Sunday, July 26, 2009

Point Counterpoint, by Aldous Huxley

Well, I said I might write about books occasionally. Let's give the first one a try:

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

FTTN: The funnest day on the trip (so far)

Written after the Fitz Roy trek. The title is the same one I used for this post:

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.

El Chalten- Mid Feb. 2008

Next up was El Chalten, the National Capital of Trekking (!!!) of Argentina. It's a pretty cool town about 4 hours (it’s only about 200kms, but the roads are mostly gravel) north of Calafate. The town was built about 25 years ago, entirely for tourism and trekking purposes, and it is actually inside the Los Glaciares National Park. All (all 6…) streets are unpaved mud (at least they were. There was some work being done while I was there, but as far as I could tell it was just re-flattening of the existing mud) and there is no bank. Unsurprisingly, all businesses, and all locals we met, were in the tourism trade. Internet places that charge 10 pesos per hour (for context, in Buenos Aires it's 1.50), restaurants, hostels, travel agencies, the post office, the park’s visiting center, one bar, three campgrounds, and… that’s about it.

DFW on tourism

"I confess that I have never understood why so many people's idea of a fun vacation is to don flip-flops and sunglasses and crawl through maddening traffic to loud hot crowded tourist venues in order to sample a "local flavor" that is by definition ruined by the presence of tourists. This may (…) all be a matter of personality and hardwired taste: the fact that I just do not like tourist venues means that I'll never understand their appeal and so am probably not the one to talk about it (the supposed appeal). But, (…) here goes:
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

Calafate and Glaciar Perito Moreno- Feb. 08

It seems I never wrote anything about Calafate, a town I didn’t enjoy that much. It’s an extreme tourist town, pretty expensive (the most expensive internet café I’ve ever seen was there- 12 pesos (4$) an hour! And it was really slow, to boot), and kinda fake-feeling. I’m weary of writing something like that about a town of a few thousand people after spending less than 48 hours in it, but that’s how I felt. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with preconceptions; they play a huge role while backpacking, and, at least in my Argentina and Chile trip, I very rarely went out of the regular backpacker tracks, so I had preconceptions about almost everywhere.

Friday, July 10, 2009

25 things, supposedly about me

My cousin just reminded me of this list. It's something I wrote on facebook (I know...) a few months ago. Important update: I now have a harmonica, but in 4 months I haven't learnt how to play it. Oh, well. It's reproduced pretty much verbatim:

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

FTTN: La ley de montaña

In Omar’s hostel, prompted by a few things that happened in the Torres Del Paine trek, I wrote the following:

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

God is in the small details, #1

- Crazy coincidence on my first day in Argentina: on the way out of the airport, and Israeli couple that was on the flight from Houston with me asked if I wanted to share a cab into the city. We did, and I found out that besides arriving on the same flight, we booked a place in the same hostel and would fly south on the very same flight to Ushuaia three days later. After Ushuaia, I saw them once more in Torres Del Paine, but that was it. They were on a month long honeymoon in Argentina, so they were moving much faster than me.
- 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".

Torres Del Paine- beginning of Feb. 2008

Puerto Natales, like many other towns and cities I would visit later on, is a small, one-dimensional town. Or, I should say, that is the way in which it is perceived. There’s no doubt that the town’s character and economy are highly influenced by the huge tourist attraction near it: the Torres Del Paine National Park. I’ve heard it said that it is the second most visited national park in all of South America (trailing the Macchu Picchu, of course). I’ve looked for some corroborating evidence for this claim, to no avail. The park is really an amazing place, with calm and stunningly coloured lakes, black and violent mountains (they looked a lot the way I had always imagined Mordor, in Lord of the Rings, would look), huge granite towers, waterfalls, and most impressive of all: 6-7 glaciers, part of an enormous ice field.