I can samba baby…SAMBA! – Samba 4

By the 5th lesson it was all coming together. Feet, hips, arms. There were even moments when I thought not only was dancing the samba heaps of fun, but that it was actually starting to look good!

T, referring to the music – ‘So is this the type of music they play at carnival in Rio?’

Belu and Matias, another dance instructor at Bailer, laugh at me, then positioned themselves to do a demonstration… An amazing demonstration with leg action faster than I could count!

The music for carnival was about a hundred times faster than the songs I had been practicing to.

T, lets out a long – ‘… shiiiiiiiiiit!’

Martias, laughs – ‘I felt that come straight from your heart! Yes, for every 1 2 3 that you do, Belu just did 4 or 5.’

Belu – ‘And the girls in Rio do it in high heels! That’s why when you see them dance they have big muscles in their legs, and big butts.’

With this confirmation that I was far from being Rio samba ready, I booked another week of private samba classes.

Watch your arms, it’s not pretty – Samba 3

Belu – ‘Now, when you move your arms to samba it has to be tense with relaxed lady like hands. What you’re doing is more Thriller’ (refer to Michael Jackson dancing zombie graveyard scene)

For some reason, while trying to concentrate on swinging my hips and getting the 1 2 3 step, my hands would refer to the more crab claw position with a ‘zombie coming to get you’ like swing. When trying to relax my hands in an attempt to be more ‘lady like’, they would start finger-pointing or tense into a stop sign.

I was like a hip-shaking, samba dancing traffic controller.

It’s all in the hips – Samba 2

Belu spent the next 2 samba lessons concentrating on my stiff hips.

Belu, counting out the basic step – ‘123, 123, 123, Hips Hips Hips, I want to see more hips..MORE!’

It was like my hip joints were fused together and had no mobility or muscle strength. I started wondering if 30 was too old to start learning the samba (?)

Then on the third day I let my posture slacken out of exhaustion with my arse sticking out and, low and behold, my hips started swinging to the beat and in time with the steps.

T to Belu, stunned with swinging hips – ‘look, my hips are moving, they’re MOVING! Hip hip hip hip… ‘

Belu had performed a samba miracle on me, and I was not an easy student – tired, hungover, and stiff most of the time with a serious lack of arm, hip, feet, left and right coordination. It wasn’t a simple task for her – She’s just a brilliant dance teacher!

I was very happy with this hip swinging breakthrough.

Belu, relieved – ‘Good. Tomorrow, we work on the arms.’

Samba’s first shocking lesson – rhythm, co-ordination, where are you?!

The first night K and I ventured out into Palermo, we followed the drum beats to a Brazilian bar called Foyness. In Foyness there was an amazing live band playing with a female lead singer who was absolutely gorgeous! Her voice was incredible and the hypnotic shakes of her hips and rhythmic movements of her arms held me captivated. I fell in love… With her dancing!

In the following week, I found a dance school- Bailer – in Palermo and tried to describe what I had seen without the use of re-enactment. The helpful staff at Bailer informed me that what I needed to learn was the Samba. As the group classes fell at an inconvenient time, and I had limited time in Buenos Aires, I booked myself in for some private lessons.

Thank f#cking Christ. Because what happened in that first private lesson should never be exposed to the public. It was hideous. The movements felt so foreign, so alien to my body. My hips, feet and arms felt like they belonged to different creatures – a duck, hippo and goat, each with their own interpretation of beat and direction. I was so far removed from words like graceful, and sexy, and dangerously too close to descriptions like abominable, with all sorts of wrongs happening simultaneously. No one should ever be forced to see themselves like this, I resembled the snakes on Medusa’s head – the more I watch myself attempt to Samba the stronger the urge to be stone still.

My instructor, the beautifully fit and talented Belu explained that the Samba steps are very very difficult. But that the movement was ‘just like walking’. Hmm, 30 years of ‘walking’ did NOT prepare me for this moment…

Funnily enough, I’ve used that line myself a couple of years ago when I was annoyingly frustrated at Mark for not getting the basic Salsa step ‘Mark, it’s just like walking! What’s WRONG with you!’

He never did get that dance. And after the first Samba session I was pretty doubtful that I would ever get this dance, and whether something this unattractive and improper could possibly evolve into something presentable in time for Carnival in Rio.

Vinilo Cafe – Music!

I love all kinds of music, so it was by great fortune that I met Vicky, who is a musician and shares my passion for live performances. She invites K an myself to attend a show at a venue called Vinilo Cafe along with her retired father who was visiting from California.

The venue has a theatre layout filled with 2, 3 and 4 seater dining tables complete with romantic candle lighting, and an inconspicuous bar at the back. The Argentinian audience is politely serious, with zero tolerance of any distracting sounds not performance related. Meaning, that even if you speak quietly during an act, you can expect a chorus of ‘shushing’ to fly in your direction, but never anything nasty or rude.

K – ‘I can’t believe how polite everyone is, if this was London there would be heckling. We’re so rude.’

T – ‘Even during a good performance?’

K – ‘Yeah, coming from the drunk section. And God help you if the performance is bad ..’

