Thursday, August 30, 2007


Back home I search charity shops for good English Church’s shoes hand made in Northampton. I wore a pair of Church’s on the ride south from Mexico last year. They survived staying at my friend’s estancia on the Rio Dulce. A dog ate a shoe on a previous visit; Church use fine-tasting English leather and Eugenio has large dogs (see last year’s BLOG). The shoes survived 22,000 kilometres on a bike. They survived rain and snow and the heat of the engine. They survived six months in Snr. Preto’s cold store in Ushuaia. A good polish and they looked as good as new. Now the left shoe has the sole raised 3 cm to match the rised heel on the cast. The shoe looks kind of cute. I could have the other shoe raised and be as tall as my two younger sons – nearly as tall. Just a thought. I’m not sure that I enjoy being looked down at…Our youngest, Jed, claims I'm shrinking.


Javier and I are taking Graciela to dinner at the local Chinese. I hope to eat prawns. Pepe drops by. His wife’s Landrover has been serviced. He has a better idea than the Chinese. He drives to a new restaurant on the seafront. The owner is a friend of Pepe’s. Everyone is either Pepe’s friend or Graciela’s friend or Javier’s friend. Rio Grande is that type of town. The restaurant is big and smart. Restaurant prices are governed by the height of the wine glass stems. These glasses are tall, the tablecloths are thick and starched. Diners at other tables are different from most people in town. They are paler skinned.
Pepe departs with the owner to select wine from the cellar. He chooses a 2004 Malbec, excellent. We eat calamari in batter crisply fried, mussels in garlic sauce, ravioli. Javier gluts on an ice-cream cup that would fill a milk pail. Pepe drops us back to the hotel. Graciela and I chat in the kitchen for a couple of hours. Not much travel for a Travel BLOG but a good evening…

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Never before have I watched myself perform in Spanish on TV. Now I have a CD of Sunday’s program. My actions are disturbingly familiar. Where have I seen that exaggerated raise of eyebrows, the opening wide of eyes, hands spread to proffer a self-evident truth to a captive audience?
I search my memory.
The conceit that invests a superior being?
No! No, surely not.
Truth is unavoidable.
I have been imprinted by those years in Cuba, imprinted by those four-hour speeches.
Fidel, over the years, has become a caricature of Fidel.
I am a caricature of the caricature.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


My appologies to my readers: I am slightly inebriated. Pepe came by. He made me walk on the bad ankle, stand one footed on it, declared the break mended. He will change the cast, have new xrays, enforce high intensity rehab and have me out of here on 8th September.
How do I feel?
Immensely grateful.
Immensely relieved.
I have been scared of coming out of this as an invalid and a drag on my beloved wife.
Right, that's enough truth.
Anyone for tango?

Monday, August 27, 2007


I am returned to my corner of the kitchen at the Hotel Aregentino, back to the cast iron range. An overweight professor visits. Will I be the guest speaker at a reunion of mostly academics Saturday afternoon? The Minister of Education is expected as a guest.
I agree because he comes via Graciela’s office.
I agree because I am flattered.
I agree because I am a Brit and educated to be polite.
I agree because I have drunk only one cup of coffee and my mind is fully functional.
Then he says, "Some will question you on the Malvinas."
Oh, shit…
I sit for an hour or so questioning myself as to how I should reply.
At least I am faced with a more acute concern than my Spanish verbs.
Later a cab comes to take me to sign the VISA chit for my wheelchair. An oil worker accompanies me. We discuss whether I will be safer with crutches or a walker. Walkers are more stable. They don’t work on stairs. Elevators are scarce in the hotels I frequent. I’ll decide next week.


We have glutted on barbecue chicken and admired the lake in brilliant sunshine. Cloud closes in and we drive back at night in heavy snow. Truck traffic is heavy. A couple of trucks have lost traction on an upslope and come to a halt. The ex-future is a good driver and we are safe in his big double-cab 4x4 pickup. However trucks make me nervous – trucks on ice. Scared of losing traction, the drivers hit the hills at speed and keep going no matter what lies ahead. Weird, I will be happy to be back in the Hotel Argentino tucked up in my own bed with my foot propped up on a stiff pillow.
My own bed, that’s the weird bit: pretending to be home because I want so badly to be home.


