Saturday, December 22, 2001

By Right or By Force
Despite keeping more than a weather eye on the Argentine situation, where President de la Rua has now resigned, an interim president has been appointed for 48 hours, and there is a declared state of emergency for 30 days, life here at the end of the world (the physical, not the apocolyptic) continues on in a holiday mode. Puntas Arenas (pronounced as though it is one word - "puntaREYnas") is a city of about 113,000 people, all of whom seem quite friendly. Since it was settled in the mid 1800s, mostly by European immigrants, like most other Chilean cities it is well organized, central square, grid of a street plan, two story house after two story house, impossible to get lost, and everyone knows everyone else. And, of course, everything is as orderly in process as it is orderly in appearance, thanks to the omnipitent presence of the Carabineros, enforcing the Chilean national motto (written on the side of the 100 peso coin, similar to the writing on UK sterling pound coins), which I have desperately been searching for to be written on a t-shirt as I just ache to turn up to a regatta with "By Right or By Force" whacked across my shoulderblades or chest in great big letters. I mean, that´s a motto that tells your enemies exactly what is going to happen, who is in charge, and that they might just as well roll over and surrender now, because they don´t stand a chance. I remember the Argentine lawyer I used to work with in New York telling me of a famous picture of Augusto Pinochet Duarte standing up to give an address to the Chilean nation, national motto draped behind him. His shoulders blocked out the middle bit, so the entire address was given with "By" over the one shoulder and "Force" over the other. Sometimes I think that the basics of all I needed to know about the relative South American cultures I learned in the New York offices of Clifford Chance, sharing an office with a Brasilian and a Chilean, with an Argentine just down the hall, and that this trip has just served to deepen the experiences and cultural inferences that I had then.

Chile now is democratic, but when Pinochet stepped down from the presidency, he carved out a role for himself in the military hierarchy for many years, and this has obviously left its longstanding effect on the country. Carabineros are everywhere, and while there is certainly no perception of a police state in play, I would not mess with these people. In contrast to most other South American countries, the guide books are clear that if you get into trouble in Chile you should NEVER try to bribe a Carabinero. It will just get you into more trouble than you already were in. But unemployment is very low, people seem happy, and of course, the trains (though there are few of them) do indeed run on time.

That said, while the Puntas Arenas people are nice, and the seafood is cheap, great and plentiful (the king crab stew has to be had to be believed), life is quiet. Its midsummer, and so the weather is a balmy 13 degrees C, but the constant strong winds do get into your system. In contrast to being at altitude having it hurt to breathe just sitting around, here at the shores of the Magellanic Straights, the sea air is constantly inflating the lungs and it takes no effort to breathe at all. And of course we are so far south, the sun doesnt set until 11 at night, and is up far before I am in the mornings. This adds a very pleasant feel to the very long day.

Yesterday, Emma and I ventured out to Seno Otway for our first visit to a penguin colony. (Ok, Emmas first visit. I, natch, swam up to a few in the Galapgos. But in deference, there were only about 5. This was more like hundreds.) It was great. The penguins at Otway are relatively unafraid of humans, coming quite close, although they are skitterish enough within a few feet. This is just as well, as they can apparently inflict quite a bite when they want, and lets face it, if ever a girl was more fated than others to receive an inadvertant penguin bite, its yours truly. But no biting, and lots of Magallenic Penguins. Also known as jackass penguins due to the fact that they bray like donkeys. Loudly. Often. In three part harmony. It has to be noted that while penguins are indeed cute, they are also well nigh stupid. This actually leads to some of the cuteness, as they will line up and follow each other all over the place, and watching them negotiate a bank where they could hop up or down or try to clamber actually reveals the smoke coming out of their little penguin ears as things just get too complicated for them. They dont seem particularly curious, though Emma kept hoping that if we just sat there they would come up to us out of curiousity. No go. Ems did get within a couple of meters of some though, but it was more due to wandering penguins on a mission than innate curiousity.

Today, we engaged in the other great pasttime of Puntas Arenas - duty free shopping. Emma realized that she spent a fortune to get out here and see the penguins and yet didnt have a decent enough camera to get any good photos out of it. I was craving a portable CD player, as I miss having music. (This wasnt a problem in Brasil, as there was music coming out of every open window and frequently partying in the streets. Peru was pretty good on the live music as well, and Ecuador wasnt so bad. But here, its just too cold. The windows are shut, the people are inside. And I do have my Marisa Monte CDs I bought in Brasil just aching to be listened to.) There is a duty free area set up on the outskirts of town, creating jobs, industry and tourism. You can buy lots of alcohol, perfume, anything electronic and even a car if you like without paying tax on it, except of course that you´have to get to Puntas Arenas first. The camera Ems got we saw later in town for UK sterling 35 pounds more, and the telephoto lens she bought we couldnt even find a price for in town. She got a good deal, and a great camera. I just paid sterling 25 for a CD player, but I think I am just as happy. We didnt really stock up on booze there, though. We did each grab some Baileys Irish Cream to celebrate Christmas with, as its cheap enough in the supermarket, and we strongly suspect that in the Falklands, its all going to be incredibly expensive. Even reading the literature, everything seems to be. We are prepared. Ish. We leave tomorrow. There will be an English style Christmas, and of course, many many many more penguins.

