Whilst in Argentina we witnessed the protest for the 30,000 killed during a dictatorship in Argentina. I wanted to learn more of this important period in Argentinian history. These are my findings.
A deserted walk
My girlfriend and I were walking to the gym at around 9:30am. We noticed that no one was around. The streets looked deserted. In the centre of the second-largest city in Argentina, we only saw about 5 people during our 10-minute walk. When we reached the gym I asked the coach what was going on and he explained to me it was a day of remembrance.
“For what?” I asked.
“for the 30,000. On this day every year, we remember the people disappeared in, um, 1976 to… 1983, lots of people were disappeared from their houses, it was the same way as the, the, Como se dice en ingles, el Gestapo?”
I then reverted to Spanish saying “es lo Mismo en ingles”. This was a mistake, as he then spoke solely in Spanish, and my comprehension of Argentinian Spanish being as bad as it is, I learnt nothing more.
I decided to do some more research into these protests. And make up for the block of missing information. Here is what I found out;
What sparked this protest was a military dictatorship named the ‘national reorganisation process’ that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Led by lieutenant general Jorge Rafael Videla (and secretly backed by the US, as a tool to combat the left) Argentinian armed forces seized power against Isabel Peron (the president at the time) in 1976, during a time of growing political instability. After this coup d’etat, all congress and democracy were suspended and the president and his ministers were elected by and from military personnel. This led to what the junta self-proclaimed as the ‘dirty war’ – named so as it was deemed necessary to use “different methods” (some of which we will view) to maintain social order and eradicate enemies of the state.
The dirty war
The dirty war was a period of state terrorism. Within this period people suspected of having association with; left-wing Peronism, socialism and communism, were killed. These killings occurred in a series of horrific ways. One of the coldest was a systematic technique of ‘Disappearing’ people – a technique initially used and justified by Hitler’s Night and Fog Decree, in which people endangering german security were to be arrested or spirited away under cover of “night and fog”. In this Argentinian period, people were kidnapped on the streets, in their homes or in their workplaces and became victims of enforced disappearance. It is believed that between 9,000 to 30,000 people, including babies, children and teens, were ‘killed’ during this period; the number being so vague due to the nature of state terrorism.
The March of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo
To keep the memory of this blood period alive many protests have formed, one of which being The March of Mother of Plaza de Mayo. The march takes place every Thursday at 3:30 and was initiated in 1977 when women began to organize protests to demand answers concerning their children, whose whereabouts were unknown. The largest protest is on the 24th – the day the military coup took place and the violent dictatorship began. Today mothers still protest to plea for information about the fates of their children. Another significant protest is the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, who protest to find their children, but also their children’s children too.
The Protest in Cordoba
On the 24th of May, we experienced the Cordoba protest for the 30,000. A huge stage was erected in the centre of the city, on which a free concert took place. Throughout the night there was a fusion of music and speeches about the ongoing struggle to get justice for the 30,000 and the current political situation. A big, red wreath with the number 30,000 was on the stage. On a huge projector, were images of people protesting and images of those who had not been found. People spent the night dancing and singing in memory of those lost.
As you may have read in a previous post of mine that Argentina is in a bad political and economic situation. Despite the danger of speaking against the government, the people did so passionately and powerfully. The desire and demand for justice was evident amongst all the people here. It was truly special to see and I feel honoured that I was able to witness it.
I recently wrote an article about travelling to Belize for Raul Yuvi’s Blog. Go check it out!
We were advised by my girlfriend’s university that to extend our tourist visas, all we need to do is exit the country and then re-enter… simple. We chose Belize. Belize is a Caribbean country just outside of Mexico.
Within the Caribbean country of Belize there is a very striking disparity between the Chinese community and the Belizean. What are the reasons for this? And how did it originate?
On a recent getaway, we travelled to Belize. Belize is a Caribbean country just outside of Mexico and is a former English colony (the notes still show the queen’s face). It has the lowest population in Central America and to my great excitement – having spent six months in Mexico where I am still learning the language – the primary language is English.
We packed our bags and after a long journey, we made it to Belize.
We checked in and a Chinese man with the name tag Henry was at the desk, watching something in Chinese on his phone. We said hello to him and he greeted us with a big smile. We said we have a reservation and he looked quite confused, saying nothing but “HUH”?. After about 10 minutes of more Huh’s and Molly pointing to our name on his computer screen, Molly managed to sort out our room. Over the next 6 days, it was very evident Henry had next to no English or Spanish. On one occasion I asked for a bowl and after I made an array of bowl gestures he said “AHH” and returned with a plate, and then after some more gestures a metal dog bowl. Knowing I still had to ask for a spoon I settled with the dog bowl, and after Henry brought a fork, then a knife, I finally got in luck with a tiny plastic spoon. I soon discovered that a dog bowl makes for a very strange tasting cereal.
