Una semana laboral: segundo día

Hola una otra vez, estoy escribiendo a las once por la noche. Una otra vez, el reto ha sido difícil pero nunca pensó al contrario.

En la frase arriba, usó dos palabras/frases nuevas y por eso, estoy feliz. En algunas maneras, mi progreso ya es obvio. Después de solo dos días, tengo un vocabulario más extendido con frases que son más natural de los que aprendimos en colegio. Y también, hoy fue un día mejor de lunes por otras razónes.

Vi una película se llama ‘nueve reinas’ (‘Nine Queens’ en inglés) sobre un pareja de criminales pequeños que descubren un engaño posible. Todo la película es un solo un día y, de verdad, fue muy agradable. Los dos protagonistas son simpáticos (no sé por que pero es verdad) y la historia tiene un ritmó rápido. Por otra parte, el giro al fin de la pelí es tan bueno. Me encantó las películas con estos giros al fin y esto… lo me gustó.

Además, hoy, intentó hablar más. Mi problema al fin de ayer fue que no podía pensar en español. Es tan difícil cuando no estás immerso en la idioma. Sin duda, mi celebro vuelve a inglés y esto es un restricción a mi aprendizaje. Pero cuando hablo, aunque estoy hablando solo a mi móvil, a veces mi celebro se olvidó a volver a inglés. Progreso. Bien.

Esto es todo por hoy. Cinco días más. No es fácil pero nunca tendré este oportunidad otra vez y estoy disfrutando el proceso.

¡Hasta mañana!


Rough English translation:

Hello once again, I’m writing at 11pm. And once again, the challenge has been difficult but I never thought otherwise.

In the sentence above, I used two new phrases/words and that’s pleasing. In some ways, my progress has already been obvious. After only two days, I’ve got a stretched vocabulary with phrases that are more natural than the ones we learn at school/university. And this has also been a better day than Monday for other reasons.

I watched a film called Nine Queens about a pair of small-time criminals who discover a possible trick. The whole film is in only one day and, really, it’s properly enjoyable. The two main characters are likeable (I don’t know why but it’s the truth) and the story has a quick pace. Furthermore, the twist at the end of the film is so good. I love films with these kind of twists at the end and this… I liked it.

I tried to speak more today as well. My problem at the end of yesterday was that I couldn’t think in Spanish. It’s so difficult when you’re not immersed in the language. Without a doubt, my brain returns to English and this is a restriction on my learning. But when I speak, even though I’m only speaking to my phone, sometimes my brain forgets to switch back. Progress. Good.

That’s it for today. Five more days. It’s not easy but I’ll never have this opportunity again and I’m enjoying the process.

See you tomorrow!

Una semana laboral: día uno

Anoche, declaró que estaba poner en marcha un reto que he visto en YouTube: una semana laboral de aprender español.

Claramente, es un reto dificíl. Las respuestas de los lectores de esta blog, aquí y en Twitter, demonstran este. Pero, en lunes, empezó.

El reto, en corto, instructa que necesito hacer 36 horas de aprendizaje en una semana, usar una variedad de maneras de aprender. Y, para hacer 36 horas, necesito hacer aproxidamente cinco o seis horas cada día.

En lunes, porque tenía otras cosas importantes para hacer también, me puse un meta de cinco horas en el día. A este momento, cuando estoy escribiendo este blog, he hecho 88% de mis cinco horas. El proceso de escribiendo, y uno o dos videos, y terminaré mi día con éxito.

Estoy feliz. Obviamente, no ha sido fácil. A las diez por la noche, ya estoy tratando realizar mi objetivo. Pero aquí son las cosas que he hecho hoy:

  • escribí un diario por la mañana y la noche y también este blog
  • lee dos capítulos de un libro en español – bueno, es Harry Potter pero en español – creo que es vital a empezar con un libro que ya conozco
  • poner en marcha el aprendizaje de aproxidamente 100 palabras nuevas – tomé la mayoría desde el libro, algunas artículos y un podcast
  • escuchó a un programa de radio española en Cadena SER
  • vi un video de VICE Español sobre tacos en la Ciudad de México

Hasta mañana

(Por la gran mayoría de este blog, he intentado a no usar un diccionario o traductor)

Una semana laboral: A working week learning Spanish

YouTube. A dangerous chasm in which to be sucked into. Sometimes useful or inspirational, though. In my most recent trip into it’s ‘language learning’ section, I found it to be all of these things and now find myself set for a difficult challenge.

One YouTuber who talks about learning languages, the techniques you can use and which apps are better than the rest suggested a ‘working week’ of language learning. He’s doing it with Swedish. And so I’m going to do it with Spanish.

Here are the rules:

  • You can spend the whole week completing the challenge (Monday-Sunday and all hours of the day, not just 9am-5pm)
  • A working week here is defined as 36 hours (This YouTuber is from a different country where they work less than in the UK)
  • All the time you spend deliberately working towards learning the languages counts
    • This includes listening to podcasts, reading articles or books etc.
    • But ‘passive learning’ (i.e. listening to a Spanish podcast while you’re on a run or doing the dishes) can only count for a maximum of 8 hours of the total time (just over an hour each day)
  • You have to use a variety of techniques

And that’s it. So that’s what I’ll be doing this week. To keep me accountable, I’ve told anyone who’s reading this. And every day, I’ll write something in Spanish and stick it up on here.

Let’s see how this goes…

Week Thirteen: Argentina

For the penultimate time, I’m tapping away at an iPad keyboard that has travelled many thousands of miles with me, through Caribbean beaches, the jungle, El Salar, Patagonia, waterfalls and more. I have under two weeks left in South America.

Hola a todos,

This time last week I had just returned from Patagonia, my brain still full of wonder over the sheer beauty of such a large area, linked together by long, flat roads traversed by oil lorries and bearded, hitchhiking backpackers.

I’ve since been making the most of Buenos Aires in the knowledge of how little remaining time there is. I’ve re-visited places that I have come to love in the city and stumbled across more spots that need re-visiting in future.

