Buenos Aires: The Sequel
Going back to BA was great, but it didn’t quite manage to generate the same magic as the first time, although I did manage to find some magic of my own…
So I thought I would hook up with Pato, who had flirted with me outrageously the first time around and had added me on Facebook. I dropped lots of hints that we were coming back namely statuses like ‘BA BA BA BA BA BA BA Buenos fucking Aires’ and ’19 days till BA’ and ‘getting on a bus and going back to BA – yeah baby’. Mature, I know.
Anyway, this message must have passed him by as he looked pretty surprised to see us. Probably because many hostel workers bang through gringoes like nobodies business and out of sight is truly out of mind.
We changed hostels as we thought our place in peaceful Palermo was far too boring, we lost our deposit but we didn’t care and we managed to get in at Milhouse 2 that we’d visited when it had just opened.
I saw Max again working behind the bar which was a bit awkward after how I left it last time but we swiftly cut to the polite kissing and didn’t mention it.
On Christmas Day a guy from our hostel who was a chef by trade volunteered to cook some of us a meal. Anyway, more and more people found out about it and the number quickly got up to 60. Everyone gave a donation and they got the ingredients, the cooking started in the afternoon and as you can imagine, it took an age.
The chef understandably got super stressed and ordered everyone out of the kitchen. By the time the food got served, it was 11pm and there was understandably not a lot of food. Steph and I wolfed it down in two seconds flat, it was the first proper meal we’d eaten since last time we were in Argentina.
On Monday we went to the obligatory party at the original Milhouse hostel and Tomas (who Steph slept with last time) was there in a social capacity so we both went over and said hello to him. Somebody told me that I looked like a ‘favela kid’ and Steph had a go at him, it turned out that he wasn’t insulting me but had seen me in that awful room in Mellow Yellow.
I can’t say I was as loyal to Steph that night as she was to me. Tomas approached and asked me if I wanted to go and have a smoke upstairs, I said yes but I knew what I was getting into. In the lift, he moved closer and closer to me until we got to top floor. It was locked so I told him to get the key and then I wondered if he would come back. He returned and we went on the balcony and lit a joint. His hands were everywhere and I fought him as we kissed.
We resurfaced and went downstairs but a girl had told Steph that we were up there together. Tomas asked if we wanted to go back to his flat to watch Twin Peaks and I said yes, unfortunately, Steph jumped in with us. I went to the kitchen to get water and he followed me and kissed me. I fell asleep watching the film with him beside me and Steph woke me up early in the morning as she wanted to leave, which was fair enough and we got out of there. The whole situation was very odd.
Tomas was a cross between the last two shitty boyfriends I’d had. He was curly-haired, big-eyed, musical, arty, thoughtful and a man of few words. I guess Steph had tried it on with so many of the guys I was interested in that I didn’t care anymore. Needless to say we did not discuss it.
The next day Steph and I visited La Plata which was a city close to BA that we hadn’t visited the first time around. I also thought my parcel had been delivered there. It was good to be away from the madness of BA, if only for one day, needless to say, my parcel wasn’t there as it had been impounded at the airport. The airport office was closed over Christmas so I never got it. Argentina considers contact lenses to be medical equipment, hence keeping hold of it.
We also had to organise New Year so we went to the trouble of finding a ticket office in town to buy cheap tickets for the new year’s eve at one of the big clubs called Pacha.
Long story short, I got wasted and accidentally threw my drink over a girl whilst being carried to bed on the hostel. I woke up the next day and I’d missed it all. But it turned out I hadn’t missed everything…
I went back upstairs to have a nap and woke up thinking that Tomas was there. He wasn’t. The second time I woke up and he was there and he put his hand in mine. We had the usual to and froing of him trying to get inside my clothes and me stopping him and I agreed to meet him later. I thought he said 2 so I went over to the other hostel.
On my way to meet him, I saw Andrew (from Puerto Iguazu) and I told him that I was going to lie to Steph. He said that I can’t lie to her but at this point, it was already too late. As Tomas had asked her which room we were in I think she probably knew at this point.
When I walked in some of the females behind the desk clearly knew as there were cameras in the hostel. Tomas said he wasn’t finishing until later which was disappointing for me, so he asked me to go and check the rooms with him. Clearly, this was hostel speak for something else entirely. We went to the bathroom next to the room we’d shared with the Aussies the first time around and it happened, six weeks after we’d met. Afterwards, I went back to my hostel and counted the minutes until he was off his shift.
I went back to his flat for the second time and we bought empanadas and condoms along the way. I just couldn’t think straight at this point as I was so ruined by BA. I asked him if he liked Steph and he said he had liked her. Afterwards, I sat on his sofa and I didn’t sleep, I woke him up periodically to make the most of our time together.
He was pretty fucked from all the LSD he’d taken the night before. In the morning I had to leave to get the bus to Bolivia. He was too tired to walk me to the Subte stop but I knew he had walked Steph. I went to our hostel and woke her up. We grabbed our bags and got ourselves to the bus station. Neither of us said anything for most of the journey. I relived those moments over and over until we crossed the border and it was back to reality.
Bolivia is the cheapest country in South America so you get a lot of bang for your buck here. There are lots of things to see such as Lake Titicaca and salt flats, indigenous culture, cities, ruins and such more ropey attractions. These dubious activities included going to prison, coke dens, dangerous mines and a very dangerous road.
The bus journeys are the most traumatic in South America and toilet stops are short and few so I would drink little on bus days. Period days are not ideal, double up and don’t wear your favourite trousers.
