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.

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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.

l volcano lake44l cloud l Monkeypuzzle

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

COW SHOW.jpg

{“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.

ASADO.jpg

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!

Week Four ~ Uruguay

Ordinarily I write this immensely late, having missed-out several days. I think there is some sort of phenomenon where every so many years the clocks move back 1 second due to having missed it. I feel the same sort of thing is happening here – days are being lost in transit. At the end of my 12-week stint, I don’t expect to have more than 9 weeks’ blogs. On this occasion however, the recap is starting early. This is half-way through Uruguay week. Probably not even that. The reason that I have excessive amount of time is because I am, upon the recommendation of a friend who is Uruguayan, in a place called Piriopális. Piriopális is a truly strange…
(That was where the recount tailed-off as I was goaded into conversation by a group of marauding Argentinian lads who were incensed that I did not adore their beloved Fernet. As such, I was shepherded into the kitchen and offered, at social gunpoint, the opportunity to partake in the ritual of passing round a two-pint plastic cup filled 40% with this repugnant liquid and the remainder ice and diabetes Coke. Having shared this mixture, which had the saliva of six blokes added to it, CHIVITOI was feeling somewhat merrier, somewhat more fluent and somewhat hungry. En-mass we sauntered to a nearby restaurant whose decoration appeared to be an unwitting homage to the film Greece. We all ate something called Chivito. Best description of Chivito is an Uruguayan steak-club sandwich, provided one were to magnify the quantity threefold! These plates were for two!!!…

Food consumed, return to the hostel as the Argentinian guys have to leave via bus/car/boat (seemed a very complicated arrangement to perform a journey that had taken me only a few hours). I went to sleep at 11.30pm: very pleasant. I was woken at around 3am by a mosquito feasting on my hand. Really!? If you have to bite me, I’ll accept it, I like a good piece of meat like the next person, but why the hand?!? Anyway, wander into the hostel’s hallway and realise, after inspecting all rooms, that I am the ONLY one in the hostel. All other rooms are empty and there is not even the gruff fifty-year-old receptionist to keep me company. If anyone has been to an office at night (more specifically IBM’s on the Southbank), the eery feeling was very similar. Suffice to say I left Piriopális at the crack of dawn.

Forgive the jump in time, I ought to re-start the recount (this framed narrative thing is not easy: Mr S. White, I take-tack my scorn of Petal’s of Blood). My journey from Buenos Aires to Montevideo. I expected the trip to be a deeply pleasant boat journey that would feature some fresh sea-breezes and sight-seeing along the coast that would meander from one great capital to another. Nope. Buenos Aires a standstill of traffic and my uber driver, lets call him Gerald (Richard Curtis’ choice name for sub-par characters in his films). Gerald’s conversation was painful and his company was something that I would have been glad to have had three minutes of. We had forty-five magical minutes together – 2,700 seconds. Arrived at the boat port? Buy the most expensive coffee on earth from a teenage girl whose attitude would have made Freddy Mercury look positively meek. Sit in what felt like Gatwick terminal. Herded onto metal boat (not quite sure what i thought it was going to be made of). Boat alright, but I am not the seasick type. Loo used river/seawater to flush: practical but a little disconcerting!

BOAT

BOAT LOO

However, the boat only took me an hour of the four hour journey. I did not see the massive disclaimer saying “if you have an objection to busses – as all sane people should – please use our rival companies’ service as they will take you directly to your destination rather than putting you on a bus which you hate!” Bus was bloody lovely… a further travel video capturing how nice is too exciting to share; wordpress allows only modest material.

Montevideo night one: drink Mate (which is pronounced Maté btw and I shall not explain the ritual again) with the hostel receptionist Diego; really nice guy! While I will not explain the odd mate thing again, I wish to point out that Uruguayans take the Mate obsession it to a new level. People carry their mate around and hug their thermos as if it were an infant. I mean they all carry this weird thing around! Granny to Gangster. I think Mate for Uruguayans is the English equivalent of shoes: bit weird if you are walking around without them. I have tried to capture a range of Mate drinkers to illustrate this odd phenomenon. One must, however, be somewhat careful when photoing strangers on unfamiliar streets without their permission (hence blurriness ~ perhaps the career of an undercover cameraman is not my calling). Please note the guy with the broken hand still with a thermos!


I offer to get Diego and myself his recommended fast-food of Chori-pan from a street-cart. For the less deductive readers, this is Chorizo in bread (with lots of pickled things inside, large amounts of mustard, mayonnaise and chimi-churi). We watch Uruguay loose to Peru at football – ha – Peru are rubbish. Uruguay’s little biting bastard was playing (a theme of all living creatures in this country it seems). Suarez playing normally means Uruguay win, not so muhahaha! Slept like a baby in a four-bed (luxury) dorm until the shouts of the English children in the hostel were heard at 3am for twenty minutes as they assumed the complicated process of ascending the stairs to their beds.

Following day’s walking tour elucidates several things about Uruguay. 1) three times cows:people ratio 2) having mayonnaise on the table in a restaurant is illegal 3) cannabis is not 4) beer is subsidised by the government as it is seen as a basic commodity! Guide is a thoroughly pleasant chap who, while the whole time caring his thermos baby. Montevideo is no Palermo. It does, however, have something Palermo does not. It has a love museum. The love museum was previously the home of a wealthy family, who commissioned a metal fence to be built around the square in front of the house. In Uruguay all payments were/are PENIS PARKmade upfront. However, the blacksmith was promised payment in arrears. As such, he took his revenge. The fence was designed with a certain resemblance…
While I commend his sense of humour, I do question who thought it a good idea that site for the love museum be next to, what is colloquially known as, “Penis Park”? <I am uploading the images in a cafe and I noticed some strange looks from the mature lady next to me. I have been uploading the above image from my desktop for some time due to crap Wifi. The image has the caption “Penis Park”; I guess her interest is understandable!>

That evening I was one of four in the hostel, the numbers growing at a dizzying rate! The others comprised of an over-friendly old American man and an Israeli couple (she grew-up in the US). Emily and Kobi were a delight, fed me that night and kindly gave me a lift to Piriopális the following day. I think they detected I needed mothering.

