Saturday, 9 November 2013

Carnival Express - A South America Adventure: Chapter One

by the Raven brothers

From bull's testicles in Buenos Aires to bums and boobs on the beaches of Brazil, the Raven brothers embark on a new comedy adventure as they attempt to traverse the Trans-oceanic highway by express bus from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast of South America. Not always getting it right, the hapless heroes tango through the Argentinean vineyards, cycle to the Moon in the Atacama Desert, survive death roads in the Peruvian Andes and venture deep into the heart of the Amazon jungle with only one mission in mind, to go in search of the ultimate carnival.


I’m sitting in a restaurant with my brother in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires. We’ve hardly slept a wink since our packed jumbo touched down on the hot Argentinean tarmac three days ago and with a combination of jetlag, excessive sightseeing, salsa and fine wine, I feel a little tired, but I’ll fight it. Hesitantly placing a piece of grilled cow intestine in my mouth, I chew the foul tasting grub a couple of times before spitting it out onto my plate.
  ‘Table manners,’ Si grumbles, jabbing his fork into a bull’s testicle. ‘You’re eating chinchulines in a very sophisticated restaurant in Argentina now, not sat at home in front of the telly scoffing baked beans on toast.’
  Si looks suddenly very pale. He collapses off his chair and staggers across the restaurant. I refill my glass from a bulbous bottle of San Felipe. It’s a full-bodied Argentinean red from the grape-growing region of Mendoza, and I feel excited by the prospect of going there and losing myself in the vineyards. Swilling the wine around the glass, I study the antique furniture scattered around the room. It’s a very traditional Argentinean restaurant with solid wooden tables and chairs and starched white tablecloths that look like they date back to the 1930’s. Two mature waiters wearing crisp white aprons, white shirts and black bow ties, stand to attention in front of a classic wooden bar. Faded photographs decorate the walls, one of Eva Peron and another of the slick Carlos Gardel, the father of tango. A picture window looks out onto the busy cobbled streets of San Telmo, the oldest barrio of Buenos Aires. A street performer covered from head to toe in silver paint stands frozen like a statue in front of a historic antique shop across the street, and two guys with a guitar and an accordion play beautiful tango music to the entertained crowd milling around Plaza Dorrego. I glance across the restaurant and notice an attractive woman with jet black hair sat on a table nearby. She talks loudly in Spanish to a clean-cut guy wearing a navy blue suit. She pauses to suck innocently on a piece of cow intestine that dangles from her glossy red lips. As the entrails whip up into her mouth she looks over at me, our eyes lock, and I quickly look down at my plate.

  Si returns to the table.
  ‘How you feeling?’ I ask, making a big effort to look concerned.
  ‘I'm getting too old for this shit,’ he sighs, pressing a damp paper towel to his forehead.
  ‘Come on, buddy, we've only just touched down in South America. This is not the time to confess you’re getting too old for a night on the tiles.’
  ‘It was those Fernet Branca cocktails we were drinking in Palermo. That stuff should be illegal.’
  ‘You worry me, brother. Maybe it’s time to hang up your boots and find yourself a hobby.'
  Si narrows his eyes. 'Travelling the world and writing is my hobby.'
  ‘How dare you refer to travelling and writing as a hobby…it’s your career!’
  'A career that's careering off a very high cliff.’
  ‘No it isn't. We’re writers. We've written two books.’
  ‘Two completely unsuccessful books. Maybe it’s time to lay down our pens and admit defeat.’
  ‘I love our positive conversations.’
  ‘It’s a reality. We have to face up to the truth that our books could be, well, rubbish.’
  'What are you talking about? Show me one scrap of evidence that suggests our books are anything other than hilarious pages of fun.’
  Si taps his chin. ‘OK, how about that review on Amazon by A Man & