Back and forth in the Wingle

I am flat out.

It’s a long way from Punta del Este to central Montevideo. This morning I woke earlier than usual just naturally because jetlag etc. I rolled onto site with all the things I had found before rushing back to take 4 powerlog guys back to the airport. One of them will be back in 2 days time… He had two days down and he flew home, 15 hours or so each way just because he wants to run his bikes. I totally get the level of obsession about something, as I’m like that with my acting. But fuck. 30 hours in the air and untold hundreds of pounds for about 20 hours at home? I would pay not to have to do that. “I think I’m gonna grab a Macdonald’s at the airport,” he said.

After dropping them off I went to the Montevideo University District in a last ditch attempt at stationery. There is no office culture in Uruguay. This is why they are all so happy. There are no good office supply shops because that particular blight has not taken hold. Unlike the UK and America where the bulk of the populace have to be crammed into horrible rooms full of bullshit and status in order to stop the streets from being too crowded, Uruguay is not overpopulated yet. Human-Calming measures haven’t been implemented. People are free to move around and be themselves. But the knock on effect is that you can’t get an A3 transparent plastic wallet for love or money. I’ve attempted a workaround.

There are no huge monopoly hardware stores either. This is a country of opportunity. Independent businesses. It’s a total coincidence but the Bazar San José, where I got my canisters yesterday? I went back for two more and, having asked a million times, they had exactly two galvanised metal buckets. Sure, the staff member shook their head and said “no” when I showed them a picture of such a bucket. But I have long ago learnt not to trust staff members over my own eyes. They are moving around in a hardware store, talking to strangers and exerting common sense etc. But this doesn’t make them any more useful than Oakley in the office who has been there for twelve years and is telling everybody what to do despite being an impressively useless specimen of humanity themselves.

“Here! You did have galvanised metal buckets!” I smile and attempt to tell them in my awful Spanish. They pretend not to hear. They don’t care. Would you? Would I?

I’m back home. I covered a lot of ground in my Great Wall. It’s a pick-up by Wingle. A Wingle Great Wall. A Chinese Pick-up. Well named. Driving it is more or less the experience you would have if you were driving a great big wall.

There are lots of these Wingle cars on the road in Uruguay. There’s a statue of Confucius in the centre of Montevideo. Are the Chinese looking at the emptiness here? There’s obviously trade, as nobody in their right mind would purposefully buy one of those Great Wall pickups. The first two gears do nothing but roar, and you plateau at about 120kmph (140 on a downward straight). At that speed the engine is labouring so much its only really the considerable weight that makes it worthwhile. But the suspension doesn’t match the weight, so if the road surface is in anyway pockmarked then you and your passengers are going into orbit. Obviously I haven’t tried this for myself, that would be illegal. I spoke to someone who had.

But I’m flat out, as I said. Bedtime. I’m happy to be here, and covering ground. But. Fuck. It’s not a relaxing car to drive.

“ok Google take a photograph”

A day looking for random things in Maldonado

So, we fly into Montevideo. And then we drive two hours to Punta del Este. I know that Punta is in Maldonado, as I’ve been told so. I assumed that the town was Punta del Este, but that’s not the case. Maldonado is a city. And it is right on our doorstep. This place is the Hampstead of Maldonado.

This morning I drove into the capital but I avoided the shopping district. Didn’t have time. I had to drop Dougie and then mission it back to the airport in order to carry extra luggage for ladies I’ve met before. The crew knew I would be empty on the rebound though, so I got a shopping list.

I’ve been issued with a company Pleo card. It makes things infinitely more pleasant. After Saudi and Sardinia I had to spend hours sorting through sweaty receipts. Here with Pleo it prompts me to add a receipt as soon as I buy something. Today I got the usual avalanche of random things, but I ended up in central Maldonado. Montevideo had not been very yielding of useful shops and the traffic was terrible, so I headed back and hit Maldonado, surprised to find it was a city. Evening found me pounding the streets looking for things that should be simple. 25 litre canisters and a simple clear A3 plastic folder sealed with a popper. Those were the elusive things. I started the old familiar game of ping pong. You go into the shop and ask for the thing. You show a photo. They shake their heads and try to sell you a slightly different thing that is no good. You shake your head. They point down the street and say words. You follow their finger and try the next place. You keep doing that until you go back on yourself and when that happens you change district.