If I dont speak or hear from you before then, a very happy Christmas to all around me.



Thursday, December 20, 2001

The Argentinian Situation and Safety
As you may have heard, today there was civil unrest, looting, and problems in many areas in Argentina in response to the increasing debt crisis, which is expected to possibly increase in the next few days, as Argentina is likely to default on its latest debt restrucuring plan in the next 30 days, a move which would automatically cut off IMF bailout funding, deepening the crisis. As you may also know, the plan was for Emma and I to spend New Years Eve in Usuhaia, Argentina, and also spend time at the Petito Moreno Glacier, here in Patagonia, but also just over the border in Argentina. After Emma left, I was going to make my way overland through Argentina for about 2 weeks, heading back to Rio via Uruguay and Foz de Iguacu, and flying out from Rio. Obviously, these plans are currently under potential severe revision. I am keeping an eye on the situation, both via the internet and by my shortwave radio to get BBC World Service broadcasts. Luckily, with spending the next week in the Falklands, there is the opportunity to see whether the situation stabilizes or worsens. This time in the Falklands also handily gives the opportunity to wait it out slightly to see whether there is contagation of the situation here into Chile, which is unlikely, but you never know. Rest assured that I do not plan on doing anything risky or stupid, and will be checking the news, the UK foreign office recommendations and the US State Department websites with great frequency.

Sleep well, be safe, and enjoy the holidays,



Wednesday, December 19, 2001

We Have Arrived!!!!!!!!!1
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To: "Go Anne Go"
From: "Anne Wolfe" | Block Address | Add to Address Book
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001 19:20:59 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Go Anne Go! We have arrived!

We did it. We are here. I am overawed. I am in Patagonia. In Puntas Arenas (Port Sandy, I believe), right on the Magellanic Straight. We took the overnight train from Santiago to Tecumo, and then out of curiousity as to prices, as we accepted that we would probably be flying out of Puerto Montt anyway, checked into flying from Tecumo. We got tickets for US$178 round trip, so we took them, and flew out at 8 in the evening. This gave us the day to spend in Tecumo, which is not the most exciting city in the world, but is a fun enough day to spend the day in. I had time to get to Western Union and pick up funds (thank you, Jane), so I am solvent again, and it was warm, so after a far too large brunch, which we did not finish, we went shopping, lounged in the park (it was hot, so we mostly lounged with our feet in the fountain) and just generally acted as ladies of leisure until it was time to hop the flight. I feel as though I have wimped out a little by flying, seeing as I went via land from the northern end of Chile to two thirds the way down south, but the flying was quick and extraordinarily beautiful, with views of volcanos, the plains, the lakes, the fjords, and of course just before landing, the Magellanic Straight. The penguin colonies (there are two) are just north and west of here, and there is plenty of exploration to do in the next couple of days, before leaving for our Christmas week in the Falklands on Saturday.

Of course, in Santiago it was blazing hot, and in Tecumo it was still hot shorts and fountain weather. So it was slightly a shock to land and 1) just have the sun setting at 11 in the evening, and 2) have the pilot announce that it was 44F (I think that is about 4C), while I was still wearing the shorts and sandals. The place where we are staying is the first place I have been in South America that is actually heated. Interesting, but hey, its finally starting to feel like Christmas. The palm trees and the suntan lotion weren´t really making the cut, no matter how many times you hear "Jingle Bells" in the stores muzak systems.

A moment of silence please today in rememberance of Stuart Adamson, found dead of suicide by hanging in a Hawaii hotel room. He was one of my favorite artists growing up, and I feel older as they keep dropping off. This time last year was the loss of Kirsty MacColl, George Harrison is gone, and now Stuart Adamson. I am only 31, can all my teenage musical idols be fading so soon?

There is penguin exploring tomorrow.



Don't forget to floss!


Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Its a Long Way From Berlin to Memphis
(Today`s trivia question - what band wrote the title song in the subject line.) And it feels like an even longer way from La Paz, Bolivia to Santiago de Chile. Take a look on a map, its nearly 2000 km, I believe. This translates into 39 hours on a bus. I left La Paz at 6 Saturday morning and got in to Santiago a little after 9 Sunday night. This is a lot of bus time. But, as buses go, it wasn`t so bad. The scenery was well nigh incredible, and it was a good way to see rather a lot of the Atacama Desert. Which I looked at a lot, since I have read my books a few times (Emma has brought new ones), and while I wrote a letter, its hard to write on a bus, so its rather short given the journey time.