In some ways, I’m ready to come home. I’m salivating at the idea of fish & chips, a curry or just some fresh milk that wasn’t originally a powder. I can’t wait for people to be on time rather than an hour late, I can’t wait to see everyone again. But I’m also realising how much I’ll miss the daily routine of Buenos Aires. People have left already from our group, and it never feels quite the same. I’ll miss the shop beneath our hostel with the incessantly grumpy owner, the butchers who have an incomprehensible strong porteño accent, the empanada shop in San Telmo market, the football shirt collector of two decades in the same place who has told me to start doing the same England, the man who paints with his feet while dancing tango in La Boca. But I’ll come back.

Buenos Aires

It’s been a busy week since Patagonia. Three others and I are all in our final fortnight and we made an unspoken agreement to make every night count. That’s led to a lot of nights leading on long into the day, a lot of good food and even more football shirts, of course.

Coaching has continued, as ever. Last week I had two sessions in the villa (slum) of Rodrigo Bueno. The pitch, as explained previously, is right on the edge of the start of the villa, while just metres away, glass structures shoot skywards to emphasise the painful gap between rich and poor in Buenos Aires.

Both sessions in Rodrigo Bueno were good, with the coach letting us lead our own sessions with the kids. We tried to provide something slightly different from normal to take away from the staleness that can often happen at football training. I tried to instil some English discipline on kids who insisted they always play on the same team. It didn’t go down particularly well and the regular coach gave me a wry smile as he watched on. Hopefully it went some way towards teaching them a lesson. But maybe not.

After coaching on Wednesday, we stepped off the pitch and immediately into the small restaurant that provides delicious large portions of milanesa (schnitzel-like Argentine dish), chips and salad for low prices, accompanied by a sensationally hot sauce that never fails to set fire to the tongue.

Thursday saw another trip downstairs to the stupidly and dangerously convenient nightclub. As good as ever.

The next day, we trekked back to Mercado San Telmo for what must have been my seventh or eighth visit. I returned, as always, to the retro football shirts stall where a short, tanned man with balding hair and thin, wired glasses slowly walks about informing the browsers how rare each shirt is and which famous player donned it in their heyday. I finally bought in stock as I had promised him I would, getting more than half price for each shirt and taking home nine of them. We also ate empanadas, drank iced coffee before strolling out into the sun and catching a taxi home.

On Saturday, we visited another of my favourite places once more, the barrio of La Boca. Colourful, particularly in the golden sun, and intensely touristic, the food is good, the football shirts unashamedly fake and the performers unashamedly asking for money.

Once more, we sat in the sun after a quick walk around, ate choripan and watched a group of drummers reaching the sky with their thumps. Then we made our way to the river (La Boca means the mouth of the river) and watched as the colourful reflections of the houses turned blurry in the sunset.

Homeward bound, we went to Palermo, the main nightlife district and stayed long into the morning before heading to Recoleta Cemetery, one of Buenos Aires’ most popular tourist attractions. Straight from the night out, it was utterly empty and tranquil with sun just beginning to come up.

After a sleep of far too few hours, I headed back to San Telmo, this time to a little bar called La Puerta Roja. Literally translating as The Red Door, it is just that. There’s no external sign to show a bar exists, except a small chalkboard advertising the biggest upcoming football games and their timings. You open an always-shut metal door, climb up a set of stairs and find yourself in a great football-watching bar with cheap beer and great food, each portion the size of a meal for three.

To start off the new week on Monday, coaching began again and would end up being my final volunteering session with the charity in Buenos Aires. Rain has called off all sessions since. Afterwards, we directed ourselves to Afromood, the Monday night Afro-music group who perform in Palermo. It’s in a small bar, the floor is slippy and it only aids the extravagant dancing everyone is encouraged to do by the brilliant mood that surrounds them.

Don Julio

On Tuesday, I finally got a luxurious taste of Buenos Aires steak. The meat so far has been fantastic, and cheap. But I’ve been saving a trip to the city’s finest establishment for my final week and it has finally come round.

With rain imminent, we were dismayed to be told it was an hour-and-a-half wait for a table for six, but we chose to stay. We were quickly handed a glass of champagne each and then small trays of empanadas were brought round to accompany the unlimited supply of free drink.

That made the wait pass quickly and we were soon brought into the back of the restaurant where the thunderstorm outside couldn’t be heard and given seriously fancy service. Fresh bread dumped onto the table with brilliant chumicurri sauce before ordering Malbec from Mendoza as is customary.

The steak came in enormous portions, double what you would normally expected, and cooked perfectly on its own plate. The chips came separately, and weren’t needed at all. Steaks the size of a human head would be enough to satisfy our appetite.

It was truly Argentine, finishing past 1AM and we grabbed a taxi home to avoid the thunderstorm which has carried on since and caused us to be under near house arrest.

Next

A few more days in Buenos Aires before leaving to Rio de Janeiro on Sunday where my ever-improving Spanish will be completely useless. Two Copa America matches, one in Rio and one in Sao Paolo, and then back home on the 21st, landing the next day in London.

Week Twelve: Patagonia

I’m sitting in a chair with a cup of tea. This is more the kind of writing style I’m used to, in contrast with last week’s pothole-interrupted bus journey scribing. I’m back in Buenos Aires, back in a big city and very thankful for that while missing Patagonia, which is an enormous area of mind blowing beauty.

Hola a todos,

I’ve now only got 11 days left in Buenos Aires, a city I have undoubtedly fallen in love with and which contains some very good friends and some of my favourite ever places. That’s sad, but even though the last seven weeks have flown by, there are so many memories that just need a little trigger to come to the front of my brain again and remind me just how much I’ve done here.

These last couple of weeks will be great, just like the six preceding ones. Going to Patagonia was worth every day and every peso. It’s never something I thought I would do while on this trip in South America because of time and expense. And yet, abut a week ago I found myself knee deep in snow, 2,000 metres above sea level, looking at the most famous peak of the whole district, Monte Fitz Roy, and singing Oasis with two mates in the sun after a 20km hike.

Patagonia

That hike is a good place to start. The tiny town of El Chalten is one of the hiking capitals of the Andes region and the journey to Laguna de los Tres (lake of the three) is an incredible one bordering lakes, winding through forest, crunching frosted soil and traversing chilled, glacial streams, all the while looking up every few seconds to gawp at the view of the Andes in winter.