I know the city of Maldonado pretty well now. It’s unusual.

A businessman called Pedro has put speakers on top of his car like out of The Blues Brothers. He has called himself “Pedro Publicidad”. He’ll drive around advertising whatever you want.

The streetside parking is on a very very quick turnover, and someone has issued homeless people with high vis and given them the brief of helping people park. It is actually quite useful most of the time. I’m going to remember to have cash next time. They stop the traffic so you can reverse, they tell you when you’re about to touch the next car. I found myself in a position where the car in front of my pickup had parked touching me and the one behind had left an inch. With one guys help I was able to get the thing out of that squeeze much easier than it would have been without him.

It’s a CITY in there though. Like a US city but pedestrianised better. I crossed the town square a few times in my quest. It is dominated by General Artigas, hero of Uruguayan independence. This place was Spanish, then annexed by Brazil, then in federation with Argentina, and since 1828 it has had independence.

I like it here. It’s quirky and whoever is in charge is clearly idealistic and trying to dig people out of poverty. The mood is upbeat. Even the graffiti is considerably less angry than Sardinia – much more tagging, art and jokes, less politics. It’s strangely happy here on the surface. Everything is much more expensive than I could have imagined though… And I’m only scratching the surface.

I got the canisters. The A3 pouch is proving elusive…

Windy birds in Punta

The wind was up hard this morning. The lads had all inflated tons of tents before I even got on site, but we ended up having to deflate them all again. This wind is harsh and is forecast for the next few days. By the coast in Punta del Este we are building another great big race, but while we are in the build phase then there’s little point in exposing these inflatable tents to more wear and tear. They are incredible feats of engineering and make so much possible. Despite this, and even though we made a sand bag factory and significantly reduced the huge pile of sand we started with to make weights, it just made sense to take the issue away entirely by dropping loads of the tents until the wind drops.

Working all morning in the wind was obliquely fun just because the team is fun. I didn’t expect rolling up tents this early in procedures, and that’s the one that skins your hands. I haven’t got gloves again. Again my little aristocratic hands are atrocious. Again I know they will recover and look like they’ve never done a thing. But I’m gonna remember to buy work mittens next time I go to the hardware store. We hauled things and filled things and shouted and rolled.

Above us the eagles and falcons and vultures enjoyed the wind. Some are huge and remarkable protected birds, buffeted by the wind but using it to cover more ground. So many, and they come so close. There was even a safety talk about them today. I missed it though as I was lending an extra hand to haul tents. We need to take them into account as we are in their territory here right now. Similar to the cows in Sardinia, but smaller and sharper and above us. It isn’t breeding season. So it’s just about how they interact with the cars and the drones, and remembering that they are protected species – and beautiful with it.

I thought I had avoided jetlag. I landed and then stayed up, woke at six local time this morning and got onto site nice and early. Suddenly at lunchtime, I started to feel like I had been totally wrung out. My body was trying to reject the pineapple juice I had with my lunch. I have never experienced a shutdown quite like the one that I started to experience, but thankfully the site was being evacuated until the wind died down so I shoved a salami sandwich into an unwilling mouth and missioned it back to my hotel room as my body growled about the juice. 25 minutes back over the weird bridge and back to my odd hotel where they’ve fixed the shower so I got in it, washed off the dust and collapsed for two hours of deep deep sleep.

Evening took me back to walking and discovering Punta. A good walk and catch up with John, who with Kester made all this international joy possible. And then I sat at the rising tide with sunset and a bird.

Bed now. Hopefully that shutdown today was the end of it. I’ve got shit to do.

