Archive | October, 2009

Take me to the river

30 Oct

I think I have just had my best ‘going to the shops’ experience. I spent the last few days in Tigre, a short one-hour journey from Buenos Aires. It’s a delta, and to be honest I never really understood what one of those was, until now anyway, because i know that deltas are amazing. I managed to find a couchsurfing living there, Paola, who lives in a beautiful little shack by the river. It’s actually been a couple of days since I left Tigre now because all I did each day was canoe down the river in the sun, and it took me quite a while to recover.

rowing down the delta

When I arrived there the water was quite low and we had to go super-speed on the boat to get it over the mud and up onto the bank. It remained at this level when I went out on the canoe but when I returned the bank was no longer visible, the water had shot right up to the foundations of the house. It’s a crazy environment, and one which makes the delta really special. On my second day we built a fire to get rid of all the wood that Paola had chopped down. Still with a load of wood remaining to be burnt, the water had managed to rise underneath the fire, so that it was no longer burning on earth, but on water. Unfortunately this was the moment Bonzo (currently my favourite dog in the world) showed up with a dead cat he had found in the river. He thought this cat was hilarious and was throwing it around the garden like an epileptic bull would throw off its rider. We decided to put it on the fire, unfortunately just at the point when the fire was about to stop. In a desperate attempt to rekindle it we slapped a load of leaves and twigs on top offering it a brief respite. I like to think it did the job although I didn’t check in the morning. Nobody wants to see a dead cat before lunchtime.

paola and the fire

With the river at its highest I set off to buy bread and some provisions. Two hours later, wearing sopping-wet clothes I returned remembering to buy some food for dinner but not the bread, which was the only thing I was really supposed to buy. There’s nothing quite like rowing down the river, tieing up your boat and popping into the shops. In this case I had to do it a lot of times as every shop I could find was closed. Something about it being Monday and Argentines not being bothered to do anything on a Monday.

And to finish, a photo of Bonzo!
Bonzo, only just about the best dog ever!

How not to write a subject heading article wotsit?

24 Oct

It has proved extremely hard to find a Couchsurfing host in Rosario. I have spent most of the week in hostels, busy firing off messages to various members in search of a possibility and going to Couchsurfing events around town. At every event they have looked at me in amazement as I told them it was impossible to find a couch yet at the same time declaring that they unfortunately have no room aswell. My brain was constantly trying to think of a spanish equivalent of ‘the proof is in the pudding.’ It is still working on it.

Eventually I found Mauricio and am staying at his this weekend. I don’t know if its because I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in hostels lately or something but it seems I am becoming a huge silent judge, slowly picking out people’s faults. Mauricio has a bad back but has so far spent the entire day on his computer, using Messenger and sending e-mails (he’s been at it remarkably from 11am to 7pm). The weather has been glorious so I’ve been out a few times, each time returning to refuel and look curiously as Mauricio continues grasping his back with one hand and typing with the other. He also committed the cardinal sin of throwing away food. I made what I’d have to describe as a pretty incredible ‘Cream of Chorizo, Garlic and Pepper Pasta’ dish last night, with plenty left over for lunch today. When my empty belly reminded me of this fact in the morning I ran into the kitchen only to find it deserted in the bin. What kind of person would do this? This is the question that constantly runs through my head.

This together with my recent trend of talking to myself as I walk the streets are beginning to draw a conclusion I didn’t want to see. I think I have ‘traveller’s disease,’ a condition brought about by spending far too much time with oneself, constantly with a million questions in your head (How many hours does it take to get to Buenos Aires? What is the name of that strange pastry covered in white stuff? How do I say ‘fair’s enough’ in spanish? What time is it?, and so on.) but no-one to share them with. It’s remarkable it’s taken this long to happen actually, I thought it would have at least kicked in on those 16-hour buses through Brazil. If anyone knows any remedies, please let me know!

