The Gamble

OK, so Argentinians love their Casinos. Some of the grandest buildings in Mendoza are casinos, their interiors gilded with mock-brass metal. They’re popular places to be for the upper middle aged, working middle class – possibly because they’re quite secure and therefore feel quite safe…

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Take your pick

There’s a number of them around. I’ve so far visited two – one in the centre and one just off a shopping mall towards Godoy Cruz. I’ve not witnessed what I saw in Vegas with people pouring what seemed like all their money into a machine – a lot of the machines here will allow you to play for $2 AR per spin which is about 10p (13/2/17, 16:51). I don’t know whether the cocktail of complimentary Champagne and passage of time has convinced me that in one of the Vegas’ casinos I could’ve sworn that I saw a phone-booth that encouraged you to phone to credit card provider for an advance or extension of available funds… For the sake of this blog, lets just say that I did see this. Well, I’ve seen nothing like that here… yet.

However, there is something always counting against you. And it’s bigger than any gamble than you could possibly make…

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Argentina’s currency – the fun never stops.

If, in the UK we slap ‘gamble aware’ logos and slogans over every form of bet-promoting poster then the Argentine Banco Nacion should carry similar warnings. Casinos seem like the responsible way to use your paycheque when inflation is running at 30%. The real challenge is to claim your winnings from the machine and spend it before its only use is as rather thin, rather slim, pieces of toilet paper. (It is known).

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The real gamble is trying to save money

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Paper napkins

Sorry guys a boring one here. What? You think every sight, sound, taste and experience of Argentina is memorable? Well, yes most of it is – but sometimes for the wrong reasons. Quite a lot of stuff out here is shit. I’ll soon be writing blogs relating to public administration and toilets (oh my god THE TOILETS) but this little piece of blog-roll pays homage to the humble napkin, serviette or whatever you’d like to call it. They call it servilleta.

Argentine food is such that it requires eating with your hands. Most street food is cased in bread to prevent all the fat, chimichurri and vacio marinating your t shirt. If you attempt to eat these lomos or choripans in the street with cutlery you’ll probably end up being mugged forcing you to demonstrate your self-defense skills with a plastic knife and fork.

So your hands and face get covered in grease. It’s a small price to pay having eaten something tasty. You could lick your fingers, but I am British so I’d imagine myself looking too suggestive to those onlookers. I could wipe my mouth in my sleeve, but I am British and my mother would not be too happy. Additionally it is so hot, no one wears sleeves. So, it comes down to using what is essentially tracing paper. Tiny pieces of tracing paper.

I remember as a kid wanting to trace stuff to help draw a Transformer from a comic. My grandmother would often give me some grease-proof paper to perform this task. Results were decent, too. Napkins that could achieve the same effect as grease-proof paper. Trying to absorb grease from your hands with something designed to repel grease is a losing battle. Just keep wiping. And wiping.

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Three napkins down and my hands are still greasier than a can of WD40

OK, so I’m being petulant. And really, if I was to complain about stuff over here there are more worthwhile causes for me to launch my vitriol at. I guess coming from a background of food safety I require something a little more… safe for food.

But fuck it tastes good and I’d rather worry about the toilets than this.

The Local Derby / El Clasico

Some strange fever seemed to have enveloped the house. 33.33% of the inhabitants had been struck down with elevated levels of excitement. The following 33.33% were not too concerned about this malaise and the final 33.33% are dogs – half of these dogs (Tungui) is always excited so it was difficult to diagnose any problem with her.

Tonight was the night. Alberto’s beloved minnows; Deportivo Maipu were set to take on the mighty Godoy Cruz of national 1st Division fame. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been to see Argentina vs Colombia in San Juan in November and loved the relentless atmosphere and the warmth (all of the UK matches I’ve been to tend to have been a woolly hat and scarf affair) and so this seemed to offer a unique derby experience.

Two years ago I accompanied a proud Alberto to a very informal, 25- minute-each-way, pre-season friendly. Although hardly a sell out crowd, the noise was amazing. Drums, trumpets, singing… It was like how football crowds always sounded on on 1990s computer games – relentless noise.

