I left UK on May 19th for 10 months of freedom and exploration with a Round the World ticket. Will I find New Zealand as perfect as it was fifteen years ago? How has Australia changed? Will I learn any Spanish in S America?

Monday, November 28, 2005

On the road 23rd November - 25th November

Yes , in my white Nissan Sunny automatic I am gas guzzling my way round the top of the north island. The scenery is breathtaking and I have to make constant photo stops for all the wonderful corrugated architiecture - houses, bus shelters, sheds, signs etc etc.... am so glad I am n ot in a bus, I would be so frustrated.
I stayed my first night in Tinopai, a tiny little settlement of beach homes and bachs - in the municipal camp site right by the beach for $8. The two shower rooms had wonderful views out onto the bay where oystercatchers were prospecting for subterrenean sealife. Only one other tent with me but I failed to locate the communal kitchen which I mistook for a ticket collectors hut so had cheese sandwiches for dinner which were absolutely fine and I slept really well.
Kauri Museum in Matakoe was superb - wonderful even - perhaps more detail in a sperate post time and money permitting.
Second night was on the coast -at Baylys Beach - I went to see the sea and also because my guide book told me about the Funky Fish - an award winning restuarant - and decided to stay the night . I had moules marinere as a starter - a huge bowl of enormous green lipped mussels in a delicious but over salty creamy mariniere and a lovely glass of crisp Marlborough chardonnay and then Gurnard fillet on a bed of kumara and lots of other things which drowned the fish and was too much of a medley. Although the meal was disappointing the staff were very friendly ( like all NZs and naturally so ) and the decor interesting - papier mache sharks heads etc........walked down to the beach with sunset warming all the colurs huge dunes rising from the beach- waves rolling in - adorable little bachs - old and original scattered down the hill and one new trend setter painted bright orange with shiny new windows, and a stall with honesty box selling jams and marmaldes - I bought a marmaldae and a tamarillo jam ( for Lisa but don't know if it will keep!)
I am lucky that it is so quiet - this will all change with the advent of the Christmas holidays about the 17th December so am trying to get to most scenic places before then. Am already thinking I will need more time in NZ.
Have also passed two backpacker accomodation auctions which is thought provoking - a business and accomodation - Plan C - to stay and work in NZ! BOth places - both rather spectacular went for aournd $420,000NZ . ONe was a farm as well with accom for about 19 backpackers near Kaihu near to where I stopped for my third night.
I stopped to enquire in an estate agent in Dargaville about property and have seen some real gems tucked away here and there off teh main roads but then there is so much development going on generally that I suppose everybody has seen them as well. Lisas cousin Jonathon is in a heavy plant hire firm and they are overwhelmed with demand. He has just built 2 units in Queenstown in south island - designed and project managed by him and his wife - lovely looking places but so many other homes all round and built up on the hill overlooking the lake.
Second night was in a Top 10 holiday park near the Trounson Forest Park - where the two birders I met on Tiri Tiri had told me there was a good night walk with possible kiwi sightings. HOwever after lunch it poured with rain on and off and in the office the very friendly leader of the walk and operator of the campsite , Heather, was a little pessimistic about chances of hearing/seeing anything in these weather conditions. I pitched my tent in a lull in the rain and went for a walk to the Kauri forest anyway - no other cars there ( but lots of warnings to lock your vehicle and take valuables - the Northland is a very poor area and tourists are seen as easy prey- warnings everywhere) and I saw no one else so wa s alone with the huge trees and the litte fantails who swoop and follow you everywhere you go - Disney Snow White fashion! Actually was lovely in the dripping forest walking round on that DOC ( Dept of COnservation) trademark , the boardwalk. Here the boardwalk keeps human feet from trampling the fragile root system of the Kauri. They are amazing trees - hermaphrodites - producing both male and female cones - NZ was covered in vast forests of these giant , very ancient trees, which were practically all plundered by the Europeans changing the face of NZ forever in such a short space of time.

I met Heather again after I had pitched my tent ,walking round with umbrella to warn me that if it kept raining like it was that I should be very wary of the river ( by which I was pitched) which was liable to flood - it was then I noticed photos of the river in flood on the communal kitchen wall !- and only the next day in the sunshine that I saw that I was actually pitched at the confluence of two rivers - Bodmin style.
But although it rained all night I was fine but I didn't get to see the kiwis . I did stay up though to make telephone calls to the UK - to work to find out about the restructure of my department and to the estate agents, Property Bureau who are "managing" my property . THe little booth had an automatic light which was attracting huge flying insects - very interesting form natural history point of view- I think they were wetas - but they kept flying into my face whilst I was talking - a bit distracting!
The roadside is lined with agapanthus flowers which grow wild here together with the flax plants and toi toi ( pampas grass) .
The sun dried off my tent quickly and I headed off to the Kai Iwi lakes - saw pied shag on the foreshore drying off wings and a dramatic red bog with dead silvery wood trees - but the lakes themselves weren't terribly inspiring - I had lunch under pine trees and was surrounded by sparrows waiting for crumbs. Very few people around.
Up statehighway 12 and through the Waipoua Forest - which contains the biggest Kauri still living - these enormous Kauri have names - this one is called Tane Mohuta.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

New Zealand - arrival 15th November 4am

A long time since I managed to update this blog but even though its a glorious day outside and I have a lot to see I feel I need to get this down before more time wizzes by. Internet cafes outside of Auckland are far more expensive and only keep shop hours and now I am about 2 hours or so away from the big city ( so into expensive zone) and I was too late to type at 5pm yesterday!
I 'm writing this in Dargaville on the Kauri Coast, the west coast of the north island. (I 'm sure you all know but the Kauri is the most amazing tree which used to cover NZ in huge forests which were pretty much decimated with the arrival of the pioneers in the mid 1800's but a few still survive on this coast.)

