..I love shopping in the USA, I havent been ‘medium’ size in nearly 15 years….
..Non-Dairy creamer – like really? WTF is that? Its just slightly less toxic watercolour paint..
…continental breakfasts – now heres a thing – Ive always understood continental breakfasts to mean two things, firstly the continent is Europe and secondly its a minimal non-cooked breakfast.
Mostly its coffee and a croissant/pastry and possible maybe a slice of bread with a slice of ham/salami and cheese and even at a push a cold hard boiled egg.
Now I appreciate that North America is also a continent and perhaps thats what the ‘continental’ refers to but lets face it, bacon, scrambled eggs, mushroom stew or something, biscuit (fecking bun!), pastry, cereal, pancakes, gravy (never seen white gravy in my life before now) and shitloads of other stuff does not really constitute the worlds definition of a continental breakfast. Full dinner for a roomfull of people perhaps but continental breakfast for one? Saunter!
Meanwhile the food tour continues and although Im going on an enforced diet from now on its primarily to try to limit calorie intake to below 10 thousand per day. Oh and I might just introduce alcohol while Im at it.
My first night in Nashville was sort of a recovery exercise, I planned to take it easy and unpack in the hotel, write my previous blog and then go to bed early for the evening.
So after the blog writing I just thought Id go down and have a look at what the hotel bar looked like….
…I left at just after one after spending an evening with an aircrew from Atlanta. It was slightly disconcerting that this was their stopover and they were flying out the next day after a few whiskeys in the hotel bar but then again its not my flight and I’m sure they will be fine. I cant really go into the conversation much because my head really hurt the next day but that was probably the long journey but in case it wasnt watch out for the Yazoo dark ale in Tennessee. I did leave the aircrew with one legacy though, as I left there was a chorus of ‘Ah for fuck sake, dry your eyes!’ I might have said this once or twice in conversations about the price of gas (petrol) and other things. I just hope that if some person on a plane the next day complains about their non-dairy creamer not being skinny or tall or any of that shite that they get told to ‘Ah for fuck sake, dry your eyes!’ The world will be a better place.
Ive resisted the temptation to join the redneck nation by not buying a pair of cowboy boots or cowboy hat. I have to say though I do quite fancy a cowboy hat, if only for a laugh but the price of Stetsons and so on would make you cry. 200 odd quid for an off the shelf pair of cowboy boots and starting at half that for hats that dont look like they were bought in a joke shop.
Besides which the hats come in boxes which would need a plane by themselves. I know I could wear the hat home but lets face it, I look a big enough dick walking through airports with enough camera gear to run a small press office never mind sticking a bloody cowboy hat on. Besides theres a slim chance I might meet someone who knows me and outside the social wearing the cowboy hat as a joke scenario…
We headed out the first evening to a place called the station inn, which is apparently quite good..
So good it was booked up and we didnt even get to the door. There is something about a place that tells you to feck away off, they are busy by using a paper plate stuck to the door. Thats the type of informality I’m getting to like around here.
It was a lovely evening and unfortunately probably the last good one for the trip to Nashville its been grey skies and thunderstorms the whole week, which pretty much rules out a lot of photography so I’ll just have to keep eating…
In the car park of the station Inn we bumped into Vince Gill. Id now idea who Vince Gill was but apparently its a big deal….
It was then time for ice cream – why? Well when isnt it time for ice cream?
I thought Id go for a wander downtown in Nashville and see if there were any hop on hop off tours available. There were but you had to hop off and on at the same spot and the busses were an hour apart. They only ran from 10-4 with I think 8 stops. Which fecking genius worked that out? I booked myself on the tour to the Jack Daniels factory on thurs instead. Which reminds me I must read internet reviews in future before booking anything else!
For the rest of the afternoon it really did chuck it down, more of a singing in the rain than an all shook up.
You know the way people tell you stories of their travels and the further it gets from the trip the more exaggerated things become? Well apart from me who exaggerates it to start with. Id just like to add on the record that everything anyone tells you about jacks BBQ on Broadway in Nashville is true.
Unbelieveable food, tender slow cooked bbq’d meat falling off the bone and without doubt apart from a BBQ I had in Canada the best meat dinner Ive ever had in North America. If you only get to eat out in one place in Nashville, make sure its Jacks.
After jacks we went to the famous legends corner honky tonk bar and there was a guy called Matt Mason playing here. He has just won Country Music Television’s next superstar competition. Id never heard of it but apparently its a big deal…
We tried to make bookings for the Station Inn the following night for some famous show or other and halfway through the booking answering machine message I got facebook messages to not book it.
