the rest of her life and expat in India.
Here We Are & There We Go: Teaching & Traveling with Kids in Tow by Jill Dobbe
Jill and her husband were school teachers in Wisconsin USA when one day they moved half way around the world and their lives changed drastically.
What truly amazed me about this book was that they just jumped headlong into it with no safety net and blinders off. They made the decision to move to Guam almost on a whim. They didn’t even know where Guam was. That was either very gutsy or completely crazy. And what was even more interesting was that they stuck it out, learned, and grew through it all.
It didn’t sound like Guam was the dream South Pacific location we all imagined. It actually sounded pretty challenging. But they worked through it and learned a lot. That made their next posting to Singapore a bit easier. Of course Singapore was probably not a hardship posting. But they were still half way around the world from family and friends in a place with a different culture. They seemed to breeze through that one.
By the time the got to Ghana they were seasoned travelers. Although, having lived in Nigeria myself, I know that Ghana was probably not paradise either. But as they came to understand, there are wonderful things all over the world. You just have to be open to them. Jill and her family discovered the joy, frustration, sorrow, and unending surprises one finds when traveling.
I might be reading something into this but it seemed to me they decided to return to the USA for the sake of the children. Their children spent their high school years (or most of them) in the USA learning to be US citizens. This probably made it a much easier transition for them in the long run. It might have given them a clear identity at a young age. However, from my experience, it doesn’t work. My son returned to the USA when he was six and now that he is about to enter college all he dreams about is going overseas. And it seems their children were the same. They were happy to continue traveling.
Returning to the USA was a difficult transition for all of them. Jill says she realized people were not interested in her stories and could not relate. I know exactly what she means. It is so far from what people know, it is difficult to imagine and therefore not interesting. Re-entry is a challenge for all expats but travelers know how to adjust and tweak and adapt. Jill and her family were no exception. They had a good few years back home with friends and family but the itch was still there.
At the end of the book they leave the USA again for distant lands and new experiences. Jill has written two more books: Only in India: Adventures of an International Educator and Kids, Camels & Cairo.
When I had the genius idea to move my blog away from WordPress and it all blew up on me, I lost a bunch of stuff. One thing I finally got around to working on was the TCK/EXPAT Films and Books Page. A lot of my book reviews were no longer linked to anything. Amazingly enough, I do have some of them backed up on my computer. I wrote this a while ago but I am resurrecting it because I just finished her second book, Five Flights Up. I will write a review of that later.
There has been much discussion lately about the term “trailing spouse” and whether it is appropriate or even polite. It projects a sense of “other” rather than something that makes up a whole. I usually conger up a vision of a dog’s tail. Other terms being used are “accompanying partner”, “expat wife”, “support partner”. One blogger says she had been called a ‘stakeholder at home’.
But in the end, whatever you call it, the trailing spouse is usually the support system, the glue that holds it all together. Sometimes the glue falls apart and life can be rough.
In Trailing: A Memoir by Kristin Louise Duncombe, things fall apart. Kristin grew up all over the world so when she met her Argentine husband, the thought of moving overseas didn’t seem so strange. Although she did have her reservations about putting her career on hold, she didn’t have a passion about what she did and had not clearly defined what she wanted to do. Her husband, a doctor with Doctors Without Borders was passionate about what he did and had no questions about what he was going to do. She was in love. She married him and went to Kenya.
Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) myself, I also thought following my husband overseas would be no problem. Even though you have lived in many places around the world, the child TCK and the Adult TCK have different experiences and challenges. I had no support system behind me as we just up and moved. Kristin had a small “family” of doctors but it did not help much since most of them were single and always on the road. Her husband was gone much of the time.
On the other hand, I think she showed remarkable resilience. She found herself some work at a Nairobi hospital helping teens and eventually found a position with USAID at the US Embassy. Unfortunately the Embassy was bombed and she lost her job but by that time her husband had taken a position in Uganda. After having a baby, she finds a job in a small village outside Kampala. She never sees her husband and the marriage starts to unravel.
The happy ending is they move to Paris and she manages to set up a successful counseling practice working with expat families who are trying to cope with life overseas. She now has all the tools after having gone through the worst of it in order to be able to help others in similar situations.
I found myself identifying with this book on several levels. I had a difficult adjustment when I moved to Russia. I had to find my own way as my husband was out much of the time and I didn’t speak the language. I managed to find work, I had a child, my marriage started to unravel. I found my way and started writing and wrote a memoir.
Trailing: A Memoir is well written and engaging. It makes me want to know more about her. It is available on Amazon.com.
I read a couple of books this week and enjoyed them.
