*Revisited July 2014*

When some Mid U.S. based Facebook friends put out a plea for ‘an unusual, something different – more exciting, honeymoon’ idea, they probably received about 400 suggestions, 401 including mine then. I suggested  ‘Kabul’, but few take me seriously anyway.  Surprisingly, nobody came up with any place in South America either, not even Brazil’s Rio and the Copacabana.  To be honest, I never even thought about it.  As for Kabul, well it might shock rather than surprise you to learn that Afghanistan apparently has an active tourist board and according to recent BBC World Service documentaries I have been hearing, a woman whose name I did not catch has been revisiting her ‘beautiful city’, waxing lyrical that Kabul rocks. No bias there then? Afghanistan apart, one only needs to keep a bit of an adventurer’s open mind to assume there are still some very pleasant ‘surprises’ on the horizon where you don’t need a Humvy and a flack jacket. Looking from the Arabian Gulf this horizon can be a very long way away indeed especially if one thinks of South of the Equator and Argentina as a destination – where your bath water is supposed to run out clockwise. (Ask a pilot). Argentina!  Someone shouts and your mind probably goes blank for a minute, until you picture the football colours and Maradona. Then you think about Eva Peron, the Catholic religion and continue to rack your brains until you come up with corned beef. All those things are true, but you are in for one of the above-mentioned huge surprises if you have never been to Buenos Aires and decide to risk it. Of course, from a British perspective, if you say you are going to Argentina, the first thing your friends will say is; ‘Don’t mention the Malvinas’. Your next thought might be; ‘How the hell am I going to get there from here’?


Small World Albatross Wings:

(The Argentina review is deep below in this missive, deeper than Eva Peron herself)

Something that might squint one eye and raise an eyebrow in wonderment is the fact that in June this year (2010) Qatar Airways launched their non- stop flight to San Paulo in Brazil with an onward hop to Buenos Aires, the capitol of Argentina. Argentina! What prompted that you might ask – who on earth goes there?  Isn’t that near Antarctica, the other side of the earth? All that apart, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the number of Brazilians in the Gulf has recently increased dramatically and Sao Paulo is a highly industrialized city, so obviously some discerning potential – but Buenos Aires?  With something like 88 aircraft now, from no airline at all what seemed like just a few weeks ago, Qatar Airways are starting to head all over the globe and low and behold, here we are today,  they are flying the route via Sao Paulo in Brazil, not once a week, or three times a week, yep,  a ‘daily service’ using their newly purchased very long range versions of the Boeing 777 which you probably didn’t even know they possessed.  Furthermore, these huge beasts are full both ways, all the way, already. ‘That’s some bad hat Harry’ and I bet your are surprised again?  Someone in that airline is obviously on the ball, rivaling if not bettering another nearby airline which media hype will have you believe the world is in love with and devoted to. Let’s just say that the views contained in this article are not necessarily those of the publisher. Buenos Aires is 2 light years away from Manama Bahrain (my dwelling) and Doha with an entire continent and an ocean in between, so how can this be achieved?  The quickest way there would be to go straight up, wait 12 hours for the Earth to come round and then land; or find a comfortable plane and follow the ‘great circle route’ at double the time.  Going there from the Gulf, Buenos Aires is always coming at you, so you’d think it would knock off a few hours travelling time but since you are going backwards with it, don’t bank on it. Enter Qatar Airways all new Boeing 777 – 300ER still in wrapping paper.  The name or type of aircraft probably means nothing to most, but it means a great deal if you are a long haul passenger and you have to fly economy.  The – 300 ER means ‘Extended Range’ and this baby will not fit in your duffle bag; you could drive a double-decker bus through the engine alone, but that would hurt. This is a very big boy indeed and anything but cramped. There is no First Class as such on this plane, only Business, but the Business Class is so spacious with full flat-bed sleepers and better than many First Class services experienced.  For once a superb state-of-the-art Oryx touch screen video-on-demand entertainment system that actually works and trust me; you are going to need that, along with the ‘free’ rather up-market set of jim-jams  (pajamas) the crew dish out so you don’t crease up your clothes when you invariably fall ‘flat’ unconscious for 8 hours or so.

