Archive for the ‘Jeffrey A. Cole’ Category

Cono Sur of Patagonia

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Dr. Jeffrey A. Cole is a Latin American historian. His interest in the region was kindled at the University of Connecticut, where he completed a B.A. and M.A. in history, including a semester at the Universidad de las Américas in Puebla, México. At the doctoral level, Jeff focused on civil-military relations in Argentina and Chile, the archaeology of the Americas, modern Chinese history, and – primarily — colonial South American history. He won a Fulbright grant to complete his dissertation research in Perú, Bolivia, and Argentina. Upon receipt of the Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, he taught at Tulane, SUNY, Cornell, the University of Massachusetts, and Smith College. Jeff also served as Associate Director of the UMass exchange program with Argentina from 1985 to 1991, during which time he taught at the Universidad de Buenos Aires as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer. His last full-time job was as Director of International Programs at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. For the last twenty years, Jeff has served as a Study Leader for Smithsonian Journeys (nearly sixty in all) and as a lecturer on other academic excursions to Latin America.


This departure of “Patagonian Explorer” was special for three very unusual reasons, all of which were unplanned and, as our Argentine Tour Director Gastón Mc Kay put it, “espontaneous.”

The first, of course, was that our group was witness to the inauguration of the first South American (and Argentine) Pope, Francisco I, and the celebration of the events of his first week in that role by the people of Buenos Aires and Argentina as a whole.  The obelisk in the middle of the “9 de Julio” avenue was draped in yellow and white (the Papal colors), the Plaza de Mayo was packed – from Monday evening to late Tuesday morning – with people following events at the Vatican on large television screens flanking the Cathedral, and the city as a whole showed symptoms of hope for the future than were absent as recent as a month ago.  No Argentinians were more proud than the fans of San Lorenzo, the new Pope’s favorite football (soccer) team; indeed, the supporters presented Francisco I with a team jersey with his name and a halo as his number!


Photo courtesy of La Nacion

Photo courtesy of La Nacion

Photo courtesy of La Nacion

The second grand surprise was the morning of our landing on Magdalena Island in the Strait of Magellan, just north of Punta Arenas, Chile.  Disembarkation in zodiacs for this visit to a huge Magellanic penguin colony always comes early, as the winds tend to be lighter and the waves lower in the morning, but on this occasion we were treated to a spectacular sunrise over Tierra del Fuego to the east and a bath of golden sunshine flooding the penguins ashore and in the water.  There was no wind at all, and even the ship’s crewmembers were on deck taking pictures.  As we all sat down to breakfast later that morning, there was an enthusiastic comparison of photographs to see who had taken the best image.

Courtesy of Gastón Mc Kay’s iPhone

Courtesy of Gastón Mc Kay’s iPhone

Courtesy of Gastón Mc Kay’s iPhone

Courtesy of Gastón Mc Kay’s iPhone

Third, Easter Sunday brought a forced change of plans caused by the closure – probably because of an accident – of the Pan-American highway south of Santiago.  We were returning to town after a wonderful visit to the Haras de Pirque winery, when access to the highway was closed off.  Taking side streets to get back into town, we were destined to miss our appointed times for a visit to “La Chascona,” one of Pablo Neruda’s homes.  Tour Director Gastón Mc Kay, local guide Iván Bustamante, and I agreed to go instead to the Museum of Remembrance, which chronicles the military coup d’état of 11 September 1973, which toppled the government of Salvador Allende, through to the removal of Augusto Pinochet by the 1988 plebiscite which told him “No” to his staying in power until the end of the twentieth century.  Iván’s family had been forced into exile in Britain as a consequence of the coup, and his guiding of the Associates through this powerful museum was extremely moving.

The Patagonian trip offers Smithsonian travelers many different dimensions of two wonderful countries, Argentina and Chile, including landscapes and nature, but we never ignore the terrible moments in their recent histories, for the two peoples’ ability to recover and progress despite those events are all the more remarkable after we learn what they have suffered.

So, by the time we traveled from Valparaíso to the Santiago International Airport on 1 April, we all knew that we had been witness not only to Buenos Aires and the Argentine tango, fabulous Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia aboard Vía Australis and in Torres del Paine National Park, as well as the pleasures of the Chilean Lake District, but also to three different experiences that were unplanned and unexpected, but very special indeed.  Such surprises are often the most memorable moments of a tour.

I am sure that the 2013-14 season of “Patagonian Explorer” will bring similar “espontanous” experiences, and so am already looking forward to my return to the Southern Cone and Cape Horn.  My license plate and its frame say it all:cono sur


To learn more about our Patagonia Explorer tour, click here.

Enchanting Iguazú Falls

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Jeffrey A. Cole has led over 50 Smithsonian Journeys to Latin America since 1992, including 26 to Peru and 20 to Chile. He has taught Latin American Studies at Clark University, Tulane University, SUNY-Oswego, Cornell University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Smith College.

In the spring, Jeffrey led a group of Smithsonian travelers on a Patagonian Explorer adventure.


For the 2012-13 season, the Patagonian Explorer journey will offer a pre-tour excursion to Iguazú Falls. Iguazú, which in Guaraní means “big water,” is one of the must-see places in the world, and I am very pleased it is now available to Smithsonian travelers. When Eleanor Roosevelt visited the falls, she was asked her opinion, and her response was reportedly “Poor Niagara!”

