A Travellerspoint blog

February 2017

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….


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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”.


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,


La Vedette – The female star.

The Dancers


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.


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.


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.


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…..)


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.


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.


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.


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.


The red and white River Plate strip[/I


[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.


The Lanus fans.


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 !


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.


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.


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.


“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.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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

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