Thursday, November 5, 2009
- Having a facial expressions and pantomime "conversation" with an old beggar in Coyhaique. Him making fun of Uri who was reading the guide book (making an eyeglasses motion several times, and mock-reading his hands), me complaining about how heavy the Chilean coins are (seriously, why so heavy? What's the point?), and other random stuff. 4-5 minutes, 0 words.
- The explanation for why the city is called San Carlos de Bariloche in some random tourist brochure in the hostel: San Carlos to commemorate some Carlos dude who did something, and 'Bariloche'. Well, thanks, guys, that helps a lot... I did find out eventually that, like most names in that area, the origin of the name is native- more specifically, mapuche.
Friday, October 9, 2009
I didn't do much in El Bolson. I visited the market, had some great ice cream and beer (I remember that dark beer very fondly. Through the mists of memory, deceiving as they may be, it seems like it's a candidate for best beer I've ever had. And that's saying something), and went up to a mountain called Piltriquitron to check out the Bosque Tallado: a small patch of burnt down forest that was sculpted by some local artists into about 30 tree sculptures, some still attached by their roots.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
I think we were caught off guard, and didn't quite know how to deal with Coyhaique. I'm not really sure what we even did there besides internet, window shopping (jeje) and eating ice cream. We were also staying with an especially apathetic (should I say passive aggressive?) family in the hospedaje (in the Aysen Region there were barely any hostels, it's mostly families who rent out rooms in their house by the night. I should write more about that later...) our first night, so we didn't enjoy it that much. But just the fact that there's a city in that setting, so cut off from the rest of Chile (the only way to get to Coyhaique without a boat/ferry ride is through Argentina) was a cool thing to see.
The Cerro Castillo trek, besides being in a beautiful area and the pleasant company I did it with, was also made more fun by the complications and the hardship, not to mention the danger. And I should add to the pot the fact that it's less traveled (I'd like to say that's important only because of the quiet and aloneness and ability to do whatever you want, but let's face it- the desire to be different plays a part) and you've got probably the best trek I've done.
But the complications, the badly marked trails, the places where you just identify the destination and walk there in whatever way seems right to you, Ohad's fall into the river and the rock that rolled down from behind me are all things that added to the trek. Part of that is the solitude, the distance from the “real” world, and the wild and untamed feeling (after all, the tamed quality of the Torres Del Paine National Park bothered me). But a meaningful part of it was that it was hard.
The fact that danger attracts and excites us needs no stating or explaining- it's obvious and probably scientifically proven. But if you ask me, I don't trek to conquer, succeed and prove myself, but quite the opposite: I love the feeling of being small and powerless against nature's great forces. So where does the attraction to hardship come from, if not from competitiveness?
I guess it's another question to open and probably never close...
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
Bus lines in the area are inconsistent and expensive, so most backpackers either rent a car or hitchhike. After some doubts, I opted for the hitchhiking, along with Uri, one of the Israeli guys I was with in El Chalten (fun fact: we went to the same high school in Jerusalem, but he’s 5 years my senior. And we met in Puerto Natales, of all places…), and I don’t regret it for a second. You get to meet some interesting people hitching. We had two rides with Chilean families on vacation, two in the back of trucks, one of them a garbage truck (best ride ever- sitting on top of a big pile of garbage, above the truckbed’s “walls”, facing backwards and looking at the majestic mountainous landscape receding as you climb steadily on a curvy road, not smelling the garbage at all because of the wind hitting against you from all sides… perfect), one with a pair of local horse-ranchers (who were also giving a ride to a marine engineer who was working in the area, and kept talking about how they had only stopped because there were two girls hitching next to us, and they got stuck with us instead), and last but not least, with a local guy who told us all about the ‘proyecto andino’ conspiracy.
I don’t like to generalize, but most people who live in this area gave us the feeling that they’re either afraid of us, don’t like us, or just want our money and nothing else. It’s probably the only place where I can say that I felt a general hostility (never direct, though, Just the feeling) and unfriendliness, and I’ve talked to a lot of people who felt the same way there. I think that the Pinochet years, coupled with the fact that the area used to be pretty much closed off to outsiders, the sudden rush of tourism and the land buying by outside sources cause what can only be called xenophobia. The proyecto andino thing is a great example: in this area, I’d say that about 50% of the tourists are Israeli, 35% Chilean and 15% from the rest of the world (I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all). Take that little fact, add to it the fact that foreign companies had been buying land in the area for good and bad purposes, mix in the much publicized conflict in Israel, and voila! You’ve got a cool conspiracy theory about how all the Israelis in the area are actually scouts, sent by a population that is sick of the war and wants to find a new country, and the Aysen region is being targeted for that. That’s why the US businessmen (who may or may not be Jewish) have been buying land in strategic locations, to divide Chile in two and give the Israelis the Southern half. Nice, eh? I actually had to sit there and deny being an emissary, and swear that I am in fact traveling for fun and the Israeli army is not paying for my trip.
