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Life after 2012

It’s a year since I experienced one of the greatest days of my life and performed at the London 2012 Ceremonies.

I vividly remember every detail, from the months and months of dance preparation to the first moment my fellow volunteers and myself walked into the stadium surrounded by a thousands of excited spectators!

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(My wonderful ceremonies costume lol)

The weeks of training culminated in just 15 minutes of performance time!

And boy what a performance – if I don’t say so myself 🙂

I never could have imagined that little old me would be dancing away in front of her Royal Highness, 007 and almost 2 billion TV viewers!

And after the performance there was the after-party! The least said about that the better, but from all accounts it was brilliant!! 🙂

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FFkqZhXkID0&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DFFkqZhXkID0

As for my working relationship with the London 2012 Games, I’d been living with them since the capital won the bid back in 2005. Working for BBC London, I facilitated the production of community stories for TV and radio, presented a series where I competed alongside olympic and paralympic athletes, managed online radio stations, gave a speech on the Olympic Spirit for TedXYouth and also managed a directing credit alongside legend, Jon Plowman on BBC’s comedy series, Twenty Twelve – so all in all a pretty amazing seven years!

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(That’s me preparing for my TedXYouth speech)

So 12 months on and and what now? Well for me I bid farewell to the BBC at the end of last year after 10 years of what I consider a good career! After some much needed time away, I’m finally ready to move forward and carve out a new career (hopefully in the media) Any offers of work will now be looked on seriously 😉

As for east London, it’s been difficult to see where exactly the Games have really made a significant impact. Yes there’s a stadium and new Queen Elisabeth park, but neither is open to the public yet. (Just over six hours to go when writing this) Westfield’s Stratford city shopping centre seems to be the only clear winner at the moment.

Yes we’ve had the odd festival in the park, but they really could have been anywhere…

Housing is one of the legacy (not sure I still like that word) plans that I think everyone is eagerly anticipating, but from the little news that’s been released into the public domain it would appear that any benefits for working Londoners is some way off!

http://m.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/jul/21/london-2012-olympics-architecture-legacy

As for athletics, it was a great Games – both the Olympics and Paralympics truly inspired generations, but with news stories of funding cuts every other month, it’s hard to believe Team GB or Paralympics GB will have a similar medal haul in any future Games without a reconsideration of how grass root and elite sport is funded. But we wait and see.

I’m just touching on a few of the issues that are lingering about at the moment. No doubt that these will all be forgotten as we relive the glory this weekend with the British Athletics Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games. I guess the real future can wait for two more days as we enjoy the likes of Usain Bolt and Jessica Ennis-Hill on our screens again!

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(Carrying the Ukrainian flag at the Paralympics closing ceremony)

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One giant leap for Dekan part 12

So the trip from Cordoba slowly fades from my mind as I struggle to understand why my airline (Aerolineas) has changed my airports forcing me to get a 2 hour bus transfer across Buenos Aires to get my connecting flight to El Calafate…

Anyway the plane is old, the snack is a packet of mini cheddars, but soon I drop off to sleep (for all of 15mins) I’m woken by the fact that my tray table is still down because no-one’s collected the empty cardboard box that contained my scrumptious nuts and cereal bar! Lol

Anyway the three hour flight is over and we land in what appears to be a desert… No lie! I only just manage to see the Tarmac of the runaway literally seconds before we touch down. As is customary (so I’ve found) passengers clap on successful landings…and then immediately proceed to get out of there seats to retrieve their belongings from the overhead lockers well before the ‘plane has come to a complete stop at the airport gate’.

Stepping off the plane I’m greeted by the bluest sky I’ve ever seen – the landscape is truly amazing (but this is nothing) Soon I’ve collected my bags and instead of doing the backpackers ‘wait for the local bus’ I hop in a cab for the 20min break-neck speed ride into El Calafate town.

The town appears from nowhere as we hurtle towards it…

And to be honest my first impression is as I’d been told. It’s a tourist town – catering for all your tourist needs – hiking, trekking, climbing, skiing, cycling – you name it, you can pretty much do it here!

