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Last Saturday it was time for the annual film and television awards ceremony ‘The IFTAs’ down in Dublin.
I’ve covered this event for the last 4 or 5 years and considering this years was the 7th, thats not bad going.
Its a long day usually leaving Belfast before noon and rarely getting home before 3 or 4am.
Along with the Meteor music awards its probably one of the most prestigious events held in Ireland and usually attracts a lot of the home grown talent along with a smattering of Hollywood A listers. In previous years the likes of Mel Gibson, Rene Russo and Bo Derek have graced the red carpet.
This year was to be another big year with Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, John Boorman, Josh Hartnett, Matt Dillon, Juliette Binoche expected to make an appearance. As with many things though, what happens on the night can be somewhat different.
Red Carpet photography appears glamourous, mixing it with the stars, drinking champagne to the early hours but the reality is far from it. Unlike other places where you have to get up at an unfeasibly early hour of the morning and put your name down on a list for a slot on the carpet, at the IFTAs its first come first served and for the last 2 years I’ve been first down.
Sad to say the 2-3 hour wait in your spot isnt particularly glamourous, lots of moving lights, moving backdrops, laying the red or slightly orange carpet. All thrilling stuff. It does give you the opportunity to catch up with colleagues though and exchange stories and rumours. It will surprise a lot of people to discover that groups of photographers rarely talk about cameras or photography or anything else. Its no different to any other profession in that respect.
I do however get slagged off for having two cameras, when most others have just one. My rationale is that once I’m set Im set, I’ve a long lens for closeups and a short lens for full length portraits, plus you dont know what sort of area you will be in so it pays to be prepared. Of course the main reason is that you have a working camera if one fails just as an A lister looks you straight in the eye. Of course thats never happened and maybe I’m over cautious…
The red carpet work is also incredibly stressful, you have a split second to get the eye contact, which in some actors cases, naming no names, is easier said than done. Some play the game, others dont and you wonder why they stop to get their pictures taken in the first place. Shot counts can go through the roof, not machine gunning or ‘monstering’ but just trying to get that smile or both eyes open or just plain vertical picture. It would be difficult enough just on your own with a couple of hundred celebrities of all persuasions walking past you in just over an hour but consider being in a pack of about 20-30 photographers or more all vying for the best shot, all shouting, all elbowing each other and squeezed into an area the size that the EU wouldnt allow sheep in!
Theres no real time to check each shot, you do a couple of test shots using the pr people and then just pray. You pray you dont change settings, you hope all the hustle and bustle doesnt knock the flash contacts, you dont run out of juice for the flash or camera. Spare batteries in each pocket and trailing wires to the flash external battery packs. People have climbed everest with less equipment!
Of course going on last years event in the Burlington hotel where they left the doors open all night I was wearing a heavy ski jacket.
Foreign correspondents turned up in their tuxedos to see some of the Irish photographers looking like they were wearing the clothes they slept in the night before (and probably did). It was a bit of a culture shock for them with the photographers chatting with some of the stars, slagging some off and just being Irish. Obviously the banter that goes on here doesnt really happen in London, Paris or New York.
As the night wore on the ski jacket was less and less a good idea, this year the heaters were on and the doors were closed. The guys around me wearing their fleeces were also feeling the heat but we were so tightly packed and the celebs were coming thick and fast so its just deal with the water running down your neck. Hopefully its my own sweat and not that of the two tiers of photographers above me.
Some stars are an absolute joy to photograph and some arent. Whether they are playing the game or just nice people people like Jon Voight and Michael Fassbender are just a joy to photograph. The type of people youd love to spend an evening in the pub with. Some people also have a bad reputation, I have to admit being a bit apprehensive the time I photographed Russell Crowe but he was charming, interesting to listen to and I appreciated his point of view about paps chasing him and his kids down the street. I’d be pissed off too and more than likely to slap a few of them about. Thankfully with one or two exceptions that sort of behaviour isnt accepted here and the stars appreciate having their space. I suppose its the beligerence of the Irish with a ‘who are you’ attitude. You take the photos then leave them to it.
At this even Jon Voight was the star he is, charming, full of banter, plenty of time to spend and talk, just doing the whole ‘star’ thing and that shows in the photos. Not just the straight up and down but a lot of cameo stuff and off the cuff photos that make the job interesting. Michael Fassbender is like that too, full of banter and looks like he really enjoys being there, exchanging banter with the photographers and everyone around them.
Some of the really big stars are also quite private and quiet, a few people like Juliette Binoche arrive with no fanfare and you do a double take when this person just appears in front of you with no accompanying PR or any announcement. Just nice and professional.
The big one I and others were waiting on was Colin Farrell. Ive missed Colin Farrell on a number of occassions and is one of the decreasing list of ‘must’ photographs. Ive still to photograph Pierce Brosnan and believe it or not Liam Neeson so will try to get them as well at some point. Farrell has a bit of a reputation but as I learned with Russell Crowe, in a lot of cases that sort of thing is totally unjustified.
So there was a gap before Colin Farrell arrived so reset both cameras, took a couple of test shots then the world exploded around me as somehow all the worlds lights appeared to have been turned on at one. Colin Farrell had well and truly arrived. One last check on the back of the screen and we would be away….
…the shutter had gone in my main camera…
…wide to long lens, fully charged battery, biggest external power pack…
…too late to change everything…
Just get on with it. You know the real pros when they dont listen to the shouts of the photographers, they just go from one end to the other, a brief glance into everyones camera, long enough or maybe not to get that one looking down the throat shot. Now sometimes thats not what you want so you try to get other options but I was just trying to get something sharp and well exposed at this point.
As the famous quote about a newspaper photographer goes ‘you can have it well exposed or sharp, which one do you want’?
The world slows down, its a case of breathe, wait, squeeze, check settings, refocus, recompose, change settings, wait, breath, squeeze. The noise and light around you just disappears and you are focussed on that shot, that one shot that if you machine gunned you would probably miss. The turning of a face through 120 degrees takes soooo long but you dare not squeeze one off too early in case you miss the money shot.
All of a sudden its over. All the celebs have gone in to the awards and then theres the mad scramble to the press room to download, edit, caption and send the photos. Well normally there is but since I stopped working for Getty and working for myself and my own agency, most of the photos arent that time critical, so for the first time in my photographic career I could spend time at the buffet. No more sitting in a corner on the floor editing like mad on the macbook with 3G, shoving the warm cereal bars I’d kept in my pocket all day into my gub, washing it down with lucozade sport or something else sporty that probably makes no difference in this situation whatsoever
Time to look at the damage to the camera and move everything across to the 2nd camera in time for the winners presentations in the press room.
The press room is more of a sedate affair if you can call it that, no scrambling to find out who people are, no asking the accompanying guest to please get out of our shot of the main celeb, theres plenty of time between award winners. I do feel sorry for some award winners though, this is the pinnacle of many a career and something that will grace the mantlepiece of grandchildren and because its for makeup or set design or some such the photographers arent really interested. Essentially we are waiting again for Colin Farrell but I always try to take photos of every winner. Just so as they can say they had their photo taken. Of course if the 2nd camera shutter should fail because of this policy I would never let people hear the end of it.
Question now is will Colin Farrell make an appearance? Show is over, live TV coverage is over, crowd in the press room apart from photographers is thinning out. Will he, wont he?
Again its all sound and all picture as Colin charms us all, exchanges a bit of banter and generally is totally enthusiastic about his award and the film Ondine, which like last years winner Hunger, is now top of the list of films to see this year.
5 mins later and its all over, its time to pack up, clear the snow off the car and head up the motorway to Belfast.
Looking forward to the 8th annual awards already…. photos from this year in the link below
2010 IFTA awards photos
Well not quite but if it wasnt so bloody cold I might have.
Its been almost two weeks since I embarked on what would be a reasonably long journey home. I left after I was scheduled to leave and got home at the same time as I should have, but did it feel like a long journey.
