Argentina: Petrified

From Bariloche we hopped a plane down to El Calafate.  May I take a moment to recommend the airline security practices in use in Argentina?  For a country with a history of Dictators and secret police, it was, shall we say, rather more civil and respectful than what we get in the land of the free.

I’d also like to suggest that you don’t stay in the Hotel Posada Los Alamos while you’re in Calfate.  It was the only hotel, the entire stay, we did not like. We were pretty hardcore in our dislike.  We showed up to check in half an hour after check in started.  “Your room isn’t ready quite yet.  It’ll just be five minutes.  Have a seat,” they say.  So we sit down.

Mind, we’re in Calafate pretty much entirely to go see the glacier.  I gave us two nights just in case something went wrong with getting there, or the tours our first day were all booked or something like that.  There are other interesting things around to do, too, but it’s all about the glacier.  And we couldn’t book ahead of time, so I want to get on reserving spots ASAP.

Forty minutes later I’m about to chew all the way through my fingernails because we could have gone and booked the tour already, but we don’t have our room yet.  We’re still waiting in the lobby.  Longest. Five minutes. Ever.

Finally, our room ready, the porter leads us to a room down the hall and around the corner.  It’s big, has a very nice sitting area, a gorgeous view of the courtyard, and one bed. “Er,” says I.  Then, in Spanish, “We need two beds.”

“Two beds?” the porter asks.

“Yes.  I made the reservation for a room with two twin beds.”

“Oh,” says the porter.  Then he leaves.

“What did he say?” John asks.

“I think we’re supposed to wait here?  He’s coming back, maybe?”

Twenty minutes later the porter comes back.  We go to another room.  This one’s on the third floor.  It’s tiny.  No sitting area, small windows that barely close, and a view of…a street guarded by a very noisy three legged dog.

You can’t make this shit up.

We dropped our stuff then went to explore the sights and wonders of Calafate, and get us some scheduled glacier time.

There are no sights and wonders to Calafate.  It’s a soulless tourist town with one main drag of competent restaurants and stores hawking kitsch surrounded by unpaved streets with depressing, tiny houses and no cats.  Lots of dogs.  No cats.  The town is unnatural.

Glacier tours for the next day were booked.  So we booked a tour to the petrified forest for the next day.  This was one of those “Glad I read the guide books” things, because the tour booking offices didn’t seem particularly enthused about pitching or talking about it, in English or Spanish.  We wound up booking both days of tours from a fairly adorable girl who looked panicked every time you asked her a question.  I started by asking if we could talk in English, for John’s benefit, and she was so, so relieved when I switched back to Spanish for her the first time she got confused.

You know how I was sure I’d stop feeling smug and proud of being competent after the first week?  Apparently I massively underestimated my capacity for self-congratulation.

Calafate was actually where I had the most trouble with the language.  In Bariloche and Buenos Aires I’d occasionally run across somebody who’d speak and it just would not register as parseable language, but it was rare.  It was happening all the time in Calafate.  And then at dinner the waitress, who I’d been guessing my way through conversation with (she could understand me, at least) asked, “Para shayvar?” about our leftovers.

“John, they’re ‘shyuh-ing’ their ‘yuhs’!  That’s why I’m not following.”


“They’re doing their double-el’s funny.  It’s an accent thing.  That’s what’s going on with the people I can’t understand.”

“You’re not understanding?  It seems to be working fine.”


Apparently since John can’t understand when I’m saying, “I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me,” he didn’t notice my intense angst over constant communication fail.  This was probably for the best.

The petrified forest was gorgeous, cold, and totally worth the trip.  Our tour guide was hilarious – “I’m a professional bullshitter.  If you ask me a question and I don’t know the answer, don’t worry, I’ll make one up for you.  Don’t say anything if you catch me lying, okay?”

“What’s the name of that plan?” I asked, still frustrated at how hard it is to find out the names of Patagonian flora.

“I have no idea.”

“There are dinosaur bones lying around all over the place around here.  We don’t like to tell people, though.  When we do, the scientists from Buenos Aires come, dig out all the good ones, then take them back to their museum in Buenos Aires.  Then there’s nothing left here.  All the Patagonian dinosaur bones are in Buenos Aires.”

The wind was bitterly cold and blew constantly.  The air temperature was low, too.  John and I were chilled pretty thoroughly by the time we got back to our fantastic hotel.  But hey, the spa has not one, not two, but three Jacuzzis!  So we grab our swim suits and head over there.

Remember how much I loved the hot tub at Peuma Hue?  Of course nobody was going to have something on that scale of awesome.  I didn’t require a babbling brook and clear starscape.

Hot water would have been nice, though.  Or, you know, something warmer than chilly.

We went back to the room.  I took a bath, just as sleet started falling.

I’ve been soaking for about twenty minutes, cruising through back issues of magazines I’m behind on, when I hear something akin to maniacal laughter from John.

“What’s so funny?” I call.

“I’ll show you when you get out,” John says.

“Ah,” I say to myself.  “Cats.  On the internet.  Poor thing’s home sick.”

I emerge after acrobatically maneuvering through a shower that shifts from frigid to scalding in rapid succession.  I settle down onto my bed, ready indulge in more reading, when I remember John’s uncharacteristic cackle.  “Show me the thing,” I say.

John points to the rafters at the ceiling.  “The roof leaks.”

Best. Hotel. Ever.

More pictures from the petrified forest.  Glacier coming later.

