Buenos Aires, 8th Oct 2008
In the beginning, there was darkness.
And the Air Comet flight attendant said Let There Be Light.
And warm mushrooms were served at 5 am somewhere over the South Atlantic.
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, because it was rubbish.
And Lo! said the captain, and the plane obeyed and it was good. Good air to Buenos Aires.
I find myself in a heart-warming one-bed flat, 100 yards from the thrusting, unashamedly priapic centre of BA; the Obelisk. By the time we landed yesterday I felt like a stamped-on cadaver, but the taxi ride into El Microcentro kissed my eyeballs, licked my heart and wibbled my ding-dangs back to life.
Slightly unconvincing second-hand horror stories about how Argentinians hate Brits, with a vengeance and to a man, were atomized by the fact that the first one I met invited me to his house for roast meat and wine with his Anglophone wife on Sunday.
Perfect weather for arriving from London - cool but sunny. So far so good. Apart from the sugary bun with ham and cheese I had this morning. Bleccch. I have no bike for three weeks so all I can do is drink Quilmes (a second-tier lager: Isenbeck is much nicer) and immerse myself in this nutty Southern Hemisphere metropolis. Further north, I'm expecting the inevitable Kentucky Run-In with a Creationist. Catholicism may be a sick, power-mad, kiddie-fiddling, brain-washing, peasant-indoctrinating, empty, gold-plated, bloodthirsty, fetishized, perverted, whisky-swilling, woman-hating, gay-bashing, witch-burning shitball of a religion, but at least it doesn't try to argue that dinosaur fossils are God's Prank.
It's taken me nearly 3 years to think of an end for the London - Cape Town story, and I still can't. Cape Town is much better as a long-haul holiday destination than it is as an overland end-point, partly because, quite rightly, no-one in CT gives a weeping shit how you got there. The wavers and well-wishers are gone. It's literally over. Bloody great town for a week's holiday though!
Things I learnt from crossing Africa:
1. People are nice.
2. I want to do it again.
That'll do me!
Imagine a boot stamping on a bin bag full of rat's faces forever. Add E331 and salt to the result, and bingo! You have a sizeable batch of Piccadillo "meat" paste, the Worst Food Ever. Why in the name of wank did I buy two tins?
In comedy news, there's a cafe at Madrid airport called "Ars", and here in BA you can buy a small jar of glazed fruits called "Gentleman", allowing you to hand them around, eyebrow aloft, with the phrase, "will you take a Gentleman's cherry?"
I am 42 and my willowy days are behind me. C. is 20, raven - haired, fulsome of form and saucy of eye. Battle lines are drawn up in The Gibraltar, and an evening skirmish at my place results in a closely-contested draw.*
That's 20 - twenty - years old. I may have peaked too early.
There is something to be said for staying in occasionally, drinking urine-hued Argentinian chardonnay and listening to AC/DC on half-decent headphones. No need to bring up the resultant jumping around in front of the full-height mirror. That's private.
You can stand in a bar at 10pm anywhere in the world and shout "AC/DC" and at least one person will grin excitedly at you, and, more often than not, come over and breathlessly dissect the guitar solo from "Overdose". That means, if I have my facts correct, a BILLION people like AC/DC. That feels important. Let there be rock!
NB: This doesn't work with Rush. If you stand in a bar at 10pm and shout "La Villa Strangiato", you will, I suspect, be strangled before you make it back to your villa.
Or Hawkwind. Someone with boogly eyes may come over, dribble on your cuffs**, and begin to worship you as a galactic messiah, but the most likely outcome is embarrassed indifference. Do Not Panic! Think Only Of Yourself!
One of the benefits of a long motorcycle trip is that it allows you fully to think through these issues. So where in SHIT is my bike? I would cheerfully bite out my pineal gland for 10 minutes on 2 wheels up the Avenida 9 de Julio.
*Actually I won.
** Hello Benny.
Panic Room, 2004-ish.
Really should be called "I am mesmerized by Jodie Foster's chest and as a consequence have no idea what is going on". Five stars.
One bowls fairly carelessly down the emerald avenues of life, believing that a pea-sized blob of shampoo and a kitchen sink full of hottish water are all it takes to remove stubborn blemishes from the smalls and return almost any of the intimate garments to showroom condition.
But hang on just a cotton-pickin' minute. It appears that rare steak juice - pink , hot and fatty - utterly thwarts this notion. Don't eat wet beef in your good pants.
