Dogs pt2

Dogs pt1 did not meet popular aproval. All that was being shown – in truth – was that people like dogs in Colombia and that there are lots of different types. Fine – no great revelation there.

Last weekend I had the misfortune of visiting HomeCentre. HomeCentre is a chain of ginormous warehouses that sell everything – and I do mean everything. If you need plants, paint, a sofa, plates, a kettle, a burger and don’t mind wasting an hour and a half of your life, this is the place. It is not the size that is the limitation on expedience (although i cannot stress the size of the place enough – perhaps I am English and accustomed to small B&Qs).

No no – the barrier to completing  this ordeal faster was the fact that everyone had their dogs in a trolly… That is – of course – unless I have missed a trick here; are used dogs also a category of sales for HomeCentre!?

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Dogs

Dogs are popular in Colombia. They are popular in that a surprising number of people own a dog (what a surprise) but also that the breed quality of the dogs appears to be very high; people are not kindly adopting mongrels, but going to kennel clubs for the likes of French Bulldogs; Fox Terriers; Akitas; Salukis.

This is a rather strange thing because, almost nobody has access to a garden. Moreover, there is a very strong working culture here – certainly among the type of people that own expensive dogs in a hard-working city. To address this obvious problem, you have leagues of dog walkers descending on the streets with upto twelve dogs attached to themselves in various ingenios ways.

At this point I have sared the startling revelation that a) people own dogs and b) other people walk their dogs in the city. Great insight Charlie. However, there is another category of dog-owner that likes undertaking execercise with the dog themselves. The peculiarity of this is that the dog isn’t walking. A rather odd number of people are carrying their dogs in rucksacks, handbags, coat pockets.

I grant you that you are not stuffing an Alsatian into your Barbour pocket no matter how much you want to emmulate Kim Kardashian, but if the dog is baggable, you can be sure that this is to be one of the transport options for said pooch! And then there is this…

No drink-voting

Colombia recently held local elections. The Presedential elections do not take place until May and occupy second place in popular conversation topics. Of course this remains some way behind the theme of Colombia’s chances in the football world cup.

I have been told – this has been contradicted since (so who knows) – that these two events have something very potent in common; it is illegal to drink on the day of the event. Given that I saw people drinking their merry hearts out during the France-Colombia game, I am inclinded to think that perhaps this is not true. Nevertheless, as of 6pm the night before the elections, until 10pm the day of the election (polls close at 3pm) you are not allowed to buy alcohol. I appealed to the logic of a policeman as to why I – as a foreigner – could not drink also, considering I could not vote. This was not met well.

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In practice, this law is two things: one – surreal and two – counter-productive. It is surreal since the bars of a Friday night, ordinarly buzzing and lively, are deserted. Counter-productive because, while people cannot by alcohol, they may drink it. Subsequently, people hoard alcohol until 6pm (much like the English with soup tins when they hear that snow is on the way). They then proceed to drink this en casa as if there is no tomorrow! This means that any hope that people will not be drunk come voting day is completely in vain.

I concede this is nothing in the Uruguayan Cannabis vs. Salt law, but still strange!

DO IT NOW!

In Colombia, there are three ways to say “now”!?!?

Those familar with even basic Spanish with have come across ahora, which very simply translates as now (at this hour – if we are being precise) . Those more familar with the language will have encountered ahorita, which best fits with right now (at this little hour – which is rather charming actually)However, the relationship with time here, is so flexible that another manipulation is needed to arrest the relative shift that is taking place.

Ahoritica is how you articulate that you really do need something done… now. Not only is this perplexing, but it results in complete confusion. Unlike now and right now, which are really different empasis on the same passing of time, nobody really agrees on any of the nows! Ahora has been described as sometime this hour, ahorita as sometime in the next fifteen minutes and only ahoritica meaning now.

This has already burnt me. I asked for the startime of the meeting and was told ahorita. Not wishing to come across as overly British, I remained firmly in my seat, strictly observing my quarter-hour timeslot. When I then rocked-up fifteen minutes late to find the meeting firmly underway I entered confused and babbled something about it not being ahoritica!

People seldom like a smartarse. On this occasion, however, I think we can firmly delete the “smart” from that discription

What’s the point?

98E9F7B9-A2BD-4425-8646-7158DCF43175“Egocentric”, “un-amusing”, “too long”, “too English”, “are all of those words actually words?” The preceding are a small selection of the feedback I received from my last attempt to write some sort of account when in Latin America. We are told as children ‘upper primates learn from their mistakes’; I shall attempt to do so. (This might be thrown into question by the fact that I am called “Mono” in Colombia – which means Monkey / Blonde – take your pick.)

So: keep it short; keep it simple; try not to talk about myself. As for the humour and the Englishness, I can’t really do much about either of those I am afraid. My advice to those who don’t like sarcasm would be, leave this website and go and watch anything with Will Ferrel in it!

Why afflict people again with my text?

When people say that the like travelling, its hard to know what they are really referring to. Clearly, there is the tangible adventure, fun and sun. However I think most people are also attracted to a visceral aspect that you find only in the cracks between the main events. These, I think, are the cultural idiosyncrasies.

There is something uniquely charming about understanding that something quite commonplace is done differently, but more than that – it is done in that particular way, in that particular place.

IMG_5059Different, of course, relies upon your point of view. Mine comes from growing up in a small village in Oxfordshire. Given that I have just moved to Bogota, I will try to offer this insight into Colombians (or at least the life of people in Bogotá) – through the lens of an Englishman.

Last two weeks +24hrs

Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more… sunsets and beer(you know the rest and the general theme of my starting quote and the Bard to which it is attributed). In other words, back in the Buenos of A! Since my current style meets so much approval (sarcasm), I think I will go for bullet points and opinions. My main resolution upon embarking on this Sabbatical was to learn a bit of that slippery doubtful bloody language before going back to England! Thus one hour of one-on-one lessons a day for the remaining two weeks was a good choice. But what to do with the rest? The answer is: eat sweet croissants (average of three/day); eat empanadas (an average of three a day); eat meat; drink a large quantity of wine and or beer; put the finishing touches to my beard.

