Sunday, August 08, 2010

Buenos Aires-Bariloche-Valdivia

I'm now in Valdivia, Chile, having skipped out, blog-wise on the last couple of legs of the journey and only given cursory details of any of the last two weeks. I've just arrived at a hotel after staying with a great couchsurfer in a very very cold house last night. I'm slowly defrosting, but was glad to have the chance to spend some time with local residents for an evening at any rate.

Before this I spent three days in Bariloche, though it felt like a good week given the amount that was packed into the short time. Bariloche is where Juan Maldacena spent a few years studying before moving onto Princeton. I was the guest of hist former supervisor Gerdardo Aldazabal who was an excellent host, both in terms of organising my physics activities but also as a keen outdoors activities man who made my stay really special. Given that I was giving talks on the last two days of my stay, having arrived at 2am on Wednesday morning I wanted to take full advantage of the Wednesday to see some of the Patagonian countryside. Staying on the campus of the centro atomico it was a short roll out of bed and into the office to chat with Gerardo about a possible route for the day, and I soon found myself alone with a rented bike, a thin pair of gloves, several layers of clothes plus a good calorie intake from a Welsh breakfast (there are large Welsh communities in Patagonia and a few valleys where Welsh is the predominant language, Welsh teahouses are a common sight) ready to head around the lakes.

The Ciruito Chico takes you around the gently rolling countryside through the occasional steep section or dirt road, around a series of stunning, crystal clear lakes, flanked by snowy mountains and dense forests. I spent the first two hours or so going around taking pictures and stopping occasionally to warm up my icy fingers, before turning back three quarters of the way around the lake when the traffic started increasing and made my way to a restaurant in La Colonia Suissa, a Swiss community with wooden houses, and plenty of traditional Alpine regalia to dine on the famed Patagonian trout in Las Siete Cabritas, an outlandish restaurant with some of the best prepared food I've eaten in Argentina. A coffee and a lemon meringue pie later and I was ready to get back on the bike and take the dirt road section back to the start. 45 km and two very tired legs after having started (I haven't cycled seriously since the Land's End to John O'Groats trip a decade ago - though I plan on starting again in Munich) I gave the bike back to the rental company and chatted for a while with the owner over a cup of tea. Given that it was still early and it was the only day to be able to sight see I walked up the road to the start of the hill trail to the Campanaria watch tower and started pushing my legs up the extremely steep path.
A few pictures from the trip:

still life on the water
lakes and mountains in Bariloche
Passing a controlled bonfire in the forest:
light through the smoke and trees
Some icy proof:
Ice structures in Bariloche
This slightly strange looking photo was taken by resting the camera on a icy pond in front of the lake. The ice you can see stretches for about a meter in front of the camera but looks to go much further because of the unusual perspective:
stone in the ice in bariloche

After the cycle ride my legs were none too fresh and the half hour scramble up was quite a struggle, but the view from the top made it well worth it, as I emerged from the undergrowth to be greeted by the crowds who had come up by cable car. The panorama of the lakes and mountains is really one of the most stunning scenes I've seen and I would highly recommend this area to anyone coming to Argentina. The light wasn't that easy for photography, but I got a couple of pictures to try and give the general impression. Here's one for now
 Bariloche from the Campanaria

Back down the hill and into the centro atomico for a quick shower, before heading into the town centre to take a look around. It's a ski-tourist haven and a chocolate-lovers dream, somehow giving the impression of a Patagonian Swiss Alps and the usual crowds of skiers fills the streets lined with restaurants serving trout, lamb, deer and a few other local delicacies. Sadly by the time I got back to the lodgings it was too late to go out again so I popped to the local supermarket to munch on some empanadas before bed.

Thursday was a full-on work day and I was in the office and getting on with some calculations in the morning before my talk in the afternoon. The group is quite diverse and so I had to change my talk a little from the one I've been giving recently, adding a few slides of introductory material and bulking out a few explanations. Of the 20 or so in the audience, I'm not sure I saw a single sleeper which I count as a good performance in a technical seminar. With the snow gently drifting outside and a positive audience with good questions, I left relieved that at least some people had understood, and happy to have been able to give a talk in such stunning surroundings. Tomorrow incidentally I'll be giving my talk in Valdivia, famed for talks which can last for many, many hours so I'm not going to get complacent yet about my seminar-giving abilities. Anyway, Thursday night I managed to find a table at an asado restaurant and sampled the Patagonian lamb which was very very good.

Friday was time for the colloquium on atmospheric optics, and not only the whole of the centro atomico but also the whole of the town had been told about it. Half an hour before I was due to start I was introduced to a journalist with whom I gave a quick interview. It was a good chance to try and explain a little about atmospheric optics in Spanish, and also a chance to realise that my decision to not give a Spanish version of the talk in Santiago de Chile in a few days was probably the right one. Although I could explain about the different effects to the journalist, it was with a lot less of the technical precision and detail than I like to be able to give in English. For the talk, I guess there must have been a few over 50 in the room which was a nice sized group and they seemed to enjoy the images and explanations. It's a pleasure to be able to tell people about things which are always around them and therefore get to change the way they see the world a little on a day to day basis!

The talk over and a little more work later and it was time to get in the car with Gerardo and head out to the lakes for the Friday evening kayak session. In sub-zero temperatures we were well-prepared with several layers of neoprene, hats and gloves although I wouldn't have wanted to get any more than my feet in the icy waters. I shared a double canoe with Gerardo and we headed out into the lake, with the mountains looming around us and the sun gently setting as we paddled our way from the shore. Although I used to canoe a lot when I was around 10, I've done it only a handful of times in the last 20 years and although it was really wonderful to be doing so in such surroundings, my shoulders burned constantly for the two plus hours that we were out on the lake. It felt like a really serious workout but thankfully I haven't been aching since, the only complaint being the lack of skin on the inside of each thumb. Gerardo had brought along a water resistant camera and so I'll try and put up some photos when they're available.

After a lovely dinner with friends at Gerardo's house I got home and prepared for an early start the next day, to take a morning bus over the Ande's and into Chile where I am now, but I think that that will have to wait. I have to prepare a few more things for tomorrow but will see how things  go later today.

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