Argentina: Peuma Hue

There’s a tradition in Argentina where people go on vacation to Estancias.  You can do this for an afternoon or as an overnight stay for a few nights or longer, depending on your budget and the Estancia.  Depending on which Estancia you go to, this is basically a cross between farm tourism and renting space in a European castle.  This was the part of the trip that excited John the most, and agonizing over which of dozens of good Estancias scattered around the country we would go to was the thorniest part of the trip planning.  Ultimately I settled a Peuma Hue, which is just outside Bariloche, for a combination of reasons centered around the review of their food.

I didn’t take pictures of all of the food.  This is representative.  Of the appetizer.  At lunch.  I’d go back to this place just to keep eating.  Or possibly to propose marriage to their cook.  (Interesting trivia that is of course no way related, same sex marriage is legal in Argentina.)

The grounds are utterly, fantastically gorgeous.  They’re right on a lake, with woods covering nearby mountains that one can go traipsing on to one’s hikerly heart’s content.  Our first afternoon we took a boat out to a peninsula for what was described as a 1.5hr hike back.  John was mostly feeling better, but I was concerned about over taxing him, so we decided that sounded like the perfect way to kill the 5 hours until dinner.  We just needed to take this windy little path that went along the base of the mountain, with maybe a stop to check out a cave.

“Hey, John?  How stubborn am I?” I ask as I start scaling a big rock well off our path.

“Pretty stubborn.”

I get half way up, see an easy path the rest of the way up, and then look back at the route I’ve taken so far.  “And how stupid am I?”

“You’re far enough away that I feel safe saying you are sometimes very stupid.”

Getting all the way to the top from there is going to be easy.  In fact, I’m taking pictures and clinging to the rock with my ankles and knees because I am a badass.  But I have no idea how, once I reach the top, I’ll get down without breaking, at a minimum, my camera.

I jumped down without going the rest of the way up.  After all, I’d promised to translate for John and the trip wasn’t quite half over yet.

“Why is everything here gorgeous?” John asked.

“You told me to take you to pretty places.”

“There are too many pictures to take.”

“I’m sorry, what was that?  My view senses were tingling.”

“I think I have to update my definition of view.  I thought that overlook back there was a view, but now I realize, this is a view and that was nothing.”

“Yeah.  But, uhm, I think we’re higher up than we’re supposed to be.  And I know we’re taking our time, but the Estancia is really far away, and it’s been 1.5 hours already.”

“I’m having fun.”

“Me too.  But I don’t want to miss dinner.  Dinner is very important.  It has food.”

The trail we wanted to be on was supposed to be marked by yellow and orange ribbons.  The trail was blazed well enough we didn’t really need them, they just served as a nice reassurance that we were doing things right.

“John, why is that ribbon red?”

“It’s a herring?”


“A red. Herring. Get it?”

“I’m not bringing your body through customs.  Even if I’m the one who killed you.”

“Oh, you have to see this,” John says when the trail finally looks like it’s about to start going down, instead of up.  After we’ve encountered wooden walkways that end abruptly after going off a cliff.

“Please don’t murder any more Spanish by trying to read the signs out loud.  I’m hot.”

“No, really, you want to read this sign.”

We’d come up behind it, so I had to go down the path and turn around to read it.

I have no idea how we managed that.

Evelyn, the lady who runs/owns the Estancia, is a genuine sweetheart.  One afternoon John and I were finishing up lunch with some other guests when she came to check in and see how our mornings went.  The other guests shared their story of coming back from a walk to encounter some of the farm dogs chomping down on a pair of goslings, much to the distress of the parents.

“Oh, dear.  That’s so sad.  I know it’s circle of life and all, but they were so cute.  It was just two?  So the parents didn’t lose everybody, at least.”

Her sympathy for the goslings was particularly memorable given her commentary when, on the way to the airport, she had to stop while a trio of dogs took their time crossing the road.  There was a bit of canine lounging involved in the crossing, even as she honked at them.  “Those are the first stupid dogs we’ve seen in Argentina,” John and I commented.

“Yeah,” she said with a snort.  “They won’t last long.”

We had a functioning wood burning fire place in our room, and put it to use.  They had the most stable internet connection of the entire trip.  They had a colt who absolutely adored John, especially his shoes.  It followed us for one of our horse rides, affectionately stalking John.  I may have not been so supportive of John’s distress, what with the uncontrolled snickering.

It should also be noted that, at least if I’m alone in the back of a two-person kayak, I am the world’s most ineffective kayaker.  I got stuck on everything, and half the time I still don’t know what it was that jammed me up.

They’ve got a hot tub.  A wood fired hot tub.  A wood fired hot tub next to a babbling brook.  Under a tree.  Where, if you soak in it after dinner you get a fantastic view of the stars coming out while the sun sets below the mountains, and the breeze is pleasantly cool even while it shakes the blooming tree overhead.  (More unrelated trivia, Argentina does not allow marriage to objects or locations.  Prudes.)

This was easily my favorite part of the trip, despite the high nature quotient and the absence of dense city awesomeness.  This opinion is not at all colored by the crass, unsubtle bribery they used to secure our favor. Namely: kittens.

More pictures here.

Argentina: Dear John

Dear John,

Sorry you got sick on your giant trip of awesome wherein I was terrified you wouldn’t have fun.  But hey, the worst happened.  You definitely weren’t having fun.  Here’s what we did while you were running a fever, hemorrhaging snot, and struggling with wanting to be asleep but being too miserable to manage it.