So the t-shirt is ironed and we’re ready to go. Match report to follow 🙂

In the car I worried a little. Here we were, on our way to a local derby, kick-off less than an hour away and we didn’t have a ticket. Jime had decided not to come with us so it was her dad, her cousin and me together in the camioneta bouncing along the potholed road to Maipu. When attempting to speak Spanish the words fall out of my mouth like an egg into a frying pan. Ers, ars and every vowel sound sizzle into the air before I attempt to scramble them into the form of words, sentences and if I’m lucky; communication. Well, whatever conversation we had ate up the clock on the way to the stadium.

So I was worried that we would be too late to get tickets, it was El Classico after all and I learned that it was the semi final too. Alberto laughed. It emerges that this tournament, La Copa Vendemia was a Mendoza cup, every game was essentially a local derby. Not only that but it was not really a semi final per se, as there were only four teams on the competition. My worries shifted towards this match being a non-event, a real damp squib. We approached the area around the ground. Godoy Cruz fans filled the streets. There were almost as many of them as there were armed police. Although I was assured that the huge weapons being carried were loaded with rubber bullets. Strange that the thought of missing out on the match worried me more than this.

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Is it meant to make you feel safer?

Anyway, we parked up near the ground and refused to pay a local guy to watch over our car. This had happened before and I thought we were being a little harsh. But actually, the unofficial rules for this practice are to pay on return to the vehicle for the service of it having been watched over. These informal car-watchers have a tendency to take your money and then move on somewhere else leaving your car unattended.

We walked briefly to the stadium, bought our tickets before being patted through a corridor of police officers who didn’t seem to be attempting to find anything at all.

We took a seat bang on the halfway line. Behind the fence. It’s unavoidable to sit behind a fence in a south American stadium it would seem. If your view isn’t obscured with a 20ft chain link fence then it’s probably because you’ve decided to climb it and watch the match swinging like a a GIF file pole vaulter… Ebbing 45° towards the pitch and then flowing 45 ° back towards the stand.

Suddenly, a gun shot.

Or so I thought. It turns out that the police-wedding-hands-tunnel pat-down I’d been subjected to when entering wouldn’t have prevented me from bringing in fireworks. I’m not talking about your 5th November sparklers and Tesco Finest Catherine Wheels, I’m taking about big, black, metal instruments of mass celebration.

I could see a guy in the Godoy Cruz end with a crate send multiple rockets straight into the evening sky. The Maipu fans duly responded with their own show of force.

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Crazy sounds and scenes coming from the fans and the match hadn’t started. I’m not gonna talk too much about the game only to say that this is how events unfolded:

Godoy Cruz awarded penalty – Maipu keeper saves it.

Godoy Cruz score. 1 – 0 to the visitors.

Brief pause in match as police enter the pitch to face a section of the Godoy Cruz fans. Not really sure what was going on. But without any rubber bullets going off the match resumes.

Maipu pull one back in second half. We were heading for a 1 – 1 draw which meant straight to penalties.

And penalties it was.

Unbelievably A mixture of fine saves and terrible shots mean that Maipu won 3-0 on penalties.

My man of the match; the Maipu goal keeper. Cue insane noise from home fans. Meanwhile, the Godoy Cruz fans continue to sing too. None of that “only sing when you’re winning” nonsense.

Well, that was a game and a half. If I could sum the match day experience up in one word it’d be ‘carnival’.

And I love a carnival.

Buses, South America

Since using CATA to traverse the Andes to Santiago I’ve been a strong advocate for using buses to journey through South America. I’m still a novice though having only used them in Peru, Chile and throughout Argentina. They’re comfy, punctual and even though take longer than planes over distances there’s no mammoth check-in or wait for baggage and more often than not you arrive in the centre of the city – unlike flying into London (Southend on Sea).

They’re much cheaper than flying too. Aside from Sky Airlines there’s no real budget option on the continent so some micro/collectivo journeys are much cheaper. I always like to factor in the fact that many route operators offer a semi-cama service which travels overnight to your chosen destination. So essentially you wake up where you need to be having spent the night in a very comfy seat that opens out to 180°. You get your journey, food and accommodation at one rate as opposed to the flight / hotel combo you might have had to fork out for…

So, why am i sitting aboard this bus writing this? Basically, if this was a flight I’d liken this journey to that of a paper plane being flown through a tropical cyclone. We are en route to Esquel from Bariloche and should someone scrape the memory card from this gringo’s LG phone from the valley-strewn wreckage perhaps the information contained therein might help work out what happened on the ill-fated, late-departing 1515 Don Otto service to Esquel.