Leaving La Paz, you travel across pretty flat altiplano for a few hours, until you can see the Andes in the distance. Flocks and flocks of llamas (my favorite, as we all know), fuzzy faced alpacas, smaller vicuna, and deer-like guanaco are everywhere, often crossing the road, forcing the bus to slow down and blow the horn. Then you slowly start to climb t make the pass across the Andes, which is quite beautiful. In the middle of it all, the bus stopped to let us figure out the chaos that is Bolivian border crossings. There was one line, whether you were leaving or coming in, plenty of forms, which it turned out I didn`t need as I am not a Bolivian or Chilean national, and in fact was the only non Bolivian or Chilean on the whole bus. I was quite a novelty. Everyone wanted to talk to me, and I just wanted to figure out whether or not I needed to pay the 10 Bolivianos exit fee, which it turned out that I didnt. Or maybe I did, and they just left me alone about it. One never knows. I am totally willing to pay my US$1.25 equivalent at any time, but they never asked for it.

As soon as out of the Bolivian crossing, the country got almost lush. Green all over the place, broken up by bits of snow on the ground since we were at such a high altitude. This time, we were up so high that it hurt to breathe just sitting on the bus. Lakes everywhere, birds on the lakes, more vicuna, more alpacas, less llamas. 15 minutes later we were at the Chilean immigration stop, which I think was a good indoctrination into the differences between Bolivian culture and Chilean culture. In Bolivia, its every person for themself, put yourself in line, try and get a stamp, do what it takes. And they did not care about our baggage. Never looked at it in the slightest. In Chile, where I had to stifle a laugh as due to the cold all the immigration officials (since the building was not heated) were in big warm overalls, which to me makes them all look like rowing coaches in November, everyone off the bus, everyone claim their luggage, stand in line in the order that you are on the passenger manifest which the bus provides, go through immigration, then have your bags x rayed, then have the bags searched if customs feels necessary, then in an orderly fashion get back on the bus. All the while in the freezing cold, which no one except the Chilean rowing coach immigration officials were dressed for. There was snow on the ground, but the immigration station is in the middle of a national park, so it was next to one of the lakes with the flamingos, which made it all worth while. Once back on the bus, the scenery for the next few hours was fabulous, with high mountains, still the lushness, birds, animals, great vistas, everything. Which gave way suprisingly quickly when it finally did happen to the desert. Which has its hills and canyons, and nothing green. Nothing except shades and shades and tones of brown dirt and sand. The desert continues all the way until you get to the ocean, where the very edge of the sands are not called desert, they are called beach.

Where the ocean meets the desert in the very north of Chile is a town called Arica. Arica is small, and I was just passing through - my bus went further south to a place called Iquique. Iquique is much bigger, but again filled with very little. The primary industry in Iquique is the duty free zone which has been set up there to promote trade. This has worked very well, but creates its own problems for the traveller, that of the frequent luggage check. You are only allowed about US$800 worth of duty free goods, and they make you stick to it. Changing buses, our bags were searched (and I mean a real "take the cage lock off the backpack, take everything out of the backpack and let some customs official fondle it" search), and twice we were stopped on our way south, everyone out of the bus, let`s get our luggage searched again. Happy 4 in the morning to you too, Mr. Customs Official.

It was a long bus ride through the Atacama, which is incredibly beautiful in its own way, but unending and unrelenting. There is no green (but there are a lot of abandonded nitrate mines) until nearly 100km outside of Santiago. The bus company let us while away the hours watching movies, and let me tell you, you haven`t really wondered if you are hallucinating until you are in hour 16 of watching the Atacama go by, the only American for miles around, and John Water`s movie "Serial Mom" is being shown on the bus TV screen, dubbed into Spanish (Kathleen Turner sounds a lot less husky in Chile.). We got about 6 movies, and the whole selection was quite random. Serial Mom, Problem Child, Perfect Storm, Joan of Arc, Dying Young and A Knights Tale. I was sitting there frequently saying "this is really happening, I am not losing my mind, I am not losing my mind."

BUt eventually I made it to Santiago, which is pretty much at sea level (ah, breathing without pain or effort. Its a good thing.) and surrounded by vineyards, which is also nice, and condusive to acquiring the odd bottle of Concho y Toro. Its also the nicest, cleanest, most modern city I have seen since Brasil, and is completely different to the other parts of South America I have been in so far. Emma, my travelling companion for the next three weeks, arrived this morning, and we have decided to keep pushing further south, so we are on the 8pm train to Tecumo, and connecting in the morning to Puerto Montt, the gateway to Patagonia. Its a bit wild. I have been close friends with Ems for 10 years now, but somehow since she lives in England not managed to see her for 2 years. Not that it matters. As she put it, there is no one else she would travel to Chile for, and there sure arent many if any I would sit on a Bolivian or Chilean bus for 39 hours for, so we are just happy to be together. Plus, as noted, Santiago and Chile overall seem pretty great. And incredibly beautiful. We both have a lot to tell each other to catch up on, but we are saving it for the train.

