Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Stinging shingles.

In Braaaazil, illness, Salvador, Sud America on August 17, 2010 at 3:35 am

So I arrive in Puerto Iguazu and see the magnificent falls, that roar and rumble all around you. I’m only supposed to be here for two days, but a piss up brewery situation with the Brazilian airline Gol! Means I can’t fly out on Saturday like I want but have to stay two more days and fly out on Monday.

I’m pissed off because it’s cutting into my Brazilian month which I’ve shortened from six weeks as I hear numerous reports of Brazil being hellish expensive, and I don’t want to get into an Australian situation where I spend obscene amounts of money doing nothing more than lounging around, drinking and eating.

I also want to get out of town early because a weeping rash has appeared at the inner part of my right elbow, at first I think it’s a particularly virulent outbreak of eczema which generally makes an appearance in spring and autumn, where there’s a bit of humidity. But I’m wrong. The weeping rash spreads quickly and crusts over in a dirty yellow fashion. I’m at a loss, I go and get some steroid cream and rub that in which seems to work a bit then, for some reason shingles pops into my head. Do a quick google ad hey presto self diagnosis is correct.

By this point the rash is behind my knees, on the outside of my other elbow, the back of my hand, at the bottom of my shins and a particularly inappropriately spot on my stomach where the waistband of my trousers rests.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time I’m traveling to Salvador, which turns out to take two more hours than it should. I’ve just spent a fevered night, wrapped up in blankets shivering, shaking and sweating, or lying on top of the covers drinking water and trying to sleep. The only thing that consoles me is the knowledge that this is my body fighting back, the shivers, the shakes, the temperature. All signs that my immune system is engaged in battle.

The pain as I pack my bags is sharp and tingling, sitting in the crook of my elbow and backs of my knees, I walk slowly as if I’ve got arthritis and carrying bags produces a sting in my elbow. The shins and knees ache constantly sometimes really sharp at others just a dull ache, but it is alway there. As I sit on the first of my three interconnecting flights, I’m glad I’ve got the row of seats to myself as I can oscillate as violently as i like without anyone noticing. I try to sleep but don’t get more than five mins dozing at a time, i am constantly checking my body for new yellow-tipped pustules, they look like mini boils and I yearn to squeeze them but the clear fluid which yellows and thickens to an unsightly crust, just spreads the infection further so I refrain.

I don’t have any urge to scratch the infected areas anymore because the constant ache dissuades me.

I’m fucked off because I know the next couple of days, possibly the next couple of weeks will be a write off, of showering, non scratching and shivering and shaking. Not how I wanted to spend my first few days in Brazil, my only consolation is the fact that the weather is a bit overcast and rainy in Salvador.

After a day of snoozing fitfully, unable to muster the strength to head anywhere apart from the toilet that is a door away. I manage to drag myself downstairs, to have a talk with the hostel owner Russell who advises me to go to the Spanish hospital, where they’ll take 2k Reais, about 700 quid, off my card just for the joy of seeing me and refund me whatever remains after treatment.

I never thought I’d spend my second night in brazil in A&E, but that’s the way the traveling cookie crumbles. So I take a thick book, pray my card works – thankfully it does, they have several different card machines for just such an eventuality, and I settle into my seat for a long night of waiting, along the way I discover I have a resting heart rate of 112bpm, my blood pressure is 130/80 and I have a fever as my temperature is 39 degrees celsius, but its taken from under my armpit which I’m told later always makes it slightly higher than if taken from a mouth reading, or god forbid, the other orifice.

So I sit and I wait and I read a little and my mouth is dry, haven’t drunk anything since breakfast in the morning, but don’t want to move in case I miss the call. I read some more and I doze a bit, then I’m called and I hobble down to the doctor’s room. I spend a frustrating few mins trying to explain its shingles, but from the looks on their faces I don’t believe they think that shingles even exists. After 3 hrs of waiting and wondering I’m given a paracetamol a script for some antibiotics and told to come back the next day to see the infectologista, as they don’t believe that what I have I shingles. So the mystery thickens. Gonna have to speak to my travel insurance people tomorrow and make sure the ball starts rolling on the claims, fees end. Only now am I hoping that the excess isn’t too high…

