Yes, I am still alive

May 28, 2008

Just incase some of you thought I had fallen off the edge of the world somewhere on the wrong side of Argentina, I can confirm I am still alive and quite happy thanks very much.

The girls left almost two weeks ago, and we had a fab time drinking wine, long distance bussing it, horse riding and walking around parts of Argentina. My week to learn tango in Buenos Aires, didn’t get off to a great start. The price of tango shoes is… rather expensive and as I asked Porteño after Porteño if they danced tango, and each consistently said “no”, I began to think that tango was just another  another sneaky plan intenvented to usurp more money from the poor ripped of tourist already battling with fake notes and rip-off taxi drivers.  Also the tango hostel I had booked in for some months ago was cruddy, loud, cramped, dark and apart from me and a Brazilian mother and son completely empty. Anyway, I paid a random figure to leave and hot footed it back to Tony’s fully funrnished (internet, telly, projector for movie watching) apartment in up market Recoleta and renewed my acquiantance with the doorman (aka Gorilla man) who then helpfully pointed me in the direction of cash points, laundry places etc. (As Averil can verify, my sense of direction and ability to orientate my map in the early in Recoleta was a little… um… variable). So the tango never really happened.

After a week of museum going, tramping to the cemetry or park and catching tubes (Subt as it’s called in BA, which only has 5 lines and is a compelte doddle, not to mention cheap as chips… 15p a ride) I can say I now feel pretty well orientated in Buenos Aires, and can say I felt very safe wandering around doing my thing day or evening.

I went along to a language group one Friday evening and met some nice people, some native English Speakers and others locals who speak fluent-ish English. So that was nice. Made it to the pub one night with some of them and had a lovely day up the Rio de la Plata to a town called Tigre with a beautiful America girl called Andrea who’s living in BA working for American Express.

Another day I took the Buquebus (sounds a bit like Boogie-bus when you say it) across the river (which really feels like you’re crossing the channel!) to Uruguay and a port town called Colonia. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the history, but it’s a pretty little place (which has a Thomas the Tank Engine style turn-table made in Carlisle right outside the ferry terminal!) and I managed to while away 4 hours – and buy a pair of Uruguayan Gaucho Boots to replace my others which are getting a bit battered – and re-enter Argentina again at tea time with a new tourist visa stamped in my passport. So I’m now legal again until August 30th.

After some major headache I decided to head back up to Cordoba province and see if the chance of a job at the polo place in a village called Ascochinga was going to be a goer. I bought my overnight bus ticket, but couldn’t sleep on the bus for some reason (and rather unusually for me). So I ended up downstairs at the front of the bus with the two drivers sipping mate (pronounced Mar-taaa) through the night. (In case you haven’t heard Argentina would fall apart without Mate or Beef). As we drove through the night we passed lots of tractors and tents parked in the road at major junctions. These were the protests and strikes which Argentina has been battling with for 3 months now. Fortunately there were no people when we drove through. However the strikes have started again and the government seem to be making a complete hash of coming to any agreements with the people in the countryside. Does this stuff make the news at home? Out here the whole countryside is up in arms over the increased taxes on crops for export like Soya.

Anyway, I’m up in a little town called Villa Del Totoral right now. Staying with two complete sweethearts Julio and Herman. I’ve got myself a little Spanish 1-page CV and am touting it around the local people who have horses or involvements in polo, but things don’t exactly move quickly out here. So in the meantime I’m playing the little woman indoors. Quite a novelty, and one I’m sure will soon wear off! But for now, I’m ironing and cooking for my keep.

Totoral itself is a lovely sleepy little town, where pretty much everyone works at the Arcor biscuit factory. I hadn’t heard of Arcor, but it would seem they are the largest confectionary producer in the world (nb the English Translation of their website is “proximente” i.e. coming soon… hmm). And the more people I meet the more I learn about different parts of the factory production… so far I’m pretty good on the cream cracker production line, electrics and machinists, plus quality control and packaging. No seriously, everyone I’ve met works there in some way or other. Wonder if they need an English Speaking marketeer??

Would love to tell you more about this little town, which is largely dirt streets (when you get to the asphalt street you turn left and that takes you to the main square), where I go and do the shopping and have coffee and read the Spanish paper, while Julio checks the classifieds for reasonably priced Ford Escorts, but I have to go and make lunch for the lads.

Spanish coming on a treat. And have an English class to prepare for tonight. Surely there’s a bi-lingual job out there for me somewhere? anyone? 

It continues to go well.

We had a little party in Mendoza. The club was still rammed and the DJ still playing 30 seconds of every tune before changing tracks at 5am when we left. It is indeed priceless to go dancing with your mates when you haven’t been out with them for 9 months!

Met a bunch of lovely people who deserve a mention at the hostel in Mendoza too… there was the South African, who was just like Cameron (yeah.. who would have believed that was possible!) (but which made our Leeds possie feel that little bit more complete) and a lovely Irish couple, and a range of UK blokes who work in Advertising in London. So we had a blast on the bikes around Mendoza… sampling and cycling, followed by a few bottles of vino at Mr Hugo’s bike rental place… which really was a lovely impromptu party in the garden.

The upshot of all this is that

1. we didn’t get up to the Andes.. 😦

2. we left a day later than planned for Salta

However we did have a cracking night or two, or was it three.

So the 20 hour bus journey from Mendoza to here was actually completely painless. Adventure Av slept for most of it, Amble Campbell managed a sleep and a fair amount of ipod, and I watched all the films there were. Oh and we played bingo in the morning after breakfast. Yes, that’s what they do on Argentinian buses.

