Alfa-Arkiv, Elliot Quest, and the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy

Some updates from last year. First, the first game I ever worked on professionally, Alfa-Arkiv, was featured on the Apple App store. CNET did a behind-the-scenes on this strange, 10-year project. CNET also named Alfa-Arkiv one of the best mobile games of 2014!

In other news, Elliot Quest, I game I wrote the script for, was released on Steam in December. It’s coming to Nintendo Eshop soon!

The Soldier’s Secret

the israeli trail

Perito Moreno National Park

We headed up to the main road quickly, with only an hour or so of light left to walk the seven concrete kilometers to the glacier. I set a brisk pace. With his long gangly legs, Yaniv kept up easily. Supposedly, the famed Perito Moreno glacier would rise out from snow covered mountains into the gray lake to our left, but soon an immense, hilly forest blocked our view. We hiked silently–I was wondering whether we’d get there in time; no doubt Yaniv was worrying about matters far more complex. After all, he was Israeli. Half an hour later, we came to a sign: five and a half kilometers to Perito Moreno.

“Let’s walk faster,” I said.

Yaniv bent down and rubbed his legs. “Ack.”

The sun disappeared steadily behind the forest as we continued on the road, up and down hills, tall pine trees arching over us. So near the mountains, the air was fresh and exhilarating. Just the two of us. It’d be lucky to get a ride to the glacier, I told Yaniv, but we hadn’t seen a single car. Our best hope was to find the alternative path to Perito Moreno. My guidebook had mentioned it, though the park ranger didn’t seem to know about it. Tree tops began to darken, and the air got colder. I checked my watch. Headlights appeared from around the bend. Stepping to the side of the road, we stuck out our thumbs. In the car was a young couple with two empty spaces in the backseat, but they shook their heads, mouthed ‘sorry,’ and sped along.

“Why didn’t they stop?” Yaniv asked, surprisingly annoyed. “They could not have been Israeli, Danny. An Israeli would have stopped.”

“That’s the first good thing you’ve said about Israelis, ever,” I told him. “Are you feeling alright?”

Yaniv never missed an opportunity to badmouth Israelis, which is why I was able to convince him to leave them back in Chile. That’s also why I liked him. I was sick of Americans; he was sick of Israelis. Both of us were disenchanted with out countries. Neither of us knew what strange path our lives would take. A perfect match. This was back when America was only a year into the Iraq war, with the first glimmers that the conflict might one day resemble Vietnam. Like many Americans, my love for the U.S. had turned to confusion and disillusionment. Here, Yaniv would probably say, “Ack, Homan–take America, switch with Israel, and, well–you get the point.” Then again, Yaniv was a different sort of Israeli. He had served an extra year in the military and–unlike almost every other Israeli I met–refused to talk about his time service. Something had happened during his army days, something terrible. Now he wasn’t even sure he’d return home. And as I would soon learn, to an Israeli, home means more than most can imagine.


Me and Yaniv – Torres del Paine

If you’ve ever been to South America, odds are you saw these recently-released soldiers carrying their trademark army backpacks, traveling on what I came to call The Israeli Trail, along which hundreds of “Israeli Hangouts” stretch thousands upon thousands of kilometers, from the bottom of Argentina up to Ecuador. Yaniv once told me that when he was alone in Buenos Aires, a group of Israelis passed him by, even though he had the trademark army cover on his backpack. Why? Because he was not with other Israelis! Imagine, then, how difficult it was for him, two weeks into hatiul hagadol, the “trip of his life,” to leave his fellow Israelis behind to travel with an American. The trip of his life. This is what Israelis called that first glimpse of freedom after their mandatory armed service. The name itself speaks for the importance of those six months when many Israelis leave their country of six million for the first time. A time to forget their troubles. Yaniv’s trip, however, was fraught with doubts and fears. From the moment I met him, I wanted to understand why he had lost faith in his country, how he had become so pessimistic. That night at Perito Moreno, I learned how Yaniv had become jaded, and in that Israeli soldier, I always saw a bit of myself.