It's been a week already in NZ most of which I spent with lovely Lisa , my friend from Peabody , UK, and her husband Richard , who are well travelled themselves having made it back to NZ over period of 22 months overland on motorbike which Rich still drives to work on - what a bike! What a trip! I stayed in their house in Northcote, a suburb of Auckland which is a huge sprawling city , all low rise, with the city popping up over the harbour bridge dominated by the sky tower big spindly spike thing which i think has a restaurant on top. I think there is something similar in Sydney? To provide a signature landmark I suppose .. in a country that doesnt have buildings older than 1800s.
I left Buenos Aires on the 13th November at 11pm , nearly missing the plane as they changed the gate at the last mintue and didn't announce in English as well as Castellano and didn't change the computer screen either so for first time in my life I heard my name read out on the PA , warning me that plane was ready to depart... but I made it. I sat next to an American businessman who spoke fluent Spanish. It turned out his name was Gustavo and he was born in Uruguay ( or was it Paraguay?) so that explained it. He was on his way back to Texas but would be back in Chile again in a week to climb a volcano .. he was doing lots of cardio to build up to it. He asked me if I did cardio before Inca Trail but I told him no though removing everything from my house in a week before the tenants moved in probably counts. He has a good business, mulit million $$ which means he can take as many holidays as he likes.. what is his business? He helps American college students get placements in a South American universities. It reminded me of the AMerican I met in a fantastic parilla in Buenos Aires .. he was alone too and reading a book in spanish but he looked American so I talked to him and it trasnpired that he was living in BA and about to start univeristy there - mechanical engineering ... because it was free! A little known fact he told me- it takes a lot of paperwork but it is possible if you are accepted to get a free education here. - But I think it was just for Mechanical engineering . not much good if you want to study film ( amazing smart new School of Film just down the road from my hostel in San Telmo) Don't suppose that will last long though now I've broadcast that!.
BA is a lovely city and I will try to do an update post on my week there.
Anyway I changed planes at Santiago and sat out a 12 hour flight with lots of videos, in English and a few food trays. Unfortunately wasn't able to find a Lonely Planet guide book to New Zealand in either BA or in the Santiago airport( even though I had 3 hours to kill there) so was unable to use the time to plan ahead.
Lisa, what a darling!, picked me up at 4.30am after I managed to pass through the very, very strict customs at Auckland. Before you land you have to fill out a form and declare anything you are carrying that might pose a bio threat to NZ agriculture. It is so compreshensive that you are bound to feel obliged to answer "yes" to rather a lot of questions. Rather than face the strict monetary penalties largely advertised by the stern boards on the way to customs, I decided to declare my bead bracelet and all and went into the aisle "things to declare "- they checked the bottom of my boots and my peruvian jumper but all was OK there but I still had to declare my bracelet as it was made of seeds so had to go to another scanning station but as the string went right the way through I was OK too.

Northcote is now a very Asian suburb , in fact what strikes you most about central Auckland is how Asian a city it is .. there has been huge immigration in the last 10 years, mostly from China but also Korea ; most of the students at AUT are Asian. All the post office literature was in Chinese and English. This influx also means that there are millions of Asian food courts, sushi bars and chinese food restuarants all serving first class food at low low prices. Fine by me!

I spent a good morning at the Auckland Musuem in the Domain ( a big park) wonderful museum , full of reference and study areas too , saw the Maori "Show" but was captivated by all the Maori and Pacific islanders exhibits - the carving is amazing and on just about everything. THere was also a model of a kite man ,which struck me as very different and interesting, a figure of a man with big arm wings which was flown to help make decisions on important things... would like to find out more about this!

Public transport isnt up to much though - the car is king again - and buses arent omnipresent and cheap as S AMerica - of course. No underground either - I enjoyed BA's fast and efficient "Subte" system.

The weather in that first week was hot hot hot ! You can feel your face burning and of course there is very little in this part of the world between you and the sun - the ozone hole . I was in a pharmacy on my first day trying to find something for my left heel which had been giving me gip for about 3 weeks. All of a sudden I was aware of someone right beside me. "Hellloooo! How are yeewww???" I turned smartly around expecting from the tone of voice to see someone I knew greeting me so heartily but a few seconds scan of the face didnt give me any answer and I was desperately thinking did I meet any kiwis from auckland in S America?? But it was simply the sheer open friendliness of the shop assistant who then went on to say ".. now have you put any sunblock on today ?" Feeling rather ashamed I had to admit no I hadnt .. and as my organic camomile sunblock is looking rather daggy now and has become very thick and grungy and doesnt so much ooze out of the bottle and has to be coerced out , I invested in some specially prepared for NZ climate, formula factor 30+ which felt very reassuring. Plus some gel heel pads which turned out to be absolutely useless.

