Good Times, Bad Times……

I recall one of my Colour Sergeants at Sandhurst once telling me that when “the shit” went down you can only truly rely on yourself and the man next to you to get yourself out it. A hors contexte analogy here perhaps, but despite the camembert-smelling cliché, it has provided me with a much needed lift of late.  A bad road accident with a motorcyclist on a dual carriageway has cast a shadow over my last 2 weeks which is why it has been a while since my last entry. I was on my way up the coast to see a place near the Brazilian border when it happened. I won’t go into details due to certain legal concerns, but I am in one piece and therefore I’m a lucky chap.  Being on my own has made the aftermath challenging but only one individual can be the pick-me-up on this one.  The choice is simple: wallow and flag, or crack on.  In this spirit I went off again last week, though this time I took the bus………..

Destination was a small fishing village called La Pedrera, 4 hrs NE of Montevideo. Vaguely touched on by my guidebook, but adored by Uruguayans for its earthy character, backwardness and general chilled out vibe, I count myself extremely fortunate to have visited this place before it gets overrun by the tourist industry, and therefore the flash cat Argentinians from across the border.  It has the right amount of people and amenities not to make you feel isolated but also gives you the chance to lose yourself if that is what you want.  I did not fancy turning up with Captain Lash in tow and took the opportunity to completely detatch as much as I could.  I stayed in a chic little Hostel called La Casa de la Luna.  Run by a delightful Uruguayan called Paula, it’s about 2k from the main drag and a K from the Ocean, completely surrounded by nature. No one was there when I arrived; in fact I pretty much had the place to myself the whole weekend. “Very tranquil” I’d put in my diary.

So I’d holed myself up there and at this beach shack I’d found a K down the beach and away from all the holiday makers. I largely spent my 2 days there, writing, playing guitar and sipping the odd fairly good capriniha in between heading out to surf.  The waves were fairly average, though who am I kidding, I ain’t no Kelly Slater, but there was something remarkably serene about the whole experience.  Virtually no people, cheap cocktails, corn on the cobs to munch on and nobody to be offended by the tinkering of my guitar. 

On the Saturday evening I decided to confront an old fear.  Despite being a Cavalry Officer, I know as much about horses as Bellusconi knows about monogamy.  I will spare you my prejudices but I was tiring of hearing “fraud!” ringing out in the minds of my Uruguayan counterparts each time they learnt I was a Cavalryman who couldn’t ride. In any case, I reckon I picked the best place to learn.  In order to get to the stables I had to first hitch a ride on the back of a motorbike, which given the previous week nearly made me regret not bringing an extra pair of shorts as I was waited for what I thought would be the inevitable.  Heart rate momentarily restored upon touchdown, I then met my instructor Sofia.  Smouldering brown eyes and dark hair whipped into a ponytail she was quite possibly one of the sexiest women I’d ever encountered. She sauntered over to us & the horses, looked me up and down with apparent disdain for my casual attire and gave me a pretty rude hello. In her barely decipherable patois she then asked whether I’d been on a horse before. “Not really”, I said thinking that the ride in the neighbours back garden aged 5 didn’t really count.   She then simply motioned to my horse Rincon and said “ok well get on then”.

“Great” I said, absolutely shitting myself as I looked at the main road we had to cross at the bottom of the track. Rincon, the old bugger, refused to budge despite giving him the customary tap with the stirrups.  Sofia meanwhile barked off all sorts of incomprehensible gibberish as I fooled around in the saddle awkwardly, regretting my newfound equestrian desire as the odd car and bike whizzed at fair pace up and down the road.  Eventually a farmhand came to my aide, gave Rincon a bit of a slap and before I knew it I was off following Sofia across the road, still shitting myself…….After about half a K, already tired by my dawdling and belligering me for it, she stopped, dismounted and stripped a reed from the roadside and made me a crop. “This should help you go faster than a little girl”, she said emasculating me before I could blink an eyelid.  However, there was something quite refreshing about her nonchalance to my lack of horsemanship. No fanfair, no touristic bullshit, it was simply a question man-the-f***-up and ride.

