On the afternoon we arrived at the gorgeous Estancia Rincón Chico on Península Valdés, it was pouring rain, windy, and cold.
So, we decided to have our author talks and book signing that afternoon, with the timing just perfect for cocktail hour.
It was beyond wonderful to talk about My Last Continent with readers who were seeing firsthand parts of what inspired the novel: volunteering at Punta Tombo, learning so much from experienced penguin researchers, being out in the middle of nowhere with no human sounds other than the wind and the braying of the penguins. I read a few excerpts from the book — one scene set in Punta Tombo, which we’d visited the day before, and one scene set in Antarctica, where half of our group would be headed in a few more days.
And John‘s novel The Tourist Trail was even more fun to talk about, as it’s just been released in a new edition, with the sequel on its way into the world in February of 2019. Also, in The Tourist Trail, Punta Tombo features even more prominently than in My Last Continent, so readers got an even better idea of the colony from reading his novel. John read an excerpt from the book that actually retraced our own steps from the day before.
We enjoyed a fantastic Argentine Malbec as we chatted about the novels and signed books…
…and we had so much fun we forgot all about the wind and rain.
It’s fair to say that most people who travel to Buenos Aires do not come to see birds. They come for the food, the tango, the Teatro Colon, and the amazing architecture. And if they are looking for birds they are probably stopping on their way to visiting somewhere else in the region.
Yet there are amazing birds to be seen within city limits.
And you might not find the best place to see them mentioned in most guidebooks. That’s because the place you’ll want to go didn’t exist until 1986. And if you do read about it you might also read that it’s a place for tourists to avoid for safety reasons.
But having spent a number of mornings and afternoons there, I can report that I never felt in danger — and I was lugging around a very large camera. The park was busy with joggers and kids on school trips. I even passed a large group of police cadets in training one morning.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be heads-up — but that goes for any part of the city.
More than a hundred species of birds have been spotted in the area. In just a few days of walking around I spotted more than 25, including this turkey-sized bird known as a Chajá (or, in English, Southern Screamer):
Being from the Midwest and now living in the West, I miss seeing cardinals. So I was thrilled to come across this red-crested cardinal:
I was surprised to learn that this species is not actually related to the cardinals I grew up with; it’s part of the tanager family.
I also sighted a curious Great Kiskadee:
And if you want to see parrots, you’re almost guaranteed to see a species or two, like this monk parakeet:
And don’t forget to look down once in a while, or you might miss the many turtles and iguanas:
If you can make time to visit this reserve when in Buenos Aires, I highly recommend it (note that it’s closed on Mondays).
Most important, it is possible to go naturing and birding in Buenos Aires, so don’t miss this abundance of flora and fauna in the city, even if you’re on your way somewhere else.
After a couple of sunny days in Buenos Aires, the next stop on our Penguins & Patagonia Adventure was the much cooler, windswept oceanside city of Puerto Madryn in Patagonia. The amazing two days we spent here were arranged by Carol Mackie de Passera of Causana Viajes (indeed all the Argentinian details of the trip were arranged by Carol, but our visit to Puerto Madryn was specially and thoughtfully curated by Carol to fit our literary theme). Also a naturalist and guide — whom John and I met 12 years earlier for a few days of excursions after volunteering at Punta Tombo — Carol arranged for a tour of the local history museum, Museo del Desembarco, followed by a traditional Welsh tea with Argentinian authors in the beautiful historical building of the Welsh Association.
We (pictured below, from left: Marcelo Gavirati, Silvia Iglesias, and Carlos Dante Ferrari — plus me, John, and Susan) had a wonderful chat about writing, culture, travel, and the fascinating Welsh history of Patagonia (the Welsh arrived in Puerto Madryn in the 1860s) and its thriving community here, all as we devoured scones, bread, pastries, and tea.
It was more than a year and a half ago that Susan McBeth and I began planning our Penguins & Patagonia Adventure by the Book, and when we found ourselves in Buenos Aires at last, we could hardly believe the trip was finally happening (and a small part of our group would be headed to bigger adventures yet, in Antarctica). But we had three days in beautiful, balmy Buenos Aires first — and we knew the best way to overcome the jet lag after our early morning arrival would be to stay awake, get out in the sun, and walk around. So we headed to one of the city’s biggest treasures (and one of John‘s biggest obsessions): Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur.
This gorgeous ecological reserve comprises 865 acres on the banks of the Río de la Plata. It was only a couple of miles’ walk from our hotel, and once inside the reserve, it was hard to imagine we were still in the middle of a bustling international city, except for a few glimpses through the greenery. The birders among us were especially happy with the myriad species of birds found throughout the reserve.
