Coastal Uruguay

With high expectations for Uruguays’ capital after a fantastic first two days, we were somewhat disappointed in arrival. Montevideo itself is a port town, and it serves as one of the biggest in South America, and with Uruguay being a relatively tiny country or 3 million of which the majority live in the capital, we expected a lively port town thriving from summer tourists.

It wasn’t.

The town centre was unimaginably empty for a capital city, and the best atmosphere we experienced through our whole time there was in the hostel bar. Thankfully, our hostel rented bikes out which gave us something to do, and as we moved further from the center it became gradually nicer. We ended up having a great afternoon in the sun cycling on the ‘Rambla’, a wide cycle track which follows all the coast of Montevideo. We followed it for beach after beach, and it became clear as to where all the people were. We stopped for beachside drinks before returning back to the hostel in the center of town, in the hope of finding an open restaurant. We finally found ‘The Manchester’ where we settled for pizza and coke. We were quite surprise of the ghost town feel of the city being mid summer in one of South America’s top summer holiday destinations. But nonetheless, we had salvaged a pretty fun day. We were excited to move on to Punta del Este, where we were promised a much better atmosphere and experience.

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It was.

Arriving in Punta it looked like Uruguay’s own, smallscale version of Miami. Tall, posh apartment buildings stood over the golden beaches, glitzy bars, huge casinos and friendly streets of Punta. It felt immediately so much nicer, friendlier, and more of a destination than Montevideo. People headed out to little shacks for evening drinks by the beach, and a great vibe or ‘buena onda’ filled the town. We decided to take our time here and not rush on, and it was worth it. The first two days were spent on the beach, visiting the harbour, the famous ‘hand in the sand’ and just generally enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. The following day we headed to ‘La Barra’, a little town 10 minutes from Punta, a lot less busy and arguably even better. With hippies running the hostels and reggae music and handcraft stalls filling the beachside town, we spent the day taking the over-friendly hostel dog for a walk (and a swim) by the beach. We then headed out to one of the cool restaurants to try our first, and by no means last Churrasco, Uruguay’s main dish being mainly a steak sandwich with fried egg and other yummy things inside. But who can blame them with Argentina as their neighbour and so many fields of cows. With full bellies, we returned home to our hairy friends in the hostel before heading on to La Pedrera the next day.

As our 4 hour bus arrived into La Pedrera, it was all I had hoped for. Small shacks and cool hostels lined the palm tree covered streets with locals, tourists, and many more hippies walking round the streets half naked with beers, churrascos and surfboards in hand. We checked in at possibly the coolest hotel we’ve ever stayed at, with a nice pool, palm trees and compulsory reggae/chill music. The reason all these places are so laid back and hippy may be highly correlated with the fact that cannabis is legal in Uruguay, and it is truly in abundance. From weed flavoured products in the supermarket and shops to weed plant catalogues, it is truly everywhere and I must admit it seems to have had a good effect. For me, Uruguay was by far the most chilled out, safest place I have visited and I wouldn’t think twice about going back to work or for a longer period of time. After chilling out on probably the best beach in Uruguay and in fact one of the best beaches I’ve ever seen, it was all too soon to return back to Punta. If we had known how much we would have loved Uruguay, I’m sure we would have stayed for longer. But I guess when you have Rio de Janeiro and Brazil waiting for you, you can’t get that upset.

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Goodbye Uruguay, see you soon.

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Uruguay – I hope they don’t bite

As we boarded the ferry for the river crossing to Colonia, the nearest town to Argentina in Uruguay, we were unsure what to expect, apart from a lot of fields. The ferry was very pleasant, and before we knew it we had arrived in Uruguay. Even I never thought I’d be saying that.

The town of Colonia we arrived in serves primarily that purpose: entertaining people going back and forth over the river. Due to this, I expected a busy town full of people waiting around, but it surprised me in a very good way. The town is quite small, and full of little cobbled streets overlooked by big trees. With a view of the beach from the main street and a refreshing sea breeze, it felt a world away from the heat and hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. What I liked the most was the peacefulness: very few cars drove bar, and electric buggies were available to rent for a cruise around the town. Unfortunately we weren’t old enough for that though. Colonia now felt like a destination itself and a place worth visiting and spending a day in and not just used to pass through. With it’s picture perfect streets and old cars, it was easy enough to spend an afternoon and night here, before heading on to one of the things I was most exited for in Uruguay.