The next installment will be from beautiful Patagonia, if not from the Falklands themselves. The Christmas decorations are up here, but it doesnt feel like Christmas at all, what with being in shorts and a tshirt again, applying sunscreen with impunity, and a lack of Christmas carols, cold and snow, although Emma has brought me a present (thanks, Kats) and a stack of Christmas cards, all of which I cant decide whether to open on the train or to save for actual Christmas day. I am awful at this sort of thing. I will shake boxes and try to figure out what it is for days ahead of time, but always hold out til Christmas, although I become highly annoying in my guessing and my box shaking so that those around me just wish I would cave and open it up. 31 going on 5, cest moi.

If its snowing where you are, go out in it and play and think of me.


Thursday, December 13, 2001

Here I am, greater La Paz, Bolivia. HIghest capital city in the world. When we were in the hotel in Lima, we had the option to watch Good Morning America (which like the media deprived mildly homesick news junkie that I am, I was slavish towards) and there was some fool on who was suing Who Wants to Be A Millionaire because he got the question "What is the highest capital city?" and they did not list the correct answer, which is indeed La Paz, Bolivia. The correct answer as far as they had it was Quito, which is the second highest capital city in the world, but he chose Katmandu, which of the answers given was the lowest. As if this was not enough to prove that he was a bit of a dim bulb, his lawyer posited the theory that "the more you know about Quito, the more likely you were to chose another answer". Well, some times I am truly embarrassed to be a lawyer, when you have bozos like that representing us on international television. The more you know about Quito, the more you know it is second only to La Paz in altitude. I hope the judge throws it out and sticks them with costs for what it took ABC to defend it. Generally, I on the side of the little guy, but even little guys sometimes just need to admit when they are wrong and go home. But I digress. Let me begin again.

Here I am in La Paz, Bolivia, the highest capital city in the world. The city itself is in a canyon or valley, depending on who you talk to, but either way there is a rim around it of mountains and things. The rim is at 4000m, La Paz itself is at about 3600 to 3800 depending on where you happen to be standing at the time. Walking around La Paz will sooner or later involve both a lot of uphill and a lot of downhill. And steep ones at that. The city itself is relatively interesting. Not so swish as Lima, but without question more fun to explore than Quito. Steve (who leaves tomorrow at dawn, poor thing) and I met up with two guys on the bus, one English (like Steve) and one from Massachusetts (like me), and we have spent most of the day with them. We went to the Museo de Coca this morning, which is a museum devoted entirely to the history, including current day, of the coca leaf. Coca leaves themselves appear to be pretty beneficial things, and this is well documented. Increase your capacity for hard work, alleviate altitude sickness, vitamins, fiber, local anesthetic properties, the whole nine yards. Then mid 1800s, someone starts refining cocaine out of it and all hell breaks loose. Statistic for the day for you: the US contains 5% of the world´s population, and consumes 50% of cocaine production. According to the US, (at least the South American position maintains) this is the fault of the coca producing countries. I am trying to remember the name of the US political wahoo who declared in the 80s that Bolivian coca crops should be bombed with US naval ships anchored "right off the Bolivian coast". Since Bolivia has no coastline (and is one of the few totally landlocked countries with a navy, which they have to patrol Lake Titicaca), this was generally seen as proof that said politician had been smoking non-Bolivian grade crack.

Personally, I am pro the coca leaves. I did chew them right up the Inca Trail, we all did, and they did help with altitude sickness. And when I got a little woozy, Charo wet a couple and stuck them to my forehead. It also worked. I was not stoned, I was not euphoric or wired on cocaine, the worst side effect was that my gums (since you hold them between your gum and your mouth) went a bit numb. That and the fact that the leaves and the coca tea (which you make by pouring hot water over the leaves) pretty much taste like grass clippings. Interestingly, at this point I would apparently now test postitive for cocaine, just from the coca leaves. Yeah, like a medication dependent epileptic is going to be messing around with cocaine! What am I, stupid?

In the afternoon, after lunch the boys we met (Mike and Serge) went off to visit the prison. This has to be one of the oddest tourist attractions I have ever heard of, and I did not go myself. They said it was great. Its the working prison smack here in the middle of La Paz. If you are a prisoner, you have to pay for your cell, etc, every month, so the prisoners make money through showing tourists around, making handicrafts to sell to the toursits that come in and things like that. There is a small, ripped sign hanging maybe my eye level so no one else really sees it that says on the order of the government it is strictly forbidden for people to enter the prison just for tourist reasons, but the guards dont care, since they are on the take, and loads of people go. Personally, I wasnt having any of it. I just dont think in the middle of a Bolivian prison is the right place for a single woman on her own to put herself. Besides, I have had quite enough adventure in the last week, I really do not need any more. So Steve and I went back to the hotel, rested a little and then met the boys again to wander around the Witches Market and Mercado Negro. The witches market, which is right around the corner from our hotel, contains a lot of odd things, including endangered animal skins, dried baby llama fetuses, statutes to bring luck, etc etc. I bought my friend Lian a statute for luck in love (she will thank me later, I just know it) and bought myself as an ironic joke a little statute of a llama. Imagine my suprise when I found out that it is supposed to bring me good health. Yes sirree bob, that llama knocked me over and I had two of the sickest days of my life ever - good health and llamas are just connected in my mind. The mercado Negro was basically a big, big, big, big market. It was fun. I did a little shopping as I am sending some gifts home with Steve for mailing for Christmas. One of the things I bought were just some little finger puppets for my friend Mark & Lis´ two kids. Then I stopped at another stall for some roasted sugar coated peanuts and noticed that my plastic bag with the puppets was ripping so I asked if I could have another one. The relatively young (20?) woman saw what was in my bag and just started playing with the puppets! It was pretty funny, but she did give them back and a bag without holes as well in the end. It was a relatively quiet day.

