Wednesday, August 31, 2005


El Tango!

Tango bar-resturante in La Boca

and what ever happend to mullets?

communisim is alive in well, just in case you were wondering where they all went

typical in the streets and bars of buenos aires

ya viene el toro!

typical bar, just super old

dead tired

McUhOh! DP hard at work in BA

uh oh... what the hell is going on down here?!


Dangerous curves ahead - cuidado!

in the other direction from thier balcony

Early morning view from the apartment

my gernerous and happy hosts - Danny & Aimee

Malba Loca

... um, a big tall building?

La Plaza 25 de Mayo

Monday, August 29, 2005

Barrael Post(b)log

8/28/05 - 2:00 PM
Barrael, Argentina

The wind is CRANKING! I mean it must be gusting upwards of 80, even 100 mph... no joke! Those poor people in New Orleans must be achin´! Finally, three single cute-enough girls arrive from Mendoza, not even an hour before our scheduled departure, to talk about Guanáco farming in the valley. Always my luck. I await the introductions... "Gregorio is a journalist from the United States that is `selling´ Barrael," Berní always jokes.

The storm is increasing but no rain... not yet. The girls have brought fashionable, even matching luggage - total city slickers. Now I can´t wait to get the hell out of here and back to the city for almost another full week and then off once again to the NE of Argentina, which is sure to be an entirely different world altogether... with stories of `rowdy and beery´fishing resorts that cater to crazy Brazillian fishermen in search of the world´s most dangerous catch - the fighting Tiger Paraná!
Over email I confirm a wedding gig and a weeks worth of work for Macys back in SF - strange.

Berní enters the resturant and tells me that yesterday would have been better for me to leave. "The wind is worse than the rain because it blows rocks off the mountains and down onto the road. You´ll see... the pass over the range is very dangerous," he adds. Great... today would have been the day to go windcarting! I can´t believe the girls have arrived the day I´m leaving. I can hear them giggling and laughing in the next room and imagine that they are already having a pillow fight, or some such thing. "We´ll eat quickly and then go," says Berní. I step back outside for another cigarette.

On the way out of town we pass a group of fifteen cars parked alongside the main road in the middle of nowhere, which is the heart of this precious valley. They are setting up for a home-grown horse race. "STOP!" I yell, jumping from the still-moving vehicle. As I stumble through the brush which is hiding the water and mud below, up to the fence I can hear the starters at the gate... "Wait... wait... YA!" Two young boys in makeshift jockey helemts come racing out of the gate. Click, click, click... I think I got it.

On the flight back to Buenos Aires, one of the second league futból clubs from BA fill the second half of the plane... singing the entire way. The stewardess tells me that not only can I not listen to my iPod but, I also may not take pictures out of the window. Are you kidding me? As we prepare to land amidst a violent and turbulent storm which pitches the plane along every access, they are still chanting and seriously - DANCING in the aisles over the pilot´s warnings of the rough air we are about to encounter. Argentina... got to love it.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Hasta al Final

8/28/05 – Sunday 11:30 AM
Barrael, Argentina

After three days of being couped up in this mountain paradise due to bad weather, in a `town that never has bad weather,´ I´m going a bit stir-crazy. My time has come to return to Buenos Aires, to civilization, the urban life... the life that I know.

The lower-lying clouds have lifted somewhat and I can see past the rosey-colored mountains that border Chile to the East, freshly covered in a light dusting of new snow, a brief but fleeting glimpse of sunlight. Spring is but three weeks away and with stories of a valley covered in flowers and trees turning green once again I ponder... how much more beautiful can this place get?

They say that there is gold in them thar hills which have yet to be explored – meaning exploited. “The miners are coming though,” comments Perla with a look of disdain in her eyes. “But more precious than the gold is the water.”

One day I shall return to this fertile valley of grapes and garlic and some of the friendliest and most laid back people on this earth. Dreams of the medicinal springs and of flying high above the Andes... and of the gold, are freshly planted in my memory, knowing that one day I shall return.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Lagrimas de Oro - Tears of Gold

Another great dinner of half a roasted chicken with more purple cabbage and perfectly cooked potatos along with another bottle of the Syrah Malbec 2004 from the Bodega Callia, Mendoza. This is one of the best bottles of wine I´ve ever had, better than most from California... and in the supermercado its only $3.00 USD! We also have a very basic but tasty salad with every meal with these deep red tomatos that are to die for. Why can´t we get good tomatos back home? An instramental version of ´Blue Moon´from Breakfast at Tiffanys plays on the stereo followed by the theme from The Godfather.

