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Well thanks, but I'm okay actually (the joys of hitch-hiking)

10 Nov

There is a worrying trend emerging in Argentina.

After sticking my thumb in the air for about 5 seconds in Comodoro Rivadavia I had managed to catch a lift, and it was going exactly where I wanted, to Caleta Olivia. About 45 minutes followed in which the driver, an unbelievably camp man who seemed to get excited about every single word that left his mouth, asked me question after question of such ridiculousness that I didn’t realise I was being questioned. “Are there many fires in California?” was perhaps my favourite. For a few minutes I thought he was telling me they have a lot of fires in California, but no, he was asking me! I nodded, I guess so, not something I really know too much about. In between those questions lay a gluttony of enquiries about girlfriends, family and living arrangements. Eventually it was revealed that he had left home at 18 after he told his family he was gay, mainly just to avoid the aggravation.

It was at this point that he told me I was beautiful and had a great face. I thanked him and started talking about sea lions. He doesn’t care about sea lions, he wanted to invite me to his house. It was a bit out of the way so I declined. Silence prospered for a short while until he said: ‘This is Caleta’. At which point I asked him to stop the car and I got out. He invited me again and told me that if I had no luck hitching I could always give him a call. I told him I would bear that in mind.

But the worrying thing about all of this is that now, with the gay hairdresser and the portero in Buenos Aires, it does seem like I am getting far better offers from the men in Argentina rather than the women. In fact, I am beginning to believe the women find me repugnant. It could be because of the beard, but as the weather keeps getting colder and colder the more south I go I am cherishing it more and more. It’s one of my few defences against the whipping gales that keep pounding me wherever I go.

It's a hard road, but someone's gotta walk it! (Punta Lomo and Punta Tombo)

7 Nov

Cripes, it’s been some hectic days since the last update. It feels like a lot has happened. I spent one more day with Federico, Virginia and the family, enjoying their amazing food and never-ending thirst for beer. The last of these surely down to the fact that there isn’t all that much to do in Choel. I then hitch-hiked to Puerto Madryn, although it should be said that this was less of a hitch-hike and more Virginia seeing a truck on the road, knowing that I was interested in hitch-hiking, then going and begging the guy to give me a lift (as it was he was a friend of Virginia’s dad so all ended swimmingly). The only downside was that trucks take absolutely forever to reach their destination, and sometimes contain a Chilean with no teeth insistent on asking you questions (not once did I not ask for a repetition!) and that they stop on the outskirts of town, not nice and tidily in the center. So then I had to hitchhike for real, for the 13km to Puerto Madryn were by far too much by foot. With this success I reached the town center, gave Azul (couchsurfer) a call and got my head down for the night.

Sitting in an over-heating truck for 8 hours had obviously taken its toll as I didn’t wake far past 11am. I decided my best bet (taking into accounts costs) was to head to the sea colony. On my way to rent a bike the wind picked up and the rain started. The owner of the bike looked at me a bit sceptically and forsook a hard day but I was feeling resilient after my sleep. 16km later, and after being almost blown off the bike twice I reached, Punta Loma, glorious home of a beautiful sea lion colony.

I was quite aware that on the way to the colony the wind had been behind me, and that I was in more danger of being blown off the road rather than stopped in my tracks, and that quite possibly the way back could be treacherous. This proved to be exactly the way it happened, as the wind had also managed to pick itself up from a deathly gush to a completely galling gail from hell. Some of the way I had to walk head faced down trying to drag my bike behind me as the sand and rocks smashed into my scalp. Halfway back, an old man in a truck took pity on me and without even speaking a word threw my bike in the back of his truck. I followed the bike and after a wordless 15 minute drive returned to the relative comfort of Azul’s flat.

Battered and bruised (the bike’s seat I believe was made from concrete) I went out with Azul in town for a beer before we headed home and to sleep. In the morning my plan was to hitch to Trelew. This meant the 13km to the main route once more before then getting another truck to the city. As I left the house the heaven’s opened, and saddle-sore I limped to the bus station to find out how much it was to Trelew. 18 pesos and 1 hour was an absolute steal and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before so I got in.

There is very little to do in Trelew, it’s more a hub for excursions, so I rested my sore behind for the day and prepared for another. The idea was to go to Punta Tomba, a colony of penguins about 100km away. Thankfully I managed to meet some people interested in renting a car, and off we went.

Quite easily one of the most amazing places I have ever been, I can’t believe they let you just walk around the penguins home, the little fellas just plodding along, ducking and diving, but mainly flopping and wobbling, quite content to have tonnes of people waking them up, staring at them, taking pictures. To be able to get so close is remarkable, I think only possible because they are such a passive creature. It’s no wonder some of the great explorers captured thousands of these little fellas, salted them up, and stuck them in the cargo. I felt like picking one up and putting it in my pocket.

After that we went to Rawson, where a drunk Argentinean, forever wiping oil from his hands and onto a cloth and then back onto his hands again, told us there were Elephant Seals about. All a figment of his imagination. The beach though, Playa Union, is definately worth a look. Beautifully tranquil and capable of 40 degrees in the height of summer.

And now I find myself in the hostel in Trelew for the last time. Rather than spend another night here I decided to book a bus, for pretty much the same price, and head south. I’m not really sure about the next part of the plan, but I really hope it involves more penguins!


