Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Thursday, February 24, 2005

19. Don't jump off moving trains (B.A, Argentina)

So, I moved into a room in Valentin's nice apartment on Saturday, and then on Sunday he tells me I have to move out because his landlady suspects he's running a hostel and he's not supposed to be renting out my room. Goddammit, so now I'm back in a real hostel, this time Tango Backpackers in Palermo which is cheap and cheerful but I'm in a dorm when I'd much prefer my own room. This flatting game is getting tiring.

On Monday I continued the job hunt, donning my suit and tie and visiting the schools I'd contacted last week. All of the schools where I got to speak to someone high up said they'd call me in early March for some work, which is great. The very first institute I went to said if I'm competent they'll give me as many hours as I want. The others where I couldn't get past the reception said someone will call me back, which probably means my CV will end up lost in someone's In tray. The pay varies from $13 to $20 pesos an hour which is OK for here.

Random pic: A professional dog walker with 12 dogs
Today (Thurs) I went and visited a couple of other institutes, but they weren't worth getting out of bed for. Wall St Institute, which is one of the biggest institutes here (and worldwide) wanted to give me a job starting next week, but the pay is a measly $8 pesos an hour ($NZ4) , so I declined that one. A friend tells me Berlitz, which is another worldwide institute pays $9.50 pesos per lesson (90 mins) which is also shit pay and I think not enough to live off.
At the second school I visited today the lady was too busy to see me so I left her my CV. After that I caught the subway home and slipped over jumping from the train which was still moving, and ripped a hole in the knee of my suit pants. Pissed off! I've only worn the trousers twice and now I gotta get some new ones. And I lost my sunglasses at some point too, so today was an expensive day. Although I may not need to replace the sunglasses since one of the oddities of BA is that almost no one wears them, even on hot days. I don't know why they don't.

Mmmm, pollo. Much plumper than the scrawny chickens I saw in SE Asia

18. Clubbing, kind of (B.A, Argentina)

Although all the nightclubs within BA are still closed down pending safety inspections following the Dec 30 fire, clubs outside the BA city jurisdiction (12 km radius) are still open. It just means a longer taxi ride to get there.

Outside Sunset
So on Saturday night we went to Sunset, way out in the Olivos suburb. The night was pretty crap though, we got there at 3am as per standard and our group got split up so we spent the next hour trying to find everyone else. By then the thrill had worn off, and the DJ sucked too - only about 1 in every 3 songs was worth dancing to. Bit of a rip off since we had to pay $20 pesos (NZ$10) to get in.

A stag party we ran into
The highlight of my night was meeting a Danish guy named Jens at dinner before we went to the club. The guy has been out here a couple of months and was now crying into his beer saying he was broke, after having a very expensive Argentinian girlfriend. He said he'd had to spend $2500 pesos a week (NZ$1200) on hotels, dinners, gifts, drinks, drugs etc just to keep her. His gums were bleeding which he says is a symptom of stress because of her. Now they've broken up, she's had to get a job waitressing and he's trying to live a cheaper life for the next couple of weeks until his flight home. I think he's still unsure of whether she was worth it or not.

Sunrise from a taxi after Sunset

Friday, February 18, 2005

17. Back in B.A (B.A, Argentina)

I arrived back in BA on Tuesday morning and this week has been all business - apartment hunting and job hunting. I've been flat out so I'm looking forward to doing nothing this weekend.

I found a room in an apartment in Palermo Viejo, which is one of the nicer neigbourhoods in BA, and I move in Saturday, hooray. There's two other guys, Valentin, an Argentine, and an English guy I haven't met yet.

On Wednesday I emailed my CV around all the English language schools I could find but I hadn't had any nibbles so I called them up this morning and most told me to bring my CV in in person, or to email it. So next week I'll visit the schools and see how it goes. I should be OK, I've met a few people who've found jobs with no experience or qualifications, I don't have any experience but I do have the CELTA course under my belt which is worth something. Now's the best time of year to look for teaching work because most schools start courses in March. But I already knew that.

The boliches (megaclubs) here are still all closed pending safety inspections, but I get the feeling the city's tired of waiting for them to re-open. The news reports are conflicting - one day it's hopefully this weekend, the next it's maybe sometime next week. How long can a city that's renowned for its nightlife keep said nightlife shutdown?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

16. Iguazú Falls (Brazil / Argentina)

Iguazú Falls is at the border of Brazil and Argentina and is 275 waterfalls across 3km and supposedly 80m high. To see the falls properly you have to see them from both the Argentina side and the Brazil side, so they say.