Firstly the outbound flight from Buenos Aires was delayed as expected. Washington was snowed in so my much anticipated visit to the Smithsonian museum was cancelled. Slightly gutted but having waited in the queue for check in for two hours Id have paid everything I owned for a teleport system.
So two hours waiting, we know the flight isnt leaving, we are through ‘security’ and standing in line, of course they decide to stop check-in right as muggins gets to the front of the queue. So two hours of waiting for them to officially tell us we were going to Chicago even though we’ve known it for hours. With an hour left to wait I received the email from United Airlines telling me the flight that should have left an hour ago was delayed. Well no shit sherlock.
At this point United did appear to be the worst airline I’ve ever flown with, they could have just checked us all in, given us our seats and sorted it out later. No. Of course they did a re-check-in which seemed to me stupid as about 1/4 the passengers had already got their seats and boarding cards and were waiting at the gate. Again I would have assumed that it would cause chaos to reassign those seats to the next 1/4 of passengers. They didnt and it did. I did mention that everything in South America seemed to result in a discussion that would normally last about 30 secs at home before someone said ‘look just sit the f**k down’.
Even the first class passengers and the 17 levels of segregation that United apply to passengers above cattle class had to stand and wait as well. Sometimes theres a lot to be said for Ryanairs, every man for themselves policy.
The flight the day before was delayed and so this one was packed. Now I’ll have to admit, being a single bloke on a 14 hour flight you do hold out hope of some nice looking woman taking the empty seat beside you. If she could speak english and was looking a part exchange on an EU passport then all the better.
Dont be stupid.
Now, in the last couple of days there was the case where a larger than life film actor/director was asked to leave a United airlines flight because he should really have booked two tickets. Well normally Id have sympathy but now Im thinking of asking for a refund on the 40% of my seat that I didnt actually use on the flight due to the overspill of the passenger beside me.
So after 6 hours awake I went to the stewardesses and asked if there were any spare seats or could I just sleep on the floor in the kitchen. Their reply of ‘you must be joking’ wasnt exactly what I wanted to hear.
I did think about my reply carefully from quips like ‘if I was joking I would have said, a man walks into a bar with a duck on his head’ to ‘can I have some clean water as I’d like to wash my body before we all meet my maker’ to just taking her overly made up face and smashing it into the still warm plate of microwave airline meals beside her.
No matter what I said would probably end up in the plane diverting to some central american airport with my heathrow ticket being exchanged for one to Guantanamo Bay.
Back to my half seat I went and resigned myself to elbowing my fellow passenger in the ribs and kicking him in the ankles when he tried to play footsie. Im sure he wonders where all his bruises have come from.
Travelling through the US is a nightmare. Im not going to do it again if I can humanly avoid it. Ive mentioned the one carry on bag and the queues for immigration even though you are going nowhere near US soil. If I have to go through the US again it will be from Dublin where I can clear US immigration in Dublin. Another hour queueing for immigration, then waiting for my bag and taking it through customs only to drop it off a further 100 yards later for it to go to Belfast.
To be honest though it was a relief to see it, and to see it intact. There were rumours about stuff being nicked from bags in Buenos Aires airport. When checking through security there I was asked what was in my checkin bag, I was specifically asked if there were any camcorders, digital cameras and anything else worth nicking, sorry above 50 USD. When I said yes, there was a big sticker put on my bag. I dont think it said ‘ransack through here’ but it may as well have. One of the joys of travelling with an old beaten up bag with only one wheel and one other trick I learned years ago. Three days before you are due to come home, soak some of your dirty clothes. t-shirt and trousers is enough. Put them in a plastic bag and leave them in the heat. When you go to leave, put it at the top of your bag and cut it open before quickly closing the bag. If anyone opens that bag, smells that and still rifles through it looking for valuables, they are more than welcome to the contents.
By the time I got to my destination gate I had no idea who I was, where I was, where I was going and quite frankly I didnt really care. Having been to Chicago a couple of times before I just wanted to lie down somewhere but needed something to eat. If you are in Chicago they have their own brewery called Goose Island and they do a nice Christmas Ale. This wasnt christmas but I thought Id try the local brew anyway. Of course I got funny looks at 9:30am asking for a beer but hey I’d no idea what time it was.
I splurged on the 50 dollars it cost to get access to the frequent flyer lounge as quite frankly it was a bargain. Lovely soft seats, free net access, tv, papers etc etc. Free soft drinks, well not like UK free, but US free served by a barman which attracts the obligatory 1 dollar tip. Now Im not against tipping barstaff but hey if you are travelling to another country and I know the US people find that strange you dont necessarily carry US money. Particularly when you dont think you are going to spend much time there. Besides which in the UK you have fridges with cans of stuff and dont need 4 bar staff to change the TV station for you.
I just want to go home.
To cut another long story short, soon enough I was home, in my own house and I realise how quiet it is where I live. Silence.
I remember moving here from Belfast City and spending the first couple of weeks waking up because it was ‘too quiet’. When things went quiet in the area of the city I lived it generally meant it was going to get real loud real quick.
So Ive had a few emails from people asking me to go through what gear I use, how I used it etc etc etc. To be perfectly honest I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than talk photo gear and Im sure most peoples eyes would glaze over as well. I’ll leave the photo talk to photo forums but heres a few things that did make my life a lot easier whilst travelling.
Noise cancelling headphones – absolutely superb. I baulked at the price of these things just to use on planes etc but they really are worth their weight in gold. Apart from using them on planes, ferries, in airports etc they are useful in noisy hotel rooms, disconnect them, turn on the noise cancelling and go to sleep.
Wee small plastic bottles less than 60ml. You dont really realise how difficult air travel has become until you try to book a flight with hand luggage only where the destination is full of mosquitos and 40C+ You cant buy that small a bottle of sun cream so the ability to pack some into smaller bottles to pack in hand luggage and avoid a one way rendition flight is understated. I do wonder why they persist with this rubbish as lets be honest if I wanted to take a plane down, I’d buy a bottle of vodka and a lighter in duty free and then see if the aircrew thought I was joking.
Besides which if they’d applied the air safety laws that were in force on September 11th, the hijackers would never have got on the planes in the first place. When you have a load of people on a watch list, you just dont let them get on a plane. Back here during the troubles you couldnt go 100 yards in the car without some military patrol appearing from somewhere.
Maybe if security spent less time robbing us all of our purchased in the security zone bottles of water and duty free which by its nature had to be purchased airside, and actually out chasing ‘terrorists’ then wed all travel a lot easier with less hassle.
Im ranting again but seriously, who gives the UK border protection jobsworths the right to photograph me then stick a sticker right across the front of the harp on my irish passport. It might only just be a sticker but that harp can get you out of trouble quicker than you can say ‘no inglaterra’. Yes it does wash off but thats not the point, Im going to tell the minister for foreign affairs, after all the passport is his property still.
My smartphone, ok I couldnt make any actual calls with it for some reason to do with no reciprocal arrangements with some networks, but the ability to use wifi to check email, carry pdf maps etc etc. Its not an iphone so the battery lasts about a week and if Id had the wit to bring a headphone adaptor I could have used it to play my mp3s and could have left the ipod at home.
The ipod nano itself is again worth its weight in gold. I’ve the ministry of sound chill out sessions just for travelling, put the headphones in, get into bed, press play…. …and I’ve never heard the end of that album.
A microfibre travel towel. Small, light, very absorbent, for places like the waterfalls and easy to carry. It was a tip from a good friend of mine who travelled a lot.
‘Memory’ AA batteries. I was very sceptical about the use of these type of batteries. Basically they discharge slowly and keep their charge longer. Its not until you are travelling until you realise that the ability to keep charge for a couple of days is a godsend. No need to bring chargers for a quick trip with light or possible usage.
Ive mentioned the plastic carrier bag tricks before, to keeping the camera dry, putting all your creams and lotions in in your main baggage in case one goes pop and wrecks all the clothes in your bag, to putting on your hands and feet to avoid leaving footprints… …sorry meant to say to avoid your feet and hands getting soaked…
Pencils. Its like the old joke, NASA spent 1 million dollars developing a pen that would write in space, the Russians just used pencils.
