Monday, 31 October 2011

Day Fourteen: Argentina – Across the waters to Uruguay

Our minds must have gone mad – when the plate landed on our table – it was an instant regret; this is EXACTLY what we had been trying to avoid for the past 2 weeks…

6.30am – Baquebus to Colonia del Sacramento– Uruguay. Just one hour across the Delta to another Spanish-speaking country. Within 10 minutes of arriving at what seemed to be an abandoned port and we were in the centre of Old Colonia.

A quaint city – village just a couple of hundred years old, proud of its old automobiles; their BBQ restaurants; and their craft shops. The village can be explored within 45 minutes. So we had to drag our every step. By hopping in and out of the shops we could while a bit more time.

There were precious stores – all well made and certainly of exceptional quality than similar shops in Buenos Aires. The prices seemed extreme and near impossible to fathom; 5 x Argentina pesos – therefore about 25 x UK pounds. That makes it about 4pence (£0.04) per dollar – try the maths on that. When a beer is priced UR$100 it was a bit unnerving.

There are some excellent art and craft stores here of both real leather, wool artefacts as well as some superb wood and metal designs that are excellent prices and a great souvenir. I stopped in Oveja Negra, a local boutique with goods made from local sheep – the black sheep’s hair is thick and unique to Uruguay – so I couldn’t resist buying a poncho.

Silvia Sarti established the brand Oveja Negra as artist/designer and travels the world selling here designs. While in sweltering heat of 30+ degrees we soon learned how cold it could get in winter – these intricate designs for sweaters, scarves and accessories were increadily well made.  Check below for details. See the shop in my video and the poncho I bought.

It’s certainly worth taking advantage of the time to relax and stroll slowly around the small port town. Beyond here, a taxi ride away, there is a larger town but not one we felt was appropriate to visit.

On the way back to the port we stopped for a Paradilla – their special BBQ meat bowl. Our minds must have gone mad – when the plate landed on our table – it was an instant regret; this is EXACTLY what we had been trying to avoid for the past 2 weeks; black pudding sausage, liver plus some odd fatty substance. We only had a small bottle of water and salad to dilute the taste between us.

Our final night of luxury we spent in a 4* Axel hotel – Heterofriendly.  This hotel came complete with see-through shower, queen-sized bed, mini-bar, Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and a pool with a transparent bottom from the foyer!

We spent the evening drinking Caipirinha in the bar before stumbling to the fifth floor for a late night spa.

The final day we took it easy on our last trek on the shopping streets of Buenos Aires before heading by taxi to the airport for our 24-hour journey home.

One excellent holiday – a great adventure.

Boat to Uruguay: AR$300
Poncho: UR$4,000
Taxi to Airport: AR$150
Sweets for family & friends: AR$75
Oveja Negro: Address: De la Playa 114, Barrio Historico. Tel. 052-21323. Also a store in Punta del Este.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

29 – 30 things to do before your 30

I’ve decided to bestow a challenge upon myself for the next 352 days; during the next year I aim to try to fulfil all of the below. There’s nothing like making a list and ticking each item off – so can I achieve all of them? What can you do to help me achieve a full slate?
 These are in no order, but I did have some limitations – no criminal activity, nothing that will put my life at severe danger (ish):

