Sunday, May 31, 2009

Train of the Costa to Tiger

In researching a tourist train we caught during the week I stumbled upon an informatively hilarious english language website for the service: Attractiveness Walk in a speedy electric train.

It took me a while to figure out that the train was equipped to carry the disabled: There are facilities for passengers in seat of wheels who can travel including a companion free. However I was reassured to read that The guard of the train is, in turn, agent of security.

The stations have been renovated, and the following description is given of Maipu Station: Its architectural style, of type brickmaker, looked for reminiscences of the classic construction rail Englishwoman. As you can see, this accurately describes the current appearance:

Appetite increasing, I was pleased to discover the duplicity of the station: This bridge is, at the same time, patio of foods, in the station will find trade guided to cover the daily necessities, such as copies, it photographs, pharmacy and sport articles.

And my personal favourite: Recapture the train. The next stop is the Station Liberator. As in liberator from grammatical restriction.

Who said rail was dead?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Working an inefficient system for positive gains

Ohhhhhh, Ahhhhhh all the colours under the sun

Beautiful dried fruit beckons to us, but in Buenos Aires you cannot simply "pick 'n mix" it no no

First you must get your paper ticket from the orange box...

Then you can place your order with the staff, minimum of 100grams

In the process you can become friendly with said staff, share a joke, embrace, and carry on some merry banter, none of which would have been possible if you had just put the dried fruit in a bag yourself and paid at the counter

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No Surfing Zone

We were on the bus yesterday out to La Boca, one of the barrios in the Southeast corner of Buenos Aires. Taking buses is one of the more challenging aspects of the city. Coins ("monedas") are scarce. No one wants to give coins away BUT you need them to take the bus.

Our friend Peter referred us to an article explaining the coin shortage. If you're interested in reading about a financial crisis that isn't the recession, it's worth a look:

Anyway, having successfully slotted our coins into the onboard machine, Ben - who was trying to find his sea legs (for want of a better expression!) - made a joke of his stumbling by saying "surfeo" and miming surfing in the aisle.

This was met with stoney faces all around (bar one - ME!). I laughed at his antics. It was funny. He looked comical, that wild hair, the big grin.

I was thinking later about how no one so much as cracked a smile and, to be fair, maybe if I had to catch the bus as part of my day to day life, the novelty of some dude playing in the aisle would be lost on me too. Worn out by the smoke, embittered by the deafening noise...

We read in the local paper that some of the main street corners in Buenos Aires regularly record noise levels that far exceed the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation. I've stood on those corners and it is an assault on your ears.

The underground is an even less jovial place to be at the beginning and end of the working day as it is jampacked with bodies. There will be at least 5 people touching you (depending on your diameter!) as you all stand and try to avoid leaning too much on each other. Each person has the temperature of a bar heater. It's a sweaty sweaty place and definately no room for a pretend surf.

Still, I'm hoping that Ben might surprise everyone on Tuesday morning when we catch the tube to school!

Mrs R

Friday, May 22, 2009

Boycott the Croc

We have been thickly immersed in español lessons this week hence less time for blogging!

On the subte (underground) I saw a lady emerge onto the street wearing full scrubs (the green ensemble) with no less than 3 inch heels and super chic sunglasses to boot!  My thought of the day is therefore that there really is no need for crocs!

Mrs R

Friday, May 15, 2009

Beans, corn and rice?

On our last day in Mendoza we decided to go out for breakfast in true Argentine style...well sort of.

I definately got it right with the croissant and cortado (expresso coffee with a dash of milk or leche -wikipedia has a good explanation see My husband is sometimes tricked into thinking he can eat more than me, as on this occasion, where he ordered two pastry delights along with his coffee. So far we were right on our game.

The tipping point for me was the 220gram pottle of Postre de Durazno I selected from the refrigerator. Durazno is español for peach. This was my nod to good health. It was a small nod given that the pottle (which with the benefit of hindsight I now realise was rather large) contained the sweetest richest trifle I have ever eaten for breakfast! Ben had a different pottle - he thought it was custard with soggy weetbix, which it kind of was, but it had rum and sugar in high quantity. I guess to bring out that weetbix flavour.

Post breakfast comments included:

"I feel a bit sick."
"Yeah, we probably could have shared half of this."

But quickly became reflective:

"Well that was an experience."
"And we can have a steak with at least one vegetable for lunch."

Steak is cheap here and we have found it to be deliciously tender and tasty. But what of the beans, corn and rice I imagined myself to be dining on for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Perhaps if we had gone to Central America this would have been true, in the meantime a diet of cheese, meat and a minimum of 12,000 calories for breakfast will suffice.