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Not the only Otto associated with bus travel.

I’m sure the one of the wheels temporarily hung over the side of the cliff face as we hurtled around a bend. We still had 5 sets of wheels spinning on loose tarmac so perhaps my worries are a little unfounded.

Tossed about

We were thrown around too. Rattling around like a tube of Smarties tumbling down an escalator. The TVs flickered and ceased broadcasting the soft-porn Latino music videos from 2012. Perhaps the loud bangs and cracking sounds were that of our breakneck-speed breaking the broadcasting barrier… Perhaps we will catch up with broadcasting from the modern era.. if only the driver would go that little bit faster.

Well, the TVs remained a laguna-blue colour. The driver was doing his best to push this rickety old vehicle into a new epoch but for now, no Latina titty tunes.

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Some very amusing typing errors are occurring as my phone struggles to interpret the intentions of my writing finger (examples: broadcasting originally went down as vietkong and finger as ginger – which isn’t too far from the truth).

I suppose there are worse backdrops to bid farewell to this life to than the lushous valleys, turquoise lakes and broken mountain teeth of Patagonia. To be a ginger smear on a beautiful valley-wall canvas in Neuquen.

If this was a plane I’d be there by now. Or enjoying a tasty buttock on an Andean glacier as per Alive!

Or even worse; waiting endlessly for my luggage to never appear on an airport carousel. Please, Mr Driver I love buses. Don’t break my heart… or any part of my body.

Choripán(s)

What’s not to like? Cramming some sausage between two baps sounds like a good evening. And it is. Believe it or not it’s an(other) informal food prepared outside over fire. The portmanteau of Choripán comes from the Brangelina-isation of Chorizo (herby sausage) and pan (bread).

It’s everywhere you look – it’s often the only thing to choose from.

Am I a fan? 

You know those people who say, “everything in moderation”? Well, that’s not me. Like Oscar Wilde I like to moderate my moderation and don’t apply it to my food. Most things I can eat until I can’t fit any more in – or drink until I’m face down on someone’s… chest. However, choripáns really fill me up (notice how I used the plural there) and I can’t eat more than 2.5.

OK, that sounds like a lot – but these were small ones, spread out over a whole evening with nothing else on offer. They were nice too – not the best (that’s to come) but they certainly did not offend me. And after returning home from these 2.5 choripánitos I hit the hay and woke up with the most hideous bout of explosive diarrhea. I don’t want to paint a vivid picture… but lets just say that I could’ve painted a brown mural big enough to cover a large section of the Great Wall of China.

So what was the best I’ve had?

I don20161119_001854-01‘t want this paragraph to read like the script of a 70’s bawdy sitcom, but I was taken under the bridge of the freeway by Jime’s brother. The length of salchichas on offer was like none that I’d seen. I couldn’t wait to wrap my mouth around a couple and start working away at them. OK, enough of this.

I think it might have been the addition of the chimichurri and salad that helped to break up the overload of chorizo that you normally feel. The setting was good too; the roar of the freeway above, the laughter of families enjoying their Friday night and the ring of the beer cap rollicking on the concrete as the ice cold Andes began to be poured. The smoke from the grill obscured everything but from behind this air-fat emerged what looked like a pair of anacondas waiting to wiggle their way into my mouth.

It was an amazing meal. But it was too big. Even for me! We should’ve ordered one to share, but I didn’t want to lessen the experience by sacrificing half the length. It was busy too – I had a stool to sit on, Jime’s brother had a freezer box and we sat at the table where the bread was being cut. But it didn’t matter.

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2 choripans is 1 portion

So, there it was, underneath the bridge, next to Godoy Cruz Football Stadium. A classic Argentine street food, with a classic Argentine atmosphere. But for me; a little tooooo much – until the next time.

3 – 1

Hello. The whirring of the 1980’s fridge behind me screams like banshee. We had a long day of it yesterday… Or more appropriately; I had a long day of it. Argentine’s seem to be able to pace themselves better with the good stuff a lot better than me.

So Jime’s cousin turned up to take us to her house where we could watch the mighty Swansea take on lowly Manchester United. Her husband is a huge Red Devils fan – so much so that it seems he allowed a child to tattoo his body with the team’s crest. I haven’t got a picture of it but believe me, it belongs in the Museum of Poor Art. They came to stay with us in London last year and we enjoyed a weekend in the tropical oasis of Manchester .. where it isn’t cold.. and doesn’t rain… ever.

