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December 7

December 7, 2008

Montevideo is supplying us with enough diversion for each day in a polite, reserved manner. When we walk around the inner city, which is quiet, orderly, and a little decrepit, we see few other tourists. This was particularly true of today, a Sunday.

We woke up quite late after watching “Walking Tall” on cable last night; which, by the way, is an absolutely terrible film. Our method for finding breakfast was an up and down walk on 18 de julio, or just “diez y ocho” as the locals call it, scanning for cafeterias. We eventually found one with a subdued, laminated brown interior, TVs and comfortable semi-circular seating, which served us a cheap and sizable menu to share: tostadas, galletinas (por supuesto con dulce de leche), lemon pie, and a sandwich de fiambres with the crusts cut off. For one person, it would’ve been extremely excessive, and for us both it was quite satisfactory.

Our only appointment for the day was to meet with Tommy and Johan and go to the afternoon football match at the Estadio Centenario on the northeast boundary of the town centre. To sort that out, we slouched away an hour in an internet cafe and agreed to meet the Swedes at two o’clock, at Shannon’s “Irish” Pub on the street one block to the west of the Plaza Independencia. We also arranged to back up a few photographs so that we’re not relying on one DVD.

It had become quite late, and the sun was hammering down on the largely treeless streets as we beat back across town along Avenida 25 de mayo, known for a selection of buildings summarising the architectural history of the capital. I photographed Max standing in the middle of this, one of Uruguay’s most famous streets, without a car or another person in sight: the city centre was as deserted as a cemetery. As we walked, we passed more than one gobsmacking terrace, and each was decorated with a distinctive array of balconies, finials, curlicues, gables, eaves, sills, windows and relief s, none of which I am remotely qualified to classify.

The Museo de Arte Decorativo was a quasi-classical building with a flat-roofed, round-walled, columned entrance statement, once the house of a wealthy merchant. Inside were the outrageous gilt-edged mirrors, oil paintings, faux-Louis XIV furniture and intricate parquetry floors that we have come to expect from these South American mansions. The displays, however, were a little desultory. There was one good chamber of scale models of Montevideo’s most famous buildings. It was explained to us that Montevideo’s foundation in 1726, postdating that of other South American capitals, led to a French-influenced eclecticism in its architecture, owing to the thrall in which the French aesthetic elite held all Europe, and by extension its colonies.

We had to cut the museum short and hot-step back towards Plaza Independencia to meet Johan and Tommy. Shannon’s, where we’d planned on making our rendezvous, was as empty and shut as ninety percent of town, but two doors along a bistro-type place had its doors open. Only tourists were about, as far as could be told. It was a pleasure to get out of the savage daylight and into the darkly toned, muted bar.

Tommy and Johan were in fine form. We talked about Uruguay, their plans (to head to Ponte del Este and then north to an estancia), politics, the relative merits of Australia’s governance and Sweden’s, Tommy’s stint at a US college on some sort of cross-country running scholarship – he’s a former president of the Swedish Orienteering Society or something – and the obligatory re-hashed Quark gossip. After a beer, sandwiches and chips it was time to head to the stadium.

Our information was that the match was due to start at six o’clock, but I had a premonition it would be earlier. As we arrived by taxi through a constant stream of arriving supporters in the orange and brown uniform of Atletico Penarol, it seemed likely. A ticket officer confirmed that kickoff was set for five, and advised us to enter the quieter, more expensive Olimpico side stand instead of the terraces of the Colombes stand behind the goal.

The ground was not full. The conversations I’d had with the lady concierge at our hotel, and the guys at the net cafe, I’d only half understood, but I had gathered that there was some specific reason this match wasn’t expected to be any good. Perhaps the teams were woefully mismatched, or it was a dead rubber, or one was poorly supported, I’m unsure.

The Estadio Centenario was built for the very first World Cup of Football in 1930, which was both hosted and won by Uruguay. These days it would be considered a fairly modest stadium, a simple circus with a capacity I’d estimate around 25,000. Within the grounds, a few small plaques advertised its historical function. We emerged from the bare concrete entry stairs and a foyer populated by hot dog stands to terraces that were practically empty. The relatively few supporters who were in our stand were hiding under the eaves of the upper tier, desperately trying to get out of the sun. The hardcore fans were, of course, in the Colombes stand, massed and ready for action. A plaque advertised the historical function of the stadium.

