High Art

This collection of drawings named ‘high art’, not because of the quality of the artwork, but because everybody that contributed towards it was high at the time, began at the Rainbow Gathering in Mexico. I was absentmindedly doodling after smoking from an earthpipe (you’ll have to read the article to understand what that’s about) and suddenly became aware of myself drawing a dog doing a poo. This made me chuckle and, when asked what I was doing, I explained to those nearby that I was drawing because I felt more creative after smoking weed. Before I knew it, everyone wanted to have a go and, by the end of the day, I had several highly entertaining sketches in my notebook. It was interesting to see where people’s minds travelled in this state, so I began asking people all along my travels to draw something when high. This was the outcome…

My sketch (dog pooing in the corner)

My sketch (dog pooing in the corner)

My drawing is just a mumbo-jumbo of whatever shapes my brain decided to tell my hand to make (in other words, it’s totally meaningless).

 

Sketch number 2

Sketch number 2

The second addition to the notepad was drawn by the guy sitting next to me at the time, who couldn’t explain what it was, but kept insisting that it had to be shown this way up.

 

Naked fairy

Naked fairy

This has to be my favourite, another fellow rainbow gatherer’s picture of a naked fairy sitting on a mushroom and pulling the moon down to earth. Brilliant.

 

DON'T GET TESTED

DON’T GET TESTED

No idea why this particular girl felt so strongly about this…

 

Octopuses y autobuses

Octopuses y autobuses

This came about because I was in a restaurant in Playa del Carmen with a friend singing ‘octopuses y autobuses’ repeatedly. He then decided to draw an octopus on top of an autobus, with Mexico above. The thing in the bottom right-hand corner is the chocolate volcano we had ordered. It’s upside down because we’d been waiting what felt like an eternity for it. It all made sense at the time.

 

Shroom sketch

Shroom sketch

This was in Villa de Leyva, the day after we took mushrooms (the guy was high on weed, not mushrooms). He wanted to inform the world that it was ok to consume these funky fungi, as long as you did so with respect to the pachamama.

 

Legs on a hammock

Legs on a hammock

When relaxing on a hammock in Medellin, I asked my friend Will to contribute to my art collection; he simply drew what he saw in front of him.

 

Life is a book

Life is a book

Couldn’t agree more with this quote. I also like the fact that Nico, a South African I met in Paraty, drew his name in a tiny car at the bottom.

 

Speechless

Speechless

This spiral with eyes was drawn by a guy I met in El Bolson. The funniest part was he spent AGES working on it and, when he finally turned it around, we were presented with… this.

There were many more high sketches, but these are my favourites. Next time I go travelling, I’ll be sure to take a plain pad without squiggly red lines in it along with me.

Why Argentina is Wonderful (and Istanbul is not)

I eventually managed to tear myself away from the magnificent country that is Argentina, where I spent sixteen happy months in the company of some very special people. Although admittedly I was growing tired of Buenos Aires, which made me want to leave the entire country, as soon as I began travelling round the north, I was reminded of why this is such a great place to be. It was my final month and I wanted to make the most of it, so I booked myself on a train to Tucuman, which sits right at the end of the line (a good 30 hours from the capital). On the way I befriended an old lady, who taught me card games and shared her coffee, and we chatted almost non-stop. Then, upon arrival, I hopped straight on a bus to Tafí del Valle, a pretty little town surrounded by mountains, where I stayed for three nights. Over the course of those days, I met a guy from Amaicha, another nearby town, who showed me around on his motorbike, several students from La Plata, with whom I visited the Quilmes Ruins and two brothers, one who owned a restaurant next to my hostel and the other who played there in pen̄as every night alongside a friend of theirs.

Walking over the Quilmes Ruins

Walking over the Quilmes Ruins

Having had such a good start to my trip, I didn’t think it could get any better, but I continued to meet more lovely people, who showed a genuine interest in getting to know me and spending time in my company. Cafayate was next, where I spent a couple of nights with a friendly girl named Flor and Alvaro, one of the brothers from Tafí. We watched the World Cup matches together, explored the town and its surroundings, cooked, sang and danced non-stop in the local bars. One day, we drove through the breathtaking Quebrada de las Conchas and made a stop at Alemanía, once a thriving railway town, where now only approximately ten families reside. It’s quite a spooky place, and the people living there aren’t used to receiving foreigner visitors, yet they too were extremely friendly towards us. Overall, my time in Cafayate was fun-filled and I have many fond memories of this special and unique place.