Bolivia made the decision to give equal rights to nature to be on a par with humans. As with many South American countries, the intention doesn’t necessarily mean that is the case. They also described their mineral deposits as ‘blessings’.
The rights are as quoted in the Guardian: ‘The right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered, and to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities’.
This is effectively a constitution for nature which seems necessary in these times, something which in my opinion should be worldwide. I’m not saying it should be in these words or containing these caveats but I believe in the essence of it and in nature’s right to thrive and exist without harm. As with many poor countries, global warming is hitting them hard and they need to protect their interests, especially as the richer countries are the ones fuelling climate change. As many poorer countries have mineral deposits, capitalism would be protecting its own interests, but it doesn’t see it that way.
Bolivia is the poorest county in South America and that is in part due to its geography. The country lost 250 miles of its coastline to Chile in the 1879 War of the Pacific. This also made bigger rifts with the indigenous Andean highlanders and the European lowlanders. In a self-sabotaging move, Bolivia refuses to sell gas to Chile despite having one of the best supplies of it in South America. Evo Morales has a policy that they will only sell gas to Chile if they get some coastline back. Chile refuses even though they have a big demand for gas.
There are a few South American land disputes including the Chile and Argentina over the Beagle Channel, Venezuela wants half of Guyana and Ecuador wants some of Peru. All are at a stalemate and Chile and Bolivia would especially benefit from a compromise. Better to do deals with each other than dodgy global corporations.
Bizarrely, Bolivian President Evo Morales was signed as a midfielder for Sport Boys, based in Santa Cruz at the age of 54 but would only play for 20 minutes due to his busy schedule. Imagine the ridicule if this were to happen in the UK, Twitter would be on fire.
There was more controversy when the region of Oruro went on strike after its airport was named after Morales (not at his request), it was previously named after aviator Juan Mendoza, a local hero. It was consequently changed back.
This is not the only great act of protest to come out of Bolivia as there were water riots in their recent history.
The Cochabamba Water War
In 1999-2000 in the little known Bolivian city of Cochabamba, something big happened when the government announced their plans to privatise the water supply. This was part of the terms of an agreement that came with their loan from the World Bank. When this happened I think that it is fair to say that the shit hit the fan in an impressive way. The selling of the Cochabamba water supply was part of this privatisation policy and the contract was won by Bechtel. They planned to improve the quality of the water and naturally raise the price of the service.
A strong opposition was formed by Union workers, political party members, water truckers and local people which led to violent rioting in response to the presence of the water corporation. A state of emergency was declared and the company was expatriated in order to calm the situation. The key campaigner was the factory worker Oscar Olivera who was proud of his success to find an alternative to globalisation for Cochabamba, and he was inspired by Che Guevara to be a leader of the opposition.
This has created a seemingly unique rejection by the residents to the plans of a multinational corporation. Despite this, the fight is not won as the problems with the water supply remain. The water quality has not improved and much of the population do not have access to a water supply besides rainwater so have it buy it in costly barrels when there is no alternative. The real victory would be if the people agreed to make the improvements themselves, which is a difficult task in a country as poor as Bolivia.
Although it is an incomplete victory I have to say that the Latin American mentality to riot for their rights is something that I absolutely admire and I think that there is something to be said for protesting against something that you feel is wrong. Later on, in the trip, I crossed picket lines of angry farmers in Northern Peru who were protesting for the very same reason.
I don’t recall how it happened exactly, but after entering Bolivia via Tupiza we joined forces with a group of Argentinians, there was 8 of them which made us into a 10. Argentinians love Bolivia as it is so cheap, they also attract each other like paperclips to a magnet. They were all separate friends and couples who’d joined together and only one of the girls openly hated us so that wasn’t too bad.
Steph made friends with Diego, the leader of the pack and he invited us to join the truck they’d hired in a bid to cut the cost, of course, we accepted. The roads in Bolivia are terrible, high and windy. A seismologist we met later said his helicopter was hired to recover the bodies after a bus went over a cliff. Being in a large group meant that we had distractions and Diego would get his drums out if it all got a bit hairy (not a euphemism). Not to stereotype but Argentinians do love drums. My worst Bolivian bus experience during this time was being on my period and not getting the chance to visit a toilet in 11 hours. Uncomfortable.
We arrived at Uyuni late and sat on a street corner while the Argentinians bartered over rooms all over the town. We ate salchipapas (chips and sausage) whilst we waited, and waited. They got us a nice and cheap room which made us question ourselves – ‘is this how cheap we could be getting things?’. We were spectacularly bad at bartering. They then booked the tour for us and we were all set to go to the salt flats – one of the most famous attractions in Bolivia. Famous due to the fact that they are the world’s largest salt flats.
Salar de Uyuni is magnificent and we were glad to finally see it. We took the obligatory photos playing with the perspective that all tourists to South America walk away with. You know the ones where you hold your travel partner in your hand or bring a dinosaur and cower beneath it. If you want to go big then you got to bring props, our pictures were very vanilla.
We only visited for one day as we were with the Argentinians but you can go for longer, I’ve heard people get sick from the altitude but it is a pretty amazing place. Northern Chile and Southern Bolivia have such incredibly trippy moonlike landscapes, it is a photographer’s paradise.
We visited a hotel made from salt – of course! You can also purchase all manner of salty sculptures. I bought an owl for my nan but they do disintegrate over time and now it has to live in a glass jar!
Despite their ludicrous bartering, we stayed with the Argentinians and continued travelling with them to Potosi, the land of the silver mine. You had to hand it to them that they always got us a good deal and a good bargaining session cannot be rushed.