Posts Tagged ‘Argentina’

Here’s the plan

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Lots of people are asking me what the itinerary for my imminent round-the-world trip is. I launch into an enthusiastic spiel and one of two things happens:

  • their eyes glaze over and they stop listening about half way through.
  • they get excited and ask more questions and after a while I reach the point of shrugging my shoulders and saying “… and then I’ll see.”

Hopefully you’re in the second group.

I have an itinerary because I booked a OneWorld Explorer ticket and I had to name airports and dates. I have an itinerary because I had a rough idea of the places I wanted to go and approximately how long I might want to spend in each place. The itinerary is flexible and likely to change once the travelling starts. The ticket is good for upto one year. There are very few details filled in yet between the flights. There are some highlights and must-see/must-do things and lots of vague arm-waving inbetween.

Date changes are freebies, changing my mind on the routing will cost me money – about £100 per change. Sadly there is no reciprocity between the airlines and me in this respect. They have changed two of my flights already and did not pay me £200.

So the plan at the moment is:

  • London-Delhi, Delhi-Kathmandu for a two week Everest base camp trek. This is organised by Above the Himalayas Trekking and I booked directly with them, cutting out a UK agent and saving some money in the process.
  • Kathmandu-Delhi, Delhi-Bangkok for a ten week tour around SE Asia with my friend, Hannah, who will be blogging about the trip from her perspective at travelpod. We have an approximate route worked out for this, based on information we found at travelfish. Briefly it’s a week in Bangkok including a Thai massage course at Wat Po, a few days in Koh Chang for Thai New Year, north through Thailand, south through Laos and Cambodia, north through Vietnam, topped off with 2 weeks lazing on a beach somewhere in Southern Thailand.
  • Two more weeks in Thailand by myself. I have various ideas for how to fill this time. We’ll see…
  • Bangkok-Beijing for three weeks in China. I have a very rough idea of how to get from Beijing to Shanghai involving Qi’An, Chengdu and half a dozen other cities. Probably this will be a challenge. A friend who knows much more about China than me says this will be hard outside of Beijing and Shanghai because of the language. It will probably involve lots of train journeys. We’ll see…
  • Shanghai-Melbourne for a couple of nights in Australia. Why only a couple of nights? Because I’ve been before and didn’t plan to stop in Oz at all on this trip. However, I couldn’t get from China to New Zealand in one day and will have to spend at least one night in Australia. So I’ve routed via Melbourne and will have a couple of nights there. Hopefully this will give me a chance to catch up with a tanguera friend I met last year in Buenos Aires, and maybe get to a milonga or two.
  • Melbourne-Queenstown for three weeks in New Zealand. How I get from Queenstown to Auckland is completely unknown right now. I’ll work it out much nearer the time. I have another tanguera friend to visit in Auckland and again, hopefully get to at least one milonga.
  • Auckland-Santiago de Chile. Not looking forward to this one; it is a LONG flight. I’ve got a few nights in Santiago and then double back westwards to Easter Island for a five night stay. Then it’s back to Santiago for another night. This extra night is courtesy of one of those airline imposed changes; they changed one of the flight times making it impossible to get from Easter Island to Lima in a single day.  Well, it would have still been possible but only by reducing my stay on Easter Island to two days, or by extending it to nine days.
  • Santiago de Chile-Lima for 3 weeks in Peru. I’ll go to Cusco and then Machu Picchu of course, but whether by train/bus or by trekking the Inca Trail is still to be determined. Yes, I’ll have to decide very soon – if it’s not already too late – because I’ll have to book the Inca Trail. That would pin me down to specific dates. I’m already tied down pretty tight with Easter Island so it could be argued that fixing another date for the Inca Trail would be no extra hardship. But that is approximately five months into the future and I don’t really want to be that constrained.
  • Then there’s a bit more uncertainty; I may go to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands or I may not. Money will be a big factor in that decision. All the flights up to this point except Delhi-Kathmandu-Delhi are on the round-the-world ticket. Getting from Lima to the Galapagos would be a separate trip. I had thought I’d book a LAN airpass for the intra-South America flights, but found I couldn’t because I didn’t book it at the same time as the RTW ticket. Opinion on the web is divided about whether or not this should be possible. Anyway, if I’m under budget by enough when I’ve done what I want in Peru then I might manage a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
  • Finally sometime around the middle to end of September I’ll return to Buenos Aires. Ah, proper tango, at last! A couple of months of milogas and much more learning/improving my Spanish than last time. After that travel all around Argentina until about the middle of February and then return to Buenos Aires for another month. The travelling will include Ushuaia and if I’m really really lucky an Antarctic cruise. I’ll decide in that “final” month whether to use the final Buenos Aires-London sector of my RTW ticket to come home. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Perhaps I’ll stay in Buenos Aires or perhaps by then I’ll have decided there’s somewhere else that would suit me better. We’ll see…