I thought it was quite strange that the owner of a hotel in an English and Spanish speaking country (whose tourists are predominantly American, Canadian and European) could only speak Chinese. I decided to research and some interesting information surfaced. The Chinese and Taiwanese community within Belize make-up 0.7% of the population, totalling 1.,716 people, of whom 1,607 speak Chinese as their first language. This community initially arrived due to the British migrating the Chinese into Belize (referred to as British Honduras at the time by the colonials) as indentured servants working in the sugarcane plantations. They were subject to horrific conditions, and of the 474 workers initially sent, within four years only 211 remained accounted for, many committing suicide or fleeing to native groups. The Chinese have been migrating constantly ever since. Whilst in Belize, every corner shop, pharmacy and about three-quarters of the restaurants we saw were owned by the Chinese and Taiwanese. This is due to a number of factors. In the late 20th century there were lots of citizenship by investment programmes in which applicants had to invest a certain amount of money ( $50,000 USD) to attain citizenship. This resulted in lots of people arriving in Belize with the economic agency, as well as a higher level of education, meaning quite soon the businesses shifted towards the Chinese and Taiwanese. There continue to be good relationships between Taiwan and Belize today, therefore, there have been more citizenship programmes bringing Taiwanese business owners and today the Chinese and Taiwanese control most of the economy in Belize. There are some other historic events that caused a big wave of Chinese immigrants, with a couple of examples being the caste war and the Torreon Massacre.
There is a huge social gap within the Chinese and Belizian community, and as tourists, we were in quite an interesting middle ground. We were shocked that we only encountered one Asian shop owner who seemed to be able to speak only some English which led to many occasions where I had to mime products, such as lathering my arms and gesturing towards the sun to ask for sun cream…they did not have it, so my game of charades was for nothing. I saw no interaction between the owners and the community, with quite a big example being the meet up on a Sunday, where the whole community meet by the ocean to swim, barbeque and drink, yet there was not a single Chinese face. We had a very interesting conversation with a group of Belizians who told us that they really want to be able to speak Chinese, but the Chinese community refused to teach them and that they only stock their stores (the only stores available) with Chinese products that the Belizians don’t particularly like. There was a clear animosity within their voices. On the other hand, there did seem to be a lot of racism and discrimination towards the Chinese community. We noticed a lot of spray paint outside all of the stores. We saw no Chinese people on the streets, and on the one occasion where we saw a Chinese woman riding her bike, she looked extremely uncomfortable and was extremely fast, scanning every direction skittishly.
Though six says is not close to enough time to fully understand these relations, it seems like there is a very complex racial and economic divide between these two groups; one that goes back centuries. It is hard to say how this issue can be resolved when it is so ingrained within the people and the economic structure.
If you want to hear a more laid back blog about our adventures in Belize then leave a comment!
This is a tale of the greatness… and the stupidity, of our climb up the highest peak in Mexico.
“You guys are not wearing the correct gear for this”
Shivering, unable to feel my fingers, feet, nor face, I say.
“Well, will we be able to gget up? Like, is it ssafe for us to go up because I am rreally fucking cold!?”
“Okay, let’s go”
And the snowy ascent began.
The Biggest Climb of My Life
At the start of writing this, I am unsure how it will come across. It may become an epic tale of my girlfriend and I adventuring up the highest peak in Mexico, or, it may come across as a hands-on guide on what NOT to do when climbing the highest peak in Mexico. If you read on, I leave it to you, the reader, to decide what this post is.
Pico De Orizaba
Pico de Orizaba is the highest mountain in Mexico and the third highest in North America. It is a dormant volcano (at least I hope so) and is the highest volcanic summit in North America. It reaches 5,636 metres above sea level and has the largest glacier in Mexico. Or in other words, it is big and scary and who would possibly want to climb that? Well, the answer to that question is my girlfriend and I. We had recently conquered the volcano Malinche with Molly’s parents (an act we would have been immensely proud of, had we not gruellingly reached the top, hiking sticks in hand, only to be greeted by a young woman who went up IN SOCKS and was wearing a ‘wildly’ (no pun intended) impractical leopard print jacket. Not to mention the guy that had carried his pet beagle the whole way on his shoulders). Despite the embarrassment, it was clear we both wanted to seek another adventure of this kind and in response, Molly’s parents very kindly gifted Molly the classic 21st birthday gift of a guided tour up the highest peak in Mexico. We were thrilled.
