Thursday, April 30, 2009

El Fin del Mundo - a train and a catamaran

Fernanda and I had so much fun taking the double-decker bus around Ushuaia that we decided to take another couple of tours. One tour was on this tourist train pulled by a real steam locomotive. The railway line is called the Southern Fuegian Railroad, and it takes tourists back and forth between Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego's national park. I like steam engines much better than diesel ones, because they huff and puff like dragons and seem almost alive. You could put the windows down on this train, so I rode with my head out the window the whole way. The wind whipped my hair around, and I had a terrific view of the Beagle Channel and the mountains with their fall colours. (When we got back to the hotel Fernanda took a look at my hair, and then borrowed a magnifying glass. She thought I had headlice, but actually it was cinders that had blown back from the smokestack. It took quite a long time to comb them all out.)

The first thing I saw when we went down to the train was the Canadian flag whipping in the wind. Between that and all the fall colours, for one second I thought that I was back home! Then I realized that flags from quite a few other countries were displayed too. I never pay much attention to the Maple Leaf at home, but it after so many months away it felt like an old friend.

Our next step was down at the docks of Ushuaia. I'd been looking for beagles ever since we climbed off the airplane, but hadn't seen even one. Now I asked Fernanda if all the beagles had migrated north with the penguins. She said that no, the Beagle Channel was named after an old sailing ship called H.M.S. Beagle, sent out from England with a crew of scientists to explore South America. A naturalist called Charles Darwin sailed on it, and studied how animal species adapt to different environments in order to survive.

I don't understand why they talk about people from Europe discovering places in Tierra del Fuego, when people had already been living here for ten thousand years. How can you discover a place that's already been discovered? Now I know how Tierra del Fuego got its name, though. There used to be far more Yaghan Indians here then, and the explorers saw the lights of all their cooking fires twinkling in the hills and called the island Land of Fire.

We boarded a catamaran, which is a boat with two hulls, for our tour. These double hulls help stabilize the boat, so that it doesn't roll and pitch as much. That means that people are less likely to get seasick. An icy rain was falling when we boarded, but it was warm and cozy inside the boat. These people were warming up over hot mates, and they invited me to join them.

I can almost hear you asking, "What is mate?" You see it every day! It's that tea Ms. Wright drinks through a metal straw every morning. I just thought she was being weird, but here everybody drinks it. They never drink it when they're by themselves, though, because mate is something you're supposed to share. I like it when it has sugar in it, but otherwise I just like to smell it.

(You know, I don't think Argentine people ever step out their front door without making sure they have a thermos of hot water and a bag of mate!)

After sipping some hot mate, I went off to look out through the windows. Fernanda had said that we were going to see sea lions today, and I didn't want to miss them. Sure enough, we sailed past whole groups of them. They were barking at each other, and playing King of the Castle. As soon as a sea lion was pushed off the island into the water, it would climb back up the island and push somebody else off. They like to play the same game on the channel buoys, too. When they aren't playing King of the Castle, they like to take naps - they look as if they've been poured onto the rocks!
When we sailed back into the harbour, it was supper time. Guess what Fernanda bought for our supper?
French fries? Wrong.
Pizza? Wrong again.
It was this.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

El Fin del Mundo - The Old Sea Lion Hotel

All over Ushuaia you see signs saying, "El Fin del Mundo", which means The End of the World. Everyone seems to be very proud of being at the end of it. I was a bit afraid that we'd fall off the edge, but there wasn't any edge that I could see. (I know, I know ... the world's a sphere, but all those signs made me feel a bit nervous anyway.)

Fernanda and I stayed in a hotel called El Viejo Lobo del Mar. That means "The Old Sea Lion" in Spanish. I hoped that there'd be sea lions inside, but I couldn't find any. The hotel was a big yellow building with a clock tower on the roof. I'd never stayed in a hotel before, so I didn't know what to expect. Mostly it was full of bedrooms. Somebody gave Fernanda a key with a number on it at the front desk, and we went upstairs to the third floor. There we walked along a long hall full of doors, until we found one with a number that matched the key. Inside was a bedroom with a windowsill where I could sit and look out over the city.

The bathroom even had a jacuzzi tub, but no sea lions were in there either. The water in in the tub was over my head, so I had my baths in the sink instead. Since there weren't any sea lions in the hotel, Fernanda and I pretended to be sea lions. We barked at each other, and used our hands as flippers to splash water. Then we had to mop up the bathroom floor!

(Speaking of pretending, how do you like this picture of me pretending to do an Olympic dive into the toilet? Or the one of me on the fire extinguisher, pretending to be a firefighter like Cole's and Caleb's dad?)