The residents of Alemanía

The residents of Alemanía

Throughout the trip, I encountered several musicians and began travelling with two of them, Leo and Mariano, along with a Dutch girl named Rose. The four of us walked, talked, laughed and ate delicious meals together, and each night the boys played Blues songs, which Rose and I would sing along to. I was in my element; music, food, stunning natural scenery and the best company I could have asked for. It was perfect. Sadly though, all good things must come to an end and, after a few weeks of hopping from one tiny town to the next, it was time to return to the big city. However, I decided to return to Tafí del Valle, the place where it all began, one last time along the way, accompanied by Leo. On the first evening, Leo and Alvaro played together in the restaurant and wowed the diners, who were clearly more accustomed to hearing Argentine folklore than Blues songs. We then spent the rest of the night jamming and one thing I’ll never forget is hearing the two guys and Guito, the other musician, create an incredible song out of nowhere, which they played for ages while I simply sat and listened in amazement.

The awesome foursome: Leo, Mariano, Rose and me

The awesome foursome: Leo, Mariano, Rose and me

Although I wasn’t particularly looking forward to being in Buenos Aires once again, I was very happy when, on my final night, several of my closest friends in the city came to an asado that I’d organised. As well as sharing a delicious meal and several glasses of wine, we reminisced over what had been a truly wonderful year and I was given some touching gifts, such as a personalised Argentinian flag which they’d all written messages on. Leaving was tough, as I had to say goodbye to a number of people that I really love, but I knew that I was returning to people I love back in the UK too.

My last night in Buenos Aires

My last night in Buenos Aires

Unfortunately, a not-so-enjoyable experience was to follow: flying home. Not only did I have to endure a lengthy stopover in Sao Paulo but, when it came to catching a second flight from Istanbul, I was informed by the airport screens that all flights had been delayed by approximately eight hours due to a storm. Groaning with despair, I rushed over to the helpdesk in an attempt to change my flight, but clearly everyone else had the same idea as the queue was endless. Still, I stuck it out, though the whinging and complaints made by other passengers, the rudeness of the staff and the overall negative vibe made it practically unbearable. Fortunately I was able to change flights, which was just as well, as my original flight was later cancelled. We all had to wait in a stuffy waiting room as the new flight became gradually more and more delayed and, despite being extremely tired, I was determined not to fall asleep for fear of missing the darn thing. Typically though, as I trudged from Gate 301, the original boarding gate, to Gate 225, which was literally at the other end of Atatürk Airport, I managed to drop my passport without even realising, until I’d almost arrived. In a state of panic, I began screaming at the nearest security guard that he HAS to help me find it, as I’ve already waited an eternity for this flight and now, as it’s finally ready for boarding, I have lost the crucial document. He simply tells me to ‘try the information desk’, and so I run there, sobbing helplessly and receiving patronising comments from the people I run past, only to discover another epic queue. This time, I simply barged to the front and, to my utmost relief, saw the passport lying on the desk. With that, I grabbed it and continued running. Despite the odds, I did eventually make it to London where, just to top it all off, I was informed that my luggage has been misplaced… an absolute quilombo, as they say in Argentina. However, two nightmarish days of travelling was all worth it for the two unforgettable years I’d spent abroad.

Back in the UK!

Back in the UK!

So that is why, in my opinion, Argentina is so wonderful and, although I am extremely happy to be back, I know I will miss that country and its people every day until I finally have the chance to return.

Pugs Not Drugs: A Surprise Invitation in Colonia

Last November, my mother and stepfather flew out to Argentina to see me which, after almost a year apart, was a very welcome visit. I had composed a three-week itinerary for us which included a weekend in Colonia, Uruguay, as it’s such a charming little town and is just a stone’s throw from Buenos Aires. Our first full day in Colonia consisted of exercises on the beach (the mother’s request) followed by a bike ride along the road adjacent to the beach. Back in the centre, we had the pleasure of stumbling across a small and very homely restaurant owned by a delightful old man, who presented us with an equally delightful menu featuring mouth-watering fish and seafood dishes. As we sat back in our chairs on the cobbled stone streets and chinked glasses of crisp white wine, we all agreed that coming to Colonia had been an excellent choice.