Now that I think of it, I should probably rename this blog to “sunsets, beard and beer”.

Week 9: Recoleta

Week 1 is really a series of musings.

Recoleta Cemetery: A catholic cemetery for Argentina’s famous dead. While it is a must-see as far as one’s Buenos Aires itinerary goes, it is somewhat strange! It is a perhaps 30 acres of mausoleums ranging in “ornateness” from outlandish to small churches. I think I came across at least 4 Garibaldis on my roaming of the cemetery! Yes, I did think of biscuits!
outlandish small churches

Re-met the best looking person I have yet encountered. He was mistaken for Brad Pitt from the film Troy during a <heavy night>. I was also mistaken that night for another Hollywood actor from the well-known film The Hobbit. Sorry buddy, I stole your thunder a bit there – the females just love short guys with hair on their feet!

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/a6/c5/a3/a6c5a3beebac353baa9098fde06a1644.jpg vs. https://static01.nyt.com/images/2012/12/14/arts/14HOBBIT/14HOBBIT-jumbo.jpg

Jenga

Played a large game of Jenga. CB is very very good at Jenga – course – it relies on patience and finesse, his two greatest attributes!

Bought an unhealthy number of belts in San Telmo Market and saw a dog with cool ears. I would like to explain to women how to shop in a market. Round 1: survey and dog earsreceive quotes, from this you compile a mental map of where you are to go. Round 2: relax, have a coffee or (in my case, irrespective of the fact its 11.30 on a Sunday) a beer and some pastries! Round 3, take yourself to each of the selected stands and immovably declare your price. Round 4, congratulatory lunch and beer. If shopping were a martial art, I would be a fifth dan black belt!

MONETVisited an Art Gallery. An astonishingly impressive collection. Including one of, what I presumed was, Monet’s Haystacks. In actual fact by a chap called Martín Malharro: nice way to get a good cheap(er) Monet. Then Modern art happened. CB is a learned chap and as such knows that modern art is complete and utter twaddle!

Week 10: Palermo

La Boca. La Boca, as a district, is a very dangerous part of Buenos Aires. However, it has a tourist/cultural core that is really rather colourful, safe and aesthetically pleasing. While on a tour here, I  heard a great deal about the origins of Tango, their football team and their national hero. For those who don’t know, each Latin American country likes to celebrate a professional cheat and hobbyist footballer. Brazil – Rivaldo. Uruguay – Suarez. Argentina (a selection to choose from), but Maradona takes the bacon! I especially like that his cheating is attributed to God. Not even waiting for death to allow JC to take away the sins of the world, if you are an Argentinian footballer, you can do it during life also!
la boca
La Bomba. I returned to the prolific, weekly drum show: somewhat symbiotic. It was, again, very pleasing and a good-deal of fun (they sell double pints of beer)! Moreover, it was followed by the first Fuerza Brutaactually good Pizza I savored in Argentina. Considering everyone is Italian, there is a worrying scarcity of good Italian food. This, however, was a delicious exception.

Fuerza Bruta. I presume that watching Cirque du Soleil on some sort of hallucinogenic mushroom would get you close to Fuerza Bruta. It was a strange combination of performance art, a drum show (becoming a real fan of those), a water park and an acrobatics performance. I think there may have been some progressive plot also, but that was entirely lost on me!

A Football Match. Not even sure who played. Crowd participation in the match, I would say, was 50% singing and 50% compound swearing at the referee and the opposing team. In Argentina only the home fans can attend a match due to excessive violence when fans mix. If the referee gives a foul against your team, no matter how blatant, he is either: a son of a whore; a condom; the shell of his mother (that’s an odd one but not too hard to piece together); a gigolo; (and my personal favourite) a donkey.football
I have a unique effect on football matches: my presence results in zero goals being scored. This match did not break the current streak of five matches!

San Telmo again. I actually spent a good deal of time in San Telmo. I would strongly recommend it as a place to stay for people visiting for a couple of weeks. I’d recommend four/five days in Recoleta, five in Palermo and five in San Telmo. From what I could see, these are the best or most interesting parts of the city. San Telmo has a rustic charm to it and is made more exciting than – say – Palermo by there being moderate chance of being mugged, day or night!

After a few more runs, a few more beers and a few more pastries, my time abroad reached its conclusion… ish.

+24

I do owe two thanks. The first: thank you British Airways. A message at three minutes to midnight (roughly twelve hours before my flight) informed me that my flight was cancelled. This photo reflects my mood when that text was received…View from River

But, I ought to be fair: this is something that happened to a great many people. For some the outcome was a day in Heathrow, while for me, it extended my time away! Nevertheless, my irritation lies in the fact that they booked me on a plane to Madrid for two days later than my original flight to London, while a chap in the same hotel was on a direct flight to London later that day (Do they not know who I am!?). Yet the thing I find most annoying is being given numbers for offices that are closed / constantly engaged. Or a link to a site that didn’t work. I tried to put my faith in social media and even wrote on Twatter – thrice – to no avail. So a cancelled flight later, this is written from an indirect flight that I found online (again with LatAm) via Sao Paulo. A one-hour transit time at the airport and a thirty-minute late flight meant that getting even this flight back to UK was somewhat nerve-wracking. But I shall get home and its nice to have a good-old complaint to finish with.

(On this occasion) I shall not wax lyrical since I do cynicism far better. However, I sincerely owe a great many people a great many thanks for what has been a fabulous three months of Argentinian (their unintelligible version of Spanish), Spanish (the countries where it was spoken correctly), culture and a big-old chunk of hedonism! I’d move in a heartbeat! For now and until the next rant – CB – OUT.

Week 8 – Waterfalls, Dams and Ruins

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea.” I may not have emulated Coleridge in any way other than my laudanum-like state last week, but his poetry barely does justice to the beauty of and magnificence of Iguazú falls. But we can come to that later. For those who wish to have a blurb of what is to follow, in order to judge whether it is to their fancy, four boarder crossings in three days, the “eighth wonder of the world”, second biggest dam on earth, two sets of Unesco-protected Jesuit ruins; excessive drinking outside a petrol station in Brazil.

