Chile – Sports! Sports!

I am currently in Valparasio Chile. It is an interesting place, big port and naval base, and an UNESCO heritage site. I have been here for a few days, and leave tomorrow for the north of Chile. Hopefully to see some copper mines, sawmills and the world’s biggest telescope.

They have a dozen or so 'Ascensors', from the early 20th C. Tracked gondola cars that go up/down the 45 degree hills for $0.60 each.

Anyway, a summary of the last few days in terms of their sporting significance is as follows:

Sport: Squash
After Spanish classes ended I went to play a game of squash with my friend Rogario. He plays a bit in Brazil and I did tell him my story about my losing to a 70 year old man in the past. But my Spanish numbers might have been wrong… 70? Maybe sounds like… 50? Was the age lost in translation? Anyway I squeaked a win which was fun despite a month of eating steaks and drinking red wine, just with an excessive amount of sweating.

Sport: Darts
After squash, we were returning the racquets. The house the courts are in, yes a house, has a lounge. I was passively annoyed because of the cigar smoke outside of the court. This is an athletic club after all, so it seemed a little out of place. Anyway, there was an older guy and his sidekick there and he was impressed that I was from Canada. He is named Enrique and is a Chilean industrialist who owns factories that produce pipe and parts for Caterpillar heavy equipment apparently. I can geek it up on heavy equipment all day so that was fun chatting, but he demanded we stay for drinks because he was celebrating the birth of a grandson. So anyway, squash turned into a mix of Spanglish with huge Cuban cigars all around playing darts for two hours. It was very fun. It was my first game and I almost repeated my awesome beginners luck that I had in my only game of horseshoes in Santa Cruz California 5 years ago. It would have imparted Canadians with the ringer title for decades but the wheels fell off halfway through…. And similarly, and reminiscent of my old squash defeat, I lost in darts to a 70 year old man.

Sport: Curling
After the darts, it was BBQ time. There was Canadian guy there originally from Turkey named Ersin. I declared that Canada was a soccer powerhouse and would easily take the 2014 World Cup. The Europeans were somewhat offended until they figured out I was joking. Anyway they knew of curling and wanted it explained. Ersin explained it properly. I got more creative and added this for specifics:

We really admire Florida, the land of Cadilacs and very old Canadians. And shuffleboard. And we wanted to emulate this inert culture by putting Shuffleboard on ice because, well, ice is awesome. And make the game played with a leader. Who yells and his or her subordinates. Their job is to sweep. That’s it.

Sport: Scamming Gringos
I went out a group from the international students residence that I was staying at for the Spanish class. Anyway, it was Wednesday night and I made it to 2:00am before leaving. I was the only one in sight going out not in, so again, pretty nocturnal culture. I got a cab and the guy was dodgy, some neckless greasy guy with long hair. So I was friendly enough and chatted with him in Spanish, but kept an eye on him. He was behaving rather oddly. I had to make it clear that I was stone cold sober and not born yesterday.

Sure enough he tried a few wrong turns but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and told him where to go. When getting home, I gave him a $10,000 Chilean peso note for the $6000 ride. He did the magic trick and switched it for a $1000 note, and claimed I owed him $5000 more. $10k is only about $20 Cdn, but still. Even then was polite and told him I wanted my change. It’s not difficult to know one is in the right because like Canada, the notes are colour-coded. He was a terrible actor. This had been going on for about a minute and the strategy was not working. Time for a new strategy. It was not fully in Spanish and it reminded me a little bit of this scene in The Kings Speech:

Lionel Logue: Do you know the “f” word?
King George VI: Ffff… fornication?

When the dust settled I got what I wanted. But I forgot to get his details which is unfortuante for the next person.

Sport: Spanglish
I had a cool Brazilian roommate for the week named Marcello. He chronicled one of our incoherent discussions on his Fb page.

It is basically (*Portuguese*):

I am sharing a room with an North American guy in a Spanish language country… I am like, want to come to a party with the guys in the other room? He’s like, naw, but you guys are cool.

Sport: MMA
Alternate title: Being smart enough to avoid huge $$$ at the dentist

Brazil is like Canada with a mixed martial arts being really popular. Marcello always has his friends in the room consistently, and one day a guy was there named Decio who was really excited about his new ‘UFC’ gloves. They are the articulated ones, maybe 4 or 6 oz or so. So anyway they wanted me to try them out too since the are, in English, Spanish and Portuguese, ‘cool’.