Some young lads with their shirts off came by and hung a flag in front of us, all huddled in the thin strip of shade, which wasn’t unwelcome as it gave us a little more cover. Max and I got talking to a jovial chap who was carrying around a massive gym bag for some reason, we all took a bunch of cheesy snapshots, and it wasn’t until shortly before kickoff that we ventured out onto the seating to get a view.

Penarol’s opposition were a team from out of town, Atletico River Plate (the name of the club is spelt the English way, as per Sporting Lisbon or AC Milan), and they only had a pretty small posse of fans on hand, who were seated in the stand opposite us, and had unfurled a massive banner over the front barrier. Meanwhile, over in Colombes behind the goal, a host of flags and signs had been raised on behalf of Penarol (“HASTA LA MUERTE”, of course). Some referred to specific supporters’ groups, belonging to the select few streets in the traditional heartland of the team.

There was a huge cry from Colombes as the home side ran out onto the ground. They burst out into well-rehearsed songs at an epic volume that would strike fear into the Australian football fan. As the captains met with the referee in the centre circle for the coin toss, we were all busy slathering ourselves with sunscreen.

The first half of the match was scrappy, and Penarol seemed somewhat disinterested. Although the quality of the football wasn’t bad – I’d compare it to the A-League I suppose – there wasn’t much fire on the field. Minor incidents on the pitch brought cries of outrage from around us: “Afuera! Afuera!” when demanding a sending-off and quite a few instances of “puta” and “tu madre” closely run together. The Penarol fans sang through it all, and then later in the half a circular area in the packed stand behind the goal cleared out and they began letting off firecrackers and flares. The sun was still incredibly hot, and Johan, who was unaccustomed to this sort of weather, was forced to retire to the shade for a few minutes to avoid passing out.

At half time we retreated thankfully back to the shade, and I went in search of a beer. I was somewhat unsurprised to learn that alcohol was banned inside the gates — “demasiadas problemas” as the Coke-seller informed me. The fact that nothing at all was available to drink other than Coke was a little more disturbing: no other soft drinks on sale even, let alone water. Needing refreshment of some kind, we bought Cokes, and I picked up a budget choripan from the concrete concourse underneath the stand.

The match intensified shortly after the interval. River Plate, who had had less of the ball but looked a little more incisive going forward, capitalised on a defensive bungle involving Penarol’s keeper and one of their defenders. The ball broke from a melee in the six yard box and was knocked home inexpertly, via the thigh of yet another Penarol defender. Outrage from the home fans was met by vigorous, if inaudible celebrations by the visitors. In the terraces, a scuffle broke out amongst a group of shirtless men, and the entire crowd’s attention was drawn.

The referee had begun to hand out yellow cards with abandon, and soon multiple players from each side had been booked including two apparently for dissent. As the second half continued, a player from River Plate was sent off for a two-footed tackle, and then Penarol equalised via a nicely executed low drive from the top left corner of the penalty area. “Toni”, a stocky little striker, had repaid the faith of the home fans.

By the time the match had drawn to a stuttering close, a Penarol player had also been shown the red card, and several more booked. Mildly disgusted supporters began filing out of the Olimpico stand just before the final whistle, and we joined them as soon as it was blown. It was about seven o’clock in the evening, and still bright outside as we caught a taxi back into the centre of Montevideo for a few more drinks.

After an unseemly period spent deliberating on where to spend our money, we settled on a cheap, homely corner cafeteria called “The Manchester”, with outside tables. I didn’t order food, which was fortunate as the chivitos canadienses ordered by Max and Johan were enormous, more than enough to feed all of us twice over as well as a young beggar who happened past bugging the patrons for food. The pub’s staff weren’t happy when we gave him a full half hamburger, but he looked horribly hungry. Montevideo is, I think, the only place where I’ve more than once seen beggars asking specifically for spare food from restaurant patrons, instead of for money.

We left Tommy and Johan much later at night, standing on a street corner under a lamppost on Casona, a few blocks from Hostal Nuevo Ideal.

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The hiatus ends

December 7, 2008

Apologies to any concerned readers for the lengthy break before our final updates. We’ve been back home for a while and concerned with catching up with friends and family and trying to readjust to a life more similar to that we once knew.

The remaining few posts from our epic journey should be up within a week, and they have all been written for quite some time.

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December 6

December 6, 2008

Aah the lazy days and easy nights, finding ourselves somewhere else doing the same thing. So many places in which to breathe in and breathe out.

