A Travellerspoint blog

A Tale of Two Quadrupeds

sunny 26 °C
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Friday 23.11.07

In the evening I took a friend, Mash out dancing to a club named Crobar within one of the huge parks of Palermo. It seemed every second transvestite in the Capital Federal also had flocked to the same area, and in the resultant barfed-up cultural soup of street walkers, taxis, vendors, nightclub patrons, bouncers and pimps, it was hard to tell whose turf it had been to begin with.

With an entry queue out front reminiscent of that at the gates of Gene Wilder's Chocolate Factory, I squeezed past the jumble of waving ticket holders and guest-listers like I was Charlie Bucket and even scored a couple of discount entries to boot! Inside the gorgeously laid-out club and flitting in and out of more VIP areas than you could pout your lips at was a crowd of twenty-something socialites, anorexic models in full frown, resplendent promo girls and trashed types wearing two hundred dollar t-shirts. We sauntered through the crowd as they did, scrutinised everyone the way they were, but of course maintained a composure as marvellously indifferent as the next person.

The clubs in Buenos Aires are seemingly funded in entirety by Camel Cigarettes. Everywhere you turn there are Camel disco balls, indented metal Camel decor, soft blue Camel lighting and even the strobes are tuned to the frequency of Camels, so if you dart your eyes back and forth they appear to walk out of the walls. For a time the DJs at Crobar, hailing from Ibiza, fed us quality techno in generous helpings, but by half past four I'd had my fill of the one-upmanship from the crowd and we left for home.

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On the spur of the moment on Saturday, a few friends and I decided to go see a horse race at the Hippodromo in Palermo. It wasn't until we got there that we discovered no horses were actually racing, aside from one trotting in the wrong direction in the infield and a water truck dutifully spraying the track surface. The action appeared instead to be across the road at the Polo ground, so we cantered across the eight lane thoroughfare to take a gander. Not particularly thrilled with the $75 Peso entry fee, we were content with watching the action between the green bars of the spiked perimeter fence. As the grandstands began filling up, the stewards were busy preparing the horses, which seemed to involve a full roll of duct tape and several varieties of common garden sponge. Polo, for those of us not brought up on the well-heeled estancias on which it is so often played, is a sport where two teams of four try to whack a hard ball with a mallet through their opposition's goal, all whilst mounted on horseback. The game is separated into six or more chukkas, each being a seven-minute period of play. The standard of Argentine polo is among the highest in the world, but that didn't prevent us from losing interest in the game before long.

The following day I safaried south toward San Telmo's famous Sunday market. Herds of people congregate there every weekend like an oasis in the city centre's cement and bitumen desert. Tango is naturally the theme here, fronted by the Orquestas Tipicas and dancing demonstrations for donations. A notable puppeteer can always be seen halfway down Calle Defensa, his heavy-drinking alter ego stumbling about in anguish for a lost love as a scratchy tango recording plays from an old suitcase. Further down the street, a character dressed in an ugly grey suit dances romantically with a mobile mannequin while making eyes at the passing pedestrians. Keeping with local tradition, the market starts late and ends late, and the festivities and Tango dancing in Plaza Dorrego continue well into the night.

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Posted by Jeremy T 07:36 Archived in Argentina Tagged foot Comments (0)

Monumental

sunny 29 °C
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Thursday 15.11.07

I joined a fellow traveller Corinda, for what was initially a walk north to Retiro and Plaza San Martin. Corinda is a little bundle of boundless energy from the Netherlands, and the kind of traveller that feels most at home trekking in the wilderness far away from big cities. As I write this she has recently returned from a few weeks doing just that in Patagonia. If i had have known this when we first departed, I probably would have brought my hiking books, walking stick, mallet, cup, rucksack, binoculars, snorkel, shovel and striped beanie. If I did though, I may well have ended up leaving one of these items scattered about each significant place I visited....

First stop was the Torre Monumental, a stately clock tower in the middle of the gardens north of the city. Originally called the Torre de los Ingleses and built by the English community in Buenos Aires almost one hundred years ago, its name was changed after the Falklands War (Guerra de las Malvinas) of 1982. From across the street it is now solemnly opposed by a red-hued monument honouring the Argentine casualties. From there we turned southeast through Puerto Madero to Parque Costanera, an ecological reserve east of the centre of the city. It was kept as a flat wetlands by the government of Buenos Aires, and is home to a variety of waterbirds and frequented by flocks of fitness types in running shoes and short shorts. By the time the afternoon was over we were at the Caminito in La Boca and had walked a little under ten kilometres.

