Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bulletins From BA #08

Bulletins From BA #08
04 Diciembre 2012

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert: www.picasaweb.google.com/rodger.french
“BA-Jacarandas”  “Puerto Madryn”

Greetings, fellow correspondents, from Piso 15 of the Sheraton Hotel overlooking the Río de la Plata in Montevideo, Uruguay. Anne is here on bidness and I tagged along, because why the hell not. It’s nicely scenic here, and much (much) more relaxed than Buenos Aires, so I might actually complete this más overdue posting.

A lot has happened in the past month. I’ve started working at the Embajada as a Rover Secretary, filling in as OMS (Office Management Specialist) when needed, just as I did in Pretoria. It’s a good gig for the likes of me.

Speaking of gigs, I was hired (as in paid) to provide ambient musical entertainment for the Election Night Celebration at the Ambassador’s residence; a glittering affair attended by 600 guests (más o menos) featuring food, wine, and wall-to-wall election coverage on big-ass TVs. The event was un gran éxito (a great success); people responded favourably to the accordion and it was, obviously, a good night to be a Democrat. But more importantly from my perspective, the election results put an end to the prospective horror of “Secretary of State John Bolton.”

The other big news is that Anne and I finally escaped the inertia of Buenos Aires and went touristing to the eastern shore of Patagonia, specifically Península Valdes (www.enpeninsulavaldes.com), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This being our first major journey in Argentina, we opted for a package tour (a first for us) offered through the Embassy Community Liaison Office. Our tour group consisted of around 40 Embassy folks, including kidz, and was a pretty amenable bunch. (Good thing, too, because we spent a lot of time in a tour bus schlepping through some seriously arid landscapes.)

After a two hour flight from BA, we arrived at El Tehuelche Airport near Puerto Madryn, our base of operations and a very nice seaside ciudad with two industries: Tourism and, somewhat incongruently, aluminium processing. From there, we embarked daily in search of large marine mammals, penguins, and other local attractions. Cue the highlight reel:

Whales (Ballenas) – The waters around Península Valdes are prime territory for the Southern Right Whale, a species formerly hunted to the brink of extinction because (a) they have no natural fear of man, and (b) they do not sink after they are killed. We went out in a boat and saw quite a few of them, mostly mothers with their calves. No National Geographic photo ops, unfortunately, but wonderful viewing at close range nonetheless. And, at no additional charge, our boat broke down and had to be towed back to shore. Very cool.

[Sidebar – The current major threat to the Southern Right Whale population is the proliferation, due to waste from fish processing plants and human garbage, of predatory sea gulls that attack and feed on the whales. This is a very serious problem.]

Sea Lions (Leones Marinos) & Elephant Seals (Elefantes Marinos) – It’s molting season for these critters, so they spend most of their time lying around on the rocky coast. Very photogenic, in a lumpish sort of way.

Penguins (Pingüinos) – Punta Tombo (www.puntatombo.com) is home to the world’s largest colony of Magellanic Penguins. It was a long bus ride from Puerto Madryn, but worth the trip, as we observed tens of thousands of penguins going about their daily routine, which evidently includes posing for tourist photoz. They (the penguins) take shelter and raise their young under bushes and in holes in the ground, which gives the place a sort of prairie dog village vibe.

Sheep (Ovejas) – A small group of us took a side trip to San Guillermo (www.san-guillermo.com), an estancia (guest ranch) to have lunch and witness a demonstration of sheep shearing. It was a surprisingly educational experience. Raising Merino sheep for wool is increasingly difficult as a result of decreased rainfall, declining consumer demand in Italy, and increased predations of feral dogs from nearby towns. So, San Guillermo’s owners have wisely shifted the major focus of their operation to tourism. The shearing demo was fun for everybody but the sheep, the lunch was excellent, and the resident guanaco (a variety of llama) spit on some of the kidz. At no additional charge.

Seafood (Mariscos) – And speaking of good times, allow me to recommend Cantina Marcelino, located in the town of Rawson, capital of Chubut Province. Absolutely the best seafood paella and the most entertaining waiter, llamado Roberto, I have ever experienced.

We also made very brief visits to two other towns in Chubut: Trelew, where Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, and Etta Place took up residence for awhile; and Gaiman, an agricultural oasis and centre of Welsh settlement in Argentina. As we were were rapidly running out of daylight, our time in both places was somewhat perfunctory, if perfectly pleasant. 

This was not a budget excursion, but travelling in Argentina, indeed, anywhere in South America, is a pricey proposition, assuming you aren’t into backpacking. (For us, those days are long past.) But our tour organizers and guides did a fine job, everyone had a memorable experience, and we weren’t obliged to use any obstreperous children as orca bait. En mi opinión, un gran éxito.



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