Fixpoint

2019-12-11

Uruguay parte 2: llegada y primeras vistas

Filed under: Historia, Politikos, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 20:12

Continued from Parte 1.

My text having overtaken the start of photography, I'll have to backtrack a bit to Montevideo's Aeropuerto Internactional de Carrasco (MVD) which was looking quite shiny and new. Bag claim (evidently I misremembered: there were three on the international side, though just the one active):

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Aduanas (customs). That bienes de ingreso/egreso temporal would seem vague enough to cover just about anything if they felt like it; fortunately they didn't give a second glance (perhaps even first glance) to my scandalous screwdriver and packing materials.

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Free at last, but not quite home.

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I would have picked up a local SIM but the booth was closed for the night. It turned out my Panama SIM worked on roaming, at least briefly, which it hadn't in the US.

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The bit of the world that is me thanks Uruguay for the welcome.

MUNDO, BIENVENIDO A URUGUAY

In contrast to Panama, there was no crowd of taxi syndicate reps soliciting eagerly. Instead it's an orderly racket; you go to the taxi counter and arrange a ride with prepayment and receipt. Having been warned the cab would be around US $55, I held out for the $13 shuttle bus, taking the wait time to replace that stolen sunscreen, collect my thoughts and decompress a bit. I found myself tired but alert and relieved.

The only exterior shot I managed of the airport, so it'll have to do:

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Some Himpton by Halton thing near the airport with well-lit street:

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First shuttle stop was at the Motel Bahamas:

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A pleasant nighttime drive down the coast and another one or two stops later and I'd made it to my destination in the relatively nice Pocitos neighborhood.

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The buildings here cap out around 10-12 stories due to zoning. Most are mixed-use, with shops at ground level and apartments above. My first impression of the area compared to most of Panama City was of something older (turns out many buildings date to the 1930's if I recall), more stable (as opposed to wreckage and new construction everywhere), cleaner, and far more pedestrian friendly (wide and not entirely treacherous sidewalks). Aaron pointed out that this does not apply to the whole city, with outlying neighborhoods ranging from more typically LatAm to outright favela (though these not walled off as in Brazil).

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Right around the block was an ANCAP gas station with rare 24-hour convenience store and deli, which served me for breakfasts, rather dreadful espresso (they couldn't believe I didn't want sugar, which probably says it all), and a printed map so as to navigate free of any "mobile device" nonsense.

First daytime views of the coastal Rambla, supporting vehicle, bike and pedestrian traffic and beach access, as I made my way to meet my host.

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Oh yes, the street signs serve advertising; it does seem to help keep them in good shape.

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One of the larger mini-parks opposite the beach, near the Avenida Brasil.

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Battery scooters for hire.

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"Por la vida y la convivencia" : La Policia seem to like their mottos...

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There's a lazy tourism option.

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I have no idea. It didn't seem animate.

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"Orgullosamente blanco" - "proudly white" - referring, I gather, to the party colors of the recently victorious Partido Nacional rather than something racial.

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Either Ave. Brasil or Espana, two thoroughfares that converge at the coast.

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Corner florists seem to be thriving...

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Corner locksmiths not so much.

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Heading inland a bit; some gym/yoga place.

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Apparently they don't need no education at the Center of Foreign Tongues. Aaron tells me the buildings generally don't get repainted much because maintenance work is taxed the same as new construction.

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Perhaps this would have been the spot for a better coffee.

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There's minimal piped natural gas infrastructure (as in Panama, though there it's often provided building-wide and refueled by tanker trucks).

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Pizzeria Trouville

Another florist, and some of the typical sycamores lining the streets.

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To be continued with rare electronics and proper tourism.

2019-12-10

Una visita a la Republica Oriental del Uruguay, parte 1

Filed under: Politikos, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 18:22

Having bought some of the remains of the historic but sadly liquidated Bitcoin firms No Such lAbs and Pizarro ISP, and with expected overseas shipping costs being comparable to a personal courier run, I seized the opportunity for some travel and networking. It's been a success on all three fronts: retrieving the gear, getting a taste of Montevideo, and meeting and spending some quality time with Aaron Rogier aka BingoBoingo, whom I'd previously known mainly as the humorously grandiose voice of Qntra and a thoughtful contributor to IRC discussions; I found him to demonstrate the same insight in person and be quite likable besides. I made it a three-night stay to allow one full day for the hauling and packing and one for tourism.(i)