1.     Don’t die: If I am to achieve all 30 things, I must save two for my actual 30th birthday. [DONE]
2.     Create a new pie: putting my culinary skills to the test [DONE]
3.     Learn french [DOING]
4.     Jump from a plane – sky dive
5.     Get on Daybreak – I do love ITV in the morning
6.     Attend the Summer Solstice at Stone Henge
7.     Attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
8.     Write a children’s book
9.     Build my own shelves [DONE]
10. Take up Kick-boxing
11. Somersault in Trafalgar Square - Circus lessons
12. Watch a game of tennis at Wimbledon
13. Visit Prague
14. Gain a Motorbike licence
15. Dress in Drag for Gay Pride, Ascot, or Greenwich Drag Race
16. Get a six-pack [Very NEARLY]
17. Take part in the London Naked Cycle Ride
18. Attend a football match [BOOKED]
19. Attend a rugby match
20. Train for a half marathon
21. Go Kayaking (White-water rafting)
22. Get a new tattoo
23. Take part in Porn Idol or Mr Gay UK
24. Write, Record a song and make a video
25. Write a letter to my heroes – Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton, Noel Edmonds
26. Go Go dancing [DONE]
27. Try Absinth
28. Do a Triathlon [DONE]
29. Go to G.A.Y & Heaven
30. Go-Kart Racing [DONE]
You will be updated with posts documenting my achievements with word, photo and video – so stay tuned for the latest updates.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Day Thirteen: Argentina – New Year’s Day, Dakar Race

But as she climbed the rails items in her hand flew across the room landing in different places – we heard ‘Merde’ before she gave up to the temptation of sleep.

New Year’s Day brought a clear skyline, pounding heat and streets lined with Argentine’s awaiting the start of the Dakar. We were in place for 2pm ready for showtime.

2.40pm they began introducing the participants (having not been familiar with Dakar in the past I was unaware of the proceedings): 2 hosts present each and every participant to the crowd, of the 600+ contenders. By 6pm they had only just finished the motorbikes.
The start of the Dakar continued late into the evening while we took a siesta and planned our pub-crawl. Again, the restaurants and bars being largely closed meant we hunted to find food for nearly an hour. However tonight was party night and the drink had to flow.

We stopped at Sitges (the bar) with a AR$70 entry fee for all we could drink cocktails until 2.30am – a stupid challenge for any Brit. A cab ride to the Club Human with two large dance floors and a huge outdoor terrace – where most seemed to spend their time chatting. We crawled back to the hotel about 6am, knowing that in just a few hours we would need to get up and lug our bags back to the other hostel.

However we were actually happy to leave – I hadn’t been impressed with Gran Orly Hotel.

We spent the afternoon – a Sunday – walking around Palmero. While with a hangover it was a relief to find tree shade in the park to snooze beneath, but the large ants enjoyed nibbling at any exposed flesh they came across.

Palmero is meant to be the social side of town, slightly upmarket (which it certainly was) but there was little more to see than the park and Evita Museum.

The history of Evita was phenomenal and humbled myself – a 28 year old – who has only achieved a smidgeon of her achievements (to some though a glorified prostitute).

On return to the hotel to our 4-berth room we scurried straight to bed. It was 10pm – our weakest night of the lot. Around 1am another roommate arrived – shocked to discover Francois in her bed – yes he decided to move and be on the bottom bunk. But as she climbed the rails items in her hand flew across the room landing in different places – we heard ‘Merde’ before she gave up to the temptation of sleep...

Entrance to Evita: AR$15
Drinks in Flux Bar: AR$38
Taxi to Human: AR$25 - 30
Drinks in Human: AR$165 (3 x AR$55)

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The BIG Gay Lifestyle Show

Born on this very day the first gay lifestyle show in London, UK was an excellent effort and showed signs that this can be a successful annual event.

While very much in it's infancy the show played host to live entertainment from comedians including Julie Jepson and the ever-so hardworking Rosie Wilby, the Gay Men's Chorus with a line-up lasting the full day as visitors wandered the businesses trying to engage their custom.

The Big Gay Lifestyle Show had beauty companies, Gays The Word, Gaydar, Stonewall, suit-makers, financial advisors and housing business - a real mix for real potential as in a tough economy firms vie for consumers.

Speaking to a number of the exhibitors it was interesting to learn they were moving a little away from their traditional events - like home shows for property companies - and trialing more lifestyle shows to reach a different consumer. It seems beyond the Internet we're all buying things in a much different way, thinking now differently with our feet.

The Big Gay Lifestyle Show is more that just a large room of business's selling their products but will be celebrated well into the early hours of tomorrow in the heart of Vauxhall's gay village with the royal presence of Pam Ann - we've sent our Queen down under and we get an almighty one in return.

