Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chairlifts Are Easier on Skis

I don’t tend to think of Argentina when I think about skiing. But there are some very large mountains right next door to Bariloche, so this is a ski centre for Argentina. I visited a ski resort yesterday – Cerro Catedral – which is (I believe) the largest in South America. There was a little bit of snow, right near the top, but it’s not ski season yet; that comes around in June. For now, the ski runs are still dusty, barren expanses of sand and rock.

Two of the lifts were running, though, so that interested tourists (like me, although nearly everyone else was Argentine) can get to the top and check out the views. (You can check it out to the left … picture snow instead of the dirt and rocks, and I think you’d be looking down a very nice, broad, cruising blue run.) Top of the mountain is about 2500 metres, so you can see for miles around.

The first lift was easy enough – a gondola called the Cable Carril – but the second was a bit of a challenge. A chairlift took me to the very top; while I’ve long since mastered the art of getting on and off chairlifts gracefully WITH skis, it’s a different story without. Getting on isn’t so bad, but getting off was entertaining (at least when I watched other people do it). The chairlift guy grabs you by the elbow and kind of swings you around out of the path of the chair; picture square-dancing, without the cheesy music.

But the views were absolutely worth it. I’d forgotten to bring a lunch, so I ate in the restaurant at the top of the mountain called Refugio Lynch (don’t ask me why the “Lynch”; he could’ve been one of the multitude of British immigrants who ended up around here in the latter part of the 19th century.) There’s a large open deck with tables and loungers, so you can hang out with a sandwich and a beer and drink in the panaroma before you. I did, for at least an hour.

Then I hiked some around the top of the mountain, to work off the jamon y queso and the cerveza, My legs had better end up in good shape after this stay in Bariloche; not only is the town itself basically one big hill (so anytime I head south, such as getting back to the hostel from downtown, I have to walk uphill or up steep stairs), but I’ve done a few of the hikes around the area. Tomorrow I’m going to Cerro Campanario, which my Spanish teacher assures me is the most beautiful of all.

Last Sunday was Cerro Otto, which is smaller than Catedral and hike-able to the top; what I hadn’t realized before I started out was that I’d have to walk 5 km first just to get to the start of the 8-km hike to the top. Then I hiked around some of the trails from the top, up and down mountainsides that made me feel like I was one of the Von Trapps in the Sound of Music, escaping on foot over the Alps. Fortunately, no Nazis made an appearance, only a few other determined hikers, like me, who appeared to think a half-marathon distance up and down the sides of mountains was a good idea.

I did a little bit of hiking in El Bolsón, too, but Saturday was a cold and rainy day so didn’t venture too far. Mostly, I spent my afternoon at the market, eating ridiculously large waffles, sampling the local artesan ice cream (their chocolate profundo flavour is heaven on earth) and the locally made beer. I did a little happy dance when I found the beer again in a store in Bariloche, and I’m sipping one right now – El Bolsón cerveza artesenal con frambuesa is seriously good, and a bargain at only 12 pesos (about $3). (You can buy cheaper -- Quilmes, another Argentine beer, goes for about $1.50 for a litre bottle -- but for me, personally, I prefer to buy less but buy what I really like when I do.) Anyway, all the snacking put an end to thoughts of hiking again, and I chilled out – as a good hippie should -- till the return bus to Bariloche.

Also near Bariloche, you can do very long hikes to mountain refugios and stay overnight for about $8 Canadian, but I likely won’t do that before I leave. For one thing, I don’t really fancy dragging my backpack along the 10-km or more that would be necessary to reach one of these, and for another, I’m probably leaving Bariloche this weekend. I’ve really liked this town, but I have my last day of Spanish school tomorrow and I’m kind of itching to move on to new places. And while I still have 3 months to go, I know it’s going to fly by and will end up being much too short!