The slogan which caught my attention

The slogan which caught my attention

The day only continued to get better; lunch had left us more than satisfied, though we couldn’t resist the urge to buy a cheeky ice-cream, just to top it off. We browsed the town some more before returning to the beach, where we sat and drank mate, enjoying the slightly cooler temperature of the late afternoon. There was a bar, situated right beside the beach, which we decided to stop at as the sun was setting. It was there that I spotted a young man with a t-shirt that read ‘Pugs Not Drugs’, which instantly made me burst out laughing. I approached him and asked if I could take his photo, explaining that it was because I enjoyed his t-shirt’s slogan, not because I was some sort of creepy tourist. The man, whose name was Sebastian, willingly obliged and then we began chatting, together with my mum and stepdad and Sebastian’s wife, Andrea. After a while, they informed us they had to return home, but left us a piece of paper with their addess, along with a casual invitation to join them for a glass of wine later on.

Enjoying a few drinks beside the beach

Enjoying a few drinks beside the beach

That evening, we made our way to the historic centre of Colonia and followed the directions to Sebastian and Andrea’s house. Upon arrival we literally gawped- the place was huge. As they welcomed us inside and began to show us around, our mouths only grew wider, for this was one magnificent old building. We then followed them out on to the patio, where a small, beautifully presented table, which not only consisted of wine, but a wide array of Argentinean tapas, awaited us. My eyes eagerly passed from a bowl of olives to bread, ham, sardines, roasted vegetables and a plate of mini milaneses. Everything looked and smelled delicious. Sebastian poured the wine into four large glasses and we each took seats before toasting to the lovely couple and thanking them for their hospitality. Hours passed as we talked, ate and drank into the night, not what I was expecting after Sebastian had simply said “Drop in, if you feel like it” earlier that day; thank goodness we did ‘drop in’, or all that lovely food and the time taken to prepare it would have gone to waste! Eventually we decided to make our way back to the hotel, smiling all the way and discussing what a wonderful evening it had been. It’s people like Sebastian and Andrea that really make travelling on this continent such a pleasure.

A terrible photo of the beautiful table

A terrible photo of the beautiful table

How One Article Led to Two Magnificent Weeks Away

Last year, I visited the ghost town of Villa Epecuén for the weekend with a couple of friends. We had the pleasure of meeting the town’s last remaining resident, Pablo Novak, who fled along with everyone else when the town was flooded back in 1985, but chose to return once the flood waters had receded. Pablo had proudly shown us articles based on Epecuén’s story, and demonstrated his collection of photos of the town, past and present. His loyalty to Epecuén touched me, and inspired me to write an article based on our experience there, which I wanted to send him. However, Pablo lives without electricity and I don’t even think the post reaches his small house in the woods, so before I left I asked him how I’d be able to show him what I’d written. He then told me to contact his grandson, whose name was Christian, before scribbling his email address down on a scrap piece of paper for me.

Pablo Novak: Villa Epecuén's only resident

Pablo Novak: Villa Epecuén’s only resident

A week or so later, I wrote my article and sent it Christian’s way, along with a note explaining who I was and why I’d chosen to write about Epecuén. To my delight, Christian was really excited to receive my message and thanked me profoundly for my words and photos. We continued to talk over Facebook and at one point he offered to host me, should I wish to return to Carhué, Epecuén’s neighbouring city- I decided to take him up on this offer. Christian picked me up from Buenos Aires on Tuesday March 18th and drove me to back to Carhué, along with his father and, throughout the journey, both quizzed me on my opinion on, well, pretty much everything! I was asked what I thought about Margaret Thatcher, Rolls Royce, French perfume, the Argentine president, mate, Benny Hill, Rover, some Italian motorcycle brand I’d never heard of, the Falklands War… by the end of all the questioning, I was exhausted and passed out in the back of the car.

A bright, sunny morning at Christian's house

A bright, sunny morning at Christian’s house

As I awoke, we were just pulling into Carhué. Christian showed me into his house and insisted that I took his bed, while he slept on the sofa. Part of me was reluctant to do so, for I felt it was a bit unfair that I should have his nice comfortable bed after he’d done all the driving, but the other part was very grateful for such luxury. We both enjoyed a cup of tea at his kitchen table before saying goodnight to one another and heading bedwards. I felt like my head had barely hit the pillow when I awoke to the sound of karma karma karma karma karma chame-le-on blaring out of the speakers.  It was morning, my first morning in Carhue, Christian was making breakfast with 80’s songs playing in the background, the sun was shining and I felt very content.

