Archived entries for South America

A Patagonian Playlist

I am on the bus from El Calafate driving around Lake Viedma on my way to Chalten.  I’m staring out the window looking at the lake and stunning mountains rising dramatically out of the barren sierra, it is an inspiring sight.  Coupled with the isolation here, it has a funny way of making you at peace.  Even the clouds here a uniquely dreamy quality, making different shapes with a slow grace “Oh look there’s a dog”, and after glancing away for a few minutes “now it’s a duck”. When you draw your eyes away from the scenery and the clouds and close them for a moment you can almost feel the galaxy spinning around you. A brief unity.

And what do you listen to while you enjoy this moment?  Although, admittedly limited to what is on my aging 4 gig iPod nano, I though I’d share with you my patagonian play list.  One of my more gadget orientated friends has commented, somewhat harshly in my view, that I should be thinking about upgrading. Mine still works and the battery life is about 8 hours more than his new nano in comparison.  No question of upgrade then. So let me begin…

The news that Pavement is reforming and touring has got me very excited so I am listening to some of their albums for the first time for many years, so let’s start with Newark WiIder off Crooked Rain.  What about the chord progressions in this?  Genius.  Perfect for a lazy hot afternoon.  And let’s follow that with another track off Crooked Rain, Gold Soundz.  This is the indie song template, perhaps not the first but certainly one of the best.

One thing you will always find on my iPod is Suede’s Dog Man Star. I never tire of it, and have spent many hours listening to it while contemplating my past and future.  And the track in the playlist today is We are the Pigs.

“Oh let the nuclear wind blow away my sins.”

Yes, I do know all the words.  Much to the amusement of some people I was once I card carrying member of the Suede fan club.  And I do very good interpretation of this song on air guitar, for those lucky few who have had the dubious privilege of hearing/seeing it.

I have been revisiting lots of things in my collection over the last few months and enjoying rediscovering and remembering the times that went with them.  After all you need to understand the sum of your past for your future whole to be greater than the sum of those past parts.

Next is Elliot Smith, an artist that I have felt, somewhat vainly, was a fellow traveller of mine.  Two tracks off Either/Or are on the list today Rose Parade and Say Yes.  Sweet Songs with inteligent lyrics, and yes I do think I am an exception:

“And I could be another fool or an exception to the rule.”

After watching a documentary that Steve Dangerfield gave me on parallel universes (E’s father was the physicist that came up with this theory), I have been listening to a lot of Eels of late.  And I can thoroughly recommend this popular science doco too, about the science behind quantum mechanics combined with E’s personal journey learning about his father.  I can be such a geek at times.  The song?  Last Stop: This town.

“What if I was your only friend in this world.  Can you take me where I’m going if your never coming back.”

I was surprised the other day to discover that the most played songs on my iPod were all off Beirut’s Album, The Flying Cup.  I don’t know if it is the effect of the tango canciones slowly seeping into my head and their use of the piano accordion, but I am clearly lovin’ this album.  Or perhaps it’s the french influences on the album clicking inside my head with all the french films I have been watching of late (Thanks, Antoine!).  On that note you should check out MR 73, Daniel Auteuil makes Rebus look like a shandy-drinking pussy.  Getting back to the music, this album is full of soaring songs with a gypsy feel, beautifully arranged, and clever improvised percussion.  And the 5 most played tracks: Nantes, A Sunday Smile, The Penalty, Cherbourg, St. Apollonia.

After chatting to Kathy Angelone (Looking forward to seeing you babe at Meredith!) recently about her ongoing obsession with Tim Rogers, I recently pulled out my favourite You Am I album, Hourly Daily.  Three tracks off this album for me today:  Hourly DailyTuesday, and Who Takes Who Home? The last track is on my favourite last album tracks playlist, and coincidentally one which I will be playing by this time next year as one of my new year’s resolution will be to move on from the bass onto guitar.  And I will be playing it, no question.  Every time I listen to this album, I remember Sunday night games of 500 at Meike and Matt’s: Meike cooking dinner, Matt, Phil, and I chatting about the weekend over some red wine,  Meike and Matt being super competitive with each other over the card game, while Phil and I furtively look at each other to see if the other saw the joker being clumsily dealt into the pot.  Good days.