Flying in such a bedroom for the rich and famous, perhaps expecting – or at least hoping –  for some rich and famous perverted antics with gorgeous, dusky  South American dancers, stripping off to change in full view – just didn’t happen! Instead I was left with my slung together colleague, a young Jo Mortimer from ‘Destinations of the World’ who taught me a thing or two about Argentina. I hate toilet talk, but I have to say that the outhouse on these 777s are like walk-in closets by comparison, so this is where you change, among other things.   (Still, I have never slept with so many attractive women at one time, all donned in designer bed-wear).

Jo also donated his return trip jim-jams to me, hopefully praying that I didn’t have long to live or at least, never having to ever see pt more apt – speak to me again. Anyway so a nice gesture and I’m still wearing them.  Yeah yeah yeah,  Business Class with all the service and trimmings is expected to be comfortable, but since this was a familiarization flight, it was prudent to go and sit in economy for a while, just to see how the other half survive for twenty three hours.  Wow! Economy doesn’t frighten you when you first see it, thinking how the hell can anyone my size crawl in there. Sitting down, I could move my legs quite easily and the seat itself friendly on your nether regions. Of course the Economy video screen is smaller than Business, but it is the same entertainment and programming faultless. Thoughtfully, Qatar Airways load plenty of food and you can have it whenever you like.


Qatar Airways Business Class  B777 777


The journey time south to Buenos Aires from Bahrain is 25 hours to be exact. It is not much different coming back as the route takes you North East over the Atlantic, straight across central Africa to home. The Doha – Sao Paulo link is Fourteen and a half hours at 40,000 feet, so you need to be pretty comfortable to endure that. Put it this way, I wish Qatar Airways would put these 777s on all routes and I am pro Airbus normally. This is the best long haul so far and one hopes that Qatar Airways keeps at least this configuration with these big jets, because most airlines use their existing medium haul planes that will indeed do the distance these days, but configured for short haul sardine runs. On a recent trip to Nice with another local airline, the same plane that did the Dubai run seemed to be on the Nice run as well and it was terrible, so cramped and utterly miserable. To top this off, apparently that particular airline has been offering ‘kids fly free ‘which resulted in a rather large maid or two, holding two young children each, sprawled across my tiny seat as well, making 4 people in a two seat row.  It was disgusting. Not with this Qatar Airways baby, the -300 ER has room for two crews, which is needed, so don’t be alarmed if you nod off with one set of faces firmly planted, only to wake up thinking you are at the wrong party. Oh! Should Qatar Airways do the unthinkable and offer ‘kids fly free’ one hopes they would put on separate planes for children only and spare the horror of very long haul with screaming babies and fidgety kids. Stop it now!  We all know your kids are the best in the world – bite me! Finally, before you set off, if you have not been to Doha for a while, standby for yet one more surprise as the place is growing like bamboo and if you are flying Qatar Airways Business or First, you’ll be met and escorted to the spanking new First and Business terminal. They are separate lounges side by side and like everything else in Doha these days; huge!  Bath, beds, (first come first served and no charge), massage, Jacuzzi and everything else in between.  Did I mention refreshments?  According to a chirpy well known, almost horizontally left leaning Business Editor who shall remain nameless but it is Arthur McDonald, who works for an even more well known local Bahrain paper and happened to be in the lounge with me; ‘Time of day means nothing when you are flying, mine’s a double’.  Until you try and get one before 11 a.m.!  ‘Sorry sir, we do not serve alcohol before 11 am; would you like Champaign instead?’  There must be some logic in that, but we didn’t find it; so on board we went. I hope the air-stairs arrive soon as busing to aircraft is tedious.




