To Muang Ngoi and Back

I was ready to leave Vang Vieng. Though peaceful enough, my feet were itching plenty and it was time to move on.  My direction was north on a 7 hour bus ride set through a glorious wild backdrop of cliffs and steep hills to the ancient former capital of Luang Prabang.  I wasn’t entirely sure how long I would stay there, only that I would stay as long as I felt relaxed and unhustled. Luang Prabang is a beautiful little city with a small spit of a peninsula that acts almost like a centre separated by two rivers, the Mekong and Nam Ou. You can see why it attracts tourists from all over, with its pretty streets and houses and evening market where you don’t feel hassled to buy as you perhaps would in other Asian cities.

I stayed for two days, enough to visit a beautiful local waterfall and a day of sitting in cafes doing a bit of writing and drinking the odd beerlao, which is probably one of the best beers I tasted. I had itchy feet again however and there were too many tourists for my liking so again I set off North for a tiny village of Muang Ngoi that I’d heard about from a French guy I met whilst rock-climbing.

To get there I had to take a 3 hour mini bus ride to a small town, similar to Vang Vieng, called Nong Kiaw. This again was another event, with me having to change bus twice, eventually arriving at Nong Kiaw with my bags on the roof of another vehicle……….I then took a small skiff boat ride that took an hour and a half to my destination of Muang Ngoi.  This was quite an experience; the scenery is of incredible natural beauty and we would regularly glide past countless buffalo grazing by the waters edge whilst villagers would be conducting their normal daily business fishing without casting too much of a curious eye at our boat of pasty tourists.

The skiff eventually docked on a small beach and at the foot of the village of Muang Ngoi. It was pretty breathtaking. The village itself is tiny, flanked by hills showing little sign that much exists there apart from a couple of bars and restaurants to cater for those who were out to seek its secret tranquility.  Whilst it is noted for its beauty in the Lonely Planet, coming here is not one of the must do’s on its list but it was clear on my arrival the place had a magical backward quality to it.

A gentle middle-aged woman found me meandering down the ‘main drag’ with my kit and guitar in tow and asked if I wanted somewhere to stay with a river view. I said I’d take a look.  I followed her down a side street, through something that resembled a farmyard, with ducks, roosters and dogs all clucking chaotically in the midday heat.  My lodgings were humble; 40,000 kip a night (3-4 quid), no fan or a/c, no internet and electricity came on between 6.30-930 in the evening.  My mosquito net had hundreds of holes in it and one big one which I eventually managed to close by twisting the net continually until the hole was no more, binding it with my Help for Heroes wristband.  There was a slight smell of BO and my bathroom had no washbasin and no flush for the loo but I wasn’t too fussed and it was all entirely manageable. I said I’d take it. I then spent the rest of the day in my hammock on the front porch, drifting in and out of sleep and simply watching the current of the river head south.

I awoke the next morning at around 6am to the noise of thunder, cracking furiously before the onset of a heavy downpour of rain that continued until about 9;30 that morning. From about 7, I sat on my terrace, again in my hammock and surveying the magnificent view of the Nam Ou river which sits at the bottom of a set of peaks, hills, mountains that were shrouded in the morning haze.  This range of peaks dominates the area and continues further northward.  Quite spectacular.  It was a place of such tranquil beauty and yet seemed to retain a ghostly feel to it, especially that morning.  What completely transfixed me was a cloud that almost resembled an old sailing ship lazily saunter past down the river valley, almost as if it was on patrol. I thought it may have been no more than 75m from the ground. Only in such a place can one see such things.

I stayed for 4 days and almost constantly the place was in wonderful song, from crickets, birds and roosters, to the soothing hum of the boats chugging up and down the river.  I didn’t really do much but read, write, snooze, play some guitar, eat, swim in the river and let the local children use me as a diving platform and always wait for a sweaty nights sleep.  During the evenings I would join other travelers for something to eat, usually a rice dish accompanied with either a Lao Lao (lethal lethal moonshine) cocktail or a delicious beerlao. The former gives a hell of a hangover even with little consumption…….