Here's a photo of our hotel from the outside, and here are Fernanda and I in front of a map of Ushuaia. I was so cold after all that time in the tropics that I kept my hat on most of the time. (I kept on my sunglasses too, but that's only because they made me feel cool.) I tried going out just once in the overalls Theresa Christina made me, and then went right back inside to dig my winter clothes out of my suitcase.

Once we'd gotten settled in the hotel, and Fernanda had found a warmer scarf, we went off to explore Ushuaia. Look at what we found - a double decker bus! It takes tourists all around the city, so Fernanda and I hopped on and went to the upstairs part of the bus.

I've got to say that the weather in Ushuaia is just plain weird. In just three hours it snowed, it rained, it hailed, and then the sun came out. I was so cold on the bus that Fernanda had to tuck me into her coat until I stopped shivering! I really enjoyed driving around Ushuaia, though. I think that they should put a second floor on our school buses, because the view from the top is wonderful. A lot of grown-ups seemed to think so too - look at how many people are upstairs with us.

Then Fernanda and I went looking for penguins. Every year these little magellanic penguins migrate south to Ushuaia to make their nests. The trouble is that now it's fall here, and the chicks had grown up and all the penguins had gone north for the winter. Fernanda and I looked around the beaches just in case a few had stayed in their burrows, but the nesting grounds were deserted. Apparently there aren't nearly as many penguins here as there used to be, even in the summer, because of oil spills and climate change.
These were the only penguins we found, on a poster outside a gym. (My favourite is the one on the exercise bike.)

We finally found the sea lions, but I'll tell you about those in the next instalment of this blog.



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Bottom of the World

For Easter, Fernanda and I went as far south as we could go, almost to the very bottom of the world. We took a plane to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, which means the Land of Fire. That's a funny name, because Ushuaia (pronounced Oos-waya) is cold, and I mean cold. The wind came swooping down the mountains, and sometimes I was afraid that I was going to blow away from Fernanda and right out to sea. While everyone back in Mallorytown was admiring daffodils and crocuses, I was looking at fall colours on the trees and blankets of snow on the mountaintops. It felt a bit backwards to see people getting ready for winter in April!

You know, this is the first time I've really had a chance to see the stars. The rest of the time I've been in cities and all their lights were so bright that I couldn't see the night sky. Here, the stars are brilliant! They are so bright that you can read by starlight if you hold the paper close enough. The night sky is completely different from ours, and I couldn't recognize even one constellation at first. Then Fernanda taught me how to find the most important constellation, the Southern Cross. Its stars are so big and bright that they look like jewels floating above the Andes. I don't see a cross when I look at it, though - I think it looks like a kite and the kite string! It's funny, all the stars seem brighter here, and there seem to be more of them. The only constellations I knew from home were the Big and Little Dippers, and you can't see them at all from here. We're just too far south.

You'll never guess what else I saw! The southern lights! I thought there were only northern lights. The southern lights are just as beautiful. It was wonderful to see their pale green curtains shimmering and dancing over the dark sea and mountains.

When we flew here from Buenos Aires, I finally had a window seat in an airplane! Every other time I've been on a plane, I had to stay in my envelope in the bottom of a mail bag. Seeing everything was soooo exciting! The inside of the plane is a bit like the inside of a coach bus, but much brighter. The windows are like portholes, and they all have little blinds you can pull up and down. While the plane rolled slowly toward the runway, the flight attendants showed us where the oxygen masks, emergency exits and life rafts were. Fernanda and I looked at the map of the plane carefully, so we'd be ready for any emergency.

I can't tell you how awesome it is being on a plane during take-off. It's better than the most exciting ride you've ever been on at the fair or at Canada's Wonderland. The plane taxis to its assigned runway - and then stops. You wonder what's happening, when the engines suddenly start getting louder ... but the plane still isn't moving. The engines keep getting louder and louder, like a scream that goes up and up and up, and the whole plane vibrates faster and faster as the noise swells and grows. Then, all at once, the plane begins to move forward, racing faster and faster and faster until your tummy gets squashed against the seat. When you don't think you can possibly go any faster, the ground just sort of falls away and you're flying. The world drops down and away beneath you, spreading out like a wonderful living model of the real thing, and then you notice that the clouds are almost right on top of you. Next thing you know, you're in the clouds (it's like flying through fog), and then all of a sudden the clouds are underneath you and it looks as if you're flying above a meadow covered in fluffy white bunny tails. The sky changes colour to a deep, dark, intense blue; and the sun becomes blindingly bright.

