Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Sea Lions of Puerto Madryn

First there was the Donkey of Nazareth who ate my shirt. Now the shame of having my butt bitten by a sea lion.

This morning, far too early, C and I and two handsome, ripped fellows from Belgium were dressed up in full wet-suits (vests, socks, another body suit followed by more boots) then directed to walk over the beach and through the surf to a small boat moored out in the ocean.

Thus started our adventure to snorkel with Sea Lions.

Before setting out on this trip, I had to have assurance from our trusted guide Pedro who is a bit of a nut about eco stuff (in Parque Valdes he would stop and shoo off any errant tourists who had gotten out of their car in the unauthorized area as he did to me on the path at Tombo to take a penguino photo) that this DID NOT impact on Sea Lion behaviour or colony life.

The sea lions live in huge colonies along the coast of this area of Patagonia. The population consists mostly of female sea lions, juveniles and then the pups.

There is one large Bull Male and an assorted group of what are called Beta Males, who appear, as in the old Batman show from the 60s, to act as the henchmen of the Bull Male. The young or weak little males are banished to what are called "bachelor colonies". Mind you, maybe they're all the gay males and their part of the shore is the Fire Island of sea lion world.

At the sight of the dive we are given wet suit hoods for our heads as well as three finger neoprene gloves. The Belgiums make jokes about us looking like the knights from "Monty Python's Holy Grail". That's actually pretty accurate.

Then on come our flippers, masks, snorkels and then ordered off the boat and into the water.

Sea Lions came as soon as we anchored, a few at a time, playful and jumping around us.

What would happen soon was a strange parly between two tribes of extremely curious mammals.

We have us in our weird masks and suits and suddenly sea lions from left to right come out to see what's up.

They check us out from a few feet at first, diving up and around us usually below looking directly into your eyes from beneath you.

The fundamental link between me, a human, and the wild sea lion, cements in that moment: They are as fascinated by, and wary of us, as we are of them.

I try and play it cool and only make eye contact with them and say 'hello' through my snorkel as they swim around me.

Then soon, more come and more and more.

If you were a Newfoundlander you would say the "sea was maggoty with seals".

It starts with one older matriarch seal. I can tell she likes me. She swims right against me and rubs her wiskers against my hand. I start to pet the side of her neck and her eyes close half shut like a cat and she stays with me for minutes purring at my stroking of her fur. She swims away to tell the younger sea lions that I am okay.

The sea lions also like my friends from Belgium. Suddenly after the matriarchs have given an "okay" all these sea lions just start surrounding us. Swimming in bewteen over and right beside us. They like it when you to surface with them, look at their eyes and then dive down again with them.

In a scrum of sea lions, one swims beneath me and throws me up a few feet out of the ocean and into the air.

Spinning, turning, diving, swimming up and down the sea lions surround us in clear, aquamarine waters looking directly into our eyes. They want us to stroke their wiskers, swim down with them and, as a puppy does, they continue to invite play.


We humans spend all this time pondering whether God exists. We want some determination that an intelligence, other than ours, exists.

Astronomers search for evidence of life beyond earth: Are these remains of fossilized bacteria in a stone from Mars? Is there rudimentary bacteria or protein chains in guck ponds on near moons?

Are there UFOs? Watchers?

Yet here on on blue, watery and delicate Earth, live all sorts of extreme, strange but related creatures: cousins many times removed who are as interested in us, as we are in them.

Sudden Saints

Interestingly Argentina has a habit of spontaneously making the most interesting assortment of people into Saints. These are not saints confirmed by the Catholic Church, nor necessarily even holy people who lived holy lives.

For example a singer of what might be akin to hip hop in Argentinian terms was killed on her way to one of her many concerts in a crash on her bus only to have countless shrines erected to her and a belief by many that she could perform miracles. This was also the case with Evita for some time.