This in Canada would be very predictable – we’d all have to show what we know and learn some new stuff! Clear out the room and make a ring! But there was a very intelligent element of restraint to the whole thing. It is so nice to be slightly older and wiser. The Brazilian guys obviously don’t want to subsidize Chilean dentists either.

Sport: Botched Batman Jokes
I have met 4 people more than once, accidentally, in multiple cities now. I just had my first three-peat the other day, in Santiago. He is an 18 year old English guy named Tom who is an aspiring astro-physicist attending Cambridge this fall. This is where Stephen Hawking studied too, so sounds very cool. This also means I have a high probability of seeing Tom at the big telescopes in northern Chile. Last of all, he also looks like he is 14 or so, so credit to him for doing so well in South America by himself.

I saw him at a big BBQ at one of the hostels that I was not staying at, but Rogerio and I plus a French guy named Vincent invited ourselves to it after Spanish class on day. Well, we paid our way in, but BBQs here are cheap and great. We talked for a while when I hear this ominous “hello Bryan”, voiced like a Bond villain. It is a menacing looking kid…. who looked 14…. it was Tom. So that was cool (he had a haircut that made him look at least 15 or 16 now, so that was good and was also the reason why I did not recognize him at first.)

Anyway, poor Tom was in Valparasio with a friend. Then two guys come out with a gun and demanded they give their bags over. Tom was not happy with this, and did not comply. He kept his bag, but got punched and need stitches as a result. His friend’s bag got stolen. What was good though was that the cops arrested the bad guys and after a quick visual ID they are going to jail. Also the bag was recovered. Tom then says he will come back to the city soon. He wanted to see it properly.

Not happening.

I had already expressed my sympathy and admiration for his making it though and wanting to come back. As such, I thought maybe I could get a Batman joke in now. I said, with mental pictures of retro Batman’s “POW”, “BASH” captions going on in the background. Me:

Wow. You are brave. But that is the best kind of return. Yes….. that is definitely the best return… to exact sweet, sweet vengeance…!

Tom looked at me and said nothing for a few seconds. Then he patiently lectured to me that:

My friend. You must however understand that, well, these individuals have already been arrested. They are in jail now. Vengeance is thus unwarranted. I am strictly interesting in seeing the city…. not in vengeance (*this last word pronounced in disdainful proper English).

Ok, my absurdest humour is a little off-base sometimes.

Last of all, I will close a photo that I took in Ushuaia.

The glare is helping, for once

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Chile – Bizzaro Burnaby, Victory Looting Prevention, Hot Dogs

Santiago Chile is sort of the bizzaro Burnaby.

I have not seeen these mountains yet. A few hazy outlines but yah, not happening. Thanks google image search.

Like Burnaby, it has the mountains close by. But the smog makes Los Angelas look pure and pristine. It is a weird combo of industry in the outskirts, vehicles, an inversion that traps smog, wind and not much rain. Lots of metals processing – northern Chile is known as the region of 10,000 mines.

Also, they like shopping malls here. The bigger the better. I was on the subway looking for an establishment in which to hopefully watch hockey. I don’t bother with maps… and I was hopelessly lost like usual, and wandered onto one of the few stops that apparently did not have a shopping mall. This one had the mall too, unfortunately. I went in to have a look and immediately repeated the getting lost part – the Burnaby parallel is that this monstrosity of a shopping centre was on par with MetroTown, or so it seemed. Both in # of stores, # of people, and the amount of meat on the fast food burgers. I am not sure why Burger King thinks it is a good idea to have some sort of gargantuan burger with 4 patties on it, but it seems to sell well.

Have I just lead a sheltered life or is this an abomination?

Anyway, no hockey for me. All I know is that I did not go ‘out’ and certainly not ‘about’. I left the premises to survey the surroundings. If I say ‘out and about’, my Canadian accent instantly becomes, coupled with my paid shirt, a ridiculous stereotype. But this is most noticeable if one is an American with a Sarah Palin accent, so least harmful option right. I dropped an eh in the hostel here and had a hockey conversation with a Canadian guy. The eh is a dead ringer.

One night I got a Chilean specialty for dinner. They like hot dogs generally it seems. This was called a Clasico. It was hot dogs, meat, onions and two eggs on a plate of fries. It was the opposite of what I would expect – the meat tasted like hot dogs too. This is the first and last Clasico for me.

