1st proper blog of South America

Trip Start May 31, 2008
Trip End Jul 31, 2009

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Flag of Argentina  , Central Argentina,
Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I have arrived!
South America presents itself like your dangerous, sexy, cool cousin that you're not supposed to like but can't help having a blast with...
I prevail through the BEAUTIFUL hazy Andes towards Mendoza, Argentina is ahead of me after two nights in Santiago, time which like any traveler will tell you stretched itself out in a way which only new exciting experiences can.
I presently have a problem. Apparently I don't have the correct entry stamp on a form I'm not sure if I ever got from immigration at the airport. I think it validates my VISA, but the driver didn't speak enough English for me to be sure. So I could be stuck at the border into Argentina with no-where to go? I thought I wouldn't be allowed on the bus at one point and that I'd have to go back to the  city for someone to give me the stamp on a form, but he let me on so I hope I can do some persuading to someone who speaks better English than the driver? We shall see...
Arrival at the hostel in Santiago saw me struggling through a thick fog of jet lag from which I am yet to adjust. After being sucked into my bed for an extra hour by a weight of tiredness which beat me down, I forced myself up and onto the Av O Higgins (Alameda) which runs through Los Heros in the City Centre and bought some Pizza (a small little number with topping stacked almost as high as the thing was wide!). I wondered onto a side street and found a bunch of bars, keen to find somewhere to hang out for the night. A Heavy Metal bar presented itself to me, amongst a mixture of discos, strip clubs and other joints which just didn't look as homely to me. I noticed an Iron Maiden video on the screen and the place was overrun with black t-shirts and long hair... I'd heard metal has a religious following here and had packed my Maiden T-Shirt from the Somewhere Back in Time tour I bought at Mount Smart Stadium in February especially for an occasion such as this! I popped back to the hostel, donned the mettelers-uniform and headed back to promptly buy myself the cheapest beer in the bar which came in a massive litre bottle for 1100 pesos.
The atmos was pretty alive, especially when a metal classic came on the video juke box, and no-more so than when a Maiden tune came on (which was regularly) and the bar erupted in a broken English sing along which smeared a shit-eating grin right across my face. I felt at HOME. Fuck the place was smokey though! After spending nearly 3 years in countries with 'the ban' I was reminded what a good move it was as I was engulfed in fumes which clung to me like a... um... a 'bad smell'... (ahem)!
I was soon joined by Fillipo and his brother (I can't remember his name, but lets just call him Franko), complete with Slayer Seasons In The Abyss T-Shirt and long hair. I was soon welcomed in broken, drunken English to Chile, told repeatedly by Franko that his brother was crazy and many many handshakes and toasts abounded. Right on! I started to feel settled and allowed myself to start getting drunk. I was also reminded by Franko that Slayers Tom Araya is from Chile and eventually the whole thing made perfect sense. Slayer are massively influenced by Maiden, Tom Araya is a GOD in this country, it follows that Maiden would be held in such high regard. Cool chips!
I digress, I decided to try and pass on a little learned culture of Kiwi party spirit and introduced the guys to the concept of 'skulling' beers (downing them - nothing revolutionary in the concept but it seemed appropriate at the time)...the guys didn't seem to be too taken with the idea though and conveyed to me that the concept was common with Whisky in Chile, not with beer. Now I'm not sure how much they'd had before hand but when I convinced them to give it a go Franko promptly threw up in his mouth right in front of me, dribbling all down his front. I laughed but felt real bad too... and made a mental note that Kiwis are perhaps a bit more alcoholic than Chileans and not to suggest this again.
Around this time Fillipo, who was a ball of nervous excited energy decided to tell me he had a gun (as in a small CONCEALED HAND GUN) and showed me it hidden in a flippin pencil case! I took his confession (well - it was more like boasting) in my stride and showed a passing interest whilst inside I was thinking 'WTF?'! His brother then re-iterated that Fillipo was crazy and I it was around this time that I asked him not to shoot me, half joking... I felt this was another rather large reminder of where I now was.
I write after having to give up my last blog due to the mountains making me sick through their sheer twist/turning-ness as well as my paranoia about my encounter at the boarder. More of that to follow...
