Sunday, September 18, 2005

Argentina Post-Blog

Saturday, September 17, 2005
Ezeiza International Airport, Buenos Aires, Argentina

On the way to the airport the cab driver stops at an all-night grocery store with a covered parking lot located right off of the side of the freeway. I forgot to buy mate. We talk as we leave the city and head for the airport. "You could drive a cab here...?" he suggests. Hmmm...

I left Samantha standing beneath the full moon rising just around the corner from Caminito by the old train tracks in La Boca, in the shadows of the same futbol stadium where soccer darling Diego Maradona grew up playing the worlds most popular sport. It was both a hurried and a prolonged goodbye, leaving us both happy and sad at the same time. Funny how that happens. I promised her that I would return, not in 6 months or a year, but before her 30th birthday on November 5, only six weeks away.

At the airport I realize that all is slowly coming to an end. My infatuation with Argentina, the traveling, the food, the dancing, the people, the dogs, the buildings, the energy - aye, que energia. Giant backlit billboard-size ads for Marlboro cigarettes and an alternative cream to liposuction complete with nude women, adorn the walls of the customs waiting room. Sprawling across this giant room are the velvety walkway ropes. Back and forth we zigzag up and down and back up again to the inspectors, inking up and stamping passports with that official South American THWACK!

I find a place to get a beer. "For here or to go?" she asks. Yeah, I'll take that to go. Strolling through the airport with my liter of beer I come across the Lucky Strike smoking lounge playing some sort of Muzak techno-lounge boogie. Suddenly, another WHACK, but different and louder than before. Oh... Its the golf simulator next to the smoking lounge, which at first I thought read 'Golf Stimulator'. I'm so tired... exhausted from more than four weeks of running around in this beautiful country that now feels like home. I pull out the photo of Samantha and I... OH MAN, OH MAN... no way! I finish my second beer and head for the plane. Now its moving slowly out to the runway and I pop a Somminex. Next time I'll have to take that with water. The safety announcement blares too loudly on the speaker right over my head and I can't understand a word she says. Slowly I drift off into a deep sleep as we head up into the moonlit South American night.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Argentine Price List in $USD

- Pack of Marlboro cigarettes = $1.15
- Draft beer in a decent place = $1.33
- 1 litre of the National beer - Quilmes = $1.00
- 21 laps of go karting = $12.00
- 3 hours of Tango lessons @ Ideál = $5.00
- 3 hours of Tango lessons @ Mi Club = $2.65
- Used Vespa scooter = $700.00
- Local bus ticket = $0.25
- Local train ticket = $0.25
- 1 hour of indoor paddle tennis during the day = $5.00
- 1 hour of indoor paddle tennis at night = $7.00
- 1 hour deluxe massage = $20
- 2 tickets to Teatro Colón = $20.00
- 1 night in a famous Tango hotel in San Telmo = $20.00
- 2 pictures with the Tango dancers in El Caminito, La Boca = $1.66
- 1 delicious empanada almost anywhere = $0.17
- 1 ticket to the travelling circus = $3.50
- 1 night on a ranch on the Esteros del Iberá - all inclusive = $50.00
- 13 hour deluxe bus ride - Super Cama Suite = $32.00
- 1 1/2 hour flight from San Juan to Buenos Aires = $103.00
- 30 minute phone call to anywhere in the US = $3.33
- 1 bedroom apartment in Palermo - a touristy/hip part of town - with a balcony view of the entire city = $290.00
- GREAT bottle of Mendoza wine = $5.00
- Taxi by the hour = $5.00
- Mototaxi from Paraguay to Argentina = $5.00
- Large boquet of Gerbera dasies = $2.50
- Trip to the emergency room = FREE
- Healthcare = FREE
- Presspass to the top fashion show in BA = FREE
- Watching all the cute girls on the streets and in the cafes = FREE
- Watching Danny Palmerlee aka Travel Burro step in dog shit = PRICELESS!

Freezing but warm in Buenos Aires

La Moderna - Cafe y Pizzeria

I order a double cappucino and a crossiant with ham and cheese, just like Bukowski would have, except without the wine. When the barkeep brings it over I´m stoked, until I realize that its not toasted, which is always better, especially for breakfast. I ask him if he can heat it up - No, we don´t have that capacity... hmmm. The owner - Raúl, who I took pictures of yesterday, sitting two tables directly behind me gets up and walks over the the barkeep, whispering something in his ear. The barkeep then comes back over to my table and grabs the cold crossiant and takes it back to the kitchen.
he says, litterally ´with compromise´but figuratively a combination between excuse me and with permission.