Bus travel in Argentina (and Brazil) is divided into 4 classes - standard, semi-cama, cama and cama suite (cama means bed). Semi-cama is like an economy seat on a plane, cama is like a business class seat, and cama suite is a seat that goes completely flat like a bed. The trip from Florianópolis to Iguazú was another 12 hour+ overnighter so us boys decided we'd go for the cama suite this time. Oh, how we were looking forward to the cama suite. The schedule was tight - bus overnight, arrive 7am at Foz do Iguaçu, the nearby town on the Brazil side, check out the falls during the day, cross the border into Argentina, book a bus ticket back to B.A, stay a night in Argentina, and the following day check out the falls from the Argentina side and catch a night bus back to B.A that night.

Julien and Roger in the Pluma cama

It was pretty much mission accomplished, the only downer was the cama suite seat/bed we'd booked to Foz wasn't a bed after all but just a standard cama. Still comfortable, but not the bed we'd paid for.

The falls from the Brazil side

For those of you in South America, I've travelled with 3 bus companies - Flecha, Pluma, and Via Bariloche. Via Bariloche were the best, with great service - a steward with drinks and food, and DVD after DVD playing - in English with Spanish subtitles, not the dreadful overdubbed movies we got stuck with on Flecha. And as for Pluma - they didn't have any movies or food service - sucked.

The "Devil's Throat" part from the Argentina side.

As you can see from the 2 pics above, the main part of the falls is called the Devil's Throat, which is in the far distance in the Brazil shot but you can get much closer from the Argentinian side.
I preferred the Argentinian side, and having seen both sides I don't see the need to see them from Brazil. Both sides are quite expensive, Brazil charges 20 reals and Argentina 30 pesos. The best place was the photo above, where you could get close to the Devil's Throat. It was quite hypnotic gazing at the tonnes of falling water its patterns in the cascade, along with the noise, the rainbows, and the cooling spray. I don't know about it being 80m tall though, it looked only about 50m to me. Propaganda perhaps, or maybe I'm mistaken.

An ant chewing on my flip-flop

But the best part of the trip was the illegal swim we had on the Argentinian side. It was so hot the second day but it was forbidden to swim anywhere. But we came across a couple of young guys having a swim under one of the smaller falls so we were in straight away - bliss. We were only in for about 15 mins before a ranger blew his whistle and told us to get out, but it was just what we needed.

Another shot from the Argentine side

Crossing the border between Brazil and Argentina is too easy - we didn't even get stopped on the Brazil side so my passport has a Brazilian entry stamp but no exit stamp! Many countries require a visa for Brazil (US, Canada, Australia) and I'd wager that if you didn't have the visa you could enter Brazil here, and so long as you exit here again it shouldn't be a problem. But if you end up in jail don't blame me.

If you go to Iguazú stay at the Hostel Inn Iguazú, it's close to the falls and has a massive swimming pool. We didn't know about it so stayed in a hotel in town, but we passed the hostel on our bus to the falls - it looked great.

That evening we caught another night bus back to BA, again cama, not cama suite unfortunately. The highlight of that trip was seeing two dogs stuck together on the side in post-coital bliss.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

15. Chillin' at the beach (Barra da Lagoa, Florianópolis, Brazil)

We spent the next few days chillin' at the beach, trying to meet girls and trying to find a party. Most nights the guys would end up on our balcony drinking caipiñaras until sunrise, I'd usually be the first to crash but also the first to get up.
Not surprisingly, the island is full of tourists, but surprisingly there are very few gringos. Most of the tourists are Brazilians from other parts of Brazil, as well as a lot of Argentines and Chileans. The beach attire is great, it leaves little to the imagination but surprisingly the girls are reluctant to go topless, unlike in Sydney.

Brazilian beach attire
The beaches have a bit of surf, but except for the last day it looked too small and messy to bother with for me. You can buy a lot of food or ice cream etc on the beach here which is great and the guys selling don't hassle you at all, unlike in say Indonesia where the guy will sit down next to you and show you his entire inventory of necklaces or tattoos or t-shirts before leaving.

Paddle is big on the beach - it's like padder tennis which we used to play at primary school. In Australia they call the game Brazilian bats which is a fitting name given the popularity of it on the beaches here.

Girls playing paddle
The island is beautiful, still quite undeveloped with a lot of forested areas. One day we caught a bus to nearby Praia Mole (Mo-le Beach) which was a bit nicer, with slightly better surf.