The skies have turned black from what looks like an impending story and the temperature has once again dropped considerably. Berní comments that it will snow high up in the mountains but reassures me that we will receive no percipitation, `because it never rains in Barrael´. Earlier in the evening, walking back from town the wind started to howl, chilling me to the bone. The rapid changes in the weather are incredible and very strange at the same time. No wonder the Incas were always making sacrafices to the Gods.

After dinner we drive back into town to pick up a package but the shop is closed. On the way back to Bernís we run into Trillo, the politico/horse guide who is standing on the side of the road at the edge of town. Earlier Berní had told me that I would need to wake up very early for the trip up into the mountains. Trillo, who is obviously very drunk says that we should leave around 9 AM because 7 AM is just to early. He then asks Berní if he has a large shovel in case we need to do some digging. Finally, he asks me if I know how to ride a horse. “Sure,” I reply. “You know how to ride a horse well, ya?” he now asks.

Hmmm.... even if I had never ridden a horse before I wouldn´t have said no. The last time I was on horseback was Valentine´s Day two years ago on the beach just below Mendocino. I don´t think that really counts. The time before that was in Egypt like 13 years ago aboard a huge black stallion that almost killed me when it broke from our group and ran at break-neck speed across the Sahara desert finally jumping off a 15´ drop and stumbling to a halt. “Well, I´m not the best horseman in the world, but I know how to ride,” I lie. He and Berní simply look at each other and nod. For some reason I can´t sleep that night and I drain the iPod once again.

Awakened suddenly by what I have no idea and its pitch black outside but its already 7:30 AM. When I step outside I can hear the distinct pitter-patter of rain drops falling from the darkest of skys. I light my first cigarette for the day and wonder if we will still be able to make it into the mountains. Suddenly the rain all but stops and the sky begins to lighten. It is also very warm again – strange. I wish I could have brought one of my Stettsons for the trip... that and my goggles. I can´t believe I forgot my goggles!

I step back outside an hour later for my second cigarette of the day. I´ve gone from American Spirits to Argentine Marlboros to something called `Doral´with an eagle on the front much like my tatoo but they are aweful – that´s what $0.70 USD will get you down here. Now I´m smoking Argentine Lucky Strikes. When I step on the plane to return home I will quit... once again.

The rain has basically stopped but the cold wind is picking up once again. You can hear it on approach through the trees at first and then wham, it sweeps down upon the house and rattles everything. I anxiously wait. Even if we do head out on horse back, those grey skies won´t do anything for the photos. But I guess if we do find the sacred thermal baths adn bring back some samples it´ll still be worth it.

Its 9:30 AM and I´m eating again. Berní enters and sits down. “I think you should leave today,” he begins to tell me. It is de ja vu from the time I was in Honduras back in ´89 and we got a similar type of warning after having illegally crossed into neighboring El Salvador to conduct interviews with La Guerilla. “I think its snowing above and because it never rains here I think there will be problems with the road,” he cautions. Perla shouts out from the house, “You´re in luck Goyo! There´s a micro bus leaving for San Juan today at 1:30." - exactly an hour from now.

“I don´t think its safe,” Berní cautions once again “but how else are you going to get out of here?” Again I think, ´what the hell am I doing in the middle of the Andes in the middle of winter?! As Berní continues to tell me several stories of busses going over the edge in mudslides or getting washed away in flash flood river crossings I think, this could be my last Blog entry ever.......

Friday, August 26, 2005

Looking for El Dorado

Barrael, Argentina
S 31º 39.342´
W 69º 27.781´
Altitude 5,438´

In the main dining room of the converted army barracks, its myself and the woman from the bus… and its freezing cold. I have no idea why I´m wearing my flip flops. After the bad coffee and burnt toast breakfast I grab my camera and head up a beautiful tree-lined street towards the direction of El Alemán. Slowly, I begin to observe that the pace of life here is a little... well, a lot different than Buenos Aires. Upon returning to El Alemán, which in daylight is easy to find, I´m greeted by Berní who in fact is ´The German´. I eat a second breakfast, this time with strong coffee and properly prepared toast smothered in sweet tomato jam and honey.... yummmmy.