The next day, Monday, I had Spanish class. I am to some extent a drain on society. I somehow talked my way into intermediate level but only survive because a cool Brazilian veterinarian named Rogario helped me on the grammar. Patient guy for 5 hours a day. My class is all guys, so it is amazing how the lewd humour really can come through despite gaps in language. The subway is so packed in the morning that it takes about 4 trains until I can cram into it. I can’t believe they still have a few seats – it gets in the way of cramming a mass of humanity into a box. But everyone is amazingly polite nonetheless. It is where wallets disappear though. There is zero room in the cars in rush hour, and people get into it by grappling a handle while standing outside. Then, subject to biceps, they yank the handle and can-opener themselves into the train. I have a ghetto workout going on with chin ups on fences and things so this is fine for me, but the intrinsic Canadian politeness tempers really pulling the can opener so I just wait my turn.

Busy... 2.4 M riders a day

I am living for the week at the international student dorm. It would be fun but I am too tired to socialize. I have a cool Brazilian roommate named Marcello who is never alone. He seems to have a minimum one visitor at any given time. It’s mostly Brazilians here – would be a good opportunity to learn Portuguese I guess, because even the communal TV is showing Brazilian soap operas.

Chile has a business model, bad pun, that potentially puts Starbucks in jeopardy. They do their coffee shops with the waitresses in mandatory short skirts. The clientele is only guys. Funny how that works.

I was buying shoes last night downtown. My only shoes make me stand out so much, despite just being some Merrill approach shoes. They look like moon boots by comparison here. I wanted to go but some cheap Cons sneakers like everyone else in South America so off I went. I passed a huge protest with drums. Lots of drums, lots of flags. So I am at the shoe store when the kids working there ran to the back to get the big stick to shut the metal door out front. Ok, I get it, closing time… I didn’t want to buy your shoes anyway.

Turns out that the protest was migrating. And it wasn’t a protest it was a soccer victory celebration. Again…. Bizzaro Burnaby (Vancouver!) what with the Canucks winning. So it was a crowd of maybe 5000 people with a pile of big drums. And everyone without a drum with jumping more or less unison. So the stores shut, quickly, to prevent getting looted. I ducked up just in time to almost run into a line of fully armored riot cops. I walked a block ahead of the gang then got a good looking place to stop and watch it go by. Very cool to see. I did slip the Visa card in the shoe for safe keeping though. My moon boots had a purpose…

I need to find a venue to watch the finals.... that hopefully do not involve shopping malls

Regardless, I later got some $35 US Pumas to skip the moon shoes look. This was easier said than done because (a) the conversion to metric shoe sizes and (b) finding out that they don’t carry size 12. Anywhere. It translates into gigantor here so no go. Chevy Nova anyone? No va means no go in Spanish. Waita market a car here GM. Regardless, I now have a 10.5 pair that I am hoping stretches. I am sure when I do the Inca Train in Peru for the 4 day hike it will be nice to have a spare pair regardless of their size. And plus, just one more thing to tape or bolt onto my woefully undersized backpack. I will duct tape the moon shoes on I think.

Tonight is an Argentinian / Brazilian dinner apparently, at 10 pm. I scammed an invite but the catch is I need to help cook. So my Canadian tradition of burnt toast can live on. But who know, maybe these guys aren’t too cheap to buy a proper toaster like I am.

I did some museums too. The standout is a brave museum addressing the demons of the recent past with the military directorship in the 70’s and 80’s and the associated brutal human rights violations and the people who ‘disappeared.’. Chile has done an amazing job of forcing this to the forefront. There were a lot of young kids there with their parents too despite the very unsettling Orwellian nature of this epoch.

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Argentina – The Bike Tour

I just arrived in Santiago Chile. The seven hour bus trip over crosses the Andes range which makes for some great scenery. The border crossing is about 11,000 ft in elevation (little over 3 km up) which was a lot more dizzy and nauseous than I would have expected. The road has some epic switchbacks too:

Mendoza was fun. Camille and Pauline left for France on the Friday, so on the Thursday we went out to a club. This was bad timing, I had just done a laundry and now my clothes from that night have all the telltale signs of an Argentinian club: a dose of smoke worthy of a thousand Joe Camels and some sort of musk that I think I blame the smoke machines for. These are actual smoke machines, not just prolific chain smokes by the way.

