Having left the mighty mountains, valleys and plains of Patagonia behind us, we decided to grant ourselves a couple of days in Buenos Aires. After all, there is a limit to the amount of breathtaking scenery that one can absorb on one trip.
There’s a certain ‘edginess’ about Buenos Aires and although nothing unpleasant happened to us, we did have the feeling that this was a city where you had to be on your guard and aware of your surroundings at all times.
It is a big, sprawling city where the contrasts between rich and poor are very stark. The rich are very rich and the poor are struggling.
As we drove in from the airport, our bus brought us through a huge housing area, close to the centre of the city, which showed every sign of a complete lack of town planning, let alone any awareness of building regulations or health and safety.
People had simply bought themselves some bricks, some cement and some window frames and built themselves somewhere to live. And since space was obviously limited, they had just built higher and higher to the point where you felt sure that the high-rise constructions would eventually topple over.
When I commented on this, our guide explained that this area is inhabited by the servants, drivers and gardeners who work for the wealthy elite of Buenos Aires.
Normally, any city authority worth its salt would send in the bulldozers to clear such an area of chaotic, unauthorised and downright dangerous housing, but since it is this same elite who control the city’s housing authorities, uncontrolled and untrammelled building is allowed to continue unnoticed.
Having a couple of days to spare, we decided to have a look at an exhibition in a local art gallery. It was based on the work of the painter and sculptor, Pablo Suarez. ‘Edgy’ was the word that came to mind again.
It was not comfortable viewing.
But if the paintings added to the sense of a society on the edge, the sculptures hammered the feeling home.
There was nothing serene in this collection of works.
But there was a good deal of angst.
You certainly got the feeling that the artist had lived through some tumultuous times.
I am certainly no connoisseur of art, but I had never seen anything like these sculptures in Europe and, to me, it seemed to speak of a troubled spirit and a troubled history.
After an hour or so, it was quite good to get out and walk in the afternoon sunshine.
In 2007, the Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, resigned and was succeeded by his Chancellor of the Exchequer, (Finance Minister) Gordon Brown.
Guess who wrote this…
“It’s the arrogance. It’s the contempt. That’s what gets me. It’s Gordon Brown’s apparent belief that he can just trample on the democratic will of the British people.
It’s a scandal. Why are we conniving in this stitch-up? This is nothing less than a palace coup. The extraordinary thing is that it looks as though he will be in No 10 Downing Street for three years without a mandate from the British people.
No-one elected Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. Gordon Brown could appease public indignation over that and secure a democratic mandate he needs by asking the public to vote at once for him. Let’s have an election without delay.”
Yes, you guessed it. This was written by the man who has just been elected to the post of Prime Minister by an electorate that was less than 0.2% of those eligible to vote, i.e. those who were members of the Conservative party. If that isn’t “trampling on the democratic will of the British people”, I don’t know what is.
This is the Prime Minister who is now travelling around the country promising money in eye-watering quantities at every town and village he stops in. Yesterday it was £2billion for the National Health Service, most of which is just ‘old money’ that hospitals were forced for years to accumulate in their accounts but were not allowed to spend. Now they have permission to spend some of it, so that the PM can be filmed standing in front of a couple of shiny ambulances in Lincolnshire, claiming that it is new money being generously handed out by our sparkling new government that has suddenly discovered a huge, magic money tree in the garden of 10 Downing Street. It’s the arrogance. It’s the contempt.
This is the Prime Minister who was booed so loudly when he turned up for a meeting with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, last week that he had to leave by the back door.
This is the Prime Minister who hasn’t done a single serious interview on the BBC since he seized power because his puppet-masters are scared that he would make a fool of himself, if put under pressure by an experienced interviewer.
And this is the Prime Minister who is going to take this country out of the EU on the 31st October, “no ‘if’s’, no ‘buts'”. If it causes economic collapse, so be it! If it causes the United Kingdom to break apart, (Scotland voted 62% to remain and support for independence is growing), so be it! If it causes Northern Ireland to fall back into the terrorism for which it was famous for so many decades, so be it! If it causes the UK to be a vassal state of the United States, because we will be so desperate for friends, so be it! If it causes Britain be become a laughing stock around the world, so be it.