My hostel is just off the main strip near the bus station. It’s clean, doesn’t smell, and has decent size dorms. As I’m escorted to my room by the helpful manager, she opens the door to reveal that I will be sharing the room. I’d been kinda praying that I’d be lucky enough to have my own space, but alas this is a hostel not the Hilton!

After unpacking the basics- which basically means nothing, I dump my bags into my locker and head towards the main strip, eager to book the adventure I’d travelled all the way down here for – glacier trekking!

As I walk through be hoards of travellers each more kitted out in outdoor year than the previous, I arrive at Hielo & Aventura – the only glacier adventure tour operator in town.

After 5 seconds of careful thinking I decide to book the ‘big trek’ – eight hours trekking and hiking around the Perito Moreno glacier. There’s just time to hire some ankle high trekking boots and gloves… Apparently the most important items I’d need. Before heading back to the hostel there’s jus enough time to stop a local restaurant to sample the famous local dish of Patagonian lamb. It’s a whole lamb that’s seasoned and left to cook over an open grill for hours until the meat is tender and the skin is crispy like pork crackling. The half portion I ordered ended up as a full one, and I tried my best; but I couldn’t finish it. It also might have something to do with the large portion of sweet potato fries I ordered too 🙂

Once back in hostel heaven, I find out my roomy is Japanese and although not speaking great English he tells me that the ‘big ice’ trek is the best! I fall asleep eagerly anticipating my adventurous day ahead.

6am and my internal alarm wakes me up. Still a little groggy I somehow manage to shower, dress and pack my bag of supplies – water and biscuits! (I’m sure I’ve seen Ray Mears pack something similar) 🙂

My tour guide, Mario arrives at 7am and I’m whisked away on the transfer bus to see some more hotels and hostels as he collects the seven other trekkers. (Is it just me or do you look at other peoples hotels/hostels and wonder whether you should have stayed there instead..lol)

No way

We make our way into the national park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares). and towards glacier Perito Moreno.

The approach is a scenic as ever… Beautiful rolling hills surround the road as we travel through barren roads. Then just as I think I can’t take anymore – I see the lake… So so blue! And then in the distance in the middle of the lake separating the mainland from a small island is a mass of white! That, we’re told is the glacier!

How can that be I think to myself? My head is trying to comprehend the sheer size of it (200 sq km).

We get closer and closer, and as you are fully aware, objects get bigger when they get closer… But this big?! I still can’t believe it… This mass of white is enormous! We drive with the glacier to our right and continue straight towards the viewing platform.

Did I say Wow before??? The noise created by the moving ice as it scraps against itself, is haunting, especially as we are the only people there. Then just out of the blue, interrupting our picture taking, we see a large chunk of ice break free and fall to its icy doom into the freezing water…

The sight is awesome, but the sound that follows is heart-stopping! We’re so lucky to have seen this. People come and wait for hours to get a glimpse at this, and in 15 minutes we’ve seen it all. Next stop is the glacier itself! (And I’m excited)

We drive back to a small port, that sits next to the glacier. Up close and personal now and I’m still in awe of its size!

We travel by boat to the small island and begin our hour long trek through the forest towards the glacier. We’re not doing the mini ice trek that takes you over the tip of the iceberg, we’re trekking for an hour through the forest before hopping on the ice in a more secluded spot and spending 3 hours covering it’s beautiful terrain.

At this point I would write more, but I won’t. I think the pictures say all I need to say about this truly magical place! Enjoy!

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One giant leap for Dekan part 11

As you’ve probably already imagined my time in Mendoza was taken up mostly with wine, and steak – the staple of any Argentinian diet!

Because of this I’ll fast forward to my trip to Cordoba!

In the guide books Cordoba is described as the second city of Argentina! However when I arrived at 6pm from airport it felt like anything but a major city!

The streets were empty for the most part and few cars cruised the roads….but oh how little did I know….

