November 21, 2007 GMT
Ever Increasing Circles!

It was great to be back on the road!


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Neither of us is a city person and five weeks was more than enough of BA. I love the things you can do in cities but all the noise and cars and hustle and bustle is soon far too much and I crave small town life. Colonia was the perfect place to relax and we spent a couple of days exploring the old cobbled streets and colonial architecture.


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A leafy street in Colonia


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From the old lighthouse, Colonia


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We found this forgotten cellar in Colonia while looking around the cultural centre

The town in which Hame and I spent ten/seven years in Malaysia, Melaka could have been like this, we refected, if only the crazy local government hadn't spent millions on runing the coastline by reclaiming land and knocking down old houses...


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Hame riding through the office of our hostel in Colonia


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Uruguay - a bit like England?

Uruguay is a lovely and peaceful green place with a relaxed pace of life and lots of green fields and cows. The people are incredibly friendly and there is a lot of space. Not a bad place to live!


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And the Uruguayans like their whisky, as you can see from this Dunbar Bar

From Colonia we headed North to Conchilla, a small town settled by Welsh and English immigrants. The village was full of houses which wouldn't have looked out of place in a Welsh mining town and the streets told a similar story with names like 'Thomas Walker' and 'David Evans'.


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Outside the small museum in Conchilla with the guide who spoke Very Fast Spanish (housed in one of the old cottages)

In fact David Evans owned a big quarry and stone exporting business and was so successful (or big-headed) he had his own coins minted for the workers to use. The village had a small museum full of interesting things from the immigrants' past.


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Sounds familiar?

We then rode North to Fray Bentos, of pie fame! Anyone from the UK has probably eaten a Fray Bentos pie at some stage in their lives.


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Remember these?

We'd heard from several people that the factory was well worth a visit. We found a room in a crumbly hotel and ate our dinner while watching the news - we were just as surprised as the waiter as we watched a tornado thrash its way through a town only 50km away. The world's weather has indeed gone mad.

The old Anglo company was incredibly interesting. For about ten years an extract of beef was produced by a German company (and we learned the rather startling information that 32kg of beef goes into 1kg of extract). After that it was taken over by the English who produced Oxo, Anglo meat products like corned beef, and later, Fray Bentos pies, taking the name of the town. The factory also processed beef and refridgerated it, sending it back to Europe from a pier right outside the factory. The fridge was HUGE.


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A bloody big fridge!!!

The factory itself was enormous and until 1979, employed about 5000 people at any one time. The neighbourhood around the factory was called 'English Town'. The factory had its own generator which not only produced electricity for the factory itself but also the town. English Town was the first town in South America to have electric lights (or so the gyuide informed us), three years before the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo achieved the same thing.


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Old machines, left to rot


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The old wheel from the electricity generator

Hamish loved the old engines - from Glasgow and the North of England! - which were still remarkably intact and we had a great time wandering around the factory which has been left largely as it was.


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A cow is safe here these days, chowing down outside the factory

We'd heard that there was some trouble between Uruguay and Argentina about a Finnish paper mill, but the details were fuzzy. We knew there could be a problem at the border as we'd heard it was closed, but at times people were allowed through. We thought it was customs officials themselves who'd closed the border but when we arrived at the border itself we were stamped in and out with no problems. But, the customs men warned us, "they won't let you through". "Who's 'they'?" we asked. "The people," we were told ominously.

Feeling blindly optimistic and still a little confused, we set off across the bridge which separated the two countries. All seemed fine except that the roads were strangely quiet. We kept going, and evetually came to...


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A roadblock. Trust me, there was no way through.

A very militant, very determined lady was fully in charge and very politely but definitely assured us she wouldn't allow us to cross. She also told us why: the paper mill was run by a Finnish company and they built it right on the border. The woman claimed that there were serious problems with pollution, and as the river divides the countries, the pollution was affecting Argentina. So she's closed the road. I'm all for a bit of civil disobedience and I supported her, however, I wasn't sure I liked the idea of her physically stopping all traffic entering her own country... Anyway, as there was no way around the barrier or under it and she would not unlock it, we had no choice but to turn around, re-enter Uruguay and ride a 300km detour to the next border.

We were not too happy, especially as we arrived at the next border to find a similar blockade.


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Another blockade! The camera crew can be seen in the distance.