We had our last day in Buenos Aires for a bit.  You didn’t really like Buenos Aires, so that was okay.  We went to check out the planetarium but it’s really just an omnimax theater and the movie was only in Spanish, so that was no good.  Instead we went to the botanical gardens, which was quite pretty.  I took a bunch of pictures.  Then we got on the overnight bus to Bariloche, and I continued my enthusiasm for street graffitti.  You see dirty sings of bad maintenance, I see fantastically surreal, quality art.

The bus was fantastically comfortable.  Better than first class on a plane level of fantastic.  You were pretty far gone at that point.

Me: John, there’s a dinosaur out our window.

John: Huh?

Me: A dinosaur.  On the side of the road.  Out the window.

John: I have no idea what you’re saying.

Me: It looks hungry.  They have hungry dinosaurs stalking the highways out here.

John: I’m going back to sleep now.

We made it to our hotel in Bariloche, which was fairly nice, and put you to bed while I scouted around town.  I was right, you would like Bariloche.  Maybe you’ll get to see it some day.


You still weren’t feeling well the next day, so I did what all supportive friends/travel buddies do: I went and had adventures without you.  This involved sleeping in as late as I could and still get hotel breakfast, then wandering around Bariloche until I found an afternoon tour I wanted to take.


Bariloche is cute.  It’s definitely a tourist town – you don’t get that many shops selling kitsch and chocolate otherwise, but there’s a real town under it.  The town is quaint, the setting gorgeous, and the chocolate is quite good.


I wound up booking a boat tour that would go out to Los Arrayanes park, and to Isla Victoria.  They offered guides in Spanish and English, but since you were sick in bed, I decided to conduct the day in Spanish.  This confused the hell out of a couple from New York who seemed to assume that since I was alone and American, too, we’d be best friends.  They wound up finding a pair of sisters from New York who went on at length about travelling around the Turkish isles on the family boat of a friend from business school.  And about how New York is the best place ever, ever.  I’m sure I regret playing native rather than having that conversation.


The boat ride was quite nice.  I was on a boat called the Cui Cui which, if I understood the tour guide correctly, is the native word for goose.  It’s a really good thing I could mostly understand the Spanish since the tour guide on the boat generally went on for ten minutes in Spanish, then in English did the, “Be back at the boat by x time,” part of the spiel.


I’m finding the internet to generally suck at providing information about Patagonian flora which is frustrating since it’s visually fascinating and I’d like to know more about it including, in some cases, what it’s even called.  You can get a bit of information about Arrayanes trees on wikipedia.  I’d describe them as South American birch trees.  Their trunks have the same smooth texture and narrow shape.


When we were in Iceland there were parts that were very Middle Earth, especially Mordor.  Argentina hasn’t triggered the same impression nearly so much, but this forest is definitely in the running for Lórien.


This part of the tour was a nice walk, fairly short, over quickly, and back onto the boat.  One man in a bright orange coat stopped, looking very confused and in Spanish asked, “You speak Spanish?” to which I answered with my standard, “Yes, a bit.”  “Where are you from?” “The United States.” “Oh?  Where?” “Wisconsin.”  “But it’s cold there!”  He then ran off to tell the lady he was with that the sunburned girl was from Wisconsin, where it’s cold, and she speaks Spanish.  This was my first clue about how very conspicuous I was.


As you’ll recall, I think, we were both rather sunburned from walking in Buenos Aires, despite staying in the shade.  I glowed a bit.  You blamed your early fever phase on sun exposure.  I have not yet seen other sun burned people here.  I think everybody else in this country may be smarter than us.


Isla Victoria was gorgeous.  There was more tour guide guidance for this leg, and so I got to feel smug as the guide talked about different fungi growing on the trees, the history of the settlement of the island, and the different approaches to conservation that have been used since the park was created.  Smug, because I more or less understood it all.  You can eat the little red fungi, but they aren’t sweet.


One thing I noticed across both legs of the tour is how much less maintained these forests seem than what I’m used to.  There are fallen trees and downed branches everywhere.  I’d thought at first that it was just a consequence of the bit of logging they do to cull the forest on Isla Victoria, but this is just a feature of the woods all over the place.  There are tons of very old trees, but there are also tons of trees that just keel over.


Back on the boat I was hanging out, having a good time, when I hear a nice middle aged lady comment, in Spanish, to her friend, “Look how sunburned that girl is.”

“It happened in Buenos Aires,” I said.  “We thought we were doing a good job of staying in the shade.”

“You speak Spanish?” the woman said.

“Yes, a bit.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.  We’d have been talking to you, but we didn’t think we’d understand.  Where are you from?”


We chatted the rest of the way back to the harbor.  They were a group of friends, all from Argentina (somewhere north something), visiting Bariloche because it’s a nice town and that’s what retired people in Argentina do.  They agreed that the sun in Buenos Aires is pernicious.  They were very sorry you weren’t feeling well, but hoped I’d had a good time without you, and that you’d feel better soon.


And this is a picture I took from our hotel window, so you’ll always remember the one part of Bariloche you did get to see!  No need to thank me; I know I’m the best 🙂



Argentina Trip: Buenos Aires Part 1

Pic by John.

In the lead up to this trip, I had three major fears.  They were, these:

1) That John will hate the trip and have a miserable time

2) That I will make such a thorough ass of myself trying to speak Spanish that we’ll be constantly reduced to pantomime, stressing John out and causing him to hate the trip.

3) There will be logistical disasters that complicate things and cause John to hate the trip.

It’s possible there was a theme to my concerns.  

Another from John. I forgot to bring my phone for pictures the first day.