Sunset on the beach

Sunset on the beach

Over the course of the next two weeks, I met all of Christian’s friends, went on lengthy walks, joined a tennis class, swam in the salty lagoon, played cards, ate copious amounts of meat and drank copious amounts of mate. Two backpackers, who had previously visited Carhué as part of their trip, returned and they too were welcomed into Christian’s house. The four of us enjoyed many meals cooked by the other residents of the city, sunsets on the beach, music at all hours of day and night and soaking up the relaxing atmosphere that came with this beautiful, special place. One day, we were invited to an amazing house in the countryside, where we ate asado in the sunshine, trotted around on horse-back and explored the seemingly infinite grounds.

Enjoying some peace in the countryside

Enjoying some peace in the countryside

My last two days, however, were perhaps the most special; I had met a Bolivian woman the previous week when asking for directions and we had begun chatting, then she introduced me to her two children and we spent some time together, before I told her I had to move on. After she urged me to return, I made sure I did so, taking the remains of an apple crumble I’d made the day before with me. Seeing the joy on this woman’s face when I went back to see her was really touching; I hadn’t expected my visit to mean so much to her! She welcomed me into her house, where she served fresh fruit and wonderful home-made bread, and we chatted some more, while the children ran about the kitchen excitedly. I stayed for a while, helped the elder of the two girls with her maths homework (though I think she was more capable of multiplying fractions than I was) and then bid farewell to the family once again. On my last night, I cooked a spaghetti bolognese for Christian and his friends, and we ate, drank red wine and reminisced about the past days spent together, all of which had been very happy… and it was all thanks to that one article! And Christian’s good, kind nature of course. To all the people from Carhué who read this, gracias por todo y espero verlos pronto! Besos, chau for now!

Florentina, my Bolivian friend, and one of her daughters

Florentina, my Bolivian friend, and one of her daughters

Island of Surprises in Bolivia

Standing at the top of Isla del Sol

Standing at the top of Isla del Sol

After just a couple of days in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, I was ready to leave the hustle-and-bustle of this vast, chaotic city and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet on nearby island, Isla del Sol. Upon arrival, I took one look at the intimidatingly steep hill that stood before me and decided that I would simply chuck my bags in the nearest lodging, for at this altitude, walking just a couple of steps uphill feels like an immense challenge. After discovering a cheap cabin within minutes, I flopped onto one of the small, rock solid beds, which was covered in dust and the odd hair while my travelling partner, Sterling, perched tentatively on the edge of the other. We exchanged nervous glances; this was a seriously foul room. Without hesitating, we walked back out so that we could enjoy the island and try and put those greasy dark hairs out of our minds.

Please click here to continue reading this article, which I entered for a travel writing competition on We Said go Travel’s website. Thanks!

Friendly Faces in Colombia

High up in the mountains of Medellin

High up in the mountains of Medellin

My time in Colombia was brief but certainly very sweet. From admiring street art on the buildings in Bogotá, to embracing the peace and beauty in the colonial town of Villa de Leyva, to endless partying in Medellin, every minute of my time there was well spent. Although the country has many positive qualities, and I could provide endless reasons to go, the thing that impressed me most about Colombia was how friendly and open the people are there. Having woken up unusually early one morning, I decided to visit a café just around the corner from my hostel in Medellin, where I sat writing in my journal whilst eating breakfast. After a few minutes, the guy on the table next to me asked what I was doing and we began chatting. His name was Jerry, he owned a diamond company and what sounded like a pretty plush apartment overlooking the city. I was eager to accept when he asked if I’d like to see this apartment, but felt nervous at the prospect of going to a stranger’s house alone, so I returned to the hostel, dragged my friend Will out of bed and took him along with me.

Please click here to continue reading this article, which I entered for a travel writing competition on We Said go Travel’s website. Thanks!

Burning Argentina: Aurora 2014

The legendary Burning Man in Nevada attracts thousands of festivalgoers each year and, as a result of its success, different versions of the festival now take place in South Africa, Spain, Australia and Japan to name a few. This year saw the birth of Burning Argentina, aka Aurora, near a small town called Bragado in the Buenos Aires provinces. After hearing the news from a friend’s housemate, I instantly decided this was something I simply couldn’t miss.

