Friday, December 27, 2002

Return of the Blog, Part Deux
Well, after a quick run out on the last blog, (save it or lose it), I'm back at it. I've definitely been encouraged in this manner by my friend Mic, who enjoyed reading my postings from around the world, and is an avid blogger herself. ( - her husband's postings are on there too) I suppose it is just an extension of the diary writing that I do. Mic is coming to visit in March with her youngest offspring (six months). It should be good fun. I actually spoke to her yesterday, as opposed to just e-mailing her. The reminiscing was just so much fun! We have a lot to catch up on - we haven't seen each other in years, since a few months after the first child was born (child being now five. Child accompanying Mic is number three, aged just a few months.), and even then it had been years before that!

The run out on the last blog was due to a sudden invite to dinner. I suppose it shouldn't have seemed that sudden, as we had loosely discussed it earlier in the day, but somehow it felt that way. Not that I didn't want to go. It was a lot of fun, actually. Tex Mex for dinner, and then a browse through the Coop bookstore. Officially the trip to the bookstore was to find "A Very Quick Guide to the Bible" but of course as trips to bookstores go, it was hours of wandering, browsing, finding, and (well, for me) not purchasing anything! But it still was fun. I haven't done that for a while. Simple joys, eh?

It is just interesting to look at how I think on things these days. I find myself very much in an academic mode. I started reading a book on "Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence" (the book is one I bought in 2000 in Malaysia but never got around to reading. But interestingly, the author is of Afghani descent, describing himself on the bio on the back as coming "from a family with long standing legal and judicial service in Afghanistan." I can't help but wonder whether or not this would be the same description that the author would give of himself today. Or whether in the conservative Muslim world (the author is a professor of law at the Islamic University of Malaysia), it would be the same way. But at any rate, as I started reading, I almost automatically started drawing the parallels between the mutawadir and the hearsay rules. Good thing I'm starting school again a week from Monday and will thus no doubt grow bored of such parallels and hopefully channel such academic energy into getting As. Grades count even more in this degree really, as with the advanced standing I've been awarded, plus two credits on this internship (for credit, but graded only pass fail), leaving a grand total of (tah-dah!) 16 credits, or 8 classes. So the two this semester are a quarter of my GPA. That sounds like a lot of pressure, but it really doesn't feel like it frankly. Only two classes instead of four or five, and not putting in 60 hour weeks at work (ah, I wish, it would resolve some financial pressure), plus the fact that I'm hoping that my class in international IP licensing will dovetail nicely with my internship in IP licensing. It'll be good to go back to school, really.

My challenge for the day is far less academic, though. Mainly, I had to do tests over Christmas. Tests being a euphamism for "24 hour urine collection." Since I let myself get snowed in (I was gently teased today not to send e-mails with the phrases "a healthy 10 inches" being "lots of fun" as it was very nearly banned by the firewall system at the firm! Truly, I meant the snow! I even said the snow!), this was an easy test to do at home. But now I have to get the, um, specimen, um into the lab. I don't have a car, so this means taking the T. This could provide a corrollary to my rule that "no one likes you when you throw up on the T." Granted, no one will know, but *I* will know, and it will be a bit embarrassing.

I am plagued with cats. Currently, there are two, which seems to be one surplus to my usual requirements. Although Squeaky is exceptionally happy to have another cat in the house, so much so that I am debating getting him a kitten. A kitten, as an older cat(such as the one that is visiting) may be a bit too set in their ways to adapt. Zeke, who is visiting, is a perfectly lovely cat, and much much happier now that his nails are clipped (they were overgrown and digging into his pads). But he isnt one hundred percent adapted to having Squeaky around, despite the fact that many years ago they used to live together. Just to complement Squeaky, Zeke has his own bizarre meow. It's a festival of odd noises around here.

Off to the lab.


Thursday, December 26, 2002

The Return of the Blog
Well, here I am again. I didn't post all throughout Asia, as it was a bit of a pain to write the e-mail, and then copy and paste, and log in and post, etc etc. If you're interested in reading the trauma that was Asia, my travels with a lad named "Disco Tits" (he's such a love), blindness in Mongolia, the kindness of the Finns, and all the rest, read here: .

It has been interesting being home. A lot has changed, starting with my living room. I painted it blue. And spruced up the white trim. Then I moved on to the bathroom, and am currently plotting painting the bedroom (just white again) and in fact sketching out a calligraphic mural for the bedroom wall. There needs to be a large piece of artwork there, and since I can't afford to buy one, I am going to create my own. I initially started to fret over picking an appropriate piece of text to cover such an area, but then almost immediately realized there would be nothing better for me than my favorite Pablo Neruda poem. Now I just have to decide whether to write it in the original Spanish or the translated English. I'll play with the art in both languages and see what transpires.

People have been to visit, but I have to say it didn't go well, as I've just been so tense and angry and afraid of everything. This has now changed (better living through chemistry) and I find myself trying to pick up some pieces that I really never meant to break.

Oops, must run. Sudden dinner plans. More later!

Monday, January 28, 2002

Back In Brasil
Its good to be back in Brasil. Paraguay was not quite the cultural mecca I had hoped for, although sleeping at the zoo was interesting to say the least. So I cut across the country, discovered the slightly bizarre mix of native Paraguayans, tall thin blonde Mennonites, ex Nazi party members and Brasilian emigrants, and frankly just kept on going until I got to Foz de Iguacu, which is this tremendous set of waterfalls (catararas), much bigger and more extraordinary than Niagra, and of course where Niagara borders two countries (the USA and Canada, for those who don't already know), Iguacu/Iguazu (depending on whether you are saying it in Portugese or Spanish) borders three - Paraguay (where from the view is quite unspectacular), Argentina (which has most of the falls) and Brasil (which has some of the falls, but posesses the upstream hydroelectric plant, so you tell me who is getting the best part of that deal). Happily back in Brasil, though only just, I set myself up at the Foz HI Hostel, which is a pretty incredible set up for R$10 a day (at current exchange rates, that's about USD$4), complete with bed, pool, fans (its bloody hot in Brasil in the midsummer), nice setting, nightly soccer game, and a great crowd of people, all of whom are of course there to see the falls, and flake out a little bit. Its easy to meet people in hostels, so its therefore consequently easy to not spend all day, every day on one's own which does get lonely after a bit, and can indeed drive one to do mad things like make hour long phone calls home. (Ok, that was in Chile. It cost me a total of $5. It was worth every single penny.) So I spent the first day on the Brasilian side of the falls, which in typical Brasilian fashion was beautiful and relaxing, with a nice Israeli chap named Idan, who would suprise my friend Sarah as yet again I had found a blonde haired, blue eyed Jew. In addition to the sheer beauty and bird life of the falls, great entertainment was obtained by watching people interact with the cotimundi, which are semi-racoon like creatures, only with faces like foxes and much longer tails. They are also day creatures, not nocturnal, but they are as big and as curious and as dextrous as raccoons. And they like food. Well, who doesn't, really? But they are so cute looking that despite the numerous signs and recorded warnings on the bus to not feed or pet the cotimundi because they can become aggressive, as soon as the first pack of cotimundi was discovered people would do idiotic things like feed them, pet them, pull their tails and place their babies next to them in order to get a cute photo. According to the ranger, there is an average of two bites a day, but if people are going to be stupid, then people are going to be stupid. (I was reminded of the story of a woman who wanted to get a picture of a bear licking honey off her baby's hand, so she covered the hand in honey and stood back with the camera. Of course, no one had bothered to inform the bear, so the bear bit off the baby's hand.) This I got to see. Top tip of the day, folks, don't pull a wild animal's tail. They won't like it. And they will bite.

Anyway, the falls were beautiful, and awe inspiring, and there was a lot of water. I was inspired to go swimming, so having taken plenty of photos, I went back to the hostel and did just that, meeting two new guys on the bus back (RIchard and Christopher), which was handy for the next day as Idan was leaving that afternoon. The three of us hit it off like a house on fire (well, they have been friends for years so its not suprising the two of them got along) and got up early for an adventurous expidition of the Argentinian side of the falls along with a Mexican girl named Renata, who was a great foil for the three of us. We went swimming at a great spot under the top half of the falls, where no one else was. The water was the perfect temperature, having been warmed by the sun all day. Yum yum.

