Saturday, December 6, 2008

Horsing Around at Punta Delgada

By Katharine

On our last day at Punta Delgada, we rode horses along the cliffs above the elephant seals. We walked from the hotel to a farm building where they saddle the horses. There were bunches of sheep skins in piles and heads in buckets. Chickens were running around, and horses roamed the place.

A man named Raoul whistled and the horses came. First, he brought out a tan horse that was very big, and he said “el caballo del nino” and pointed to Graham. Graham got on with the help of Raoul. Then he saddled a tannish brown horse and said “el caballo de la nina” and pointed to me, so I got on. After that, Raoul took two black horses out for my dad and mom.

We kicked the horses and started. We didn’t have to steer because the horses followed the path. We walked along the cliffs, which was very scary but beautiful. Then we went through the plains, and stepped on bushes. My horse ran up a hill and across a dirt road, which really scared me because she would not stop when I pulled her reins. Finally, we were done.

After we stopped, Roxanne (the boss of the hotel) ran to us and said she had spotted three orcas. We said “adios” to Raoul, and ran to the cliff. We saw the orcas swimming along the beach, but they didn’t steal a seal. Roxanne said that she thought they had just eaten.

Salted sheep skins. The lamb is on the asador.

Raoul saddles Katharine's horse.

Katharine with her trusty steed.

The magnificent three ride again.

El gaucho guapo.

I hope our riders aren't French.

Elefantes Marinas de Chubut

By Katharine

Our family stayed in a hotel next to a lighthouse at Punta Delgada, on the Peninsula Valdes. We went to see a colony of southern elephant seals down on the beach. We sat in the back of a Land Rover on the way, while the guide in the front seat talked to me with a walkie-talkie. The ride down was great, because you could see the sea and the cliffs, and the path was bumpy, dusty, and lumpy.

When we stopped, she led us down a big, sandy cliff to the beach where the elephant seals were lying. First we heard a noise that Dad thought was elephant seal farts, but the guide said that they were calling. It sounded like a burp to Europe. They burped so loudly that they nearly blew our ears off.

We sat on the beach, watching them from 10 yards away. Some were in big groups and some were by themselves. Every few seconds, the seals would try to cover themselves with sand using their flippers. When they opened their mouths to call, the inside of their mouths were a bubble-gum pink. Their eyes were big and black, and the whites of their eyes were red, making them look bloodshot.

A male elephant seal is the size of a Punch Buggy, and can weigh 8,800 pounds. A male is the size of seven females. The full-grown males had gone to the ocean to get food, so only the girls and the young males were left with the babies. They were shedding, so we found lots of skin and hair on the beach.

Elephant seals eat fish, squid, and other sea animals. They can stay underwater for two hours and can dive 4,900 feet deep.

On land, the elephant seals move on their bellies like worms. Their back goes up, then their middle goes down, and then their front goes up, just like a seesaw. They are so fat that when they do the worm, the fat rolls up and down.

We wished for an orca to come to the beach to eat an elephant seal. They come really fast and fling themselves on the beach. When an elephant seal tries to get away, they pick them up and eat them, and then go back into the water. We didn’t see that happen, but we did spot some orcas (read my post about horses).

When we left the beach, Graham and I took the Land Rover, while Mom and Dad walked back to the hotel. We got to drive the Land Rover with the guide. She pressed the brake and the accelerator, while we steered.

Katharine coordinated all movement.

Elephant seals on the beach below.

Making the descent to the beach.

Louise now feels good about her weight.

Louise enjoys a spa treatment.

Dermabrasion helped a little, but not much.

A Black-Tie Event in Patagonia

By Katharine

In Patagonia we saw penguins, not just one but half a million. We visited the biggest penguin colony in South America. It was a two-hour drive from Puerto Madryn to Punta Tombo. When we got there, we saw penguins walking everywhere. A guide said to us that we could not touch them.

The penguins were sitting on nests in holes that they had dug in the ground and also under bushes. Many of the nests were filled with chicks or eggs. The penguins are called Magellanic penguins because they were named after Ferdinand Magellan, the first man to sail around the world. They are small. They look like South African penguins. They have pink circles around their eyes, a black back, and a white face and chest. They reached a little bit above my knee.

After the nest is built, the mom lays 2 eggs at a time. It takes 5 to 6 weeks for an egg to hatch. The chicks stay in the nest for 1 month. After that, they leave the nest to grow adult feathers. The parents swim up to 600 km for food to give to the babies. They eat shrimp, fish, and krill. Both chicks are given equal care. Usually, they survive. The predators are the sea lion and petral.

We walked on gravel paths and over bridges through the reserve. The penguins were on there, too. We got about a foot away from them. They sing a crazy song that sounds like a car horn. They do it to attract a female. Two of them were fighting. They were pulling at each other and biting their tails.

When we were leaving mom was videotaping a penguin, when another penguin came up behind me and nipped my pants. It didn’t hurt, though. Penguins are cool birds.

Click image for larger view.

Penguin in nest with chicks.

Penguins at the Battle of Ypres.

Penguins view local wildlife (guanaco).

Penguin having trouble flossing.

You lookin' at me?

A gala event on the beach.

She can't swim 600 kms but she's a cutie.

Okay, okay, I'm short for my weight.

My Visit to Patagonia's Glaciers

By Graham

Three days ago I saw one of the most amazing sights.