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On Friday we departed again on foot, this time to the gorgeous suburb of Palermo Viejo and Plaza Serrano, a leafy roundabout lined with bars, cafes and designer stores that would look just as happy nestled together on a street in France or Italy. We made our way past the zoo to the Jardin Botanico with its huge families of stray cats but by 6pm when we reached Parque Tres de Febrero, a huge green zone between Palermo and the Rio de la Plata, my legs had given out sufficiently to make an excuse to depart by bus.

I woke a little late from an evening nap and hurried to meet Anahí, an Argentinean girl i had met with Adam while purchasing clothes from her workplace in October. After familiarising her with both Sushi and chopsticks for the first time, we left via some bars for San Telmo and she took me to my first local party, held on the roof of a building. While her friends played Drum 'n' Bass and Hip Hop I drunk enough free alcohol to pass out on the roof with her and seemingly half of the people at the party.

It was with a little annoyance I observed a steady stream of rain falling from the sky on Saturday, so I packed my rain jacket and left for a friend's flat in Belgrano, past Palermo in the city's northwest. The only steady stream I would encounter the rest of the afternoon was that of people, all walking together in the direction of the River Stadium where we were going to see Argentina play Bolivia in fútbol. In reality, Bolivia didn't stand a chance, but that failed to stop a sizeable group of their fans from waving their red, yellow and green flags and chanting like a bunch of possessed seagulls.

In a way I felt sorry for Bolivia, slowly but surely being outplayed by Argentina, especially by Lionel Messi, who seemed to elude every single tackle by the Bolivian defence with incredible displays of footwork and ball control. The Bolivians were only one goal down at half time, and while gunshots from high-powered rifles at a neighbouring range reverberated around the stadium, I hoped for more goals to liven up the match. The afternoon became so hot that firemen emerged with high-pressure hoses and began spraying the upper terraces. The chanting grew to fever pitch as the crowd became drenched and when Juan Roman Riquelme stepped up for a free kick just outside the box, the screaming majority got what they wanted. From there, the game was Argentina's and soon enough, some final Messi and Riquelme magic sealed the game at 3-0.

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Posted by Jeremy T 07:02 Archived in Argentina Tagged foot Comments (0)

The Cream Rises

sunny 23 °C
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Saturday 10.11.07

It seemed like the day couldn't come fast enough, and when it finally arrived, it was surreal. Creamfields, one of the world's biggest electronic music festivals had come to Buenos Aires. My pre-party preparation didn't sit too well in my stomach - we had been out at a club the night before, but with the resolve of a hungry mongoose, I prepared myself to enter the snake's lair again, and soon I was buzzing across town with a car full of Argentineans toward the festival.

Things looked grim as an acrimonious wind whipped dust into our eyes as we entered the festival grounds while dark clouds overhead released a little moisture into our faces. It didn't last, and the murky thunderhead passed harmlessly by, revealing a glowing sunset. Despite the air temperature sliding quickly toward single digits, the music was heating up, and for the next few hours in the Cream Arena - one of eight dancefloors, we were treated to some of Argentina's finest minimal and progressive house when first Deep Mariano and then world-famous Hernan Cattaneo took to the turntables. There was scantly room to wobble in the white hanger as several thousand sunglassed porteños (locals of Buenos Aires) jumped up and down in the haze of smoke and flashing lights. I squeezed my way out of the hanger and departed for the Main Stage to meet friends Ali and Brent from the hostel to see LCD Soundsystem. By now, the entire festival site, previously home to the Argentinean Grand Prix was full of people, but outside the body bundles massed around the music it was near freezing.

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After a brief respite the headline act, The Chemical Brothers came on and by this time, the main floor (the only completely open air one) was packed tighter than a Guatemalan chicken bus. As the music began with a long humming, smashed wholly and surely by their breaking beats and flowing rhythms, the crowd began to move in waves, pushing and being moved in all directions like ripples on a living lake; jumping together (sometimes involuntarily) with the rising and crashing of the music. In the brief intervals of acquiring an inch or two of personal space, we gulped lungfuls of cold air from above our heads. It was one of the most intense and memorable experiences of my life, and with visuals and electronic music synchronised, improvised and synthesised live on stage, was beyond doubt the best performance of the night.