It is looking increasing likely that this country will leave the EU without a deal, despite our ludicrous Prime Minister saying, only a few weeks ago, that he thought the odds of such a departure were “a million to one”
But then, why are we surprised? It is well known that our Prime Minister lies and will say anything to get what he wants. For years he has been seen as a loveable clown, who gives entertaining answers to questions and blusters his way through any difficult subjects. Now we can see that he is, in fact, a dangerous and malign force that is leading this country further and further towards the right.
Any suggestion of a second referendum, so that the government can test the waters and check that what they are now proposing is what the British people want is met with the live “The people spoke three years ago and we are respecting their decision.” This is arrant nonsense. Three years is the length of an electoral cycle in some countries, so that the people can turf a government out if they think it is not doing what the people want.
Regardless of whether people were told outright lies by the Leave Campaign during our EU referendum, (which I believe they were), it is incontestable that people did not understand the enormity of the changes and disruption that leaving the EU would cause. How could they? No-one had even started to discuss the terms under which we would leave and the studies about the possible impact had not been done. And, certainly, the fact that the British Government would be spending £6,000,000 (sorry, I meant to say £6,000,000,000) on preparations for a ‘No-deal’ Brexit, including stockpiling food and medicines, had not crossed anyone’s mind. But don’t worry about that! Look behind me at these two bright shiny ambulances! It’s a scandal. Why are we conniving in this stitch-up?
Democracy in Britain is on its knees. I fear that we have cause to be very worried about our future.
I’ve decided that I cannot let my sense of despair, disgust and disillusionment with the political pantomime going on in this country stop me from recording, for the benefit of my blog, the last few impressions of our visit to Patagonia and then to Buenos Aires.
I just cannot believe that we now have Boris Johnson as our Prime Minister. He received 92,000 votes from well-heeled Conservative voters in the south east of England, who are prepared to risk seeing the British economy flatline, the UK probably lose Scotland, Northern Ireland return to its violent past, and the country becoming a vassal state of the United States, as we bob up and down in splendid isolation on our little island in the Atlantic, having cut our moorings from Europe where we belong. And all to keep the Conservative party in power!
Over 16,000,000 British people voted to remain in the EU. 92,000 have saddled us with a Prime Minister who is a proven liar, a Home Secretary who thinks capital punishment is a good idea and a Leader of the House of Commons, (known colloquially as the “Minister for the 18th Century), who has just sent a memo to all of his staff telling them that are no longer permitted to use the words “unacceptable”, ‘very’ or “speculate” or the phrases “no longer fit for purpose”, “I am pleased to learn that…” and “I understand your concerns”! Apparently, he considers such words and phrases far too left-wing.
He has also insisted that his staff use imperial measurement in any correspondence, so no more talk about kilos or metres, despite the fact that these have been part of the British education syllabus for more than 30 years.
What did we do to deserve this?
Anyway, I digress. Where was I? Ah, yes. South America.
Our last few days in Patagonia took us into the Fitzroy range of mountains and some truly stunning scenery. Feast your eyes, O blog!
Our walk started off gently enough, with our guide reassuring us that it was only 10 kilometres to the highest point. No problem.
We strapped on our boots and set off at a cracking pace.
But, gradually, the path started to get steeper and the warning signs more explicit.
Perhaps we should have paid a bit more attention!
The text reads “Trail is very steep. Good physical condition required.”
We can’t say we weren’t warned!
But we trudged on, ever hopeful that the path would level out.
But they say that there is no reward without effort, and gradually we saw our reward opening up in front of us.
And it started to get colder!
This sign was a welcome bit of encouragement for tired legs.
And this one just summed up where I wanted to be.
But, at long last, we reached our destination, and it was well worth the journey.
We were nowhere near the top of the mountain, but it really didn’t matter.
Our only disappointment was that, throughout the long ascent, we were denied a proper view of the summit of the Fitzroy range. The clouds just refused to disperse all day. Oh, well. Maybe next time!