We found our guide and looked at the guidelines to see what we needed to take. It read :
Spare change of clothes
And that was it.
We began our search. We figured that we needed to get some more layers, however, hiking clothes in Mexico were limited to ‘North Face’ which was far too expensive, so we went to the next best place – Walmart. Here we found said sleeping bag, headtorch and a few extra jackets to layer upon. We were all set, feeling very accomplished and prepared, as though we may even be too warm going up pico. Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be far from the truth.
For the journey, we had to meet our guide in Mexico City and then travel to the base at pico. We stayed in a hotel that night. We were immediately worried about our choice as a poster at the entrance of the hotel surveyed, first and foremost, the prices of staying in the hotel for 2 hours, then 3 and then 5. Our preconceptions of the hotel were not wrong and for the entire night, we were serenaded with distant sounds of moans and groans. I achieved very little sleep – for a very different reason than our fellow guests.
After a lovely stay in a lovely hotel, we awoke and met with our guide. He seemed sweet and very impressed by the lightness of our bags, exclaiming “wow, you guys pack light” – a comment I was proud of at the time. We then made our way to the basecamp of pico.
The drive to the basecamp was bumpy, rocky, steep and very dangerous. It was about a 35-minute drive going straight up, over some of the worst roads I have ever seen. Running water had caused huge slits in many of the sections and the terrain switched from mud to desert, to ice in brief intervals. It was breathtaking. The flatness that lay behind us became further and further away as we continued venturing up. It felt as though we were journeying to a new planet; in a very shabby spaceship.
The base camp was a little red barn on a flat piece of the mountain. The front of the cabin looked over expansive valleys in the mountain and behind it lay the overarching peak. The cabin had a section for tables and a section for beds, which were just layers of wooden planks where you could put your sleeping bags. There were no toilets so we had to go behind a big rock; which turned out to be everyone else’s idea so it was not particularly pleasant. This part would be my biggest criticism of the camp. There was nowhere to put toilet paper or rubbish so people just left it on the mountain. All around the campsite rubbish could be seen.
The night before
To go up Pico at a safe time, you must begin the ascent at about 12am. This means that, although the ice is still very evident on the way up, it will begin to thaw on the way down and you are able to safely reach the bottom before the sun goes back down. Therefore, we had to go to sleep at around 5-6pm. The cabin was ice cold, and our sleeping bags proved to not be sufficient in the slightest to keep us warm. Due to the altitude my breathing that night “sounded like a hoover ” so Molly was faced with the difficult decision to sleep next to a henry hoover for warmth, or be cold but peaceful.
We woke at 12am and after a brief breakfast of peanut butter on toast, we began our climb. What struck us first was the brightness of the stars and moon. The surroundings took on a grey tint, and in the distance, the glacier was bright white- smirking down at all of us. During the initial stages, Molly and I felt really strong. We powered past the other climbers and could see their head-torches in the distance. The rocky terrain proved difficult with the ice and we had to be careful to sustain our footing. We took only two or three breaks during the initial section which was known as the labyrinth because it was so rocky and maze-like. During our breaks, we looked at the surroundings and were amazed by the scale of what was around us. The coldness was very manageable at this point and I had to unzip my coat to ensure I did not sweat. However, as we gained more ground and the looming glacier became ever closer, the wind began to increase in both coldness and intensity. My hands began to numb and I began to shake. I zipped my coat back up.
The rockiness began to disperse as we got higher, and all signs of all wildlife were gone. Before us was nothing more than a few more rocks, then the glacier. We walked through the last section before the summit. While sheltered by the rocks the wind felt cold but manageable, however, as we walked past the final shelter we were struck by a torrent of wind. As it struck, all the feeling in my face left and I could not stop shaking. It was so strong that it rocked us back and forth as we made our way to the base of the glacier.
At the base of the glacier, we had to stop to don our crampons. The stop made me really question whether or not this was actually safe for molly and me. Looking at Molly and seeing the way her body was shaking I knew I was not the only one regretting our choices of clothing. Filled with images of my large nose (an easy target to the cold) and my fingers falling off, I asked “wwill we be able to do this?” to which the guide said, “You guys are not wearing the correct gear for this”. Shivering, unable to feel my fingers, feet, or face, I said. “Well, will we be able to gget up? Like, is it ssafe for us to go up because I am rreally fucking cold!?”. Then after a brief pause and the final snap of my crampon, our guide said “Okay, let’s go”. And the snowy ascent began.
