June 07, 2004

Uruguay: World environment day

This is just a quick little entry. I was reminded on friday that saturday is ´el dia mundial del medio ambiente´ or world environment day.

see the United Nations Environment Programme website

I was reminded because in the smallish country town of north east Uruguay hundreds of school children with banners, and flags took to the streets in the morning with their teachers. They were well organized as a sort of mock-protest for the environment. I was eating breakfast and drinking mate in front of my little hotel getting ready to leave when they went by on their way to the town square. I could not resist and I delayed my departure to film them. It was really exciting because they were singing and shouting slogans of their creation.

As I was filming the local TV station guys were there also filming the students. When they saw my bike parked accross the street from the square they asked me for an interview. Later when I arrived in Chui on the brazilian border, another reporter asked me for an interview for his section of the local TV station. He then organized another interview with the local radio station the following morning. That was the ultimate challenge of my spanish, as on radio you really don´t have any help from gestures. Luckily my interviewer helped me prepare before we went live, so that I had sort of rehearsed my answers.

Now I am in Brazil, where I don´t understand anything... and I really hope nobody interviews me because I won´t know in which language to answer the questions I don´t really understand. All I can say is so far so good. I am going to attempt a remote 300km section on a peninsula to the east of Porto Allegre with a section of 4x4 track.

Posted by gwendal at 01:16 PM | Comments (0)

June 04, 2004

Uruguay: leaving Damien and Ryan

I should have done this a long time ago. But for some reason it is only when Damien and Ryan are about to leave that realize that it would be great to give them a voice on the website. It is definately not to late.
I had a really big knot in my throat when I saw them take the bus back to Montevideo from Cabo Polonio. All of a sudden I was left standing on the side of the road with not a soul in sight and the next town was 25km away.
There were a few times when the oblicatory compromises of travelling as a group had me fuming. But overwhelmingly I praised every day that Damien and Ryan continued to ride with me. We barely knew each other when we arrived in Ushuaia. Damien had only ask to join me a month before the departure. As for Ryan I had met him once for a very short drink when he was in Vancouver to see a Canucks hockey game. Now four and a half months sharing our lives later I am amazed and thankful to have them as friends.
Let me give them a voice.

Here is Damien's farwell:

Was it when we were being pelted by rocks and sand by the gale-force headwinds?
or maybe during our tenth spoke repair of the day. Maybe it was when I took
refuge from the cold wind and rain in a garbage bag or when Gwendal wouldn´t
quit till hours after I wanted to. I can't really pin down the hardest part of
our bike tour through South America´s Patagonia.

All I really know is that I have had one heck of an adventure! And all the bad
parts seem to drift back into the foggy reccesses of my brain while the best of
the best present themselves between each tip of my smile. Eating soggy, cold,
uncooked pasta is replace with my drool at Fitz Roy, soaking in hot tubs, and
finding all-you-can-eat restaurants at exactly lunchtime. All these make the
hard times turn into laughable brags.

My ´two and a half months´ cycling with Gwendal turned into three, then four,
and now four and a half. Each new experience bred the desire to see just a
little more of the countryside, to meet just a few more people, to laugh just a
few more times with these two crazy cats. I will all ways remember the silly
antics and inumeralbe funny things that happened to us (the ones that no one
else will ever understand).

Now, after so much time together (every waking and sleeping moment) it is
difficult to believe that we are all going to be seperated. It probably won´t
be till week or so from now, after riding for a few days, that I realize that
there is no one to talk to, no one to recount old ´´Simpson´s´´ with, and no one
to pick me up when I am feeling down.

I wish Gwendal and Ryan all the luck in the world (except the bits that I need)
and I am sure they will have a stellar trip!

Ryan's last words:

We´d known all along that at some point Gwendal, Damien and I would split up, but I´d tried to either ignore it or underplay its significance. But when I saw Gwendal cycling all alone the other day, it really hit home.

