Friday, 30 September 2005

Argentina (Wk 3 - Neuquén)

We drove back to Neuquén the long way, via the Andes. The route was spectacular, not least because of the Monkey Puzzle Trees growing everywhere, and snow-covered plains stretching out towards the distant mountains. It felt like we were at the edge of the world. Our route took us over a pass that wasn't quite ready for cars yet. But after a half hour the snow ploughs had dug us out...

Back in Neuquén, and we were faced with our second major challenge of the trip: The first had been to find an armadillo, but now the second challenge was to figure out what to do with the one presented to us in a bucket, alive and kicking, as it were. We resisted the numerous calls to fatten it up and eat it (apparently, the meat tastes fantastic, and we were SO tempted..). But it really was extraordinary - everyone we mentioned the armadillo to would ask how fat it was, and offered a different way to cook it. Fortunately (for the armadillo) our sense of compassion prevailed, and we drove out into the desert and set it free.

It was called 'Palito' (little stick), and we do wonder what became of him... I fear he ended up a tasty snack...

Two days before flying back to the UK we went to Buenos Aires, and saw, amongst other things, the apartment block in which my father grew up - we had, in Neuquén, visited the house where Silvia was brought up, and both visits had strong emotional overtones. And after two days in Buenos Aires (where you really do see Tango on the streets!), the trip was over, and it was back to reality.

Friday, 23 September 2005

Argentina (Wk 2 - Bariloche)

We spent the second week in Bariloche, which is what can only be described as an alpine village located in the Andes, complete with chalets, ski resorts, and its own Atomic Research Centre. Which is why we were there, as that's where Silvia's sister and brother-in-law work, and where their two children (Leandro and Sabrina) are growing up.

The drive from Neuquén took about 7 hours, though mainly because we kept stopping to look either at dinosaur bones or the view, which was spectacular.

But even so, several hours were spent driving along the Patagonian equivalent of desert, where one half hour's worth of view out of the window is just the same as the next half hour's.

Bariloche itself is on the shore of a lake. It could just as well be Switzerland. The lake is fed from close to the Chilean border (the border itself is, more or less, defined by the highest peaks - and when there are no peaks, which way the rivers flow - if they flow to the Atlantic, they're Argentinian, and if to the Pacific, they're Chilean).

We took a boat trip towards Chile which was spectacular. Saw Condors... or at least, a couple of massive birds flying so high that we could only assume they were Condors. We walked through something very much like rain forest up towards a lake near which is a 1500 yr-old tree. Or so the plaque said. If we'd had more time we'd have gone into Chile. Maybe next time..

Friday, 16 September 2005

Argentina (Wk 1 - Neuquén)

My parents were brought up in Argentina, so landing at Buenos Aires was of some emotional significance... just as well, then, that the first things to greet me, once through immigration, would make me feel so at home - a massive advertisement for Kit-Kats (originally made in York, UK!) and another for the Citroen C3 (I have the C2)...

The first thing to strike me as I stepped out into the streets of Buenos Aires was the smell; there are no restrictions on exhaust emissions, and on some streets (those to and from the main port area) the fumes are almost overpowering. But in most other respects, the city looks very European (with what looked to me like a strong French influence).

After a brief 3-hour stopover in the city, we boarded a plane to Neuquén, and 90 minutes later we were in Patagonia. Neuquén is a sort of oasis in what would otherwise be a desert-like environment with just very low vegetation sparsely covering the ground. But it's at the confluence of two rivers, and some very clever dykes and dams ensure a vast amount of water flows through irrigation canals that support a substantial orchard-based industry.

Silvia's family are of Italian descent, and like many Italian families (and, so far as I can tell, Argentineans more generally), food plays an important role in the family. Specifically, meat and red wine (and, in my case at least, whatever indigestion remedies were to hand). Much of the first week was spent seeing relatives, friends, and various local eccentrics who, we had been promised, would realize Sam and Jamie's desire for ... an armadillo.

We had made the mistake of asking my kids what they'd want from Argentina. For reasons I'm still unsure about, Sam said 'an armadillo'. I of course said 'no way', or words to that effect. But Silvia rose to the occasion and pointed out that armadillos are the hedgehogs of Patagonia, that they run around wild, and that of course we'd be able to bring one back (!) - or at least, bring back the scales. Big mistake... as we were now committed, no matter what... Fortunately, Silvia's mother knew someone who knew someone, and within the week we found a variety of armadillo plates (generally, years old, and forgotten in dusty corners). Little did we suspect that we would, before leaving, be presented with a live armadillo!

Sunday, 11 September 2005

3 weeks' holiday

It's now too late to do anything about all the things I should have done, but didn't have time to do, before leaving on the first 3-week holiday I've had in possibly my entire academic career...

Of course, 'holiday' means taking with me 4 grant proposals and 6 journal papers that I'm meant to be reviewing. And in my suitcase, Andy Field's SPSS book (2nd edition) - that will be my light reading at night time...

Karate on Monday was extremely difficult, but extremely satisfying.

Had to miss Thursday's session as I was meeting up with a bunch of ophthalmologists to set up a research project with them. At the last count, the 'team' consisted of myself, 3 consultant ophthalmologists, an ophthalmology registrar, a Health Scientist (who studied in an Optometry department), and a Neuroscientist (specialising in visual dysfunction). The project came about through a chance discussion in the pub one evening after badminton (myself and one of the ophthalmologists), and a chance meeting with one of the other ophthalmologists in the swimming pool (with our kids) a few days later.

Monday, 5 September 2005

Things on my mind today:

My kids, as they're in the office right now, after the childcare arrangements fell apart on their last day of the summer vacation, which is why I'm working on this... as there's not much chance of getting anything serious done.

Karate (am going tonight)

Argentina (am going next week)

MSc introductory statistics course (need to prepare it)

Money (need to win some)

Food (need to buy some)

Research (need to find time to do some)

This website (need to stop fiddling with it)

Why a blog

No reason, really. More like a weekly diary of the things I can recall that stuck in my mind from the week before. And more for me to read, in future weeks/years, than for anyone else.