Buenas Mis Amigos,
You find us in Uruguay of all places, looking a little less angular and slightly more rounded after a good 7 days gorging on food and wine. `Uruguay`I hear you cry. Yes not on the original list of countries, but as you are well aware by now there`s about as much fact in that list as your average tabloid newspaper. `Sounds far away`, well yes obviously from where you are dear readers, but from Buenos Aires where we were located it was but a mere hour in boat across the very murky looking Rio del Plata...but more about this later.
So for those of you up to date on our travels, when you last left us we were waiting for the border guards to stop striking and to let us into Argentina. A 7 hour bus trip later and journey through the Andes by the light of a ghostly full moon, casting glimpses of snowy peaks, and we arrived slighly blurry eyed into Mendoza: a beautiful town, bathed in 34 degrees of sunlight. Here the gorging began in earnest, largely the cause of the Argentinian sweet tooth which deems it entirely appropriate to breakfast with an assortment of cakes, pastries all smothered in dulce de leche (solidified condensed milk) that tastes like heaven but is a diabetic`s nightmare. One of the most startling sites in Mendoza is the lush green San Martin Park, which is so enormous that hidden deep within its boundaries and only viewable from a great height, is a massive football stadium used as a host for games during th 1978 World Cup. Allied to that the park possesses a beautiful lake that is circled by joggers and amblers alike as they see out the last hours of sunlight, enough water features to make Charlie Dimmock happy and some incredibly ornate sculptures...beats Crane Park, Whitton anyday.
In Mendoza we attempted to redifine the word decadence and came pretty close to achiveing this goal one fine day. Awakening early, we headed out to the Norton wine estate in the Maipu Valley to sample some of their finest. After this loosener,we made our way out into the Andes where we arrived at a remote ranch cum restaurant for stage 2 of the day. Here we were swiftly greeted with a cup of Mate tea (a sort of herbal tea) and inducted in the customs of drinking and making the brew. After that we were put to work in the kitchen and schooled in the art of making typical Argentinian bread, deserts and empanadas, the latter being very reminiscent of one of Mum`s samosas. Clearly having inherited the family gene when it comes to light and delicate pastry, my empanadas were far superior to Kirsty`s and my crimping is clearly destined for a higher things. Sadly as I can`t remember any of the recipes Mrs K will remain the master of all cullinary delights back in Teddington. And while all that cooked the Asado (BBQ) was being slowly cooked over hot coals. I have honestly not seen this much raw meat since I last stepped inside a Newcastle nightclub. It was actually obscene, but none the less we did our best to make room for as many parts of the cow that we could. After being fed and watered till our hearts were content, the day of decadence was finshed by one last visit to yet another vineyard. Feeling slightly tipsy, and a little rowdy we decided to buy the most expensive wine that they had at the estate: $280. Now before you choke on you scones back in Blighty, let it be said that this was between a substatial number of us and and actually only consisted of us experiencing about a third of the glass....probably at about a pound a sip. Was it worth it? At the time yes, but in hindsight, although it tasted good, I don`t believe it was significantly better than many other cheaper wines. Oh and just to top the day off we returned back to our hotel for a party and to open all the bottle of wines that had been bought at previous vineyards.
The next day, with slightly heavy heads, we made our way by plane over to the much hyped Buenos Aires: home of the beautiful people, many of which stare back at you from a surgically enhanced face. Yes Bs As is one of the homes of cosmetic surgery and there is enough silicon walking around the place at chest height to open a P.C world. Bs As is a big and busy city, with what appears to be a booming economy. The cheap lifestyle we have been promised appears to have made way to prices more akin to its neighbour Chile. This has meant we have been staying in somewhat dubious accomodation. Perfectly reasonable in price, but the fact that to take a shower you have to sit on the toilet could be seen as a time saver, but appears to be just dodgy building work to me. It has been far more difficult to get to know than other places because of its size, but we have done our best to cover it all on foot, not wanting to miss a thing. Though this presents its own problems: firstly, Argentinian dogs have clearly learnt from their friends in Valparaiso, Chile, to crap anywhere and secondly, no one has introduced Argentina to the concept of a filter light and hence even when the green man (well sometimes he is orange) does flash, you have to look out for cars turning left and right...we`ve almost come a cropper a number of times. Porteños, people from Bs As, are remarkably European looking and the city cleary thinks of itself as more akin to the likes of Paris and Madrid. It has far less of an indigenous culture here than in other countries we have visited so it feels far more like home...or at least being in the middle of London which has been quite a refreshing change.
