Archive for the ‘Americas’ Category

Moby-Dick or, the Whale by Herman Melville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Call me a dick – but this is great! This is one beast of a book. It’s all consuming when reding it so I read it in sporadic bursts. There is nothing quite like it and it feels like you are making history just by reading it. It’s a fantastic experience as well as being a book to ponder over. It does take some time to get through so I recommend reading the clusters of chapters. There are several ‘digressions’ which are illuminating but take us away from the main story arc.

The characterisation is amazing and the details are obviously copious – Melville spent four years on whaling vessels. It’s biblical in many places with references and style. One of the early chapters is actually a sermon. There is a sense of inevitable dread which intensifies towards the climax. I felt like I was constantly being sucked into the hunt.

I used a map in places just to chart the progress. The language is niche and reflects the time, character and in some cases, the status of the characters. After a few chapters it gets easier to read though. Reading modern works seems kind of shallow and unrewarding after this beast. I recommend it to anyone who lives on planet Earth.



View all my reviews

San Carlos de Bariloche is a small city in Río Negro, Argentina. Most people seem to call it Bariloche, and for some reason I call it El Bariloche. It’s surrounded by the foothills of the Andes and it sits on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi. It’s a regional tourist centre for mountaineering, hiking, and skiing. I don’t remember ever making the decision to come here, it just seemed like a natural progression on my journey from Mendoza to Tierra del Fuego. I had intended to travel down the coast of Chile and return through Argentine Patagonia. The cost of Argentina at the time I visited was considerably less than Chile, so I think this was a strong motivation. I dodged the hotel hustlers at the bus station and decided to walk into the town; I was pursued by several stray dogs as is often the case on my travels in South America. The outskirts seemed unremarkable and didn’t leave much impression. However, after checking into a local hostel I immediately set out to have a look at the town centre and the view across the lake. I was very impressed.

arg (23)

Julio Roca statue

My experience of both Chile and Argentina was always tainted by watching football. My image of the people from this part of the World was always dark haired swarthy characters who either outclassed or out cheated my long suffering England team. This image is of the exotic Latin types transplanted from the back streets of Napoli or Madrid into the vast regions of the Americas. I was aware that there was an influence, especially this far south, from Germans and British. Although I knew this I never really expected to land in what seemed like mini Switzerland. The style of the centre could have been plucked from William Tell. It’s a beautiful if embarrassingly twee town. Most of the people seem overwhelmingly European, or should I say Northern European. The comparison with Santiago de Chile and Mendoza was quite striking. I felt like an outsider with my scraggily dark hair and unshaven black face.

arg (22)

Centro Civico

This part of the World was settled by some Germans, the name of the town may actually come from Carlos Wiederhold who established a shop here. There were subsequent migrations of people from all the Alpine areas of Europe. Slovenians, Austrians, Swiss, and Northern Italians. The aesthetics are specifically Alpine with log cabins and those large boulder type walls, the sort you may find in Aspen, Colorado. I always wonder about ski type places whether things are built like this because they have to be or because they just feel that they should be. Is it the abundance of ‘ski lodge’ materials that lead to the ski lodge aesthetic or do people just think, well, it’s a ski lodge kinda place so let’s make it look that way. Either way, I’m not complaining. I love the place! There are many nice little cafes and chocolate shops. You can wander round looking at the semi ethnic souvenirs with an icy breeze rolling in from the lake.

It’s so far from most places, including Buenos Aires which feels another world away. It makes me wonder if it could be the perfect hiding place for Germanic types hiding from prosecution or trying to evade War Crime charges. If Hitler ever did escape before the Red Army rolled in I image this place would be a great choice. There are a couple of publications who used this area as the backdrop to their various conspiracies. To lend weight to the argument the local German School was apparently run by former SS Hauptsturmführer Erich Priebke. Anyway, that war is over and Bariloche stands as a testament to solid and tasteful Architecture with streets of old world charm. I actually returned here on the way back from Tierra del Fuego, I wish I had stayed longer!

arg (26)arg (15)arg (18)arg (16)arg (19)arg (24)

 

 

http://www.bariloche.gov.ar/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Grey-Wolf-Escape-Adolf-Hitler/dp/1402781393/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357046228&sr=8-1

 

 

Arequipa, Peru is a beautiful place with old colonial squares and those traditional Spanish era churches. The main reason I visited Arequipa was to see Juanita the ‘ice mummy’, however, I also stumbled upon the serene and beautiful Santa Catalina Monastery. This monastery is a monastery of nuns of the Dominican Order. I always thought convents were for nuns and monasteries were for monks,  but what do I know? It was founded by Maria de Guzman  and built in 1579, it was enlarged in following century. The rather large monastery takes up a sizeable part of the older part of Arequipa and there are still some nuns living in the closed off part; tourists can visit the rest.peru032

