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 donĀ“t have too.

Keeping Warm in Chile

December 13, 2005


We spent a lovely Sunday in the park with George and Georgette showing us how to keep warm in Chile. It realy was bautiful weather and we enjoyed strolling around the green areas of Santiago. While I generally found Argentina to be more passionate, clearly the Chileans can warm up, under the right circumstances.

I saw similar public displays of affection (or down right groping) when I lived in Spain. In Spain it usually took place in bars. The explaination there was that since people generally lived at home until they married, and often did not have cars, they were limited in there options.

Follow the link for more making out in the park.

Election’s Erections

Repetition can be funny.

Repetition can be funny.

Repetition can be funny.

It is election season and having offered my own trivial observations on the Argentine elections, I thought I’d move on to the Chilean elections. Near our hotel in Santiago there is a traffic rotary with hundreds of identical or nearly identical signs erected. It looks like a bit like a big brother for office campaign. Even better it is not just one loco politico, there are several.

I can’t really believe that this sort of (forgive the pun) in your face advertising works, but perhaps it does.

Jon versus the Volcano

November 29, 2005

The gentle, “chack, chack, chack” sounds fill my head. It is the tinkling of a tuxedo-clad butler using an ice pick to turn a block of ice in to something suitable for cocktails. Then the wind roars and I glance up and realize there is no butler, only a dozen trekkers 150 meters above me with their crampons and ice axes plodding up the ice covered Villarica volcano in Pucon, Chile.

Our day starts at seven AM, when Soyan and I, along with six former strangers that proximity has converted into pseudo family, arrive at Aguaventura and pick up the our boots and packs filled the previous day with crampons, gloves, snow pants and the gear of adventure.

We are bursting with the excitement that our hip, young, trilingual coordinator cum salesman, has filled us with, just as efficiently as he has filled our packs with gear. We were all anxious to get a close up look at Pucon’s famous volcano, and then to sled down on our butts, saving ourselves the trouble of walking.

As we arrive at the base of the volcano, while bundling up, we get a little speech about how there is no guarantee we will summit because of the windy conditions. Furthermore the wind might prevent the ski lift from running (adding an extra 400 or 500 meters to our climb). If we don’t want to go, or don’t think you can make it, this is the opportunity to say so. After a pause far too brief to let it all sink in they say, “OK, let’s go” and the trip has begun.

Five minutes later we discover that, it is in fact, far too windy for the ski lift to run. It occurs to me that they must have know this when they warned us of the “possibility”. What sounded like a standard welcome was in fact a, cover your ass, “we told you so”.

After we finished the walk up below the ski lift and stopped to put on our crampons. We received a surprisingly casual and brief tutorial on their use, and the use of our ice axe. I later learned that a lack of understanding, or perhaps a lack of interest, in these details led to the death of an Israeli tourist several years ago. I suggest the possibility of a lack of interest because apparently the Israelis have a reputation for being somewhat independently minded. They don’t seem to like staying in the single file line that is the mountain climbing convention. Later, in Bariloche, I’ll discover that for similar reasons, there is only one rafting company left that will still take Israelis on the class 3/4 river that borders Chile.

Returning to the Volcano, if you do take a tumble and begin sliding down the mountain, you’ll want to lift your feet up to prevent the crampons from catching the ice and breaking your ankles or legs as your body is tossed over your feet and sent hurdling head first down the mountain. With your feet up, you’ll want to slam your ice axe in to the crust of the icy surface and use it as a break. Failing to do this properly can result in a slide (or fall) of several kilometers, when the surface is windswept ice, as it is on our climb.

When we arrived at a concrete cave to take shelter from wind before our final ascent, a climber in our group unintentionally demonstrated how quickly and easily things fall by dropping the helmet that had been clipped to his backpack. Before anyone could react, the helmet was hundreds of feet down the mountain. At the end of the day, the helmet (both halves) were retrieved a mile below its release point. That was when I first wondered why we had not been instructed to wear our helmets.

In the end we climbed 3900 feet up an active volcano covered in ice before we were told that the combination of excessive volcano gas and the more or less constant 30 mph winds meant we could not make the summit and see the lava.

Perhaps you are thinking to yourself that sliding down on our butts using an ice axe as a break over 3 kilometers of ice sounds dangerous. It seems that you are correct. The volcano was deemed too icy for safe sliding and we had to walk back down. Nevertheless, the descent was so much easier than the climb up, that I could not complain. I managed to finish the trek with only a blister and a slight cough from the sulfur and I felt pretty lucky.

And you think I have a big head

November 19, 2005
    Jonathan and some Moai
    An excerpt from Throat Culture’s “Easter Island Head”:
    I am a man with an ordinary head.
    I am a man with a typical life.
    I am a man with an ordinary job.
    I am a man with a typical wife
    I saw a postcard.
    It was mailed out to me.
    It had a picture of
    How I want my life to be.
    I want a head like the heads you see on Easter Island.
    I want a big strong forehead.
    I want to stand up tall.
    I want a head like the heads you see on Easter Island.
    I want to stare at the seaside and do nothing at all!

Ignoring the fact that the Moai (the big stone heads) actually stare inland, not at the seaside, I think that sums up what I knew about Easter Island (or Rapa Nui as the locals call it) before planning this trip. Easter island always seemed to me the height of exotic, but it was a place that only existed on postcards. Now, having visited the island and read the Rough Guide to Chile, I know the sad history. It begins with a civil war that toppled all the Moai, then foreigners enslaved the locals. The end of slavery was followed by disease that wiped out not only those that survived the slavery and were returned home, but all of the indigenous people still living on the island. This was followed by a period of general neglect.

Despite all this, my image of the island remains little more than a that of a spectactular photo shoot, the stuff of postcards. We spent 4 days on the island. Two full days, plus the arrival and depature days, which are the sort of non-days that travel makes possible.

On the first day we rented a 4X4 and drove to see the major sites on the southern half of the island. We saw fallen moai and those that have been restored to their upright position. We climbed to the top of the quarry where hundreds of partially carved and complete Moai remain. We even visited the seperate quarry where the top knots (the rock hats) some Moai wear were carved. It was all beautiful and exotic, but it is really not more than a day or two to see it all.

On our second day we walked 13 miles along the northern coast from the beach to town and saw only 4 people once we left the beach until we reached town. We did see hundreds of cows and horses grazing in endless fields of volcanic rock and endless spectatular ocean vistas. We navigated at least a dozen barbed wire fences and took lots of pictures — after all that seems to be Easter Island’s only export.

I am glad I went, and the Island makes a great postcard, but it doesn’t have the stuff of long letters.

A selection of our Easter Island Photos.