Playing a mash-up of 80's, 90's and modern tracks from synth pop to acid house and old-school industrial breakbeats, 2 Many DJs rocked their arena; James Zabiela played brilliantly during a period of frenetic dancing that I can barely remember, while none other than Carl Cox played for the final three hours on the main stage to bring in the end of the party and a gorgeous (though wobbly) sunrise.

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By Monday we had recovered sufficiently to wander down to San Telmo, and as the originally brisk day turned warm with the afternoon sun, we found ourselves in Plaza Dorrego, the corazón (heart) of the inner-city suburb. Like a family of urban giraffe a group of Argentine models were participating with perfect poise in the shooting of an advertisement for an American shoe company. We stayed until well after nightfall drinking and socialising even once the girls had been shipped off to greener pastures.

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Late on Tuesday night i joined my friends for another venture into the world of tango. Narcotango, a well-known nuevo tango outfit were playing a gig at Salon Canning, unfortunately more popular with the classical tango crowd, usually seen by the younger nuevo crowd as a bit boring. When the group came on mixing electronic beats, guitars and singing to with usual tango accompaniment, they didn't fail to impress, but the crowd, attempting to dance a slower Salon Tango to music faster than they were accustomed were nowhere near as dynamic as we had all hoped.

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Posted by Jeremy T 15:49 Archived in Argentina Tagged events Comments (0)

Surfing the Couch

sunny 30 °C
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Monday 29.10.07

A group of us, populated mostly by the English, had ventured across the Rio de la Plata into Uruguay together. Three of the boys, Alex, Toby and Wilf were travelling around the world together, while Nick, travelling alone happened to know Toby from when they were kids. There was Tom, a chef from Stoke and Irish Steve, who was the oldest along with me, but along with the synonyms sober, sound, effective and adult, it was difficult to ascertain the most responsible among us.

We were in Montevideo, the Latin American city with the highest quality of life and capital of Uruguay. On the corner of two leafy streets near our hostel stood a Bicicletaria, so we rented bikes for the afternoon. We first ventured northeast toward Centenario Stadium, the location of the first FIFA World Cup final, which Uruguay won in 1930. It's a fact which Uruguayans as a whole are extremely proud to point out, soon followed by detailing their second victory in 1950 against Brasil in Rio de Janeiro.

We made our way downhill towards the Rio de la Plata and Montevideo's most popular and trendiest area, Positos. A seaside boardwalk stretches for many kilometres, from the eastern corner of the Ciudad Vieja (old city) to Carrasco, a wealthy neighbourhood in the west. From a satellite photo, one can observe that the Rio de la Plata is in fact an estuary - the widest in the world. It is into this great stretch of brown-hued brackish water that the Rio Paraná (itself a conglomeration of many rivers) and Rio Uruguay meet and distribute sediment drained from one fifth of the continent. The names Rio de la Plata and Argentina, both references to silver, draw from a mistaken belief that the Rio Paraná would lead all the way to Bolivia where the silver mines lay.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%ADo_de_la_Plata

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After a few weeks together, our group dissolved in the evening to go our various separate ways. My friend Adam who I had met on the way to Punta del Este offered me a place to stay for a while, so I headed east to the apartment he shared with his father. Adam, a sporty Canadian bloke, is the same height and a couple of years younger than me. His father Sultan, of Indian descent, emigrated to Canada and now runs a highly successful chain of printing stores. He has decided to open a restaurant in Montevideo specialising in cooking his native cuisine, which I have to say is excellent. In the interim before finding a suitable place to open a restaurant in, they were biding their time in the flat. What followed next was a week of utter relaxation for me, most of which was spent on the couch with the two of them consuming good food, honing my skills at Texas Hold'em and watching sport.

I bade them farewell with my bags packed the following Wednesday and caught the bus to Colonia del Sacramento, the town across the estuary from Buenos Aires. I had planned on staying the night, but with six hours until the next ferry left for Argentina, I decided only to spend the afternoon there.