Great, you were in the second group!

That’s the plan so far. I have just a few more days in the UK and then the tenants move into my house and I hop on a plane to Delhi. My transit visa for India arrived today, the Nepal visa is already stuck in my passport, I’ve had jabs against just about everything and I’ve sold or otherwise gotten rid of most of my stuff. Just another dozen or so boxes to go :-)

I’ve got three more nights of tango to look forward to, one of jive and maybe one of West Coast Swing. And then several months of probably no dancing of any sort that I’m used to. Withdrawal symptoms here I come.

Have you done a trip like this or been to any of these countries? Are there any must-see places or must-do things you would recommend in the countries I’m visiting?

Tango world cup

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Tango world cup. Mundial de baile. El campeonato. All three are synonyms for the competition part of “Tango festival y mundial del 13 al 31 de agosto” which is approaching the grand finale here in Buenos Aires.

The festival and mundial are annual events. This is the 11th year of the festival and the 8th year of el campeonato (the championship). There are 2 categories: salon and stage. So far as I can tell this is only the second year that there have been international entrants in el campeonato. Last year the winners of the salon tango category were Japanese.

I’m a tango newbie and when I booked my trip back in January I was unaware of the festival and the competition. In March when I persuaded a couple of tanguera friends to spend part of their summer holiday here we were still unaware of it. It was June before I learned of the festival and I was happy to discover that it would partly coincide with Sam and Jo’s visit. When I arrived here in April the milongas were still fairly busy but through May and June the numbers dropped off since Southern hemisphere winter is not most tango tourists’ idea of a good time to visit Buenos Aires. I figured the festival would boost the number of milonga-goers and hence my friends’ enjoyment of their trip. Then in late July I had the crazy idea of actually competing in el campeonato. It is free to enter and there are no requirements other than to turn up. There was very little information available on the official website but Jo was up for it so we registered anyway. For us it would be a fun thing to do and a fantastic experience.

It was only when we turned up in person to complete the enrollment process that we found out the exact format of the competition and when and where we would be dancing. In the salon tango category there are three rounds; qualifying, semi-finals and finals. Anyone is able to enter the qualifying round. In this round each couple dances twice, 3 tangos each time to music chosen by the organisers. The top 64 couples from the qualifying round go through to the semi-finals. The winners from the affiliated competitions automatically start in the semi-final round. The highest scoring 16 couples of the semi-finals will be dancing in the finals. The format for the stage category is similar except that the couples only dance once in the qualifying round and to music of their own choosing.

We registered and enrolled for the salon category and we had no expectations of surviving beyond the qualifying rounds. Actually it would have been awkward if we did because Sam and Jo’s trip ended a couple of days before the semi-final round. The qualifying rounds were held over two days at La Trastienda in San Telmo. We were told to show up at 2:30pm both days, and to expect to dance about an hour later.