Paraguay – in Ruins

Advice to anyone considering crossing the boarder from the Argentinian city of Posadas to Encarnación in Paraguay – don’t. You may do this if you have an preoccupation with having a rather appealing red stamp in your passport that you can brandish and announce that you, with only a few others, “have been to Paraguay”. stampHowever, it was the most chaotic boarder control I have seen. In order to reach Encarnación, the “jewel of Paraguay”, you: get on a bus at Posadas bus station; perform a rather odd loop where you pass the bridge that takes you to Paraguay – twice; bus leaves you in a queue for an hour and a half in the sun as taxi drivers offer to drive you over the boarder (you are looking at it); you watch as some people walk straight through without a care in the world; get stamped out; get on a different bus that takes you to the Paraguayan side; get stamped in; get yet another bus that takes you to Encarnación bus station. This whole ordeal takes about two hours to go two miles, but Paraguay is an hour behind the rest of that part of S.America, you have only lost an hour. Not sure if this is clever planning or just another layer of idiocy to add to the whole fiasco.

Not wishing to criticise a whole country having seen so very little of it, but I shall: I don’t think there is much to do. That is not to say that it is not a lovely country nor that there is nothing to do, but that for a tourist, there is little to pursue there. This sounds deeply disparaging, and I don’t mean it to. Bristol is perhaps my favourite city in England, even though it lacks the beauty of Bath, the attractions of London and the magnificence of Oxford. Moreover, I would refrain from recommending Bristol as a travel destination for those lacking time. I wonder is Paraguay the same? Parag RuinsThat being said, they have some very lovely Jesuit Mission ruins near a place called Trinidad.  But first one must get there (20miles from Encarnación)…
Hostels are great because they are accustomed to inept guests and therefore overload you with info. Not in Paraguay… I asked the receptionist (R.) when buses left for Trinidad (the only attraction). She didn’t know. She called the bus station, “they leave at 11.30am” (it was 11.27).
CB – When else?
R. – I didn’t ask.
CB – Could you ask?
R. – (calls) 13.30
CB – When else?
R. – Didn’t ask, do you want to know all the times?
CB – Forget it, I’ll ask at the bus station. Any idea how often they return – roughly?
R. – No… I didn’t ask.
(CB nearly explodes)

Parag Ruins 2Took the bus with locals and a handful of travelers to Trinidad and the ruins. (I say more about the ruins below, but don’t want to loose the less learned of my readers at such an early point.) Saw a breathtaking sunset there and decided to wait for the famed “light show”.

While beautiful, the night viewing was an error for two (unforeseen) reasons. 1) The otherwise deserted ruins were descended-upon at night by a cacophony of schoolchildren and the elderly (recall my fondness). The tour was also in Spanish, which meant I was translating for the ungrateful group of travelers. 2) We returned to the road from which one takes the bus. I ask in the only shop how often the bus leaves. “Every half an hour.” After an hour and a half, I ask again. “Oh yea, on Sundays the buses stop at 5pm.” When I ask recommendations on how we get back to Encarnación, I am told, “Not sure to be honest, but you shouldn’t stay here, its dangerous for you now.” – Great. Manage to haggle with a local man in a car that he drive the five of us back for £5 each. Did not die that night and bus to Ciudad del Este, which hosts the boarding crossing with Brazil, the following day.

Brazil – Dam fine

Another stupid boarder crossing and the stamp to prove that I, logically, could not have spent more than 47 hours in Paraguay. Was actually about 28. TICK. Two things on the agenda for Brazil. Iguazú waterfalls and Itaipu dam. Before either of these, I was told that one can visit a viewpoint where three countries are visible. Ever the adventurer CB decides to run there. The hostel (really cool made form shipping containers) advised against this. I had presumed it was for the distance, which was a mere 7-mile roundtrip. Cool view…
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The advice was as such because the run back, in the dark dark, was along a dodgy road and and even dodgier part of the city. As I returned, I was ardently asked if I was robbed, threatened or chased.

Next day I went to the world’s eight greatest wonder and, by many accounts, the most beautiful waterfall in the world. I was told Brazil was “photo side”, while Argentina was “experience it” side. Brazil didn’t disappoint. I am not sure I have ever spent three hours looking at the same view without my awe of it declining.
Braz falls
CB was also on a boat ride with a group of under waterfall 1Koreans (South of course). Males were nice, the women did nothing but scream! Ironically, the screaming stopped when the small rubber vessel went under the waterfall. See the FB video if you wish to see the extent of “under”, here is the screenshot if not. Following day, it was the turn of man to see if nature could be trumped. While the answer was “no”, it was awe inspiring. The size of the dam just incomprehensible, the numbers sounded a joke! For instance, the structure itself was 233m tall, if you include what was required to be dug into the bedrock. This dam produces 19% of Brazil and 80% of Paraguay’s total energy consumption! While the dam has had outputs of water 40x that of Iguazú, it also required flooding a waterfall (in Paraguay) that was eight times larger than Iguazú. The cost of green energy!

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I actually met an Indian chap who had studied Computer science and was now a writer; he was the inverse of me! Went on a boat ride to see the sunset atop the dam: don’t worry, I asserted my masculinity by opening each beer and shouting “men” at the water…
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Night spent with an Irish-American and a couple of Brazilians. Quite a funny process of one Brazilian speaking, the other translating to Spanish and me into English. We partook in the age-old Brazilian tradition of drinking at a bar, located at a petrol station. Now it is not in my nature to be critical, but I am not sure that placing a drinking establishment at the same location where one fills one’s car is a good move. I would put Petrol and Alcohol as my two biggest outputs, so its nice to kill two birds with one stone, but it hanker that it rather encourages drink-driving. Some need no encouragement – eh!