We landed at Ezeiza airport outside Buenos Aires ten minutes early, then sat on the runway for quite a while.  That was ok, since before changing our flights around to something not insane we weren’t going to land until that night.  Any time we got was bonus time.  We paid our reciprocity fee fairly easily, and the biggest hassle getting through customs was just that there were so many people going through.  Then we emerged into the arrivals terminal and this was the part I was really excited about.

“There are going to be people from out hotel there to pick us up.  They say they’ll have our name on a sign, like in the movies.  I’ve never been picked up from the airport by somebody with my name on a sign before!”

John took this picture out the window next to the door to our hotel room.

I still haven’t been picked up by somebody with my name on a sign.  Or John’s name on a sign.  I’m still not sure what happened, but as far as I could tell, nobody was there.  Maybe they gave up and left?  The people I swapped emails with never told the right people?  I don’t know.  But we lost a good chunk of time wandering through crowd, looking for somebody who was looking for us.  Then we hired a cab.  I used a very teeny bit of Spanish, the porter mostly humoring my possibly-too-enthusiastic desire to practice, but I was understanding and being understood.  And then I gawked at billboards the whole way into Argentina and felt continually proud because I could read them.  John kept giving me nervous glances of the, “Are your standards so low that this is exciting and what does that mean for me?” variety.

Obviously I didn’t take this picture: I’m in this picture. Planning things! Also, this is one side of our hotel room. It’s decorated in birds, cats, and skulls. I did not know this when requesting this room. That’s just how things roll, here.

There was a moment outside the hotel entrance, which isn’t marked very clearly as a hotel entrance, where I’m staring at the phone ringer thingie and going, “Oh god, I’ve booked us in a hotel requiring secret agent man communication systems.  Again.  Is this a super power I didn’t know about?”

Instead, a girl met us at the door, and promptly started hefting my gargantuan bag up steep, narrow steps.  I’ve had trepidation over the bag I brought, but my luggage comes in two sizes: Carry-on and “We’re moving to Virginia for the summer, better bring everything you’ll conceivably want for the next three months.”   Carry-on wasn’t going to cut it for three weeks, not with the variety of expected weather, so gargantuan it was.  I only half filled it.  It still felt really, really guilty watching somebody else haul my luggage around.  She wouldn’t let me carry it myself, though.

Our room wasn’t ready quite yet, but they held on to our luggage, gave us a handy dandy map, and we set off in quest of breakfast and an ATM for to obtain local currency.  We found the ATM.  It was out of money.  But, I could read the screens!  The next ATM refused to complete a transaction with John’s card.  Or my card.  “Maybe we should have gotten money at the airport.  I should have thought of that instead of obsessing over finding the guy with the sign,” I say.  But then I got completely distracted by a place across the street selling empanadas.  John had never had an empanada.  We fixed that right away.  Well, I fixed it, since he stood there while I read the menu and then ordered, making it clear both that I wanted four chicken empanadas and that nobody in charge of raising me spoke the least bit of Spanish.  Gone are the days where the only clue in my accent is that it’s not from anywhere, so clearly came from a textbook.  I’d be embarrassed, except I’m probably actually better at conversation now.  *Sigh*

We went back to the hotel, got into our room, and John took a nap while I started planning our evening and getting orientated.  The first thing I realized was that we absolutely had not gone in anything like the direction I thought we had when we went off for bank and lunch.  We’d done the opposite.  Which was weird, so I looked at the map the hotel gave us again.  And then I realized what happened: North on the hotel map is at the bottom.  I’d glanced at it, assumed North was up, then took us North when I should have taken us South.  In my defense, I am on the wrong side of the equator for my navigational instincts to be valid.

My last words to John before he dozed off were something like, “I know steak and sushi are our big food goals.  We’ll probably do steak tonight, and keep our eyes peeled for a promising sushi joint while we’re out and about.” He woke up to, “We’re having sushi for dinner, and going to the bus station, and we’re walking 4km to get there.  And we’re going to stop in places on the way to see if we can find you pants that fit.”  If you don’t know John, picture somebody tolerant and long-suffering.  Now you know John.

We went to Irifune.  They were recommended by the guidebook, had good reviews online, and were near enough to where we were going to be anyway that it seemed like a good idea.  I liked their take on a Spicy Tuna roll, though it wasn’t spicy.  Their honey mustard roll was really good, and the Acedeviche roll was quite nice.  (John thought the Acediviche roll was better than the honey mustard roll.)  The cheddar roll was an abomination, and not at all good, even to people from the land of deep fried cheese.  Overall, it was okay sushi, but not as exciting or good as I’d hoped, and rather more expensive than it was worth.  I’d pay their prices for sushi, but their menu would need to be a lot more interesting and tasty, or their portions would have to be larger.  We walked out hungry, and stopped for slices of Argentinian-style pizza on our way back to the hotel.  That was good.

Our second day was all about dealing with a logistical hiccup that crept up.  Our original plan had us leaving BA on Wednesday on an overnight bus to Bahia Blanca, spending a night in Bahia Blanca (to stretch our legs, not because it’s a particularly interesting place) and then another overnight bus on to Bariloche.  When did the research on bus schedules, there were several options that would work well for that.  Apparently the bus schedules changed for November, though, because it wasn’t possible to do both legs of the trip overnight.  Half the point of doing overnight was so that John’s sabbatical would pay for our transit.  So now we’re doing it in one stretch, which means I need to get us somewhere to stay for two extra nights, and since Argentinian websites never seem to work when I want to spend money on them, I need to by the bus ticket, too.  Snagging an extra night in our BA hotel was super easy.  (I did it in Spanish!  Eventually I’ll have the part where I can make this talking in Spanish thing work integrated into my self-image enough that I’m not smug every time.  Eventually.)

