Wednesday, 28 November 2012

That's All Folks!

Today I rode the bike to the Airport, where it all started back in January, and saw her packed away for the flight back to Blighty. As I was changing out of my riding gear another BMW arrived and the guy shouted "I know you"!

It was Otto the mad Hungarian. He was on the same "off road" course as me in Wales a few years ago!!!!! What was the chance of that? He had just completed the Alaska - Ushuaia route. This was at the 2nd attempt as he broke his leg first time. We were both stunned that such a coincidence could occur.

"Funny old world Saint".

With the help of Sandra at Dakar motors and her assistants we both sailed through the system. The bikes were dismantled, shrink wrapped and whisked away to be loaded on the next available BA flight. It is amazing how compact you can make the bike by removing the front wheel, wing mirrors, windscreen, panniers etc. All helps to reduce the transport costs. Otto being Otto didn't bother with that so they just wrapped it as it was!
After all the bike has been through it is rather incongruous that they put a "Fragile" sticker on the wrapping.

I will be here a little longer but as this was about a bike tour of South America I will make this my last Blog (unless something really, really interesting happens).

I had no intention of doing a Blog, in fact I didn't even know what a Blog was, until Rosie set one up for me on the eve of my departure. It has been an experience trying to record the activities, I have tried not to gush at the good bits or over dramatise the bad bits and attempted to make it interesting. If nothing else, I am sure I will enjoy looking back over it when I am propped up in an old peoples home sucking soup through a straw. Amazingly, as of today there have been over 27,000 viewings with just about every country in the world taking a peek at some point.

For the anoraks a few statistics:

Countries visited 9. It should have been 10 but didn't have enough room in my passport for Paraguay. There is Surinam, Guyana and French Guiana but these were never really on my radar as they do not have a great reputation for safety or things to see and do. There are also visa requirements which is not very sporting for us English chaps.

Continents visited 2. I have now visited all 6 Continents. I am reliably informed the Arctic is not considered a continent but if anyone disagrees it may be a good excuse for another tour.

Distance Covered (by bike)  22,000 miles     35,000 kms
Average Speed                    50 mph             80 kph
Consumption                       51 mpg             19 kpl
So that makes it                  431 gallons       1,959 litres

Does anyone care............really?

5 Rear tyres
3 Front tyres
2 Headlight bulbs
1 Smashed headlight protector
1 Front Damper
3 Litres of oil (not including oil changes x 2)
A few dents and scratches

Boxer shorts - 3 (not looking too clever now, perhaps I ought to try washing them)

Ear plugs - several pairs I suggest you don't ask to borrow them.
Gloves Lost  - 1 The other is available to any one handed (right) bikers.

Tent & sleeping bag, unused - For sale, one careful owner!

Wilks told me he wanted to return from his tour with 6 memorable photo's. So like all good younger brothers I will take his advice, well almost. As I was away longer I think I get a few more than 6. In no particular order of preference or chronologically and certainly not on artistic merit or quality:

 This is in because it was a lucky picture on the Perito Moreno glacier (Arg) and it winds up Wilks.
Aleijo has spent more summers (30) on Antartica than anyone and it was a great privilege to have him as a guide whilst there.
 This one reminds me of the remoteness when in the high, arid Andes of Chile
I have plenty of shots of the bike but this one in Bolivia was where the quality of the bike got me through a long, tough day in a lonely part of the world.
I loved seeing the Volcanoes and this one in Pucon, Chile was kind enough to glow red at night and puff out smoke during the day.
 The black sand beaches of Pichilemu was just a very cool place to stay for a few days.
Fishing for sea trout in Patagonia. The fact that I didn't catch one matters not a jot, the place is just very special and this one shows our shadows drinking Mate in the late, late sunset.

This just makes me laugh. An enormous Condor really did just disappear behind the building as I pressed the shutter.
This one (taken by Wilks) is one of the very few pictures, in which I feature. It reminds me of how lucky I was to be doing this tour. If you have been somewhere more beautiful than this, please let me know as I would like to experience it.