Girl Uprooted By Lena Lee
Girl Uprooted is a memoir about a woman who grew up internationally mobile. Her father was a Korean diplomat and they moved every three years. She lived in Korea, Malaysia, USA, France, Norway and went to University in UK. Not only did she have to deal with the constant moves with new schools, new culture, new friends, but she was also dealing with trying to uphold and relate to her parents’ culture and all things Korean. A true Third Culture Kid. It is hard enough to cope with all the changes but when your passport culture is constantly creating contradictions, it becomes hard to know who you are or what to do.
Lena Lee tried to be a good Korean girl and live up to her father’s expectations but she was not a product of his environment. She didn’t understand what made him tick. The culture he grew up in was very strict and almost oppressive. She was used to running around New Jersey doing the teenage girl stuff Westerners indulge in. When she goes back to Korea, she feels like she is in prison, constantly studying and controlled.
For me the best part of the book was her “aha” moment when she googled frequent moves during childhood and depression. I had a similar “aha” moment when I realized I was not crazy and not the only person in the world who had difficulty relating to my passport country. Moving is hard enough, but moving countries, cultures, schools, and languages can really confuse a child. Plus in some of her countries he also had the racism card to deal with. People have different coping mechanisms. Some are alcohol and drug abuse, some are god, some are sports, some are withdrawal.
As we get older and start to understand who we are and what it means to be a Third Culture Kid, it does start to get easier. Lena Lee eventually found her center and as she states in her book, writing her book helped her a lot. When I wrote my book I found it very cathartic.
This book is well written, easy to read and relatable.
Pick up a copy!
Another book I read recently was
Black Cake By Charmaine Wilkerson
This one was fiction about a girl who grew up on the “Islands”, somewhere in the Caribbean. It is really a mystery. The girl’s mother disappears when she is young and she is left with her father who is constantly racking up gambling debts. When she is forced to marry a rich man in order to save her father, the man drops dead at the wedding reception. She flees the scene and everybody assumes she killed him. From then on she is on the run looking over her shoulder. There are lots of twists and turns, some good, some bad. Some unbelievable.
It is easy to read and moves along quickly. I read it in one sitting. It starts out in the mid 1950’s and goes to present day. The girl’s father was ethnic Chinese and her mother was African. Apparently there were a lot of Chinese who settled in Jamaica and other islands. The Chinese arrived as indentured servants around the mid 1800s. In the 1960’s the Chinese owned land and shops but endured racial tensions.
The Black Cake is a traditional fruit cake made for special occasions. The recipe is included at the back of the book.
The King in Exile, The Fall of the Royal Family of Burma by Sudha Shah I just finished reading this excellent book about the last king of Burma (Myanmar). It is well researched and full of details about the times and about the family up until modern day. The last King of Burma, King Thibaw, was deposed by the British in 1885, and exiled to Ratnagiri on the west coast of India. He, his two wives and four daughters lived in a small palace basically as prisoners. He was not allowed to leave his house without permission. He was given a small allowance to live on and pretty much ignored. His sad life ended in 1916. Three years later his queen (his second wife died before him) and daughters were allowed to return to Burma but only to the capital of Rangoon, not to their former home in Mandalay. Two of the daughters remained in India and two went back to Burma with their mother. The saga continues through their children and grandchildren. It was not a happy life and a constant struggle to meet their debts. Although it is non-fiction and historical, it is not dull. The author does a good job to hold your interest.
Other books about Burma: The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh This book is historical fiction about the same time period as The King in Exile. It goes into the fate of the king but also tells the story of colonialism in the area covering Burma, India and Malaya. I read it a while ago and remember I did skim over parts of it but I also remember it really captured the deposed king’s despair. If you like historical fiction sagas that have it all, you would probably love this one.
The Golden Land by Elizabeth Shick This is pure fiction about a Burmese American woman who goes back to Burma in search of her roots, her childhood, her family. She has memories of spending time in Burma twenty five years earlier and a boy who influenced her. She returns looking for her sister but also for him. It has suspense, intrigue, love, history, politics. It is a good read. Interestingly enough it is the first book written by a serial expat who lived in Burma for six years.
Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig This one came highly recommended to me. I have not read it yet. It tells the story of a family and their eldest daughter who wins the first Miss Burma beauty pageant. The beauty pageant was held from 1947 to 1962 when the government banned it. (Interesting fact, one of King Thibaw’s grandsons started the beauty pageant. I learned about that in The King in Exile). This book is about an ethnic Karen woman who struggles with her new fame, civil war and unstable politics of the time.
Golden Earth: Travels in Burma byLewis Norman Shortly after World War II, Lewis Norman travels throughout Burma documenting all he sees. It was a very unstable time in Burma with insurgents running around killing people. He writes about the politics but also about the people and the beauty of the land. He went there specifically because he was afraid it was a county that would be closed to outsiders at some point soon. He was right.
The Lady from Burma by Allison Montclair This is a murder mystery I came across by accident. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with Burma but looks like a real nail biter.