And then, the next day, as we set off for our flight out of Patagonia and back to Buenos Aires, the cloud cover lifted and there it was…
I would really like to continue with my series of blog entries following our trip to Patagonia. I have three that are bubbling away, with the photos already selected, edited and made ready for inclusion. All I need to do is sit down and write the text.
The trouble is that I am so angry about what is going on politically in this country at the moment that as soon as I sit down at the keyboard, all I want to do is rant.
How can we possibly be in a situation where 150,000, predominately white, wealthy, retired, male Conservative Party members, living in the affluent south-east will decide who will be the Prime Minister of this country?
If all the polls and commentators are to be believed, it seems that they are going to give the job to a lying, bullying, cheating, gibbering buffoon, who has promised to cut their income tax bills in exchange for their votes.
And this bare-faced bribery is the very least of the cynical, ruthless tactics that this walking moral vacuum has deployed in his efforts to see himself installed into No 10 Downing Street.
I got an email this week from one of my former students who has just succeeded in getting a German passport. I feel sadly proud that, as her A-Level teacher some years ago, I played some part in enabling her to do so.
Ah yes, I remember. We were talking about Wyoming Butch Cassidy, that well known bank robber, train robber, thief, fugitive and all-American folk hero.
And why did I suddenly go off on a complete tangent from telling you, my faithful blog, about the highlights and delights of Patagonia? Well… there was a reason. Promise.
Patagonia is not short of beautiful scenery. They leave it lying around everywhere. But in between the stunning ranges of mountains and the imposing glaciers, there is an awful lot of empty country, through which we had to travel.
Not that there was nothing to see on the long road journeys between the various scenic highlights.
Even in the remotest areas, there was an impressive selection of wildlife guaranteed to keep the camera shutter clicking…
Plenty of lovely, gentle animals…
…. and others that like to eat lovely, gentle animals
Anyway, there we were travelling across this unending dry, open country when we came across a welcome sight. A small rest house where we could get a cup of coffee and avail ourselves of the facilities on offer, always a welcome distraction on a long bus journey. It was called the Hotel La Leona.
Where were we at the time? Heavens, I don’t know, but I suppose I could have worked it out from the clues on hand.
Whilst enjoying a coffee in this idyllic location, I looked up and, on the wall in front of me was a photograph of a group of well dressed gentlemen who might have been the leaders of the local Town Council back in the 1890s.
Further examination of this picture revealed the names of the gentlemen depicted. They were, from left to right, Henry Alonzo Longabaugh, William Carver, Benjamin Kilpatrick, Harvey Logan and Robert Leroy Parker. Nothing remarkable there, you might think, until you realise that Harold Alonzo Longabaugh was the real name of the bandit known as the Sundance Kid and that Robert Leroy Parker was, in fact, Butch Cassidy himself. In Wyoming and its neighbouring states, they were know as “The Wild Bunch.”
Next to the photo was an extract from a local paper, conveniently translated for us.
The epitome of middle class respectability. Mr and Mrs Harry Longabaugh…
… travelling with their friend, Robert Parker, who found it rather more difficult to change his appearance.
Both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were eventually tracked down and killed during a shoot-out in a small town in Bolivia in 1906.
Amazing the things you find out when you go to far-flung places -and trawl the internet!
Yes, I know I was telling you about Wyoming and our discovery of Butch Cassidy’s hideout in the hills of Bitterroot Ranch, and , yes, I know I promised to go back to Patagonia and make sense of the Dude Ranch excursion, but I’ve just got to tell you about last night at the BOAT.
(The BOAT, for those of you who were not following this blog two years ago, is the Brighton Open Air Theatre, which is now into its fifth season. It was the inspiration of a local actor and playwright, Adrian Bunting, who at the age of 47 received a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He gathered a few friends together, put his modest life savings on the table and asked them to use the money to build an open air theatre in Brighton on a site that he had already identified. Four weeks later Adrian died. Two years after that, the BOAT opened and has gone from strength to strength over the five years of its existence.
Performances at the BOAT are staffed mainly by a team of front-of-house volunteers of which Linda and I are but two. We usually turn up for duty in our BOAT t-shirts or, if it’s chilly, our BOAT hoodies. Last night we turned up in full Lake District wet-weather gear, boots and all! By the time we had walked for less than ten minutes to get to the theatre, we were soaked. We were secretly hoping that the play would be called off and that we would have been able to return home for tele and cocoa. Theatre companies, however, are made of sterner stuff!
