A Travellerspoint blog

Chapter 9 - Brazil - Part One - Its Party Time !

By Neil

sunny 33 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

Brazil. Wow ! Home to the Biggest Street Party in the World ! In Salvador. 2 million people. That is a lot of people. And the party goes on for days.

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Part of the 4 kilometre route of one of the three street festivals happening on 26th February 2017.

There are three areas to enjoy this spectacle; on the Blocos, ie one of the buses/ floats that drives the festival route, as part of the crowd (which is just wild. You end up jumping up and down (in Brazil they call it “popcorn”)), or at a “side venue” which is much more sane. We chose the latter. Or were lucky enough to meet up with expatriate French woman Sara whose friend Emilie managed to get us into an area on the edge of the parade. Very cool and just an amazing spectacle.

We got into the groove…

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Looking out at the parade at Barra in Salvador.

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We didn’t get as dressed up as Sara (in the blue), or Emilie, or Andre….

But I’m getting ahead of myself, we started off in Uruguay hearing all of the horror stories about the police going on strike in Espiritu Santo State in Brazil and 137 people being murdered in an 8 day killing spree, and the police in 27 of the 100 police “wards” in Rio also going on strike. Evidently the government stopped paying wages and so the wives of the police officers blocked the entrances of the police stations to stop the police from entering and exiting the police station.

So, whilst we had been cautious in Argentina, and, to a lesser degree in Uruguay and Chile, we were very cautious in Brazil, and were prepared to use Nikki’s Maxim of “If we’re gonna die, we fly”.

However, what we didn’t understand was the saying “It’s Brazil”. And yes, whilst the corruption level is higher, the crime levels are higher, this enormous country of 8.5 million square kilometres (10% bigger than Oz), of 210 million people, is a world leader. In partying, at least.

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Our view before we left was, and is, that if you want to get a real appreciation of a country, the travel must be by land. We have now travelled from Montevideo in Uruguay to Olinda in northern Brazil by bus. A lazy 6,000 kilometres or so (in 14 days….).

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Map of Brazil showing our stops in Barra de Lagoa, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Seguro, Salvador, and Olinda

Our first impression was of the Porto Alegre bus station was favourable. We felt safe and whilst, of course we are very careful with our bags etc, it was all good.

We eventually ended up at the fantastic Barra Beach Club in Barra de Lagoa close to Floreanopolis. It was quite simply a world class quality beach. Our hostel was that rare breed of a great hostel; a great vibe, friendly people, good food, good bar area, mixed with being quiet at night.

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View from our hostel, the Barra Beach Club.

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Barra de Lagoa

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The Beach

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Went for a hike out to Praia Mole

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“That’s not a stubby holder, This is a stubby holder !”

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Then a little jaunt of 1,140 km from Barra de Lagoa to the outstanding Rio de Janeiro. Rio is the most beautiful city in the world that I’ve been to. From the awesome Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) Statue.

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At Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), Rio de Janeiro.

To the fantastic people that we met (thanks to Ann Marie, Eric, Natalie, Flo, Francis, Rachel, Mark, Cesar, …..)

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Natalie, Eric, Ann-Marie, me and Nik…

Then on to Sugar Loaf

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For my friend, Mr Simon Youl (who has a PhD in Bond films). Moonraker – Roger Moore as James Bond fighting with Jaws on the cable car to Sugar Loaf mountain.

And here’s a couple of photos of the sunset view at Sugar Loaf.

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View from Sugar Loaf towards Christo Redentor.

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Looking up towards Sugar Loaf

To Copocabana and Ipanema beaches. Time to go off on a tangent……

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So, two blokes were in a bar. The Veloso Bar a block from Ipanema Beach. In 1962. Composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes. They were just working on a musical comedy about a Martian who landed in Rio during the carnaval (yes, really) and had half written a song that they’d called “the Girl passes by”.

They sat in the bar for a few days and an 18 year old young woman who had a way of walking that de Moraes called “sheer poetry” kept walking by. She, the fabulously called “Heloisa Eneida Menezes Pais Pinto”, inspired them to finish the song, change its name to “The Girl from Ipanema” and have a massive worldwide hit with Stan Getz and Astrid Gilberto. Google it. It’s a blast !

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Heloisa Eneida Menezes Pais Pinto – The Real Girl from Ipanema.