After unpacking in hotel – when taking my wash bag out – I logged on to my trusted couch surfer account to check whether the message I’d posted the day before had been picked up by anyone. (I’d asked if anyone was in town to show me around). To my joy (relief) a few locals had replied offering to show me around the city.

So I showered, put on a t-shirt (it was still very hot) and went to meet my first guide, Vicky. We met in my hotel lobby and she told me we’d walk around for a bit.. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much as I hadn’t been blown away by the cab journey, but literally two minutes away from my hotel entrance I was in the middle of a bustling plaza… It was full of people sitting, chatting and enjoying the coolness of the evening. On the corner of the plaza was a cathedral (this country seems to be full of them) It was a magnificent building, but the outside only served to draw punters, believers and non believers in through its doors!

Once inside we had to dodge the cameras – alas they were not for me, but for the bride and groom who were walking down the isle! We’d walked in on a wedding! A quick look around and we realised that we weren’t intruding… The couple had simply paid to use the premises… So I’ve now been to my first wedding in Argentina!!!

Trying desperately to stay out of the eye line of the wedding camera proved difficult, but was well worth the trouble as we walked deeper into the church. The artwork that adorned the walls was amazing! The structures depicting various scenes from the bible looked like they took hundreds if not thousands of man-hours to create! The cathedral itself apparently took a century to construct (check out some of the pictures).

After witnessing the wedding, we stepped back out into the warm nights air and continued our stroll around the city!

We neared main roads and immediately the noise and vibe of the city picked up. We approached a building that was illuminated by various multicoloured flashing lights – I though it was a disco of sorts, but it’s just a refurbished women’s prison that has now home to art galleries, restaurants and bars… It also has the most amazing water fountain – where the water dances to whatever music is being emitted from the speakers.

Crowds gathered round, enjoying the music and taking pictures… But then something caught my eye… Was I at a prom? I had to double-take because looking around, all I could see were girls dressed in prom dresses posing in and around the building – maybe there was a special party on tonight?
But there was no party – these young women were taking pictures for their ‘sweet 15’ birthday parties! I didn’t know, but a sweet 15 party is a big deal over here.. Families spend lots and lots of money, putting on a massive party to welcome their daughters into…. Womanhood….I guess…

Not quite sure that wearing an eighties through back prom dress from Teen Wolf, and sporting a fire-tastic perm is really selling the idea that becoming a woman though…. I could be wrong…

Anyway after making our way through he endless photographers papping these young models, we made our way to a great little restaurant with mammoth size portions!

I don’t think I’d ever seen a Milanese that big before – it was literally 24 inches… No lie ladies….honest! Lol 🙂

After getting them to wrap half of my food to take home…. My guide decided it was late enough (2300) to first go and take a siesta and then meet up for a drink and to check out the club/bars!

A couple things I should point out- my guide is an English language exchange teacher ( very handy) and Cordoba is a student town! Which means that every night is. Party night lol!

So we head to a club… And what can I say.. Expect the music was very David Guetto and Rhianna, with a mix of Cumbia. What can I say, expect after a giant glass of Cuba libre the night seemed to go pretty quickly – which means it was good! 🙂

When I eventually woke up the next day (i say the next day, but it was actually the same day i left the club – make sense?) it was off to meet my second guide for the weekend – Martin!

Now before I rush into my day tour, I’ll tell you that Martin is a student studying (my mind has gone blank)…. It feels like I met him a year ago, but it was only last week! WTH is happening to me – my brain is finally switching off! It’s only taken 3 weeks of sun and about a bucket of red wine 🙂

Anyway, I’ll remember soon… Martin meets me outside the cathedral and we walk and talk about Cordoba as we head towards one of its parks for some mates! The park is full as is always the case it seems in Argentina. We drink mate and continue to chat about everything. For only 21, Martin is a well rounded young guy with plenty to say on a variety of issues.

Anyway talk moves to walking and we tour even more of the beautiful parks that are buzzing! We also head to the arts fair – which is full of people. Stalls sell everything from plants, to trinkets, the obligatory mate cups, and anything else you can think of!

Finally after a couple more hours braving the sun and heat we head to little bar to quench our thirst with an ice cold beer!