My biggest mess-up of the trip as I see it was not allowing enough time for my initial departure from the "Hub of the Americas", Panama's recently expanded Tocumen International Airport - for which I'm starting to develop a hearty loathing - or the time to get there, my previous departures here having been either in the wee hours or from locations with better toll road access. I got stuck in the check-in cattle queue for the better part of an hour.(ii) By the time my turn came, I was informed that due to late check-in my bags would be subject to "voluntary separation" and might end up on the next flight. Since apparently I couldn't find out whether they made it until arrival, I worried and contemplated my options on the flight. At security, while not subjected to the gate-side mandatory gropings reserved for the US-bound, there were still US-inspired theatrics like shoe removal and inspecting my carry-on for liquids, confiscating my over-100ml sunscreen. Serves me right for being such a terrorist, huh.

Things went much smoother from there; immigration in Montevideo was a breeze at least for chip-enabled passport holders, there were no kilometers to walk to the airport's one baggage claim, and my bags had made it just fine. Having been warned about the pricey airport taxi service, I elected to wait for a shuttle, which departed once the next flight had dumped enough passengers to form a group. On exiting the airport (around 2am local time) I was welcomed by the delightfully cool, spring-like air: always a nice thing after months in the tropics, though my skin and nose didn't adjust to the dryness too well.

All the travel intel Aaron had given that I had chance to verify proved accurate, and the Punta Trouville hotel he recommended was the perfect fit for my needs: budget but clean, functional, well located and with 24-hour service. Power outlets and money proved easier than anticipated. The hotel had multi-format outlets; it's just as well I came prepared with adapters, as Aaron said those can be flaky, though they worked for me. While there are cambios all over for changing currency with around 4% spread, I never ended up needing one as the airport transit and the merchants I tried were all equipped and even glad to take my specie (well, USD) and give change in pesos Uruguashos; the local currency sees the sort of inflation that gets automatically priced into yearly contracts.

To be continued (and with photos).

  1. Not ideal for really getting to know a place, but I already had a longer holiday coming up and lots to get done before it. [^]
  2. The "web check-in" line turned out to move faster; I can't see any good reason as it doesn't save much time at the counter: you still need to get docs checked, bags weighed and tagged, and any overage paid. The main reason as far as I could tell was simply that they'd allocated more agents there and didn't rebalance until the line was entirely exhausted. [^]

2019-11-27

Early history of me, part 6

Filed under: Ego, Historia, Paidagogia, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 18:22

Continued from part 5

Another eventually-successful parental negotiation involved my music studies. While my violin skills had advanced substantially from ages six to twelve, both solo and in orchestra, and I enjoyed performing, I had never quite accepted the burden internally, and the rigors of daily practice continued to grate. It probably didn't help that my parents weren't demonstrating much musical discipline themselves. If you want to raise a Wolfgang Mozart, it helps to be a Leopold Mozart, y'know?

At the same time, I'd dabbled a bit with the piano, because it was there, and it called out to be tackled properly. I convinced them to let me switch; we found a local teacher (at greater expense, if I recall, for having to look outside the organization) and I pursued the study with vigor. Unfortunately this only lasted about two years until we couldn't seem to make time for it among the increasing demands of school.

Some words about extended family would seem in order to round out an overview of my childhood. There was one set of grandparents surviving, my mother's side, who had retired about an hour north (a seemingly interminable drive at that age) in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.(i) We'd visit every month or two. I liked them better than my parents did, probably due to less historical baggage on one hand and their inclination to spoil me on the other. When I slept over I'd be able to watch cartoons and play with Grandpa's Mac (with color display!) for hours. They had an affinity for the Arab world, having spent their careers as professors at the American University of Beirut. "Sittou" as we called her was the only churchgoer (Lutheran) in the clan, while Grandpa was a kind of tolerant non-believer. There was an uncle with family that I'd usually see at the grandparents' place.

On my father's side there was an elder aunt and family in Maine; due to the distance we'd see them yearly, at least in the good years when we could afford the vacation. They had picked up the tab on a coastal summer cottage that had been in the family a few generations; I remember with great fondness the change of scenery, climate and pace afforded by these trips; the smell of pine forests and ocean.