With gob gaping views of the Copa Cabana as we flew over Rio, a 1 hour stop in Sao Paulo to arrival in Buenos Aires 2 hours later, the flight was superb. Not the most modern airport in the world but completely functional as is absolutely everything else in Argentina. That was a surprise in itself. After 25 hours, you are a little dazed and you could well be confused thinking that you have just landed in Bombay, but rub your eyes; it is only the taxi markings, which are the same. Mentioning that, there are plenty of them and they are straightforward. Driving in Buenos Aires is fast much like Dubai without the ‘special needs’ thugs who blatantly break laws and endanger everyone by driving up highways on two wheels and ignoring traffic signals. The hot blooded Argentineans drive a little impatiently, but, unlike the cacophony of say Cairo, they appear to be passionately subdued if there is such a thing. Highway laws are obeyed, if not a little impatiently and if zooming along at 120 KPH on the freeways past signs that clearly read 60 KPH, past several police cars that ignore you; then yeah, all very legal. Yet Argentineans appear not to be reckless, so some comfort for the cautious, especially if you are heading out of town on a 3 year packed mini bus ride to reach the other side of this enormous country.


taxis in town eva museum 1


Buenos Aires is a massive city within, sporting the widest avenues and roads ever seen and most of them are one-way.  Everything from Conquistador Spanish to modern high-rise every block makes up the city skyline and indeed out into the endless country. Why so many apartment buildings as if you are in Singapore, when there is all that land for zillions of miles?  Apparently, the Argentineans think it cool and more modern to live in apartments, end of story. To add to that, there are as many dogs and cats as there are apartments and people in Buenos Aires.  They obviously worship them and packs of them can be seen daily being taken around by professional dog walkers.  Very LA.  Dogs sit in café chairs, on the streets, as do very furry cats, especially in the graveyards.  Each species has their individual territory, but both are incredibly nonchalant and friendly and you can stroke or pat them at will. They certainly do not seem to be afraid and nobody bothers them. Buenos Aires is a very busy, very untidy city; with more graffiti per metre than a kindergarten art school.  It is everywhere, with graffiti on graffiti and nobody seems to care.  But you will notice that it is a strikingly clean country; even public toilets in tacky service stations way out on the pampas are clean; typically vandalized but nonetheless clean. The city never sleeps, from everything cultural to three religions; Catholicism, football and politics. If you want nightlife or culture including ballet and opera, everything is there round the clock.  In fact Buenos Aires appears to have a 25 hour day as many shops claim to be ‘open 25 hours a day’. This is one artistic city where the Tango was born and the Argentineans milk it to death loving every minute of it. Even gay marriage was passed into law recently and we all know someone in Rome who doesn’t like that.


Be My Conquistador:

If you read up on the history with its endless internal conflict, which was predominantly violent and oppressive, you might well visualize Buenos Aires and surround as being a typical South American hotchpotch of spaced out casas, haciendas and shacks with no serious roads to speak of. Surprise-surprise again, Buenos Aires could be in any major modern city in Europe. It is often described as autonomous to the rest of the country and if you go outside, that soon becomes evident.  Things do change considerably as you head out of the city and the country’s road network is like any ‘B’ road in the UK. Soon you are into God’s gifted lush countryside after countryside, which begs you to ask if some of the locals in this vast expanse of Argentina have ever heard of Buenos Aires. You will notice that once approached, everyone is incredibly friendly and if you cannot speak Spanish don’t worry, do as most English do, shout a little louder and someone nearby who speaks it fluently will come to your rescue.  Actually, it was mentioned to Rueben the very experienced tour guide from ‘DestinoArgentina’ that everyone seems so friendly. With some consternation he answered; “Of course, this is normal, this is Buenos Aires (as opposed to Argentina), everyone is friendly providing you don’t talk about politics, religion or football’. They even like the British really and the British like Argentineans, but even with their penchant for statues everywhere, it is unlikely that one of Margret Thatcher will appear soon, despite many knowing the true ‘military regime’ politics behind the Falklands invasion.  Of course still in denial, it was the Falklands embarrassing defeat and Maggie’s rhetoric that in the following year, Buenos Aires ousted its oppressors and restored the current democracy. Alas, the Malvinas saga will never end until an alternative for oil is found.  Was that a bullet I just heard zing past my ear? Politics apart, it is difficult to establish quite what is what.  From an outsiders view, it appears that there are two main political parties; the once banned Peronists and Peronists who swear blind they are not Peronists.  Argentinean flags are everywhere, even in toilets and the football colours reign high, although Maradona is not on every billboard and nobody knows where he lives, he is a God.  Then again, the vibe is that Argentineans celebrate ‘everything’ and demonstrate about ‘everything’.  You can be walking down the street and see a crowd and hear what appears to be gun fire, but don’t worry, it is only fire crackers marking the start of yet another demonstration.  In reality, if more than a few hours pass without a demonstration somewhere, there will be a demonstration to demonstrate about not having a demonstration. Worship in this country is a dedicated pastime with majestic cathedrals and churches everywhere. Unlike say Britain, you will actually find people inside paying homage to an equally endless number of statues who or which represent revolution to the founding fathers to Jesus Christ himself.  No Maradona yet and certainly no Eva Peron!  Don’t go there!