More than four months ago were together for the first time in a restaurant in Ushuaia, and we´ve been together more or less around the clock ever since. Together we battled the relentless winds of Tierra del Fuego, cowered from the torrential rains of the Carretera Austral and dealt with myriad bike problems in some of the most inconvenient places. But we also shared several magical moments, such as a sunrise in front of the magestic Torres del Paine, beautiful waves in Chapadmalal, and several cold beers after a long day of cycling.

We´ve been through so much together that it´s now hard to imagine cycling alone, even though that was my original plan. Back in Ushuaia I´d expected to cycle with Gwendal and Damien for perhaps a month at most, but I´m thankful that we were able to ride together for so long. Today Damien is heading out on his own toward Iguazu Falls, and soon I´ll be heading solo down the same trail that Gwendal is currently blazing for me.

I know that some day we´ll get together back in Canada to talk and laugh about the times we shared in the wilds of Patagonia, and to swap stories about our solo journeys, but for now all we can do wish each other the best of luck on the road ahead and part ways.

Gwendal and Damien, all the best on the road ahead. May all the hills be down and all the winds be at your back.

Posted by gwendal at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)

Country within a Country within a city

On Monday our hosts in Montevideo, took us to a very unusual event.
It is a tradition down here that when you are 'received' as a gratuate in your faculty you must have a very big party. This seemed fair enough and I was not too suprised when we were invited to come along to the party of one of their cousins who had just graduated as an accountant.
My interest was peaked when I realized that the place where the party was held is a mens only club. It had gone bankrupt a few years ago (it pays to include women) and it now rented its ballroom to help pay the bills. This club however is a little different... since 1878 it claims to be a sovereign nation. Each section of the grounds of this large mantion is either a small street a couple meters long with its own name or a plaza. The plaque on the entrance of the building reads Welcome to La Republica de la Boca "Gloria a la famosa ostentas majestuosa mansion de la alegria un cetro refulgente grandioso fue aquel dia tu faz habla sonriente que impusiste la igualidadde placer y de amistad."

The walls of the entrance hall are lined with the parties thrown for visiting ambassadors from all over the world. All the dignitaries however don't seem to be taking themselves too seriously based on their outlandish costumes and decorations.

The evening was even more interesting when we were urged to eat and drink as much as we liked. I really felt like I was crashing a party. Soon after we all had eaten the three people who had graduated were lead up on stage and the music started to play. One by one their class mates came up to the stage and cut off a lock of hair. Some were even more ambitious and started to shave their legs and chest hair. By the end of the ceremony the graduates had only a few odd tufts left and one of them was a woman!

It all ended as a fabulous evening of dancing. I still can''t beleive that there is a country inside Montevideo which is inside Republica Oriental de Uruguay that has not been officially recognised by the UN or any other county for that matter.
And yet continues to exist only a stone's throw away from the Urugayan Government house.

Aside: Canada is famous in Uruguay it seems for only one reason... its ham.
One of the most popular meals in the restorants here is the Chivito Canadiense.
A steak sandwich with a slice of ham, a fried egg, lettuce tomato and cheese. It is not much but everybody in Uruguay is much more aware of where Canada is when I tell them where I live. Geography Lessons through food really work. We should have Uruguayan sandwiches in Canada to return the favour.

Posted by gwendal at 06:13 PM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2004


Leaving Buenos Aires was very hard. Our host Daniel was amazing, taking time off work to show us around the city. Having grown up in this city he was an invaluable resource of information. Although he can only think of moving to southern Patagonia to set up shop in El Calafate, I hope he enjoyed seeing the city from the eyes of a tourist. Such a big city (11 million in the metropolitain region) has so much to offer for the curious minded. I was definately feeling little roots trying to anchor themselves down into Argentine soil. After four months of nomadic living switching to a new sedentary routine for a week was very welcome.