And with the Meredith Music Festival firmly on my mind, the next track is Akron / Family’s Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead.  Why?

Because love is simple.”

I read some speculation the other day in NME about the headliners for Glastonbury next year, it being the 40th one and all.  U2 are headlining Friday night and the gist of the speculation was the Stones for Saturday night and Bowie or Dylan for Sunday.  A greatest hits set from David Bowie, one last time?  I think I will have to get past my vow of never setting foot in that muddy hellhole again.  I’m so excited at the thought of seeing my number one music hero that I’m going to have to pause here while I see if I can still register for a ticket just in case.  Right, that’s done.  The track?  Life on Mars.  Bowie has been a constant travelling companion for me, with Ziggy keeping me company in even the most obscure places.

What next?  Radiohead of course.  What better band to be lost in your thoughts to?  And the track?  High and DryThe Bends and OK Computer are back on rotation in my iPod, after a long absence.  In fact I think in Jacqui Pinge’s 2008 interview of me reflecting on the year gone by I nominated Reckoner as my favourite track from last year which might explain why In Rainbows has held it’s place for so long on my iPod.

And finally, R.E.M. Not because they are on my iPod but because I have been quietly singing Pretty Persuasion to myself for the last few days after listening to their live CD set Live at the Olympia, 39 songs recorded over 5 nights in Dublin in 2007.  The Olympia is a cool ye olde theatre and a great venue to see a band.  As well as trying out tracks for their new album, they also played a track of each of their albums and played 5 tracks off both Reckoning and Life’s Rich Pageant.  And they played with a raw energy that reminded me of how much I loved them.  For the record, I think their last album Accelerate is far away their best album for well over a decade.  Who says your best work is behind you?

So there you have it: Muscia es una metafora.  Perfecto.  Muy bien.

Footnote: When I started writing this post it was going to be about me revisiting my view that the Swiss are dull after a swiss girl flashed me in my dorm last night.  That and another anecdote about getting into the VIP bar at Prodigy in Santiago, with another swiss girl.

I think the music is where it is at.  Good call.

Sao Paulo is so cool

Why haven’t I come here before?  This place lives and breathes cool.  Although it lacks the raw edginess and beauty of rio, it is so sophisticated and cool here.  And there are so many people here.

There’s arte, design, and fashion in spades.  The food and nightlife is awsome.

And the women are OUTRAGEOUSLY beautiful.  I think I said to my friend Drew “Sorry, what did you say?” about 20 times last night over dinner as I was that distracted.

There’s even a bit of adventure, with a city wide black out all last night.  Let me tell you a taxi ride home in Sao Paulo in the middle of the night with no stop lights or street lights working is an experience.  I was joking with the taxi driver that he should get a success fee or a danger bonus for making it back to my hotel.

Back in BA

It’s soooooo good to be back in Buenos Aires.  Going to see el super classico – boca juniors vs river plate.  Having a fine dining experience in palermo at olsen with plenty of change from $50.  Sipping on a quilmes with my friends antoine and kato chatting about the now infamous fiesta del pato two years ago. Sitting on the roof in the sun at the new chillhouse talking about what to do next weekend.

Maybe coming back in December is a bit too early…

Poco o nada. Pretty straight forward, no?

I’m in Santiago now and roaming the streets.  I love having a good roam when I get somewhere new (not in a B-52 way though – was never keen on that song), and will walk ’til I’m exhausted.  I must say that Santiago is much better than I remember.  I must have been in a bad mood when I first came here a couple of years back.

That said I am back in a very bad mood again after I decided it was time to risk having a haircut here and I cannot begin to tell you how pissed off I am now.

I asked the owner of the hotel (Happy House – truly that is the name) I’m staying in to recommend a good place and he assured me that the place he suggested was very good.  I said that I was prepared to pay for the best and again he assured me that it would be OK.

I went in with a photo of a haircut from the past and was very clear in spanish that I wanted a trim and no more.  Little or none off here and here, perhaps 2 centimetres off at the back but no more.  Less than 10 seconds later and a significant amount of hair was missing from the side of my head.  I scream at the guy to stop and he looks all shocked.  What don’t you understand about little or none I say to him.  But you said you wanted a haircut he says to me.  Dickhead.