Its been that way for a couple of days now. After Cuzco, we whipped out on the train to Puno, since it only runs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, although given my druthers (and I nearly got my druthers too) I really would have waited and rested up in Cuzco another day. The train though was exceptionally plush, armchairs, tableclothes, china, three course lunch, very Murder On the Orient Express (note to self, read that some day) and just went through incredibly beautiful Peruvian countryside for 10 hours until Puno is reached. Puno, the big port on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca (supposedly the worlds highest navigable lake), really isnt that much of a town, but is the big base for exploring the Lake. We only had really a day, so we went to the Uros, which are the floating islands. Floating because they are constructed entirely out of reeds, are staked to stay in place, and have another layer of reeds added either daily or weekly depending on the speed at which the reeds underneath are rotting. They are inhabited by tribes of Indians, and you can go out there, but having gone, I feel it is a little problematic. The main industry now on the islands is tourism, and that means that the Indians wait for the curiious tourists to show up and then try to sell them something. Even the children, who should be attending the islands school in the morning, tend to ignore classes so that they can sing songs for the tourists for tips. This is not good tourism. This is, in fact, pretty awful tourism. I didnt know before I went, but I feel badly to have taken part now.

The next day we had a bus ride to La Paz. This was interesting in its own way. For starters, there was the whole fiasco of crossing the Bolivian border. First,. you get off the bus and find Peruvian exit officials, who stamp your passport. Then you walk up a hill and try to find Bolivian immigration. This can be a little tricky,a s it is an empty office as they are busy searching the luggage you have left on the bus to make sure you arent bringing any thing illegal into Bolivia. Then you get your passport stamped, get back on the bus and immediately notice something. The road is not paved. For about an hour to Copacobana (which is far, far, far, different than the district of Rio de Janeiro, Brasil that bears its name), there is just a narrow dirt track. After Copacobana, there is paved road of a fashion, but then you have to get off the bus again, and the bus is put onto a ferry, which really looks like a giant rowboat, and you get onto a differnt little motorboat to get across a neck of Lake Titicaca. This itself was interesting, as half our bus got on one boat, and the other half (5 of us) had to sit and wait about half an hour while the boat filled to capacity, hoping the entire time that the bus didnt just get fed up and leave without us. Thankfully it didnt, but I have heard stories. Then its a schlep across higher and higher and higher altiplano, until it hits points where the snow capped peaks of mountains are rising from just beyond where the bus is driving, and they are only about 200 m high. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

That´s it really. An intentionally quiet couple of days. I leave for Chile at 6am Saturday, for the seaside town of Iqueque, from where I will begin the trek (I see a looooooooooong bus ride) to meet Emma at 930 Monday morning. See, I can stay out of trouble.


Monday, December 03, 2001

Alternate title: Everything you ever wanted to know about Boobies but were afraid someone would tell you.

The Galapagos. 1000km off the West Coast of Ecuador. A wonderful place. I have spent the last week there, island hopping, sleeping on board a smallish (crew of 7, passengers 15) boat, being rocked to sleep every night by the motion of the waves. All right, so a couple of nights it was liked being rocked to sleep by someone who´s a bit overzealous in their rocking, but never mind, I loved it. But its good not to be susceptible to travel sickness.

I{m not even quite sure where to begin with it all. Land is a good spot, I guess, since that´s what everyone seems to know of a fashion, what with boobies, and Darwin, and giant tortoises. I saw all these things. The bird life is a happening thing in the Galapagos, ready to turn many people, myself included into a regular David or Dickie (the one thats the birder) Attenborough. I feel prepared to start going on twitches any minute. That said, it hit a point that we were all there with our checklists everynight (I kid you not) that you start to wonder if we all turned into real geeks without thinking twice about it. I suppose not. We took it pretty seriously, but not quite seriously enough. By day 3, we were prepared to name any bird anything we felt like it. Since so many birds are endemic to the Galapagos, their names start with the word Galapagos, for example, the Galapagos small lava finch. And reference is made to their size and preferred habitat as well, referring you again to the name Galapagos small lava finch. We would spot a wandering tuttler, and if it was on lava, well suddenly it was the Galapagos golden lava finch. That sort of goofiness. We had a pretty good group, unified in our loathing of one member, who oddly enough was Swiss and doing his best to break all reptutation the Swiss have for neutrality, harmony and as nature loving Alps wanderers. He was foul, I tell you. He kept trampling on things, wandering too close to the animals and startling them, all that sort of deal, and he would not listen to the guides or the members of the group in being dissuaded from any of these practices. I myself nearly clocked him one when he nearly stepped in the middle of a sea turtle nest. The guides, and the Galapagos national park I´m happy to say take the conservation aspect quite seriously, but maybe not seriously enough as in any other park such bothering of the wildlife would get you arrested, or at least kicked out. But never mind. I digress.