I was also there for a novel spectacle of the village gaining electricity for the first time. I watched as locals gathered around a man with interest putting up a short wooden pylon and attach one of many boxes that went up that day. It was a privilege to see the fascination and it is clear Muang Ngoi is on the brink of change. Almost in tandem, a figure from Vang Vieng appeared, swaying on the street shirtless and swigging beer at 3pm on my last afternoon. The beat, inebriated American was somehow back to bother me, the village and travelers.  Things came to a head later that evening. In a restaurant full of Europeans, he staggered in smoking, demanding beer defiantly from the poor frightened local teenage girl who was there helping out in the family business.  Looks of disgust and amazement resounded from the floor as he then flicked his half-smoked cigarette with disdain at the bamboo wall.  At this point my blood boiled and I stood up and confronted him.  He then left, only to come back later, spitting expletives, again shirtless and mouthing off his contempt for the world.  He was so pissed that when he came back in, I’d returned from the loo and obviously not recognizing me, thought I was one of the staff and asked for a beer.  I then told him to get out and that he wasn’t having any more beer.  He turned his back, called me a cocksucker, lambasted us all for taking off our flipflops (as is custom on entering any dwelling in Laos), before another Brit had decided he’d also had enough and together we chased him off down the road. I decided then and there I would leave the next morning, my haven of peace ruined and ashamed by the lack of respect shown by a troubled alcoholic westerner.   In hindsight, what was reassuring, was to see the football team of Frenchmen sitting down behind their rice and pastis saying nothing. Plus ca change…..

As I write, I am currently back in Luang Prabang, soaking wet head to toe and covered in paint. The city is on the eve of celebrating Laos New Year and though it doesn’t start until tomorrow the festivities are already starting. The streets are filled with the vibration of this joyous people, armed with charming smiles, water-hoses, buckets, and supersoakers, ready to soak anyone on foot, bicycle, or motorbike who comes in the path. April is one of the hottest months and pouring water on people commemorates (i think) cooling down the buddha with water. Well, this is the translation I’ve been given. In any case, it is refreshing given the heat and everyone, tourists included are encouraged to take part.  I myself, now that I am officially a civilian as of yesterday, have refrained from buying a watergun and so I am at the mercy of any person with a water-chucking device. I’ve been absolutely hammered.

Tomorrow I fly to Bangkok for a day, and then on to Bali.  Laos has been wonderful, delighted me with its scenery and people and my writing is going well so far. I have finished 3 songs and have another 5 ideas in tow so things are flowing.

Thank you for reading and I hope all are well.

Antony x

Music I’ve been digging last week or :  Festival – by Sigur Ros,  Lemonworld – by The National

Reading: On the Road – Jack Kerouac

A plume of smoke from burning rice paddies hovers lazily above the green and lush savannah to both our left and right.  I am riding shotgun with a German philanthropist/aid worker, driving south on Rte 13 on our way to pick up our interpreter Mr Phiao, (a man of 2 wives and 14 children) before heading to a leper colony 30 mins from Vang Vieng.  The haze continues to  rise gradually, still slowly, before merging into a grey haze that is sky for the dry season here in Laos. My host and I met over a communal dinner at my hotel a few nights ago and discovered we had worked not far away from each other in Zambia, albeit he had spent 17 years there to my 4 months……

Hubert, a geologist by profession, is now selling all his possessions and is starting up this project at a village and so invited myself and a few other travelers to visit the leper village. Mr Phiao, formerly the village Chief, showed us round, took us to several victims and discussed their cases. It was an interesting experience, and sad to see the lepers are generally of little interest to people given the taboos surrounding their affliction. There are 154 lepers in the village, many ending up with multiple amputations, and as you can imagine, prosthetic limbs here are not widely and easily available. Hubert’s project is to give the lepers a little dignity and basic sanitary amenities as well as providing transport to the main hospital that will deal with them in the Laos capital Ventiane, 4 hours south. We spent the morning there before heading back to Vang Vieng in the early afternoon.