Head down, all feeling gone, we started walking. I can easily say – as a boy from Suffolk who had been up one mountain in his life – that this was the hardest thing I have ever done. The glacier, though foreboding at a distance, was terrifying up close. Though still dark the glacier shone bright and looking up, all that could be seen was a steep abyss. We pushed our crampons into the ground and began waking up. Being the first climbers of the day to reach this point there was no clear footpath and the ground held a layer of soft snow, meaning we had to be really steady to keep our feet stable and not fall (a fall, in our lack of proper kit, in my head at the time, would have resulted in us freezing immediately). On the way up my toes began to hurt more and my nose was running under my face mask, which quickly froze, meaning I had to swap it around frequently, exposing my face (nose included) to the cold. Roughly 35 minutes in, the thought of us reaching the top became a distant dream, yet the thought of going down was just as intimidating. I felt dangerously cold, my trouser leg had become slightly exposed due to a slip and my legs began to shiver too. In my head, I was in a life or death situation, (in hindsight a little bit dramatic) and the only option was to complete the goal and reach the summit – whether or not I lose some fingers or toes. This sounds very heroic, and would have been, were I not to have been grunting and shouting and making every noise under the sun – noises reminiscent of our hotel guests in Mexico City, but again, for a very different reason.
We marched, and we seemed to be getting close – we must be close. I shouted to Molly, who then shouted to Ricky, how much more and he said about 30 minutes. This was either a lie, or those were the longest thirty minutes of my life. The higher we climbed, the more intense the wind became, the thicker the snow and ice. However, we were nearly there. I could see the peak. This was the windiest part of the walk and my whole body was numb. We marched, kept our heads down, and we made it to the top. The peak had a metal cross that held many flags and ribbons from previous climbers. It was unbelievably cold as we now had the wind blowing from every direction.
I have always assumed that the top of the mountain is the point at which you feel completely accomplished, and makes all the pain and difficulty worth it, however, I did not experience it at that point. I felt amazed; Molly said “we are the highest people in Mexico right now” (minus planes, that is cheating) and it was an incredible thought, but it did not hit me until later. The sky was black, yet a bit of blue was starting to emerge. The other distant peaks were beginning to show. This was the most incredible thing I had ever done, yet I felt quite displaced as if I was not actually there.
The Way down
We took a very bad quality picture of Molly and me at the top and made our way down.
The altitude sickness only started to kick in on the way down and despite cramming down bar after bar, and drinking Powerade by the bucketload, my head began to feel very light and I had to be very careful to sustain my footing. The sun came out on the way down and the views were breathtaking – yet I still had the feeling of separation I had at the top, in fact, it was intensified due to the lightness of my head. We walked down the same way we came up. Whilst going up it was one step forwards two steps back, on the way down it was 1 step forwards two more steps forward. It felt like we were skating down, past the other climbers going upwards whom I did not envy. As we got further and further down the coldness subsided and I started to regain some feeling.
After we finally got to the bottom we rested by the camp. We had just climbed the highest peak in Mexico, and finally, it started to sink in a little bit. We were exhausted, my feet were bleeding, Molly couldn’t feel one of her fingers, however, the overwhelming feeling was of pride. We had just pushed our bodies further than we had ever done before and I can genuinely say it felt worth it.
I would say that the top was one of the highlights of the experience, but it was not the highlight. I loved the experience of planning and being excited about the trip, I loved the journey to base camp, I loved the process of getting up, I loved the feeling of being on another planet, I LOVED the feeling of getting to the bottom and I loved having a Chinese and a few beers that night in Mexico City to celebrate. It was the process that was incredible and the knowledge that; if we can do this, we can do so much more.
So… the moral of the story is; you are probably capable of far more than you think possible – and wear the right fucking kit.
Has anyone experienced any climbs in which they have felt completely unprepared? I am asking both out of interest and to make myself feel better.
Have you ever made a really stupid mistake? This is the tale of a really big one, and the really strange aftermath.
This is a story about a trip that changed dramatically, and how my girlfriend’s study of stoicism came in handy. I hope you enjoy.