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The Girl from Ipanema won the Song of the Year Grammy in 1965.

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I have to mention the favela that where we were staying. It is a “pacified” favela. A favela is traditionally a slum, but in the build up to the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, some of the slums were “pacified” and the favela at Leme, at the end of Copocabana beach was one of them.

Our hostel, recently built by Tibo and Marielle was just beautiful, with a great view and great rooms and a fabulous rooftop bar.

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View from the Rooftop of our hostel

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Jamming with Eric on the hostel rooftop

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Downstairs in the hostel

Whilst it is a “pacified” favela, when Marielle mentioned that there was a really nice restaurant up the road, about a 15 minute walk but that she thought that she should mention that the drug cartel that was in the area would probably be there and carrying big guns, but that we shouldn’t be concerned, they were only interested in ensuring other drug cartels didn’t move in, and wouldn’t hurt us, we decided to go to one in the other direction. By the way, to Bar do David. The food was very good. I got the meat sweats…..

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Bar do David, Leme, Rio de Janeiro

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The fabulous, and award winning, ribs with a pineapple relish from Bar do David, Leme, Rio de Janeiro.

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So, of course, Rio is famous for the Carnaval. Carnaval is held between the Friday (51 days before Easter), and Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent (40 days before Easter). On certain days during Lent, Catholics and some other Christians abstained from meat and poultry, hence the term “carnival”, literally carnelevare “to remove (literally, “raise”) meat.

We were there for only the run up to the main carnaval and so the Bloco (ie a party where there is a truck/ float driving down the street) in Copocabana “only” attracted 200,000 people. It was a thoroughly good natured affair, although, because this is Brazil you do not carry bags, money belts, cameras, and, well, the best place to keep money, we figured, was Nikki’s bra…..

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Bloco party on Copocabana Beach in the run up to Carnaval – Sunday 19th February 2017. Note the Bloco truck with the band on top in the middle.

The bottom line is that we loved Rio. It is the most beautiful, vibrant, astoundingly scenic, larger than life city we’ve ever been to.

Street art in Rio

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So then it was another 18 hour, 1,100 km bus ride to Porto Seguro. Blimey, what a picturesque little town this was. We picked it because we didn’t want to do the whole haul up to Salvador in one hit, but, after the craziness of Rio, it was such a great place to take a breather.

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Looking out over Porto Seguro

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Porto Seguro Original House

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The Carnaval was on in Porto too, but it was much more laid back and smaller. We stayed in a great hotel. And then it was another overnight bus ride to Salvador, but only 700 km’s this time.

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Salvador ! Wow ! I started this Blog with a description of the Carnaval in Barra, but it was so much more.

Nik and I have during our “Gap Year”, stayed predominantly in hostels. Our view is that it is much more difficult to meet people in hotels than it is in hostels. And the people that we’ve met ! Fantastic, caring, lovely, interesting, smart, funny people.

Galleria 13, our hostel in Salvador, was no exception. Sara, Andre, and Emilie. What a blast !

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Me with Sara’s Dad Andre. Yes there was a bit of glitter

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..........

The Carnaval in Pelourinho was amazing and Emilie was drumming in a community band. Great job ! (I’ve attached that as a link in the facebook post/ email)

Here are some photos

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Dancing in Pelourinho

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Pelourinho Carnaval

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Nikki’s brain unfortunately fell into a cup of Caipirinha, a cocktail of lime and sugar cane brandy during the evening. And Nikki jumped into the pool. Fully clothed. As did Sara. It took two Alcohol Free Days to recover !

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Nikki and Sara in the pool

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Olinda. So have you ever seen someone (or been yourself ?) on a 4 day bender ? The best description I’ve heard is from Gaby in the Barra Beach Club in Barra de Lagoa, of her (Ex) boyfriend, who took the drinking of alcohol a tad to the extreme and was a little, er, unwell. She looked after him but shaved off one of his eyebrows as payback….

So we arrived in Olinda, and let me talk about toilets around the world. I’ve been in some that smell pretty bad. Olinda, yes, the whole town, smelt like that. Really harsh. The Carnaval was staggering on, like a drunk about an hour before they pass out. All of the restaurants were shut. All of the churches boarded up. Armageddon had come. The room in the hostel (Passada Alto Astral) was, however, brilliant. Nikki had come up trumps. Again.

