Monday, April 5, 2010

Hielo, how are you*

Yes, that is a glass of scotch with glacier ice in my hand

I'm sitting at my computer in Bariloche and loving the fact that I live in an age in which I can watch the Mets on opening day even though I'm several thousand miles away.  I figured I'd take advantage of the few hours I'm spending in front of a screen and check in.  I don't have much big-picture stuff to say, so I'll just go through some of what I've been up to and what I've been thinking lately.
  • The other day I went to Perito Moreno glacier, in El Calafate, Argentina.  Lonely Planet describes Perito Moreno as "to ice what Iguazú is to water," and that's pretty accurate.  It's absolutely immense.  It is comprised of nine cubic miles of ice.  Let that marinate for a moment.  If you made it into a block a mile high, the base would be three miles by three miles.  If you covered the island of Manhattan with the ice from Perito Moreno, it would be a little over 2,000 feet high (the Empire State Building is less than 1,500, including the spire).  What happens is that cold winds pick up water vapor over the Pacific, and then dump it down into the ice field as snow.  Over time, the snow is compacted into ice.  The weight of the new snow on top pushes the old ice downhill, which is part of why the glacier is actually advancing at a rate of about six meters a year.  I've already discussed glacier calving a bit, and Perito Moreno is particular famous for calving.  In the two hours I was there, I saw three utterly enormous blocks of ice come crashing into the water below.  The calving occurs because water running at the foot the glacier melts pockets of ice and destabilizes the front of it.  In this particular instance, the calving is a naturally-occurring phenomenon that has nothing to do with global warming.  Perito Moreno is actually a stable glacier, due in large part to the heaping piles of snow constantly deposited at its source.  When you're looking at the glacier from the viewpoints, you just see ice stretching back as far as the eye can see, up into the mountains and disappearing into the clouds.  I've said it before, but I'll repeat it here: Nature is humbling.
  • I'd like to follow up on that point about the computer age at the top of the post.  Technology is absolutely amazing.  It is quite literally magic.**  We don't really think about that because we're so accustomed to it, but it is.  If you went to someone from a thousand years ago and said "there is this energy in the universe, consisting of particles too small to see, and I have a device that can manipulate them and allow me to see, hear, and speak to my family in real time from a continent away," they would accuse you of sorcery, and they would be right.  We may not be using wands and encantations, but we're capable of interacting with the world around us in many of the same ways as Harry Potter and the kids at Hogwarts.
  • I've never been huge into ornithology, but this trip is making me into a serious bird-lover.  The variety in Patagonia is unbelievable, and big.  In the last week, I have seen penguins, condors, flamingos, rheas (sort of like an emu), a (huge) woodpecker, and an eagle.  I always thought of flamingos as tropical birds, but apparently the Chilean Flamingo is perfectly content in weather that has me wearing two sweaters under my coat.
  • My Spanish has progressed to the point that when someone asks me "hablas español" (or, in Buenos Aires, "hablás español"), I say "sí."  I can usually get through a conversation without much trouble, and can get information I need or ask an important question confidently.  I even know all twenty grammatical tenses (of which they only really use sixteen).  Sometimes, however, I run into issues where I'll just come across a pretty simple word I just don't know because I've never encountered it for one reason or another.  One of the things about learning a language in an intensive fashion is that you can easily end up being rather competent, but with big and unexpected gaps.  This leads to some exchanges like the one I had while hiking around Torres del Paine last week (entire exchange translated into English, but originally spoken in Spanish):
    Seth: How's it going? Dude: Good, thanks.  Do you know how far it is to the Torres campground? Seth:  Hmm, you still have a while left.  It's probably four or five hours.  There's a refuge before that, but it's closed for the season.  You can still camp there in a tent, but the refuge itself is closed.  It's only another hour from there to the campground though. Dude: Okay, thanks.  How's the hike Seth:  It's not too bad.  In your direction it will probably be a bit harder, because you're going uphill.  Coming downhill was pretty nice.  It's not that steep though, it's mostly pretty flat.  Though there are some hills toward the end.  There's also a lot of... what's the word in Spanish... what's it called when dirt and water mix? Dude: Mud. Seth:  Mud, ok.  There's a lot of mud.
    Point being, I could carry on the entire conversation and express a great deal of detail, but I had just never come across the word for "mud" (which is "barro," by the way).  This, of course, is how you learn both where your deficiencies are and how to correct them.
  • The point at which I decided to give up and turn in from my attempted four and a half day hike around Torres del Paine was very precise.  I was on my way to the Refugio Los Cuernos, which is a refuge in the middle of the park, and having a rough time with the hills.  I came to a sign that had a little star with  "you are here" written next to it, and which had a line from there to Los Cuernos that said 2km.  "Okay," I thought.  "I can do two kilometers.  That's not a whole lot more than a mile, even if some of it is uphill."  A little while later, I came to another sign that was similarly structured, but had the 2km on the right, and a new number, 2.6km on the left.  It turned out that the previous sign had just been telling me "it's two kilometers to the next sign."  It was at this point that I shouted some obscenities at the sign, decided that I had had enough, and then walked the remaining two hours to Los Cuernos.  I had another 5 hours to walk the next day, but I made it.  As a follow-up, my ankles are feeling a lot better, though the occasional mis-step hurts a lot more than it normally would. 
  • Something I've noticed is that crossing borders repeatedly and quickly can get pretty confusing.  It was tough enough when I spent half a day in Brazil and had to struggle with a language of which I know less than even Greek, Czech, or Hungarian (in all of which I know how to say "thank you.").  It turns out though that even if it's a country that speaks the same language, it can get a little tough.  I spent about a week in Chile, never more than a few hours from Argentina (granted that describes the entire country). But adjusting to the currency, and even more, to the accent, has really thrown me for a loop.  I spent a month and a half getting accustomed to Rioplatan Spanish (pronouncing "y" as "sh" and using "vos").  When I went to Chile, it was surprisingly easy to slide back into the more familiar style I'd always known.  But coming back into Argentina has completely messed with me.  I will now literally change accents and grammatical structures mid-sentence, with no rhyme or reason.  What's more, I'm here for a week and then I'll be going back to Chile, so it's likely to get more confusing before it gets easier.
  • I haven't seen that much of Bariloche yet, but I'm excited about the food.  Venison and boar are local specialties here, and it's the chocolate capital of South America.  Moreover, Helados Jauja is purported to have the best ice cream in all of Argentina.  I had a cone earlier today and there's a very good chance the claim is accurate. I had two flavors (you always get two flavors): maqui*** with sheep's milk, and raspberry-mascarpone.  This was even better than the calafate-berry ice cream I had in El Calafate.  I'm very happy.
  • I'm currently sitting in the lounge in my hostel, and there's music on.  This is nice, and it is pleasant.  However, some dude and his girlfriend have come in with an ipod and mini-speakers, and are now blasting music from the other side of the room through some tinny-sounding tubes, and it is competing directly with the music that's already in the room.  The music on the stereo right now is Radiohead.  The ipod is playing some schmaltzy songstress I don't recognize.  These things do not mix well, and it's extremely irritating.  Please: if you go to a hostel, don't be that guy.  That guy is a jerk.
The Mets have dispatched the Marlins 7-1, continuing their tradition of being a much better team on opening day than on the other 364 days out of the year.  But Jeff Francoeur took a walk, so I'm trying to stay optimistic.  And Peñarol is 11-0-0, so my backup interest of Uruguayan soccer is at least shaping up pretty well.  I'm going to go explore Bariloche.  I still need to try the chocolate, and I'm almost definitely going to make it a two-cone day.


