1 July 2012

Argentina - June 2012


My last few hours in the United Kingdom. Final goodbyes have been said, parents are returning to South Africa and I am just waiting for my taxi now. I have to this point remained stoically indifferent to this impending trip. Perhaps I have yet to grasp just what it is that I am off to do or possibly I am just not excited by the thought of it yet. Either way, I remain indifferent. 

I don’t respond well to motion, especially the backseat of a car. Traffic is heavy and we jerk back and forth. Despite the summer heat, my man has the heating on. By the time we reach Kew bridge I am close to emptying my stomach. Fortunately the traffic eases as we get onto the M4. Terminal 4 at Heathrow is dead, a forgotten and derelict venue that few people fly from these days. 
Inside, the Air France staff are very friendly and helpful. Somehow my bag has exceeded 32kg and a little reshuffling is required. My bike goes in it’s plastic bag, no box required. Fart about in the terminal for a while, have one last ‘fish and chips’. Unintentionally sentimental. 

Flight to Paris is only 45mins, quite uneventful. Now for the fun part, march off to the lounge. Given that this is Air France’s main airport, I am expecting something impressive. The inside of a typical McDonalds is pretty much how turns out, and McDonalds has a greater food selection. Champagne is available in copious amounts though.

Flight is a little delayed leaving Paris. Am absolutely shattered, can barely keep my eyes open to have dinner. Dinner in Business Class is nothing like cattle. It’s a full three course meal, but fortunately the service is quick and staff are on hand to remove plates etc as soon as you are finished. Besides pigging out on some more champagne, I sample some Chateau Margaux. Get the bed down sharpish and collapse. Wake up some 7 hours later, still miles to fly. Put my head down and get some more sleep. Breakfast is a similar affair to dinner, multiple courses but I’m barely hungry.


Buenos Aires is so foggy, that we only break through the cloud at 30m. Oddly, we also hit the ground at pretty much the same time! Once out of the plane, the cloud ‘ceiling’ is probably only 10metres. The usual march through various corridors before reaching Customs. Photographed and fingerprinted, I have my three months stamped and off to collect my gear. Main bag is out quickly, but bike takes a while, despite having a ‘priority’ sticker attached. Relieved to see that it looks in pretty much the same condition as before.

Head off to the last hurdle, Duties and Excise. One is allowed only $300 worth of luggage after which a 50% tax is placed on the excess. My rough calculations put my gear total somewhere around the $10 000 mark, so I’m in line for about $5000 in duties! I avoid the tourist looking line which is making its way to one side of the exits. The two chaps monitoring my line after deep in conversation. Only once half my gear is through do they wake up to fact that I am a ‘tourista’. They look at my unwieldy bike and gear and think better of sending me off to another line. Through and out, the first shout of ‘taxi’ has me hooked. $55 to get to the hotel. I could have sworn it was only a few miles, but turns out to be closer to 25km’s. Taxi driver gets himself hopelessly lost a few times, but we get there in the end. 

Hotel does not have my reservation, but they sort out a room none-the-less. Only for on of the chamber maids to tell the manager that in fact a room was set aside for me. I move my gear in and then set up in the manageress’s office partaking of ‘mate’ and general chit chat. After much ‘mate‘ and some advice on places to go and things to look out for, I settle into my room to sort out my gear.

Gear sorted, it is time to go for a walk to Costanera Sur, a large wetland park on the edge of the harbour. Turns out to be a popular area with many cyclists and joggers. My birding skills prove about as useful as my Spanish, near enough void. Despite the crappy fog, I make good use of the camera. After a long walk, I decide to play safe and start heading home before it gets dark. En route I stop off for some dinner at a decent looking restaurant. Again, my language skills prove embarrassing, but eventually we get an order made. ‘Patatas fritas’, I knew it was potato something or other - but not just a plane bowl of chips. Home for a decent shower and some time to edit photos. Get a useful nights sleep. 


Wake at around 07:30 to find that it is still grey, foggy and very dark. Go back to sleep. A few hours later and I am back to Costanera Sur. Some decent birds again, already starting to work out certain species calls and habits. Feeling much more confident in the field, but life is due to get much tougher when I move away from known birding sites. At least I have list of probably species to work with here. 

I leave shortly after 12:00 as little has moved in a while. Figure I had best start canvassing the city for my imminent shopping trip. Need to get some Argentinean pesos too, since I cannot understand the language, cannot work out how badly I am getting nailed on the conversion rates. Finding an ATM turns out to be harder than I thought. Even when I find one, they all seem to have run out of money. As the irritation of not finding something as basic as a working ATM starts to take it’s toll, I start noting the city about me. The lower harbour section is brand new and much building is in progress. Most of the rest of the city is old and decrepit. Crumbling, white washed walls interspersed with some half decent roads. Sidewalks would be quite impressive too, most have new paving - but there is so much dog shit, that is is almost impossible to see the paving. Along with the large number of ‘farmacias’, the vast quantity of dog shit reminds me of only one other country in the world - France. After trudging another few kilometres, I am forced to recognise that even France can’t have as many dogs as BA. Not that I have seen many dogs, only a handful of strays in the lower harbour area. So this ‘produce’ must all come from family pets! I figure if I stood for elections in BA and ran a ‘No Dog Shit’ campaign and be a shoe in.