I won't say too much else about the falls (I will be happy to show pictures, and they are pretty, but descriptions tend to just involve a whole lot of water going down a cliff, except here the cliff is a couple of kilometers wide.), but I will comment on the sign we saw when we went into Argentina. Before we even got to the border checkpoint, before we even saw a sign that said "Welcome to Argentina", there was a huge sign that had a picture of the Falkland Islands on it and said "Las Malvinas son Argentinas", which translates as "The Falklands are Argentinian." The Argys are passionate about this cause. The Bennys are passionately British. But talk to an Argentinian and they cannot conceive that Las Malvinas is not dying to be liberated by Argentina. Amazing.

So after a couple of days in Foz recharging the old travelling batteries, getting to know Christopher and Richard pretty well, and getting reacquiainted with capirinha, I was offered the opportunity to go to the Pantanal. This is the lower Amazon Basin, and is just chock a block full of animals, so rumor had it, not to mention the opportunity to go pirhana fishing. But it was going to involve an alteration to the old budget, so it required a little thought. Added to our little evening relaxation group was an Aussie journalist named Mel, who had just been to the Pantanal and highly recommended it., not to mention gave me a long sleeved cotton shirt to protect against the sun. It fits like a voodoo charm. Torn, I called my friend Kit, who said "Go. Do. Enjoy." or words roughly to that effect, so I off I went. Turns out Kit knows what to do when it comes to the Pantanal.

Kit has also obviously been reading these emails and paying attention to the adventures I have been having, as I got an email from him expressly conditioning my trip on not being eaten by anything of a lower class than mammalian. Cannibals and yaks were specificially delineated as being acceptable forms of death by consumption, while fish, snakes and alligators were mentioned as being unacceptable. Cannibalism being low in the Pantanal, and yaks existing solely in Asia, I felt confident I could remain a woman of my word. But it took more effort than I first thought. I'll get to that in a moment. Stay tuned, the nudity is coming up!

First I had to catch a bus there from Foz, and this is where I met one of what turned out to be two other members of my little tour group. This was Pamela. It took me all of about 4.3 minutes to decide I didn't like Pamela. Pamela was 67 and English. Now, ordinarily, this would hardly rule out my liking someone, or even thinking that they should go to the Pantanal (this trip was definitely roughing it territory, not plush), as my English relatives are pushing 80 and I dare say could out hike me any day of the week. But Pam wasn't that kind of a person. Pam is the kind of person who complains about everything and everyone, and manages to get someone else to do most things for her, and her being 67 was just leverage in this strategy. We didn't have seats together on the bus, which was good, but she was already annoying me with descriptions about how she had been in Brasil for two weeks and no one spoke English (no, the Brasilians really don't speak English as a second language. If you want to hear English, stay in England), but she would not be bothered to learn Portugese. I'm not kidding here - she had no phrase book and she couldn't even say "thank you", and had no intention of even trying to figure out how to. She asked me if I spoke Portugese, and I said I didn't really, but I was trying. She was then pretty shocked when the chap in the seat behind me (who turned out to be a quite attractive Mathmatics Professor the same age as me), started talking to me, and without a word of English (since he didn't speak any) we carried on a conversation in Portugese for two and a half hours until he got off the bus in Carcavel. The conversation served to remind me of one of the things I really like about South America, and Brasil in particular. It would appear to be rude here if you are a man carrying on a conversation with a woman and don't tell her every five minutes how pretty she is. Or at least that's what keeps happening to me. Not to be self deprecating, but this sort of thing doesn't happen to me in the States. Noooooooooooooooo, what happens to me in the States is the sort of humiliation like being forced to take off my shoes at my OWN goddamn 30th birthday party because some guy can't handle the fact that in my shoes I was one and a half inches taller than I am when running around barefoot at the boathouse. It remains to this day one of the bigger humiliations of my adult life, and one of the few regrets that I actually took the shoes off. Well, things are going to be a wee bit different when I come home. You don't get told by every man you meet that you're pretty without starting to believe it a little. Viva South America! And of course, I have learned the Portugese for this statement, and three variations thereon, having heard it so much. Anyway, so I spent all this time conversing away and having this man actually invite me to come home with him (I declined. All this pretty talk does not go away even after I tell them I am married, complete with ring on my finger. Yeah! All flattery, no threat.), he got off the bus, to be replaced by another guy who spoke a little bit of English, and we yakked most of the way to Campo Grande, much to Pam's amazement. But once at Campo Grande, I was her captive, and it was not fun for me. She complained about everything, and we weren't even there yet. She didn't want to sleep in a hammock, it would be bad for her back. She didn't want to walk far, as she was sure she wasn't fit enough for it (what was she DOING here, I kept thinking?), and when we got off the bus and she discovered that to get out into the Pantanal she was going to spend three hours in the back of a truck, well, let's just say that you were glad you didn't have to sit in the back of the truck with her and leave it at that.

By this time, I had met the third member of our little group, an Argentine named Bruno. Bruno was nice enough, if a bit gormless, and didn't speak much English, but spoke enough that Pam decided (in time honored fashion, but I honestly thought only obnoxious Americans did this) that if she spoke to him slowly enough and LOUDLY (she sounded like she could have been commander of the Quorn) enough he would understand her. I did my best to ignore her while taking in some of the already abundant wildlife which was presenting itself on the way in.

The first thing you notice are the two things you can't miss - the flocks of parrrots and macaws and the alligators, which are sliding into the swamp every ten feet as you head along in the truck. There are plenty of green parrots, and blew macaws, and red macaws, and well, just lots and lots of parrots and macaws. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of them as when they fly, they fly in fast flocks and I could never get my camera out in time, and then in the trees they blend in so very well. There is just incredible bird life in the Pantanal - giant cranes, toucans (these were some of my fave. They fly so fast!), hawks galore, it was just incredible. There is not another word for it. And of course the alligators. We arrived at camp to find two (a big one and a little one) about 15 feet in front of the camp. Amazingly, no one was worried. After a day or so, neither was I. Down there, they are more scared of you than you of them, but still if one came running towards me, I was going to climb a tree pretty darn fast. It never happened.

Camp was good - Pamela would be sleeping in a tent, and I would be sleeping in a screened over hut in which a bunch of hammocks were slung, which meant I would not be sleeping near Pamela. Good. But we then had to listen at dinner to her sudden not wanting to sleep in the tent as she was afraid of the aligators and the snakes and the noises in the jungle. Our guide, Emerson, told her that he would look in on her in the night to make sure she was ok. This seemed to help. That crisis averted, she then tried to make friends with a Spanish couple who was there with us at dinner, having a huge argument with the chap about the merits of the national service system and why England should never have given it up, and then also lecturing him that when he spoke to her he shouldn't swear, and proceeding to lecture him on anything else that came to mind because he was a man, and as such apparently thought and acted all sorts of ways which had he paid better attention during his national service would have been cleared of. This was the point where I left and went to curl up in my hammock, where I slept like a baby, as I would do every night. I love sleeping in a hammock.

The next morning prompted many crises. First of all, the Spanish couple was leaving, much to their relief and Pam's dismay as she wanted to (she says) get to know them better. Secondly, despite the fact that Pam had hardly slept a wink all night for fear of the alligators and snakes and cows (there are many many cows in the Pantanal), the fact that Emerson had checked on her in the night anytime he heard her squealing (she was a big squealer) now had her convinced that he was after her and was going to seduce her the minute we weren''t looking. My Portugese was not up to dealing with this, particularly not at this hour of the morning or this deep into a relaxing vacation, so I headed off to the shower, where I hopped in, pulled the door shut, stripped off and turned on the water to discover that there was a snake there in the shower and it was apparently not thrilled at getting wet. I am not a big fan of the old snakes, so I ran out. I did not bother to put my clothes back on, but did manage to convey the snake in the shower issue to people, mostly by screaming "snake!!!!!!! In the shower!!!!!!!!!!!'". But hey, its Brasil. They have seen boobs before, and besides mostly people were distracted by the snake, which turned out to be highly poisonous. Thankfully, it was caught and slaughtered (which I did feel a bit bad about - all it wanted to do was have a snooze), but I gave up showering anyway. It really didn't matter out there whether you did or you didn't. Its a remarkably dusty place for a swamp, the Pantanal. And besides, apparently being clean attracts the mossies.