Since it was Andrew Lloyd Webber with his Evita musical and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” which brought the name Eva Peron to the world and created the Argentinean legend itself, I fully expected to see a statue of him somewhere, but again, not yet.  Who knows for the future though? Like Eva Peron, everyone is a budding actress or actor in Buenos Aires. Fitness must be a conscious thing as it is practiced with some gusto there and you have to look hard to find fat out of shape people.  Models doing shoots in the parks, television shoots in the street, it was everywhere.  One thing is noticeably absent and that is the proliferation of peroxide blondes as currently trendy in the rest of the world.  Argentinean women tend to default to fairly tall, very dark haired and very dusky.  Argentinean men go for it big time too and love to dress well.  Girls, if you want to see ‘good looking’ and the perfect form ‘who’ is definitely not gay;  get a room on the second floor of the Alveara Palace Hotel.  Each floor has its own gorgeous, impeccably decked out butler who will even polish your shoes, but a warning; you will end up pregnant just looking at him. That hot Latin blood is apparent wherever you go and almost all foreign girls living there met their Latin beau outside and followed him back.

With all this passion, there is relatively little conflict and we saw no street yobs or much police for that matter.  The only incident was up at a place called Tigre on the Delta where the full on passion was on display in glorious colour along the riverbank.  Our killer male was being attacked verbally and a little physically by his perfect model girl friend. It was no holes barred. It appears that he looked at another girl or something equally fragile that had set her off.  No blood, but a fine display. The police were on hand to create even more drama. I think they kept going until someone showed up with a camera.


Spanish Fly:

Everything is available in Argentina and nothing is cheap. If you like so many were also under the impression that this country would be cheap, you are in for another one of those many surprises.  Prices compare well with those in the Middle East or Europe, except beef, which is not quite as much, but a lot lot tastier as they make it there by the cow full and there is plenty of it to go round.  Oddly enough, the government has banned beef exports except for perhaps corned beef.  The socialist thinking being that this commodity is for the people or something like that, but don’t quote me on it. If it is the cultural thing you are looking for then you are in good hands, because they must have more museums in Buenos Aires and surround than the History Channel can deal with.  In fact, I think there is a museum for museums. A stunning fully restored opera house with real gold covered pillars and sculptures; extremely decorative preserved vaudeville like theatres that are now large restaurants with tango shows. You name it, you will find it and they are all well patronized – full to be exact! Having said that, Eva Peron is everywhere but seemingly nowhere and if you believe most parables, she is disliked beyond understanding. A visit to her sparse museum is worth the trip and a walk to the grave is a must. Unlike many coffins, which are very visible in the cemetery mausoleums, Eva had to be buried deep and if one wanted to exhume her “once more”,  it would probably be quicker to start digging from Bahrain.  She is actually about 8 metres down and covered by 3 metres of solid concrete.  According to our knowledgeable guide:  ‘This is not to keep her warm, but to stop the people digging her up wanting to kill her again’.   (Eva Peron died of cancer in 1952 aged 33).