Wake up and head into the Hospital Espanol A&E the next day, to be told that I’ve got to go to another building across the way where the infectologista is. But lo and behold when I get there, they tell me there isn’t an infectologista in that day and there won’t be anyone in until later in the week. My portuguese isn’t good enough to explain my dismay, and their english isn’t good enough to let me work out any alternatives. I cab back to the hostel and explain the situation to Russell, who gets worked up on my behalf, and we cab back, directly to the Hospital Espanol where his portuguese is put to good effect as we work out a, there isn’t an infectologista in that day, b, I’ve still got to pay for my treatment even though nothing much was done, and c, where an infectologista is that speaks english so I can go and see them. I hand over my card so they can refund the cash they didn’t spend on my treatment, and we go over to the other building where the infectologista was supposed to be, but isn’t to find out where one would be.

Good luck at last. The first infectologista name out of the box, speaks english and can fit us in, within the next two hours. Back to the hostel for a short wait then, over to his offices. Russell stumps up for the money for the initial consultation, and the infectologista gets me to show him my pitted flesh. Turns out I didn’t have shingles, and in fact I was right it was a flare up of my ezcema, except it was exacerbated by some sort of bite/infection, which when I scratched moved bacteria which live happily on the surface of my skin into layers where they shouldn’t be. And starting an infection which was rapidly moving up my arm and legs, which he pointed out as a warm red swelling along the edge of the infection. He looked at the medicine given to me by the other hospital and threw them out, giving me a prescription for a more specific antibiotic, some steroids for my skin and an antibacterial wash that I’d have to get made up to use on my skin to kill off all traces of the malevolent bacteria, to stop me reinfecting myself.

I am greatly relieved that at last someone knows what is wrong with me and I’m on the way to being better…

If you’re squeamish I wouldn’t look at the photo’s below, before and after shots of the infection….


In Argentina, Sud America, travelling on August 17, 2010 at 3:24 am

The falls at Iguazu are just immense, stretching across the horizon, walking through the rainforest to get to them, you hear a dull rumble, as you get closer it becomes a roar as the inconceivable torrents of water, crash themselves against rocks, flood down slopes and hurls itself out into nothingness. But when you stand at the lip of the waterfalls you hear nothing but a quiet burble as they eject themselves from their river’s course out into the blue of sky.

Mist is formed, the spray drenching you as you stand in the whooshing roar at the base as the doomed arc of liquid reaches the bottom. The sound of water pounding itself onto rocks is deafening, the spray hits you from all sides, drenching you, hard to hear, hard to speak, hard to see, I revel in this moment, unaware of how soaked I am becoming, letting the aqua surround me.

Iguazu on the Argentine side is full of tourists, clumps of them lining the walkways, the burble and chatter of voices as loud as the waterfalls, lining up posed in front of the catarata’s, cameras handed to each other keen to show they have been to this marvelous place.

I sit and write this and wait for the moments when the tour group passes and I can sit and listen to the waterfalls speak to me. Hear nothing but the rumbleroar, unceasing crash of water flooding ever downward. What bliss it would be to have the walkway and waterfalls to yourself to walk unhindered, to see unbroken vistas, to sit for hours on end, listening to the migration story of so much water.

The catarata’s stretch out, a huge horseshoe of falling water, dirty brown at the top, streaks of it spilling over before it cleanses itself in its fall, a pure brilliant white wall of water.

And suddenly it is still on the viewing platform, the lush green vegetation, sentries, guarding this place, silent in their vigil.

I walk through the verdant forest that covers the ground between the falls, up metal and rock steps, the grated pathways segmenting the water that flows beneath my feet. Rainbows abound, curving out of the mist showing you where the pot of gold is, hovering tantalizingly just out of reach in a churning boil of water. As I stand over the spill and toil of a smaller waterfall, a rainbow appears in front of me and I get the chance to step through it, seeming it right there in front of me then it disappearing as i walk towards and through it. This could be the birthplace of all rainbows, there are so many, over every waterfall, arching over the mist they create is a multicolored crescent.