My hostel was somewhat of a tomb (the whole time there my eight bed dorm room was just me). This was pretty relaxed but not terribly social. On the Friday I went to do the bicycle-based winery tour. I decided it would be fun to do solo. And all this time traveling with people it seemed like it would be a good call to get some time by myself. Well, not entirely a decision made on my own accord because there was nobody in the hostel and I was now out of travel friends.

The bus ride over to the wine district is about 40 minutes. There was a lot of English being spoken but I was determined to be antisocial so ignored it all (normally when you hear English it is the catalyst to go say hi.) The bus was crazy. The driver was not even young which was odd because he was a maniac. Normally the young guys are highly correlated with bad driving behavior, but this guy was in his 50’s and still thought it was fun to fly down city streets and about 80 km/hr despite having to stop every few blocks. I was getting the hang of it and holding onto some sort of red painted metal pillar thing.

Not illustrated: the massive engine required for passing anything and everything in sight

Anyway, so someone randomly hailed the bus in the middle of nowhere and, the brakes work well. I did a 180 and crashed into the back door. It was a pretty slick move and the teenagers on the bus were amused. It made a good thud.

So, once on a bike, the first stop was an outfit that made olive oil and chocolate. And hard bar. It was noon. They brew up lots of 80% absinthe, and that was on the testing agenda too. I was the only one there, but then another guy showed up, a South African guy named Ruan. He wanted to try 7 different alcohols. But there were only 4 shot glasses per person in play. But he was insistent so more shot glasses had to come out for him. I capped it at 3 because I thought the half shot of absinthe may leave me earless. But suddenly I had another travel friend which was wrecking my plan for being a shiftless solitary creepy guy all day.

The next winery, more hard luck for the solo circuit. The were two cool Aussie guys there named Dave and Hadden that we drank some wine with. The tour went on without any bike crashes which was good. It was quiet though. Dave’s bike got the chain jammed up. A cop arrived and called for backup. Well, a backup bike. We ended up fixing it, but the cop was content to just hang out and relax. Might have been the high action part of his day.

A menacing gang of outlaw bikers. Like the Hell's Satans in the Simpsons.

We all had bikes from different shops. My shop was run by a cool older fellow named Mr Hugo out of his house. He had free wine too…. enough to pass about 2.5 hours from the point of returning the bike. Suddenly I had a new pack of friends: two English guys I had met before, an Irish girl from the tour and another Irish couple that I had met before in el Calefate. We survived the bus trip back without any balance malfunctions like the first time.

That night I joined the third one of the day with a bunch of English people who checked into my hostel. They all knew of me – they had said, what is wrong with the BBQ tonight if there is only one guy signed up for it, this Bryan character? But the staff convinced them that there was nothing wrong with it so they all came out and it was a lot of fun.

Fun times in Mendoza. Next stop: Chile. I already have four Chilean stamps in my passport given the crazy Usuhia boarder — time to add to this.

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Mountains, the Evil St Bernard, Shoelessness

Got into Mendoza today at 8:30 am. Like usual, I got lost and roamed around for a bit. It´s the Argentinian version of a Kelowna with respect to being the centre of wine production. But it has wide streets, European-style architecture and lots of charm, so that´s where the two would differ. Kelowna has the lead when the criteria is McMansions on post-Apocalyptic-looking hills here.

Anyway, the trip here was 2600 Km via bus. Started in el Chalten, via the previous cool hostel again for a night (iKeuKen), and then a night in Baraloche as well.

Sort of the indirect route because of road closures....

I am going to scout out some language classes ASAP, especially given that the city and the hostel that I am in looks great. Traveling with Camille and Pauline and their French has overloaded my limited mental storage space with some long dormant random French words, so it will be nice to hit the books and straighten out some linguistic loose ends.

For a quick trip recap, the starting point was el Calefate in the Fitz Roy mountain range.

Fitz Roy is the big spire in the background

We hiked to the base of the mountain overlooking a cool lake for a 25 km round trip. It was fairly flat for most of the time, going through twisted and gnarled forests that would be a great slasher movie setting, over streams bridged with either rocks or a few cool split-log bridges that I would love to try and build myself someday. Then the final stretch gained 750 vertical meters in elevation so that was a good hike.