Argentina – Only wins when it falls

For the first time on this trip, Argentina has beaten a country head-to-head. The Argentinian falls blew Brazil’s side away. As a tip for anyone planning a trip to this wonder: go to Brazil first. I am not sure how you could possibly go from the magnitude of the Argentinian side to the Brazilian side and remain quite as mesmerised. Whereas Brazil first is an excellent build-up (I could not conceive at the time how it could get better!)
Argentine side I met with Mila ~ Argentinian friend. While it is great to travel alone as you get to meet people, it is always nicer to share experiences! Moreover, one would not have the need to take photos of oneself with a selfie stick (not that CB would ever stoop to this; he has oddly long arms so can just extend them if the same action need be performed!).
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You cannot conceive the amount of water, nor the sounds, nor the smell. One of the many amazing things was that birds, which flew a bit like swallows (but were not), were swirling around in the morning spray of the falls that enveloped about 100x70m of the river. Simply magical. Also saw a Toucan, not quite so swirly!

Arg Ruins 2Following day visit another Jesuit mission ruins, this time Argentine side. Might I say, well done Argentina, beat Paraguay also (less of an achievement)! The ruined Missions of San Ignacio were spectacular and must have covered 25 acres. At the heart, a huge church / “galleria”. These are the same missions as in Paraguay and the same indigenous people, the Guaranì.  it is no wonder that the Guaranì converted to Catholicism so readily. After years of brutality under Spanish oppression and lust for gold, along come priests who learn the your, improve your existence and build these Godlike ornate structures filled with music and light. (Nothing to match the Mayan or Incas, but no such empires reigned here.) Arg RuinsThis was all put to a bloody end by the Portuguese in the latter half of the 1700s. Fascinating history. For those who don’t mind reading another 500 words see here, for all those who cannot read / have a pining for Jeremy Irons’ voice (something I can empathise with: Scar from The Lion King) or want to hear Gabriel’s Oboe in context, I would say that The Mission is rather a good way to fill a few hours.

Back on Bus, after a somewhat unpleasantly long wait (again) on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere by a Jesuit mission. Was nervous that a precedent was being set! Back to Buenos Aires in a mere 12 hours.

Week 7 – Northern Patagonia and Chilean Volcano

Dear loyal readers/ close friends & relations. I say loyal because the blog has not gone viral as I naturally expected, ergo the only remaining readers are those who will likely meet me in the forthcoming weeks and need to have read it of risk loosing my highly-valued adoration. A rare admission of defeat by the mighty CB: I keep failing to live-up to arbitrary ideals – how strange! The two ideals that I have fallen short of this week: travel with Spanish-speakers; never take a bus when you can take a plane. I shall address the second humanitarian failing now and allow the full week’s anecdote attempt to atone for this catastrophic indiscretion…

Argentina appears to have gone crazy with air-fares. Having taken a flight to very southern Patagonia (a few weeks ago) for roughly £250, I artfully dodged the second air-fare for the same amount for an hour and a half’s flight taking me from northern Patagonia back to Buenos Aires. How!? I hear you cry. Well… If you book the flight using latam.ar rather than latam.com its essentially half price! Apparently KLM is the same if you switch it to the Italian site (CB likes to reward his loyal followers with the occasional life-tip.IMG_7770.jpg Another: never eat grass… You’re welcome!). However, I write this upon a thirteen hour (night) bus because it was four times cheaper than a flight. A night bus for £40 vs. plane for £160 is hard to turn one’s nose up at! Part of the difference has been invested in Professor Plumb as company while I listen to a classic 70s playlist! I also intend to take a sleeping pill somewhere into writing this fabulous piece of literature. Fingers crossed I am not interrupted by a messenger for Porlock. Now where did I put those sacred rivers…

Rewind a week or so. Bus to Bariloche (Nothern Patagonia) from El Charten (Southern Patagonia) robbed a day an an hour of my life. I was fed complete crap and forced to move seats three times! Anyway… Arrived in Bariloche to the best view I have ever beheld from a hostel (maybe even any paid establishment):Best View
Bariloche looks a great deal like prettier parts of Northern Europe. That is, beautiful, but in quiet, tranquil way. The issue is that when you have been in proper Patagonia, of the most beautiful parts of the world, it is hard to appreciate any other scenery.

all the time (or something to that effect). What makes something exceptional is quite that, it is an exception, it breaks the norm. If you are accustomed to only seeing the greatest sights of the world, they do not loose their objective magnitude, only that in your relative observation. If this means anything it is that I agree with my good friend Mac that short(er) trips are the best, they give you the opportunity to fully enjoy each experience.>

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving filled much of my precious words with ramble (I am aware that a 3000-word rant is not what anyone wants, even from CB), I turn to the interesting part of the week. It began with a the pretty (but somewhat forests-of-Northern-Europe-looking) trek with Dirk.

Upon my return I bumped-into one of the greatest humans ever – Lars the Swede. It was Lars who performed for the world the Swedish frog dance and sports a very excellent pedo mustache that, had he been around in the early 70s, would have landed him a prosperous career in the BBC. Lars, I would also like to add, did not name women in his top five list of “all things in life”, but did name butter.

Dirk and a collection of others, including Marv (who will receive his write-up later) and I decided that given the horrendous weather of the following day we may as well cultivate a hangover that night.

The following day came with one of the most horrendous hangovers and brought even the mighty CB to a level of humility he is not used to having to embrace (hubris so much more appealing). Yes, dear readers I drank, however this hangover was something more… It was a sign of yet another step in CB’s ageing: inability to recover from alcohol. Not only did he feel a low-level nausea all day, a moderate headache and some serious apathy, but an odd depression descended that was matched by the torrential downpour outside (ten points to your chosen Hogwarts house if you have the words “pathetic fallacy” floating around your head). A day inside means one should have achieved a great deal. I wrote one post card and could not be arsed to post it.
That evening, Dirk and I compared our catastrophic hangovers over our measly dinner (something on toast) and decided that this was the fault of Bariloche – obviously. Thus we resolved to hire a car the next day and drive to a volcano in Chile. I hope that everyone is following that obvious logic!