There are a lot of mossies in the Pantanal, which is basically a huge swamp (some say wetland, but let's call a swamp a swamp here, shall we?). This can be a problem, but I had highly effective bug spray. I'm a little concerned though, as its started to do bad things to my watch face. And I put these chemicals on my skin??????? We discovered the mossies as we went walking. We didn't walk too far, as Pam is slower than molasses in January. This was disconcerting. I wanted to see some animals. I mean, apart from the snake. So for the afternoon, it was decided that Bruno and I would go with another group, where the guide didn't speak English, but I could cope, and Pam would stay with Emerson. Well, she wasn't having that. So off we went in the afternoon for another walk. A longer, if still ridiculously slow walk. After two hours, Pam, being tired, and having come to a clearing and realizing that we weren't back at the camp, started to shout at Emerson like he was a small child. "You should NOT have brought me here. It was wrong of you. It was very bad."and so on and so forth. I thought the man took it well, although you could see where the patience of all three of us was starting to wear thin. I intervened and said this was probably best left until we got back to camp, at which point we fell in and Pamela started to laugh. This was not my happiest moment, and I was glad to be back at camp where I could sit quietly and watch the sunset nicely on my own. With the two alligators, who I infinitely preferred to Pam.

But the next day is where I came into my glory. As a strategic retreat, we all went fishing with another group. Pirhana fishing! 10 of us piled into a 4 wheeled drive, went over land for miles and miles where we got to a lake with our poles and had at it. Out of the 10 of us, I was the ONLY ONE to catch a fish. In fact, I caught three. Two pirahna (go me) and something yummy which I don't know what its called. The teeth on the pirhana! Sharp wee buggers. They are also adept bait stealers, although some people didnt even get a nibble. I had plenty of bait stolen, until I finally about a half hour before we left, rediscovered the correct knack of when to yank upwards on the line to set the hook into the mouth and hauled all three of my fish out of the water in the space of about five minutes. This drove everyone else nutty, but I didnt care, I was just feeling accomplished. I have been to the Pantanal and caught pirhana. I am a force to be reckoned with.

And so it went on for two more days. Oodles of wildlife and birdlife, exploring on horseback (I did consider where in Kit's conditioning it would fall if I fell off the horse and broke my neck, but it didn't stop me galloping across the Pantanal like a mad thing.) on my horse, which I rapidly named Frango as he seemed to be afraid of everything. But Frango and I came to a pretty good understanding, and trekking on horseback was really great, and plenty of wildlife. My fauna spotting luck is still holding with me - I saw three puma when most people never see one, plus an aardvark, and lots of capybaras (but those are just about guaranteed to be seen, as they are so common), which are the world's largest rodents. They look like fuzzy baby hippos to me. They're maybe two feet high at the shoulder, and are apparently responsible for a lot of plant consumption down there. Plus more cotimundi in the wild, but I still wasn't going to pet any.

Then today it was time to return to Campo Grande, and so we piled back in the truck. This worked for the first hour, and then suddenly the engine would go, and the gearshift would change gears, but the wheels wouldn't turn. I knew it was a broken drive shaft before I even got under the truck to have a look. Nope, we weren't going anywhere, and I wasn't going to make my connecting bus to Rio. Pam, needless to say, wasnt pleased. We sat there for three hours in the noon sun waiting for another truck, but eventually one came. We managed to get to Campo Grande with five minutes to spare to catch Pam's bus, so now she's gone, and just an amusing memory buried deep in thoughts of gorgeous scenery, an almost full moon, incredible birds and animals, and the thought that I can now go have a shower before catching the 10 am bus to Rio.

The Pats are in the Super Bowl. YeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeHAH!!!!!!!!!!!



Saturday, January 19, 2002

Camping at the Zoo
Adios Chile, Bienvenidos Paraguay!

Indeed, I have said goodbye to Chile. I continued exploring around Santiago, allowing myself to grow more and more civilized daily. This should stand me in good stead when I return to the States, which is not so long now. No doubt I will start haggling over the price of bananas in Star Market, just out of sheer habit.

Santiago continued to be wonderful, and the Chileans continued to be wonderful, although the edges of incivility crept in. This is when I discovered that I have learned enough Spanish to survive, as measured by the fact that I now know enough Spanish to throw a hissy fit. In fact, I threw a few wobblies, as and when needed. I threw one in Isla Negra when we got three different answers as to where the bus stop was and consequently missed our bus, and I threw two in Santiago. One was when a taxi driver tried to rip me off, but I caught on to what he was doing and started to shout that I was a lawyer, that I knew lawyers here in Santiago, that I knew what he was doing and then started to flag down a about to be passing caribinero. No rip off, and I didn´t even have to pay my fare in the end. The next day, having discovered that if I wore something other than a T shirt with English on it, people stopped speaking to me in English, I also discovered that I knew enough Spanish to understand that the construction workers were saying things that you would expect of construction workers in the States, and I threw a wobbly about that too, although I strongly suspect that the accompanying hand gestures conveyed more than my remarks. Life was conducted with almost no English, and I found myself having to explain over and over and over again that I was not maltreated at home, and in the United States it was not considered unusual for a woman to travel without the company of a boyfriend or husband. In Chile, it seems, this is NOT the case, and although no one questioned me when I was travelling with Emma, travelling alone just seemed to provoke an odd, if caring response in people. They kept trying to pair me off. My landlady in particular took great pains to keep sending other guests of the hotel, who for some reason were all Dutch men, knocking on my door asking if I would like to go to dinner, or whatever. I tried to stay out a lot so this wouldn´t happen, so I didn´t have dinner with any of these guys, but Peer and I did go out to the Concha y Torro vineyard, which was good fun. Particularly the sampling bit at the end. Chilean reds have always been a favorite of mine, and I dare say they are even more so now. I used to prefer Underraga, but Concho y Torro gives it a good run for the money.

I also took the opportunity to go to another of Neruda´s houses, which is in Santiago known as "La Chascona", which means either "Tangle haired woman" or "woman with the messy hair" depending on who you ask. Another place he bought small, and added onto with a ship motif. Initially, he bought it to hide Matilde from his second wife in the years before Matilde became his third wife. Poets, you know. It was an interesting house, again with the art, and the collections of things that made Isla Negra interesting, but it also had for me an unexpected prize - the original manuscripts to "The Captain´s Verses". As I said before, this is the first of Neruda´s works that I read, and my favorite. This amazed the guide, as she said that most people haven´t read it and it is the least popular of his works. But it is (and again, I didn´t know this story) a collection of poems he wrote for Matilde while she was still his mistress, and then as a wedding present he had a box made and engraved for her and gave them to her with the entire collection of originals inside. Not all the poems remain in the box, as some are on display in the library, and some are on display at the Universidade de Chile, but this was an only greater prize for me, as it meant that my favorite one of the poems was on the top of the box, even though it is towards the middle of the book. Right there, written in Spanish, but I knew it enough to translate it immediately. "My struggle is harsh and I return at times with eyes hard from having seen the unchanging earth........" It was, for me, quite an extraordinary moment, made all the more so as it was so unexpected.

I also took the day out to take the funicular railway to the top of what is about the only hill in Santiago, which is an exceptionally flat city. This seems to be a happy day out thing to do for Chilean families. It was quite a beautiful view, and at the top is a huge statute of the virgin, similar to the Corcovado in Rio, only smaller, as befits a smaller hill. There is a huge shrine at the top, with total silence as people come to pray, and the smell of candle wax from lighting candles next to it. A beautiful view. And a good way to say good bye to Chile, as the next day I climed on the bus to Paraguay.