*"Hielo" is Spanish for "ice."

**I will abashedly admit that I started thinking about this point when I read it in Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol," which I read while I was in Costa Rica.  It is hardly a high-brow work of fiction.  It is, in fact, candy in book form, and not even as flavorful a candy as Brown's first two books.  But I do think that on this particular subject it has an unexpectedly good point to make.

**Maqui is a Patagonian berry that, according to one website, has more antioxidants than any other berry in the* world.  I don't know if that's true, but it tastes really good.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Reserva Laguna Nimez


  1. Jeff Francouer took a walk, Jason Bay saw approximately 175 pitches in four at bats, and David Wright hit a HR. So I won't dwell on the fact that Jenrry Mejia threw exactly no pitches today (which may or may not be worse than getting shelled by major leaguers), which is exactly what he needs to become the top-shelf starter he is supposed to be (little known fact: Pedro Martinez threw no pitches at all for five years before winning his first Cy Young. None. He sat on the bench in Montreal and became the best pitcher of his era through osmosis).

    I've got to say, while I'm super-excited for you to see calving glaciers and eat exotic ice cream, it was weird not being able to watch opening day together, or at least do a post-mortem. It's been a while since that was the case...

  2. Yeah, agreed. I'll call you later, which will make it actually feel like baseball season.

  3. the photos are, as always, spectacular. but what's most amazing about these is the sky. it seems to just go in forever. are the cloud formations different that close to the pole, or was it just a dramatic day?

  4. I assume you mean at Laguna Nimez? It's really just an extremely low and flat valley with the mountains off in the distance, so the sky gets pretty accentuated. From what I hear, the salt flats in Bolivia are where the sky really gets overwhelmingly big.


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