Saturday, July 21, 2007

Quantum Optics III In Pucón

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Sunday, December 03, 2006

The largest conference in Quantum Optics (my research area), Quantum Optics III, was held from the 27th to the 30th of November at the posh Hotel del Lago in Pucón. It was organized by

,

one of the several "Núcleos Milenio" that there are in Chile, clusters of academics working in a particular area of science, whose objective is to boost the cooperation and communication among them. You can find more info about the ICMs here.

Other events organized by the Núcleo Milenio de Óptica Cuántica that I've been to are the conferences they organize in Las Trancas. Until recently, they were also the people that paid my small scholarship.

Our story starts when Sergio and I get off the bus, a bit stiff but better off than we would have been if we had bought semi-stretch fares instead paying for full reclining seats. It was worth it. It seems that the days of buying the cheapest fare and sitting bolt upright on the bus for 32 hours straight, doing the Santiago-Arica run, are over.

We started walking towards the Hotel del Lago, which was a few kilometres away, and met two dogs: a labrador, and a younger mongrel. I said hi, and they both started fooling around. I playfully waved the plastic tube that contained the poster I was to present the next day at them. The labrador decided he wanted to participate, and promptly sunk his teeth into it. I had to delicately pry open his jaws to get my tube back. Now it had rather un-subtle tooth marks on it. I could just imagine telling the conference organisers that I would not be presenting my poster because a dog ate it.

The hotel is quite fancy, at least for my standards.

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At the front desk Sergio and I were told that the room wouldn't be ready until 3 pm, and much to our surprise, there were bicycles available for free in the meantime.

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We were thrilled at having such a nice room. Sound system, large TV, nice bathroom and so on. Thrilled, of course, until we saw the other rooms, which were larger and had a better view. The other postgrad students enjoyed a large living room, a balcony, a view of the Villarrica volcano, and so on. We, on the other hand...

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I had originally intended to ride around on the bicycle on my own, exploring country trails, falling into the pattern of one of my motorbike rides. I would later discover that while you can go full throttle on the XR all day long, this sedentary body can't take the same beating. But first, a short summary of the day's ride.

Sergio decided that he wanted to ride a bike, coincidentally out into the countryside, and not around town. Ah. Well, in that case, we'll set off together, and surely split up just outside the city limits, since we were likely to ride at different rates.

The first inconvenience popped up just outside the hotel. I had to explain to Sergio that you can't switch gears on a bicycle while stopped. After un-jamming and mounting the chain on the sprockets again, we set off.

Since the lake was just a few blocks away, I wanted to ride over and take some photos. The path down to the shore went down a few low steps, with short ramps as an alternative. I rode down the steps, and took my photos.

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I think that may be Andrés Torres, from Physics at the Universidad Católica, but I'm not sure. It was early, and nobody had met up yet.

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I turned around, and there was Sergio, still trying to negotiate the first set of steps. This should have been a warning of what was to come, but I was confident that he was just rusty.

We stopped by the supermarket, and I bought ham, cheese, bread and water. Off we went.

Just before the airport, we took a left turn onto a dirt road.

For some reason Sergio had a very hard time keeping the bike going in a straight line. In fact, not riding headfirst into the bushes was a subtlety that he mastered in fits and spurts. I stopped to take a pic, and by the time I caught up with him, he was gingerly brushing dirt off a grazed elbow.

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To be fair, I should mention that he got his front wheel in sloping loose gravel at the side of the road, where most of us would have probably suffered a similar fate. Or perhaps we'd have just put our feet down. Who knows?

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We reached the hanging bridge, and I was rather surprised to learn that it could take small vehicles.

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The road got gradually harder and in places there were unpleasant slopes. My initial prediction that Sergio's rustiness would fade away after a few kilometres had to be completely discarded when Sergio said that he'd never ridden a bike on anything that was not hard, flat cement. Ah, I see.

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Go west Sergio, go west!

