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Three Summers in a Row (Chapter One)
I left school at the age of 16 years and went straight into work. In 2009 I found myself with 34 years of employment behind me, a limited education and one divorce (a beautiful child included). Never did re-marry, and, now, with a modest pension achieved, my health and sanity in check, I decided it was time for pay-back: Do-less and see more!
The following text is not intended to make anyone feel annoyed, jealous, bitter or even angry in the knowledge that the subject is avoiding a British winter, learning the tango in a romantic city called Buenos Aires, surrounded by gorgeous latin looking women, meeting friendly people including friendly beggars & thieves, drinking cheap good red wine and eating just about the best steaks in the whole wide world!
A JOURNEY IN BUENOS AIRES
These first two weeks in my six month travelling stint finds me in Buernos Aires and experiencing the tango scene from the hotel called Caseron Porteno as recommended by my teachers at Tango South in Farnham.
Taxis are cheap and plentiful which is very helpful late at night. Have been to two Milongas and there are small group tango lessons within the hotel six nights every week. The hotel accommodation is basic but attractive and very reasonable considering I have only paid approx. thirty five pounds per night. That includes a private bathroom just outside my room, breakfast and group tango lessons, a nice typical mediterranean looking garden to enjoy and all included in the price. Excellent value, cannot complain!
I find the lessons tough as they are advanced moves mostly to accommodate those who have danced much longer. Went to my first milongas and I was really struck by the many good Argentinian male dancers there. The ladies love it and must knock thier socks off! Ha! Have managed to run only three times so far as this is a big city with few parks and lots of busy roads. A great history though and plenty to see and do so far. I am saddened by no obvious municipal swimming pools though. It seems as if one can get a swim at the top hotels or private sports centres. I went to the Eva Peron museo and the Recoleta where the rich & famous are buried in BsAs. Went to see the Plaza de Mayo where groups of women will march every Thursday because of the sons & daughters they lost in the last 30 years. Argentina, as you probably are aware has been led by corrupt governments but their people are very friendly and even their poor & criminal do not appear to bother tourists as much as they would elsewhere in the world (so far). I see the odd young man making the sign of the cross when they pass a church, even the odd taxi driver does it when he drives passed.
The Argentinian men do have big egos and their dancing shows it but are the best at accommodating a woman in meeting her style. They think they have the best women in the world ( a matter of taste), the best wine in the world (considering the price, yes!) the best dance in the world (no contest). However, they are famed for their egos. In fact the joke goes, I asked an Argentinian male in the street for a light the other day. He pats down his chest against the clothes he is wearing and down his trousers and says, "No, I haven´t got a light but I have got a great body". Ha!
So, I am due to see their football team Junior Bocas play this Sunday. Vist their Che Guvara Museo. Go to a professional tango show. Actually dance in a milongas with confidence once I get a few more skills! Have seen their impressive baroque Cathedral, where near to it there is graffiti stating ´Énglish are bastards´(and we probably were). Saw the Casa Rosado. Had the best steak I have ever tasted at a restaurant called ´Las Lilas´. They have the largest organic cattle farming in the world and feed their own cattle on pampas grass which is very nutritous instead of the grain and growth hormones they are fed on in the UK and other countries. Expensive but very TASTY. I feel very safe here in Argentina. Even the macho men greet each other with a kiss. Amazing!
One day I took my rucsac with me as well as my bumbag (typical tourist) and experienced two attempts of people trying to steal from me directly. Both these incidents were on the metro (subway). One male, aged approx. 21 years wearing a football shirt put his coat over my bumbag I was wearing around my waist and I thought it strange despite many people around. The thought occurred to me if he was attempting to unzip my bag but then I could see his body position and thought he would need long arms to open up my small bag from where he was standing and then I thought, but what if he has long arms! So I slowly slipped my finger under his jacket and felt along the top of my bag and felt his finger on top of my bag. I looked at him as he did not flinch and acted as if his finger was innocently there all the time. I then removed my finger and wagged sideways in front of his face. He looked back at me completely innocently but I wasn´t taken by his cheek and put my face in front of his and said, well I won´t tell you what I said, but I said it casually and quietly to the extent that he backed off and said in his Argentinian accent, "Sorry" and stood there looking all remorseful. Then I noticed he had actually unzipped my bag but had taken nothing from it. As I closed it two other people started to stare at the thief and he got off at the next stop.
