Archive for 2011

El Boliche de Roberto

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

I stayed at Pax hostel for my three weeks in Buenos Aires. Knowing of my interest in tango one of the staff recommended a night out at El Boliche de Roberto. So on my last night in tango Mecca for a few weeks I invited a couple of friends to join me there. Unfortunately they’d already made plans to go to an Estaban Morgado concert. Undeterred I gave Roberto’s a try anyway.

 

El Boliche de Roberto is a tiny bar in Almagro with live tango music most nights of the week. There’s no dancing. Rather in the style of Gardel, this is music for listening to. All I “knew” before going was it draws a mostly young crowd, almost exclusively locals, and to get there early if I wanted a seat. The address is Bulnes 331, across the street from Plaza Almagro. When I arrived I thought I recognised the murals on the wall outside and that I’d walked past it once or twice last year. Possibly I did, but when I checked my photos I couldn’t find one of Roberto’s. The trouble is there are a few Gardel/Troilo murals around.

 

The bar is about 4m x 8m with half a dozen tables and a tiny raised stage area for the performers. Two of the walls are lined with ancient photos in dusty frames, two with wooden shelves packed with cobweb covered bottles of unknown contents. The bar has existed since 1894, the dust and cobwebs look about a century old. I got there stupidly early by Buenos Aires standards – about 9:30pm – and grabbed a seat. Over the next hour the middle aged and older portenos propping up the bar were replaced by much younger versions and all the seats were occupied. Inside the bar were maybe 30 people, about two thirds seated, the rest standing at the bar. Perhaps twice as many spilled onto the pavement outside. So far as I could tell they were all locals and mostly in their twenties. Inside I recognised a couple of the younger tangueros that frequent the tourist and nuevo milongas.

 

It wasn’t until midnight that there was any indication that there would indeed be some live music. One of the tangueros I recognised, all face fuzz and scruffy tied up hair, wielding an acoustic guitar stepped onto the “stage”. A girl I didn’t recognise accompanied him. It would be nice to say an expectant hush descended on the crowd but it didn’t. They carried on loud conversations until the guitarist started playing and the singer launched into a painfully sad, melancholic sounding tango. The noise level went down a bit, but not much. After the first tango the singer asked for silence, explained that there was no amplification and with the doors and windows open for summer, more traffic noise. The crowd, especially those leaning on the bar didn’t hear or had been taking lessons in rudeness from the Chinese; conversations continued and the noise level hardly diminished at all. The performers soldiered on regardless. The singer had a lovely voice but needed a bigger set of lungs or an amplifier to be better heard or simply a more polite audience. There were many corazons and bandoneons and some tears but not much else I could pick out of the lyrics. There was no mistaking the feeling in them though. The first set lasted half an hour and I decided not to hang around to see if there would be more and if the audience might be better behaved.

Back in Buenos Aires

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Almost eight months after leaving the UK I am back in Buenos Aires – briefly. The travel bug has well and truly bitten and there are places I want to see and things I want to do in Argentina. So I’m here for two to three weeks and then I’m heading south to Ushuaia. I’ll travel from there through Patagonia and back to Buenos Aires again for an indefinite stay.

When I left home the objective was to get back here to dance more tango. After nearly eight months of travelling with only three milongas attended the compulsion to dance every night had worn thin. I’d been here nearly a week, been to three milongas and not danced. I felt rusty and scared and unwilling to inflict myself upon unsuspecting tangueras or my friends.

Well that couldn’t continue. I remembered what I wrote in July last year – attitude is everything. I gave myself a good talking to, turned up at La Milonga del los Consagrados earlier than normal, got off my arse and onto the pista. Happily I found I can still dance tango. Yes I was rusty. Yes I’d forgotten some vocabulary. But noone gave me an early “gracias” and  I got several “que lindo”s. There are some things I need to work on but there are always things to work on.

I’m going to bed happy.

Magical Machu Picchu

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Traditionally “the” way to arrive at Machu Picchu is by trekking the Inca Trail. However this is expensive and needs to be booked usually months in advance. Since I didn’t want to be tied down to a specific date for Machu Picchu and wasn’t too fussed about trekking the Inca Trail anyway I opted for the lazy option – train to Aguas Calientes and bus up the hill to Machu Picchu.

Many people have described the bus ride up and down the hill between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu as one of the scariest bus journeys in existence with lunatic drivers and precipitous drops off the side of the road. They’re all sensationalist melodramatics. However, travellers of a nervous disposition might be wise to be on one of the first two or three buses up the hill in the morning, that way there is no chance of meeting another bus coming the other way. The bus ride takes about thirty minutes or it’s possible to hike up the hill instead in about 60-90 minutes.

I was on the first bus up the hill in the morning and when we arrived at the gate for Machu Pichu there were already about 40 keen trekkers waiting in line. They opened the gates at 6am and we streamed in clutching our maps and spread out to get a bit of the magic to ourselves. Clouds caressed the site, the stone paths were slick from the mist and footsteps and other sounds were muffled. Ghostly ruins appeared out of the murk as I got closer to them.  A few vicuanas (similar to llamas) grazed the grass.

By 7am the cloud had lifted and thinned a bit but visibility was still less than 100m. I was one of thefirst group of 200 people with a ticket for Wayna Picchu, the peak at the northern end of the site. They slowly let us onto the path up the path. It took about 45 minutes to walk up the rough, steep path to the top, about 300m above the level of Machu Pichhu. The main site was still invisible, enveloped in cloud. As the sun warmed the atmosphere the cloud level went up and Machu Picchu appeared slowly over the course of an hour or so. I perched on a rock at the top of Wayna Picchu and watched the scene unfold. It was a magical experience, one I won’t forget in a hurry and one of the highlights of my trip so far.

As usual, there are some photos at Flickr.