While all sorts of details could be relevant to the story of childhood, I will close this series with one that made a distinct mark on me and my generation: the events of the morning of September 11, 2001 and subsequent descent into war on an emotion. It was a school day in the sixth grade. The administration's first reaction was to say nothing, but by lunchtime a growing list of names was being called to report for early pickup, and rumor spread: "the country is under attack!" The superficial facts became clear soon enough, if not the interpretation. Following my parents I was skeptical of the official narrative; LaRouche had even spoken of the possibility of a "Reichstag fire" i.e. false flag event, before it happened. Whatever the Bush/Cheney administration's negligence or even complicity may have been, things played right into their hands. There was an upswell of patriotic fervor, with the songs, "United We Stand" posters and "Fight Terrorism" bumper stickers. I noted the blue skies vacant of contrails as civilian flight was suspended in the following weeks, and the later conversion of airport "security" from this quaint thing with X-ray machines to the complete exercise in humiliation that the inmates now take for granted. As the war whoops escalated, the average low-information voter didn't seem to perceive a difference between supposed Saudi hijackers, Taliban, or Saddam Hussein. Someone had to pay and it didn't much matter who. It marked the beginning of an end of innocence, both in the culture as a whole and my relationship to it.

  1. Perhaps most famous for its battlefield, regarded as the turning point of the American Civil War. [^]

2019-11-26

Early history of me, part 5

Filed under: Ego, Historia, Paidagogia, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 17:13

Continued from part 4

Lest I paint too bleak a picture of a flat landscape in the public school system, special-needs options started to be offered around the fourth grade for those afflicted by working brains, namely honors classes and once-weekly programs with pompous acronyms whose meaning nobody remembered like FUTURA and SPECTRUM. These provided welcome relief, but remaining surrounded by a crowd that was none too interested in that whole learning thing, and probably resentful of being subjected to it, was still draining. And even in the honors classes, I found the ever-expanding homework burden full of silly, pointless or repetitive drudgery. Around the eighth grade I chose to drop my "straight-A" record to make more time for my interests outside school, which by that time had gravitated toward computer programming.

I sometimes complained to my parents about the situation. Why not the local private school where my friends from the organization went (by financial support from extended family)? Why not home-school? Such entreaties would be dismissed in the "yes, but" style.(i) While they did help pressure teachers and administrators into better supporting me, questioning the system itself was off the table. I see it as a kind of passivity from assumption of helplessness, lacking adequate consideration of what might have been possible or weighing of longer-term costs among proximate ones. When high school came around, there was finally a more serious option of a full-time magnet school;(ii) the proximate cost was being in the next county over with a lengthy bus commute. They rejected this on the first pass, hoping the local situation would improve. To their credit, they came around once it clearly wasn't improving and I got in as a sophomore transfer; unfortunately this meant having missed out on a number of freshman bonding experiences.

To be continued

  1. That "well, yes, but..." was a phrase often cited by LaRouche regarding the avoidances of potential recruits. [^]
  2. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. [^]

2019-11-25

Early history of me, part 4

Filed under: Ego, Historia, Paidagogia, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 17:31

Continued from part 3

There was none of that IV drip of brain sugar known as television in the household. My parents were quite concerned with the developmental effects of screen time, especially of that aimless and passive sort; movies and video games were fairly restricted as well. As intended, this directed my entertainment desires to books. My father's reading to me became a cherished evening tradition, and I eagerly took up reading myself as I became able, with interests tending toward fantasy adventure and a bit of science fiction.

While I loved the family time, a sore spot for me is the amount of time spent being not-raised by not-them. Like many - I'd venture to say most - American kids of this era I was "institutionalized", with daycare from an early age (around one year, if I recall) feeding right into preschool, kindergarten, then school proper. I'm not too clear on how this compares to global or historical norms, but my understanding is that the crowded environment makes individual attention difficult and the constant change in caregivers disrupts bonding. "Because I said so" and "life's not fair" are the typical explanations I remember from the preschool authorities. While the unfairness point is perfectly true, I see its usage more as code for "I feel overworked and underpaid and can't be bothered to help you think through your kiddie problems." Not that solving one's own problems isn't important either, but I don't know... how much reflection or social finesse can you really expect from four-year-olds, especially if it hasn't been well modeled? The typical justification for this outsourcing is Money; the only difference in my case is that it was the Mission.