My family and I were on a three-story boat on the waters of Lago Argentino in Patagonia. For the first time in my life I saw icebergs and glaciers. Icebergs are chunks that have fallen off glaciers. They are all different shapes and sizes. In Patagonia some are as big as houses and some are the size of a baseball.

Two hours later we saw their source: the gigantic glacier Upsala, 100 m tall, 50 km long, and 10 km wide. It towered over us. Once Upsala was the biggest glacier in South America; now, it is losing 200 m a year, due to global warming. A glacier that loses more ice than it gains is known as an unstable glacier.

We noticed that the glacier was blue. This happens when the ice becomes very dense. Years of compression slowly force out tiny pockets of air trapped between ice crystals. Extremely dense ice absorbs all other colors in the spectrum except blue, which is what we see. If glacier ice is white, it usually means lots of air is trapped inside.

Glaciers are formed when snow stays in the same place all year, and then new snow piles on top of it for years and years. The compression forces snow to recrystalize, forming grains similar in size and shape to a grain of sugar. Slowly, the grains become bigger and the air pockets between them become smaller. After two years, the snow turns into firn, which is between snow and glacier ice.

We sailed two hours to reach an even taller glacier, called Perito Moreno. Named after a famous explorer and environmentalist, the glacier is 250 square kms and one of three stable glaciers in Patagonia. It is fed by the Southern Patagonian ice field, along with 47 other glaciers.
Watching ice fall from the face of the glacier into the lake was amazing. Some of the pieces must have been the size of a house. A gigantic piece of ice would crack off the glacier and tumble into the water, creating a sound like a savage beast grumbling. It just blew thunder away. I jumped every time I heard it.

Sabias Que?
* Glaciers produce 75% of the world’s fresh water.

* Presently, 10% of land is covered by glaciers.

* During the last ice age, glaciers covered 32% of total land area.
* If all land ice melted, the sea level would rise 70 m worldwide.

Click image for larger view.

View of Perito Moreno glacier.

Graham is splashed by glacial water.

Now we know why the Titanic went down.

Hues of blue.

Hielo azul sin martini.

Only blue light is reflected from the densest ice.

Impersonation of Wall Street.

Video of calving ice at Perito Moreno.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lisp and Clear

By Andrew

My inability to speak Spanish with any degree of competence has had one small benefit: My arms are getting fit. I spend much of each day pointing at esto, eso, and those thingies over there. Ordering breakfast at a bakery, I could just as easily be directing aircraft at O’Hare.

When pointing fails, I admit that I revert to what is known among linguists as the English Method: I speak ever more loudly—in English—until I am understood. The British ended up with a large empire using this technique, which the natives found intimidating. It’s a little known fact that India was won when Sir Clive stopped to ask for directions.

What frustrates me most is that I can actually read Spanish. All those years of French and Latin, tossed with a smattering of Italian, allow me to decipher a good deal. Seeking some use for my expensive education, I now prepare pre-emptive phrases for any looming confrontations, such as haircuts (see earlier post), beer-ordering, and helado consumption.

This is a technique that was originally employed by my father when we lived in Switzerland. Dispatched to the bakery with orders to procure a dozen rolls, my father would practice his line all the way down the street. Unfortunately, Dad pronounced the German for twelve, zw√∂lf, in much the same way a wolf greets the full moon. By the time he reached the bakery, all the dogs in the neighborhood were howling sympathetically and my father’s nerve had failed him. He would proceed to order thirteen rolls instead, which invariably evoked a glare from the dour Swiss lady manning the counter.

Rattling off rehearsed lines also has an unfortunate side-effect. People talk back. If you’re lucky, they stay on script and you can sweep out of the store feeling fluent and worldly. All too often, though, they fire off a long burst, the only word of which I understand is peso. This is my cue to thrust great wads of cash at them and then stand there waiting expectantly.

To some degree, Spanish itself must take some blame for my problem. True Spanish demands that the speaker lisp alarmingly every time a word containing “c” pops up. This is not good. At my boarding school, people who lisped were beaten up behind the cricket pavilion, so I’ve always been keen to keep my vowels and consonants crisp. Lisping runs counter to all that, plus I tend to splodge a thick mist into the air every time I attempt it. This is fine when it comes from a right whale in the Golfo Nuevo, but less acceptable emanating from me.

Buenos Aires, too, must shoulder its fair share of responsibility. In a linguistic evolution that I do not yet understand, the good residents of BA have reshuffled their pronunciation of the Spanish alphabet. Pollo, pronounced “poyo” worldwide, here is delivered as “posho.” Yo, spoken in Spanish much as it is in English, is pronounced “jo” here. I spent the first two weeks in BA wondering who this Joe fellow was and why everyone was talking about him.

Delivered by a resident in full flight, the BA accent sounds like someone sweeping the floor—it’s a gentle back-and-forth ssshing noise. To duplicate the BA accent accurately, place 16 marbles (the small ones will do fine) in your mouth and say as rapidly as possible: “Surely, sister, some sheep stole your shish-kebab.”

As you can imagine, the combined effect of the lisped “c” and the BA “sssshh” has left me in a pickle. Every time I open my mouth, I sound like a drunk, gay man. Apart from one fellow who was wearing sparkly sneakers, most Argentines have recoiled in absolute horror. I am now placing all my linguistic hopes on Ecuador.