This city is no sprawling metropolis compared to Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires, but it’s busy enough in that typically Latin way with taxis beeping their horns and people squabbling loudly. The mildly chaotic atmosphere outside is hard to detect once you get inside the peaceful cloisters of Santa Catalina. There are some interesting exhibits on life in yesteryear, but by far the best thing to do is wander around the peaceful maze and get lost among the painted walls and flowers. I even found some guinea pigs nibbling on salad in one of the quieter chambers. If you know anything about Peru then you can imagine what will happen to those little creatures.

peru011

Santa Catalina is built in the Mudejar style. This is the style adopted by the Moors who remained in Iberia after the Christians took it back. It’s not as obviously Moorish as some of the buildings you would find in Andalusia, but there is more than an echo to the styles of the Al-Andalus Moors. The tiles, brightly painted walls, and vaulted ceilings would seem familiar to anyone who has seen the old Moorish buildings. This particular building is very simple and sits perfectly into the surrounding streets of Arequipa. It reminds me of the places you would see on Spaghetti Westerns with peaceful locals being harangued by angry gunmen.

peru019

I find that most of the colonial Spanish, or Iberian architecture I have seen in South America fits seamlessly into its surroundings. I think this is a combination of parts of Iberia having similar light and climate, and because the buildings have had time to age. Looking at the history of European exploration, the Spanish and Portuguese have been in America a long time. The reason I talk about this is because I have often found Anglo-Saxon colonial styles to be completely out-of-place, especially in hotter climes.

peru006 peru007 peru009 peru010 peru016 peru018 peru020 peru026 peru033 peru036 peru038 peru041 peru042

The Perito Moreno Glacier is in the Los Glaciares National Parkin the south west of Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. I took a tour there from El Calafate and went on a boat to get close to the 60m+ high terminus which is 5 kilometres wide.  The glacier is advancing from its 30 km length. The ice cliffs sometimes collapse into the lake which creates a pretty impressive noise and an even more impressive splash. When I think of glaciers I just imagine a world of ice. The reality here is that it juts past the green forest clad hills. These evergreen hills contrast sharply against the blue ice of the glacier.

pat (21) pat (23) pat (24) pat (27) pat (28) pat (29) pat (30) pat (31) pat (33) pat (35) pat (37) pat (39) pat (134)

Torres del Paine National Park is in the southern Chilean part of Patagonia. The Cordiella del Paine is the most impressive part of the park with the hugely impressive ‘towers’ or ‘Torres’. These three needles which you will see in my pictures are around 2,500m altitude. It’s possible to spend a lot of time hiking and climbing in the park but I really went to see the three towers.

I arrived from the south because I was staying in Puerto Natales which is about 1h30 or 112km from the park. Unlike most of the tourists I wasn’t staying in the park, I found it rather expensive for basic cabins, this was why I did an extremely fast ascent to get the view of the three towers. My bus to return to Puerto Natales didn’t give me much time to hike so I ran as often as I could and made a scramble over the last thirty minutes to get to the viewing point.

All experience is subjective and it was an extraordinary sequence of events that coloured my experience. I hadn’t read too much about the place before arriving in Southern Chile, it didn’t seem to be on a par with the other bucket list places in South America. I was pretty tired after jogging or at least marching to the lake from where you can see the towers. When I eventually got to the top it was…awesome.

People (mostly Americans and Australians) use the word awesome to describe many things. After seeing the Torres del Paine I don’t think I can use the word any longer. I was literally struck with awe and wonder. When I saw the view of the impossibly large granite monoliths I reeled off so many swearwords I felt like I had got a kind of condensed turrets syndrome. My feet were rooted to the ground and I felt paralysed. As I got my senses together I realised there were three people behind me who were taking some food whilst leaning against a rock. There was no confusion, they weren’t fazed and I wasn’t embarrassed by my outburst. They simply looked and listened and basically said ‘we had the same ideas’. A scene like this couldn’t even be imagined, the most impressive lands of Tolkien’s Middle Earth couldn’t compare with this site. By this stage in my ye ar long trip I had seen many things and many places. I will maintain that New Zealand is the most scenic place I have visited. However, as a single site and a single experience, the three Torres of Torres del Paine have remained the benchmark for all my experiences before and since.

I regret to describe this in such superlative language because I fear it may raise expectations before others visit, but I have to be honest, it’s the best thing I have done whilst wandering. I was also very lucky to have a clear crisp day, I have been told that the weather in Patagonia is pretty fickle. I leave you to look at the pictures, I hope they give a sense of how impressive this place really is. I don’t like having my picture taken in front of places but I include one on this occasion because I felt a real sense of achievement and I hope you can tell by my expression the wonder I felt. The picture was taken by the people on the rock shortly after my turrets outburst.

torresdelpaine torresdelpaine (2) torresdelpaine (3)torresdelpaine (5) torresdelpaine (6) torresdelpaine (7) torresdelpaine (8) torresdelpaine (9) torresdelpaine (10) torresdelpaine (11) torresdelpaine (12) torresdelpaine (13)