Funny Signs

March 20, 2006

I am fancy myself something of an intellect. I like to think I am a mature and thoughtful individual, above lowly bathroom humor, but for the second time in a week I guess I am proving that not to be the case. For some reason, I am just compelled to take pictures of establishments featuring body parts in their names. Let he who is with out sin cast the first stone…

Mr. Cock in Bariloche, Argentina
Mr. Cock in Bariloche, Argentina

Helados (Ice Cream) TIT in Calafate, Argentina
Helados (Ice Cream) TIT in Calafate, Argentina

Labia movie theater in Capetown, South Africa
Labia movie theater in Capetown, South Africa

Soyan Says…

December 20, 2005

SoyanWhile I have been dealing with the photos Soyan has been writing up a storm…

Since she has done such a nice job writing up our trip down route 40 and then
our trip to Torres del Paine National park, and our visit to the penguin colony I don´t have too.

Let’s do the time warp again.

December 15, 2005

Please forgive the time wrap of out of sequence posts. We have been in Buenos Aires for the last 2 weeks and arrived in La Paz, Bolivia yesterday. We are here in an effort to acclimatize before our climb. In a week we go to Africa.

Before we leave South America, I am cleaning my virtual closets of all sorts of things that I had been meaning to mention. Which is why the posts about Santiago have just appeared.

Coming soon is a taste of Patagonia, Buenos Aires and Bolivia.

Buenos Aires: Buenos Photos

December 12, 2005

Collage of Buenos Aires PhotosBefore I left I talked to my friends Colin and Angie (both great photographers) and asked them to look at some of my pictures. I wanted to know how I could take better pictures. Angie was very kind in talking to me about composition and the rule of thirds. But, she kept saying things like, this is a nice photo, but… The conversation concluded with both her and Colin telling me that I need an SLR camera rather than a point and shoot to improve my photos. Well after much agonizing I concluded they were right!

I bought a Canon Digital Rebel XT and I have been playing with it for the last four days here in Buenos Aires.

See a selection of Buenos Aires Photos from my new camera. They are not too bad…

Chech Mate(s)

December 1, 2005

You never know who you’ll meet on the road. I spent three weeks travelling with Barbara, a Brazilian woman, and Ronald, her Slovak boyfriend. In Bariloche, Ronald met Pavel and Petr, two Chech guys with an environmental clean up company in Prague. They were on vacation in Argentina and preparing to head down route 40 on their BMW motorcycles. We all met up for some drinks and to make a night of it.

There was drinking involved, and not all of the details are completely clear, but some of the evenings highlights included:

  • Watching Petr consume a seemingly endless series of flaming B-52 shots while wearing a hat with fake dreadlocks.
  • Everyone taking their turn arm wrestling Pavel.
  • Watching them pick up the waitress. That is, literally pick her up and hold her 4 feet off the ground for a photo.
  • Our accidental foray in to a techno bar where the average age could hardly have topped 18 and a half.

Suffice it to say when they invited us to look them up in Prague, I instantly said I would.

Everything is for Sail

November 6, 2005

Manuel windsurfing in RodeoOctober 20th — For 10 years Manuel lived in San Juan, Argentina selling insurance. Four years ago he decided that that wasn’t the life for him. He sold all of his accounts and closed his office. He was a windsurfer, and while San Juan was just 199 kilometers from some of the best windsurfing in the world, it was 199 kilometers too far.

Manuel moved to Rodeo, a mountain town of less than 2000 people. It was a town without a movie theater, a bank, or even a single taxi. It did, however, have something special. In 1998 the government built a dam to generate hydroelectric power and improve irrigation from the Andean snow melt. Unfortunately, the hydroelectric project has been a failure. The dam does ensure a reliable supply of water to the city of Jachal 44 kilometers to the east, but it hasn’t been as useful for irrigation as had been anticipated.

What the dam did do beautifully was create a lake 5800 feet above sea level, right in the middle of some of the most reliable winds in the world. Along the southern shore is Playa Lamaral, the best beach on the lake. While it lacks the sand of coastal beaches it more than makes up for it with spectacular views of the snow capped Andes that feed the lake and the ridged brown foothills to the northeast.

Playa Lamaral is the spot that Manuel had scoped out as the best beach in his endless visits to the dique, both during construction of the dam and in the years immediately after. The beach was just a few hundred kilometers down the road from the enormous farmhouse that Manuel leased and turned into the Hostel, Rancho Lamaral. He knew this was going to be a special area, and he had the forethought to get some of the best real estate. The area is known as Cuesta Del Viento.