Wolf Pack 1The Wolf-pack assembled for the week ahead! Wolf-pack: CB (your humble narrator); Dirk (Dutch); Lars (Frog-dance); Marv (Dutch – hair too long). I should explain the “Wolf pack”. For the younger readers it need not be stated, for older readers, it is a reference to a group of guys who embark on an accidental adventure in a film/three that you will neither understand nor enjoy; I will not burden you with the forbidden fruit… The Hangover. Nobody said I had to play by my own rules (see paragraph one). This ties nicely with my Pablo Escobar malapropisms that pervade this trip. Escobar and his lackies (in Narcos – another television show) keep saying, almost as a chant of deviance, “we are wolves”. For the first four days of the trip, I kept saying “we are wolves” in Spanish. Only I had, once again, mistaken the accent of the Brazilian actor playing Escobar. Rather than “somos lobos”, as it should be, I was waltzing around chanting “somos lomos”. For the less lingual, carne de lomo is a particular excellent cut of steak. I was thus referring to us as the “beef pack”. Perhaps I should allow that to speak for itself. The majestic wolfpack were very fond of puppies and partial to games of chess also: if that is not progressive masculinity, I am not sure what is!

Day 1: Drive to Pucon.

Full WolfHaving figured I got us a “good deal” (a false assumption that may well run in the family), we waited for two hours for the car to be delivered to the arranged location. If one were to draw a graph plotting shittness of the car and photos taken of it, I think this car comes out top in history: knocking the Vayron out of the park. Lateness forced us to drive, somewhat expediently, straight to Pucon in Chile. The haste was due to having to confirm our booking for the Volcano ascent (on the only perfect day for the prior two weeks and, as it turns out, following week). Thus we arrived in the dark somewhere two miles outside the main town. Pucon hostelHaving taken a very dodgy mud track, I was forced to ask a toothless gentleman in a house in the middle of nowhere where we were. I have no idea if he knew or not, all I got from the three minute encounter was “mí casa”. Eventually, we arrived. Deeply lovely “hostel”, more like a hotel with communal eating. One planned night there became four!

Day 2: Volcano registration & Lake walk.

We register and choose our gear, accompanied by a German chap. It transpired that the nice lady I had spoken to at agonising length (for her) in Spanish the day before was Canadian – CB smashing it since 1990. German invited to accompany us to recommended lake and waterfall. He accepted. So the three tallest sat in the rear of the car as Lars performed map reading that may have absolved all women for map-related failures being exclusively gender associated; how can you cock-up google maps!? Perhaps the mustache got in the way. Walk followed by an impulsive swim in the lake. The below photos are highly pixilated because my camera has a mind of its own. That being said, I suspect that this could be a good thing!

One piece of advice for the night before our trek was “don’t drink too much”. CB had six beers… its not fair to other humans if he is in the peak of physical preparation before such an activity.

Day 3: The Volcano.

Like Torres del Paine (the trek I loved in Chile), it is hard to do it justice. Fortunately, there are more discernible statistics and remarks to be made about Villarrica volcano. The ascent required that we arrive at the office for 6.30am. Two options for ascent: 1) chairlift 2/5 of the way; 2) walk all the way. Naturally the beef pack walked. It was while we were performing the “chairlift” part of the trek that I saw perhaps the strangest sunrise I have ever seen – you could see the shadow of the volcano in the sky!
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The ascent itself was 2,800m, but that was made somewhat easier by two things. One – every time you looked around there was a view that would inspire even Kant to poetry.Volcano view
Two – we were informed that, due to the warm weather, ice and rocks were more likely to be falling, and that only the day before a lady had had her leg broken by a falling piece of ice…
No bragging now, but we (beef pack, German + Californian) overtook everyone (around 250 people that day, including everyone who took the chairlift) behind our guide, who it transpires was Chile’s champion climber for six years back-to-back.
To see lava exploding a mere 30m below you with no barrier nor thought for safety was quite simply a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The below photo features our group perhaps one meter from where you would slide to an inevitable immolation. When (not if, sadly) that happens, it will be curtains for this experience. So… do it before some idiot American ruins it for everyone! Oh, did I mention Mum that the volcano erupted two years ago? 🙂
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Best lunch view ever..?

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How do you descend? Naturally you place a plastic paddle between your legs and sit on it in order to side down the snowy slopes. No, it does not protect your testicles, but rather use them as an anchor to protect your arse… I know which I would have rather suffered the repeated slings and arrows of outrageous bumps. There was a technique to this descent, but I didn’t listen and opted for as much speed as I could muster, which resulted in me firstly adopting a turtle-esq position (all limbs in the air, rather than feet planted and arms forcing ice axe down as a break!) Guide not impressed until I collided with a group of, immediately prior, standing Chinese tourists, this appeared to placate him.
One of the greatest experiences of life followed, that evening, by more sushi than I have ever eaten.

Shoe dick

Day 4: Small trek and a bath.

What do you do the day after waking two miles UP? You go for another walk. Walk not much to speak of other than that I slightly fell-into some waterfalls (not yet bored of them at this point). Note the retired Picasso model draining his shoe.

Four independent Chilean recommendations to go to some Thermal Baths compelled us to go there. And my goodness it was a good choice. A maze of seventeen thermal baths nestled in a valley! These baths ranged from 35 to 45 degrees centigrade (do your own farenheight conversion if you have not caught up with the times!). One of the most romantic places on earth was utterly and unashamedly loved by a the beef pack. Made more romantic as we chose the transition from day to night (commonly known as sunset) to be there. Oh, there were two more waterfalls!

Never have I been somewhere where people so obviously had sex and partaken so little (except perhaps University…). Women or no, the baths worth every minute of the three-hour drive. I spent my time, all three hours and thirty minutes of it, demonstrating osmosis.

Day 5: Pack of three & Return to Argentina.

Three wolves

Swedish took his frog-dancing limbs to Santiago and left three wolves to drive from Chile across the boarder. Perhaps the most varied and sensational drive I have been on. We drove from luscious evergreen forests coated in clouds, to autumnal ones reflected in mirror-like lakes, passed three volcanoes and then drove through a monkey-puzzle forest.

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And then well left the varied and beautiful landscape of Chile, taking with it tarmac roads and beauty, for the dust tracks and barron landscape of Argentina’s Route 40. This took us, with little in the way of aesthetic variation nor inspiration, to San Martin de Los Andes.smdloa

The thing to “Do”. It is not. It is a desert beside a set of very straight roads with little other than the occasional bird and cyclist for obstacles!. That day I think we passed four cars.>
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Day 6: Not on the boat & Volcano with a hat.