Arrival in Punta

Punta del Este. Two hours drive eastwards of Montevideo. A long time ago this little patch of Uruguay was favoured by what I’ve had described to me as “dirty money people” from Argentina and Brazil.

Driving out from the airport it was the familiar South America vibe of semi lawless streets with full pick-up trucks vying with each other as they pass angry roadside gardens loaded up with scrap and old fridges and dead cars. I’m driving a pickup as well. I fit right in but I’ve got no acceleration so I’m useless in the language of the road. It’s 2WD petrol. There’s no purchase in first and second gear, it just revs and rolls until it finally gains momentum in third. It has no numberplates, front or back, but the guy at Enterprise assured me that the stickers in the window were enough. He might be right too. The toll gates open for the benighted thing.

About an hour into the drive the suburbs begin to yield to agriculture. Pigs and chickens in gardens at first, then crops and vines, or grazing for cattle. You cross many rivers. The coast is always on the right but rarely visible from the road as the strand and the sea view has been taken up with properties. The further you go the wilder it gets until you swing into a slow turn and you start to notice the gates getting more impressive and forbidding. This is you approaching Punta del Este, and all the houses on the right suddenly have huge footprints, set back from the road, screened by trees, opening on the sea. Great big low rise clustered villas with panic rooms in case they work out what you did. Vast seaside landscapes, fifteen to twenty million a pop, where you can flip burgers on the barbeque in your Hawaiian shirt and fall asleep on your bed made out of cocaine. As the paunch spreads and the drive wanes you can live out your Scarface or Tony Stark fantasy overlooking the same patch of ocean as the good people of Buenos Aires just across the bay, but you can be in a country where you’re considerably less likely to have to deal with a weapon wielding psychopath that wants your coke-bed. It’s pretty safe, Uruguay. Or so I’m told. I’m not wearing my Rolex. But I’ve got my Fitbit on. I don’t think someone will cut my arm off for it here.

It’s a strange mix of money and poverty here. It’s also incredibly branded, mostly with banks and monetary instruments. These three photos were taken from the same place.

That’s my pickup without plates

Visa and American Express are everywhere, and Santander gets a good look in. Some smaller names and boutique banks get their signage too. But signage is LOUD here. All down the roadsides are great big billboards, often marring otherwise gorgeous vistas.

Nevertheless, cash is still king here in South America, as it is in much of the world. I’ve withdrawn 200 quid in Pesos. 10000. Unlike London, the people working the tills can still count. They don’t resent you for having to cash up at the end of the day. And I’ve worked out a quick conversion. Deduct two decimal places and double it. Pesos to pounds.

My first purchase was a Panama Hat. My second purchase was two empanadas. Now my jet lag is setting in and I might have to find food before I sink into a proper sleep after that plane. I’ll find out more about what is actually going on tomorrow.

Long overnight flight HO

I’m in this plane and it’s about to leave Spain and fly to Uruguay. Spain has been very very locked down with COVID and has only recently stuck its head over the parapet again. As a result we all have to wear masks. I didn’t have one. £4.50 in Boots for about 0.13p worth of manufacturing and distribution and I’m at least allowed to be here. I tried to botch together an exemption certificate on my phone cos I’m gonna have to sleep on this plane and then drive an unfamiliar car for two hours immediately on landing. I didn’t manage it so I’ve got something that is an obvious forgery and if some bugger wakes me up when I’ve clawed the thing off my face in my sleep then I’ll try it and say I have sleep apnoea or somesuch.

Until I sat down in my little seat here on the aisle surrounded by other humans it didn’t occur to me that I’ll be in the air for usual blog scheduling time. So I’m writing this to you now, my darlings, while they give us the safety brief and warm up the engines. It’s over twelve hours this flight, but it leaves at midnight and lands in the morning local time, so if I sleep it might just short circuit the jetlag. So far, nobody has sat next to me. I’m not holding out much hope though as I boarded much earlier than my usual habit. I like to be one of the last so I can avoid poison seats if necessary.