I have now been away a week and it has all been enjoyable so far, if a little tiring. Getting into Laos was a little adventure in itself requiring mulitple buses/trains serving to delay me overcoming jet lag for longer than first expected. There are plenty of travelers here, lots of French, annoyingly, and it was a relief to get out of Bangkok and into Laos where the atmosphere is decidedly more chilled.

I stopped into Ventiane first for a few days, which was very hot and unexciting. It was calm enough though and what I wanted. I didn’t do too many tourist spots but I hired a bike and decided to do a suicidal tour of the city only to realise that every other vehicle on the road was either a motorbike or car. Despite the deluge, it was actually quite enjoyable. The highlight was visiting COPE, a centre for prosthetic limbs to treat the victims of UXO (unexploded ordnance). I had a little idea that Laos was involved in the Vietnam war but no clue as to the terror reigned upon Laos even though it was not at war with the US. The facts are altogether staggering: Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita in history. More than 580,000 bombing missions were conducted over Laos, one bombing mission every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 years. 30 % of the ordanance failed to go off which is why 100s of locals are dying still every year. It can be as simple as a villager lying a fire to make his dinner that sets one of beneath the ground.  They are grim statistics for a country of such poverty.

Which makes the set up of Vang Vieng, where I am now most interesting. It has developed as almost a rite of passage for backpackers on the established route to come here, not necessarily because of its breathtaking backdrop, but to float down the Nam Song river, and do a “Keith Richards”. Indeed I had been here less than 5mins when some pot-bellied sweaty American approached me, completely blitzed giggling that he was fucked up, couldn’t remember where he’d left his motorbike and whether I could give him directions to the Police Station. It was 1pm. Fortunately that was the only thing of its nature I’ve seen but it was so bad 27 people died here in 2012 from accidents relating to over intoxication. The communist government has stepped in very recently, shutting down overnight offending bars, selling drugs, making the place a bit of a ghost town which it is now. This has been great for me as I only intended to stay here a night before heading north. However the vibe is chilled, the views are spectacular and I’ve also done some rock climbing and kayaking. I have also started to do what I came here for and wandered between cafes, up and down stretches of the river with my guitar, stopping occasionally at abandoned huts to do a bit of writing, without being ashamed and bothered by some brute of some Essex boy jumping up and down screaming “is this the way to amarillo”, which I fully expected to happen here. I have thus overstayed and will stay another night before heading to Luang Prabang further North.

 

Until then, ciao and much love. Antony x

MUSIC: This week’s song: Ms by Alt J

 

 

Goodbye 30011020 Capt AD Raine…………

So, I have decided to re-start my blog. Tomorrow I will board a flight to Bangkok on route to Laos for a period of writing, cultural guzzling and exorcising my military mind as best I can before I am back in London late spring to take up being a musician full time. My army fatigues are handed in, my army ID is no more, and by April 11th (my last official day) the term Captain Raine will be but a fading soundbite. I’m out the door, I’m a free man and it feels a little scary.

Most of those reading will perhaps know of my musical ambitions, and so I do not deny that it is with uncertain feet I am about to embark on what is a quite big step; quit a job that pays respectably well and where I had decent career prospects in order to pay a guitar and sing for a living……….sounds rather daft doesn’t it?

I have thus decided to document this potential act of lunacy for several reasons; firstly, almost as a journal for myself to look back upon nostalgically as a senile old man; secondly, because it “may be” helpful in boosting my social media……….. (though I’m not holding out on this one); thirdly, hopefully to document the attempts of someone making a a change in their life not for money, but for artistic endeavours, and finally as a showcase for those who maybe having cold feet in whatever they are doing, that bugger all will happen unless we get off our arses and do it. For good or for bad.