We set off with many layers and lunch prepared in the icy darkness of the Patagonian morning, with the temperature eight below freezing. After ascending rapidly into the trees, clothes were coming off, though my folded-over socks remained on my hands as makeshift gloves that would later be a complete necessity. Our first stop gave us an incredible view over The Valley of the De las Vueltas river. The mountains a silhouette blocking the deep purple sky, we caught our breath and headed onwards, the sun quickly rising and the colours of red, blue, purple and yellow converging in the sky.

The Fitz Roy rock formation that sells so many postcards took about two hours to reach, and we just managed to catch the final red tints of sunrise when we first glimpsed the jutting slab of granite.

Onwards we continued, moving down into another valley which opened up one of the hike’s best buenavistas. While we descended the hillside, a gap opened up all the way down the valley. We couldn’t stare, for risk of slipping on the ice that was becoming more and more frequent on the track.

Soon, the sun was blocked by the mountain and the reality of the crisp freezing air hit once more, with layers being thrown back on. I sipped from a glacial freshwater creek and we carried on.

Eventually, after crossing a few rivers on rickety bridges, we found ourselves faced with a staircase covered in pure ice. My Israeli friend, a former army medic in his home country, turned to me and said, ‘have you got insurance?’, and we climbed up. The worst (best) was still to come.

The final kilometre of the Fitz Roy hike is a sharp ascent on an incline of roughly 60%. It would have been fine, though tiring, had the final two-thirds of this section not been covered in ice of at least a foot’s thickness. Utterly impossible to use the ice-covered track which could have been more appropriately used for the Argentine bobsled team, we climbed up to the side, hanging onto leaf-less trees until the branches broke and catching ourselves on rocks. My Adidas Continental trainers were not designed for this. For two hours, we hung, grabbed onto snow desperately and continued to look up to see only more and more distance. Eventually, the very tip of Mt Fitz Roy peeked over the lip of the mountainside and we continued. It had been far too long to go back down, though I was glad with a former-army medic.

It was worth every bit of effort to wrench ourselves up a route not fit for someone in trainers, jeans and a t-shirt. While we went up, climbers with sticks, clumpy boots and all the other kit looked at us in mild disbelief. They were right to do so, because the way down would prove even harder.

Before that, though, was the view at the top. We sat in the snow, finally ate and listened to Oasis with an unspoiled 360 degree panoramic view to ourselves. Only one other man was anywhere near the top, and we soon joined him at the lake that suddenly appeared below us when we moved over the lip (a formal frontal moraine of a glacier). The Laguna de los Tres is called so because it’s in between three massive rock formations and maybe because it’s beautiful enough to come back every day for three lifetimes.

We moved down to the lake, walked and lay on the frozen water with some brief scares. The Korean man came worryingly close to slipping into a man-made hole in the ice, and we soon left. We had three hours to climb back down the hardest section before another 10km back to El Chalten for our 6:30pm bus.

We raced up the snowy section before finding ourselves at the top of the iced drop and started immediately. Once more, we found ourselves hanging from trees, though this time with our momentum going down the hill. A few slips, broken branches and near misses aside, we were surprised to find ourselves at the bottom with no broken bones. We walked back quickly, managing the 10km in under two hours and stopped for a hot chocolate before grabbing our bags to catch a bus.

El Calafate

That bus took us to El Calafate. It was only two hours, a relief after the 25-hours earlier in the week. I had my third and fourth ham sandwich of the day, though one had the unbeatable addition of crisps to spice things up.

El Calafate is the city closest to the famous Perito Moreno Glaciar, one of the only glaciers in the world that is advancing (meaning, growing in length).

It’s 70m tall. That’s similar to Tower Bridge, or the equivalent of three Buckingham Palaces on top of each other. There’s a further 160m of ice beneath the water, too. It goes back 30km and is 2km across. It’s massive.

We set off there the next day and after the lakes and hikes of Bariloche and El Chalten, it was an instant difference, and a great one. You can stare at the glaciar for hours while small (though they are actually metres-wide) chunks of ice break off and sending a crashing, gun-shot like sound to reverberate around the valley.

Walking on the metal viewpoints for a few hours, we then settled down for some cards before an hour-boat trip right up to the face of the glaciar. The lake was a milky blue because of the ice and the ice itself was a piercing light blue. Pictures don’t do it justice, but they are still better than words.

After returning to our hostel, a great place with a log fire in the middle of sofas and tables, we had a steak dinner. The steak in Argentina is cheap and great, but this was the first time I’ve been amazed by one. Served as a slab on its own plate, it was perfect. With chips and salad, too, plus bread with the brilliant chimichurri sauce, it cost us £11 each. And someone gave us free wine from Mendoza to have with it.

Ushuaia

We left the following morning for a flight to Ushuaia, the end of the world. It’s the southernmost city in the world and it knows it. Every bar, every boat and every possible part of the city tells you where you are. Looking on a map and seeing our location was slightly surreal. We couldn’t have been further south without heading to Antarctica.

Another matter which is constantly on reminder is the fact that we were very near the Falklands. ‘Las Malvinas fueron, son, será Argentinas’ = The Falklands are, always have been and always will be Argentina’s. Ushuaia is the capital city of the ‘Malvinas’ province of Argentina. They care. Thankfully they don’t mind English tourists anymore, though the loss of apprehension is only a recent thing.

In Ushuaia, we rested for a day with Netflix in our AirBnB where I failed to convince Americans and a Dutch girl that English comedy is good. Life of Brian came close to drawing a laugh, but the Inbetweeners was a no-go.

In our first full day, we headed to Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) national park. Ushuaia used to be a prison city, with a brutal prison open during the first half of the 20th-century. Prisoners wore blue and yellow jumpsuits in the bitter cold and would be carried by train from the prison near the heart of the town into the forests of Tierra del Fuego. Here, they would chop down trees for buildings and firewood. Though the conditions were harsh, all prisoners were taught a life skill so they could find a job after they left and no one ever escaped. Those who did try to do so returned after two days of living in what is now the national park and attempting to move north.