So now we’re in Salta and today we went to 3500 meters into the Andes (seeeee.. had to get my Andes in somehow!) and took photos of a bunch of BIG photogenic cacti and
amazing landscapes. And tomorrow we’re going tracking in some jungly area and having a little horse ride. (Bus mans or what!)

Promise photos as soon as I find an internet connection faster than a snail. xx

The girlies made it out here… and even more impressively I was at the airport to meet them.

So far in Buenos Aires we’ve done the Argentine Amble down Avenida de Mayo and 9 de Julio (immensely wide street) through Recoleta and around La Boca.

In upmarket Recoleta we walked Averil’s little legs off, looking in pricey shop windows and watching the dog walkers with teens of dogs in one hand. We whiled away a few hours in a cafe under a gum tree, whilst I ate salad after salad… I was enjoying something different from red meat… and afterwards visited the famous Recoleta Cemetery where various famous dead Argentines are stacked on shelves in their boxes in exceedingly spooky, elaborate tombs. We saw the place where Eva “Evita” Peron’s body finally ended up and we looked a very pretty gold church and saw some sculptures of large mosquitos (a bit random).

At a tango show at Cafe Tortoni we watched a young girl with surprisingly heavy thighs pull off some big kicks and moves dancing with a tango maestro and to a live band. Cafe Tortoni is celebrating 150 years of tango at their cafe this year; it’s a BA institution and right next door to the Argentina school of Tango dancing on Avenido de Mayo. Afterwards we had a midnight snack on empenadas at one of the many bakeries which are open unto the early hours. And on returning to the hostel I danced salsa with a guy in boxer shorts (there was some kind of PJ party going on – although perfectly nice, the hostel is a little too “youth” for me really). I honestly can’t wait for my tango classes in a couple of weeks time…

We met a New Zealander who works in “security” out in Iraq, who kindly treated us to drinks one evening in a rather swish little bar, and last night as we coached our way across the 1050km breadth of the country eastwards to Mendoza, we drank a little vino tinto and chatted with two coach drivers who we’re catching a lift home (and therefore not driving).

Today we woke up speeding along through the vineyards of Mendoza on our coach. Looking forward to the Andes (whoooooohooooooooooo) and the snow capped top of Ancongua… the Andes highest peak (yes even higher than the places in Ecuador. Gorg.).

Tomorrow we’re combining cycling with wine tasting… I will let you know how that goes… and the following day we hope to catch a bus up into the Andes to an Inca bridge… stopping just before the Chilean border. Then it’ll be time to move on again. A mammoth coach ride up to Salta.. around 20 hours. Urgh.

It’s wonderful to have L and Av out here. I keep hugging them.

Also it’s great to be able to talk about important stuff in English… rather than talk kiddie Spanish about life-affecting matters, like my next job… Under L’s guidance, I made the really scary call to the boss of a polo academy up in Cordoba Province. The call was scary because it was all Spanish, and it’s about a million times harder to do Spanish over the phone… anyway, it went well, I managed to explain myself, what I’m looking for and my experience and he’s invited me to call in and see him when I’m back up in Cordoba. Fingers so crossed they’re going white.

Is that enough for now…? photos to follow. xx

 

Am so behind with my posts that I now see that WordPress has changed it’s interface since I last used it!

Here’s a quick recap…

8 days ago I left the Estancia. Unlikely to return. All the guests had left, the season has finished and although it was a lot of fun, and I would guess I rode well over 60 different horses in the two months I was there, riding twice a day virtually every day, I don’t think it was the right place for me longer term. (That said Luis is now working more on the young horses every day, which is really interesting stuff).

I left on a Friday evening and had a reasonably early start on Saturday to go by bus to a village called Obispo Trejo about 3 north. Antonio (‘Tonio, Jose or Paco… depending on who you talk to, everyone out here has more than one name!) has a lot of family who live up in Trejo and we were going up to go to a Doma in a neighbouring village.

As it turned out the whole trip was far more interesting than the Doma (Doma being a Gaucho competition, where the men ride wild horses for as long as they can).

So we did the two bus ride, out of the hills of the Sierras Chicas (which was pretty much all I knew up until now) and into the flat agricultural lands of the Cordoba province. HUGE fields sown with maize, some alfalfa and a LOT of soya. Soya harvesting was going on and tackle shops (wonderful yards of farming machinery) were abundent. Tied along the fencing were advertising boards for the companies whose seeds were planted in the fields. Gorgeous warm sunny weather, dry and dusty once you get off the tarmacked roads, and you really get the feeling of the size of the country as you just keep on passing  more of the same crop planted fields.

Once in a while the bus takes a side road, a dusty track, and we do a little loop around a village. At one, otherwise unremarkable, loop we got off.   Obispo Trejo. This village has a grocers, butchers, couple of bakeries, an ice cream shop, centered around a main street, which is just a dust road really. There’s a bunch of houses.. mainly single story concrete block construction. But all have yards, washing lines and dogs.

Argentina has a lot of dogs.

A bit like Ecuador, you don’t see many cats, but dogs are everywhere. They’re the second race. They never go inside a house, but you see them trotting around, large towns or small villages just the same; going about their doggy business just like people. They generally look in good nick, although some of the street dogs have clearly had to fight their way to the top and others have been hit by cars.

We got off the bus and walked up a dirt track to a bunch of houses. No grand construction here. ‘Tonio’s sister Lily lives with her 3 daughers, and a son of a dead brother and daughter of a dead sister, in a two room house without hot water. They range in age from 5 to 15 (I didn’t ask where the father of Lily’s kids was). Lily is blind in one eye which weeps constantly.

TO BE CONTINUED…