Currently there are a few big, but unofficial saints whose shrines you see everywhere. First off Gauchito Gil whose red flagged shrines adorn the side of highways every few of kilometres. Gauchito Gil appears to be a Black man who is adorned all in red. He was allegedly a former soldier gone AWOL who then robbed with a gang and stole from the rich and gave to the poor. When he was finally caught and about to be hanged, he told one of his captors that his son was very ill and should he give him a proper burial the son would be cured. Deserting soldiers at that time were not buried properly but left to rot.

After his death, the soldier lopped off Gil's head and took it back to town, only to learn that his son was gravely ill. He immediately returned to the sight of the hanging and properly buried the body and returned to find his son recovered.

Gauchito Gil worship isn't isolated soley to shrines but his image can be found on everything from bumper stickers to T-shirts.

Not that everyone believes; there is a saying "if you have a cold it will last 7 days by itself, 7 days if you see a doctor and 7 days if you bury Gauchito Gil".

There is also Santa Muerte or Saint Death who is a skeleton who is either draped in white or black clothing depending on whether you want him to do good for you or to do bad on your behalf.

A guide who was Catholic said many of her friends told her she should really take the help of Santa Muerte assuring her he will do what you ask for, but she refused despite the temptation, given her faith.

Finally there is Funtura Correa, which I am probably spelling incorrectly, that roughly translates to death or plague Correa: a woman with a baby who followed an army column for days without water or help and finally died of thirst.

Along the highways you will see huge piles of empty plastic water bottles looking more like a garbage dump than a shrine, yet sort through them and you will find a shrine underneath. People fill bottles with water and leave them for her though of course the water eventually evaporates.

Our guide Pedro said of her that she was an excellent saint and very helpful.

Especially when you are driving in the desert and your car radiator runs dry.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Roads of Patagonia: A River Runs Through It

I stole the joke of the title from the Lonely Planet Guide commentary on the worst roads in Costa Rica, however it applies today to our little sojourn.

Again with Franca the Italian and Pedro our driver/guide we set off at 8am for our all day excursion to Parque Peninsula Valdes a UNESCO site bursting with seals, penguins, orcas and armadillos.

It does not rain in Patagonia. It is a pure desert. That is except when Beth and Catherine decide to visit. Then you get an all day rain interspersed with tropical downpours that made any visibility impossible. This meant that the unpaved roads which consist entirely of very small polished gravel rocks from the sea and heavy, enormously sticky clay, become the highways of nightmares.

Pedro gunned through huge clay ruts flooded out which sent our car spinning and donuting all over the road leading C and I to express extremes of terror and fear.

Pedro like any good Argentine thought it was "fun". I finally figured out they drive like maniacs not because it{s habit, but because they really enjoy it. Worst is that if you ask them to slow down they tell some sad fib just so they can continue to relish their hours of driving like Mario Andretti in the company car.

During the cloudburst from the south of the pennisula to the north, I commented that never had I driven 45 km straight fishtailing the entire way. This is not an exageration.

We came upon a young couple, their car spun off the road, their tires buried in over 1 ft of gravel and which could not be extricated except without finding a shovel, which no one had. We left them assuring them we would notify the park rangers who would call civil defense.

As C and I clutched desperately at the handles of the door, Pedro drove like someone from a monster truck derby through the many rivers which now entirely flooded the road. Clay repels water, oesn{t absorb and thus, the entire road looked like it was covered in snow: flood waters of white clay pouring out from the surrounding desert.

Franca of course being from Milan demanded Pedro 'Dukes of Hazzard' it through the most flooded roads so she could video the entire experience on her Sony while C and I screamed in fear in the back.

It was only at the end of our journey that Pedro revealed, that not only as a former farmer had he negotiated more flooded roads than Noah, but that his hobby was off road driving.

Might have told me that earlier.

Oh and the Seal Lions were great. Hundreds and hundreds covered the beaches and surfed into shore on the waves while their little pups raced back and forth across the beach in gangs of playmates. The whole lot roaring and barking.