The netbook I left at home. I have since found out that the hard drive failure in my macbook is a ‘known problem’. Known in that it was known by mac and theyve sat on it for 3-4 years. They issued an advisory note and extended warranty last week, a month too late for me. If I’d known the hard drive was likely to fail, I’d have had it changed before I left. Dont get me started on the ipad.
Time to get back to reality, Ive enough to blog on over the next while with reports on a the Maiden Voyage dance production of Best and tomorrow nights IFTA (Irish Film and Television Awards) in Dublin.
Only one last thing to do (other than edit the photos from the trip) and its to retire the passport. Its my 2nd full Irish passport and the first one was a four continenter. This one has been to all 5 continents and I think it deserves a break from travelling…… …although theres some cheap flight emails on the go at the minute…
Well it was all going to be too easy. Write a blog post in advance, have it sitting ready to go then just approve it using the wifi on my phone in either washington or london airports. Bang, done, cheerio and goodnight.
The bags are packed, the last of the pesos were spent last night on beer and food for a party, just enough to get me to the airport and buy a bottle of water for the flight to Washington…
…or so I thought. Last night Washington was hit with 2 feet of snow, thats right, 2 feet. It has ground to a halt, all of the airports were closed for a while and Dulles has only a few flights operating. The flight down here was cancelled so sitting now 4 hours from getting a taxi to the airport I have no idea if I will be leaving or not.
There is a thunderstorm here as well so even if I stay there will be nothing else to do, goodbyes were said in the wee small hours this morning etc etc.
Now its just a nervous wait to see if I am going anywhere.
Despìte some of the blog posts Ive enjoyed my time here. Ive tried to live like a local as much as possible but its impossible when you are a relatively rich foreigner with a spending budget about one fifth of what the locals earn in a year. Its not quite the same when you can just buy yourself out of trouble and Im always keenly aware of that and its effect on the people around me.
On any trip I always refer back to my 10 year old self. I grew up in one of the most deprived and the time war torn areas of Western Europe. Back when I was 10 Id flown to England once and hadnt yet applied for my first passport (would do later in the year to go and live with a Swiss family in Geneva for a month). I could only dream of seeing the places I have and the contemporary wisdom would be that I always would dream about seeing what I have done in the last week alone.
I always remember my roots and being here has reminded me of that so often, small black and white televisions, old used furniture, hand washing clothes, going to the corner shops for fruit, veg, meat, bread etc. Local places for local people and people having the time to stop and chat even if you dont know the language. The people in the local shop know me now, know I can only muddle through in Spanish. You dont get that staying in a hotel. I dont have a different view of the world since coming here but its reminded me of the important things in life. I dont miss my xbox or wii, I sort of miss my big tv though but thats genetic
Like everywhere in the world its the people that make the place, Ive been very lucky here, everyone has been welcoming and people braved the worst storm in a long while here to come an hour or two on the busses and trains just to say goodbye. When that happens you forget about mosquito bites and trips to hospitals and so on. Thats just stuff that happens and no point getting annoyed or dwelling on it.
I will hopefully get home sometime and I do feel its time to go home.
Looking back the month has gone quite quickly. As usual with trips the first week seems to last a month then after the halfway point it just flies in.
Ive been unluckly on this trip, a lot of coincidences and a bit of bad planning or no planning on my part.
I came from the coldest winter at home in 30 years to one of the hottest summers here. Just a fluke but the almost 40 degree temperature difference knocked me back for a week, a lot longer than it would usually take to acclimatise. The whole security thing has been an issue and Ive had to be more careful, shelve more plans and just accept the fact I wouldnt be able to do a lot of the stuff I had planned beforehand. With hindsight I would do things differently but again the heat aspect probably would have affected that anyway.
Going to the park with the mosquitos was just bad planning on all our parts. I should have checked if going to the park would be 20 mins on the bus or travelling to another country. Then again if I hadnt had such a huge amount of bites and taken the reaction I did, it would only have been a day down rather than almost a week.
The trip to Colonia was worth it, firstly to see Colonia, to get more stamps in the passport and to travel round with people I just met and have a glass of water with them. Being Aussies Id love to share a beer with them but the previous nights casualty trip meant that wasnt wise (neither was going in the first place). Overall Im thankful that I didnt get booked into a hotel in Montevideo or Id have got the pain on a 2 hour bus ride between Colonia and Montevideo, something hardly worth contemplating.
The trip to Iguazu is one of those life moments, a story I´ll bore people with to my dying day. If the photos are half as good as I think they are then it will cost me a small fortune getting canvas prints done. Nothing more to add to that as its already been said in the last blog post.
Ive enjoyed my time here, enjoyed the people and the company and learned a few lessons as below.
I would come back to Argentina again, no doubt, to explore patagonia and as a stopping off point for Antarctica. Id give Buenos Aires a miss though, theres only so much huge city you can take and a couple of days is more than enough.
I wont be travelling to a sub tropical southern hemisphere climate again in January, I can tell you that for nothing. Its 24C here now and Im sitting with long sleeves on. Boy am I in for a shock when I get home.
Dont go anywhere thats plagued with mosquitos and is 35C plus at midday.
Getting a yellow fever vaccine and malaria tablets for areas that dont have yellow fever or malaria is a waste of time and money
When booking any internal flight in South America, just treat the timetable as a guideline, although saying that with my flight home possibly cancelled, you cant legislate for the weather.
If you ever, ever get the slightest chance to go to Iguazu, go. Dont think about it, go. Dont worry about the cost, go. I cant put it better than that.
At this point I had thought Id tell you a wee story about travelling with friends through Moscow and finish with a witty one liner before heading off to Washington and spending the day wandering round the Smithsonian air and space museum but thats looking increasingly unlikely…
…but heres the story anyway.
I used to travel on and off with my three best friends, we went across the globe together, sometimes all 4, sometimes in 2s or 3s.
One time we were in Moscow. Ive always wanted to go to Moscow. When I was 12 there was school trip to Moscow and my parents heard about it. They knew I always wanted to go and I knew they couldnt afford to send me. Well they would have found the money but I was one of three kids and not that selfish. So aged 12 I told them I would go myself one day.
Aged 27 I went round to their house and told them I was finally off to Moscow with my mates. My dad said that would start my mum crying again as she did when I was aged 12 and said I would get myself there. Ive always been a determined wee bugger.
I loved Moscow, despite the shite food, the shite accommodation, the shite tours, the poor service, the unfriendlyness of a lot of the people we met etc etc. I dont think my travel companions shared my enthusiasm.
We had spent 4 days or so in Moscow and were preparing to wipe Moscows dust from our feet waiting on the train platform for the train to St Petersburg.
As the train arrived one of my closest and dearest friends who has spent more time travelling with me than a human should really have to endure, lifted his rucksack and uttered the immortal words that have come to symbolise returning home after a long or enduring trip. Ive slightly sensored the comments for PG reading but you get the idea.
So all it remains for me to say is…
´Lets get the f*ck out of dodge’
to be continued…..
To see the photos from the Argentina Trip, click here
6:30am alarm call this morning. Thats two days in a row, one more for the record.
Lots of sweet pastries for breakfast and as much coffee as my bladder would take and it was off to the bus station. At this point I have to say the internet is a marvellous tool for travelling. The cost of a taxi to the park is about 70 pesos, which lets be honest is about 13 quid, not a lot in real money. Problem is Ive been living like a local and have got used to local travel. So 5 pesos from the local bus station to the park, along with the rest of the plebs.
Its 8am by the time we reach the park, just as it opens and already its 32C. Will top 40 by the time I leave the park. As for humidity, well I´ll get on to that later
The one advantage the local bus has is that it bypasses the main park gate and even at 8am there was a very long queue of tour busses, private cars and taxis waiting to get in. Yet another reason to go the cheap way.