I don't well recall if or how I expressed myself about the preschool environment at the time, but as time went on the deficiencies of the cookie-cutter approach of the school system became evident. One story (handed down as I didn't recall it myself) was the third grade teacher asking, "What solid has the same shape on every side?" An eager me: "Actually, there are five:", proceeding to rattle off the 'hedrons with correct pronunciation that my eighth grade geometry teacher later wouldn't manage. Teacher: "Yes Jacob; but the third grade answer is the cube." Peer: "That's right Jacob, this is third grade!!11" Me: "That's right. Third grade, not kindergarten." Then in the sixth grade, there was that "science" teacher who earnestly believed the moon orbited the earth every 28 hours and criticized me as "argumentative" (something my parents were delighted to hear).

To be continued

2019-11-24

Early history of me, part 3

Filed under: Ego, Historia, Philosophia, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 17:16

Continued from part 2

The kids were all sent to conventional schooling of one sort or another, I suppose to be properly socialized in the "outside" world, which I've been starting to see as nothing but the inside of the larger cult of 'Merica - the more nefarious one for its scale and pervasiveness in the environment.

The organization hosted a day camp in the summers between school sessions. I remember these fondly for the most part; there was instruction in music, visual arts, drama, and some hands-on variety of math or science, punctuated by lightly organized sport, swimming, and at least some time for unstructured outdoor play.(i)

Not all was rosy, to be sure. The idea of an inner spark of goodness present in every human,(ii) that just needs the right sort of love and attention to kindle, played out bitterly in at least one way. Many families had put off childbearing well past their prime years for the sake of fighting the war, and realized too late either that they wanted kids or that the "about to win, any minute now" wasn't working out. Some, such as my own parents, made it work; others not so lucky turned to adoption, generally from the offerings of more-dysfunctional countries.(iii) Of these, some worked out fine, at least as far as the naked eye could tell; others did not. The camps were plagued by severe behavior problems from these, who would seek attention of any kind by being maximally disruptive and wasting everyone's time. And why shouldn't they anyway, with the "adults" perceiving themselves to have no options and nobody taking a serious stand to put a stop to it?

For my part, I thought of myself as a good kid and was eager to please. My home life, in continuation of my parents' own upbringings, was non-violent; I hesitate to say "peaceful" because there's always conflict of some sort, naturally. Voices were almost never raised, and disagreements generally worked out through discussion (though not always free of emotional "reasoning"). In my case conflicts centered around things I actively disliked doing, such as chores, trying new foods, and setting toys aside when the time called for it.(iv) My mother was the disciplinarian of the household, while I felt I could count on my father more for cooler evaluations of difficult topics.

To be continued

  1. Something I gather has been almost entirely disappearing from modern childhood in this not-so-brave new world of "safetyism" and touchscreen entertainment from the earliest years. [^]
  2. Possibly originating from LaRouche's high regard for Christianity (though he didn't require any particular religion or non-religion of members). [^]
  3. For reasons I'm unsure of but suspect to be ideological. [^]
  4. Things I still sometimes struggle with - go figure! [^]

2019-11-23

Early history of me, part 2

Filed under: Ego, Historia, Philosophia, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 17:29

Continued from part 1

While I lacked the knowledge to grasp the teachings or follow the affairs of "the organization" at a deep level, I loved the community and intellectually lively culture it provided, and engaged as best I could. We were at the "national center", which in the 1980s had fled the New York City rents to the then-small town of Leesburg, Virginia,(i) and provided a "critical mass" with other kids to befriend and helpful grown-ups who could teach on a variety of topics.

Like any good religion, music played a major part of daily life, regarded as a focused activity to train the mind and also providing pleasure and bonding. The focus was heavily on Classical music, with its emphasis on beauty and sophisticated harmonies (counterpoint) rather than the repetitive chord progressions of popular music. In fact, music was regarded to have healing powers, at least in a spiritual sense; there was no soul so lost that a sufficient application of Bach couldn't lift it back up, or so the theory went. There was a weekly chorus for the children, though the coaching didn't get much past the elementary; I had a good sense of pitch but never quite got the hang of projection and vibrato, and was fairly self-conscious about singing solo. I was also subjected to enriched by violin lessons, a more difficult and correspondingly rewarding pursuit.

Outside these mandatory activities, my interests got me into a geometry class with the adults; they used it as practice of what I gather to be their Platonic views, such as the process of creative discovery conceived as the mind becoming aware of something it already contained, and superiority of the "mind's eye" to direct sensory perception. "Accept nothing that you have not constructively proven for yourself" was one teaching. I also received private tutoring from a fellow who liked building things, reading classical physics texts and reproducing experiments. Among other projects we managed to build a working demonstration of magnetic levitation. As with music solving inner problems, it was believed that advanced technology could solve all economic problems, if only it were given proper respect and state financing of course.