On wednsday the 19th after a very classic late evening dinner we went to the Confeteria Idea at 10:30pm. It is one of the oldest tango halls in Buenos Aires. It is an amazing building with a huge 30x50m room on the ground floor. During the day this room is where you can relax have cofee and eat some pastries called "facturas" which have become part of our regular breakfeast diet.
However in the evening the room is closed and you go up a big stone staircase to the dance hall. It oozes character with big (painted) marble pillars and beautiful wood mouldings on the walls. The paint is chipping off in some parts and all the fans date back to the second world war. You really sense that the room has lived through many turbulant times in Buenos Aires, but still remains a very swank place to dance. People were all very well dressed and dancing beautifully to the music played by a DJ. It was not untill one in the morning that the orchestra came out to play. They all looked as old as room they were playing in. Maybe it was late but to me it seemed that the two had always existed together. There was a young couple who did a few demonstrations but it was the slower less flashy dancing of the regular patrons that enchanted me.

Two days later Ryan and I were enrolled in a Tango class. Our instructors were fantastic and after an hour of line dancing the basic 8 step. They determined that I was ready to start dancing with a woman... I definately did not think so and my palm were sweaty, I was concentrating so hard. But the woman I was dancing with was just learning as well and easily in her sixties. I soon relaxed and started to enjoy the flow of the dance and maybe following the music.
Two days later we returned to another class with Damien and our host Daniel.
This was a completely different experience. The instructors assumed that we had experience because we had been to one class. After a short warm up they tried to teach me to do all the signalling and manipulation needed so that the partner knows exactly what to do. This time my shoulders were cramping up as I was trying to keep the proper position for my arms. The dance along with the music is very enchanting and I am interested to learn more when I return to Canada.

One day when walking around looking at the Buenos Aires architecture, streets, difficult sidewalks and billboards we saw hundreds of "piqueteros" meetin in the middle of the Avendida de Mayo between the Casa Rosada and the Congresso National. We asked what was going on to a protester who was in his fifties and he told us it was about wages for workers and cost of living in Argentina. He then told us they would start marching to the plaza in front of the national congress at three fifteen pm. And amazingly the group of at least 5000 protesters started moving right on time. Damien and I followed them to the plaza in front of the national congress. I found it an amazing place because from each tributary street were other groups of "piqueteros" flooding into the plaza. On all sides the plaza is hemmed in by 6-8 storey buildings. The congress building is very much integrated into the city landscape. Which I found very different to the Parliament buildings in Ottawa which have acres of grass in front.
Instead while sitting on the steps of a monument in the centre of the plaza looking over all the very well organized and peacefull protesters, I felt that protest is part of the regular political dialog in Argentina. There was even several young school children there as a group with their own cordoned off area with minders ensuring their safety in the crowd. Argentina has many financial and social challenges at the moment, currently as far as I could gather the protesters were asking for a raise of $250 pesos per month. Which when you consider that a doctor working for a public hospital often earns only 100 pesos per day which is about 45 dollars is not really that much. However the economic pressures on the government are such that it may be difficult.

Eventually I did take the ferry with Damien and Ryan still with me for another week in Uruguay. We crossed the Rio de la Plata to Colonia de Sacramento. It is a small town where everyone gets around on 2 stroke engine scooters which don't seem to have mufflers. The main industry seems to be tourism from Argentina. There are 8 municipal museums and lots of nice cobblestone streets in the old part of town. It was odd being in a new country knowing that I had become accustomed to Argentine beer, food, mannerisms and their way of speaking spanish. Uruguay although not very different is certainly marks the end of my travelling with Damien and Ryan who will each go their separate ways. Damien to Northern Argentina before flying home and Ryan to Rio de Janero to meet his girlfriend. So I will have to get used to being alone on the road for a few months. I will really miss having them around, it really made the trip a lot easier so far.

In the meantime we are having a very nice time in Montevideo. When in El Chalten by the Lago Desierto we met a very nice Uruguayan couple who spent four hours with us waiting for a boat that never came. We were cordially envited to come by and see them when we cycled through to meet their children who are of our generation. Unfortunately Isabel and Gustavo are away on business in Italy when we planned to stop by, but their children, Maria del Mar, Cecilia, Alphonso and Margerita are hosting us. They are amazingly open and friendly and their hospitality to three crazy canuck cyclists has been fantastic. We are in a beautiful western suburb (Carasco) of Montevideo and to go to the center we have to take the very scenic "Rambla" coast road for 20km which is lined with excellent beaches.

Posted by gwendal at 07:37 AM | Comments (0)