I have been saved on this trip by the reparation of the tendon in my foot, meaning that I can run again. PIRIÁPOLIS viewRunning, as if people didn’t know already, provides an ideal way to see a city without the perils of a bike on foreign roads (/ bike in general). Nor does running require locking oneself up when one wants to nip into a shop and buy a beer, which one must do for EVERY sunset. So the world-renowned Piriopális was to reveal itself to me on my run. In fairness, it didn’t disappoint with a fabulous view across the bay after my ascent of a mini-mountain.

Not one, but two highlights of the run: 1) the view 2)… An encounter: everywhere in Uruguay (and Buenos Aires) appears to have outdoor exercise equipment. I descend from the hilltop and decide that some exercises on the apparatus is the order of the day. DO said exercise. As I leave, I am accosted by an elderly lady (I am going punt for perhaps 85 years old), who asks me how to do it. I explain that what I was doing was not the correct use of the equipment and show her the correct way. She is not deterred by this and insisted that I show her my exercises (like a reverse press-up basically), under the premise that she is interested in seeing the way that I do it! In summary, I was being chatted-up by an eighty five year old. At least this week its a female! Things are moving in the right direction…

Punta del Este was the next stop on the thus-far underwhelming Uruguayan tour. Punta del Este is essentially La costa del sol in Spain: Malaga, Alicante or, THE ELEMENTS.jpgdare I make the comparison, Puerto Banús. It is the place that all of the Argentinians and Brazilians go to for their beach holidays. It is sun, sand and sea (and not a great deal else – not for me anyway). The cost is rather idyllic, it must be admitted, as it jutts-out of rest of the Uruguayan coastline and is thus exposed to the elements. It boasts some very strong wind in the afternoons and had some pretty colossal waves that were met with glee by a great hoard of unwashed, unshaven miscreants – (keep your thoughts of the black pot and similarly grubby kettle to yourselves). As I arrived in the hostel, I was reliably informed that I need “Fear no more the heat of the Sun” as it was Autumn (the land of Keats not Shakespeare). Oh ye of little faith, I am English with a ginger father. The combination of sun and wind = Charles Bennett sunburnt within minutes. Not bad, but enough that I have spent the last few days meticulously rubbing cream into myself. (God knows how girls do it with such consistency; moisturising is a very boring past-time!)

I must confess that I actually spent the first afternoon on the beach with an Argentinian female (don’t worry readers/mother, she had a Uruguayan ‘boyfriend’ who arrived at the beach and demonstrated his “affection”). However, she had some legal cannabis; I thought it would be a fun, cultural and entertaining experience. Now one could argue that this should go in the <inverted section> , but we consume drugs all the time to facilitate experiences, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol… Given its legal here, this is not a taboo subject. [Somebody please jurisprudence that for me and let me know if the change of legal system allows me a similar jump in moral values!] I had a very small amount – we are talking three drags / inhalations for those less with the lingo. I then proceeded to: listen to nothing that was being said by the interesting Argentinian and contribute nothing of my own to the conversation; become very hungry (even though I had just had a large sandwich); walk around the street for 40minutes deciding whether to go to a cafe or supermarket for food; spend 20 minutes in the supermarket choosing said food – a croissant and an apple – a complex choice! For the rest of the day I decided to watch the American chickflick, “How to be Single”, that I had watched two nights ago on my computer. This is because it was the ONLY film I could remember. In summary: don’t try to be cool Charlie!

SEALIONSCustomary run having returned me to the world of the sentient – not chatted up by anyone! Did see something rather strange though: two sea lions. My God they smell!CHILEANS
I then proceeded to do what is becoming increasingly typical of my time: drink Pisco with two Chilean guys. My God they drink! Chilean drinking resulted in a miracle, as if by immaculate conception, this appeared on my phone the following day…

Back to Montevideo. Once again, found Montevideo a rather odd place. For my nightly run, I went down the rambla (road adjacent to the beach). Things increasingly resembled Cuban dilapidation; not an abject-poverty, but rather more characteristically rundown Colonialism that one normally associates with Latin America. However, the following day Montevideo exposed a gem: a cafe called (something) in which I sat practicing my vegetables and confusing myself of the applicability of the subjunctive. A series of lovely waitresses doted on me in what looked like a cafe straight out of the Cotswolds. I thus spend a lot of time there and an equally large amount of money, which was justified by being given two shots of grappa-miel (a sweet honey liquor) in the middle of the day in the heat; my student days not being so far behind that I will accept anything provided that it is free! Something I regretted about ten seconds after.

I had come back to Montevideo on the promise of going-out with some Uruguayans, or would have gone directly to the more pretty Colonia. However, one by one they fell victim to illnesses, family obligations and public transport delays. What astonishing luck that all three were blighted by such varied afflictions within 45 mins of the arranged rendezvous. Now I would ordinarily, given my cynical nature, deduce foul play. But this is CB in S-America: everyone either wants to be his closest friend or to have his babies. My evening backup then consisted in drinking the same Mate with the same Diego, intermingled with a few beers – all brought into the hostel contraband to the rules!

Another Bus, much consternation, but lovely chat with lovely Uruguayan girl who, though twenty-four, must be elevated to the status of woman on account of being married: one of the three criterion for adulthood status. (For those unfamiliar with this inalienable categorisation, one must fulfill one of three things to officially qualify as an adult: married; connected bricks; dependent animal – cats don’t count.)

