BSharp and Bizarro lowbag across the second biggest country in South America, from the spectacular waterfalls and incan ruins in the north to the spectacular glaciers in the south, all the way to the end of the world...
An old friend of mine used to wax lyrical about how he loved nothing more than picking people up from airports. All those people coming and going. Journies to be had or coming to an end, stories to be told and to be made.
I used to think that was kinda cool until I saw some recent Hugh Grant movie, actually, with him more or less saying the same thing in the opening scene.
Now I tend to think or airports as being prime examples of why the human race is doomed. Of course, there's all the malarky about air travel being unsustainable* but I think it goes deeper than that...
Take, for example, the baggage collection ritual. Why is it that everyone mobs the belt the second they arrive although their baggs may not appear for some time. It some places it can almost be like the mosh pit at a heavy metal concert. Lots of unneccesary pushing, pulling and most venemously, angst and resentment.
Yet if everyone just stood back a metre or two, then there would be room for everyone to see their baggage coming out and calmly walk the 1-2 metres to collect it. Come on, it's not that far! I think even my dead grandmother could hustle that distance in the time it takes for the belt to arrive. Can't we play fair, just once, in this magical place or journies and unmade stories.
Apparently not, it would seem. I sometimes shake my head at this unbecomming spectacle and marvel that we even made it this far.
Next issue: A return to positiveness (if the drugs work)
Thanks to the miracle of international air travel, I'm back in Amsterdam on my way to a big navel gazing session in Luxembourg being held by the NPPWINGO that I occasionally moonlight for. BSharp is holding the fort in sunny, salubrious Buenos Aires while I'm freezing my butt off in a city where it doesn't even have the decency to snow. But I digress, the point of my post was...
On my way here, I had to transit through Madrid. You know, Madrid, big, smokey,full of the Spanish. Well, being 0 degrees and all, I decided to pull out the old Pakool (very cozy Afghan hat) and wrap the old Palestinian scarf on. Tres cool in certain circles I know, but hey, I'm an international man of mystery. So I order myself a café cortado and wander over to check my email and book a hotel room in Amsterdam. With the job done I spent a few idle minutes to checking my favourite blog, when suddenly the coffee and the last couple of airline meals got together in my innards and started an insurgency. So, off I trot to the can as quick as I can. Taking a wrong turn and nearly winding up in the wrong set of dunnies, I noticed a security guard was following me. Hey, I don't have any drugs or guns on me this time, I thought, as I locked myself into the thinking chamber.
Then, as the security guard availed himself of the unit right next door to mine (in a toilet block the size of a small stadium) a few things dawned on me. Firstly, I probably shouldn't have eaten that whole block of Havanna chocolate (but it was soooo good). Secondly, next week is the second anniversary of the bombing of Atocha station here in little 'ol Madrid, where more than 200 people were brutally assassinated by fundamentalist wads... And here I was, dressed as a suicide bomber (well, at least in the minds of some people anyway), running around Madrid airport with a suspicious looking backpack (given my attire, the only thing that would have looked more sus would have been some sticks of dynamite strapped to my chest) after having checked my emails in a hurried fashion.
I tried to play it cool, so, as difficult as it might sound, I exaggerated the noises of my ablutions while security boy responded in kind. Then I started foraging through my backpack looking for something to do while Security boy cooled down and put his gun back in his holster (literally and figuratively). Not even thinking for a minute, I pulled out the alarm clock and started adjusting it for the time difference (don't wanna miss my train tomorrow morning) which caused it to emit loud beeping noises similar to those which I imagine bomb detonators do. Then I realised that if nervous nelly next door had chosen that moment to fling the door open, well, let's just say that it wouldn't have looked to good. Suddenly, I understood what must have gone through Jean Charles' head seconds before a couple of lead slugs.
So I sat in the can, freezing my hairy (but now much more tanned) butt off while I waited for Security boy to figure the trail was cold and leave. I took off the Pakool and scarf, deciding that discretion beat fashion every time and slunk back out to wait for my flight. Security boy was waiting coolly on the other side. I think he was probably relieved to find nothing more than the remains of Aerolineas in-flight service when he went back into the loos to check out what I might have left behind.
Is there a moral to this story? I'm not so sure. While I'm glad that someone is paying attention out there in airport security land, it also made me think about how much we go on appearances. Jean Charles de Menezes was Brazilian, the only thing he had in common with the London bombers was the colour of his skin. The only thing I had in common with any nutbag jihadi was my choice of accessories. Of course, no nutbag jihadi is going to waltz into an airport dressed like he's on his way to the mosque for Friday prayers. They're always dressed like Yuppies or IT consultants and carry their bombs in briefcases.