The birds. We saw loads. I will not bore you all with the lists of finches, etc., but will mention that I am now quite capable of spotting and classifying a booby at 50 paces, which is actually pretty easy since they are about a foot and a half high, the blue footed ones do indeed have blue feet, the red footed ones have red feet, and the masked ones look like seagulls in racoon costumes. Moving on land, they are quite funny little things, and the mating dances have to be seen to be beleived. I have assiduously made a study of the dance and as members of my group have discovered, will perform it at the least provocation. The mating dance of the two meter sandal footed booby. Though clumsy on land, they are nimble in the air and you constantly see them diving from about 50 feet high smack into the water to fish, and its quite a sight. As they are quite cute, and you feel that you´re never going to see them again (apparently people take more photos in the Galapagos than anywhere else), I have loads of pictures of these birds. The great collection - a booby in a tree, a booby in its nest, a booby with a stick, two boobies. You get the idea.

I also have a fair number of pictures of iguanas. There are your two main types, the land iguana and the marine iguana. One is the only marine lizard, and I´m sure you can guess which one. The iguanas are vegetarian, but they sure enough look feirce as hell. Spikes down the back, claws that enable them to climb up sheer vertical walls of lava cliffs, and fully grown they are almost a meter long and hefty buggers. One was climbing up a path I happened to be coming down, and I was on top of a rock very quickly for a big girl.

The other bird of note that people will want to hear about (Ryan Rabinovitch, this means you in particular) is my first sighting of wild penguins. Yes, on the equator. They are small, the second smallest breed of penguin (Todays quiz: what is the smallest breed of penguin?), and they live happily on certain of the Galapagos islands, building their burrows in lava tubes from the old volcanoes and swimming up to unsuspecting and suspecting tourists alike and zipping around them. Good fun, that.

Which leads me nicely into the sea habitat portion of my trip, and there was almost as much snorkel time as there was land time. Swimming with penguins? Yes, but only a bit. Swimming with sea lions was very common. They are very curious, and they will startle the heck out of you while you are swimming as they will come right up, right over and right under you while swimming at fairly high rates of speed, investigating everything. You have to be a bit careful though, as they will bite. Generally, they will only bite you on land, but I felt no need to be sidelined by one in the water.

Lots of things in the water bite. The only things that bit me were a couple of investigatory tangs, so no harm: But I saw lots of things that would bother me severely if they bit me. For example, the hammerhead shark. Now granted, John (another member of our group) had seen it while snorkeling, and on hearing this I immediately headed out to where it had been seen, hoping for a peep (and thinking to myself as I swam feebly out there - injured arm still hobbling me quite a bit, although the ocean salt water does seem to have helped in many ways - that this may not have been exactly the brightest thing I had ever done) and indeed I got one. It was one of those experiences that happens and while its going on, you think "this is one of the coolest things I have ever done" and about 10 seconds after it swims by it occurs to you that cool is occasionally quite synonymous with stupid beyond comprehension, but that didn´t stop me the same afternoon from swimming out and viewing four white tipped reef sharks, which at least were only about 4 or 5 feet long. The hammerhead was a rather huge thing. I spotted a huge manta ray swimming below me on the same snorkel, but it was only about as big as the reef sharks.

We also saw lots of sea turtles. Speaking of things that bite, one of them (I swam over it for quite a long time to observe) was missing a back leg and obviously had a large chunk taken out of its shell at some point by a shark. Interesting, that´s for sure. The first time I saw a sea turtle, I was hovering over a puffer fish, when I noticed some movement off to my right. I thought it was Rob, as we´d only just started out and Rob was quite near me, but I turned my head, saw this enormous sea turtle and squealed. Top tip of the day: do not squeal while wearing a snorkle. You will require almost immediate surfacing to clear the salt water you´ve just sucked into the snorkel, which you will not enjoy breathing. You heard it here first. We saw loads of sea turtles. In fact, the were the first animals we really saw in the Galapagos. We hit the boat, and motored out to our first island, and while tying up, we saw two while just standing on the boat. The water there is incredibly clear, and we learned quickly not to sit on deck without a camera at hand, or you´d miss something. Sea lions, turtles, puffers gathering under the boat, rays, etc etc. We also had on land the rather phenomonal experience of happening by when two baby sea turtles, just hatched, broke through the sand heading out to the ocean. Wild. We actually reburied them, as if they hatch during the day, they suffer an almost 100% mortality rate as everything seems to find baby sea turtle highly tasty. The Darwin Research station tells you to rebury them, so that´s what we did.