Iguazu Falls

Iguazú Falls. Photo by James Elliott.

Many will remember the falls from “The Mission,” with Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro, which chronicles the removal of the Jesuits from the region in the seventeenth century. Others may have seen nature programs about the swifts that live among the falls. Whatever your inspiration, Iguazú Falls – like Machu Picchu in Perú – usually exceeds even the loftiest of expectations.


Urraca. Photo by James Elliott.

The experience is now enhanced by a network of walkways along and over the falls on the Argentine side, including one that leads to the “Boca del Diablo” (“Devils Throat”), where the volume of water and the noise it makes are impressive. It’s also enhanced by the presence of coatíes (raccoon-like animals) and fantastic birds, including the macaw and blue-and-yellow urraca. At the end of the day, as the sun goes down, the sound of the falls and the animals make Iguazú a very special place, and one you’ll remember fondly.


Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Patagonian Explorer tour here.

Uncovering Family History in Chile

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Jeffrey A. Cole has led over 50 Smithsonian journeys to Latin America since 1992. Jeff’s research and publications have focused on colonial South American history and civil-military relations in Argentina and Chile. He has taught Latin American Studies at Clark University, Tulane University, SUNY-Oswego, Cornell University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Smith College. Here he discusses a recent Patagonia Explorers trip to Chile.


Sometimes something really wonderful, and unexpected, takes place on a Smithsonian tour. In February 2012, on our last day in Chile and while visiting the port city of Valparaíso, our Smithsonian group visited a statue dedicated to William Wheelwright. Mr. Wheelwright, born in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, introduced steamship navigation, the telegraph, and other innovations to Chile in the nineteenth century. More importantly, on this occasion, his great-granddaughter, Margaret (“Peg”) Keirstead, had the chance to share her pride in his service with her fellow Smithsonian Journeys travelers. As we all lined up to have our picture taken in front of the statue, a Smithsonian banner proudly displayed, everyone reflected on the many ties between Chile and the United States, and how our histories are intertwined.

The group had visited Cape Horn on a beautiful morning, had walked among more than 100,000 penguins on Magdalena Island in the Strait of Magellan, and had enjoyed beautiful weather in Torres del Paine National Park, but this sharing of a personal connection to William Wheelwright in Valparaíso might well have been the highlight of the trip; it certainly was for Peg.

Smithsonian Journeys - Valparaíso, Chile

Smithsonian travelers pose in front of a statue of William Wheelwright, an important early steamship and railroad entrepreneur in South America and great-grandfather of Peg Keirstead (in the very back wearing a gray shirt).


Find out more about our Patagonian Explorers trip here.

Magical and Legendary Perú

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Jeffrey A. Cole has led over 50 Smithsonian journeys to Latin America since 1992, including 26 to Peru and 20 to Chile. He has also directed lecture series on South America for the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program in Washington. Read more about traveling with Jeffrey Cole.

Perú is a magical place. For most Smithsonian travelers the goal, the prize I should say, is to see Machu Picchu with one’s own eyes. My wife and I went to Machu Picchu in January 1980, when the means to get there, the accommodations, and other aspects of the infrastructure were far less than they are now. Machu Picchu was one of the first places we visited that turned out to be better than we had hoped it could be; it still is, though we must now contend with some 2,000-2,500 other visitors each day.

But there is a great deal more to Perú. Perú was the richest part of the world in the 16th and 17th centuries, and it was a very wealthy country in the 19th century. Perú is not a developing country, but one that has been at the apex in the past and will be again.

The cultures that eventuated in the Inca Empire of the 15th and 16th centuries stretch back 5,000 years and more, and feature the magnificent Moche of the north and the enigmatic Nasca of the south. The Andean peoples who faced the European invaders in the 16th century have not disappeared, but rather have successfully resisted efforts to alter their lives for a half-millennium.

For me, Perú is fabulous archaeology, a testament to the ability of human beings to adapt to diverse ecological challenges. It is also the opportunity to walk around the courtyard of the National History Museum and speak to the portraits of the viceroys whose correspondence I read for my dissertation. Perú is wonderful Chinese food, eaten in a “Chifa,” the legacy of the Chinese immigrants who came to Perú to build the railways in the 19th century and stayed to work on the cotton plantations in the north. It is also home to Peruvian Fusion Cuisine, which is taking the culinary world by storm. Perú is the myriad faces one sees along the way, reflecting the peoples of South America, Europe, and Asia. Perú is discovering that Google is available in Quichua, the language of the Inca Empire!

But most of all, Perú is a wonderful 15-year-old girl in Ollantaytambo, whose hair I cut for the first time in her life in September 2001, just days after 9/11, and who – through that ceremony – became my god-daughter. The Smithsonian Associates on that Peruvian trip joined in the festivities, as we were all in need of something to take our minds off of the events in NYC. Hilary (she was named after Mrs. Clinton) now corresponds with me by e-mail, but we try to see one another in person as often as possible, usually in the shadow of the ruins of Ollantaytambo, where her ancestors were building a fabulous temple to the sun when the Europeans arrived.

Enjoy Perú in all its aspects.

I’ll leave you with the Quichua admonition, repeated daily: “Don’t Lie, Don’t Steal, and Don’t be Lazy.”

Learn more about our Perú tour and our study leader, Jeffrey Cole.