The bus trip was pretty uneventful, even crossing Argentina. We experienced no trouble on the trip, although we were warned that we might expect some. Nothing happened, and the view was mostly of vineyards, sunflower fields and some other crops, but travelling through some towns there was evidence of lots of smashed windows and some burning, which I will assume is riot related. Mostly, it was just reading and after the sun went down, the watching of movies, which were conveniently subtitled for my understanding, with the exception of Barney the Purple Dinosaur in Space, which I was more than happy to skip.

And now I´m here in Asuncion, Paraguay, which is a nice town on the Rio Paraguay. I am camping at the zoo. Why? Because that is where the campground is. You can hear the lions grunt at night, and I was jolted awake this morning by the sound of the elephant trumpeting, but all in all its an exciting place to be. Plus, there is lots of tropical fruit and spicy food, both of which were conspicuously missing throughout Chile. I am eating bananas, mangos and empanadas by the handful. Asuncion still has a pretty military presence, which I take seriously, although I wish I could have taken a photo of siesta time today. Armed guards in front of the Palacio del Gobierno, sleeping on their riot shields, billy clubs next to their heads, flak helmets still on. It was the presence of the awake armed guards giving me the evil eye which stopped me. Its only recently, since the overthrow of Stroessner a few years back that you can even take a picture of the Palacio, so I didnt want to risk anything. Its been annoying that I have been unable to take pictures of things I really wanted to get on this trip - inside La Chascona, these guards, the Tornados flying over Stanley Harbor. Great images I would like to share, but haven´t been able to get.

Anyway, Brasil in a couple days. Looking forward to that.



Thursday, January 10, 2002

The Great Start Homewards
We made it as far as Santiago, which isn`t a bad start, as thats 2500+ clicks northwards of Punta Arenas. This is certainly reflected in the temperature, currently a bask-worthy 38C (upper 90s F) but thankfully not humid and so quite enjoyable even in the middle of the leafy green city. However, with that kind of temp, Emma and I took an overnight detour once we reached Santiago to head to the beach. Particularly, in a desperate bid to add culture to our trip, to Isla Negra, which has one (supposedly the most beautiful) of Pablo Neruda`s homes, also named Isla Negra. In fact, the house was named that before the town. Marketing, its all about marketing. But I have been a fan of Neruda since my Argentine friend gave me a book of his poems in both English and Spanish years ago in my first bid to "learn the language of Cervantes" as the inscription in the book read, and converted Emma some years back as well.

The house (greatly expanded by Neruda over 40 odd years) and its contents, reflecting interests and collections of the poet (and diplomat. I never knew.) is an interesting experience as it actually gives some kind of insight into the personality of the man behind the works, unlike pilgrimages to homes of other writers, like say, Shakespeare. (Anne Hathaway`s cottage in Stratford. Nice glimpse of what life was like in that era, but as to evoking any insight into the personality of Shakey, well, I think not. Hey, nonny nonny. I have this awful feeling I just crushed the spirit of my mother who on her trip to England was quite taken with the old Hathaway place, and brought home all kinds of tea towels and the like with the house emblazoned on it, which I found odd as apart from one college course she took while I was in school I don`t think I`ve ever seen her read, watch or discuss Shakespeare. But she _loved_ the Hathaway cottage.) Its quite obvious from Neruda`s poetry (I have not yet read "The Heights of Macchu Pichu", which I consider to be a profound moral failing of mine while being on this trip, but I intend to rectify it quick smart. The Captain`s Verses is where I started, and where I always seem to return.) that there are high elements against violence, although highly political and advocating struggle where necessary, and of course all over the place, love, love, love. And not in the romantic hearts and flowers and little peeping birdies sense, but in an obvious, passionate, whoa nelly, easy tiger fashion. The house brings this well into focus. If he hadn`t been a poet, he would have been the town eccentric. In fact, even as a poet he may still have been the town eccentric. A man in love with the sea, so much so that there is a ship motif to the entire house, but who couldn`t sail and never did. Called himself the "Captain of Dry Land". It goes so far as to have a small dory used as an outdoor bar, up on an outcropping maybe 20m above the sea, never put in the water by Neruda. A beautiful, gorgeous house, great architecture, and a study complete with view that were I to own such a thing, I too would be a Nobel laureat poet. Inspiring doesn`t begin to describe it. Crammed full of color, figures from the bows of ships, insects and butterflies on pins, and seashells, with teeney doors and curved low ceilings to recreate that "look we`re on a ship" feel. Lines from his poems are carved all over the place, and interestingly for objects in the yard where other museums would have a sign saying "this anchor was made in blah, and was used for blah, and blah blah blah" they instead have copies of poems Neruda wrote about things, as there is an entire volume of his autobiography (dictated from his bed at Isla Negra while dying of prostate cancer) about the place. Unique.

Having sufficiently educated ourselves for a day, with pieces of intellecutual fat to chew on, Emma and I descended to the beach and watched the tide come in, always a wonderful way to pass the time. The Pacific water is still quite cool, what with the Humbolt current and all that. There is a colony of penguins just up the coast about 5 kilometers. They are not warm water birds. Emma stuck her toe in the Pacific, but not much more of herself. Emma, it turns out, is a warm water bird. Sunbathe, yes, waterbathe, no.

The return to Santiago was a sad one, as it was now time to throw Emma on a plane back to London to return to the natural grind that is a Cambs scientific institute in February. Brrrrrrrrrrrrr. I`m relieved to note, with my impending flying again in a couple of weeks, that security on these flights is still tight. After chucking Emma off to the perils of the British winter, I got a good night`s sleep in my room (after weeks of rooming in hostels with lord knows how many other people or at the very least sharing with Emma, I have a room all to myself. Its clean and charming, but can best be described as "cozy". It in in fact under the stairs, but not quite as Harry Potterish as it sounds, as they are small stairs to an attic or something, the door is to the front of the stairs, not closing me in at the side of them, and there is a nice big window in the room so it feels quite airy and cool even in the heat. The bed fits between the stairs and the window and there is just enough room on the floor for my backpack.) and am now exploring Santiago.

Santiago is a wonderful city. Beautiful, clean, well organized, efficient, highly cultured. And the Santiagans (Santiagoians? The people who live here.) are a beautiful, clean, well organized, efficient and highly cultured people. Its a fabulous place to be, but the whole thing is so desperately, desperately civilized that exploring it makes me want to rebel and be profoundly wicked. It evokes in me a similar feeling always brought on by a friend of mine. This friend is English, parTICularly English in his behaviour and as if that weren`t civilized enough, (I do know lots of English people, of varying degrees of civility) he`s also a highly responsible, no doubt heading for partnership City tax lawyer, the epitome of intelligence, atheleticism, wit, charm, handsomness, kindness, organization, ettiquette and civility. He`s a wonderful, dear friend, and a wonderful, dear person for whom I would hurl myself in front of a train for should the need ever arise (this thought makes me smile as it highlights how different our personalities are. I am all in your face passion on the sleeve, hurl myself in front of the train if necessary; he is the one who would find the way for it not to be necessary to hurl oneself under the train), but I can only have dinner with him every so often and in the company of others as to be in his presence for more than a couple of hours produces within my soul an extrordinarily deep and profound urge to reach across the dinner table, grab him by the impeccably knotted tie and corrupt him six ways from Sunday just to see what is lurking underneath the outside layers. One of these days I will no doubt succumb, but the thought of losing the friendship (since he would be so shocked he`d never speak to me again) halts me in my tracks. Santiago does the same thing. I think I am a good and certainly a responsible person, and am thoroughly enjoying my time here, heading off tomorrow to one of Neruda`s other houses, enjoying the museums and the changing of the guard (again tomorrow. I went today, but it is only every other day. How terribly organized, but those guards must get jolly tired.), but watching everyone be so neat and orderly all the time makes me have to supress the urge to spraypaint graffiti across the Palacio de Moneda that says "Pinochet`s a dink" or do something equally upsetting to the populace at large. Thankfully, the desperately civilizing presence of a lot of carabineros keeps me on the straight and narrow. The "deterrance" theory, I believe criminologists call it. This neat, orderly society is to my mind the reason why Chile has produced so many artists and writers of note. I mean, they have two Nobel laureates for literature in Neruda and Mistral, and I have actually read both of them, which is pretty amazing in and of itself. I am not sure I can even name two other Nobel laureates for literature, whatever country they come from. Its the civilized way to rebel, and such arts are encouraged in high society, and without question cherished in Chilean society. Culture produces the arts in its refinement as its form of wantonness. This is also my theory, even though I have never been to Switzerland, why the country so famed for safe banking and precise timekeeping is also famous for decadent chocolate, even though no cocoa beans are grown within 4000 miles of Switzerland, and of course a proliferation of cuckoo clocks. Precise timekeeping, but take a gander at the housing. Maybe this is even why I write so much, its my own form of rebellion. I have received a lot of praise for it, even just for writing letters and emails, and these accounts of my trip, although I can`t quite understand why as at its core its just "I went here, I saw that, these Brasilian people gave me a big shiny silver medal for having fun and then some very nice porters carried me down a hillside in Peru when I got the snuffles." There have been quite a few emails sent to me stating I should write a book. That`s the plan, folks, that`s the plan. The two unfinished novels shelved away in order to go get yet another law degree, since a girl can never have too many law degrees, will someday be finished, but first this travelogue gets written up and if I still like it I`ll even try to have it published. Besides, with all those law degrees, it did occur to me that writing a book about the thing and trying to get it published makes the whole venture a tax deductible business expense.