The resturant is perfect, attached to an attractive Santa Fe-style house, and now that it has finally warmed up we sit outside and chat. “Let´s go get your things from the other place which is NOT recommended. You can stay here with us as long as you like,” Berní tells me.

I pay the 25 pesos ($8.00 USD) for my six hour stay adn we set out for a quick lay of the land in Berní´s green jeep with his three year old daughter Vicki. On the way we drive past the home of Don Toro (que vive los toros!) and arrange to go wind carting this afternoon in La Pampa Blanca de Leoncito – The White Plains of the Little Lion.

Berní takes me to his other spread of land where he plans to build ten modern houses with all the ammenities for foreign visitors, all with excellent views of the river and the Andes looming in the near distance. Its a land that time has forgotten reminiscent of the Old West. In the distance off to the north I catch my very first glimpse of Aconcagua, which at 6,962 meters (over 20,000´) is the tallest peak in all of the Americas... one day, one day.

[This cyber cafe is crazy – they first were blarring spanish techno and now its a remix of that band from Orange County - Offspring. BLARRING! And now its Madonna´s – Like a Virgin. AND, the guy to my left is playing Counter Strike and the guy on my right – Grand Theft Auto. And all the kids are yelling at each other to be heard over the music. SHOOT HIM! KILL HIM!!]

When we get back to Berní´s house, the fattest, juciest piece of filét mingón awaits me... garnished with perfectly boiled potatos and some kind of purple cabbage, one of the best meals I´ve ever eaten. I try and sleep during the traditional siesta hour but my mind races – I can´t believe I´m really in South America at the base of the Andes living like a king! I lay back listening to a mix of The Breeders, Manu Chau and The Beatles and slowly drift off into a deep sleep.

Awakend from a strange dream of Incan sacrifices and filét mingón by Bernís knock at the door, I can see that the sky has clouded over. Strange for a place that boasts more days of sunshine than San Diego, California. We head north along the valley floor towards Anconcauga and eventually turn off onto an unmarked dirt road. In the distance a shimmering white strip of land between us and the mountains is visibile and I can see Don Toro´s little yellow jeep moving swiftly across La Pampa. The stark white dried lake bed is impressive to say the least and we head out to the center where we Don Toro is now waiting with a homemade red frame of a car with three little wheels and a smallish-looking sail.

“We don´t have much wind today but lets give it a go,” he says smiling and joking with Berní. He gets in and steers the car ahead about 20´ before it rolls to a gentle stop. The wind has died and his sail luffs gently in the wind, not unlike a couple of times I can remember being on the Bay with Dave. “In the summer the winds blow up to 80 miles per hour. That´s when it starts to get exciting,” he tells me. While we wait for the wind and the light to change we talk of paragliding and Don Toro´s eyes immediately light up. “This is something that has always interested me very much, something I´ve always dreamed of,” he confides. “Once I bought plans for an ultra-light but the problem was that it called for too many special types of materials like super light-weight aluminium and other things that we just can´t get here in Argentina. I would really like to fly when there is no wind for my cars."

Hmmmmm.... what he really needs is a powered paraglider or maybe an ultra-light. The dried lake bed makes for a near perfect runway with the most beautiful scenary of anywhere. Maybe I can round up some used paragliders, a couple of old ultra-lights and a 1992 Toyota 4-Runner and do that ´Big Trip´I´ve always dreamed of. Anyone interested? This blog does accept comments.

Later we head across the valley floor again, this time away from the Andes towards the lower-lying foothills, which are still very high... probably reaching at least 8,000 or 9,000 feet. We make our way into the Parque Nacionál de Leoncito and head for one of the two most important observatories in all of the Americas. Because of virtually no light pollution, astonomers from around the world inhabit this God-forsaken outpost year round. Somewhere nearby is a little-known part of the Inca trail that nobody visits... supposedly it hasn´t really even been discovered.

Tomorrow a local politician/horse guide and I are to summit the local range looking for an El Dorado-like thermal oasis – an old Incan outpost. Berní tells me that this will be the very first time that they have actually looked for this fabeled place and unfortunately he won´t be able to make it. Our mission is to mark the route with the GPS (thanks again Dave) and to bring back a couple of bottles of the medicinal water so the local scientists can test it. Is this all really happening or is it all just some strange surreal dream?! Manana, vamos a ver.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Buenos Aires to Barreal

The main bus station in Buenos Aires has to be the largest I've ever seen, anywhere in the world. There must be more than a hundred seperate stalls for the constant sea of neon colored double decker long-haul busses arriving and leaving, all within the blink of an eye.