The day isn’t finished yet though.. Later that evening Martin takes me out with his friends to an impromptu house party.. Two memorable things… 1) the melon with wine! Delicious! I’ll be doing that when summer roles round in London, 2) Chiropan – it’s like the Argentinian equivalent of a kebab, expect its a heck of a lot tastier! It’s basically a chorizo sausage grilled and put between a chunk of freshly backed French bread. It’s tipped with Salad (no chilli sauce lol) and that’s about it! Delicious!!!!

Now that we can see the sun rising, it’s definitely time for bed!

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One giant leap for Dekan part 10

So I’ve had a glass of red wine!

That kind of explains why I missed out a large portion of my initial time in Mendoza!

For starters I forgot to mention the park – San Martin Park, to be precise. It’s beautiful, full of lush green grass, thousands of trees, and every evening it’s full of people! I’m not talking about random Hampstead Heath type people (no offence) I’m talking about families, hundreds of families descend on the park in the cool evening with picnics, music and that special atmosphere you get when you get together at heist as time. To see the park full of people enjoying each others company, young and old talking, laughing and smiling with each other is wonderful. I’m not trying to pretend that this was some type of utopia, I’m sure like most places – the park can be a little unsavoury during the evening, but for on e it wasn’t the dark side that was the focus!

After sharing a picnic with some new friends and their families… And being given 101 questions from the two inquisitive siblings who thought every breath I took deserved a question, we walked around the park. The park is massive! We only managed to go around one of the smaller trails but that still took an hour! One of the most impressive things about the park is that it’s completely man-made! After-all Mendoza is a Desert (or was)!

To witness such incredible ecological engineering to create what many would call a true oasis, is quite remarkable!

Anyway if you want to know more look it up! (One more fact though- in Mendoza it is against the law to cut down a tree! Even pruning requires special permission)

Enough tree-news. Back to my first couple of days in Mendoza (before the wines)!

I met my homestay family and immediately I felt at home. With a family of four children, Marcelo and Pamela are no stranger to people coming and going from their home and create a really relaxed and homely environment for everyone.

After I’d put my bags down we sat around he table for lunch and talked about life, work and the beautiful city. Once they’d finished laughing at a couple episodes of Dekan Does, I retreated to my room in the annex, to freshen up!

Once fresh I decided to meet up with a couch surfer one of my friends had introduced me to – Gisel. We met and Geoff I knew what had hit me I was being taken to another friends house for a pool party and mates! Is this place incredible or what?!?
I’m scratching my head trying to figure out head trying to remember another time when such trust and hospitality was shown so freely…

From party to park and back home… Not only had I made even more friends, but one of them had planned to take me to Potrerillos the next day!

White water, brown water

The next day I met some more friends, Alita & Natly at Mendoza bus station for our trip to Potrerillos! I hadn’t exactly realised but at the park I’d mentioned I’d like to go white water rafting and Alita kindly agreed to escort me to the extreme sports town of Potrerillos!

After an hour and a bit on the bus – we took the normal local bus, not the tourist tour bus, (only cost 24 Pesos return) we arrived at the small town. The bus stopped outside some shacks, all of which contained adverts for various outdoor activities from horse-riding, to hiking, sky-diving and paragliding! I found the company that had been recommended to me Potrerillos Explorers and set off to their base camp.

Once there I signed the paperwork, after a quick read (as you do) and put on my wet suit!

The group of 20 was split into Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers and soon we were on our way to the start point. There we had a full safety briefing, which was done with surprising flair and wit! Confident that we were going to get wet we stepped into the raft! But wait!!!!. What’s this? This isn’t white water, this is brown water! The water collects all the mud and dirt along the way, so at bough it doesn’t look amazing, it is clean, and very very very fast!

(Pix coming soon)

Up, down, left, right! The rapids were crazy, I almost fell in twice! If it wasn’t for me using all my strength to wedge my foot into the boat, I’d have gone in! But whether I fell in or not, it really didn’t matter – sitting at the front of the raft guaranteed that I would get drenched – probably more than if I fell in!