We ignored our ambitious alarm this morning, poking our heads up as the snooze went off, and off again, and eventually calling it morning at eight thirty. Thus followed a leisurely pack, a quiet coffee on the terrace, a stroll to the showers and back. At ten we were on our way to leaving, asking our way to the bus terminal and finding it without any problems.

Uruguay is a mystery to us. We have no preparation, no resources and, importantly, no plans to deem achieved or not. We found a map of the country yesterday on which we were able to place ourselves, so the broader mental picture is filled in- who needs details anyway?

We were on the 10.30 bus, leaving enough time to pop into the cafe for a media luna each (that being a croissant filled with ham, cheese and cream, a combination known in these parts as fiambre) before settling down for a nap. Unfortunately, the passenger to our right was equipped with a particularly bad snore. There’s something strange about listening to the snoring of strangers as you’re falling asleep, something intimate and off-putting. I’ll not miss sleeping in dorm rooms when we finally make it home.

So the bus ride was semiconsciously short, and we found ourselves pulling in to Montevideo two and a bit hours later. We were dropped at a bustling bus terminal (it is the capital of Uruguay, after all), pegged a cheaper way back to Buenos Aires to think about later and jumped in a taxi to a hostel we’d investigated earlier, securing a nice little double room with a balcony from an amiable woman named Miriam.

We secured a fairly dodgy map and a general direction to the centre of town before setting out on some hardcore wandering. First stop was a cafe on the corner of Plaza de Independencia for a coffee served in two separate jugs (espresso and leche caliente) which could be mixed to my liking. Not exactly a good old home style coffee, but pretty damned good by the calibre of this trip.

Next, we stumbled upon a street fair, finding the main pedestrian mall full of stalls manned by local artists and antique-hockers, who were selling all sorts of the weird and wonderful. Wares ranged from old spoons to Incan-themed jewellery, doorknockers to coin pendants, hand-painted boxes to original prints and fork jewellery to coffee tables made from perforated metal. Very much my sort of thing, and we spent a good hour or so browsing and investigating.

A few bands of street performers were out and about too, including a large but underfunded circus troupe and two excellent mimes. The mimes were two girls dressed and painted alike in yellow and brown pinafores with exaggeratedly pointy lips and cheekbones, standing perfectly still until someone dropped a coin their way, at which point they’d launch into a well choreographed and symmetrical routine where they’d drink from each others’ cups or open a wooden chest to retrieve something before slowly winding down to a stop. Another man dressed as Zorro would wiggle his hips seductively as strangers passed.

Montevideo, aside from having a really cool name, is quite a cool town. It has definite overtones of Havana about it and is crumbling in the same places, though I imagine its glory days would not have been anywhere near as glorious. The malecon, in particular, is very similar to Havana’s- a half-height sea wall bordered by a wide boulevard, winding across the shore and intercepted occasionally by a ridiculously large column or statue or other such monument. It’s a very relaxed city and easy to walk in. There is an upsetting absence of mojitos, though that is tempered by an overabundance of mate- it seems no-one leaves the house here without a mate cup (generally carved from a gourd), mate spoon (a strange pipe-looking thing that filters out the leaves) and a thermos full of hot water.

By the time we’d walked along the waterfront and internetted for a little, it was dinner time (well, maybe a little early, really, but we didn’t care) and we sated our now seemingly impenetrable hunger at a corner eatery just off the main drag. I indulged in spinach crepes with a creamy tomato sauce, and Tom in a steak sandwich and chips. We washed our meals down with a glass of wine and a coffee each before setting in for a night of blog-finishing and TV-watching. And now, we find ourselves watching The Rock lay the smack down as a completely irrational vigilante ex-army sherriff in a movie that makes no sense, but we’re meant to feel good about. Ah, how I have missed television.

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December 5

December 5, 2008

I seem to be blogging all the lazy days lately – or perhaps it’s just that all our days are lazy as the journey draws to a close. We are on what I’m referring to as the downhill slope, still having fun but conscious of impinging reality. A couple of days ago I had to book the delivery of our stored furniture to our place in Perth, and we’ve given the tenant there the green light to get out just before Christmas. I am back on the job trail, sort of, and we are counting the last of our pennies and working out how we’re going to work it out. It feels like all of the main challenges of the trip have already been faced down.