That prison train has now been converted into a private tourist attraction, with 7km of the original 25km taking us from the edge of the national park just inside it. We did a return trip, taking just under two hours, seeing the stumps of the trees cut down a century ago, horses chewing on frosted bushes and more brilliant views. The steam from the top of the train made only for an even better picture.

Afterwards, we took a bus right into the national park, tried to hike towards the Chilean border (only 3km away). We were stopped by the unavoidable ice. We slid on the roads, fell on our faces and had a great time in the rain. We didn’t make it to Chile.

On Monday, we took a three-hour boat trip on the Beagle Channel, the home of sea lions, sometimes penguins and the channel between Argentina and Chile. The penguins had, unfortunately, left due to the oncoming winter cold, but the channel has some birds that look almost exactly the same, without quite replicating the waddle.

After the boat trip, we took advantage of some free hot chocolate vouchers in a chocolate shop (the area is famous for this) before taking a taxi to do the Glaciar Martial hike. The taxi wound up the mountain for 20 minutes until we reached the start of the hike. It was covered in, and yes there is a pattern here, ice. We climbed up for about 100 metres before stopping for lunch in the rain with the view of the Beagle Channel in front of us. As we ate lunch on the side of the ascent, leaning against a snowy rock, we were provided with entertainment of the highest order. Imagine a ski slope completely covered in ice and rocks instead of snow, and that’s what the path was like, though narrower. Halfway through my ham sandwich, someone came sliding down the slope on their arse at huge speed before catching himself on a rock. Soon after, with him in tears, his Dad came down and ploughed into him. That five-second memory on loop is one of my favourites.

We decided to slide down, too, and it was a great fun, though I stayed on my feet instead of on my arse. Later, we penguin-dived down a slope to make up for the lack of penguins on the boat trip. Anyone who wants to see that video can request it!

We went out to the world’s southernmost Irish bar (to add to the highest one I drank at in La Paz) and had pizza and beer and flew home on Tuesday afternoon to be greeted back at the hostel and settle immediately back into the routine of Buenos Aires. Public transport, shops open after 8pm, cheap food, Uber. All the luxuries of big cities that I can’t live without.

Buenos Aires

There’s not long left, but the next week and a half will be great. After that, I head to Brazil for one week for the Copa America football tournament. And then home…

Week Eleven: Argentina

I’ve been sat in the same bus seat for half a day and have no plans, nor opportunity, to move for another 17 hours. Forgive me if I ramble on…

Hola a todos,

This is very much the case of the extremely long and straight road, to partially quote John Lennon. Some hours ago, we hurled past signs for viewpoints of vast clear blue lakes or snow-peaked mountains. Now, the horizon has deflated and flatness is all that is seen for miles. We haven’t tasted the chilled fresh air of Patagonia for some time and there are still some 1000 kilometres to go.

I’m sitting in seat number one on the top deck of a bus between Bariloche, the front seat which has the large window in front of it. I’ve woken up from various naps on board this 25-hour-long bus journey to see the stunning scenery of former or current ski resorts not quite ready for the high season. Argentina’s winter is coming soon.

We arrived in Patagonia three days ago, leaving behind Buenos Aires and its charm, and have spent most of our time here on Ruta 40, one of the longest roads in the world that stretches from Argentina’s tip to it’s Antarctica-neighbouring southern bottom. The variety of nature, weather and views is astonishing and we’ve only traversed a limited section of the 5000km road.

More on Patagonia later. Since last week, I’ve had another full week enjoying Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires

The brilliance of Patagonia in the short time I’ve been here had almost left me forgetting another week of smiles and football in Argentina’s capital.

I spent the start of the week finalising bookings for Patagonia and organising a group trip to see Argentinos Juniors, my new footballing love. We were not to be disappointed.

Before then, more coaching came and went. Another English volunteer, a Newcastle United fan, and I tormented a five-a-side training session. He, Shearer. I, Rooney. Goals.

On Thursday, it was time to watch football rather than play it, but in the day time, we visited the Botanical Gardens of Buenos Aires which were intensely disappointing and so we walked another couple of kilometres to find the Japanese Gardens, which were much more worth the hour walk from Recoleta to Palermo.

By the time we got home and had egotistically checked our phone step counters to congratulate ourselves for actually doing something with the day, there was no time to rest before heading back to Estadio Diego Armando Maradona for Argentinos Juniors’ Copa Sudamericana (the South American version of the UEFA Europa League) match against Deportivo Tolima, a Colombian side.

The atmosphere was raucous anyway, and when a deserved last-minute winner escaped the grasps of the Tolima goalkeeper, the scenes were extraordinary. It was my third time watching Argentinos Juniors, and the first time I’d actually seen a goal. The only other goal to have been scored in those three games was blocked by one of the strips of fabric that sit above the bouncing fans in the ‘popular’ stand.

Now, Manchester United have been particularly woeful since I arrived in South America, so much so that I have only been able to celebrate one goal (in a game we didn’t even win) since landing in Colombia on March 12th. So the chance to truly celebrate a goal that actually meant something was too good to miss and I went just as berserk as the Argentines who grabbed my shoulders as we careered down the terraces.



With only the matter of a couple more kicks left before the final whistle, the trumpets and drums sailed off note after note into the air and the ground beneath our feet shook in celebration. The 12 others who I had brought to the game began to make their way out of the stadium, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave a bouncing bunch of Bichos (to alter a famous Manchester United song) as they sang and sang. I have certainly found a second team away from home. Nothing beats a last minute winner in football, and that is true whether it is your team from birth or the team you have only recently adopted. When that ball nestles into the back of the net, it doesn’t matter if you’re slightly whiter than the rest of the stand, or that you’re the only person wearing shorts, or that you’re only watched three games in your life. A football fan will celebrate with anyone at that moment, and it was brilliant. I celebrated long into the next day and then took some time recover.

On Saturday, recovery complete, we headed to Recoleta’s famous cemetery which I had visited before. I bought a maté cup and straw (the much-loved drink of the Argentines) and then we walked to Palermo for the second time in a week to eventually find Food Fest BA, a two-day food festival in what appeared to be a polo stadium, with sand beneath our feet.