Sofia then proceeded to guide myself and an accompanying Frenchwoman, Sandrine a 40 year old from Paris, over an amazing trail that spanned 2hrs.  With a vanilla sunset as our backdrop she led us through the savannah to an old sandy quarry, through a long arcade tunnel of trees that took us onto the beach by which time a yellow moon and a sky full of stars had all come out to make quite a perfect scene. I gradually became increasingly confident and by the end of the evening was trotting quite happily with one hand on the reins and other gripping my reed. It really was quite a terrific ride and I think I even managed a nod of congratulation from Sofia by the night’s end.

I took dinner that evening with Sandrine in one of La Pedrera’s restaurant, the excellent La Pedisco. We spoke in three languages all evening which confused the hell out of our waitress but was a good test of my linguistic ability.  A very intriguing lady, Sandrine had given up a high flying jewellery job in Paris and was on her 7th month of travel. Hailing from a very serious Communist family, though apparently she was the black sheep of the family because of her job, she made for very interesting company that evening. 

Back in Montevideo, my tango lessons have taken a respite but I have found a new place to up my game next week in some fairly dodgy part of the city…… I also stumbled upon a quirky place last week that hosts an English Theatre Group run by anglophile Uruguyans called The Montevideo Players Society. I’m hopefully going to do an evening of music there in the next few weeks but vamos a ver……It is 60 years old and at the moment is showing sketches celebrating the comedy of Monty Python, the Two Ronnies and Smack the Pony.  To find, it is almost impossible. My taxi driver hadn’t a clue and dropped me off in a part of the city previously unknown to me.  As I walked down a dimly lit street, there was barely a soul about apart from a pair of naked legs protruding about half way down.  Before long I was accosted with a gruff question from the pair of legs, belonging to sedate old man in the shadow of the doorway.  He asked whether I was here for the show, I nodded and he pointed with his eyes to a green door about 10m back in the direction I’d just come from.  No sign, no nothing.  It felt like I was in a 60s French Film Noire scene, I could almost feel the knife in the small of my back……. The demon in the back of my mind told me, “this is Uruguay’s version of Hostel, say goodbye to your fingers….” But with that doubt dispatched and with a pang of excitement at what I might find obviously I pushed the door open that betrayed a long corridor.   Another 20m down and up a set of steps I made out a couple of people seemingly standing guard by a banner that had a cartoon picture of a smiling Queen Elizabeth sporting an enormous pair of Dennis Taylor style glasses.  So this was the place. 

The end of the corridor then opened up to a garden that betrayed two stages, lighting, actors rushing about doing last minute prep, a BBQ and a bar serving home made ALE!  There I met Jack, a Uruguayan of British decent who seemed to be the guy running the place, who warmly shook my hand and immediately spoke to me in my own tongue which after a week of constant Spanish was a joy to hear.  I met Yliana, a girl I’d met the previous week who’d mentioned the place and who showed me round the inside of the house. I actually couldn’t believe the place existed: it was like a little version of England all inside a few tiny rooms, packed to the rafters with English memorabilia & theatre placards advertising shows in post-war Montevideo.  It even had an English pub style bar.  Just shows what our influence used to be even though it was barely even a colony. The beer was great, the atmosphere fantastic and the acting well, pretty good considering it was done in English by Spanish speakers. I definitely doff my hat to them.

Ups and downs, a merry-go-round, a sleepy town, a furrowed brow, a lonely cloud, a silent bow, until next time, I bid you chau.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. claire raine
    Mar 01, 2011 @ 19:58:04

    Really interesting reading – glad you found the time and inclination to write again. Looking forward to the next edition!xx


  2. Alexandra Windsor
    Mar 07, 2011 @ 12:46:42

    Hey Ant, really enjoyed reading your blog. Sounds like you’re living a Graham Greene novel. Hope all’s well, have been keeping up with your news from Mum, been thinking of you. Em’s back 26 March, can’t wait. Much love xx


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