geg at eva's grave 3 jo in the grass 1



Argentina as a country is so big and full of nothing but green grass and cows until you reach the Andes, which you have to cross to get to Chile. Indeed, not only did the country have a ‘Ministry of Agriculture’, but also right alongside it in a twin building was the ‘Ministry of Cows’ and that is not a joke. Cows are not hard to spot as you go west but anything else is.  Needless to say, tourism is on to it and in the bigger resorts hundreds and hundreds of miles from Buenos Aires you can enjoy a little luxury in the middle of nowhere. Apparently a lot of nature loving tourists these days go out to the pampas and to ranches which they call ‘Estancia’.  You can find them on the web, pay your money and take your chance. All included in the price except the Malbec.  These holiday retreats are off the highway and many kilometers up dirt tracks.  Not at all for the all action, constantly logged on night lifer, because you are pretty cut off there, often with no telephone, unless the mobile coughs up on Edge, but you’ll be lucky. No Internet and no TV.  If you stay on the unspoiled, beautiful ‘Estancia La Oriental’ with its original structures and even Crippen like bathroom fittings;  in just a few hours, owner and wonderful host Estela Ocampo will happily enlighten you more about every very real aspect of Argentina.  It is more than you will learn in an entire school semester in the city.  Miguel, one of La Oriental’s ranch hands slaughters the animals for you and cooks them on their own unique style barbeques, which is more like a smoked thing.  Miguel is a super person and so native but being the big softy, neither of those particular skills did I like much.  Commercial cruelty comes to mind which I cannot abide, besides the so-called cooked meat is far too rare and fatty, so bring your own OXO.  Nonetheless, many love it and this is raw living with no locks on the old decrepit doors.  It is so deathly (in a nice way) quiet and peaceful at these places and if the weather is good, which it is normally is in Argentina, you will have all the time in the world to be at one with yourself and a horse – and go riding around the millions of hectares.  Watch out for the pterodactyl-sized mosquitoes, which WILL savage you relentlessly, so remember to take the creams.


estancia main house 2 estancia garden lunch1



All Aboard The Armada:

Back to town or near and you could surprise yourself ever more by taking a boat trip up the river delta.  The River Plate (meaning silver,  as the early settlers thought there was plenty to be had in it), which flows out to the cold Atlantic, is fed by what seems like hundreds of deltas.  Silt islands are continuously being formed in these deltas and the Argentineans, like their conquistadors before them, make a habit of conquering them and building houses.  With no indigenous natives to slaughter, it would seem like a doddle but it is not.  There are hundreds of thousands of Casas and some quite beautiful and the only access is by boat. It looks like a millionaire’s paradise and expensive but by comparison costs very little.  Look up ‘Tigre’ on the map, it is a town, called a city on the Paraná Delta and a lot is happening there. Yes there is a Museum or two as well. With all this fresh water and the open Atlantic on your near million mile coastline, you’d think that fish would be as popular as beef.  Not so and the rivers don’t look too healthy giving one the impression that if the piranhas don’t get you, the pollution will.  However, there are fish by the tin full everywhere and they come out to say hello.  The water colouration is down to excessive silt apparently and in no way deters the hyper river activity with yachts, boats and cruise taxis galore along with para-sailors everywhere.  Even fishermen, but I think they would rather be catching the rays – the solar type.


Down To Earth:

All in all, Buenos Aires and indeed Brazil has now been brought much closer to home, with this Qatar Airways route and within a dog watch the other Gulf Carriers will follow suit if not already. All except Gulf Air that is.  Who knows where that is going?  The insular mentality running Gulf Air is doing nothing but feeding Qatar, Emirates (an airline I have love or time for)  and Etihad, making them boodles of money. Weird or what?   I could do a much better job and that is not a joke. I have a plan Baldrick  For a start, if you can’t beat them, join them and take FULL ADVANTAGE of the current troubles Bahrain is facing. Trust me! Back to earth now;  bearing in mind that our summer is the Argentinian winter, start planning, it will be more than worth the rather higher cost of the trip.  If you have a year or two (which you will need) to cover the vast expanse and want to back pack across to the Andes or down to the glaciers, you are pretty safe doing so. You will still see a few typical gauchos and South American Indians on the way, despite modern day Argentineans believing they all died out due to disease such as smallpox and measles. The more deadly disease of ‘oops I just killed another native’ by both conquistadors and early settlers is bad etiquette and never brought up at the dinner table.  All that said, if I were a hundred years younger, Argentina would be my next outing. Just in case you are still curious; both Jo and I tested it many times – depending how the water hits the plughole, indeed, the water will run out both anti-clockwise and clockwise.  According to my pilot brother (John Boardman), you’d need a hole bigger than my mouth to prove it – and that’s pretty big!  Very wounding John, very wounding.


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