Of course, Jo needed a new dress for the competition so the three of us went on a shopping expedition. In the first shop we visited she found a stunning, backless silver/grey dress which would go nicely with one of her new pairs of Comme il Faut shoes. The straps needed a slight adjustment so we went and had a coffee and returned 45 minutes later to collect it. Being a backless dress it needed a backless bra to go with it. There is no shortage of underwear shops in Buenos Aires but finding a backless bra was not easy. Especially when we didn’t know how to ask for one in Spanish. The assistant in the third or fourth shop told us what we needed to ask for – corpiño espalda libre – and suggested a shop on Avenida Florida which had just the thing. I think this was probably the day I earned the “endless patience” award in the acrostic email which they sent to friends at home describing their adventure so far.

The three of us arrived at La Trastienda a few minutes early on the first day – Monday 23 August. La Trastienda is a rather small venue and there was already a queue of spectators waiting to be let in. While we were waiting to register at the competitors entrance desk, Gustavo, a festival PR representative approached us and asked where we were from. When we told him the UK he asked if we would be prepared to do an interview with the BBC the following day. Let’s see, summer in the Northern hemisphere is quiet/silly season on the news front. A cat getting dumped in a wheelie-bin makes the headlines and sparks an inquiry. Being the UK’s only entrants in the tango world cup is surely more newsworthy, especially for say the BBC South local news programme. Spotting our chance for “15 minutes” of fame we said yes. An unrelated TV reporter/cameraman interviewed us briefly. We didn’t think to ask which station he represented.

The bouncers on the spectators entrance looked mean and menacing in their black trousers, shirts, sweaters, fleeces and shades, especially as it was a sunny day and nearly 25 degrees. They reminded us of Hale & Pace and “The Management”. I heard one of them say to somebody that the venue was full and they were only letting people in as others came out. Poor Sam was about 20th in the queue. We were worried she wouldn’t get in. Proving it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts, I asked Gustavo if he could give Sam a press wristband. Being cheeky I asked if she could have one for Tuesday too. Gustavo, our new best mate said OK. So Sam, our super roadie and photographer breezed straight in and later told us that she had watched the proceedings from the press gallery, right next to the judges booth.

Jo and I signed in at the competitors desk and began our waiting/preparation in the backstage area. There were chairs, a cloakroom and refreshments available. We did another short interview, this time for Brazilian channel SBT. People were straightening their costumes, attaching their competition numbers, touching up their make-up, warming up and practising a step or two on the miniscule practice floor. It was black melamine, very slippery. I dance wearing a pair of wonderful 2×4 alpie shoes with interchangeable soles. The suede soles were a bit slippery but the rubber were too grippy so I went with the suede option. We were in ronda (group/round) seven and when we arrived ronda three were dancing. Rondas four, five and six were called in turn and went and did their thing. There were 12 couples per ronda. As each group went off to dance, and came back they were clapped and cheered by the other competitors. The atmosphere backstage was very friendly and supportive. There are some photos in my Mundial de baile set at Flickr. A little over an hour after we signed in the stage assistant re-appeared and we expected her to call ronda seven. We were a bit surprised to hear her call ronda ten. We heard something about testing the floor. She returned for rondas nine and eight and finally our group, ronda seven. We were herded to a second holding area, and then upstairs to a final holding area just offstage. Ronda eight came off and feeling a little nervous we were lead on and given a few minutes to get a feel for the floor. We looked for Sam or anyone else we knew in the audience but couldn’t see well enough against the lights. The floor was eight metres by nine metres.  With 12 couples that meant there was about two metres between each couple. The lights were very hot and we could understand why many of the couples we saw after their ronda looked so hot and sweaty. We were herded back downstairs to the second staging area and another group went up to test the floor. While we were waiting the stage assistant told us who the judges were, who had chosen the music we would dance to and what that music was. Di Sarli, Tanturi and someone else. No D’Arienzo or Troilo. I breathed a sigh of relief. The other group came back downstairs and about 2 hours after we had arrived at La Trastienda we were finally on.

