Recollections in Recoleta.

We went for an early lunch in a Recoleta restaurant, a few blocks from the famous cemetery where Evita and Admiral Brown are buried. I wasn’t there long before the place played on my senses, transporting me to a different country, another time. I know I should be living in the now, enjoying the moment but I couldn’t. I was in two places at once.

Rodi Bar was bustling, noisy with conversation and laughter. Full of local porteños getting together, at the weekend, for a long lazy lunch. Large groups of friends and families sat at long tables, enjoying each other’s company. With bottles of Vasco Viejo on white table cloths, large salads of lettuce, tomato and tuna. Baskets of bread, shellfish and steaks. Fish first then meat.


The food, the noise, the atmosphere brought me back twenty-four years to the Basque Country  where  friends and I enjoyed many summers teaching English. There, we deepened our life-long friendships while making many Basque friends. Euskadi influenced us in so many ways and bestowed on us an enduring epicurean education. In restaurants in Zornotza, Bilbao and Gernika the Basques taught us about food, encouraging us to try new tastes and develop our palates.  It was there that we learned to love olives and anchovies and langoustines fried in garlic. The Basques invited us for pintxoak and txakolina, bought us typical traditional dishes like txipiroiak bere tintan- baby squid in their own ink. They ordered our steaks. Blue or bloody we described them, `en su punto` they taught us.


Darragh’s voice jolted me back to reality, he was ordering from the waiter with his Argentinian Spanish. It’s lovely to hear him with his porteño slang and its sing-song rhythm, using vos and ustedes like a local. The waiter smiled at his fluency, Flor his teacher would be proud. I imagined Darragh’s future, hoping that in twenty-four years’ time, he too would have happy memories and perhaps a set of skills from his travels in Latin America.

My day-dreaming distracted me. Realising that the waiter was looking at me, I hastily ordered the house speciality, opting for Argentinian costillas or ribs. When the waiter arrived later with a huge tray just for me I was gobsmacked. The rib cage, covering the entire tray, looked like a San Fermin carcass. Everyone nearby laughed at my obvious shock. It was delicious though and I didn’t regret my choice, except wished my friends were here to share it. They would have loved the prime Argentinian beef, tender and tasty. I finished it.


Days later, I still walk about feeling like some old mythical creature. Half man,half cow. Yesterday, was Spring Day in Argentina and my new season resolution is to turn vegetarian for a while. At least until next weekend, when Flor has invited us to her house for an asado.

Be careful out there!

As we put our heads down to sleep at night, the scurrying noise overhead keeps us awake. It’s nothing too sinister, only Fido in the room above, running round. There are dogs in many apartments around us, with grills on balconies so they don’t fall out. Porteños love their pooches and it’s not unusual to see someone being dragged through parks and streets by six or seven bustling breeds. If on rare occasions, there are no  tail-waggers visible, there’s always evidence of their presence.


Footpaths are dotted with dog droppings. Slippery stools are absolutely everywhere and one needs to tread carefully. But, this is only a secondary hazard because the main danger is the footpath itself. Buenos Aires streets are lethal; so far I’ve seen three people trip and badly hurt themselves on the uneven terrain. Rumour has it that everyone is responsible for the maintenance of the footpath outside their door but I presume it’s the council’s responsibility. Anyway, maintenance standards vary sharply.


Paths rise, fall, drop off and disappear into deep holes. Many paving slabs are broken, cracked and loose. Some aren’t there at all, leaving booby traps for the uninitiated. When it rains, the water lodges under slabs, rising them up at varying angles, creating a steeple-chase for pedestrians and an unwelcome muddy spray for the poor person behind, as they lift and drop. An Irish friend of mine came a cropper and ended up in the German Hospital in Recoleta. Given my unsteady ankles, I am watchful for every potential Beecher’s Brook as I sidestep puppy poop. Be careful out there!


The Fourth Seat


The two recline in front-row seats atop the double-decker to Puerto Madryn. Stretching after served meals, feasting on a Patagonian panorama. A solitary road stretches to the horizon, nothing but a pattern of poles, carrying  communication through the wilderness. Our vista: constant pale scrub, wisps of cloud, blue sky.