Now I grew up listening to all sorts of music, Ive all sorts of music on my portable mp3 player (mr Jobs doesnt sponsor me so I wont advertise him either) as well as my non i-whatever phone. From classical to rave, rock, pop, irish trad, irish contemporary, african, country and western and so on. Every sunday morning it was Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Elvis etc on the radiogram.
And I knew what the Grand Old Opry was as a lot of the live recordings were from there (and San Quentin ) I knew it wasnt the modern building before me but rather a black and white version of the old building in town.
At this point I’ll add a bit about the net reviews of the Grand Ole Opry calling it redneck central. Well it is and it isnt. I was spectacularly unimpressed with a lot of the cheap ‘buy my album and latest song for our troops’ shite from the first few performers. I hate that, wheeling out injured soldiers and the like saying they are heroes. Dont get me wrong I think anyone that dons a uniform and puts their life and limbs on the line in the name of their country should be looked after for life if they get hurt and if they are killed their families should be well looked after.
If you are going to dedicate stuff to wounded soldiers then give them all the fecking money, they need it more than you do. Not 10% or any other such crap, continue with your convictions.
Similarly theres a hell of a lot more innocent civilians lying dead and injured in squalor in far flung places due to actions of said military, but few people care about them, and they wont further anyones career.
The second half of the bill was just pure entertainment. I dont care who you are or what type of music you like but good music is good music.
Jeannie Seely had the place in stiches and despite being over 90 years of age Little Jimmy Dickens rocked the place.
The final act was a guy called Rodney Atkins who had some issues with his mikes and all that but still had the place roaring. Hes quite well known and although Id never heard of his stuff, its apparently a big deal…
Just a word to stave off any potential ligitation, the photos of the performers at the Grand Ole Opry are for illustration and blog purposes only, they are not for resale or intended to be offered for sale. That should satisfy the lawyers and PR people – although they were all quite nice and at least allow personal/blog use.
If I havent pee’d enough people off with the slight politics talk, I’ll now go on to religion seeing as Im on a roll… …Other than back home I have never seen as many churches, anywhere (ok possible exception of Rome but they are predominantly one religion). Its big business here and I mean big business. The bat building (AT&T) is only 1/3 full yet the religious ministries buildings are expanding. Drive out into the country and its seriously like driving through Northern Ireland, you are falling over churches.
I was told another ‘must see’ was the Loretta Lynn ranch and we drove like lunatics to get to the ranch for the last tour of the day at 4pm. Its a bit weird in all honesty, theres a reconstruction of her daddys old wooden home to show the poor beginnings. In reality I wouldnt mind living there as its bigger than my house! Yep a coal miners daughter was a hard life, no doubt about that but until the early 80s we were still crapping in an outside yard toilet and no central heating or running hot water.
Our tour guide had all the charisma of an England football team manager and glossed over certain bits (or just couldnt be arsed – which is more likely) but if you have an interest, its certainly worth a visit. Particularly to see the community that exists there now, theres a camping park, playground, communal grounds and a bike racetrack.
By this stage having raced out our stomachs thought our throats had been cut so instead of the bland pseudo motorway service station food we had been eating we stopped off at a wee mexican roadside diner.
Without doubt the best mexican food I have ever had and this coming from a guy who gave serious thought to opening a mexican restaurant in Belfast. A fail on the pics of the food but I was soo hungry I didnt bother, just a quick grab shot of the outside afterwards. Guess we might have to stop there again on the way out of Nashville tomorrow…
…another quick stop on the way back was to the Hickory Hollow Mall. It was advertised as being huge but its partly closed and a lot of the shops are shut, looks like the recession has hit it hard and a few tumbleweeds wouldnt have been out of place, just like some of the centres back home.
It did have the biggest American flag I have ever seen in my life though. Wonder if its just up for the upcoming 4th July celebrations or if its a permanent feature. The americans do love their flag everywhere.
Today it was off to the Jack Daniels distillery. Id booked a tour to take me there, to another distillery and a quick trip to Lynchburg town square for a bit of shopping (or lunch in my case). I missed breakfast as it was an early start and was worried Id be completely paralytic by lunchtime due to the whiskey sampling…
Only later in online blogs and reports did I notice that the distillery is in a dry county, so they arent allowed to serve you samples. Like seriously, WTF? Come to Jacks famous distillery and have some lemonade? It was nice lemonade but come on, if you are selling bottles of stuff that is only available here, then at least allow us to sample them somewhere. FFS! Like seriously, catch a fecking grip. Thats not on and a serious pisser to any whiskey fan. Then again to be fair any serious whiskey fan isnt going to touch most of it with a barge pole. Maybe its a marketing ploy, you have to wait until you get home to find out its dark pish in a bottle.