After an hour or so on the water, sharing laughs and the great feeling if having successfully navigated the course without one person in our raft falling in, we all decided to jump in away and be carried downstream for the last 100m! Great day out!!!

The next day, I’d planned to visit some more sights, including Puerto del Inca and Acongaua, but alas my plans were thwarted as rain meant buses weren’t able to travel into the mountainous terrain… Never mind – something for me to do on my return!

The next few days on Mendoza were spent getting to know the area – really well! Gisel took me out some more, but mainly I spent the next couple of days exploring the city by myself…. That was until my former work colleague arrived in town for a short stay and I instantly became their tour guide – kinda! Lol 🙂

One of the days we tried to visit a wk winery, but as is the way with life, things didn’t quite work out. I mean I got to the winery ok…. (Pulmary Wines) I Started the tasting with the owner… But my friends never made it, as they were busy tracking down a lost suitcase! By the time they’d recovered their belongings, I was six (maybe eight) glasses in to my 30 Peso tasting session! Because I’d arrived late, I was the only one on the tour, so the owner, Ramiro was great at taking time to explain the whole process to me.

I ended my tour with a glass of their port – which as I’m no port drinker tasters superb! I decided it was wise for me to hang around at the winery as they had a restaurant there and I could eat. I texted my friends and they were more than happy to hop on a local bus and join me in the town of Chacras de Chiro.

While I waited outside in the beautiful gardens of the winery, still sipping my large taster glass of port, just relaxing, I felt a little drop of water in my shoulder!

I looked up and before I could say, I thought it never rained in Mendoza, the heavens literally opened above me!

The chef for the restaurant hurried outside, picking up chairs, and I jumped to my feet to help him. This wasn’t a little shower, this was a full on storm! Ducking into the kitchen for a moment to dry off… I realised that I should tell my friend not to come and that I’d meet them back in dryness of Mendoza city.

After getting soaked by the rain and passing cars as I eventually braved the rain to wait at the bus stop – I hopped on the first bus going home!

And as if by magics by the time I got to Mendoza city, the roads and pavements were almost desert dry! I on the other hand was not!

Showered, dry, and clean I met my friends for dinner and another lovely bottle of red!

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One giant leap for Dekan part 9

The bus

So before coming on my trip to South America I spoke to numerous friends, who had had fabulous experiences here, and all of them bar none, told me that I should make sure I travelled on the bus/coach (similar to National Express) at least once.

Initially I found this strange. Paying to travel upwards of 7 hours on a confined bus didn’t appeal to me one bit. But my friends insisted saying that traveling on a coach in Argentina was like traveling in first class on a plane (when you paid for the cama seats).

I found this very hard to believe, but after checking out the website images and the costs (a cama seat is only about £10-20 more than the normal seat) I decided, albeit reluctantly to give it a go!

So ticket booked, I arrived at Retiro bus station, which for be main international bus station in Buenos Aires, could do with tearing down and starting again!

The immediate area around the bus station is full of people trying to sell you tat, this isn’t the problem. The issue for me was that this is potentially the first place people will see when they arrive in Buenos Aires and it doesn’t give a good impression. The streets are dirty with rubbish and food waste – it’s really no comparison to the beauty of the city I’d seen earlier that week! And that kinda upset me…

Anyway I navigate myself through the mess and the hundreds of fellow travellers all making their way inside and to find my coach ‘platform’. I look at a a nearby screen, but that doesn’t really help. Then I find someone to ask and in spang-lish we figure out hat my bus…coach departs from the furthered platform to where I am – typical!

As I near the platform there are a row of buses all bearing the Andesmar coach company logo – I’m in the right place!

A quick look on the screen, but I can’t see my bus anywhere.. I walk up to the driver and show him my ticket, he grabs it, spends a few moments looking at it and then hands it back to me pointing to another bus. So I walk over to this bus (remember that I’m still carrying a 16kg backpack and 6kg hand luggage in 30 degree heat!)

