Argentina November 12, 2001 - March 2002

Four months staying and travelling in South America
(with flights and buses).

South America

Buenos Aires 12 November 2002 - 5 March 2002 (with some domestic and international excursions)

Time for next Pilgrimage holy place.

This was my second visit to Buenos Aires and I was happy to come back to this beautiful city. I was there for two weeks over New Year 2000 and then loved to walk the streets and looking at beautiful places and buildings. This time I was determined to stay longer and concentrate on becoming a really good tango dancer; a milonguero.


I soon with growing sadness realized that my body had lost the tango connection. I have later jokingly been saying that that was the prize for living too long in a body hostile environment, but at that time is was a bit traumatic. I went to tango classes nearly every day for different teachers, even took some Milonguero style classes, but my body could not connect to the music. Just doing the moves was not enough.

In Buenos Aires there is a milonga (dance hall) almost every night at different locations, such as Salong Canning, Confiteria Ideal, La Viruta and Niño Bien (which was my favourite). With a bit of a sad heart I resorted to go to these milongas a few nights per week just to enjoy the tango music, which I still could (and still can!) do. At most milongas there are small tables around the dance area where you (if you arrive "early", i.e. before 11pm) can sit and enjoy a glass of wine or similar, trying to find the next partner to dance with. Some of the milongas have live music with local tango orchestras, but most of the time there is a disc jockey managing the music. Sometimes a professional couple does a show dance.

So I went to the milongas, listening to the tango music, having a glass of wine, enjoyed the band if there was any, and enjoyed watching (with some envy) couples dance but did not dance myself. I has lost it.

The thing that brightened up the week was Batocos kite flying at Costa Escombro every Sunday. Batoco (Barriletes A Todo Costa) is a Buenos Aires kite group which is very active; I had come to know them already on my previous stay in the city. So we flew kites for a few hours every Sunday and then had a looong asado lunch at a nearby restaurant. That really was the highlight of the week!

Batoco's website: Batoco

As I felt I had time for making kites (instead of taking more tango classes) I decided to follow up on the experience from Sydney and make some Sverker Viking Ship kites in high tech material of my own. I found the kite shop Alto Vuelo by changing bus three times. The shop had most of the material required, save for brown ripstop for the ship bows, so I used tyvek and painted it brown for the bows on the two kites I built.

I also spent some time tuning the pocket kite Salida Sled for being made in ripstop. Once as I was test flying it at the river bank near La Boca I was interrupted by an army officer: kite flying was not allowed at Playa Reserva Ecológica. However, I finished the test flying elsewhere and draw the plan in my iBook. I handed it over to a Batoco member and Batoco used it for their next workshop.

Argentina at that time was going through a difficult economical time and people were protesting against the government. At one occasion I was going home from a tango class in Palermo at the north side of Buenos Aires. I took the Line D Metro from Palermo to the end station Catedral at Diagonal Norte, near Plaza del Mayo, with the intention to catch a bus to La Boca, where a I stayed. When I came up from the subway to the street, Diagonal Norte, it was packed with people: there was a rally marching down to Plaza del Mayo. People were banging pots and pans, making a lot of noise, and many, both men and women, had rocks in their hands. I learned later that this is a common way of protesting called cacerolazo, but seeing all those angry faces and the rocks in peoples' hands in I felt "This is not a good place for Andreas Ågren to be!"

So I walked a long detour behind the rally and around Plaza del Mayo and found a bus stop a bit further down. The next morning I saw in the news that the crowd had been smashing windows of all banks and in the tumult some ten people had been killed. The same week the Argentine Peso cut the 1-to-1 link with the US Dollar and immediately fell like a rock. I don't think the economy has stabilized yet, and now, 20 years later, the rate Peso to USD is 20 to 1.

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Ushuaia, January 2002

Argentina has so much more to offer than tango!

In the extreme south there is Tierra del Fuego [Fire Country], which is "bordering" to Antarctica with only a strait called Drake Passage in between. The word 'drake' means 'kite' in Swedish, so I had the idea of "flyga en drake på Drakes sund" [fly a kite at Drake Passage].

The southernmost city in Argentina is Ushuaia which in year 2001 had about 45 000 inhabitants. It was for long time used as a prison colony for the worst criminals in Argentina, much like Australia was for the Brits. The prisoners built the city with timber from the forest, and they even built a railway from the forest to the prison colony. The railway still exists as a tourist attraction and is called Tren del Fin del Mundo [Train at the end of the world].

The weather in Ushuaia is changing rapidly: it is not uncommon to experience four different seasons in one hour or less! I experienced that at stop in the train ride. I wanted to fly my Salida Sled in the nice wind, but before I had unpacked it the wind was hurling from everywhere, then five minutes later it was hailing for five minutes, followed by a warm sunshine.

I took a tourist boat trip one day but came soon to learn that the waters outside Ushuaia was Beagle Channel and that Drake Passage was very far away! So no success in flying a kite there. But I saw lots and lots of seabirds, seals, sea lions and penguins!

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El Calafate, January 2002

Since Tierra del Fuego is separated from the rest of Argentina by a strip of Chile, the easiest way to go in and out is by air, so the next step was a flight to El Calafate, at the foot of the Andes. I had heard about the glacier Perito Moreno, and that was my main destination. However, located in Patagonia, the town has some other beautiful national parks.

El Calafate is quite a small town and is the centre for trekking in south Patagonia. Several one-day trekking tours are organised and, if I remember correctly, I chose first a trekking on El Chaltén before at trekking to and on the glacier Perito Moreno.