I bloody love Buenos Aires. It's completely, barkingly, eye-gougingly nuts. Screamingly bonkoid. Crazed like the paving and nutty like the bar. I worried that I was going to be humiliated by my Spanish, and punched, stabbed, kicked and hated for being English. It hasn't happened and I doubt it will. Argentina baby!
There's a little bit of me that, after 3 weeks in Argentina, can never eat meat again. Thank buggery it's not my mouth!
Obama is El Presidente! Fuck you McCain. Fuck your team's cheap Obama/Osama puns. Fuck your Hussein gags. Fuck Sarah Palin, her airbrushed Alaskan prehistoric bullshit, and her neanderthal Creationist loser dogshit dogma. Apparently there is a Sarah Palin sex doll available on the internet. If the manufacturers can find the common courtesy to send me one, I will ceremonially crucify it atop a pyre of Black Sabbath records, copies of "The Origin Of Species" and reams upon reams of family planning literature. *
A fashionable statistic states that the average US citizen has five pounds of undigested red meat in his intestinal tract. Luxury! I have double that in my oesophagus alone.
*This is way less offensive than what I originally planned to say.
Colonia, Uruguay. 30/10/08.
Wait "up"! I almost forgot an entire country. Among the most debonair of my chums is Robert, who flies to BA on a whim (and back on a 747 ha ha ha etc). We spend a few days on the brink of nausea due to grotesquely immoderate beef consumption, and then catch a ferry to Colonia.
Neither of us are known for our long-term strategic planning, and we both opt to travel with only a cotton shirt each to stave off death by exposure. It's hot here, so, by extension, it must be hot everywhere else, no? Wouldn't you just know it! Colonia after 6pm is utterly freezing. We are idiots. Say Lar Vee!
Devil-may-care man-about-town Andrew joins us back in BA and we eat even more meat. Robert and I gawp like oafs at Andrew's tales of eating 7 steaks in 5 days. Naz and Drew - you are kings amongst men. Drew - see you in Chilly...
21/11/08. Pinamar, Argentina.
So it's bye bye C and hello AT. My 10-year-old, 35,000 mile Africa Twin which I bought on eBay and am somehow expecting to get me to Canada, has been nailed up inside a dusty crate for 6 weeks and sea-freighted diagonally across the Atlantic. It starts first time after being crow-barred free in BA, much to the delight of the cheery warehouse fellas and the relief and near-tearful gratitude of myself.
I spend a fair proportion of my final week in BA in - oh I can't decide - either the second-best or the joint-best pub in the world, The Gibraltar. Where might one begin? Visually, it's perfect. Dark wood, dim but optically-adequate lighting and just the right amount of comedy bar trinkets - i.e. not that many. The staffing is ideal; a landlord from the North-East of England, "Nice" Beaver, who has the unusually good manners to look, and, importantly, be, even more hungover than you when you arrive; and a selection of nice, smiley girls to pour the stuff.
The stuff itself is cheap, cold and limitless. Closing time is 4 am. They have the perfect bar-stools. In the CD rack are both the last Midlake album and an AC/DC best-of. Every time I go there I end up having an amusing chat with a tourist, an ex-pat or a local.
I really could have gone there every night for six weeks, but I'd have died, so I didn't. So now I'm in Pinamar. The AT was a joy on the 250 mile ride here, but I've woefully overloaded it (again) so tomorrow is going to be chuck-stuff-away-day. I hope my landlady - who is 175 years old - has a big dustbin.
Mar Del Plata. Argentina. 23/11/08.
A single-handed Budweiser-guzzling competition - man against barrel - leads to a late night steak with a wine "salad". Sleep, in a bed that international laughing-stock Tom Cruise would find restrictive, is hard to come by, and at 10 am I'm kicked out of the hotel and forced, blinking and confused, out into the world to fend for myself. Luckily "fending" on this occasion involves a 200 yard ride to the cafe for tostadas of jamon y queso.
Hans* from Switzerland comes over as I bite into what would seem to be a sandwich of Hoover bag contents, freaked out by my GB numberplate. Good bloke! He tells me that he rides a BMW around the Alps and wishes me well, so - nice one Hans!
A hot-but-jolly ride - a mere 75 miles - down to Mar Del Plata. It's like Toronto and Margate had sex and - THUNK - plopped out a very nice Atlantic coast town. Juan, on a rather groovy little 250 Honda CB-something, meets me at the lights, guides me to a hotel, tells me of his six-months-at-a-time Canada/Argentina life, and finds me a secure parking spot. Argentina is the chimp's nips (as we say in Thanet).