Finally, we found the head of the short-cut trail my guidebook had mentioned. It was overgrown with reeds and barely marked, just a small, moss-covered wooden sign with an arrow pointing into shrubbery. This faint path led in the direction of the lake, but Yaniv remained skeptical, obviously wishing he had brought his Israeli guidebook. He had left it at camp. No doubt one of the many notes he had stuffed inside said something about the alternate trail at Perito Moreno. According to Yaniv, it was Israeli tradition to travel in South America after graduating from the army. They had been doing it for over forty years, and so each young Israeli who came over already had tips and recommendations from past generations. I had bought my guidebook in Florida from a local bookstore we had been going to since I was a kid.

After a little prodding, I convinced Yaniv to take the path. It was already dusk. For a few minutes, we were led down towards the lake, into the reeds. The lake was beautiful, with streams of intense blue and purple. We stopped for a moment to admire the sunset in the water, took a quick drink of water, and continued on. The path veered just before the coast, up a slight hill into a dense the woods. The last sunlight sprinkled through the branches, and in a few minutes, dusk settled over the woods. Under the canopy it was somber and quiet, aside from the occasional squirrel darting along the forest floor or bird flitting from limb to limb. But we were practically running now, so it was all a blur.

“Are you sure this is right?” Yaniv asked, stopping.

I put my hands on my hips, looking around the darkening forest. “You can take the road. I don’t mind going alone–I have a flashlight.”

“I’m coming. It’s just–you are American.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that you like to go first and ask questions later.”

“Like Iraq?”

Yaniv grinned. “I was thinking, fast food.”

I hurried at a half-run past tall pines, oaks, masses of vines, and thorn bushes, Yaniv lumbering behind. A few times, I lost the trail but, without telling him, ran on. Not that you could call it a proper trail. No doubt deer used it, but other than that, I wondered when hikers had used it last. When we could see the beautiful lake, the hiking–even if we were rushing–had been pleasant. But now the woods were feeling almost sinister, as though we were running into a trap. The animals were gone. The birds had stopped singing. Besides, this wasn’t the first time Yaniv and I had gotten ourselves into trouble.

“Ack, my legs are still hurting from the French Valley,” Yaniv moaned. He was far back now. I could barely see him in the dark woods. I thought about waiting for him, but Yaniv might have resented that. He might have been a different sort of Israel, but he was still Israeli. And in my brief experience, Israelis did not care to show weakness.

“Come on, you had a whole extra year in the army,” I yelled back, slowing to a half-run.. “Surely that means that you’re even more fit for a hike.”

He scoffed. “If I catch you…”

Hearing gently lapping water nearby, I knew we were close to the gray lake and started to run again. The forest was thinning slightly. I cut between trees, abandoning the trail completely. Looking back, I saw that Yaniv was managing a sort of goofy. Desperate to see the glacier before the sun went down, I scrambled up a small hill and hopped over some stumps, quickly descending. In my haste, I actually ran off the edge of a cliff, spent a few seconds in the air cursing my American stupidity, and then landed reasonably well on a boulder below. There was the lake again, purple with dusk. No glacier, but I could feel it was close. From the boulder, I hopped down to a rock beach and headed for the coast, hoping to see around the forest bend.

“Yaniv, Yaniv, this way!” I screamed.

DSC00527 2

Perito Moreno Glacier at dusk

As I neared the lake, I saw it, that stunning blue wall stretching across the lake and back up into the mountains. A wall of jagged blue ice crystals rose out from the water. I made my way alongside the coast and sat down on a nearby rock to catch my breath. Then I yelled for Yaniv again. Ice shards towered over me, yards away, if that. Silent, I watched Perito Moreno. How it stretched, a trail of blue spikes nestled between the mountains. Twenty minutes later, when Yaniv still hadn’t arrived, I began to worry. He had been limping. Until a few months ago, Yaniv had been a soldier in perhaps the finest army in the world. Four years–an extra year than most Israeli men. Yaniv was tall, almost 6’2”, and powerful, like a juggernaut. A machine. What could stop him? But he had been limping. I headed for the forest’s edge and turned on my flashlight. Nothing. I called to him. Just darkness. Turning back, I continued down the rocks along the coast. The water turned silver as the sun struck the glacier. In the failing light, Perito Moreno began to glow like a blue coal. I ran towards it.

Boom. Chunks of ice fell into the lake. I laughed with pure joy, forgetting, for that moment, everything. My eyes were on only the glacier. Boom.