Time for an early siesta,

Mrs R

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

La vida de Mendoza

Some cold, grey and rainy days in Mendoza have lead us to seek out indoor entertainment. A visit to the bodega (winery) La Rural yielded a tour of their dimly lit museo del vino. Here we were informed by our guide (whom we also helped to decipher some american pop lyrics!) that until 30 years ago they had real coopers working there producing some googleplex of wooden barrels given their annual production is now 10 million litres!

The hamlet at the centre of the winery region had only one restaurant within walking distance, but fortunately Casa de Campo was terrific. Proud of their heritage, all the meals are locally sourced and traditionally prepared. We dined on canejo al horno de borro (rabbit roasted in a clay oven!) Neither of us have eaten lagomorph before, and I certainly wasn't expecting a delicious feast of lean white meat, with a distinct absence of lead shot, unlike Marty McFly's first taste of the bunny in 1855. Los canejos were purchased by the restaurant from a nearby farm where they can roam. Dessert was helados artesanal de higos (craftsman's fig icecream as translated proudly on the menu). This was a real treat, with preserved figs drizzled in syrup served beside the craftsman's icecream, containing more of the fig. The figs are grown on the property and they make the icecream themselves. What a great place.

Walking to the museum in the centre of town we spotted a group of police officers sheltering from the rain. In a fit of good sense by someone high up in the force, the Mendoza policia patrol the beat on bikes. I haven't yet seen them run down a thief or engage in a high speed chase, but it just seems so sensible and such a good example for everyday people, as opposed to say, eating doughnuts, being obese and incompetent. Exam question: compare and contrast the influence of the popular image of the police force on the populace of Mendoza and Springfield, USA.

This May the city of Mendoza has a huge free arts programme running. We went to their museum of modern art today and were treated to 3 exhibits. The first were vibrantly coloured, animated paintings distorting real objects. My favourite was a spectacularly original take on an old theme (for docs anyway!). An artist has created cardboard cartons which fit together to form organs of the human body. The plans for each were included on the wall beside, just as you expect in the directions accompanying a carton used to transport documents. I like imagining the culture jam of setting up your courier box only to find it is actually a giant pair of lungs. The final exhibit was Emily's favourite and it featured a vast array of mixed media pieces, mostly black and white, with serpiginous lines, and unwitting resemblance to Emily uncle Tim's abstractions. The entire time our visit was accompanied by the beautiful sound of a soprano and her piano accompanist practising for an opera performance in a week's time. I have tried to upload a wee video to demonstrate the organs, both vital and vocal.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Las montañas espectaculares

It's a few days ago now, but certainly the most awesome highlight of our trip so far was crossing the Andes. If you look at a map of the earth I think it would be fair to say there is no other mountain range as formidable looking or interrupted as Los Andes. I quake with fear when I think about the enormity of the first human crossings of the cordillera. Those chicos must have been some of the toughest on the planet.

The trip from Valparaiso to Mendoza could be billed as "the most incredible bus ride in the world" charged at a premium rate and people would do it en masse. However, it is seen here as just another long distance trip, charged accordingly (just $40 for 8 hours) but of course all scenery included in the base price. In addition, for a vegetable (or technically fruit as Peter and James correctly inform me) lover like myself, it was encouraging to see that where barren slopes of new zealand harbour vast forests of pine, similar landscapes in Chile are devoted to the avocado tree. I seriously thought about asking the driver to plough through the fence between the mushy textured delicious orbs and us, but decided It might be safer to shed a peso or two at a stall!

I realised how big a climb we were undertaking when the bus passed under a chairlift, patiently awaiting deep local snowfall next month and the arrival of druggie snowboarders and emo skiiers. At one point the road crests 3000m following at least 27 hairpin bends in succession, each one providing a fingersweating view of the precipitous drop just beyond the arc of tarmac. All the while the rocky faces of the surrounding mountains loom grand and impassive as the shoulders of the valley.

A mere two minutes before la arduana (the border) a small sign indicated literally the biggest showpiece of the journey. El Parque Nacional del Aconcagua I read, then scrambled to find my camera with my hands whilst my eyes remained practically outside the window as we shot past a gap where the 6962m peak was in full view sporting an attractive cloud cap, a la Puketapu in the town of Palmerston, East Otago. This emotional crescendo was immediately followed by the kind of comedown only a heroin addict should have to suffer, as we ground to a halt at the Stalinesque border post for a whole hour, with the great mountain probably in view only 40m above it's dingy parking lot and ugly metal roof. They could make a mint out of getting people to pay a few lousy pesos to ascend to an observation deck while they waited for Che's brother to stamp their passport. Or not charge, and thereby curry favour with all passing travellers in a situation where otherwise these poor officials become objects of resentment and symbols of bureaucracy.