The tour was interesting because I was there but nothing I didnt know from 30 miles up the road in Bushmills. Im sure some of the residents of Bushmills would like it to be a dry county but at least there to get to taste versions before they do the hard sell on you. Even in the town of lynchburg they can only sell you the empty bottles. The town is just a square and they were setting up for their frontier day so it wasnt much to write home about. I wandered off through the rest of the town and got talking to the local sheriff. Well as usual I was going to get my collar felt and talked myself out of it We had previously agreed to spend the rest of the time at the town and skip the second distillery – if they werent in a dry county Id feel even more short changed than I do now. The ‘entertainment’ on the bus consisted of episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies and some other black and white show – andy something or other.
That was it really, slept on the bus on the way back and really pissed off that I now feel obliged to give a tip when I’d paid 45 dollars for a fecking bus ride oh and the 7 hour trip included the hotel pick up and drop off times as well which were an hour either way. Im glad I went but Id not really advise anyone to do it unless they were a real JD fan and one of the local busses would be quicker and a hell of a lot cheaper.
Right its getting to the stage where the immortal words of one of my friends comes to mind ‘lets get the f*ck out of dodge’. Close enough but maybe theres enough time for one more ice cream or maybe those cowboy boots after all. Tomorrows overnight and start of the journey back north should be interesing. In the last week one of the towns we travelled through has been evacuated due to flooding and tomorrows overnight could be in one of the US’s most dangerous cities. And no its not dodge city!
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
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.
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.
Well it finally had to happen. I managed to drag myself away from photographing beautiful women and drinking cheap beer to get my ass down into Buenos Aires.
It was time to get the camera out, dodge the muggers and thieves and get down to photographing the tourist spots.
But first another cup of coffee.
Then a look at the thermometer which surely must be wrong.
Then a look outside up into direct sunlight that would make a gremlin shriek.
So after two hours of faffing around further it was decided that no it wasnt going to get any cooler and we had a 3 hour window of good light to get at least some tourist shots under my belt.
When I came here I had two A4 pages of shots I wanted to take. I showed this to my hosts who did a lot of tutting, pointing, and sharp intakes of breath only before seen in the world of automobile mechanics.
It was decided that if I want to get home in approximately the same number of pieces I came in I’d better limit myself to all the other photos of Buenos Aires there are on the net.
It became apparent that there are only certain pictures from certain angles for a reason, firstly few tourists seem to come here and those that do are only stopping off for a day or two on the way to Antarctica or Patagonia or some other remote reason.
Thats a shame and then again it isnt. As people have offered by email I’ve long since lost hope of my chances of getting a job with the Argentinian tourist board. I like to think of myself as fairly streetwise having grown up in the lower falls area of Belfast during the height of the troubles but I keep reminding myself, you dont know _here_.
Thats what I have local guides for and for those of you thinking of travelling to places like BA this is well worth the investment. I say investment as its not really an expense. A local guide can give you a flavour no disney like cruise ship day pass can ever do.
Be sensible, dont wear jewelry, expensive watches, dont walk around with designer clothes on (fake or otherwise), take a minimum of stuff out with you, keep a photocopy of your passport somewhere. Always bear in mind that most crime is opportunist, no matter what country you are in. Dont take strange cabs, I had two young women jump in my car in Belfast one night and ask me to take them home because they couldnt afford a taxi. If I wasnt acting like their big brother I wonder what the hell they were thinking of. One lived up a dark road just outside Belfast and got me to drop them off there. Height of stupidity. But they were drunk, on a work night out and had spent their last few quid on a kebab rather than a bus or taxi.
It also sounds heartless but try to distance yourself from obvious targets as you might get caught in the crossfire.
Getting back to today the plan was to go to La Boca, walk to Caminito then walk round the shoreline to Puerto Madero. Sounds simple enough. Then why are tour busses dropping people off at the Boca stadium door, picking them up there then driving them the couple of blocks to Caminito? As my guide said, well it may just be a short distance between here and there but the muggers know that tourists will be walking that way so take your pictures, put your camera in your bag and then we walk down.
I stopped to get a picture of a local cop who was standing on the ‘border’ street corner giving out advice. He posed for a picture and asked me to make sure I captioned it with the word ‘underpaid’, so I will. We walked a block (about 100m) away from the Boca shops and had lunch, a steady stream of the odd one or two tourists walked past looking obviously like tourists and covering their cameras round their necks with their hands. Yes from my experience of Northern Ireland I highly doubt that will stop a bullet.
