Sunday, December 27, 2009

Penguins in Punta Tombo, Argentina

Last week I was in Punta Tombo ( near Puerto Madryn in Chubut province of Argentina),which has one of the largest colonies of Megallanic ( also called as Patagonic ) penguins, a kind of warm weather species, smaller than the Antarctic penguins. There are over two hundred thousand of them in an area of a few kilometres on the beaches of Punta Tombo. They are there during their breeding season from September to March. During the rest of the year, they move over 2000 kilometres to the ocean off Brazil. Punta Tombo penguin colony is accessible easily and one can walk around and observe the penguins closely.

It is amazing to see how the penguins walk like human babies in short steps slowly and awkwardly. They dive into the water and swim fast like fish. They stand upright like sentries for hours together while guarding their nests and chicks. The male and female do the guard duty in shifts. They look after the chicks with exemplary parental care, feeding them through the mouth. They move around in groups and are together in large colonies.
Here is how they walk...

In the picture below, the penguins are walking towards the pilgrims going for a holy dip..

The Magellanic Penguins live for about 25 years. They are monogamous and mate with the same partner year after year. Hmm... very unLatino in character....The male comes first in September and reclaims his burrow from the previous year and waits to reconnect with his female partner. The females are able to recognize their mates through their calls. They build their nests under bushes or in burrows. They lay only two eggs of which only one chick survives generally.
Here is a typical burrow of the penguins...

Here is how the penguins guard the nest, standing like a sentry...

Puerto Madryn is also the best place for whale watching. The Southern Right whales come here for their breeding season from June to December. Hmm..the whales were already gone by the time I got there...
Penguin colonies are also there in Valdez Peninsula, north of Puerto Madryn city. Besides penguins, one can see sea lions and elephant seals. During the journey through this patagonian windsewpt landscape of treeless rolling plains , one can see Guanacas ( looks like a combination of camel and sheep) and Ostrich-like Nandu birds.
At the entrance to the Valdez Peninsula there is a visitor centre, which is one of the best in the world. The bathrooms there are cleaner and shinier than the ones in Oberoi Hotel in Delhi. There are displays of information,maps and videos and friendly English-speaking guides. Punta Tumbo is also well organised with paths and facilities in an ecofriendly and efficient manner making the experience educative and pleasant for visitors. I have seen this kind of professionalism, and elegant visitor-friendly facilities maintained in other tourist places in Argentina.
Felicitaciones ... amigos Argentinos....

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Polo.... born in India....perfected in Argentina

The game between Dolfina and Ellerstina teams at the Argentine Polo Open yesterday was a Dream Game. The two teams had the perfect 40 handicaps each. It was a rare opportunity and incredible excitement to watch the masters play at the Palermo polo stadium in Buenos Aires considered as the cathedral of polo.

Here are the perfect handicappers and their age in brackets from left to right:
Dolfina team in white - Castagnola(39), Mariano Aguerre(40), Lucas Monteverde(32) and Adolfo Cambiaso(34)
Ellerstina team in black, left to right-Facundo Pires ( 23),Gonzalo Pires (26),Pablo Mac Donough(27), Juan Martin Nero(28)

Both the teams played an impressive and fast paced game and were neck to neck all the time. Adolfo Cambiaso of Dolfina and Facundo Pires of Ellerstina, the top players, displayed their magic with the ball while flying on the horses. The match ended as a draw with 16 goals each at the end of the eight chukers. They went for a sudden death play-off. Dolfina made the golden goal and became the winner of the Argentine Open 2009.

Ellerstina had earlier won in this season the Tortugas Open and the Hurlingham Open and was hoping to make it a grand slam with the Palermo Open, which is also called as the Argentine Open. But they were outplayed by Dolfina, who took revenge against Ellerstina who beat them in the 2008 Open. Dolfina has won the Argentine open four times in the last five years.

The game of yesterday was a reconfirmation of the fact that Argentina is the undisputed leader of polo in the world. Argentina has, at this moment, 11 ten handicap players out of the twelve in the world. Argentina has not only the best players in the world but also has the largest number of top ranked players. All the top 30 ranked players of the world are Argentines except for the sixth ranked Uruguyan David Stirling. There are over 1000 polo fields in Argentina which also has the best polo horses in the world.
Adolfo Cambiaso is the best polo player in the world. He was the youngest player to reach ten handicap, at the age of ninteen in 1994, when he won the Grandslam of Argentina. Since then he has been winning tournaments in Argentina and around the world.
While Argentina has perfected the game, it was born in India. The modern game of polo, formalized and popularized by the British , originates from Manipur in India. The first polo club was established in the town of Silchar in Assam in 1834. The second polo club came up in Calcutta in 1862. The British took the game from India to Britain, Europe and Americas and popularised them. While the glamour of polo was kept up by the royalty of Jaipur and Jodhpur, the level of the game in India has remained low. The highest handicap in India is said to be six. Since it is an expensive game it has been maintained mainly by the Indian army, which could afford horses. Now there is a boost to the game by the entry of Indian corporate chiefs who play and patronise the game. Even with this, India is likely to continue in the minor league while Argentina has taken the game to new levels of excellence. They say that there are two levels of polo: world class and Argentine class...
Felicitaciones Argentina...... Felicitaciones Cambiaso....