Having arrived in San Martin de Los Andes to a methane-smelling OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhostel and a general over-rated, over-priced, dead town the night before, we decided to drive to the more beautiful lake and boat trip with view of volcano (can you sense the addiction?). The boat trip was rejected because there were too many old people on it. When CB beholds a flight of stairs and people bumbling two-abreast down them, he knows it is not an experience that is going to lend itself to his improvement as a moral being.

In lieu of this, we drove further on (after lunch and a good deal of faff) to be told that we had left it too late to do a proper hike, but could walk to some nearby waterfalls. FFS. At least we were joined by volcsome proper wolves for the walk (they walked with us for about two hours). I was dangerously tripped twice and had to keep lifting them over rocks. “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack!”

Track back afforded a great photos of the volcano seemingly wearing a cloud toupee. Photo of me taking the photo is better than the photo taken in the photo. How meta.

Day 7: Two wolves and seven lakes.

The pack became two when Dirk left for Santiago. Marv and I drove back to Bariloche via an indigenous community nestled at the base of a beautiful valley. Having wandered around the “town” we decided to embark on the (short) recommended walk. However, having paid a dizzying £5 entry to the park each (a very much reduced price due to haggling), we were entirely unwilling to pay the extortionate £1.50 to see the waterfall. “Thank you very much for the offer, but I have already seen eight of those; keep your £1.50!”
Now the others have their accounts, Marv may be summarised as the guy who went to Thailand aged seventeen. Alone! I was somewhat impressed. He is now older and wiser – nineteen.
Returned to Bariloche hostel with lovely view. It was indeed lovely minus two setbacks. 1) there were some Swedes there who had discovered the guitar and were proceeding to butcher the greatest songs ever written. Their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody was even worse than Kanye West’s. 2) Some prick stole our breakfast avocados… I KNOW, the misfortune that some people have in this world is just baffling!

two wolvesDay 8: Return of the Cheví.

The Wolfpack splits and the ugliest, most photographed photo in history was returned. milageAll 1810.9km were performed adhering to the Dutch saying: “Don’t be gentle its a rental!”. What I will say for Chevrolet is that they know how to build a car! I put that thing through hell: driving off-road on horrendous tracks with four/five full-grown guys in it at 50mph; it was drifted round bends making full-use of the hand-break to complete tail flick; taken through deep puddles and up some very steep tracks. Other than a broken front light and a thorough coating of mud, it appeared unscathed. Very impressed!

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Now on a bus bound for (not even joking) El Dorado! Oh and, just so we are clear, Chile wins again! Argentina, lets see if you win in the forthcoming Paraguay conflict!

Week Six ~ Chilean Patagonia and Big Ice

HATI decided that the beré that I bought in Buenos Aires is to be my hat for all walks in Patagonia; my brand, if you will. The presence of this hat (actually called a boina) adds a certain gravitas to my look and suggests that every word that comes out of my mouth is one that is reflected upon by a very wise man. Sounds spot on right? Moreover, I have been described, as a young, slightly more handsome, slightly more ginger Che Guvarra. The fact that this description comes mostly (entirely) from me is neither here nor there. I am thinking that any one of the images below is likely to be the face that launches a thousand posters within the year! I guess all I need do in the interim is be aboard a socialist revolution. I hear T.May has called another occasion to trust the populace; perhaps Corbyn is recruiting for the Reds?

Bus ride of 4+hours number four of the week is where I begin this blog’s entry. I suspect bus ride number eight will be where I finish it. My principle of zero busses has, quite evidently, failed miserably ~ “a la mirda” they would say here. Good thing Steinbeck wrote a rather drab book that reminds us of how everything we intend to happen tends to get buggered-up anyway! (“Best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry”. Only non-UK citizens will be forgiven for not knowing this as it is on the GCSE syllabus for every sixteen year old in the country!)

<One remark about flights in The Americas. They clap when you land. Now I feel applauding the Pilot for doing is job is just not the done thing. One does not applaud the Postman walking down your drive with the correct post, envisage the English slow-clap + “well done dick-head, you managed it today”. Nor does one clap the taxi driver when you arrive at the correct destination, nor the waiter when he succeeds in brining the correct dish to your table. As such, clapping the Pilot for not killing everyone on board seems a little odd! While they clap for him, I tut at them.>

After a notable number of hours that were spent: sleeping on the floor of an airport due to my flight being at the obscene  time of 3.35am 2); my flight landing in Ushuaia (nicknamed The End of the World) and then taking-off again from Ushuaia having not left the plane; pottering on a small bus to the rather odd El Calafate (which exists exclusively to serve those going between Chilean and Argentinian Patagonian National Parks); sitting on another bus to get to the ghost town of Puerto Natales (Chile appeared to be having one long holiday for my time in the country); hiring the required camping kit with my Dutch companion Martijn Spoon (henceforth Ma Spoon); getting on another bus the next day to get to the National Park itself and then a boat to start the four-day track from the recommended far-side of the “W” track of Torres del Paine – we began the first of many long walks in Patagonia.

Torres del Paine

I laboriously list the above in an attempt to articulate how very very difficult it is to get to this place and how it seems a complete anathema that people would go to such lengths to go anywhere. Moreover, even in the lowest of the low season (which we are now in) the hostel in which I stayed was alive with tourists all with similar trips to mine. This is because Torres (towers) del Paine (the best of Chilean Patagonia) is quite simply breathtaking. It is very had to begin to put into words how deeply, awe-inspiringly incredible it is. I heard Scotland described as the Lake district on Steroids. Perhaps we might say that Patagonia is Scotland on LSD? I shall allow the photos of the four day, three night trek speak for themselves (a sigh of relief to for those wishing to avoid a Dickensian narrative)…

Lets not kid ourselves though, this is not for the faint hearted! Sleeping in a tent in the mild English summer is somewhat of a chore. In sub-zero temperatures in Patagonia, I can assure you that it is somewhat more of one. We were warned that mice like to eat through everything (including bags) thus hung-up everything on trees. We also had to carry our food and all camping gear between each campsite, having opted for the camping option as opposed to the Dorm one. Alternatively you could approach this as did two unwashed American children and bring all the wrong gear, all the wrong food-types (half of which were eaten by foxes on the first night), the wrong fuel for your stove and only dollars to the deepest depths of Chile. (I heard one of them negotiating the exchange rate with a fellow traveller kind enough to do the swap!)