It’s our second day in Buenos Aires.  We have things we need to do.  We have things we want to do.  We’re going to…play with the public transit system!

I am in love with the BA public transit system.  For one, it’s dirt cheap.  AR$1.20 dirt cheap, which is roughly US$.25.  The bus drivers are aggressive speeders.  And the entire system is apparently a hodgepodge of several private companies where they have dozens of routes, an no schedule.  The buses just come.  And come.  And come.  The learning curve for new people is steep, and I am definitely new people, but I am in awe.  The adorable guy manning the hotel desk that day loaned us his transit card to use while we’re in town and it works on all the buses, and the subway.  This city has parrots, cheap steak, and an aggressively active public transit system.  If it were cold and rainy too, you’d never pry me out of here.

There were adventures involved in my learning curve with the bus system, but not particularly interesting ones.  (Failure to get on buses.  Failure to find bus stops.  Failure to be going in the right direction upon getting onto bus)  We acquired our tickets for Bariloche, significantly cheaper ($80 or so) than they would have been on the website, and made our way to our tourist activity for the day, the Jardín Japones, i.e. Japanese garden.  It’s possibel I may have said something to John like, “You originally wanted to go to Japan on your Sabbatical.  So far, it’s like you did, right?”

My favorite part of the garden?  The very un-zen parrots flitting around in the tree tops.  I can’t think of natural element less suited to quiet, orderly peace and relaxation than a flock of parrots, but they were there in force.  It was awesome.  The food in the cafe was pretty good, too.

Then we walked.  A lot.  John didn’t quite believe me about how late dinner starts here until the restaurant I had picked out didn’t even open unitl 8pm.  We ate beef.  And then we took the Subway back to the hotel.

John woke up on day 3 with a sore throat, so I decided that dragging him across large chunks of the city on foot was probably a bad idea.  He wanted to see the ocean, so we went to check out the nature reserve relatively near our hotel.  The handy dandy map they gave us when we arrived din’t show it – it was hiding under a text box showing tourist hotspots – but google maps and the lonely planet guidebook made it look like it was about eight blocks away.  

That wasn’t quite true.  Also, some of those blocks were not quite block sized.  And then once we got there, the nature reserve was rather larger than I expected, meaning we were still over a kilometer away from the ocean.

I rather adore that there’s a marsh close enough to the main stretch of the city to get shots like that one.  Also, that the list of common phrases I was using to brush up had not one, but two ways of talking about sore throats.  It made impromptu trips to the pharmacy thoroughly unadventurous.  (I swore I’d brought drugs for everything.  Left out sore throats, though.)

We did find the ocean.  And then we hung out to spend a quiet afternoon reading, and getting acclimated to the local eating schedule.  Then something bit John and he started to break out in hives.  Apparently I brought drugs for everything except sore throats and allergic reactions.  We cured him with meat, taken internally, with cheese, lettuce, tomato, egg and a bun.

One thing John and I have both noticed and appreciated, the dogs and the children here are extremely well behaved.  There are tons of both everywhere, but we never hear them.  Even a gaggle of school kids on a field trip at the nature reserve basically disappeared because they got so quiet when their teacher started lecturing.  It’s kinda awesome.

If you ever happen to be in BA, eat at this place.  Their on Defensa, several blocks north of San Juan, and they are super tasty.  We ate the dinner for two, and they went ahead and gave us a dessert platter with one of everything when we were sad we couldn’t pick two of the dessert items.  

Today we get on the bus to go to Bariloche.  I’ll switch to using my nice camera instead of my phone camera, which means I might actually manage a picture of wildlife other than cats.

Google+ photo albums of pics from my phone.  Several already in this entry.

Trip Argentina: The Introduction

Once upon a time I was a project manager for a software company.  This software company did a great many things that look good on paper for employee relations, like giving you a month-long sabbatical every five years, during which you could go to a country where you’d never been and they’d cover your airfare and lodging.  I wanted that free international trip, oh yes I did. 

But not enough to not run screaming at the 2.5 year mark, and mostly regret not leaving a year sooner.  I was one of the longer lived employees there.

My buddy John, who got hired at the same time as me, has no sense of self-preservation.  His prior travel experience involves getting dragged to Iceland with me, and then our impromptu New Orleans trip.  So when he was coming up to his five year mark and it was time to start planning his sabbatical he made me an offer: If I did all the planning and legwork for the trip, I could be his +1.  To which I replied, “You know, I was plannning to go to Argentina this year, but the plane tickets were giving me sticker shock.”

John had hesitations.  Going places that don’t speak English when that’s all you speak and you don’t travel much is scary.  And he seems strangely concerned that I’m going to provoke the TSA or Customs into arresting us.  But I promised to get my Spanish back into working shape, and to not plan the entire thing around eating weird food and walking around giant, crowded cities. 

We’ve already had one adventure, namely, booking our flight out like morons.  Leaving Madison at 8:30pm to fly to O’Hare, so we can catch a 5:30am flight to Miami sort of morons.  Apparently American Airlines is awesome, though, and they let me change the flights on Thursday without charging me a ticket change fee.  “Becuase this isn’t you being flaky; nobody would have booked a flight like that on purpose,” the ticket agent explained.  After answering almost immediately when I finished navigating their voicemail system.  Also, one free checked bag.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a new favorite airline, and I had to invent the category “Favorite Airline” in order to put them in it.