Finding a rock to sit on, I watched peacefully, awed by its voice, waiting for Yaniv to show. I regretted having left him, but I assumed that any minute, he’d come bounding down the rocks with a smart remark, or appear in front of me, asking “what took you so long?” We had met on a bus ride a week earlier, both heading to Puerto Natales, the jumping off point for the famed Torres del Paine park, the first true destination on the Israeli Trail.

For a while, all I could do was stare at Perito Moreno. Then my thoughts drifted back to Yaniv. We had become close friends almost instantly, but only through Yaniv’s persistence. On that first bus ride to Puerto Natales, a tall, clean-cut young man with deep brown eyes wearing a dark blue parka with a white zigzag across the chest had sat down beside me and began to shove a liter Coca Cola bottle in my face. Orange and blue sunglasses tucked to his head. A digital camera slung around his neck. He had a strong nose and prominent cheekbones, dimples, two birthmarks, one on his left cheek, the other above his upper lip. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone, but after a minute, still in disbelief at this stranger’s insistence, I said, “No…no thanks,” and waved my hand. We talked for the rest of the five hour bus ride. Had I responded in Hebrew, Yaniv would have chosen a different seat. He had stuffed the coca cola in my face to find out if I were Israeli.

When the night arrived, the forest sprang to life. I started to head back to look for Yaniv, but stopped after I slipped on a rock and cut my knee. My flashlight barely penetrated the forest line. I didn’t know exactly how far back I had left him. What if he had fallen in the forest and injured himself? Maybe he had returned to camp, cursing me for leaving him. On that first bus ride, Yaniv had told me a little about his time in the army but had never filled in the blanks. Four years of mandatory service instead of three–which the other Israelis insisted was rare. What had he done? At first, I had speculated that Yaniv had been subordinate. That, or there had been an accident and he had killed someone. But having watched him limp down the forest trail made me wonder if he had injured himself somehow, or perhaps mental trauma. Would he be able to make it back by himself? I didn’t know what to do.

Instead of wandering the forest, I decided to head to the boardwalk lookout where tourists usually viewed the glacier. The boardwalk led to the main road and back to camp, my best chance of finding Yaniv. Past a rocky beach, I found a slender dirt path and followed it across the glacier’s face. The path climbed so steeply that, at one point, I had to hold onto exposed tree roots for balance. Glacial cannons continued to sound behind me. I yelled at the top of the next hill, then flashed my light three times, hoping that he would see. There was no response. Yaniv had brought a green flair–apparently from the army, though I couldn’t understand how he got it past customs. If he were in trouble, wouldn’t he have used it? I continued on. The path snaked around the next hill, dipping along the coast. In the distance, pieces of the glacier continued to crash violently into the lake. I began flashing my light in bursts of threes. The air was getting colder by the second, and I stopped to put on a sweater. I wondered if Yaniv had brought anything to wear over his tee-shirt. He liked to tough things out, as though some sort of stoic punishment–but for what? It was pitch black by the time I came to a barbed wire fence. Tossing my pack over, I climbed underneath. On the other side, I could see the boardwalk in the distance. A sign mounted to the fence read:




Beneath the sign was a crude drawing of a huge slab of ice falling on a couple of stick men. Yaniv and I were easily as thin as them; I could see the headlines:




Fox Network News


Scrambling up a final hill, I made it to a wooden fence framing the viewing area of Perito Moreno. The fence formed a pentagon around a metallic park bench. I sat down for a moment, holding my arms. My legs were exhausted. I looked back down the trail, hoping to see Yaniv appear at any moment, that goofy parka, those ridiculous orange and blue sunglasses. The stars had come out, bright and full and beautiful. Thousands of kilometers from the nearest big cities. The stars swelled. Under their light, the glacier looked like glass, dark blue chunks crashing into the water.

It was dark and cold. I called to him again, then sat down on a rock, watching my breath mist. I don’t know how long I waited. Grabbing my pack, I followed the boardwalk, legs aching with each step. In ten minutes, I reached the top of the lookout areas. Yaniv wasn’t there, and the parking lot was empty. I began to wonder whether he had returned to camp. No chance. I knew him well enough, if it had only been a week. If Yaniv were healthy, he’d be at the glacier, which meant that he must be injured. I’d head down the seven kilometers back towards camp. I’d alert the park ranger. Yaniv probably wouldn’t want to travel with me now. He’d be wishing he had stayed with the other Israelis we had left at Casa Maria in Puerto Natales, instead of listening to me. Truly, I had thought that leaving the Israelis was best for both of us.