Ok there’s one person next to me now. Please please no middle seat occupant. Oh hell. More coming. This is not looking good…

The flight is Iberia Airlines. They are piping the same few musical phrases on repeat. The toddler in front and to my right is shouting. “Shaysha”. The one to my left is excited. “Ayo! Iyay oyayshi. Ano. Ishita.” I’m hoping their parents drug them.

Nobody directly to my right. I might be lucky here. They’re closing the doors. Go Go lucky lucky Al. Most of the seats are taken. This was my automatic allocation. I think I’m next to one of the only vacant seats on the plane. Dougie changed his seat and paid to do it about an hour ago when he realised he was in the middle. I think that his expensive action has positively impacted me as well.

The music is TERRIBLE. Someone was paid to make this. How can they live with themselves?

All loaded up. No more music. When using the inflatable slide don’t wear heels etc etc. So. Flight time. Bollocks to it but I’m gonna have polyester on my face for a bit so nobody marks me as a troublemaker and I can hopefully sleep maskless without one of them waking me up…

Tomorrow morning I’ll be in Montevideo. It’s summer. Something to look forward to.

Front left toddler has just started shouting “No! No! No!” as the engines warm up. I know how they feel.

Hole Sweet Home

And then the train emerged from the tunnel into grey skies and weight. And then we remembered. This is the place we live in, where the rent breaks our backs. This is the place we live in, where the leaders never knew how to lead. This is our grey home, and we don’t know how much worse it is because it has been happening incrementally. Slowly and inevitably we are having our character snuffed. Incrementally. We are frogs and we are nearly boiled. Many of us are croaking for the heat to be turned up. Even when the arts was being funded the artist would be belittled or infantilised. Belittled by those outside the sphere, infantilised by those within who are still given handouts by the clueless establishment.

“You’re going to Uruguay tomorrow. I’ve got to stay here.”

Thank God.

What a mess. What a total bastard of a mess. Nobody bright wants to live here surely? We are a little crap island and we hate everybody else almost as much as they hate us…

I didn’t get exit stamped. Maybe just because I spoke good French… The woman on the way in seemed pissed off. I hadn’t even thought it was important. But just to go to France? This business of stamping us from the UK? Ach. Brexit is an absolute bollocks and I’m totally thrilled to have had the experience I just had where nobody seemed to give a fuck about me going from place to place. But the woman on the way back into England seemed to be genuinely put out by me not having a stamp. Still, she let me in. And I came in. To this shit.

Time. It’s gonna get worse. The NHS is threadbare after they have unpicked it through deliberate bad calls on how to hire and fire and through general underfunding. A man can walk around his garden, but that money just goes to NHS charities, it doesn’t go to paying the staff. We can’t raise money to pay the staff. We can clap them, but every clap from someone who voted for these fuckers is a double handed slap in the face. We are understaffed in so many sectors, and I had forgotten how slow and unhealthy and lumpish we all are until I got back from my Southern excursion. Are we really going to replace the dynamic people who have fought to get here from all over the place with someone who has never left the town they were born in? People I saw at the terminal and after just felt heavier and slower than any I had seen in France or Spain. We are trapped in a horrid energy right now. We have no choice but to start to radiate what light was have… Well, or just to fuck off to the summer and get paid like I will be. Gonna be hard work. Gonna be joyful. Bring it on.

France this morning

Templar Tahiti pizza

Awake early in the mountains of Auvergne and today’s mission was as far as Gouillons. We stopped in Bourges for lunch. There’s a grand Cathedral there, and we found a little rural place for wine and pasta lunch. We are deep enough in France that there’s no way in hell they’ll speak English to you so I’ve had to get to work especially since most villages only have three people that have met a vegetarian, and I’m with Lou…

One day drive from home now and all the emails are coming in about the next stage in the adventure. I’m sad I’ll be away from Lou for two weeks though, as it’s been lovely having a sputnik on the return journey through France. God it’s a long way, but long distances get much shorter in company. Bergie is doing fantastically, although his tyre pressure went very weird yesterday after leaving the heat and going up into the cold. I’ve blown most of my fee and all my expenses for this job on luxurious food and a car full of wine. I’ll get back much happier but none the richer, but a job like driving to Majorca in November is never gonna be about richness of pocket. It’s been an adventure.