The chinese corner store owner from across the street comes in, brandishing a fancy and newish black North Face pull over fleece, kissing Raúl on the cheeck. He is from Shanghai, a lot further from home than I. The warm crossiant now melts in my mouth as I contemplate my last three days here in Buenos Aires. I don´t even know what time my flight leaves but I think its on Saturday. Everyone´s Talking (
I don´t hear a word they say... shadows of my mind
?) plays on this strange english-only radio station that you hear throughout the cafes adn cybers in Buenos Aires. It´s kind of like Musak with very little commercials, a bit of news and a super suave DJ, playing a crazy mix of english pop songs spanning thirty years. Now its the Cranberries, then U2... and then the news, something about Katrina and the state of disaster that is New Orleans.

Yesterday, I tangoed for six hours. The first three hours in one of the oldest, classic and most well-known establishments in all of Buenos Aires - Confeteria Ideál, a candy store with a giant ballroom upstairs. As I wait for the class to start, I begin to get nervous. I order an espresso and a ham and cheese croissant - they are hard to get away from. After two quick cigarettes, I take off my sweater (a very nice Tommy Hilfiger which I actually ´borrowed´from Fletcher who actually ´borrowed´it from someone at the office - Reza, I think, but its suited me quite well in freezing BA) and realize that not only did I forget to put on deodorant this morning but that I´m wearing the same shirt that I wore on the fourteen hour bus ride home from Missiones. OH SHIT! I smell pretty ripe indeed. I run to the bathroom to try and freshen up - to be so fresh and so clean, clean. As I enter, there is this guy with long hair changing clothes and spraying his underarms with a huge can of perfumed deodorant.
Um... I forgot to put some on this morning and...
I start off in nervous and broken Spanish. No worries... he hands it over and I blast myself under both arms.

Everyone in the class is at least sixty years old. I immediately get pulled aside when this short fat lady complains to our instructor Eduardo, a total fruit cake but great dancer, that I don´t even know the eight basic steps. I had made it very clear before the class that I had no idea what I was doing here and coudn´t dance for shit. I end up dancing with Eduardo for a few minutes while he teaches me the eight basic steps.
Now you practice by yourself,
he orders me. I continue on, determined to get something out of this strange experience, holding my left hand out to the side, dangling in the air while my right hand is placed directly over my heart like when I used to say the Pledge of Alliegence back in elementary school, as if I was holding a woman very close. Do kids still say the Pledge of Alligence?

After my three hour lesson ($5.00 USD) which was pretty nerve racking, especially when Eduardo´s main `assistant´ Cecelia, [footnote - I think the word assistant in the tango world is also sometimes used as `lover´, except not in the case of Eduardo] a pretty, tall & thin blonde, not even 23 years old, with perfect posture and a totally hot body (sorry to all the feminist out there, but its true) comes over for a little one on one. She grabs my hand and wraps her arm around my back, slamming our chests together. Raising her head, stareing deeply into my eyes, her face only 3 inches away from mine. She starts barking commands into my face and counting loudly, intensely in Spanish as we begin to move around the dance floor. I´ll never forget that moment.

I catch a cab to Teatro Colón to get tickets for tomorrow nights Hungarian Opera Show. Its supposed to be one of the ´must do´things in Buenos Aires, to go to the Teatro Colón. It boasts the best accoustics in the world and the tickets are only $10 USD each. Samantha doesn´t know that we are going - its a surprise.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

La Bruja de Tango

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I had a dream, last night... about tango. I never dream but this one was distinct. I was at a conference, something work related. During the noon hour break I sneak out to get a quick tango lesson. In this dream, the old woman at the local eatery around the corner also doubled as a tango professora, or instructor - highly unlikely, but it was a dream. In addition to a review of the eight basic steps, I learn how to kick my leg, first out and then up - holding it suspended, high above my head. Then, with poignant force, to wiggle it around like a dancing snake head - almost like some capoiera fighting move.