We were lead back upstairs and introduced one couple at a time using our names and home cities/towns to the audience. The host managed our names fairly well but struggled a bit with Basingstoke. As soon as all 12 couples were in position on the floor the host called for the music. We took a deep breath and as the first strains of Di Sarli sounded I offered Jo my hand and took her into my embrace. I could feel her heart beating against my chest and her whole body trembling slightly. We settled together, I ran my pre-tango mantra in my head, and we were ready. The couple in front moved and we followed suit. I was vaguely aware of the heat from some of the lights as we passed them but was oblivious to everything else except our dancing. At the end of the track we paused, separated, congratulated each other on nothing bad having happened and waited a couple of seconds for the next track. The nerves were gone and we had stopped trembling by this point. The second and third tracks blurred past, we were lead off stage and we had just danced in the tango world cup. We changed our shoes, collected our stuff from the cloakroom and went upstairs and outside to meet Sam. The sun was still shining, the queue of spectators had grown and at the front was Janis who writes Tango Chamuyo. We chatted briefly and left her waiting patiently for the chance to enter while we went across the road for a celebratory drink.

We arrived earlier than planned on the second day – our taxi driver had taken a different route – and Gustavo appeared as if by magic. He gave Sam her press wristband and whisked Jo and I past the check-in desk and downstairs to the backstage area and the waiting BBC crew. There was a reporter, producer and cameraman. The interview was commisioned by BBC Mundo based in Washington DC. They provide all of the BBC coverage of the Americas. They wired Jo up with a microphone and asked a couple of general questions about tango and our background. Then they asked about what we thought the effect of non-Argentinians entering el campeonato was. The reporter explained afterwards that the piece would go to Washington who would edit and decide what to do with it. It would almost certainly air in the Americas, might make it online and might make it back to the UK. She promised to email and let us know…

We collected our competitor wristbands, signed in and found we had been moved from ronda seven to ronda five. We assumed they had had a no-show for ronda five and as we were the first ones there for ronda seven they bumped us up a couple of slots. The backstage organisation on the second day was much more efficient than on the first. In almost no time at all they were calling our group and we were again herded to the second staging area while ronda three danced. Again they told us who the judges were, who had chosen our music and what it was. This time Biagi, someone and D’Arienzo. Uh oh! There may be trouble ahead. There was no time and no point worrying about it. We applauded the ronda three couples as they came downstairs and we were lead upstairs to take the offstage waiting area while ronda four danced.

The host made a better job of pronouncing Basingstoke as we walked out onto stage and this time we saw Sam waving from the press gallery. We took our places and waited. The host called for the music and once again I offered Jo my hand. We were less nervous this time and I was aware of the moment about half way through the first tango when her trembling stopped. We danced less well on the second day because I was a bit stressed by the couple in front of us, a different couple than on the first day. He liked to move backwards and he liked to move backwards a LONG way. Wherever I went to stay out of his way he seemed to be able to back up and find us. A couple of times he crashed into us while we were doing a figure on a spot about two metres behind where he had been when we started the figure. Luckily he didn’t manage to knock us off axis and hopefully he lost points for bumbling around. Our three tracks were relatively calm tangos which was a relief. Almost before we started our three tangos were done and the host lined us up for a group bow before we filed offstage.

And that was that, we had done something that no-one else in the UK, not one other person in 60 million or so, had done.We were fully fledged competitors in the Buenos Aires tango world cup 2010. We met Sam outside and went for another celebratory drink. Afterwards we collected our certificates and I took a few photos of one of the other rondas. Some of them are in my Mundial de baile set at Flickr.

On Wednesday evening we got the results of the qualifying rounds. As expected we did not make the semi-finals so Jo was able to go home on Thursday without any worries about changing flights or what might have been. We didn’t hear from the producer but on Friday and Saturday a couple of people told me they had seen us on TV in Argentina. I think I have tracked down the BBC Mundo piece they were referring to. You can see it here or here. They binned our interview and went with last year’s winners instead, but there are a few seconds of us dancing at 1’55 in.

