by Carol Wagner Hallenbeck (J49)
Combine nature's most glorious sights with two of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, add a group of 18 Northwestern alumni companions — and you have the perfect recipe for a great travel experience.
From Iguazú Falls to the lake country of Patagonia, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile, our March trip was truly a "Treasures of South America" adventure.
We fell in love with Buenos Aires — its wide boulevards, outdoor cafes and street fairs, its parks and plazas and grandiose public sculptures and its art museums. In the beautiful Plaza de Mayo we admired the Casa Rosada (the Pink House) — from whose balconies the leaders of Argentina traditionally address the masses — and recalled the musical Evita, in which former first lady Eva Perón sings "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina." The Asociacíon Madres de Plaza de Mayo, an organization of mothers looking for their missing or abducted children and grandchildren, still hang their banners in this plaza, protesting the events of the "dirty war" in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when many who opposed the military junta were "disappeared."
Walking the streets around our hotel, the Caesar Park in the tony Recoleta neighborhood, was a never-ending temptation! There were innumerable shopping malls and small boutiques selling leather goods, linens, china, chocolates, clothing, shoes and, of course, rhodochrosite, the signature pink precious stone of Argentina. Watching the chic shoppers dressed in the latest Parisian styles and sampling the dark, rich ice cream available from Freddo could have become habit forming. All of us became addicts of that special Latin American sweet, dulce de leche, a caramelized dessert made from milk. And of course we dined on the famous Argentine beef, grilled to perfection in almost every restaurant.
We visited La Boca, a quaint Italian barrio near the city's port, where many homes are painted in bright colors and built from materials taken from the interiors of abandoned ships. We posed with tango dancers there and bought souvenirs in its many shops. And we toured Recoleta Cemetery, final resting place of the rich and famous, including Eva Perón, who is buried 30 feet underground to keep her enemies from stealing her body again.
The next day we took a ferry from Buenos Aires across the Río de la Plata to the quaint city of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, and visited the town's historic quarter, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
That night, back in Buenos Aires, we swayed to tango music as dancers in exotic costumes demonstrated the changing styles of Argentina's famous dance.
From Buenos Aires we flew to Iguazú Falls, considered one of the world's most spectacular waterfalls. After a ride on a Disneyland-type train, we hiked to the top of the falls, called Devil's Throat, and cooled off in the spray just a few feet from a torrential cascade. (Think 10 feet from the top of Niagara Falls!) There are 14 falls altogether, framed by a lush tropical forest that blooms with begonias, orchids and exotic ferns. Toucans and parrots fly among the branches along with scores of colorful butterflies. Our more adventurous travelers took a boat to the very base of the falls, arriving back at our hotel laughing, exhilarated and seriously wet.
From there we traveled to the Andes Mountains in Patagonia and visited Lake Nahuel Huapí, the crystal blue jewel of Argentina's oldest national park. We stayed at the famous Llao Llao resort near San Carlos de Bariloche.
Next we spent a full day crossing the spectacular Andean lakes from Argentina into Chile. Then it was buses again and airplanes until we arrived in Santiago. A city tour provided an excellent insight into this prosperous South American city, and a free afternoon allowed us to follow our individual passions. We shopped for lapis lazuli, the signature blue precious stone of Chile, and bought primitive Native American masks as well.
On our final day in Santiago we took the optional excursion to Viña Santa Rita, a wonderful old winery founded in 1880. We wandered through its cask-filled cellars and relaxed in its fragrant formal garden, enjoying lunch, sampling its distinctive wines and saying a leisurely goodbye to newfound Northwestern friends. It was nice to unwind before the long overnight flight back to the United States.
Carol Wagner Hallenbeck (J49) resides in Santa Ana, Calif., with her husband, Bruce Hallenbeck (J50). Carol is a docent at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.
For information on upcoming NAA trips, call 1-800-NU-ALUMS or visit www.alumni.northwestern.edu/travel.