With respect to the bridges, or lack thereof, it was good to have well-ventilated shoes because they dried quickly. On the flip side, it means they got soaked pretty much immediately. The ventilation things I guess I confused for speed holes or something. It is nothing that I can´t fix with duct tape fortunately. I still have not bought another pair of pants, and the crotch hole is so big I now have to wear soccer shorts underneath for decency´s sake. So when my awesome shoes are perched on radiators I wear flip flop sandals like a Hawaiian shirt wearing, hot dog eating tourist.

There are a lot of St Bernard dogs in this part of Argentina too. The hostel dog at el Chalten must have weighted 150 lbs. I got a steak there that was ridiculously oversized and came with fried eggs too, so I had some leftovers that I gave to this guy which meant I was popular. I was walking downtown, well such as downtown in a place with 800 or so people has a downtown, and then there was this horrible roar and a suddenly thundering fence. It was this guy’s evil twin. Straight out of Stephen King´s Cujo pretty much. I was glad they build with some good timber here to contain the evil brother. The pic below is the good twin, it is just my poor photography that lends him a subtle element of depravity.

On the return to the iKeuKen hostel in el Calefate, the guys were having a going-away party. I figured this would be subtle, or subtle-ish at least, but it is Argentina. They deep-fried empanadas all night, had an open bar, and went to 6am with a pile of different music. A lot of Beetles covers which was cool. Also, a smoke machine and a DJ were part of the mix. There were some conservative type folks staying, just a few, so not sure what their take on this was. I wanted to retrieve my speed hole approach shoes from the radiator where I was cooking or drying them, but there were too many random people sleeping on couches who must have ran out of energy and could not make it home. Nonetheless, the next day was quite the abrupt transition because immediately after the party it was back to being tranquil and relaxed. The porch where the dogs hang out is where there is a panoramic view of the Lake Argentino, where the glacier (just out of sight from here) comes grinding into and drops off huge blocks of ice. I would definitely say that el Calefate was my favourite stop so far.

If you’re in town, which I massively recommend, stay at I Keu Ken too. It’s an amazing place (crazy parties are infrequnet — what is frequent is the BBQs.)

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The land of amazing potential desktop backgrounds

Some people enjoy having a windows XP cloud scene or a photo of frighteningly close up flower for their computer desktop background. Fair enough. But for everyone else who likes a beautiful landscape, this part of Argentina is pretty amazing. Some highlights are….

I did the Perito Monero glacier trek with my friends Julie from Australia and David from Ireland, both met at the hostel. It is a small hike on the actual glacier but still very amazing to see. The guide gets to then end then breaks out the whiskey, and hacks off some ice with his axe, which is a dynamic way to have a drink on the rocks.

The town, el Calefate, is much like Smithers BC. About 8000 people in total and set in the mountains right on Lago Argentino, which is the lake the glacier falls off into. I really enjoyed it. The hostel was phenomenal. Called i Keu Ken, the staff have a Argentinian BBQ *asado* every few days. About 25 people in total all at one big table, and the wine rapidly disappears. This is because of evaporation I think…. The noise level is like a airport runway. The food is meat and more meat – lamb and llama and chicken. The staff, Guido, Frederiqo, Martin, Julietta… kept the fireplace burning and were ultra cool. They got me a cake yesterday for my birthday too which was a lot of fun. Well, there were three other bdays within 3 days as well, including two of my three friends who are going in my direction to el Chatain. We now have 25, 28 and 36 covered off. Also I got a great lunch with the staff – Martin had a hunting trip and gotten a llama which was a big part of the asado, but he had deep fried the meat for lunch before. This was great but traumatic because I am now used to a dinner roll for breakfast, something meager and scrounged for lunch, and a gigantic dinner, so the big lunch threw me for a loop.

I bought a netbook, was accused of having good Spanish by an Aussie couple who did not know better, and have so many holes in my only pair of pants. I also cannot convert my Windows 7 to English as it is the basic version so I am getting a crash course in techie Spanish. I also bought a child’s backpack to carabineer tie to my other undersize backpack to make a go of it but I am still the ghetto traveler.

I am now 200 km closer to Chile in el Chaltain, having followed my hostel friends Camille and Pauline from France and Julie there because the hikes are amazing and I do now own a jacket so this bodes well. I missed the bus this morning so the guy at the counter drove me out to catch it. It was really kind. I was bag watching for the girls so I think that was understood as a decent reason, rather than say a hangover. I also saw my friend Ed from Ushuaia at the hostel too. He keeps a professional blog which is pretty cool. The former Lonely Planet circuit has evolved to more follow the hostel ranking and booking sites now. The feedback is dynamic and nobody likes bugs and cold showers so this is why the same places see a lot of the same people. That and $9 a night helps.