And no airport security guard would ever think to bother someone dressed like that...
In general, most tourist guides only list companies that are reputable and do good business. Unfortunately, you aren't always able to get a room in the good hotels or a seat with a good bus company. What follows in these cases is usually a process of trial and error. Just because a hotel isn't listed in Lonely Planet doesn't mean they're crap and a bus company that won't upgrade a travel journalist isn't necessarily a bad one. By strictly following the guides, you also run the risk of being stuck in a hell hole with 30 stinky seppos clutching their tattered Lonely Planets trying to screw the poor sod who's just trying to make a living out of every last peso. So every now and then you find yourself off the beaten track trying to figure out where you're going to sleep tomorrow and how you're going to get there. You take a punt and go with what's available and usually it works out. Every now and then it doesn't... So, for the benefit of Lowbaggers everywhere, the following is the start of the Bizarro shit list, highliting companies that don't give a damn about anything other than your fat dollars. Avoid the following as if they were your the parents of your ex...
Condor Estrella Quite possibly one of the worst bus companies operating in Argentina today. Not only is the service shite but they will also steal anything off you that isn't physically chained to your body. Andesmar, an otherwise reputable and high quality company deserves a smack on the bum for booking us in with these turkeys without telling us (because their own service was overbooked).
Aerolineas Argentina (also known as Austral domestically) When you go to a travel agent outside of Argentina and try and book a flight with these losers, you'll be given strangely evasive answers. Once you finally manage to book something with them in country, you'll find out why. A delayed or cancelled flight is YOUR fault, not theirs. They treat you like you turned up late and that they're doing you a favour. That is unless, of course, you grease the plam of the attendent with a few pesos. At the time of writing this, we're stuck in Bariloche with no hope of getting out of here anytime soon and if the staff could be any ruder, they'd be French. Avoid these bohos likethe plague they are and go with Lan instead, they deserve your money a whole lot more.
In general, our experience with Argentinian businesses has been fine, but when it's bad, oh boy, is it BAD. Hopefully I won't be adding to this list anytime soon, but the day is young...
P.S. I can add the wanker who runs the only internet cafe at the Bariloche air terminal. Sunovabitch tried to charge me the 30-45 minute rate when I'd clocked off bang on 29:55. There's something about airports that turn normal people into arseholes, I don't know what it is, but it has the same affect on me...
We took the tiny precautionary measure of making our more than 32,000 air-miles (times two) "carbon neutral" using this Australian company called Climate Friendly. Happy to share any more info on the concept, if anyone is interested. The view is always nice from the high moral ground. On other eco-footprint matters, we are finding it very difficult to be responsible consumers here in Argentina, it is a land of triple packaging and an ad-hoc recycling scheme by the homeless guys.
Well we've been in Barcelona since Tuesday. Staying in Barri Gotic, (the Gothic quarter - referring to age not fashion sense I gather). Its a big city lifestyle here but jammed into a tiny warren of streets lined by grey 4-5 story buildings. Most people living in the area walk, cycle or use vespas. Hardly any cars as parking is non existent. We are very close to the famous Las Ramblas, for those Barcelona aficionados. We met a guy from Brussels the other night who said they call it "Barceloca" as it is one giant playground for adults. We re staying with the son of Biz's friend who is currently working in the Dem R. Congo. We have already been to one Argentinian band, and off to catch Manu Chao tonight.
Yesterday we did a bike tour of Gaudi buildings in the city. Hey Mum, they've been finishing off the Sagrade Familia for the last few years, its got all new bits. We conclude that it is just the spanish way to add a bit of zhoosh to everything. Even the pothole covers are more arty here. We dig it. Of course the bars are a very high standard. We had our mandatory paella and also a menu del dia in the last couple of days.
Speaking of food its a bit easier to find veggi options here, than it was in rural central spain. Our adventure with Los Toros came about because Victor was staying with his folks in Muñoveros. It's a tiny town where everyone goes back for summer holidays - a bit like Adelaide - except everyone is cousins - well I guess that is still like Adelaide. We tried hard to get into the rhythm - coffee and toast at 9am - 3 course meal at 2.30 - siesta - sightseeing - light dinner at 9 then beers till 3am. It was tough.