CB likes to consider himself a pretty fit kind of chap, but day three below though was tough, the statistics do not include the 3 stone bag that I carried all day up said 400+ flights of stairs! We passed a few more rotuonned individuals. God only knows how they managed it!

img_7435Cold during the night was undeniably ameliorated by the obligatory sunrise view of the Torres themselves (8am), which involved scrambling up the rocks of a mountain in the dark… an especially perilous path for CB who managed to lose the path and was thus scaling an ever increasingly steep mountain in the dark, while half asleep… After standing around waiting to see if the clouds would relent to give a glimpse of a beautiful sunrise bathing the column of rock in a golden hue. Undeniably worth the cold, the discomfort and the effort.

img_7394In a rare moment of fondness and appreciation. Ma Spoon- the Dutch chap that I did the trek with – made the experience pleasure that it would certainly not have otherwise been. It is not so much that any company is good company. But certainly good company is good company. I think we had a pretty great time and some good laughs along the way!… Thank you Ma Spoon.

<This brings me to an observation / musing… Travelling alone is a gamble because you rely so much upon the “relationships” you build along the way. These relationships tend to be very intense very quickly due to the expedited nature of the interaction and the shared memories that you immediately accrue. It is almost a friendship performed in reverse. A little like the introductions, “where have you been and where are you from” – two integral attributes of a person are conducted before “what name did your parents choose give you?” In a similar way, with these travelling friendships (and often more!) you accelerate to trust and dependency and then retrospectively fill-in the middle ie. what are people actually like. If you want to accelerate that process also, then a four day trek together will do it!>

Perrito Moreno Glacier

The second thing of note from the first of the Patagonian weeks was a trek on the Perrito Moreno Glacier – back in Argentina (can you guess how I got there?). While not what one could consider cheap, a staggering £250 for three hours on the ice, the real cost would have been to miss such an experience because of something as stupid as money. A motley group of perhaps nine people wandering around on an active glacier, while not quite as volatile as its volcano cousins with dizzying speeds of 1.7m/day (5.8 ft for the old folk reading), it was a unique experience. From the approach you can see great sheets of ice carving off and collapsing into the water of the lake. We beheld one such spectacular fall from the far end, that i was reliably told by my Dutch friend was a far inferior view. Moral of the tale = Never doubt CB.

viewpoint

By this point, a ragged collection of travellers had formed an immutable bond. We were three Englishman (having met two other English guys on the Chilean trek, brought together while mocking the American children), one Dutchman and a Mexican. This collection meant two things. The first was that the conversation was firmly routed in English, except when I wanted to bitch about people with the Mexican, the second was that the “banter” was somewhat brutal, four guys in the presence of one girl is always a great recipe for some good ego bashing! Never have so many wished for so few to fall in melt-water of the Glacier. Being not a fan of small spaces as well as feeling the early onset of hypothermia, the following impression of Picasso’s blue period captures my emotions of the walk on the ice: this is nice, but fuck I’m cold!

The post Glacial night was indeed a heavy one, but one that requires noting because of how the English undoubtably let themselves down. None of the upstanding citizens of the group – of course – but the two Essex girls who insisted in making conversation / insulting us throughout our otherwise pleasant meal. Now, in Argentina being an attractive blonde girl (which this girl nearly was) buys you a number of liberties from the outset. But popping a pill in a restaurant and proceeding to dance and rub yourself against every single guy in the place is not really the done thing. Nor is insulting everyone who can speak your language acceptable. Her biggest beef with us was the burger (intended pun). Apparently we had murdered a cow. I was keen to point out that actually it was more likely to have been a Calf to ensure the tenderness of the meat! In any case, I would like to formally apologise to Argentina on behalf of the English. I have a feeling we may have further embarrassed ourselves in the following Ice-bar that had zero ice in it, “Yeti”. But I really cannot remember!
One of only a few brilliant choices I have made on this trip (and in life): don’t buy a ticket for the 8am bus after you expect to have a “heavy night“ of it. In spite of this brilliance, I almost managed to miss the 1pm bus given my delicate state. An episode of Sherlock, coffee and a huge chocolate brownie, two sandwiches and three croissants, one chocolate bar and a slice of banana bread, a grapefruit and some almonds got me through the journey. Who would have known a hangover cure was quite so simple…?

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El Chaltén

El Chaltén / “The best of Argentinian Patagonia”. I am afraid that the crown goes fairly comprehensively to the Chileans! People often to say that “you have to work for something” in order to really appreciate it ~ Shell Dog. I have been sceptical of this before, but now wonder if it is true. The wonderful towers of El Chaltén were a three-hour walk away… Was it that I didn’t have to work quite so hard for the experience that detracted from the beauty of the place? Was it just less magnificent than Torres del Paine trek? Perhaps it was simply that we arrived to in snowstorm and could see nothing of the majestic peaks that did for us? Or is it more simply that you cannot continue to be overwhelmed by the beauty of a place; have I built-up a Patagonian immunity?

It doesn’t help that the pact the Mexican and I had to walk and speak only in Spanish was broken by the accompanying American noise-bag. This chump insisted on explaining that he was ashamed of the US at the moment (a point which, credit where its due, he articulated well), yet spent 90% of the garbage that came out of his mouth was talking about the job he hated, the money he despised and the experiences that he wished to escape from. He was also unfit leading to us waiting for him all the time, however, that night he showed us a photo of himself topless from 2011. I forgot that fitness is a thing you only had to obtain once and therefore had bragging rights for life! He did make a rather funny remark that our Mexican friend became more and more latin as the drinks wore on!