Manuel caters to a mix of windsurfers, fans and travellers on a budget looking for something different, and he does so really well. Soyan and I spent 4 terrific days here learning to windsurf in the relative calm of the mornings and watching the expert windsurfers put on a show when the big winds came out, late each afternoon. We also met a pair of travellers from Buenos Aires taking a break from camping and enjoying the laidback lifestyle at Rancho Lamaral. It is hard to camp when you can sleep in a bed with clean sheets, take a hot shower, watch a movie from the large video library and get breakfast included for just $15.00 pesos ($5.00 USD) a night.

Beyond windsurfing there is horseback riding, rafting and caves to explore, but having been away from work for a while now I chose to spend my time differently. I spent a few hours in a strategy session with Manuel where he and I designed some windsurfing packages. Then I set to work on a Spanish language and an English language a flyer for Rancho and Playa Lamaral. I also put him in touch with another entrepreneur who runs a nice hostal in Mendoza. You can take the entreprenuer out of the business, but not the business out of the entrepreneur.

If you like to windsurf or you are just looking for something different, now you really can windsurf in the Andes.

Here are some photos:

Windsurfers showing off.
Gaston and Mauro
Manuel the owner of Lamaral
Jonathan learning to windsurf

Sock her? No, Football.

November 2, 2005

Boca fans watching the Boca vs River game.October 16th — As I approach Cirilo, a non descript San Juan restaurant, I see the sign announcing 24 hour service. Still, not sure if the place is open. All the windows are covered with brown paper and I am afraid I am going to be out of luck for lunch. Then I see it, a lazy scrawl across one of the sheets of paper that reads “Boca Rio 16:25″. I realize not only are they open, they are bracing for a crowd.

This morning as I checked out of my hostel in Mendoza, the owner mentioned that there was a big match this afternoon. Perhaps, the biggest of the year. I glance at my watch. It is, ten of four, and apparently Soyan and I are just in time.

As we enter one waiter greets us, as the other begins to lazily draw the curtains covering the few remaining floor to ceiling windows not already papered over.

We are eating our sandwiches along with a half dozen families when I notice a change. It is as if the dining room itself hits puberty. With sudden and unforeseen urgency the room gets dark as all the lights are extinguished. It gets crowded as groups of teenage boys suddenly begin to out number the families. It is no longer quiet as the television’s volume swells competing with the surging pregame chatter.

Everyone is ordering drinks and waiting for the real spectacle to begin, but in the meantime another game is on. Arsenal is playing Velez. Velez just scored: Gooooooooooooal. Apparently, there are a few fans here, because there is a smattering of applause punctuating the chatter. As heavy trays of food and drink are rushed out of the kitchen, it is time to change the channel. The Boca River game is going to begin.

Wraaaah! The room roars and the applause is deafening as the Boca players stream onto the field. I am clearly among Boca fans. Then there is the pounding techno beat of a sneaker commercial and the crowd returns to their beer and cigarettes. I struggle to count a dozen of over 200 people in the room that are not smoking.

It is the kick off and the game is underway. After a few minutes of play a River player looks crest fallen at a missed head of the ball. There are cheers from the room. In fact, every time a player in white, a River player, takes a spill there are cheers. Taunting your rivals is every bit the obligation of cheering for your own team.

The game unfolds with the choreography of a kung fu film. There is running, diving, kicking and the ball flies from man to man like it is on a string. By US standards “nothing has happened” because the game is scoreless, but the faces in the room reveal an energy, an excitement, a commitment to the struggle that tells a different story. The energy rivals and may well surpass that of a Red Sox versus Yankees game.

We are 11 minutes into the game and the late arrivals are scouring the room for empty chairs. The smoke is thick. A Boca player shoves an opponent from behind causing him to miss his shot. His behavior is lauded with cheering and applause.

32 min into the game the place is standing room only. It is Mother’s day here in Argentina, but mom will have to wait, because football (soccer) is clearly the most important thing on earth. Boca and River are definitely the most important teams.

An injured River player draws jeers. Nothing, not even the coach’s voice escapes ridicule. Ruthless mocking of the opposition seems a minimum requirement for a fan. Even though I have been drawn in to the excitement, I am not really a fan and the smoke is overwhelming. I am just a guy that stumbled in here for lunch and I am tired from getting up early.

At halftime, Soyan and I slip out and head back to our hotel for a nap. This means we’ll miss what promises to be an earthquake of post game activity, either celebration or retribution depending on the outcome. This seems a shame, but were glad for the taste of soccer passion we’ve sampled.

When I next get Internet access, I am curious to learn a little bit more about the game we had been watching. I stumble across an article explaining that I just witnessed one of the greatest football rivalries of all time.

This derby is considered to be one of the most exciting in the world. in 2004, British newspaper The Observer made a list of the 50 sporting things you must do before you die, with Watch Boca Juniors play River Plate in Buenos Aires at the top of the list.