The wonderful city of Teotihuacan
My girlfriend and I had planned a trip to Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan is a very famous tourist destination in Mexico. The name means “birthplace of the gods” and was considered to be the largest city in Mesoamerica during Pre-Columbian times. It is well known for its rich religious history, and the grand temples and pyramids that reside there. I was very excited to visit the city and did a lot of research before the trip – learning about the mysteriousness over who inhabited, and subsequently ‘abandoned’ the city, and about its former glory as a trader of obsidian.
A big mistake
We got the bus very smoothly and were very happy with the ease at which we had navigated through the bus station.
After getting off the bus we began to walk to our hotel. During our walk we got to see the city and it appeared very run down, there appeared to be a lot of desolate houses, and the roads and paths were dilapidated (causing many stubbed toes). We arrived on the street and could not see our hotel. We looked some more to no avail, so we decided to check the phone. Looking closer at the bus trip we were struck and realised a huge error had been made. The location on the bus journey read…Tehuacán. We had booked a bus to Tehuacan, and a hotel for Teotihuacan. After checking if we were at least close, we discovered we were about 6 hours away. We had gone in the opposite direction of Teotihuacan. The street name had been the same, however, there was no hotel for us there.
A stoics response
We sat and contemplated the situation. Should we find a bus back to our home in Cholula? Should we try and figure out a way of getting to Teotihuacan? The most sensible thing to do was to look for a hotel in Tehuacan, and luckily we managed to find one. It was a very frustrating situation for many reasons, it was a very silly mistake, and one that had inhibited a trip we were very excited about. However, Molly’s (my girlfriend’s) recent studies of stoicism moulded our reaction. It was out of our control that we were there. It was a silly mistake, yet, it had been done, and nothing would come out of dwelling on it. We decided to look at the place we now found ourselves in a positive light, see what we had control over, which was what we could do next, and decided to make the most of the trip. Albeit, the frustration did take some time to pass through. Stoicism is harder than it looks.
Arriving at the hotel we found ourselves in a grand room. The hotel was vast, the bathroom was of shiny marble, the bed was the biggest I had ever seen, and the french doors led out into a balcony that overlooked the distant mountains and the main square in Tehuacan. It was quite an elating sight, especially after the 2 plus hours of walking – with suitcases and backpacks – our mistake in location had caused. The stoic response had certainly paid off. Molly excitedly phoned her parents showing them the hotel (one that would have been about 7 times more expensive in the UK) while I enjoyed the view from the balcony and began to look for things we could do.
Outside of our comfort zones
That evening Molly found a bar to go to for food and some drinks. It was a very funky place, with neon painted walls and loud Spanish pop/rap blaring. We ate and drank and drank and saw the locals of Tehuacan. The most prominent thing was that there was not a single non-Mexican face in sight. Seemingly being the only white people in Tehuacan was a strange experience. The call “hey gringos!” was frequented, and we received intense stares wherever we went. There was more animosity towards us than we have experienced before in Mexico. However, it seems understandable when no one is used to seeing someone of our skin colour often, and the connotations that often follow white skin there, especially when people assume we are Americans.
We spent our trip exploring the city. The old churches were of blue and white in the Baroque style. The streets were filled with many houses, some a faded yellow, and others cracked and grey. Farmers rode past on bicycles with corn strapped to the back, and locals walked past, glancing a look at us with confused expressions. The humming of old rusted VWs and buses could be heard occasionally, yet, in comparison to Cholula, it was eerily quiet at times. Streets stretched far and often no one could be seen. We discovered a shopping centre within Tehuacan and decided to give it a visit. The walk to the centre provided a harsh contrast. Local chicken shops and dilapidated stores quickly became commercialized restaurants and bars. The closer we got to the shopping centre, the newer and shinier the buildings were. Inside the shopping mall, we looked upon shiny stone floors and many clothing and electronic stores. We watched a Mexican movie which was fantastic, then returned to town.
A night to remember
That night we visited the biggest club in the town. We drank strong cocktails and waited for people to start dancing, as the only gringos there we thought it would be risky to be the first to move to the dance floor. We waited and although the place got busier, no one seemed to dance. It had reached 1am (very late for us early runners) and finally, the first few people began to dance. The same people danced for a while to dance anthems from America, Spain, and the UK. Then something happened. The music suddenly changed. Classical Salsa music brought a huge wave of Mexicans to the dance floor. Mexicans that apparently, were intensely good at dancing. Flawless footwork and incredible moves were now on full display. They interweaved each other with ease, all utilising a variety of moves, yet achieving perfect synchronicity. All the dancers were holding serious faces, some even uninterested as if this was all too easy for them. Molly and I looked with open mouths. It was both impressive and frustrating. We had really wanted to dance, and now, the fact that we are only able to dance contemporary freestyle (very contemporary – some would go as far to say bad), we were unable to join the dance floor. Had we joined, many toes would have been crushed, and many grooves would have been thrown off. We watched the dancing for a while, then decided to return home, having not been able to “throw any shapes” to quote Molly. It was the only club, yet the dancing was limited to salsa. It was very interesting to see the club culture in such a different light. The lights, the drinks, the smokey rooms, were all similar to clubs I have grown used to, yet, I had never experienced the type of people who live in Tehuacan, and subsequently, it made the whole experience polar opposite to what I have experienced in the past.
