Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The bits usually edited...

After leaving Puerto Madryn we headed just down the road to Trelew, well known as where the welsh settlers landed. I was expecting cute picturesque villages, welsh voices and a proper cup of tea- our guide book being rather scant on information, we had made up our own impressions- what we arrived in was a smallish city, typically south american, no map of the city centre and (only after an hour of walking in the midday sun did we find this out) no hostels. We checked into the cheapest hotel we could find, thats when i realised i actually had a map in my guide book, cue guilty apologies from me to Rich for my minor strop and whinging in the preceeding hour as he couldn't find anywhere suitable to stay and my bag was too heavy (!! oops)- He took it well and we headed off to find some lunch as we were both starving.
We ate at one of the restaurants recommended by the lonely planet- oh when, oh when, will we learn that that usually means that they will be totally crap; we ate soggy, tasteless pizza and didn't leave a tip. After lunch we went to find how we could visit the nearby penguin colony (our reason for visiting Trelew in the first place), only to find that all the travel agents were closed on saturday afternoons (thats a bit of welsh logic for you- the only welsh influence we had yet to see in the town).
So in desparation we headed to the tourist information, where the helpful assistant told us that we had just missed this afternoons trip but we could go tomorrow and arrive back between 7 and 7.30pm. The only problem was that our bus left at 7.30 and there was absolutely no way either of us were going to stay another night in this depressing town, what to do? We went to a cafe to discuss it, except we couldn't find a cafe so we sat in the plaza instead.
After some diliberation and many embarassingly poor attempts to ring the tour agencies on their out of hours numbers we decided to risk it and take the afternoon tour tomorrow. Then we spent the afternoon in the dinosaur museum (patagonia has a wealth of rare mid jurassic fossils, interestingly enough)- i touched a real petrified dino bone (is that just a big bit of stone then?- i wasn't sure) and Rich spent the afternoon taking photos of the amusing cartoons that illustrated the displays; then we watched a documentary about digging up fossils! fun all round then.
The following morning (sunday), it was even more difficult to find anywhere open- we ate suprisingly good pastries in the plaza again and just hung out in the one cafe we found open before heading off to the penguin colony in the afternoon.
And this was definately worth it, our driver tld us that there were about 100,000 breeding couples in the colony and it is chick time at present. We were able to wander, almost where ever we wanted around the colony and under virtually every bush was a parent penguin and chick, and all around they were wobbling along looking like toddlers taking their first steps, we could watch from the small cliffs as masses of them waddled into the swim and frolicked in the waves in search of fish. I spent the majority of the time trying to take the perfect photo only to have each bird move at the crucial time, very annoying!
We headed back and with luck were in plenty of time for the bus- we then spent the next 18 hours on a bus. We passed the most boring monotonous scenery, miles and miles of flat plains with no interesting vegetation and certainly no animals to look at- kind of nuclear winter-esque, pretty huh? The junk food i ate contained enough e numbers to keep a class of small children awake for at least 3 days, consequently after 12 hours or so i was bouncing off the walls and acting very childishly indeed; great fun for Rich, who unfortunately for him, was sat beside me for the entire journey. He showed great restraint and managed not to kill me so we both arrived in Rio Gallegos fresh and ready (!) for our next journey of 5 hours to finally reach our destination. El Calefate.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The best so far

i've finally managed to leave the amazing ice cream counters of Barriloche and i'm now on the Atlantic coast in Puerto Madryn. Here there are no mountains (obviously) but its lovely to be by the sea again (which i haven't seen since august in Columbia). The coast is rugged, windswept, beautiful and not at all like the carribean coast- it is also home to much wildlife; sealions, right whales, seals, killer whales, penguins, dolphins, andina foxes and armadillos, to spot this wildlife it is necessary to take a tour. Whilst looking into which tour to take we stumbled across another option- to dive with the sealions. Guess what we decided to do?
It was absolutely amazing!
We arrived at the dive shop first thing in the morning and met the other 5 people diving with us and head off towards the sealion colony. After about 25minutes boat ride we arrived just off shore from a fairly large sealion colony and the sea lions immediately began to jump off the rocks into the ocean and come to investigate us in the boat whilist we were suiting up as quickly as possible and one by one splashing over the edge into the icy waters.
As soon as i entered the water there were sealions everywhere, and they unlike me under the waeter, they are incredibly graceful and very inquisitive. We all descended together and the sealions with us- above, below and all around. I felt something on my hood and looked up to come face to face with a cheeky sealion taking a nibble, which straightaway somersaulted and with a flick of his tail was gone. I must admit is was slightly disconcerting that often i would look around unable to move a body part and find that i had a sealion attached! but i think that to them it was just a game- so were almost pet-like and would allow me to stroke their stomachs or grab my arm between their two front paws. Everyone else seemed to be finding it as amazing as I and our time underwater flew by, and when we resurfaced noone could stop talking about just how friendly they had been, but also just how cold the water had been- my face was numb where it was exposed to the water!
But we didn't have much time for warming up, some soup and chocolate biscuits (not dipped in one another i add) as the boat took us to our next dive sight. The second dive was not at a sealion colony but at a wreck site. This is a new experience for me (well actually most of the diving is), and being by far the least experienced diver on the boat i was a little nervous- about the depth, the water temperature, the wreck, well most things about the dive really. We soon reached the wreck, suited up and jumped in again.
We followed a rope down and the deeper we got i could definately feel the temperature drop off very quickly, once at the wreck it should have been possible to see huge salmon swimming beneath it but alas they were not around so we explored the wreck somewhat- i wasn't allowed inside (not enough experience) and the visibility wasn't too good, looking off inot the distance i couldn't seefar into the green gloom that enveloped us. At this depth (25m- by far the deepest i have dived) i was using up my oxygen quickly and everyone was getting cold so we didn't stay down long- found the rope again and slowly made our way to the surface and then back to shore for a well deserved hot drink.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