So I now have a haircut nothing like the photo I brought in.  Neither long nor short.  And as for the owner of Happy House, he ain’t gonna be so happy when I speak to him.

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Get out the way Bindi, let me show you how it’s done…

While still nursing my broken toes, I decided to head out to Rurrenabaque to a Pampas tour.  The main criteria around picking this one was little walking (important) and two new mates were heading out too.  The other big decision was whether to fly (45 minutes) or take the bus (18 hours or more).  So the little twin prop aeroplane won that decision hands down.

After an abortive early morning trip out to the airport where the flight was cancelled due to bad weather, we finally got under way on day two except the weather was too dicey to land in Ruurenabaque again so we landed on a small strip of grass an hour or so away.  The bus that was meant to pick us up arrived about an hour later (you have to love latino time keeping) with the next load of passengers and some big batteries that were needed to start the plane.  Only problem was the batteries didn’t work so the bus drivers/baggage handlers/mechanics left in the bus with the new passengers siting on the grass under the wings of the plane and those of us who just arrived waiting for another hour.  After quite a few hands of rummy with my new mate Adam, the bus finally returned and we headed into the very sleepy town of Ruurenabaque.

The first part of the tour was a three hour 4WD ride to Santa Rosa where we caught a little boat up the river.  But first the 4WD experience, if anyone wants to run a charity function to raise money to buy a road grader for bolivia let me tell you it is a very deserving cause.  I felt like a whip lash victim after my body and neck being snapped around for three hours and was very relieved to be out of the jeep.

And as someone a little sceptical of group things, was very relieved to find (again on this trip) that everyone I was with were interesting, funny, and good company.  Phew!

After a spot of lunch it was into the shorts, sun block on, and heading up the alligator invested Yacuma river.  It’s the end of the dry season so the water is very low, but the whole place is still teaming with wildlife (alligators, monkeys, birds, turtles, pink dolphins, anacondas, piranhas  etc). After a few hours heading up the river and stopping to check out all of the animals we arrive at our little lodge and head out to a small river side bar to watch the sunset and play volley ball (very popular in these parts).

The next day was big on activity with a long (and hot) walk in the pampas looking for anacondas, which we eventually found. Note the photo of me with said snake – I’m a natural for this Steve Irwin thing.  Lunch and a siesta in the hammocks followed and it was time to head down the river to swim with the pink dolphins.  Our guide Negro claimed the alligators and piranhas wouldn’t be a problem (yeah, right) and in we jumped and swam with (to be quite frank) some pretty ugly dolphins, who lost our interest once an alligator popped up on the bank next to us.

After such a hard day, it was off to the sunset bar for a few hard earned pacena pilsener tropical strength beers where as is the way in these parts I run into people I’d already met (and this place is a long way from anywhere).  Once it was dark we headed back to the boat looking for alligators with our torches.  Our guide pulled up at the bank to grab a baby  one for us to hold and have a picture with (very bad I know), but unfortunately couldn’t find a baby one so pulled in one that was about one metre plus.   Again taking my guide’s word for it I held the big guy with the little boat rocking in the dark feeling very steve irwin like.  I just need to get the photo off my mate Adam when I see him next.  That was the end of the fun for that day, and after dinner and few more drinks it was off to bed under the mosquito net.

Day three was piranha fishing up river which was very funny.  I’ve never seen people get so excited about such little fish.  For the record, I failed to catch one.  I did have one for lunch though and can’t see myself repeating that experience.

After lunch it was time to head back to Ruurenabaque. I must say that there is something quite relaxing about cruising up a river in the hot sun in a long boat with a little outbaord motor. I definitely felt a million miles for anywhere.  We revisited our 4WD experience with another three hours back to Rurrenabaque, with the added bonus of our driver getting a 4WD lesson on the way back.  My neck is stiffening up just thinking about it.