Colonia. Pretty… dull. ColoniaExactly twenty hours in Colonia was exactly seventeen more than one needs! Wandered around the old city alone because the walking tour gathering consisted of 98% Chinese. I have no problem with the Chinese apart from Tibet, their ever-presence in Oxford and their food. But the real reason I was entirely unwilling to attend was because I refuse to have photos taken of everything including such objects as, grass, chipped concrete and oneself in-front of everything making a peace sign with one’s index and middle finger. As such it was a solo wander where I swore at many mosquitos (this is the theme in Uruguay). Grab a beer/three (a black stella artois – who knew?!) in a square and trigger a dogfight next to me. While I did contemplate punching one of the dogs, on this occasion I felt I would keep my dog-punching habit to myself as it might upset a number of small children sitting nearby. “Daddy why did that strange man punch the doggy?” Is a question that no father should have to deal with!

Run through what looked like a scene from the old Star Trek:I half expected to have my neck pinched by a pointy-eared chap and be thrust Under Water.

Star TrekThis vigil afforded the opportunity to take a photo of the sunset…SUNSET.jpg

While I remain thoroughly pleased with this, payment was made in blood. My back is a patchwork of red marks! WHY DO THEY EXIST?

That evening, in the hostel, met a nice group of English travelers, a Swedish and German guy (among others). Had an Asado (one of the IMG_7100many words here for meat cooked on a barbecue). Further black stella(s) and the very poor choice of a fair quantity of bad Uruguayan wine, which have left me feeling sick as a dog on the boat back to Buenos Aires, was worth it thanks to the world’s greatest Swede. While we were chewing the cud of our respective culture’s idiosyncrasies (Morris Dancing brought to the table), I brought-up the Swedish Midsummer dance. For those unfamiliar with this gem, it is an occasion where the Swedish cut down a tree (they are very good at this), erect the tree and assemble two circular balls at the top. They then proceed to dance around the phallic pole as if they were frogs metamorphosing into chickens. Lars, the greatest sport on earth, demonstrated this two us. Several people spat out their drinks with laughter. See Facebook upload.

Back to Buenos Aires. One thing I should mention, before signing-off, is the peculiarity of the boarder crossing. Observe said photo. CustomsOne walks to desk 7 (on the right) to have passport inspected and stamped-out of Uruguay. For a matter of two feet one is in international waters and officially in no country, before swinging round to desk 6 to be stamped into Argentina again. This stamping is done by a woman whose hatred of her job is manifested in the ferocity with which she stamps your passport; ink is barely needed, the imprint would suffice!

I would like to dedicate week four’s blog to my Dedicate to....jpgwriting companion. This female cat Milton, would not leave me alone for my time in the Montevideo hostel. Here she is coming out of the closet Closet Cat.jpg(a bit of poetic license if you please); I guess it was only a matter of time given her (its?) metrosexual upbringing!
Cats, having detected I dislike them, proceed follow/rub against/sit on me or get on the bunk above mine and scare the shit out of me in the morning.

People love to say goodby to countries as if parting from a lover “Brazil, you have been amazing, I will never forget you.” I shall give it a whirl: “Uruguay, while you fed me like a goose you intended for Christmas, you have burnt me, cost me a lot and bitten me without remorse. When my skin recovers, my blood replenishes and wallet recuperates, I will look-back fondly, but for now, so long and thanks for all the… cows?”

Week 3 ~ Buenos Aires: Palermo

Friends, Romans,

I was woken this morning at 3.30pm (that is not a type-o) by the woman next door singing. One could say “singing”, for me, it was difficult to know when the singing stopped and the cat-beating began. As such, I am sure that everyone can appreciate that this is being written in a somewhat delicate and delirious state.
Medialunas.jpgThis is exactly one week from one of the week’s highlights and a recurring theme so far… I was sitting in a café, which was to become the week’s local, writing last week’s blog. It was here that I consumed the customary coffee and medialunas (explanation to follow).

Cloudy day > sitting inside. Bearded chap at neighbouring table, after sometime, says “Hey – are you Charlie”; WTF. Apparently my wifi had given it away! (I am actually changing that right now. Changed.) Long story cut short: chat about technology and his experience working with IBM; he is building a banking app. Writes his number on a napkin and hands it to me saying if I want/need anything… he knows some the local bars and best coffee places. Cool. Being the polite chap that I am, I send a message later that day (translation:) “<name> want to grab a few beers later in the week?”
<name / whatsapp> Me encantaría (I would love it…)
…. Got chatted-up by yet another gay guy! I can only assume it is because I look so burly with my beard.

On Monday, I went to Tigre, which is a place outside the Capital City. The barriers of Buenos Aires are quite hard to explain. Buenos Aires has a (large) central part but and then huge and sprawling suburbs. It is somewhat like London in that respect and has an f-off road, somewhat like the M25, that separates ‘in’ from ‘out’. It has just dawned on me that that was very easy to explain. (El Tigre – the tiger – a less apt name has never been conceived, it would be as antithetic as calling Elephant&Castle “1 - TigreBella Borough”). El Tigre I would describe it as Henley-on-Thames meets Trigo Mills (or Thorpe Park for want of a more popular reference). Immensely pretty river running through it, ubiquitous boat clubs and people sculling. The other river bank hosts the following: a theme park; a mini-China town; a huge fixed market with everything from boxes with the union jack on them (going to be bringing one of those home!), to woodwind instruments, to grape juice (which costs more than wine…). What I also noted in El Tigre, was the frequency of London Plane trees and Wisteria. This may have contributed to my association with rural Oxfordshire. (Minus the over-loading of boats with logs. Must reach a point that they help rather than work against buoyancy – right?)