It is funny to look back over the photographs I have chosen to find that Machu Pichu, Easter Is, Galapagos, Amazonas nor Iguacu make it into my top picks.That is not to say there are not great memories but interestingly, these are all from the earlier part of my tour. Perhaps it was still new, exciting and challenging in a way that the later part of the trip couldn't quite match. There again, perhaps my choices will change in time.

The pictures do not show any of the local people, largely because I didn't like to take their pictures out of courtesy. I can't express my surprise and delight at how nice people were on the whole tour. They were friendly, kind, interested, helpful and largely happy. What more can you ask?

Thank you to Mary-Ann, Thomas, Millie, Rosie & Kiwi for allowing me my free time without too much grief and for demonstrating their maturity and independence. Also a big "thank you" to Pam for keeping Mother up to date with daily deliveries, knowing Mother was reading kept the language within the bounds of decency.

Not a great picture of a beautiful spot but, when in Brazil over looking the Atlantic, I had a sense that this was the place to take the "last" picture of the bike. I had thought, at some point, a Nickname would have cropped up but it never did. So a big thank you to the "STAR OF THE SHOW"!

Thank you to everyone, especially those making comments that made me laugh, who read this nonsense and for coming along for the ride.
All the best

Monday, 26 November 2012

Polo Party anyone?

An Oirish couple Merv & Sarah have arrived in town hunting for spare parts for their Unimog. It is a converted German military 4 x 4. with an old bread van bolted on the back. The Mog is currently on three wheels across Argentina in Esquel (if you are going to break down you may as well be somewhere beautiful) and their spares were held up in Customs at BsAs airport.

Whilst they were here I took them to the Polo & luckily La Dolfina were playing so they saw the best there is thrash Alegria. As you can see Merv is a whizz with a camera, unlike yours truly!
They are just beginning their trip so I am rather envious as I am sure they will enjoy all that South America has to offer.
Eddie invited me to another asado but this was at a friend's house. He has a "small" BBQ for a "few" friends (as you can see it is a rough crowd) who each bring about a dozen horses - not to eat but to play polo on his lawn. Ernesto is rather wealthy (owns 30+ airports) and his own team  - Boca Juniors (like the football team they play in yellow and blue). It just so happens he has a chap called Alfonso Cambiaso playing for him. So I got to meet the great player himself and a very nice, unassuming man he is too. I think just about every lady alive falls in love with him. It was funny to watch him play in a match where the others were 0 to 2 handicap - it would be like Messi playing football with the Rose & Crown Sunday XI . He calmly swept up the ball and delivered it in front of the posts for his team mates to score (or miss as the case may be). And should their opponents (Corinthians) get anywhere near scoring he raced back and dealt with the situation.

Did I mention the oppo' was Brazilian? You could tell they were from Brazil when their Samba band and dancers came out to play!

Carlos showed us "THE" cloned yearlings in a nearby paddock. Basically the greatest Polo pony ever to play the game (who is now 31) was a gelding, so to produce some offspring from him they cloned some foals at a cool $500,000 each!  It will be another three years before they will play polo so it will be interesting to see if they are as good as hoped. Of course, if they are good they will breed from them and, I am sure recoup the $1.5m.

The party didn't exactly followed the Polo, it sort of started at the beginning and went on into the early hours. It was a great party and once again everyone was very kind, talking English to me. I thought my Spanish was getting better the longer the party went on. It was a like the Palermo Open in miniature but with a fantastic firework display.

We left very at about 1:00 am having been very well looked after and somewhat over served. Whereas we went back to Eddies, the youths were going in to town to start the party (which would go on to 7 to 8 in the morning) which is perfectly normal here.

It was a fantastic day & night and I am very lucky to have been invited to such a I need to tell you which team won? Oh and after the prize giving, Ernesto presented a cheque for P$80,000 to charity!

Eddie, not fed up with my company as yet decided that, as Monday was a national holiday, we should play golf . When we went to bed the idea was an early round at St Andreas but as we did not surface until 9am we decided on an easy round at the local par 3 course - Eddie won the Gin & Tonic. Hopefully there is one more game to play at St Andreas as it would be nice to see the guys I met and played with in January.

And just one more Picture for those that like this sort of thing:
Oh and one last thing, I am sorry about the terrible weather you are having!