We were tucked up in bed at 8 pm.

The next day, however, was better. The boards came off the churches, the restaurants opened, the streets had been scrubbed clean, and all was well with the world. We had a great lunch looking out onto Olinda and the high rises of Recife.

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View from the hostel

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Carnaval....

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View in one of the many 400 year old churches in Olinda

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On to the next part of the adventure.

Part of the reason for scooting through Brazil faster than we’d have liked was that we want to get to French Guiana in order to see a rocket launch on 6th March. In order to make it in time there will have to be a bit of flying…….

Posted by capetocape2017 12:42 Archived in Brazil Tagged carnaval party Comments (0)

Chapter 8 - Meat, History, and Carnaval!

By Neil

sunny 30 °C
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“Four and half cows” said Valentin to Nikki at the start of the walking tour around Montevideo.

“For each of the 3.4 million people in Uruguay, there are four and a half cows. And one and a half sheep. So you need to eat four and half cows while you are here. This is the mission of all Uruguans”, he continued.

“What happens if you’re a vegetarian?”, asked Nikki.

“It’s easier to be gay than a vegetarian in Uruguay” he said. “But you eat fish right? Not that Uruguayans know much about fish. It’s either tuna or fish. Don’t ask a Uruguayan what type of fish is being served. If it's not tuna, it's fish. That's all we know....”

Talking of meat, in Spanish red meat is “carne”. Chicken is not “carne”, Chicken is “pollo”. So it’s not real meat. Nor is tuna.

From my point of view, the best thing about Montevideo is the Mercado del Puerto, the port market. In South America, the roasting of meat is extremely popular on a “Parilla”. The Mercado del Puerto is centre of that culture in Montevideo, where everyone from port workers to office workers come for lunch. So, of course, we had to have some lunch too….

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A Parilla at the Mercado del Puerto (Port Market) at Montevideo. I don’t know where Winnie the Pooh is, but there is Piglet…..

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Another Parilla. Don't say there is no vegetarian!

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I love the “Jamon” in “Latin” countries. The conical cups are to catch fat dripping from of the legs of ham.

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Er, “Where is Uruguay ?”, I hear you ask. Aha! It’s here. Sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil.

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Location of Uruguay.

The Spanish first tried to settle (aka “invade”) what is now called Uruguay in 1516, but the Charrua Indians thought this wasn’t a good idea and kicked ‘em back into the ocean. Or killed them. Spanish influence in the area increased through the 18th Century as the Spanish tried to limit Portuguese influence.

By the way, it was Pope Alexander VI who in 1493 proclaimed that the new world would be carved up between the Spanish and the Portuguese along a line 100 leagues west and south of the Cape Verde islands off West Africa which explains why Brazil speaks Portuguese and virtually all the rest of South and Central America, and Mexico, speak Spanish.

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Carving up the New World in 1493

Montevideo was founded as a military stronghold in the early 18th century by the Spanish in competition with Buenos Aires. It changed hands frequently between the Spanish and Portuguese during the 19th century until, partly due to British intervention, it became the capital of independent Uruguay in 1828.

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Slavery. I still can’t quite my head around the fact that up until just over 150 years ago it was deemed acceptable to go to Africa, capture men, women, and children, put them in chains and onto a boat, bring them to the Americas, put them up for sale, sell them, and then keep them as slaves. But that was the case.

Montevideo was a required stop for the slave ships on their way to Buenos Aires and 20,000 slaves were sold into Uruguay.
Freed and slave Africans and Afro-Uruguayans fought in the various wars of independence during the 1810’s and 1820’s, and were rewarded with the Free Womb Law of 1825. Under this law the children of slave mothers were born free, although obligated to serve their mothers’ master until they reached the age of majority.

Slavery was not outlawed in Uruguay until 1842. Slavery was made illegal in the UK in 1805 and 1865 in the US.

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And we got to experience a little bit of Uruguan Carnaval in Montevideo! Nikki managed to get us the best seats in the house, or on the road, to be more precise, for the Las Llamadas (“The Calls”) parade. The name comes from when, in the past, the different carnival groups (“Comparsas”) would use their drums (“tambors”) to “call” to each other.

On the Thursday night that we attended there were 19 different Comparsas parading. The make up of each Comparsas is the same and is shown on the diagram below.