Fortunately, the live performances were delivered by 2 brilliant men of great musical talent.

César Lerner, who played the accordion, piano and percussions, and Marcelo Moguilevsky, who played clarinet, clarón, flutes, harmonica, silbido, and the piano… an about 4 other instruments that I could not identify.

The music ranged from Spanish folk with a fusion of other European, middle eastern, Gaelic, eastern, and african, to jazz and soul influences.

Marcelo also had an amazing voice with a mesmerizing tone, the kind of tone that made you happy and sad at the same time, and even though he played all the instruments beautifully, I found myself wishing he would stick to the piano (my favourite) and just sing.

It was a pleasant night talking music with music lovers. And K, who may not be a music lover of great variety, but is always willing to listen and smile politely.

The social art of drinking mate.

Marcela invites K, Vicky and myself to Plaza Francia where we sit in a park surrounded by arts & crafts markets on a gorgeous sunny day in the upmarket district of Recoleta, to listen to Argentinian bands create a festive feel through live performances of awesome reggae, rock and cumbia music, and to drink the social beverage of mate (pronounced mar-tay).

Mate is a cultural drink of ancient origins and there is nothing that is more traditional of an Argentinean than the mate. ‘If you haven’t experienced drinking mate with an Argentine, then you haven’t been here’.

Along with the tango, the social act of mate is the defining characteristic of Buenos Aires.

Sitting cross-legged in the sun, I watched intently as Marcela filled a small tin tea-cup with the yerba, a chopped and powdered mix of dried herbs, then insert a silver straw which has a filter at its end (called a bombilla), deep into the mix .

T, surprised that the yerba filled the cup right to the top – ‘It needs to be that much?’

Marcela – ‘Yes, but you do not stir, just add hot water and then.. and then you ..you ..’

T – ‘Suck?’

Marcela, giggling and turns red, nods – ‘and then you suck.’

The typically gourd mate cup is then passed around the group with each person having a few sips from the communal silver straw in between conversation. This 1 cup to many is what makes mate a social drink and is an active ingredient in forming immediate friendships through the sharing of, let’s be honest, spit. The social act of drinking mate would be a nightmare to any germaphobe..

The taste of mate is bitter at first, but gets tastier with each round. Sugar is recommended for beginners.

T, to Marcela and Vicky – ‘If this were in Sydney, and we were in a park listening to live music in the sun, there would be a lot of people drinking wine and maybe eating cheese. Since there are so many Argentinian wines and you love your cheese, I’m surprised that I don’t see this?’

Marcela, considering the foreign suggestion, then dismissing it – ‘No, at home or out in the day, it is only mate’

I’m a big fan, and am armed with a couple of mate kits to carry on the tradition back home in Sydney.

Mate anyone?

The beauties of Buenos Aires

There are so many beautiful men and women here in Buenos Aires, and what really amazes me is that their diets mainly consists of meats, breads, and cheese.

They eat so much barbecued meat here!

It’s not unusual so see many beautiful, slender ladies sitting in the outdoor parillas gracefully finishing off a kilo of steak at 10.30pm at night (they start eating late here!)

I know what you’re thinking.. that they’re all a bunch of bulimics?

But it turns out that they’re not. Apart from the girl Marcela caught throwing up in the bathroom toilets at the Hardrock cafe, these woman have remained naturally slim and beautiful off a fat, cholesterol, and carbs staple diet.

I love this town!

Making friends through Spanglish Speed-dating

Spanglish Speed-dating is listed as the number 3 most popular tourist activity in Buenos Aires on Trip Advisor, and after setting up house in Palermo, K and I thought this would be the perfect way to start making friends in our neighbourhood.

Hosted at the V Club, we’re greeted by 3 American ladies who help manage the popular Spanglish operation in Buenos Aires.

Perky spanglish lady explains – ‘How it works is all the Spanish speakers will stay in their seats, and the English speakers will rotate every 10 minutes. You will spend 5 minutes on each language before switching.’

T – But what if I don’t have 5 minutes worth of Spanish to contribute?

The Spanglish Experience.

Partner 1 – A pretty blonde Argentinian girl in her mid 20’s who took control of the conversation immediately.‘I don’t need to work on my English tonight so we’ll just spend the whole ten minutes in Spanish’ Then proceeds to vomit spanish verbal diarrhea, pausing only for what sounded like a question.

T, stares blankly in response. Then blinks.

Partner 1, repeats question S L O W L Y.

T, continues with blank stupid look, then breaks into a cold sweat over the pressure.

Partner 1, decides to cut me some slack after the silent pause enters the painful awkward stage that is NEVER comfortable between strangers – ‘Do you like Buenos Aires?’ in English

T, relieved to know the answer in Spanish – ‘Si!’

Partner 2 – An Argentinian man in his late 20’s called Daniel.
You may call him Dan, and Danny is also acceptable. Daniel is a quietly strange character who admits that his passion for computer games has stunted his social development somewhat. This, and a bad stint of bullying in school, has made it difficult for him to make friends. A very personal admission from someone you’ve just met.