Behind lay the immense aquamarine blue of the Atlantic. The sky above was a dark blue while bolts of lightning shot down into the waves and the sound of thunder echoed off the cliffs and mingled with the howls from below.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Oodles of Penguinos

Have finally arrived in Patagonia after hell journey involving the airline Aerolinas Argentinias whose motto might be: "We Hope to Get you There...Eventually"

Started off the day on our personal tour with a guide, Pedro, who is a former cattle rancher, bankrupted when the Presidentess (as she insists being called) failed to assist farmers in 2008 during an economic agricultural crisis.

We went to the airport in the Welsh town of Trelew where we picked up a Communist from Italy aged about 65 who sounded like Don Corleone and smoked cigars. As we were talking politics with Pedro and he raised the subject of Berlusconi, the woman remarked in her haughty Milanese Italian: "Ha...Berlusconi! I have a photo of him in my toilet which I shit on every morning and never clean, even if it stinks!" much to the howling laughter of Pedro.

Then off to our destination: Tombin which is home to 100,000 pairs of breeding Magellenic Penguins leaving a total population of some 500,000 penguins when you include the chicks.

Patagonia is all desert and you drive by unpaved road through a private sheep estancia to get to the coast. The native lamas run along side the roads. They are captured briefly each year to be sheered for their wool with the assistance of biologists who ensure they don{t drop dead from stress.

Soon we arrive at penguin central. Having spent about an hour staring rapt at a dirty tank in the acquarium in Mar Del Plata containing a few sad penguins, our first sight of wild penguins leaves C, the Milanese woman and I entranced. I of course start madly taking photos of the only penguin we see until Pedro tells me, we will soon see many, many penguins and we don{t have to linger for this one.

Walking along a set trail some 2 kilometers brings us to penguin heaven. They are literally everywhere: thousands and thousands and thousands of penguins standing in front of you, beside, behind you or waddling along the path or towards the beach.

There are so many in the distance I mistake them for a crowd of people walking.

This species of penguin nest in burrows dug by males. The males come here early, prepare the burrows or fight other males for the best burrow. When the females arrive each burrow comes with a man, and the females will choose the best burrow and get the guy that comes along with it.

They will then mate and after 40 days she will lay two eggs. They will then take turns sitting on the egg while the other one waddles out to the ocean to feed.

When the chicks are born, each penguin will take turns caring for the chicks while the other goes out to the ocean swimming almost 500 kilometres to feed for a week and bring back food to regurgitate to feed the young. The very hungry penguin who stayed behind now gets his or her turn to go off to feed.

After a number of months the chicks will be ready to molt their chick feathers and learn to swim. After a few lessons they will be ready to be on their own and off they and all the other penguins go, up to Brazil spending six months at sea never touching land. Then they swim back down to this area to mate and raise chicks again. Often in the same burrow if possible.

Pedro explained that because they have no natural predators on land, they are completely unafraid of us. If it was the sea, it would be a different matter as sharks, seals, petrels and a host of other meal seekers will attack them in the water.

C and I can sit right beside a penguin while he or she stands just enjoying the breeze, the sun or having a nap. Many penguins sleep standing up. The only rules of the park is to stay on the marked trail (native stone soil just marked by big stones) and always give way penguins whenever they walk in front of you.

Most ignore you but some are quite curious.

Luckily I dont{ take slides, otherwise folks at home would be forced to sit through hours of adorable penguin photos until they decided to strangle us.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I was a bit wary about treading all the way up to the borders of Brazil and Paraguay to see Iguazu Falls. While everyone who knew Iguazu would tell you to go there, the Moon Guide warned that the Argentinians had turned it into Disneyland. Thus I was worried we were looking at Niagara Falls: a wonder ruined by the Barrel Ride and a Wax Museum. But I was wrong.