You would have thought it’d be easy to convince him to leave them after finishing the Torres del Paine. After all, Yaniv had spent the entire five-day hike bemoaning traveling with them, pointing out their faults, dreaming of the other countries he’d move to. Just not back to Israel. Yet there was one Israeli we had met who Yaniv would have stayed for. In fact, it was only after he had given up being with her that he had agreed to travel with me. The girl of his dreams. His bride-to-be. A reason to return.

Yaniv at the Torres del Paine

Yaniv at the Torres del Paine

Yaniv badmouthed Israelis repeatedly, but there was one I knew he felt conflicted about leaving: Galia. We had met her at the Torres del Paine. The day before Galia entered out lives, when I met Yaniv on the bus, he had said, “I have not come to South America for the sights, Danny, but to find a bride.” That was the word he used, bride. So romantic. So old-fashioned. Galia herself was breath-taking, with rosy dimpled cheeks and luscious brown hair parted in zigzags. During that first week, he would talk to me about her constantly, or disappear for hours when his longing became too great. Like the glacier, Galia stood for something more to Yaniv; in her he saw some final vestige of Israel’s beauty. As a result, upon meeting her, Yaniv had become convinced that she was the answer to his troubles–that is, until we discovered she had a boyfriend back in Israel–a sergeant in the army, to make matters worse. Since then, her presence had tortured him. So he left.


Night in the Glacier National park was peaceful, clear, covered with stars, no sounds but those of nature, the wind in the forest. I was in a trance, watching my two feet continue on. My feet were sore. I was worried about Yaniv, but there was little point to searching for him in the darkness. I wanted to, but I’d have to wait until morning. Walking back to camp from the glacier, I started to wonder whether Yaniv regretted leaving the others. Throughout the park, the idea of Galia had consumed Yaniv. He talked about her constantly, wondering whether she was with Dan. He wanted her to like him, but he couldn’t say why. Just, “She’s beautiful, she’s beautiful.” But like most things in Yaniv’s life, Galia stood for something more, just as the Israelis we had been traveling with became, for Yaniv, symbols of what was wrong with Israel. Because the presence of Israelis and Galia bothered him so much, I had convinced him take a break from both. Together, we had taken a bus to Argentina, and then another from small town called Calafate to the park.

It had been a quiet ride to Perito Moreno, a welcome change for me. Although I had enjoyed traveling through the Torres del Paine with Yaniv and his friends, truthfully, I was glad to be rid of them. Though the Israelis all knew English, it was a hassle to get them to speak it. As the only American in the group, for me it was a lonely time. On this second bus ride with Yaniv, I had expected to run into more Israelis, but the bus was empty. It didn’t make sense. But the mystery of their absence was solved when we were asked by the bus driver to pay the park entrance fee. According to Yaniv, Israelis rented cars and went to the park after 5:00 to skip this fee, drove up to the glacier, slept in their cars to avoid paying for camping, and returned to the glacier at first light.

So, Yaniv and I had found ourselves sitting on a quiet bus, on the way to the world famous Perito Moreno glacier, talking politics. “Do you know what I mean, Danny,” he was saying, “when I say that I love Israel, it’s the Israelis I can’t stand?”

“At least you like your country,” I told him. “I think I’m going to move to Canada, especially if Bush gets elected again–I mean, for a first time.” We stared out at the landscape, flat and green and monotonous. I still couldn’t believe that I had wrestled Yaniv away, but he had been so down on Galia the last few days. This was better for him. “Maybe I shouldn’t have left,” I said. “You know? I should have stood up for what I believed in.” I sighed. “I liked Dean. He meant something to me.”

I had already explained to Yaniv about Howard Dean, my hero, how I fell for his campaign, his shoot from the hip attitude, his unwavering attacks on the war in Iraq and on the spineless Democrats who had been too afraid to appear ‘unpatriotic,’ to challenge “W.” For me, Howard Dean had become the first true revolutionary of my generation, and I was sure he’d win the primary, until the scream. His departure was a fresh wound, and I had a terrible feeling about the intelligent yet erudite Kerry taking on “common man” W. Bush.

“This Sheen from West Wing,” Yaniv mused, sipping on a Sprite. “I think he is a good man–perhaps he could be president?”