So why on earth am I going all the way to Laos to write!? some of you are probably asking. And quite rightly, it’s a bloody long way away. To paraphrase a veritable legend of rock , Jimmy Page once said something about travel being the best thing for musical inspiration, so I hope ol’Jimbo is right. I currently have lots of little ideas floating around in my odd brain but I have felt reluctant to try and put pen to paper for this reason. I wanted to go somewhere off the track, quiet and completely alien to my western sensibilities in an effort to help feed a bit of artistic creativity. A friend of mine mentioned Laos as he had recently visited and spoke warmly of the people, place and the laid back atmosphere.  The obvious would have been to say that I want to escape what seems to be this awful winter hangover Britain is undergoing and find somewhere warm for the next 6 weeks whilst I have the opportunity and time. This I think would seem perfectly rational reason for anyone to up sticks and as Europe as a whole is pretty scheizer  all round at the mo, Angela Merkel will have to hold out a bit longer before I come and serenade her schnitzels, so Laos gets my vote.

Time will obviously tell, but the next chapter starts this week and I’m excited and petrified in equal measure.  Stay tuned for more dribble, scribbles and tales from Buckingshire’s biggest Minstrel!

Your Majesty, it has been a pleasure……….

Antony x

It’s chilly in Chile……….

 

Recording in an old brothel......

It’s been a while seen since my last post. The next one which I shall endeavour to put up shortly will be a video diary I of my trip in April for Easter through Chile and Argentina. I am now in Chile working at the Peacekeeping school having been moved on from Montevideo for various reasons. So what of my time in Uruguay now that I’ve moved on?

 I met few Brits during my stay, or many other internationals for that matter and so I’ve left having had a unique experience away from the bright lights and “gapyahs” of Buenos Aires over the water, which actually is just like another European city, no matter how great anyone thinks the “lash” is. I was fortunate to have met a few extremely generous people whose kindness I can hope to repay one day. One was a Uruguayan called Santiago along with his girlfriend Suzy who I met whilst staying in the same village of la Pedera around the time of Carnival (1st week of March). He was nothing short of a legend. A former International rugby 7s player he went out of his way to include me in their life and circle of friends. I also became quite friendly with an English copywrite lawyer and his Uruguayan wife who I owe an impossible amount of thanks when the Embassy was as helpful as a limp wrist.

I wonder what used to happen where I'm sitting..........

I was also lucky enough to meet one of the survivors from the 1972 Andes crash disaster (see the film Alive!). For those who are unaware, a plane full of 30 rugby players and families were flying to Chile when it crashed in the snow capped mountains of the Andes. 16 of them survived by eating the bodies of their dead friends, living in the fuselage for 72 winter days before 2 managed to walk out to get help. A humbling story.

Music wise I’ve been writing lots (though whether any of it is any good is another matter) and I’ve managed to play a couple of gigs in some interesting places in Montevideo. Two days before I left I recorded a couple of songs in a former brothel which was rather surreal, and I guess a cool thing to say I’ve done! I had started to find some sort of rhythm in Montevideo but I don’t think I was ever really settled, so perhaps my transfer was for the best.

  Already Chile is proving great fun. I’m based in Santiago but we’re currently on the West Coast and today I’ve been instructing on a Pre-deployment Exercise for the Chilean military. Our accommodation overlooks a beach and the two seaside towns of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso tha sit on the edge of the hills in the distance.  It is an incredible sight.

Sunset in Vina.....

This evening my opposite number Capitan Gaston Marchant, a huge barrel of man with a large appetite for beer took us to dinner to a German restaurant, the Hamburgo, in a rather run down part of Valparaiso. It is owned by an insane old German called Gunther who despite his age still sports the type of high and tight haircut you could land a harrier jump jet on.

The place harks of a bygone era with its heavy cloud of cigarette smoke hanging lazily, the rafters garnished with naval memorabilia from the last century and ‘40s music playing quietly in the background.  