Iguazu Falls are a series of massive waterfalls kilometres long formed in a huge horseshoe bordering Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. In the 1600s Jesuit Missionaries set out to convert some 100,000 Guarani native people to the ways of the Blessed Church and created some huge sorts of eco-communist farms where the Guarani divided the wealth.

The film 'The Mission' with Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons depicted the expulsion of the Jesuits by the King of Spain in the 1700s and the dissolution of the Missions. This led to the Guarani Rebellion which ended with the enslavement of the Guarani. When I first saw the film (another story - in 1987 when I was in Bombay: after the initial scene where the Guarani nail a priest to a cross and send him packing over the Iguazu Falls the entire audience stood up and did a standing ovation) I frankly wondered about the historical accuracy of the film.

Turns out the Jesuits were quite socialist for a brief time and according to the guidebooks, the film is pretty much on the money.

The falls are absolutely breathtaking. The Brazilians in their park, have constructed an engineering marvel: long metal catwalks allow you to walk along and underneath the falls. There you are, on the edge of the chasm of what is akin to Niagara Falls or at the bottom of some larger cascade getting soaking wet when the wind changes and plumes of mist blasted from the falls blow over you. It´s like being out on the deck of a ship during a storm.

A fabulous day for a shower. It is blazing hot in the rain forest and all that river water, slightly cool to the body, is exactly what you need.

The next day we are off to the Argentine side where lies the falls known as the Mouth of the Devil. There the gangways lie over the river and end at the very edge a few feet over where the largest cascade falls.

C tells me to take pictures standing at the edge of between life and a magnificent plummet.

To end our day, we spend some extra cash to do a strange 'Grand Trek': they take you in a giant, Jurrasic Park jeep 'off-roading' through the forest down to boats along the river shore. There they give you waterproof bags to store all your stuff in, very large life preservers and then race you down the canyon of the river, to drive directly into the base of about 7 different falls, doing donuts underneath while thousands of litres of water pour down on you each second.

After a sound and thorough soaking, you disembark and clamber up a rock trail alongside the path of the many falls.

It was changing then, from my bathing suit to my shorts, that I realize our digital camera with all our photos of puppy Alice, now a teen, taken religiously from the time she was first adopted, to when we left for Argentina, has been stolen.

Beware photo taking of Cappuchian monkeys eating passion fruit in the trees: it causes others to covet that which is not theirs.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Dirty War

Politics in Argentina is a complex thing. First off there is a great deal of corruption, from the highest political offices to the lowly cop who stops you for a driving infraction and, when he takes you to the back of the car, suggests it would be easier to "settle things here" meaning a bribe to overlook the infraction.

The political figure most familiar to Europeans and North Americans is of course Eva Peron or ´Evita´ who is still regarded by most Argentenians as next to a Saint.

She gave women the vote, did poverty relief and then, in one of the actions I think the most ballsy, bought the most expensive mansion in Mar Del Plata, and much to the outrage of the neighbours, turned it into a home for abused, poor, rural women.

Evita however died very young and her husband, the dictator Juan Peron, was later exiled to Spain after some political fracus. He returned to be elected but upon his death his new wife, a former exotic dancer, Isabel Peron, took over the reigns of power in the country.

Isabel was a disaster as a leader. I guess a CV featuring the sole occupations of exotic dancer and trophy wife of military guy twice your age doesn´t necessarily provide you with the requisite skills essential to running a country. Thus Argentina went again, entirely to the dogs. Luckily it was ´rescued´ by wise fathers of the military in 1976 who undertook a Coup overturning civilian rule in the country.

Thus began ´The Dirty War´.

The Junta, opposed to any and all social and progressive action started a campaign of torture and terror that was to last until they were overthrown in 1983 following the disastrous Falklands War.

Over the seven years of their rule, it is estimated that over 30,000 Argentinians were ´disappeared´. The military would grab suspected leftists or progressives anywhere, anytime: walking home from work, coming off the bus, and make you ´disappear´ never to be found or heard of again.