Broken Toes and boats on fire…

Climbing rocky hills in havaianas is not a very wise move at the best of times and I am happy to admit that wisdom is lacking on my part right now.  After a fall climbing up Cerro Calvario in Copacbana, I now have one broken big toe and two very badly bruised toes on the other foot.  The climb up is marked by the stations of the cross representing Christ’s journey to crucifixion, so you could say I’m feeling a little closer to god right now. And the perfect preparation for two days of hiking (I mean hobbling) to and around Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca.

In spite of the pain, I have to say that both Isla del Sol and Lake Titicaca are both absolutely stunning.  I would happily walk again on my injured feet to see this, it really was that good.

And after starting so well, we finished in the same manner.  The little motor boat that took us back to Copacobana broke down just short of Copacabana, drifting towards the rocks while the guy driving the boat had his head in the outboard mumbling “No hay” (Not there) to himself.  We only just got the anchor down in time before we hit the rocks.  With another boat on fire off in the (far) distance, I was wondering how long I could tread water with my day bag above my head.

After fiddling with every bit of the outboard motor our man struck upon the right bit at last and we make it back safe and dry.

Off to La Paz now to rest those sore toes…


Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu

Getting up at 4.30am and packing is a real struggle due to a meeting with a vodka bottle and a girl from Lima the previous day, but I manage, just. I get picked up at 5am from where I’m staying in Cusco by one of our guides Juan Jose (Jen, Karl, and Bernie: not related to Juan from BA with the chopper).  Juan Jose leads me to the Plaza Armas where we meet up with the group and get a much needed cup of tea to warm us up.

As with all group activities I’m a little nervous about the make up of the group as the people can really make or break this kind of experience. It turned out that I need not worry as the group was full interesting people. The guides and porters too were great fun and full of smiles and laughs on the way.

There were: two english girls, Rachael and Siobain who studied Law together. Siobain worked on the Princess Diana inquest and had some interesting things to say about it; a couple from California who studied together, Matt and Yoong; an american couple from Boston, Matt who owned a start up building software to help private equity funds trade, and Dale who is working on a drug for a pharma company to cure skin cancer; and three portuguese doctors, Marta, Pedro, and Jose. Jose gave me some great tips on the wine region in Porto. And nice to know if anything went wrong we were in safe hands.  And Roger and Juan Jose our guides. Both of whom were funny and friendly. Roger had a nice turn of phrase to express surprise: “Oh my Christmas”.

I was still suffering a little on the bus ride to the drop off, but soon pulled up after breakfast.  The rest of the first day is a easy hike for about 8 hours before we arrive at our camp at the foot of Salkantay which we are going to climb tomorrow.  The campsite is surrounded by snow capped mountains and has a little creek running next to it – breathtaking scenery.  We’re camping at 3850m and it is bitterly cold.  I cannot tell you how happy I was that I bought the most expensive thermal underwear.

After breakfast on day 2 and the introductions to the porters, we head off up Salkantay to 4650m.  After a hard climb up a switch back path up what looks like a couple of hundred metres with more than a few breaks to suck in some much needed oxygen we reach Pampas Salkantay and have a break.  The last part of the climb up is next and is meant to take an hour.  I’m the first from our group up and manage it in 22 minutes, nearly beating our guide Roger who runs past me with 20 metres to go.  Yes I am feeling very pleased with myself about this.  A rapid descent down follows to lunch and a soak in a stream for my feet.

We are running a little late after waiting for everyone to complete the climb up and have a long walk to our campsite through cloud forrest for the rest of the afternoon.  I only just make it before it’s dark having to really hurry to beat the fading light for the last two hours.  Most don’t make it in time and have to find there way along a cliff side path in the dark.  Fortunately we all made it into our tents.

Day three and I get up to see what I couldn’t the night before: we’re in a gorgeous camp site in a village, high above a river running noisily below.  We hike until lunch at Luskamayo.  From here we catch  a truck to Aguas Caliente (as there were no more buses available).  We’re packed in on a dangerous road (dodgy bridges, hair pin turns, low hanging trees) with much screaming from one of the UK girls.  Lot of fun.

