Travel

Piropos Porteños

Working in an Argentinian restaurant is pretty much a dream come true for me – I get to run around serving people empanadas and introducing them to the wonders of dulce de leche, while chatting to inquisitive customers about Argentina, occasionally practicing my Spanish… and they even pay me to do it! 

Between the restaurant, skyping my sisters in San Rafael, and Argentina’s so-far-successful World Cup campaign, it seems like I can’t ignore the signs and I’m getting really itchy to head back over there. For now though, I just have memories to go by. There are so many and I could write about a million scenes – but here are a handful of piropos (pick-up-lines) I received when falling in love with Buenos Aires. For me, part of the appeal is the city’s grime and sleaze – but piropos are less about harassment than they are about wit, humour, and flattery. Culturally speaking they’re worlds apart from your average truck driver’s honk.

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Piropos Porteños

Tuesday. Abasto to Palermo, 11p.m.

Lavalle Street. Three balding men slouch into green folding chairs, forming a triangle as they set up camp for the evening in an empty parking space. One of the men tops up the others’ glasses with scotch. On a milk crate sits a shabby transistor radio which boradcasts a metallic, crackling commentary of a football game audible from several metres away. “Hey, redhead! If you played with my balls we could reach the World Cup.”

Santa Fé Avenue. A dark and muscular young man stands in a brightly lit, marbled alcove. He pushes the apartment’s intercom repeatedly and swears in frustration. Fully aware he is being observed, the man casually leans his shoulder blades into the marble and crosses one denim-clad leg in front of the other. His eyes rest on the strappy dancing shoes swinging from her hand, which prompt him to growl a famous tango out of tune: “If she forgets me/I wouldn’t care if I lost my life a thousand times/For why would I live?” He steps onto the footpath, blackened and polka dotted with discarded chewing gum. Loud comments reverberate off the concrete. “You’ve killed me, angel! I am dead at your dancing feet! Now can I take you to heaven?”

Wednesday. Barrio Norte to Recoleta, 11a.m.

Corner of Anchorena and Arrenales. An elderly man perches on a faded blue bucket, lit cigarette in hand. He wears a frayed, yellowing singlet and tweed trousers which are worn at the knee. The man’s brogues, however, are impeccably smooth and polished to a near-reflective shine. Beside him on the cracked bitumen is a collection of brushes, mottled rags, and dented tins of shoe polish. “Señorita, why don’t you bring those cute little cheeks over here, and let me take a look at your leather?”

Juncal Street. A rake thin teenager weaves between taxis, his orange scooter spluttering tufts of smoke into the already foul air. With an air of easy arrogance, he throws a u-turn across the narrow, one-way street. The driver of a beaten-up Fiat swerves and only just misses him, raising both hands in a universal gesture of angry disbelief. The boy on the scooter is obviously shaken, but feigns a cool demeanour and rides onto the footpath. “I’d better accompany you home, princesita, because you’re going to cause an accident.”

Pueyrredón Avenue. A group of thirty-somethings in mint green hospital scrubs are seated outside a cafe. They sip diet coke under white umbrellas, the cans leaving rings of perspiration on the table. Some have their faces turned towards mobile phones, while others watch customers entering parisian-style bakeries across the avenue. One elbows his colleague, who then draws the attention of the rest of the group. They begin a slow clap, the pace gradually quickening until they have risen out of their seats, cheering. “Aplauso for the lady in shorts! Today the hospital will fill with broken hearts!”

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***

Maybe I’ll dig up some more creative writing soon, who knows!

What do you think of piropos? Personally, I find them more playful than offensive, but I know others feel threatened and I am seriously offended when I receive similar treatment back here in Adelaide. I’d love to hear your two centavos!

 

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Little L gets her Little Toes Poked by a Healer in Ubud, Bali

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What to do in Ubud when you’re already dating a hot Brazilian a la Eat, Pray, Love, but had to leave him at home to study?
You wander aimlessly around town window shopping, menu-gazing and nervously eyeing off devious monkeys, that’s what!

Then you go get your little toes poked by a little old man with a big smile and a big, little-toe-poking stick.