After many hours of fruitless walking I bump into a vibrant street market. Much searching brings me to the only ATM in Buenos Aires that has money and I am able to withdraw some local Pesos. Slightly worried that there seem to be no large convenience stores. Not sure what I was hoping for, but a large ASDA would even do the trick at the moment. Found enough gas stations nearby, and can probably get a decent amount of fresh food - but my main requirement is non-perishable food. Also need a few basic utensils, washing powder and liquids etc. 

Realise that I have not eaten since yesterday. Decide not to chance my arm in a restaurant again, so head for a McDonalds. My put together my best sentence so far, ‘Ola, una McRoulette el Classico y Fanta por favor’. This generates some response that I cannot understand, but handing over money seems to quieten things down quickly. Asking for stuff is not particularly difficult, it is trying to figure out the cost that is the problem. Even then, while my grasp of numbers is relatively decent, I simply cannot understand the combinations and speed of response. With time hopefully.

Spend the remainder of the evening sorting through photos and putting some text together for the blog (ie: this). By this stage, you’d have worked out that there isn’t much to report. I am going to pay dearly for my lack of linguistic skill and that there is a sense of foreboding in my tone. Did I think this was going to be easy? Not in the slightest, hardship, self belief and general doggedness I have in spans. Not be able to understand a damn thing is proving more irksome that I had thought.


Last full day in Buenos Aires over. Today was all about shopping for a few basics. Turned out that this city is rather larger and more impressive than it looks on a map! Trudged for hours, but was very much impressed with the city centre, not what I had seen so far obviously. Clearly I have been living in the dodgy part of town! Actually that is a little unfair, dirty and decrepit it may be, but not from a personel perspective. Have had absolutely no trouble from anyone, not even what I may describe as 'ruffians'. Perhaps it is just me, but this feels a very safe city. I stand out here as a foreigner, not because I have very pale skin (many here are paler), but more because of my height. It isn't something you read about in Lonely Planet. Barring the odd exception, I tower over most of the populous by almost a foot. The women if anything are a little taller than the men. This seems a fair enough juncture at which to answer what many of you are wanting to know, but not asking - yes, a good majority of the female populace here are absolutely stunning.

Regular sightings of eye candy at least make walking up hills a little easier and the pack on your back doesn't feel quite as heavy even after lugging it about for the last 15kms. Enough. There really isn't much to say about shopping, basic food stuffs and a few other bits of cutlery. Although it did take the best pat of the entire day to find a cup - a bleeding plastic cup, almost non-existent.

Dropped my bags and changed into cycling gear for another trip to Costanera Sur. Have to keep reminding myself that we drive on the 'other' side of the road here. If my brain is not trying to make a mess of Castellano, then it is forgetting which side the cars are coming from. Fortunately no-one travels too quickly here and the drivers keep a wary eye for muppets like me or one of the locals in the wrong part of the road at the wrong time. Rear gears are catching half way when I am in top gear. Will need a small adjustment tomorrow morning when there is enough light to see what I am doing. Not overtly concerned, as I don't expect to be on the 'big cog' for much of this ride.

Costanera Sur is shut for some reason this afternoon. Slightly disappointed but make do with the wetland vegetation that runs down the side of the reserve and the bank of Puerto Madero. Not that there is any water, may as well be a grassland. Manage to add a few extra species to the list and improve on some photos from yesterday.

Had a 'churrasquito' (steak roll) for dinner at a 'Parilla', of which there are many along Puerto Madero. Essentially like a hot dog stand, except proper Argentine Beef cooked over an open BBQ while you watch. Evening is drawing in and the temperature is suddenly rather chill. Get home for a hot shower, the last I may have for a few days at any rate. Start to pack my bags. Clearly I have a little more gear than is necessary, but will only start to realise what to filter out once I have a little more experience at this. For now, we are going to be a little heavy and the legs will hurt a little more. Actually, my legs and rear are not very sort at all, albeit it was only a short trip this evening - my forearms are killing me. I have yet to find a comfortable grip and can't see how this is going to change. Must have gotten my handle bars set too low - not that this can be changed, will just have to get stronger forearms.

Upload a few more photos and finish this blog and then it is off to bed, possibly the last comfortable one too. There is a feeling of some dread and slightly less excitement at the thought of sleeping in the open tomorrow for the first time in many years - in a truly foreign land...

Tomorrow it is the start of my trip proper - at least the cycling bit. I get a ferry into Uruguay (country number 2), landing at Colonia del Sacramento which is just over the Rio Plata from Buenos Aires. Weather is supposed to be sunny but cool. Cannot wait, have yet to see the sun since I landed.

Probably also the last comms I am going to have for a few days at least. Not sure if I will be in the sticks for 1 or 2 nights, but will get back into reasonable accommodation in Montevideo as and when.


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