I will no doubt write more about the joys of Santiago, and will try to remain civilized which will no doubt get easier the further removed I am from the physical challenges of Patagonia and the fleshpots of the Falkland Islands, but the other big challenge at the moment is to keep heading north, and a bit east to get back to Rio and fly home to challenge my bank manager and the Child Support Agency. This seems like it should be easy but there is the growing physical obstacle of Argentina. The situation continues to worsen (I picked up a copy of last week`s Newsweek today which had the Argy crisis as its cover story. Even they called it a disaster and its so outdated that they have Saa just being inaugurated. Things have gotten far worse since then. Its currently three presidents later.), and the more Argentines I talk to (I keep running into them in places, and I`m asking as many questions as my limited spanish will allow.) the worse it seems. I was really looking forward to being in Buenos Aires, etc, but no way do I want to do that at this time. Despite all the people in Brasil asking me if I was Argentinian, people in Chile know better and frequently greet me in English, what little of it they know in the corner shops and things, so its patently obvious to me that I am easily recognized as a foreigner. Foreigners down here mean someone who had enough money to get here in the first place, so the presumption is that you`ve got enough money to be worth robbing. Not what I came on holiday for, although my ever faithful secretary did send me off with the second guide to Worst Case Scenarios, which does cover what to do during civil unrest, although the first bit of advice is to stay out of trouble spots. But what is between Santiago and Rio? The bulk of Argentina. I actually had my first full "I want to come home now" homesickness attack while trying to figure out what comes next, and the thought of just jetting out of Santiago seemed peachy, but a bit of planning now has me staying here for a few days and then catching one of two weekly buses to Ascension, Paraguay. Granted this will take me across a large part of Argy, but I plan to just not get off the bus for 30 hours. A brief bit of exploring as i make my way across Paraguay (which is apparently, I have gathered, a real hotspot for Hamas, so the Israelis don`t go there in the way Americans don`t go to Columbia. But its quite safe for Americans, and almost anyone else. Who knew? Ok, the Israelis, but not me.), cross over into Brasil at Foz de Iguacu, and make my way up the coast, flying out of either Sao Paulo or Rio (I will arrange a ticket once I hit Brasil. It seems to be next to impossible to get a ticket out of a country if you aren`t in it at the time, and Orbitz won`t let me price tickets not originating in the USA.) in amazingly just a couple of weeks time - the end of January or the wee beginning of Feb.

There has been a request that I take a webcam to my visit with my bank manager when I get back to Boston. I will see what I can do.

Much love to you all,


Saturday, January 05, 2002

The Silly Season Down South
We have obviously hit the silly season in our travels. Its summertime down here, so I suppose that the timing is just right, but it seems to have worked anyway. Emma and I are both so relaxed (Emma is sleeping a minimum of 10 hours a day, so how could she not be?) and just taking in all the sights, that I suppose we have gone a little soft in the head. The start of all this was the expedition to The Miladon Cave (La Cueva del Milodon). This is a cave in between Puerto Natales and Torre del Paine, and pretty much a mandatory stop. I wasn`t overjoyed to be going - from what I had heard in town I thought it would be tackier than all get it. There are a series of three caves, and in the largest about 100 years ago someone found extrarodinarily well preserved skin of what turned out to be a milodon, or giant sloth. Since the skin was so well preserved, there was a lot of speculation that someone had in fact found a _live_ milodon, and various expeditions set out from London came down to Patagonia to find one, but to no avail as many many years later carbon dating revealed that the skin was a few thousand years old to say the least, and that Clarence Birds Eye was onto something when he perfected modern day deep freezing, as it was a natural deep freeze in the cave which had preserved the skin in such good condition. Despite this history, which I find interesting enough, I was uninterested as what you see in town are just signs and models everywhere of milodons, which are not particularly attractive creatures. Picture a sloth. Now picture one 10 feet tall. Not pretty, eh? But never mind, if its mandatory you`ve got to go, so we did. The cave itself was fabulous, and very interesting. Its a huge cave, I won`t even guess how high or how wide, an interesting geological phenomonon, and great views, so when you throw in the history that they have been able to piece in there as well, its worth the trip out. But for Emma the piece de resistance was the plastic life sized model replica of the milodon which stands at the mouth of the cave. The girl has lost it. There is now a t-shirt with dancing milodons (strategically bought to have a clean shirt after camping, which is at least cunning), there is a ceramic model milodon, there are postcards sent home of the milodons, patches for the backpack. There is also a dance of the milodons, which seems to have been modeled on the oh so famous website. This was not the first, but certainly the strongest indicator of our decent into silliness.

Again, silliness can combine with stupidity to produce interesting results. It was a long bus ride to Argentina. Our only reading material was Millbrooks "The Falklands War, 1982". A very interesting book, but since the Argys are still laying claim to "Las Islas Malvinas", maybe not the most cunning thing to bring. It was conveniently left on the bus at the border crossings, along with giggly whispers to "not mention the war". While a thorough and detailed military history, having been to the Falklands it is quite hysterical. There are interviews with people that we met, and the attitudes and actions just make us shake our heads and say "yes, that`s the Falklands for you." My personal favorite is the two little old ladies on South Georgia who, when called up to confirm that they know what is going on, play "Land of Hope and Glory" as loud as they can down the phone to their Argentine captors.

But by the end of a long day of travel, bored to tears with our busride and very very hungry (I was anxiously awaiting my chacerero), it just turned into kids in the back of the bus, singing every camp song we could possibly remember, much to the amusement of our Japanese traveling companions.

But now we are here, back at the Magellanic Strait, gearing up to head north and eventually (some more eventually than others) to home. There is shopping to be done, as of course family back home wants pressies and things (good lord, what do you people want? All we know is we have to bring back giftage, but what for crying out loud, WHAT???????? Answers via email please.) and there is a really good chocolate shop, and of course laundry (oh, clean clothes. Hiking is great fun, but man I am ready for a new shirt myself. It will not have milodons on it.) It was like coming home to come back to our hostel again, and we were greeted quite enthusiastically by the owners. If only it will hold out. I clambered out of my top bunk this morning, didn`t quite get to the floor and somehow tripped in midair, laying flat on the floor with one leg splayed across the bottom bunk. The guy who up to that point had been sleeping comparitively peacefully until some chick fell on him was quite understanding about it, but still. I may have changed on this trip, but its reassuring to know that clumsiness never goes away.