I had lunch with Lisa - we went into an amazing fish shop on the harbour near her work full of huge green lipped mussels, yellow fin tuna , crayfish etc etc. Just mouth watering. Cafes and restaurants line the Harbour -- lots of yauchts.

On Thursday I took the ferry to Tiri Tiri Matangi island - Auckland Bay is full of islands - and there are m ore beyond in the Hauraki Gulf where Tiri is -- many people commute into the city on ferries which unfortunately doesnt mean they are cheap. Lisa told me about Tiri and said I should go - its a sanctuary for endangered birds and possible to overnight there so I did.
On the ferry I met Heather, who Im guessing a bit now is in her late 60s, & who has returned to NZ after an absence of 40 years .. she left for London very young , was married twice and settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico- a place I know and liked very much and where I also know someone I met on my travels - Sandra. Though Heather says it's not the same as it used to be - getting smart and full of investors and money whereas it started as a drop out hippy sort of place. It was Heather's birthday hence the trip to Tiri and we got on well together( I was fascinated to hear about her life as a travelling book saleswoman in a van with 2 dogs all over California in the 60s and 70s) and stuck in same group for guided tour and teamed up with Mo , also in her 60's from UK and a keen Photographer/birder. We all had lovely cups of tea under the cedar trees near the lighthouse on the top of the island with our sandwiches.
Tiri is lovely - the nikau palms , the pongas, the puhotakawa trees , or New Zealand christams trees as they are all covered in red blossoms in December, the manuka ( only tree i could remember name of) . The island is full of birds and birdsong , lots of unmistakelable tuis ( remember them), with the little white feathery collar, north island saddlebacks , brown teal, the famous takahe, fernbird, kokako , who run along the ground and have a mournful cry and north island robin. After dark I went out with a torch and spotted the tiny little blue penguins who come in at night and scuttle up to their burrows which they make inconceivably high up on the banks of hte island - there were so many I practically was tripping over them making their little weep weep noises. they go off again at dawn to fish.
I heard kiwi , the rustling in the bush as they forage and their call but didn't see any not suprisingly as I spent a lot of the time sitting down on the grass near a cliff edge under the stars listening to the waves and the bird calls and just drinking it all in.-I dont feel too bad about the non sighting as there were some really obsesseive twitchers staying too . a couple of swedes and 2 brits who only saw one kiwi for about 15 seconds. They talked birds and bird places in a language I did not understand and had half a ton of equipment each . It is clearly a different world and although keen and have been accused of being a bit twitchy I don't think I really make the grade. The 2 brits were friendly and told me I could try to see kiwi in trounson kauri park which is not far from where I am now.

I then spent a weekend with Lisa and Richard with Lisa's parents, Merril and ALan and their two friends Dennis and Virginia who share same birthday which it was , in their bach or crib in Mangawhai about hour north of Auckland on the east coast.( in case you are wondering where everyone fitted there was also a caravan and a tent( me).
Beautiful beach which I walked along in the morning with Merril , lots of shells.People surfing and swimming. There is a campsite nearby( right on the front) which the local council want to sell off to developers . Behind the little wooden bachs in the cove there are huge new mansions going up - bulldozers on the horizon. the NZ property boom is well underway which will come as no suprise and land and property prices are still going up.

I was invited to accompany everyone to a 60th 60s party - but on condition that I wore a 60 s dress - I wore a yellow and orange towelling dress finishing above the knees earrings makeup etc and Merril and Lisa who are professionals at shopping decked me out with some sandals ands bangles so I really did look the part.
It was quite a party with a live band , roast pig and lamb and lots of wine.

A big match on SUnday - England v New Zealand but I went for a paddle in the kayak instead. Apparenatly the Irish ref was awful and was blatantly biased towards the English but the All Blacks won anyway so I was relieved!

Went to see a podiatrist - now not only are my wrists going but my left heel! I have plantar fascitis ( not sure of that last spelling ) and had some orthotics made up to try to help alleviate pain - unfortunately not advised to do big walks ( more than an hour) and of course I had planned to do the Heaphy track 4 days - still not clear if it will always be there now (suspect so).

I hired a car - $25 a day. White Nissan . Bit horrified to be driving an automatic and there were a few hairy moments as I remembered what to do and what not to do but all going well now and have now found things like the overdrive button !. Drove back over the harbour bridge and Rich gave me instructions to get to Titirangi where I had been invited over to dinner with Sylvia who is my Mums 2nd cousin and Jane and Sally her daughters who are my 3rd cousins. R's instructions v good . Sylvia has beautiful garden , full of roses and colour. Fascinating to meet family relatives so far away and Jane is keen on genealogy so able to work out how we are all related and what officially call each other!