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The next day we had booked in to a Uruguayan estancia and horse farm. The only problem with estancias, is that they’re in the middle of nowhere. After being told by the bus driver we would be dropped off at the entrance of the drive, things looked promising. When we arrived at the drive however, there was no estancia to be seen. Only miles and miles of fields with not a lot else. After walking for about 15 minutes with still nothing insight, a car drove by and asked where we were going. We jumped into the land rover as the man was a friend of the farm, and he drove us the rest of the 8km to the horse farm. So much for ‘the start of the drive’. Finally arriving, the horse farm was all I had hoped for. A cute barn house was surrounded by a few smaller barn style rooms for all of the 8 guests to stay. After being told to keep the doors shut to make sure tarantula’s didn’t get in the rooms, we were ready to get out on the horses.

Having only ridden once, and that being more a Peruvian donkey than a horse, I was still a little bit nervous. These gaucho horses were a lot bigger, but I was assured they would be better trained than in Peru. After being given a short briefing, we were put on the horses and went out into the fields. The riding was great and the 3 hours flew by and so did my initial nerves. Being able to ride with Annabel did make things a lot easier as she is very good and encouraged me a lot. After our long ride, we all sat down at the kitchen table and had a quite delicious home-cooked fish meal. Sitting at a table and having a home-made meal was a really good taste of home, and after I’d devoured that I was more than ready for bed, and to head on to the capital, Montevideo, the following day.

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A guest arrives..

January 2 was a day I must admit I had been looking forward to for a very long. As much as I enjoyed travelling on my own, and after spending so much time with others in Argentina, I was really looking forward to having a travel partner and going back to solo travel may have been a bit sad. After travelling in New Zealand and Australia, Annabel arrived mid-afternoon in South America, ready to do some proper travelling together.

That said, we were staying in Buenos Aires for a few days so I could show her the city I had really started to love and had called home for 2 months. After a monumental, several day sleep from Annabel, we were finally ready for a few hours sightseeing before she would have to return home for a nap. Our first visit was to San Telmo’s Sunday market: originally an antiques market but now selling anything from tourist stuff to original glass chandeliers. The market is full of life with street performers, live bands and tango dancing filling the narrow and cobbly streets. It was a easy-going afternoon and a great first place to go in a nice environment with plenty going on.

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The following day was a trip to La Boca arguably Buenos Aires’ most famous ‘barrio’. It was originally where the immigrants arrived as boca means mouth and refers to the river. You can still see the original poverty here with rundown houses and a maze of dodgy streets which still house some of Buenos Aires’ poorest. After a sketchy 5 minutes walk from the bus stop we arrived at La Bombonera, meaning biscuit tin as the tall stands maintain the noise from within, where the famous Boca Juniors play, one of South America’s most famous football teams. From here, the tourists seem to gather and all feels a lot more comfortable. A few minutes from here starts the ‘Camimito’ meaning little walkway. You could not believe this is in the same area as the grotty and poor streets just a few hundred metres away. This tourist capital is made up of many small houses, all painted in different colours. The reason for the multitude of colours on the houses is apparently because the immigrants were so poor they would beg ships coming in for anything they had to help and were given tins of paint as that was mainly what was left over. After a leisurely but short stroll since there is nothing else worth exploring other than the little walkway, we headed home and then out so I could introduce Annabel to the Argentinian steak in my favourite restaurant of Buenos Aires, if not the world. The BA famous dish in Las Cabras Steakhouse includes a massive steak, chips, halloumi cheese, peppers, onions, rice and some sort of veggie mash wish is obviously left. It always seems a good idea at the time of ordering, but never at the time of finishing.

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For our final day, we headed to Recoleta cemetery, with it’s grand mausoleums and rows on rows of ‘streets’ it is a kind of mini graveyard city within a city. Here is also the tomb of Eva Peron, who always has a small crowd gathered outside. However, the main attraction of Recoleta was the Hard Rock Cafe, where we devoured traditional Argentine classics such as ‘sticky chicken wings’ and ‘BBQ Burgers’. Nonetheless, we weren’t complaining, actually I was, about my tummy pain after eating too much. Some things never change..

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The following day we were ready to say goodbye to Buenos Aires and I was a bit sad despite knowing I would return for a few days in a few weeks. Despite not making quite the emotional tie I did to Peru, I have some truly fantastic memories of a quite brilliant city both with friends and family. An unforgettable 2 months.