New Years in the Horns of Paine
I had been looking forward to trekking Parque Nacionale Torre del Paine since I first saw it last year on a National Geographic travel special (in the last year, the travel channels have held special fascination. That and episodes of "The Wild Thornberrys" on Nickelodeon. They both always seemed to be tuned to a place I was going, or in the case of Malaysia, have been.). If you read any travelogue, guidebook or website about Chile, you¨ll be pretty much guaranteed to see photos of Torre del Paine, at least part of it. Beautiful, UNESCO protected site, and lots of distinguishing features, from the actual Torres del Paine ("Towers of Paine", large needle pointy type mountains), the Cuernos del Paine ("Horns of Paine", more carved, wider mountains, and my personal fave raves as mountains go), and the Glacier Gray, which drops icebergs off into Lago Gray (Lake Gray). All this, and you can hike around it in four days, which as we all have discovered I love to do. Emma had said on the Falklands how keen she was to be going on the trek, and so geared up with food (still more peanut butter and jelly, which I am rapidly starting to associate with the holidays in an almost Pavolovian fashion), we set off on New Year´s Eve. I was pumped. More trekking! Emma was excited! Some trekking! And by the time we got to the campsite, I was still pumped and Emma was a bit relieved that we could set our bags down, set up the tent, leave 97% of our gear there and wander off up to Mirador Torre del Paine. Granted, I wouldn´t have wanted to be doing that particular trail with a full pack, but since we didn´t have to, never mind. After hiking through gorgeous, mystical forest filled with orchids and fields of daisys, and giant woodpeckers (the whole thing had a real feeling of Switzerland about it, which is odd as I have never been to Switzerland) for about two hours, we burst out onto a huge climb of scree and started making our way up it, and we could see the lightly covered in cloud Torres up above us. The view was going to be fantabulous, or at least it would be if the cloud cleared. But the cloud didn´t clear, and in fact it got worse, and in fact it started to rain. Not exceptionally hard, but hard enough when you have no cover and are either going straight up or straight down rather loose rocks. Since we wouldn´t be able to see anything anyway, we took the better part of valor and headed back. The rain stopped quickly after we got into the forest (Torre del Paine weather- wait five minutes and it will change), but the cloud cover just got heavier and heavier, so we gave up viewing Las Torres from that particular angle and headed back to the campsite, had a lovely jubbly PBJ and chocolate dinner and went to bed, crashing out around 8. I, overcompensating for the temperature in what I wore to bed, woke up just before midnight and clambered out of the tent to wish the new year in by cooling the heck down. Emma, on the other hand, woke up when I came back in and was freezing. Body heat compensated (oh, get your mind out of the gutter, please!). I felt truly bad for her, I really did, until the next day when I found out/realized that in her lack of knowledge (I felt I had tried to pass mine on, but obviously had failed in this cause) that a) the sleeping bag she brought, thinking hers would have been too heavy, was too short and too thin, and b) she was sleeping in nothing but a t-shirt ,knickers and a hat. I, on the other hand, in my comfy down extra long sleeping bag, was tucked up in two pairs of socks, warm racing tights, a tshirt, a fleece and the infamous wool CRI hat (thanks again Jane!) and was so hot I could have baked an apple pie on my nose. Still, live and learn, and this is how one learns. We packed everything up to head off on the second day of the trek, and Emma was just miserable. Poor thing. Her boots weren´t waterproof, and the wet was giving her blisters. Plus, the hiking just threw into relief for her the fact (unknown to me) that she had done no exercise for the year and as such was not fit enough for the task at hand, whereas between the Chapada Diamintina, the Inca Trail, and now, I was ready to just about run through the entire park, pack or no. Her entire body ached, the pack felt too heavy and the shoes were giving her pain. I caved. Partly because I am kind at heart, and partly for the pure selfishness of not wanting to spend the next three days in a small tent with someone so obviously miserably unhappy, particularly not one of my closest friends. I suggested we go home and return the next day. This was a delight to her. I knew that there were companies running day tours (long ones) out of Puerto Natales to the major sites of the park, and while it would not be anything like the same thing, I would still get to see what I wanted to see, and Emma would be happy. So that´s what we did. We saw more while hiking, even the only two days we did do, but it was so much easier on Emma who was so stiff it wasn´t that easy for her to get through the day tour in the van!

The wildlife on offer is wonderful, and abundant. Plenty of condors (I had hoped to see some in Peru, but to no avail. But there are loads and loads of condors down here, gliding about on thermals. I was recalling everything Mauro had told me about them and their place in Inca theology on the Inca Trail.) Guanacos (like llamas, but looking fawn colored and not so shaggy) are plentiful, and we also saw quite a few nandu, which are rheas/ostriches, including one flock of a mama nandu and lots of nandu chicks. The chicks were about 5 feet tall. That is one big chick! Or seven of them, to be exact. Flamingos in the lakes (not many, but I did see two lots.), loads of hawks, giant scarlet headed woodpeckers, skunks (from a distance, absolutely. They´re big.), black necked swans, the whole lot. And of course Las Torres and Los Cuernos. I was initially a bit grim as Los Cuernos kept being covered in cloud at the peak, but when we got to Lago Gray to view the icebergs, which are blown right down to the edge of the lake, so that if you see the bergs, you really don´t get a chance to see the glacier, so you have to take your pick, it suddenly in the space of about five minutes all blew clear and I have what should be completely fabby dabby photos of the icebergs, Las Torres and Los Cuernos all together. Bliss, sheer bliss. I wanted to pitch my tent right there and camp out for a night or seven, but no go. I shall return, and I shall trek more. I don´t blame Emma. She did what she could and we still had a fabulous time.

But having a little extra time, what with not doing all those days of silly trekking, we booked in (as I mentioned) for a day trip to Argentina to see the Perito Moreno Glacier. My worries (which I researched the heck out of to make sure all was safe) about civil unrest were completely unfounded in this part of the world. The trip out to the Parque Nacionale de Los Glacieres goies through such remote wilderness that you can travel about 40 miles without seeing a house. And at the end of those 40 miles, that is what you will see. One house. They couldn´t put enough people together for a good civil unrest riot in this part of the country if they tried. So no worries on that front. (Not like what is coming up. I am still supposed to cross Argentina in about two weeks as I make my way back to Rio. It has been announced that as of tomorrow the peso will be devalued about 30% and instead of being pegged to the US dollar will instead be allowed to float on the free market. I am gravely concerned, and prepared to completely revise my travel plans on a moments notice, but I sitll have about 10 days in Chile before having to decide. But I digress.) We were, as it turned out, in more danger from the Glacier. This may sound odd, as in how can someone be in danger of something that only moves a meter a day? I will tell you. The glacier, which happens to be 300km long, (I forget how wide. Its very wide as well.) is about 80m high (this is significantly higher than the Gray Glacier, although they both stem off from the Helios Campos Sur - the Southern Ice Field) where it reaches Largo Argentino. If you stand and watch it for longer than five minutes, you will witness easily icebergs calving off the main glacier and into the lake. Now, you´re at enough of a distance that the bergs seem quite small, but that is from 100m away. You used to be able to get closer, but between 1968 and 1988 32 people died from being whacked with large chunks of ice that fell several meters away from the glacier, or alternately were splashed out of the lake when other chunks of ice calved off. So in the interests of good press, the nacional park now keeps people at a safer distance.

The glacier is incredibly beautiful, massive walls of ice, the field of the glacier, the icebergs launching themselves off. Sadly for you though, words really can´t describe it. Luckily for you though, pictures can start. I will show them when I get home, I promise.

Off now to the Straits of Magellan for the last time, and then to start, amazingly, the slow trip northwards to home. Amazing to think, innit?

Happy new year, all.



Wednesday, January 02, 2002

As Shepards Watched Their Penguins By Night
Ah, English, my mother tongue. The ability to communicate fluently. To speak and be understood. To be spoken to and to understand. I hadn´t realized the full extent of how I missed this until now, when I have returned to Chile from the Falklands and even getting a bed for the night is a linguistic challenge, made all the greater by not having done it for a week.