Pushing my way through the crowds, who are exactly the same situation I am, uncertain as to whether the bus they’re about to step on will take them to the destination they paid for or some other place….

Finally I get to the second driver and discover that my coach will arrive in 10minutes – lovely! I stand and wait….

I’m nervous and slightly excited. Why? Because of the look I get from the baggage handler when I can only give him 5 Pesos because that’s the change I’ve got, and excited because I’ve never travelled in first claw before.. I‘m feeling pretty optimistic.

Living the dream

So it’s time to board. I step inside and wow – my initial impression is ok. The cama ‘bed’ seats are downstairs. There are about eight seats all looking back at me eager to recline. They’re leather looking… But tired. I can imagine that whine this coach first went into service this would have been creme de la creme of travel. But by the look of these chairs they’d seen more than their fair share of hot sweaty bottoms!

The seats are comfortable, and as the picture on he website illustrated, they do recline all the way back providing some comfort for tired bodies.

Again I’m not sure whether it was because my friends sold me such great stories, and It just didn’t live up to the vivid images I’d conjured up in my mind, or whether it was simply that this was the standard and that was that!

Either way I was happy I’d chosen to book the cama seat, even if it was a little old – at least it would make the 15 hour trip a little easier to swallow!

Time flies when your having fun

I on the other hand as not having that much fun… When they said it would take 15 hours they meant it! Despite the reclining chair, the game of bingo (which helped massively with me understanding numbers, the inflight ‘not actually on a flight’ food which was ok, and the challenge of not spilling my complimentary glass of red wine all over myself after every bump in the road, I never knew 15 hours could go so slowly!

Alas night drew in and I fell asleep watching Batman: The dark knight rises, dubbed in Spanish. Unfortunately that didn’t help with my language skills!

Finally dawn broke and we were nearly at our destination. Another tray of ore-packaged food crossed my lap and as the rubbish was being cleared away we arrived at Mendoza!

To Malbec or not to Malbec

Like Retiro, Mendoza bus station isn’t much to look at, but I found the layout and general cleanliness of the place much better! I jumped in a taxi – and headed to my second homestay house!

The house, or apartment was situated on the road in Mendoza, full of various bars and restaurants. At first I was a little concerned, but once I found out the block where the apartment was, was set back from the road it was a big relief!

After setting my stuff in the room i was allocated, was more or less an annex used by the family’s children to keep their table tennis table I was kindly invited to share their lunch too!

In a variation of Spanglish we talked about what I did in London, what the family did, how long my trip was going to be and finally sat around my phone laughing at the comical episodes of my ‘Dekan Does’ series.

After a shower and a little rest, I decided to venture out into Mendoza and get a lay of the land.

As I mentioned I was struck by the numerous bars on the main road – this was definitely a party city, and by the number of chairs that were being put out; tonight (Saturday) was going to be a busy night!

For me though it was about trying the wine, after all that’s the thing that Mendoza is famous for!

I popped into a local restaurant following a recommendation from from a friend and ordered my first Milanese – a beef schnitzel if you will – deliciously crisp and light topped off with a fried egg! And to accompany my main, a glass of the house red….But what a house red! No sharp after taste, no burn on the throat, just lots of flavour and very, very, very smooth! My next stop would have to be a winery!

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One giant leap for Dekan part 8

It’s described as the ‘Venice’ of Buenos Aires. Tigre is an hour north from Buenos Aires and although some of the locals weren’t overly keen on the town they encouraged me to go see it! At first I found this a little bit strange, but as soon a we arrived I could see why some locals had reservations…

Lets start with the journey – I’d arranged to meet some fellow CSers, all of whom were Argentinians at Retiro station. It’s the easiest and probably cheapest way to get to Tigre. As usual (as most of my friends can guess) I was late, but like true Argentinians the expected this and my guides had waited for me! Miguel and Luca were 33 and 24 respectively and although both had been to Tigre years before, they were keen to revisit the area and even more keen to show me around! I use an exclamation mark because I’m from London and I don’t think I’ve experienced this type of hospitality in all of my 34 years!