Capoiñera practice at sunset on Praia Mole
We eventually found a party at one of the clubs called Latitute, which the locals girls pronounced Lachichudee in their Brazilian accents. The club was a bit of a let down, but we did meet some English speaking local girls. The drink system they had was interesting - they gave you a card as you went in, and whenever you bought a drink you wouldn't pay for it, but the barman would cross the corresponding box on your drinks card, and you finally paid for all your drinks as you left the joint. And if you ever lost your card they'd fine you a fortune! We had to pay 30 reals just to enter the place though, which is like NZ$15 - damn expensive! Especially when dinner would normally cost 15 or 20 reals.
The same card system would often be in cheap restaurants - whatever food or drink you bought would be ticked off your card and you paid the bill as you left. The other option for cheap eats is the buffet restuarants, which you paid for by the kilo - I think about 11 reals (NZ$5) per kg. So you'd go in, load up your plate, they'd weigh it, you'd pay, and then you'd eat. A bit fairer than all you can eat... just stay away from the rice, it's heavy.

The view from our jetty across the tidal river
Finally it was time to go - 2 of the group headed north, one back to BA, and me and the two French guys hung around an extra night before departing together for Iguazu Falls - six days at the beach in total.

On our final night in Brazil we went out to a rodizio restaurant, which was again a buffet for your side orders, but for the meat the waiters would roam from table to table carrying a spit of meat from which he'd carve you off a slice onto your plate. The meat was amazing, I'm tempted to say even better than Argentina's - a lot more flavoursome anyway, and about 8 different cuts. Argentina's meat, while incredible, starts to taste the same after about your 10th steak in 5 days. We topped it off with a great bottle of local wine, an expensive meal at 35 reals (NZ$20) a head but one to remember.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

14. Carnaval! (Florianópolis, Brazil)

OK, for those that don't know, Carnaval is an annual 2 week long party in Brazil, characterised by hundreds or thousands of dancing girls and guys in crazy costumes and float parades. But the general idea is to get drunk and watch from the street and dance along with the music. It's supposedly one of the best parties on the planet. The best Carnavals are in Rio de Janiero and Salvador, but we couldn't get there - too far, and accomodation is booked out months in advance (and expensive) but that doesn't matter, so long as you're in Brazil during Carnaval week (preferably at the beach) you're bound to find a party.
And so it was at dinner during our second night in Barra da Lagoa, a float with singers and dancers passed our restaurant, with a few hundred people singing and dancing and drinking alongside it. The party then transferred to the beach where they had a big screen and loads of teenagers dancing. The same thing happened the next few nights, but the downer was it always finished at about 3am, much to early for us oldies on Buenos Aires time.

The attempt at a Carnaval float in Barra da Lagoa
Perhaps because of the early finishes all of us agreed we hadn't felt like we'd had a proper Carnaval. So for the final Carnaval night we headed to the capital of the island, Florianópolis, to try find some real Carnaval action. I popped the only 2 ESP party pills I'd bought over from NZ (legal remember, see Post #1) so I was buzzing, but I peaked a bit too early, during our dinner. By the time we'd ridden the bus for an hour into Florianópolis it had almost worn off.
We quickly found the main Carnaval arena as fortunately it was opposite the main bus terminal, in a cool colonial style stadium.

Us entering Carnaval
Inside were a number of stages with bands playing, people watching, and wannabe gangsters strutting with shirts off, bling jewellery, and jailhouse or homemade tattoos. However, Thad pointed out that since we are in Brazil chances are they aren't wannabe gangsters but the real deal... the local guys were mental, we repeatedly saw guys just grab the ass of a passing girl, or just grab them and bearhug them in an attempt to kiss them - while the girl pushed and fought them off. Which would make it hard for us to talk to any girls when they're justifiably so defensive. The talking was pretty much impossible anyway - they speak Portuguese here not Spanish - so I'd be trying my pidgin Spanish which they might or might not understand, and they'd answer in Portuguese of which I'd understand maybe 10%. So the only hope was to find girls who could speak Spanish or English.
Anyhoo, back to Carnaval. Eventually we found our way to the back door which gave us access to where the dancers were warming up and getting drunk in preparation for their march through the stadium. So we joined them, took a few photos, and bought a few Johnnie Walker and Red Bulls off the passing street waiters - which were mixed 90% whisky and 10% Red Bull!