I am on TV this afternoon. The program goes out live. Three of us sit in the log cabin in front of the wood stove. One is a gaucho poet in the true Argentine tradition (though he is Uruguayan): early sixties, thin as a stick, white moustache, black Basque beret and silk neck scarf fastened with a gilt broach. He has been conversing with trees and horses and bottles of red wine for fifty years. His voice carries a rythm as he talks to the camera of nature’s gifts and nature’s cruelties…While I cruelly picture bit-part Country and Western performers in the B movies of my youth.
To my right sits a musician. A good guitarist, he plays a classical introduction. Later he plays a great tango.
Most of the program is focused on me, the English writer with the broken foot. I talk, I answer questions and worry that I am using the wrong verb tense.
Later the musician asks for my thoughts on the Malvinas.
Duck and run…


graciela holds harmonica

We sit on solid benches at a solid table in the shorefront window of the log cabin. An enormous wood stove warms us. As does red wine. The ex-future is a great barbecue cook. We snack on a sausage or two. Then we eat meat. We eat more meat. Then we seriously eat meat. First comes the thin end of the skirt. Then the middle thickness. Finally the thick end. Finally? A steer has two skirts. We recommence at the thin end of the second skirt…
Roboloco is with us.
Glutted, we drink a little more red wine and listen to Robo’s guitar, his harmonica and his patter. He is a natural entertainer. He knows all the party tricks and performs them with brilliant elan. The ex-future’s daughter is in heaven as he pulls his mouth askew with a long black hair plucked from Luisa’s head.
And I am in heaven for an old man with a broken foot. I am amongst friends who will remain friends for life. Robo presents me with a copy of his book recounting the pedallo marathon. The gang add signatures and comments to the front page. I lie in bed and listen to three sets of gentle snores and worry that the crutches will slip on the tiles when I make the next trip to the bathroom. Getting up in the night is an old man’s complaint…


log cabin canasta club

The town of Tolhuin is known as the heart of Tierra del Fuego. It occupies a rise at the head of Lake Fagnano and lies in the mountains midway between Rio Grande and Ushuaia. Virgin forest encloses the town and much of the population work at the timber mill. Others are employed in tourism. Roboloco owns four cabins and a campsite down on the lakefront. An ablutions block with hot and cold showers and clean lavatories serves the campsite. A commedor near by caters for those who don’t cook. For those who do cook, there are heaps of firewood and huge barbecues. The view down the lake is superb. Snow caps rise above dark forest while the light continually changes on the lake as does the colour of the water, dark blue, light blue, slate grey, pale smoky grey. Birds of prey spiral leisurely overhead. A pair of duck fly by and skid into land, feet splayed, on the dark, silky-surfaced lagoon that lies behind the strip of paddocks along the foreshore. Graciela and Luisa are playing cards in the cabin. I am outdoors in my wheelchair. Graciela has wrapped me in a grey blanket. The ex-future is tending a mountain of meat behind me while his daughter plays a complicated game with small dolls. A continual swell breaks and sucks at the pebble beach. The blanket makes me feel old. I am old. Tough shit!


I travel by pizza delivery bike. I have been accused of lunacy. Good!
Graciela, the ex-future and his daughter (6), Schoolteacher Luisa and I spend the weekend in a beachfront cabin on Lake Fagnano. Our host is a serial lunatic. As a teenager he rode a 50cc mobillette from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia: 3000 kilometres. Aged forty, he pedalled a pedalo the circumference of Lake Fagnano. Picture the lake. It fills a narrow trench in the mountains and is 117 kilometres long. It runs west to east. The prevailing wind blast from west to east. The weather changes in minutes, dead calm to a gale, bright sunshine to driving snow. Ten-foot waves smash onto pebble beaches. This is no place for a pedalo. Little wonder that Roberto Daniel Berbel is known locally as Roboloco.