I giddily found a Colombian food van, but also one stall selling a ‘London chicken burger’. As a man of Finsbury Park, that opportunity was too good to miss after 10 weeks without a PFC or a kebab. It wasn’t quite the same, but they made a good effort. We had a few pints as the sun set and the music played behind us and it was a good start to a great final night for me before Patagonia, and for others before leaving home or elsewhere in South America.

As it turned out, I wouldn’t sleep until we arrived in Patagonia the next day. We went to one of the city’s biggest clubs, enjoyed ourselves until 5AM before heading back to the hostel, saying some teary goodbyes and getting a taxi to the domestic airport for an 8AM flight. I’ve never enjoyed an airport so much, although the experience on the plane wouldn’t be quite the same.

Patagonia

Eventually, after an interestingflight, we landed in San Carlos de Bariloche. Walking out of the airport, the freshness of the nearly-winter air hit me and the smell of it was so familiar to past skiing holidays. Bariloche is, itself, a ski resort at some points of the year, and so are many of the nearby towns, though it’s quite different to the Alps.

We made our way to our hostel and collectively swore when we saw the view from it. Sleep, food and recovery were needed and that’s what we got before watching Argentinos Juniors lose to Boca Juniors on TV in a nearby restaurant at dinner time.

We set off in our rental car the next day. The small white fiat had four wheels and a music player and little else was needed, apart from the 11 absolutely stunning lakes that we would soon see.

Rivers, including the Instagram-famous Rio Negro, drew up alongside us as we turned off onto Ruta 237 for a two-hour detour from the endless Ruta 40. This may have been an accidental turning off but it allowed us to see Lago Traful in beautiful daylight. This first lake was enormous, and we stopped by a rock that jutted out right in the middle. Climbing through the trees to reach the end of the rock, 200ft above the clear blue water, a panoramic view presented itself that proved irresistible to an endless stream of photos.

Of course, we knew there was many more lakes to come, but it’s impossible not to be shutter-happy when such buenavistas are in front of you.

Throughout the day we continued to tick off lake after lake and, just like with the Iguazu Falls or El Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, photos are better than words. Rainbows curving over still water, snowy mountain peaks providing the most perfect of backdrops, ice cold water to test your fingertips, dogs with wagging tails greeting another tourist car at each spot, sun-setting behind postcard-worthy scenes.

We drove and drove until we reached San Martin de los Andes, a main stopping point on Ruta 40. And then we turned back round almost immediately, with only three hours to complete a 200km drive through curving mountainsides back to Bariloche. We made it, through the slanting rain and descending blackness of night.

I finished this blog in a quiet hostel in El Chalten, refreshed after a 5km hike that we did upon arrival from our 24 hour bus journey. It wasn’t so bad, though the view became intensely repetitive and sleep proved a struggle. I’ve started reading Robert Harris’ Dictator which passed the time. When we arrived, it was -8 degrees and the entire town was pitch black with no sign of life. Sun rose at 9:30am.

Tomorrow brings a 20km hike near the famous Mount Fitz Roy for more great views, and then we head further south to El Calafate, the home of the even more famous Perito Moreno glacier. By the time of the next blog, I’ll be in Ushuaia, one of the most southern cities in the world, aptly called ‘El Fin del Mundo’ (the end of the world). There are penguins…

Week Ten: Argentina

There is exactly one month until I leave South America. That can seem like both a long and incredibly short amount of time, but before then, I have more time coaching in Buenos Aires, a 10-day trip to Patagonia and the end of the world and five days in Brazil at the Copa America. So, at least I’ll be busy. On with the blog…

Hola a todos,

A familiar routine, returning to places for a third or fourth time, knowing which supermarket is cheapest for which type of pasta or meat, learning the bus routes, finally remembering to look the ‘wrong way’ when crossing the road. These are the signs of properly getting to know a place. Buenos Aires really does feel like a second home, even though I’m yet to explore at least 90% of what is an absolutely enormous city.

As with any week in this mezcla of Latin American and European influences, there were moments of brilliant wonder and others of complete and utter frustration at the sheer disorganisation that is inevitable in this continent.

Many hours of this week were spent trying and, at least temporarily, failing to organise a 10-day trip to Patagonia for me and three others. I took two visits to the same airline office, waited in the same queue for three hours in total, and was told three different conflicting instructions. Argentina.

But while that helps to shape my perception of this city, what has a more lasting impact is the man outside El Estadio Diego Armanado Maradona noticing three mildly bemused tourists and asking us if he could do anything to help or the 40-minute conversation with an Uber driver about our two respective countries.

Buenos Aires

My volleyball skills are getting better, that’s one thing. I play for an hour a week every Tuesday, helping out with a coaching session in Barracas before an hour of football. The mix of young kids and 30-something women are starting to laugh at my attempts less.

Most days are football-consumed, though. Monday through Thursday involves coaching, while the weekend always involves a match at a bar or at a stadium.

On Sunday, two others and I visited Estadio Diego Armando Maradona for a second time. The first time had been a match on a sunny afternoon with marijuana filling the air, beers in hand, smiles everywhere. This match was more intense, the terrace on which we stood more full of people and passion.

Argentinos Juniors, the home side, took on Boca Juniors, South America’s biggest football club, in the semi-final of the Copa Superliga. Argentinos are a small club with little history of success. In the ’80s, they lifted the continent’s biggest prize, the Copa Libertadores, and they’ve won the league a couple of times, but in general, they don’t see many trophies. They did see the start of Diego Maradona’s career, though, until he moved to Boca Juniors.

The derby of the two Juniors, the Maradona derby, the slightly irrelevant match made more important by the stakes and the fact one player had his leg broken in the last meeting. It was a game that, had we viewed on TV, would have been turned off or ignored after 20 minutes. A dearth of quality from both sides, neither of whom managed to score in the 90 minutes.

The atmosphere, though, was brilliant. We were sitting on the terrace more than an hour before kick-off, watching the Sun slowly drop behind the goal to the right of us. It filled up quickly, until people were squeezing through the smallest of spaces to reach ‘hermanos’.