The location of Aurora 2014

The location of Aurora 2014

The week leading up to the event was spent buying and preparing meals to take with us, choosing which fancy dress to wear and ensuring that we had all the necessities for four days in el medio de la nada. After waking up early on Saturday to pack the car, we set off with a box of hash brownies for breakfast and three hours of pounding trance to get us in the mood. We managed to reach Bragado without any problems, but then got significantly lost (probably the fault of the brownies) when trying to find the exact location of the festival. Eventually we saw the Aurora symbol on a white gatepost, the entrance to the festival; we’d made it!

The Aurora symbol

The Aurora symbol

Upon arrival, I was quite surprised at how few people there were, but as the festival progressed I began to realise this was a good thing, as it made for a more intimate setting. I decided to take it easy that first day, get to know our neighbours and explore our surroundings. A five-minute walk from the campsite was a forest, which had been decorated with multi-coloured mannequins and other miscellaneous objects, such as light bulbs and a phone box. The DJ booth had also been set up there and, on a vast patch of grass just behind, lay the wooden man himself. After wandering around for a bit, I joined in on the communal asado and chatted to the others over a few cups of wine, before gradually drifting off beside the campfire.

The colourful forest

The colourful forest

The stifling heat made it nigh on impossible to sleep in, so we got up early the next morning and headed to the lake for a swim. The temperature of the water was perfect, the soft mud at the bottom massaged my feet and, as I observed my surroundings, I could see nothing other than trees, butterflies and seemingly endless fields of corn. We were as remote as remote could be and that made me incredibly happy. People found different ways to amuse themselves during the day; the more active ones would embark on adventurous trails, kick a football about and kayak along the river, whilst others would relax with music and card games, draw pictures and smoke shisha. As the sun went down, everyone would don their costumes and walk around handing out little gifts such as lollipops, whistles, glow bands and stickers. Unexpectedly, there was a wedding that night, conducted by men in masks, which saw the bride and groom get covered in foam as spectators cheered, took pictures and threw rice on them. Up at the woods, various different DJ’s played a mixture of music, ranging from ambient to techno to trance, while we danced and waved our glow bands in the air. Each time cold got the better of us, we’d sit by the fire just metres away, engage in conversation with whoever else happened to be there, then return to the ‘dancefloor’ and continue. It was very easy to lose track of time, and all of a sudden I noticed it was getting light and the birds were starting to sing, as day three of the festival emerged.

The unexpected wedding

The unexpected wedding

Our last day was a good one, we hadn’t had very much sleep (again), but I felt very content nonetheless. We walked, swam, cooked pizzas on the parrilla, watched a live band up at the forest, then prepared ourselves for the climax of the festival: watching the man burn. This was quite a spectacle, which began with a procession from the campsite to the top of the hill, where the man had been raised and was ready to be ignited. As flaming branches were hurled upon him, the crowd stood and watched, their claps and cheers growing louder the more he burned. People had gongs and drums, one man even played his violin throughout, rendering it all the more mystical and dramatic. Eventually, every part of him had fallen and, as the last bit of wood turned to ashes, the beats from the DJ booth started up once again. More masks, more dancing and more strange and rather trippy episodes, such as seeing a baby armadillo run through the crowds, were to follow as we partied on into the night.

Watching the man burn away

Watching the man burn away

The blissful sunny weather that we’d been fortunate to experience finally abandoned us in the early hours on Tuesday, the last day of the festival. Once we realised that the rainwater was coming in through our tent and everything was getting soaked, we got up, packed our things in plastic bags and quickly shoved them into the car. On the way out, the car got stuck in the mud three times and had to be pushed, but we eventually made it back to Bragado, where we sat in a petrol station café, damp and delirious, clutching warm cups of coffee. It wasn’t the best end to the festival, but we’d had such fun that it seemed totally worth it, and I have nothing but fond memories of Aurora 2014.

Dead mannequin: symbolic of our state on Tuesday morning

Dead mannequin: symbolic of our state on Tuesday morning

 

—VERSIÓN ESPAÑOLA—

Había unas personas del festival que no podían leer el articulo porque no saben leer inglés. Por eso, un genio que se conoce con el nombre de Cris Ferloni hizo una traducción, para que todos puedan entender. Un enorme gracias Cris!

El legendario Burning Man en Nevada, atrae a miles de personas al festival cada año, y como resultado de su éxito, diferentes versiones del festival tienen lugar en Sudáfrica, España, Australia y Japón por solo nombrar algunos. Este año vimos el nacimiento del Burning Argentina, bajo el nombre de Aurora, cerca de un pequeño pueblo llamado Bragado en la provincia de Buenos Aires. Después de habanos enterado de esto por medio de un amigo de un chico que vive con nosotros, instantáneamente decidí que era algo que simplemente no me podía perder.