The devils throat, the crescent where several waterfalls merge is a miasma of mist and water vapour, leaving me sometimes dry but mostly damp as the wind changes direction and I am standing in a spitting splash of water. The mist rises so high and the water drops so violently that you can’t see the bottom, so shrouded in mist is it. The mist reaches up high enough to be mistaken for a cloud. The roar at the top is loud enough to stop you from speaking but step away and stride back along the walkways and the roar subsides to a low grumble, blocked out by the green growth that somehow seems to find a foothold despite the weight of water around it.

Oh I shouldn’t forget to mention the butterflies that flutter constantly across my path, yellow and cream and purple and violently orange. They congregate in little bundles of colour and energy, darting hither and yon, unceasing movement until they alight on a leaf or a branch or a railing or your hand, then they stop wings no longer beating just every so often opening and closing, antennae moving. Then they are gone.

Argentinian farewell

In Argentina, Braaaazil, travelling on August 17, 2010 at 3:20 am

I’m on yet another bus, but this one is different, this one is taking me not just out of buenos aires but also out of Argentina as I head to the falls at Iguazu.

I’m saddened, I’ve met many good people in Argentina and the good times I’ve had make me want to extend my time here. Buenos Aires has bewitched me with its shabby chic when it’s not being gorgeously chic, with its generosity and capacity to consume carne, helados, postres, vino tinto, and empanadas. God I’m going to miss the lazy afternoons in the sun, eating and drinking, the late nights and comatose mornings. I’m gonna miss the long straight avenues, the tree-lined side streets, sun dappled by their branches and leaves, gonna miss the roof top terrace at the Hostel Estoril, the hammock, the ornate Palacios across the road, the angled ride up Lavalle to Palermo. The two-inch thick meat cooked to medium perfection, the empanadas, god! The empanadas, the heady scent of illicitness wafting around me in clubs. The history immersed in tango and wine. The huge distances you have to travel by bus. The blueness and clearness of the sky. The juggling beggars at traffic lights, the colonial style architecture, the street art, the late night stumble from bar to bar, the scooter like battle for position by all traffic big and small, the live music on the corners of markets on the weekend, the choripan thick and juicy, the cheap but excellent wine, the laughs on the rooftop, the way Buenos Aries has bewitched me, like Screaming Jay Hawkins cackles it’s put a spell on me. And like many of those who I spoke to, joked with, drank with, I’ll be back. One way or another, and if any of Los Porteños need a bed to sleep on, a roof over their heads, and a companion to hang out with in London town, your always welcome at mine. It’s the least I can do for the generosity you showed me and i’d hope to make your stay in London as pleasant and fun-filled as mine was in Buenos Aires.

San Telmo

In Argentina, Buenos Aires, Sud America on August 17, 2010 at 3:14 am

Street markets are for people watching, grab a seat outside a bar/resto/cafe and watch the myriad people walk past, slowly, stopping and starting, leaning in to peruse more closely the wares on display, the goods to buy.

I’ve got no space to carry anything with me, so I was avoiding malls, shopping precincts/districts, markets. No desire to fill my bag with trinkets and nick nacks, mementoes of my travels, solid markers of the places I’ve been. If I do buy anything it has to be sent back, to be kept in storage until I return, less is more and I’d rather have fewer more intense keepsakes than any item that catches my magpie eye.

But holding myself back from the street fairs I am keeping myself from seeing the citizens of that space do what they always do, what everyone always does, buy tat for themselves and their loved ones. But I also miss the opportunity to see the locals, miss the chance to really look at them in the bright light of day, when the weekend is upon them and they leisurely go about their lives. Miss the stage set up and the free tango lessons, the San Telmo drum school dancing and drumming down the narrow avenue, the food vendors pulling their wares, their cries reverberating along the cobbles, kids being pulled to and fro, the slow walk of couples hand in hand, the stop and stare and quick discussion of the goods up for sale, each stall holding the goods of an artisanal, book marks, jewelry, slogan t-shirts, mate gourds, scarves, dresses, shoes, toys and games, sitting on the kerb, blanket spread out in front of them, sipping their own mate, chewing on a choripan, smoking yet another cigarette.