Last night over a four-cheese pasta in the center of downtown, Samantha tells me several of her more memorable dreams... all bad. She says that when she was younger, she suffered from sleep walking and nightmares. Listening intently, I ask her to put her hand out on the table. Her hand is so small, like Elton John´s `Tiny Dancer´. I take a stab in the dark, starring deeply into her dark brown, almost black and beautiful eyes...
Maybe you´re a bruja, a witch?
I´m not a witch!
she slowly responds, a bit surprised but amused at the same time. Then she starts to blush, telling me that actually... there is a bit of truth to what I have just said. Her parents used to tell her when she was younger that she was like a witch, always running around the house causing trouble. I take ahold of her one hand, smothering it between both of mine. She blushes even more saying only,
Aye... que energia!

The first time I actually danced with her was at the train station - Constitución, earlier that evening. The same train station that the taxi drivers in Buenos Aires have repeatedly warned me not to go into, especially at night. Waiting for her to come into the city from the barrio, I finally see all of the cartoneros, or recyclers, lined up with their make-shift carts piled high with scraps of cardboard, wood, plastic and I don´t know what else. I arrive twenty five minutes early and just wait... and watch. Street kids, tattered in rags play a rudimentary game of soccer with a shiny, empty litre bottle of Pepsi. You don´t see a lot of Pepsi down here as almost everything in Latin America is sponsored by Coca Cola. They race around the dirty but placially old station built by the Brits more than a hundered years ago, kicking and screaming at the bottle, nearly missing the passengers that are scurrying between the ticket counter and the arriving trains.

I ask about their train, El Trén Blanco, of which I´ve heard many stories.
The first one leaves at 10:55 PM and the next one at 2:30 AM,
says the clean cut young man behind the bullet proof glass. The white train has been gutted of all its seats to make room for all of the carts and bikes that carry their hard-found wares of the day. All of the windows have also been removed.
They would just smash them if they left them in,
one taxi driver tells me. I have to return to ride the white train, to take pictures of this modern day third world spectacle of poverty and industrious labor.

Then I see her, walking briskly towards me, wrapped up in another stylish coat, nestling her chin beneath her hand made black woven scarf. We talk and laugh and I feel just as I did before I left her, standing out on the street in El Caminito, shouting out to the tourists,
Take a picture with me...

I grab her hand and ask her to dance. I get the last three steps wrong but it doesn´t matter. It feels so good, to be dancing with the world´s ninth best tanguera, here in this decrepit station in the heart of poor Buenos Aires.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Posadas by Night... A Que WOW!

El Tauro - Finally a fairly tranquil bar/night club/pool hall. The music changes between Rock Nacionál, Cumbia, and then some form of Spanish electronica-ska... something like that. Its got some reagee beats tossed in and its actually not bad, for this type of border town bar. And the chicas here - aye que WOW! There is also some kinda of long-horn theme going on. All the palstic beer buckets that they serve the national beer - Quilmes, which actually tastes like horse piss - have the fading long-horn logo as well as the orange polo shirts donned by the bar staff. But there are these two other girls behind the bar with low cut pink tops - sans logos - with shiney belts and short, short black mini-skirts. Not really sure what is going on. Danny bails early (as usual), telling me once again that I´m on my own. We both talk incrediously of the day we had today. It really was a great day to be alive.

This has been a smoking holiday to say the least, but I´ll be glad to quit (again) upon my return. The girls in pink on my side of the bar looks bored... like the Robert Frank shot of the girl in the elevator in New York City in the 1950´s. Bored... Now the bartender saddles up along side her and, saying something that lifts here spirits, she returns to her work, this time with a faint smile on her face. Now the band playing Rock Nacionál is singing, ´Que pasa, no hay mas que Fernet con Coca Cola´, which is actually the national drink of Argentina. (TBC...)

Friday, September 09, 2005

La Vida Loca - Hard Core Travel

Sitting here eating empanadas while it pours down rain outside. We talk about what we really want to do today.
Lets go to Paraguay... it´ll be different, its close, and despite the rain, I bet the ruins are cool,
I suggest. Done. Houston, we have a plan.

The next nine hours are to be like no other travelling I´ve ever done in my entire life. The first thing we do is cross El Rio Paraná, which is the border between Argentina and Paraguay, in the International Collectivo, or local bus. Its pretty crowded on the bus already and we push our way to the back. A quick trip through town brings us to the border and there´s a huge line of traffic. Danny suggests walking across but we are advised that its too far. As I shoot out the window, particularily a traffic sign that says no horse-drawn carts allowed on the bridge (WHAT?!), the bus lurches forward and we take a special bus lane all the way up to the actual border crossing. The Argentine officials punch at their computers and finally say we are free to go. We run back to the collectivo, which for some reason is now more crowded than before and leave Argentina, crossing this massive bridge that spans El Rio Paraná. I´m in the very front, excited and shooting like crazy. When we finally arrive on the other side its the same thing. Everyone off the bus to clear customs.