The “This is my Theatre” company were not going to be put off by a little rain. The mean streets of Verona were transported to the BOAT’s stage as if it was a sunny Sunday afternoon.
The audience was no less hardy. They turned up equipped to watch live theatre in the pouring rain.
They settled themselves in, unpacked their tarpaulins, umbrellas. picnic baskets and bottles of wine and waited for the show to start.
Two solitary and soggy musicians had the job of setting the mood for the evening, which they did admirably as the rain descended on them. And so the play began.
The warring families circled each other.
The audience huddled under their waterproofs but were captivated by the performances.
The BOAT’s stock of umbrellas-for-hire came into their own,
…while Mercutio played the crowd,
…and Romeo got his first glimpse of Juliet.
And later…. a drenched Juliet performs the famous balcony scene
A great night at the theatre. A plethora of acting talent amongst the cast and an audience that stayed with them right to the soggy end and applauded royally.
But the best story of the evening belongs to the photo below.
Observe the young woman in the yellow anorak, flanked by her friends in blue on her right and red on her left. In front of her five or six other young women who made up the rest of their group. They arrived with trays of food and an ample supply of drinks.
The woman in yellow was a ‘bride-to-be’ and this was her Hen Party!
Some fifteen or more years ago, our daughter, Kate, being one year into her degree and somewhat itchy of foot at the time, decided to go on an adventure. Not for her the well-worn hippie trail to India or the traditional year on a kibbutz. No, Kate looked west and found herself a job on a ‘Dude ranch’ not far from the little town of Dubois (pronounced doo – boyz), ‘Population 962’, in deepest Wyoming.
“Where’s Wyoming?”, I hear you ask. Well, Wyoming is one of those American States where no-one lives. Its total area is roughly 98,000 square miles and its population is just a little over 580,000, which gives it a population density of about six people per square mile. A man could get mighty lonely in a place like that! Or a man could get mighty lost!
Wyoming is a vast and stunningly beautiful state, with the sort of open plains and towering canyons that take you back to every 1950’s cowboy film you’ve ever seen. It has towns with evocative names like Cheyenne and Larame! (Remember the TV series, ‘The Man from Larame?’ No? Nobody? Just me then! I could sing you the theme tune, if you like. No? What, no-one? Oh well, suits yourselves.)
In the days when tobacco companies were allowed to portray their noxious, deadly product as healthy, romantic and manly, Philip Morris, the company behind Marlboro cigarettes, produced a series of expensive, beautifully filmed advertisements based on the ‘Marlboro Cowboy’, a tough, square jawed, stubble-chinned, prairie-hardened wrangler, who rode his magnificent horse through the red sandstone hills of Wyoming, whilst puffing on a Marlboro cigarette and looking manly.
The ads ran from 1954 until 1999 and were hugely successful in getting people to take up smoking. At one point, Phillip Morris boasted a 95% brand recognition figure amongst teenagers and young people in the US.
Over the years, the ads featured a number of different actors in the role, riding dozens of different horses. At least four of those actors died of smoking related diseases! One of them became an ardent anti-smoking campaigner in his last years.
Why am I telling you all this in the middle of a series of blog entries about Patagonia? Good question. Stay with me. All will become clear, – honest.
So where were we? Ah Yes. “What’s a ‘Dude ranch’?”, I hear you ask. Well, funny you should ask! A ‘Dude Ranch’ is a place where wealthy Americans go to ride the range and pretend to be cowboys for a week of two. They pay thousands of dollars to live in log cabins and ride horses through the rugged hills of Wyoming.
Knowing that our daughter was going to work in such a beautiful place and that, as parents of a staff member, we qualified for a huge discount, we decided that it was our parental duty to go and visit our precious second-born, just to check that she was OK. It was a sacrifice, but as loving parents we knew that it would have been wrong to have left her there unsupported for at least two out of her twelve weeks.