Off on the road.
First stop Riverhead Inn to plan where to go then Muruwai then on to Tinopai for the night passing through tiny village of Paparoa which was the name of my Dad's first ship as captain for the NZ Shipping Co and which I am sure I have vague early memory of seeing in Liverpool docks.

Please excuse spelling and non punctuation - speed necessitates!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Cafayate & Quilmes more Photos

Cerro Piltriquiton overlooking El Bolson

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Various South America PHOTOS

Top: Puerto Madryn whale watching in Argentina

Cafayate- street and camera shop adn llama pottery shop

Radio Maria - poster from Salta,

cactus , Quilmes, Argentina

Templo del Sol, near Trujillo, Peru

Salta N Argentina - PHOTOS

Bueno Aires photos

tango shoes, Madonna Guevera, Gardel's grave( with Carolina) boab trees near Subte underground station, with Carolina

Monday, November 14, 2005

BA- Santiago - NZ - 12th/13th November

On Saturday morning (12th NOvember) I was due to fly late evening first to Santiago , Chile and then on to Auckland. So I was able to spend the morning and early afternoon at the market in San Telmo and have a quick lunch.
There were street entertainers - some of them excellent - a stilt walker and a puppet theatre man , and round the square you could dance tango with a man for a small fee or take part in a tableaux of Cleopatra or a Venetian gondola all made by local people. There were antiques for sale and things people had made , couples performing tango and guitar and accordion players all amongst a complete throng of people. A mexican band played in the middle of the square and people dressed in homemade carnival costumes danced around to the music.
I bought a puppet for my goddaughter Celeste - probably a bit advanced for her but I couldnt resist as they were so well made.
I talked to a man called Gustavo on the plane to Chile which I nearly missed because they changed the gate number didnt change the computer display board and only announced the change over the tannoy in Span ish - I was drinking a beer to use up small change when I heard my name over the PA system - my heart leaped and I immediately had visions of being stranded in BA for days.But I made it and there were 2 others , Argentinians too, who also were late so I didnt feel so bad.
Gustavo was a strange one - he was born in Paraguay but grew up in the US. He has a million dollar business placing US students in Latin AMerican universities which he inherited from a friend who was not interested as rich already and took too many drugs. Gustavo was my age but sometimes acted like a small boy. He asked me if I knew why Bueno Aires women were thin - I didnt know - because they don't want to loose their husbands he said. When I told him about where I had travelled he asked me which country I thought had the best looking people . He thinks Costa Ricans are the most beautiful. He got very possessive about the in flight mag of which there was only on e between us even though he was reading a mountaineering book. I told him he should read Into the Void.
The view from the window was spectacular as we flew right over the ANdes in clear clear weather. NOthing but mountains of snow and rock for miles and miles - dark valleys and snow capped mountains. Very very beautiful but you wouldn't want to crash there.
We flew into the dawn and touched down in Auckland about 4am local time. Lisa came out to pick me up - very much still Lisa and so kind to come out so early thank you again Lisa! and drove me through a deserted city centre which seemed miniscule compared to BA , to the North Shore , the night dew on the front lawn and the birds just starting to twitter and the lights of the city shining red and blue across the harbour dominated by the Sky Tower.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


I joined a tour from Trelew that took us to the penguins at Punto Tumbo but abandoned the tour in Gaiman so I could look around at my own pace. Much more "welsh" than Trelew and much more impressive. Lots of welsh sounding streets . A wonderful museum housed in the old railway station building, very British looking , the railway long since closed but its possible to see where the tracks would have run. More a collection of things than an interprtetation of life in those times - lotsof old photographs from the welsh pioneers , old harmonium , chairs etc.
The tour buses take people to have a welsh tea and that's about itbut hteres actually quite a lot to see. Beautiful plaza with carefully tended plants. Canals run through the town which were built to irrigate the dry land all around - if you see an aerial photograph from above the towns are little green oases in vast tracts of brown.
Two welsh chapels built by the pioneers are still standing.
Also in Gaiman is an eccentric "recycled park" - "Desfilo "- the lifetime work of one man , Sr. Joaquin Alonso who claims he has used 30k plastic drink bottles 25k tin cans, 20k cartons , 5k metres of telephone cable 12k olive oil bottles 50k wine and abeer bottles to create a hectare of weird structures made of bottles , gardens with plastic flowers, little homilies and poems everywhere, metal dinosaurs , walkways covered with plastic bottle petals. He lives in a house in the middle which is covered in beer bottle tops which make up huge collages of bullfighters , a soldier from the Malvinas war etc. He's getting a bit old now and it s all looking a bit dilapiidated as the sun and rain are taking the shine out of the plastic colours and the wind has also taken its toll on some of the parks trees. Channel 4 in Uk came and filmed here for an art programme and he makes enough money I think to get by as he charges small entrance fee. But I was the only person walking around.that afternoon.