1 Nov

How did this happen? How did I manage to get an all expenses paid trip to Buenos Aires for the weekend? I really have no idea, but feel quite like a responsible gent, with you know, all that responsibility of that, of having had meals paid for and accommodation for free, which means that eventually I will have to give something in return.

As soon as the idea was mooted, let´s meet in Buenos Aires I knew there was going to be some joy in it. I was told I would have my journey to BA paid for and my accommodation. Meals weren´t mentioned but they were easily part of the deal. I even had dessert on one occasion, my first dessert since I don´t know what, it had been a long time.

Now I am heading south to explore Patagonia. I have arrived at a couchsurfer´s in a little town called Choele Choel. Yesterday I was in Bahia Blanca where I had to stay in a hotel because the only hostel was full and then ended up going out for every meal (partly because I had no kitchen and partly because I was so tired for my journey that my body was constantly crying out for nourishment) and spending far too much money. The next day, after being secure of having a place to stay in Choele Choel I decided not to eat anything til I get there. Some kind of method of balancing the books. Despite feeling a bit faint on the bus all was good and worked out better than could have been imagined. My hosts drove me around the town to see the sights (really just a bunch of fields and a river, but enjoyable nonetheless) before planting a plate of sweets in front of me, filling up the matte, washing all my clothes, cracking open a few beers, a decent bottle of wine from Patagonia and finally home-made Milanesas. Things really couldn´t be any better!

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.

What a load of old cobblers!

12 Jul

I left Argentina last week, but I want it to be known that this had nothing to do with the fact that Argentina now has the highest death toll of any country from Swine Flu (Gripe Porcina or Gripe A, to give it it’s Spanish name). I can’t believe how much panic the Government have been causing there. After closing the Universities and Schools, they issued a special Police division with green jerseys for dealing with the infection, made all Police wear dust masks, almost banned supporters from the last day of the football season (they decided 3 days before that they would be allowed and so started selling tickets) and advised everyone not to spend long periods of time in crowded environments. So it was, that after buying my tickets for the footy a fly managed to land at the top of my throat just as I was catching the bus. After trying to dislodge it as I bought my ticket I started uncontrollably coughing. Trying to stop the coughing was a mammoth task, and allied with all the eyes that were fixed and slowly retreating away from me, I was getting quite a sweat on. After getting it under control, I felt very alone. I was the only person on that bus without some kind of garment covering their mouth. At least I had plenty of room to move around.

For more info on the flu in Argy

The thing that gets me about this whole thing is that every year hundreds of thousands of people die from the flu. They die from bog-standard, ordinary flu. And that’s just the one’s we know about. It also contributes to deaths from a variety of other illnesses, but never gets mentioned as the cause, because well it’s just the flu isn’t it. Heart disease, coronary illnesses, that’s what people die from. Now that swine flu is the most talked about illness on the planet, it’s really no surprise that it gets one positive diagnosis after another. Any other year, there would have been a footnote about 5 pages in from the back of The Sun, stating that Micah Richards will be missing Man City’s pre-season training because of the flu, now it’s front page.

Velez are Campeones

6 Jul

I’ve gotta say, I’ve never been to a footy game quite like that one. From the moment I arrived, 1 hour before kick-off to when I left, about an hour after the match ended, the Velez fans never stopped. They never stopped singing, jumping, waving, throwing rolls of tape, setting off fireworks and smoke bombs. They never stopped when their team missed a penalty, when there was only 10 minutes left and they looked no closer to getting the goal the needed and they didn’t stop during the hailstorm that punctuated the first half. It was a long game too, 2 hours and 40 minutes from first to last whistle. It’s fair to say there was a few incidents.

The first half was most notable for the rainstorm that coincided with the first few kicks of the game, before suddenly turning into some of the most severe hail I have ever witnessed. These were blocks of ice hurling from the sky. Little children and women were in tears! Most people ran for cover, including all the players, who legged it off the pitch!

Huracan also had a goal disallowed in the first half, which was quite clearly onside. This is one of the first injustices in this game. The first half had been quite nervy, so nervy Velez had missed a penalty, and also not helped by the hailstorm, but it really picked up in the second half, as Velez started to play some better football, although all the best chances kept falling to Huracán, including another disallowed goal. This one was a bit closer to call, but still looked onside to me. Velez also later had their share of injustice as a Huracán defender scythed down one of the Velez strikers in the box, only for the ref to do absolutely nothing about it. It was 10 minutes before the end of the game when things finally exploded into life. The ball was played into the Huracán keeper, the Velez striker stretched in to get the ball, missed it, knocked out the keeper, and Morales, the nippy Velez frontman stormed in to stroke the ball into the net, with the keeper still in daydreams lying on the floor. The place exploded! Morales managed to get himself sent off for celebrating too hard and the Huracán players argued for what seemed like forever.

The game was stopped again 5 minutes later, when Huracán started to complain about the Velez subs and staff coming to close too the pitch (they were basically standing on it!) which added another 10 minutes onto the game. But it was to be of no use to Huracán as their only chance was saved and Velez were eventually crowned champions. I feel a bit sorry for Huracán for this one as they seemed to get the worse of the luck, but their coach did later say that they had been extremely lucky some times this year so there was always going to be one day it didn’t go quite so well, and Velez had played pretty well too over the campaign, so I didn’t feel bad for too long. I was just glad to be with the winning fans!

And for one final note, one of the Velez players got completely wasted later and got hit by a car while out celebrating. The car drove off, leaving him on the road, where he remained for 2 and a half hours before someone found him and called an ambulance. I hope he’s alright.