That same day when coming back to the hotel there were three young lads about 14/15 years of age and I felt his body weight lean forward to me as I sat down witrh my rucsac on my back. He was being pused by the other two from the side pretending that the subway train was more crowded than it was. I turned my face sideways and saw a glimpse of his hand coming out from the top part and opening of my rucsac. This wasn´t closed properly as all I had in it was a towel and my swimming trunks. I didn´t bother to stand and challenge the three as I just glared at all of them and wagged my finger again (must learn some swear words in Spanish). They also got off the next stop which was only seconds later because they brilliantly took advantage of me seating next to the exit doors and would have had his hand in my bag waiting for the train to stop before removing whatever item he might of held in his hand. Then he would have had a great start off the train by standing at the doors. Now I know why there are some plastic screens between the last seats and the exit doors on some trains. It makes for common sense! I also sense they do not bother you when challenged nor offer any aggression nor follow you. A real friendly bunch these Argentinians.
The beautiful intensity of tango in Buenos Aires
Buernos Aires - Final week
The second week in Buernos Aires was another good week. As I write I have not slept for over 24 hoursand am writing from central AUCKLAND in a hostel with New Zealand's poorest tourists & job seekers. Staying for a week but all for the price of one night in an average hotel. Amazing! Decided to see Auckland for a week before I start to live in the camper van. The social aspects and homely comforts of Caseron Porteno spoilt me.
To summarise, this last week has shown my tango improve thanks to the ladies willing to dance with me and the opportunities to practise in the milongas. (Bit of a wimp when it comes to asking the ladies). The Argentinian males tend to lazily or firmly walk over to the lady in question or just look at a girl from across the room and give either a cabaceo (the nod) or a la mirada (the look). So a big thank you to my hotel tutors Maya, Constanza & Rolo (all excellent dancers as well as teachers) and my hotel friends/ tango students Isabel (a german swiss), Miriam (canadian swiss), Irene (a scouser living in NZ!) and an English rose called Nicola who was my first dance at a milonga. Should of seen her shoes! The staff at the hotel were great too; Maria, Lucia and the delightful Graciela.
I would definitely consider coming over again just for the tango in BsAs and then onward travel to Patagonia and their Lake District. I feel I have made a mistake with the planning already. I should have had two months in Australia, two months in NZ and then two months in Argentina. The end result would be to walk back into my tango class in Farnham (Tango South) and show off the newly acquired skills and experience. Well, at least try to! Instead it is likely to disappear in the next five and half months. What on earth was I thinking at the time of planning on my kitchen table with the dishes piling up! Oh well, 'another year, another dollar' as they say. Great excuse to return to BsAs though!
Went into the local supermarket whilst still in BsAs and got talking to a worker there who knew some english and I with my single worded spanish and phrase book. Only went in to buy some wine ready for the last week ahead. To cut a long story short I end up telling him I am a pensioner and armed with this information I had to sign a small form and confirmed my passport no. which entitled me to 10% discount on all items because I am a pensioner. What joy! I felt a bit of a fraud but it was all legal here in BsAs. In fact, what tickles me is the Argentinian word for someone who is retired. It is, ¨Jubilado.¨ Whenever somebody asks me what I do for a living I launch into happy arm movements in a latin way and express, "Soy Jubilado!" I love that expression. Such an honest word with no sense of being in the slightest bit ashamed or fearful. Bravo!