Laughter and singing, this is what we gave to each other on the trips of our lives. In a way, I already knew why I wanted to travel with Yaniv so badly. In Yaniv, I saw parts of myself. Like me, Yaniv doubted his decision to come to South America, because the same questions and worries I had, he shared. How could you leave your country in a time of crisis? Despite his threats to move to the States, Yaniv’s most passionate love was always for Israel. The way he spoke about the suicide bombings, his friends who had died, the weight of terrorism, the conflict, his feelings of inadequacy and helplessness, was so remarkably honest that I could almost imagine I was in Israel with him. There were times when he’d stare up at the Patagonian sky and I knew he was dreaming of home. Despite his melancholy, I was convinced that inside Yaniv was a leader who would appear as soon as he could put the past behind him. The problem was, his past stretched six thousand years. That night at the glacier, I would glimpse Yaniv’s true potential, and also the source of the disillusionment that could keep him from reaching it.

“In Israel, everyone wears stickers,” Yaniv was saying as the bus neared Perito Moreno. “There is a popular one, CNN lies, that many Israelis have. Because of how your news views us.”

“Man–what do they say about Fox news?”

Yaniv had chuckled. “To Israelis, all your news is the same.”

Now I was halfway back to camp. The stars were so bright that I walked down the road with my flashlight in my bag.

When Yaniv had told the others that he was leaving, they couldn’t believe it. We took the pizzas we had ordered, now a farewell dinner, back to Casa Maria, where the others were staying; Yaniv and I had chosen a different hostel, in order to avoid the Israeli crowds–a mutual decision. At the door to Casa Maria, Eli put up a hand to stop us. “Yaniv, the owners might be offended that you didn’t stay again. And Danny, try not to speak in front of them–if you stayed there with Yaniv’s group before, they probably think you’re Israeli and gave you a discount.” While the others talked and ate, I turned on the TV to the news. Four Palestinians, the newscaster said, had been killed in Netzarim, all Hamas leaders, in response for the suicide bombing in February. I started to mention this. Eli grabbed the remote, but he didn’t change the channel.

“Danny, we don’t want to know what is going on during the trip,” he had said. “We want to know, but we don’t. Understand?”

The others exchanged glances, slowly nodding in agreement. This I could sympathize with, though to a lesser degree. When I was home, I’d often come across a press conference or news report of Bush and, though I fumed every time I saw his face, I usually couldn’t turn away. So while the Israelis chatted, I watched The Simpsons in Spanish. Around midnight, we said our goodbyes and left. Yaniv’s eyes betrayed a conflicted heart, and he seemed nervous on our walk back to the hostel.

“You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to,” I had said.

“No.” He glanced back in the direction of Casa Maria. “It’s better this way.”


The moon was rising, casting the otherwise black treetops in a milky light. I couldn’t hear Perito Moreno anymore, but I was thinking about the French Valley and what it felt like to be cold, lost, and alone. I wondered if Yaniv had reached there. I shouldn’t have left him. That was certain. After all, he had left Galia and the others just to travel with me, and that hadn’t been easy. Now we were both alone in the woods in Perito Moreno.

A small green light floated towards me like an alien out of the X Files. I stopped as the light was raised up to the carrier’s face, and there was that Israeli smile, illuminated beyond doubt.

“Fucking hell, Yaniv. I thought that you were dead.”

I ran toward him. Yaniv was unable to stop laughing He should his head, covering his mouth with his hand. “You would not believe what happened.”

“It’s good to see you–God, man, I thought I had killed you.”

“Ack, it got dark quickly,” he said. “I was glad that I had this.” Yaniv held up a small green tube. “It’s a flare, from the army.”

“I’m glad you’re alright.”

He paused for a moment, then cocked his head, flashing a goofy smile. “Yes, but I’m starting to think that maybe we should part ways?”


“It’s just…you’re a lot of trouble.”

“God, Yaniv. I was so close to the glacier. I could have touched it–did you see it?”

“I got there after dark, but…” Yaniv scratched his nose. “I touched the part that connected to the ground. Do you know that a lot of people died by the glacier? I saw a sign. I couldn’t read it, but I got the…drift.”

“Crushed by the ice–twelve people.”

Yaniv nodded grimly. “I’m lucky to have an American guide,” he said. “I think I am seeing a different South America from the other Israelis. When I get back, they will say, what continent were you on?” Then he broke into song: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows the sorrow.”