I guess we should have stayed for the second half.

Ask not for whom the wind blows…

October 31, 2005

After we rented a car in San Juan, we decided to head to the small mountain town of Barreal, because we had read about carrovelismo, or land sailing, a sport where you attach a cart to a boat sail. It sounded like fun, and the pampas of Barreal, an 8 mile long and 2 mile wide dry lake bed, were supposed to be an ideal spot with reliable winds.

We arrived in Barreal late in the day, after driving some rough roads. We made an appointment to go sailing the next afternoon, since there is little wind in the morning, but in afternoon the winds can reach up to 50 miles per hour.

With the next morning to kill, we decided to take a hike and then see the observatory located near pampas. While the Andes surround Barreal, if you are walking from town to take a hike you are limited to the dry slag heaps that surround the town. They are, even by desert standards, exceptionally uninteresting. For those familiar with the American west, they less attractive than the Badlands of South Dakota and lacking the “excitement” of Wall Drug.

After our hike, we visited Leonocito, “The most important observatory in South America — operated by a national government of South America within their own country,” or so we were told. It was actually very interesting. I had never been to a working observatory and I learned a lot, including how a reflector telescope works (it uses a pair of mirrors rather than a lens). I also learned that in addition to light, heat pollutes astronomical observations (think about those mirages you see on the highway on hot summer days) so the entire area surrounding the telescope has to be keep 2 degrees below the outside temperature, even when the outside temperature is was 4 degrees below zero F (-20 C).

Beyond the educational component, our guide offered ample entertainment by explaining the history of the project. She explained how the telescope had been purchased in the 1960’s and the observatory had immediately started construction. Then with great pride she also explained how, rather than wasting money buying expensive off-the-shelf systems, Argentina had opted to build all the supporting hardware and software themselves. Even with little distractions for the government like the Falkland Islands war, the observatory became functional March 1st, 1987, a scant 25 years or so after they started! She then repeatedly explained how it was not obsolete. We thanked her for what really had been a wonderful tour and headed down the bumpy road to the smooth pampas for our land sailing appointment.

As we drove toward the lake bed, I noticed that there wasn’t really much wind on the road. As it turned out there wasn’t any wind on the lake bed either. We spent an hour and a half waiting to see if the wind picked up while we chatted with the charming guy who rents the land sailing equipment and who had been sailing there for twenty years. I took lots of photos. Finally, I taught Soyan to drive a stick shift, since there was nothing to hit for miles in any direction. Still, there was just no wind. We tried to make plans for the next day but as it turned out our guide (the only guide) was headed in for surgery and was going to be gone for a week. Apparently the wind was not going to blow for me.

We packed up and decided we’d go to Rodeo the next day to try our hand at windsurfing. Maybe they’d would have some wind.

Photos of land sailing even though there was not any wind.
Photos of the Leonocito observatory.

I love pot holes.

October 26, 2005

Road SignI love potholes — because that means the road is paved. We have just spent a fantastic week driving through San Juan Province, Argentina. We went from San Juan to Barreal to Rodeo to the Valley of the Moon and back to San Juan.

It was a great trip with spectacular landscapes, charming towns, wonderful people but some stressful driving conditions. We rented a Suziki “Fun”. Having a car was fun, but not all of the driving was.

We went 1000 miles over a few good roads and a lot of dirt, gravel, sand, and crumbling mountain passes with two way traffic on one lane roads. The winding mountain passes came complete with steep drop offs and only occasional guard rails. This was just the spot to drive a stick shift for the second time in my life and the first time in 18 years.

We endured 2 agricultural inspectors, 6 police check points, dozens of detours and hundreds of badenes or dips as we learned. We made the whole trip with out major incident. We did get stuck in the sand once, but this was on a national park road and we were with a ranger. It was a quick fix. We also turned back, afraid to cross a stream when we were headed toward, La Finca Media Luna, a hotel in the mountains.

I do have to credit Jim Roger’s and his very entertaining book, Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Road Trip, a story about literally driving around the world with some excellent advice: When inquiring about road conditions be sure to ask people if they themselves have actually travelled on the road, rather than that they have simply heard “it is fine”. Also be sure to ask several people. This saved us from driving a 120 mile “short cut” with 2 rivers only crossable by 4 wheel drive.

Here is a lovely “detour” that we drove on for 50 miles:

This is how you save money on gaurd rail. Only use it where it is absolutely necessary:

If you can’t see the videos, you can downlod the the detour or the guard rail videos.

Some photos of road conditions are available.

Spare me the spores.

October 25, 2005

PillowsYou know what you don’t want to read when you sleep on a different pillow every night? “Researchers at The University of Manchester funded by the Fungal Research Trust have discovered millions of fungal spores right under our noses - in our pillows.

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