And if you are interested…. Aung San of Burma: A Biographical Portrait by His Daughter by Aung San Suu Kyi Aung San was the man who made Burmese independence from the British possible. He is a revered hero in Burma. This is non-fiction.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s opposition leader and Nobel Prize winner has written several books about her plight and that of Burmas itself.
You can now travel to Burma as a tourist and many tour groups have trips going there. They mostly go to Rangoon (Yangon), Mandalay, Inlye Lake, and Pagan (Bagan). I was born in Burma to a expat parents and my family lived there off and on until the coup of 1962.
As of July 2023, the US State Department travel advisory page states: Do not travel to Burma due to civil unrest and armed conflict. Reconsider travel to Burma due to limited and/or inadequate healthcare resources. Exercise increased caution due to wrongful detentions and areas with land mines and unexploded ordnance.
We flew back to Buenos Aires on New Year’s Eve. We arrived late afternoon and since we had no dinner arrangements, we ran down to the neighborhood bakery and picked up some empanadas. We already had a bottle of champagne. We stayed up very late watching the fireworks.
Having traveled most of my life and being a Third Culture Kid, I know it usually takes a couple of days in a new place to get adjusted and figure things out. Since we had already spent some time in Buenos Aires, when we returned, we felt at “home”. We were comfortable. We owned it. It felt good.
On New Year’s Day most things were closed so we spent the day walking around town. Saw the Congress building, the Obelisk, a statue of Don Quixote and a large image of Evita on the side of a building. The next day we went to the Museum of Decorative arts which was in an old palace that an aristocrat had donated to the Argentine government. The highlight was an El Greco painting.
That afternoon we went to a wine tasting where we tried six different Argentine wines. We learned about the different wine regions and found out that the Malbec grape came from France. Our host said France only produces about 13,000 bottles of Malbec where Argentina produces about 76,000 bottles. We tasted sparkling, white and a couple of reds. The Malbec was the best.
We had a nice lunch at Cafe Tortoni which originally opened its doors in the mid 1800’s and was fashioned after a famous Bohemian drinking establishment in Paris. It was frequented by many intellectuals over the years including Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Arlt among others. It is still going strong today and houses the Academia National del Tango on its second floor.
The rest of our stay was mainly about shopping and eating. We walked to an area that had leather shop after leather shop. They had some nice things but we had read about a particular store that was recommended. It happened to be in the Galeria Pacifico which is a very upscale shopping mall with murals on the ceilings and large skylights. The leather store did not disappoint. Beautiful stuff at very reasonable prices.
We also ran across a store that was all original art and artifacts produced by local artists. They had drawings, jewelry, leather goods, among other things. We spent a lot of time in there and came away with some interesting things. I bought a small drawing and some jewelry, my son bought a belt.
Before we left the US, we made reservations at Tegui, one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. We were going to a nine course tasting menu with wine pairings. I received several emails asking me to confirm my reservation. They all said to arrive on time. So we arrived on time. The door was locked. We weren’t sure what to do but after a few minutes, we rang the bell. They opened it and welcomed us in. Every guest had to ring the bell, the door stayed locked. We were asked to put our cellphones away and not take pictures.
Our dinner started with champagne and a couple of appetizers that were not on the menu. First course: Ricotta cheese with crispy flowers and a light sauce. This was accompanied by a small loaf of bread made with Mate (the local Argentine tea everybody drinks). It was warm and delicious. Course two: Grilled oyster with shaved green apple and sea roots. Three: Sardine cured in sugar with watermelon and radish accompanied by a watermelon “shot” (one of the best things I have ever eaten). Four: Nandu (rhea- relative of the ostrich). Five: Tortellini served al dente with fig stuffing in an almond cream sauce (to die for). Six: Skate fish wings in two parts – part one we were told should be taken in one bite. It was accompanied by a quinoa cracker. Part two came with a sauce and lemon. Seven: Duck served rare with pineapple slice and a bbq sauce (incredibly good). Eight: Begonia with Yaki (honey). Nine: Peach with corn and ice cream. The evening ended with coffee and small petit fours. We had a homemade vermouth with the appetizers which was followed by six different wines. All a very positive experience.
One of our last days in Buenos Aires, we found an awesome art museum. It was a spacious modern building at Port Maduro. Amalia LaCroze de Fortabat was a businesswoman, philanthropist and art collector who was the richest woman in Argentina at the time of her death in 2012. She left her collection to this museum named after her. There was a special exhibit of Mexican, Argentine, and Colombian art. There were also some European paintings including a beautiful Chagall. At Port Maduro we also came across the Woman’s Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava.
Our last day in town was the only time it rained. That night we found an Armenian restaurant in our neighborhood. I went to open the door and found it locked. They opened it for me and let me in but locked it behind me. It was great food and a nice atmosphere but it was not full and we did not have a reservation so I didn’t really understand why the door was locked. Must be a thing.