“Didn’t you hear me yelling?” I asked.

“You run fast,” he told me. “I only saw flashing lights. I thought it was the ranger, and I didn’t want to get deported. They already don’t like Israelis here–not that I blame them.”

“But you were behind me…so that means I must have crossed you on the path.”

Yaniv burst into laughter again. “So it was you–I thought you were the ranger. You were very close though. You, “ he held up his arm, smiling like a jackal, “…stepped on my hand.”

“Fucking liar.” I pushed him. “Are you serious?”


We both laughed for a few minutes, and then I swallowed. “I’m sorry I left you in the woods,” I said.

He straightened. “Ah, it doesn’t matter–I was in the Israeli army. They left us in the middle of nowhere for ten days without food. I can survive Perito Moreno.”

“I was worried.”

Yaniv pushed me back. “Don’t get all gay–not that there’s anything wrong with that. So, what do you want to do?”

“The glacier?”

Me, enjoying a well-deserved PJB after wandering around in dark woods for hours

Viewing station for Perito Moreno

The green flare died just as we reached Perito Moreno. By then, the moon had since risen and was so luminous I turned off my flashlight. In the moonlight, the ice assumed an eerie quality, slowly pulsing, the crackles and booms even louder than at dusk. We sat on the benches, listening. BOOM. Then Yaniv got up, leaned over the rails, and stared out into the abyss. Just pure nothingness. Oddly relaxing, in a way. That and the cold and the light made the view seem paradoxically close and yet so far away. Utter blue. Blue and loud then quiet. For the first time since I had met him, Yaniv seemed at peace. Perito Moreno was the most beautiful wall that I had ever seen.

“Danny,” he said softly. “This is what I wanted on my trip.”

“I thought you wanted a bride,” I said.

“Do you know I haven’t thought about Galia all day…until now.” He flashed a goofy smile, then looked up as the glacier cracked.

“Have you ever seen snow before?” I asked.

“It snows in Israel.”

“Isn’t it all desert?”

Yaniv shot me a dirty look. “It snows in Ranana,” he said. “And in Jerusalem, and on our mountains.” In the faint light Yaniv’s expression froze and his body became motionless. He looked like a statue then, tall and stoic, gazing out at the lake. “Our mountains. Very beautiful.”

“That’s the second good thing you’ve said about Israel today.”

He started to respond but went quiet as the glacier crashed. “Ken–yes.” Yaniv sounded a little sadder now, and turned as I approached the fence to join him. “When I was in the woods, I thought of my army days.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It wasn’t all bad,” he assured me. “There was some peace.”

The glacier broke off again and we listened until the crashes subsided. So close to the glacier the air had gotten colder. In the darkness, when the wind broke, it seemed like we were the only two people in the world. Aside from the glacier crashing, we only had to whisper.

“Besides,” I said. “Isn’t it the hard times that make us who we are?”

“Americans, so optimistic.” He chuckled. “You think so?”

“Hope so. That’s what my mom always says.”

The glacier crashed again.

“In the woods, I was thinking,” Yaniv said, “just as you worry where your country is going, I worry where my country is not going. I think back to what things used to be like, and now?” In the pallid light I noticed the twisted expression on his face. Clearly he had gone somewhere else. His expression contorted and now he seemed grotesque, a hideous, painful sculpture. I swallowed in anticipation of what he might say.

“Danny. It’s shit. All shit. They turned the country that I love into shit. I don’t know, there isn’t a good enough word in English.”

“At least your country isn’t mine.”

“There is little difference. A very good man once said, I think it would go, ‘enough of blood and tears, enough.’” Yaniv smiled briefly. “I always liked that–he was a wonderful man.”


“Yitzhak Rabin,” he said. The way he said Rabin’s name sounded like a prayer. “Do you know him? Rabin? He was the head of the army, and then Prime Minister until 1995. He was beautiful. He had vision. Enough of bloodshed. Enough. He said that. And they killed him for it.”

“Who did?”

A block of ice crashed and we looked down to the black, still water.

“The far right,” Yaniv said. “They were afraid he was going to give Israel the one thing that would destroy it.”