After dinner and several shots of Chilean style jaeger, I was sidled up at the bar scribbling down a few lines for a song on a paper napkin when my ears suddenly pricked to attention at the crackle of a speaker. Almost as if from an old gramophone, the soft tones of Marlene Dietrich descended upon the room capturing everyone’s attention. I haven’t heard “Lilli Marlene” in a long time but the song strikes a chord with me for reasons I cannot completely nail down. Once a popular old German song loved by both sides during the War, I owe it a nod as it partly inspired something I wrote that shares its title. On the call of the chorus, everyone including myself breaks into song or hums along. I sit pensively allowing myself a moment, before casting a nostaligic eye over this peculiar restaurant, the old wartime photos and the crowd of strangers.

 It’s now 2am. Waves are crashing like thunderclaps on the shoreline as I watch them for a while from the door of my Cabana. It is as epic as it is ethereal. I’m the only one still up, feeling slightly hazy from the several “Chops” of German beer. I drift back to the events of earlier that evening; the voice of Marlene Dietrich, the décor of the restaurant, and the bedraggled feel of the old naval port town on Chile’s Pacific seaboard. For the first time in a while I feel a sense of peace; I don’t know why but it is strange I had to come here to realise it.

4 hrs until sunrise…..

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.

ADR

Currently listening to………..

    The First Days of Spring– Noah and the Whale, quite simply a beautiful piece of music.

I kissed a man and I didn’t like it……..

A strange piece of beach furninture-Punta del Este

Before you all jump to conclusions and deduce that I’ve gone rogue and sausage side, fear not.  The latino way of greeting one’s fellow hombre with a single kiss to the cheek has fell upon me and it doesn’t sit pretty.  Even if it is for the first time you’ve met the man! 

On my 4th day here no sooner had I set my little flipflops into the dancehall to tackle the Tango, my teacher was upon me, planting a smacker on my cheek before I even realised what was going on. Despite the obvious wave of shock that gripped me for pretty much the whole class, my spanish teacher told me that this is entirely normal here and I need to get used to it………………..ok.  Anyway that aside, I love the Tango. Smooth, passsionate, and an intense ensemble between the two dancers, much to my surprise it’s very enjoyable. The foot movement and timing is almost like doing ‘slow march’ (for the soldiers amongst you) so I took to it quite well.  The only trouble is I turned up for my 3rd class the other day, and this time instead of a whole room full of girls and the odd amigo, it was just me. I have no idea why, save to say my teacher (we shall call him Angelo) waltzed me around attentively for the next hour……..

Spanish classes have the been the name of the game for the last 10 days as I endeavour to become part of life here.  The Uruguayans are friendly, without being outgoing, and Montevideo is a quiet and unassuming city which is overshadowed by its overbaring and bositerous neighbour, Buenos Aires. 

In the last week or so I’ve been to Punta del Este which is meant to be the French Riviera of Latin America, where the rich and famous strutt their stuff during the summer months and unleash their ferrarris and porches along the Ramblas (stretch of road) for all to purvey. I spent the weekend there doing a bit of surfing (very good waves) and surveying the nightlife. Really, despite its pretensions it is rather more like a tarted up Torremolinos with a few boutique shops, beaches crammed full of Argies sporting ridiculous haircuts and puffed-out chests.  I never seen a beach so crowded. It is ridiculously overpriced but quite good fun. 

Surf-wise, the guy (Juan) who owned the Surf School I rented from gave me a pretty honest showdown of where’s good to go and has offered to show me around a bit in March.  He was extremely friendly, RIDICUOUSLY cool and keen to tell me how much he disliked the Argentinians, recounting gleefully a football chant they sing that derides the Argies for not having the balls to have another crack at the Falklands……… He turned out to be a pro-surfer on Uruguay’s national team……………

View from Home

Also this week in the evening I went to a carnival and a strange traditional custom celebrated one a year. The carnival was a great sight.  Late into the night the parade unleashed along the streets dancers dressed like peacocks, the women scantily clad in little but a bikini tops and thongs, top to toe with face paint with plumes of feathers wedding their headress.  I also witnessed probably some of the most incredible drumming (Candomne) I’ve ever heard.  Though the Uruguayans descend almost overwhelmingly from Europe, the country’s rooted with culture brought other by Africans a century or so ago, and this is what you hear in the Candomne