Where the Sun had dropped and disappeared, fireworks exploded just before kick-off, greeting the two sides and further fuelling the crowd. The floor vibrated beneath those who refused to jump to the beat of the drum and a typically enormous amount of abuse was dished out towards Carlitos Tevez.

Our stand. We’re in the top left corner.

Of all the games in Colombia, Bolivia and Argentina, this was the best so far. And incredibly, one woman sat down during the match and breastfed her child. No one said anything or looked perturbed. There were families all throughout the stand, partly because tickets are significantly cheaper for woman and children, and that should be an example to English football.

Before the match, we had returned to Mercado San Telmo, where a small 60-year-old porteño has been selling football shirts for the last 15 years, as he explained to me on Sunday afternoon. His collection is mouthwatering and my obsession is bordering on addiction. I bought an Argentina Selección jacket from the Maradona era and wore it, along with its comically baggy armpits, to the stadium.

Partridge

In the very early hours of Thursday morning, I found myself walking down a cobbled street in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires talking to Alan Partridge, or at least the man responsible for him, Steve Coogan.

We were trudging towards a tango show, where a woman in a blindingly sparkly dress would be thrown in the air by a suave, Bond-esque Argentinian man. We had just come from dinner. This was not the Wednesday night-cum-Thursday morning that I had been prepared for.

I will happily tell the full story to anyone who wants to hear it, but in short, I was going to dinner with the family friend of a friend. When I arrived at the restaurant, she pulled out a cigarette and informed me of a slight change to plans because Partridge had offered to buy us dinner after a coming together of extraordinary coincidences.

It was an incredibly surreal evening that concluded at 2AM trying to explain who Alan Partridge was to Dutch and French friends while the other Brits in the hostel laughed in amazement.

Coaching

While my work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mainly involves training with a group of aggressive, but friendly, Argentines from a nearby villa (slum, in English), Thursdays are an opportunity to do some real coaching.

At the beginning of the week, I travel along a long road at rush hour to Barracas. The conditions in the area are pretty good, though can deteriorate if you continue further in the right (or wrong) direction. On a Thursday, it’s a little bit different. I, along with a few others, take a bus towards the coast, across the river and into Puerto Madero. I have rarely seen areas with such stark differences between rich and poor. Huge skyscrapers reach towards the night sky just a mile away from where 20 kids follow my slightly garbled instructions in Spanish.

The club of Rodrigo Bueno (named after the road and area where the pitch lies) is fantastic. Kids come and go but the coach is always present to help change their lives. Stray dogs are allowed to trot through the pitch but only for a few seconds. If they don’t remove themselves before then, they are almost literally thrown off. I helped an 8-year-old climb up 15ft onto a worryingly unstable roof to collect a ball that had risen over the crossbar. ‘Like a monkey’, I said. She was very pleased with that.

All of this came after the first of two two-hour waits in an airline office. From the frustrations of middle-class life in Argentina to the joy of the slums. That seems the wrong way round. The truth is that everyone has serious problems here, even if it is often very hard to see. The kids of the slums own smartphones, often wear fresh trainers and are obsessed with Instagram posts and playing on their PlayStations. Here, purchased goods have far greater importance than savings or a better house. Such is the economic situation that it can make more sense to just buy things you want with the money you have rather than saving it and seeing it depreciate over the course of a week.

After coaching, I dragged the other volunteers into the tiny restaurant that borders the football pitch, separated only by a small fence. Ordering a milanesa (a bit like a schnitzel) with chips and salad for a tiny fee, it was the first moment in Buenos Aires that seemed similar to Colombia or Bolivia. Cheap but brilliant food in massive portions served by a friendly local who was just happily surprised to have a foreigner sitting in her restaurant.

While we ate, the kids we had just coached continued to play and remained doing so as we left. On the other side of the pitch to the restaurant, an increasingly sweaty man continued to work away at a destroyed bike, quite literally playing with fire to try and make something of it over the course of four hours.

———————–

Patagonia

I love Argentina just as I loved Bolivia and Colombia, though in a different way. Over the last week, I’ve organised a trip to Patagonia for myself and three others. We’ll leave next Sunday. The next blog will be slightly late. It will be written on a 25-hour bus from Bariloche, in the north of Patagonia, to El Chalten, somewhat in the middle of Patagonia. Once we find Wi-Fi again, it will be uploaded.

Week Nine: Argentina

In the week where Manchester’s second and much smaller club won the Premier League title, I’ve never been happier to be 8,000 miles away from home. I’m now seeing how much further away I can get for when one of Liverpool or Tottenham win the Champions League. Patagonia, near Antarctica, is calling my name. More on that later. On with the blog.

Hola a todos,

I arrived in Buenos Aires just over three weeks ago. I’ve had countless cups of tea per day, been taught how to pronounce Robin van Persie’s name correctly from my new Dutch friends, played pool as often as I have eaten, bought many football shirts and drank an unhealthy amount of beer. I’ve also seen the largest collection of waterfalls in the world, one of the most iconic football stadiums ever built, eaten high-quality £2 steak, watched River Plate in the Copa Libertadores, played hours of football at Argentine aggression levels and fallen in love with Buenos Aires while never losing frustration with South American lateness and traffic.

River Plate

I left last week’s blog as I was about to go to El Monumental, the famous stadium of the even more famous River Plate. The richer team in Buenos Aires (compared to the more working class Boca Juniors), River are the current champions of the Copa Libertadores (South America’s most elite club competition).

As normal on a Tuesday, I traversed through the Buenos Aires traffic to Parque Leonardo Pereyra in Barracas. I joined in with volleyball and football for a couple of hours before quickly rushing off back onto a packed bus to make my way back into the centre of the city.

There, I met up with a friend from school who is also travelling South America. It took us a while to find each other because, in typically Argentine fashion, there are two metro stops with the same name just 500m away from each other. I was at one, he was at the other, and so I spent 15 minutes making circles around an intersection trying to search in the dark for someone I hadn’t seen for six months. I eventually realised the mix-up and we boarded the metro towards the coast where River Plate play with the drone of landing planes from domestic destinations overhead.