One of the hundreds of dancing girls backstage.
After about an hour the Carnaval started moving towards the main stadium. We watched it leave but then one of the locals motioned for us to follow, so we danced along behind it.

Roger found a costume in the street
The parade made slow progress and we kind of didn't know how far we'd get, to our surprise we were dragged along all the way, through the main stadium! So we were actually in the Carnaval and we didn't even have to dress up all camp or learn the dance steps!

The back of the float as we went through the main stadium
And so that was about it - the final float went through the main stadium and then the crowd dispersed. Yet again we couldn't find a party or club to go to afterwards so we had to taxi back across the island to our house. But it was still a great experience, and I think we felt like we'd gotten a proper taste of Carnaval in Brazil.

Me and a local in the stadium. I was the only one in the crowd wearing sunglasses

Sunday, February 06, 2005

13. In Brazil (Barra da Lagoa, Florianópolis, Brazil)

map of brazil
Map stolen from

We made it to Brazil after going out all night Friday to celebrate the end of our course (no sleep), and catching the bus at 7.30 Sat morning still in the clothes from the previous night, 27 hours on the bus, arrived at 10am this morning (Sunday). Managed to get a few hours sleep on the bus and a couple on the beach here this afternoon. There's six of us so we're renting a house for 4 days or so...

Nik Roger Shireen Me Julien Thad at our house, looking sunburnt
The beach here is great, similar temperature and amount of people as the beaches in Sydney around Christmas - 32 deg today.

Our house across the river is there somewhere
Our house is in a nice location, the only catch is we have to cross a tidal river to get to it by punting across in these row-boats with bamboo poles. Fortunately I've got the hang of it pretty quickly so I'm most often our designated driver... the other guys frequently get caught in the current and have to be towed back by our bemused local neighbours - especially at night after a few beers!

Friday, February 04, 2005

12. Off to Brazil for a week or two (BA, Argentina)

The last few days have been busy... on Tuesday a group from my university invited me to go to Brazil with them for a week. Here's an email I wrote to a friend yesterday

Sounds good but today's really not good for me. I have to finish off a speech I'm writing for Spanish school now, apply for the visa for Brazil and buy the bus ticket this morning, do my homework, have lunch, have a private spanish lesson for an hour at 1.30, and then my class at UBA from 3 - 6pm.
another email, later:
I booked the bus ticket today and my visa - well after filling out the form and queuing behind 30 elderly americans off a cruise liner it turns out NZers don't need a visa for Brazil - I guess the Lonely Planet was wrong on that one.

Today is the final day of my 4 week Spanish course at UBA, I was telling a friend that yesterday I finally felt like I had a handle on what was going on in the classroom - at the end of the course! The first week I hardly understood a word. A Chinese lady in my class has been here for like 7 years so that was what I was up against. The Chinese and their corner stores are in every country, Argentina is no exception!
Anyway, since today is the final day we have our exam this afternoon which I should be studying for now but instead I'm typing this. After that there's a party at a guy's house, and then tomorrow at 7am I have to catch our bus to Brazil - a 30 hour non-stop trip, to Florianópolis, for some beach action.

I should really be spending the week heading to the South of Argentina while it's still summer, but right now is Carnaval week in Brazil, which is pretty much a week of partying and shouldn't be missed. The best spots to go to are Rio de Janeiro and Salvador but that's even further so we'll settle for Florianópolis. Accomodation could be hard to find though...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

11. Beach road trip (Mar del Plata, Argentina)

Just had another great weekend. Juan and I had been planning an escape to the beach for the past couple of weeks, and now it had finally come to fruition. A few of our friends (pretty much everyone in the asado pic in my 7th blog entry) had said they wanted to come along but couldn't make up their minds - because of work, or parties, or girls. So in the end it was just Juan and me in Juan's trusty but rusty Ford Taunus (Cortina).