The routine basically came down to advancing 50 metres, waiting for Sergio, going on another 50 m, waiting for Sergio, and so on. He'd come around the corner walking the bike, panting, sometimes with the chain off the sprocket, sometimes complaining about the certainty that his bike was a lemon.

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I was getting impatient. It wasn't his fault that he was having a rough time, and it was clearly extremely frustrating for him as well, but if the circuit we were doing that day had been any shorter, I would have suggested that we split ages ago.

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After making excruciatingly slow progress, we got to the Ojos del Caburga waterfalls. We rode in, and the sight was worth it, not to mention that wonderful cool air wafting up from the roaring river. We took our time walking along wooden pathways, feeling the spray on our faces.

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We both hauled the bikes up to a certain point, since we had no place to leave them. We split up, and I left my bike tucked away in one of the many nooks and crannies in the terrain.

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30 minutes later, S. was nowhere to be found. I asked some people, but no, no sign of him. I walked from one end of the park to the other, and nothing. I went back to the main gate, and no, no sign of S.

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It turns out he had been trying to find a way over to the other side of the river, where there were pathways and strolling tourists, just like on our side. Frustrated and flustered, he told me that there was no way across, that he was extremely disappointed at the absence of a bridge, and that he'd had to carry his bike the whole way...

A short distance beyond the Ojos del Caburga, we split up. It wasn't that far to the main road back to Pucón, and I didn't forsee any problems for S. getting back safely.

The road I picked started climbing rather steeply. 500 m ahead it split, and I turned right. Further on, signs announcing the entrances to the Balmaceda, Copihue and other waterfalls. I didn't go in, because they were all really salones de té, places where you could have a sandwich or enjoy a rather germanic tea-time, and might charge for access to the waterfalls. In any case, I didn't want to break my rhythm.

The climb got steeper still, the road got narrower, the earth was looser, and I was getting more and more exhausted. Just another curve, just few more metres, and we'll see what's around the corner. There came a point where my tiredness beat my curiosity, and I turned back.

I guess a good bike has both shock absorbers and springs on the front fork, but this bike seemed to have nothing but stiff springs, and my hands took a beating coming down the stony and uneven dirt road.

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I reached the point where I had separated from S., and rode the km or two to the paved road. After that, it was 18 km back to Pucón.

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I rode back at a fast pace, sometimes struggling against the strong breeze.

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By the time I got to the hotel I was quite tired, but I had kept up a good pace.

I assumed S. would have been back by then, either on his own or on the back of a truck, but he wasn't there.

People were arriving for the conference, and as I chatted in the lobby with them, a red pickup truck pulls up outside, and guess who is sitting in the back. It turns out he had stopped at a salón de té, met a girl, and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting. It seems like his suffering was worth it.

As a hotel guest, I had free access to the Spa. Sweaty, tired, and covered in a suncream-and-dust paste, a dip in the pool was just what I needed.

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No, that is not a tan.

Sauna, steam bath, white fluffy robes, slippers, quiet oriental music, free aromatic teas and cold water, beach chairs to lie on, a wall-to-wall waterfall, dim blue lights embedded in the floor... the list goes on. After all that, I was off to the pool. At all times, I was completely alone.

After a few hours soaking, I went back up to my room. In the pool, and earlier too, I had felt an uncomfortable feeling in my chest, a general aching sensation. When I lay on the bed, it got worse, to the extent that I was not able to stay lying down. Every heartbeat hurt, as did every breath. I waited for it to go away, but it didn't, even after several hours. I made a zombie-like appearance at the welcoming cocktail, just long enough so as to be able to say that I was there, and then I was back up to my room.

The next morning I felt better.

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The first talk was at 08:30, after a fantastic buffet breakfast. I ran into my thesis tutor, and the following conversation took place.
- Hola Paul!
- Miguel, hi.
- Seems like you were kind of sick last night. What happened?
- I didn't feel well, pretty bad in fact, but today–
- (looking at me from head to foot) But you look terrible!!
- –but today I'm feeling better...
- Ah, er, good.
It is said that an audience's attention (and the amount of people that fully understand the talk) decays sharply with every slide that is presented.