Eddie & Valeria's daughter Clara (believe it or not!), took these pictures a little later at night. I think you can tell it was a great party! Eddie has been such a great friend!Oh the guy in the black jacket has just come back from 4 years of surfing in Bali. It's a tough life but someone has to do it........apparently!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Polo, Asado, Golf & Racing cars

I now have a date to deliver the bike to the airport, I just hope the paperwork is in order.It is a strange system but I will let you know how it goes
The weekend was the first round of the Knockout stages of the Palermo Open - the biggest & best Polo event in the world. As you can see - the field is right in the middle of the city. The tickets were not cheap but there were two games to watch so that made it excellent value for money. The audience at these events is a cross between Ascot an Agricultural show. Those that actually play are essentially from the Estancias and are large land owners and have been for generations.

The first game was an easy win for La Dolfina (the only team with a perfect hcp of 40). The second game was of two evenly matched teams and was a very close game, being won in the last minutes of the last Chukka. One fast tumbling fall meant the ambulance racing on to the field, putting the rider in the back, stitching him up and 20 mins later he was back playing (and won).  The Pony was fine too (just in case the RSPCA, AA or RNLI are reading this)

I was seated next to some American tourists and after a while one of the ladies asked me if I knew which one was Cambiaso. With my vast experience of one game, I was able to confidently point out that he was the guy in the pale blue helmet. They then asked "Is it true his is the best player in the world"? Having read my Polo magazine from the week before I was able to confirm this with a few added details..........I couldn't resist telling them "not only was he the best he had achieved such greatness despite only having one eye". I could hear the words coming out of my mouth & thinking "why am I saying this? It just proves old habits die hard and teasing Americans is one of life's great pleasures. He of course has two perfectly good eyes as I am sure they found out later!

Eddie and his wife Valeria kindly invited me over for an Asado (BBQ to you and me) at his place in the country. He had a few friends over and their daughters who, despite having a maths exam the next day spent more time swimming than revising. 
We were going to play a few holes of golf but the rain came down so that out an end to that, it made the ride back in to BsAs with all the weekenders travelling back in tot town rather slow. I was also surprised to see that they had been playing Polo on Sunday, I thought all the matches were on the Saturdays. I will try to get tickets again for next weekend too.

Eddie, family and friends are planning a golfing trip to Ireland next year so it will give me a chance to repay some of the kindness shown to me.

Eddie also invited me to a corporate golf day - The Maritime Association of Argentina, well as an ex Lloyd's underwriter I felt I still qualified. It was a beautiful place called Martingdale. It is named after the English owner & cricket lover (although the cricket pitch has given way to a Polo lawn & I mean lawn). He was wealthy enough but got a whole lot richer having bought the patent rights to a new invention off of a certain Mr Biro (recently arrived from Hungary). The Argentines like to claim the Biro as one of their contributions to the world.

My golf was remarkably average considering the last shot I played was in Antarctica.  My back 9 was 3 over par for 8 of the holes but an 11 (3 balls in the lake) soon destroyed the scorecard!

After the golf we staid out at Eddies place and Beto joined us for dinner which was all rather nice. We woke to a thunderstorm. I waited until 10 to see if things would improve but I had to get in to town for lunch so rode back in torrential rain and slow traffic. Not much fun and I was glad to get back in one soggy piece.

Lunch was organised by Alec to meet two fellow car enthusiasts, Manuel (rich, polo, playing, handsome and a garage full of gorgeous cars) and Vlad (designed and made his own 2 engined car.........bizarre). The company was excellent and good fun. The rain had stopped so I didn't even get wet walking back to my apartment.

All in all a rather fun few days.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Hurlingham Open, Argentinian branch

The torrential rain of Friday meant the 119th Final of the Hurlingham Open was postponed until the Sunday.
Sunday was dry if not very warm. I met Eddie at the entrance to the Hurlingham club. It is a very nice "English club" with what looks like a decent golf course. The Polo ground doubles up as the practice range but it didn't stop some of the horses over running on to the adjacent part of the course. Not often you get hoof prints in the green. (should that be hoof or hoove?)
The Hurlingham Open is the 2nd best tournament in Argentina which sort of makes it the 2nd best in the world (the biggest being Palermo in December).
It is very much an occasion, as you would expect, with the great & good of Argentina out for the day, corporate hospitality, girls in tight white trousers etc.