Throughout our stay, we had to graft to find somewhere that would accommodate our vegetarianism. Over the course of two days, we seemed to have wrung out every available option and were we to return I think we would struggle to find anywhere new to eat. The experiences we had were excellent. Tehuacan held some gems we truly enjoyed, however, after two days we found the available activities drying up.
The place was one in which hearing about it we would have never gone. Our confusion over the amount of chicken in the city was confirmed when one of our running friends said it is known to smell like chicken there. The runners laughed at the mistake and said how nobody would actively visit Tehuacan. However, I feel as though this made the trip even more worth it. Had we thought about going, and asked others if we should go, they would have said no, and we would not have gone. We were in a situation in which we had to seek a different kind of fun than we thought we would get. If you were to ask me if I was to go again, I would say no, however, I believe that makes the trip even more worth it.
Whilst in Cholula we experienced an overwhelming amount of kindness from the people, however, this was not always the case. This blog is highlighting a particularly nasty man.
Molly and I enter a newfound cafe. It sits outside the main market of Cholula. The entrance to the cafe is confined with a coffee machine immediately to the left and a compact kitchen to the right. As we walk through a beautiful garden emerges. The upper terrace is surrounded by potted plants and holds three to four tables. As we continue a lower area with a couple of white plastic tables can be seen on a small patch of grass. This is our favourite spot as it is directly in front is a large horse paddock.
However, we see two people sitting over a meal. In our favourite place. Neither of them are talking to each other so we decide to continue to the lower garden anyway. It is calm – a perfect place to read and enjoy the sun, so we both begin to open our books when suddenly “JOVEN!!”, from a strong American accent is screamed. A male waiter runs over to the table, to which, in a language he cannot speak, he is told “this is the best fucking nachos I have had in damn my life, not like the shit in America, this is the real shit”…then a harsh gesticulation over the food takes place and he asks for “Muchos Queso”. Slightly shocked, we wait for the waiter to come back so we can order a coffee. I take a look at the man who has just made me and Molly jump out of our seats. He has a white-bearded face that is scorched from the sun. He is holding a cigarette and I can see his large belly inflate further as he takes a drag. He is wearing a brown leather jacket over a grey shirt which is dotted with the “queso” he has just ordered more of.
I decide not to be so nosy and I turn away and try to read my book. The waiter comes and we order our coffees. As I begin to read, another “JOVEN” is shouted. This time, to a young boy selling necklaces. Again… “JOVEN” then turning his head away, an act that would have implied keeping this next speech to himself, had it not been so loud, he says “OR NIÑA – OR WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU PEOPLE CALL YOURSELVES”. The young boy approaches and nervously holds a board of necklaces. “Do you have a Rosario.. A ROSARIO”? The young boy holds a look of confusion and shakes his head. “ROSARIOS, DO YOU HAVE… TIENE ROSARIOS”. The young boy looks increasingly confused and shakes his head again, to which he is waved off by the American – who I have decided to call Richard (or dick for short if you prefer).
A conversation is now started between Richard and the lady sitting across from him. She is a short Mexican lady wearing a smart jacket. They have google translate between them on the table. After saying “English” Richard begins to speak. He speaks of America and some business opportunities here in Mexico whilst the lady stays silent.