We were very sad to leave and hope to make it back to South America soon.
……As it turns out I will be back in January. Looking forward to it.
As we flew into Ushuaia airport I could tell the pilot was having to do some maneuvering swooping down in-between the mountains and dealing with the heavy winds. A province of Argentina, Tierra del Fuego is an island that sits at the southernmost tip of South America. Ushuaia, its capital, is on the Beagle Channel about half-way between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, 620 miles from Antarctica. The meeting of the two oceans along with the mountainous terrain creates a strange weather pattern. It was usually very windy and could rain, be sunny, be stormy, windy raining, all within the same hour. It never rained for long and usually not very heavily. We could be out walking in the rain and never feel wet.
Once we hit the ground, I started to cry. It had taken me more than 30 years to get there but I was finally there. It was an amazing feeling. And the beauty of it did not disappoint, it was even more beautiful than I had imagined. The light and color was like nothing I had seen before. The area was dominated by snow covered mountains all around. Before arriving I had been worried that the excursions I had reserved would be cancelled because the weather forecast called for rain every day. I soon realized, rain meant nothing in Ushuaia. Life went on no matter what the weather was. One of our tour guides said the only people carrying umbrellas in Ushuaia were tourists. Because of the winds, umbrellas were useless.
We visited the prison museum our first day in Ushuaia. It was a good introduction to the island as it included anecdotes about the prisoners, some of the escapees, the history of the area, and even had a small art museum.
In 1902, the Argentine government formed a penal colony on Tierra del Fuego just outside of the small village of Ushuaia. At the time there were only about 40 houses on the island. The worst repeat offenders were sent to serve out their time, sometimes for life, building a prison and infrastructure to go with it. At one point they had more than 600 convicts living there. The cells were meant to be for one person but they would often have to double up.
The only heat was a wood stove in the middle of the building. It was cold. The prisoners built a small railroad going into the forest to help them haul wood back to their buildings once they had chopped down trees. Now it is a popular ride for the tourists. The prison closed in 1947 for humanitarian reasons and a Naval base was installed in 1950.
By then the area had grown and since there were no land animals to speak of, the government decided it would be a good idea to import some beavers from Canada. They could farm them for their pelt and create an industry. The problem was the climate in Tierra del Fuego was very different from Canada. It was not cold enough and the beavers did not grow the extra fur needed to make them profitable. The Argentines gave up and let the beavers go. They multiplied and created major problems to the point where today there are about 100,000 beavers with no predators. The beavers have cut down trees and built dams all over the place. Some of the forest in the area has been completely stripped. The government now has a plan to cull the animals over the next 10 years by bringing in specialized hunters.
Ushuaia is now a small city of about 70,000 people. The Navy base is still there, along with a small electronics industry, but tourism is the largest money maker. All the ships going to Antarctica leave from Ushuaia. People go to camp, hike, fish, ski, and enjoy nature. We ran into a bird watcher with the biggest camera lens I had ever seen.
I had arranged for several day trips while we were there. The first one was in a 4-wheel drive jeep. We piled in along with two other women, our 76-year-old driver, and an English speaking guide who had been there a month. The driver laughed when he heard that, he had lived in the area for nine years. They were both from Brazil. The guide was earning a little money before starting a trip from Ushuaia to Alaska on the Pan American Highway. His girlfriend was a chef and they were going to blog about their trip and the food they encountered on the way. I wonder if they ever left Ushuaia.
Our jeep took us over the Garibaldi pass to the north of Ushuaia. We stopped just over the pass to take a look at Lago Escondido. It was named Hidden Lake because sometimes the clouds come down and cover it completely and you wouldn’t even know it was there. We made our way down the other side of the mountain and took a dirt road off the main highway just past Rio Milna. Along the way we came across a police car that stopped and they had a chat with our driver. A car up ahead had gone off the road head first into a ravine and was stuck there. The driver was not hurt, unbelievably, but as we passed, there were several rescue workers looking puzzled as to how to extract the car.
Not far from there we tuned off the dirt road onto an old logging trail that was more of a path than a road. We were going deep into the forest. We saw beaver dams and damage, but also undamaged pristine areas. The air was crisp and clean and the nature was raw and beautiful.
Because of the terrain it took us about an hour to reach Lake Fagnano which I am guessing was less than 5 miles away. The lake is one of the largest in the world. It is about 60 miles long and nobody knows how deep it is. It is a glacial lake and sits in a basin on the Magallanes-Fagnano Fault. We stopped for coffee and pastries on the shore of the lake. Along the lake, there was no road. We drove along the shore of the lake and often in the lake and then back up looping to the dirt road we started from.