Also, pre-emptive thanks to the folks who loaned me e-reader, watch, plug adaptors, and a copy of Dhalgren that is small enough to actually read comfortably.  You know who you are, and you rock!

I have blog posts scheduled to go to keep y’all entertained while I’m away.  I’m also hoping to blog the trip on the fly a bit so I don’t have a whole month of adventure to write and post when I get back.  But if you’re trying to get a hold of me, or you’re a new commentor waiting for approval, or you desperately miss my rather inane tweets, that’s what’s going on. 

Vacation.  I am in you.

World Fantasy Con Report Report

What does a reasonable, responsible person do the weekend before they’re going on an international vacation for three weeks?  I have no idea.  I went to Canada to hang out with book nerds.

A few things to note:

1) I checked Verizon’s website before going, to see what my international data charges would be.  They listed none for Canada, while listing very hefty rates for places like Argentina.  I took this to mean there were none.  This was an error.

2) I did all my logistical prep on the assumption that my phone would have an internet connection all weekend.

Getting to my hotel was a smidge more adventurous than it strictly needed to be.  But I did get there.  I cashed in frequent flier miles for the plane ticket and hotel points for the hotel, so overall it was like being at the con as an invited guest.  An invited guest nobody liked very much, since they put me across the street and around the corner.  Did you know that jaywalking in suburban Toronto is just as fun/safe/exciting as it is everywhere else I jaywalk?

I arrived much too late to register on Thursday, but that didn’t stop me from crashing the con suite, which was full of fantastic Chinese food and booze I was willing to drink.  The latter is extremely, extremely rare, even this close to an election.

The easy highlight of the con was the next morning when I finally managed to register.  I got my name badge, my program guide, my schedule, and a bag full of these.

If you’re looking at that and saying, “Wow, that looks like somebody’s WorldCon accident in the dealer’s room,” then you read my blog too much.  But you’re nearly right.  I walked away with more books by volume, four less by count, than what I picked up at WorldCon.  Except these books were free.  There was some very undignified petting and squeeing involved. I don’t think anybody noticed.

The rest of the con was largely hanging out with people and going to readings.  Tina Connolly paid me for the audio rights to Your Cities by buying me a drink.  She made the mistake of ordering the same thing I did, except she actually likes booze so she wasn’t nearly as fond of my pseudo-smoothie as I was.  I stalked Julia Rios, again, but it was way less creepy this time, I’m sure.  (Skip to the end for why)  And I got to hang out with Amal El-Mohtar which was pretty sweet since I’ve been fangirling her a bit since And Their Lips Rang with the Sun.  Also, other people, some of whom decided to call me Anaconda.  I am down with that for a nick-name.

My reading continued my unbroken trend of not being empty.  That’s all I ask, really.

Got home Sunday night without having encountered a single transit problem not of my own making.  This has me terrified for the flights to Argentina this weekend.

And then, Monday morning, what’s waiting for me in my inbox?  Confirmation that I’ve successfully invented a new job for myself.  For the link-click averse among you, I get to be the shiny new Podcast Editor for Strange Horizons’s shiny new podcast.  Don’t let the maniacal laughter distress you; I don’t have another mode for expressing joy.

In summary: Good Con.

O, Canada


I’ve now been in Canada for a full night.  I have not been assaulted by radical socialists, force-fed maple things, carried off by lumberjacks, conscripted into playing hockey, or subjected to hearing people say “eh.”  There might be something wrong with American stereotypes about the place.

Also, suddenly there are no political ads.  Canada wins!

Modern Surprises

Last Thursday was a little weird for me.  It was the day I went down to Chicago for WorldCon.  I took the bus, because I hate driving for road trips, and Sylvie was bringing her car down later that day.  I had a nice time, revised a bit of a thing to send off for critique, then started reading War for the Oaks.

I’ve done the trip down to Chicago enough since leaving there that I’m intimately familiar with how it’ll go.  I’m bored and focused all the way through Wisconsin and northern Illinois, and then I get the first glimpse of skyscrapers and turn into a distracted thing.  It’s all impatience and cussing traffic from there, because I’m going home and I want to be there and have tons of strangers to ignore while I’m surrounded by tall buildings and loud streets.  I adore cities, and Chicago is mine.

It went exactly as it always does, except this was the first time I had a smartphone and Twitter so there was a bonus “Traffic, I am in you!” during the frustrated stage.  The bus stops at Union station at Jackson and Canal, and I always, always wind up sniggering at myself the first time I tried getting there from Hyde Park, nigh unto a decade ago.  That was the day I figured out that Chicago is gridded, and one navigates it like one plays battleship.  I should, perhaps, have figured that out before leaving to catch a train.

The bus stop at union station is ugly, dingy, and full of white-person-sketch. (By which I mean, things sheltered why people find sketchy beyond their actual qualities)  I’m fond of it – there’s something to like about the unabashed utilitarianism in how they’ve deployed concrete barriers there.  It’s ugly, but it’s cheap and functional and nobody wants to spend money to make bus passengers feel cozy and welcome.  It’s honest.

Under other circumstances, I’d have been stupid enough to walk from Union Station to the Hyatt, even with my too-many bags full of baked goods and the weather aggressively sucking, but I knew I was tight on time for making it to my first panel, so I opted to catch a bus over to Wacker instead.  And that’s when I did a double-take.