Lastly, I downloaded my Usuaia photos. This is the national park Tierra del Fuego, the land of fire at the end of the world. Well, discounting Antarctica, and that was not on the list – just because I now have a windbreaker doesn’t mean that I am a masochist.

Two last photos. First, we have the smug elitist dog that was much too good for my leftover break from breakfast. He was disdainful that I would try to feed him bread that was presumably poison. He is used to the leftovers from the epic asado BBQs and has very high standards evidently.

Snob

However, there was another hostel pet that was happy to have my bread it turned out. The photo was taken by a Scottish girl named Kimberly who advised my not to use it as a facebook profile. But unneeded advice – I have heard my fair share of sheep jokes up north too so I am wise to that.

Last of all, I am going to try and spend more time now in Peru to surf. I hear great things about it and will try to pair it with some Spanish lessons because I am one incoherent dude, well I guess that goes for my speech patterns in English too but oh well.

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How I Became a Lumberjack

Having just described an unfortunate man´s horribly abrasive snoring as ´chainsaw-like´ in my previous post, it got me thinking to my favorite chainsaw story.

I was in the middle of career #1 as an incompetent movie threatre projectionist.  It was 1999 in the middle of high school.  My best friend Kyle and I were driving around Nanaimo in my parents´ 1994 Plymouth Voyager, because I had just gotten a drivers license.

We drove past a sandwich board made out of two sheets of 4′ x 8′ plywood across from a small subdivision development. There were a few guys working clearing a few trees where the foundation would go. There were nothing special as far as trees go, just nondescript coastal hemlock. Anyway, the sandwich board has giant orange spray painted text on it.

TREE RAPE = SHAME!!!

I stop.  Kyle and I get out and push the sign over.  This actually  prompts a low level celebration among the two guys with chainsaws.  They hold them up and give a few extra revs and yell their very profane agreement to our falling of the sign.  Timber.  This was my first run in with forestry.

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The Cop Shop & Doppelgangers – Rio Gallegos, Argentina

Obviously guidebooks are not accurate, but that´s fine.  In Rio Gallegos, a somewhat large town at about 80,000 people, pretty much none of the few places identified proved to exist.

Myself and Jonny and Jeanette who I met in Ushuaia did the scenic route walking the 12 blocks or so into town.  We saw some shut down bars, and some shut down restaurants, but there were 4 ice cream shops open and busy at 11 pm that night.  The dearth of restaurants was definitly unusual, save for one that was big, busy and well-lit.  It was the ASPA, an acronym involving the word Policica.  It turned out it was the cop´s social club.

We had some good (big!) steaks for about $10 US each, and a bottle of wine for $7 US.  There was on-duty cops everywhere.  They seem partial to pizzas and take out when on duty.  This startled my Canadian biases, which is that law enforcement is conducted from here, the Canadian donut and coffee Mecca:

We left at about midnight, just when things were poised to get wild.  The Kariokee machine was being warmed up.  Speakers everywhere, bolted randomly on walls.  Speaker quantity seemed to be the priority rather than quality, but that´s all good.

On the walk home, it was fun to see all the residential areas.  It had a anachronistic 1950´s feel to it, it was small bungalos with family gathered around watching TV.  The blinds were all open, so it was a little voyeuristic seeming.  But interesting nonetheless.

For today, Jonny and Jeanette take off north, and I take a small trip 4 hrs west to el Calefate, home of a monster glacier.  I intend to get some good use out of this jacket that I was compelled to buy.  The bus leaves soon, at 2 pm.  Our travel routes may intersect in the Andean countries though, so that would be fun in the future.  I´m really quite fortunate on the friends side of the equation so far, it´s been great.

Also, I am not sick anymore too which is great.  My hiking and boat tour friend [redacted — pretty sure there are some licencing issues at play here thus the anonymity!] from the last stop in Ushuaia was very cool and just out of med school.  I consulted with her prior to raiding the medicine kit that takes up half of my woefully undersized bag, but now after finally sleeping for a full night and med´ing up I am good to go.  The last two nights were nonstarters due to being sick plus a terribly loud snoring Italian fellow in the next bunk over (think of chainsaws in need of major maintenance.) Yet, some was self-induced. The previous night I tried to keep up with the hostel gang at Irish bar.  I left at 4am, just in time to get packed for my 4:40 am bus out of town.