But in the Falklands, everyone speaks English. And you don´t have to negotiate for a bed for the night, because if you fly in, you have to have already arranged a place to stay. Otherwise, you aren´t allowed in. Our bus from Mt. Pleasant Airport was delayed while a German man who had been on our plane but been unaware of this rule had phone calls made on his behalf to see if there was a place for him to stay, or else he was going to have to be put back on the plane. We were sorted through the joy of Emma´s having emailed Falklands House and we were installed in the cheapest bed and breakfast in Stanley. Cheap being a relative term. The two of us had spent four days in Chile for less than it would cost us to spend one night in the Falklands but hey, you do what you have to.

It was all worth it. Emma and I have fallen totally in love with the place. Its hard to explain why. The scenery is quite rugged and beautiful, and yet its starkly bare. There are no trees on the Falklands, with the exception of about four in Stanley which have been planted there years ago and nutured with the utmost care. I am serious. NOT ONE TREE. Not even a shrubbery. Just grass and diddle dee and tussock lumps in the fields. There are a lot of fields, as the primary industry of the Falklands is sheep farming. There are over three quarters of a million sheep on the Falklands. Not that you would notice this just driving around. This is because to support that many sheep requires a lot of land. The land is poor, and in a reverse of the usual "how many sheep per acre" you find in other countries, here is two or three acres per sheep, which is what it takes to sustain them. I have learned a lot about sheep and sheep farming this week. Revelling in my communication capabilities "lookatme! I am an intelligent human being!" I chatted to everyone about everything. Particularly the sheep shearers.

The shearers are an interesting lot. They´re an integral part of the island, there being about 20 of them and going to most if not all the farms. But they´re a transient part, being in the islands for about three months a year and as such people in town know who they are, but they´re their own subgroup. Basically, in the Falklands you have four groups of people. There are the shearers, who I have mentioned, the contract people, who come out for about 2 years on some sort of professional contract to monitor fish stocks or be solicitors (hey, I could do that. In fact, I just might. I would be oh so sorely tempted.) or conservationists or whatever and then go home, the squaddies (known as the "one eyes" since they tend to have lots of stories that go "when I did this, when I did that" - say it with a broad English accent and you´ll get the joke) from Mt. Pleasant, of which there are about 300 more than the entire rest of the population of the Falklands put together, and the Falkland Islanders, known as the Bennys, as when the squaddies arrived after the 1982 war and found everyone wearing wool hats, they thought they looked like Benny from "Crossroads". The name still sticks, and as with anything else in the Falklands (the "focklines") there isn´t any malice in it at all. In fact, I have never met a friendlier bunch of people. Anywhere. Ever. This isn´t just in connection with the rampant hitting on I mentioned in my last email. This is just in the day to day associations you come across. You meet someone, and the next day you´ll see them in the street, they remember you and go to great pains to say hello and make you feel comfortable. It was a great feeling to go to the races on Boxing Day (not Christmas Day as I thought) and just know loads and loads of people. Walking around town, you´d get waved at by most people driving past, people in the shops knew your name, it was wonderful. Its easy to fit in, and all in all everyone´s happy to meet someone knew, so long as you aren´t Argentinian (who are not actually allowed in the country, so they´ll never see the sign in a window by Stanley Harbor that says "Argentines - we will allow you in our country as soon as you recognize our right to self determination.".)

It could also be a little embarrassing. Christmas Eve, Emma and I went down to the pub. A little reluctantly, it has to be said, as we knew there would be excess of all fashion. "Its like dressing for battle", commented Emma as we were getting ready. But after a beer in the Rose, where we met Aaron, who owns the bus company that ferried us in from Mt. Pleasant, and his girlfriend and her parents bought us a couple of drinks, and feeling social, all six of us went off down to the Victory Bar, which is the happening place in town (the Globe being a close run second). All Christmas cheer was breaking out all over at the Victory, everyone wanted to buy us a Christmas drink, a chap named Craig particularly wanted to buy Emma one, and at one point late in the evening I went up to the bar to get a round in and came back to find Emma, um, well, how to say this, sucking his lips off his face. A few minutes later, she was gone for the evening. Huzzah for Emma and merry Christmas to her, but the problem was she had gone with the keys to our room in her pocket. I was rescued by one of the shearers, and in a version of events I am trying to convince myself is the new millennium version of staying in a stable with shepards on Christmas Eve, spent the night in a bunkhouse with five other shearers, all of whom unfortunately woke up before I left, which required a little explaining as to my presence. Since we were renting a car on Christmas, and had been asked if we could pick it up early so as not to interfere with Christmas Day too much, I knew Emma would be back by 8:30, so I got home then. My landlady found this most amusing, congratulated me and Emma and I headed off in the car, trying again for Volunteers Point, armed with a Christmas lunch of juice, sweets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We tried, and again we failed. First of all, I allowed Emma to get directions to Johnson´s Harbor, the kicking off point for hiking to Volunteer´s Point. This was our first mistake. It turns out that Emma is useless with directions, so after one turning ("I think that´s it, but there wasn´t any mention of a gate"), and another ("Look, Emma, I´m telling you, this isn´t a road, its Land Rover track") I commandeered direction (easy to do if you´re at the wheel of the car) and headed into the tourist authority to grab a map. Then occurred mistake number two - letting Emma be the one to read the map. We did eventually make it out to Johnson´s Harbor in the end, and it took quite a while as the roads in the Falklands are treacherous beyond belief. I realize this is hard to comprehend, particularly when you consider that the speed limit is only 40 mph, but seeing as a) the high winds are a real gale force to contend with, b) the roads aren´t paved once you get out of Stanley, they´re all gravel, and c) we had one of about three cars in the whole Falklands that was not a Land Rover. We had a Citroen Xantia. Who knows why someone would rent this out to tourists, but they did. We know for next time. The MPA to Stanley road has signs all over it pointing out that the road is incredibly dangerous, and that 7 people have died and 186 been injured from the base recently on that road. Also, and this was the case when we set out, but we didn´t know what it meant or why, if the winds are up or weather is bad, the military will restrict the road, which means that military personnel aren´t allowed to travel on it as it is too unsafe. Yeah, it was a heck of a drive. But we finally got to Johnson´s Harbor, where you have to call in to the farm and get permission to go across their land. It was Christmas. All three houses in the settlement had gone into Stanley for the day and for Christmas dinner. No go on the Volunteer´s Point hike. So we sat, watched the harbor, ate our sandwiches, turned back out the road (opening and closing the gates to the sheep paddocks as we went on) and decided to keep on keeping on to Goose Green, which is a pretty little spot, and also the sight of a big Falklands War battle, not to mention the Argentinian cemetary. But by that point it was starting to get grey, so we looked, we noticed that again everyone was in Stanley except for the sheep (who were wandering through the middle of Goose Green, on what is presumably the Green) so we headed home and off to bed, waiting for the races the next day.

As I said, the races were great. Everyone knew us, the horses are exceptionally fine for working horses, the course is short (maximum race is 800 yards), but everyone is out. The army is in from MPA, the famers are in from the farm, and of course its at the back of Stanley, so everyone from town is there. Leaving Emma to chat to Craig for a minute, I wandered into the bar to get us a drink and this humongous cheer went up from a table at the left, filled with people I had met the previous couple of days. It turns out there are a lot of rumors in the Falklands going around about my spending the night in the shearer´s bunkhouse. Now, normally, I would find this sort of thing incredibly humiliating and not show my face in town ever ever again. But it became apparent very quick that again, there was no malice in it, its just a small town, and gossip is a staple of the diet. No one believes 90% of it, which is why it gets more and more outrageous as it goes on. Also, I think that even if I had done all that it was rumored I had, no one would actually have cared in the slighest. Just something to talk about, and that sort of thing is needed in a place where there are only two television stations (British Forces Television, and for reasons as yet fully unexplained, a Brasilian cable music channel), and the radio is the source for all non gossip information. (True news story while we were there. A cow wandered into a minefield. The army went to try to get it out. The cow went deeper into the minefield. Last we heard, the army were still trying to get it out.). In fact, the radio is also the source for gossip information, as the radio dedication show from 11 to 2 has all kinds of people taking the mick out of each other in all kinds of ways.