2nd/3rd November
Trelew - I arrived here early in the morning on yet another overnight bus from Esquel. Went straight to hotel - Called the Touring Club - which is a lovely old cafe on the bottom - with nicotine stained high ceiling and walls covered in photos and paintings by patrons , famous and not famous of the cafe interior and old b&w photos- with a large marble staircase which leads to not so stylish rooms which is good because they are cheap!
The waiters in the cafe ( hair slicked back , white jackets etc ) were incredibly full of themselves and snooty and it took me ages to get served so that in the end I went to the bar to draw attention to myself - but I suppose it goes with the territory. My drink was served from a tray and with a great flourish .Long bar that stretched the length of the room and behind tiers of vintage bottles from years past - and to one side a superb old coffee machine - silver plated- quite a work of art. It is obviously a bit of an Argentian institutionand by far the most interesting place I saw in Trelew which doesnt really have much else going for it.

Took a trip in the day to see the penguins but didn't know at this time about the other possible trips you can do to see Tolominos - black and white dolphins - ( I htink - havent got my notebook with me) so missed out there.
Group were a mix of Spanish and Argentian - one very friendly and nice guy called Jordi - who I bumped into over the next few days - from Barcelona.

I really enjoyed seeing the penguins- but there were just too manypeople there- buses and coaches kept arriving and you are penned into a small area so as not to distrub the nesting penguins - they make a scrape in the pebbly hill behind the sea under bushes and some tunnel into the soft ground. Perfect for photo opportunities but some tourists are awful and block their way - so they can get photos next to them. Lots of guards around though so think the penguins dont always have to put up with this kind of ridiculous and selfish human behaviour! The penguins waddle up and down the shore to and from the sea for cooling down and feeding - both parents look after the nest , they lay two eggs a season and were incubating whilst I was there - chicks don't appear for another month or so.

Puerto Madryn - whales and seafood

November 4th
Ahhhh! Back by the ocean again... I spent a couple of nights in Puerto Madryn in a bogstandard hostel but managed to squeeze in a bit of culinary delectation with a trip to a resaurant , Nautica, along the seafront - squid and a kind of paella and very good wine. Incredibly cheap. Lots of families dining out for lunch - everyone enjoys eating out and there is a real sense of occassion with everyone dressing up. You usually get proper cloth napkins too.
As usual in cities and towns laid out in a grid I found it very hard to get my bearings as every corner looks the same-but at least there was the sea to orientate a bit in Puerto Madryn and after my seafood lunch I walked along the huge beach and round the point to the new Ecocentro - large clapperboard building in New England style- looked like it belonged in an Edward Hooper painting - exhibition centre with displays about ocean life. Beautiful space inside high ceilings and a library full of books on Argentinan life and on Patagonia in particular and a tower with a viewing room - but strangely the big leather sofas are arranged to face inwards not out to the sea.....displays on marine life and zooplankton the tides and currents - Peninsula Valdes which is what everyone comes to Puerto Madryn to see - is so rich in marine life because of the meeting of the cold Malvinas current and the warm............. ..... current - and in turn the whales and penguins are attracted here rich supply of food and bring up their young.INTrelew I went to Puerto Tombo - the famous penguinery ( not a real word I dont think) of which more in another post.

I got back to the hostel, which after El Bolson seemed a bit aloof and unfriendly and realised that the young guy with the beard sitting at table opposite me was none other than Nick - English guy and eco tourism graduate who was running the Diamanta project in Peru's Manu National Park when I visited back in June.
He was fresh out of the jungle - after 3 months - pretty hard work I think - and now doing a bit of travelling around -so things coming full circle but Peru seems a very long time ago now.

Youth Hostels
Still haven't bought any ear plugs to replace the ones I lost and now Im mostly staying in dormitories I seriously need them. I dont think, thankfully, Puerto Madryn is much of a "party town" ie everyone comes back in about 4 or 5 in the morning but its still hard to get a good nights sleep. Have learned to remember to always ask for a bottom bunk when reserving ahead.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Buenos Aires

Sorry again for the rotations which are not working with blogpicture - above , papier mache head of Carlos Gardel, below , puppet man and dancer - all photos taken at the Sunday Feria in San Telmo Square, Buenos Aires

I loved the Argentine capital. I arrived on Tuesday 8th November and got a taxi to Urbano hostel on Avenue de Mayo - a huge big 19th century apartment building with the hostel on the top floor accessed by a lift. Run by young arty crowd and with a roof terrace.Huge old bathrooms and bedrooms . Good Argentinian music playing on sound system.
Walked into town and to the tourist information centre. In front of me in the queue was Carolina from Barcelona who I met at El Pueblito ! We hung out together for the next few days and I moved to same hostel as her which wasn't nearly so nice as Urbano but in the more villagey district of San Telmo and a lot cheaper half the price in fact. In fact it was very grungy and very noisy and I have even blanked the name of it out of my mind.
Carolina is vegetarian so we went in search of vegetarian restuarants which was probably a good thing for my waistline as if on my own I would have had a lot more steak . We went to the park and talked to a lady who looks after all the stray cats , , visited the cemetry where Gardel , the god of Tango is buried & saw a film ( in Spanish ) which I fell asleep in.
We also went to the Museum of Latin American Modern Art (free entry)which had a wonderful Andy Warhol exhibition called Moving Pictures - he called his 500 odd silent films "Screen Tests" B&W film portraits of friends focussing on their faces and asking them to think of an emotion whilst he filmed them. Lots of people since have done this but I have never seen any nearly as good and had no idea he had done this. The room had about 10 screens from wall to ceiling playing continuously and simulataneously so you could walk round from one to another. The other wonderful thing there was a photo montage by Argentinian artist Fabian Marcaccio called Ezeiza- Paintant a mix of digital photography and paint.