All that snorkeling was great, but it did make me feel a bit guilty about the lobster dinner we had last night. I felt like I had really gone too far in intruding on their space. Its a common feeling in the Galapagos. You really notice that man is not designed to be here. Human impact easily upsets things, so your hiking is kept to set paths, and woe betide you should you leave them, except to not disturb the animals. So leaving the paths actually happens quite a lot, as the animals are totally unafraid of humans, which is one thing to read and another thing to experience. But despite them being unafraid of humans, you still shouldn´t touch them, etc, as all kinds of things from passing diseases to their mothers not taking them back will happen with dire consequences. Sometimes this means you have to all but outrun a sea lion on land. The sea lions are VERY curious.

At any rate, back to Quito now, to try to make some sense of it all. Peru tomorrow! The Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu by the end of the week. I think that´s going to be quite a change, but still an interesting one. Its going to be odd to be back in cities for a few days first (today, Quito, tomorrow Lima, the day after that Cuzco, the day after that Ollaytaytambo) while re-acclimating to altitude.

Lots of love,


Quiz answer; The smallest breed of penguin is the little blue penguin, and is found in Australia, New Zealand and the New England Aquarium.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Well, I´m recovering. Slowly, but surely, two asprin every four hours, moving slowly. The bigger problem now is that the bruises are coming up, so I look even more like hell than before. All part of the recovery process, I guess.

I´m acclimating to the altitude, and not too badly either. Mostly just a bit of breathlessness if I rush through town for something, so if I just slow down (my knee tends to give out before my lungs anyway), I´m fine although I´m sleeping lots. That´s not actually a huge problem as Quito (the second largest city in Ecuador, pop quiz kiddies what`s the largest? Answer at end of message.) is not exactly the most happening nightlife city I´ve ever been in, and certainly a bit of a slowdown after the gogogogogogogo of Rio.

First things first. Thanksgiving. I did in fact have a turkey dinner, which wasn´t bad. Sadly, it also wasn´t good. But being American by birth, there are certain rites you participate in, and I guess turkey on Thanksgiving is one of them. The restaurant where I ate it is Yanqui owned, and every American in town seemed to be there, but of course none of them talking to each other, as everyone seemed a bit embarrassed to find themselves so desperate for something as mild as turkey and mashed spuds this close to the Equator. In the true spirit of international diplomacy, I ate dinner with a Swiss girl named Judith, who is very nice, and like most other nonAmericans does not grasp the concept of a holiday where you do not go to church, you do not exchange gifts, you just eat a lot of food, watch parades and football on telly, and then go Christmas shopping in the sales the next day. And the connection of just exactly how this ties into Puritans and shoes with buckles is quite lost in the translation.

The quest for guinea pig, a supposed Ecuadorian delicacy continues on. I did in fact find some in the supermarket last night, but not knowing for the life of me how to cook guinea pig, (does one roast? Saute lightly with herbs and spices? Make a sort of cassoulet?) I passed. I was hoping that I would find somewhere that had it, but I think its not really on the plate of the highly tourist area that all the hotels seem to be located in.

Quito is an interesting enough city, filled with Indians (should I say native Ecuadorians? Everyone here says Indians.) When you see the pictures of them in the books with the little hats, and shawls and bundled babes on their backs, there´s something at the back of the mind, or at least my mind that says that the photographer has gone to great lengths to find that person, dress them up and photograph them. This thought would be highly incorrect. Its exceptionally common dress here. I almost feel a bit out moded in my trou and shirt, although its cool enough from about 4 in the evening on for me to finally wear my Jane-knit CRI hat, which has its own sense of style. But getting back to the Indians. They´re everywhere, and apart from the dress you can`t really tell them from the rest of the population. I have noticed something obvious about the Ecuadorian people.

They are a lot shorter than I am.

I mean, I am a tall girlie anyway or anywhere you slice it. But here, I keep wanting to break out into choruses of Kirsty MacColl´s Us Amazonians. (Ok, I do frequently want to break out into Kirsty MacColl anyway. Tropical Brainstorm people - best CD in years. Buy it, buy it. Also contains the great line You can go to hell, I´m going to Brasil. But I digress.) Even Stephen, who I spent today with, noticed it immediately. Not noticed that I am tall, I think he knew that. But rather noticed that not only am I tall, but I am an object of quite obvious staring. This was also apparent last night at the supermarket. I was standing in line, waiting to buy my mango (my major mango weakness continues unabated), when a little girl with her parents was staring straight up at me with complete wonderment in her eyes. I giggled, and said to her "Es verdade! Yo es mucho grande!", which made her laugh, and then her parents asked me how tall I was, so I told them. The next follow on question threw me a little bit though. They wanted to know how much I weighed. When I said I didn´t know in kilos, they said that pounds was ok, so I told them. I have no idea whether or not this is a common discussion. But I felt a bit of a fatty having to fess up to my weight in a public supermarket with a bit of Garoto (most excellent Brasilian chocolates) as the only thing in my hand.