This is where it starts to get interesting. (For more on this crossing, check out Travel Burro´s version here.) The Paraguayan border official - typical Latina American cop type - tells us that we can not cross into Paraguay without visas from the Paraguayan consulate back in Posadas, Argentina. The guide book (never trust them) didn´t say anything as such and we tell the official as much.
On the 9th of August last year, the US goverenment change the requirements,
, he declares.
It´s 290,000 Guaraní,
which to us translates to 290,000 indigenous peoples from Paraguay - or a shit load of indians! $50.00 USD for each person to visit Paraguay... even for just one day.

Que triste,
Aimee sighs. He then launches into a long-winded explanation of how we actually could go into Paraguay for the day and only pay the price of one visa that would work for all three of us. For some reason, we all agree and then strangely enough he doesn´t stamp our passports, letting us pass into Paraguay illegally.
But you must be back by midnight,
he demands. We walk ahead and then stop. Danny wonders if we should go BACK to Posadas to see if we really need visas or just what the deal really is. Nah... were here, lets just go. Fuck it.

Walking away from the border crossing, I get this strange feeling. I´ve done this before in Latin America... and it didn´t turn out so well. The next thing I see is a moto-taxi stand... a WHAT?!?! Dude, we´ve GOT to get on those. All of a sudden the three of us are whizzing in and out of traffic into the center of Encarnación, the other side of the river (like that song that won the academy award last year) - and its a different world entirely. We zig zag over the freshly wet streets and I prepare to tuck and roll each time we bounce over the wet train tracks. I´m also not holding on as I snap pictures all the way into town, mostly of Danny and Aimee - proof that this is really happening. As we pull into the bus station and dismount, still sore from the 20K on horseback two days before, a man in a blue uniform shouts,
last call for Trinidad!
. Wait, that´s us... we scramble aboard and suddenly off again. I´ve not really been paying attention, rather shooting as much as I can. Unfortunatly I didn´t listen to Steele´s advice about ALWAYS caring the big glass and have left my camera bag back in Argentina... because of the weather.

Speeding out into the country the dirt is sooo red, African savanah red. But everything else is green. The air smells of burning trash, or fields, or brush... probably trash. The sun begins to poke its benevolent head in and out of the clouds while cows and horses freely graze along the side of the two-lane highway. Suddenly Danny is waving his arms at me, out on that same dirt road. I had been so enraptured in the moment looking out the window with my own personal iPod soundtrack - Iggy Pop, I Am the Passenger, Queen, You´re My Best Friend, Elton John, Tiny Dancer (which now makes me think only of Samantha), The Band, The Weight (which I have always loved but never knew the name)...

I hastily gather my things and leap of the bus which is pulling away from them, out on to the street - burnt red from the sun and all of the iron in the dirt. The iPod yanks around my next and I´m tangled in camera strap and iPod wires. The first thing I see is a horse, casually grazing inside a barbed wire complex, which is actually a power plant, a big one. Yep, definately in Paraguay where the horses freely grace under, and immediately next to, monsterous and buzzing sub stations. We walk up the dirt road, just the three of us and a couple of random chickens and dogs. Once again I spot them - MORMONS!
You gotta shoot that,
Danny says somewhat ironically. I double back, busting in on an afternoon lunch - the entire family and then these two baby-faced young boys, one is from Hemmit, CA.

The next three hours are a total paradisical oasis of green grass, lush Jesuit ruins and drinking mate under the hot winter sun.
This is the fucking story!
Danny decrees. We leave, returning down that same dirt road. I´ve got about 40 shots left for the rest of the day, for the lesser travelled ´Jesus´ruins. Damn - now I wish I would have brought ALL my gear instead of accquiesing (sp) to the meanacing rain which has now completely dissappeared. We walk up the main road a bit to another crossroads where a multi-colored little bus is parked out in front of a modernish gas station. The arrival of three gringos walking up the road causes quite a stir with the driver and several passengers as they stand outside passing around mate. Yes, this is the bus to the town of Jesus and the ruins which are just beyond the town. The bus ride to Jesus is another almost miraculous experience.
That was absolutely the best bus ride ever,
Aimee would later state.