The glacier broke again and we looked up at the moon, then at the glacier, glittering, on fire. The wall of ice stretched out, endless, further than we could hope to see. Perito Moreno felt impossibly close, as though we could reach out and touch it. The both of us could just hop the fence and run out onto ice and into the mountains. I wanted to, yet Yaniv’s words had a gravity to them, and I was fixed in place. I knew what he was going to say but it didn’t help a thing. I knew what would destroy Israel, and I wanted to say it, the same word that could destroy America.

“Peace,” Yaniv said in a breath. “They killed this man, Danny, and for what? For land.” He spat. “If I was prime minister, I would give it back. This land, this holy land. It is just earth. What use is it with so much blood on the ground?” The glacier cracked again. “I can remember the demonstrations before the peace rally.’ He was gripping the railing. “–they killed Rabin at a peace rally–can you believe this?”

The glacier spoke. I said nothing.

“There were signs. ‘Rabin is a traitor.’ ‘Rabin is a murderer.’” Yaniv’s voice was thick and full of venom now. “I was younger then,” he said. “Thirteen. There was one poster of Rabin with a Gestapo uniform. They put the Prime Minister of Israel in Nazi clothes–I don’t need to tell you what that means.”

I shook my head, no.

Yaniv closed his eyes. “Now, I don’t know what to believe,” he said. His voice was so soft I could barely hear. “My faith is shaken,” he said. “Not in Judaism. But in people. In Israelis.”

It was so cold my hands were shaking. I tucked them in my pockets. “Will you go back?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” He turned to face me. “Who can have faith when they have seen what I’ve seen? When I was fifteen, my life changed. 1995. The day Rabin was shot.”

For a moment neither of us said a thing. A slender black bird glided in front of us then rose, roosting on an overhanging branch. At its apex, the moon was high and full and very beautiful. There, I realized Yaniv had let me in on something significant, a key to himself, but it would not be until a peace parade in Buenos Aires two months later that I would truly understand what he had been trying to tell me, what he lost the day Rabin was shot, what he had hoped but failed to regain in the army.

“Sometimes, the people with the greatest pain often do the greatest things,” I said, an old line my mom often told me. “And with the greatest love. Yaniv, seriously man. Maybe you’re being prepared for something big.” And I truly felt that, his presence, this was someone who could lead his country back on the right path.

“I take it back, my earlier comment,” Yaniv said. “You’re no Israeli.”

I yawned, tucking my hands in my jacket. “It’s a long time till sunrise. If we meet up with the others, are we going to tell them what happened?”

He forced a laugh. “Not a word. Not a word.”

The moon hovered above Perito Moreno. The glacier crashed and we looked out again to that eerie blue. Yaniv eyes were sparkling. I could see the glacier in them.

Perito Moreno Glacier, 2004


The Santa Maria

They found Columbus’s lead ship, the Santa Maria, which is described in my novel, Island Builders. Read that scene below:

— From Island Builders–

Although the Admiral had planned to explore a little further before returning to Guacanagarí to celebrate la Navidad, the Santa María had spent the day beating the winds and making long tacks off shore.

An hour before midnight, the watch was changed. Sebastian went to bed, dreaming of the bare, brown breasts of Taíno girls.

The new moon cast a limpid light upon the Niña, leading the way. In this infant moon, Juan de la Cosa, owner of the ship, breathed a sigh of relief. He knew the way back to the island. So why not catch some shut eye?

“Admiral, I make that to be where we should head,” recommended De la Cosa. “To save us several hours of tacking.”

“I would not venture there,” The Admiral replied. “There are many coral hidden in these parts.”

“We have sailed this pass before, and no coral did we encounter.”

The Admiral yawned. “Maintain a wide birth. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must sleep.”

Having resisted sleep for several days, the Admiral retired to his quarters and went to sleep. Now Juan de la Cosa yawned. The Niña led the way. They would arrive at the island with plenty of time to prepare for La Navidad.

After dozing off several times, the owner of the Santa María told the helmsman to take over, and only to rouse him if there was any change in weather. Then he lay down and resumed a dream he had been having before the middle watch was called, of a woman named Delilah with whom he was in love.

Soon the helmsman began to snore, thinking of the dream he had woken from, bathing in pure gold, with native women painting his sparkling body with their own breast milk, and wondered if he could return to the dream. Finding Sebastian, the helmsman instructed him to take the tiller for a moment or two.