We did make it out to Volunteers in the end on the day after Boxing Day, having met the people from Johnson´s Harbor at the races and cleared up what we needed to do. Got the Citroen out to Johnsons, and then started to hoof it, but caught a lift for the last 8 miles. It was nice we got a lift, and it was good for them that they gave us one, as we experienced the typical Falklands experience, getting bogged down in a Range Rover, which involved a lot of pulling, pushing, and diddle dee branches for traction to get us out. Having picked up two strong lasses to throw their weight behind the axle worked well for them. Volunteers was well worth all the effort. Loads of Magellanic penguins, although we had seen plenty before, and over 300 breeding pairs of King Penguins (which are beautiful and regal and have a call that sounds like a car alarm, only slightly less jarring) and even more than that number of breeding pairs of Gentoo penguins, who are quite cartoonish in the way they walk, rolling around like Weebles. Chicks were everywhere, penguins were everywhere, the beach was crystal clear, the sheep were wandering about doing what they do (since there are 14,000 sheep on the farm there) and it was a glorious day. We got back into town, went out and socialized again, and then it was time to start planning what we were going to do on our last day. Mostly, we just stayed in Stanley, since we had returned the car, but Stanley is a great town, and since we now knew most people, even friendlier. We couldn´t stand to leave, but the small town feel didn´t leave us for ages. We took the bus out to MPA, and of course Aaron was driving, chatting away to us in line. We knew half (at least) the people on the plane with us, the immigration official, the customs inspector, the person who checked in our luggage and the security person. So it was less like taking an international flight and more like taking the school bus, as you could chat away happily. Its a great place. We´re already plotting a return in two years.

Later peeps. Happy Christmas, and may the new year be all you have wished for.

Peace, love and faith,

Anne xoxoxox

Next installment: New Years in Torre del Paine

Asia on $1.50 total, or alternate title "Only Mad Dogs and Fake Englishwomen"

The bank troubles continue apace, even here in Asia. Despite re-opening my account a month ago, I have so far managed to not get my ATM/Mastercard, a PIN number or checkbooks (nor can I access my on-line banking without the number from the front of the not yet received ATM card) from my bank despite repeated phone calls, visits to the local branch, etc. I'm currently travelling on the good graces of a few friends, and continue to try to sort it all out, which everytime it looks like its going to happen, doesn't. I literally arrived in Hong Kong with US$1.50 in my possession, and no way to access any other funds in my name. Although, this time (like every other time) the bank is promising me they'll sort it out. In fact, the situation has now risen to a standard that I have a special phone number, special people with special powers to help me (as in, the old non-special people weren't authorized to send me anything in say, Canada or even San Francisco since that wasn't the mailing address on the account, but now that I'm so darlingly special they are Fedexing me my card and a temporary PIN to me here in Hong Kong, plus giving me yet another month of free high class banking.) All in all, it says something about racism and appearance in its way. Technically, almost all countries require that foreigners entering their borders show that they have certain things, which generally means 1) a valid passport, 2) a ticket out of there at some point, and 3) "sufficient" funds or proof thereof. In practice, you will always be asked for 1, frequently asked for two, and if you're a relatively clean cut looking white girl who's got a nice, posh English accent when she's nervous you'll never be asked for the third. Which explains why I was allowed to enter with only the aforementioned US$1.50. Had I been a little scruffier (I'm sure after the 17 hour trip I wasn't looking so perky, perky, perky), dreadlocks, or was black or summat, there would have been questions. As it was, I walked up to the counter, handed the guy my passport, he did some flipping and some scanning of it, put in a stamp and the entire transaction was handled without a word.

So how have I survived so far? How did I get across Canada, through SF, into Hong Kong with no money and no card? Well, for starters I didn't leave the house with no money. But since I was supposed to be getting the old ATM card in Canada, I didn't have so much cash as carrying cash around is asking for it to be lost or stolen. And expenses have been minimal. I got the train tickets, and then in Vancouver stayed with my cousin, which was lovely (she is lovely, and so is Vancouver.), stayed the night in Seattle with my boyfriend's sister (also lovely, if initially a little nerve wracking since I am so terrified of meeting new people, but she put me right at ease.) and then in San Fransisco with my friend James ("Leroy" - for those of us in the know) Steele, who kept taking me for meals, etc as my first task on arriving in SF was to help him move apartments! Worked for both of us - he got big strong thighs to help schlep boxes and sofas up and down stairs, I got a lot of free food, a good friend to hang out with, and guided tours around SF and Marin from the back of a motorbike.

Now, I am the first to admit I am not someone who should be allowed to drive a motorcycle (neither am I the type of person who should be allowed to own a gun, but that's not really relevant here), but apparently I am precisely the sort of person who should be allowed to ride pillion on a motorcycle. Jim kept raving that I was the best passenger he'd ever had, which suprised me as 1) I didn't realize there was a talent to it, and 2) I would have thought I would have been at a disadvantage due to my large mass. The general consensus is that its the great balance I have from rowing, a thought which I am sure would come to anyone who's ever seen me stumble my way down the street, but though I stumble I rarely fall, so maybe there's more to that than at first appearance. At any rate, that's my story and I'm sticking with it. Across the Golden Gate Bridge at midnight on the back of the bike was a heck of a way to be welcomed to SF. I enjoyed the city, and also managed to hook up with my friend Victoria who in working it out I suddenly realized I hadn't actually seen in 14 years which came as rather a shock to us both. She's well, and we'd stayed in contact enough that while there was certainly news to catch up on, there weren't any great earth-shattering developments apart from the photos of her brother (my prom date!)'s wedding, which were interesting. I knew about the wedding, but the photos were quite funny, as the bride while obviously a lovely gal has a knack for looking just the wrong way when Vic takes a photo (I have the same issue with my friend Emma.) so there's an interesting side light there. Anyway.......

Kit worked with the airline to get my ATM card Fedexed to me at the airport in SF, but it all went horribly pear-shaped and didn't happen. More phone calls (hey, its one way to kill time waiting for your plane) to arrange things including Jim Steele saying "why didn't you tell me you only had $1.50 - I would have given you some cash!") and Kit wiring me $100 to HK to tide me over til the card arrives (which I now have so the situation isn't so dramatic as it was when I arrived), and I hopped on the plane, valium free (ok, so it was in my jacket pocket just in case) and acupuncture pressballed up. The flights were interesting. The cops met the plane in Tokyo as some guy apparently swapped seats and felt up a 10 year old, which is an international no-no, and Tokyo Airport was fun as it is currently a temple to Japan's new religion - World Cup 2002. TVs were everywhere, and everyone was glued to the games, switching channels every few seconds in an attempt to watch all games simultaneously, and then whap I was here in HK, complete with dodgy tum from the rather turbulent flight since the weather here is intermittent thunderstorms. And hot! Hot, hot, hot! After "I'll just put on another sweatshirt with my fleece, shall I?" Vancouver and San Francisco, the 30C temp and 91% humidity is sucking the life out of me, and I've remembered that the key to coping is lots and lots of water. My hair has responded by attempting to have a holiday of its own, and has been severely reprimanded and put in pigtails, which makes me look like a giant five year old, but at least keeps it out of my face.

I'm staying with Peng and Guan, friends of mine (via my friend Lian) who I met in Malaysia, who are now here working as lawyers for the Securities and Futures Commission. I'm angling for a tour of the stock exchange, but in the meantime am exploing on my own for a couple of days. I have my Octopus card, which is a mass transit card with a microchip in it which deducts the fare everytime you hop on or off the subway, ferry, bus, etc. Its all a bit high tech waving the thing around, but its handy and the fares are cheaper if you use it than if you pay cash, soooooooooooooo.

Speaking of ferries, I'm hopping one to Kowloon right now. Time for touristy phototaking to begin!

More as I get back into the swing of travelling, and of course as events warrant. In the meantime, I'm contemplating writing a book on how to see Asia on a severely restricted budget!