Friday, July 24, 2009

Getting in trouble with the park rangers...

To avoid falling too far behind in my blogging duties, I am going to put this up before my Patagonia trip is over. My friend, Nathan, and I set off from Buenos Aires on Tuesday afternoon. We had decided to fly down to El Calafate to visit the glaciers and then take buses up to where we hoped to find whales and penguins (I have now been informed that there will be no penguins. Too bad!) El Calafate is a small town, no street lights and one grocery store, but it is filled with hostels and tour guides that will take you to the glaciers.

We set off with a tour company to the glaciers the next day and since it was so early, we got to see the sun rise over the mountains and lakes that surrounded us. It was quite spectacular and I will post pictures very soon. The glacier I was going to see is called Perrito Moreno, in honor of the guy who “discovered” it. It is 60 meters high and more than 30 kilometers long. This glacier is considered stable because it is building up new ice at the same rate that it loses ice. First, we took a boat ride so that you could come very close to the glacier. It was an iridescent blue color and the cracks created formations that were absolutely beautiful. We were impressed with that and then we were taken up to the balconies where you can see the majority of the glacier and how far it stretches up into the mountain range. It was not super cold and from up there, you could hear the ice “calving” and breaking off into pieces. It was almost like hearing thunder and the acoustics were impressive.

After sitting on the balconies and taking pictures of every view that we could, Nathan and I decided to sneak off the path and go down to where we could actually touch the edge of the ice. We scurried down, assuming that we weren’t supposed to be doing it, but doing it anyway since we hadn’t seen any signs. We walked past the red rocks that surround the area and approached the edge. Up close, the blue of the ice is stunning and when you press your hand against the ice, you can feel the power it contains from being attached to the rest of the glacier. It was surreal to be so close. I licked the ice and it tasted a little rocky, but also pretty delicious since you knew it was such an impressive feat to be so close. As we were preparing to make our way back up to the tourist section, we heard a voice yelling to us to get “afuera”. We had been caught! The park ranger obviously chastised us for going off the path and then made me delete all my pictures!! This was in return for not fining us and confiscating the camera, so I guess I came out a winner, but it was painful to delete the pictures. He did it because then all of you would have seen the pictures, been jealous, decided to come down here and then it would have been out of control. So, while I understand his reasoning, it hurt. It took awhile for me to get over it, but I am doing better now.

So, that was my glacier story.

Today we took a 3 hour bus trip to El Chaltèn, a one street town that sits at the base o the Fi9tz Roy mountain range. The Cerro Fitz Roy is 3441 meters high and is a steep rock formation. We hiked for 2 hours up to a lake where you can see the mountains and imagine what it would be like to scale Fitz Roy. We were lucky enough to get a nice day where the sun shone on us, the sky was clear enough to see the rocks and the wind was not too strong. Sitting up there, I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to go on these trips. I imagined being an explorer back in the day and what it must have taken to set off without knowing what you would find. It was wonderful to do some hiking and run through the forests with trees that look pre-historic with their spindly, grey arms. After some warm, pumpkin soup at the local restaurant, we headed back to El Calefate and now I am waiting to catch a 3am bus to Puerto Madryn to visit the dolphins. It has truly been an amazing trip already, and I am not even half-way through. I have less than 3 weeks left in Argentina and it is crazy to think that my reality will once again change so drastically. This has been such a full experience.

Next time I will post up pictures of the journey and share some thoughts about my most meaningful days at work. And now, off to the bus!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harvard club, a la Buenos Aires

All images are courtesy of Danny Alexander, photographer extraordinaire!
(and I forgot to mention that I eat about 2 kilos of mandarinas a day. I am in heaven!)