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Christmas in Buenos Aires

After a sad goodbye after a fantastic ‘holiday’ within a whole 6 month holiday with my family, I planned to spend another 10 days in Buenos Aires before Annabel arrived. I decided to do a homestay to keep practicing my Spanish and also because it gave me some company over the Christmas period as it would have otherwise been quite lonely away from my family and friends.

I moved into the house in Recoleta, Buenos Aires’ poshest neighbourhood and was given a great greeting and I felt very welcome instantly and throughout. Sadly the daughter of the family went on holiday to Uruguay but the son was around in the evenings. But I found myself speaking most of all to the mother of the family, and like with everyone, after a few days I could understand pretty much everything and we really started to get on well. By the end of the week I was doing her shopping and she was cooking my dinner, very much like home with my own Mum, oh, except I don’t shop for her.

Over the 10 days, we had numerous asados, the great Argentinian BBQ, shared a very merry Christmas filled with steak and cider, Argentina’s festive drink and also a fantastic new year together, again unsurprisingly with steak and Cider, just more! I also managed to see some things I hadn’t yet seen, including Buenos Aires’ famous book shop in an old theatre which was a nice way to spend a few hours, despite all the books being in Spanish. I also met up with a few friends to attend BA’s biggest Monday attraction: ‘La Bomba de Tiempo’ or time bomb. This is a huge drumming show that then spills out onto the streets where some roads are closed off and the first trying continues until everyone spills into the nightclub where the drumming finishes for more partying. It was a great night, despite being able to hear the drumming for several days after!

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Pre La Bomba

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La Bomba in full flow

It was about as good of a short homestay as I could have wanted and over the 10 days it started to feel more and more like home. More guests came so I made some friends, but my best friend there was still the mother, we even watched films in Spanish together, it was quite the romance (don’t tell Annabel). I learned a lot about living a normal life in Argentina’s capital, and was sad to say goodbye on New Year’s Day, but happily, the sadness didn’t last too long, I had a visitor..

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Buenos Aires’ bookshop

Unfortunately I never got a photo with my Argentinean mother, but I wouldn’t have posted it anyway or it might have made my own one jealous – love you really Mum you’re still my #1 (just.)

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Patagonia – it’s a love-hate thing

Following a more than heavy last night in the volunteer house, I had to be up early to meet my family after the 12 hour flight, I guess I could have got up for worse things. However, the plane was delayed. I was fuming and mourning missed bed time, they were fuming, but as soon as we saw each other in our fantastic city-view apartment all was forgotten. They arrived, we did the hellos, but then there was no time to waste and it was straight to the nearest steakhouse to get some much needed calories in my blood. After this, we spent the day recovering (for different reasons) and were all ready for the next few days.

We spent a few days in my beloved Buenos Aires, and they soon found it why I loved the vibrant city so much with it’s bars, restaurants, truly bustling markets and tango filled plazas. We enjoyed a couple of days doing the tourist activities, before heading down to Patagonia and Trelew, a heavily Welsh influenced town.

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We arrived in Trelew, and the car journey began to the small seaside town of Puerto Piramedes, a perfect whale location. However the journey didn’t get off to a great start as a huge truck driver strike on the one and only road meant we had to sit and melt in our little hire car with only 20 cars being let through every 20 minutes. But during this time I was able to catch up with Archie, oh no I couldn’t he was sleeping, again. We finally arrived and sure enough the town was completely whale based with numerous whale watching tour shops and nothing really else. We had a fantastic hotel overlooking the sea and it really felt like such luxury after the last 5 weeks sharing a dark smelly room with 3 other English boys. What was more amazing was we actually saw the whales from our balcony, and just as the sun began to set they really put on a show for us with huge jumps and mummy and baby coming quite close to the shore. After this, I was so excited for the tour the next day I could barely finish my seafood pasta, but I managed.

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The following day was the day of our tour and we were up early to get straight out there. After half an hour we still hadn’t seen any, and I had a feeling we weren’t going to be in luck, and I was right. I was all in all pretty upset as I have always wanted to see a whale close up, but I can still say I’ve seen one in real life. Besides, by the afternoon I had forgotten all about the absence of whales. We headed off after lunch for an hour and a half in the middle of nowhere on a horrible road until we reached an estancia or farmhouse. From here, we were able to go and visit a huge penguin colony. This was a truly amazing, unique experience being so close to an unbelievable amount of penguins, who really were the true locals. Most didn’t bat an eyelid, but some curious ones came right up to us, but we weren’t allowed to touch them, and after seeing our guides’ penguin bite, I was glad I didn’t. It was so amazing to see their burrows, with the the baby penguins and thousands on their daily commute to and from the sea to get their catch. Despite the lack of whales it was an unforgettable day, and one I will always remember. One of my favourites from my whole trip so far.