I didn’t wake up until around ten o’clock, and after lying around, reading and internetting, and then showering, I don’t think we even exited the hostel until around midday. There wasn’t any great pressure to do so, as Colonia is a very slow-paced place, and there exactly aren’t a gang of thuggish attractions to bully away the day.

At a hole-in-the-wall on General Flores, Colonia’s tree-lined principal street that runs east-west from the bus station and shopping centre to the historic precinct, I attempted to buy myself a breakfast choripan, but couldn’t because they couldn’t change my oversized 1000 Uruguayan peso bill (about $40-50). A choripan is a chorizo al pan, a fatty Spanish sausage sliced in half and dropped in a bread roll with muchas salsas, the breakfast of champions in Uruguay and Argentina.

We had it in mind to do some shopping, what with Colonia being riddled with gift and handicraft shops. So what followed was an hours-long, somewhat aimless, tedious to recount, traipsing around such places. When we finally had bought something, we were able to return to the hole-in-the-wall and actually purchase some food this time with our amazing bills of reduced size. There we re-encountered an eccentric old woman who’d bailed us up yesterday, first offering to sell us a battered woven cloth, then offering to tell us our fortunes, and then simply demanding our money. Here she was with one of her peers, sharing a hotdog, which seemed incongruous against her traditional-looking attire.

Back on the pavements, we ran into Tommy and Johan, looking chipper as usual, and discussed meeting them in Montevideo in a couple of days for either a night on the town or an authentic Uruguayan football match, hopefully complete with hooligans braining each other with iron bars. It’s nice, having new people with which to make plans!

I really shouldn’t simply pass by without describing Colonia’s beautifully preserved historic centre. Though there are not vast and momentous landmarks, it is a lovely sunlit place, a cobbled grid of brightly coloured buildings, churches, double-storeyed mansions, and what they call “ranchos portuguesos” which date right back to the seventeenth century. Amongst this is a sort of snail trail of restaurants, bar-and-grills, cafés, and craft shops. Although it’s a type of locale which I do not find terribly scintillating as a one day visit – but at this moment I am loving the laziness anyway – I can definitely imagine myself spending every Sunday morning here if it were just a few suburbs’ drive away, like an infinitely superior Bungendore (obscure Canberra reference there).

After a little more faffing about in la ciudad historica, we wandered up the road to the much-hyped “Colonia Shopping”, the local mall. I had a theory that the extent to which it was advertised might mean it was a sort of shopping hub for Buenos Aires people who wanted to enjoy slightly cheaper Uruguayan commodity prices. When we got there, we found it very modestly sized, and certainly not packed to the rafters with bargain-hunting portenos. Max was undaunted, and managed to sniff out a couple of discount-priced summer dresses and a black skirt for her impending return to work. While she tried things on, I stood by at the rear of the store, all dumb male companion, and then shocked the store attendants by suddenly popping out with some reasonably competent Spanish at the checkout. “No hablo bien espanol,” I disclaimed – “Pero nos parece bien, senor!” they demurred. I can already feel how much I’m going to miss this language when we’re back in Australia, and will simply have to find some way to keep it up a bit I suppose.

Back in town after reversing our short stroll there were yet more visits to artesanias, and we climbed the half-ruined lighthouse on the point of the historic precinct for its sweeping view of the whole of Colonia, and walked out to the end of a jetty with lovely floral planters just because we could. Then we were once more back at the hostel, once more resting and relaxing, once more carving through the trackless wastes of our Antarctic blog entries, and it was only when the agony of all this leisure overcame me that I finally walked to the local market for a cheese, a tiny chocolate bar, some fruit juice, and a banana. Tomorrow in the morning, we will go to Montevideo by bus.

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December 4

December 4, 2008

Today we tripped and fell- into Uruguay.

Buenos Aires is a huge city after the solitude we’ve faced for the past two months and it was getting into our brains a little, so we thought we’d escape on a day trip. We’ve run into a number of people who recommended Colonia in Uruguay as a nice side-trip, though it seems rather unfortunate that the best thing to do from Buenos Aires is to leave the country! Anyway, we were slightly dubious, as the name rings of tones of Antigua in Guatemala, which was a pretty but touty tourist trap. We couldn’t ignore the number of recommendations, though, so we thought we’d give it a shot.