The final was between La Dolfina (hcp 40) and Ellerstina (hcp 38). Of the 8 players 6 had the maximum handicap of 10 with two other hackers being "only" on 9. Looking through the glossy brochures 6 of the 8 are in the top 10 in the world with the Number 1 being Adolfo Cambiaso (another winner for the Pub quiz for you)  curiously the No.3 in the World is a chap called David Stirling. Don't get excited it is not an Englishman but a Uruguayan (and certainly not the Lloyd's broker of the same name).  Both were playing for Dolfina.

Clearly this wasn't going to be a knock about in the park on a Sunday afternoon.

They seemed to have brought enough ponies to mount a cavalry regiment - and this is just one teams! There is an equally impressive number of grooms looking after them, the grooms look and dress suspiciously like Gauchos.
The whole match was quite astounding.  Their ability to marry horsemanship with a ball game at incredible speed was just brilliant. I won't give you a match commentary other than to say that La Dolfina team ran out clear winners but it was close up until the 6th Chukka. In case you are interested - A match has 7 x 7 minute Chukkas (or 8 as this was the final). The good thing is there are hardly any rules - the only thing you can not do is cross in front of another horse. Lots of shouting and jeering when this happened with both teams claiming it was the others fault (just like football).

These guys can launch the ball as if they had a 7 iron rather than a mallet in their hands. Not only that, they do it whilst galloping full tilt with another player leaning his horse on to him. Both men and horses take a bit of a beating, one faller and a few broken mallets. It is very exciting to watch especially when 8 thunder past right in front of you.

I tried to take a video but neither that or the pictures are very good. the pictures on the match program are fantastic, showing every muscle, sinew and polo stick stretched to breaking point.

It became clear why there were so many ponies,  they did not just change horses between Chukkas, they would peel off from the game and jump from one pony to another and ride back in to the fray. their feet never touching the ground. 
If I had seen this 20 years ago I would have loved to have tried it and would no doubt now be bankrupt!

When I got back the match was on TV so I watched it again. Like a lot of sports, it just can not convey the sense of speed or energy.

If you get the chance to go to a game I would recommend it but I may have been spoilt by seeing the world greats playing. The knock out stages of the Palermo Open are about to start, so that is my weekends sorted! .........oh and guess which teams are likely to be in that final too.

The other interesting part of my week has been trying to sort out the paperwork for the bike. It appears they entered the wrong chassis number on the temporary import document. For those of you who remember the Post Office fiasco of January - this has very similar traits, with me walking around Buenos Aires in circles.


Friday, 9 November 2012

Week One Part Two In Buenos Aires

I am in a very warm and at times a Thundery Buenos Aires, the rain is hammering down whilst I type this, so not a time to be going for a walk to the parks or galleries. There is a Tracey Emin exhibition on here. I walked all the way to the gallery in searing heat only to find it is closed on Tuesdays (it reminded me of the Jethro joke about the train that doesn't stop at Camborne on Tuesdays- still makes me giggle). I don't like what I have seen of her work but I will give a try another day (when it is not raining).

My apartment is very nice and I have a lovely terrace to eat my breakfast in the morning and a Sun downer in the evenings. The owners are a very nice doctor & his wife who is a psychologist (I will stay away from her in case she works out what is wrong with me). They are very sweet and got some English tea in when they knew I was coming
I have found my local laundry lady (I don't think she was impressed with my meagre bundle) and I also found a place to get my last few flags sewn on to my Jacket - it is now complete.

Eddie (the nice guy who I played some golf with in January) invited me over for lunch with Beto (an ex Biker who I met last time i was here) and Alejandro - a lawyer and Polo player of some repute, he still has a handicap of 6 (was 9 in he younger days)
The restaurants are still serving great steaks and red wine.

There is the second biggest Polo Final on Saturday at the Hurlingham club (the biggest is Palermo in December). Eddie & Alejandro have organised an outing - subject to the weather. I was wondering about buying boots, helmet and shirt just in case the team is one short on the day. .