Él ubicación de Aurora 2014

Él ubicación de Aurora 2014

La semana previa al evento nos la pasamos comprando comida para llevar, eligiendo que disfraz iba a usar y asegurándonos de tener todo lo necesario para esos 4 días en el medio de la nada. Después de despertarnos temprano el sábado, cargamos el auto, nos pusimos en marcha con un paquete de brownies con hachís para desayunar y tras tres horas palpitando el evento para ponernos en ambiente. Nos las arreglamos para llegar a Bragado sin ningún problema, pero entonces nos recontar perdimos (probablemente por culpa de los brownies), mientras tratábamos de encontrar la dirección exacta del festival, de repente vimos el Símbolo de Aurora en un poste blanco en una entrada. La entrada al festival! Lo habíamos logrado!

El símbolo de Aurora

El símbolo de Aurora

Una vez que llegamos, estaba un poco sorprendida por la poca gente que había, pero a medida que se iba desarrollando el festival me di cuenta de que era algo bueno, iba a ser un ambiente mas íntimo. Decidí tomarlo con calma el primer día, conocer a nuestros vecinos y explorar los alrededores. A unos 5 minutos a pié de la zona de acampe había un bosque, el cual estaba decorado con maniquíes multicolores y otros diversos objetos, como lamparitas y un teléfono. La cabina del Dj también estaba ahí y en una gran parte de pasto justo detrás, estaba acostado el hombre de madera. Tras pasear un rato, me uní al asado comunal y a conversar con los demás mediante algunas copas de vino, para de a poco estar al lado de la fogata.

El bosque de colores

El bosque de colores

El calor sofocante hizo que prácticamente fuera imposible dormir, por eso nos despertamos temprano y nos fuimos al lago a nadar un ratito. La temperatura del agua era perfecta, el barro blandito del fondo masajeaba mis pies, entonces observé a mi alrededor y no puede ver nada, mas que solamente árboles, mariposas y lo que parecían ser interminables campos de maíz. Estábamos tan lejos como se podía y eso me hizo increíblemente feliz. Las personas encontraban diferentes formas de pasar el rato durante el día, los mas activos recorrían, jugaban con una pelota de fútbol, hacían kayac a lo largo del lago, otros simplemente se relajaban con la música y jugaban a las cartas, otros dibujaban o fumaban. A medida que el sol se puso, todo el mundo se vestía con sus trajes y paseaban por ahí dando regalos como chupetines, silbatos, pulseras de colores y stickers. Inesperadamente hubo un casamiento esa noche, el cual fué llevado a cabo por hombres con máscaras, vimos a la novia y al novio cubiertos de espuma, como espectadores aplaudimos, sacamos fotos y les tiramos arroz. En el Bosque varios Dj´s pusieron una variedad de música que iba desde Ambient, a Techno y hasta Trance, mientras nosotros bailábamos y agitábamos nuestras pulseras de colores en el aire. El frío se iba apoderando cada vez mas de nosotros por lo que nos fuimos a sentar junto a una fogata a poco metros de ahí, una vez allí charlábamos con quienquiera que estuviese ahí y al ratito volvíamos a la pista. Fue realmente fácil perder la noción del tiempo, y de repente me di cuenta de que se estaba haciendo de día y los pájaros empezaron a cantar, el tercer día del festival había llegado.

La boda imprevista

La boda imprevista

Nuestro último día fue muy bueno, no habíamos dormido mucho (otra vez), pero me sentía muy contenta de todos modos. Caminamos, nadamos, cocinamos pizzas en la parrilla, vimos tocar una banda en vivo en el bosque, nos estábamos preparado para el momento culmine del festival: ver al hombre arder. Fue todo un espectáculo, comenzó con una procesión desde el camping hasta la cima de la colina, en donde había sido levantado y estaba listo para ser quemado. Le acercaron ramas encendidas y la multitud se puso de pie para observar, aplaudían y vitoreaban cada vez más fuerte mientras mas se quemaba el muñeco. Algunos tenía gongs y tambores, incluso un hombre mientras tanto tocaba el violín, lo que hacía que sea aún más místico y dramático. Al ratito, cada parte del muñeco ya se había caído y cuando hasta la última astilla de madera se convirtió en cenizas, desde la cabina del Dj los sonidos, el ritmo volvió a sonar una vez mas. Más máscaras, más baile y los episodios más extraños tuvieron lugar, como ver a un bebé Armadillo correr a través de la multitud, íbamos a seguir de fiesta toda la noche.