Just a short queue to get the tickets and I was in the park. Later that evening a lot of the tourists in the hotel were complaining about being stiffed as foreigners. The price for locals was about 15 pesos or so and for foreigners 85. Thats about 14 or 15 quid. Like seriously folks, if you didnt think the park was worth that, then there is something wrong with your head.
Anyway Id bought the grand adventure ticket in the hotel after some not so hard selling by the people in the hotel. Its a 4×4 truck ride through the jungle/rainforest followed by a boat ride up to the falls. A lot of people on the net forums said the 4×4 bit wasnt worth the money and to skip it but Im glad I didnt.
I had to exchange my voucher for a ticket and one of the reps said I would be better going on the first tour of the morning. Now I did think this was a bit of a tourist trap as Id already paid and they probably didnt want the later people arriving to only full tours but sure what else was I doing and besides which it wasnt going to get any cooler so why not.
Im so glad I did, even though I and the others who had agreed felt like complete tools all 8 of us sitting in this massive flatbed military truck. When we got to the queue for those arriving in the park and buying tickets we filled another 4 trucks. I had been told about the animals, butterflies, spiders and all that but hearing about it and seeing it are completely different things. Ive never seen as many, different coloured, strange looking butterflies in my life and that includes visits to butterfly houses. Forgive the inability to recite the types but to me there were loads of big yellow ones, strange looking iridescent blue ones, bright red ones and the woman sitting next to me on the truck had a small green leaf fall on her and when she went to brush it off it flew away. Some big brown leaves also flew away. Amazing to see.
The guide told us about this big spider which had spun webs across our trail, all bright golden thread. By that I mean there were loads of them, just not one man sized spider working through the night. Although travelling down the path in the early morning light if youd told me it was one big man sized spider Id have believed you. Yet another good reason for being the first truck through in the morning.
These spiders webs are so strong they can catch small birds in flight and lizards. A few minutes later I had my head pulled back by the treads of one and was spitting out yellow web thread. I wasnt the only one. It was like pulling fishing line or thread off your face, it didnt break just came off in long threads. I did think about keeping some to bring home but I can just imagine US and UK customs allowing that one.
After a while we reached the river and it was a long walk down steps to the boats, nothing particularly interesting about that except for the depth markers by the side of the steps long before we could see the boats. Id seen these the day before on the way down to the three frontier crossing point and they started from 40 metres depth downwards. I think the river level at both was about 15 metres. Thats a lot of flooding.
As we got to the boats we were advised to put our belongings in big waterproof bags. I came prepared, my camera backpack has an allweather cover and Id put everything in it. My camera is a pro range one and waterproof and sealed (no Im not setting myself up for a fall, it really is). Now you can buy all sorts of attachments for cameras that you can put round them to make them waterproof, housings, see through windows, etc. My weapon of choice is a supermarket carrier bag. Put a hole at the closed end, push your lens through, sellotape it to the lens hood, and the open end is your access to your controls. It just doesnt work with water, but Ive also used it in the sahara for sand protection. Besides which, how wet could it get?
Lifejackets on, fully seated, although what good were lifejackets going to do as the boat was surrounded by cayman, we took off, and I mean took off. This is the point where I wish my bloody mac hadnt died and I could at least put a whole load of photos to add – I´ll put them up later when I get home.
We sped up to the falls and you hear them before you see them. Theres something primaeval and inherently wrong about humans speeding towards this type of noise. Probably since the dawn of time we have learned to stay the hell away!
I dont have the words to describe the feelings of first seeing the waterfalls from up close. A speeding motorboat isnt the place you notice people going quiet but all talk did stop and every one of us just looked with our mouths open. The word Awesome is overused in the english language but if there ever was a dictionary definition of the word it would include ´see going under the Iguazu waterfalls in a boat´.
We got soaked, we didnt care. We got soaked again, we cared even less.
Up under the Falls, spray hitting you, sun shining, speeding around. Not a care in the world.
The guides then told us to put our stuff in the waterproof bags as this was the point of no return.
Yes, no, really, we are going _under_ the waterfalls. Up until now we had only just skirted round them.
The luggage was stowed, we were told to sit down and they opened the engines up.
Now the night before I had done the old travellers trick of getting showered then putting on my dirty t-shirt and shorts and getting showered again, this time with them on to wash them. I thought that was pretty much about as wet as you cold get. Wrong.
We disappeared in the worlds biggest shower. The sound was deafening, you couldnt see a thing the water was hitting your eyeballs with so much force, wiping away and holding my hand over my eyes you could just occasionally get glimpses of blue sky. You couldnt see the person in front of you the back of whose seat you were gripping for dear life. Screaming seemed the natural thing to do
As did laughing.
If ever there was a case of all sound and no picture, this was it.
We came back out of it and everyone was telling whoever would listen about their experience. Of course they were all exactly the same but we just had to tell _someone_ after all I was 10 years old again.
People started to unpack their cameras again but we were told that that was only one of the smaller falls, the big one would be next. I can honestly say I have never been as wet in my life. Even if I sat in the bath with all my clothes on, it still wouldnt seem like I was as wet as I got beneath the big Falls. The plastic supermarket bag did its job and I even tried taking pictures of the water falling on me, if only to give one eye respite from the pounding water. Never again will I pay any attention to a shower gel commercial that says ´fresh´or ´natural´ They have absolutely no idea.
I take it thats what they mean by 100% humidity then!
By the time we got to shore I realised I was out of breath and my heart was racing, we had been the first of the morning and didnt get the chance to see the other boats behind us disappear into the waterfalls and I do mean disappear. Even seeing it I dont think would have prepared us for what happened.
The whole ´grand adventure´was 200 pesos, I hate to use the word cost as it wasnt a cost, it was a life experience and those things dont cost money. Just under 70 quid. For those of you going, or going on day trips to Iguazu, spend the money, insist on your tour bus waiting. If you dont, you will regret it.
Dripping with water and shaking from the adrenaline rush I made my way back up the lower path to the first coffee shop. You could see the smiles and elation in everyones face, you could see the people walking past us all completely soaked smiling, wondering what the hell they had let themselves in for.
I sat down with a coffee and ordered empanadas. They didnt have any empanadas yet as it wasnt lunchtime so I had 2 pieces of cheesebread. Dont have the cheesebread, I will say nothing more.
Sitting in an air conditioned coffee shop with an ever increasing pool of water on the floor, I did look like Id just pissed myself again but this time I was in company. People walking past staring, wondering what lay in store for them down the path!
Its only then I started to notice the wildlife, big lizards nearby and large raccoon type animals that travelled round in families. The signs said not to feed the wildlife but when the wildlife babies distracted people long enough for the wildlife parents to unzip rucksacks and hunt around in them, its hard not too. Butterflies everywhere.
I didnt review my pictures, I´ll save that for when I get home as I was still in the ´did I just do that´stage.
When I booked the hotel I did have the choice of the Sheraton which is in the park itself but at over 450 quid for two nights just a little bit beyond paying for that extra. I went round to take a look and it is a nice enough hotel but not that much. If I had only one night it would be a no brainer, you get earlier and later access to the park as you are onsite and you can sit with a beer and look at the falls as the moon comes up. OK thats got to be worth an extra 100 quid just for the bragging rights alone.
So on to the trails along the upper part of the falls then the devils throat path in the early afternoon when it was very hot so as not to be as busy. Id hate to see it if it was busy!
I was trying not to think of the rest of the day as downhill after the boatride but there was the temptation to just skip stuff and go back and lie down and recover.
I skipped most of the lower trail as its a lot of steps and the leg probably wouldnt take it. The upper path was quite short and you could either walk to the devils throat or get the train. Let me think about that one.
My 2 litres of water I brought with me was gone in 4 hours, add to that the probably litre I drank under the Falls and it still wasnt enough. It was now around the 40C mark. Id been at this temperature in the Sahara but it didnt feel anywhere near as hot. The walk along the metal walkway out to the Devils throat was scary stuff as you could see the torrents below you rushing past. In the slower sections you could see the fish below, turtles, all sorts of strange things. Birds with BLUE and I dont mean blue, wings, and more butterflies.