Stop and watch the final preparations as a stage is being set up, the lights angled down onto the impromptu dance floor, the crowd around the edges leaning forward in anticipation, amused chuckles as people are taught the basic steps of the tango, how to hold their partner, how to step, when to step, people playing at tango until…

The old couples lit by those bright lights, step out, gliding across the cardboard dance floor as the young crowd stands and watches and takes photographs. This isn’t for play or for show they are living this moment. The women’s foreheads pressed against their partners cheek, eye closed, bodies closer, swirling across the dance floor, first only a handful of couples then more and more, as the strings wail high, and the accordion pushes and pulls its mournful notes into the ether.

I see no one under thirty on the dance floor, the music that brought these couples together that bound them tight as youths, of no use to their children and grandchildren, a footnote in argentine history even as we tourists scrabble to find the authentic slice of this dancing tradition. But these dancers don’t care about that, all they care about is the music, and the movement of their bodies and the steps they learned so very long ago, loving the joy it brings and that flush of remembrance of youth and desire and the beginnings of love.

Autumnal Saturdays

In Argentina, Buenos Aires, travelling on August 17, 2010 at 3:09 am

The sun shines down upon Buenos Aires and the Porteños are out in their droves in the main Parque. I sit on the 67 bus on my way to Palermo and headphones in enjoy the dappled play of the shadows that we cross over as the sun beats down. Traffic is bumper to bumper along this stretch of three lane highway and the driver is leaning on his horn long and irritably, wanting the traffic up ahead to move quicker.

I’m engrossed with the way the shadows fall from the trees that line the narrow roads we’ve just driven down, how they lengthen and stretch, the dark shapes cast by buildings and stationary cars and bushes, the fractal elements of it, the glare and shine of the sun that cuts through every so often. The warmness of sol’s glow, warming everything beneath its benevolent gaze. Love the way sun falls through the windows of the bus and how the darkness changes shape, sliding along in sweeps of radial movement.

Flying high in the argentinian sky.

In Argentina, Sud America, travelling on August 17, 2010 at 3:07 am

The morning after, the wine tasting the day before. I’m sitting in the hostel as Matt is making his decisions about what activities to do. He’s done most of the ones on offer already at some point in his travels and finally puts his name down for paragliding, which precipitates the rest of us signing up.

And so five of us make the long winding, 4×4 powered ascent up into the mountains just outside Mendoza, before getting strapped into a harness and running off a stony hillside and launching myself into the sky, sitting between my pilots legs as we lurch and rise into the brilliant blue sky.

You can see for miles and miles and miles and MILES!!!

It’s like nothing I’ve experienced ever, more calming and peaceful than the bungee jump, but akin to a rollercoaster ride without knowing where the turns and the dips are coming from, as the pilot is just navigating the thermals, looking around and searching for the next upward surge as he banks and I eyeball the ground beneath my swinging feet.

The mountains rush beneath seemingly so close, but my shadow is so far away and small, skimming across the undulating terrain, my stomach turns and skips every time he changes direction, not knowing which way he’ll be turning.

And as we fly there’s a beeping which comes quicker and quicker, until it’s one long drone and it frightens me, are we going to fast, to slow, to high, to low. I don’t know what it’s meant to indicate so I turn, stomach still roiling and ask my pilot who tells me it’s the altimeter, so I join the dots and decide that it let’s him know how high he’s climbing and how fast. Just as I make that connection he drops a couple of meters and I’m swung about in my seat, and I look out over the peaceful surrounds and the stunning surround and let that overcome the queasy stomach I’m feeling and I’m crushed when we make the spiraling descent to land, wanting to keep up there flying high with the eagles.

Swirl, sniff, sip, swallow

In all about the ride, Argentina, eat drink man woman, Sud America on August 17, 2010 at 3:03 am

So a whirl of us from the hostel went on a wine tour, hired some bikes from mr Hugo, mine had a basket on the front and some snazzy purple brake calipers, and went riding down the bumpy fractured roads amongst the vineyards for tastings at the various Bodega’s on the map/flyer that Mr Hugo had given us after we’d rented the bikes.

To say it got messy would be an understatement. Wine and riding don’t mix, the two broken spokes I returned the bike with can attest to that. But it was fun. Matt the escalator was knocking back the absinthe he’d purchased at the liquor factory we’d started out at before the sun had risen to its highest point.