So it’s onward soon … somewhere warmer would be very nice! Bariloche is okay when the sun is out (or when you’re hiking up the side of a mountain and working up a sweat), but as soon as it gets dark the evenings are pretty chilly. But yesterday in Mendoza, my roommate told me, it was 27C … so going north might be a good plan. A former colleague of mine is also on vacation in Argentina now, so if I can work it out I’ll meet up with her somewhere on her itinerary.

First, though, I want to head over to the coast to Puerto Madryn, to check out both the wildlife preserve and the Welsh communities in the Chobut valley. I might detour to the Cueva de Las Manos first (near Perito Moreno – the town, not the glacier), but it’s a pretty expensive detour and I’m not sure it’s worth it this trip. Plus, it’s further south so is unlikely to be warm, and I only have one fleece (which I’d rather not have to wear every single day).

Okay, must sign off soon as I have Spanish homework to do for my final class tomorrow. It’s been a fun two weeks, and I’ve learned a lot – I can even say things in the past tense now, and I’m very proud of that. I still can’t listen fast enough to keep up with Argentine speech, but I’m hoping to improve with more practice. Failing that, I’ll hold out for countries further north where they speak a little less quickly.

There are some tricky things about Spanish, although much of it seems quite straightforward. Pronounciation isn’t hard, since letters are pronounced more or less consistently (except for a few Argentine quirks with “ll”s and “y”’s) and the accents have distinctly different purposes which I understand (unlike French, where I get all confused). But they don’t use pronouns, generally; the “I” or “you” or “she” is implied by the form of the verb that you use, so I have to pay close attention to make sure I know who’s being talked about.

Worse, some of the verb forms in the past tense are spelled exactly like the present tense, but for different pronouns; for example, “hablo” (no accent) is present-tense “I speak”, but “habló” (accent on the “o”) is past-tense “he spoke”. And “está” (with accent) means "he/she is" (or “you are”, if you're being formal), but “esta” (no accent) means “this”. All well and good when it’s written down, and when it’s spoken, the accent means that the emphasis goes on the last syllable (so it should sound different that the no-accent version, where the first syllable is emphasized); however, the differences in sound are often subtle enough that I don’t pick up on them. When I’m speaking, I probably over-emphasize the accented part of the word, but I want to make sure I’m understood; sometimes I throw in the pronoun, too, just to be safe, which means I’ll sound even more like a gringa but may mean less confusion.

There are other, weirder verbs too that change forms completely from one tense to the next, but I suppose I’ll just have to memorize those as there seems to be no logic. Same for the masculine/feminine thing; I have no idea why a week (la semana) should be feminine, but a day (el dia) should be masculine. And don’t even get me started on “por” and “para” and which to use when, or the fact that there’s two verbs for “to be” (“estar” and “ser”) which are, in theory, used for different situations but in reality overlap. For example: you use “estar” to say “the room is dark” (“la habitacion está oscura”) when it's dark because the curtains are closed, but “ser” (“la habitacion es oscura”) when it’s always dark because it never gets any sun.

Oy vey. I think I have pretty good survival Spanish now, for a gringa tourist, but it’s going to be a long time before I’m fluent! Anyone want to come hit the south of Spain with me next winter, and practise our Spanish on the waiters bringing us drinks on the beach?


  1. Oh, I was practically sitting on that mountaintop with you for a moment … till I crashed back to the reality of deadline day.
    Love it!

  2. estar=something transient or subjective
    ser=something permanent and objective

    I love that's one of my favourite things about seems so poetic that they would be different. It's like "conocer" and "saber"...of course you can't know a fact like you know a person!

    ha ha...let me know when you're going to hit the south of Spain. though they mostly speak English there because of all the loud British tourists.

  3. Robin, I love the conocer/saber distinction too! Spanish has some subtleties I really like, that English doesn't have. Maybe we can introduce a few more into English: for example, it would be really useful to have two words for "like" (so teenage girls don't have to say, "But does he like me, or does he LIKE like me?"). These distinctions are important!