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A schematic showing the different people making up a “Comparsa”

Starting at around 9 pm, the 4 hour parade of Comparsas starts. The role of the different figures in the Comparsa is:

Banderas” – the flag wavers. These, and there are about 6 to 10 of them, have the colours of the group and wave the flags at the front of the Comparsas. One of these will be the “Estandarte”, the standard bearer.

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Flag waver – Uruguayan carnival

The “Gramillero” who is the eldest member of the group and “tries to seduce the “Mama Viejo””, the Old Mamma who “despite her age moves her hips sensually and in a very feminine way”.

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The Mama Viejo (the Old Mama) and the Gramillero (elder man)

Behind them are the typical characters of the “El Escobero”, the Broom Man, “la Vedette”, the Female Star, “El Bailarin or Bailarina”, the male or female dancer, then,

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La Vedette – The female star.

The Dancers

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The dancers. Nikki has said that one of the most striking aspects of South America is the complete lack of concern about body shape, particularly for women. Women of all shapes, ages, body shapes wear bikinis. There is not a one piece bathing suit in South America - apart from in the bottom of Nikki's pack! Similarly, with the dancers in the Carnaval, the women are of all ages, shapes, and sizes, and have such a joy in being there! It is so refreshing to see a lack of body image issues!

And finally, and loudly “Los Tamberileros”, the drummers.large_Drummers.jpg

The colour, the noise, the glitter is amazing and for Alex was the highlight of his trip to South America (Mike’s was the Iguazu Falls). Here is a link to a Youtube link for a video of the parade (https://youtu.be/VyMkfMIxqOA). The “Candombe” is the drum based musical form of Uruguay and originated in the Afro-Uruguayan population of Montevideo and is based on the Bantu African drumming (Bantu’s are an ethnic group from West Africa and South Africa, primarily in the Niger – Congo region), with European influences and touches of Tango.

The origins of the Carnival is that when slavery was abolished in Uruguay in 1842, these Uruguayan citizens began to form new groups (“Comparsas”) of which the neighbourhoods of Sur and Palermo stand out. The slaves were given time off to take part in the parade. It gradually evolved into today’s celebrations to include all the diverse people of Uruguay, including the large number of immigrants from Italy and Spain.

The Carnival in its present form has been running from 1956 and, with so many Comparsas wanting to take part, the Llamadas parade has been increase from one day to two days.

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Impressions from today ?

Uruguay is ranked first in South America for democracy, peace, and lack of corruption, and it shows (although, similarly to Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile it was ruled by a military Junta from 1973 to 1985, with all of the associated atrocities).

For example, abortion is legal in Uruguay and not elsewhere in South America. And Gay marriage. And drugs. And eduacation if free. As are computers in school. For every student.

And, very importantly, income equality. There is a little doubt that income equality is a significant factor in social disharmony. Uruguay has worked hard to reduce the gap between the rich and poor, and you can tell.

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Myself and the boys had a week in Uruguay. Nikki was there for almost two weeks and visited Colonia, Punta Del Diablo and Punta Del Este as well as Montevideo. You may have sent the photos she posted on line. For her the highlights were Colonia (a small city which still retains its colonial past, including wall, drawbridge and brightly coloured adobe buildings) and Punta Del Diablo (a hippy commune town out on the Far East coast of Uruguay with beaches that stretch for miles, night markets and probably just a little bit of hash...)

Then I went back to Buenos Aires to wave goodbye to the boys at the airport when they were due to catch their flight back to Australia. Then back to Montevideo to meet up with Nik and head on to Brazil.

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Whilst Uruguay was first on the list of South American countries for democracy, peace, and lack of corruption, Brazil must be at or close to the bottom. Nik and I are keeping a very close eye on the electronic media, the press and onlline forums since the police in Espiritu Santo state north of Rio de Janiero stopped work around 4th February because they hadn’t been paid since December. In one week there were 137 murders in the state. 27 of the 100 police areas in Rio also stopped work on 11th February 2017 in solidarity . If it gets too hairy, we’ll just get to an airport and fly off….

(Post Blog note from Brazil. The police in Espiritu Santo went back to work after eight days. The authorities paid the police in Rio half of the amount owed, and they are still on strike, but it’s ok, the marines are on the streets with very large guns. It’s all good. No stress…..)