Of course, the ecological reserve is only one of the city’s many treasures; this being an Adventure by the Book, visiting the gorgeous El Ateneo bookstorewas another priority.
Located inside a former theater, this bookstore is a joy to wander through, even if it has only one small English-language section. We posed for a group photo with My Last Continent overlooking the former stage, which is now a cafe. (Not pictured: The Tourist Trail.)
And no literary tour is complete without an homage to the typewriter — John led us to this typewriter repair shop, which had a lot of vintage machines for sale. It was a good thing that we had weight limits on our baggage and couldn’t make any purchases, no matter how tempting.
We officially kicked off the Penguins & Patagonia tour with a welcome dinner in the lovely Puerto Madero district, with a gorgeous river view as our backdrop. (Just out of view is Santiago Calatrava’s breathtaking bridge, El Puente de La Mujer, or “Woman’s Bridge.”)
Alex Lockwood’s article “With a Hope to Change Things: An Exploration of the Craft of Writing about Animals with the Founders of Zoomorphic Magazine” appears in Writing for Animals.
Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?
A: Most fundamentally, I have chosen (as far as a writer can) to only take on new projects that foreground the nonhuman and their relations with humans, as much as possible to work towards texts, narratives, and stories that help bring our relationships to light, and to contribute towards a more equal and just sharing of this world across species. Although sometimes as writers we don’t know quite what compels us to write the next story or book or poem, there are conscious decisions we can make responding to the state of the world, and the disastrous state of our hierarchical and dominant current relations with nonhumans. As I come to know more about animals and the nonhuman world, the more I recognize my spiritual and practical responsibilities to attempt to redress through my practice the worst forms of these exploitative relations and hopefully envision new and more equal, kind, and loving relationships.
In particular, I have spent a lot more time working in the second person, and writing works that give serious credence to the voices and agencies of nonhuman others, to the existing and complicated relations between beings across species (in cross-species encounter) and the truly relational nature of who we are, in that without these relations we do not know ourselves and, when you get down to the biota level, we wouldn’t even be alive.
Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?
A: Compassion. Do not repeat or reinforce dominant speciesist practices in your writing. Question why it is okay to depict or represent particular animals in particular ways. Enrich your writing through learning in the three Es — ethology, ecofeminism, ecocriticism — to continue to forge new visions for ways of interrelating based on kinship and not dominance. Change your own name to that of an animal’s and see where that takes you. Don’t get bogged down by questions of whether or not animals can be fully represented in human language, because your audience is human, generally. But do nurture an understanding of nonrepresentational theories, politics, and practices that shift you and your ego out of the way. If you’re a white, Western male, as I am, do everything that you can to mobilize your white, Western, male privileges and give your writing over to the practice of centering the lives and leadership and needs of all previously marginalised groups, human and nonhuman.
Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?
A: Donna Haraway’s Camille stories are must-reads for how we are now thinking about our multi-species encounters. Cynan Jones has done plenty of good work around animals and viscerality. The animal poet Susan Richardson, whom I interviewed for my chapter, is an incredible writer, perhaps one of the leading animal poets of our day, following in and beyond the footsteps of Les Murray. Sara Baume, Melissa Harrison, Robin Lamont, pattrice jones, Barbara King, Carol J. Adams, Ceridwen Dovey, Lydia Millet are all women working in different genres and forms to respectfully and compassionately help us reach the lives of animals.
Q: Your Q&A with the editors of Zoomorphic magazine highlights the role of literature in a changing world. What other media do you recommend for those who care about animals and wish to write about them with authenticity and compassion?
A: Literature remains for me the art form that can transform our relationship with the world most fully, but of course many would suggest film is the same or better at doing so, and films such as Okja have had a recent huge impact on the ways in which people have changed their relations to animals. Short films and exposes such as Dominion and Land of Hope and Glory have recently, from the documentary perspective, really changed people’s visions of how to relate in cross-species encounters and spaces. I think children’s books are vitally important in beginning that journey of love and compassion, or exploitation and abuse, depending on the forms in which they are written and the ways in which parents and teachers communicate them, and of course how writers write them, so I cannot recommend people such as Ruby Roth enough.
Alex Lockwood is the author of The Pig in Thin Air (Lantern Books), an exploration of the place of the body in animal advocacy, as well as senior lecturer in journalism at the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, Sunderland University, UK. He has published widely on human-animal relations and is currently working on a series of novels concerned with human-animal conflict.