To Bee or Not To Bee

19 Oct

One thing has become quite apparent to me over the last few days. Bees are absolute legends. I am sorry if I ever doubted them. After tasting honey straight from the hive I have to stand up and give them their dues, even if one of them did then choose to sting me right after I ate its honey. To be fair, if I had been a bee and seen a man with a tonne of honey stuck in his beard I would have gone for it too!

The unfortunate news though is that the bee trip has been abandoned. I believe to have made it truly possible I would have had to find somewhere to stay in La Criolla. This proved to be impossible. La Criolla is tiny. There are no hotels, motels, hostels or accommodation of any kind. I’m not even sure if they have shops. In the short time I was there I never saw one. I found the police station and little else. They seemed to think it was impossible to find somewhere to stay, as did Alcides (the beekeeper).

This meant to carry on working with the bees I would have to stay in Concordia. Now for some reason unknown to me Concordia is a tourist hotspot, I guess in a similar way to which Bournemouth is in England. It has nothing spectacular, just an accroument of pleasant gardens, spiffingly clean signs and tourist information centres. I counted four information centres in total. Quite what people were asking when there is a sign every 50m pointing to every significant landmark (all two of them) I don’t know.

This craze for tourism doesn’t seem to spread beyond middle class Argentinean families, meaning there are no hostels and all hotels are conveniently priced way over what I want to pay. I managed to find a place for 50 pesos in the end (I would normally pay 40 tops, unless I’m couchsurfing of course) above the local bowles club. It offered no perks, no breakfast, no tv, no cleanliness, nothing and quickly depressed me into thinking I needed to make a move.

It’s been a good week though, of that there is no doubt. I have learnt a decent amount about beekeeping, killed a few queen bees, planted the seeds for some new queen bees (genetics is the key to quantity of honey it seems), ate more than my fair share of honey and got a huge jar of honey to take home too, not to mention spending some quality time in the Argentinean countryside, which is never a bad thing.

Now, I am in Rosario where apparently the women are more beautiful than in Buenos Aires. I have no evidence of this yet, but mark my words, I will be investigating this thoroughly.

A New Line in Theme Parks

17 Oct

After spending a day trying to catch a glimpse of a waterfall in a national park full of tourists I had a sudden idea, for a new breed of theme park. Something called ‘Alternative World Park.’ It’s got success written all over it. I’m basing it on one of the underlying ideas behind quantum mechanics, namely that every day we make a number of choices that define where we ultimately end up. However, each time we make that choice, it is possible that our body could have gone in the other direction, and in fact, according to quantum mechanics, did go in that direction, only in an alternative reality, therefore splintering our being into a multitude of different realities.

Schrodinger's cat - proving my thoughts on quantum mechanics

Schrodinger's cat - proving my thoughts on quantum mechanics

Once visitors enter the park they are faced with four trails, each identical to each other. They then have to choose which they will follow. This is where the quantum mechanics comes in. Each time they have to choose between the four trails they will be creating four different realities as it is possible they could have travelled down each of the trails. Hence, it is very possible that they will have chosen to enter into an ‘alternative reality’, because who really knows what is reality and what is not these days anyway.

There will be a sign every 50m declaring ‘You are 50m into an alternative reality,’ ‘You are 100m into…’ and so on. Each trail will only be about 500m in length as any longer and there would need to be some sort of costly transport infrastructure for all those fat-ankled burger-munchers, and that reality is too much bother. At the end of the trail will be a massive red dot and a sign “You are at the center of an alternative universe.’ Next to this will be a slide, allowing for the possibilities of both static and motive pictures to mark this special occasion.

Along the trails there will be a number of rocks, onto which will be glued penny coins, just out of reach of the public. People will see these coins, think that maybe they will get good luck from flicking a coin onto that rock and duly oblige to throw all their money away. With a method like this for gaining income I believe free entrance may be a viable option.

On the way out, people can vote as to which reality they thought was the best, when in fact each was identical to the last and so is kind of pointless anyway. People like to vote though, of this I am sure.

Hot dogs will cost £15, bottles of water £19.99, alternative reality videos using old CCTV footage spliced together with a few photos will be available for £50.