After my encounter with Fillipos small concealed dangerous weapon on my first night I rather sensibly decided to call it a night shortly afterwards, thanking them for their company and warm welcome and headed to my first dorm room in months (although I would be soon to realize that a jet lag had grabbed hold of me which would not let me go for a long frustrating time to come).
Next day I got chatting to a guy at breakfast called Dave who was on the same flight as me who I had met the day before and a girl called Claudia from Sao Paulo. We hit it off and decided to spend the day discovering Santiago together.
After chatting with reception about what to do we headed into town in the direction of what we thought was a historic site, scene of the founding fathers of the towns establishment of the city on ? hill. However, we actually were headed down empty streets towards a mass public demonstration. Friday was a bank holiday in Chile and Argentina and the day off was due to Labour Day. In South America they take their socialist workers opportunities for protest very seriously and, as we meandered down empty streets, we were told by the police (through Claudia who was gratefully our translator for the day!) that the streets we were on were not going to be safe later in the day due to the demonstrations.
We then encountered said demonstrators, in what was an almost carnival like atmosphere parading through the streets chanting slogans and holding aloft many flags of Cuba and Che Guevara who is still a VERY big deal in Chile, singing and dancing in a fiesta style at various points.
The affair seemed relaxed enough and it was difficult to envisage what we were to experience a few hours later. We soon realized we had been heading the wrong way for the historic side of town we had intended to go to and had instead reached the main city bus station where I took advantage of Claudia (not literally) and got her to order me a bus ticket to Mendoza before we headed back in the right direction the way we had come.
After sampling McDonalds Chilean style we meandered onto the street where we now saw the formerly mellow army coming towards us. Now at the top end of the street we were on, earlier we'd seen these guys (and their especially mean almost Orwellian style vehicles) tucked away into the side streets, politely waiting their turn for their role in the days proceedings. It seems inevitable that they anticipated a ruckas and I must admit that initially, seeing them primed and ready to go a few hundered meters up the street I got almost the same suicidal urge I get when I see a shark when diving, that to approach it. 'It's ok, I'm English wot-wot, nothing to do with me, talli-ho' I thought and then came to my senses. I think Dave was having the same thoughts and after I'd consulted Claudia I began to see things her way, I began to get scared.
Groups of people up the street moved from one corner of a road to another in a somewhat boystress manner and the TANKS and jeeps moved in. Incredulous, we couldn't believe our eyes as we saw the fully enclosed armoured tanks deploy a ferocious looking water cannon directly at the centre of the crowd as it went hurtling past at speed. Then, almost as if like a little sidekick smaller dog, a jeep came yapping behind towards the crowd, not afraid to mount the pavement as it 'PHFFFSSSSTTTT'ed' it's rather large payload of tear gas into the crowds midst. We were laughing our heads off at the surrealness of the situation, right behind us was a train station, McDonalds, various market stalls, all going about their business - this was CRAZY (THIS was South America)!
As people came stumbling down the street towards us things took a more sinister turn. We discussed whether to try and circumvent the trouble through the main street and I suggested we use the subway to escape. As we weighed up our options some of the shops around us started to pull their shutters down as another melee erupted directly over the road from us. The folk who appeared to be heading up the opposite street scattered and seemed to transpire in front of us, almost like zombies out of a midst, sweating, crying a tear gas tragedy, looking vagrant and wild. We had to think on our feet as the police (who I had witnessed dragging a man by this collar backwards across the street in full riot gear) suddenly started to surround the station for an imminent assault. We realized we were trapped AND surrounded and instinctively headed in towards the underground train station which we realized as we descended it's steps was seemingly closing the gates at its entrance.
As a stream of unaware people came up one side we rushed down the clear side of stairs towards a closed gate and had to squeeze around the stair hand rail and past people coming up at the bottom to reach our relative sanctuary. As we purchased our tickets and headed to our platform after a quick look at the map we allowed ourselves to breath a collective sigh of relief... a rather nervous sigh I might add...
The rest of my time here has been relatively tame (my Mum will be pleased to read).
I write this now on the bus to Cordoba from Mendoza (on the night bus, 5/5/9, with my new buddy James from London).