Last of all, the doppelgänger effect.  It´s uncanny when traveling to see people who have a striking resemblance to a friend back home.  I have seen this three times so far:

  1. My tour guide in B.A. had a striking similarity to my friend Phoebe.  She was really cool, and added some semi manic Argentinian mannerisms and gestures to the mix which was fun.
  2. A guy from a hostel looked very much like my friend Shaye.  Poor Shaye, the similarity ended there because this guy was totally inept.  He would sleep in an 6 person hostel with no clothes on save for his tighty whitey underwear which was a traumatic sight to have to see.  His best line, addressed to these two girls he was unsuccessfully chasing upon their departure, was ¨whhhhhhhhat??  no goodbye sex?¨  Not a smooth operator. He was just a awkward man, not a threatening one. That’s good.
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Leaving Ushuaia (fast update)

The plan is to leave tomorrow on the only bus out of town (5am, yar) and head the 12 hours back north to Rio Gallegos.  From there, it opens up the new approach of going north through the Chilean side and seeing some of the other parts of Patagonia.

Anyway, this is a fun town.  I´ll do an update with some photos: some national park treks, boats, morbidly obese sea lions that sound like me in the morning (charming) and resemble Jabba the Hut.

The climate has made me non-nostalgic: the snow has gone on for about two full days now.  I finally had to break down and buy a jacket.  And there are no second-hand stores, so I can´t just keep heaping on $5 wool coats like some beleaguered 1943 Soviet infantryman.  In the mean time, on the hook to do a farewell beer with the hostel crowd at some Irish pub…

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Some Photos of Argentina

Buenos Aires – Plaza de Mayo

Puerto Madero – Buenos Airies.  A lot like Vancouver here.

A big protest.  It shut down the 16 lane main road.  Well, half of it.  Gotta get up pretty early in the morning to shut down 16 lanes after all, that is lots of real estate.  The guys were wearing bandito masks and holding lead pipes for a bit but seemed to calm somewhat after a while.  The favourite son Lionel Messi is in the background (along with Katy Perry for some reason) in the big Adidas ad. The La Boca neighborhood.

This was the vast majority of the scenery headed south.  It looked like this when it got dark.  Then the sun came up the next game and it still looked like this.

Good thing it looks lot nicer at night.

Ushuaia.  A nice port city set in the mountains.  A little like Prince Rupert BC, but nicer.

The naval yard in Ushuaia, below.  There was actually a plan by Argentina to invade Chile over a territorial dispute over three little islands near Ushuaia in 1979.  The Pope actually broke it up, so kudos there. What was interesting for me personally was the magazine-kiosk-index-of-militarism.  Trademark: me.  So, Buenos in particular has a magazine kiosk on every second corner.  Mostly predictable swag: news, information and periodicals.  But what was surprising to me is the majority have a big wall full of military magazines.  This tends to occupy a significant amount of space.  It´s not something I have even seen in the USA for instance.  And the interesting part is they even get “blow-up treatment” – i.e., the tank mag (and big American M1A1 Abrams tank on the cover) is blown up from 8.5¨ x 11¨ to 17¨ x 22¨.  Other magazines do not get this treatment.  I infer that there is a greater than usual amount of interest in military hardware here just based on this.

This was also a naval yard in the Falklands War in the early 80´s.  The Lonely Planet guide does include a fairly snarky synopsis, along the lines of:

It´s ironic that the military government in Argentina in the 70´s and 80´s was only toppled when it actually tried to wage a war on someone other than it´s own people, and got embarrassingly defeated by the UK.

I read up a little more on it though.  Credit to the British for inadvertently facilitating social change.  Also, the Americans had called this an unwinnable war and had advised against given the UK had little ability to project power and Argentina was fairly strong then, but Thatcher pushed on anyway.

Anyway, the photo below is the Naval base down here.  Military spending is quite low in Argentina now, so there is not a lot of inherent menace at this base now.

My hostel in Ushuaia.  The furniture is made of whole logs split in two or four and lacquered – very Canadian seeming which is cool.  When I got to town at 10 pm, I walked to the hostel that was supposedly open.  It was closed.  So I walked 6 blocks to my plan B hostel – also closed.  It is the shoulder season here what with the rain and cold.  Anyway, I had a Plan C on the other side of town that didn’t seem like a fun walk.  I lucked out and found this and got a room at almost 11 pm.