The thing I’d been revising on my way down is set in Chicago.  It’s semi-post-apocalyptic, and I don’t give a year for when the big diverging events occur, but I’ve been seeing the divergence point as being a rolling “today” with the story happening twenty-five years from now, whenever now happens to be.  The CTA’s still around, because one should never kill things one can torture better by letting live, and it’s used in the bit I was revising.  Except there, in front of me, is a bus stop with a digital sign scrolling through which buses are coming and their ETAs.  This is new since the last time I saw a bus stop in Chicago.  This detail isn’t in my story.  I was gobsmacked.  Home, you’re changing when I’m not looking.

Things are changing all the time.  Little things.  In retrospect, the signs were obvious.  It’s the sort of thing that’s made trains more convenient for years and we have the technology now to do the same effectively for buses quite easily.  If I’d thought about it, in my world building, I’d have predicted that and included it on my own.  But I didn’t think of it.  I’m in love with a Chicago from three years ago and today’s Chicago is still mostly that place, but not entirely.

I’m prone to get hung up on the giant meaningful impact of a small detail nobody else cares about; power lines in Iceland, closing the Capitol during the protests, the fantastically powerful stories buried inside Objectivist fiction.  You don’t want me to get started on the details that have been fascinating me about phone numbers of late, because even I know the gushing is long and boring.  But here I am, a week later, still gobsmacked.  There are new signs on the bus stops.  Things inched forward without me.  They caught me by surprise.  This was a change I adapted to quickly, which was only remarkable because I had so much invested in remarking it.  Someday it’ll be a change that fuddles and confuses me, that I can’t adapt to immediately.  And then I’ll know I’ve grown old.

Welcome to the future.

WorldCon Report

Well, that was big.

I’m not going to talk much about the panels.  None of the ones I was on were a disaster.  The Ling 101 panel was a particular success.  By and large, I found the panels weaker than what I’m used to at smaller conventions, and definitely do not recommend WorldCon for the programming.  Overall, too many panelists with a single-minded focus on something tangential or boring, too little moderation.  So let’s leave that there and talk about the things that were interesting, or fun, or otherwise actually worth talking about.

Did you know the Vice President of SFWA can sea-captain marry people to get them into the SFWA suite?  Neither did I.  Or Mike Underwood.  Until it happened to us.  We objected.  This landed us in a group marriage of some sort where people were swapping dates and stickers were getting applied to badges and I vaguely protested about personal fears of commitment and allergies centering around the words “date” and “girlfriend.”  Mike and I agreed that we got an auto-anullment upon leaving the SFWA suite and none of it ever happened.  But hey, I have no seen the mysterious inner workings of the SFWA suite.  They’re mysterious.  And internal.  And involve giraffes.  (Don’t ask.)

Getting into the SFWA suite was just the first of a series of anecdotes involving me either being somewhere I’m not preciesely supposed to be or enabling that for others.  Nick and Sylvie came along because I wanted roommates for my hotel room and, hey, who better than my roommates?  Also, because I know them well and knew “Chicago,” “Free entry to the Adler,” and “downtown for dinner every night,” was a good sales pitch.  So it was that upon their arrival Thursday night, I abandoned the SFWA suite and all its mysteries to take my roomies to registration and thence on to the Adler.

We arrived at the registration desk at 8:05 to discover that registration closed at 8, despite the Adler being a badge requiring event and running until much later.  Given how very packed up everything was, I suspect registration closed at something more like 7:53.  Either way, my roomies were badgeless and thus deprived of the thing all the printed material insisted would be required to get there, get in, and get back.  “Meh,” said I.  “I have a badge and am good at looking important.  I’ll get you in.”

It worked just fine.


The Dealer’s room.  My first trip there was on Friday.  The plan was to just take an hour or so to scope it out and get a feel for what my book buying options were.  I’d put cash in my wallet for books, with the understanding that I could spend all of that without guilt.  Then Thursday’s dinner led to extra cash winding up in my wallet, but that’s okay because, really now, how could I ever spend that entire budget on one weekend?

So it was time for scoping.  I looked at four tables of books and didn’t so much as touch one, because I am a good creature of self-discipline and this was just the preliminary scouting mission.  Four tables.  And then.  Well.  I had an accident.


Used book sellers should not be allowed in the dealer’s room.

Also.  I should not be allowed in the dealer’s room.

It happened again on Saturday.


You know a fun way to end a con?  Hauling 25 books from the hotel to the “L”, and thence to your roomie’s car: not it.  On the other hand, BOOKS!!  And yeah, I so very hit the “Wait, where did all the cash go?” limit.  I’d have kept going, otherwise.

Saturday was the day I got the first steps toward a secret project I’ve been wanting to do set in motion.  It’ll be a couple weeks before they can turn any further and the whole thing could very well go off the rails, so I shall say no more.  However, for anybody taking bets on how long I could last with a reasonable person’s number of jobs before I started signing up for more, the answer is “About two months.”

Here’s the really awesome thing for Saturday.  I was on my way up to see Saladin Ahmed’s reading (which was great) when the guy waiting for the elevator next to me says, “You’re Anaea Lay?”

WorldCon is big enough that my instinctive response to strangers followed more along city-street protocol than con-full-of-geeks protocol, so I did a lot of stomping on my instincts all weekend.  This led to great eloquence, as you’ll note with my response of, “Er, yes.”

“You had a story in Apex last year, didn’t you?”

“Uhm,” and I not at all subtly look at the name tag because I’m pretty sure this isn’t Jason Sizemore in front of me, and I can’t figure out who the hell else would be making that connection and talking to me about it.  I am right, this is not Jason Sizemore.  This is some guy named Aaron.  Confused Anaea is confused.