This number doesn´t include those who were arrested and detained and tortured only to be later released.

The fate of the ´disappeared´ has never been settled, except that it is known that they were murdered. The revelation that some of them were dumped drugged but alive from planes to drown in the Atlantic Ocean reignited calls for criminal trials for former military officials.

No one, except a movement called the ´Mothers of the Disappeared´ dared to speak out against the Junta. However they only did so by silently filling the plaza in Buenos Aires outside the presidential palace on Thursdays and dressed in black.

The Dirty War still haunts Argentina, not just in the failed attempts to prosecute the former generals and operatives, but in the fate of the children of the disappeared´.

This is a much discussed issue in Argentina. The babies and very young children of women and men who were ´disappeared´ were often surreptiously adopted out (just given) to families of the cronies of the regime. This was the focus of the film that won the Foreign Language Oscar in 1985: ´The Official Story¨´ but now all these children are grown up and have realized the story of their origins seems dodgey.

Many people in their 30s have hired lawyers only to learn that they were the children of those women and men shot, buried in unmarked graves or thrown out alive to drown in the sea.

They learn that they have grandparents, aunts, uncles and brothers and sisters.

Currently Christina Kircher, a Peronist, runs the country but inflation runs amok, the value of the peso falls and the gap between the rich and the poor widens. Argentinians complain that the prices for basic foodstuffs change dramatically up to three times a month without any raise in the daily wage.

Along the expressway through the middle of Buenos Aires and the bad areas of other cities, for example the bus and train station lies shantytown after shantytown.

The very poor, some 20% of the country´s population live without electricity, running water or even true houses. Instead they reside in filthy hovels literally made of salvaged garbage.

But this October comes the election for Presidente in Argentina. Will Christina run again or give up and resign? Which party, the Radicalists (who are not radical), the Socialists or the Peronists will take the reigns of power?

In 2001, when the peso was devalued the President had to flee from angry crowds and be rescued by helicopter and off into exile from his balcony. The situation in Argentina was so bad they had seven presidents in the year. In one week they had five. As soon as a foolish candidate assumed office and realized the mess he had inherited, he would resign.

That year the wine harvest failed, there was hail and all the grapes were ruined. Disastro.

I joked today to the tour guide that Argentina seems to be the sole country where everyone is eager to refuse the honour of being a president.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Have we landed in heaven?

Mendoza, on the far west side of Argentina is a desert town of hot sun, cooling winds and forests of giant shade trees surrounding beautiful, clean plazas. Around Mendoza are the foothills of the Andes rising larger than the Alps into the clear blue sky.

Mendoza has only recently realized that with Andean melt water, it can irrigate the desert region and create absolutely excellent wines.

And man, is there alot of wine.

In fact, there is not much to do here except go to the Andes and sit and try wine.

Today we met a group of Chileans who had come to Mendoza to eat gobs of parilla or the famous Argentinian beef barbeques and sip wines and beers. They were happy I spent time taking photos of them on their cameras toasting and clinking glasses along side Fred Flintstone sized slabs of ribs and beef.

When they asked me in Spanish how I liked Mendoza I raved back in my mere Spanish about my love of Argentina, unaware they were Chilean.

Then came out the traditional country versus country machismo wherein the Chileans' dissed the Argentinians and insisted on knowing when we were going to Chile and for how long.

I just made stuff up.

When we came back to the hotel, I told the front desk clerks about the Chileans' comments. They replied: "Well here in Argentina, we have no earthquakes and their border is shut down, because they had yet another earthquake!"

I wonder what it's like when the countries play off against each other in Futbol? I'd imagine they bring knives.

Good graces also smiled on us on the flight here from BA. C of course hates toilets and bathrooms, I mean who doesn't? But for her this is the stuff of nightmares and our assigned seats were right beside the only bathroom on the plane. She tried by stealth to claim other seats only to be thwarted when another mob of passengers arrived by bus.