The serious side of this is that foreign companies are taking advantage of the (amazingly not yet completely depleted) natural resources of the area. It’s nothing new, of course. It’s been going on for over five centuries, and continues to happen all over Latin America (and elsewhere, of course). When we were there, there was a lot of protest against several hydroelectric plants that were supposed to be built in the region, amongst them one on the river Baker, third fastest flowing river in the world, which would inundate a huge area, only to then build the longest high-voltage power line in the world all the way to Santiago (remember what I said about the area being unspoiled for now?). If all this is not complicated enough, you can throw Douglas Tompkins, (former?) owner of The North Face, into the picture. From what I heard, he left his businesses to become an environmentalist, bought huge quantities of land in several areas, the biggest one in the northern Aysen region, and turned them into conservation parks. After legally making sure the area would be conserved and has to stay a national park, he “gives back” the land to the country in which it is. From what I heard, it sounds very positive, but he’s pretty controversial in the area and sparks plenty of ideas in the theorists’ heads. The park in Aysen, Pumalin, is the one that “cuts Chile in half”.
Getting back to what I actually did: we spent a day in the tiny town of Rio tranquilo, where we did a nice little speed-boat trip to see some marble caves (which apparently are only made of some marble lookalike rock, but who cares? It looks cool) and then made dinner with two girls in a hostel- chicken in a honey and chili marinade - more about that in the next post.
After that we went on to Villa Cerro Castillo, from where we set out on a 4-day trek on Cerro Castillo, which is a pretty wild trek- the only way to get to the “entrance” is by walking 13 KM on a 4X4 road, and the only way out is climbing over (or under, I guess) several fences and walking back to town through what looks like private fields; but the paths themselves are mostly marked and it is in a national reserve. Some highlights and lowlights: climbing a mountain that looked (to me, at least) very similar to the black and white mountains in the Eilat desert in southern Israel, but when I got to the top there was about 40m of snow that I had to walk and slide on because it’s smack in the middle of the path. Plus, looking back from that point, you could see mountains of five different colours: green, black, white, brown and red; one of the guys I was with slipping while trying to cross a strong flowing river that had no bridge over it and almost getting swept away; a very impressive glaciar perched on a very impressive mountain, with a full wall of waterfalls falling to become a river; sunrise at our campsite the third day; talking for hours about progressive rock bands and permaculture with one of the guys I did the trek with (probably a horrible conversation for the other two guys...); a side trek climb to the top of a mountain that wasn't really on the path, and being rewarded with the incredible panoramic view of the valley below; almost breaking my legs when a basketball sized rock slid from behind me, jumping aside at the last second (the guy behind me, who had initiated the slide, yelled “Ofer, Ofer Ofer!” and, fortunately, my instinct was to jump to the right. Not jumping, or jumping to the left, would’ve probably ended in me having to be carried the next two days); and of course, swimming in and drinking from freezing lagunes, where you can see the glacier and the waterfalls the water originates from.
Back in town, we had a nice campfire barbeque in our campsite in town, with 3.5 Kg of meat for 5 people and lots of red wine (in cardboard boxes… But I must say that Chilean box wine is pretty damn good, and at 4$ for 2 liters, it’s a great deal).
Shit, rereading this and editing it a year and a half later, I’m struck again by how fucking lucky I am that I was able to do these things.
Since this post is way too long already, I’ll leave the rest of the Aysen region stuff for later.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
- In Calafate I chose to sleep in a small half-attic over the kitchen in the hostel, to save 5 pesos. Big mistake: a group of backpackers sat there till 3am playing a really dumb card game. The only rule I caught, since it was especially annoying: every time somebody puts a prince down, everybody has to yell "hello, prince".
- In Los Antiguos, walking down the street, we saw a leashed sheep in a house's yard. I wonder if it's a guard sheep?
Sunday, July 26, 2009
I just finished reading Point Counterpoint. Huxley has become one of my favorite authors, if not the favorite. Eyeless in Gaza, also by Huxley, was a book I stumbled upon in a used book store (it was one of those classy-but-not-too-much-so 1950s editions, fabric-bound with gold lettering) and bought because I thought "hey, it looks nice, has a cool title and I liked Brave New World". It was an extremely pleasant surprise and would be my answer for "favorite book" if I had a gun against my head. I found Point Counterpoint in the same bookstore, in the same shelf and in the same kind of edition (only faded green instead of faded red), so I had high expectations. And I wasn't disappointed.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
This is the kind of trip I was looking for: to climb the (relatively hard) climb to the lagune and the lookout, just to see the sunrise; to take a side trip on an unbeaten path that goes against our direction in the general trek; the winds at the lagune, hiding behind the boulder, advancing against the wind and flying debris; jumping from boulder to boulder on the way to the Piedras Blancas glacier; all this fit in very well with what I want from my trip. To do things beyond walking on the path marked on the map, taking pictures every time there’s a sign with a drawing of a camera or an eye and counting how many KMs we did today. Instead, we went against the plan, did what we felt like doing, went back to (or stayed for a long while in) a spot we liked. I had some nice experiences today, none of them amazing by itself, but they create a big whole. I felt much freer than I felt in the Torres trek, and a lot more than in Ushuaia and Calafate, obviously. But more than anything, it was just a great feeling to laugh my heart out, from within, in the face of the wind or the splashing water in both lagunes. That doesn't happen to me enough.