We got up bright and early in anticipation of the nine o’clock ferry, though were thrown off a bit when a girl named Tara, who was staying in the hostel with us, said she’d already booked her ticket, and they only had eight left yesterday afternoon. Still, we were awake and packed and it was too late to turn back, so we ate our chocolate-chip-cookie-and-glass-of-milk breakfast and set off down the streets with packs on our backs. We’d estimated it’d take us about twenty minutes to walk there, so set out at eight to give us some time. It soon became apparent this wouldn’t be enough, though, as we dashed across roads and through parks in an effort to get there on time. We arrived at the ferry terminal at 8.45.

Miraculously, we managed, in the next fifteen minutes, to traverse three queues (one to reserve tickets, one to pay for tickets, one to check in our luggage) and make it through immigration (which was the easiest border crossing I’ve ever made, the Argentine and Uruguayan representatives sat next to each other- one stamped us out and the other stamped us straight in). we then made it at double speed into the roomy atrium of the ferry just before it began pulling away from the dock, which we thought was a pretty awesome effort.

The ferry was lovely- big and comfortable with nice seats, a big deck bar slash helicoptor pad and a cafe downstairs. I didn’t get to enjoy it much, though, as after wandering around for an hour or so I fell off to sleep, barely stirring until we could see Uruguay. We were quite amazed by the size of the river that seprerates the two countries, it looked rather more like an ocean, or at the very least a large lake.

It took a while to figure out how to get out of the fenced compound, but once we did it was a short walk into town and to our very well-signed hostel. They’re doing a few renovations at the moment, but we ended up in a nice little double room facing a courtyard with tables and chairs outside and all. We went for a quick wander around town, then, and felt like we’d made the right decision. The sun was shining, and the town has a distinctly Centroamerican feel to it, with many plazas and a little more chaos than we were used to in Chile and Argentina. Most of the afternoon was then spent napping (we have a serious amount of sleep to catch up on after the Antarctic trip) and sitting out on the terrace.

We got in touch with Tommy and Johan, who also opted out of Buenos Aires, and at eight we met them in the Plaza de Armas before a quick move to a waterfront pub. We all sat reminiscing about the good old days while tackling beer and sangria, and had the benefit of some bongo tunes from a group of “stickers” (travellers who get stuck and discard the remnants of their old lives, usually getting by by selling handmade jewellery and knick-knacks on the streets). Once our beer bottles and sangria jugs looked disasterously empty, we took a stroll around town searching for a change of venue.

We eventually realised that, though restaraunt-heavy, Colonia is fairly light on for pubs, and asked a local where there was a watering hole. He directed us to Colonia Rock, where we found a seat next to two huge tables that may or may not have been celebrating a birthday. After ordering our drinks, the music turned to some very loud karaoke, and the giant tables seized the opportunity with both lungs and negligable tuning. That’s the way I think karaoke should be, so I had a blast, but Johan called it quits after a while, and Tom and Tommy were seeming less than impressed.

One brilliant cultural difference between home and South America is the way the night is utilised- nobody wakes up before nine, shops don’t open until ten at the earliest, and then shut again at one for a break. Most of life is carried out between three and eight, then a nice late dinner. If there’s to be drinking or dancing, it doesn’t start until late night or even early morning, which means that there’s always someone about on the streets. Not so for us, though- ignoring the bartender’s pleas for me to sing (everything was in Spanish and I’m nowhere near good enough for that), we left at about midnight, just as the place was about to fill up.

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December 3

December 3, 2008

In a ten bed dormitory, with someone drilling a hole in the pavement two storeys directly below your cranium, on a creaky top bunk with music playing out the door, it takes a little persistence and fatigue to be one of the last up – you have to want to flip over grumpily that many times. And want it I did.

Asa, our Finnish friend from the Nova, was still waiting to be picked up for her whirlwind horseback riding tour as I made my way out of the dorm and into the common areas, but she was gone ten minutes later. I wasn’t sure I envied her a day of active, well-structured activities, after last night’s late-finishing rehash of the gossip by-products of the Quark cruise environment.

I lazed around, collecting my hostel breakfast of two dinner rolls and two over-sugared medialunas with butter and jam. And, of course, dulce de leche, the caramellish sugared milk stuff with which Argentines are utterly obsessed. It’s a bit too dulce for me, I must say.

Concurrent with breakfast, I had a muted and somehow decidedly uncongenial conversation with two other hostel guests. I must have been a bit cranky, but they didn’t make a favourable impression on me. In addition, I completely forgot to wake Max, so when she finally arrived from her separate dormitory at a bit past eleven, breakfast was over.