On the reading front , I'm nearly finished "Letters to Olga", by the now president of the Czech Repulic that I got in Prague. In the 60s and 70s he was a playwright and they chucked him in jail for 4 years during the soviet regime for his dissent. The book is a compilation of the weekly letters to his wife from prison. Biz got a whole bucket load of Kafka.
Well that's a long post. Feel free to use the comments function , any of you blog newbies (just click "comment"). As for español, I've now got a wacky book of illustrated verbs. I think its helping, as I can remember about twice as many more now. Which equals six.
Time running out, as a post script - in Prague I saw the research centre where Mendels did his breeding thing with peas! Yeee ha biology nerds.
Hi there we're curently in the Madrid airport so just a quick one at hideous prices... just spent the last weekend of the Spanish holidays in a pueblo called Muñoveros, where 180 people live central spain style. A friend of biz and his cousin took us to the encierro - the running of the bulls - in a nearby town . It was mad. Oh and if you saw any news from spain recently it wasn't that town. We are all safe and on the way to Barcelona. Hemmingway eat your heart out.
Asked the well-dressed wheelchair-bound elf as he stared at us through his strange little glasses.
I gave him my stock-standard reply:
"Go to Big Sur and take acid"
Cornsie agreed but Bee Sharp was unconvinced.
"Do you have any acid?" asked the elf.
"No" I replied but I was certain that someone close by did, because we were without a doubt inside the freaky shit radius of their acid trip.
"Surely there must be more to life than asking tourists stupid questions in an alleyway?" he suggested.
"I couldn't agree more" replied Bee Sharp.
A well-dressed clown joined us from the shadows but remained silent as we struggled to assist our differently abled friend with his existential problem. After a few minutes of angst and deliberation, the elf turned his attention to a middle-aged couple who came passing by.
"What must I do to change my life?" he asked them as they attempted to slink past.
"We're out of here" said Cornsie and with that we headed back to the firms apartment, bringing to an end a brief but entertaining evening on the Oranienburgerstraße, one of the cooler and freakier parts of Berlin.
..tourische. There's no doubt about it bsharp and bizarrro are on the sight-seein' beer tastin' hostel crashing' selective tour of Europe.
Berlin was a city of on-time trains, formerly derelict neighbourhoods full of squats that are now gentrified and groovy (sound familiar I.W. massive?), and beer available wherever you turn. Fabulous moment was when a portly shorter gentelman joined our train dressed in a very loud shirt, safari vest and shorts and started displaying a laminated card to the passengers. Thought I, "oh another begging scam, where they ask for money after giving you the card". thought Biz, "maybe someone's lost their ID and these guys are showing it to people to retun it". But nay, they were undercover transit police. In the most hideous holiday gear. Hilarous. And being Germany, they didn't bust anyone. Thanks to our local guide, Miss C, we even had the right day fare. Mind you, I preferred that experience to the armed border control on the train to Czech Republic.
The Berlin wall is now mostly a brick line on the pavement that shows where it once sliced streets in two, cut neighbourhoods down the middle and meant bricked up appartment windows to stop people jumping over the "border", building demolition, and not to mention all the shootings. They do have a bit preserved that is regularly re-cemented, so everyone can have their own "piece" of the wall.
Ok, gotta run, and learn about Kafka and hear some Dvorak hopefully.
After a cramped 8 hour flight from Sydney to Hong Kong, B-Sharp and I found ourselves wandering around the set of Bladerunner, or at least something that closely resembled it (minus the homicidal replicants, of course). I'd been to Honkers a couple of times before but never to Kowloon, which is the seedier and more authentic part of the "Special Administrative Region" (read: the part of China where unbridled capitalism is A-OK). It was a blast but sadly the cheap electronics that we were hoping to find appear to have left the island with the British in 1997. Prices were pretty much the same as you would find in Oz and the vendors were totally unprepared to bargain (which was an even bigger disappointment). Even the shit-for-dickheads markets were pricey and didn't have anything you couldn't pick up down at Paddy's.
After a short but groovy ferry ride we took a tram ride to "The Peak" to check out the spectacle that is Hong Kong Harbour. When you consider the size of Hong Kong's infrastructure - massive towers that look like the human factories from the Matrix and broad sweeping highways that arc across the sea between the islands, you begin to realise that losers like Frank Sartor couldn't organise a city to save their lives and that we Australians are well and truly fucked.
We rounded off the day with a sumptuous meal and several Kilkennys at the Foreign Correspondent's Club courtesy of Martin B, who has serious couch credits in the Lowbagger Bank from his Amsterdam days. Then it was back on the plane and off to Euroland. In all, a good start to the adventures.