If anyone is interested in funding this venture please get in touch.

Next time maybe I should choose not to go to huge tourist attractions on a Sunday in a bank holiday weekend.

water, tonnes of it

Argentinean Delights

14 Oct

Arriving back in Argentina I didn’t realise how much I had missed two things, but once I saw their names emblazoned across shop windows as I pulled into Puerto Iguazu I knew I was going to have to resolve these cravings before I could carry on.

The first was milanesa, a piece of beef pounded until it resembles a deflated whoopee cushion, then covered in breadcrumbs with a sprinkling of parsley, and generally served in a bun with salad and mayonnaise. They are ubiquitous in Argentina and Uruguay, which is perhaps why I love them so much, the amount of times they have solved my hunger problems so succinctly. Plus, they taste great cold and can be stored in a bus for well over a day without losing any of their joy.

The other item us something I’ve mentioned here before I believe; the alfajor. Never has a sweet snack captivated my attention. I’ve been waiting for something like this ever since plain chocolate rich tea biscuits started getting so hard to find in the shops. They have them in Brazil but in a pre-packaged triple chocolate variety that revels only in its sickliness. To enjoy an alfajor, a corn flour biscuit with dulce de leche in the middle and coconut on the surrounds, is to eat it properly. After one day I have already eaten four. I imagine this will continue for some time.

Brazilians eh?

10 Oct

After having been in Brazil for over three months I feel I have begun to understand its people a fair bit. Being able to speak fluent Portuguese would have been extremely helpful in getting to know them better though.

It has to be said that they are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, especially in the cities where they constantly seem to be making up for the violence and crime that is so prevalent (here’s looking at you Rio and Sao Paulo).

Their attitude to the weather is a case in point. When it rains people just stay at home, even if they’re supposed to be at work (unless they are part of that horrible breed of office workers, in which case this might be out of their bounds). In Trindade it rained for around four days each week but never did I hear a Brazilian complain about it. The visitors complained a hell of a lot, but the Brazilians not. They just stayed in, did whatever needed doing round the house, or just sat around watching tv and getting quietly sloshed (this second one is the most common).

One thing I do miss though (and I think this is quite a personal thing) is the lack of a broad sense of humour. All jokes seem to revolve around taking the piss out of each other or making over-the-top innuendos. All good fun, but I do like something a bit more succinct; a play on words or some slight sarcasm. It is quite possible that the language barrier means I do miss out on much of this because either when it’s in Portuguese I am unaware of the craic or because translation from Portuguese to English does not do it justice.

Saying that there has been two moments of inspired genius from my time here. First being Juan’s comments when Sarah showed her a shirt she had bought; “is that one of those shirts you get free when you buy a bag of sweets.” A cheap shot, but the laughter that poured out of him, at his own words, made for any shortcomings in the actual joke. Plus, it was quite an unexpected hit. The second has to be Eli’s words of comfort to Felix after pulling something of a fatty bumbatty; “Well, you have to slay a few dragons to get to the princess.”

It makes me glad to be English when I think of all the ways I can mangle words, make strange similes and generally utter absolute nonsense, and yet have people still understand me. I would love to find out that this can happen in Portuguese, but I just can’t see how it could do it. Whenever it takes on foreign words it always makes them completely Portuguese. There really isn’t the flexibility to build in new sounds, or new clusters of sounds, which makes English such a fun language to speak. Imagine if Stanley Unwin had been Brazilian, it would have been a nightmare; he would have been extricated to the streets as some kind of clown.

Just to finish off, and seeing as I’m making so many comparisons I should say Brazil quite obviously wins. There is no way England can ever compete with the girls and beaches here, which is why I can quite honestly see myself in twenty years spouting gibberish on Ipanema beach, as I desperately try and get the best of these two very different countries.

Sao Paulo – possibly not a city to explore

9 Oct

I am still waiting for Sao Paulo to reveal itself to me.