I went to see Cokorda Rai out of curiosity more than anything, as – other than a little Bali belly – I felt perfectly fine. I was healthy, very relaxed, and not at all in need of a healer, but I couldn’t bear to spend another valuable day of the trip just reading by the pool and scoffing down addictive papaya-bacon club sandwiches. Cokorda was recommended to me by our hotel’s concierge as being a grandson of the old king and not trying to sell expensive remedies, as well as being well-respected among locals despite their waning faith in traditional medicine. He was also recommended for having better English (and therefore, better diagnoses) than Ketut Liyer of Eat, Pray, Love fame.

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So I jumped in a car and off we went for a meandering drive through the rice paddies to Cokorda’s house. Hopping out onto the gravel carpark, the driver nodded his head to the right, indicating where I should go. There was an open room with a platform floor and simple pillars holding up the roof. A hippie couple were in the middle of their consultation. A skinny, scraggly looking man was waiting cross-legged on a mat, playing with a dog. His fresh-faced girlfriend sat at Cokorda’s feet, receiving what appeared to be a head massage.

I was totally in the dark about the etiquette of this kind of thing, so I hovered around the steps up into the room and played with the dog, who’d left its spot on the mat to come and say hello. The healer cracked a huge, beaming smile and motioned for me to join the man on the mat, so I kicked off my sandals and wandered over. It was clear that all the diagnoses and healing are done publicly, and that my arrival was somewhat of an interruption but not an unwelcome one.  Rather than feeling like an uninvited guest who’d wandered into their consultation, I became another participant.

The vibe was one of practicality more than divinity or holiness, which was a huge relief to me as I was expecting much more wishy-washy-incensey rubbish. The dog curled up in my lap and Cokorda went back to his head massage, making little grunting noises as he worked. After a few minutes, he asked the girl to lie down and crouched at her feet. From this angle I couldn’t see exactly what he was doing, but having done my research before heading off, I knew he was poking little pressure points in between her toes with a stick, looking for sore spots. Shortly afterwards he snapped back up (he’s pretty sprightly for his age, just as you’d imagine a healer) and called the man over. He then began the exact same process as before, only this time chatting to us as he worked.

“Always the same. Man come, think they have one hundred problems. But most times they complain about nothing. Woman come, think they not have problems, but have one hundred,” he laughs. “Man make my job very easy. Woman make me work, ha ha ha! And then pregnancy is the same. For you,” he jiggles the man’s leg, “five minutes. But for wife, nine months! Ha ha ha.”

When it was my turn, I stood up and joined the healer by his chair. He looked me up and down, bemused, and asked what he could do for me. I felt more than a bit silly having come out of pure curiosity, but Cokorda just shrugged. I assume he gets a lot of customers like me.

“Ok, we check for problems just in case, but I think you ok.”
Facing me, he zeroed in on some pimples I had around my jaw. He craned his head so close that we were basically nose-to-nose. He has a handsome weathered face, with little age spots dotted around and wise, sparkling eyes, completely true to stereotype.
“This,” he said with a cheeky attitude, like he couldn’t wait to confirm what I’d been trying to tell Western doctors for years.
“This not acne. No no.”
“Good, I didn’t think so. What is it then?”
“Oh, easy! Vagina! Now we do check up, then after, we talk vagina.”

So, the guy’s direct. I love him already.

He sat in his chair and had me kneel in front of him. He started poking and rubbing around my head, my jaw, my cheeks and behind my ears, making little ‘mmhm’s and ‘aha’s as he went. I asked him to explain what he was checking as he worked.

“Hurting?”
“No”
“Ok. Kidneys ok. This part?”
“OW!!!” I wrinkled up my face. ‘Yeah, that’s a little uncomfortable.” I wanted to swat his hand away, but the little bugger was still pressing down on the knot behind my right ear.
“Ah. That is mind. Mind a little bit not so good. But also not so bad. You already learn how to fix, yes? I think you have under control.”
“Yeah” I nod. He was spot on, but he already knew that, so he’d moved on to the next pressure point already.
“Hurting?” he seemed particularly interested in this spot.
“Mmm, not really. Only a tiny bit.”
“That is heart. Some problems before, but now is much better.”
Geez. This guy’s good!

Cokorda had me lie down on the other mat, face-up and resting my head on a block of wood. He pulled out his chopstick-like instrument and grabbed my left foot. Then, slowly and deliberately, he started working the chopstick in between my toes. I was expecting to be in agony as some other curious bloggers had described. Well it wasn’t exactly a foot massage, but nor was it excruciating. Just kind of an annoying but necessary evil, akin to getting your eyebrows done.