So on to Caminito and to be honest as a lot of the locals here describe it its the disneyworld version of BA. A couple of brightly painted houses, street cafes that even Michael Schumacher couldnt weave his way through and a few handicrafts stalls. We even had a Maradona lookalike to get photos with. Poor guy must have ate a lot of pies to get that physique.
I was more interested in the old areas that Caminito had been refurbished from, lots of old colonial and crumbling architecture, old bridges and cranes undergoing refurbishment. Real town planning or lack of in all its glory. As with any waterfront each building tells a part of the history and one leads to another telling the story of the area.
Then I got stopped by the police.
At first I thought it was something to do with no photos in the port area, there was a sign saying argentine naval prefecture or something like that so thought it must be something military. When my guides translated it as, your friend will not make it through this area alive, not with those trainers, we decided to get the bus to Puerto Madero.
On the bus through what can only truly be described as a slum it was obvious that our maps didnt tell the whole story, from tourist traps of Caminito to 3rd world in less than 300 yards. It was that stark.
Dont get me wrong when you live in that type of poverty and I remember similar stuff growing up, you really cant blame people for taking the only routes open to them. It is good to sit in an ivory tower and say I wouldnt do this or I wouldnt do that, you never know what you will do until you are in that situation. If your family havent eaten for 3 days and some dumbass tourist walks past with something that will feed your family for a month, then dont say what you would do in that situation until you are actually there.
As the saying goes, ‘Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes’, which reminds me I better put both pairs of Nikes back in the bag and buy something local.
As we got off the bus at Puerto Madero there was the sight of two cops in a wee hut which now I come to recognise as the boundaries of safe areas. We stay in a relatively safe area, the shops dont have grills on the windows and at busy times theres an armed cop every 100 metres or so. In the other areas they seem to be just left to get on with it.
Puerto Madero is a testament to new money, like a lot of other previously neglected cities it is full of gleaming new buildings, lovely walkways by the water, new bridges, cafes, expensive shops, a nice place to be. For me though I could be any modern city. The Santiago Calatrava bridge has its double in Dublin and to be honest it reminded me a lot of the regeneration of Dublins docks. The layouts were similar, right up to the masted ship sitting next to the Calatrava bridge. Maybe he thought no-one would find out.
Dear people of Buenos Aires,
I’ve designed you a new bridge that represents two people doing the Tango.
‘Santiago, Dublin have been on the phone asking where their new bridge design is’
‘Quick give me the Buenos Aires one’ quick scribble ‘Here that will do’
Dear people of Dublin,
I’ve designed you a new bridge that represents the Irish harp.
Well ok maybe a slight exaggeration but judge for yourselves.
So where does the take the boy out of Belfast come in?
Well at the start of the journey we visited the home of Boca Juniors. Argentinas best club ever (so I’m told). As I was completely unattached in the Argentine football world I am now a Boca fan.
So the stadium tour had to be done. Due to my love of football and having been in or toured a lot of the worlds great stadiums this really was the highlight of the day for me. Getting in and around the stadium, seeing the terracing, long since gone from UK football, the sparse nature of the visiting dressing room to the plush surroundings of the home dressing room with accompanying underground 5 a side warm up pitch. Just what you want to see, opposition – sod them!
On the tour the tour guide said she would split the couple of hundred people up into two groups, the spanish speakers and the english ones. So we were left in a group of about 9 and asked where we were from. Poland, England, Ireland, Scotland, France. We were then asked what teams we supported, which of course in my case is Liverpool (for my sins). As they went from Warsaw to Middlesborough to Norwich, the scottish guy in front of me said ‘Rangers’. Now, I dont follow Scottish football but something deep down in me wanted to scream ‘Celtic’. I did think better of it as to come halfway round the world to start a sectarian fight would only leave the muggers very confused.
So you can take the boy out of Belfast but you cant take Belfast out of the boy.
Sorry its been a while since the last blog but Ive been a bit out of touch.
Its a week now since I landed in Buenos Aires and just when I think Im getting used to the heat it just gets hotter. Between the day I left Belfast and out and about yesterday in downtown BA there was almost a 50 degrees centigrade difference.
First impressions of BA was that it was hot, damn hot. That was followed by, hot, hot and sticky, hot, overcast yet hot, hot and damp, hot. My poor wee pale blue irish skin now has a peeling patch on my right elbow where I put it out the bus window on the way in from the airport.