So we arrived. And these guys; Ivan and Ivana are great hosts. The TV was on, the asado was lit and I was presented with the first of my cocktails. A beautiful gin and tonic. The sun had not yet passed the acceptable yard arm by this point but I didn’t want to be rude and graciously took it… with gusto. Wonderfully refreshing with the mercury slapping the mid 30’s again.

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3 – 1 fan ratio, 3 – 1 final score. Que puto.

soon lost interest in the match, and so did our host. The game was much too easy for them which made it much easier for me to enjoy people talking in a foreign language. The wine was now in full flow too as we set about finishing off a beautiful malbec from the Valle de Uco. I will blog about the wine soon (and the food) but I want to have more experience of it before I do :o)

The meat arrived in courses. Pork was followed by Argentine chorizo before the co

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Cow intestines. Bowel Mooo-vement.

stillas and then some colon. Yes. Bowels. Not my favourite. The initial taste is good as it’s barbecued and well seasoned. However, it never seems to be ready to be swallowed. I chased it around my mouth getting some serious mileage out of it before it started to have that worryingly-tasteless sensation of someone else’s discarded chewing gum. The unfortunate thing is is that it seems to be everyone’s favourite part of the asado. And with every great Argentine host (I’ve never met a bad one) they are so intent on ensuring that the guest gets the best of everything. I guess I’m just a boy who can’t say no.

One thing that d20161106_134433oes haul the taste buds back to life is provoleta. Argentina’s cocktail of European influence invades the dinner table in various forms. Whether it be the insane number of ice-cream vendors in Mendoza, their own take on pizza, milanases or their fondness for Fernet almost every staple Mendocinan food is touched with Italian influence. So provoleta is essentially barbecued
provolone, topped with herbs. It’s amazing. It’s cheese; on a barbecue.

By now we 20161106_162648were on the 3rd bottle of wine and ice-cream slipped unbeknownst under my chin. It was good ice-cream too, although to be honest at 35°C they could’ve stuck a frozen cow bowel in front of me and I would have spent the rest of the afternoon trying to lick out what I thought was a Cadbury’s Flake. But, no this ice cream was good. And then we poured some variant of Irish cream liquor over it and it made it even better. Not to draw an end to the proceedings there, some more ice-cream was served. This time Johnny Walker Black Label was tossed in like a sacrificial offering to some great volcano god. And God was the sacrifice worth making.

And then more cocktails.

In spite of the result; an amazing day. We thank Los Ivanos for this experience.

 

A Walk in The Park

Yeah, so the hottest day so far yesterday. And what better way to show your love for your ginger fiance than to get him out running. At 2pm. Apparently some Holarctic Wildfowl fly away from summer to breed. This would probably be a more appropriate action for someone with my lack of colour but true to form; I do the opposite.

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If I was a girl.

I really don’t want to turn this travel blog into a fitness one but parts of my body seem to following the Holarctic Wildfowls’ ideas of heading south for the summer. My mid 30’s body seems to be in a state of relaxation, not wanting to deal effectively with the volumes of cheese, meat and beer that is enjoying. When I turn, my skeletal structure conforms and I can be, facing 90 degrees in a different direction. However, the softer winter reserves catch up with my frame a good few seconds after. This can cause imbalance, unease and most importantly; my wedding suit may not fit.

So, we went for a run… Well, a walk… With a bit of running involved. The scenery required photographing  which is quite difficult when running if your man-boobs threaten to knock your phone out of your hands. So we walked mostly, took some photos then a few routines of sit-ups, playing with some huge, rubber band type things.

I’ve been assured that the park falls into one the wealthiest parts of town. And some of the largest, well maintained, older properties of the city line the street of Av. Emilio Civit leading to the ornate gates of el parque de San Martin:

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Sorry, not my photo – there were too many cars for me to run and take a decent shot.

Jime had advised that only one of us should take our phone, as it would be better to have only one stolen than both. After much deliberation and compromise it was decided that my phone would be the one that we could sacrifice if the worst should happen. However, the only thing that we were to be mugged of was the $3,80 for a bottle of water when entering the park. But it was a pretty cold water and it definitely was needed.

And then we walked, jogged, and walked again before being overtaken by an old lady in purple Lycra pants. So we upped the pace to overtake her and restore a sense of pride on my part. And I took some pretty mean photos.