After a brief conversation (or monologue more accurately) Richard goes to look at the nearby horses. He lights another cigarette and begins to speak to the owner. He is then taken around to inspect the horses. As he is gone the woman (who I shall call Maria) begins to talk on the phone. In Spanish, she speaks of her situation, of the unhappiness she feels and how she just wants a life for her children. She says she wishes she could stay in Mexico and with her qualifications she could get lots of jobs in the city. She speaks of this for a while until Richard comes back. He announces, pointing to a large grey stallion, “I want to buy that horse over there, it has tried to kill that man four times but I can tame it”. As he says this another element of this confusing scene sheds light. The owner of the horses, Stella in hand, is having a phone call, and as he talks he begins to scream at the top of his lungs to the recipient. He is waving his arms around and kicking a horse trailer (hopefully the killer horse is not inside). The only words I can make out are “PUTA MADRE”. Richard, however, notices none of this and continues to talk to maria. He begins to speak of wanting more land for their ranch. As he talks the translation changes his harsh, Texan accent, into polite, robotic Spanish. Maria chips in, says “Español”, then begins speaking quickly and passionately, until the translator’s robotic voice passively says in English “I do not understand why you keep calling it our house, it is yours, I just want somewhere for my kids to run around, to have the space I could not. Stop calling it ours, it is yours”. With a slight pause, Richard says “Okay, Bueno. Well, as I have been saying… ENGLISH… as I have been saying, we need to get that land from your associate. I want to buy an acre from him so I can have a horse”. Maria replies, saying “ he does not have an acre to give. He has told me he does not have that much”. Richard raises his voice and responds “Well he is LYING, he is a fucking retard and he is LYING. I want that acre from him”. A slightly comical translation translates the phrase “fucking retard” into “Un hombre muy mal”. “You know I am a lawyer right?” Maria responds. A long silence ensues. I am still holding my book which reveals the same page from when I arrived.
Richard starts to eat what must be some of the coldest fucking nachos he has had in his damn life and I look to Molly. I have not been the only nosy one in this situation and we both pull an expression of extreme discomfort. I have just noticed that my coffee is yet to arrive so we (at least our overpolite selves) are unable to leave. We also feel a strange sense of obligation to stay for Maria, although, what we can actually do I am unsure of.
My coffee finally arrives and in the ensuing silence I begin to read some of my book; this is quickly disturbed. Richard speaks again, slowly and clearly saying “ENGLISH, well, this may sound silly, but, what would you say to me using violence. Now, hear me out here. What if I just choke the mother fucker out until he signs the damn contract. Would that be okay?”. His tone is the calmest and most controlled it has been since we arrived. Google translate coldly translates the loaded sentence.
There is no immediate response, however, I can assume that Maria has had an emotive response, as after a brief silence Richard says “Okay, Lo Siento, lo Siento mucho… It was just an idea”.
Richard and Maria exchange no more words and leave the cafe. Molly and I are left in silence.
On our way to Cordoba from Buenos Aries we experienced a particularly bad situation. This is a bit of a serious piece about some of the dangers of travelling.
When we reached Buenos Aires from Mexico we were relieved. Finally, the flights, immigration and health forms were all over. We had downloaded a route to the bus station to catch our 10-hour bus at two. We began walking as the sun was beginning to rise. The sky was beautiful and the sea was right next to us. Our walk was along the main road. There were many cars and we were in plain sight so we figured we were safe.
A man cycled past us wearing a bin bag. We saw this kind of outfit very regularly in Cholula – when it rained many of the locals would wear a bin bag, and also on runs and cycles people would as it creates more sweat and subsequently burns more calories. Because of this, we thought nothing of him. He cycled past into the distance and we carried on with our walk, enjoying the sunrise and the sea. We reached an area where we had to cross a busy roundabout. We were about 10 minutes away from the airport. Once past this piece of roundabout, we would be on the other side of the main road which we would follow the rest of the way. There were a few trees but not enough to block sight for the cars, so we felt safe and proceeded. We crossed, then entered. He appeared from just outside the roundabout to our right, the same bin bag man. He cycled towards us quickly. I did not have time to comprehend what was going on. He jumped off his bike close to Molly and she began to run. He knocked her to the floor with his right hand. As he brought her to the floor I saw the knife in his left hand. It was a short blade and looked rusted. I could hear and see Molly struggling – I later found out she had not seen the knife. I started to shout “TRANQUILLO, TRANQUILLO” to the man – “TÓMA” as I showed him my bag (I missed the possessive pronoun lo/la within this situation thus deeming it grammatically incorrect, however, given the circumstances I will let this one slide). I did not know what else to do. I could not go towards him as his knife was so close to Molly. I didn’t want to make him do something to her, but I did not want him to do something because I did nothing. Car lights shone around us as they drove around the roundabout. He pressed the knife into Molly’s hand as he had her pinned to the floor. I continued to shout at him to take my bag. He eventually stood up with Molly’s phone in hand, still holding his knife. I said “tome” and tossed him my bag as he moved towards me. He caught the bag and ran onto his bike, riding into the busy road with his knife still visible.