El Tigre itself was not the highlight. The highlight was the train journey there&back. The train itself was incredibly comfortable – I was astounded by my leg room and indeed filmed my surprise (in truth, this is too exciting to be shared with the world). However, the Train’s residence were a collection of people singing, selling chocolate, selling highlighters, making one’s name out of blue of pink wire. Tell you what, after I have been to one of the most comprehensive markets in the country, what I really need is for people to be walking up and down the train shouting the name of the brick-a-brack that they are selling!

Tuesday passed with fewer events and I began my “internship”. Thursday essentially copy&repeat. This was pretty much working for free, doing what I normally do in England. The mind positively boggles as to why one would do this (don’t have an answer for you I am afraid). However, I have now learnt the word for “Augmented Reality” in Spanish… You telling me that’s not a useful word to learn? On both occasions, I was supposed to arrive at 10.30 somewhere that is a 15 minute walk from the lovely apartment I was in! The late arrival and proximity means that I arrived late on both occasions!
girdleI took the opportunity on Tuesday, due to a quite evening, to FaceTime my good friend Chris (Kitten to his friends). I have been advised that I have to wear something akin to a girdle to support my back if I am travelling ~ if I am sitting for a log time. Apparently this is a very funny sight and perhaps one that will not assist with seducing women from any continent… Each to their own.

Wednesday, met with the same Argentinians I had met on Saturday night while “out-out”. We saw-off a notable number of beers. This was proceeded by my first exposure to Fernet (think there may be an accent on the é. This is the same Fernet that they have in Italy, but apparently nicer – less bitter). It is hard to articulate quite how disgusting this drink is. I think that if one could mix Vodka, Gin, some herbs, Coca Cola and a smattering of Fennel then you probably have Fernet+Coke. I know the word in Spanish for “repugnant” (mostly because it is exactly the same as the english word). Its applicability here was both apt and to general agreement (as they all continued drinking Fernet). I shared with the group: how to seduce English women; the British class system and why we have not had a revolution for a while (weather and transport failures).

Now, I would normally not report <a Heavy Night>, but I am not sure this one counted. We arrived at some club (God only knows where), we numbered just three at this point and entered Euro-trash. Brilliant. I also made the mistake of IMG_6712opting for the mysterious drink “Speed+Mixer”. This was Double Vodka+Red Bull – the only drink in the world that makes Fernet delicious. I stomached this with very little stoicism and when I was presented with a Fernet and Coke, immediately afterwards, felt the same despondency as one feels just before a marathon, the stomach-wrenching “fuck this is going to be an unpleasant thing for the next few hours”. The drink lasted me about as long as it would take me to run a marathon also! > Bed.

Thursday morning hit me as if a donkey had accurately sat on my face: with a taste in my mouth akin to that same image. I staggered to work via coffee and three medialunas (these are small, dense, sweet croissants) that is an all-inclusive offer. In truth, the only thing that makes the incredibly bitter coffee drinkable is the medialunas and conversely, the only thing that makes these fiercely sweet half moons (appropriate name given their gravitational mass) palatable is their dunking in the repugnant coffee. The two together however, really rather pleasant.
Lunch with the immensely likeable boss (Ale – Argentinian ex-IBM – wise chap!) and I broached topics such as “why do you guys keep complaining about the economy of the country and the political situation?” ~ seems in rather good shape to me, especially if the price of coffee is anything to go by (and I think it is). Rather elucidating conversation actually: lack of investment in infrastructure; default of payment in 2002(?) resulting in a huge drop in trade; corruption. The new President is to change all this, but I am told that change in this country happens “poco a poco”. However, the currency is far more stable than before.

Modern ArtChile play Argentina at football. For those that don’t know: 1) Chile and Argentina hate each other for reasons that are to do with a) Chile’s support of the British during the Falklands b) Chile’s association with the US and neglecting of their Latin American identity. 2) Football is the religion of South America, and Argentina are one of the most devout. Thus this is a heated affair. Based on popular recommendation, I go to a popular sports bar (not just Brits abroad I’m told – and it was true). However, I must go via an art show that the American chap has invited me to. It was Post-modern Art. Readers, adoring fans, what does Charles Bennett feel about “Post-modern Art”? That it is an abhorrence, that it is a tool for those who lack true artistic merit and ability to articulate their sentiments with skill, which it is too often a perversity in the hope of stumbling upon some meaning? Just so. Nietzsche said that, “Post-modern Art is the scourge of mankind, a tool of the weak to blackmail those possessing merit.”
My aloof attitude was reduced somewhat when someone asked what I was doing in Argentina. I explained a little about my trip + my intention sometime next month to visit the glacier. But I don’t know the word for “glacier”. As such, next month I am visiting the “large ice in the South of Argentina” followed by the “Bulls of Pine” rather than “Towers of Pine”, having confused “torre” and “toro”.

Because of this quality Art and my precise Spanish, I was 5 minutes late for the football. No matter, it was not until the 44th minute that I was served with a beer. The proceeding Argentine was served in roughly 20 seconds. In the meantime I had been speaking to a chap in Spanish for the duration… Finally I am coming to understand these people and their “disturbing” accent! Nope: he was from Mexico. Further things about this chap: wife is Swedish; it was his birthday; that day had got a tattoo of Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince that day on his forearm. I, of course, ardently congratulated him on the former and questioned him on the latter. He replied “porque no!?” If anyone can shed light on why this is a self-evident response, I would be most grateful. But for my next birthday, I do intend to get a small boy tattooed on my forearm also and do not expect the need to justify myself!
Boring match. Argentina win based on a very easily given penalty because the skeletal De Maria cannot stay on his feet. I declared loudly that Argentinian footballers are “engañados” – cheats. This went down well: recall both point 1&2. Lovely conversation with a young Argentine couple who were not going out out for love nor money (there are some sane people here it seems)… Home.