While trekking on El Chaltén I pulled my Salida Sled kite out my pocket, and before I had been flying it more than a minute a big Condor appeared from nowhere, high above the kite. It made a quick inspection of the kite, but since it wasn't any tempting prey the big bird made a U-turn and disappeared.

The 2 million years old glacier Perito Moreno is a mighty experience. Appearently the glacier is very slowly sliding down to Lago Argentino, and occasionally huge chunks of ice break off with a big noise and splash into the water causing minor tsunamis. The front towards the lake is about 60 m high and the glacier stretches some 35 km up in the mountains. Using long spike shoes one can trekk on the glacier itself though this is not a quite risk-free thing to do: the surface is far from even and there are deep cracks here and there. But it certainly is worth while!

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Bariloche, January 2002

I had made two flights within Argentina sofar, so for the last destination of the round tour I took a bus, just to see more of the landscape. The busride from El Calafate to Bariloche is about 1500 km long and took some 20 hours. Well, the landscape was not so varying: just plain plains.

Bariloche or, as the full name says, San Carlos de Bariloche, is like El Calafate on foot of the Andes about half way up to Buenos Aires. One of the most popular activities is skiing, which I have no intention of doing.

Batoco, the kite group in Buenos Aires, has a member in Bariloche. Her name is Diana Ross, and to my knowledge she has never been a member of The Surpremes. I had never met her before, only corresponded by email, but she kindly invited me to stay in her house. I stayed for a couple of days and admired the kites she was making.

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São Paulo 7 - 16 February 2002

At both Dieppe and Cervia kite festivals I had become good friend with Carlos "Magrao" Filho from São Paulo, and had promised to visit him on my round-the-world trip. He had not replied on my latest email from Buenos Aires, when I told him I was coming, but I went there anyway. When I reached his shop BAHADARA the morning after I had arrived in São Paulo, Carlos was very busy packing for trip up country. However, he quickly organised so I could join a couple of his friends that were going to Santos at the coast over the weekend.

What I had not realised that this was the weekend of the Carneval! Carlos' friends took extremely well care of me and I enjoyed both the local Carneval at Santos and the relaxed days on the beach after.

Back in São Paulo I joined Carlos on a shorter business trip. On the return from that he drove up on a mountain and we had a nice kite flying session. Then a strange rain started: Big heavy drops splashing down on the rocks: Plopp plopp. Thunder was heard so we pulled down the kites.

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Bogota 16 - 22 February

Two other long time friends from Dieppe and Cervia kite festivals were Ines and Jairo of Yaripa so to conclude the ABC tour (Argentina, Brazil, Columbia) Columbia and Bogota was the next destination.

In Bogota I visited the Yaripa organization and then Inez and Jairo brought me out to their beautiful country side house over a weekend. On return to the city I visited the Bogoto Zoo Hospital, the Mueso Botero and the Museo del Oro. At the museum I saw several objects that I thought would make very good kites, and 15 years later I saw one of these kites in Dieppe.

Inez and Jairo then brought me to a kite festival en Medellin, see next...

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Medellin 23 - 26 February

A very nice little kite festival in Medellin! I believe the acrobatic kite club 2600 was there.

It was on the return to Bogota that I carelessly forgot my small backpack with my iBook at the airport. From Bogota Ines then made a few phone calls and the next day I could pick up the iBook at Bogota airport. As I had heard that Bogota and Medellin were among the most criminal cities in the world, my relief was immense!

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Montevideo 1 March

A quick one-day excursion across Rio Del la Plata to meet kite flier friends in Montevideo.

Somehow I had got in contact (probably via rec.kites) with this kite building couple in Montevideo, Renzo Risotto and Ana Betarte. They had the word 'drake' in the their email address, which caught my attention: in Swedish it means 'kite' as well as 'dragon'. It turned out that Ana had been working as an au-pair in Sweden and picked up some Swedish. Anyway, while in Bali I bought them an antique carved dragon as a present.

Montevideo is just a one-hour trip with a ferry across the river, so a one-day trip in the end of my stay in Buenos Aires was convenient.

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Trinidad and Tobago 6 - 14 March 2002

Trinidad-Tobago was the only stop on my round-the-world trip that was not related to any of my passions, kites and tango. But since young age I hade loved the sound of steel pans and had dreamed of going to Trinidad...

Listen here to some Steel pan music from Trinidad.

I think it is fascinating the this soft and clear sound can come out of oil barrels!

After listening steelpan bands for a week and documenting how the steelpans are made I ventured over to Tobago and rented a car. Soon enough I saw a kite in the air and managed to find the kite flier.

I left Trinidad-Tobago one day earlier then I had originally planned because I suddenly realized it was my younger brother's 50 year anniversary in two days time, and with a bit of luck I could get there in time. The flight back to Sweden was via Miami (and I was upset at the airport when you have to go through immigration even for a transit, and the immigration kept on asking about my many "arabic" stamps in my passport). The layover in Miami was seven hours so I went out on the car parking deck and flew my Salida Sled. I think not many have been able to fly a kite inside an airport.

I managed to get back to Sweden in time, though my luggage was late at the connection in London. I gave my brother's phone number as reference for the luggage. When he within an hour got a call from the airport about the arrived luggage he did not suspect anything, as he had received several parcels from me already sent from different locations around the world. My elder brother picked me up downtown and I managed to surprise my younger brother completely!

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