Anyway, Quito. I am staying in the new city, which is frankly dull. Lots of hotels, etc. BUt the old city is quite lovely. The first day I went to the top of the Basilica, which gives great views over the whole of the town, but is also a fine example of how things here are falling apart. Looks ok at first glance, but then on closer inspection there are broken panels in the stained glass, etc. There seems to be a bit of a philosophy of build it, and instead of repairing it as needed or even God forbid just maintaining it, build a new one somewhere else. This philosophy is a bit outmoded in the Old Town though, as it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site a few years back, so they´re putting more money into restoring it. This starts without question with the churches. The Cathedral (which is NOT the same as the Basilica) in the center of town, is supposedly the oldest church in South America. The guide I had was very good, explaining about how the art, etc reflects the considerable efforts that the missionaries put into converting the indians. This shows up in the art as it was used to tell stories, etc. For example, in the pictures of the nativity, there are not camels, there are llamas. And in other Middle Eastern scenes of Bible stories, there are volcanoes in the background, which may charitably be described as uncommon in most of the Holy Lands. Interesting. A lot of Inca symbolism was also imported into the church here, in order to convert the indians from so called heathenism. But eventually the touchy feely sensitivity of trying to warm people over with the look its not so different really approach completely fell away, and where there was a prior Inca temple to the moon, there now stands the biggest statue of the winged Virgin Mary you´ll ever see. Sort of the Ecuadorian version of the Corcovado Christ statue.

And again, as I commented in Salvador, the Fransiscans seem to have missed the internal memo about not handling money, etc. There is far more gold, silver and shine in the Church of St. Francis than there is in the Cathedral, and that is saying rather a lot. Of course, maybe it is NOT the Fransiscans, but rather maybe Reid has been having a bit of a laugh at my Catholic faction ignorance in funnelling me this bit of information in the first place. Research shall have to be commenced.

Today Stephen Allerton, an English chap staying at the hostel with me, not to be confused with Stephen Hurley, the English lawyer chap I´m picking up from the airport in two hours who I´ve been friends with for years, not to be confused with Stephen ´Harters´ Hartman, the English lawyer chap who´s been my closest confidant since first year of university and is currently climbing Mt. Cook in New Zealand, and I woke up early for a day trip out of QUito to the market town of Otavalo. This involved first, getting a bus, which was an adventure in itself. We did poorly on bus selection out of town, getting the one that stopped everywhere, took forever, and for some reason showed the same episode of Spanish dubbed Pokemon over and over and over. But its still a nice trip through the Andes, and I got to see my first volcano, which was pretty (it is dormant, but snow capped). Otavalo is a big market town on Saturdays, and you can buy pretty much anything. We got there too late for the majority of the live animal market, which was down to a few pigs and sheep by the time we got there, but there were tonnes of everything else you could conceive of. The only shame of it all though is that American culture has gone so far, and for no real purpose. The Indians knit sweaters, loads of sweaters, but I am confident in my assertion that the American flag and with USA across the arm is not a traditional Inca motif. I also discovered that my bargaining skills are a bit out of practice, but I soon warmed them back up. I only bought a couple of things, and most people were being reasonable in the bargaining. One woman did try to have a go though, but I walked away. Stephen, just out of India and Nepal, was a bit of a help at getting the old skills back. Mostly, its part of accepting that culturally this is what you do here, whereas a good English girl or American girl with English manners at least, would never try to bargain down the bill on anything.

You can literally buy almost anything at the Otavalo market. Its the big market for about 20 miles around, and from food to furniture to jewelry to llamas. But apart from that, there is very little there. Commerce center, but when the sun goes down the market ends. Stephen and I did do some practical shopping to prepare for tomorrow.

What is tomorrow you ask, besides Sunday? Oho! Tomorrow is the census here in Ecuador. Why does this take preparation? Surely someone in the household fills out a few forms and that is that. Oho! Try again. Would you like to phone a friend? For the census here, from 9 in the morning until 6 in the evening, not only is everything shut, but no one except census takers are allowed to leave the house. They come door to door, and count everyone. But once they leave, you still cannot leave the house as then maybe you could go somewhere and wind up being counted twice. So we have laid in a store of food and thought too late to lay in some booze for this too. Too late, as to ensure everyone is sober, it was forbidden to sell (and technically to drink!) alcohol from 9 this morning until 6 tomorrow,. Apparently the same thing happens before elections. Steve (Hurley this time) is in for some good cop bad cop theatre at the airport. Congrats! Good news! You can sleep in all you want tomorrow, rest up from your long flight, adjust to the altitude, etc etc. The bad news, you cannot leave the hostel til 6 in the evening. Would you like a banana?

Off to try to find some food. Since the no alcohol thing, most restaurants and stores in Quito are shut this evening. Oh, what a hot happening Saturday night here in Quito!