Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Buenos Aires: Puerto Madero

Puerto Madero isn't Buenos Aires's working port anymore. The old warehouses are full of restaurants catering to tourists, including US chains like Hooters and Fridays. The cranes remain as decorative reminders of earlier days.

The new port has moved up the Río and handles shipping containers using even bigger cranes.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007


More murga

I spent another pleasant evening at Defensor Sporting Club listening to murga. Momolandia had a clever show themed around Leonardo da Vinci. I only stayed for two groups, since I'd seen the others, so I made it home before midnight.

La Bohemia video:

And Momolandia video:

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Monday, February 26, 2007


Back to School

School in Montevideo starts next week, so I guess the southern summer is coming to a close. We went shopping for school supplies this afternoon. My daughter's school gave us a list of 53 things she needs for the beginning of classes. (Not counting books, which we'll shop for later this week.)

We didn't even know what some of the items were. Glue, for instance, was listed as cascola-- which is the local brand name for Elmer's glue. Most of the other confusing things were particular types of paper or binders. The geoplano is still something of a mystery to me.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007


Tablado Tres Cruces

In many countries, carnival ends with a big blow-out celebration before Ash Wednesday (Mardi Gras, for example). Afterwards Lent begins. In Uruguay, that Monday and Tuesday are vacation days and many families travel to the beach. Afterwards Carnaval continues. I'm not sure when Carnaval ends but I have seen events scheduled in March. Uruguay Total and Observa show the day's carnaval schedule.

Last night,I went to a tablado at Monumental Tres Cruces featuring: Diablos Verdes (murga), Gurrumines (parodistas), Yambo Kenia (lubolos), Cyranos (humoristas), A Contramano (murga), La Mascarada (murga de mujeres argentina) y Curtidores de Hongos (murga).

Here's a video of Yambo Kenia:

And here's a short overview of all the groups:

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Friday, February 23, 2007



We saw several groups of choiques on the Península Valdés. The choique, like the ñandú, is a species of American ostrich. Choiques are also known as ñandúes petisos or Darwin's Rhea. They are smaller than the ñandúes I'd seen in Uruguay, although they are still good-sized birds.

Rheacultura has maps showing the ranges of the two species, and lots of information in Spanish. Don Roberson has some photos and information in English.

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Horseback riding in El Calafate may have been my daughter's favorite activity of our whole trip to Patagonia. We took the two-hour ride along Lago Argentino at the edge of town. It was an easy ride, with gentle horses who were accustomed to inexperienced riders.

El Calafate is a fast-growing town (from 7000 to 21,000 people in the last few years) and we rode past lots of construction sites, as well as through the open steppe. The outfitters may need to move further out of town if the growth continues. The lake is over 100 kilometers long, so there is still plenty of open space.

El Calafate is named after a spiny bush that is common in the area. A local legend says that if you taste the calafate berry, you will return to Patagonia. The berries are sweet, but full of seeds. I prefer the jam.

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Monday, February 19, 2007


Moreno Glacier

Moreno Glacier is the star attraction at the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Patagonia, Argentina. It covers a bigger area than the city of Buenos Aires. There are even larger glaciers in the park, but this one is the most accessible.

Tour buses bring hundreds of people to the park to see the glacier and to watch chunks of ice fall into the glacial lake. The ice roars, almost like thunder, as it falls. It's not a wilderness experience but it's very impressive.

We took a short boat ride to one of the faces of the glacier. It's a huge wall of ice-- maybe 100 feet high, with another hundred feet, or so, underwater and a couple of kilometers across. Some years, the glacier advances enough to create a natural dam across the lake. When that happens, the impounded water rises until it eventually ruptures the dam.

The park has a lot of wildlife, but the animals generally stay away from the road. On the bus ride from El Calafate to the park, we saw seven condors soaring above the steppe.

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Friday, February 16, 2007



Ushuaia is the southern-most city in South America and the closest port to Antarctica. For years, my wife has wanted to visit Tierra del Fuego, so Ushuaia was on our itinerary.