After spending a further three days there I am none the wiser. This is supposedly the biggest city in South America, so you’d expect there to be a few things to excite a weary traveller, but I`m still waiting to find them.

On my last trip there I was trying to sort a few things out and decided to go for a bit of an amble near the centre. I didn’t realise this at the time, but Sao Paulo is not a city in which you can amble, that should be saved for the Yorkshire Dales it seems.

I was only three or four blocks from the centre when I noticed a restaurant offering meals for one Real. This is without doubt the cheapest meal deal I have ever seen. To get anything under seven Reais in Brazil is a miracle in itself, so to have a whole dish for just one is some kind of phenomenon (this equates to about 33p at the moment, normally it would be around 25p but the Pound is not my friend at the moment).

I took a closer look and realised that I had missed lunchtime.

There were around 5 or 6 ladies in pure white overalls cleaning down the room, itself pure white and rather large, with full pressure hoses. Whoever had been eating there wasn`t too bothered about the food going in their mouth it would seem.

I carried on walking and noticed two policemen pass me. Then a police car pulled up on the right, and a further couple of coppers passed me on the pavement. I suddenly realised that maybe this wasn’t a good area, but there was no way I was going back on myself.

I walked past a series of bars, heaving with drunk, one-toothed, silver-haired Brazilian men. It was only 1.30 in the afternoon. Then I came to my main challenge.

I could see the Estadio do Luz at the end of the street, a known bastion of safety. But first I would have to walk past a 200m stretch of road with delinquent, 100% toasted vagrants on one side and some of the most unlovable looking prostitutes on the other. I took a deep breath and went for it.

As I walked I couldn’t help but make a mental note of everything I had on me (100 Reais, 2 bank cards, camera, blue pants) and just hoped that I would get out of there with all of these still on my person.

I got through it, but not without feeling as perilous as I’ve only ever felt in one other place – the centre of Salvador. There is something about a strong Police presence in these situations that seems to encourage some of the edgiest environments possible, a real pressure cooker. Speaking to people later it became quite clear that – yes – this was the worst neighbourhood in Sao Paulo and – no – you should never walk through there on your own. I won’t make that mistake again.

On the other side of the spectrum, I stayed in Vila Madalena for two of my days in Sao Paulo, which has to be described as one of the loveliest parts of the cities.

Every street is dedicated to a different product, including a whole row of 60s antique furniture, ethical goods, unbelievably expensive bars and too many clothes shops by half. Plus, the area used to be frequented by a whole bunch of hippies in the fifties with the main reminder of their presence in the street signs. Harmony, Sunflower and Wizard are all roads in this area.

Which means you can say that bar you really like is on the corner of Harmony and Wizard which really can’t be a bad thing!

Back on Track

5 Oct

The dream is back on! The S-Man has really pulled this one out of the hat and I have to say I couldn’t be happier for his contribution. In case anyone’s wondering exactly what it is I’m talking about, it is of course the mission to become a beekeeper in Argentina.

Quietly the plans have begun to reach daylight and sprout, which was seeming more and more unlikely each day that passed without contact from the S-Man (Nacho’s assertions that the S-Man walks to the calendar of ‘no man’ did not fill me with too much confidence). Plus, the guy never seemed to be able to get to grips with Shithead, and frankly, that makes me doubt his convictions. Which is why I am quite happy to have a name, Alcides Reschke, for a beekeeper living in Concordia who is going to show me exactly how Argentine honey is made. I say ‘Argentine’ honey because never before have I tasted anything quite so sweet. In its absence I’ve not even entertained eating a piece of toast in Brazil. Frankly guava jam just ain’t gonna cut it.

First I have to prove that I’m not allergic to bees. I’m pretty sure that I have at least one memory of being stung by a bee, so I think I should pass that one. Then I need to reach Concordia by 12th October. Seeing as I have to leave Brazil by the 9th, or get one hefty fine, this shouldn’t be a problem. I’m not too sure what I will be doing for accommodation right now, but I’m sure this will follow.