I knew I was going to be toasted on the way out, it was windy and there were enough baseball caps going over the falls to say that any hat wouldnt stay on for long.
A couple of hundred yards away from the end you pass over this island with two large palm trees that look like a gateway and when you pass it you hear that roar again, you see the mist and hear the screaming. This is no downturn to the day.
As you get closer the wind changes periodically and you see nothing but you hear everything,more all sound and no picture. The sensible people are in their swimming costumes, Im now as wet as I was in the shower again.
Ive lived in Northern Ireland all my life and one of the regular soundbites for the last 40 years has been ´we are standing on the edge of the abyss´ Well let me tell you boys, you have no fecking idea!
Looking down you couldnt see the bottom, the noise was tremendous, the spray hitting you, just nothing but pure, natural, raw, energy. The devils throat indeed.
Now I could have just taken a few pics and cleared off but it was mesmerising, also fascinating to watch was other peoples reactions, probably just as dumbstruck as Id been. That and just a little bit scared. Did I mention the noise? Bravery award had to go to the onsite photographers who were standing on their stepladders set on a metal frame stuck on metal posts above the garantua del diablo. You couldnt pay me enough to stand on the ladder, never mind shout at people and try to get photos in those conditions.
So that was it, time to call it a day and head back to the hotel. It had been a very good day indeed.
Back at the hotel I tried to explain it as many countless other tourists have tried. The desk staff were smiling the smile of having seen it time and time again and the ´we told you so´ look. They asked if it had been worth it and I said if Id flown Belfast to London to Washington to Buenos Aires to Iguazu, taken just the boat ride and was about to go back the same way, that would have been worth it alone.
I thought Id splurge on dinner in the hotels restaurant. I asked for recommendations from the waiter and he recommended the local fish pulled out of the Iguazu river. I then asked the hotel owner who asked if I liked fish and I told him about years of trout fishing and sea fishing eating really fresh fish, so he said not to have the fish and go for the steak instead! The local fish some people were raving about is just a type of catfish. I have to say the steak was a superb option.
The restaurant was full with a tour group from Australia, mostly women so of course I offered my services to do their group photo. After a bit of shouting and herding the photos were done and my steak was almost ready. One of the women came up to me and asked was I from Belfast and I said I was. She said she used to live in Belfast when she was younger before emigrating to Australia and her family still lived there.
In Glengormley, just across from the Northcott centre, do you know it?
Know it? I live off the Hightown Road less than 5 mins away!
All too soon it was time to go to bed as it was another 6:30 am start to go to the Brazil side of the Falls before going home. The late english language movie was Black Hawk Down.
Maybe I wont take that helicopter ride over the Falls after all….
6:30am quick three Ss (someone emailed to say I wouldnt be brave enough to put a reference to the 3Ss in my blog) and then it was off to Brazil.
The hotel arranged a taxi driver to take me across the border, sort out formalities, take me to the park, wait there the 2-3 hours it takes to do the Brazilian side then back again.
This did sound excessive but I had to be back at the airport at 2:30 and to be honest after a day in the sun, air con failure during the night I had a bit of heatstroke and the longer I was in air conditioning the better!
When we got to the border I saw all the tourists being taken off coaches and the cheap busses, get into line and then go through immigration one at a time, on both sides of the border. The border isnt back to back but theres rather a duty free buffer zone and a great big bridge across the river so two queues.
Apart from a small wait until the Samba band stopped playing and the boys on the sandy beach finished their game of football it was straightforward. Ok I made that bit up but it was in my head crossing the border.
The hotel got it spot on again and the taxi driver sorted it all out and in half an hour I was at the gates to the park. He walked me to the door, saw I got in ok then arranged to meet me in 3 hours at the gate. Real good service.
The Brazilian park is a fraction of the size of the Argentinian one so it only really has one walk and its a 2 hr maximum one allowing for stops and rest points and all that sort of thing. It was interesting to see the Falls from this side as it gave a more panoramic view and particularly with the likes of the Sheraton hotel, put it all in context. I still think the best view is from down in the water but walking along the opposite cliff would again be spectacular if you hadnt done the other side.
The cliff path descends to a spectacular walkway which goes right out under the falls and it was time for a soaking again. It was here you could makeout most of the devils throat whereas on the Argentinian side you only really got to see the top of it. Soaked through again but still laughing it was the first time Id ever seen a circular rainbow, you are at the mid stage of that particular group of falls with one behind and one below so the spray is coming at you from all angles including up!
The photos will do the talking for this side! It was still an awesome experience and Im glad I did both sides, seems a bit of a shame if you have the time not to do both.
I made my way back to the entrance and was still an hour short of my alloted time so I found myself wandering round to the helicopter place right in front of the entrance. I had toyed with the idea of doing this then against due to the whole ecological effects but there is only one operator allowed and they only have one helicopter. Its not like when I did it in the Grand Canyon where it was like a scene from a Vietnam movie with the number of helicopters shuttling around.
The taxi driver was parked outside and he wanted to know if I was going back to the hotel but I said helicopter! Now far be it from me to say that they are on some sort of kickback but he virtually led me by the hand into the office and stood by my side entering all the discussions even though the guy there was very fluent in english. I asked for how long I would have to wait and I was told about a half hour which just about tied in with my return time. As always there was a loud, conversation in Spanish and as soon as the visa machine spat out my receipt I was handed a set of earplugs and told to get to the helicopter. Within 90 seconds I was off the ground and away.
I love helicopter travel, I´ve had about 4 or 5 flights now, all over places like Disneyworld, the Grand Canyon etc etc and its another one of those 10 year old boy incidents. Id always wanted to fly in a bell jet ranger as well and had never flew in one and now I was. I had the rear window seat with the window open so the lens was stuck out quite a few times. I know all flying is three dimensional but theres nothing like a helicopter or light aircraft flight to make you feel all of those three dimensions, its a weird feeling and something I would recommend to anyone, anywhere never mind with the jungle, the rainforest and above all those falls below us.
We didnt get too close to the Falls, for obvious reasons but it really did make the experience complete for me. Ive now seen them from all sides, below, above and inside as well. Another case of getting off and telling everyone who was with me, did you see this, that, did you feel it when it banked over etc etc.
Ive spent more time being 10 in the last 2 days than I did when I was 10.
Back to the hotel and only time left for lunch with that Argentinian special – pizza. Well its Pizza but not as we know it. On my first night here we had pizza. Well it was a cheese and tomato sauce pizza with a few olives thrown in. Thats mozarella man. Was the reply when I asked if they had forgotten to order toppings. So bear that in mind, pizza here is just a base pizza. So I made sure this one had pineapple and ham and sweetcorn and other stuff and very nice it was too.
The rest of the time was spent heading to and waiting at the airport, reasonably uneventful flight but in complete contrast to the flight out. As we made our final approach to BA all you could see as far as the eye could see in all directions were buildings. The closer to the airport it was all apartment blocks and high rises. Whilst not on the same scale as the approach to the old Hong Kng Kai Tak airport it did remind me slightly of that. 2 hour flight from a rainforest environment to an urban jungle.
That was it, no doubt by far and away the highlight of the trip, almost half the budget of the entire month long was spent in 3 days in Iguazu.
And do you know what? It was a bargain.
To see the photos from the Argentina Trip, click here
As the title suggests Im afraid the next couple of posts will be all sound but no picture. As I was packing the last of my stuff for my trip to Iguazu my macbook decided to pack up without warning and just flash a little folder icon at me. Charming! First laptop ever to completely die on me and its a macbook. Looking at the design its not hard to see why, lovely to look at but poorly thought out, very little air circulation for the hard drive, hence its expiry after 2 years of not much use at all. Still, it looks nice.
Half an hour of shouting at it and calling it nasty names didnt really help the issue, just rapidly reaching the conclusion it was ‘donald ducked’.