I have mentioned before how there is a growing atmosphere of unrest amongst the middle class and yesterday there was a major demonstration. Angry at the President and her government over inflation, crime and corruption, reputedly 700,000 people were in the centre of town. It was all very middle class - even Eddie and his friends went. I thought about going but not knowing how serious it would get, seemed a bit silly to get stuck in the middle if trouble kicked off. I remember their water canons parked by the Presidential Palace. I don't think a Union Jack flag would have gone down too well on a night when tempers are frayed

I watched it on TV in a bar with another nice Steak and some Vino Tinto. I pinched this picture from the Internet.

I have to say she seems like a nightmare and corrupt given some of her & her husbands property deals. They bought some land near Bariloche and then, within months, the government announced a new International Airport................guess where it is being built?

The government is claiming an inflation rate of 10% but Independent analysts say it is nearer 30%. Unions who got a 25% pay rise a few months ago are now saying they will go on strike for more. Sounds like Britain in the early 1970's.Apparently there is a strong black market for money exchange with the rate being about 30% above the official rate as the currency controls have made it very difficult to get US$. So if you are coming, bring US$ and change then locally.

One more book review (sorry Wilks). My latest book "Open veins of Latin America", had I read it earlier on the tour, would have provided more knowledge and insight of the terrible things that have been done by the Europeans (especially the Catholic church) to this continent. The sub title for the book is "Five centuries of the pillage of a continent". I am especially embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of what happened at Potosi (Bolivia). This run down mining town virtually paid for the Industrial Revolution single handedly (16,000,000 kgs of silver exported) and was badly abused for the privilege! I have re-read my blog and I didn't even mention it was a mining town - I will do a postscript now I know it's desperate story.  The discovery of Gold, Silver, Rubber, Cotton and Coffee created nothing but problems in those eras with virtually none of the profits retained here. there was plenty of death and destruction though.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Back where it all started

From Montevideo I rode East along the coast road to Punta Del Este.

It is a small country so nowhere takes very long to reach. I was amazed when I got there, I was expecting a small quaint town but found a Miami lookalike!

For a country with so few people I am amazed that it can support so many apartment blocks. This one has two pools on the glass fronted balconies (either that or they have a serious plumbing issue)!

I later found out, it is not the locals but the Argentinians and to a lesser extent the Brazilians who come here for about 2 months a year. It makes it even more incredible that the revenue from 2 months per year can make these places viable.

Lunch by the marina was nice but for a while I thought I was going to have to get my credit card out to pay for it, Uruguay is very expensive! I have probably spent in a week what I would have spent in a month elsewhere. As nice as it is here I am glad to be going to Buenos Aires where it is cheaper. Who would have thought it?
I wanted to have a look up the coast before returning to find an hotel. As I was leaving town I passed a "poor relation" to the "Hand in the Sand" in the Atacama Desert (below):
I assume they didn't have the budget. You can see my near perfect timing with the camera again!
Oh & if you are asking why don't I check the pictures before moving on? Well I have gloves, glasses, tinted visor and clear visor to cope with.......I just can be bothered.

The coast is beautiful yellow sand with dunes and the Atlantic rolling in. 

I rode north for about an hour and there are buildings pretty much along the whole coast, naively I thought it would be a wilderness. The property market must be lucrative because I saw more than one Sotheby's sign outside plots ripe for development. Someone told me that land prices have doubled in the last 2 years.
On the way back in to town I remembered to take a picture of this road bridge. I am sure there is no reason they built it like this other than for aesthetics. It is good fun at speed and makes your tummy go funny!

After one expensive night in Punta I rode back through Montevideo to Colonia. The road (called the Rambla) through Montevideo hugs the shoreline and must be the best ring road of any city in the world. It flows quickly and you pass beaches the whole way. Friday had a lot more people on the beach so I suspect Sunday would be worth a look.
 Being a port town I assumed Colonia would be a rather ugly place. Again, I couldn't be more wrong. It is a small, quiet town with cobbled streets and a nice marina/yacht club.
It was Sunday and many men were out with their fishing rods, none so charming as this old boy in his sun hat, jacket and cane with a piece of line tied to the end.
 I didn't see him catch anything but I don't think that bothered him at all.

