Six months later .....

Trip Start May 01, 2005
Trip End Mar 25, 2006

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Tuesday, November 1, 2005

When you hear about elections in South American countries, you imagine corrupt presidents, stolen votes and rioting. Not so here, where mid-term elections took place last Sunday. The reaction from the public was the kind of shrugging apathy you see in the UK during the European elections - who cares and is the pub open yet. Which, here, they weren't exactly as no alcohol was sold anywhere on the day in an attempt to encourage people to get out and vote. Given that there was a 70 per cent turn-out, it worked pretty well (and no doubt you'll all be pleased to hear that President Kirchner increased his mandate in the Senate). Not sure it would catch on in the UK, though.

Now that the election is over, there's more interest in the media in this week's 'Summit of the Americas' when George Bush is due to make an appearance, although the outrage in the press may be because all footy games have been cancelled as there aren't enough police in the country to protect George and stop football riots at the same time. Allegedly the British Embassy has issued a warning to British visitors to keep a low profile during the summit. I'm more concerned about the Argentina versus England footy match on November 12th. I'm already practising my Scottish accent, and hoarding wine and olives for that 'people on the streets hunting the English' moment.

It's spring here, and we've recently enjoyed the equivalent of a scorching heatwave in the UK. You can tell all the Europeans on the subway because we're the only passengers passing out whilst the locals are still wearing jumpers and winter coats. The famous Buenos Aires dog walkers have been out in force, and it's amusing to see a young bloke struggling to control 17 dogs whilst dog number 18 is trying to get jiggy with his leg.

But these poor chaps are far too busy to enjoy one of the male porteņo's favourite activity - staring lasciviously at members of the opposite sex. Whilst men here leer less obviously than in other South American countries, it's not uncommon to receive filthy comments in the street or for the odd jogger to accidentally skim one's bottom with his hand whilst whizzing past at speed. My response is generally a mixture of outrage and gratitude.

To the World Cup qualifier between Argentina and Peru, where the footballers' dodgy 1970's haircuts and the footy chants were the highlight. The hardcore Argentinian fans jump up and down on the terraces with frightening ferocity, singing "El que no salta, es Ingles" which loosely translated means "If you're not jumping up and down like us, you must be a big girly English person". The stewards at the match spotted me for a hardened footy thug and demanded that I hand over my camera battery. This was in case I managed to throw it 300 feet from my seat in the gods with such military precision that it would hit a player or, if I was really lucky, the referee. They obviously haven't seen me try to throw a ball to my nephew at five paces and still miss.

On a day off from school and having done all my homework, my lovely new friend Sharon and I nipped over on the ferry to Colonia in Uruguay, which would have been a great day out if it hadn't rained all day and we'd remembered to bring our sou'westers and galoshes. The only differences I noticed between the two countries was that Uruguayan men wear knitted tee-shirts and the dogs are unleashed and look like scary wolves. We spent a lot of time drinking coffee and hiding from the dogs, and finally made the last ferry back whilst enjoying a new kind of caffeine high.

I've now finished my month at school, and have learnt how to say "Could you please speak slowly, I do not understand" in at least four different tenses. School was fun, and I even got some teaching experience when I managed to explain to my tutor why 'bugger' isn't really a rude word even though, if taken literally, it's a bit dodgy.

I am really enjoying being settled in a city where the fun starts at midnight and everyone looks knackered on the tube in the morning. It's pretty different from living in London - the huge bat that dive-bombs my bedroom window every morning is a good reminder of just how different. This is a city where the police use quad bikes and have big guns; where men are men, and aren't afraid to kiss each other hello; where calf muscles are huge because of the daily exercise of lifting one's feet to check for dog shit; and where there are more dead animals for sale in clothes shops than you'll see squashed flat on the M6.

I went to a milonga, a dance evening where you can have tango lessons before the real professionals take to the floor and mock all the beginners. It all looked horribly difficult to me and not actually that much fun, as all the beginners were frowning anxiously with the kind of concentration needed to to work out a particularly tricky maths equation. Plus if you want to tango properly, you need to wear spiky high-heels and some sort of sparkly disco frock split to the thigh and, although that has always been my fantasy outfit, I just can't bring myself to buy anything with sequins on it. I've started yoga lessons in an attempt to flex the muscles that rucksacks just don't reach, and it's a good thing my Spanish is a little better now - can you imagine if I was doing a downward-facing dog whilst the rest of the class was on the cat-dog stretch combination? Oh, the embarrassment.

I'm starting voluntary work this week, where I'll be practising my Spanish on small children and will more than likely confuse them by asking them to blow up their pancakes instead of their balloons. A member of my family, who shall remain nameless, remarked that at least my clothes will fit in with underprivileged children even if my Spanish doesn't. My other big task is planning the activities over Christmas when my two vegetarian sisters are here. It's going to be tough finding good veggie restaurants in a city where eating lettuce is seen as a weakness.
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