Back onto Route 3, aka the Pan American Highway, we retraced our steps over the Garibaldi Pass and turned off toward the Valley of the Wolves. This was mainly a winter recreation area where they offered dog sledding, ATV and UTV rides. In summer people hiked down to the Emerald Lagoon. We were there for lunch. Inside a round hut, that looked kind of like a yurt with grass growing on its roof, was a cozy room with tables surrounding a wood fire heater. At the back was another small room where meat and vegetables were being grilled on a wood fire. It smelled amazing. We had wine, bread and a delicious parilla (grill) Argentine meal.
The driver dropped us in town at the end of the trip and we wandered around the main street looking at the shops. We bought stamps at the post office and were pretty surprised when we found out it cost 4 dollars to send a postcard to the USA. I hope people will actually get them some day. A friend of mine works for Hard Rock Café so we always have to stop in when we see one. Ushuaia had one. Since we live in Minnesota we were happy to see one of Prince’s outfits on display in the Hard Rock at the end of the world. After drinking a lot of wine in Buenos Aires we shifted gear a bit in Ushuaia and tried some of the beers. They were actually pretty good and we found Patagonia, Cape Horn, Otro Mundo and Quilmes to all be drinkable. Patagonia was one of our favorites and readily available.
Our third day in Ushuaia, we got up early and joined a group of forty on a boat and headed out into the Beagle Channel. The channel is 130 miles long and about three miles at its widest point. It is one of the three passages from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The other two are the Straits of Magellan to the north of Tierra del Fuego and Drake Passage to the south between South America and Antarctica. Antarctica is about 620 miles south of Ushuaia.
We passed three islands on our way to Harberton Ranch. The first island was teeming with Cormorant birds. They were black and white and looked kind of like penguins from a distance but these birds could fly. Seal Island was really just a big rock covered with sea lions. It was fun to watch the babies trying to climb up the rocks and sliding down them. The parents provided lots of encouragement. The last island was Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse. It was 36 feet high and powered with solar panels.
Thomas Bridges was an orphan found on a bridge in England and adopted by an Anglican missionary. At 13, he moved to the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands where he learned to speak the language of the native Yamana people. He founded an Anglican Mission in Ushuaia in 1870 and in 1886, he became an Argentine citizen. The government gave him a piece of land 40 miles east of Ushuaia in recognition of his work with the Yamana and his help with shipwrecked sailors. He named the ranch after his wife’s birthplace in England. Harburton was originally a 50,000 acre sheep and cattle ranch. It housed the first store in the area, providing imported goods and supplies.
Today Harbuton is open to the public from October to March. It still has some cattle but is mainly a tourist stop. It is still owned by the family and was declared an Argentine National Historic Monument in 1999. The Acatushun Museum is on the grounds. It is a working museum and research laboratory started by Natalie Goodall, the wife of the estate’s manager. Biology and veterinarian students collect specimens and do research on marine animals as well as give guided tours through the small museum.
After docking and having a quick lunch, we were split into two groups of twenty each. We were in the first group so we boarded a smaller boat to travel to Isla Yecapasela (Isla Martillo). It looked like a nasty storm was coming in and the wind was fierce. I was a little apprehensive as we set off on our 15 minute boat trip among the white caps. Originally the Bridges family had sheep and some cattle on this island but in the 1960s they were removed and penguins settled there. Now there are about 10,000 Magellanic penguins on the island and about 40 Gentoo penguins. The Gentoo are the taller penguins that are found in Antarctica. The Magellanic ones live mostly on the southern coasts of Chile and Argentina. The birds arrive in October to breed and once the chicks molt their feathers in late March, they move north. When we were there in late December, the chicks were about a month old.
We docked on the beach and saw penguins going off into the water to feed and coming out of the water to rest from their swim. In keeping with the weather of the area, the sun came out but the wind was still going strong. This was probably a good thing as the bird smells could have been pretty strong.
As we moved further into the island, there was a trail marked off by ropes. We were told to be quiet and stay on the trail. We were not to interact with the penguins if at all possible. Along the trail a couple of penguins decided to sit down in the middle of the path so we were forced to stay in one spot and wait for them to move on. They were in no hurry. Most of the babies were in their nests, shallow holes dug into the ground. Some were screaming for food, others were just milling about. Scientists are studying these penguins and part of the study is to measure the effect of humans on penguins. We were limited to a small part of the island and only with the Magellanic penguins. We could watch the Gentoo penguins from afar.
The general access was also limited and only one tour company, Piratour, had the concession to take people on the island. Reservations should be made far in advance. The experience was magical. The chicks were so cute and fluffy and there were so many of them. It was something I will not soon forget. Back at the ranch we boarded busses for the trip back to town. On the way we stopped to see the Flag Trees. These are trees that are constantly battered by the wind and grow in a peculiar way. The view from there was amazing.