Occasional green signs reveal the vastness of Southern Argentina. Twelve hours travel from Buenos Aires and Madryn remains 360 km away, Ushuaia a further 2500.

I sit behind, chatting. Travelling in a threesome invites strangers and possibilities among us. The fourth seat today brings Felipe, aboard for 40hrs from Misiones Province, with eight more hours to go to Santa Cruz. We eat together and he talks about family and politics. When armed police board, checking documents, he reassures us. Many will share a spare seat with us during our year in the unknown. Le cúnamh Dé, they will be kind.




I spend  mornings chatting to props, flankers and second rows. Towering figures with firm handshakes and broad smiles. Students from Newman’s senior classes, who enthuse about the virtues of rugby, talk tactics and teamwork and catalogue their training and injuries. They are proud, Club Newman teams  are in five semi-finals this year including the first team in the URBA TOP 14. Rugby is not my sport but I can’t help but be affected by the passion and enthusiasm of these young men.


Every day, I am timetabled to prepare pairs of pupils for the IELTS exams, except recently classrooms are emptying. All eighty seven final years have gone on rugby tour to Ireland and the UK and are encamped in a London Hotel, waiting to roar on Argentina against the All Blacks. They won`t be alone, the student population is diminishing daily with world cup fever sweeping through the school. A sporting exodus is underway with about a quarter of senior cycle boys already enroute to Britain.


It`s a wonderful privilege to sit down and talk to these students. Bubbly characters, with long hair and charisma. They talk freely about their lives and interests. About their large families. Their fathers who played rugby at Newman and kept in touch with the school and class mates. They talk about barbecues on their farms. About parties, polo and friendship, so important to Argentinians. But mostly they talk about rugby.  I met one boy who told me that he was jetting off the following day with his entire extended family. I was surprised because till then students had told me that the world cup trip was very much a male thing. Fathers and sons together, sometimes three generations of men travelling. When I enquired about the travelling females, he modestly told me that his whole family was excited and anxious because his brother would be playing for the Pumas. Ok, I admit it, I’m hooked and can’t wait for the matches, especially one potential quarter final: Pumas V Ireland!


Check out Newman students` rugby tour blog here:

Patagonian Adventure Part 2


Present! Puerto Madryn was teeming with Southern Right Whales. By twilight, Friday, we raced to the beach, following crowds to watch them frolic in the bay, determined for a distant glimpse, as no boat could bring us close; the port had been closed for three days. Rumours that the south wind was easing and the port reopening proved true on Saturday so we marvelled at the portentous wonders up-close as they breached and spouted. On Sunday the port had reclosed but we didn’t mind as we sat in the beachfront cafe and watched them play in the bay. Call me Ishmael!


News of the penguins was as eagerly anticipated as a soap opera cliff-hanger, with guides, newspapers and radio  broadcasts wondering where the penguins were. Punto Tombo is normally the home of half a million Magellanic penguins in September; we were grateful for the single sighting of a solitary water-bound loner. Gaston, our hostel proprietor and amateur meteorologist referenced the moon cycles and water tides as explanation but why they hadn’t arrived is anyone’s guess.


Messaged but absent. No news yet.



I am not an animal-lover but those whales were special. Magical. Now I know why Michael Joe, back in the eighties, gave all the family matching `Stop the Bloody Whaling’ t-shirts for Christmas. Thank God he did. The population of Southern Right Whales is growing but their northern cousins were hunted to near extinction and are the most endangered of all whales.


3 Go Further South: Patagonian Adventure.

We go south today, to the sea. To the salt and wind of the Patagonian coast and the Atlantic teeming with wildlife, packed with penguins and whales .We`ve journeyed there before, fifteen years ago. Memories fade with time but the recollection of Puerto Madryn remains. I can picture Rocio, in her blue hat with yellow flower, cycling to see penguins. I remember her wonderfully welcoming family and of course, I recall our disappointment that the whales weren`t there. We have unfinished business in Patagonia.