I rushed to Molly and she had blood all over her hands. She quickly got up and moved towards the street, waving to cars. I checked to see if he had cut her anywhere else but it appeared to be just on her hands. The cut was deep and the white fleshy areas of her nerves were showing. We walked to the other side of the road and hailed the cars to get as far away from the area as possible – fearing he would come back. We were both scared the bin bag man would come back. We stood for a minute or two shouting at cars, waving our arms. Molly was crying and had blood all over her hands. No-one stopped. People looked and carried on. A red light hit and a taxi stopped. We started hailing it but he kept looking straight. We ran to the car and said we need to get away from here. He said no. We then said we just needed to get to the airport and he let us in; only because it was on the way to his next job. He let us in and we thanked him. Molly told him about what had just happened as I tried to dry the blood on her hand and see how bad the wound was. He seemed uninterested. We got out at the airport and Molly went to wash her hands in the bathroom. Molly then went to the medical bay while I figured out how to block the cards and the phone he had taken. I joined her in the medical bay and the doctors were trying to call the police. Ring ring ring. Nothing. After about three calls they managed to get the police on the line and explained the situation – mid-way through taking the police hung up. The medics put the phone down, looking unsurprised. They explained to us that the moment you step outside the airport you are unsafe and that the bus station we were going to visit is full of similar crimes and we should not go. We discovered every day they have similar cases to ours, and that Molly was very lucky it was just her hand that got stabbed. We finished the procedure and returned to the airport lounge. After calming down a little, we figured out what we should do. We decided to get a plane to Cordoba instead of taking our bus – after much deliberation discussing if we should just go back to England.
At the time of writing this, I am sitting in my Airbnb in new Cordoba. The street we live on is incredible. There are countless bars and restaurants and some incredible colonial architecture around the corner. We spend our days working in the house, walking through the streets and visiting bars – enjoying the wonderful variety of beers and interesting mix of Asian, Italian and Argentinian food in the area. When we walk out we place all of our goods in a bum bag and keep it to my front so I can see it at all times. We only take a little cash out with us at a time and only go down busy streets, never staying out too late nor heading out too early. These are all things I have never had to think about before, but I have quickly gotten used to it, understanding it is necessary to stay safe. The lifestyle here is great and we have been told that although pickpocketing is very common, violence is not.
Having been here for a little while and spoken to a few people we have been able to get a bit of an insight into the intricacies of what happened to us in Buenos Aires, and the current situation in Argentina. Recently the government moved towards the left, a government labelled by the people here as corrupt. None of the people we have spoken to have spoken kindly of the government and have said you cannot trust them. The currency holds little value due to hyperinflation and this, mixed with large unemployment rates means many people are angry. The levels of violence within Buenos Aires is immensely high, with people showing no surprise when we tell them about the crime against Molly and me. A few people have asked us if England would be a good place for them to live as the economic crisis is only worsening and they need to leave. It has been a shock as from afar, Argentina seemed like the most developed country in Latin America.
This is not to say all of Buenos Aires is unsafe. Norwich is unsafe if you do not keep your wits about you. Travelling in Latin America has been the best experience I have had in my life, the people we have met and the experiences we have had have been incredible. This particular experience has been really eye-opening on what it takes to travel to certain places. Make sure the information you read online is completely up to date – the articles I read said Buenos Aires is the safest city to travel to in South America, however, these were written before covid when crime rates spiked dramatically. I would recommend South American travel, but I am aware that there are challenges that you must overcome, and steps you must take that ensure what happened to us never has to happen to you. Travelling has been and continues to be, a joy, however, research and steps do need to be taken to ensure it is a joy. I would recommend always travelling with others, finding out how safe taxis are, don’t hitchhike and always keeping up to date with what is going on in other countries as it can take just one transition of government to change many people’s mentalities.
I hope this does not scare anyone, that is not why I am writing it. I just want people to be aware. Too often travel blogs and travel pieces have a significant rose tint to them. It is labelled as a dream state that is perfect, and although it can feel like this much of the time, it also holds other characteristics that need to be mentioned. I am continuing to travel after writing this and will do so for the rest of my life, however, I now know what I need to do, and how I need to approach it. It goes beyond travelling and when I am in Norwich for my final year of uni I am going to be far more careful within the city. It has not inhibited my experiences, in fact, it has allowed me to have more as I now have the knowledge of how I must approach it.
Thanks for reading this, and I promise my next article will be a little lighter-hearted.