It was a long day and we were tired. We had reservations at a French restaurant, Chez Manu, which was further up the mountain from our hotel. The view from there was incredible as well. Actually the view from anywhere was good. After living on the Chesapeake Bay for many years, I grew very fond of the blue crab. In Ushuaia the Centolla or Southern King Crab was very popular and fresh out of the bay. It was often prepared in small casseroles made with cream, garlic and cheeses. I had the King Crab Au Gratin at Chez Manu. It was very good but I still liked the blue crab best.
The following day we took a trip into the National Park, a beautiful place full of glacial lakes, woods, camp grounds, hiking trails, and peat moss. We took a short hike along a stream and had a nice conversation with our guide. He was about 25 years old and had lived in Ushuaia most of his life. His parents moved from Cordoba, Argentina when he was about four years old in order to find jobs in the electronics factory. He told us the Argentine government provides a stipend to people who agree to live ‘at the end of the world’. Apparently it is difficult to get people to live there permanently. We had hoped to go to the Yamana Museum to see the dioramas and learn about the indigenous people of the area. Unfortunately it was closed. Our guide was happy to tell us about them.
They wore no clothes at all. All their food and resources with the exception of wood for their boats, came from the water. They stayed warm by building fires along the shore and inside their boats. Hence the name, Tierra del Fuego, Land of Fire. Because it rained so much and they spent so much time in the water, they could never keep clothes dry. Instead they rubbed fish oil on their bodies and built fires to keep themselves warm and dry. The Yamana are virtually extinct today. The diseases and the cultural changes the white men brought rubbed them out in a relatively short period of time.
We stopped a few times on our trip through the park. One stop was the exact spot where the Pan American Highway ended, 11,000 miles from Alaska. Huge photo opportunity. We also stopped to take a closer look at the abundant peat moss in the area. There was a big beautiful visitor’s center right on a lake in the middle of the mountains. They had a cafeteria with empanadas among other things so we tried the crab, the lamb, and the beef empanadas. We pretty consistently liked the lamb ones the best. We had beef and lamb ones for our New Year’s Eve dinner in our hotel room back in Buenos Aires.
I went to Argentina in 2017. In a few months I will return so I wanted to refresh my memory of the area. I wrote this series at the time but on another blog. Enjoy.
In 1984, I went to Spain. I boarded a train in Granada headed for Seville. My ticket had a seat number on it but I could not find the seat in the car I was assigned to. Confused, I asked a guy who was standing in the aisle. It turned out he was as confused as I was and could not find his seat either. After a fairly long conversation in Spanish, he asked me where I was from. It turned out he was a school teacher from Oregon. We decided to pick any seat and got to talking about places we had been and places we would like to go. I mentioned I wanted to see more of South America including Machu Picchu. He had been there and highly recommended it but he also suggested I read the Old Patagonian Express by Paul Thereaux. It was about a trip from Boston to Tierra del Fuego mostly by train. His description of the southernmost tip of the world had a big impression on me. It sounded beautiful and other worldly and almost eerie. A special place. I decided I had to go there. Thirty-three years later, I finally fulfilled my dream. My son and I took the long trek from St Paul, Minnesota to Miami to Buenos Aires, Argentina on an overnight flight landing at 6 a.m. The taxi ride into town through the suburbs, the tall run-down apartment buildings, the knocked out windows, was underwhelming.
We stayed at the Palo Santo Hotel in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood. It billed itself as the only completely “green” hotel in Buenos Aires. I have to say it was very nice. It was a small boutique hotel with a great staff. Breakfast was included and we enjoyed the “media lunas” (small sweet croissants), media lunas filled with dulce de leche, beef empanadas, eggs, and homemade bread. We had a small balcony off our room with plants growing all around it and a waterfall outside in the courtyard and an inside waterfall that came on at 6 pm every day. There was a small shallow pool on the roof for those who wanted a dip or to sunbathe. It was hot. In the 80’s and 90’s F. most of the time we were in Buenos Aires. After a long nap, we went out and bought beer and sat on our patio. We picked out an Italian restaurant for dinner. That was enough work for the first day.
The next day was Sunday, Christmas Eve. I had read that there was an open-air artists market along an old cobblestone street in the San Telmo neighborhood. We headed over to the Plaza de Mayo to see the big pink National Palace and the Cathedral. The market started down a street off the plaza. Vendors lined both sides of the street and we walked down the middle. We walked for blocks and blocks and saw all kinds of items for sale. Jewelry, leather goods, clothing, ceramics. We were afraid it would be really kitschy and touristy but it wasn’t. It was really pretty awesome. I bought a cool pair of earrings. The artist adapted the earrings on the spot when I asked for silver wires. Everybody was friendly. They tried to communicate with everybody. We heard English, French, and Portuguese along the way. Some communicated by pointing and gesturing. Luckily I speak Spanish so we had little trouble.