For six months, Nan and I rambled, by the seat of our pants, on local buses from Mexico City to Buenos Aires. We landed in Argentina on a scorching January morning. Not the ideal time. The weather was hot, the whales absent and the country in the midst of a financial meltdown. The government attempted to calm the financial storm by equating the peso to the dollar, a hugely unrealistic rate which overnight made everything really expensive for foreigners and especially for destitute backpackers .Accommodation, food and travel were extremely expensive for us so when we landed in Puerto Madryn and were approached by a man with his daughter on bicycles, offering to rent us one of his bedrooms, we nervously accepting the offer. Roberto threw in the use of his bicycle to seal the deal. But the real deal-maker was his young companion, ten-year Rocio. We were apprehensive as we walked the quiet lanes away from the bus station, but the child’s smiling eyes and endless chatter made us feel safer.

The next day after a sleepless night, still alive despite our fears, Roberto sent us with Rocio to see the penguins. He told us that we had come at the wrong time of the year to see the whales. September, not mid-summer January, was the best month for whales so he encouraged us to visit Peninsula Valdes Nature Park  instead, but we couldn’t afford the ticket. Not taking no for an answer, he gave me his bike, borrowed one for Nan and set us off on the ten km spin to a cliff-top overlooking a beach ,where we could view penguins for free. Rocio would be our guide.

The wheels on Rocio`s bike were tiny and she pedalled like a hamster to keep up with us. Her mouth was going at the same rate as she chatted incessantly to Nan, who was under pressure to keep up both on the bike and linguistically.

It was my first time on a bike in thirteen years and I loved it. The movement, the wind on my face and the childlike freedom. I silently vowed to cycle more when I returned to Ireland. In reality, the ride there was the highlight. The penguins were tiny from the lofty cliff top and Rocio tired on the return. Eventually, falling and grazing her knee. The last few kilometers were torture for her young legs but we eventually limped in as sun set.


I remember we left Argentina on Nan`s birthday and Rocio cried. It would be lovely to meet her again and see how her life has turned out. But if not, to at least see a whale or penguin. This time, we have our own child with us, eager to see animals up close. Hopefully, we’ll be lucky. Our timing this year is better.

Mea culpa, it seems!

Listening to the opening half of the All Ireland, in Buenos Aires, on Radio na Gaeltachta was magical; SBB poetically describing Galway dictate and dominate. The imagery and beauty of his Irish words helping us believe, so too did the call to Connemara and Daideo`s optimistic prediction- Galway by 5.By half-time, with Galway ahead by 3, history beckoned; we decided to see it for ourselves. I fiddled with the borrowed laptop, connected cables, downloaded apps and finally got images on TV.
The previous Friday, I lunched in the Brothers` residence with Br Thomas and Br Sean, Galway men with an encyclopedic knowledge of Irish sport especially hurling.  Thomas has been in South America for over 40 years, ,Seán ten years longer. Both were excited and nervous about the final. Discovering that my wife`s nephew, Jack had played football for this year`s Galway U21s. Br.Sean recounted  the final against Roscommon and Jack`s game at full-back. Comprehensive communication is instant now but years ago the Brothers would have to tune in with short-wave radios and hope the BBC World Service mentioned the All-Ireland result as a final sports item. If not, they would have to wait a week for the result. They would never dream then of making a telephone call. How times have changed!
We had invited Thomas to watch the semi-final against Tipp with us but he was too nervous to watch, preferring to pray in church and catch snippets in city centre cafes. We too listened to the semi-final at a café on Peña, outside at a street table breakfasting in glorious sunshine. The mobile phone, onthe table next to the pastries and coffee, broadcasting wonderful words, commentary that licensed our dreams and memories. Galway won a thriller that day but today`s images on the television brought us back to reality. Kilkenny smothered Galway in the second half. Blurry figures moved like Darragh`s PlayStation players as the screen buffered and rebooted. TV images lagged the radio commentary so we abandoned words. Galway lost and it was my fault apparently.  Darragh was upset. `You should have left the radio on, everything changed when you turned on the telly. You brought us bad luck!’