“Liver ok…. spleen ok…. pancreas ok… stomach ok….hurting?
I sucked in a breath and gritted my teeth. “Err, yep, that hurts!”
“Ok. Hormones is here. Yes, little bit hurting. Same thing as vagina.”

With that, the prodding was over with and all four of us regrouped on the mat. Cokorda Rai explained the pimples as being a product of “too much white slime, not balanced with red and yellow slime” (sorry guys, I know). I made a joke about spending too much poolside time in wet bikini bottoms and he laughed, saying that it isn’t exactly helping the situation but that I can worry about it after my holiday. He recommended that I “make the smile face” while I shower, and jumped up again to enthusiastically mime a demonstration. Try to imagine an ancient, leathery holy man jumping around with an exaggerated smile on his face, pretending to wash his vagina. The guy just makes people happy, full stop!

Then he turned to the couple, who were apparently having trouble conceiving. The problem, according to Cokorda, was a combination between a bad diet (“too much potato chips”) and a lack of suction. Struggling a little with the more specific medical and anatomical vocabulary, Cokorda padded over to the table where he keeps his dictionary. He stared at the dictionary, hesitant for a few seconds, and picked it up gingerly. Then before opening it, he placed it back down on the table and sat with us again. “If it’s ok,” he said, whipping a brand new smartphone out from underneath his white robes, “Google translate is better.”

Read more about Cokorda Rai, and credit for the first photo here.

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Eat, Pay, Leave: Dancing in a Treehouse and Other Ubud Adventures

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Ubud is a hippie haven in a bit of an existential crisis. Now that the hype around “the book” and “the movie” has died down, Ubud – like a large proportion of its tourists – is self-consciously trying to regain balance. However despite all the ohming and incense, it just worked for me. I’d definitely go back for another visit. Fair’s fair – the Californian White Person With Dreadlocks Expat Yoga set and the Middle-Aged All-Inclusive Eat Pray Love Experience crowd are a little tedious, but they make for a chilled atmosphere and attract some serious cafes, some serious shopping opportunities, and some serious merchandising of that decaying beauty the town is loved for.

Mum and Gi skipped visiting the monkey forest, but I thought the view/temple/forest were well worth the $2 entry fee and, since I didn’t bring food, the monkeys left me alone. They can be aggressive though – I had one pounce on my shopping bag in the main street – so do keep an eye on them.

My best picks?

Check out the Neka Art Museum – I liked it so much I went twice – then head across the road to Naughty Nuri’s, where the philosophy is “Eat, Pay, Leave,” and both the food and atmosphere live up to the hype.

For those kindred spirits who believe that the key to wellbeing is through movement, not meditation, try an ecstatic dance class at the Yoga Barn. Bounding around in complete freedom and madness in the dark with a bunch of strangers is not for everyone, but it is definitely for Little L. Think ‘no lights, no lycra’ – Ubud style. This one seemed to be popular with all kinds of people – from the old man in khaki shorts and a polo swaying awkwardly in the corner, to a tattooed zouk couple and everything in between. The DJ is absolutely brilliant and he occasionally dances into the middle of the floor, playing his own drums along with the mix. The best part though, is the venue.  Rather than a sweaty mirrored studio, the ecstatic dance class happens in a gigantic, polished wood, open-walled, jungle-surrounded, motherfucking treehouse.

It’s awesome.

Wear as little as possible (a sports bra is essential though, ladies) and leave ten minutes early to skip the ohm-tastic part at the end.

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Two Days, Two Saddles: Riding in Bali

 

 

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Bali Island Horse: 2 hour beach ride 

Tour Summary

Whenever I’m somewhere new, checking out the local ponies is a must and the sunset beach ride offered by Bali Island Horse seemed like a pretty good bet. There was a pickup service from our accommodation in Seminyak, and from there it was an hour or so’s drive to the west, out of the city and through the rice paddies. The view became gradually more rural (a mini-tour in itself) and eventually we ended up at a small stable complex. The ride goes through a village and then onto Yeh Gangga beach. There was black volcanic sand, thumping surf, a clifftop temple, a bat cave, and basically nobody except for the ponies and a few fishermen dotted around. It was absolutely blissful.

