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on silence

It’s been a long pause and I offer no excuses. By way of explanation, I can only say that my life has taken a turn that I don’t particularly wish, for the moment, to hold up to public scrutiny. I’m not being secretive it just doesn’t seem to be of broad or absorbing interest to anyone but me.

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change of address

a thousand turns can now be found at athousandturns.net

For the moment the old address – wishfish.org – will still bring you here but please update your links and records.

imagined communities*

URUGUAY/BRAZIL

Looks like an ordinary road, the main street of any smallish town. But it's not. It is an international border, the official territorial demarcation between Uruguay and Brazil. On the southern side of the avenue the town is known as Chuy and is Uruguayan. On the northern side of the avenue the town is know as Chuí and is Brazilan. Brazilian and Uruguayan currencies are accepted just about anywhere, but the language demarcation is marked.

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a room with a view

URUGUAY

The room.

The view.

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strangescape

URUGUAY

Flat terrain with mini-mountains.

Uruguay's sparse sprinkling of palm trees over the pampas strike me as somehow incongrous, but I don't know why.

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an interlude, with horses…

URUGUAY — SIERRA DE ROCHA

I’ve mentioned, already, dreams of horses. In Uruguay, I happen across a little slice of heaven, with horses, an organic vegetable garden and some lovely folk.

I'm tempted to translate Caballos de Luz loosely - very loosely - as Lucie's Light Brigade. Lucie, who hails originally from Austro-Czech Central Europe is the energetic force behind Caballos de Luz, along with Santi, her Uruguayan partner. The business can be summarised as horse based eco-tourism, providing accommodation, short horse rides, longer tours on horseback, courses on horse management and training, vegetarian food and lots of love.

I am officially a wwoof style volunteer and I do spend a lot more time in the huerta than this one photo of the rosemary bush would suggest...

...but my duties also allow me plenty of time hanging with the horses...

... and on horse back.

Me and my horse.

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The property is a communally owned piece of land which people from all over the world are involved in, one way or another, and although my knowledge of Uruguay is still somewhat limited I'm willing to believe the contention that it is situated in one of the most beautiful areas in the country.

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Native palms dot the landscape...

... where it is not covered by spiny brush.

The communal land is strictly vegetarian but the neighours are raising all kinds of animals and produce some of the best eggs I have ever eaten. This litter of chanchitos (baby pigs)...

... is currently under the very watchful eye of mama chancha (big pig!).

Lucie shines brightly and Caballos de Luz forms something of an energetic centre of the communal land with various activities such as...

... horse riding classes for the community's children.

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And just before I leave* I have the opportunity to take part in a weekend course in training horses the 'rational' way: that is, developing a relationship with the horse based on some sort of mutual understanding and collaboration.

This is me in guachita** mode. (Photo by Santi)

... (Photo by Santi)

It is Santi, Lucie's husband, who tells us...

... how to understand exactly what it is that a horse is saying.

*I can’t think quite why I did leave.

** gaucha = cowgirl

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no unaccompanied women

Bomberos, that unexpected haven of hospitality which holds out to a travelling cyclist the tantalising hope of a hot shower and a dry place to sleep after a long day on the road is barred – at least in some cases – to that most dangerous of creatures, the unaccompanied woman.

Men? Sure. A woman under the supervision and care of a man? Of course. Why ever not? But a woman alone? Well, no. That’s a different matter.

It’s kind of churlish to complain, since the fact that the bomberos of Latin America offer hospitality to travelling cyclists at all is something of a miracle and a gratuitous kindness. Still, it irks. I have previously suspected that the high rate of refusals I get at bomberos is due to my perilous nature as a loose (as in unattached) woman but it is in Rocha that my suspicions are unequivocally confirmed.

The bomberos of Rocha, Uruguay, proudly relate to me how they regularly provide hospitality to travelling cyclists. Just not if you happen to be a woman, alone.

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camp site visitor

Six inches long and perfect!

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montevideo

URUGUAY: COLONIA — MONTEVIDEO

Uruguay is a small country and I don’t doubt that many people would have trouble finding it on a world map or naming its capital city. And I have to confess, on arrival, that my own prior knowledge on the subject of Uruguay is pretty scant.

I leave Buenos Aires on a ferry for Colonia, in Uruguay, across the Rio Plata. Not one of these beautiful old ferries that have been transformed into floating casinos but an ugly plastic catamaran. Oh, well. Colonia turns out to be one of those heritage listed towns full of Spanish and Portuguese colonial architecture that charm guide book writers but I find that one night there is quite enough.

Then a short couple of days ride sees me on the outskirts of Montevideo, Uruguay's capital.

The city stretches along the banks of the wide mouth of the Plata estuary...

... and is clearly labelled just in case you don't happen to know where you are.

My first Montevideo abode - courtesy of Agustina - is a lovely apartment in the old town, close to the port, with a fine view of the rooftops...

... and colourful street life. A couple of artist are working on a mural across the street that incorporates books, bikes and fish which just happen to be some of my favourite things.

City bike scheme -- everybody's got one, these days. I was interested to see that in Montevideo, helmets are provided along with the bikes.

Colourful murals decorate the pavement around storm water drains along La Rambla.

And La Rambla absolutely makes Montevideo with its strip of parkland running along the milk chocolate waters of Rio Plata. It is the perfect place for people to walk their dogs, jog, cycle, rollerblade, hang out and read or just sit and relax. All of these activities are accompanied by the compulsive consumption of maté - it is rare to see a Uruguayan without maté paraphernalia close to hand, no matter what they are doing.

A slightly incongruous Jewish Holocaust memorial dominates a prominent section of the La Rambla. On the other hand, the memorial to the dead and disappeared of Uruguay's recent-ish military dictatorship is tucked away out of town.

