Posts Tagged ‘simon romero’

Raising a family is challenging under any circumstances, but Simon Romero of the NY Times can tell you about families that have added on a somewhat more extreme challenge: settling in Antarctica.

He writes from Villa Las Estrellas, “Children at the schoolhouse here study under a portrait of Bernardo O’Higgins, Chile’s independence leader. The bank manager welcomes deposits in Chilean pesos. The cellphone service from the Chilean phone company Entel is so robust that downloading iPhone apps works like a charm. …

“Fewer than 200 people live in this outpost founded in 1984 during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, when Chile was seeking to bolster its territorial claims in Antarctica. Since then, the tiny hamlet has been at the center of one of Antarctica’s most remarkable experiments: exposing entire families to isolation and extreme conditions in an attempt to arrive at a semblance of normal life at the bottom of the planet.

“It gets a little intense here in winter,” said José Luis Carillán, 40, who moved to Villa Las Estrellas three years ago with his wife and their two children to take a job as a teacher in the public school.

“He described challenges like trekking through punishing wind storms to arrive at a schoolhouse concealed by snow drifts, and withstanding long stretches with only a few hours of sunlight each day. …

“Most of the students at the village’s small school, who generally number less than a dozen, are the children of air force officials who operate the base; some of the parents say the isolating experience strengthens family bonds.

“That Villa Las Estrellas is so remote — its name can be translated as Hamlet of the Stars, since the lack of artificial light pollution here enhances gazing into the heavens — sits just fine with many who live here.

“ ‘People in the rest of Chile are so afraid of thieves that they build walls around their homes,’ said Paul Robledo, 40, an electrician from Iquique (pronounced E-key-kay). ‘Not here in Antarctica. This is one of the safest places in the world.’ More here.

And here you thought our cold snap was a little intense!

Photo: Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times  
Children being picked up from school in Villa Las Estrellas. Most of the students at the village’s small school, who generally number less than a dozen, are the children of air force officials who operate a nearby base. 

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Three cheers for quirky causes that, at a minimum, don’t do any harm and, at best, make a contribution to the world.

Simon Romero recently covered one such cause in the New York Times: “Shigeru Nakayama, the guardian of this ghost city in the Amazon rain forest, gazes at the Rio Negro, a vast blackwater tributary. From some angles, it looks less like a river than a sea, spurring him to remember Japan.

“ ‘Fukuoka got kind of cold during winter,’ said Mr. Nakayama, 66, who left the island of Kyushu in southern Japan with his parents and three brothers in the mid-1960s for a new life in Brazil. ‘We were farming people, trying to get ahead. Japan was reduced to ashes after the war. Life was still tough.’

“ ‘But Brazil was the land of our dreams,’ said Mr. Nakayama, squinting under the punishing midday sun as he leaned his wiry frame against one of the crumbling stone buildings of Airão Velho — a town so overgrown and forlorn it is now held in a labyrinthine embrace of tree roots and vines.”

He has made it his life’s work to “to care for the abandoned outpost. …

“ ‘I’m glad there’s someone taking care of Airão Velho,’ said Victor Leonardi, a historian of Amazonia at the University of Brasília who explored the ruins here in the 1990s. “It smelled of jaguar urine back then, but it was obviously a place of riches at one point, where people dined on porcelain from England and consumed Cognac from France.’ …

“ ‘Japan has turned into a new kind of prosperous country, and I guess that’s good for the people there,’ Mr. Nakayama said. ‘But that kind of life was never in the cards for me.’

“Mr. Nakayama acknowledged that shielding Airão Velho from the encroachment of the jungle was an uphill struggle. A glance around suggests that the strangler figs have the scales tipped in their favor. Amid the ruins, wasps hover; fire ants march; cicadas sing. …

“Nakayama feels the need to clean the graveyard, hacking away at the growth that threatens to devour the site once and for all. ‘For centuries, people lived and died in Airão Velho,’ he said. ‘They were the true pioneers, and I have to honor their memory by preserving this place. It is a matter of respect.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Shigeru Nakayama has made it his life’s work to care for an abandoned outpost in the Amazon jungle.

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