Tried something called Mate. Mate is basically grass mixed with hot water drunk, using a metal straw with a sieve on the end, from a leather-fortified dried-fruit-shell. It tastes like… drinking grass + warm water, but with an oddly bitter after taste. I am told, as I was with Ferne that it gets better with time. I was told this with Whiskey, beer, vodka – you name it. In essence, it remains disgusting, but your body builds up a resistance. Mate is like a non-life-threatening infection that your body must just get-over, Mate is chicken pox.

Rugby selfieSaturday is the day for the RUGBY match. Boom! Super12 Jaguars vs. Reds. Went with my Argentine friend. There is a peculiar rule (and a very very good one). You are not allowed to drink within 10 blocks (about half a mile) in any direction of a sports stadium on the day of a game. That is, unless you go to a garage with a “cafe” on the side who pay-off the police in order to sell beer to people. There is something about over-priced, illegal beer that just makes it taste better. I can see why people drank more during the prohibition!
Great match too – Jaguars won (which was great and added to the atmosphere). One of the best tries I have seen live, but a very nasty looking neck injury too. There is something in modern rugby that needs fixing!

Half time, chap called Maxi Trusso was the entertainment. He is a big-time star here, as it turns-out, and I really like his music. I have been listening to him a lot since, but have been reliably informed he is a “boludo” – Rugbydickhead – what else?! They do great halftime entertainment in the US and in LatAm. I don’t think it detracts from the game at all. It keeps you firmly and concertedly interested in whats happening on the pitch! The same happened during Medellin’s football match (when in Colombia), there was some farcical completion that involved someone winning a car! Fun though. Of course, the difference in England is that everyone takes that opportunity to buy a further 11 beers! I would have still elected this approach had it been open to me.

How can I begin to describe Saturday night? Firstly, the people here do not consider eating until 10ish; most are asleep until about 5pm from the previous night: “we are vampires” is used a lot! One pre-drinks (a staple of the culture here) from say 11.30-2. One saunters to the club at 3.
So it was… Ate a delicious delicious burger at 10.30. Took a bus across Buenos Aires, bought some Ice from what I thought was a coal bucket outside a petrol station (normal apparently). One vital deviation needed. CB needs a coffee ~ to stay-up that late there are several substances on offer. I favour caffeine. I did receive some strange looks and was berated aout-out good deal. Eventually arrive to several Argentine lads + token woman (nice to see that some things are consistent across cultures) drinking a mixture of spirits. Given my lack of beer and desire to understand this rare cultural activity, I was forced to partake!

<Very heavy evening…>

Sunday far more tame and spent learning vegetables, animals and metals. The last seems somewhat anomalous no? Well not quite. Earlier in the week I had been watching Narcos (Spanish subtitles don’t you know). I was confused by the offer delivered by Pablo Escobar to all influential people he wished to silence: “Plata o…” Silver or…. Unfortunately, another malapropism, I asked “why does Pablo Escobar keep saying ‘Plata o Pluma’?” This translates as “silver or feather…” rather than “plata o promo” = “silver or lead”. What I find more funny is that I have been making this mistake for some time and may have told Alex Shelley that this was Escobar’s offer (when we went to Colombia and I acted as a – very bad – translator). The two of us have assumed that the tyrannous Escobar had been offering people money or feathers for the last year and a half!

Right sports fans. Due to the obscene length of this blog entry and indeed my inability to sit and do one thing at once, it is being finished on a bus having just got off a Ferry to Uruguay. Uruguay, incidentally, looks exactly like Somerset…

Week Two ~ Buenos Aires (San Telmo)

It may please people to know that my Mother observed how lovely my spelling was in the last blog. This failure to adhere to accepted English is something I shall not fail to fail at again (be not afeared dear fans)!

Some opinionated reflections on a week in a Party Hostel. A couple of notable outcomes, the most lasting is that the week has brought about the realisation that I am officially too old to stay in a hostel. This may be too old in spirit of course! (There were a couple of forty-something Aussies who seemed to be loving life.) Why am I too old?

  1. what+is+it+like+staying+in+a+hostel+pinterest.jpgI do not wish to share my room with seven strangers: Ironically, mixed dorms I find worse – with all blokes one can wander around with one’s bollocks out as one would in a leisure centre changing room – in a mixed dorm that is seen as poor form.
  2. I do not wish to be woken up at 3am by some German asshole who has got trollied, stumbled home by complete luck and then mistaken his top bunk, back left of the room, for my bottom bunk front right.
  3. Free breakfast consisting of warmed bread and browning bananas (pre-chopped for your convenience) is really only for those who are still too drunk to realise what is entering them (…cheeky).
  4. And finally, (I could go on for some time, but I feel they would get more specific to me and perhaps the average person will not empathise, such as my irrational hatred of luggage rooms…) the sound of reggaton blasting through all walls of the building every night until 2am is what I think God and Satan have agreed is roughly the midpoint between their two dominions – purgatory.

Upon disembarking from the flight, I had slept for 1 hour and 47 minutes, there was the small job of collecting my stuff. After thirty minutes feeling certain Iberia had lost my bag, it did arrive. Two inspections of my passport and a further bag machine and I was allowed out of the terminal. Not before I was asked where I was staying, upon them hearing the hostel’s name there was a wry smile and a small eye-roll; a missed sign of what I had in stock.

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Uber seemed a good bet to expedite the hostel-arrival process that would have otherwise taken two hours and 45 mins! Of course I order it to the wrong place and am thus forced to run in order to catch said Uber: there is something about running for your pre-ordered taxi that feels wrong. Safely in Uber with nice Peruvian chap I set-off to hostel. It is immediately apparent that Buenos Aires (despite the suggestions from the rather shoddy airport) is really rather developed, and nice, and bloody huge. After trying to get a sense of the place from my Peruvian chum, I am jettisoned from the taxi and thrust into the street and the hostel.