T – ‘Sooooo…. what do you do for work Daniel?’

Partner 2 (Daniel) – ‘Oh, I am currently unemployed.’ Looks down shyly

T, making light of the situation – ‘Don’t worry about it, I’m unemployed too!’ smiles

Daniel, looks me seriously in the eye and frowns slightly – ‘ You’re unemployed too? This. . this will be a problem.’

T, straight-faced, trying not to laugh ‘ oh, ok then..’

Partner 3 – A lovely Argentinian girl in her late 20’s called Marcela.

T, laying her cards out – ‘Look, my Spanish is really really bad.. like ‘merde’. But I really came to spanglish to meet people.. and I’m happy to help everyone with their english.

Marcela and I got along famously in English. We spoke about my travels, her upcoming travels, and a potential future meet up in New York.

Something spooky – Marcela and her good friend Lucia, my partner 4, met while both working for the Buenos Aires office of my ex-employer, and they later invited me to a birthday party for a third person who worked for that same company! Wierd coincidence..

Spanglish outcome – I made 3 great Argentinian girlfriends (Marcela, Lucia and Victoria) and learnt to say ‘Lo siento, mi español es muy, muy mal’, which means ‘I’m sorry, my spanish is very very bad…’

Before the people, first came the food – The Argentinian steak experience

Our first day in Buenos Aires was spent strolling along the riverbank of Peurto Madero in search of the perfect melt-in-mouth, Argentinian steak experience.

I’d had this mouth melting experience once before, a couple of years ago at a restaurant called Rockpool in Sydney. The steak was unbelievable, dreamlike, like INCREDIBLE in the way I’d expected the Inca Trail to be INCREDIBLE!

I dreamt about that steak for a week after, and to this day speak of the memory fondly.. I was looking forward to comparing Argentinian steak, which I kept on hearing was the best meat in the world, to my prior ultimate steak experience at Rockpool.

In my company was Amy (who was in Buenos Aires for a couple of days before flying home to Australia) and K (who is a vegetarian). Together, we carefully scrutinised every menu from the many waterfront restaurants of Peurto Madero before selecting out of desperate hunger rather than thoughtful consideration a restaurant called La Cabana.

T, logically – ‘They have a stuffed cow next to their menu. They MUST do great steak.’

Our waiter seats us and takes our drink order.

K – ‘Tap water?’ joking (I think)

Waiter, a well-spoken, out-of-work-actor type – ‘No, this is NOT a budget restaurant. If you want tap water you have to go to Burger King’

Offended, we silently eye each other.. he thinks we’re poor unemployed travellers! Which we were. But to prove him wrong, we sat up straight and ordered whatever steak we thought would meet our carnivorous fantasy best, sparing no expense on beef or wine.

First, the complementary breads and spreads – The bread selection was freshly baked, varying from walnut fused to brown grained with a side of tasty eggplant, spice, and tomato salsa dips. We finish off the whole bread basket delicately, trying not to seem like poor starving backpackers. Another full basket appears, and disappears within minutes. Our message was clear – Gluttony does NOT equal poverty!

The complementary entree – The word ‘Complementary’ meant ‘comes with the restaurant cover charge of 16 Pesos per head’, which included a scrumptious trio of canapes – a tiny model of a chorizo burger, a soup spoon of clear gravy with fillet of chicken (yum!), and a baby empenada (vegetarian)

Mains – Beef Tenderloin with a side of creamy baked potatoes

Amy, to the waiter – ‘I want it RARE, like still moving on the plate’

T – ‘I’ll have mine bleeding, but not moving. Gracia.’

The tenderloin was tender, with the right balance of flavour from salting. However, the velvet texture was not consistent from start to centre and the tenderness did not melt – I still had to chew.

Overall it was a delicious 3 hour meal that hit just below my criteria of ultimate steak experience, but hit perfectly on the entertaining dining with great company in a gorgeous location, in a beautiful city that made you feel like you were on a vacation from your holidays.

Recommendation – If the melt in the mouth experience is what you’re after, stick to Kobe beef.

Enough of this camping bullshit, we’re off to Buenos Aires!

I knew (Mr)K and I would get along famously, when in conversation while in the middle of this amazing life adventure in the exotic and incredible South America, experiencing wonders such as the Cocla Canyon, Lake Titicaca, and Machu Picchu, he casually comments in his soft British accent‘Nothing impresses me..’

I found this hilarious! But at some level I understood. Something was missing in my travels since leaving the home of Sue and Roy in Lima. I’d been seeing the sights, enjoying the adventure, but I was lacking in experiencing the culture, in developing local friendships, the more personal experiences of being invited to Argentinian BBQ’s, house parties, and new friends homes for dinners, to drink yerba mate tea and have a smoke while listening to the Argentinian opinions and its popular and much loved rock music.. Some of the wonderful things that came from getting to know a country and its people. The people part was missing.

So it was with K that I traveled to the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, rented an apartment for a month in the chic district of Palermo, and took a break from all the nature camping bullshit to gain a deeper familiarity with the more social and cultural aspects of Argentina.

Operation ‘Go Local’ begins.

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