June 24, 2008

Two weeks ago I came home, back to England.

It wasn’t a quickly taken decision on my part, although the flight was bought last minute and my arrival home saw a few friends and relatives agog on their doorsteps.

The long and short of it was there wasn’t any work where I was living in Argentina. If I’d stayed out my time at the Estancia I would have still been in Argentina, but I’m still glad I made that decision to leave there, it was the right thing to do.

Since leaving I had my fabulous holiday with the girls, and a very chilled out week in the Recoleta district of Buenos Aires in the amazingly generous Tony’s flat.

Whilst there I looked into teaching, but having talked to others doing the same, the hours worked were very changable and never seemed to come close to covering your costs. Even a post as assistant manager at the South American Explorers club in BA would only just cover my accommodation, but not my living costs.

Up in el campo to the north of Cordoba, I looked for work outdoors with horses. I had an interview, all in Spanish, at a polo estancia which took me the best part of a morning to get to and the rest of the afternoon to get home from. The answer, although very politely put, was the same I heard all over, “It’s Winter, it’s an expensive time for us to keep animals, and the horses we have are all turned out, on a break, after the polo season. Can you come back in September?”

So despite the best efforts of some friends of mine, Antonio and Julio deserving honorable mention, I was having to inch into my savings to stay on. This clearly wasn’t part of the plan, and not something I wanted to resort to without a “very good reason”.

Looking around, underneath rocks and suchlike, sadly did not unearth a “very good reason”.

So despite the general cheapness (although the Argentines are feeling the cost of inflation just as we are in England) of living in a village in the middle of hours and hours of nothing (aka flat soya plains) I knew my Argentine days were numbered.

In the fortnight before I left, I threw myself into housewifery. Cooking, cleaning and ironing for my Argentine flat mates Julio and German. My sponge cakes crammed with dulce de leche were going down very well, as was the washing magically being done and the lads never having to press their biscuit factory uniforms. I was feeding the dog, making the meals, paying the bills at the local post office and running erands while they were out at work.

However, there comes a point when a girls existance demands a little more. I wanted to leave when it was still going well, not when I’d become that foreign girl who doesn’t pay rent.

It was – as I’m learning these things usually are – very, very sad. I was going to have to leave my grapefruit tree in the backyard and my little begonia Julio had bought me (No Julio, I can’t take it on the plane, they scan your bagage). I’d cried and not managed to utter a word when I left Pintag back in February; and this time I cried on the pavement in Cordoba as Julio gave me a bag of chocolates to take with me. (Argentines always give you lovely little chocolates and sweets when you go away, to remind you of them while you’re apart). Very, very sad.

The journey home was interminably long, and not made any easier by the striking hauliers and farmers who are bringing parts of Argentina to a standstill with their road blocks over increased taxation on exported soya and grain.

I had intended to take an overnight bus, 10 or so hours, to Buenos Aires to catch my flight home. However I managed a last minute purchase of an internal flight from Cordoba to BA, then BA to Paris, and finally Paris to Manchester and a quick train ride from there to meet my brother (the only one who knew I was coming home). Quick, sharp, elbowy, mention must be made of the unbelievably fidgetty grown up lady who sat on my left from BA to Paris and who gave no consideration whatsoever to the arm rest which by it’s very existance DIVIDES ONE SEAT FROM ANOTHER. So as she lolled, poked and generally cast her blanket all over me for about 12 hours I wished that I’d gone some other route and had two weeks in Cuba.

So now I’m home. Temporarily jobless. And more than temporarily living at my brothers house (my place still being rented out). The job front looks reasonable to good, and hopefully I’ll be gainfully employed before too much longer.

As for if I’ve got South America out of my system yet… I don’t know. I do however have a very spacious, some might say empty, bank account. So that at the very least will give me reason to stay. For now I have no plans to return and instead I’m keen to continue my Spanish, take a look at the North of England polo scene, and actually use the grey squidgy stuff in my head properly again. I’ll keep you updated…


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.


This weekend sees the World Rally Argentina take place in Cordoba province, a mere sniff and stones throw from where I am at the Estancia. Sadly for us (but happily for the bosses) the Estancia is so full we’re running two houses, kitchens, horses etc and doing a polo week, so there’s zip chance of getting to see the competition as all holiday is cancelled.

However following a short meeting with the management (where we voiced a little concern over the millions of hours we’ll be working without a break), Becca and myself were given a days holiday on Tuesday, coincidentally the same day that Tasha already had as holiday.