This one seemed very friendly and we assumed it was about the same issue. As we squeezed through the gap left open for walkers and bikes, we were apporached by a TV crew. A microphone was placed in front of us and the presenter proceeded to ask lots of questions along the lines of "What do you think of this issue?" As I was unsure of what the issue was I said things like " I'm sure it is a political problem", and "With protests, change is possible," as confidentally as I could, while wearing my "bull****" hat.

He seemed satisfied and went on to ask us about our trip, safe Spanish territory for me - I can talk about it happily, if not too accurately. While I blundered through a conversation, Hamish, whose Spanish is getting better, managed only one word, "Escocia!" in answer to "Where are you from?" Then he filmed our still clean and shiny bike leaving the border post and roaring off into an Argentinian afternoon. Famous again!

We were on our way to Rosario; birthplace of Che Guevara but also home of the family we met back in July, in Yavi. When we met they invited us to visit and we'd kept in touch via e mail. Clara wrote and said, "just make sure you arrive on a Sunday, in time for asado!" So we did. After a quick overnight in the small town of Rosario del Tala, we followed Clara's directions and met her in a petrol station. From there it was only a few blocks to her house where various members of the family were also arriving for the weekly asado. Clara is one of eight, and in the generation below are twenty-four! Clara and her Mum, Georgita, gave us a fantastic warm welcome and made us feel right at home. Not all of the family were there but we met several members and they were all such lovely people.


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Clara's wonderful and warm family at her Mum, Georgita's house


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Hame takes the back seat for a change, with Juan at the bars!

Clara, Juan and her brother Joaquin and his partner took us for a sight-seeing trip around Rosario. It was a very pleasant city, and one of the best sights was the flag monument. The flag was "born" in Rosario, and this amazing monument was lit up with its colours at night.


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The amazing flag monument by night, Rosario


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Tango is a part of life in Argentina, we watched a free tango lesson, free to anyone who wanted to join, run by the city.

The following day Clara called another of her brothers, Ignacio, and he took a day off work to take us out on the river. Again we were humbled by being looked after so well. We had a great day crossing the river, and exploring the channels between the islands opposite the city.

Click below to see the river...

On Ignacio's boat


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On Ignacio's boat

Ignacio took us to the home of some fishermen for a snack and some lunch - it was amazing that just across the river from this big and modern city were people living traditional and simple lives in wooden houses with chickens underfoot. We had a really lovely day, thanks Ignacio!

In our typical fashion we arrived for a day and stayed for three. Clara wanted us to meet some of her students...


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Talking about the trip (Thanks Clara for the pic)

She runs a small English language school from home, and she wanted her students to practise their English by chatting to us. We both enjoyed it a lot. There was another sad farewell with Clara and her wonderful Mum, Georgita, the next day, but we left hoping we'll meet again one day...

Joaquin had suggested a good route to take on our way back to San Rafael. It was on a road which was not on our map (fantastic) but which he assured us was there. We spent the night in a tiny town near a river and the next morning rode off the map. The road was great, small and twisty and devoid of traffic, a "Hamish road" if there ever was one.

Click below to feel the bumps...

A Hamish Road!


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It looked like the North of England


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Hame waiting for me to open a gate


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This is one way to transport your dog!


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There were great views at the top

It was still early as we rode back onto the map so we decided to make straight for San Rafael. Firstly we rode alongside the hills then it went FLAT!


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Where are we, Australia??

We arrived in San Rafael in time for tea and a huge welcome by John and Annette, Grant and Jules. It was great to see them all again of course, and wonderful to be back on the finca, however we were also there to see Ken and Carol, the two bikers we stayed with in our very first few days in Australia, in May 2006. They have now sold up and taken off and it was great to catch up with them.

We went for a ride together through Canyon Atuel, where there were a few obstacles...


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The rocky road ahead - Atuel Canyon, chucking rocks out of the way. The road was actually closed, but that's never stopped any of us before...


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Riding in Canyon Atuel


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The obligatory ice-cream stop!


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Chicas de las motos!

We did some work, a bit of painting, chopping, fixing... and clearing of six rows of grapes to put in drying racks for this year's plum harvest...


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The San Rafael vineyard massacre

...and we ate one of the chickens we bought back in May. Of the six we bought three survived, but instead of them all being hens, one of them turned out to be BIG cockerell. He was aptly named "The Big Dick" after his habit of brutally "seducing" the two hens by shoving their heads into the dirt with one foot and... well, you get the picture. He was also called "Hamish" for a while, but let's not go there.


