The last day or so in Ecuador was reasonably pleasant. We slept, shopped for a souvenir (we try to get a wooden animal from each place we visit; unsurprisingly we now have a Blue Footed Boobie on its way to UK). We found a good Indian restaurant where more than we could eat cost about $10 and we got our cloths washed. We also visited Cotopaxi, which is a live snow capped volcano that peaks at 5800m. We could only get up to 4800m without crampons, a guide and a hell of a lot more motivation. We only climbed about 300m in height and 1.5 km in distance, but that had us both breathing through every orifice. Maybe Everest can wait.
We arrived in Buenos Aires at about 9am on Saturday after a flight that differed in quality for Jodie and me. Jodie was happy to sleep for most of the trip and I was happy to find that the in-flight entertainment included the fist 22 episodes of Prison Break. You can imagine my disappointment when we landed after only 4 of them.
BA's beauty compared with the other cities we have visited in South America was obvious as soon as we left the airport. Instead of slums and factory complexes we saw fields of polo ponies and the driving was comparatively sane. There was actually a worrying amount of horses and a lack of cows, so much so that I thought that the Argentinean beef steak legend may be a little dodgy.
Whilst there are slums and rough areas of BA, the city appears to be very civilised. There are green parks and clean open spaces all over the city, wide tree lined avenues and architecture on a par with London. It is easy to feel very safe - but luckily the locals constantly remind you that you are not and you should not put your bag there, or must put your camera away. We have had a varied stay so far. We wandered around the local area on Saturday, which is best described as a place of crumbling elegance. It is the old part of BA and has lots of lovely old apartment blocks, cobbled streets and markets. It all so has a restaurant called De Snivel, which does a huge, mouth wateringly tender fillet steak for £6 and good house wine (in jugs shaped like penguins; the wine comes out of its open beak, so to me it looks like it is vomiting red wine every time it is poured. I have discovered that my sound effects that accompany every pour have a limited amount of fans) for about £1.50, which is close to heaven. If only they stopped cooking everything in beef fat - including cheese Jodie may get to enjoy a meal there too!
We visited the polo on Sunday and saw the Semi Final of the Argentinean open cup. Polo stadiums are places that appear to be 'ugly people' free and I felt distinctively scruffy and backpacker like in my zip-off leg shorts and old polo shirt. The games were great to watch though (there were two, a warm up and the main event. We had watched the warm up thinking it was the real thing and were about to leave when Jodie noticed that the other bigger stadium seemed to be filling up - fantastic). Jodie is more of a fan than I and I am not sure if it is the exceptional horses or the tall Argentinean millionaires on their backs that are the attraction. I thought that I could easily handle 8 'chukkas' of 7 minutes each but did not realise that with all the faffing that goes on 7 minutes becomes 20, therefore the match was about 2 1/2 hours long. This is vital information if you intend to go to an Argentinean polo match……in the height of summer……….and sit in the stand with no shade ………..with no sunscreen……….and no water. I think that those nice men who live in a US base in Cuba and wear orange jumpsuits are better treated.
We briefly considered trying to steal a polo pony and smuggling it out of the country; they are relatively compact after all. I thought that getting one out in business class would be reasonably simple as there is room for the little fella to stretch out, so providing he had a good disguise (I thought rain coat, trilby and false moustache would do the trick) we would be fine. Economy class would be a bit more of a challenge as the poor w*** would have to sit up and watch the in-flight movies for the whole trip. This would be unbearable for him if he had a touch screen TV as I am sure that in such a cramped space his long nose would rub against it all the time and continuously change channels. Can you imagine the frustration of being cramped up in a ridiculous and demeaning disguise continuously flicking between, say for example, the Loan Ranger and Black Beauty. Torture. As we could not afford a business class seat and felt that a pony had little chance of being upgraded, we decided to bin it under the heading 'bad idea'. (I have to live with this nutter and his weird imagination - J).
BA has a few quirks. For instance, to make coins is now far more expensive than the face value of the coin, so they are rather rare. Popping into a shop to ask for change in coins is met with a standard, stony faced 'no'. This would not be a problem except for one thing; all the buses only accept coins. Each day becomes a quest in buying things that allow coins in the change in order to avoid wearing out shoes and wife's sense of humour tramping for miles in the hot sun. The lack of change is particularly irritating when you find yourself at the bus station, wanting to go back to your hotel but needing to spend 30 mins raising the AR$1.80 (about 40p) in small change.
We have enjoyed 5 days of Spanish lessons whilst here. We had a small class consisting of two very playful journalist students from Sao Paulo and a Lufthansa pilot who disregarded national stereo types and came equipped with a sense of humour, though Germans talking about the 'final solution' still worry me. I must admit that my weeks of running into work listening to 'teach yourself Spanish' programmes have meant very little and I still do a startled bunny impression every time I hear Spanish and my ability to speak the language remains pathetic. For those that have seen the episode of Friends when Phoebe tries to teach Joey French will have an idea of my ability. Whilst I may think that I am repeating what others are saying, what I am actually doing is blurting out unconnected noises that are similar to those made by ill people. Jodie has obviously mastered the language and now can spend an evening chatting away merrily. Luckily I can order beer and wine, so it's not all bad.
Last night (12/12) we met up with Geriazalla and Camilla to try a bit of Salsa and Tango, which was great fun. The classes started at 7pm and ended at midnight, when the club opened properly and stayed open until 6am. The club was in the basement of the Armenian Cultural Centre (obviously), which was rather drab and had loo's that looked like they had been the scene of a nasty riot, but by 10 pm it was packed with locals (the club, not the loos). People with no experience were allowed to join in with the classes, so Jodie and I gave it a go. Salsa was carnage. I lasted 20 very hot minutes before I realised that the rapid fire instruction is Spanish were combining with my lack of co-ordination so that onlookers may have thought they were witnessing a man displaying the early stages of a soon to be fatal fit. I think that perhaps my attraction to house music may be sub-consciously based on a understanding that to wave ones arms about like a lunatic whilst dancing is considered acceptable. Tango was a little better, but by Christ it is complicated. We hit the hay at about three, after a meat based meal that we started at midnight (not unusual in these parts). After waking at 11 today we now find ourselves sitting on our little terrace drinking pink fizz (which on occasions is within our reach in Argentina as it costs about £8 for a bottle of Chandon) and are about to leave to try to bluff our way into the sold-out polo cup final. More from BA to follow.