A Lapse in Judgement Sun Shines, Ice Melts in Aotearoa

A Lapse in Judgement

Sun Shines, Ice Melts in Aotearoa

Squirty Maradonna

On soccer, slappers and style.

Buenos Aires, Argentina to Auckland, New Zealand
5th December, 2001

Of course, it's all a big cheat. I have no business commenting on Argentina. I was only in Buenos Aires for a day and a half, having flown in for the night from Quito via Santiago de Chile. And while I would like to describe Argentina and its culture in a fair, disinterested, manner, that was made very difficult by the cult of the Immaculate Maradonna.

The face of Cheatie Maradonna appears everwhere, a local diety smiling benevolently upon the people as they go about their daily lives, ready to strike fear into his enemies with his Hand of God... I could think of nothing except that edition of Viz that included a cut-out Diego "Cry-baby" Maradonna doll with genuine working squirty eyes and wondered whether it would sell big here, or what?

I didn't mention this to any Argentinians.

New Paris

Buenos Aires comes as a shocking contrast to Ecuador. Quito is a virulently poor, polluted and crime-ridden city falling apart at the seams - though remaining a remarkably cheerful and always entertaining place to be. Buenos Aires on the other hand, resembles a modern, European city. In the city centre you could believe you were in Paris or Milan with the profusion of bistros, cafes and fin-de-siecle architecture. There are modern cars and mobile phones, and all the young women are light-footed, breezy and de modo.

All of a sudden my dirty, shapeless trekker gear that had guaranteed me access to all the best restaurants in dollar-strapped Quito threatened to get me arrested in Buenos Aires. The population change comes as a shock too. Almost all the people of Ecuador are indians or of indian descent, so much so that you automatically assume that a pale face is a fellow traveller. The people of Argentina are all drawn from different parts of Europe, who came seeking their fortune in the new promised land at the end of the 19th Century, adding to the very European feel of the place.

Of course, there's a price to pay for all this vast Euro-suckup. Most of Latin America is a trade-off. It's crime-ridden, unstable, but cheap. Argentina is crime-ridden, unstable and expensive. Prices are up and the peso is down, and this economic tango is leading to huge unrest among the legions of no de modo poor.

I'm old enough to remember the 1983 Falklands War, and all the lowlife "argie-bargy" in the papers at the time, so I was suprised to see the amount of English influence in the city. At one time the British were the most significant foreign investors here, building the Retiro, the main train station in the manner of Waterloo or Victoria Station in London. Outside the station, the Torre Monumental is still emlazoned with the Lion and Unicorn of Queen Victoria's Royal Arms, only a stone's throw from the recent monument to the fallen of the Guirra de la Sur-Atlantic y las Malvinas, complete with military honour guard with permanently fixed bayonets.

Sodden of Auckland

As the Quantas flight from Buenos Aires is one of the few ways to cross the Pacific from South America, it was full of backpackers. It was good to meet other South American travellers. Anyone who's gone south of Mexico can't help but think they belong to a special breed of adventurer. This isn't the usual crud of Thailand and Bondi Beach. We were tough, able to say 'beer' in Spanish, and had at least one valuable stolen from us under stupid circumstances.

Ash, Tom and Cavan John had all travelled overland from Ecuador through Peru and Bolivia to get to Argentina. All of a sudden I felt inadequate. They had been more tough, more adventurous than me! They could ask for beer in Portuguese! They had been chatted up by prostitutes in Brazil! I thanked my stars for my prostitute in Cuba that at least allowed me to draw even. Traveller cred - the most important commodity to all backpackers - depends on being in as many stupid or even life-threatening situations as possible and escaping with an intact skin. "So, you stepped on a stonefish in Tuvalu, eh? Well, I caught smallpox in Paraguay! Harsh, oh yeah, rough. Bit of a laugh, now though, when you think about it."

We arrived in Auckland with a definite dull thud. It was damp, miserable, and everyone in the entire country seemed to be a 19-23 year old English backpacker. No more Spanish. No more cheap rooms and unpredictable restaurant meals. No more being special. No more dangerous but exciting South American travel.

New Zealand is famous for trying to be very British, and as it rained continually for the four days it took to recover from my 15 hour jetlag, I believed they were making a good fist of it. Aside from the grey skies and damp, summer drizzle, the main thouroughfare of the capital city of this major first-world nation resembles nothing more than a Wolverhampton high street on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, all cheap arcades and shoe shops. All it needs is Boots the Chemist to open up five of six outlets right opposite each other and I'll believe I'm in Cheshire.

Gap-Year Mayhem

If you're on a Asia/Australia/America round-the-world trip, it's almost impossible not to go through New Zealand. Auckland therefore acts as a conduit for all the young, gung-ho, gap-year students that England or Australia produces in vast herds, until the Auckland hostels take on the dimensions of a smelly students union bar at an English polytechnic. You're noone here if you can't slip the words "pissed", "Arsenal", or "shagging that slapper from Uni we met in Kuala Lumpur" into any conversation.

Of course, I'm only envious. I wish I could be twenty and embarked on a beer-soaked voyage of birds and onion bhagees, but it's just too late. Mostly what I want these days is a nice cup of tea and a lie down. While I can get on perfectly well with these children for a day or two, I soon start to yearn for my own kind.

Hard to decide what to do, though. I can't stay off the backpacker trail here - it's all one big backpacker trail. It'll be Christmas here for me, so I'd better find some friends du jour to spend it with. Twenty of us camped around a packet of fruit and nut, and a can of Heineken, should be fun. And everyone tells me how beautiful New Zealand is, so unless they were all having a laugh, I have to see it. So with discretion perhaps I can avoid the worst. I going to Rotorua tomorrow, famous for smelling bad, I think. If it doesn't work out... hell, guess I'll get pissed, watch some footie, and try to chat up that slapper from Uni myself.



The God-big Maradonna


El Mundo


Hat & Spoon




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The Facts

Where I stayed
Buenos Aires: El Hostal de San Telmo. Backpackers' hostel. Central, a little cramped.
Auckland: Albert Park. Backpackers' hostel. Busy, boisterous but not so mad as some others in Auckland.

How I got around:
Quantas. Good-oh. And Lan Chile, which had the newest, cleanest planes and airport (Santiago de Chile) I've ever seen. Travelling on the One World Global Explorer, the best and most flexible RTW ticket.