The Blood of an Argentinian
The Lonely Planet guide book indicates a museum for Che Guevara in a certain part of BsAs. I went to find it but couldn't. I asked several locals but they didn't know of it either. By luck I walked past a junk shop with a photo of Che just inside the window. As I walked in, the man behind the counter, saw me (the tourist), visibily carrying a copy of the Lonely Planet guide book. He welcomes me very enthusiastically and, yet, at the same time, scrutinizes me quickly in the process. He was a very interesting guy and introduced himself as Eladio. He told me that he has always taken an interest in Che and the way Cuba has put up with the trade embargo against them. He feels that the Cuban peoples are strong and full of heart to carry on the in the manner in which they do. The United Nations had put the trade embargo against Cuba out to vote and all but 3 countries voted to lift it and resume trade with Cuba. These countries were the US, Israel and a tiny small island I have never heard of. Because of this the blockade against Cuba remains. Eladio explained the following story; He used to run the museum about Che Guevara for 6 years between 1996 & 2002 until he was forced to close it because of the new socialistic government that came to Power that ear in Argentina. During the 1990's Eladio read about the death of 3 Cuban Police officers and one that was seriously injured as a result of a shoot-out in order to arrest a violent child rapist. He travelled over to Cuba to give blood to the injured officer and he left a note saying that he had given blood and that it came from an Argentinian male. He requested that he contact him if he wanted should he survive. He did not live, sadly, and the note was passed to the officer´s father. The Cuban press interviewed this father and the note was shown to the press. It was reported on throughout Cuba and in the coming two months Eladio received over five thousand letters from ordinary Cubans who had much more to say about Che Guevara (who was originally born in Rosario, Argentina) then he had previously known. He was also sent enough memorabilia to start up a museum. A very interesting character; I admire him. One wonders if the company 'Lonely Planet' is playing a political game here to announce it as a museum in their latest edition which had in fact closed down since 2002 (still the best travelbook though). There is an association in BsAs called 'Friends of Cuba' and draws support by showing films and having disscussions.
One observation about the Argentinians is that they appear to love their dogs & cats. They appear to get so much love and affection their presence is very visible on the streets and seem to know when they are supposed to keep out of hotel rooms. I even saw one dog standing directly outside a busy filled church on a Sunday morning one metre away from the open main church doors. It was whinning occassionally as it just sat there watching the proceedings for at least an astonishing ten minutes before it left and at no time did the dog enter. There are a lots of paid dog walkers and some of these folk can be seen with anything up 13 dogs. Yes, 13! It makes for a crazy sight.
I am whacked. Signing off. Oh no, forgot the story about my experience with 'mate', an Argentinian drink, courtesy of Dario, a member of staff at Caseron Porteno. Another story here. You have done well to have reached this stage. Thank you for your attention. Just let me know if I am talking a load of the proverbials and request 'no mas''. Did I mention the Bocca Juniors to you? Again another story but they make a dull football/soccer match with a nil-nil result into an incredible atmosphere!
Hotel Caseron Porteno- a must stay for tango enthusiasts
A JOURNEY THROUGH NEW ZEALAND
Spent a week in Auckland since my departure from BsAs. Although I hired the camper van I had been spoilt by my stay in Caseron Porteno and decided to stay in a cheap hostel called Aspen House in the city. It was cheap too paying only 15 pounds a night in a single room with a single bed and bathroom to share between 10 of us. The camper van was parked securely in their own car park for six pounds per night. Yes, I know, why don't I just hit the road and don't waste more money by staying in the city. Well, because I wanted to see the city and enjoy what it has to offer. I save money on a full day's car parking and petrol and what better way to know the city than live it for a while. And of course there was still the dancing. Tango did not leave me completely here in Auckland as I had half expected it to. I found a club called Pasion Por Tango at 10-12, Customs Street East. I also found a Ceroc Dance Class and did an advance class and boy, nearly did my back in by lifting complete strangers of all shapes & sizes.
"Nothing Great is Easy" - Captain Mathew Webb
Yes, these Kiwis love a challenge, no messing. I entered an open water swim on Saturday approx. 2.8K in distance but involved over a thousand swimmers. They really are a sporty lot these locals. I tried to avoid trouble by keeping to the outside of the masses but try as I might I was still fighting for space and gets quite worrying when your goggles get knocked off your face and you can't afford to stop because of the swimmers coming up behind you and some won't swim round you but go over the top so as not to interfere with their stroke work and fixed concentration. It was organised, yes, but the sheer numbers really did add to the pressures of an open-water swimming race. Sadly, one person died during the swim. I read in the paper the following day that, and I quote, "too many people were dying in these swimming races", and, "this was the forth person in five races to die in the series". Also, that "there was going to be a review". Did I read that right? Four people in five races dead and there's going to to be a review!......... Now, I don't want to appear to be a visiting whinging pom here in Auckland but isn't this just a tad too complacent. I mean, if this was the UK, the series may have been cancelled even after one fatality let alone having a review! Yes, these Kiwis are strangely tough folk.