Tonight we are staying in Gouillons in an ancient Templar house that has been restyled by the current owners into a South Pacific themed B&B with attached Pizzeria selling Tahiti themed pizzas amongst palm trees and pictures of girls in hula skirts and great big colorful murals. It is one of the most incongruous pairings. Philippe the owner was in his Hawaiian shirt bustling around. There are parrots and cats and fish and some other kind of domesticated bird in the kitchen about which I have no idea. Stone floors, wood beams in the ceiling, cowrie shells and tiki torches. A huge stone wetroom for a shower and bathroom. If they had a sound system it would be playing yellow bird on an accordion. “What’s the connection with The South Pacific?” I ask Philippe. He’s standing with his back to a scale model of a crashed propellor plane amongst palm trees. “I lived there for four years when I was 28. This is my souvenir.” Lou and I see nobody else all evening and we hope it is because it’s Armistice Day. I really hope people in this tiny town frequent his kitchen. It’s a great pizza, they are fun people and it makes no sense whatsoever and is better by far for that.

The internet is buggered though. The chances of me uploading this area second to none, and none at all if I try to attach a picture. It’s bedtime, so I’m gonna pad down the stone hall to see if there’s a place where I can make it work, and if not this will just have to be sent when I’m back on the road tomorrow…

North!!!

Up and into the historic walled city of Girona before anything opened. Warm wind and history. A vast cathedral and medieval streets, ancient and gorgeous and beautiful in a light that still wanted to persuade us it was summer. But we had to go north. North. Ever North.

It was hard to pull ourselves away though. A powerful place, Girona. Unexpected. Still. A few hours later I swung the car off the autoroute in Jonquiérs and went in quest of a vineyard that sells direct to the customer. I found one. Now the car is full of wine, and there isn’t quite enough money in my account. I got some bottles for now, and some for later. I didn’t want to be passing through the South of France with a car without loading up. I grabbed a few in Majorca too so once I get back from Uruguay I’ll definitely have plenty of wine waiting to try, and then in about ten years I’ll have some more.

Back on the road and now we are heading to the Auvergne. Bright sunlight through the windows betraying the fact that, every inevitable mile, by inches, by degrees, the temperature was dropping, dropping, dropping. We didn’t know it until we opened the car door in Le Claux and were hit in the face by cold.

Late afternoon, early evening, and we are in a wooden chalet in a field, visiting a yogi friend that Lou met in Rishikesh. Long bright sparky conversation with a wood burning stove blazing away. I’ve learnt some new terms. I know how it can get when Lou hangs out with someone who knows yoga. I keep mostly quiet and eat my steamed vegetables. It’s warm. It’s pleasant. It’s homely. I have nettle tea and vegan cheese. The subject of Uruguay comes up and Lou’s friend, who appears to know everywhere, has lived there, in the town where I’ll be working. He goes into great detail about it, geographically and energetically. I end up enervated about this place I’m going to be working in, and clutching two bottles of blueberry coulis that I am to try to bring in my packed bags and deliver to two people in Punta dal Este, one of whom runs an ashram out there. If this is how you become an accidental drug mule, I’m in. I even tried some of the blueberry coulis. It’s good stuff. I like a mission so I accepted it, and if I just can’t do it then I’ve ended up with two bottles of blueberry coulis and some energy that needs clearing.

Back in the car and through the dark to a little place which is the only room we could find nearby. Not up to the standard of our previous places but there’s a bed in it, and I intend to sleep the night. One more sleep before London.