“I liked it,” says Aaron.

“Oh.  Thank you.”  I’m probably lying about this bit of dialog.  It was something like that, I think.  I’m pretty sure I did not say, “As all people with taste do,” which is what I’ve always kinda worried I’d say the first time a stranger said nice things about a story of mine.

And then I was very happy both that Twitter exists and that I am on it, because I could, with great calmness and dignity, tweet my glory rather than grabbing strangers and saying, “See that guy over there?  He’s a fan!  My fan!  I have a fan!  Because I kick ass!!”  I did, of course, immediately forget his name.  Because I kick ass.

Wound up hanging out with Aaron more later on in the weekend.  He claims he figured out he must be my first fan based on blushing that occurred in my facial region.  It is well known that I do not blush, so either he witnessed some sort of fricking miracle, or he’s a liar.  I’m leaning toward miracle, since I have a brand new “no slandering your fans” policy.

At the Tor party that night I, with all the humility appropriate to a civilized, professional entity such as myself, am regaling Vylar Kaftan and others with the epic of my fan-possessing status.  “I got into this to have minions.  Fans are like minions.  My career goals are met.  I’m awesome.  I’m done.  It’s all undirected play from here on,” I declared.

Vylar, with actual humility and social grace, mentions that at the Asimov’s party they have a cake designed to look like the issue she’s in.  “I kinda looked at it and figured out my story would be about where the cream frosting is.  It’s neat to be the cream frosting.”

“Bitch,” says I.  “I want to be the cream frosting.  Now I have a new career goal I have to hit.”

Henceforward, publications who turn their magazines into cakes go at the top of my submissions queue.  And I’m asking for a cream frosting clause in all of my contracts.  Duotrope needs to add a “Cake? Y/N” column in their stat tracker immediately.

Sunday featured my Ling 101 panel, which was packed and quite fun.  There was a mini-post-panel-panel in the hallway afterward where I got to ramble on about stuff some more because people asked me to.  I wound up having to cut it short to run off and do prep for my reading.  There was some unknown writer (George R. R. somethingsomething) giving a reading at the same time which was good because it kept the room I gave my reading in from getting stuffy and hot due to all the people cramming in to see me.  Or was it my brownies?  Either way, I’m pleased with the turn out.  I should have lopped the beginning off the chapter like I normally do because it’s not great performance material, but I’m rather fond of the beginning of that chapter and was feeling sorry for it.  Instead, I wound up rushing the reading a bit and still not making it to the end of the chapter.  Next time, no weakness!

Then dinner at SushiSamba (Yum!) with Aaron and some of his friends, who happened to include a guy named Eneasz I’d met the day before.  Because con land, it’s a world almost as creepily small as Madison.

The Hugo ceremony was actually a lot more fun than I expected it to be.  I was going mostly because it’s what one does at WorldCon, and because I don’t think I’ll be making going to another one a priority any time soon.  Scalzi kept things running at a nice clip, and award ceremonies are way more exciting when you actually have an investment in the outcome of the award.  I now understand why some people watch the Oscars.  The segment on fans and creators who died in the last year still has me a bit weirded out: people clapped for names they recognized or liked or whatever.  I’ve always figured people would clap and cheer when I’m dead, but absent people who suffer death-by-Kansas-farmhouse it seems like a wholly inappropriate reaction.  Dear Fandom: You’re a bit morbid.

Honestly, the best part of Sunday was running into a bunch of people who’d actually read Among Others so that I could rant, at length, about the ending to people who knew what I was talking about.  My roommates will be pleased I have it out of my system now.

Monday involved packing up, grabbing lunch with folks I utterly failed to run into the night before, helping Christopher Kastensmidt with his reading (and using it to get rid of my leftover baked goods), swinging by the dealer’s room one last time (sans wallet) to say hi to John O’Neil, and then balancing three bags and nearly thirty books on my person for the journey home.

Oh, and if the guy who I accidentally spoilered the ending of Dance with Dragons for is reading this: I’m an asshole, and I’m sorry, and tell me your name so I can buy you a drink or something some time to make it up to you.

Preliminary WorldCon Appearance Schedule

I may have mentioned one or a hundred times that I’m going to WorldCon.  Well, now I have my preliminary appearance schedule, which I share with you so you can stalk me more effectively.  Because you’re going, too.  Aren’t you?

Thur 4:30-6pm Logic and Time Travel

If time travel stories are inherently illogical, how can we read them — let alone write them? Anaea Lay, James Bryant, Laura Frankos, Lawrence Person, Tony Pi


Fri 2:30 – 3pm Reading

Anaea Lay


Sat 4:30-6pm The Prime Directive: Altruism or Survival Strategy?

Is galactic civilization billions of years older than we are? Giving the Kzin a star drive seems like a really bad idea. Are there rules out there? Would voluntary enforcement be enough if coupled with a few horror stories? How could rules be established and communicated? When and how might we find out? Anaea Lay, Dale Cozort, James L. Cambias, John Strickland, W A (Bill) Thomasson


Sun 12-1:30pm Introduction to Linguistics

A basic introduction to linguistics and linguistics diversity, and how it might contribute to realistic languages in fiction. Anaea Lay, David J. Peterson, Lawrence M. Schoen, Petrea Mitchell, William S. Annis

It’s safe to say I’m rather pleased with having snagged that much programming.  Also, an entire half hour reading, all to myself.  It’s going to be awesome like awesome things.