After the swim race (finished in 54 mins, 312th place overall and 16th in my age group) I hurriedly got dressed and went to an all male tango workshop (didn't know such events existed) after a quick hotdog of course; I was starving! When I get there I find I am the only male and the workshop is cancelled. Still, whilst there I learn of other tango events before I hit the road (will I ever?) In fact, one tango event was rather superb. For only five pounds at this club I got to a have a practica combined with a singing & guitar performance by an Argentinian male called Flavio Romanelli; a delicious event with home made buns and plenty of tea by gum! I get to go to my first class there tonight since leaving BsAs. The teacher there is from BsAs called Martin Bratina.
Should you ever get the chance to visit Auckland one must get to see their National War Memorial in Auckland Domain: A superb park with some small trails, winter houses for exotic plants, a fernery and a huge museum involving many aspects of NZ cultural life and the events that have made it a nation. Spent three hours in the museum but should have been four.
Went to Sunday mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral expecting many NZ's of Irish & Scottish descent and found at least half the congregation Asian, mainly of Chinese descent. It suprised me. The main singer was a Maori who was brilliant with his expressions and singing abilty. He would not have looked out of place in a top West-End musical. Other peoples living here in Auckland were Japanese & Pacific Islanders & Europeans both east & west. The Japanese have contributed really well to the food market here by selling wholesome, well presented and affordable city food. The wine here is not as cheap as BsAs. I miss that!
Other places of interest have been the city library, its Art Gallery and the Sky Tower that includes a good cinema. Went to see Micheal Moore's film called Capitalism - A REAL EYE-OPENER! I'll stop there as I want to raid a bank (when its closed you understand).
On the Road!
Drove for 3 hours before I arrived at this camp site, called Kukura Beach, just south of New Plymouth. I went to use the kitchen facilities but was dominated by a large group of 'St Trinians!' About turn and went for an hours walk in the hope I would have some space there later. Feeling famished I walked back in and there were only four of them.
They soon left with this strange man appearing at the sink.
Their teacher walked in after they had left. She appeared to be checking that her girls had left the place in order but was also probably checking to see what sort of threat if any I might be. I saw that she was in her late 40's / early 50's and appeared a strict type. She had large and suprisingly very shapely (.)(.) 's. I guess I still looked like a tourist as she asked assertively, "And what brings you to New Zealand?". I replied, "I am looking for Utopia". She laughs loudly. I stayed silent and remained transfixed.
Have yet to do some bell-ringing. I have researched the internet in Auckland & here in New Plymouth for the kind of information that may bode well with my stay. I have not been successful to date. I hope to ring some church bells some how. It is a matter of timing with their likely once a week practise and not every town, of course, has bells. I don't plan on staying anywhere for more than 3 nights at the most outside of Auckland although Christchurch might be the best place to stay longer and achieve some practise. Might even get to ring at a local Sunday service who knows. I have the time yet there is so much more to see.
Since leaving Auckland I have stayed at a great beach site called Takapuna just north of Auckland. Wonderful sea views and got some running & swimming done. I even had a couple of ladies pray for me as they were on their mission for spreading christianity. They had 'hands on' style of prayer which I was a bit weary about and bowed during it keeping a watchful eye on my bum bag! There was no attempt to steal which suprised me. So, you see, they were genuine; amazing. I forgot to mention this was done in the foyer of a cinema! They were Maori with some Spanish influence and suprisingly young at around 24 years. I saw several pairs of them operating in the town that evening.
Went onto a place called Orotohanga, the gateway to the Waitomo caves. This is where you get to see the larve of a certain fly/moth (need to do some more homework here). They are commonly known as glow worms and glow in the dark inside caves. You may have heard of these through nature programmes and trhe likes of David Attenborough who actually filmed them here. Amazing sight! Managed to get two pics but you can't beat the experience of seeing them live. The light is from their backsides where you get the crap that attracts the prey and they caught up in their sticky webs that hang low like strings of around six inches. Had a great bush walk (Ruakui) here in this area and a trip into some more caves that cost me nothing because I went there at night taking a chance. Some local youths recommended it when I got chatting to them in a local MacDonalds (yes, I know, I do try to avoid these types of eating places, sad isn't it). They said I would'nt have to pay as they all do it during some nights for a kick. I weighed up the chances of getting mugged but luckily for me it was raining that night and I saw no one else nor any vehicles around or at the caves entrance. It was spooky but I saw more glow worms and the usual stalagmites & tights. These are sacred places in the mauri world which of course us whites have exploited. By the way, I must mention this: I had the best ever seafood pizza at the town of Orotohanga at a place called, Thirsta Weta. No kidding!