where am i?

At this bit you should be looking of snowcapped mountains, crystal clear lakes, pine forests, chocolate shops and me eating an enormous ice cream but as the computer here is so rubbish i'm unable to upload any photos....... just imagine...... are you imagining?
well it looks like switzerland but obviously its not- as i'm in Argentina. well thats the joke spoiled now i can tell you what i've been doing here.
After leaving Malargue I headed down to San Martin de los Andes, then on to Villa la Angostura and finally i'm in Barriloche now. The whole region here is beautiful, and perfect for walking. This is what i have been doing lots of.
In San Martin.. i was again the only english speaker but met lots of friendly spanish and germans. I spent the days walking around the lake (well i got as far as the beach and then sun-bathed), then the afternoons eating the most wonderful ice cream and the long light evenings eating steak and drinking red wine. perfect.
i left San Martin after a few days for the tiny village of Villa la Angostura, again very prettily set at the egde of a huge but perfectly clear (and very cold lake). Again more walking, this time with a french student studying in Buenos Aires- we spent the day speaking a mixture of english, spanish and the tiniest bit of french and ended up walking alot further than anticipated. We set off to the nearby port to walk along to the end of a penisular with some pretty odd trees at the end and then to catch the ferry back; but on arriving at the end of the penisular we found that neither of us had enough money for the exsorbitantly expensive boat ride back so we had to walk. This made our short morning stroll into a rather longer 30km walk. The peninsular was beautiful and we had the forest of flaky barked trees and the small dock all to our selves. From the small port we could look out over the enormous lake at the tree pined banks which were framed by massive but distant snow capped mountains. We arrived back at the hostel that evening absolutely starving but feeling like we had earned a good tea and spent that saturday night watching films and drinking beer.
The following day i headed on to Barriloche, the town at the other end of the same lake- the 2 hour bus ride in itself was beautiful and passes through what is called the lake district (slightly more spectacular than windemere i have to add). The bus wound its way through the pine forests along side many glacial lakes and beautiful, colourful spring flowers. And guess what i got up to in Barriloche?..... yes thats right a bit more walking but as well as walking Barriloche is also famous for its ice cream and so in between walks i've probably eaten my own body weight in the best ice cream i've ever tasted! i'd better not stay here too long otherwise i'll not be able to walk out at all, they'll have to roll me down to the bus terminal!

Friday, December 01, 2006

I've done my homework...

ok, here it is the full and complete version of "God save the Queen"- our national anthem; but first some interesting facts for all you fact fans:
1. it was first publicly performed in London in 1745 for King George II after his defeat of Jacobite, claimate to both Scottish and English throne
2. It was the first song ever to be used as a national anthem, in the history of the world...
3. and hence the tune (and in some cases words) were copied by numerous other countries. The following countries have all used the complete song (translated) or just the melody as their anthem; France, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechenstein.
4. In football, when England played Liechenstein in a Euro 2004 qualifier the same tune was played twice!
5. The tune was played at the inauragration of President Bush in 2001- it is known in the US by its first line (which is an altered), "My country, Tis of thee"
6. Only verses 1 (and very occasionally 3) are sung on official occasions; verse 6 is never sung and causes great offence in some parts of Scotland!

1. God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us;
God save the Queen!

2. O Lord our God arise,
Scatter her enemiesAnd make them fall;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all!

3. Thy choicest gifts in store
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign;May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the Queen!

4. Not in this land alone,
But be God's mercies known,
From shore to shore!
Lord make the nations see,
That men should brothers be,
And form one family,
The wide world over.

5. From every latent foe,
From the assassins blow,
God save the Queen!
O'er her thine arm extend,
For Britain's sake defend,
Our mother, prince, and friend,
God save the Queen!

6. Lord grant that Marshal Wade
May by thy mighty aid
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the King!

On occasssions either "Jerusalem" or "Land of Hope and Glory" are substituted. (eg when England plays Scotland/Wales in a sporting event)

...and that rather just proves i have a little too much time on my hands!