Luckily the guy who sat next to us had a really strong, and actually quite nice, cologne which drowned out the creeping toilet puck smell.

Not only did he help teach me Spanish, but when on the descent the plane rocked crazily in turbulence, he revealed he was a pilot for Aerolinas Argentinas and happily explained why we were rocking in clear blue skies and the myriad safety features of the aircraft.

Gotta love sitting next to a guy who's a former airforce pilot flying F12 military jets, then later on, Hercules aircraft and Twin Otters in Antarctica for a year, followed by a long career as a pilot for Continental.

I want him with us on every flight. And not just in case we are seated again by the bathroom.

Friday, February 11, 2011


What is it about every country in the world that we visit, other than our beloved Switzerland or Canada, where people refuse to drive in a sane, slow and orderly fashion?

Ah esta Latin America! Entiendo!

Case in point Mar Del Plata: Imagine New York City and all the criss-crossing avenue As, Bs and 1st and 2nd Streets etc... but with maniacal taxi drivers. Now imagine this without the benefit of a) traffic lights b) stop signs or c) worse: a civic agreement about what to do at a four way stop.

Drivers thus race through intersections with full abandon. They avoid full on T-Bone crashes by an unusual manouver of suddenly swinging to the left or right side of the road (depending on the one way direction) and doing a 50 km an hour California stop... a ´sorta´slow down kinda thing and when they see the other car slightly hesitate or no immediate traffic, gun it to next street only a block away. This goes on for blocks and blocks and blocks...

Being a pedestrian (forget being a passenger) is difficult as a result. I found myself cowering behind women and men with baby strollers because when crossing by myself, tanned old blonde women with skins like dried leather seemed to relish turning right at 60 clicks just to run me over. Cowering, however, behind un parenta con infante gave me some kind of unpsoken though shameful, protection.

Back in Buenos Aires I was happy that there were at least some traffic lights, though largely ignored. The problem is, that as in Cairo, no one seems to care what constitutes a lane. Traffic flow is a bit like a pinball machine with you in the car as the ball, and all the other and very large trucks and buses the bumpers.

Then the last question: Does every single taxi driver purposefully disable all the working seatbelts in every car or does it just come that way?

I imagine an advertising campaign selling new cars to taxi companies. When setting out each model´s features, the brochure reads as follows: "The new X-RS taxi model comes standard with a completely disabled restraint system. In the mid range model taxis come complete with short shoulder safety belts which can only fit into cleverly concealed latching mechanisms, that we have buried deep within the bowels back seat of the car and cannot be be accessed by passenergers. With the prestige model we have included state of the art rosary beads and a medallion of a saint to ensure the safe operation of the vehicle and journey of its occupants."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mar Del Plata

Mar Del Plata is a lovely, huge seaside city that every person in Argentina comes to in the summer. This means that it is very, very crowded currently being the August of below the equator.

During the turn of the last century and up to the 1940s very rich Argentinians would come here and build odd replicas of everything from Haciendas to an Anglo-Norman castle in the centre of town as their summer home. Thus the architecture, while breathtaking is a bit surreal: sort of Michael Corleone's Aspen mansion meets, well castles in ancient France.

The beach goes on for miles, but the water is quite cold. That doesn't daunt anyone here as even though it has been about 19 degrees celsius each day, they will wear sandals, a bikini and no shirt if it's the last thing they do. No one is going to tell them it's not 35 degrees celsius and not the Bahamas.

As for the beach itself it´s wall to wall people as far as you can see. One guide book suggested you come here, if only to remind yourself to never again say: 'Gee this beach is crowded'.

Unfortunately for us, we haven´t had alot to do here as a result. We did go to the famous wharf yesterday to watch the fishing boats come in and visit a colony of sea lions (called Sea Wolves by the Argentinians) who had taken root here and lived in a symbiotic relationship with the fisherman.