Travelled over to a seaside place called Raglan. It is a surfing town and boy it is a cool place. It was large enough for safe swimming with surfing of all kinds in different bay areas. The whole place is a spectacle and must be visited. Orchas are sometimes viewed here as they chase their prey, stingrays on this occassion, and trap them within view of the locals & tourists. It is a pretty town and not overly commercialised. It is also a lot prettier than Newquay in the UK. There is black sand here and all the way down the coast to Taranaki. It is caused by the eruptuion of Taranaki all those years ago and the waves keep churning out this black soft sand onto the coast.
I am now at New Plymouth (again black sand) and the weather here is amazing. Swirling mists, low cloud, wind and rain. Dosen't sound attractive and my activities have been limited as a consequence which is why I have been swimming every day at the local 50 metre open-air pool (heated, 25C). However, the locals call it a 'white-out' and it is very romantic particularly when walking along the coast. The temperature is mild though. Even the wind coming across the Tasman Sea feels warm which is something you don't get in the UK. I have yet to see their mountain, the so called beautiful mount of Taranaki. They filmed 'The Last Samurai' here with Taranaki in the background. Can't wait to see the real thing once the white-out ends. It looks awesome on the picture postcards. If only this mist would clear as I like to walk up to the top of it. I will stay here a bit longer as a consequence of the weather. My hosts here are from Chester in the UK called Jan & Alan. They moved out here 10 years ago and things are working out for them. Good on 'em. Fair dinkum! Sorry, that's Australian. Hmm, must ask a local what their equivalent is.
Rere Falls, North Island
New Zealand - North Island still delights!
New Plymouth:- Spent nearly a whole week here waiting for the low clouds to lift. It was chilly with wind & rain almost the entire week. Saw the town's xmas procession and eventually for a few hours their magnificent Mount Taranaki - a beautiful site. Visited the Pukeiti Gardens where there existed the Cardiocrinum Giganteum which had a really strong perfumed smell like the starglazer only sweeter and grew up to 8 feet tall. Whilst there I saw in Ned's garden (John Edward 'Ned' Shewry was in his youth a world's champion axeman who in later life became an ardent conservationist here). Saw a 900 year-old tree known as a Rata tree. Looked prehistoric to me with clusters of bush growing out of it at various levels.
Whilst reading a local paper in this town I read of a story that involved a local gangman who got away with murder for the second time in his career owing to an administartive error on part of the Police. These events never seem to go away wherever you are in this world. The Police have got a tough job! - "The limits required to reach a sucessful criminal prosecution are beyond the acceptance and understanding of the common man".
Gisborne (aka Gizzy):- The Land of Moko & Megan and Cascading Diamonds.
This place is off the beaten tourist track generally speaking. I really like this place and its surrounding area. It has lots of vineyards, fruit & other crop growing areas. It has good surf on its east coast and if there is no surf on the day locals just travel a few miles north and one gets a north-west facing coast for additional surf. Of course Gizzy is where the mighty adventurer Yorkshireman James Cook first set foot on NZ after his young 'un, Nicholas Young, first sighted the white cliffs nearby. The harbour and surrounding coast line is also home to a resident dolphin named MOKO. I met a young lady called Megan who told me all about him. She swims with him almost every day when the sea is calm. I watched them - quite amazing stuff. She showed me some video footage of MOKO playing tricks. I was captivated. She invited me to meet him the following day but the weather was too rough for all (even MOKO hid under the rocks by the port area) and I missed my opportunity.
Further north west of the town are two natural wonders: Rere Falls & Rere Rockslide ( a natural phenomenon). The water fall is 10 metres high and 30 metres wide. One can actually walk around behind it and along a slippery edge. I found out that just after 3pm when the sun hits the falls at a specific angle one can view the sky from behind the fall and see a diamond glittering effect falling from the sky - a powerful experience and a beautiful place in which to have a picnic. The Rere Rock slide is another natural phenomenon. There was nobody there when I arrived and had it all to myself but had no tyre or board to assist me (well, that was my excuse). It is approx. 60 to 70 metres long going down at an angle of around 35 to 40 degrees. Should of gone on this - one regret here.