Lots of people while away the hours fishing. I'm not sure how edible the catch is, though.

The Punta Brava light house lends the city an appropriately maritime air.

Cats get to hang out on La Rambla, next to the lighthouse, as well.

My second Montevideo abode -- courtesy of Gloria -- is a mid-city apartment which provides me...

...with a fine aerial view.

The building is heritage listed and full of gorgeous details.

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And I learn that Montevideo, just like its more famous neighbour on the other side of the Rio Plata, is the perfect place for watching... (Photo by Gloria)

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... dancing tango feet.

And just in case you are still having trouble locating Montevideo on the map, here are the details... it's worth a visit.

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buenos aires

ARGENTINA: BUENOS AIRES

I’m a confirmed city agoraphobe but certain metropolises have an undeniable allure and Buenos Aires just happens to be one of them. It has charm. Undeniable charm.

HOTEL VICTORIA

And the charm starts right in my chosen Buenos Aires abode. The Hotel Victoria is a rambling five story building, with 70 rooms, that has been a residential hotel for over 80 years. I’m not sure if it has gone up or down in the world during that time but currently it is jam packed with an eccentric collection of people from all over Latin America. A Colombian guy tells me he is here in Buenos Aires studying circus skills. He came to study economics, he goes on, but somehow he has ended up learning to juggle on a five metre high unicycle instead.*

Carlos Gardel, one of tango's greatest romantic heroes, watches over my door.

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It's a bit chilly to make the most of the plant filled courtyard...

... but it charms me, nonetheless.

And the hotel phones are priceless.

IS THAT A BIKE LANE?

A lot of people get around Buenos Aires on bikes and there are over 150 kilometres of bikes lanes throughout the city, I am told.

This one doesn't impress me much, though.

BOOKSHOPS: THE GLORIOUS

I don’t know if this makes me odd or not but I’m a person who prefers to explore a city through its bookshops. Sydney, Sao Paulo, New York, Chicago, London, Prague, if you want to know, I can tell you where the best bookshops are.

In Buenos Aires, I am facilitated in this quest by the advice of Jodie, an Australian friend – who I first met in Mexico – who spent a decade or so living in various Latin America countries and is a fellow bibliophile. She emails me a list of bookshops that I must visit in Buenos Aires.

The grandest of the bookshops I find myself browsing in, is the Liberia El Ateneo which is housed...

...in a disused theatre. The boxes are fitted out with armchairs where you can while away an afternoon reading in comfort...

... and those that miss out on a chair find other places to relax.

RECOLETA CEMETERY

Cemeteries also feature high on my list of places to visit in getting to know a city and Buenos Aires’ Recoleta Cemetery doesn’t disappoint.

Recoleta Cemetery on a grey day is a moody atmospheric place to visit.

There are histrionic heroes...

... and histrionic heroines.

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HEROES

Outside the cemetery gates more histrionics of a different flavour.

Argentina's footfall heroes look a little undersized and distinctly unheroic, from my unsympathetic point of view.

MURALS

Murals are another way to get a hint of the contents of a city’s soul.

This one is a bit baffling. I think it's a hippo, or, maybe, a horse...?

These are the mean streets of La Boca - the part that isn't all painted pretty for the tourists.

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A DOG’S LIFE

La Boca is a somewhat seedy wharf-side neighbourhood which I visit in search of another bookshop on my list.

A couple of blocks near the famous football stadium have been painted pleasing colours. The streets are cluttered with tawdry souvenir shops and overpriced eateries and populated by restaurant touts and bored tango dancers in fishnet stockings shivering in the cutting wind. Tourists are bused in to gawp and photograph while police stand around making sure there is no trouble.

And trouble isn’t so hard to find. When I wander outside this invisibly cordoned area in search of my bookshop, I am quickly accosted by two young men on a motor bike. The lad on the back of the bike dismounts, opens his jacket and shows me a gun, and then demands my backpack. My first instinct is not self-preservation.

“Piss off!”

The guy takes an uncertain step backwards as my insults become more vociferous and, as the would-be muggers realise that things aren’t going quite as simply they had hoped, the man jumps back on the motorbike and they flee. But I guess this story could have ended quite differently and I am lucky.

Dogs enjoying life in the tourist area of La Boca.

BOOKSHOPS: ARTISANAL AND ANARCHIST

Eloisa Cartonera**, which eventually, I locate, more or less unscathed, is an independent publishing collective, in La Boca, that produces handmade books from cardboard. The collective started in 2003 in the aftermath of Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis with a number of objectives that are probably best described by their own website.

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MEMORIES

Argentina’s dark past is on display in the city.

This mural graces a wall near a permanent encampment in Buenos Aires famous Plaza de Mayo which houses disaffected veterans of the disastrous Falklands conflict. Most of the Argentinian soldiers sent to the islands, by the generals of the military dictatorship of the day, were still teenagers and miserably badly equipped. They, quite rightly, see themselves as pawns in an ugly game.

The streets of Buenos Aires are dotted with other reminders of the murderous excesses of the regime, this time against their own people. This series of plaques forms part of the pavement...

...outside a university building. The pencil embedded among the coloured tiles strike a particularly poignant note. The memorials are underfoot...

... on what seems like just about every street.

And, of course, nobody has ever been able to forget Evita.

CITY LIFE

The Puerto Madero area of Buenos Aires has been super gentrified and is now the most expensive real estate in the city.

You know you're in a real city when you're on the Metro.

*I later meet with someone who cynically exclaims, “Typical Colombian! They are all children of narco-traffickers!”… I wonder.

**A cartonero is someone who makes their living collecting cardboard and other recyclable material off the street.

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