Who is not chirpy after a 13hour flight through the night? Me. Nevertheless the lovely receptionist cheered me up somewhat, although I listened to nothing that she said. I think there were recommendations for bars, where to go and the contrary. I was far to busy contemplating whether the Beetles or the Rolling Stones were better. Shown to room at 11ish, did not like, changed room at 11.05. Second room passably nice. Several “period features” of the room: metal grate lockers that made more noise than a fighter jet taking-off; creaky wooden floorboards; ambient temperature akin to that on Mercury; comatosed semi-naked male bodies as far as the eye could see; a sink that would not drain on account of the high concentration of facial hair (I hope) blocking it.

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Because I would have rather died than stay in the room for more than four minutes, I decided to “hit” the sister-hostel’s roof terrace with my book. Said book and said Charles Bennet bask in the glorious midday sunshine without a care in the world and (no fault of the book, which at page 350 has finally perked-up) I fell into a gorgeous and much needed slumber. Awoke from slumber to the observation, “hey, I think you’re burning!” from a passing German girl. “Hey – get out of the sun you idiot you are burnt!” would have been a far better call. A somewhat redder CB bummed-around and consumed a late afternoon breakfast and lunch/supper and decided that I far preferred bed to the offer of a nightclub that evening! I slept from 9pm and had a lovely night’s sleep, absenting only the idiot Dutch guy faffing with his large metal locker inches from my head at 3am.

Sunday. Met an American chap, went to a market. Watched tango – that looks hard. In between lunch and dinner I decided that I should brave Buenos Aires for a run. There is a verdant eco-reserve close to where I was staying that I ran to. On a gorgeous day, such as it was, this made a very pleasant run (even though I got lost – twice). The only beings that enjoyed the run more than I did, were the mosquitos who I think felt that they should get breakfast, lunch and dinner a-la-Bennett in the seven minutes I sat down to stretch: I knew stretching was bad for you. They feasted!

Had dinner with said American chap and a French guy in a Parrilla. “Parrilla” means grill and is very difficult to pronounce – lots of rolling “rs” and “sh” where you don’t expect them. Incidentally there are a series of these grills everywhere. They are, if one is to believe the guide books, typical of Argentina and Buenos Aires in particular. While my steak was average, I would say, the French guy for £10, had one of the nicest steaks I have savoured at a thoroughly average location; the mind boggles what money and a decent place could do.

Monday – Friday: language school. I opted for morning lessons because that would provide an incentive to get-up and give a bit of structure to the day. The lessons were exactly the right level, but filled with (bar one French girl who was great) people who were veritably not. Shout-out goes to a retired American lawyer whose voice, slow speech, general failure at Spanish and irritating demeanour were enough to turn even a patient person to brutal  homocide; I am not a patient person. She insisted on speaking in Spanish to everyone, but would then ask you to repeat it in English after she did not understand. She also always sat in the same seat. Since life is about little victories, the last day day, when I arrived on time, I stole her seat. For all those reading who think that at my age I should rise above that – I am not yet there!

I made it my week’s activity to ignore the fellow (ubiquitous) English travellers and speak to those that work at the hostel. These few, these happy few these… I liked a great deal. Among their numbers were a series of attractive Argentine girls who delighted in messing-around in the subjective with me (the mood of the unknown): I will be considering applications for those wishing to continue the Bennett linage shortly.

8240882654.jpgMonday evening boasts one of Buenos Aires’ most popular attractions “La Bomba”. La Bomba is a drum show. While I did not see much trace of Argentine nor Latin American rhythms (maybe Caribbean), it was a huge amount of fun. The narrow entrance to what appears a deserted factory, then opens-out to an open-air area. At one end of this 100m long expanse there is a bar and at the other, the Bombaderos (no idea if that is really what they are called – just sounds cool!). Something occurred that made me feel like one of the Hobbits from Lord of the Rings (I also have the hairy feet to further embody this image): they sell beers in pints and in double pints. A double pint cannot fit in a hand, the circumference of the cup means that actually drinking without spilling this drink involves a dunk impersonation with one’s lips around the rim. All of this I observed before I confidently and assertively strolled to the counter and declared that I “shall have a pint of the double my man” (not in plummy english – no fears). While my shirt is now dry, it did take a while for it change from its sodden state.

Because La Bomba starts at 8pm, it also finishes early: 10pm. As a direct consequence, I returned to the hostel to the early-swing of the nightly party. A couple of fun Dutch guys did their best to encourage me that an 80s disco was the way to spend my evening. They were not wrong in the general…

<Somewhat strange, but memorable night>

Tuesday passed with less extremity. Its highlight was the realisation that I don’t understand past tense, prepositions nor the difference between direct & indirect objects in Spanish. One might argue that these be the foundation of effective communication. A recurring theme: the Amercian woman annoyed me. To counter this irritation, I started using Vosotros (that they only use in Spain) to confuse her more.

I ought to note a rare moment of brilliance from a hostel-based Australian that Michael McIntyre ought to pinch. While loudly regaining the story of a previous night, he pointed out that he could, “sleep through anything…” the four horsemen of the apocalypse could enter his room – much like Mel Gibson does in Braveheart – and there would be no consciousness gained. However, one person snoring, even quietly, is enough to bore a hole in one’s brain and produce an anger so acute that sleep is rendered impossible. Needless to say, the hypocritical prick was was snoring so hard that night that I’m surprised he still possess tonsils!