We bought a knock-off River Plate shirt, met up with my friends from the hostel and, just like at La Bombanera (the Boca Juniors stadium), felt like kids again walking into your favourite team’s stadium. I don’t care for River Plate, but the reputation of the team and the stadium, a huge bowl fitting 65,000 people, gives you the goosebumps.

The atmosphere was dry for much of the game, until River’s Brazilian opposition, Internacional, went ahead by two goals to one. Then, once more in typical Argentine fashion, the anger and passion of the Riverplatense fired up and sparked the roars of El Monumental.

They equalised in the final minute and the songs continued long after the final whistle despite the fact that this game was virtually meaningless.

Afterwards, we made our way to Jobs Bar, filled with pool tables, ping pong and cheap beer. We played ‘foot-tennis’, the game in a small astro-turf cage where you aim to kick, head or knee the ball over the net as in tennis. A good night.

Coaching

The coaching has continued, although occasionally interrupted by rain. On Wednesday, with the pitch covered in a very light and almost invisible layer of water from the previous night’s fall, we slipped while playing football. I, in particular, managed to completely topple over, landing perfectly on the right side of my arse and causing an injury which has (rightly) drawn little sympathy and more derision. I continued playing in a terrible decision and have been left limping since.

Thursday’s coaching was cancelled with heavy storms and so we got stuck into the Buenos Aires nightlife once more. Living above a nightclub has its benefits during a storm.

Courtesy of a brightly patterned bucket hat purchased in Bolivia, I made some Argentinian friends downstairs with the music pumping. I temporarily traded it for an Indian headdress which one of the Argentines had brought for an unknown reason. They attempted to teach me to salsa and tango in the most basic of ways. The reaction to my efforts was a laugh more than an applause.

Weekend sight seeing

As with every weekend, with no volunteers having work, we go and see some sights. Although our choice thus far has been pretty limited, having gone back to the same places multiple times because we love them so much.

On Saturday, we made our way to La Boca, the colourful part of town with markets, inexplicably cheap knock-off football shirts and other souvenirs and great food. We ate choripan (a beautiful sausage-like meat in bread)… more than once.

Once more, we made our way out once the clock struck 1AM for another great night. I woke up the next day having failed in my mission to sleep right through the Premier League’s final day. Instead, I ate and ignored the fact that City were champions and United had lost 2-0 to Cardiff.

To distract myself more, I joined a few others and visited Mercado del San Telmo once more. It’s my third visit to the market, and I’ve loved it every time. Every Sunday, there’s a street filled with market stalls that winds through the city for many kilometres. But my favourite part is the indoor section of the market which is open every day. There, the empanadas are unbeatable, the crepes are filled with dulce de leche and the football shirts are retro and unique. The building itself was built with European immigrants in mind, and it’s the perfect setting for good food, friends and purchases. I’ll definitely be adding to my three visits.

I returned to coaching on Monday evening, hoping that my arse/leg injury wouldn’t cause me to sit out. It was thankfully okay after initial fears that I wouldn’t be able to play for at least two weeks. I now have bruises in other places thanks to some ‘friendly’ Argentines, but they’re not too bad.

The week ahead brings much of the same. Coaching, eating, walking, drinking and enjoying life in a great city. Patagonia is in my plans and I should have a trip booked by the end of the week to see the Perito Moreno glacier and the Camino de los Sietes Lagos. See pictures below. I’m excited.

Week Eight: Argentina

By the time of my next post, I will have been in South America for two months. I saw a KFC for the first time a couple of days ago, and realised that I have actually been here for a long time now.

On my flight to one of the world’s seven natural wonders (more on that in a second, obviously), I went through my phone’s camera roll deleting duplicates and pointless videos that I no longer need. It made me realise just how much I have already done, bringing back memories of Colombia and Bolivia that have already begun to fade as my brain mercilessly selects the very best to maintain as high-definition throwbacks. Now, my last week.

Hola a todos,

Buenos Aires continues to be fantastic, as do the people here. The experience of my two-and-a-half weeks here is so different to travelling by myself. Colombia and Bolivia were filled with strange encounters with random locals chewing on coca leaves or selling gaseosa. I haven’t had that here because I’m never alone, I’m never the strange white person sitting in a tiny bus terminal at 4:30 in the morning with a Manchester United bobble hat and a distinct lack of coca leaves.

But what I do get instead is new friends from the Netherlands, England, America, Italy, France, Australia and elsewhere. It’s different, but still brilliant.

Buenos Aires

Much of the last week has involved either consuming large amounts of the local Quilmes beer (they sell it by the litre for the price of a pint) and then recovering from that consumption. But in the hours where I’m not enjoying cheap beer, there is still a lot to be done. As I’ve always said since getting here, lazy days while abroad are productive days at home.

I’ve continued to coach with the same kids as the last couple of weeks, although there have been a few disruptions. On Tuesday, the local porteños held another general strike. They have a lot to protest about, including the rapid inflation which has seen one pound rise in value from 52 pesos when I arrived to 58 already. The economy is a disgrace and so much of the country lives in abject poverty, including the kids and teenagers who I get to coach in Buenos Aires.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, it was Labour Day. Another day off. There are no buses or trams running so being able to do things is very restricted. Even flights are cancelled, including for some people in my group who suddenly found themselves with five extra days in Buenos Aires.

But Thursday was a new day where people did actually work, including me. My training session remained off so I followed the two Dutch coaches to a different area of the city, across the river into Puerto Madero, where skyscrapers rise high and slums are hiding just a mile away.

This was more like the experience that I had in Colombia, with a pitch closely surrounded by housing and tiny shops or cafes where locals danced and drank all evening, where the kids’ love of football is all-consuming and the sport is the only thing they really have in life. But also where the parents know how hard life really is and how little support is given by the state and so can often take out anger on their own kids.

Translating for the Dutch coaches as Jose Mourinho once did for Sir Bobby Robson in Barcelona (not that I’m drawing parallels), we coached a couple of sessions over a couple of hours as the sun set over the pitch and the posh, newly-built financial buildings and hotels in the distance became merely black shadows jutting into the sky.