We took a boat excursion on the Beagle Channel this afternoon. Snow-capped mountains rise on both sides of the channel-- Argentina to the north, Chile to the south. Islands, the peaks of underwater mountains, host sea lions, cormorants and other birds. We learned that the native tribes went naked, covered only in sea lion grease. That was particularly hard to imagine, since we were wearing fleece jackets, caps, and gloves during the middle of the southern summer.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007


Punta Tombo

Ever see a million penguins? Yesterday, we visited Punta Tombo in Chubet, Argentina which has the largest colony of penguins outside Antarctica. The Magellanic Penguins were spread over a couple hundred acres, so while we couldn't see a 1,000,000 penguins at once, there were penguins everywhere we looked.

Most of them were scattered across the landscape, sitting beside their nests in the shade. Bushes provide some protection from seagulls and other predators, so they make the best nest sites. The nest itself is a shallow hole in the ground. Penguins return to the same nest every year.

The baby penguins had grown nearly as large as the adults and real feathers were replacing their grey down. They still demanded food from their parents. I don't think I'd ever heard a penguin's call before.

There were a handful of penguins swimming in the ocean and thousands standing shoulder to shoulder on the beach. It was impressive.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007



Guanacos, a wild relative of the llama, live in the dry country of Patagonia. Like other members of the camel family, when they are annoyed they spit. We saw several herds in the Península Valdés reserve, but we didn't get close enough to induce spitting.

The Península Valdés has no fresh water but the guanacos have the ability to drink seawater. The people in the area aren't so fortunate. The Welsh immigrants who founded nearby Puerto Madryn only lasted 45 days before relocating to the Chubet River. Today there's an aqueduct to Puerto Madryn and a second under construction. On the peninsula, the estancias pay to have water delivered by truck. Puerto Pirámides nearly matches the guanacos. They use reverse osmosis to desalinate seawater.

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Península Valdés

Península Valdés in Patagonia, Argentina is a large wildlife preserve near the town of Puerto Madryn. It's famous for whales, but this wasn't the season to see them.

We visited yesterday and saw penguins, elephant seals, and sea lions on the coast. In the dry interior rangeland, we saw ñandu, guanacos (a wild relative of the llama), armadillos, and foxes.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007



I'm traveling again & I'll try to post from internet cafes when I can. I expect blogging will be pretty erratic over the next couple of weeks.

Hasta luego.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Las llamadas

Las llamadas are the traditional carnaval parades of the candombe troupes. This year, for the first time, they split the parade over two days. We went yesterday night and watched it from a friend of a friend's balcony.

I'm not sure how many drum troupes we saw, but the first reached us around 9:30 and the last one passed after 2:00 a.m. The parade flowed more smoothly than the inaugural parade until the rain caused intermittent delays.

We could see the flags of each new group long before they reached us, when the drumbeats were just a faint throb. Dancers came next, costumed in feathers, sequins, and bright fabric. The 40-70 drummers followed, producing an enormous sound. Audience members joined behind the drummers dancing and clapping.

See my video.

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Friday, February 09, 2007


Teatro de Verano

Last night we went to the Teatro de Verano on the Rambla near Parque Rodo. It's an open-air theater seating several thousand people.

The show was much like the ones I'd seen at the tablados, with two murgas--Todavía no se sabe and Agarrate Catalina-- and parodistas-- Antifaces. Agarrate Catalina won the murga competition twice-- in 2005 and in 2006-- and they were a crowd favorite.

During the breaks between shows, people lined up to buy beer, medio y medio, or snacks. I liked seeing the performers in full regalia mingling with the fans.

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Tablado 3 part II

Curtidores de Hongos was the other murga group I saw on Wednesday night at Defensor Sporting Club.

Here's a short video:

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Thursday, February 08, 2007


Tablado 3

Monday's tablados were rained out so I went home and watched a different Carnaval performance on local TV.

Yesterday, the weather was fine and I enjoyed another show at Defensor Sporting Club.

Here's a video of the murga group la Soñada:

Related posts: Monday's tablado and Saturday's tablado

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007



When I first arrived in Uruguay, the old cars and trucks really grabbed my attention and I snapped a lot of photos. The antique vehicles marked Montevideo as someplace different. Now I hardly notice them, but every once in a while they do catch my attention again.

A few days ago, while waiting for a bus, I saw one and shot this ten second video.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Tablado 2

Tablados are held nightly during carnaval, and, yesterday, I returned to Defensor Sporting Club to see another performance. Monday, not surprisingly, wasn't as popular as Saturday night so I was able to buy a numbered seat close to the stage. Two of the murga groups were repeats from Saturday's tablado. This show had quicker transitions between groups and finished before 1 am, so I was able to stay for the whole thing.

