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Monday, October 06, 2014

And so we were off ... Buenos Aires here we come!

Dad's been mapping my travels since 1989.
Getting ready for a one-month trip is one thing.  Getting ready for one of a year is entirely another! Although I finished up work several weeks before our departure on 13 August, I never expected that we would have so many things to do, wrap up and finalise. We were literally pumping until the eleventh hour. We decided months ago that we'd go away for a year ... of work ... play ... perhaps a sabbatical ... to South America ... Asia Minor ... eastern Europe ... Italy perhaps ... the Greek Islands?! We figured that buying a cheap return ticket to South America would be a great start although the actual journey and destinations were still unknown. Six months in South America and another six in Europe, ' somewhere in Europe', sounded like a plan. Thus the idea was born and the tickets bought! First destination, Buenos Aires.

Ready, set, travel!
Of course you can't multi-task in a rat race, which is what we felt we were living in, so how could we possibly plan a trip of such magnitude? Too busy wrapping up our jobs in IT and community engagement, respectively. Tickets ... check, Lonely Planet ... check. And that's it folks!  With only a week to go we were trying to pack our bags, say goodbye to friends and family, organise our apartment and get ourselves sorted. Our last night was spent at Dad's as our first flight from Melbourne to Sydney would be at 6.00am, demanding a 2.30am wake up. And so the eve of 12 August arrived, and with it a sense of, well, a lot of things. The time had come!  Tomorrow we would be leaving for yet another trip of a lifetime! I have had many. Head spinning, thoughts whirring ... was I, were we, up for this ... again? But you see, travel has become the blood that pulses through our veins, the bread that feeds us and the elixir that fills our souls and makes us scream, 'we are happy to be alive', so the answer to the question is, simply, yes! 

Going to miss you Dad!
Ready, set, travel! We got up early and Dad took us to the airport.  The plan was to check in early and sit down to a nice cuppa and say our goodbyes tranquilly and calmly. Not really nouns that people use to describe anything about me normally, but hey, it was all going smoothly, and I was sure that  we were going to be able to manage this one. Dad was parking the car and we were checking in.  "Your reciprocity visas please" asked the lady at the check-in counter. Say what? Alex has dual citizenship and so, although leaving Australia on his Australian passport, was going to enter Argentina on his Ecuadorian one to save him the AUD$100.00 that Australians have to pay for their one year visas. If you have multiple passports, flaunt them! You used to be able to get this upon arrival ... but apparently you now have to do it on line ... and show the receipt to the person at the check in-counter ... otherwise you can't board the flight!  How did we miss that one! Have the world travellers become too complacent? Fortunately, as we were early, we were able to organise this from the airport, but I have to say that a very tense hour ensued. The staff assigned  to help us had no idea. Alex then tried to log on and we went through a proxy company who did not give a receipt immediately. We needed a receipt!  Aaaaaaah!  A supervisor finally helped us log onto the official site and we soon had our visas paid for and receipt printed.  By this stage it was 5.30am and we needed to board. All we got was a quick hug with Dad, and we had to go.  The bright side? We were going!

Up, up and away; hasta la vista Australia!
It was going to be a long flight; Melbourne to Sydney, Sydney to Auckland, Auckland to Santiago (Chile) and finally Santiago to Buenos Aires (Argentina). I knew it was going to be a loooong one when I realised that the airlines had not organised any of my gluten-free meals nor had I brought any snacks.  Losing it!  Both me and the airlines that is! It was indeed a long flight, but as most of the flights were surprisingly empty, we did get a  fair bit of sleep. We also managed some sushi at Auckland Airport. Sad at what can excite one at times. 

Several hours  and time changes later we arrived at Ezeiza Airport, some 22 kilometres from the city centre.  We were exhausted, and we had the 'look' to prove it.  Our friend Cheryl, who now lives in BA, was coming to pick us up with her partner Walter, whom we had not met yet, although heard loads about. Tired but excited, we made our way through passport control and picked up our bags. We were here! We were in Argentina!  Let the journey begin!