It wasnt long before I was food for the mosquitos either. You have to love nature, mosquitos hit the veins each and every time, something that any NHS doctor would be proud of. I know I know a lot of people will be screaming at me saying I should have used insect repellent, I did, just not the right one. Im now using a local formula that belongs somewhere in the arsenal of North Korea.
Buenos Aires is an amazing place for a pseudo city boy like me. I say pseudo because Im a city slicker, a townie, someone who has grown up and lived in and around Belfast. Belfast is a city. Well it is and it isnt. Buenos Aires IS a CITY. We all went to the park the other day, we needed a 20 min train ride and an hour on the bus and still hadnt left Buenos Aires. The bus from the airport was about an hour to here and we took another bus ride in the same direction for another hour the other day and was still in the city.
Now Ive been in cities with similar populations, Cairo, London, New York, Tokyo but they have all had geographical features like rivers or hills or something to break them up. BA is just one big city. Unlike other places I´ve been too it is all up. Not New York up where you have sections of the city going up but the whole place is apartment blocks and medium tall rise buildings. Well as far as I can make out so far. Whilst Tokyo is more blade runner, this place is more gotham city.
Ive been in other cities that proclaim to be 24 hour, sure in Belfast you might get the odd 24 hour garage or supermarket but this place really is 24 hours.
The last week has been pretty much trying to get used to the heat and the pace of life here. Clothes are out in the laundry at the mo, not that I didnt bring enough clothes, I did. I didnt bring enough clothes that wouldnt get me killed! Crime is rife here, theres no getting around it, with nightly news making Belfast during the troubles look like tellytubby land. On the way back from the park we missed our bus change stop so got off at the next stop and walk back one stop (which was at least a mile). Now normally that would be bad enough (I have a bad right leg and walking a mile is usually enough to see me visit an Accident and Emergency ward) but not walking a mile would have had the same consequences. The place we were walking through was ´colourful´to say the least, no street lights, broken pavements, small low rise buildings, those with windows not boarded up were barred and razor wire. If I didnt know better I´d call it a shanty town. At one point one of my friends said to me ´Man, those Nike trainers of yours will get us all killed´. Charming. So the next day it was ´dont wear that, nor that, nor that, nor that, dont wear any of those.´ Even stuff which is cheap back home is likely to end up bloodstained being worn by someone else.
Sooooo lets just say that the photo list that I had prepared in advance for BA is a hell of a lot shorter now having looked at my ideas and the places I wanted to go. I did wonder why such a huge city has a limited photo coverage. Until they make that 22 megapixel camera that attaches to your optic nerve, its probably gonna stay that way.
On the positive side Ive had two good model shoots so far with a few more to come, basic scenarios I´ve wanted to do in the likes of Belfast for a while but waiting 9 months for the sun to shine for 2 consecutive days was long enough to wait.
Whilst here I had planned some traveling ‘in country’ but havent managed to get that sorted yet, nothing is ever as easy as it seems on the web here. Will post more on that later.
The first night I arrived here we went up onto the roof terrace, 13 odd floors up its an amazing sight, just buildings as far as the eye can see in all directions, pretty flat too, just people, civilisation etc etc etc. No lights on the roof but enough light to be getting on with just with the reflected city light bouncing off the clouds. Straight back down in the lift for the camera and some night city shots I´d been interested in taking but never found the right place, now I have. (photos to follow). I’ll also arrange a model shoot up there before I go home.
Last night the local weather forecast was predicting a storm, thunder, lightning hail the size of tennis balls and the like. Naturally it seemed like the best place to observe this was from the roof terrace, rather than just look at it out the window 12 floors below. What a sight, I´ve never seen a storm like it, I´d seen a big lightning storm in the Alps a long time ago which at first appeared just like a fireworks display but last night the lightning was going left, right, down, around, across, everything. Real storm weather, the 10 or 20 degree sudden drop in temperature, rain that gives you a headache it hits you that hard and that change in atmosphere that scares the life out of you now, never mind a couple of thousand years ago when people thought the gods were angry. The gods were indeed angry last night although according to my mate nothing like as angry as they were one time last year.
doing the old one one thousand trick (sound travels at roughly one kilometre every 3 seconds so if you count between lightning strikes and thunder claps you know roughly how far away it is and if its getting closer or going further away) was interesting until there was one I didnt get to say the one part. So less than 100 metres away lightning hit a rooftop and I could probably tell you which one it was. At this point in time it did then become apparent that standing in the rain on top of a 13 storey building drinking beer out of a metal cup wasnt exactly the greatest decision I had ever made.
In Spanish the word for storm is ´Tormenta´to be honest I couldnt describe what I saw last night as any different.