Safely back on the road I was gazing at the coppersulphatecrystal sky when a large black shape glid (past participle of glide? any suggestions welcome) effortlessly past a couple of 5000m torres. The endangered Andean Condor, one of the world's largest birds, with a wingspan of over 2m had graced me with a private peep. I would love to see a longer flight from a better vantage point, but just that brief moment set my heart racing.

Onboard the bus itself, the action was more vivid, as a middle aged couple spent 86% of the journey pashing with unbridled abandon, bodies entwined and legs (almost) akimbo. Needless to say Mrs R and I needed little encouragement to follow suit. The expectation that all expressions of emotion are acceptable in public - anger, love, injustice, jealousy y mas, is one of my favourite things about latinoamerica.

We are now residing in a neat yet homely 3rd storey apartment in the centre of Mendoza, and looking forward to a little Argentinian Shiraz with spinach gnocchi tonight! It will be good to cook for ourselves for a change.

Mr R

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ben ate my forearm in Mendoza

The Programme - join today, it´s free

Having spent three quiet evenings in Valparaiso it was a shock to our weary heads (having travelled all day through the Andes - spectacular but nevertheless an eight hour bus ride) when we arrived in Mendoza and checked in to Hostel Internacional...aka Party Central!

We went out for an Italian meal at half nine. The restaurant was quiet, in that way that makes you think twice about going in, though in our case it was an easy choice as the other options were McDonalds and Mr Dog. I mean really... Mr Dog!?! By ten thirty we were high fiving as the restaurant was pumping with local Argentinians!

The bass on the rigaton/raggaeton playing at Internacional when we returned was equally pumping and continued to pump... and pump--and PUMP!!! I was reminded of my first year at university - the chants were in a different language but nothing could disguise the encouragement to "skull your vessel!" Is it just because we are married that we chose to insert earplugs rather than join the happy revellers (no pun intended)?

In any event, despite our relatively early night we still managed to turn up to breakfast half an hour after it had finished. We did eat though! This was by virtue of our complete ignorance of the fact that Argentina is one hour ahead of Chile (where we had arrived from), and because the kindly woman doing the dishes post-breakfast didn´t make a fuss when we asked for a plate!

Not that I want anyone reading this blog to think that ALL we do is crawl around eating scraps of food, endlessly chowing down! Barely taking a moment to appreciate the scenery - NO NO! and Mr R will no doubt enlighten you on particular aspects of nature that have delighted us....

...I would add that I have devised a training programme which I am documenting on this blog as incentive to stick to it and not return to New Zealand portly! It´s effectively that old psychology of telling others about your goal in order to keep you honest. Still this isn´t completely introspective because you can also do the programme from the comfort of your living room!

Think of The Programme as my gift to you in these tough times,

Mrs R

The Programme

Warm up with three to five salutes to the sun (time is short so I will leave you to google this if you don´t do much yoga).

Then you have three sets of the following exercises.

- running on the spot (for the amount of time it takes you to count up to the number of the day three times)
- star jumps
- burpies
- press ups
- wide legged squats
- lunges (option - when the right leg is forward do a chest press action with your arms, when the left leg is forward do a shoulder press action with your arms)
- jumping forward and backwards (for the amount of time it takes you to count up to the number of the day three times)
- jumping side to side (for the amount of time it takes you to count up to the number of the day three times)
- tricep dips
- crunches

The number of reps we started with was eleven or once in Spanish! It works best if you count the number of repetitions out aloud in a different language to your normal one. So for us, we are using it to practice our espanol.. uno dos tres etc

We plan to increase the number of reps so that eventually we´ll get to twenty or viente. We´ve done eleven for the two days we have done the programme. Next time we do it we´ll do twelve and then maybe back to eleven, then two more days of twelve before moving up to thirteen.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Jet Lag Diet

Our first 24 hours in Chile was dark. We slept for much of it.

Having arrived at midday and successfully navigated our way to the Hotel we promptly got into the good stuff, sleep! - and at least 4 and a half hours of it.

I was pleased my sense of self preservation had kicked in at some point en route to the Hotel, having suggested we purchase 4 bananas and a cucumber-melon type thing.

At about 8pm we tucked into our first banana, a muesli bar each and shared the cucumber-melon. Then back to the good stuff. We slept soundly from 10pm to 3am.

Jet lag hit us.

I was hungry again and started dreaming about the 7.30am breakfast that was included with our room. My tummy was not convinced by the promise of food however, and so at 4am I caved, and the second banana went down the hatch.

We were still alert and toyed with the idea of getting up and reading but convinced ourselves to try for just a couple more hours sleep, it was 4.30am, we were on the home straight!

Ah ha what a mistake! We awoke at 11.36am. Breakfast finished at 10am. The banana felt like a long time ago. On the plus side it was now almost lunch time!