But I need to backtrack slightly… I also had a days holiday on Saturday and went jollying off into Cordoba buying jeans, a top and almost buying about 6 leather jackets, seriously, they’re that good. The clothes shops out here are fabulous and exceedingly reasonable for gorg-eous beautiful Italianesque stuff (the Italians settled Argentina more or less and so there’s loads of their food influence and clothing etc… bit more to the history of it really, but that isn’t what this post is about).

After some plastic bashing in Patio Olmo (upmarket equivilent of Meadowhall), and back in the happening village puddle that is Rio Ceballos, I ran into Graciela (29), the wife of our head gaucho.

After talking about the supermarket shopping she was on her way to do, I took a punt and said, “fancy a beer?” (although in Spanish obviously). She bit my arm off.

We went to a nearby bar (Bokete… where everyone goes) and in due course her two boys (8 and 10) came along with their uncle… who is rather gorgeous and single, and brother to Luis who I work every day with. Long story cut short… at the end of the night gorgeous uncle said we should we go out. Grinned my way back in a taxi to the Estancia.

Monday morning, guess who shows up at the Estancia with his nephews who have Easter Monday off school… (I’m looking a wreck by the way, no hot water so cold shower, grumpy cos I’m getting up early and haven’t had enough sleep)… anyway he’s around all day. I finally get chance to smarten myself up for dinner just as he’s leaving… anyway we (in this post the “we” generally refers to the English girls) shoe horn into converation that we have Tuesday off and if he and a couple of mates fancy it we’re going into Cordoba…

Tuesday 12 noon, he shows up (cue heart palpitations and sharp intake of breath), shortly followed by his mate in an Escort (oh the memories of dates and boyfriends with Escorts) and we load into Pepe’s car (Becca, Tasha, Julio – yes that’s his name – and myself) and head off to Cordoba. Conversation turns to the Rally and we go and track down the stage which is near to the Stadium in Cordoba and watch the practise cars going around testing the track. All good stuff, no famous drivers but a few co driver types taking notes in their Volvos.

With our appetites whetted, we shun the offer of an artesanal market visit… (sorry Tash!)… and head off on a bit of a flyer to a place called Carlos Paz. Where the Rally teams have their service base. Hoping we might see some cars or something, even though the rally won’t start for another 2 days.

At this point I really want to THANK Pepe for driving us around. If we hadn’t had him and Julio there is no way we’d have had any chance of seeing so much as a whiff of Rally dust. As it was, their local knowledge, combined with a bit of girlieness, we were really very lucky indeed. And this is another reason why I like South America… you wouldn’t have stood a chance of this in Britain.

On arrival we find the marques and car paraphernalia. It’s pretty quiet, but things are being set up. We don’t have passes, but the police are happy enough to let us into the main area, though not into any of the team areas.

The boys start happily snapping the car tents, some with cars in. Although the poor Subaru team didn’t have a car as it was stuck in the strike traffic (farmers are being outrageously taxed in Argentina at the moment and are protesting with various road closures and stoppages). Becca and I start, without originally realising it, pressing our female advantage… (we were virtually the only women there).

First call the Pirelli tent. We find making conversation over the barrier with the Italians very easy. We chat in some mixture of Italian and Spanish and after a while… jump the barrier. The police officials helpfully look the other way.

A quick espresso with the boys and some pics around the large piles of tyres (each car gets through 36 Pirelli tyres over the 3 days), I speak to the head honcho… who ACTUALLY says that if I am around the following day I can speak to the marketing boss re a job! (Probably wouldn’t have happened, but how flipping great or what!) We promise to come back later and pick up our free Pirelli caps… shame we won’t be able to meet the guys in the local bars over the next few days. Some beautiful Italians it has to be said.

Not much joy at the Suburu tent. Geeky bunch of Brits, nowhere near as female friendly as the Italians… have a chat with a geeky lad who looks around 18, although is probably 35 and is actually in charge of a Suburu. Although they don’t have the cars in and their stand is virtually empty.

A few of the teams have British guys working on cars and we get lucky at Ford, on Peter Solbergs car.

Scooter, who’s in charge of the car invites us over the fence if we want. Becca and I are over in a flash (and it’s not an easy thing to climb over. adorned with boards and posters there’s nowhere to stick your toes in to climb over).