We also went to see a Tango show with Carolina's Swedish friend now working in Buenos Aires at Cafe Tortoni - live accordion and violin and piano - great footwork and drama but you can also see it for free in the pedestrian shopping street in central BA and also at the weekend open air market in San Telmo. Tango isn't just for tourists it really is important part of culture and is everywhere as is Milonga a variation on it. There are great shops selling tango shoes and costumes and wigs .
I didnt go for a lesson though but did like the idea of learning the accordion.

On Thursday night we bought tickets for Gotan project at the Teatro Gran Rex-musical modern take on tango actually fronted by two frenchmen but extremely popular here.

On Friday 11th , my birthday, we went out for coffee and medialuna ( little crescent moon croissants)in the little cafe opposite the hostel and then Carolina had to get catch train to go back up to north of Argentina on her way to Brazil where she had been offered a job in a pizza place.
It was an extremely hot day - I had lunch in a pavement cafe and talked to a notary who told me about the economic collapse of 2001 - he said a lot of people were hurt and that it was the banks that were the thieves - they didnt loose money. People still resent the banks for what they did. and everyone has been affected and really struggled to make ends meet. The government did very little to help but desperate people grouped together to help themselves and found an untapped source of employment and recycling in packaging up the discarded cardboard and newspaper from the days business - they are called cartoniers ( I think - dont have my guidebook with me any more) and they start to appear just as the sun is going down and businesses are closing - pushing trolleys and sorting cardboard , a strange new breed of people. The government eventually did something to help and laid on a special white train to bring people into the city centre adn take them back again in hte early hours of the morning.
Buenos Aires is enormous with 4 lane roads and terribly smelly old buses but I walked round most of it ,but only discovered the theatre and cinema district towards the end of my week -there are theatres and productions on everywhere ; most bookshops promote theatre or have a small theatre upstairs. There is a five theatre national theatre complex and i almost went to see Irresistable rise of Arturo Ui ( in Spainsh) but instead opted to see code 46 with Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton -spanish subtitles - set in the future where everyone speaks a kind of interntaional esperanto so I could uinderstand all the spanish bits .Great photography exhibition in foyer of national theatre - Canadian Steve Simon - B&Ws. So a lot of western culture to be had in Argentina if you want it.
It has a very familliar European feel to it .

Food & Wine
I ate on my own on my birthday as two people I met in Bolivia failed to show up but I rather thought they wouldnt so was totally prepared for it and enjoyed probably the best meal I had in all Argentina - I went to a restaurant ,type known as a Parilla pronounced parija in BA - basically a BBQ meats place - called "Desnivel" in San Telmo after wandering along the streets around it and finding an old hall where classical music is played and a brand new film school. Lots of antique shops around too and other eateries full of families eating out.They tried to put me upstairs but I insisted on being downstairs amongst all the people and got a small table to myself with a view of the open grill in the front of the restaurant and the kitchen where orders came out which was interesting to watch. There was a guy on his own next to me too , youngish and I asked him in Spanish where he was from because he was reading a book in English. He turned out to be American here to study Engineering at the university. He said with a little paperwork you can get a degree here for free which is preferable to the high fees in US. NOt many people know about it he told me proudly.

But the meal : I had two morcilla sausages to start- which are basically black puddings - but I have had enough now to know when they are good and when not - these were superb!the chef at the grill turned to see if I had enjoyed it . The whole little restaurant which is not exactly posh just simple tables was absolutely jam packed by 9pm. I arrived right on dot of 8pm when restuarants have only just opened. You have to time eating in Argentina very carefully - lunch is strictly from 12-3 arrive any later and you will go hungry and there is very little else to eat other than ice cream ( and I have yet to taste any ice cream that could compete with Jauja in EL Bolson) .I kept getting caught out by this as if Ieat breakfast early I can keep going until about 2pm and then by time I had found somewhere I like the look of it was too late.
YOu will then have to wait until 8pm to get dinner. Argentinians , babies small children the elderly and all eat late late late. Of course this is because of the midday siesta but my notary told me that most people working in offices cannot take siestas.

A "bife de lomo" ie a tenderloin steak which you could cut with a spoon it was so perfectly cooked ie hardly at all arrived and with it as usual I had a salad - beetroot and carrot ( this is the usual salad and it was so good to eat beetroot and have salads again) - to go with it and they always supply you with a basket of fresh bread which I can rarely manage so very Atkins diet orientated.
I had a bottle of Lopez ( good estate and I stuck with it if it appeared on the wine list) Xero Malbec 2003 which cost me $15 Arg which is about 3 UK pounds - unbelievably good value and I love the Argentinian malbec wines - heavy in tannin rich and full bodied and never give you a hang over of nasty side effects as pretty additive free. The blurb on the back read " Prolongaddo contacto con los hollejos le confiere un interno color y una estructura de mayor cuerpo" which if you read at all about wine you will probably be able to translate.