Along with about a million Latin American turistas we trudged the dirty road to the weird rocks where the Lobos had made their home. A more moth eaten lot I've not seen, though with the others I dutifully snapped photos of a yawning Mar Lobos and one of him scratching his back.

Apparently they are all young males. Thus I could only conclude these were the teenage boys of the seal world, content to eat the equivalent of seal pizza all day and lie around all day sleeping in garbage.

Today was the nadir of our site seeing. We decided to go the Aquarium expecting the fantastic aquatic educational world of the famous aquarium in Lisbon. Alas we were at an underdeveloped version of Marine Land and Game Farm. They had some sad crocodiles, a bunch of flamingos who were busy brawling, and I will admit, a rather cute display of penguins that I felt very guilty about enjoying.

As for the actual aquarium part, C commented that there were more fish in a Petsmart than in their tanks.

However the worst moment came when we went to see performing seals.

C now knew that if she ever tried to get a membership in PETA they would pull out a file with photos taken surreptiously showing her enjoying the 'Lobos Del Mar Spectacular' where sea lions walked upside down, kissed people and, while C clapped heartily along to the music, danced the Macarena.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Good Air

Buenos Aires. It means "good or beneficial air" or "good winds". When the Conquistadors came sailing in after months of foul water, food and ship borne disease, the coastal river coast seemed sublimely beneficial to the crew.

Back then of course our Enlightened European ancestors did not understand that illness was caused by filthy and rotted supplies and putrid water. They had this weird belief that all the sailors dropped dead as a result of some "miasmas" (or bad airs) that came onto the ship rather than the rat and worm infested glop that they were holding their nose about and forcing down their gullet.

When they reached shore by way of trade winds and had "good air", some fruits, fresh water and real food the sailors suddenly recovered their health. Why it took Europeans some 500 years to figure out this simple scientific fact is a mystery. We seemed to figure out genocide and conquest quite well. Our filthiness, however, to steal a line from Joni Mitchell, we "held onto like a crucifix".

The layout of the city of Buenos Aires is marked by a rich history of Cholera and Yellow Fever epidemics: San Telmo wealthy and home to the well heeled, but then the rich fled up to Retiro to avoid illness and so on and so forth.

Maybe because its pestilencial past, Buenos Aires is a city alive from sidewalk to balcony. People love to get out into the street here. Tango is a really serious matter and day and night restos, bars and cafes blare traditional Tango musica.

I wondered briefly why I found the city at times to be unsettling, until I remembered the entire score of the film "12 Monkeys" is all done in authentic Argentinian Tango music. Is disturbing and surreal time travel to follow a simple day walking the streets and mercados?

Tango when seen live is really a very hot dance and one can see why traditional "Milongas" or Tango Bars are popular for everyone from seniors to punks to the burgeoning "Queer Tango" scene where Gays and Lesbians Tango away los noches.

The dance has an intensity I can only describe as that first "French kiss" when you are completely gunning for someone, only this goes on as a body to body dance for some 5 minutes. And to add to it´s magic, it´s danced in really nice clothes.

The city´s many plazas are surrounded by neat old Bel Epoque and Tango bars from the early 1900s still going strong today.

In Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo, the old cobblestoned area unseated by disease, the square features live Tango shows interspersed with busking rock bands by night. By day you can drink waters, coffees and cervaza accompanied by peanuts in the shell which unfortunately, have a tendency to attract Hitchcockian pigeons who mob your table as soon as the waiter veers a few steps away.

On Sundays the entire street of Defensa in San Telmo closes to host an enormous flea market. The quality of the handmade goods is in direct proportion to the smelliness of the punk-hippy who crafted it. The more grotty the maker, the better the product.

Now again back to the air. The denizens of Buenos Aires are themselves of good "humours"; people who are as friendly as a gentle but enthusiastic puppy or as if you ran into Jesus on a hot summer afternoon and he said: "Hey man, let´s have a beer!"