Archive for November, 2011

Waiting for a ship

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

I left home in March with a couple of special objectives for my travels. One of them was to try to get a last minute place on an Antarctic cruise. So after a few weeks in Buenos Aires I hopped on a plane down to Ushuaia. My plan was to hit all the cruise offices on the day before each departure looking for a cancellation or unsold berth. I was prepared to hang around for up to about two weeks which would give me four or five chances. My budget for the cruise was US$3000. I was expecting it to be quite hard.

Imagine my surprise then when after reaching my hostel at about 7pm on Saturday evening, by 10pm I was booked on a cruise leaving on Wednesday. It’s billed as a twelve day cruise but it leaves at 6pm on Wednesday and they kick us off the ship at 9am on Saturday week; the marketing people are stretching the truth a bit. Regardless, it’s an Antarctic cruise. Being a short one it doesn’t go to the Falklands or South Georgia, just to the Antarctic peninsula and back. The agents pointed out that actually this is a good thing; on the longer cruises you spend a lot more time in open water getting from A to B and no extra time on landings. The advantage of the longer cruise is you get to see Emperor Penguins on South Georgia. They don’t nest on the Antarctic Peninsular so they’re not seen on the shorter cruises. And of course, the shorter cruises are cheaper.

There was only one cruise on offer on Saturday and it was US$3600. All the agents were offering the same thing at the same price and it was non-negotiable. There was no discount for paying cash either. Ushuaia is a pretty conservative little place. Most of the shops are closed on Sundays, and Monday was a public holiday when everything would be closed again. I could cough up or wait until Tuesday or even Wednesday morning and hope the price had dropped and that there were still places. Supposedly there were only five spaces left. Faced with the possibility of missing out on a cruise, and maybe not being able to get on the other three departures in the next couple of weeks I decided to spend the extra US$600.

I have met several other people in the past few months with the same last-minute cruise objective. There are four at the hostel I’m staying at in Ushuaia and we’re all leaving on the same boat. So for this season at least, getting a last minute place on an Antarctic cruise is pretty easy but not quite the bargain I’d hoped for. Regardless, I’m excited and am really looking forward to the next twelve days.


P.S. It’s 11am on the day of departure and another guy in this hostel has just bought a place on the same cruise. The price was still US$3600.

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.