This year has been an exciting one for the Haid household. Allen retired from Raytheon at the end of January, after more than 30 years working as an electrical engineer. Sandra continues working at Raytheon (also an electrical engineer) but she is counting down her days to retirement - just under 600 days as this web page was being created. Another recent milestone was our 30th wedding anniversary near the end of December 2013; all this led to our decision to venture down to South America for the Tauck tour of Chile, Argentina and Brazil in February-March. The tour was top-notch, with just about everything included that you could want to see and do. Please view the pictures below (click on a picture for the larger size) as we travel from Santiago (Chile) to Puerto Varas (Chile), then cross over the Andes mountain range to Bariloche (Argentina), Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Iguazu (Argentina), and finally into Rio de Janerio (Brazil).
We have learned to arrive one day early for these tours of foreign lands to allow for the body to recover from the long plane rides. The flights down to Chile involved a flight from Virginia to Florida (Miami), which wasn't too bad. But then we flew overnight to Chile in a 9-hour flight that is most difficult in a coach seat! However, we arrived safe and sound, and soon we were in our hotel (The Ritz-Carlton Santiago) and enjoying a nice bottle of Chilean wine.
Right from the start, we loved Santiago. Meeting the tour group was good too - regular people that were out to enjoy all that life has to offer. We were in for a surprise though - a fellow Hughes Aircraft / Raytheon retiree was in the group! George H. was his name (seated at our dinner table below in the blue/white shirt) and seeing all that you can is basically his game. George retired from our same retirement plan back in 2006 and he has been exploring the world since then. We had so many connections - Sandra and he attended the same junior high school in California (about 15 years apart however); we had connections that mated within the company too (people known to us). It was amazing. The best part? George loves to walk and so does Sandra. This came in handy when Allen was more interested in getting a massage at the resorts... :-)
Our first day of the tour was on 28 February - an evening welcome reception and dinner. However, Sandra and I arrived the prior day so we were ready for a little extra excursion - a tour of two Chilean wineries in the Casablanca Valley - Veramonte and Casas Del Bosque. We had our own limo driver (yes, a Mercedes) so the wine was flowing quite freely. The next day we did a sightseeing tour of Santiago in the tour bus with the group. On this day we visited another winery (De Martino) and enjoyed a lovely tasting and lunch (two separate tables no less). For the third day, it was time to fly south to Puerto Varas, Chile.
On the first of several small flights, we flew down to the busy port town of Puerto Montt, named after President Montt of Chile between 1851 and 1861. We did a bus tour through the countryside where we saw lakes and volcanic mountains. We ended up in Puerto Varas (city of roses) on the shore of Lake Llanquihue, one of the largest lakes of South America. Sandra wore the Principle Engineer (PE) drinking scarf for Allen (see picture below); if you were a PE on our program, you would understand the meaning here. This was to be only a one-night stay, as the next day we were headed over to a wonderful resort in Bariloche, Argentina. On the way, we had lunch at the Kiel restaurant - very tasty I might add.
We boarded a small boat to cross the Nahual Huapi Lake, arriving at Puerto Panuelos before heading over to the famous Llao Llao Resort in Bariloche. This place is known as the Switzerland of South America, I think due to the beauty of the Alps and the fresh, clean air. The Llao Llao Resort was Allen's favorite of the trip, and yes, the spa was wonderful! We spent an entire day of leisure at the resort, with Sandra and George going on a long walk while Allen enjoyed a much-deserved massage. We attended a tango lesson and enjoyed quite a bit of wine. Did I mention there was a happy hour with a free cocktail? Funny how quickly people gathered at the appointed time. The next stop - on to Buenos Aires, but on the way we stopped at Cerro Campanairo to ride a chairlift and see some kitties too.
The first stop in Buenos Aires was our hotel for the night - the Caesar Park, right in the heart of the city. We spent the next day touring Buenos Aires, seeing the Plaza de Mayo, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Casa Rosada (government palace). This was the place where Eva Peron did her famous speech from the balcony. We had lunch at the Tortoni restaurant, an art nouveau landmark cafe and the oldest in the city. That night we had a wonderful evening at a tango show. The following day we had a guided tour of Teatro Colon, their seven-tiered opera house that was modeled with an European style. It first opened in 1908 and the tours just started again after a 3-year renovation. On our final day in Buenos Aires, we visited the Embassy District (meaning beautiful homes) and a Rose Garden. We also stopped at the Recoleta Cemetery, the final resting place of famous people like Eva Peron. Here the entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums. Oh, there were a few cats too! We left that last day in the afternoon for the airport and a flight to Iguazu Falls, on the Argentinian side.
So this was the jewel of our vacation - the site that Sandra really wanted to see. Did I mention that the weather had been perfect so far as we toured Chile and the southern part of Argentina? Well, it would turn out that the weather would continue to be perfect for the entire trip! We arrived at our Sheraton hotel just prior to sunset, and managed to get a few pictures (see the first picture below) of the falls off in the distance; as you can see, we were lodging very close to the Argentinian side of the falls. The next morning we did a short hike over to the falls and were taken away by the sheer beauty of the place. The name "Iguazu" means "big water" and they weren't kidding! We visited the Iguazu National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and saw the Up-River Cascades, the Inferior Circuit, the Down-River Falls and the Devil's Throat - which marks the border between Brazil and Argentina. Sandra and George took the optional boat ride and hike, while Allen went back to the hotel for a much-deserved massage. You can see a picture of the type of boat towards the end of this set of pictures - see how close they get? Yes, those folks get soaked. The next day we took the tour bus around to the Brazilian side where we enjoyed lunch overlooking the river. This was basically almost two days of enjoying the falls and associated scenery before we departed for another plane ride, this time to Rio de Janerio.
You can see below we have a group picture of the three Raytheon / Hughes engineers posing by the falls. The 'three amigos' as we are now known.
Our final stop on this wonderful vacation was to be the fabulous Rio de Janerio. We arrived in the evening and all the ladies were given roses; the guys just received smiles. We awoke the next morning to beautiful weather once again and a nice view of the beach - but it was time to see the town so we boarded the tour bus and drove up to a few of the famous beaches - one where the Copacabana Hotel is too. We took a cable car up the Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park to see the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. We would see this statue from many vantage points during our remaining days in Rio. This statue is also one of the world's new "seven wonders", as it took nine years to complete back in 1931.
As we continued our tour of the city, we were able to get an exclusive view of the Carnival 2014 floats in an area where they were assembled. The Carnival was going on during the week prior to our arrival (it would have been super crowded if we arrived during that time anyway), and now the floats were ready to be disassembled / sold or given to sponsors. We were taught how to dance the Samba at their Samba school, and then we did a short walking tour of the historic downtown area and some museums. The next day we did a nice cruise on Guanabara Bay to see Flamengo Beach, the Sao Joao Fort, Santa Cruz Fortress and the Contemporary Art Museum. Then there was another set of cable car rides up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain which has an 1,300 foot granite summit. Finally there was a farewell dinner for the tour group at a famous Brazilian churrascaria restaurant, but a few of us elected to have an extra day in Rio to enjoy more sights.
On our last full day of fun, we did a long walk to the Botanical Gardens with George. Long means over 8 miles! We saw many strange plants and of course some cute monkeys too. There was another beautiful kitty in the medicine plant area and that was a special treat for Allen. This concluded our tour of the "Essence of South America" and it was back to the airport for a long flight home.
Sandra and Allen on the chairlift at Cerro Campanairo in Argentina.