There are 5 sailings per day to Buenos Aires (a slow boat takes 3 hours and the fast Cat 1 hour). I booked on the Cat but I wished I had taken the slow boat (there is no deck to walk on the Cat so you are stuck in side). I had a nice chat with Jorge, an architect on his way home after checking on his holiday home in Uruguay. He spoke very good English as he had been at University in London......some years ago. He had travelled in the 70's "when we were all hippies" he said.

The bike was strapped down next to cases of Johnny Walker Red Label - not quite the same as people in hammocks on the Amazon.

I also finished my book "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck. I was limited for choice when buying English books and I really didn't expect to enjoy this American novel but it is excellent. (Sorry Wilks, I know you are bored with my book reviews).

All the formalities of exiting and entering Argentina were smooth and I made sure I had the correct paperwork this time! So my last ride of the tour was to find my apartment in Palermo. I knew roughly where it was but before I had gone 100 meters a chap on his BMW 1200 pulled alongside at a red traffic light. A quick chat and yet again I had a personal guide to my front door.
Alejandro by coincidence is another architect! The nice thing was that I could give him my two off road tyres (strapped to the back of his bike with my cargo straps that had done the whole journey). I certainly don't need them and I wouldn't have paid the extra weight to bring the back so it was nice that they have gone to a good home.

I have a nice apartment for at least a month (Palermo district of BsAs) in which time I will bump into some friends from when I was here last and organise shipping the bike and then myself back to the UK.

So apart from getting the bike to the airport that is it as far as the biking goes. I will write a couple more blogs if anything fun happens here and I will do a summary post when I really am finished here.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Montevideo & Battle of Rio Plata

Montevideo is a nice small capital. Uruguay has 3m people of which 50% live in Montevideo. The river is 80 miles wide at this point and there is a coastal road that runs around the city. Shame the water is coffee coloured.

I wanted to see the Graf Spee museum. Father arrived at Montevideo on his ship just after the Graf Spee was scuttled (1939) so it had added interest. The museum was not exactly busy and did not have a lot of exhibits but what there was were interesting.

This gun was recovered from the river and points to the spot where the ship went down. There are nice  personal artefact's of Cmdr Harwood and Cptn Langsdorff, the chief protagonists in the battle.

There are more interesting facts (to me) than there is time to put in here. Langsdorff wanted to be a Priest not a fighter. Every time he sunk a Merchant ship (9), he made them stop, took on board all crew and then sunk the ship (he never killed a merchantman and treated all his prisoners well). He had a banner across the front of the ship in English "Stop wireless or I open fire". What was not so good was that they initially flew a French tricolour to confuse.
The British, despite having 3 ships (Exeter, Ajax and Achillies), were hopelessly out gunned by the Graf Spee, still managed to inflict some damage on her thinly armoured hull.
The Graf Spee, could not have fought its way out as it was low on ammunition. Neither could it have made it back to Germany as the on board refinery that turned crude oil in to fuel oil was damaged (no I didn't know they had such things either).

When it came to burying the German dead after the battle (it was filmed) Langsdorff was the only person to give the traditional "Imperial" salute as opposed to the Nazi salute (Hitler hated him for that)
After some great manoeuvring by the British Ambassador (wonderfully named Millington-Drake) to Uruguay, Graf Spee had to leave the Neutral port in consequence he decided to scuttled the ship, saving at least 1,000 lives. He was persuaded not to go down with the ship by his officers but he shot himself 3 days later. Hitler hated him for not going down fighting but told the German public that he had gone down with his ship as a propaganda stunt.

Sorry this is probably too much information.

I also went to the cemetery where some of the British sailors are buried. Unfortunately they have vandals here too.
After the museum I decided to walk back in to town. This the most expensive part of town Pocitos, a 2 bedroom apartment here will cost you $250,000. The beach is lovely but doesn't seem to have the same attractions as the Rio beaches!

The walk was so long I managed to blister my feet, shows how long it is since I walked in shoes!