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Remember those cute fluffy chicks we bought...?

Grant did the duty and The Big Dick became a Big Thai Curry.

Hame couldn't stay put for a week with a garage full of tools at his disposal, so he soon invented a new bit for Bertha...


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Hame's new GPS bracket


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Grant and Jules head off for Africa

We saw Grant and Julie off to Africa where they will shortly be starting a whole new adventure in the continent. Ken and Carol plan to go South so we were able to pass on a few tips. And then we said goodbye ourselves, as we went on our way back over the Andes...


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Just before heading off to all directions...


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On the road again, it's good to be on the road again...


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... for a couple of hours, anyway. The pass was shut because of ice.


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However, it soon opened and we were back in the mountains.

We'd planned to meet Heather and Richard (from Santiago) for a quick lunch in Los Andes on the way and we were about to make it, only a little late, before we got waylaid by one of the most crazy and confusing border crossings yet. Although we'd been over the pass three times alredy, for some reason this fourth time was difficult, was chock full of jobsworths and it took almost two hours.

Up in the Andes video

We'd wanted to cross at a pass further North, Agua Negra, for a change, however it was still closed because of snowfall.


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A great little stop!

We met Richard and Heather eventually and they treated us to a very nice lunch with cracking views over the hills. They also brought up the tyres we left in Santiago one year ago (cannot believe it is one year!) so we strapped them on. That's the royal 'we'. I took the pictures (I know better than to offer suggestions!).


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Keeping out of the way...

With a very loaded Bertha we rode North to La Serena.

As I write this Hamish is out watching the ISDE races - I managed two days! We'll put all the pictures from that on a separate entry so all the bikers out there can have a look.

Thanks for reading our blogs, I know they are getting long! After almost a year here in South America I can safely say the plan - such as it was - is now totally redundant. After La Serena we'll go North. That's it! We both feel very content to take it as it comes, and I feel very "free" - very lucky too. We thank our lucky stars most days to be able to do this, to be out here seeing and experiencing so much. The people we've met have been wonderful too, warm and welcoming. That makes it extra special. When people invite us into their homes we feel extraordinarily fortunate and I can only hope that visitors to our hometowns are treated in the same way. I think that our recent visit to Clara's family was an extra special insight into Argentinian life and one I'm very glad I saw. Family is important, communities are intact and people do not live the sometimes isolated lives we see so often in the "Western world".

Argentina has SO MUCH to offer in the way of scenery and things to do, it's been a great place to explore. There's not a lot wrong with it, not really... Argentina as a place to live? Oh yes, definitely. But I tend to think that about everywhere...


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Argentina...

Plans for the future remain vague too. But we both have faith in life and opportunities popping up, sometimes when you least expect them. I could worry about the fact we don't have a home, jobs or a plan. but I don't. I know things will work out one way or the other, and that there is a place for us to settle somewhere, I just don't know where!

As I mentioned a few blogs ago, the challenge of being together 24/7 is a big part of the trip. It's not always easy, I'm not going to pretend it is, but for the most part the inner journey - the one which is about us as a couple - is just as big a trip as the outer one. And that makes it all doubly amazing. I am sure we'll be travel bores for the rest of our lives, however I would not change this experience for the world! Just remember to say "No" when we ask if you want to see the pictures. There are about 10,000.

We are also lucky to have such great families. I'd like to take this opportunity to say that all of this - the trip, leaving Malaysia etc - would not have been as easy, if not impossible, to do without the help of Sarah and Alastair, our "basecamp" in Scotland. Every month they receive and safely look after any parcels we send home and they are also housing all the stuff we sent home from Malaysia. Not only that but they will soon be looking after the latest and most important export from Malaysia, our dogs. Knowing everything is safe makes travelling easy, and there is no way it would have flowed so well without you both. Thank you - I hope we can pay you back one day by living somewhere which is very nice to come for holidays...!

And while I'm on the subject of thanks, we really enjoy all the emails from friends and family. When it's just the two of us, all of the time, it's nice to hear from the rest of the world! So do keep those mails coming...

Before I get completely sidetracked I'll sign off. Big hellos and love to everyone reading this.

(Emma)


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Pub of the week

Posted by Emma Myatt at November 21, 2007 08:35 PM GMT
 


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