Necochea, Argentina, 27/11/08.
HUURRP! That was the best meal (asado, bitter lettuce, cheap vino tinto) of the last 4 days. In fact the only actual meal, if you care to join me in discounting burgers, ham'n'cheese toasties, medialunas (croissants) and garage sandwiches. Bugger the Mar Del Plata landlady who told me Necochea was "shit" and "nothing".
No, really! Go there - for me - and bugger her!
Coronel Pringles, Argentina, 28/11/08.
There's a little bit of chitter-chat in Britain and some other parts of Europe at the moment about the idea of removing road signs, traffic lights and other visual clutter, in order to allow the motorist to concentrate and make decisions based on current road conditions, traffic levels and so on. I´m sitting at a busy, traffic-light and give-way-sign-free crossroads in Coronel Pringles, staring our European future in the eyeballs. It's been 30 minutes but I'm nearly certain I'm going to snap up from this page any second, jolted away from pen and paper by a crescendo of rending sheet steel, the resolved chord of tinkling indicator lens on cobblestone and the delayed applause of human screeching that constitute a quite-serious car accident.
There is no statue of a stupid-looking bastard waving a cardboard tube of reformed potato-effect snack discs in the main square, so we shall have to assume Col. Pringles was not the man you and I both want him to be.
It is a lovely little town, with some lovely little humans in it. I'm thinking specifically of the busty chica who recently bounced past me on a suspension-free bicycle. Well done cobblestones!
2 hours slip by, no car crashes, and I'm bum-over-eyes, haplessly in love with this laughy little burg. Maybe I should just stay here? I'm in a pizza joint sitting next to a hilarious group of grannies, obviously celebrating something. It's 10 pm, 3 days from December, shorts and t-shirts. Hopelessly devoted to Col. Pringles.
*names changed to etc etc. And cos I forgot to ask.
Sierra De La Ventana, Argentina. 29/11/08
An evening of lager and cigarettes at a pavement table near, if not quite in, some mountains. How ineffably winsome! I hear you respond. And it is, despite these facts:
1. I am sitting 12 breezy feet away from the largest wind-chimes I have ever seen;
2. The wind-chime shop is playing, over the wind-chimes themselves, the most self-harmingly funereal Scott Walker CD I have ever heard;
3. In my other ear the restaurant is countering with some extremely disappointing disco covers of all your New Romantic favourites.
Bahia Blanca, Argentina. 3/12/08.
The flush on the single gentleman's lavatory in the North-Western, BB's finest bar, gave out an hour ago. Still no-one has, er, unpacked their shopping, but it can only be a matter of time. Unlike most Argentinians, I prefer to drink beer in quantity rather than savouring each pathetic sip and sodding off home after stringing out 1 bottle of lager for 2 hours, so my chances of stumbling on a toilet-full of Tuesday's lunch are significantly higher than most. Luckily my resolve in these matters is unmatched.
I've endured 2 nights in the Hotel Chiclana's Coffin Suite*, a windowless box big enough for a single bed, with a shared fright-bog down the hall. Cheap though. Now I've cracked and moved to a twice-the-price room with - hey! - a window. A view of a brick wall 4 feet away never looked so enticing.
Las Grutas, Argentina. 8/12/08.
Las Grutas is the most perfect little beach resort this side of Zanzibar, and it's not in the Lonely Planet book so get your skates on.
I arrive here from the 2008 Horizons Unlimited meeting in Viedma. It´s a feast for the eyes, an all-you-can-eat buffet for the ears, a salty snack for the fingertips, a pop-tart for the tastebuds and - quite naturally - a crap in a bun for the nose. If you like dirty motorbikes with bits hanging off them, loud throbbing noises, beer, meat and lavatorial cliffhangers, it's paradise. I do - and if you don't, fair enough. Perhaps you prefer sauntering through meadows bursting with wildflowers, or cultivating pansies in your greenhouse. That's cool. Some people like dressing up as girls and rifling through Mummy's make-up bag. No problem! Each to their own, I say.
Puerto San Julian, Argentina. 13/12/08.
The waitress in Restaurante D'Angela is sweet like a peach and sexy like a cheetah. She brings the total number of waitresses-slash-barmaids I have fallen deeply and temporarily in love with to 10,000. She looks like a 22 year old Helena Bonham Carter without the hedge-style eyebrows or humming lunacy.
New Business Ideas 1: Make-up for Pets.
Cat lipstick! Dog blusher! Oh come on!
*No actual air is permitted either to enter or to leave the room. By Order.
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