Our keen sense of smell led us to Augusto's where we dined on fish and a seafood casserole - delicious!

Having supped we decided to pursue our other love - exercise! So we found the highest mountain we could conceivably climb in our jeans (cerro san cristobal) and set to walking. Think - "We're walkin' here!" said in faux Manhattan accent. The views were awesome despite the thick smog covering the sprawling city. Mountains are HUGE, twice as big as in NZ. Luckily there are taxis at the top you can jump into and icecream at the bottom - both further highlights for our weary legs and taste buds.

Rest assured we will not go hungry on our trip,

Mrs R

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cerca de Los Andes

What a thrill finally to have arrived in South America! We were treated to a most memorable sunset as we flew over the Manukau harbour, Waikato River, Kawhia Harbour and Lake Rotorua, all lightly reflecting the deep red glow which sat atop the horizon for an hour, possibly out of view of all but those lucky enough to be sitting at 15,000 feet!

Returning to a spanish speaking world is really exciting, if rather daunting given how many words I have forgotten and how few constructions I currently command. That said, it only took that one moment of having the steward greet me with a cheerful 'buenas tardes' and then give me directions to my seat en español (as though perhaps I might be chileño despite the maori greeting emblazoned on my jersey) to transport me into the hispanic world.

We must have flown an Antarctic course to get to Chile, as we flew over much of NZ before dark. When it became light again the jagged edges of the cordilleras de los Andes began to take shape. Santiago is not right on the coast, so we flew right up to the foothills of the range before banking dramatically to reveal some of the higher peaks (some sporting Aoraki-esque hogsbacks I meteorologically noted!) I am interested to find out why Chile and NZ's West Coast have an almost opposite climate given their similar location west of a big mountain range. It is very dry and dusty here, apart from the massive vineyards which must require intensive irrigation to maintain their green hue.

After foolishly allowing myself to be persuaded by a carded though plainclothed 'oficial' standing beside the bus (coincidentally it later transpired) on the airport forecourt that the efficient, cheap bus service to town would drop us a long way from our lodgings, we briefly flirted with the idea of taking a minibus instead (which all seemed to become 'un taxi exclusivo' as the asking price climbed!) before my wife and lover helpfully suggested we just talk to the bus driver directly. This resulted in ourselves and our bags being safely deposited in town a mere 15min walk from el hostal Americano, with more change in our pockets than the Chileño middleman would probably have desired!

So, we will sleep again (we had 5 hours kip on arrival but still both feel smashed). I look forward to exploring la capital mañana! ¿Donde es la piscina?

Mr R

Chile gets a new hypercondriac

We are here in Chile, jet lagged but safe.

Lan Chile was a good airline to fly with - the food was all very edible and the movie selection included Flashdance (cool movie - impossibly beautiful welder, who also moonlights at a very conceptual danceclub-bar, dreams of becoming a ballerina - impossible is nothing!).

What surprised me on our flight, was the noticable absence of passengers flexing, stretching and loitering near the toilets. I thought deep vein thrombosis was a wider fear and on the radar of those travelling for long flights. Even though I had my compression tights on I dutifully marched up and down the aisles, scrunched my toes and lifted my heels at least 20 times every hour and generally concerned myself in preventative measures. My lover was also diligent but more by default - he was snapped at 3am ham and cheese roll in hand grinning from ear to ear having procured it on an alleged stretching mission! I know his tactics, especially as he pulled out a sweet apricot frangipani shortly after!

Given that I spent most of the bus ride to our hostel with my head lolling and indeed dribbling onto myself (the pacing mentioned earlier has the drawback of not really sleeping) I'll leave it to my husband to detail some initial thoughts on Chile.

Mrs R

Friday, May 1, 2009

Auckland - Ponsonby

Recent reflections:

Tonight as we prepare to leave the city that is Auckland and head to South America we sup on homemade pizza a la Nicholas Buck downed with a pinot noir. It is cold here and we're both wearing our puffa' jackets. It was 25 degrees in Dunedin last week - perhaps reason to doubt those who insist it's warmer up north than in the deep south!

Whilst we'll admit to being slightly nervous the far greater feeling is that of anticipation and excitement!!!

Sports News:

Kirsty Berry and Rodney Wallace retained their title as the mixed teams winner of the CrazyMan duathlon in Wellington... the challenge has been set again for Fleur Pawsey and James Couborough should they be brave enough next year. James came second in the Mens race this year and Fleur is a genuine legend so by all accounts that would be a fine race in 2010. It's unlikely that Team Lovers will compete - though perhaps with some South American altitude conditioning Mrs Revell could step up (don't hold your breath though!).

Alex Revell had a blinder of a race - second in the Mens Duathlon. We'll claim that one by association!

Mrs R