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On the second El Chaltén trek, the Mexican and I “broke the rules” (and broke with the American) and took a more direct route to a viewing point of the mountains. Interestingly, I do not feel at all disappointed with this view. Not immune to the beautiful mountains nor the level of effort, but only to the company of (US) Americans then…

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Now on another f***ing bus. This one takes the bacon though. It is a 23-hour one that has me changing seats three times. The views of the Andes have given-way to a vast expanse of scrubland upon brown-grey soil. It is magnificent in its expanse and consistency. It is amazing how such dramatic and (almost) violent landscape can become so barren. If I succeed in not killing someone or myself on the bus then there will be further blogs from Bariloche and beyond. If not I shall cling to tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Week Five ~ Back in BA

For those interested, my beard has progressed to, BEARD.jpgwhat my father once referred to as, the “Scottish Homeless” stage (he would know). As all fellow male travellers will agree, if you possess even the smallest propensity to grow facial hair (and mine really is a small propensity) you are prohibited from shaving for the duration of your trip. Therefore when asked, “How long have you been travelling for?” One must reply, “2.3cm.”

To a great sigh of relief from those who persevered through last week’s 3000 words, this week will be shorter. I have done sweet Felicity Arkwright.

My return to Buenos Aires was met with a fanfare as I stepped off the metal floating vessel. This fanfare took the form of a complete blockade of (ground and air) transport due to a further national strike and protest. This time I believe that the motive was some sort of Public Sector staff shortage; clearly not on the part of the police though, who were ubiquitous! I, however, think that the Argentines spotted the last nice day of summer and thus felt entitled to a day-off!

After some muttering and complaining, to say nothing of the idle wandering, I returned to my destined location. Another hostel. This hostel was not a party hostel like the first week in Buenos Aires, nor did it have the space and relaxed vibe of the one in Montevideo. Considering it was clean and quite quiet (not woken-up at all hours of the night), it was astonishingly unpleasant. I am genuinely not sure why. The people there were quite nice, the service and advice was decent, but it just had no soul. Very odd. People were genuinely fighting to leave. Did meet a nice German to-be-banker who explained to me how to make a vast amount of money. Too bad I was paying so little attention to that, but rather contemplating how he was going to eat four croissants for breakfast, two of which filled with cheese&ham!

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{“Cheto” here means “posh” and is to be used in place of the word in Spain that they use for posh, “pijo”, which means “dick” in Argentina.} HAT.jpgI was invited by my cheto friend to a horse show in Buenos Aires that celebrated the Gaucho (cowboy) culture of being put in a small ring on a horse with a young cow (steed) and body-slamming this creature with your horse into barriers. The faster and more ferociously this was done, the higher points. While there were other disciplines, after cow-slamming, galloping and stopping quickly felt a bit bland.

Ever the supporter of all things cultural, Charles Bennett bought himself a hat. What a… pijo!

That evening I went with said same friend to a club out of town. One entertaining moment was when CB and cheto (called Austin btw) said hello to a group of attractive females. After 10 seconds of Spanish, it was concluded that English was far more appealing to these girls who all went to bi-lingual schools. A further 20 seconds and a small semi-circle had gathered around CB with the six women barely taking it in turns to fire questions at him.WOMEN FEAR.jpg Everyone knows that the average man can only handle two women at once. Given that CB is a demigod, lets double that, still – 50% more than even he could cope with. Ordinarily a cool customer in the face of predators, CB abdicated this throne and was visibly scared, or so I was informed after. I can assure you that Scottish Terriers and the Oxfordshire countryside should not be enough to entertain a group of beautiful women! I think the fear and surprise on my face is actually visible…

<Long train ride back to hostel>

Amidst reports that England was experiencing a mini heatwave, the flourishing of a beautiful spring and a crystal-blue sky unadulterated by clouds, in Buenos Aires: Saturday – it rained; Sunday – it rained; Monday – it rained. Rain is perhaps unfair as it implies that there are small pieces of water in an otherwise airy atmosphere. The inverse was more accurate!

TEA&MATE.jpgThree things happened on, what from now-on shall be referred to as, the “wet days”.
1) English culture and Argentine were brought together with the union of our two deeply strange drinking obsessions.  For the first time in history, Mate was drunk from a mug and the hot water administered from a teapot.

2) At a beautiful bookshop that once housed one of the city’s many theatres, I discovered that, while i cannot even read children’s books in Spanish, I can read complicated philosophy. How does that work!? The stories of “Stick and Stone” remain impenetrable, but Aristotle’s views on ethics – easy!?STICK&STONE.jpg

3) On the bus journey back, I was busy explaining to Mila (long-suffering Argentinian friend) my theory that Sicilian roots must still resonate here. This was received by a blank look. Thus I explain that I had seen “Cosa Nostra” painted on a wall earlier that day. Blank Look. Now, what I felt I then explained was: Causa Nostra is one of the many names that Italians have for their infamous gang (pandilla). What I had actually said was, “Causa Nostra is one of the names that Italians have for their celebrity grills (parilla)…”

It was pleasing to see that the Argentinians enjoy partaking in an English Barbecue and leave nothing out of our qualification criteria: token leaves for vegetarians at best, at worse they go hungry; far more meat than twice the number attending could ever eat; large amounts of rain. The “Asado” was thus conducted British-Argentine style, with a smattering of Europeans who were thoroughly perplexed by this spectacle.

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The rest of the week actually consisted in trying to eat healthier food (in private apartment) and learn spanish. SUBJUNCTIVE.jpgI thought that the subjective finally clicked. That was before Rawlsian Reflective Equilibrium suggested I look-back at the all of the Spanish language to consider what I thought I knew… It has been said by my more bigoted friends (you know who you are Kitten) that everyone of note in the world speaks English, so why learn another language? While not a very pleasing philosophy it is, irrefutably, a practical one in the face of such absurdly complicated grammar.

If, however, you remain determined to learn Spanish, I council you do do what I am doing, which is to appeal to the lovely Latin Americans for support (apoyo) with your Spanish. This must not be confused with what I have been asking for, which is “Celery (apio) with my Spanish”.

Off to Patagonia today / tonight / tomorrow morning at 3.35am. Thursday 13th April will prove, I think, to be one of the low-lights of life. I do hate the travel bit of travelling, why can’t I just have the ling!