The bus has to be at least 70 years old. The range of passengers spans the gamuet from an old indigenous-looking woman who sleeps as we bounce down the red dirt road to a young boy in a camoflouge cowboy hat, curiously watching us the entire time, to a group of school teachers sitting up front together.
Don´t worry about pictures of this next mission,
Danny reassures me.
Half the story is this bus ride!

Update - Posadas, Argentina

In the cafe again on the main plaza in the center of town of Posadas, the captial of Missiones Province. The main government building is across the plaza, a pink colored colonial-looking building. Strange, but there are 20 brand new red tractors neatly parked in a row out in front of this building, all for sale.

The sky has once again turned grey and the wind is blowing. A little rain today but tomorrow, more... the old woman behind the desk of our modest hotel informs. I order a cappucino this time instead of my usual espresso, spilling sugar all over the small round green table. The cafe looks like it could be a hundred, maybe two hundred years old - straight out of Rome.

People scurry along the cobblestoned streets. Its a real Latin American town and its been too long since I´ve been down this way. I haven´t seen one gringo the whole time we´ve been here, thank God. A few Espanoles maybe - yeah, last night in the Casino loudly and increasingly annoyingly playing blackjack, hitting each other each time one of them would win, while the other six would hit a 14 or a 16 and loose. There´s also the skinhead sports team staying around the corner from the cafe.. not sure what they are up to.

The cappucino is excellent as I light my second cigarette for the day. With the wind and the bland sky, my desire to shoot Jesuit mission ruins has waned. All I can think of is Samantha and the Janis Joplin posters that decorate her bedroom. I wipe the sleep from my eyes on my shirt sleeve, waking up in this cafe in South America - far away from home and ´The War´and Katrina. The only news we get down here is of rape, murder, forceable evacuations by the National Guard branding M-16´s, hunt for snipers on rooftops (??), people starting to die from contaiminated water and just chaos in general.

I ask the waiter dressed in traditional saloon-style black pants, white shirt and velvet-red vest if he can break a hundo. Change for big bills is a whole other thing in Latin America. I head back out into the street once again, just as the rain begins. God I love it down here!

Posadas, Argentina

On the border between Paraguay and Brazil. The cyber cafe, or ´server´as they are called down here closes in 7 minutes.

My ass is super sore from 20 kilometers on horseback at an Estancia on Los Esteros del Iberá - the untouched marshlands of the North East part of Argentina. Danny continues to complain of a bruised, maybe cracked rib from a karting accident back in BA (he beat me anyhow to the tune of 20 pesos). Street kids fighting outside of the main disco here... literally in the STREET, in front of the oncoming cars - UFC style - only to be hustled off by the cops, dragged by the scruffs of their shirt collars. The smiles dissapear from their faces

Speaking of cops, we not-so-graciously got a ride in the back of in the back of a police car, I think it was a Chevy Chevette, today from El Puma ... a quasi-reserve or rehabilitation center for captured wild animales, much like they have in South Africa, captured by farmers protecting their cattle. The cops were supposed to be investigating a robbery in the local barrio, but instead, they were snaping pics of the animals in the reserve with their cell phones. A guy in the car behind us frantically waves them down and we both stop on the dirt road that leads back to the main highway, once again in the middle of nowhere - and now we begin to roast, the three of us crammed into the back. My leg, jammed against the modled plastic just below the cage that seperates the bad from the law, begins to cramp from the horseback riding from the day before, which was entirely a whole other world. But you know the back of those cop cars... the windows don´t go down and the doors don´t open and its HOT outside. When the driver of the cop car finally turns of the engine... and then sets the parking brake, Danny begins to loose his shit, unable to hold back an uncontrolable urge to break down and laugh hysterically. I follow suit, looking out the opposite window with my arm covering my face. Aimee, seated between the two of us elbows us both in the ribs simultaneously. They finally dropped us off, again in the middle of nowhere to catch a collectivo back into town. Wouldn´t you know it... MORMONS on the bus, just like back home and just like the Jesuits, hundereds of years before them. I snap their pictures while they dejectedly look at the floor.

We all agree that Posadas is great... but its back to BA on Monday for my final week in this country that never sleeps, and to meet up with Samantha once again.