Like the forbidden fruit flourished in front of the first female by a fork-tongued fink, thus I came across a motor scooter vendor and was faced with a tough decision. Would I sell my safety for a shot at the big time, risk life and limb for the feeling of wind in my face? Yes I would, and perhaps I'll never be the same again. I made a beeline for the edge of civilisation, and as i got braver on my Yellow Peril, I got faster. Soon I was rocketing down the Colonia coastline at top speed - well, about 50km/h I'm assuming, because the speedo was broken along with the tacho and fuel gauge, and I was quick to discover the brakes and indicator lights were also on the blink, so to speak.

Several kilometres out of town stood a ruined stadium, occupying the centre of a roundabout, which I discovered was previously the Plaza del Toro (bullring). There are still several Latin American countries that practice this brutal sport, such as Mexico and Brasil, but it is falling out of favour with the locals. The big events in those countries are visited and often bankrolled by wealthy foreigners because this kind of sport is illegal in their own countries. With bright sun emerging from silvery clouds, I headed to the historical quarter to check it out.

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Colonia del Sacramento is the oldest town in Uruguay, founded by the Portuguese in 1680. Its ownership changed hands several times over the next 150 years, until permanently becoming official Spanish territory. The historical quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing many original structures still standing amongst cobble-stoned streets. Typically Uruguayan, the town is so laid back it would be reposing in some kind of cute bohemian siesta if it weren't for all the tourists poking around its ancient nooks and crannies.

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Accompanied by a rapid, almost audible deflation in my vivacity, the accelerator cable sheared while I was in the process of speeding off again down the promenade, and after forlornly attempting to hitch the three kilometres back to the shop, the owner fortuitously rode by and picked me up on his scooter. Fifteen minutes later I was aboard another, terrorising the streets again with renewed vigour. As the sun began to set, I enjoyed a home-made vanilla and dulce de leche ice cream back in the historical quarter before heading to the ferry station to return to Buenos Aires.

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Posted by Jeremy T 15:29 Archived in Uruguay Tagged motorcycle Comments (0)

Seeing Red (and White)

sunny 32 °C
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Thursday 25.10.07

Between the hostel recepcionista loading YouTube videos at 5am and a snoring roommate, my sleep patterns were sufficiently disturbed to ensure I overslept, to be frantically woken by my English travelling buddies an hour late and hurried to the ferry terminal. We were leaving Argentina for Uruguay, just across the Rio de la Plata.

The drab blue painted ferry looked like a huge prison transport from the rear, and what transpired for the next few hours was tantamount to torture in comfortable chairs when the football hooligans showed up. There was apparently a match to be played in Montevideo (Uruguay's capital) that evening between a local team, Defensor and River Plate, one of the biggest clubs in Argentina. The pre-match chanting begun even before we launched from the Argentine shore, accompanied by wall and table banging, foot-stomping and other loutish behaviour; the combined effects of which eventually felt akin to taking a cheesegrater to the ears. When we alighted in Colonia del Sacramento and boarded a coach for Montevideo, we found with considerable relief that the band of lunatics were on a different bus.

Two bus journeys, a couple of siestas and five hours later, we were over the other side of the country at Punta del Este - the most popular beach resort in South America, crowded with Brasilians and Argentineans during summer. As night fell just two months before Christmas it was apparent the town's many apartment blocks were unoccupied at this time and its eating places woefully barren.

When I finally emerged from our gloomy dormitory after a night of asymmetrical precipitation outside, I ascertained why the place had such a reputation with the beach-going elite. With shades of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, palm trees line the sweeping beachfront promenades and even the condominiums appear stately against bright blue sky. The prime real-estate is found on a slender promontory and near its tip lies a wharf, berthing several yachts only fathomless pockets could float. Right next door was a sizable flotilla of humble fishing boats, with ocean gulls and black seals frolicking nearby, probably waiting for the next business trip to return.

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The Uruguayan sun was much stronger than we expected, and every single one of us was burned while sunbathing on the sand. I spent Friday evening with some girls from Montevideo I had met on the bus and their friend Adam from Canada, and discovered the radiation from our nearest star had got the better of them as well. Despite the prodigious amount of underage drinking that was occurring all over the promenade, there was not a bar open at night in the town.

We were far more cautious on Saturday with our bodies. With apparently nothing at all to do in Punta del Este apart from tomar sol (sunbathe), from which our bodies forbade us, we jumped aboard a bus in the early evening bound for Montevideo.

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Posted by Jeremy T 13:41 Archived in Uruguay Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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