So what have we done in a city that never appears to sleep? Well at least the children never seem to...3 year olds up at 12am on a school night! Well, let`s start with the cemetery at Recoleta, the resting place of Argentina`s elite. The place is full of enormous sarcophagi, intricately carved in incredible detail. It is also the final place of Eva Peron. Whether sub-concious or not, I found myself singing `Don`t cry for me Argentina`as we wandered around the place, much to the consternation of some very serious Argentine tourists. I am yet to complete the cliche by interrupting a football game in the park scoring with a handball and shouting `that`s for the Hand of God suckers` before running away. The Argentines and Eva are having the last laugh though, bearing in mind her home in death appears to be larger than our 3 bedroom flat in Teddington. Why does she need all that space? It`s not like she is going to invite people round.
Buenos Aires is home of the Tango, so you won`t be surprised to hear that we went to one of the myriad of shows on offer. They say that Tango is `a vertical expression of a horizontal desire` which means the whole thing resembles a classy strip club...or so I have heard. None the less, it is an incredible art form of immense discipline and it was good to be back in a theatre of sorts.
The spiritual home of Maradona is the Boca Juniors stadium and we were fortunate enough to attend their game against Velez last Sunday. Football is a fairly passionate affair in most places, but Argentinians are particularly rowdy...especially when your tickets are for the terraces in and amongst the hooligan element. It`s certainly the first time I have been breathalysed on the way into a game. The policeman just laughed me in as the meter flashed up the result, `Lightweight`. The lack of public toliets lends and interesting odour to the stadium, and the fact that you are behind caged wire it does appear that you have paid money to become a zoo animal for a couple of hours. In the end, Velez triumphed 3-2 in a good game and supporters took the defeat well. Perhaps there is something to this no alcohol at games business.
Sunday is party day in Buenos Aires for all the family and in San Telmo, where we are staying, the local antiques fair is rife with people dressed up in fancy dress parading in the square. In an attempt to get away from the city we headed to Tigre about 45 minutes north of the city, where a series of islands in the Delta are weekend homes for Bs As wealthy. We spent the afternoon at one such place where we managed to meet up with our old friend the Mosquito. It was only a brief hello, but he managed to leave me close to 20 bites in about 30 seconds. The bad news for you is that commercial flights to the moon will be far to expensive in our life times, the good news is you can now just visit the lumpy surface that is my skull for a cheaper, yet equally rewarding trip.
So last, but but by no means least Uruguay. We head back to Buenos Aires next week, but dare I say this...... I might just whisper it.... `I think we might like Uruguay more`. If Argentina is the glamorous daughter that receives all the male attention, Uruguay is its frumpy, glasses wearing and less strikingly attractive sibling. However, as is sometimes the case, first appearances and perceptions can be off and not only does she have a stonkingly good personality, but she is deceptively beautiful behind those glasses and with her hair down and when you get to know her.......alright enough with the analogy. More amateur psychology and thoughts on sibling rivalry to come, but until then I shall say that Colonia is, along with Casco Viejo in Panama, the most beautiful town we have visited.
Since Colonia, we have moved on to the capital Montevideo. I say capital, but it appears to be about the size of Richmond but that is part of the appeal. The place is so small it is easy to get to know and feels far more personal. In many ways it feels much more like Central America, but with less obvious poverty. Uruguayans themselves make far more effort to be friendly than their Argentinian neighbours and take the time to find out something about you. Take the carnival atmosphere at the Mercado Del Puerto, where I briefly turned my back on the wife to turn around and find her in the middle of a circle of locals dancing with a group of locals accompanied by a a group of drummers.
For those of you worried about the wife, she is fine and agrees with all the above sentiments. We are one now and there is no room for independent thought in this relationship.