We headed back to the plaza in order to catch the subway (known locally as Subte). On the way, we stopped in the Metropolitan Cathedral. This was where Pope Francis who is currently the Pope, performed mass before moving to the Vatican. It was nice and cool inside and a good place to rest out of the heat. The Cathedral was the seventh church built on the same site. The first chapel was built in 1593. The current building was started in 1752 and took almost 100 years to complete. The mausoleum of San Martin and the Unknown Soldier was in an alcove to the right of the nave. General San Martin led the army that liberated Argentina, Chile, and Peru from the Spanish in the early 1800’s. The sarcophagus is surrounded by three female figures representing Argentina, Chile, and Peru. Two grenadiers stand guard at the entrance.
There were several beggars out in front of the church. I watched one of them pull out a dirty bandage and wrap up a perfectly fine looking foot. We saw a lot of homeless people living on sidewalks and in alcoves around the city. The interesting thing was many of them seemed to have pretty good mattresses to sleep on. Some of them had elaborate setups. We ran into a group in a park who had put together a contraption so they could grill some food. Apparently, there are about 15,000 homeless in Buenos Aires.
The Subte was easy to figure out and inexpensive. Some of the trains were even air-conditioned. Each station had its own unique art on the walls. Trains ran pretty regularly even though it was the holidays. The only problem was we often had to walk a ways from the station to reach our final destination. Some days we walked 8 or 9 miles. My Fitbit was buzzing away.
Our next stop was the MALBA art museum (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires – http://www.malba.org.ar/en/museo/). It is a big modern building designed by three young Argentine architects in 1998. The artists featured came from all over Latin America and the day we were there, a special exhibit on Mexican artists was in place including Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera among others. The art was fabulous.
That night we had booked a special dinner for Christmas Eve at the UCO Restaurant in Palermo. It was within walking distance from our hotel. Nothing opens before 8 pm for dinner so we had a reservation for 8:30. It was a six-course dinner with wine pairing. All the wines came from the Uco Valley of Mendoza, Argentina.
The first course was a charcuterie of pork shoulder with apple chutney, veal tongue with chimichurri, pork terrine with homemade mustard, pate with sliced almonds, pork fillet cured in herbs, pastrami with cucumber pickles and Patagonian trout smoked in Quebracho wood with fennel salad. It was paired with an Alma 4 Pinot Rose.
Next came the octopus pieces with aioli in a micro-salad. The wine was Zuccardi Q Chardonnay. This followed by a paella style rice with organic vegetables and emulsions paired with Emma Zuccardi Bonarda. The main course was Patagonian lamb shoulder cooked for 18 hours with morels, peas, and vegetables paired with Jose Zuccardi Malbec. My son had never seen morels before and didn’t know what they were at first. He did enjoy eating them, though.
We had a pre-dessert cleansing of watermelon granita and then peach with ginger, honey and cinnamon ice cream and hazelnut paired with Soleria by Malamado followed by some small petit fours. The evening ended with Zuccardi Blanc de Blancs champagne.
Needless to say, we were stuffed.
We came out of the restaurant about midnight and there was a family across the street setting off fireworks. Fireworks were going off all over the city in celebration of Christmas. We ended up staying up until about 2 a.m. enjoying the sounds and sights.
After spending two nights in a very hot room I finally figured out what the problem with the air conditioning was. I needed to actually turn it on. After that, we were very cool and comfortable. We got sunburned the first day of walking all over the city and made sure we had our sunscreen from then on. The sun was very hot and it hovered in the 80’s and 90’s the whole time we were there. If you were in the shade and there was a breeze, it wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t very humid.
Christmas day was a quiet one with not much open. We decided to go to the cemetery. The Ricoleta Cemetery is on 14 acres and has over 6400 statues, sarcophagi, coffins, and crypts. It became the first public cemetery in 1822 and the layout was designed by Prospero Catelin, a Frenchman who also designed the Metropolitan Cathedral.
The graveyard was restricted to wealthy families with power. One plot could cost up to $8 million. The mausoleums were about 650 square feet with several floors going down into the ground. We found several abandoned graves where families could not afford the taxes and upkeep anymore. Eva Peron was buried in a heavily fortified crypt over 16 feet underground. You won’t find Jorge Luis Borges there, he was buried in Geneva, Switzerland.
It was another day of walking in the heat. We saw the National library – a huge neoclassical building. We walked through parks, saw monuments, ate French fries and shopped at the “Disco” grocery store.