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The Bus – Argentina

I´ve started from a great bus, moved to a good bus, and was mostly recently at a mediocre bus (i.e. worse than the Greyhound) for my 55 hours so far travelling south to Ushuaia.  The first leg was really nice – the seats reclined all the way, and they served really good food.  I was sick but Gravol and Benedryl was keeping the obvious symtoms at bay.  Anyway, after dinner they offer a drink – coffee, red wine, or wh-issssskeeee.  With an odd pronunciation like that I have no choice but to try it.

Anyway, the guy comes by with this urn, this near-jug and gives it to me.                             Wh-issssskeeeee Amigo! It´s like a tupperware container for soup or something.  Well, maybe not, but even being in the 200 milliliter range is pretty severe. Based on this, I would shudder to see what the red wine is served in.  My guess is this:

Wine goes here!

There are a lot of movies going on, but I only watch the ones that stay in English with Spanish subtitles to try and pick up more vocab.  The Spanish language flicks tend to be more on the PG 13 + end of the spectrum which is odd given the amount of kids on the busses – there is some pretty significant violence and nudity going on in a lot of the cases.  The only movie I actually watched start to finish was Meet Joe Black.  It´s 1998 somewhere I guess.

Then the next bus opted to show covers of good songs, with the original videos, dubbed over in Spanish.  Good idea, brutal execution.   I saw a version of the Stone´s Angie just massacred.  It was a girl with a bad voice caterwauling with the original Mick Jagger video.  This distressed me and made me happy to have an iPod.

These first two buses got me to Rio Gallegos, where the Hooligans were (previous post).  This bus was ok but the food was abysmal.  Soggy, crust removed Wonder Bread with gritty mystery meat inside with a moisture content of like 80%.  It was pretty slow going.  It took 14 hours to make it maybe 550 km as the crow flies.  It went like this:

  • Protest on bridge – 1 hour delay (tire fires mandatory)
  • Check out of Argentina – an hour and half?  Wow. It’s almost as bad as the Peace Arch into the USA.
  • Drive for 5 minutes…  then get into Chilean customs.  Fortunately a quick stop.
  • The ferry.  This seemed to be quick, but no.  It has about 1.5 km to travel and no dock.  It just drives up on the beach and lowers a gangway.  But it is really slow.  Driving up onto the shore seemed to prove difficult.
  • The bus drives for a half hour or so.  Then we need to check out of Chile.
  • Drive 5 more minutes….  now check back into Argenina…  gahhh.

Docks? Docks are for lesser boats!

The ferry was a few trucks with a few buses.  My bus was reasonable.  But the other bus had these soccer guys.  They had not seen a women in years…. or decades, from their behavior. They started howling like wolves. Then they tried to get on my bus to chase three girls who were clearly not impressed.  I became their token guy which was helpful in keeping the pack at bay. They were from Germany, Belgium and Holland and ended up helping me a bunch with Spanish.  Well until my brain started hurting so I sort of had to resort to English, but I managed a few hours of almost coherent Spanish which was a good start.

So the bus kept going, again with bad food.  The bus then stopped at Rio Grande at about 7:00 pm. Most of the people got out here, including my Spanish-practice friends. It seemed like it was a good idea given it had been 11 hours on the bus already.  Enter the bus switch for me – I pulled my bags off and hit the washroom, then paused for a few seconds because it looked like a restaurant.  This was enticing – I´d had some croissants (while pretending to be a real Argentinian) about 12 hours ago but had subsequently avoiding the dubious bus food. But it was good that I only admired the food photos in a Homer-esque way for a few seconds because then a bus started driving away.  There are not many buses in Rio Grande either.  Yup, that was my bus.  It was driving pretty slow however so I was able to chase it. The driver actually stopped which was kind yet surprising.

This bus had heat and was seemingly rather proud of it.  It was terrifically hot, and it was going through some amazing mountain passes, but it also has interior lights.  Well, lights everywhere except for their ´washroom´inside.  That thing was a crapshoot.  Pun intended, so I avoided that thing.  Anyway with the garish internal lights it was really tough to see the scenery since it was dark outside, but oh well.

But this will be the high point of bus travel I think.  I hear the Bolivian buses are just wild, so I will miss this calbre of travel in short order I think.

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