This was also very apparent in the yearly tradtional strange offering to Yemanja. Verging on Black Magic it is a bizarre ritual offering gifts to an African water goddess to ask for her to protect the ‘offerer’ and their family from drowning.  On a beach in Montevideo, lots of little holes are dug in the sand, candles lit inside and prayers said. Larger ones, which are basically shrines are dotted around the beach where people dressed all in white jig rythmically to the beat of the Candomne in a style you would expect to see in Africa. In one ‘celebration’ I saw, clearly intoxicated with alcohol, the participants were in some sort of trance as a woman shrieked her cries to Yemanja speaking in a voice I can only describe as witchlike. Whilst this is going on, you could make out in the twilight hundreds of tiny handmade boats dotted just off the shore loaded with offerings to the goddess which range from a handfull of pesos to watches.  Apparently, paradoxically the next morning many people hit the beach to pilfer whatever is still floating around…………

Nearly three weeks in now and I’m starting to meet a few more people.  It hasn’t been as easy as I thought as there are few internationals, though my aim is to meet the Uruguayans as that is the only way to get a grasp of the language. This is also proving tricky.  The immersion into Spanish is difficult, fraught with frustration as I am often lost in translation leading to me regularly catching the wrong bus……. Getting used to my own company is ever ongoing, as I no longer have the other Peter Pans from the Officers’ Mess to enter my room to Facerape or Meatspin me (Ed Jones…..) but as ever I have a guitar.  I’m fortunate to have a wonderfully clear 6 string travel guitar with me, given by a very kind Indonesian Defence Attache before I left England who’d had it with him in Baghdad and wanted to pass it on. I’ve written 2 songs in the last couple of weeks so hopefully I’m doing him and the instrument justice, however my grouchy neighbour has already complained so perhaps I’m wrong! On this note, I’ll say adios before sticking on Rage Against The Machine to piss off my Victor Meldrew next door. Ciao a todos…….

ADR

Misdirection home: Feet back on the far side of the World…….

So, if you’re reading this you’ll probably be curious as to why I am writing a blog……….

Hopefully, via this online spiel of garble I’ll be able to document semi-articulately another stage of the mad journey that has been the last few years. Considering I aspire to be a muscian, the fact that I have just arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay’s river/seaside capital, couldn’t have really come at a more inopportune time.  However as Jimmy Page once put it (probably high on some exotic tobacco), travel is the biggest inspiration for music, and truth be told my soundtrack of the last few mad years has largely been the tinkering of my own musical yearnings.  Perhaps with the odd flash of Katy Perry tucked in…………….

  Though the shadow of Afghanistan has not long shaken itself from owning my bootheels,  I’m away once more on a new journey with little idea of the kind of people I’ll meet, the country I’ll discover and ultimately what more I will learn about myself.  Some of you may find it interesting, others not so, but at some point we all come to a fork in life’s funny old path.  For me, sooner or later the boat’s gonna rock and I have no idea whether when I jump I’ll make shore, or decide on the easier option and try and rough it out. I guess that’s the beauty of risk:  is the ‘climb’ worth it?

Whilst I’m not here to broaden my musical horizons (shame), I fully intend to find a deeper sense of music and what kind of songwriter/singer I am,  if I am truly one at all.  Obvious comparisons will I’m sure immediately set off more than one alarm bell, but I am not yet immersed in the musicworld and so I’m on the road to persuade this country to allow me into its clutches and absorb everything it has to offer musically, culturally and, gastronomically……….

As I sit on my balcony listening to Led Zep’s sublimely chilled ‘That’s the Way’ and sipping my Johnnie Walker, I realise, third night in a row I’m on my own and that it’s been two days since I’ve had an English conversation to anyone.  Not as I’d expected.  Hasta la proxima………

ADR

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