Juan and the road
Having been out on a pub crawl on Thursday night, we set off a bit later than planned on Friday afternoon - leaving Buenos Aires at about 3:30pm, and headed south-east. The highways in Argentina are great, it was a double lane dual carriageway most of the way. The catch was we had to pay tolls to use them but it wasn't too expensive. Like many cars here Juan's car runs on both CNG (remember that?) and petrol; the CNG is cheap but it meant we had to stop every 90km or so to fill up the tank in the boot.
Driving here is completely different to Australia or NZ, in fact it's probably more like the lawlessness of driving in SE Asia. The speed limit is 130km/h on the highways. No one ever indicates when they overtake, and double-yellow lines are pretty much ignored. Juan even overtook a car on a double-yellow line in front of a police checkpoint (since it was a holiday weekend cops were out in force checking random cars' papers) and didn't get in trouble. Because the pampas (plains) are so flat the roads are for the most part long straight after long straight, so everyone is constantly overtaking everyone else. I don't think anyone cares too much about the speed limit, whereas when driving in NZ I'll be constantly checking my speed cos I'm paranoid about being busted speeding.
The first night we arrived in Pinamar which is pretty much the nearest beach town to Buenos Aires. It's as rich and upper class as Argentina gets; I didn't notice too many amazing houses but there was a Mercedes car dealer with models standing next to the cars on this Friday night. We resigned ourselves to an early night because we actually wanted to see the beach on Saturday and not be hungover all day, so we finally found a vacant campground and made camp at about midnight.

Sunset over the pampas en route
The next day we went to the beach, my first time in the Atlantic, whoop. The beach was OK, but unfortunately the weather had turned a bit cloudy. The beaches are brown sand so are not that pretty, and the waves were too rough and messy and unrideable for any surfer. Also, there wasn't much sand to lie on as most of the beach is covered in these little private beach huts which you can hire or buy for a week or so. Row after row of them, blanketing much of the beach. Juan and I went in for a swim, and I'd say the water was a pleasant 22deg. I managed to body-surf a couple of waves but I think the locals must have wondered what I was doing - as none of them seemed to be swimming, but standing in waist-deep water trying to jump over the incoming white-wash like a bunch of kids. Actually, they were hardly locals as most were out of towners from BA like Juan and me. Maybe it was a bit cold for them, but having come from NZ and its 17deg water in January it felt warm enough to me. Unfortunately I dropped one of my tshirts on the way back to the car so now I'm down to one.

Grey skies and brown sand at Pinamar
Next we headed to Villa Gessel, another beach town which is less ritzy and with a slightly nicer beach than Pinamar. No swimming this time though, because we had to hit the road for Mar del Plata, another 120km south.
Mar del Plata is a large city on the coast with quite a few beaches (all packed with beach huts), a large port, and umm the usual city stuff. But the main reason we were coming was to see the English DJ Fatboy Slim put on a free show on the beach. 100 000 people were predicted to show up, but as we pulled into town at 3pm the skies opened and it started pouring rain. Juan and I waited out the storm in the car before entering the show. Well, the show was great, it went for about 8 hours altogether, there was a great vibe in the air, but the big thing missing was drink. There was only one bar which was about a ten minute walk from the arena, and it sold out of booze early on. Juan and I left the gig to get some supplies and had a few drinks in the car. When we went to go back in La Policia stopped us and confiscated our drinks. Juan had thought we'd be able to take them in so long as it wasn't glass. As a sobriety test one of the cops quickly asked me to repeat the number 12545 or something, but I didn't even understand his instruction so just stared up him blankly, until Juan told him I'm from New Zealand. "Aah, Los All Blacks," he said, and waved us through. I get that a lot here. My usual response is "Si, Los Pumas" cos I think that's the name of the Argentinian Rugby team.
The threatening rain probably kept a few punters away, as reports indicate 40 000 people turned up. But by the end of the show I was soooo sick of hearing "Seven Nation Army", I think every DJ mixed that track into their set, much to the crowd's delight.

Fatboy Slim working (image stolen from La Nacion)
We were lucky with the weather, as it stayed dry throughout the gig but as soon as we were back in the car it started bucketing down again. Some local guys asked us for a ride into town with a "Hola Flaco! (Hey Slim!)" and we obliged, and they invited us to an after-party at someone's house. That party was an awesome night, 80 or so people crammed into an average size living room stripped of furniture, DJ cranking, nonstop dancing, and water and lollipops everywhere. The best party I've seen here so far. I was the only gringo so it was good Spanish practice for me, but I was pretty much on repeat mode - Matt from NZ, been here only 3 weeks, great party, blah blah. I slept in the car outside the house at about 6am, I think the party carried on until about 9.

We hit the road at about noon on Sunday, back to BA, stopping in Pinamar to drop off a couple of girls we met at the after-party. Unfortunately we didn't make it back to my house until 3am, Juan's car kept breaking down en-route, so the 4 hour trip took us 15 hours. The battery wouldn't charge so every time we'd stop or stall the car we'd have to get a jump-start. Not much fun in the rain, but we'd usually break down near enough to a gas station to be able to hit someone up.
Still, the weekend was a great road trip and loads of fun!