Before I left the US, I had purchased tickets to see the Nutcracker at the Colon Theater. I have seen the Nutcracker many times, performed in different ways from ultra-modern to classical Russian. I went because I wanted to experience the theater. It is said to have some if the best acoustics in the world and is an opera house ranked on a par with La Scala in Milan, the Paris Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The current building opened in 1908 and has welcomed famous performers from around the world. They did a full restoration of the building in 2010.
We were impressed with the beauty of the theater, with its chandeliers and stained glass ceilings. The main hall is a horseshoe shape with box seats going up three floors. The orchestra pit holds 120 musicians. We had a box seat about halfway down one side of the room. We only had a partial view of the stage but we could hear the orchestra perfectly. There were four other people in the box and one small child. It was very hot and crowded. The performance was good but seemed geared more to children and was nothing out of the ordinary. We left at intermission just because we were so uncomfortable.
There was a restaurant in the same neighborhood that we wanted to try so we headed over there. It was about 9:30 or 10:00 pm when we got there and the place was completely packed. We managed to get a table right away but after that people were waiting inside and outside. They weren’t tourists, either. They seemed to all know each other. We didn’t really know what we were doing but we decided to share the half tenderloin and a side of mashed potatoes. The steak we got was about 12 ounces and cooked to perfection. It practically melted in your mouth. It came with an excellent chimichurri sauce and the potatoes were nice and creamy. Chimichurri always accompanies the grilled meat and can include parsley, oregano, garlic, onion, red pepper, vinegar, olive oil. It can be a green sauce or a red sauce. Many of the restaurants had their own secret recipe. If you are ever in Argentina be sure to go to Parrilla Pena (http://www.parrillapenia.url.ph/).
The following day we headed for another airport. This time we were going to the southernmost tip of South America, my ultimate goal, Tierra del Fuego.
I had a birthday recently and decided to take myself to go see “Barbie”. I was hoping for some fun escapism. Well… it was entertaining but it was also a story of a major existential crisis. So I’m conflicted. Not sure I liked it. But Ryan Gosling was excellent as Ken.
I can be conflicted about birthdays in general. Some good, some bad. Some have associations I don’t care for. Some happy occasions.
My mother writes about the menu for my second birthday: hunks of cheese, slices of bananas with peanut butter dabs all on a toothpick, tiny buns filled with ground spam, graham crackers with honey butter, and then cupcakes with a candle on each, coffee and Koolade. Sounds like an exotic ‘50s meal, doesn’t it?
My fifth birthday was memorable because the family had just survived a plane crash and landed at our final destination two weeks late – on my birthday. Another memorable one was in Lagos, Nigeria when my mother and I marked the occasion by opening a small tinned chocolate cake. They probably don’t make such a thing anymore…
In 1999, the last year of the millennium, I spent my birthday in France. We stayed with friends in the suburbs who had a house and small yard and a son our son, Noah’s age. They were about a ten minute walk from the train in a nice little village with a pretty chateau. The first day was spent getting our new visas organized and trying to do some shopping. On Saturday we wandered around the left bank and then the four adults went out to dinner at a very nice kind of ‘new’ French restaurant. It was my birthday so we had champagne and wine and great food. Sunday was the boat ride on the Seine with the boys and then a walk through the Tuileries garden where there just happened to be some rides and of course Noah had to go on them.
We rented a car and on Tuesday left for Metz and the eclipse. Metz is a very pretty town right on the river. We scoped out the area on Tuesday and early Wednesday morning we headed out with the telescope, video camera and other cameras. We set up our camp in the middle of the Esplanade which is a nice park right by the river. The town had organized a big festival around the eclipse and so there were parades, music, etc. going on all day long. It was cloudy. During the first half of the eclipse we were able to see it off and on. But about 20 minutes before total eclipse it started to rain. We could tell when the total was, though, because it was completely dark. It was really cool. All the flowers closed up and all the lights came on and it was really night. Then during the second half it cleared up a bit and we were able to see more. Noah kept looking at the “moon” through his glasses. Nicholas got some good shots through his telescope. And I got a new umbrella. When we got back to Paris our friends who had gone 25 minutes north of Paris on the train said they had seen the whole thing perfectly.
From Metz we drove into Lorraine and the Vosges area. We stopped at the Haut Konningburg castle which is a huge restored castle on top of a mountain in the middle of the forest. You can see forever from it. It is really cool with a moat and drawbridge and inner yard. It would be very hard to penetrate it.
From there we wound our way around down to La Bresse which is in the heart of a big ski area and lots of mountains and forest. Really beautiful. Our hotel was very nice with a good restaurant. We drove all around the area and went hiking around a glacial pool where Noah spent the better part of an hour throwing rocks into it.
On Sunday (the day before Noah’s birthday) we took the boys to the Bois de Bologne to the big amusement park there and I think they went on about 20 rides. They had a lot of fun.
Our last day in Paris we had lunch up at Montmartre with all the tourists in town. It was kind of fun.