The crossing at the boarder into Argentina was a bit of a nightmare to be honest. It was only after last nights kip that I beat the jet lag and back then, after spending the rest of the day sight seeing in relative tranquility in the centre of Santiago, followed by some local 'Pisco' cocktails and a visit to 'La Feria' nightclub (before which Dave, Claudia and I got VERY drunk on Red Wine and played shit-head with Claudias cousin and some Argentinian girls) that I left my room in a rather fuzzy headed state for the bus and the shenanigans with my entry card.
At the boarder the Chilien immigration pulled me off the bus and took me into an office where I was not only interrogated by the army but also had my temperature taken and was asked health questions for what I assume was a Swine Flu test? After getting all my details I then got asked exactly the same questions again I think but this time in Spanish by the Chilian boarder kiosk, before the Argenian kiosk waved me through with no dramas. Oh - I had to then get my bags searched at which point I realized that my sun screen had exploded in my wash bag leaving white factor 30 EVERYWHERE. I headed to the Banyos (toilets) to clean up and when I came back my bag was gone (bag on the bus I hoped) and I was being hurried back onto the bus. Bit stressful but more annoying when compared to exhilaration of the near riot!
Arrival at Hostel Itika in Mendoza saw me happy to discover an all you can drink BBQ out back with a bunch of folk already getting in the mood out back. Admittedly I was ready for bed but the opportunity for meeting people often gets you through the tiredness through sheer necessity to network and meet your next NBF (new best friend), ESPECIALLY after you've had half a day shitting yourself because you can't speak Spanish (I uploaded my Spanish lesson MP3s onto my player sharpish as a result of the border incident).
The last two days have seen me do a bikes and wines tour yesterday and absailing, white water rafting and horse riding today, all through the rural parts of Mendoza with the stunning Andes as my backdrop. These mountains really do rival the Himalayas, which thrills me to see and the Spanish twist given to the place just adds to their unique character.
Highlights include a police escort from Winery #6 (this was the 'tourist police' whose sole role it seemed in this part of town is to make sure people don't get run over when leaving their last winery drunk), realizing I was shitting myself at the prospect of Absailing off a cliff after getting instructions in SPANISH from my tour guide (well - I hadn't done it for nearly 18 years and was a bit rusty - it was all sweet after the first half though and I returned for a second visit) and some of the most gorgeous little batches in a part of the mountains where we did our horse ride.
I was stoked to take up the challenge of a horse ride and succeed, not for fear of falling off but that I used to be highly allergic to horses. Managed to not touch it's mane (or my eyes) and it was all good. I felt like John Wayne and was surprised with myself and the horse how comfortable and in sync we were with each other. It was BRILLIANTLY trained and my one handed 'Argentinian' grip of the reigns allowed complete control of the beast with just the slightest nuance of movement. I can see why horse people love their animals now, they're awesome!
So, on to Cordoba and a potential second skydive. I plan to be in Bolivia (where it's cheap!) by the end of the week. If the people and places are anything like as good as what I've experienced so far in S.A. I should be in for a kick ass time! J I'm already planning my second visit here and, after speaking to Maximilliano from Sciccily, Italy (who told me how he could get by with his Italian here if he spoke slowly - 2 languages for the price of one) I think I might go and live in Spain when I get back to learn the language!
Adios amigos and Beunos Noches as I now attempt to sleep on this overnight bus to Cordoba!

PS - check back later in the day for first round of photos.

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nickmofry on

Shit hot photos brother Blobbo.........
good work for getting stuck into the demonstrations.....and kicking off with the Riot Police.......your too modest, im sure they ran away when they saw your Heavy Metal Face and your Maiden T-Shirt!
Hows the Food?
I feel bad cos we are eating in Pizza World too often(Mmmm) and eating choc ice cream...and lots of things not cambodia.........not really the Khmer Way!
Stay in Touch .....and keep on keeping on .....etc etc .....
Im running Free Yeah!!!!!!!!


nickmofry on

Dude.....me and jen have just discovered these blogs........we are not getting any notifications ...that you have made any new entries........please sort this out ...as i would like to leave pos vibes comment after each of your blogs.....telling you your the man etc etc ........you know my style!


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