Desnivel is well known and there was a photographer taking photos of the chef on the grill and the waiters serving in their white aprons. A real buzz in the room. I made the mistake of trying to prolong the food heaven by rounding it off with a chocolate mousse but it was weak and tasted nothing like chocolate , more like instant whip which was a real disappointment. I should have gone I no know for a flan casero which is egg custard with a terribly rich sweetened condensed milk sauce - delicious. My total bill came to $42 Arg which is 7 Uk pounds.

Catholic cemetries are like small towns. Carolina and I thought some of the small houses for the dead would make good novelty backpacker suites. The "streets" even have names and there is a social club too for the dead should they care to come out and party. Very bizarre. We found Gardel ( a statue) after many a wrong turn but no one had placed a cigarette in his hand which is often how you find him apparetly, smoking as if still alive and in most peoples' hearts he still is. An incredible cult. He died in a plane crash at the height of his fame.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Trevelin & Esquel

On my way from Bolson to Trelew via Esquel - unfortunatley I can't do the trip in the day - all the buses go at night for some unfathomable reason - which means I won't see the scenery which according to my guidebook is spectacular - also going by bus means I haven't been able to get to the Leleque museum which is also supposed to be good - its funded by Benetton - who own 8 million hectares of land round here . From the sheep they farm here comes all the wool for the United Colours. Another interesting thing about this area- Butch Cassidy and Sundance and Eva Plant lived near here in cabins - you can visit if you have a car or join a tour - for 7 years.

Anyway internet is good way to pass hours until bus goes at 10pm. As I got here (Esquel) at 11.30am I decided to visit the Welsh community of Trevelin - not really very exciting but I had a welsh tea - at Nain Maggie's tea house. They didn't speak Welsh but they did give me a real big pot of tea in a real tea pot and made real scones. The cakes were very decidedly Argo/Gales though - dulce de leche (of course) shortbread, rhubarb tart, milky creamy custardy bar thing and torta negra - alcoholic fruit cake with prunes. A tour guide guiding some Germans asked if she could sit with me as all other tables were full. She lives in Bariloche and doesn't like the Bariloche building where I stayed on the 10th floor - "we all think it has bad energy" she said.

Esquel isnt nearly as nice as Bolsdon - its bigger and there is an army camp here. Arrive Trelew tomorrow at 6am and hope to go and see penguins!

Meeting People

Was shopping with Carolina and Stefan in Anomalia ( anonymous) - the supermaket chain in Patagonia standing in the queue when I realised I was looking at Lalin and Tors again - second time with our supermarket encounters. Hopefully will meet again in Buenos Aires.

A young French man called Arnaud introduced himself to Carolina ( who is very beautiful) in the supermarket , adn then persued us at the bus stop too - we arragned to meet him next day to go to Lago Puelo but he never showed up - but I felt sure we would run into him sooner or later and on the way down from Canyon del Azul there he was , with the two Australian doctors who arrived late one night at EL Pueblito and I managed to remember his name even . The other people in the refugio I knew too from Bariloche - sorry this is probably not that interesting but I need to remember!
So different from Peru or BOlivia where I didnt really meet anyone on a regular basis - their hostels just dont have common meeting spaces.

El Bolson continued

At the heart of El Bolson is Jauja the ice cream shop - but they also do good coffee and a chocolate shop as well. I saw a group of boys with one adult go in and shortly after reappear clutching bags of choc and completely oblivious to the fact that their faces and mouths were covered in chocolate!
There must be at least 30 flavours but they all look so shiny and wholesome that I have made good inroads into sampling as many flavours as possible- easy too as it always seems to be open even when everything else shuts down for siesta between 3-8pm. I wish I could show you a picture of the ice creams in their tubs- shiny blackcurrant, calafate ( which apparently is cloudberry) maquis- (berries - from local trees ) and condensata- which is condensed milk flavour for some real wickedness.They really are incredibly good.