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The following day we started the drive to Puerto Madryn, a much bigger beachside resort. Once again the hotel felt like luxury, and we spent the day by the pool before heading to a fantastic seafood restaurant which is well known in Puerto Madryn, and it’s paella did not fail expectations. The following day we went to a huge sea lion colony after the weather being too bad to be able to swim with them. They were great to see and are hilarious animals to watch, and we spent ages watching the activity amidst the huge colony.

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Then it was sadly time to say goodbye Patagonia following a morning beach stroll, and we were back to Buenos Aires. Finishing with a fantastic steak, we really did end on a high. It was very sad to say goodbye to them all, but what a fantastic ‘holiday’ it was, but for me, everyday is like a holiday. It was nothing like our normal laid back beachy holidays, but was one of the best, and one ill never forget.

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Football Coaching in Argentina – Group 1

So after a fantastic, packed first weekend in Buenos Aires, it was time to begin with what I was really here for: 5 weeks of football coaching. However, a torrential storm meant I didn’t get further than the underground tube station before all was called off, I would have to wait another 24 hours. By the Tuesday, and with two full days of recovery, I was ready to get out there and see what the city had in store for me. I was set to do two different projects, one on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the other on Mondays and Wednesdays, with Friday being my day off. I must say the Tuesday group soon became my favourite, however I thoroughly enjoyed them both.

For my first two weeks, I was accompanied by another volunteer, Henry, to my project on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was quite thankful for this as it took me a while to master the labyrinth that is public transport in BA. One underground, and one overground train later, I had arrived at the training area, which was a lot nicer than expected as it was made of artificial grass in a posh looking park area with guards. But the area itself was next to the ´Villa 31´, BA´s largest shanty town/slum, and this was where most of the boys came from. On the first sight of it, I was shocked. The buildings were like the ones I had seen in the World Cup footage of Brazil, just it was flat and sprawling instead of being up a hill. It was simply a flat favela, housing thousands upon thousands of immigrants and Argentina´s poorest. The majority of these ´houses´ didn’t have roofs or doors and everything was there to see from the train. I feared the worst. This area was nothing like I had seen in Peru, as yes I had seen poverty, but not on this scale and vastness. What shocked me was that just on the other side of it, 5 minutes away, was Recoleta, Buenos Aires´ most exclusive neighborhood. When we arrived, we were greeted by a very welcoming guy who was the coach. I was then introduced to the kids and 5 minutes later we were mid 5v5. This project was very laid back, as it was more focused on just playing than practicing drills. However I did not mind this whatsoever as it meant I could focus on speaking Spanish to the children. Well, that was if I could. Coming from Peru I felt pretty confident in my Spanish, but I have already elaborated on the initial difficulty of comprehending the Argentinean dialect. As these children were from such a poor area, you could see this in the way they spoke. Every sentence containing street and slang words I hadn’t a hope of understanding, and Henry who also spoke Spanish assured me you would get used to it. The children were of a mixture of ages, from 7 to 16, and there were 2 Peruvian brothers of the older end of the age scale who I immediately warmed to (maybe due to the fact I was there in my Peru football top). We immediately started talking and it was nice to have again some Spanish I could fully understand. I then began to bombard them with questions as I had never seen something like the Villa in person, and just wanted to know everything about what it was like on the inside. I returned home that night and immediately began to search it on the internet. This was not because I had any interested in entering, as I value my life, but it was a shock to see such a vast scale of poverty in such a central location of one of South America´s biggest cities. It lies there for all to see, surrounded only by a barbed wire fence. I learned the villa is entirely internally run, and police very very rarely, if not never enter. Most houses have water and electricity, illegally sourced, and it is almost like a city within a city. I don’t know why these areas interest me so much, perhaps because we don’t have anything like it in our society, and I cannot imagine how life is inside, but it saddened me speaking with one boy that he was scared to live inside it, and wanted to leave as soon as he possibly could. I could not imagine being brought up in an area where I was scared to leave the house, but this is what some of these children faced. And of course, bang in the middle of the Villa, lies a football pitch.