Mirando el hombre queme

Mirando el hombre queme

El clima soleado y la suerte que habíamos tenido finalmente nos abandonó en las primeras horas del martes, el último día del festival. Una vez que nos dimos cuenta de que el agua de lluvia entraba por nuestra carpa y todo lo que teníamos se estaba empapando, nos levantamos, guardamos nuestras cosas en bolsas de plástico y rápidamente las metimos en el auto. A la salida, el coche se quedó atascado en el barro tres veces y lo tuvimos que empujar, pero finalmente pudimos volver a Bragado, ahí nos sentamos en un café en una estación de servicio, y tomamos un poco café caliente. No fue el mejor final para la fiesta, pero nos habíamos recontar divertido, por lo que hacía que todo eso valiera la pena, no tengo mas que buenos recuerdos de Aurora 2014.

Maniquí muerto: un símbolo de nuestro estado el martes por la mañana

Maniquí muerto: un símbolo de nuestro estado el martes por la mañana

A Serendipitous Weekend Away

One of the beautiful delta islands

One of Tigre’s beautiful delta islands

As it’s so humid during the summer months, the city of Buenos Aires becomes a pretty unpleasant place to spend much time in, so many people escape to the coast or visit nearby towns in the provinces. A popular choice of destination is Tigre, for although the town is nothing to write home about, lining the delta are a number of beautiful, tranquil islands where you can pay to spend a day or camp overnight. As usual, I wasn’t very organized and didn’t do any prior research into camping, so was fairly shocked when we were told it would cost AR$170 per person for one night, which was far more than we’d expected (or brought along with us). Needless to say, we spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find an alternative and by the evening, we were on a bus heading to a different town where we’d heard that camping was cheaper. There was a clear reason for that though; the campsite was right in the middle of the ghetto and, after a random woman on the bus overheard us discussing our plans, she urged us not to go unless we wanted to get robbed. With that, we simply got off the bus and returned to where we’d started.

Matilda Cocina Casera: home-turned restaurant

Matilda Cocina Casera: home-turned restaurant

After a few beers, the patch of grass we’d been lying on beside the riverbank began to seem like the most appealing place to spend the night, so we took off our shoes, laid a blanket on the ground and gradually dozed off. We managed to get about three hours of sleep before the police came and insisted we move on, so we did- to the plaza just across the street. After another two hours, they returned and explained to us in rather impatient tones that they didn’t want to catch us sleeping outdoors again. By that stage it was 7am, so we just decided to stay awake and pay for day access to one of the islands. We were obviously still half-asleep though, for we managed to miss our stop on the boat and after forty minutes were told we’d have to get off and wait for one going back in the opposite direction. The stop we disembarked at was for a tiny island owned by a man who’d transformed his house into a delightful restaurant, and who allowed us lie back in his hammocks and listen to music in return for a few swigs of Quilmes. We ended up spending most of the day on this island, enjoying the peace and quiet, the lovely views over the delta and the strange little furry caterpillars, who were pretty much all we had for company.

Enjoying our (practically) private island

Enjoying our (practically) private island

Eventually a boat arrived and we reluctantly hopped on it to return to Tigre, passing the island we’d intended to visit initially and thanking our luck that we’d missed the stop; it was jam-packed full of people and didn’t look nearly as nice as our spot! Next time we’ll be sure to take a few extra pesos along with us so we can buy lunch at Matilda Cocina Casera and spend the entire day there.

Highlight of Brazil: Paraty

The historic centre of Paraty

The historic centre of Paraty

The colonial town of Paraty, located on the Costa Verde in Brazil, is renowned for its cobbled stone streets, historic buildings, magical beaches and jungle. For me it was a wonderful place because everything about it was so unexpected; it’s such a quiet town that I wasn’t exactly hoping for banging nightlife, but on my first night there I found myself at an Afrobeat party on a farm with two girls from Uruguay and a whole lot of Brazilians wearing funny hats. Everyone was dancing under a canopy beside a giant screen displaying trippy visuals, behind which there was a fairly impressive bonfire and several people playing drums. The girls and I befriended some locals, who invited us down to the beach where we smoked a joint and danced in the sea for a bit, before returning to the farm and playing on some giant tyre swings, chuckling at the randomness of the situation.