The official car picks us up; gracias Walter!
We walked out, spotted Cheryl and Walter and then Cheryl and I proceeded with a 'Chariots of Fire' type run towards each other. Lots of screaming and hugging between the girls and then introductions all around. We were actually here, albeit exhausted. We were even afforded an official ride home, aka Walter’s car complete with Australian and Ecuadorian flags.





Party time in Buenos Aires.
The two and half weeks that followed have been truly amazing, and I mean truly, truly amazing.  We have stayed with Cheryl for most of that time. Thanks so much Cheryl; I can't tell you how much we have enjoyed staying with you.  In a land of meat, pizza and pasta (I am vegetarian and Alex and I don't eat wheat), I cannot express what a godsend her kitchen has been. We have shared lots of magic moments, good coffee and laughs.  We have been staying in San Telmo, the heart of all that is both touristy and tango. No amount of tourism, however, can take from the cobbled streets, old plazas and the old-world feel of this beautiful little suburb. It has been lovely to simply stroll, wander and just take it all in. 


In Barrio Cafetero with Cheryl.
Buenos Aires has offered us a little bit of everything on this amazing trip that we have only just begun; colourful markets, street art and graffiti, beautiful sunsets and amazing coffee, to only name a few things. Particularly good was Coffee Town in San Telmo (Agustina Roman was the 2014 Argentina barista champion), Barrio Cafetero in the downtown area and Lattente in Palermo.  The country continues with its trials and tribulations, including inflation and increasing poverty.  Seeing people sleeping on the streets is common place, as is kids jumping into to waste bins to scrounge for food. In buses small children try to sell you lollies and tissues. I can only look at them as my eyes well up with tears; their place is in school, not in  trains trying to sell me tissues for fifty cents. A blind man walked through a carriage one day holding out his hand.  I was simply overcome with emotion as I pressed some money into his hands and then wept silently.  I know that I cannot single-handedly change the world, but I can never, will never, 'accept' these injustices.


Buenos Aires Street Art 'Las Islas Malvinas'  (The Falklands Islands conflict)


San Telmo.
Military Band.




















Sunset at Puerto de Frutas, Tigre.






Buenos Aires holds a very special place in my heart as I have so many friends here; Carolina and Fabiana whom I met whilst travelling through Europe in 1993; Charo whom I met in Colonia Suiza, Uruguay, in 1999 and then of course Diego, who I danced 1999/ 2000 away with when I lived in Quito, Ecuador. We have been able to catch up with all of them. We visited Tigre with Faby and her family and had fun at the 'Puerto de Frutas', an artisans' market near the riverfront. If you think the Aussies are serious about their BBQs and meat ... well, move over Australia ... the Argentines are equally as serious, if not more so, about their asados (BBQ!), and they are a serious, serious 'throw on every size, cut and type of meat and sausage affair! On telling an Argentine many years ago that I was a vegetarian, his prompt reply was simply, "Oh, you poor thing"!  Faby and her husband Gaby showed us how this was done at their place! 

With Diego in Chascomus.
Another day we went out to Chascomus with Diego and his husband Federico (I can say that now as they are legally married in Argentina! Congrats guys!). It's a quiet little town some 120 kilometres outside of Buenos Aires and is situated around a number of lakes.  It's a quaint little spot to walk around, relax and breathe in some country air.





The impressive Iguazu Waterfalls.  
Struggling to say goodbye to Cheryl, and not quite ready to say goodbye ... just yet ... we thought we'd diverge east and visit the spectacular Iguazu Waterfalls, on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. A mere 19 hour bus ride away!  Argentina is a massive country and the distances between places reflect its enormity. The buses are excellent and you can choose seats that recline a fair way back, making for a decent sleep.  A sleep that beats one on any economy seat on  a plane! Nineteen hours later ... we were in Puerto de Iguazu looking for a place to stay.  Bring on that sunny, sub-tropical climate! The usual scouting around found us a place called Peter Pan. How apt that the Peter Pan of travel should end up there!

Breathtaking!
 I visited the Brazilian side of the falls in 1999 when I was backpacking South America as a solo traveller, and stayed on and saw the Brazilian side. I do remember the majesty and grandeur, but nothing can take from seeing it all again!  This time we stayed on the Argentine side and ended up there on a picture-perfect day.  The views from the Argentine side are different; more scenic and sweeping views as opposed to the smaller in your-face-dramatic-drop.  Both beautiful!  Both with something different to offer.  The Argentine side is bigger with more walking, walkways and views. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could take from the views and energy that beheld us.