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Posted by capetocape2017 06:16 Archived in Uruguay Tagged carnaval meat slavery Comments (0)

Chapter 7 - THE Argentinian Supercopa - River Plate vs Lanus

By Neil

rain 21 °C
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There have been a number of key places and events during this trip that have been towards the top of the “to do” list. One of them has been to attend a South American Soccer (or “Futbol”) game.

As part of the trip I had said to my sons that they could join us anywhere on the trip for a fortnight and, because of University commitments, this meant either South America or Africa. They both chose South America and arrived on 29th January 2017 into Buenos Aires.

I’d been doing a bit of googling to find out if there was someone who ran organised trips to South American soccer games, and Landingplace BA came up and, after checking them out, they seemed ok. They said there was a game on Saturday 4th February, and I thought “All good”. Price was a bit expensive, but hey, when will the opportunity come up again ?

Alas the day before Michael, who had developed Chronic Fatigue in May 2015, had a big “dip” in his energy levels and couldn’t come. He was ok but needed to rest. After 21 months, whilst he’d recovered about 90%, if he overdid things, as he had done with Iguazu Falls, it caused a dip. So Mike stayed back in the hotel and rested.

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Alex and I headed off to the meeting point, the Bierlife pub in San Telmo, a hip, older, slightly grungy area of Buenos Aires at 5 o’clock, and met up with Nacho, our guide for the game, at 5.30 pm. The match was scheduled to kick off at 9.30 pm.

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Bierlife Pub – San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It was then that it started to become clear that this was not a “normal” Argentinian soccer game we were going to. The Lonely Planet says that “Whilst rugby, tennis, etc are popular in Argentina, soccer is an obsession.” It goes on to say, particularly for those Brits/ Poms out there, “the national team has twice won the World Cup, once in 1978 and again in 1986 after Diego Amando Maradona (Argentina’s bad boy, rags-to-riches soccer star) surreptitiously punched in a goal to beat England in the quarter finals”. All Brits/ Poms know this by the phrase, I believe, that Maradona used, “the Hand of God”. The quarter final was only 4 years after the Falklands War between the UK and Argentina so was, needless to say, a bit of a grudge match.

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Maradona’s “Hand of God”. (Yes he got away with it…..)

In Argentina, they have a league of teams, much the same as the UK. At the end of the season there is a team that comes out on top and are the League Champions. Also similarly to the UK, they have the Argentinian Cup, similar to FA Cup. However, a couple of years ago the Argentinian Soccer league introduced the “Supercopa”, the Supercup, where the League champions played the Argentinian Cup winners. This year it was River Plate (winners of the Copa Argentina) vs Lanus (winners of the League).

So it turned out that the Futbol game we were going to see was the Supercopa ! Nice !

At about 6.30 pm, Nacho got us onto the minibus heading out the stadium in La Plata, about 1 hour from Buenos Aires. He gave us a run down on the game; we were in the section of the stadium for the Lanus fans. An email had come out prior to the game saying we should not wear t shirts with Red on them (the River Plate Colours) and instead should wear Burgundy. Or if not, white.

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The red and white River Plate strip[/I

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[i]The Lanus kit

Now, I’ve seen police before, but this was a whole different level. We passed through 3 or 4 check points and passed another half a dozen groups of police cars on the side of the freeway.

We parked about a kilometre from the stadium and walked in through the rain. Through the police identification point, the pat down section, and on to the stadium. Alex and I stuck together like glue and kept very close to Nacho. Getting lost now would not have been a good situation. We had been warned. There were hundreds of Police in riot gear. They even had the dogs.

In the Australian way, I thought being in the Lanus section meant that that was where mostly Lanus fans sat. No, no, no. The fans are separated by 12 foot fences topped with razor wire. We’d been told to leave valuables at home. I was expecting it to be really rough. I was very glad that I’d paid for the guide, the minibus, and, most importantly the knowledge, to minimise the risk.

So now, what was it like ? Well, take a look. The fans go off like a frog in sock. They are very enthusiastic. Fanatical. Both River Plate and Lanus had their own band; drums, horn section, and of course, 25,000 screaming fans.

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The Lanus fans.

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The River Plate Fans

Alas, I wanted to upload a video here but it seems a bit tricky for me. But if you go to the youtube address further down it will give you a good sense of just how loud it was !

