Saturday, December 27, 2008

Digesting Buenos Aires

Digesting Buenos Aires requires a certain amount of effort. Firstly, the city is enormous - 13 million residents in the greater metropolitan area, nearly a third of Argentina's 40 Million inhabitants. Thankfully most of the areas a foreign visitor is likely to visit are situated in an area near the coastline (or river mouth, more accurately), close enough together to be almost walkable - and easily navigated with metro, cheap taxis or busses.

But the digesting that gave me most trouble came in the form of Bife de Lomo, massive slabs of tender steak that Argentina and particulary Buenos Aires and the surrounding Pampa are justly famous for. Possibly unwisely, I made my first assault on one of these only a few hours after stepping off my 16 hour plane trip from Sydney via Buenos Aires. Airport, transport and hostal check-in simply were navigated without any fuss, so I made arrangements to meet up with Chris and Kath - travelling incognito as Paco and Conchita on their way home to Sydney from New York via too many exciting places to mention here.

Christmas dinner at El Territorio in San Telmo

After a few hours at a local bar sampling the local brew - Quilmes - and wine (various Malbec labels) and a nice Spanish strength gin tonic, we decided that we´d hit the restaurant previously planned for Christmas lunch at once (Conchita isn´t big on waiting once a good idea enters her head).

The place recommended (La Cabrera) is very popular with the locals so we supped on a glass of bubbly waiting for our table to come free - which it did sometime after 11pm. The waiter raised his eyebrow when we ordered two full and one half steaks -which should have sent off a few warning bells, but it wasn´t until two giant metal trays (tastefully cow-shaped) arrived, each with a one kilogram, inch thick slab of meet on them. The half kilo steak looked modest in comparison. Out of pride we polished off most of it, leaving the salad and fries untouched. I don´t think my jet-lagged body will forgive me in a hurry for that !

In general Buenos Aires is a place for strolling around, enjoying the cafes and sites. There are plenty of musuems and galleries, but none come particularly recommended. Instead on Christmas Eve I met up with with Pablo from Madrid (but originally BA) for a much more modest lunch and catch up and walked about 4 hours around the up-market districts of Palermo and Recoleta, visiting the cemetery where Evita (and hundreds of other famous Argentinians I really hadn´t heard of) are buried, before passing back to the hostel via Puerto Madero, the recently revitalised Buenos Aires port area.

Casa Rosada and the famous Evita balcony

Argentinians celebrate Christmas Eve rather than the 25th, so the Hostal put on a roof top BBQ grill and party for guests, staff and other random strays in the area. That finished at 6am (further impressing my jet-lagged and steak digesting body) so Christmas Day really started with a Christmas lunch of a steak sandwich with chips at Chris and Kath's hotel, before starting an afternoon's bar and tapas hop.

Boxing Day was in La Boca, which I'll save until I can get my photo uploading process going more efficiently than it is now ! Back into civilisation today so contact may well become more frequent.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Off to Argentina and Peru

Welcome to installment one of the South American series. After the time-travelling experience with Cuba and Mexico, it's now time to attempt some real-time travel blogging. At this stage, I'm not sure how effective this will be, as a lot will depend on internet access in the more remote locations and how much fun I'm having - and how little spare time I have !

One thing for sure, I won't be posting all my photos real time. As with my last big trip, I've decided to take a combination of cameras - one digital and one film. Sadly, I'm not taking my grandfather's old fully manual Pentax K1000 this time as I really couldn´t justify the extra weight. So there'll be no photos from Peru in 1932. I was always going to bring my compact Pentax digital camera for city and social shots, but I was in a dilemma whether to get a new digital SLR for the nature shots (especially from Patagonia and the Inca Trail), or to stick with slide film. In the end I've stuck with slide film, not because I'm any sort of luddite (I only play vinyl records for a laugh) but because I still think that slide film better captures light than all but the most expensive digital cameras, an opinion that seems to be shared by many experts (by no means all) in the inter-world. But I´ve certainly created a whole lot more work for myself on my return in February by that choice - hopefully that will help with the post trip depression !

The reason I've found some time today (Xmas Eve) is that there´s a brief lull between my first day wondering around and Xmas Eve celebrations - which are the main Christmas celebrations in this part of the world. Although I've only been here 24 hours, I've already managed to catch up with Chris and Kath on their slow way home from New York, and Pablo, a friend from Madrid on his trip home for a family wedding, as well as walking all round Buenos Aires in the blazing sun.

I'm staying at a hostel (yes, a 40 year-old backpacker) - called the ArtFactory on account of the themed and painted rooms - for the first 5 days in Buenos Aires. Following that, I'm on a 2 week trip to Patagonia which should give my fitness a good work out ! After that, I have two un-planned weeks that will cover some or all of the Iguacu Falls, Salta/Jujuy and the Andean Northwest, and Mendoza; before finally skipping up to Peru to walk the Inca Trail - a touristic cliche for sure, but not one I'm prepared to miss out on.

Finally - Merry Christmas to all from Buenos Aires, and stay tuned for hopefully some further updates !

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Trinidad and Trains Revisited

So when last we were in Trinidad, I mentioned a train trip through the Valle de los Ingenios to a town called Manaca Iznaga, famous for its tower. Given that (5 years after the event) I still hadn't finished scanning my slides, the photos were a little limited. Finally that can be rectified. Without (too many) further stories, here are some more snaps from the train trip.

Firstly, the train itself:

On the move:

Not the one we were afraid we might have to take:

The first stop was a Hacienda called Casa Guachinango, just after a railway bridge:

It doubled as a sort of bar, and I guess the intention was that we stayed there and lined the pockets of whoever was working there. I took the opportunity to check out the surrounding countryside:

... and luckily, as I explained in the previous Trinidad post, I managed to jump back on the train as it departed, unannounced, for what was to be the final destination, Manaca Iznaga, famous for its tower:

from which there was a pretty view, including of the local hamlet itself:

... in which not much happened, although they were pretty casual about a steam train crossing,

a tractor seemed to be more interesting to the locals.

Next, I revisit Camaguey , from where my first impressions of Trinidad were written, so long ago !

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cuban Propaganda Badge

Following from my previous post, this is what a Fotki badge looks like when applied to an album of political propaganda from all over Cuba.

It might be more effective applied to an album with more photos in it, such as this one from the Urban Sights album. The size and background colours are also configurable.

All in all, cute, but not as much fun as the Stacks:

Stacks of photos from Mexican Bus Windows

I store my photos on the website Fotki. I can't remember now how I found it, but at the time (2001) it was far away the best (and most reasonable) of the photo websites around. Today I have more than 5000 photos there so I won't be changing any time soon. I actually prefer its interface to Flickr, and the multi-album facility to that of Picasa. Picasa wins with its desktop software you use to synchronise albums, which unfortunately is not available on the Mac. It also has a cleaner interface, but is not as well suited to storing large numbers as fotki is. One day I will spend more time doing a more rigorous comparison.

Fotki has come out with a new feature called widgets, which give you ways of emdedding collections of your photos on websites (such as blogs). There are 3 at the moment, and I'm using this entry to test out the Stack feature, which represents a fotki album as a stack of prints with an intuitive flickability to browse the album.

This stack comes from my album Mexico from the Bus Window which is fairly self explanatory. You'll notice that one of my busses has wings. If you find the little arrow icon on a given photo, it will take you back to that photo in fotki. You can also vary the size of the stack, and set the background to any colour you want. You can see a stack of my photos from Palenque, Mitlan and Mont Alban below.

Next post I'll test out the badge and slideshow (yawn) widgets.