We did a proper wine tasting at the Trapiche Bodega, which was a lovely mix of old and new, new buildings modern, glass and metal hidden behind old original walls, with shiny metal vats for the fermentation of the wine set into the main buildings in long rows.  Before discovering a small outdoor bar round the back, down a long dirt road, and off the beaten track. It was just like someone’s large backyard, which just so happened to have a bar in it, and a cooker, on which the owners made home-made pizza’s and empanadas’.

Then it was off to Latitude 33 for more wine tasting and casting envious glances at the food that was brought out for the other cycling wine tasters. Obviously I managed to get the bods to break out a bottle of rose for the people, and how sweet it was.

Drunken ride out to the very last winery, when I’m trying to ram into the back of the people in our group, I have no idea what took over me, though I’m pretty sure it was the wine. Which precipitated me breaking like two or three spokes in the front wheel, tipsily pulling them out, and then trying to figure out where everyone else had got to. Finally found them and drank even more wine. And good it was too.

Rolled back to Mr Hugo’s and handed back the bikes, making sure I pointed out the broken spokes, a shrug, and a never mind shake of the head, and then the big man was pouring house red all round as the bike was rolled back in with the others.

A good day was made better when we rolled drunkenly back to the hostel and you know when you’ve been out on the lash from lunchtime and you think you’re talking at an acceptable volume, but in reality you are shouting like a five-year old trying to get their parents attention. Well that was the situation when we hit the hostel a whirlwind of drunkenness and loudness. We had been drinking since noon so we could be forgiven a little bit….

May Day

In Argentina, Sud America, travelling on August 17, 2010 at 3:00 am

May Day bank holiday falls on a Saturday for the Argentinians and the international workers day is celebrated by a Saturday when no one works, apart from the bus and taxi drivers and the odd kiosco owner and those out to make a quick peso as everyone heads to the Parque de General San martin for a bit of sun worshipping, and game playing, and eating mixed with gossiping.

Cars line the roads that crisscross the Parque, folding chairs and tables pulled out placed under trees, on the bent and short grass areas, in-between the males of the family having a kick about, whether still at school or rotund head of the family. All become the great short one Maradona, or the many second comings that have so far fallen short Ortega, Aimar, Riquelme, Messi. The ball at their feet turning their body clocks backwards/forwards, as they become younger sprightlier or older stronger versions of themselves, scoring that goal that wins that cup.

Dogs tongues lolling, dashing hither and thither, police on their tall horses, sauntering along the roped off roads, runners striding or struggling through their miles, the workout fiends with their tops left behind, sweat glistening over muscles so lovingly manufactured. Walking purposefully, everyone’s gaze required. Girls on rollerblades, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, helmets on, modern day stormtroopers behind their shades. Cyclists on road bikes and mountain bikes looping the Parque, legs turning, beside them spinning hard to keep up and failing, kids on bikes with training wheels, bmx’s, mini mountain bikes, left behind as their cycling elders pass. Couples strolling arm in arm, kids tugging ineffectually on the leads of their biggest than them dogs. Mothers holding babies wrapped in blankets close to their bosoms. Groups of people sitting on blankets, passing the gourd round.

The Parque is a never ending stream of people/families/couples/kids/teens time on their hands and a whole day to waste. Packs of dogs roaming the grassland, getting tangled up in peoples legs, following forlornly looking for scraps of food, affection, attention.

Sun behind the long mass of cloud, but the humanity that has taken over the Parque will not remove itself they mean to suck the marrow out of this day.

I’m back!!!

In travelling on August 16, 2010 at 9:45 pm

just like fast eddie in the colour of money, I’m Back!!! Except I don’t have a precocious, rebellious sidekick to knock into shape, unless the new laptop can be called a sidekick, I think of it as more of an accomplice. So right now its half five in NYC, and I’m sitting in a cafe, The Bean on 1st av and east 3rd st, in the lower east side, with a pint of cappuccino in front of me as well as a lemon iced cupcake the size of my fist, and out of ten people in here using their own laptops, including me eight are on apple mac’s. The apple shall inherit the earth. Or it’s deemed so freaking cool right now people feel alright about using them, without seeming to be geeks or freaks.

So this is the start or, the restart of something special. Hope you’ve missed me, because at last count I’d written 14k words and that’s without editing, adapting or adding anything to it. So look out, there will be a lot to read and see.