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Alex and me at the game

First half, River Plate had the lions share of the attacking opportunities but it was nil all at the end of the first half (45 minutes for those uninitiated in the joys of Futbol). Then the 15 minute half time break. Then the second half. Nothing for the first 20 minutes. Lanus had stepped up however.

Then 23 minutes into the second half, Lanus #7, Acosta scored ! The crowd went nuts ! Take a look at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsbRaTIQxro) to see the goal. Nice. (Just scroll through the timer until you get about 23 minutes into the second half).

12 minutes later, a fabulous pass, and a header from Pasquini made it 2-0 to Lanus. Go into the link above, the commentary is brilliant !
The Lanus crowd was very happy !

Then at 41 minutes, a foul by a River Plate player in the Penalty Area. Lanus had a penalty.

Sand put it in the back of the net to make it 3 – 0 ! That was the final score about 11.20 pm.

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An amazing game and atmosphere.

Then something very Argentinian. The Lanus crowd stayed, of course, for the awards ceremony. That took about 20 minutes. Well, the Lanus fans actually had to stay in the stadium because the exits had been closed by the police ! So as to reduce the chance of any Argy Bargy, the police kept the exits closed until 12.30 am ish to allow the River Plate fans to leave ! By which time it was throwing it down with rain. It took until 1 am for us to walk to the Minibus and at 2.15 am we were dropped at our hostel.

A fantastic night. A brilliant result. Alex loved it, and Mike is recovering well from his “dip”.

Yes, the Argentinians are obsessed by Futbol.

Posted by capetocape2017 12:59 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Chapter 6 - Leaving Chile. Kind of. Sort of. Eventually...

By Neil

sunny 32 °C
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“No Bus”, said the lady in the Andesmar Bus office in San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile.

Nik and I had been travelling gradually up from Cape Horn at the bottom of Chile, and San Pedro de Atacama was our last stop in Chile before heading south east down to Buenos Aires to meet up with my sons, Alex and Michael. However, the Andes had different plans.

It was in January 1817 that General Jose San Martin and Bernardo O’Higgins (that great South American Patriot), first crossed the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago in order to liberate Chile from Spanish Rule. We were planning to cross east of San Pedro de Atacama over the 4,320 metre Paso de Jama pass and go to Salta in Argentina, then south to Cordoba and then into Buenos Aires. Piece of cake. 5 days. No problem.

We’d taken a great tour the day before to Valle de Luna (Valley of the Moon), and Valle de Marz (Valley of Mars). Two amazing geological features just outside of San Pedro.

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Valle de Marz, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Our guide, Pablo, had said that the Paso de Jama pass was open and that, worst case, they might delay us a bit in order to snow plough the road, and put down some salt. But on the Monday night, it snowed. We didn’t get up there but here’s what it probably looked like.

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“Do you think it will be open tomorrow ?”, I asked the Andesmar lady.

“Quizas”(Maybe) she said. “ No Se” (I don’t know), she continued.

So, Tuesday morning. We’re in San Pedro de Atacama and Alex and Michael would arrive on a flight on Sunday.

Time to look into various options. Time to get googling. There was an internet café at the bus station with two free monitors. The woman in the internet café was helpful.

“No hay Aeropuerto en San Pedro. Hay un Aeropuerto en Calama, pero no hay vuelos a Santiago” she said, letting us know about the lack of an airport at San Pedro and that Calama, 70 km’s away had no flights to Santiago.

“Para un vuelo a Santiago, es necesario ir a Antofagasta”, she continued. So we started looking up flights from Antofagasta to Santiago, and I checked with the Bus office to see if we could get a bus the 340 km’s to Antofagasta. All good. After lots of checking, we could get a bus to Antofagasta, a flight to Santiago (Nikki pointed out that, whilst we wanted to travel by land mostly, it was ok to fly back), a bus over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza, and then a short 17 hour bus ride to BA. Getting in at midnight Saturday night.

So midday we’re on a bus for the 340 km trip to Antofagasta.

Antofagasta is a mining town that is pretty much ignored by the Lonely Planet guide, however, it was the imposition of a 10 cent per tax on the Compania de Salitres y Ferrocarril de Antofagasta that was the trigger for the War of the Pacific. It was during this war between Peru, Chile, and Bolivia (1879 – 1883), that Bolivia lost it’s access to the Pacific.