A few problems with the police emerge when we arrive at Santa Teresa as our truck driver has no license so we walk the last bit to the campsite and find there are more problems with the police if we want to get to the hot springs here as no-one has a license.  I put my oar in and chat to the jeffe of the police about coming from Australia and the like and that we are really looking forward to going to the spings.  He stops smiling and starts shouting at the bus driver (who told him he wasn’t there to pick us up).  Oops.

At last we get to the springs and they are amazing.  Very luxurious.  Two pools (warm and hot), icy cold mountain spring shower, and hot sit down showers from the hot springs.  So nice to be clean of dust.

The next day takes us to Aguas Calientes where we stay the night before going to Machu Picchu.   Chelsea win the champions league game, so it continues to be a very good day.

The last day of the hike takes us to Machu Picchu via bus.  The site and the scale are pretty amazing, but the experience was tarnished a bit by the amount of people crawling over the site..  I couldn’t help but compare it to when Brooke and I were at Angor Wat and we were the only people apart from the local monks there.

The (damned) pan pipes are calling…

One thing that you may not be aware of about me is my pathological hatred of pan pipes.  And it is being sorely tested here in South America.  They are everywhere.  And they set my teeth on edge.

I’m in Cusco at the moment and have just had one of the best massages I’ve had here.  The soothing background music was The Beatles greatest hits on pan pipe, so I asked for the CD to be changed, as there was no way I was going to be able to relax and listen to that for an hour.

The replacement, you ask – Radiohead’s greatest hits on pan pipe.  I kid you not, I couldn’t stop laughing and had to tell the girl massaging me I was ticklish.  Too funny.

It’s up there with the busker I walked past in Quito, with shivers running up my spine as I heard the pipes from afar.  As I walked past the busker a new song started.  Surely, surely, I thought, it can’t be.  Hotel California, I was so shocked I just stopped in my tracks and started laughing at the guy, while he gave me evil looks.

That said, I f*&%ing hate the pan pipes.

Little Michael Jackson, so wrong…

I’m in Huanchaco in Peru and it’s Sunday night.  I’m sitting on the couch with Gina, the daughter of the owner of the place I’m staying at and watching TV.  We had a bit of a big night last night at the local reggae festival and are having a quiet night in.  My toenails are being painted as I type…

And what do you watch on Sunday night?  Punto Final, the Peruvian version of 60 minutes, for some hard hitting, quality journalism.  First up there is a story on gang wars in Lima with lots of interviews about the main guys.  Interesting stuff and goes for about 20 minutes.

And the next story?  The rest of the show, all of 40 minutes, is devoted to Little Michael Jackson, a dwarf who does Michael Jackson impersonations and let me tell you it was compulsive viewing.  It was more of a retrospective on his career as an dancing dwarf.  There was footage of him on old variety shows, footage of him doing a strip tease (many) on day time TV, leaping on to the desk of the host for a quiet word, jumping into the lap of an old lady in the audience and using her as a pole for a low rise pole dance. Then after the build up of the retrospective, the crew films him putting on the make up and outfit for the Michael Jackson thing. They follow him on the subway, the interviewer puts on a baseball hat backwards and bigs up the little guy, and then he starts busking in the street, moon walking, doing all the moves. People filming with the phones and the like, he was a big hit. And what does Little Jackson do after wowing the crowds? He hits the town, climbing on bars and doing lie backs for all those lovely ladies.

I have laughed so hard, I couldn’t stop crying.  Gina is familiar with his work somehow and kept telling me about the good bits of his routine coming up.  It really is nearly-pants-wetting-wrong-kind of funny.  I’d love to see Liz Hayes doing this kind of interview.  She was born to it.

My toenails are now drying…

Los Galapagos

What can I say, everyday was more fascinating than the next.  Each island completely different and interestingly so, with red sand beaches from the iron in the lava, black sand beaches from the volcanic ash, and the finest white sand beaches.  And that’s before you get past the beach.  And what’s more I was able to do it in comfort and style on board the Millenium.

Added to this was the underwater experience, and for someone with a long history of being terrified of water, I was most impressed with myself snorkelling each day in waters teaming with thousands of fish, playing with sea lions, and penguins, swimming with giant turtles.  There was just too much to look at to waste time on being scared.

Was very hard to leave today…



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