With my first tango class under my belt, a trip to the pampas and a new apartment in San Telmo, I am beginning to feel like a real Argentine! I find myself surprisingly happy to be here. It is amazing to have weekends free to wander the city, sit in cafes and not be constantly worrying about the next paper we have to write. I guess this is what it will be like when I enter the “real world” again? I got a glimpse of what reality will be like after graduating from Harvard when I attended a Harvard Club de Argentina luncheon last week. I had received the invitation through a roundabout way, after meeting someone at the office of a professor I was interviewing and then finding out that the person who invited me was married to a woman with whom I had been corresponding before I got here. I think I would need to draw some sort of diagram for you to truly understand the connections, but suffice to say that we all finally connected and I met the alumni of Argentina.

I walked into a beautiful old building that had carved wood ceilings and marble floors. Men in suits were milling around as waiters offered you wine and tiny foods. I, of course, was not wearing a suit and stood there awkwardly for a few moments. After paying my 80 pesos (more than I have paid for any meal since arriving in Argentina), I was immediately introduced to an undergraduate from Harvard who was also from Mexico and helping to organize the intern program for under-grads. I won’t spend too much time on him, but suffice to say, I have yet to meet someone so pretentious and arrogant. After a meal of steak and salad (or rather just salad), a prestigious publishing magnate spoke about his experiences as a journalist, the recent election and the relationship between politics and journalism. It was interesting to be in a room where there were more than 50 men and only 5 women (two of whom work in some capacity for Harvard). The only nugget of wisdom I garnered was the idea that to have “free press”, a country needs to be highly economically developed and financially secure. I am not sure if that is true, but it would be interesting to hear what people think.

After giving out my card to several people and networking it up, I escaped to the streets where I wandered up 9 de Julio, nine lanes wide, the Avenida thought to be the widest street in the world. I was quickly surrounded by people as I walked the streets and it felt comfortable to be in this huge city.

Today I ran in the reserve which is close to my new house and was created when the Costanera Sur landfill was abandoned in 1984, seeds in the silt took root and resulted in an area that is now home to many birds, reptiles and small mammals. It borders el Rio de la Plata whose waves lap the shore and create a lovely environment for a run. It reminded me of learning that the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea was a spectacular natural zone because of the lack of human contact for the past fifty years. They only know this from satellite pictures that show the abundance of biodiversity. And if tensions between the two Korea`s continue, the DMZ will certainly be an interesting experiment to watch.

Last week I ran to Recoleta Cemetery which is the resting place to all the elite of Buenos Aires, as well as, Evita Peron. The cemetery is very similar to those I saw in Europe with it’s narrow lanes and intricate mausoleums. As I left, there was a funeral procession beginning. People wearing fur coats and large wool scarves hugged each other and were filled with solemn silence. It reminded me of being in Morocco and witnessing a funeral procession as I sat in a restaurant. It was incredible in that the people all sang together and as the process went down the street, everyone from the shops and restaurants stopped what they were doing and joined in the chanting. It was an unforgettable experience. How lucky I have been to travel the world and witness the differences between societies and how life and death will always bring us together.

There is still so much to share, but I need to begin making lasagna for a dinner we are hosting. I will try to write more this week to bring you all up to date, but I wanted to end with a list of interesting things I have noted since arriving in Argentina. There are not as many as when I was in Oman or Japan, but I did my best.

• Dog walkers: this is mainly in Palermo, where you will see people walking over 12 dogs at one time, an incredible site and these people are really talented at not getting tangled up.

• There is one tree that holds about 30 parrots in one of the Palermo parks. I don’t know why, but it was an interesting thing to come across.

• Antique keys: they still use the old keys and while it is very quaint, they are super heavy!

• People are very polite in lining up for the bus. Something I have never seen in Mexico or anywhere outside Asia.

• Dulce de leche: I just want to dedicate a little love to this amazing caramel textured amazingness. It makes me happy everyday that I get ice cream of this flavor!

• Matè: People here really do drink matè all the time and after seeing how late every stays at clubs, I think this is the only way work gets done in this country.

I hope all is well with all of you and you are enjoying your summers. Next time I will write about last weekend at the estancia with the cows and whether I am considering leaving Kennedy School to become a professional tango dancer. Anything is possible! Miss you all!