Here is a video of take-off from Buenos Aires (I love the view of the city as we fly over it), and here is a video of our landing at Ushuaia. I didn't take them myself, but I hope you have fun watching them anyway. (There's a little bit of kissing in the last video, but it's just a tiny bit. If you don't like kissing, you can stop the video early.)

Next time I'll put up photos of Ushuaia!

besos (that means "kisses" - everybody in Latin America is much kissier and huggier than in Canada, and now I kiss and hug everyone too)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

a party for Vanda's aunts

Before I left Brazil, Vanda and I took a 300 km a bus ride to Ubá, where her parents live. I can't get over how green everything is in Brazil! California, Mexico and Peru were pretty dry places, and of course it was almost winter when I visited la Tabatatière. We were going there for a party for Vanda's aunts, so we took presents and some treats for the party. Remember those french fries and pizza you made for me? I took those to share with everyone.

First we nibbled on some delicious appetizers and everybody exchanged presents. To be honest, I got completely mixed up about who was related to who. I just know that Mirian is in the patchwork skirt, Marina is wearing the dark grey dress, and Renata in the sundress with spaghetti straps. Maria Helena is the lady in the beige blouse and the black trousers, and Amaziles is wearing the striped blouse.

Vanda makes a wonderful basil mousse, but I don't have a picture of that. I do have a picture of the dessert table (of course!). Look at all these yummy desserts! Chocolate and milk flan, coconut bavaroise roll and green corn cream. Doesn't it all look delicious?

Here are Maria Helena, Amaziles, Renata and I chatting at the table. What do Brazilian women talk about? The same grown-up things that our moms and grandmas and aunts talk about: how fast we're growing up, who's getting married, who's had a baby, who's moving, where their outfits came from, how good the food is ... you know. It's really kind of comforting that people have the same sort of conversations wherever they happen to live!
Once we went back to Belo Horizonte, it was time to say goodbye. I hated to say goodbye to Vanda! She was so kind to me, and I had so much fun staying with her. I wish I could have stayed longer in Brazil, because it's a huge country and there's still so much to see. Anyway, I gave Vanda a huge hug before climbing into my envelope with my passport. I'm going to miss her so much.

I wonder how I'll like Buenos Aires, Argentina?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Brazil Part 3 - Back to the park

I loved the market, but my very favourite thing to do was visit the park. Sometimes I'd get a glimpse of the little tamarins with their big eyes and glossy fur, and sometimes I'd see different birds like this pompadour cotinga or this swallow-tailed cotinga (look at her beautiful nest!).

Often Theresa Christina came with me. (Her mother is a friend of Vanda's.) She's very active, and I needed some exercise too. (All that travel time in the envelope meant that I got really, and I mean really, out of shape.) Anyway, Theresa Christina made me a track suit just like hers, and we went running together in the park. She made me the overalls and striped sweater, too. Now I had something to wear again while all my other clothes were in the laundry.

On one of our walks in the park we met Gladson. I like this picture on the left a lot: you can see Theresa Christina, Gladson, and me in the middle; and in the background you can see how green and jungly the park really is. It's much more interesting than our parks, where the grass is mowed all the time and there's no place to hide.

Brazil Part 2 - the markets

I never got tired of going to the market with Vanda. They sell everything there! It's a bit like going to Walmart, with an important difference. In Walmart, one store sells everything in one place. In the market, there are all sorts of little stores, run by different people, selling everything in one place. It's so big and noisy that I was afraid of getting lost.
I got really scared in the hardware section. I was following Vanda down the aisle and she stopped to sneeze. When I looked up to say, "Bless you" I realized that it wasn't Vanda at all. I'd been following the wrong person! I was so scared, but when I looked back there was Vanda at the end of the aisle waving at me. Then I was just plain embarassed!

These candies and sweets were delicious. Let's see: dulce de leche, which is a kind of caramel cream; guava paste candy, coconut paste candy, chocolate cream, and figs in syrup. They gave me a little taste of each one so I could see what I liked best. To be honest, I couldn't make up my mind!

It was great getting to meet all these different dolls. Look at their hair! I wanted to dye mine green, like the boy I'm standing beside, but Vanda said I have to make sure that I always look like the photo in my passport. Oh, well, maybe I can colour it with magic marker when I get home!

One of the things I loved about Belo Horizonte was all the different kinds of cheese. I mean, in Mallorytown you can buy cheddar, parmesan, feta, cream cheese, cheese sticks, and that's about it. But just look at this cheese booth! They had hard cheese, soft cheese, ripe cheese, orange cheese, white cheese, gold cheese .... I had no idea there was so much cheese in the world.