Sitting closer, I could see better, and it was very loud. That improved the video quality:

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Monday, February 05, 2007



We first saw the worshipers of Iemanja, the goddess of the sea, around midnight on February 1st. We returned the next day to see the big gathering.

In the afternoon, it was quiet. Vendors sold candles, styrofoam boats, and other offerings for the goddess. The remnants of the previous night's offerings-- broken boats, waterlogged watermelons, floating flowers-- cluttered the surf line.

By sunset, the beach was mobbed. Celebrants lit candles and left flowers at the statue of Iemanja. Hundreds of people waded into the Río to release their offerings. Individual congregations staked out small areas on the sand, and each seemed to have their own ritual. At one, a woman held a large shell and wailed. In another a teen-aged girl staggered in a trance. Many performed symbolic cleansings. Others danced. Drums beat and bells rang all around us. Uruguay is a very secular country, so this mass spiritualism was surprising.

See some of my photos from Iemanja
or a video from the first.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007



Tablados are an important part of Montevideo's carnival celebration, where murga groups sing on stages in the neighborhoods. For instance, I went to one yesterday on the basketball court of the Defensor Sporting Club near Parque Rodó. Different groups performed for about an hour each. I heard humoristas, paradistas, and three murgas-- a lot of entertainment for 50 pesos (about $2). I left reluctantly around 3:00 am-- torn between enjoyment and fatigue-- but families with little kids were still going strong.

Here are three videos from last night(and early this morning).

1. The tablado a mix of murgas, parodistas, and humoristas.
2. Falta y Resto:
3: Asaltantes con Patente (murga)

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Saturday, February 03, 2007


An evening in Montevideo

The waiter's pronunciation of paella ("ll"="y" instead of the Uruguayan "zh") confirmed we were in the right place. We were looking for Basque food and had met friends at the Cantina Vasqua in Montevideo's downtown (San Jose 1168). From the outside, it's inconspicuous, marked with just a small sign, but the ample stained-glass picture at the top of the flight of stairs is welcoming. The menu features pork, chicken, and fish-- without much beef-- which is somewhat unusual in Uruguay. We enjoyed our meal and spent a few hours chatting over, and after, dinner. It was nearly midnight when we left, and we figured that the evening had come to a pleasant end.

The drive home added two events to our agenda. First, we heard the drums of a candombe troupe and circled the block so we could park and watch them. (Here's a video). After that, we saw people getting an early start on Iemanja at Playa Ramírez. Montevideo is an interesting place to live.

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Friday, February 02, 2007


Goddess of the Sea

Iemanja or Yemanjá is celebrated February 2 in Uruguay. The origins of this ceremony are African and it seems to have reached Uruguay through Brazil. Umbanda mixes African, Catholic, and spiritualist traditions.

We were driving home from dinner around midnight last night and saw activity had already started on Playa Ramírez, near Parque Rodó. We parked and walked down to the beach, where we could hear drumming. Small groups of people were digging holes in the sand and lighting candles. Other groups, wearing white clothing, had waded out into the Río, to send small boats to the goddess. Others were blessing their boats in a ritual with bells, candles, and prayers.

The boats are put to sea with various offerings-- watermelons, flowers, a chicken-- to the goddess. If the boat is blown back to shore it means the goddess has rejected the offering. If the boat disappears, she has accepted it.

For more information:
Discover Uruguay describes the Festival . From Uruguay also writes on Iemanja. An evangelical missionary seems appalled by Yemanjá in this detailed account. Studio Stonek has a page of photos.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007


Coriolis effect

When I was in college, we spent an inordinate amount of time arguing about the Coriolis effect. My friends argued that the Coriolis effect made toilets flush counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. I believed any differences in the flush flow came from plumbing, rather than the Coriolis effect. Apparently we weren't the only ones having this argument; both Snopes and the Straight Dope have written on this.

Several years I missed the chance for a controlled experiment (same toilet in both the northern and southern hemispheres) when I was on a ship that crossed the equator. In the interest of science, I'm sharing some video evidence from South America:


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