Friday, February 29, 2008

Spinning Some Wheels

Sunday 23rd.
Not only has the bike arrived - it´s all in one piece as well. After reassembly I just had to get the wheels spinning to test it out, so Mick and I set off for Tigre which is a small town a few miles out of BA that has a nice riverfront. It just felt great to finally ride in South America, even if it was a bit tame compared with what´s to come..... Cleared the hang over though. And you can get boat crossings to Uruguay much cheaper than from BA - an option I´ll persue (time permitting) at the end of the trip.

Monday 24th
Spent another day just loafing round BA. I´m starting to really like the city; now I´m getting used to the scale of the place. It stretches for miles, and some of the avenues are 14 lanes of traffic wide and take some crossing with bikes and taxis seeming to come out of nowhere - I am the frog in the old "Frogger" video game.

There is no real heart to the city like say a London or Barcelona and there are not there same must see attractions either, but it´s just got a great feel to the place. I´d read words to describe PorteƱos (BA residents) like "spoiled", "arrogant" and "egotistical", but if it´s true I never experienced it, only a relaxed friendliness that you certainly don´t find in London.

There are some great buildings though. From Plaza de Majo with it´s Casa Rosada the pink presidential palace, Museum and Metropolotan Cathedral across huge Avenue 9 de Julio with it´s famous Obelisk to Plaza del Congreso with it´s monuments and huge Palacio del Congreso mimicking the domed white house.

Getting to Know Buenos Aires

Friday (21st) was recovery day, with sleep, an hour by the pool at Mick´s (very nice) and another, less eventful trip by return taxi to the airport to finally pick up my gear. My brother Matt kindly posted some more gear (tent, sleeping bag, knife and stove) from America to Mick´s address for me too and this had turned up after going missing for a few days. Equipment is less than half price in the states and getting it shipped avoids the hassle at airports.... provided it gets delivered. Met up with a few of Mick´s friends for an after work drink (well after work for them). Cheers James, Johno, Simon, Keith and Jackie, it was great to meet you all.

Saturday did some sight-seeing just walking round Buenos Aires. It´s a really accessible place as the street system is in a grid, so you never really get lost and if you do, taxis are everywhere and cheap. Most of the avenues are broad and tree lined so it feels cooler and better shaded than some cities, plus there are parks and Plaza all over to cool off with an helado (ice cream).

Starting to get a feel for Argentinian timings for night life as well. We (Mick´s friends and I) had arranged to meet in Belgrano (just outside BA centre) at 10pm for a drink before going on to a birthday party. Had a really cool night with some really nice people before we left early at 4:30am to get a train home.

And the bike´s arrived. Just as we were leaving to go out a delivery van turned up and made me a happy man. The trip is back on!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Beginning

Well the journey started as they usually seem to, with trouble at airports. Those that know me will have heard of my trouble getting to Eastern Europe on my last trip when grabbing the wrong pannier for hand luggage left me trying to get through security with what can only be classed as "some difficult items". Namely my multi fuel stove stinking of petrol, spare can of camping gas, gaffer tape, cable ties and la piece de resistance, a 4 inch razor sharp camping knife. Coupled with the arabic stamps for a 6 month visa to Qatar in my passport, the officials at the airport took a dim view and it was touch and go whether I would get to Krakow, or spend the night in a cell. Anyway that´s an other story.

Nothing so exciting this time, just a 2 hour delay in Manchester due to freezing fog and -6 degree temperatures which meant a missed connection in Franfurt. Given the choice of rerouting via Barcelona and Sao Paulo, I took the Spanish connection, which left me 7 hours to kill in Germany. Strange, but my South America tour starts with photos of Frankfurt town centre (which is well worth a visit mind you, just not on this trip where 14 hours had seen me further away from Buenos Aires than when I began at home).

17 hours after leaving Manchester it was time to leave Barcelona. Well for me anyway, the bike was destined to stay; a fact I was not to discover until I reached Argentina after 30 hours travelling. It´s times like this where the weaknesses in my Spanish start to show (I have "hola" and "adios"; neither of which seemed to solve the problem). Anyway after filing with the missing luggage officials I left what remained of my gear (my other bag containing my bicycle panniers made it) at the airport and went to explore the city and plan some language courses.

After spending the princely sum of $1.50 (pesos, about 24 pence) I was on a 2 hour bus ride bound for Buenos Aires which is huge, like really huge. After leaving the bus at Plaza de Majo where Evita famously wowed the crouds from the Casa de Rosada during the Peron years, it´s a stroll south to San Telmo, the site on which the city was founded. Plaza Dorrego is the scene of cafe bars and tango while you eat, which would have been rude to miss, so I sampled probably the best steak of my life (so far) whilst watching some impressive moves up close at my table side.

Further out is the infamous La Boca home to Boca juniors, football crazyness and the colour and sounds that are unique to Caminito, the open air museum of painted walls, street performers and more tango cafes in this run down port area. It pays to stick to the tourist routes walking here, and I was twice turned back whilst taking a more "scenic" route, once by the police and once by a concerned local.

I managed to finally hook up with Mick a friend from home to arrange a place to crash for the next few days and took a bus back to the airport to collect my luggage. In keeping with my performance on public transport so far, the bus broke down and stranded me for 40 minutes before the next one turned up. Of course this meant missing the left luggage office which closed at 10pm, 4 minutes earlier than the 10:04 when I staggered up red in the face from running. Lesson learned - keep a change of clothing in hand luggage on long haul flights - reduces the smell. Taxi to Mick´s who I am eternally grateful for supplying the beer and shower on that first night, plus a comfy bed to finally get some sleep.