To be continued

  1. Not so small anymore after the huge growth of the Washington, DC area, fueled as I understand by growth of the Federal bureaucracy and decay of industry elsewhere. [^]

2019-11-22

Early history of me, part 1

Filed under: Ego, Historia, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 17:06

A principal authority in my early years, until somewhere around age 14, through the natural channel of parental involvement, was the American self-styled philosopher and statesman Lyndon LaRouche (1922-2019) and his organization.(i)

They used various names for different branches of their efforts, from the ever so Soviet sounding "National Caucus of Labor Committees" for the activist core, to the "Schiller Institute"(ii) for larger philosophical, artistic and political outreach. It was a high-pressure environment for members, with promises of immanent collapse of the global monetary-financial system on the one hand, and a new renaissance uplifting the world from poverty and realizing the glorious potential of mankind on the other. Once committed, one was expected to give everything one had, and then some, to the cause. It was effective at least in terms of putting out vast volumes of printed material, attracting a sizable audience, running numerous election campaigns (though not especially successful), and keeping the operation more-or-less afloat for decades.

At least to my young self, the man was impressive in speech as in writing. He hailed from an earlier era, before the generations raised by television with 45-second attention span, could hold forth for hours on a wide range of topics with deep vocabulary and historical knowledge, and would expect you to keep up.

To be continued(iii)

  1. The "attempt to predicate the meaning on an authority predicated on the meaning" description would seem to fit. [^]
  2. After 18th century German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller. [^]
  3. As before, I'm on a daily deadline in order to keep the pen moving. [^]

2019-11-16

Hiking La India Dormida

Filed under: Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 08:43

El Valle de Anton is a town situated in a dormant volcanic crater, about two hours' drive from Panama City (assuming you time it to avoid traffic). One of the surrounding rock formations is known as La India Dormida, because it resembles a woman lying on her back, with trees and rivers for hair, peaks for nose, chin and breast, and more gradual slopes for legs. I couldn't quite see it at least from the vantage points we got, but either way it made a great hike and a way to escape the swelter of the city and enjoy the cooler mountain air.

Crossing the Pacific mouth of the famed canal on the Puente de las Americas.

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On the right, a typical Diablo Rojo. On the left, the Saturday inbound commute.

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Highway passing through the suburbs.

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November is the end - and peak - of the rainy season. The grass looks happy.

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Off the highway and heading inland.

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First view of mountains.

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Looks like they're doing something with it...

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On the outskirts of town there was a strong presence of chinos (convenience stores run by Nth-generation Chinese). At this one, a taste of the local classifieds: hard drives and rabbits.

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We stayed at Hostal La Casa de Juan; I wouldn't recommend it. The perhaps nicer Bodhi was all booked.

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Indeed they don't seem to worry about much. Nor do the dogs that roam freely around the town, one of which we encountered taking a nap in the middle of the road. We didn't get to trying the pool table.

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The bikes were "free"; maybe one of them had a working brake. The bedroom had a thick odor of mildew, and we soon found why: when it rained, the roof leaked right onto one of the beds. When we pointed this out to the staff they acted surprised. Fortunately there were enough extra beds.

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Setting out on the adventure.

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Perhaps the botanists in the audience can fill me in?

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After the first ascent.

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Dinosaur!

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This would be why it's called El Valle.

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Sniping some folks on the next peak with the 40x optical zoom on my newish Lumix.

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Defunct vineyard?

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After the final ascent; the view is almost straight down. (They say I like a few hundred feet of rock under foot!)

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Petroglyphs.

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There's an excellent waterfall pool we dipped in to cool off. To get there we had to scrabble a ways up the rather slippery rocks, while it was raining, so I wasn't risking the camera, but here it's kinda visible through the trees.

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There must be some story to this massive thing...

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Across the bridge it opens back to the road and we've completed a 3-hour loop.

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Afterwards we grabbed a meal at Charlie's Empanadas y Pizza y something-or-other. Food was tolerable and service was surprisingly attentive, compared to what we'd heard of other places. Afterward we stopped for groceries at a Rey that looked just like they do in the city, made some proper piƱa coladas back at the Hostal, and played a few rounds of rummy, taught by Robinson as the rest of us had been missing out.

And we're back home on Sunday.

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