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Maps showing South America before and after the War of the Pacific (1879 to 1883)

But wait, there’s more. Antofagasta has a number of claims to fame; the highest Gross Domestic Product per capita in Chile (USD 37,000 – That’s a lot (it’s USD 51,000 per capita in Australia)), dancing on the beach, a mammothy thing, and an honourable mention in the worst vegetarian food of the trip

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Those of you who’ve travelled with me know that I like to be early for flights to allow for the unexpected. Like in Antofagasta, a water main that had exploded overnight closing off the main street and a number of other streets. Although it was close, we made the “Sky Airways” flight, and all was good.

However, at Santiago airport it was time for a travel lesson. There are always taxi touts at airports looking for business. At Santiago airport, it’s taken to a whole new level.

Not only are there taxi touts. There are minibus touts. And normal bus touts. Imagine, if you will, that you are at a market and you want some apples, oranges and an avocado. Then imagine that, instead of walking around the different grocers, that they surround you and are all yelling, no screaming at the same time for you to buy their produce. Then that you decide you’re going to go the supermarket to get your fruit, but they wont move. You gently move through the crowd, which results in a little meanness coming into the touts. Once you’re in the supermarket it’s all ok. But getting there is decidedly uncomfortable.

It was a lesson to us walk directly the taxi counter in airports and don’t think about minibuses or airport buses. It was a serious and salutary lesson.

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However, once in Santiago it was time for some food porn. After the food in Antofagasta, the Bocanariz restaurant was very nice and with some great wine.

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Bocanariz restaurant, Santiago – January 26th 2017 – One month on the road.

Trying to leave Chile, again.

The pass through the Andes between Santiago (Chile) and Mendoza (Argentina) used to be the Uspallata pass at over 3,832 metres until the 3,080 metre Tunel Cristo Redentor (Tunnel of Christ the Redeemer) was built at 3,200 metres in 1980. The road up from Santiago is the most amazing road I think I’ve ever been on. 24 hairpin bends. Astounding scenery. Plus I redeemed my soul when I went through the tunnel. We arrived at the Chilean/ Argentinian border post at 10.45 am.

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The 24 hairpin bends on the way up from Santiago o the pass

“12.15 pm” I said to Nik, with my 1.5 hour estimation of the time it would take to get through.

But no. I’ve travelled a lot but this was the weirdest border crossing I’ve ever done. The bus pulled up at this large shed, with a shallow conical roof. We get off the bus and line up at the passport control window. That’s all fine. It takes an hour but it’s all fine. Except you don’t go through. Once your passport is stamped, you walk back to the bus, the bus then drives 50 metres to the customs check. Out of the bus again, everyone with their hand luggage, and they start going through it. A woman’s mobile phone is pulled out, she’s told to unlock it, then the customs man takes it away. 5 minutes later he brings it back and hands it to the woman. This happens a number of times.

Then two polystyrene cups are handed down the line of passengers and people put money in cups; one cup for Chilean Pesos and one for Argentinian pesos ! Why ? A bribe ? Customs duty on a mobile phone ? No idea.

They check our bags and seem vaguely interested in Nik’s iPad.

It’s midday at this point. When it seems that my 12.15 pm prediction could be right, the customs people find two large black plastic bags of new clothes, complete with sales tags, someone was trying to get over the border. I think they were confiscated.

We eventually pulled away from the border post at 1.45 pm.

Leaving Chile. Piece of cake. Eventually….

And Alex and Michael arrived safely on Sunday afternoon.

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Alex, Mike, and me in the hostel in Buenos Aires, Sunday 29th January 2017

Posted by capetocape2017 13:54 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Chapter 5 - Chile: Ced the Red, Pinochet, and Now

By Neil

sunny 34 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

Balook, the Gippsland Highlands, Victoria, Australia – mid 2015

“The secret police broke down the door and threatened Pen and her husband. They said ‘Leave Chile immediately or you will be killed!’ That was 11 September 1973.” We were sitting around the table in Richie’s kitchen at his house in Balook. He had bought the house from Pen’s father, Cedric Ralph, locally called ‘Ced the Red’, because of his long association with the Communist Party of Australia.
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Cedric Ralph: 1907 – 2007

“Pen’s husband was the son of the head of the British Communist Party and September 11th 1973 (9/11….) was when the Coup d’état led by General Pinochet wrenched power from Salvador Allende. Pen and her husband were living as academics in Santiago at the time.”

