October 26, 2005

At an altitude of 6000 ft above sea level, the man-made lake at the Dique Cuesta del Viento in Rodeo, Argentina offers some of the best windsurfing in the world. With constant winds between 40-60 mph almost every afternoon, it is a haven for hardcore windsurfers.

Of course, that was where Jonathan wanted to go to windsurf.

We stayed at the Rancho Lamaral, a hostel near the beach with shared bathrooms, bunk beds, and free breakfasts for $10 a night. The owner (also the bartender, repair guy, and windsurfing teacher) Manuel, was warm and wonderful. He´s sort of a hippie, an ex-insurance salesman who gave it all up to run his hostel and to windsurf.

The lake is a perfect mirror of the surrounding mountains in the morning, with barely a breeze. Because of the geography, the winds come and swoop down into the valley every afternoon. The windsurfing pros come out, and it was awe inspiring to watch them zoom around and do aerial flips. The winds were so strong one afternoon that I could barely stand up straight. It was like standing in hurricane force winds- and yet, the windsurfers were out there having a blast.

I admit I was nervous about taking windsurf lessons. I really had to browbeat myself into it, overcoming my still very strong aversion to water. I literally thought to myself, “Are you a sissy? A girl? When the hell will you ever again have the chance to windsurf in the Andes at a premier windsurfing site?¨

It turns out that I have naturally good balance, and stepping on a windsurf board (la tabla) felt as stable as stepping on land. Trying to understand directions in Spanish (even with Jonathan translating) was tough: words for forward, back, rudder, bow, lean, point, swing, balance etc…

I didn´t fall in even once. Poor Jonathan had a bit of a harder time getting up on the board, but by the end of two days, we were able to get on, surf a bit in the breeze, and return to the beach reliably. The lessons were cut short once the real wind appeared.

It has become a small joke in the 3 days we were here with Manuel – he likes to say that my hair wasn´t even wet, while Jonathan repeatedly sploshed into the water (accompanied by repeated hand motions of falling over on a board). Jonathan gave me a big hug, and said ¨Te amo, pero te odio¨ (I love you, but I hate you). :)

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 222 user reviews.

October 25, 2005

Dinner at 1 am

It has taken me a few weeks to adjust to the Argentine schedule.

Businesses are open from 8am-1pm, and then close for FOUR hours, while everyone goes home, has lunch and a nap. They reopen at 5pm, work until 9pm.

I´ve been trying to picture this schedule if I were working in lab. I think afternoon meetings would be a whole lot more productive if people got naps beforehand :) , but it would wreck havoc with time points and experiments. There would be a lot of “how low a voltage can I get this gel to run?!”, or ¨how long can I really serum starve these cells?¨

On the other hand, this schedule means that people also eat dinner much later than I am used to. Jonathan and I were soooo proud of ourselves for sitting down at dinner at 11:30 pm at a bar, only to find that entire families , including grandma, parents, toddlers and pregnant women just were coming in as we were leaving. The babies were simply set into the strollers, the little kids ran around, just like at an Applebees. But it was 1 am, in the morning. Check out Jonathan´s take on this here.

I am still finding this hard to swallow (literally), as I am usually so full that it´s hard to have time to digest before going to sleep.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 222 user reviews.

October 16, 2005

It is one thing to see the mountains from a plane, but really another to be trekking up one of them!

We took a two day hiking trip to the mountains near Aconcagua National Park, north of Mendoza. While it is 85 degrees in Mendoza at 2000 ft above sea level, it was only about 40 degrees at 8000 ft. Some of the snow on the mountain tops has begun to melt, creating little creeks and streams flowing down the mountain.

The terrain is very beautiful, but in a severe and desolate way. At 10, 000 ft, there isn´t much life to look at. We took 2 different hikes on two different days. One was to a summit, another to a ¨plata¨, a natural flat plain (at 10, 500 ft) before the mountains rise again. There are only squat thorny bushes, some tufts of grass and some lichen. I wish I paid more attention to lichen in my plant physiology class. The only classification I can make now is color (ooh, a greenish patch, ooh, a black patch).

Otherwise, the terrain is rocky. Our trails tended to follow natural brooks or rivers. I am glad we had a guide – I will never complain about trail markings in the US again. There were no visible signs anywhere that I could see.

We were accompanied the second day by a famous dog, Oso, who has summitted Aconcagua 6 times, the highest peak in South America at 22, 000 ft. This climb takes experienced mountain climbers 10 or more days, including trekking and time to acclimatize to the altitude. Oso has rescued lost climbers and brought them home. I could only marvel and watch in envy as he frolicked up the 25% grade. He darted up the mountain, then for fun would run down some valley, up the other side through the snow, chase a bird for a while and circle back to check on us. I was so impressed I gave him a some of my sandwich (evidently dogs in Argentina eat bread).

I love the feeling of isolation that trekking without seeing anyone or anything else brings. The sun shines in an incredibly blue sky, and I get to eat a sandwich barely being able to believe where I am.

Jonathan is honing his photography skills to new heights. The upside is that we have great photos, especially of me. :) The downside for him is that photos of him are taken either by me, or depend on strangers taking shots of the both of us. Check out his post on snow trekking.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 295 user reviews.

October 12, 2005

Adding to the feeling of being in a time warp (I usually have no idea what day of the week it is anymore), it will be Mother’s Day this Sunday October 16th here in Argentina. It also happens to be my mother´s birthday, which in the US, is nowhere near Mother´s Day.

We are in Mendoza, Argentina, the capital of wine country, as well as the center of excellent hiking near South America’s highest peak, Aconcagua at 22, 000 ft. The Andes are spectacular – on our flight, we could see the snow covered mountain peaks jut up through the cloud layer (Taken from the airplane window).

Also, it is Spring here, since we are in the southern hemisphere. People are just emerging from Winter. This is particularly weird, becuase I know it is October at home, the time of apple picking and brisk mornings. To add to my confusion, we just came from Panama and the Caribbean, where it is still a sweltering 90 degrees with 95% humidity.

In the the tropics, it was all spaghetti strap tank tops and flip flops. Here, people are walking around in wool coats, closed toe shoes and scarves. Wherever I am, it seems, I look somewhat odd, as I try to make my 5 shirts/3 bottoms work for every occasion.

I broke down yesterday and bought a pair of jeans, the single most versatile piece of clothing known to humankind. I hadn´t brought any with me, because all of the guidebooks commented that jeans were heavy, took up a lot of space in the pack, and took a long time to dry.

Screw that. I looovve my jeans. So, I am feeling a bit more normal now walking down the street, blending in a bit better with the populace.

I am constantly reminding myself that it is spring, and that it will become summer here. Flowers are in bloom, snow is melting in the mountains, and it is October.

October=April. I´ll get it soon enough. :)

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 154 user reviews.

October 11, 2005

I have decided, after eating the “Chinese” food pictured here, that I will not sample any more Chinese food in the Carribean and South America if any of the following paramenters are met:

  1. 1. If I am the only Chinese person in “Chinatown”, and other tourists are delighted to see me.
  2. If no one who works in the restaurant is Chinese.
  3. If there is only a museum now to mark where Chinatown once stood.

I know that I am simply setting myself up for a downfall, but I can´t help myself. If the food were presented as “local food”, I would have no problem eating it and probably enjoying it.

It´s like expecting a thick juicy, grilled steak and instead getting steamed fish. It´s just such a totally wrong experience. It´s not bad, just not right.

So, I am going to try to stick to the local delicacies and hopefully fare better…

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 245 user reviews.

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