We formed a very civilised queue on the platform among with the other commuters – again something I hardly ever see in London.

On the train we talked about what we all did for work and then they both started telling me about all the places I should try and visit during my stay!

So the lady sitting next to us had joined in the conversation – obviously we were talking in English and she just happened to be an English teacher! She threw in some more sights I should see as well as a couple of restaurants! Could this place be anymore different to London?

We passed shanty towns, beautiful scenery and finally our 45min commute was over. Once we arrived at Tigre station the three of us (our English teacher had left us ages ago) we walked out of the station like a scene from the three amigos! Neither of knee where we were going or how to get there. The one thing I did recall was that the tourist office was near a Macdonalds (thanks to this website) We walked over and found a great high-tech tourist information office with loads of automated route planners. At this point I should probably explain that Tigre is made up of loads of rivers/ which divide it up into deltas. These can be traversed depending on how fit you are by speed boat, river bus; kayak or row boat!

We chose neither. We decided to do one of the walking tours… We collected a printout of the route map and went on our way… Tigre itself looked beautiful! Green trees, grease, clean streets, it was very much a tourist spot. Immediately I could see why some of the locals had not been overwhelmed by the thought of coming here a – basically it was their equivalent of Southend on sea – albeit a million times more beautiful and hot!

Mates with mates

The first stop was at the Mates museum! It’s the only one in the world! Mates is a traditional Argentinian drink – as well as Uruguay, southern Brazil and Iran and Syria! It’s like tea, but you drink it and share it with friends – a tea type shisha if you will. You can get different strengths/types and everyone makes their Mates differently.

After a walk around the small but interesting museum, the owner treated us to a cup of Mates- my very first! And who better to share it with than with new friends!

As the new liquid touches my tongue it tastes bitter, almost as though I’ve crunched up some cigarette butts and mixed them with water. But I persist… There’s a great tradition that goes with making and then drinking Mates and each person has their own style. Some people even add sugar, which I must say in my opinion makes it taste good!

After a whirlwind tour of the museum (as only three guys can do) we decided if was off to find some food and then to the supermarket to get a few beers! Perfecto!

After a second bottle, we strangely meet another couch surfer who somehow missed our train, but decided to head to Tigre anyway.

After only completing half of one the suggested walks due to the fact that it was absolutely roasting, we decide to head to the slightly cooler shady climate of the local Casino and amusement park (now you kind of understand why I compared it to Southend-on-sea)

The amusement park is cheesy, one very tame roller-coaster, a Ferris wheel and a few candy floss stalls! We immediately head to the casino!

Are you feeling lucky punk?

We head to the roulette table, none of us really taking anything very seriously- the beer and sun have seen to that! We decide to each put in 50 Pesos, about £6, and begin placing chips of random numbers.

Before we even realise it we’re up! We’re doing pretty well on the numbers and more seasoned gamblers begin to join us… Things are going great while we try and figure out exactly how we manage to to keep winning! And just then, light a boot of lightening we begin to start loosing! It doesn’t seem to matter where we put our bets, our luck has definitely run out! So unlike the woman we saw continuously playing the slots and the hoards of people throwing their money away, we decide to cut our loses and head home!

A quick stop for a celebratory beer and we board the train back to Retiro. The train is packed and people sit on the floor while we wait for what seems like an eternity before the before the driver decides that he’s actually got to get home too!

Back in Buenos Aires we continue the celebrations with a trip to Plaza derogge in San Telmo. We watch some live music as people sit, eating and chatting.. Before long we’re all ready to to head home it’s been a long day! And tomorrow I have my ‘bus’ journey!

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One giant leap for Dekan part 7

Tickets please, tickets please

Time to book my ticket for Mendoza – I told you I’m travelling right! Lol

After sitting in a cafe using their wifi all morning trying to figure out whether it’s cheaper to fly or get a bus and where to stay I decide that I’ll go to Mendoza on Friday and take the much talked about bus!

I pack my bag and now head to Retiro station!