"Your bus will arrive between gates 10 & 18," is all I can gather from the grouchy old man behind some sort of ticket counter out on the dock. "Wait with those women there. They are going to San Jaun."

Once aboard I vacate my assigned seat for the front so I can see the city by night as we leave the station. Little diamonds of water begin to collect on the window as we head out on the highway. Ten minutes later the rain is slamming into us sideways as we barrel down the interstate, passing two men on a moped wearing no helemts and little protection from the storm. The wake of the bus nearly blows them off the road and they lean even further forward for protection. Andrea - the stewardess - brings a tray of little espressos upstairs reminding me that I have to return to my seat at the next stop because previously scheduled passangers have these same front seats. I can´t see anything anyways amidst the storm

Early into the wee hours of the morning I still can't sleep and make my way downstairs. Andrea is keeping the driver company and softly sings along with the radio. It's the spanish version of 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' and all I can think of is the wedding reception scene from Old School. The storm continues to pound us and the streaks of rain look like little laser beams illuminated by the headlights of the bus. Andrea turns her head away from the windshield and the one working wiper blade each time the lightening rips across the sky - lightening like I've never seen before, the type you see in fake movies or maybe National Geographic. All of a sudden our one remaining windshield wiper is violently ripped from the windshield and vanishes into the night sky. I was already questioning the visibility for the driver up to this point and now I close my eyes and think 'dios mio... tonight is the night I'm going to die'.

Fifteen hours later we finnally arrive in San Juan, jumping off point for various out-door summer activities in Argentina including trips to the fabled Valley of the Moon, which from the tourist brochures looks something like Red Rock park in Utah. My backpack is now soaked from the leaky baggage compartment below and I step out of the station and into the rain. The taxi ride into the center of town costs 2 pesos ($0.65 USD). Ironically the cab driver says it hasn't rained in San Juan for almost a year. The news on the television in the cafe where I ravenously chow down a decent meal says that Buenos Aires received 100mm of rain - which sounds like a lot - overnight. The bus for my final destination - Barrael - doesn't leave until 8 PM... seven hours from now. I walk around town a bit after the rain finally clears and snap a few very uninspired photos getting strange looks from most everyone.

Back at the bus station I'm thankful to have Steele's iPod to put me to sleep. Situated on the bus and off for another five hour ride into the mountains I realize the iPod has been on this entire time and has no more juice. I lay back peering out at the starriest of nights and eventually fall sound asleep looking like an idiot with my fancy green Thermarest neck pillow. Five hours later at 12:30 AM we pull into the small town of Barrael, the base of the Andes - stairway to heaven. "Barrael is just like Chacahua, Mexico but in the mountains," says acclaimed Lonely Planet author Danny Palmerlee. "But its winter there and its goint to be fucking COLD!"

The bus stops every two minutes at different houses throughout town, providing personalized door-to-door service. I have no idea where I'm supposed to get off at and haven't yet confirmed my reservation for my stay here with 'The Germans'. I ask one of my fellow passengers - Mario the Mechanic - and he says he lives close to them and will tell me when to get off. Drifting in and out of sleep from total travel exhaustion I eventually hear him yell out to me, "Hurry, hurry... get off here!" In a panic I grab my camera bag and my still sopping wet backpack and step off the bus into the pitch black night. Mario yells out the window to me, "walk that way to the end and turn right and you will find El Aleman' - The German."

Dogs bark at me from all sides as I zig-zag through the darkness. It IS fucking cold. I finally arrive at the Germans and bang on the door for fifteen minutes, shivering in the frozen night. Slowly, I head back into town on foot down a narrow dirt road to a place where I had seen a woman exit the bus in front of what appeared to be a hotel. I pass out at 2:00 AM wondering what tomorrow will bring. In the morning I realize that the 'hotel' I've found refuge in is really an old converted military base and I catch my very first glimpse of the snow-capped Andes out the window and through the trees. Once again I am free.

Monday, August 22, 2005

So... there´s a few words I DON´T know in Spanish!

Bloggin in español, before I figured out how to ´change languages´and I accidentally deleted my entire blog... thinking I was posting new pictures... SIGH!

Oh well... at least I´m still in Buenos Aires, shooting about 500 - 600 pictures daily.

Let´s see how much I can recover...