Wangnui:- It is pronounced "wonga nooee" and is a pleasant looking town with an Art Deco appearance kept clean and tidy. The town folk were polite and seemed genuinely happy folk and not overstressed like many in our UK towns. There were sSome great views from this town looking inland towards the central hills. The river port area was scruffy though. Really enjoyed running around Victoria Park and its beautiful lake. Begining to talk to myself with all this free camping. Will I ever get to OZ at this rate or WILL iT b tHE lUNATIC aSYLUm. hA!
Palmerston North:- Locals call it "Palmy". A busy clean town with everything going for it. Good shopping and recreational facilities only just not on the coast. Its centre is a park with only the I-SITE (information centre) building on it. All the modern day shops were around it. Very aesthetically pleasing to the eye this town. At every pedestrian crossing in the town centre the first car stopped for me every single time and I spent four days there. Everybody is polite and appears happy. However, in the Lonely Planet guide book it refers to John Cleese saying, "If you ever do want to kill yourself, but lack the courage, a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick". The guide book refers to the city as extracting revenge by naming a rubbish dump after him. Well, I looked at the two council dumps and did not see any sign indicating his name. I even asked one of the workers leaving one site if he had heard of the 'John Cleese Rubbish Dump' and he said he hadn't. Well, there you are. A middle class conservative town whose local authority appearing to lack the balls to name such a place. Hmm... perhaps John Cleese had a point after all. Personally, I loved the place. I saw a 6-a-side schools rugby tournament (a great injury free game involving both sexes - now I know how NZ gets such a nucleus of rugby talent), a professional football game between Wellington and Sydney and a Scottish pipe band contest on the central green - stirring stuff! They have a fantastic 50 metre open-air pool as well. Almost forgot to mention, I went to the All Blacks Rugby Museum where it was a bit dusty and worn looking operated by nice old men. I saw the whistle that is used for the start of every world cup rugby game and asked the old boy at the desk if I could get to blow on it. He looked at me as if I was stark raving mad!
Wellington: The windy city!
Yes it's true; Wellington is constantly blowing all over the place.
The capital city of NZ has a good looking modern Cathedral built in the 1950's. Opened by our very own Queen Elizabeth. It has a slight Byzantine theme. Guess what? I managed to ring the bells there! This Cathedral has a peal of 14 bells! I arrived to watch them on a Sunday just before their 10 am mass and was invited to ring with them. I hesitantly agreed. In truth I thought I would need a practise first and I knew their practise night was not until Tuesday but I was going to be catching the 0605 hrs Monday morning ferry to the South Island and would miss their practise night. It had been two months since I last rang. To my relief the rounds went well: A triumph that!
I know the Maori for the 'sign of the cross' which is what I will learn when I have my xmas meal with the homeless & lonesome on Xmas Day. Yep, true! I don't want to spend Xmas isolated on a beach so I will join these good folk as I have seen posters advertising these community meals. Any way, it is:-
Ki te ingoa o te Matua (in the name of the father)
o te Tamiti, (and of the son)
o te Waitua Tapu. (and of the holy spirit)
Did I tell you that the kids in NZ all get told about Father Xmas the way we were told ie. he arrives on his sleigh with rein deers and when I walked through the various towns I have visited I hear xmas songs about snow & white xmas......Well, just how on earth are the very young Kiwis likely to believe in what their parents tell them when their xmas is in the middle of their hot summer. Not much of a chance there I think. So, I have an idea. He arrives on a surf board with shorts & shades from the Antarctic with his white beard keeping him warm until he surfs onto the coast. Well, what do you think? Do I approach the local authorities on this matter? Because something has got to be done about it. My version of events are more believable than santa riding his sleigh across the snows. Food for thought.
Must mention the excellent museum they have in this city called the Te Papa. Great for kids and adults too. I saw an exhibition on Pompei at the time and went to a lecture given by a professor comparing the current Vesuvius with New Zealand's own volcanic activities.