The photo says it all.

We only spent a couple of days at Puerto de Iguazu, but managed to fit in a few things, including walking to the confluence, very close by, of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.  I looked across the waters and reminisced about my time in both of these other countries that we would not make on this trip.  The world is huge and when its attractions, culture and people enthral you, time is never enough.








The flowers are in Argentina, R Brazil and L Paraguay.

At the Milonga.
Back in Buenos Aires, we would spend our last two days with Cheryl, relaxing, doing spin/ cycle classes Buenos Aires style, catching up with Effie,a Melbourne friend, who would coincidentally be here for a few days before we continued along our journey, eating good home-made food with Cheryl, and contemplating moving along once again. This is the part that I always find difficult.

What better way to spend our last night in this vibrant city than at a Milonga; that's the locals' version of a touristy tango show. Locals and foreigners seductively danced the passionate yet 'sad' dance to the strains of a soulful tango band, El Afronte. I observed and felt ... it was all I could do!
And so just as our Buenos Aires sojourn began with a bang, it finished with one!
Ombi


No, I did NOT scoff the entire jar!
PD  I have a confession to make... I am addicted to dulce de leche, a type of caramelised condensed milk, which is as Argentinian as, well, meat!  It's in cakes, biscuits, desserts and if that isn't enough, buy yourself a tub and spoon it into your mouth ... I do!


"Characterise people by their actions and you will never be fooled by their words."










Dedication: 

To you Cheryl Quirion! You started off as a friend but really you are now our sister! Thanks for having us for two weeks, looking after us and feeding us!  You are here to stay. Love you sister!

Next: Mendoza, San Juan, Tucuman and northern Argentina.





Wine transporters; Australia to Argentina.

At Coffee Town with Cheryl and Walter.

"The city of Pope Francisco".



Chillin' with Cheryl.

L to R: Gaby, Alex, Faby, Florencia, Gonzalo and Nicolas.


Beautiful Buenos Aires.

With Pato (L) and Caro (R); first met in Paris in 1993.














Retiro Cemetery.

Retiro Cemetery.

Buenos Aires; the old and the new.

With Faby and family in Tigre.

Good times ... and good food, Buenos Aires.

BA street art.

Walter and Alex; 'los compadres'.

With Caro (C) and Pato.

Smoking causes impotency! Death pales in comparison!

A day with Caro and Luis.

Church is for praying not legislating. Umm, yep!

With Diego (L) and Fernando (R) at Chascomus.

With the guy that's able to put a smile on my dial daily.

With Charo (L) and her mum Gladys (R).

Buenos Aires.

Colon Theatre, Buenos Aires.



Saturday, April 12, 2014

We came, we ate, we shopped ... Bangkok style

I want that Barbie t-shirt!
We had a mission in Bangkok !  To eat good food and shop! Whilst the food in Myanmar was palatable and at times even delicious (particularly the veggie dishes), it really had nothing on Thai food.  Bangkok has, in many ways, become a home away from home, as we now know where to stay, where to shop and what to buy!

We had a mission, and we were going to accomplish eat ... eat well and shop! We only had a couple of days, but our mission was clear!

I have written about Bangkok ad nauseum in other posts, so this one will tell the story with photos (more than usual, anyway).

Enjoy!

Ombi

"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything". - Albert Einstein

Thailand wants democracy, and they want it now!

The Bangkok protests.

The people of Thailand speak out.

There ain't a revolution without technology!


The people of Thailand want to be heard!


















Not what I'd call my accessory store.

Face book thongs in Khao San Rd.

A bit of shopping ... a bit of coconut ice-cream.


Rattanakosin Festival. Bangkok.

Rattanakosin Festival. Bangkok.

Rattanakosin Festival. Bangkok.
Holding up the fort, Bangkok.



My kinda t-shirt!

Face cream!!??
Takeaway Pad Thai at Bangkok Airport ... till we meet again.

Shopping at Chatachuk.