As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it's only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way though, but rather in a grim, steely eyed, let's-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way - hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way of spoiling the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of pure ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in times and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing."
This is probably not the best place I could think of to put this, but I guess that right after Calafate is good enough. This is a quoted passage from a footnote to David Foster Wallace's article "Consider The Lobster". DFW's ability to put vague feelings or complex ideas into words in such a precise manner is uncanny. Several times, while reading him, he either pinpointed an idea I had in me but could've never articulated, or gave shape to a feeling I barely knew existed. I should look into reading more of his writing...
In this case, he's writing about tourism. It's meant to be more about tourism inside the US, but most of it applies to the rest of the world, too. I've always felt repelled, and somewhat uneasy, by mainstream, commercial tourism, and my part in it. Try as I might to avoid being part of the tourism machine, I would be lying to myself if I claimed to be outside of it. I will get to several entries I wrote about the whole tourist/traveler/backpacker conundrum, and where I stand on the spectrum, soon enough. Until then, this passage is a good entry point, I think.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
1. Let's start off big, why don't we: I have recently come to the conclusion (or maybe what I did recently is phrase a thought I've had for a long time) that I am quite in love with my doubt. I find it very hard to be sure of something, to be totally convinced, to not see the other side of a question. As such, I feel hard-pressed to commit to anything of importance, any single ideology, any major "truth". In fact, my one and only solid belief might be that there's no absolute truth.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
All the good will between the guests here at Omar’s, the way people go above and beyond to answer any question and recommendation request (and a lot of times asking is completely unnecessary) about your next destinations, the sharing of food and other stuff while trekking, and most of all the tent-burning incident [super long parenthesis:
Monday, July 6, 2009
- The first mate I drank in Argentina was an extremely non-traditional one: it was mate leaves with orange and mint flavouring, and sugar. In the "cebadora"'s (the one who pours the water and passes it around, usually the host) own words: it's mate for people who don't like mate. And it was in a regular cup (!!!), for Christ's sake.
- Abu Ghosh, a big store in both Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. Abu Ghosh is the name of an Arab town very close to my home in Jerusalem, and when I asked Omar at the hostel where I can buy a notebook and he said "Abu Ghosh", I was very confused.
- Watching "The Big Lebowski" with Spanish subtitles in Omar's hostel. For those of you wondering at home, The Dude is translated as "El Fino".
Friday, June 12, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Well, to my theoretical readers, a small introduction: this blog was mostly conceived as a travel blog, I guess, a place where I would write about stories, places, events and thoughts that occurred during my travels. To start, most of the travel writing will be either translations and expansions of my Hebrew thoughts & impressions notebook, or expansions of the emails I sent my family and friends during the trips. I will probably not restrict myself to writing about traveling, though, and may impose upon you (theoretical beings that you are) posts about music, books, philosophy, random thoughts, or anything else. I will probably not write any sentimental/moody stuff… not really my style.
In my notebook, I kept a small list I called “god is in the little details”, where I wrote small stuff that was interesting, amusing, different, or just noteworthy. Once in a while I’ll add in one of those, probably with an explanation (in my notebook they’re all one-liners). Also, I might note if a post is an ex-email or a notebook entry, just for the hell of it.
In my own very humble opinion, my writing tends to be long-winded, over-parenthesised, often convoluted and way too self-conscious and hermeneutic. I regularly write sentences that are too long and too complex (not the ideas, but the structure), and use words that nobody should use (I guess it makes me feel smart). I also like to self-mock and –criticize (to keep my own intellectual hubris in check, probably). Shit, this sounds pompous as hell. Oh, well… consider yourself warned. I think this paragraph gives a good example of what reading my stuff will be like.
All this, again, is assuming anybody ever reads this. But hey, fuck it, let’s just do this shit. I’m mostly writing for myself anyway. If anybody reads it, cool.
Friday, May 8, 2009
I guess the first instinct (reflex...?) is to explain, expound, reason and generally write, write, write. Instead, I decided to start with a thousand words' worth: maybe my favorite of all the photos I've taken, from Puyuhuapi, in Chile.