Retiro is a bit of a strange place, filled with stall after stall of merchants attempting to sell you any little bit of tat you want. Interjected between these stalls are a number of food sellers, some cooking on the street, others who’ve prepared their sandwiches for sale. I pass one stall where they’re selling fresh chorizo grilled sandwiches – it spells and looks delicious. Just the place your mates tell you about when they bombard you with their holiday stories! Lol. But focus! Bus ticket first!

The area of Retiro where the station is, is not the most pleasant of places… It’s a bit grotty and come night time I’m not sure I’d like to be walking around alone. (Something to remember when I’m booking my ticket’s departure time)

Walking into he station doesn’t I still me with much confidence- it’s dated and could do with some real attention. This is an international bus station, but it feels more like a small local station. Having brushed up on my vocabulary for tickets I spot the sign and the bus company I’m going to book with (recommended on trip advisor) and try to play it cool as I approach the kiosk! (The del-boy falling through the bar scene quickly flashes through my head) I reach the front of the line, and ask for my ticket- as I expected the attendant doesn’t speak English and is struggling to understand my pronunciations, apart from the word ‘Mendoza’. But this is where my back up plane kicks in – I’ve written it all down – Last Boy Scout or what?!? Lol!

She understands!! Pen and paper are truly man’s greatest inventions! Paying proves slightly more difficult as my card takes an eternity to go through… But eventually it does and I’ve now got myself a one way ticket to Mendoza on a 15 hour bus ride! Yes 15 hours! Where is that far by bus? And shouldn’t it be illegal to be on a bus that long? Lol. Luckily I decided to book the ‘cama’ or bed seats for this trip. They were advised to me by friends. Slightly more expensive than normal tickets, they apparently offer a bit more comfort and a kind of in-flight service. I just wish they’d actually fly! Another few days and I’d find out!

Walking back towards town I see the chorizo guy.. Should I, shouldn’t I? I way the odds. If I eat one and it makes me feel sick, I’m still in a good place to chill at home and get better.. Go on Dek they look and spell so good! 30 seconds later and I’m biting into a soft baguette filled with juicy, full-of-flavour. With each bite I’m praying that I won’t get sick.

Within minutes I’ve polished off my scrummy snack and now it’s time to walk back.

I’m tempted to go back, but I’ve got dinner plans tonight. I’m being taken to a local ‘Portana’ restaurant in Palermo!

Stomach or bowel

I’m not talking about the chorizo sandwich, I’m talking about the menu at Enfunda la Mendolina.

It’s a quirky place with load of trinkets on the walls, retro toys dotted all over the place and reclaimed wall tiles as plates.. Nice touch!

My host, Ale encourages me to be adventurous so I sit back and let her order some Molleja. She tells me what it is, and I take a breathe remembering that my friends back home had god me that in Argentina no part of the animal is wasted! I’m promised that it will be the best thing I’ve tasted so far, and when it arrives I must say that it looks pretty scrumptious! (Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture as I was too busy preparing to eat it)

The molleja is covered in a light breadcrumb batter and served on a bed of sweet sautéed onions and crisp lettuce.

When I finally did pluck up the courage to eat it I was genuinely surprised by how good it tasted – allowing my mind not to focus on what it actually was – and simply just going by taste and smell, I have to say it was very good! Honest! 😉 It’s on to my main meal now and something a little more normal – chicken! Again I have to say that it’s great- Enfunda del Mandolina do a great job of preparing local food in a stylish way and I recommend you drop by if you’re ever in the area!

After dinner – we take a trip to a doorway. This isn’t just any doorway; it’s home to 878 bar – a trendy night spot for true Portenas. The bar is brimming with alcohol from all over the world – the cocktails in here are supposed to be amazing. So for the taste test, I order an amaretto sour – my drink if choice at the moment! 🙂

After initially being told they don’t make them (I’m shocked) I convince the waitress to get the bartenders to live a little experiment a little – they’ve got all the ingredients.
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When it comes it’s good, and I sip away enjoying more great company…but tonight can’t be a late one – tomorrow I’ve organised a trip to Tigre…20130124-122334.jpg