On arrival at Bitterroot Ranch we were allocated horses, and mine was called Billy, a rather gentle, slow, overweight, 22-year old, who was well used to having incompetent riders on his back. He may have been old and slow and perhaps he had lost his good looks, but in his youth he had actually featured in some advertisements as the trusty steed of the Marlboro Cowboy! Go Billy!
On our daily expeditions, Billy would position himself right at the back of the column of would-be cowboys and was happy to plod along at his own pace. Nothing I did as the rider made any difference at all. If the group started to canter, Billy would eventually, and reluctantly, increase his pace, but as soon as the lead horse started to walk again, Billy would immediately follow suit. He may have been old, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t wily.
Being at the back of the column was the best place for Billy for another important reason. He was gloriously flatulent. No-one wanted me to be anywhere but at the back of the line.
On one of our treks into the hills, we came across the remains of an isolated log cabin deep in a forest at the back of a narrow canyon.
Our leader proudly informed us that this has been, in the 1880s, one of two hideouts, discovered on what is now Bitterroot Ranch, that was used by the famous outlaw, Butch Cassidy!
The Hollywood version.
Paul Newman as Cassidy and Robert Redford as his partner in crime, the Sundance Kid. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that Cassidy and Sundance are supposed to have got their comeuppance at the hands of the Bolivian Military, although this version is disputed!
Apparently, Cassidy was well known and well liked in the Dubois area and had little difficulty in evading the attention of the numerous sheriffs and other law-enforcement agents, who were sent to apprehend him after his various thieving exploits. Legend has it that sympathetic ranchers would position fresh horses at various points along his proposed escape route, so that he would be easily able to outrun his pursuers and their exhausted horses.
“Yes, yes. That’s all very well,” I hear you groan in your frustration, “but what has all this got to do with Patagonia?”
Looking back, I’d have to say that I’ve been very lucky to have been able to travel widely during my life and enjoyed many adventures. As a twenty-two year old VSO volunteer I’ve tried to push a truck out of a dry river bed whilst being closely observed by a large group of seven-foot tall and very curious Dinka tribesmen armed with spears and wearing very little in the way of clothes; I’ve ridden a wild camel in the endless deserts of Mauritania; I’ve broken down at dead of night in Northern Senegal with a major OXFAM donor whom we had to rescue on the back of a donkey cart; I’ve led school students on an expedition through the Botswanan bush and been taught how to forage for wild carrots by Kalahari Bushmen; I’ve been robbed at gun and panga-point in Papua New Guinea. No, life has certainly not been dull!
But what have all of these adventures had in common? An average temperatures of around 30 degrees and a distinct lack of glaciers at any point of the narratives. Patagonia filled that gap in my education, well and truly. We visited the Perito Moreno Glacier near the town of Calafate in Southern Patagonia. We were warned that it might be cold!
They say there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.
We were very glad we had brought full Lake District gear.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is massive! And the good news is that it seems to be defying climate change and isn’t getting any smaller. It is one impressive sight!
It was a couple of hundred metres high, a kilometre across and two hundred kilometres long! That is one huge chunk of ice.
We stood facing this huge natural phenomenon with our jaws dropped!
And then we were told that the whole glacier was moving towards us at the astonishing speed of two metres a day! That means that if we had stood waiting at that same spot for the next two months, we would probably have been able to touch the front of the glacier!
Now, as you might expect, huge chunks of ice were ‘calving’ from the front of the glacier all the time,
so no-one could predict the exact time when the ice would meet the earth, but the fact was that, eventually, that is exactly what would occur.
So what then? What happens when an irresistible force meets an immoveable object?
Well, once the glacier collides with the land, it blocks the natural flow of the water, causing a build-up of water on one side of the glacier. And water has an uncanny habit of getting through.
So, eventually the water will find small fissures in the ice and force its way through as it seeks to continue its journey down the valley. The relentless water forms these fissures into channels and eventually into small tunnels which just get bigger and bigger.
Once the tunnels are big enough, their roofs will cave in and the resultant fragments of ice will be carried away by the river. There will then be clear water again between the glacier and the land and the whole process will start all over again.
The photo below shows one of the collapsed roof sections as it starts its journey downstream away from the glacier.