Paraty Beach

Paraty Beach

I continued to have unique encounters with memorable people in Paraty, such as the staff at Paraty Beach Hostel, who plied me with tasty but deadly caiprihnas and refused to let me pay for any of the barbecues they prepared. I spent a lot of time with Nico, a South African guy staying at the hostel, and we began embarking on little adventures around the town and its surroundings together. One day we broke into an unused ranch, went for a dip in the river then proceeded to climb to the top of a steep rock, from where we could gaze into the depths of the jungle and watch tiny monkeys in the trees as they swung between branches. Another time, Nico and I spent the morning clambering through woodland in order to reach the quietest, most remote spots along the shore and take advantage of the calm, clear seawater.

Legends: Gaston & Victor

Legends: Gaston & Victor

I was reluctant to leave Paraty, especially when I was offered a job at the hostel, however Argentina was beckoning at this stage, so I eventually dragged myself away. It’s an unmissable destination for anyone visiting Rio though and I’d highly recommend staying at Paraty Beach Hostel if you go!

A Trip To a Flooded Ghost Town

Villa Epecuen

The ruins of Villa Epecuén

Last weekend, a couple of friends and I decided to visit Villa Epecuén, a ghost town in the Buenos Aires province, which re-emerged after being destroyed by floods in the ’80s and subsequently abandoned. On Friday evening, we all hopped on a rickety train which I thought would reach the neighbouring city of Carhue just three hours later; needless to say, it turned out to be an eleven-hour train ride, and we didn’t arrive until the following morning! It was undoubtedly worth every hour though, as well as the hangover that came with ‘accidentally’ finishing all our wine on the journey.

Carhue

Our first day in Carhue

After breakfast, which consisted of coffee, croissants and ice-cream, we pitched our tents at a local camp site, then began exploring our surroundings. We hired bikes, cycled to the nearby salt lagoon, whose salinity level is topped only by that of the Dead Sea, grabbed handfuls of the squelchy mud which lay at the bottom and proceeded to have an epic mud fight. Once that got old, we simply lay back and floated upon the dense waters, soaking up the sunshine and savouring the peaceful atmosphere. Later on, once the sun had gone down, we returned to that same spot to perch on the rocks and gaze up at the millions of stars.

Salt Lagoon Carhue

Getting muddy

On Sunday morning, we awoke to storms and such strong winds that our tents almost blew away. Not the types to be easily defeated though, we got back on our bikes and cycled (against the wind) to Villa Epecuén, passing the sinister matadero we’d visited the previous day and lines of dead trees that had turned white from the salt. Upon arrival in the town, each of us shuddered at the eeriness created by the deathly silence and further enhanced by the dark, stormy skies. What were once people’s homes, hotels and restaurants now exist only as piles of rubble and, although it is of course heart-wrenching to see the dire effects caused by these floods, it was a strangely beautiful sight. The most haunting was an old playground, where the seats of the swings had fallen off but the chains continued to creak as they swayed gently in the wind.

White trees

The whitened trees

I had heard that Villa Epecuén still had one remaining resident, but presumed this must have been a rumour, as surely nobody could live in a place like this. However, as we began to make our way back, I spotted a house through the trees beside which cows were grazing and a few chickens were running about, implying there must be some form of life in this desolate town after all. We approached the house tentatively as a couple of barking dogs bounded through the doorway, followed by a tiny old man who introduced himself as Pablo Novak, ‘el único habitante’- we’d found him! What’s more, Pablo invited us in and proceeded to offer us beers, salami and delicious queso casero, before presenting us with his hefty collection of newspaper and magazine articles based on Villa Epecuén. We browsed the collection and listened in awe as he recounted tales of the town’s past and present, telling us how his father was its founder and therefore he felt a certain loyalty to the town, which caused him to return home twenty-five years after the flood waters receded. He now lives in his small farmhouse with his animals, but without electricity or any other modern-day luxuries, and still visits the town daily to walk and read the paper. I was truly reluctant to leave when our time came to return home, but I gave Pablo a big hug and promised I’d write an article for him to add to his collection. Well Pablo, here you are…

Pablo Novak

Pablo Novak, lone resident of Villa Epecuén