And yes, it is okay if we want a sit in the car.


I was actually shaking. I do not get close to World Rally cars let alone sit in them. Scooter was a complete Welsh sweetie. He took me through all the controls, we talked about the nice drivers and the ego drivers, how it is being on the road for months at a time and who’s going to win… everyone thought Sebastian Loeb in the Citroen.

Please do take a look at the pics to verify that I’m not making this stuff up. It was completely fab.

Time passed, I sat in the drivers and co-driver seat, Scooter showed me all the electronics and read outs on the display panel that the co-driver uses, miles to go, miles covered, stage times, fuel, emergency panels etc. By the way, the co-drivers seat really is SOOOO low down, you really can’t see a thing and the driver has great visibility over your head. All the cars are fitted with cameras inside for TV purposes, and seats aren’t like F1 seats and are standard rather than fitted to the driver. They have lumbar pumps in the seats, and air vents in the roof. Dad – I’m afraid I didn’t ask any engine, performance, suspension or other actual mechanical questions!

Eventually the guys hopped over the fence with Tasha, they took some pics and finally we left. (To pick up our Pirelli caps actually).

Heading into Cordoba at last, we had something to eat and some beers and made it back to the Estancia for 3am. I got up at 7.30am and worked through until midnight. Fortunately today it rained and I’ve had time to have a (hot!) shower and a decent siesta.

Really hope some of you get to watch some of the Rally on the TV. It’s all filmed near to where I am and will give you an idea of the scenery. In fact the main road up to the Estancia (which like 27% of Argentine roads isn’t paved) used to be one of the stages in the Rally. Although because a huge storm brought us immense and amazing lightening last night, it also meant that we’ve had a large amount of rain and I would imagine that the initial stages at least are going to be dangerously slippery.

Anyway, all in all a cracking day off. And just to top it off, think I’m going out with Julio on my next day off…


March 22, 2008

Had my third Spanish lesson with Nora this week. It’s going well. I’m not very correct but I have a monton of vocabulary at my disposal largely born out of a million random and weird situations in Ecuador.

Out here I’ve picked up some other new words and had to replace some of my existing vocab with the Argentine versions. For example boisal is headcollar, shame as I really liked hakima the word we use in Ecuador (I wonder if Hakima is a Quechua word? Fairly likey as the indigenous language has crept into all kinds of Ecuadorian Spanish). A boina is the hat that we all wear out here.. yes including me. It’s something like a flat cap crossed with a beret. Have a look at Becca wearing one. A young unbroken foal is called a chuckaro not a potro. My transportation´s all gone to pot… as I’ve just forgotten the word for pick up truck.. but it’s nothing like camionetta; and the word for bus is a collectivo whilst taxis are called remis. Odd stuff.

The other thing is vos. I’ve spent ages using but it seems in Argentina they use vos instead.


¿Como estas?

Bien. ¿Y vos?

I’ve also spent some time learning irregular verbs… but vos doesn’t accept irregular conjugations, so I have to learn regular conjugations of those verbs…

I also foolishly told my teacher that I had plans to go to Spain, so she’s also teaching me the official Castellaño conjugations for vosotros when I’d been quite happy with ustedes. Hey ho, it’s all good learning stuff. No lessons now for a couple of weeks though, because we have a bunch of people showing up for polo week. Hope I can keep going, these 12 to 16 hour days are killing me. Spare time is spent asleep.

It is again – cue the whoooooo-hoooooos, whistling and cheering – my dia franco (day off). And so I snuck a lift with Miguel down to Rio Ceballos, dropped of my washing and went to the bus station. Not exactly massive and so easy to pick up a little Fonobus (no idea why it’s called that by the way, but it’s the equivilent of catching the old 261 around little Lepton) and have successfully minibussed it into Cordoba city.

Argentina’s 3rd largest city and home of the countries first University. So far I’ve seen the bus station (fairly large) and the internet cafe (super fast.. have uploaded a gig of photos so far!). It’s raining outside. Although as you’ll see from the pictures taken at the Estancia it’s been really hot and sunny most days. This has of course given rise to the builders tan… my arms are now doing a great impression of fabulously tanned Walls sausages and my legs are white and bruised from playing polo or other such adventurous riding in the wilds of the Sierras Chica.

Do take a look at the photos, there’s some of Panama too as well as Argentina. I’m going to go and do what I do best on a rainy Saturday afternoon… find the shopping centre.