So Sebastian, now one of the only men still awake on the burgeoning ship, assumed the helm and began to steer the craft by the stars. And he thought about the strange dreams he had been having, of a woman dressed in orange rinds, wailing for him to return home.

He steered the tillage around the cape, wondering of the dream’s omen. Waves licked the bow of the ship. The ocean soothed Sebastian’s newly acquired soul.

A drifting feeling roused him from his reveries, and the sleepy Sebastian heard the ground swell breaking close aboard. He tried to steer the craft but elicited a grinding noise as though a rusty knife was gutting a fish the size of the world.

A coral!

Quickly, he called for the Admiral, who appeared on the deck, followed by Juan de la Cosa. The helmsmen followed suit, and soon the calm night was broken by curses, imprecations, orders, and shouts. The Santa María had run adrift on a slab of coral and was drawing water.

“Master de la Cosa,” thundered the Admiral. “Haul in the ship’s boats, now towing astern. Yes. That one. The more men, the–”

Instead, Juan de la Cosa and some men pilled into the boat, dropped it into the water, and began to row to the Niña.

“Cowards,” cursed the Admiral.

“God will punish them,” said Sebastian. “All hands on deck.”

“Cut the mainmast,” ordered the Admiral.

“You heard him,” cried Sebastian. “Cut the mainmast, you mangy dogs.”

But the Santa María’s stern swung around so she lay parallel to the sea, each surge setting her once more onto the jagged coral.

The hull was filling with water.

Meanwhile, Vicente Yanez, the middle Pinzón brother and Captain of the Niña, had not allowed Juan de la Cosa to find board, instead ordering de la Cosa to return to the desperate Santa María. When de la Cosa arrived, he called up to the Admiral from his lifeboat, asking if they needed any assistance.

Seeing that the boat was lost, and no more could be done, the Admiral and his crew boarded the final lifeboat and left the Santa Maria to sink.

“I was merely going to get help,” explained Juan de la Cosa, dripping seawater. “Of course I would not abandon you.”

“God take you,” said the Admiral quietly, watching ship he had fallen in love with tear itself apart. “God take you.”

The cups were turned, welcoming Christmas.

At daybreak, Sebastian, an island interpreter, and the Converso, were sent to ask for Guacanagarí assistance. The young cacique immediately sent out hundreds of canoes and retrieved all the stored goods, which they set upon the beach before returning to help the crew.

“Those filthy savages will steal our food,” predicted the bearded sailor. “I’ll watch them!”

“Your beard steals more food than they,” mocked Sebastian. “By God’s will, these are the friends of the Castilians, and we must always treat them thusly.”

All Christmas day, the natives and Castilians worked together while the Admiral wept at the sight of the sinking ship. Once what was salvageable could be salvaged, Guacanagarí presented the sailors with two large houses to sleep in.

The Admiral clasped the hand of the young king. “You are loyal, without greed, and virtuous above all.”

And yet he cried still, for the loss of his lead ship was great indeed. As if the heavens were answering the grief in the Admiral’s heart, canoes pulled beside the sinking ship, and the natives held up bits of gold, which seemed to ease the Admiral’s suffering slightly.

Seeing that the yellow metal pleased his new friend, Guacanagarí informed the Admiral that if he saved but one hawk’s bell, the young cacique would bring him a slab of gold as big as his hand.

That night, the Taíno and Castilians dined on a feast of yams, lobster, and cassava bread. All rejoiced, for a long-lasting friendship had begun. Men and women danced, sang, and played drums.

After much merriment, Guacanagarí led the Castilians to a beautiful white beach, promising a surprise. Sebastian served as translator for the Admiral and Castilians.

“We welcome your friendship, men of Heaven,” said the young king. “May we always be friends.”

“Tell him, Sebastian, that we will always be friends,” requested the Admiral.

“Beyond those shores are the Caribs,” explained the young cacique. “They take our men, women, and children as slaves. They eat those who will not work. If you would help us defend ourselves, men of Heaven, we would be eternally grateful. We have given you our women and bread and labor. We seek only peace.”

The Admiral patted the young king on the back. “We are your friends, now and forever.”

Guacanagarí smiled, and then snapped his fingers. “Here is my present.”

A young man came forward and presented the Admiral with a great mask of golden ears and eyes.

“Merry Christmas,” cheered the Cacique. “May this mask bring you good luck.”