We were unsure what we had actually come to Buenos Aires to do. We knew it was a big, famous city, the “Paris of the Southern Hemisphere”, the best urban experience in Latin America, and so forth. So quite logically, the first thing we decided to do was walk to the bus station and see how much a bus ticket to Santiago de Chile would cost.

The walk took us through Baires’ Congreso area, where millions of twenty-peso parrilladas con tenedor libre rub shoulders with clothing boutiques and pawnbrokers in the lower storeys of the old commercial blocks. There was a crossing of Avenida 9 de Julio, reportedly the world’s widest main street – it probably is over a hundred metres from one kerb to the other, broken up by three broad islands. We passed a memorial obelisk at the intersection with Avenida Cordoba, turned right towards the waterfront, and after passing through a couple of leafy parks reminiscent of those around central Sydney, reached the Retiro Bus Station.

After asking at at least six places inside the station how much a ticket to Santiago cost, we realised that what we were doing was a bit stupid. Did we really want to take a twenty hour bus ride from the Argentine capital to the rather similar Chilean capital, just so that we could snatch an extra two or three days in beautiful Valparaiso? Stepping back outside into the undeniable vigour and style of Buenos Aires seemed to convince us against the idea.

We – and particularly Max, who still hadn’t eaten – were peckish by now. We stopped into a packed-out, two-bit little eatery outside the station, a place with five hundred things on the menu and a huge clientele of cheapskates like us, who laughed as we fumbled around with our dinner rolls and as I took a photograph of the place’s carnival, Montmartre-ish interior. Food was two porciones of creditable pizza, a chopp of beer for me, and a gaseosa for Max.

The fear of getting robbed had been ever present during the day, and I’d been guarding our little brown bag of valuables like a maniac. Our paranoia was due not to any vague feeling about the city, but rather to the fact that we’d heard four firsthand anecdotes about robberies from tourists in the twelve or so hours we’d spent so far in Buenos Aires.

Asa had been bumped in a crowd and turned around to find the front pocket of her backpack emptied out of its – thankfully inconsequential – contents; one girl at the hostel had been flagged into a taxi by a “helpful” passer-by who then made off with her daypack; and two more had been subjected to a scam where someone “inadvertently” throws mess all over you, and then robs you while they’re helpfully cleaning it off. Couple that with a couple of twice-removed stories about robbery at gunpoint in La Boca and some of the other less savoury areas of the city centre, and we were on our toes. Memories of filing a police report alongside thirty other befuddled, robbed tourists at the station near La Rambla in Barcelona, eight years ago were flitting through my mind.

We walked up to the park above Retiro to do a bit of people-watching, and came across a memorial to the Falklands War that was still under live guard, two bored-looking chaps standing in dress uniform around an Unknown-Soldier type flame. Then it was time to return to the real efforts of the day.

We headed further west along the boundary delineated by the River Plate, with the intention of getting to the Museo de Bellas Artes. Over the course of the year, art galleries have become our default first excursion in major cities – they tend not to disappoint, and they give you time to think about what you want to do in context.

Along the way we passed a place in Recoleta called the Palais de Glace, an impressive rotunda with skylight, at which a free exhibition of the nominees for the 2008 Argentinian Salon Nacional was taking place. There were entries in two divisions: sculpture and drawing. Some of the works of drawing were wonderful both in concept and execution, and the exhibition as a whole was a terrific bonus.

Leaving the Palais, we crossed across another nice greenway and were accosted by a young guy collecting for an AIDS charity, who took a great deal of care to present us with his bona fides so that we wouldn’t think he was scamming us. Having given him a few pesos, he directed us a block further up to El Cementerio de la Recoleta, Buenos Aires’ famous cemetery. Behind the high walls it was, in some ways, a moderately disgusting place. Unlike Montparnasse in Paris, almost all the monuments were excessively huge mausolea, the majority pertaining to one of Baires’ elite families, or to a famous military personage. These blocklike tombs rose evenly on either side of narrow alleyways, turning the place into a half-darkened labyrinth.

In a nondescript corner, attached to the Duarte monument, we found several plaques dedicated to Eva Peron, surrounded by tourists clicking away with their cameras. Evita is apparently still both popular with the poor and controversial amongst the elites.