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Some of the talks I managed to follow from a distance, with brief flashes of recognition of things that I had once studied. Sometimes I understood things that I found interesting or novel. There were also talks that I found opaque, completely impenetrable, making sense of no more than the title slide and perhaps the list of objectives.

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The researcher my tutor works with gave a talk like the ones I've just described. During the coffee break, I went up to him and said "I am sure that it was an excellent talk, congratulations. Unfortunately I didn't understand a thing". I think he took it in good humour. I hope.

Monday was the first poster session, and I was to present mine. I had a few interesting conversations about it. Here it is. You can get it as a PDF here o here, and you can read the original paper here o here.



One of the conversations was with Rainer Blatt, the head of the research group that I visited in Innsbruck, Austria. He asked for a copy of the paper, and since I didn't have one handy, that night I walked into town in search of an internet cafe. On the way I met Douglas, a nice guy that occasionally worked with my thesis tutor. We ran into a couple of girls from the Spa, but that's a whole other story.

Talks were separated into blocks by coffe breaks. Coffee and cookies, coffee and cookies, the standard food of physicists and mathematicians the world over. Sometimes it was served in the garden, beside the outdoor pool.

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The talks came and went, came and went. Lunch was elegant and pleasant, but rather on the small side.

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The official dinner was spectacular, a true banquet. A large variety of dishes, and finally! Lots of wine :D

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On wednesday we had the day off, and I went walking along the shore of Lake Villarica, beyond the houses and all civilization. I stopped to take some pics of the flowers along the way.

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The ever-present volcano.

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I just came across the occasional fisherman, some male couples sunbathing, the sort of thing that you usually find on the outskirts of Chilean towns :-)

Since Pucón doesn't have motels for lovebirds, I'm sure there must have been couples rolling around in the bushes. Not that I'd know anything about that, mind you.

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To go on, I had to cross a stream running through the low forest.

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Everything was so beautiful.

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Perhaps the only negative thing about this walk were the small volcanic stones that were constantly getting into my shoes. I should have brought my boots.

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And then it was time to turn back.

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There was still some sunlight, so I borrowed a bike again, and set off up the road to the Volcán Villarica. I wanted to take a picture of the volcano at sunset, and despite riding a few km past the end of the paved road, the view was always obstructed by cables and trees.

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I rode down to Pucón, and bordered the Poza, an inlet beside the peninsula.

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I love this photo. It looks like an impressionist painting, almost.

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The sound of the small waves, and silence.

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The air was cooling minute by minute.

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Thursday came, and we all walked out to the plaza in front of the hotel for the official conference picture.

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After that... I took a bus to Caburga. There were a few hours left before I got on a bus to Santiago, and I wanted to make good use of my time.

I rented a pedal boat.

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I got close to the shore, but I didn't want to risk a landing, since there were large rocks and tree trunks on the bottom of the lake that I might have gotten stuck on.

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A bit of bread for the birds, and they dove down on it, sometimes bashing at each other with their wings.

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It was time to go back, and so tired and a bit sad I got on the bus, and the next morning I was back in Santiago. What a contrast! :-(

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3 Comments:

Blogger Beaker said...

Once again you have provided some fantastic photos - the colours are truley magnificent.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Gabriel said...

some anaazingly colourful photography.Hi greetings to Chile from County Kerry in Ireland I recently posted a Chilean themed item on my blog

http://unrepentantcommunist.blogspot.com/

I hope that some of you will drop by and say hello.

Greetings to all Chilean friends from Ireland

Gabriel.

7:55 AM  
Anonymous MOGLi said...

beautiful, excellent photos! that picture that you said could easily pass like an impressionist painting, it is true! if you squint your eyes while looking at it, it would remind you of a detail in monet's pond. oh, if only all scientific conferences are in this kind of setting!

3:39 PM  

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