I was very aware of this because I managed to get some sort of food poisoning / heat exhaustion that evening. It reached its pinnacle after the tango lesson (a sight for sore eyes) and four or so beers with a couple of (nice) Dutch guys from the hostel. I spent the night hugging the lavatory basin as if it were the last point of refuge in a sinking ship. While the feeling of unwellness was fleeting, it did for my trip to a local farm the following day: more subjunctive and slow American Spanish for me!

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It was around Wednesday, while consuming one of my several daily Empanadas, that it dawned on me: Palermo, the “nicer” part of Buenos Aires, reminds me a lot of Bristol! Two things particularly contribute to this (other than the architecture and the parks). The first – many artisan beer places (I’d love to say cheaper, but that would be a lie, the only thing here cheapIMG_6571.jpger are small pasties 😉 and steak), the second – a high concentration of Fixie bikes. There are also a number of what I like to refer to as “dick-head haircuts” that one encounters so often in Bristol (very short at the sides and back, but ostensibly normal atop! Check out Danny Care for reference). Dickhead is an appropriate adjective as the Argentines use “boludo” – dickhead – for almost everything: “Hey dickhead”; “that’s wrong dickhead!”; “you okay dickhead?”; “had a great time tonight dickhead”.

Thursday spent planing Hostel exit-strategy! Nice studio planned, I just had to make it through the proceeding two days… While sitting in rainy – yes rainy – Buenos Aires, the most peculiar spectacle occurred. Somewhere in the region of, I would say, three thousand bicycles rode bast the hostel through a narrow street – purposefully backfiring for about fifteen minutes. I presumed I was about to take part in a coups at first. This was a protest (and indeed a day of protest in Buenos Aires). The Bikers’ objection was against legislation just passed that helmets should have to have the same license number as those on the bikes. Quite clearly this is to fight the theft of bicycles and their use to carry-out crimes. What then do we conclude? There are three thousand bike criminals in Buenos Aires alone? Or just that they value security below license? (Thank you for observing the well-balanced pun!)

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Friday ~ Paddy’s day! What can one say. I am not quite perverse enough not to not partake (unpick that!). If there is one time that one would wish to be around English and Irish, it is for an occasion that expressly celebrated drinking excessive amounts of beer in a short period of time. Night’s highlights include winding-up a Scottish girl (who I had insulted on Tango night as being Scottish and thus a bad dancer, and who had a tattoo on the inside of her lip – with her name; what else?!). She had just got another tattoo that said “siempre viajando” – always travelling – on the inside of her bicep. I managed to convince her, with the help of a passing Venezuelan to whom I explained the wind-up in Spanish so she had no idea I was seeking his assistance, that they had spelt it wrong. I am actually not sure of the outcome of this as I left to speak to some other people before I clarified that it was correct after all.

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Among the pissed-up rabble, there were a couple of French guys, one of whom the best looking person I reckon I have ever met! French uno, when asked how long he was travelling for replied, “only a year”… only? It transpired that his buddy was travelling for a further year! TWO YEARS! If you don’t find yourself after that long it must be serious existential crisis time: after two years of not having found what you’re looking for (I invoke the great U2) you would be forced to conclude you don’t exist! One-Year-Frenchie had done an erasmus 6 months in the north of Spain. He and I thus discussed the difficulty of understanding people here. He countered my confusion with a lovely sentence: “It is not that I don’t understand, its just that I find the constant “sh sh sh” here very disturbing.” Got to love the French. French uno+dos are going next to the wine-tasting region; I was astonished to hear this.

While I had the intention of attending the night for its duration and actually met some English with a similar antipathy to the others in the hostel, the party bus (bus to the party rather than being an all-purpose vehicle) left at 2.30am. That is 30mins from me crashing. I am okay with the very late/early partying here, but I am not arriving when I would ordinarily leave a place for bed! Remember adoring fans – Charles Bennett is old and not the young partier he once was (ripples of sniggering around the crowd – I have always disliked clubbing).
Saturday: Get up; get packed; check-out (with glee); walk up street; get metro/ tube/ subway/ underground train; walk down street; meet friend of apartment’s owner – who stays with me for a bit longer than was probably imperative.

IMG_6653.jpgI had only one very very non-immersive activity to attend while here: watch England break the All-Black record of the longest winning streak and win the grand-slam. Tried to watch the first half in the new apartment to enjoy both rugby and view, but the wifi here is just so so bad. Thus at half time I am sprinting around Palermo (the new area I have moved to) asking locals for an Irish pub (everything I did not want to be). Got there in time for second half and to see my dreams shattered among drunken, smug Lepricorns.

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Go for a cheeky run around Palermo to try and overcome the pain, which I envisaged to resemble Clifton in both aesthetics and size. It is more like the borough of Wansworth, i.e. Clapham + Battersea + Clapham + Tooting… HUGE.

Met nice Dutch guy (from hostel) for a delicious steak that evening. This again is an average cut at an average place with some “average” wine. It was FAR from that. Delicious wine, delicious steak and just too cheap for what it was. Dutch and I decide to go out out out (too many? No – here there is an additional “out” to account for how long it lasts). There is a loose plan to meet my American friend at a local popular Discoteca. Dutch is wearing shorts – like hell are we being let in and so it was. In place of this, I followed the recommendation of a French girl in the language class to a dingy bar where her friend was playing some very average house music (I know it was average because, while it offended my ears, what people call “good house” deeply offends my ears: its a very accurate barometer). Leave after 10 mins; run back to house; give him trousers; run back; skip queue because the bouncer recognises me – I really do look different to people here – hair too long, too blonde & wearing un-ironed shirt and jeans that were fashionable thirty years ago all mounted on deck shoes.