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Under the shade of the palm trees, the entrance, the museum and the lake.

What I didn’t take photos of are the people who use the park and lake to complement their fitness regime. The park is home to an exclusive gym, with a boating lake, restaurants and the like. There are plenty of outdoor fitness groups sweating their gordy-ness away to a beat. These guys and gals are fit – in all senses of the word. I shall return. I shall be less wobbly so that I won’t look out of place.

But I will still be ginger.

 

Leaving London

We swallowed up the M25 tarmac with unusual efficiency. Silence deafened the inside of the car. I felt horrible; I had spent the last two days with my family trying to say goodbye in a way that meant something. But it was two days of silence.

It wasn’t just the past two days. We had barely talked about my year away since it was mentioned. Maybe our silence was a conscious decision, we were perhaps too used to each other. Everything that we wanted to say had been said at more frivolous times. Perhaps when I went off to Tesco’s one day to get some bread and mum told me to take care, come back safe and that I was going to be missed… that was the moment spent grieving my absence. Back in 1999.

The car could not fit anymore of my life or anymore of Jime’s wardrobe inside. If my brother and I weren’t separated by 4 years it would have been like being twins in the womb again as we reacquainted ourselves on the back seat. Should have had that shower – not a great start to 36 hours without one. Songs came and went in typical MP3 fashion; a mismatch of 70’s Driving Rock, Drive-time 80’s Rock and 90’s Rock Music for Driving. They sparked the only conversation that we had – memories of concerts past and concerts to come and promises of concerts when I return.

And then; complete silence. We had reached Heathrow.. Well, we were ensnarled in its environs. The possibility of successfully navigating the Heathrow traffic system are approximately 3720 to 1. Trust was placed with my dad at the helm. Confidence sweated from him, all he needed from us was complete silence… all he needed from his car was the sound of the sat nav. We were there. Almost.

We grabbed a trolley, unloaded and wandered into the terminal. A last minute weigh-in, wrapping of cases and a remortgaging of the flat to cover the cost of additional baggage and we were ready… for coffee.

And so we sat to enjoy the moment. And we did. The silence was golden.

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Emotional Baggage

I’ve found my own way of dealing with the slowness of tourists in London. Even though they maybe the last bastions of hope to Britain’s crumbling economy I will never see eye-to-eye with someone who’d want to take a photo of themselves next to a lamppost or a bin in central London. My mechanism of coping with such hideousness at rush hour is to swear, under my breath in Spanish. No one is any the wiser of my frustration and I feel I have done my bit

Unless they’re from a Spanish speaking country. In which case I pretend I am singing some reggaeton, or equally colourful Latin based sex-tune.

OK, so this doesn’t work in Mendoza. I have had to resort to swearing in English again. It started in Buenos Aires Aeroparque airport where I had to collect my 103kg of luggage from the Generation Game conveyor belt before checking back in. I had to queue behind case trolleys. TROLLEYS – not even people, presumably they’d nipped out for a quick mate or there was football on somewhere. Dropped a few ‘C’ bombs at this point and if anyone heard me I simply smiled at them. None the wiser.

Anyway, people say that us Brits love to queue. I hate it. I love theme parks – hate queuing, so I don’t go to theme parks. I don’t think my life is any less rich as a result. So, do we love queuing? No, we love tutting. And nothing promotes a percussion of tutting more than seeing the same neglected case wobbling along the conveyor slats. A case that has been casually bumping and revolving its way repeatedly in front of our eyes like a drunken catwalk model vying for our attention. And I do give it attention; even though it bears no resemblance to my case I check it on every rotation. And then tut.

Well, they all arrived in various formations. These cases look like they’d had one hell of a party. All strewn across the belt like fucked-up rock stars in an 80’s hotel room. The cling-wrap the only thing preventing them from vomiting my clothes across the Aeroparque floor. But I was a grateful roadie to this bad boy band baggage who had at least managed to stay in one piece and turn up at the same airport as me.

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So I took my band of cases and followed signs to somewhere, then somewhere else. And then back again to find the correct check-in desk. And the bags were sent back onto another belt and off to San Juan. And it was there that the horrors the abandoned fairground carousel came back to haunt me… One plane, one terminal, one conveyor, 20 passengers… and endless bags that seemed to belong to no one.

C*nts.