So no net access for the next couple of days, no photo editing and processing and one of the backup streams gone. Now just relying on the original cards and an external hard drive.
So up ridiculously early the next morning for the 830am flight to Iguazu. Taxi had already been booked and he even turned up early so a good start to the day. I have to admit dozing off in the taxi on the way to the airport because thats ok, the taxi driver did too. I only noticed when my head hit the roof of the cab as we hit a speedbump doing about 70. One of the ten commandments says that you should not take the name of the Lord in vain. Well I wasnt really using his name in vain, just calling for help really loudly.
Every intersection the taxi driver would fall asleep and this is the point where you really should get out and just call it a day. Of course,no, just sit on and pray.
So we got to the airport and I felt like doing the whole get out and kiss the ground type thing.
Now Id booked my flight with LAN airlines, primarily because every travel forum you go on tells you not to book with Aerolinas Argentinas because they have a nasty habit of saying ‘nahh we dont fancy it today’. Sure enough they dont appear to do mornings as a lot of the flights were delayed or cancelled. What was worrying was that my already delayed flight wasnt showing a gate number on the tv displays. Having no water and it now being only 20 mins before the supposed departure time I went through security anyway and sat next to a gate. Departure time came and went with the display still showing ‘on time’. Yes indeed it may be on time but which time? Eventually word spread that the flight was delayed by another 3 hours. The reason given was ´non-arrival of aircraft’ or in other words ‘we couldnt be arsed’.
Now you can approach this issue one of two ways, you can go up to the LAN desk and let the whole airport know you are pissed off and just annoy the staff, or you can go up and ask if they are laying on free coffee and sandwiches. So as I tucked into my coffee and sandwiches I noticed one group of north american tourists shouting a lot and telling everyone who would and wouldnt listen that they were annoyed.
So sure enough at 1130 when they had solved their technical difficulties or ´filled the plane´ as it now became apparent we took off.
About 20 mins out of Iguazu I just happened to look out of the window and noticed that all you could see in any direction was rainforest, no sign of human habitation at all. It was a stunning sight. Only as you approached Iguazu did the trees become more in lines and the odd road etc.
10 mins out we commenced our bombing run, sorry meant to say final approach but the angle the airbus turned at it did appear that this would be somewhat final. As we bounced down the runway maybe someone had just bombed it before we arrived. Ive never been one for clapping as an aircraft finally comes to a stop but I have to say the clapping noises were preferable to the screaming heard only minutes before.
Iguazu airport really is just a clearing in the jungle. I hadnt seen things this green since I left Ireland which is a bit of a lie because when I left Ireland, it was all white.
One of the best bits about travel forums is that you pick up loads of little bits of useful information, like book a seat at the left hand window to see the falls as you come in, dont book a hotel taxi as theres a bus at the airport that will take you to your hotel for 20 pesos, dont go anywhere near the hotel you booked etc etc. Oops I read the last one too late. Still seemed nice enough. Well lets put it like this, it had hot showers, soft bed and seats that wouldnt make an imprint on my arse after 5 minutes.
So after a nice long shower I put the tv on to see what was happening with the world, the tv turned on to last years Tandragee road races. You just cant escape.
The hotel was deserted, the town was deserted, the point where three countries meet (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay) was deserted. It took a while to work out that everyone and their dogs must be at the Falls.
Good job too, walking through town, sweat pouring out of me, dark grey shorts looking like Id pissed myself , trying to look everyone I passed in the eye saying ‘Hola’ just wasnt working. I grabbed some bottles of water and some apples in the supermarket and retired to my air conditioned room.
Time to lie down, watch some american movies and just chill out, quite literally. Tomorrow will be a long day.
To see the photos from the Argentina Trip, click here
Sorry, did you really think I was going to make it through an entire month in Argentina without one ‘Dont Cry for me’ quote. Well today it happened before we took the city bus tour. As we queued for the buenosairesbus.com tour the suntan cream was running into my eyes and one of my friends said ‘Dont Cry’ to which the reply was ‘for me Argentina’. Sad I know but there you go.
So I finally made it down into the centre of Buenos Aires. The city bus tour looked like a good option if I was going to try and avoid being mugged, robbed, beaten up, raped, shot, stabbed and dumped in a skip.
As Ive mentioned previously I had a whole shot list of photo ideas that I wanted to do but talking to my friends here in the current climate it would probably at best end up with me coming home several kilos of camera equipment lighter and at worst several kilos of body parts lighter.
Going round on the tour bus Im not saying that my friends were being overly cautious but based more on travelling between tourist areas than the tourist areas themselves.
The bus is one of those hop-on hop-off affairs and it takes about 3 and a half hours to do the circuit, we had all day and it was dull and overcast in the morning. Typical, the day I’m fit and well enough to go out and do a major photo session its the first real overcast day we’ve had. Of course the weather forecast for the rest of my stay in BA is thunderstorms so manana doesnt really quite cut it
So the plan was to be completely sad and stay on the bus for the first circuit and see if the weather improved. This involved no more effort than sticking the elbow out of the side of the bus and lying back. Of course sticking the elbow out of the side of the bus was precisely how I got a perfect triangle of peeling tan on my left elbow. by now of course this is now redder and deeper but thats another story.
The first thing I noticed about our newly arrived open top bus was that it wasnt open topped. There had been some rain the day before and people got wet and complained and tried to get their money back. The bus company had then put the bolt on rooves on. Great to stop you getting wet, rubbish if you want to sit at the top of the bus and look all around you. To those people who complained about getting wet in the rain on an open topped bus I can probably guess your nationality, but sure come to Belfast, our open top busses have a forcefield that deflects rain so you can see all around you in the worst weather. Just remember its pay in advance and absolutely no refunds and dont beleive everything you read on the internet.
So of course I managed to pick the wrong side of the bus, the row with no working headphones and even if they were the speakers behind me blasting out the spanish tour information would have drowned them out anyway. No-one thought to think that the high volume setting might need to come down a bit now theres a roof on.
But still very little to see in the dull grey light anyway and even less to photograph.
After about 3 or 4 stops of the hop on hop off tour no-one had hopped on or hopped off. I thought we were going to be the only saddos doing this but it turned out that the scare stories had indeed pervaded all of the visiting society who deemed it safer just to sit on this bright yellow bus. For those reading and if you are ever in the same situation, the left hand side of the bus is best, probably about 2 or 3 rows from the loudspeakers at the back. Judging by the number of tree branches crashing off the roof a crash helmet wouldnt be a bad idea, but definitely sunglasses. Thats todays health and safety announcement over.
I love watching people and I had a real treat on this trip, in front of me was a tourist couple, German, who sat over two rows of two seats, both at the window side one behind the other. For most of the trip they sat with their backpacks on the spare seats beside them. People would come up to the top deck to look for free seats and they both would ruffle about in their bag to take up as much space as possible. You rarely see such coordination outside of the synchronised swimming in the Olympics. The old man in front had a wee point and shoot camera with a big screen so it would be rude of me not to look at what he was shooting. All I can say is dirty old man. Every time we stopped he would use the high vantage point to zoom down on some really good looking tanned womans cleavage and take a photo. Im describing this in great detail for research purposes only. I dont know if his wife was aware, didnt know, didnt care whatever but firstly I thought what a sleaze, secondly I thought I really should have brought my point and shoot (to blend in and be safe you understand, not to look down womens cleavage). Anyway at one point in the tour outside Recoleta these two stunningly beautiful tall blonde women came up to the top of the bus and had a look round for seats (either German or Scandinavian or similar). The old guy couldnt lift his bag off the seat quick enough, Im sure he was verging on hernia territory he moved that quickly. But they took one look and moved down the bus. Following them up the stairs were two huge black guys and our hero couldnt get the bag down in time before one took up residence beside him. I must have seemed a right idiot laughing away to myself.