The evenings programme is packed with gay gems from Jill Jackson, Scottlee, Tranny Shack to Circus of Men and Tony English. A great night ahead.

Goodluck to The Big Gay Lifestyle Show.

Some of the interesting discussions:
The London Sperm Bank - discovered that many gay men wanting children request designer babies, to the extent of gender selection - illegal in the UK they head for the United States.

Barratt Homes - trying to simplify the buying process for first-time buyers. Some interesting financing options, but a 4% deposit, plus a 20% loan on top of the mortgage still doesn't sit comfortably with me.

A Suit That Fits - tailor-made garments. A luxury item for me - and one I really want to save for. Check out the amazing designs - a youngster business at just 6 years old with 33 outlets nationwide.

Ablestoke Consulting - financial services. Did you know not all pensions recognised civil partnerships? You also could be left out on some life insurances!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Day Twelve: Argentina – Back in Buenos Aires

Restaurants were hard to come by; our NYE meal was a sitting Chinese buffet – much to be desired!  And we couldn’t exactly ‘Rock’ NYE.

Being back in Buenos Aires filled me with a little dread, considering our first experience resulted in the pickpocket of my beloved digital camera.

By foot took to our hotel, the streets were surprisingly quiet. The streets were lined with ripped paper due to the end of the financial year – apparently we missed the accounts party as they tossed huge sums of paperwork from office buildings!

During our Desyuno (breakfast) we discovered that New Years Eve being a Friday is a bank holiday – so too the entire weekend. On the one hand we knew we would get the peace we wanted, on the other – finding things to do proved a challenge. Restaurants were hard to come by; our NYE meal was a Chinese buffet – much to be desired!  And we couldn’t exactly ‘Rock’ NYE. The obelisk, at midnight was pretty empty compared to any city crowd I’d ever seen for NYE celebrations. A few home-managed fireworks, a couple of violent fights and it was all over by 12.20am.

We decided to head to the Art Factory Hostel for a rooftop terrace NYE Party. Here we met the familiar Maltese faces, Plum and Phyllis from Iguaçu. They, being Dakar fanatics, were preparing for the next day and excitedly talked about the commencement of the race the next afternoon, amongst their plans to head south by bus for over 20 hours to ice-covered Patagonia. We partied til dawn then headed back to the hotel for a rest.

Breakfast in Buenos Aires (for 2): AR$75
Hotel Orly: USD$70 x 2
Cow hide rug: AR$640
T-shirts & Shorts: AR$440

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Day Ten: Argentina – Condor country

It dawned on us that such large animals would not be stupid enough to be hunting those smaller creatures hiding from the rain. Yet here we were – humans! The most intelligent species, wearing shorts and t-shirts in pouring rain on top of the mountain getting soaked and blown by the wind.

My tenacious personality persevered, giving a thumb and a huge smile – the largest I could muster; when to my utter surprise a small van pulls to the side of the road….

The morning brought a heavy dehydrated head and my dry lips from a night beneath a fan as it struggled to keep us cool. I could barely move and the thought of a 18km trek by foot to see condors (we had made a pact the night before with Roel) was far from appealing. A cold shower, 2 coffees, breakfast and several glasses of faux orange juice later I felt nearly human.

The hostel managers had spent some time calling a few friends and tour guides about getting to the condors at Parque National Quebrada del Conorita – they has been worried we may get lost – however to my relief it would only be a 40 minute walk from the bus stop. Suddenly the day trip seemed much more appealing.

The day’s heat started early, by 10am the sun was pounding on our backs as we navigated the city’s grid. We packed our bags with fruit, pastries and sweets – typical Argentina. The mini bus terminal would lead us on our next adventure AR$38 one-way – ticket in hand awaiting a bus that goes in one hour.

The road to the national Park was long winding and took us up and down the hills to the West of Cordoba. The two-hour journey would drop us on a remote corner of the highway, 2km from the Condor viewing spot.