Saturday, December 05, 2009

From the bottom of the well to the top of Executive Tower ..The story of Mujica

From the bottom of the well to the top of Executive Tower – How Mujica, the guerilla fighter climbed out of his prison well to become President of Uruguay

Jose Mujica, the former leftist Tupamaro guerilla fighter who was elected as President of Uruguay on 29 November, was held in the bottom of a well for two years as part of his fourteen years of imprisonment. He learned to speak to the frogs and to hear the cry of the ants. He held dialogues with his inner self in order to avoid going mad in the well which was mercifully dry. He survived, abjured violence and embraced democratic ideals. He will now move into the Presidential office in the top floor of the Executive Tower building in Montevideo.

Mujica could not contain his tears at his emotional victory speech. Even the sky burst with rains and drenched him and his supporters with heavy downpour. It was a symbolic washing down of the past of Mujica, heralding a new era in the history of Uruguay and Latin America.

In the sixties and seventies, Latin America was filled with young idealist revolutionaries, who took up arms to change the staus quo and establish utopian socialist states. They assassinated, kidnapped and killed persons of authority and robbed banks for their ideology. Some of the revolutionaries were killed, thrown into sea from planes, jailed, tortured, exiled or simply made to ¨disappear¨, as an Argentine General put it in a kind of magical realism,¨They are not alive, nor dead… but have just diasppeared¨. The word ¨Desaparecido¨, still haunts the society, literature and arts of the region. Che Guevara, the revolutionary Icon, was killed by the Boilivian army. Few of the revolutionaries were lucky to survive the bullets and get a second chance to come to power through the ballot. Jose Mujica is one of them.

Mujica joined the Tupamaro armed militant group and participated in the brief takeover of Pando, a town close to the capital Montevideo in 1969. He was captured and jailed on four occasions and once managed to escape from the prison. He was eventually re-apprehended in 1972, shot by the police six times. After the military coup in 1973, he was held in a military prison for eleven years and tortured. In 1985, when democracy was restored, Mujica was freed under a general amnesty. Mujica, along with his comrades founded a new political party, Movement of Popular Participation. He won the 1994 elctions to become a deputy and later a senator and used to go to the Parliament in a motorbike. His party was the largest component of the centre-left Frente Amplio coalition, which won the election in 2004 and formed the first leftist government in Uruguay´s history. This government lead by President Tabare Vazquez was popular in the last five years with its Inclusive Development Agenda and at the same time being market-friendly. Mujica was Minister of Agriculture in Vazquez´s government. He gained nomination as the Coalition candidate in the 2009 elections and won with 53 percent votes.

Mujica has promised continuity of the pragmatic policies of the coalition government of the last five years. He has said that he would govern like President Lula, who has become the role model for the Latin American leftists. In one of his campaign speeches, Mujica vowed to distance the left from "the stupid ideologies that come from the 1970s — I refer to things like unconditional love of everything that is state-run, scorn for businessmen and intrinsic hate of the United States. He said, ¨I'll shout it if they want: Down with isms! Up with a left that is capable of thinking outside the box! In other words, I am more than completely cured of simplifications, of dividing the world into good and evil, of thinking in black and white. I have repented!"

In 2005, Mujica married Lucia Topolansky, a fellow Tupamaro fighter and current Senator, after many years of co-habitation. The presidential couple would continue to stay in their modest farm house in a working-class community with dirt roads and small plots on the edge of the capital.

The other guerilla leader who became President in Latin America was Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. He was part of the Sandinista movement which waged an armed struggle and overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. He won the elections in 1984 and was President from 1985 to 1990. He was defeated in the elections in 1990, 1996 and 2000 but succeeded in 2006 and is the current President. His wife Rosario Murillo was also a guerilla fighter.

Alvaro Garcia Linera, the vice president of Bolivia was a cofounder the insurgent Tupak Katari Guerilla Army. He was arrested and charged with insurrection and terrorism. While imprisoned, he studied sociology and became a university professor, after his release from prison. He was elected vice president as the running mate to Evo Morales in the 2005 Presidential elections.

Ali Rodriguez Araque, the Finance Minister of Venezuela , was active in the Marxist guerilla movement and was known as "Commander Fausto", allegedly acting as an explosives expert. He was one of the last guerrilla fighters to put down arms. After the state pardon, he took to parliamentary politics. He has served as oil minister, foreign minister and Vice President of the country as well as OPEC secretary general.
Nilda Garre, the Defence Minister of Argentina was said to be part of the militant leftist movement of Montoneros, which fought against the military dictatorship. Her husband and brother in law were allegedly involved with the Montoneros. Her husband was exiled and her brother in law was killed in a shoot out. In an ironic justice, Nilda Garre is now the boss of the Generals who once considered her as public enemy of the state.

Dilma Rousseff , the chief of staff of President Lula and the candidate for the elections to be held in October 2010 was a member of a clandestine Brazilian guerilla group. She was thrown into jail between 1970 and 1972 and was tortured. After her release from jail, Dilma took to politics and started working with Lula in the Workers Party. Both her two ex-husbands were also part of the underground insurgent groups.

All the major armed guerilla groups of Latin America have now renounced arms and have taken the democratic route. The only major group still fighting is the FARC of Colombia, whose story needs a separate analysis.

The Latin American democracies, which were reborn in the eighties after the end of military dictatorships, do not any longer face the threat of anti-establishment armed guerilla groups. The region is also free from terrorism and religious fundamentalism which have become threats in all the other regions. There are, of course, crime, violence, kidnapping and drug trafficking. But these are law and order problems and do not pose a serious challenge to the new democratic paradigm of Latin America.