Driving round on the bus we got to see pretty much all the tourist sites and spots, in complete contrast to my previous experience, BA is a beautiful city, full of wide avenues, mixtures of old colonial buildings, modern architecture, european with a hint of not. The commercial area is pretty much the same as any commercial area in any big city in the world and down here it was the first I’d seen of multinationals and billboard type advertising. Again little to separate the place from most other world cities.
Its the quirky nature of some places, the old decaying buildings, the former rich family palaces who when they fell on hard times sold out to foreign governments so there is an area filled with some of the best looking embassies in the world.
Its not really a walk around city as a lot of it is very spread out (as the 3 and a half hour bus tour with only 12 stops) would tell you, but there are areas that it looked like it would be very safe to walk around. Its a strange mix, one of the locals told me theres no real middle class, just rich and poor and this certainly seems to be borne out travelling round. The bus tour mainly goes through rich areas but down around La Boca it goes through areas the police had told me not to walk through. Of course these are the areas with the friendliest people, waving and smiling at the people on the bus.
The weather was picking up as we finished our first circuit so we decided to stay on the bus and go round again and get off at Recoleta, famous for us primarily as the area containing the Recoleta cemetary and the tomb of Evita Peron. The bus stops outside the tourist office and theres a half hour wait before it continues so we chatted and I decided to get off the bus, get some photos of the nearby Plaza De Mayo before we set off. Of course the driver and guide had nicked off for a mate and a smoke so we were locked in, something they dont tell you so be warned
So at this point I have a confession to make, well not a confession of sorts but more an explanation of how we work. I love getting all the tourist literature from a place and going through all the photos and comparing whats in the brochures to whats actually there. For example, if I want to photograph a place in Ireland at dawn I would scout out the location, pick a good morning with relevant clouds, pick area, pick spot, get there well before dawn, get photos, come home, review etc etc. This might take 2 or 3 goes due to changing weather conditions, some moron has parked a white van in the wrong spot or any multitude of things. So the finished images could have taken weeks of research and maybe a couple of years to get the right sort of conditions.
None of which you are going to see speeding past in a big yellow bus. You might but its highly doubtful. Its like the city tour, coming mid summer isnt going to be a good idea, going over midday isnt a good idea, certain buildings will look better in the morning, or evening or in the case of the Theatro Colon, in May when they take the scaffolding down! Im glad there isnt a trade descriptions act for tourism or Id be permanently in court.
‘Your honour, exhibit A, the Giants Causeway’
‘Your honour, exhibit B, what we saw, mist’
So bearing that in mind and taking a more realistic view of the descriptions of Recoleta cemetary I went forearmed.
I have to say though, it lived up to every single description. The cemetary is for the rich and famous of Argentina, its described as a city of the dead, with streets, walkways, ornate buildings. No-one is buried underground (at least that I could tell) and the whole place is a show of wealth and status, even when you are dead. Every word is true, Ive never seen the like of it before. Well organised and laid out, the equivalent of coffin multistoreys in some cases. Glass doors with small rooms with coffins neatly stacked and laid out. It seems strange for someone used to burying people in the ground or burning them to see them laid out in a small living room type environment. Some coffins hundreds of years old, in most cases perfectly preserved. In some tombs the marble has broken and bits of coffin sticking out here or there adds to the slightly eerie feeling when you find an avenue not populated by tourists. We spent time wandering around and avoided the headlong rush to Evitas tomb. One of my friends has a family burial plot there that they have never seen and we found it. A distant relative was a general in the army and judging by the size of the tomb was very well off indeed and very well thought of judging by the number of plaques.
Wandering back I just kept an eye out for a queue of tourists and sure enough found evitas tomb. In relative terms it is quite modest compared to some there but probably the most famous for non-Argentinians.
There is a busy market on the hill on the way up to the cemetary, something they dont show you in the tourist brochures of the walls
Its a place selling all sorts of tourist tat but notorious for pickpockets so watch out.
That pretty much sums up the bus tour of BA for me, lots of nice looking places but little in the way of real interest for me. I could have got on and off and did a lot more tourist shots of buildings rather than just drive bys but unlike other cities I do get bad vibes from acting the tourist here. Ideally Id like to take time over things hanging around waiting for decent or the ‘right’ light to photograph things, take pictures of local people doing local things and generally experiencing the life of the place but with a camera and lens worth more than most people make here in a year, the gulf in society, the massive and unpublished inflation and similarly underplayed unemployment figures I have to realise that I would like to go home in one piece. For me thats the saddest thing about being here, a beautiful city but I suspect there isnt much income from tourism to justify the extra spend making people feel safer. Travel forums are full of stories of tourists being victims of crime and yes the internet gives a voice to the dozen or so people affected, thats not to diminish their plights but there are perhaps thousands that nothing has happened to. Im not a normal tourist though, I carry a lot of expensive equipment, I have two cellphones with me, both of which have never left my room in the apartment. I have a ‘cheap’ swatch watch that has never been on my wrist since the airport, I cant wear half my travel clothes as they would signal me out as a target. Its something I feel stronger here, again perhaps my friends are being overcautious but as with the kidney stones incident it will be them left to pick up the pieces and I have to bow to their judgement, they are the people who live here and are on the ground day in day out.
There are some beautiful photos of Buenos Aires out there, Id come with loads of ideas of how to do them my way but sadly thats not going to be the case, Im sure things will improve here, just as probably things at home might worsen. A friend of mine travelled round the world 10 years ago and has some beautiful photos of places you would never consider travelling to today. Similarly places he couldnt go then have become must sees now.
Things will change, cruise ships regularly dock in Belfast now, something not considered just 10 years ago.
I have to say though, if you do get the bus tour and you only decide to hop on and hop off once, do it at Recoleta. It is probably one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited and I say that about very few places I’ve been.
Speaking of which, its nearly time to pack to head to Iguazu Falls. Ive just checked the weather forecast for Wednesday and they have a ‘feels like’ value. In Belfast its normally something like 2C but feels like -5C. For Iguazu its 39C feels like 56C. Poke me with a stick and tell me when I’m done.
To see the photos from the Argentina Trip, click here
Following on from yesterdays disaster
I did indeed get up at 6am. Needless to say consuming 3 litres of water in as many hours meant that sleep was almost impossible.
So by 6am I was still a bit sore but the water was flowing freely and going on previous experience the worst had passed or been passed but thats too much information.
So had a shower and got ready to go on the day trip to Colonia Del Sacremento. Which is in Uruguay a completely different country altogether
I had hoped for a longer trip to Colonia then on to Montevideo for a couple of night but just wasnt able to put it in the time remaining. If I had been able to plan as I wanted then the whole kidney stones thing would have hit me roughly as I was on a 2 hour bus trip from Colonia to Montevideo. Who says things dont happen for a reason.
So I packed my bag and put in 2 half litre bottles of water.
By the time I’d caught the underground and walked to the ferry terminal Id about 100ml left. Oops.
Due to the late nature in booking this trip Id booked the luxury trip (ferry, full guided tour, full dinner) etc and the cheapo seats on the ferry were booked up. So I had the option of premier class or first class. Since first class was only 3 quid dearer then why the hell not.
On arriving I had my ticket double checked (I always travel like a scruff, then again I always dress like a scruff so no change there then) and was escorted to the VIP lounge. I could get used to this. So priority boarding and up to the ‘special’ lounge which has more airconditioning, large lounge type leather seats, free drinks and table waitress service. Of course other than downing my coffee and visiting the loo I slept most of the way there.
Even in ‘special’ class with its ‘special’ reserve toilets the stink was overpowering, each toilet and urinal had a wee note explaining that the toilets were eco friendly and the odd colour of the water was because it came directly from the river. What was left unsaid was that the contents were probably rejoined with the river just as quickly.
I made a mental note that if the boat went down it would probably be a better bet not to put on a lifejacket and to forget that I know how to swim. Probably best to go quickly. As the ship left BA at a speed the seacat and HSS can only dream of all the huge dead fish in its wake told its old story. It also explains why when the tour guide in Colonia asked if we wanted the driver to stop for a bit by the river so we could go swimming. Silence. That will be a no then.