We also saw a large Lynch family tomb, whose most important intern was Juan Pablo Lynch. It has been interesting to see the relative prominence of the Lynch name in Latin America – several sites in Chile’s Lake District were named after various historical Lynches, and there is an influential branch of Argentine Lynches, of whom Che Guevara (a.k.a. Ernesto Guevara Lynch) was one. Doubt any of them are close relations, of course.

When we left the cemetery it felt like time to stop wandering, so we turned about and went back to our hostel instead. It was a surprisingly long walk back through Recoleta, Retiro and Congreso, and a good opportunity to observe la gente. The stereotypical porteno is rake-thin, lanky and rather refined-looking – men affect swept back blow-dryed James Spader-ish hairstyles, and women have long and immaculately curled or waved hair. The Maradona mullet never went out of style here. The social importance of dressing well, and to exhibit status and wealth, is evident, and with eight-month-old travelling clothes to wear, I felt rather outclassed most of the time. Many of the portenos are both very white, and very dark all at once in that peculiarly Iberian way – the contrast of pale skin and deep brown hair and eyes. I doubt that it does you much good here to deviate from this normative Spanish look.

Back at the hostel, we saw Asa off for the last time, after she’d complained about the relative age of everyone else on her horseback tour for a few minutes. We insisted that she stay in touch via the usual channels, and I carried her extremely heavy suitcase down the BA Stop stairs for her.

Having had the day to think about it, we have decided we will not flee timidly back to Santiago de Chile and Valparaiso as we’d been tempted to do, but will take the ferry across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay instead, then go on to Montevideo, and then return for another day or two to Buenos Aires. This way we’ll get to hang out in some fairly relaxing locales, see a little of another country, and still use up the flight we have booked anyway on the 10th.

We spent the early part of the evening fruitlessly doorknocking on other potential hostels for when we get back from Uruguay. Seems almost everything here is either rather expensive, or completely booked out, or both. Certainly almost all the prices indicated in our tourist information are about half of what they have risen to in the last twelve months.

At a little diner, we purchased a tolerable salad and steak, and came back past a Carrefour where we bought a breakfast snack for our early exit to the ferry terminal tomorrow morning. Back at the hostel, I spent several hours in the interminable process of collating notes, photos and blog entries from Antarctica, and in re-packing fresh laundry and all the other mess we have with us now, while the hostel zombies watched Peter Jackson’s remake of “King Kong” on the telly. Stupidly long movie, that.

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December 2

December 2, 2008

I must admit, I rather missed waking up to Brandon’s emphatic “gooood mor-ning” over a PA system this morning. Instead, I got out of bed under my own steam, crept out to the comedor to find my husband, ate, showered and whatnot in a very usual way. No big crowds, no scheduled activities, just Ushuaia. Sigh.

And that was pretty much indicative of most of the day. There were two hours of sitting about and quick strolling to fill in the morning before we found a taxi to take us to the airport. At the airport, instead of our anicipated hourish wait, the clerk asked us if we’d like to be shifted, as he had a flight leaving in five minutes. We were like “yahuh” and no sooner had we handed in our bags that we were walking on to the plane and taking off. Marvellously efficient! As we pulled out from the end of the world, I cried a little.

The flight was uneventful in the way that flights usually are, and we landed in Buenos Aires four or five hours later, after being treated to a beautiful view of the delta on the way in. Our first order of the day was to find accommodation, which we did with a helpful list from the information office and a few phone calls, booking ourselves in at a place called BA Stop. We got a taxi there due to the sheer mass of our luggage, now larger than previously recorded by one bag full of two big bulky parkas.

From our first glimpses, Buenos Aires is quite a dynamic place. We drove past slums like those in Peru or Centroamerica, unfinished concrete boxes piled atop one another with big communal squares where the inhabitants were hanging out before dinner. Beyond these began the city as the tourist brochures would prefer you to think of it, big old colonial mansions and beautifully filigreed commercial buildings interspersed with glass and steel skyscrapers. Plenty of people around, as you would hope for in the early evening.

Unfortunately, the hostel is a bit of a dive and Tom and I had to take seperate dorms due to lack of bed space. It was a bit late by the time we got there, so we just went out briefly to put in some laundry and pick up some supplies, coming back for a crappy pasta dinner at the communal tables. It was then we got a tap on the shoulder and there was Asa- she was staying there too. So one thing led to another and, more particularly, one bottle of wine led to another, and before we knew it we’d stayed up all night chatting and gossiping about the good old days on the Ocean Nova.