The Villa from the train

The Villa from the train

Anyway, back to the football. Over the next 5 weeks I bonded with all the children. We went to Boca, home of the iconic Boca Juniors and you could see how much of a big thing this was for them. We had Rest of the World (I captained of course) v Argentina, as many children of the villa and around were of other South American nationalities and I rapidly learned the importance of football in their lives. Some of the boys chose to go to school early just so they could finish and come to this project to play football, and I really saw it as a release, rather than just a leisure activity. After 5 weeks, I was sad to have to leave the guys, and I really do have a lasting memory of the place. As I have already learned, the people with the least are often the people who value these sort of things the most, but equally I valued every minute I had playing with them, but more so finding out about the lifestyle of a villa-dwelling Argentinean youth. For me, these boys are the ones with the biggest hearts, and the ones who least deserve to be brought up in such a poor area.

As I sooned learned, life isn´t fair, but that´s why we have football. A fantastic experience.

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Argentina – Week 1

After a period of rest and recuperation (not really, it was cheap beer and steak every night), I decided the time was right to pick up the pen and commence with chapter two of this unpredictable adventure in which I myself do not know what the next page will have in store, let alone the next chapter. That said, I now find myself in a comfortable rhythm which I hope to continue until mid-December, and am starting to get used to and start enjoying big-city life.

After an unforgettable time in Peru, I knew that it would be hard to beat and Peru would always have a place in my heart for how special I found it and how well it treated me. I was unsure what to expect as the plane flew over the Andes and into the vast, 20 million people city that is Buenos Aires. I arrived in the airport and obviously, the first thing I set eyes on was a huge picture of the man of Argentina, Leo Messi. When passing through passport control I came into contact with my first Argentinian (funny that), and despite having spent 2 months in Peru and 6 years studying, didn’t understand a single word he said. The Argentinian way of speaking is completely different to that of most other countries and notoriously difficult, and on first hearing the man could have been speaking Polish for all I understood. Nonetheless, I made it through more through nodding than anything else, and arrived an hour later in what would be my home for the next 5 weeks, in the centre of Buenos Aires.

Sun terrace of my new place

Sun terrace of my new place

Knocking on the door I was unsurprisingly a little nervous as I didn’t know what to expect, but my nerves were settled when two Sweedish girls opened the door. They then lead me upstairs to a sun terrace full of sun bathing Scandinavians, I didn’t think this was going to be too much of a struggle. I was then told they were students here for a term, and would be staying three more weeks, again I didn’t mind. I then met the three guys I would be sharing a room with. It was a mixture of Eton, Rugby and Bradford grammar, so made an entertaining mix. They were also here as sporting volunteers on football and tennis. Not an hour after arriving was I back out the door to exchange some money with Argentinas bizarre dollar system, and was then once again doing what I do best having an empanada and a drink in the 30 degree sun. I was then sprung with the question, ‘Oh we’re all going to the Arctic Monkeys tomorrow, do you fancy coming?’ I mean what sort of question is that. So two hours after arriving had I already sunk a few drinks and had an arctic monkeys ticket, it was a tough day.

The following day I awoke at midday to a group of highly entertaining Swedish guys cracking into the beers, and had a feeling it was going to be a good day. We headed to the concert at about 4 with another band, ‘The Hives’ also playing, but we didn’t see them to get a good place for what we were really there for. The band came out to a surge and roar I’d never experienced before, and I guess I underestimated just how popular they are throughout the whole world. During the whole hour and a half set, the crowd didn’t stop singing, and it was amazing to see how well they knew the words despite it not being their own language. Every song was screamed back at the stage, and it was an energy you rarely see at a concert even in England. I met some very friendly Argentinians during the gig after being lost from my friends in one of the many surges, and bonded with them by dragging them out of huge mosh pits. I thought why not stick around as it’s a chance to get a grasp of the Argentinian accent, so we headed for a drink and pizza after the set. After a couple of hours and some extra confidence, I began to get the hang of it but still found it stupid.

Arctic Monkeys rocking Buenos Aires

Arctic Monkeys rocking Buenos Aires

Taking an after-show pizza in Palermo

Taking an after-show pizza in Palermo

The night was an incredible introduction to Argentina and the friendliness of the people, and was also great to see how crazy they go for English bands, and of course I used the fact I’m studying in Sheffield next year to great effect and they all loved it. I couldn’t have been happier and couldn’t wait for what the next few weeks had in store.

Sadly nothing to report on the next day funnily enough, the exploring could wait.

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