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<A relentless night>

Ode to an English traveller

To <The English Backpacker>,

Too little an account is given to your great antics abroad. I have, if you will, written a little guide to for how to fully embrace the experience:
To start with, it is imperative that you inform people that have been to South East Asia, by repeated references to parties in cities in Cambodia/Thailand/Vietnam (all of these cities sound descriptively and by the letters of the word exactly the same). But from these accounts, we realise that you are a seasoned traveller with a strong understanding of how things should be done when one is abroad.

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It is as follows: Descend to the hostel bar at around 4pm (because you have spend the day in bed with a hangover). Naturally you are abroad and thus begin drinking at this hour, in a dingy bar with zero natural light, despite the fact that outside there is sunshine, culture and mirth. In the bar you seek other english speakers, most notably those that are in fact from your country – preferably those with similar educational backgrounds. You chew the cud and discuss your last great hangover and recent fix. As time inevitably passes, you become increasingly rowdy as you are joined by the more civilised, but still unappealing Australians and Americans in the bar. If possible, you will eat at the hostel as they can guarantee for you average food at an inflated price that means you will not have to leave the compound.

You finish eating and resume drinking, declining the opportunity to learn tango, or other quasi-cultural activity, put on by the hostel. At around 11 you realise it is time to leave the hostel for the night’s highlight: your cocaine. You will have a small argument about how you intend to split the price of this and who is in, who paid last, who should do the honours of getting. Fleeting consideration be given to if anyone has any left from their previous time (last night). The two chosen males depart and return as heroes to the dazzled and adoring group.

Noses feeling numb, but with much agreement that this is the “good shit”, you decide that the opposite sex of European countries are rather attractive after all, and branch-out to speak to some Scandinavians who were previously having a charming conversation with the French: no no – its time for the full-frontal assault of the English public schooling system. Having alienated most of the bar and confirmed in most people’s minds that, while Brexit was a poor choice, it is an excellent outcome, you leave en-mass to a large club.

The Club is unique: song seven was latin (you were positively wetting yourself when you adeptly imitated salsa steps with your male friend). Not to fear, the english-spoken music subsumed thereafter.

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The night is NOT a success unless you a. Fornicate b. Are sick on yourself c. Loose a possession. If you can achieve all three, then the night reaches the pinnacle, the accolade of “a classic”. Thus, when you return at 5am, phone less and copulate in a sick-covered bathroom with “Livvy”, who went to school in Surry (not Hampshire), you have travelled.

You can descend the stairs at 4pm the next day like a hero to manly bumps and a beer on someone else – to get you started for a heavy one tonight as well! Three days of this in any given city and – to be sure – you have DONE it all. There is no way anyone can challenge you on your insight into the culture of the city. Tick. Now onto Chile!

Sabbatical ~ Prologue

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I was taught that you should write the introduction at the end of the essay as it looks like it ties together better. The only time I did this however, I got a very average mark in an history exam. As such, I have chosen to write the introduction – if you can call it that – roughly a week into the trip (to kill a bit of time). The time I have to kill is in a very overrated hostel in Buenos Aires. Unbeknown to me, I have booked to be in a party hostel for a week. I also currently have a low-level bout of food poisoning. But more of this in Week Two’s writeup.

I have been offered a sabbatical for three months. The expression “a long time coming” may come to mind for those who have been bored with my discussions of this sort for the last year and a half. As a personal favour to the twenty or so people that I have bored with that conversation, I will not recap.

The offer came about in my typical ill-prepared fashion: I applied last-minute before going to Cuba where there was to be no internet. Nevertheless, in a rare moment that I had internet on my phone while sitting outside in a public park, I was able to check my email and saw said offer. This was received by me with glee and by Frazer as someone had just informed him that his life was to be sacrificed in order to preserve celery as a food form

The offer required reading T&Cs and signing (I had an iPhone and the Cuban postal service). Suffice to say, signing and returning from Cuba in 5 days would not be feasible ~ Cuban post takes a good 40 days (and counting). Five FaceTime calls with my mother were required to articulate, “Get Dad to read and sign for me!”. This was punctuated with me swearing a good deal about: the obvious ease of my request; the inadequacy of technology; the inadequacy of the preceding generation… After some interlude and apologies on my part, father signs another crucial work-related contract on my behalf (IBM don’t have my signature – muhahahaha – defying the man one false signature at a time!).

Time to plan… I had exactly three weeks to do so. I have no idea why I chose the path I did: Paris for a couple of days to visit Harry. Madrid for a week to do a language class (thus far I can account for my choices). Argentina. Sincerely, I have no idea why I chose Argentina. I have a sneaky suspicion that I decided when drunk and woke up with the catharsis, which I adopted. In any case, I think it was a good choice…

I intend to have at least two months in Argentina in which I hope to reach a good level of Spanish. As such, I am determined to stay put, that is, not traveling around while I am learning the language and (hopefully) living with locals / Spanish speakers. (Learning a good level of Spanish is likely to be impossible here though; they say everything incorrectly and with an impenetrable accent. Argentinians have invented their own form of “you” that is only used in the present tense – obviously!) Maybe after two months I will “do” the rest of South America. We all know that spending three days in each country entitles one to change verbs from “to visit” to “to do”.

Keeping the gems for the trip, but I shall remark that: I forgot my adapter; forgot shampoo; have brought seven shirts vs. two t-shirts; forgot marmite – have no way to repel mosquitos (and women); didn’t get a much needed haircut – so will be at the mercy of an Argentinean butcher; have lined-up nothing here other than a week’s language course and now an AirBnb to get me out of this hostel. On the plus side, I have two cashmere jumpers (obligatory with an ambient temperature of 30+ degrees). I also have roughly thirty pairs of socks.

Let me leave you with a witticism. When asked early on where I would be going for so long? I replied “Don’t cry for me ~ Argentina.”