I dont remember much else about the trip over apart from some of the proles down in cattle class starting a fight. Oh they can be such ruffians.
Now out of water I thought I’d buy a bottle from the first class lounge, I didnt know if they took Argentinian pesos in Uruguay (they do) or if they had ATMs (they do) or what the currency rate is (about 30 to the pound). I didnt want to go to an ATM and take money out only to find I was presenting a shopkeeper with something that would buy a small car rather than a bottle of water. In my defence last nights research time was spent in casualty.
So I ordered a bottle of water, no make that two, no better make that three. So it came to about 18 arg pesos which although is about 3 quid is a massive ripoff, maybe I should have bought them down in cattle class.
As I started to get off the boat some of the pain started coming back, maybe all the movement in the boat had moved stuff around or dislodged stuff. Im not a doctor so stuff is as good as you get.
I got the feeling this could be the shortest day trip to Colonia on record but by the time I’d got to the terminal I was feeling less terminal. Immigration had taken place back in BA so it was straight to the tour busses.
Now. I love travelling alone or with friends and doing the independent thing but at times its nice just to kick back and let someone else take the strain in an organised tour. Since the luxury tour here was about 10 quid extra including a full meal instead of sandwiches and a coach tour to various spots, what the hell.
I have a dim view of most of these tours organised by local reps as I dont expect most of them to be anything like you read in the brochures or online literature. Looking through sites like the lonely planet forums or tripadvisor usually gives a decent bit of feedback.
Two ‘tours’ I always laugh about are the Moscow river and dinner tour and another one I took in Guangzhou in China quite a few years ago. The Moscow one wasnt cheap and we ‘cruised’ the Moscow river for two hours followed by a ‘gourmet’ dinner. Ive put two of those words in quotes and you can probably guess why. 30 tourists hiding under a plastic canopy in freezing July in Moscow whilst a tour guide rattled off names in Russian cannot be called a cruise by any dictionary in the world. I did find out that the big Stalin built (not by him himself of course) apartment blocks ringed the city so the one Id been using to get directions off was probably 3 different ones. The ‘gourmet’ dinner consisted of a starter plate of slices of tomato and cucumber (about 3 of each), followed by a tray of fried eggs between us all, followed by a baked potato with a small amount of pike, followed by a tray of chocolate eclair pastries. One of my mates doesnt eat fish or eggs, I suppose he got the better deal really although it was funny at the time. What was even funnier was when they served the chocolate eclairs, they lifted them off the serving plate, cut them in two then put half on each of our plates. I have to say having spent 3 days in Moscow this probably was gourmet and rather than complain was one of the funniest things we’d ever seen. People had stopped showing their disappointment, even to our ever present vhs camerman. Funnily enough we werent told we’d be videoed and were never offered copies….
The previous best to that was the tour of Guangzhou. The terracotta warriors museum (of which there were two and many mirrors), the kids of Kindergarden 1 performing (it was closed that day), the visit to see a panda at the zoo (well you could see the ear of the panda) and the trip to the market and the gourmet (that word again) dinner.
The market was brilliant, I mean brilliant from a cruel observer point of view. Many on the bus thought it would be a place full of trinkets, and colourful items and loads of plastic tat. It was in fact a live animal market. When I say live, all the animals we saw were live when we got there and a few had expired by the time I was the last one back on the bus. I have to say the people carrying off the fish and the chickens couldnt get much fresher, as they walked past the bus the animals were still twitching. I have to say though its easy to criticise other tourists but almost getting splattered by the blood from the goat who had just got his throat cut but managed to work itself loose would almost have put me off my dinner too.
We got to a really superb hotel and everyone relaxed, gold and marble everywhere, not even the Romans would have had somewhere as decadent as that. As we entered the restaurant are there were the usual row of fishtanks which most of the new arrivals didnt realise were our dinner options. Most people are familiar with the straight to wok noodles but straight to wok fish needs a bit of getting used to. Particularly the selection method which you think means ‘ahh look at that fish’ and which means ‘spear that one and cook it immediately’.
Once this had passed down the line people stopped pointing. Then as we all gathered one of the fishkeepers decided to clear his entire sinuses in a way only footballers know how. (finger over one nostril, blow like mad). He had great aim and it went straight into the biggest tank and was promptly devoured by a mass of fish.
Looks like nobody for fish then.
Surprisingly the most popular item consumed during the whole banquet was rice. In fact I think it was the only item consumed.
So back to Colonia, back on an air conditioned coach, there were only 5 of us on the bus, myself and 2 australian couples. Which isnt really a surprise. I love australians and their attitude to things, they get on with it and do it, no pissing around, no pissing anyone else off. Just leaving your job to go travelling round the world for 8 months, I just take my hat off to anyone doing it. Just Do It as the famous ad says. One couple were 2 weeks into a world tour which would last 8 months the other had been away 2 months and were on their last couple of weeks having been to Cuba, Colombia and Bolivia previously. Of course one of them had to have been of Irish descent and I said the only difference between his great great grandfather and mine was that his got caught stealing bread and mine didnt. Even the mutual greeting of ‘hows it going’ seemed to bond us all. Great travelling companions and a good laugh and down to earth as well.
The first stop was only 5 mins down the road, a walking tour round old Colonia. Colonia is a beautiful wee place and deserves the unesco recognition. It is a bit of a tourist trap but today it wasnt busy so we got time to walk around and see things, and from a photography perspective, time to assess light and see which places I could easily return to in the afternoon.
Id recommend a trip to Colonia to anyone, but only for a couple of hours, thats all it really takes, you dont need a guide and everything is signposted in different languages. Above all else it is very very safe, It relies on tourist trade and people cant do enough for you. They will accept arg pesos, us dollars and euros in the shops as well as the local currencies. Like any other tourist resort you can hire mopeds or quads and golf carts to get around. Although I didnt I would consider it. Did I mention it was safe to walk around with a camera? if I didnt, it is.
Getting to act like a real tourist for the first time since I’ve been here. Have to say it was refreshing.
After the walking tour (which was pretty much the whole of colonia) we got on the bus to visit the bullring and a homestead/farm (read tourist trap) place.
Id been interested in seeing the bullring but as we drove round it it had been fenced off as too dangerous. For some odd reason I thought it might have been working or had been working until recently. No it was built in 1910, staged 8 bullfights then bullfighting was banned in 1912. Still it looks like a mini colosseum but not even worth asking them to stop the bus for. The homestead was interesting as it was the first place we saw toilets and my current predicament I was thankful for that. Other than that a few photos, some marmalade and cheese tasting (not at the same time) was about it. Well not quite the owner of the place has quite a few collections of things, keyrings, pencils, perfume bottles, a whole house devoted to the collections.
Then it was back into Colonia for lunch. I have to say the lunch was superb and we took 2 hours over it, lovely restaurant, great service and real good food. I did say to my travelling companions that as an irishman it takes a lot for me to compliment the steak and potatoes elsewhere. They laughed as one of the couples came from a sheep and dairy farm and agreed with me. Lo De Renata was the restaurant and thoroughly recommended.
Id say the cost of the entire trip would probably have only cost twice would it would have cost for the dinner back home.
After lunch there was just time for a bit of wandering down to the handicraft market and then back through the town before pickup to go back to the early evening fast ferry. Seems like a hurried day but was just enough time without feeling rushed.
Back on the fast ferry I was greeted with a glass of champagne in the ‘special’ lounge but I bet theyve never had anyone refuse it before and ask for water. So whilst everyone drank champagne I had water out of a coca cola cup.
Thats my kind of travelling first class
I travelled to Colonia with Buquebus (who has one of the worst websites going and never answer their email) and would recommend the trip to anyone. Definitely something worth doing if you have a couple of days to spare in Buenos Aires.
To see the photos from the Argentina Trip, click here
To see the photos from the Trip to Colonia Del Sacramento, Uruguay click here