Dogs roamed, and were occasionally hit by a stray ball. One clearance from defence rose towards the small floodlights and landed in a 2×2 metre balcony. A woman came out after some shouts from below and dropped it back down for play to resume.

I’m looking forward to going back there this week. It’s got genuine character, whereas my other location does not match the aggression of the players who take to it.

Iguazu Falls

Now, for the wonder of the world that I teased in the beginning. Iguazu Falls lies on the border between Brazil and Argentina while the border with Paraguay is a few miles to the west.

It is a collection of preposterously sized waterfalls that run across the land for miles. It’s the largest waterfall system in the world and has been in films like Moonraker, Black Panther and Miami Vice.

They were apparently formed when a God cut the Iguazu river in half. He found out his wife-to-be had fled with her mortal lover and so he split the river into hundreds of huge sections causing them to fall to their death. There are many other legends including serpent gods. The reality is something I probably learnt in my Geography A-Level but can’t remember in great detail.

Me and a friend from the hostel flew out to Puerto Iguazu on Saturday afternoon in jeans and coats caused by the mild Buenos Aires weather. We stepped off the plane into 80% humidity and 29 degree heat and quickly changed into shorts. That made me realise just how far we had actually flown. It’s not quite a short trip north of Buenos Aires, you in fact bypass the whole of Uruguay and travel hundreds of miles.

We suffered from the many mosquitos and woke the next morning to take a bus to the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls. There, we walked on various trails, seeing the waterfalls from all angles, feeling the mist rising from many metres below and the splash coming from many metres above. In the humidity, that was refreshing. There’s not much to say about the waterfalls. Pictures, although they will never truly show the size and greatness of this place, do the job better.

The next morning, I went over to the Brazilian side. We were in Brazil for less than three hours, but it was worth it.

Then we flew home and were greeted back at the hostel by a collection of new volunteers from various places around the world. This evening, we’re going to watch River Plate (the current South American champions) play in the continent’s biggest club football tournament. That’ll be after coaching again.

Until next week…

Week Seven: Argentina

Seven weeks travelling are done and I’m well and truly adjusted to Argentinian/South American time. That’s why this blog is a day late. It’s also being written in the two free days I have off volunteering because of both a strike and a national holiday. They are frequent.

Hola a todos,

Buenos Aires, as I said last week, is a Latin American city with a European feel. And it already feels pretty homely, too.

Buenos Aires

Over the last week, I’ve become undeniably accustomed to the Argentinian lifestyle. Late nights, slow mornings, evening naps, large beers, big meals, Dulce de Leche at all times and zero work done.

An English work ethic seems miles away from me right now. The Argentines like to laugh at that fact. They are much more social, family/friend-orientated than we are and probably happier, although much less productive.

Last Tuesday was my first day coaching with the charity, United Through Sport. An hour of volleyball and an hour of football were both fun. I’m coaching in the area of the city called Barracas which is in between the area of Recoleta, a nice place where I’m staying, and the ‘slums’ of the city where the kids live.

The coaching is, of course, fun, as it always is. It mainly consists of playing with the kids rather than any coaching, but that’s not the main point. As one of the full-time football coaches said after a punch up in training, the point is not improving people as footballers, but as people.

It’s quite symbolic when all the volunteers (including me) head back to the ‘city’ after training on the number 37 bus while all the kids walk in the opposite direction on the same road down towards the ‘slums’.

I trained with a teenage football team on Wednesday evening and any ideas of a relaxed playing style quickly disappeared when a crunching tackle came my way after two minutes. Aggression is probably the main characteristic of Argentine football games.

The teenagers weren’t quite as open as the kids from the previous day to volunteers and foreigners coming to help. But, thankfully, I managed to score a few goals and earn at least a bit of respect from them and now, like in Colombia, I’m greeted in a friendly manner by most of the group.

Since then, I’ve coached them a couple more times but the best bits of being in Buenos Aires have been the nightlife, including the club that is directly downstairs from our accommodation, and just being able to settle in to somewhere properly. I’ve cooked food in big portions to last a week and that’s oddly satisfying.

Over the weekend, I was busy. On Saturday, I visited the area of La Boca, the home of Boca Juniors and La Bombonera. A Dutch guy and I both admitted we felt like six-year-old kids again when we quite literally stumbled across one of the most iconic football stadiums in world football. It’s special. And I’ll be going back just to look at it and the area around it many times.

The nearby neighbourhood is also great, although very touristy. La Boca has a tourist-focused market with fake football shirts (I have bought seven in the last week. Oops), maté cups (maté is a traditional Argentinian tea kind of drink) and much more. It’s colourful with loads of graffiti and lots of friendly people.

On Sunday, we Uber-d our way to San Telmo market. It’s a market, in San Telmo. It is also very touristy but nice, and more importantly, I found a bar to watch Manchester United draw disappointingly to Chelsea. With cheap beer and food, it didn’t really matter.

And after watching that game, I headed to Argentinos Juniors, the football club where Diego Maradona first played, to watch them take on San Lorenzo (another porteño club) in the Copa Superliga. I was joined by two Dutch guys and another Londoner and we managed to get a ticket in the lively section of the ground that was basked in sun.

The smell of marijuana was unavoidable, as was the sight of almost everyone surrounding us lighting up a joint. Above us were use strips of material in the colours of Argentinos Juniors and for the 90 minutes, we sang as best as we could with the ‘ultras’ while being burnt by the Sun. It was fantastic. Juniors won 1-0.

To start this week, I’ve been coaching some more but the last two days have been free because of strikes and holidays, and so I visited the River Plate Stadium to try and buy tickets for one of their upcoming matches. After an intensely stressful four hours involving a long online queue, a 90-second window in which to purchase tickets and many failed attempts, we have secured four tickets to River Plate against Internacional (a Brazilian team) in the Copa Libertadores (the South American continental club tournament). That’ll be great.

Buenos Aires already feels like home and I’ve met great people here from all over the world (mainly English-speaking so far). This weekend, I’ll head to Iguazu Falls with some of them to see some of the largest waterfalls in the world on the Argentinian-Brazilian border.