One benefit of entering the competition is that they give each couple a pair of tickets for the final of whichever category they enter for. None of that queueing up for 5 hours business that everyone else had to endure. Couples who make the semi-finals and finals are given additional tickets for the later rounds. So tomorrow night I will be at Luna Park watching the finalists show how it should be done.

Colonia del Sacramento

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

It’s hard to believe but I’ve been in Buenos Aires 3 months already. When tourists arrive here they are given a free 90-day visa. It can be renewed for a further 90 days by visiting the officials in Migraciones and paying $300 (Argentine pesos, not US dollars). To remain legal the alternative is to leave the country and return(which can be done on the same day).

The easiest way to leave the country and return is to take a ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay and back again. So that’s what I did last Saturday. While virtually everyone in Buenos Aires was sat in front of their TV watching a football match I was sat on a fast catamaran listening to golden-age tango on my iPod and heading towards a few hours in Colonia.

There are 3 companies advertising crossings to Colonia and there is a choice of fast catamaran (50 minutes each way) or slow car ferry (3 hours). It’s worth comparing the deals on their websites and booking in advance. A day return ticket cost me ARG $190. All services leave from the Buquebus terminal at Darseño Norte and they share the vessels. Immigration formalities (departure from Argentina and admission to Uruguay) only took a few minutes. Boarding started about 30 minutes before the departure time and departure was a few minutes later than advertised. Not bad for a South American country whose team were playing in the World Cup. The crossing was smooth and uneventful and took about 20 minutes longer than the advertised 50 minutes.

I thought my ticket included a bus tour around Colonia but when I got there the tour people said otherwise. It wasn’t worth arguing about. The information desk had maps of the town. There’s not really a lot to see in Colonia anyway, a small historic quarter, a couple of parks, a handful of museums, a racetrack and a disused bull ring. I would have liked to see and snap a photo or two of the bull ring. It’s 5km from the port and it was hot and sunny and I had just 4 hours until the ferry returned to Buenos Aires. So I decided against walking there and back. One of the taxi drivers at the port offered me a taxi tour of the town for ARG $70 (about £13) and I couldn’t be bothered to haggle. I also couldn’t be bothered to sit in the back of a beaten-up old taxi on a hot afternoon.

After turning left out of the port I walked up Miguel Angel Odirozola to Barrio Histórico in about 10 minutes. It’s got cobbled streets, some ruined buildings, a couple of preserved buildings from the Portuguese colonial period, part of the original city walls, a drawbridge, a lighthouse and loads of restaurants. Admission to the lighthouse was ARG $3.50 and there’s a decent view from the top. Most of the restaurants around Plaza Mayor were doing lots of trade (I doubt it was brisk!) with lunch costing about UR $300-$400 per person. There’s a foreign exchange desk at the port but everywhere is happy to accept Argentinian pesos at a rate of roughly ARG $1 = UR $4, about the same as the foreign exchange desk. The bars and restaurants outside the historic quarter were cheaper.

After lunch and a couple of hours of aimless wandering it was time to head back to the port. The immigration officer wanted to see my outbound ticket stub (stamped with the admission date – probably a good thing I hadn’t thrown it away – no-one had told me I needed to keep it) and passport, and gave me another 90 day visa for Argentina. Mission accomplished!

We left Uruguay almost exactly on time with the sun just starting to set. The Rio de la Plata was as calm as a mill pond and the return crossing was even smoother than the outbound one. It was no quicker though and it was properly night time when I walked out of the Buquebus terminal. The air was heavy with despair, it was almost palpable. Everyone looked miserable and dejected. I didn’t need to ask what had happened in the football.

There are some photos from Colonia del Sacramento in this set on Flickr.