And as I already said, you could buy anything here. Look at the tiny pots and pans for a dollhouse. They had the most beautiful flowers around the corner, too; I had fun playing hide and seek among them. I forgot to bring my basket to the market, but my new overalls have really deep pockets for my change.
I wish that you could all have come with me; we could have had a terrific time playing hide and seek here! On second thought, that may not be the best idea ... we'd probably have all gotten lost.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Brazil - Part One

The trip from Peru to Brazil took a long time. To get from Lima to Belo Horizonte you have to cross some desert, climb or fly over the Andes Mountains, and travel through lowlands of the Amazon basin. The first thing the Brazilian immigration officer wanted to see was my vaccination record, but luckily Erasmo had made sure that it was up to date. Then she stamped my passport and I was in Brazil!

Vanda met me at the post office and took me to her apartment. She lives waaaay up on the 15th floor. I spent a lot of time looking out my bedroom window at all that green; I pretended that I was a bird flying over the park. The prettiest little ring-tailed monkeys, called tamarins or saguis, live there. (You can see some of them if you go to the Biodome in Montreal.) Vanda gave me some bananas, and one of them let me feed her!

I'd really hoped to be there for Carnaval, but I just missed it. Pity - Vanda had a special samba dress already for me. It was beautiful, and I liked to twirl in it, but I haven't worn it much because I wanted to keep it looking nice.

Here's a picture of Vanda, her esthetic doctor, and me. I love the way Vanda is always smiling - she is always happy and making jokes. She's sort of like the aunt everybody wishes they could have, the same way that you'd love to have Elias and Erasmo for uncles.

Vanda teaches English at a couple of colleges here. One of her classes is all teachers. Well, not teachers yet, but they're at teacher school learning how. It's funny - they go to school at night! They asked me about Canadian schools and what we do at home, and I taught them some English expressions like "Dude!" and "Cool!"

It was still light when Vanda and I took the bus out to the college. It's 25 km from her apartment, but I loved looking out the window and seeing more of the city. I shared my seat on the bus with Ana Clara. I tried to talk to her in Spanish, and she just looked at me - then I remembered that in Brazil they speak Portuguese! Boy, did I feel silly!

I have to get off the computer now, but next time I'll tell you about going to the market with Vanda!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Medical Check-up

Before Erasmo mailed me to Vanda, he had to give me a health certificate so that I could enter Brazil. I didn't mind him listening to my heart and lungs with the stethoscope (although it tickled a bit). He let me have a turn with the stethoscope, so I got to listen to my heart too. It goes thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump.
I hope I'd remembered to wash my ears that morning! He said that they were in perfect shape, though.... no more ear infections. I used to get them all the time, remember?

What I most definitely did NOT like were the shots. I had to have two of them to go to Brazil: one for yellow fever and one for hepatitis A. Look at the size of those needles! The only reason I didn't cry was because the nurse was taking pictures to put on the blog. I sure didn't want you to see photos of that! But, you know, Erasmo talked to me all the time and it didn't really hurt that much after all. He put a bandaid on each arm and it was all done.

I hated to say goodbye to Erasmo. He is cool and funny, and he did so much with me. I LOVE his family! I love Peru, too.

Muchas gracias, Erasmo! Te quiero mucho.

Sally Mallory, Tomb Raider

One of the most exciting parts of my trip to Trujillo was visiting the Moche valley. The Moche lived a long time ago, before the Incas made their mark on the Andes. The culture died out around 1,200 years ago, but you can still see where they lived. They were wonderful artists, making things like this portrait out of clay; and these ear ornaments. Erasmo and his mother took me right to the top of the Huaca de la Luna. In the distance you can see the Huaca del Sol, and a little bit of Trujillo. The huacas are a little bit like pyramids: one for the moon (Luna) and one for the Sun (sol). They say that it took 50 million adobe bricks to build the Huaca del Sol!

I was a bit scared to go down inside, because they've found lots of skeletons and National Geographic talks about people being sacrificed here. You never know, there might have been a curse or something! Erasmo's mom let me hold her hand in the scary parts. Each new generation of Moches made a new row of murals. Some of them were kind of spooky... there was a sort of Terminator dude in there killing people. It was really cool, though, like being in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

On the left is a picture explaining about the murals inside the courts. They also had all sorts of different pamphlets about the Moche culture, but I'm only reading at Level 22 in English. The pamphlets must have been at Level 40 or something like that, and they were in Spanish! You can read more about them in English here, but you might want to ask a grown-up to help you out. I had to!

Erasmo said that the King and Queen of Spain visited the huacas last year. That must have been cool! I wonder if they found it creepy too!