 

The day I chose to go, the nearby village was performing part of their cremation ceremony on the foreshore. It’s not part of the tour, but it was definitely a highlight and a really special surprise, because it’s something most tourists don’t get to see and I was so, so lucky to witness it thanks to nothing more than a happy coincidence. The cremation ceremonies are a chain of separate, complex events in which the whole community participates, and the part I accidentally stumbled upon was when they take the ashes and put them into the ocean, which is thought to be a protective force.

 

This stuff seems to just happen to me on trail rides – once in Argentina, I spent an afternoon riding around the Andes foothills and we were joined by a herd of wild criollo ponies!
I guess sometimes you just get lucky.
Either that, or it proves I’m supposed to be around horses all. the. time.

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Positives

1. This experience was totally different from the bike tour. I met two incredible young ladies who were to be joining me: a Singaporean model-life coach-entrepreneur with a sense of adventure, and an air hostess from Hong Kong who broke her collarbone in a fall and started learning traditional Chinese painting in hospital. She then went on to travel to mainland China to learn from a master painter, and aims to make it a full time gig, but wanted to get back on the proverbial and literal horse first. Awesome people make for an awesome experience.

2. The stable is professionally run and the horses are all in very good condition. The staff are obviously very passionate about horses. Helmets and chaps are provided free of charge, and you get a complementary drink and a t-shirt at the end of the ride. All the tack is Wintec (synthetic saddles which are safe and salt-water friendly). The non-horsey folks are given a quick lesson before setting off, and details like correct stirrup length and tightened girths are double-checked. Two thumbs up for this one!

3. The beach itself is stunning. I couldn’t get it to show up in photos, but the black sand literally glitters in the sunset and the whole beach was deserted except for a few local fishermen and one surfer. We’re so lucky with Australian beaches that those anywhere else never seem to impress me too much, but Yeh Gangga is lovely. We even had a short swim in the surf and there wasn’t too much seaweed to scare my mare.

4. At the halfway point, everyone dismounts to give the ponies a break and a (not technically allowed) roll in the sand. You can take a short walk to see a blowhole-like rock formation, a temple overlooking the water, and a bat cave. Cool stuff in itself, but for me absolutely nothing compares to riding. Duh.

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Yep, those are bats.

Negatives

1. I did get the impression that the horses are better looked after than the staff, who were required to walk with us for the entire 2-hour ride instead of having a mount of their own. I feel like a ride one, lead one system would work much better. I also noticed that none of them were wearing boots around the stable, and I would hate to see what would happen if they accidentally got trodden on.

Additional notes

The horses do multiple rides on the sand each day and most of them are ponies/galloways, so there are strict weight regulations for riders – and yes, you get weighed on arrival. Prepare yourself for this one, because even if you close your eyes on the scales, it’s there in black and white on the insurance form. There are options to combine your ride with four-wheel motorbike and bicycle tours as well, or for beginners a one-hour ride is also available. Bali Island Horse website here.

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Daily Rituals: Balinese Offerings

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I’m no authority on Balinese Hinduism, nor was I able to get a clear explanation from any of the people I harassed about what exactly these gorgeous little colourful boxes scattered around in doorways and temples every morning are supposed to represent. All I managed to find out is that they have something to do with placating the bad spirits and nourishing the good ones, and the balance of good and bad in the universe. Despite not really understanding them (actually, maybe because of this) I became totally obsessed with the offerings and structured my day around being able to go for a walk mid-morning, once the women had gotten dressed up to go and put them out, and before they got trampled by motorbikes or got rained on during the day. There’s something really peaceful and rhythmic in the practice of setting out a fresh, absolutely beautiful offering every morning – right next to yesterday’s one decaying in the street.

I wasn’t the only one enchanted by the custom either: Mum found some incense in the house we rented in Seminyak and started making her own offerings in the morning too. The gods of free time and private pools were very well nourished that week!

They got me thinking of my own early morning sitting-in-the-garden-drinking-tea-not-talking-to-anyone habit, and the  habits of those who meditate or pray or go for a run on the beach.

Why do we all seem to have this need to do something sacred and thankful, regardless of religion (or lack of)?

What’s your ritual?

 

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