Morning at the walled city
Evening on the volcano

Back on the ferry

Sad to be leaving Majorca so soon, but other adventures await. Lou and I were told to board in Alcudia two hours minimum before departure which turned out to be a totally OCD request by Cheapferry. We arrived at 11 for a 1pm ferry to Barcelona, and were the first people there including the staff. So we went to get coffee and stock up on snacks.

Now we are rolling along somewhere in the expanse of the Balearic Sea, heading northwards back to Barcelona where an army of park-cops might be waiting to clap me in irons for my public display of total indifference to the rules last time I was there, less than a week ago. My how time flies.

If we can evade them, we sleep tonight in Girona and then ever northwards back into and through France and deeper back up to the sleet and winter and neurosis.

The ferry is pretty empty, and the staff are being relaxed about partitions. Our ticket is steerage, but we are both sprawled out in one of the lounges and nobody has said a thing. Smooth water and not too windy so I reckon we will get into port way ahead of schedule. Then just an hour or so of driving, which will be a good reminder to get back in the zone. I’ve been so laid back I’m nearly falling over.

A trip like this really leads me to wonder why the hell I still live in England. Not just the parade of clowns and thieves in parliament but the utter blithering idiocy of the majority of the humans. Checking in on Easy Jet, Lou witnessed a member of staff go up and down the queue testing everybody’s hand bags and charging them extra if it didn’t quite fit in the special box. That’s England. Pinching from the pinched. Now I’m heading back from Majorca sitting in the lounge, and nobody else in the lounge is actively disapproving of our presence, just as nobody is checking our tickets. It’s a whole society upside down over there where the ones with everything get away with everything and the less you have the more you pay. I don’t like it. Plus the weather is shit and we are constantly trying to isolate ourselves, and there’s no faith but money or celebrity. It’s comforting how little trouble I had at the border getting the hell out. But … I’m still fed up of the place.

Heading back to it though. For a day. At least I’ve got international work potentially for a while now going forwards. My contract is in. I’ve filled in my accreditation. Uruguay might be something of an adventure.

Gotta get back to blighty first though…

Girona is amazing and I can’t believe we are just flying through. Might have to catch some of the ancient place tomorrow bright and early…

Last night in Mallorca

Deia. We are up in the hills. I checked out of my busy room in Port Soller and drove into Palma. Yesterday I had dropped off all my freight so Bergman was light and I have rear vision once more. Lou flew in to meet me. She’ll be shotgun for the drive home which will make it easier. On the way up I had a table in the passenger seat which wasn’t great conversation but didn’t object to me listening to Joseph Campbell droning on about comparative mythology all the hours that God made (or that we made but are we God but what is we?)

She has booked a little hotel on a hillside in peaceful mountainous Deia, where all the terribly rich folk live their happy lives. We caught the end of the day down in a little cove with a seagull, a load of teenage stoners and a slightly disgruntled duck that appears to think it’s a seagull.

Water on feet and sinking into the peace here before the long road rolls out ahead of us back to good old blighty. I’ve relaxed so much I can barely stand up in the evenings. I’ll likely stay in this state as long as I can because it’s gonna be full on again in Uruguay and no days off. Taurus full moon and an eclipse this morning. Grounding before it all goes galloping forwards.

Company is pleasant after a few days solo, but I’m having to remember how to make conversation. Lou and I will be stuck in Bergman for 1000 miles. Right now she’s beside me in this lovely wood panelled room as I get this writing written so I can slide off to deep slumber. The balcony is open, but I saw lots of bats at dusk so hopefully the mosquito count will be low, even if summer is holding on here in the Balearics. I could live here in winter if it’s always like this. A happy break. Not a holiday. But a happy break nonetheless.

There’s a fairytale castle for sale in Port Soller for 2.8 million euro… A snip if I could only win that damn lottery. For now I’m gonna enjoy this warm comfy hotel room and see where my dreams take me tonight. The scent of woodsmoke is coming in from the open balcony. Murmuring voices on the wind. Patches of light. A faint breeze. Bright moonlight. Cicadas.