“Pen was taken straight to the airport with no time to pack any of their belongings. Her husband was taken away by the police. Pen didn’t know to where. She was put on a plane and thought she would never see him again. Then, just when the plane was taxiing down the runway, it suddenly stopped and a car drew up alongside. Stairs arrived and just as quickly as her husband had disappeared, he was thrust onto the plane. The plane took off and they were out of Chile, escaping the purge that was to follow under Pinochet’s dictatorship. It made the papers in Australia.”

At the time we had this discussion, I didn’t know that Nik and I would be spending a lot of time in Chile and so didn’t reflect much about the experience of Pen and her husband in Chile in 1973.

Pinochet:

In a way, it is difficult to really understand the ideological, political and military conflicts that were occurring in the world in the 20th century. Chile was just part of the overall struggle.

In another way, we can see the same contests for power continuing to play out on our TV’s each night as footage of the war in Syria continues.

With startling parallels to the government of Gough Whitlam in Australia, President Salvador Allende instigated significant reforms in Chile during his term of office. This included the nationalisation of Chile’s copper mine (owned by US interests) that, even 43 years on, still produces over 50% of Chile’s foreign income.

However, in stark contrast to the change of power between the two mainstream Australian political parties, albeit in extraordinary circumstances, that happened in the Whitlam affair, for the Chileans this change of government marked the beginning of a reign of terror by Pinochet, which lasted from 1973 to 1989.

It is, and will continue to be, like a slap in the face to this comfortable, safe, Australian POM to realise just how tumultuous, dangerous, and scary life was around the world in the Post World War II world when America and Russia (and China), played their massive game of “Power Chess”.
America felt that Allende was leaning far too much to the left and backed a Coup D’état by Pinochet. This was at the same time that the US was supporting the dictatorial governments of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

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General Pinochet greeting US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1976

Pinochet’s government was responsible, during its 17 year reign for the direct murder of over 3,000 people, the imprisonment of around 40,000 people and the torture of 30,000 of these. The methods of torture were brutal.

However, the relationship of the Chilean people with Pinochet and his legacy varies between strange and truly bizarre. Some examples are:
- Whilst there was a return to democracy in 1990, Pinochet remained the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces until 1998.
- He was never convicted for any crimes. He was only arrested in London in 1998 (and released when, get this, Jack Straw, the UK Home Secretary, overruled the House of Lords decision to extradite him to Spain to stand trial (I didn’t even know the Home Secretary could overrule the House of Lords !)). Later he was put under house arrest in Chile 2 years before his death.
- Chile had incredible growth during the years Pinochet was in power which became known as the “Chilean Miracle”.
- 60,000 people filed past his coffin to pay their respects upon his death.

Now:

Nik and I have now travelled nearly 4,000 km’s from the bottom of Chile, Cape Horn, to the capital, Santiago. We’ve been on a dry ferry up the Chilean Fjords for 4 days (I wish those Chilean Truck drivers hadn’t got so pissed 3 years ago and decided to have a BBQ in a cabin. It took a day to put out the fire and led to the alcohol ban). We’ve climbed up the side of a Volcano outside Puerto Varas. Hung out in Casa Cheuca outside Talca, and now we’re in Santiago.

We’ve travelled from a latitude of 56 degrees south to 33 degrees south.

Our first stop in Santiago was at the amazing “Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos” (Museum of Memory and Human Rights). Just the name of the museum is a reflection of Chileans views on the Pinochet years.

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The entrance to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights

The focus of the museum is to ensure that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights is never again disregarded, as it was in Chile between 1973 and 1990. There was an English audio tour available and we spent over 2 hours moving through the amazingly detailed display of events leading up to, during and after the Pinochet era. A photographic memorial on a wall three stories high, of the faces of the thousands of victims sat at the centre of the exhibit. It was incredibly moving. An interesting element to the museum was that it appeared to try and only display facts, trying to avoid judgement or blame (although many fact spoke for themselves).

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is exemplary in its portrayal of what happened and how it happened, and leaving it to the individual to decide what they, individually, should, could, or will do to ensure it never happens again.

Particularly moving is the entrance way with the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights written.

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

How a country deals with its past atrocities is a measure of its level of civilisation.

Posted by capetocape2017 11:47 Archived in Chile Tagged pinochet Comments (2)

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