Barcelona

October 5, 2008

Despite being back in England, with permanant work, I’m very happy to report that I’m still able to travel about. Yipeee.

Last weekend I braved the best of the North of England’s British transport and headed from Huddersfield to Manchester and then by a Terravision (the unlikely name for an Italian bus company, staffed entirely by Eastern Europeans, operating airport services throughout Europe) service to Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Fortunately I wasn’t carrying annoying little bottles of liquid in my luggage, and so I didn’t have to put 50p into the automatic crisp machine, which instead of crisps sold only empty plastic zip lock bags. Two and a half hours later… and a long chat with a very friendly, heavy smoking, wrinkly, sun-damamged old lady on the plane… and I arrive in the warm, sunny, palm-treed climes of Barcelona, Catalonia.

No coach to the Costa Brava or squeals of the hen do for me… my host, an easy going Catalan – Xavier – who I’d met out in Ecuador, was grinning as I came through the arrival doors.

We whizzed through the streets of Barcelona in his people carrying van to an underground car park, then walked round the corner to his flat (about 15 mins walk from Las Ramblas, for any of you who have geographical knowledge of Barcelona). A quick snack and out to the pub for the first of my team Barca footie matches.

The lads who hang out at Rafa’s bar have all been friends since school. Their lives very different now… ie suited, blackberry carrying types, a green-grocer and Xavi, outdoor mountain guide. They’re all turning 40/41 and most have kids. Some are divorced, others married. In the bar however it’s a bit like meeting them all in the playground. It’s a relaxed place and they take over the main part of the bar, squeaking stools into position to view the telly and have a bar end to put their VollDam or Estrella on. Rafa, is a cross between Danny Devito and Uncle Fester, and supplies drinks, which everyone pays for at the end of the night… I’m not sure who keeps count…

Amazingly I actually enjoyed the football. (A complete first actually). Thierry Henry played like a man possessed and in the final few minutes put a goal away that gave Barca the game. The shouts and cheers were loud, as 17 or so men celebrated. Rafa and I just looked at each other and smiled.

After the game, we moved onto Paco’s bar. I’d love to work in Paco’s. Like Mojo 10 years ago. A galley layout, with a dance studio at the back. Paco’s in his 60s, a refined gay gentleman, a dance legend in his time and a complete character. He runs the bar on his own, no matter how full it gets on a Saturday night. His face is stencilled onto the toilet seats.

Xavi and the lads are regulars here too. Paco just gave us the glasses with ice and passed the spirits bottles over the bar so we could pour our own. Some time later, we went home.

Sunday was the complete 1-day tour or Barcelona… from the Olypmic Stadium at MontJuic, walking round the harbour and cycling down the Ramblas… I was frequently tested on street names and what hill or monument was what. Not to mention following Xavi, duckling-style, down the cycle lanes and up and down tricky kerbs, on my little red bici.

Monday, picnic packed, we drove out of Barcelona and followed the coast round up to the Costa Brava before turning inland towards Figueres (map of Catalonia here). On the way… and as we were getting a bit peckish… Xavi remembered he had a friend – Ignacio – who has an outdoor adventure park in the countryside. So we called in, I petted the two mangey alsatians while the boys talked outdoor tour guiding business in Catalan. We had our bocadillos and then strapped on our harnesses and made some free use of the high adventure stuff… some walking on very wobbly high wires and planks… then a double zip line descent (twice). All fab. And free.

Did I mention that Xavi doesn’t speak English, infact with most people he’s speaking Catalan. But because Franco was in power when he was in school, he was schooled in Castellano until he was 10 or so. Anyway, he switches between the two languages like we blink. Oh, and he speaks french.

After a bit of high wire action, we headed onto the Dali museum in Figueres. An old theatre, bought by Dali, and filled with art and sculpture. It’s a very special place. Lots of hidden treasures and random bits of art to stumble across, we explored the 20 or so rooms for a couple of hours, before retiring to a leafy square for a couple of beers. Me in the sun (like a true ‘Gidi’ – foreigner), and Xavi (already tanned brown from a summer working outdoors) in the shade.

We made our way further up into the Pyranees, heading for a little place called Ogassa, where, up a hillside, in a beautiful stone house which they designed themselves live Xavi’s young hippy-like aunt, uncle and daughters.

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Hometime

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.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Sorry – had a day off, but didn’t spend my usual 4 hours in the “cyber”.

Friday was Becca’s last night, and amazingly Saturday was my day off. A small going out plan was hatched. Fortunately it turned into a large night, Argentines and Brits. See the pics on flickr…

The Argentines…

The Brits…

A small, reasonable, respectable amount of alcohol (tequila and beer) was consumed – well we have been working flipping hard, and I think everyone was up for some revelry. There was some dancing, which may have scared some Argentine locals, and the taxi was finally called for 4am. Tasha stopped the taxi a couple of times on the way home (to vomit, in a very lady like fashion) and everyone (bar lucky old me) was up for work at 8am.

After my lazy, dozy, morning I met up with Julio in Rio Ceballos. Just in case you didn’t realise the significance of that… I met up with JULIO (brother of Luis, who I work for/with each day at the Estancia). Won’t get too gushy because where on earth could anything with a younger, biscuit factory worker really go. But we had a lovely, lovely day wandering around the street markets and sitting in the plazas in Cordoba city.

Have you looked at the picture yet?? Isn’t he gorg!

Back in Rio Ceballos in the evening we waved goodbye to Becca and ambled on down to Luis’s families house (Julio lives in a town about 2 hours away by bus and was stopping with his brother). On the way we picked up some fruit and veg for me to take back to the Estancia – the food here is good, but there is a LOT OF meat. Twice daily. I haven’t been able to find any fish to eat the whole time I’ve been here and if I want a salad, I have to make it, no one here would ever think about making a salad!) Anyway, back at Luis’s house, which is spacious if basic, another brother of Julio and Luis had come to stay with his girlfriend (she sometimes cleans up at the Estancia). So Luis, Graciela, their two boys (8 and 10), Julio, the other brother, the girlfriend and I sat down to an asado (bbq). They made me feel really welcome, it was lovely.

Made it back to the Estancia by midnight. And up at 7.30 to do the breakfast at 8am this morning. Whipping off my chefs hat and apron and zipping on my half chaps and boina to run down to the coral and take the ride.

Jose led us down to the museum and crypt of a dead Italian immigrant – Guido Buffo (built and painted a unique – aka freaky – crypt to honour his wife and daugher who died of TB in the middle of the 1900s). It’s about a 4 and a half hour round trip, up and down a big hill with prickly trees. Was given a good horse for the trip too actually (Bond – has a brand of 07 on his bum).

No ride on a Sunday afternoon, so I took Louisa at her word when she said you can have the afternoon off. A few minutes walk down from the casita (little house) where I live, is a decent sized stream and lovely long pampas grasses and chunky granite outcrops. So I got comfy and had a snooze. Ate a few grapes and made my list of reasons to stay and reasons to go. Pretty much an even list, which explains why I haven’t managed to work it out satisfactorily yet.

Won’t bore you with the arguments for each side again here.

This schedule for this week has just gone up in the kitchen and I’m riding morning and afternoon every day this week (apart from my holiday day on Thursday). I’m also hosting 4 dinners and doing 4 breakfasts. So plenty of work then.

Better go, still not got access to a communal computer and I’m having to borrow Tasha’s all the time. She leaves in a week, so don’t know what I’ll do then.

Hey ho, night all.