There a lot of cars that troll around town "sin capo" ( without their bonnets) which seems to be some macho display but then there are a lot of very old 2cvs and other cars pretty near to falling apart so maybe they are just on their way out. Two signs sit in the main park also in the centre of town and where the craft fair is held 3 times a week - one reads - "El Bolson - Nuclear Free" and the other reads "La Vida es vale mas del oro" - or life is worth much more than money. This creed is perilously close to extinction in EL BOlson - several locals have told me that in hte last 5 years Bolson has changed a lot - there is an increasing wave of "investors" arriving , buying up land, building fancy holiday homes and bringing nothing to the community - and increasingly the problems of the cities , drugs etc are following the influx. Prospectors arrive every summer , mostly from the US looking for land to buy; I 'm sure some of them come with good intentions but the story is (as I already knew) , the same all over the world- locals can no longer afford to buy homes where they were born and grew up; an American in El Pueblito ( the hostel) living in his house he built himself in Montana said that he now cannot afford to buy more land as investors have been buying this once little sought after land up and forcing prices ever upwards. This seems to be the main travel topic now - the extortionate price of land and how it is no longer possible to buy it anywhere cheaply anywhere in the world - unless perhaps it is contaminated or has a war problem.
It was interesting to meet and talk to Stefan in El Pueblito - he is an Austrian and here doing research for his History PHd which is on the immigration of Austrians to different countires round the world and how just after the 2nd world war this was economic migration but in the 70s ( and still now) the emigraiont is more for life quality. Anyway he really enjoys his research - he has to find Austrians , usually by word of mouth and there was a family who live on a chakra on hte outskirts of El Bolson - they have to go back to Austria for 3 months of every year though to make some money as it is just about impossible to make any money here - you can be self sufficient in food but thats about it. Stefan also told me about a place in Western Canada which is very similar to El Bolson - I think its called Vallemont and it's near Jasper - his sister lives there - I am now curious to see more of these meccas ( lots in NZ of course) of international emigration for the good life and what is happening to them now with the world property rush - fairly predictable I suppose- being gentrified.

Canyon Del Azul
All around El Bolson are the mountains and it is of course possible to get up and walk in them and even stay overnight in "refugios" - some of these are privately owned and run as was the one I walked up to in the Canyon del Azul. The Rio Azul is just breathtaking - I had no idea just how beautiful it was going to be but I was lucky with the weather as well - I set out in the morning and took a taxi to the trailhead aobut 17k out of town and then set off carrying food and warm clothing, down the valley. The river is a startling blue green , wide and roaring down from the glacier. I crossed the confluence on two rather alarmingly rickety swing bridges - both with slats snapped in two in places - and walked up and up through the woods, with wrens and rayditos - little woodcreeper like birds, keeping me company. I sat in the sun to eat lunch and dangled my feet in the icy water - so clear and brimming with trout. In the cliffs above two condors soared in the warm afternoon thermals- just perfect!
I didn't know quite what to expect from the refugio and as I got nearer imagined a rough cabin with a bare earth floor -but oh what a suprise! I walked up over green irriagated grass through orchard in blossom to a a large log cabin, with roses climbing up to the chimney, two stories high, a garden with lilies and tulips and herbs and on the doorstop a family of five small cats,inc two gingertoms and a tortoiseshell all who came rushing to greet me. They are mousers. There were also sheep and horses.Inside it was a little dark but the floor was terracotta tiled, with big wood burners and wooden tables and chairs - the regugio owner , I didn't catch his name as I was so bowled over, was immediately friendly offering me cold water or tea a shortish man with beard in his 50s. I noticed the large beer vats in the corner and the homemade bread - jazz playing - and a big sign on the wall saying "Think before you ask !" ( in spanish). He has lived there for 25 years - the doors are always open - but this is off season so there were only a handful of us there- much to my relief. He has a helper , Ivan as well who was very freindly and greeted me with a kiss on cheek - actually Argentinans like to kiss a lot which is fine by me!
In February the place is heaving with students on holidays from Buenos Aires. Very clever design has two bathrooms seperated in the middle by a big wood burner so the bathrooms are warm and have hot water. Electric lights and the tape deck for music are powered by a water turbine, drinki g water comes from a spring in the moutain.
Slept upstairs on the floor on basic matresses but slept so well - after sharing a meal cooked by mein host with the 3 other guests , of tortilla with papas and beetroot and carrot salad ( all grown organically in his garden of course) and homemade bread tasting mysteriously of pine and olive oil but best of all the homemade cerveca! (Beer) Made to receipe supplied by German resident delivciosuly light and tasty , not yeasty at all and slightly slightly fizzy. Hmmmm. What a wonderful day that was.
I did think about walking on to the next refuge 20 k away but I really needed a sleeping bag as it was higher and colder and there is no warden there at the moment , being out of season. Would have loved to go as you pass through a wood containing hte very rare and enormous alcerce trees - some of which are literally thousands of years old. But , as time is also running out for me in Argentina I decided to head back to Bolson- it rained all day and I got soaked. Met a group of gacuhos on their way up on horseback , rather awesome and very solemn in response to my cheery hola , they had dogs, ponchos black hats and boots and one had a gun over his knee - I wondered what they were going to shoot - the refuge owner told me that there is very little wildlife left now.

Few days previously I walked with Carolina , the Barcelonian silversmith, to another refuge on the other side of Bolson - Piltriquitron (2260 metres asl) which is actually owned by Club ANdino - a moutnaineering organisation. Idyllically situated on an outcrop overlooking Bolson and with a view of the length of the Andes crossing over in to Chile which is only a few miles away. The refuge is being looked after by a young man who lives there for 6 months of the year ( gets relieved for other 6)- he was making bread when we arrived - and we bought a bottle of the beer he makes . Very good. In and around Bolson there are hop fields instead of the vineyards further north. In this the refuges are more like the Italian ones - you can buy food and drink so you dont have to carry it whereas , as I remember , though may be wrong for some of the larger ones , you had to carry in all your own food to the NZ tramping huts.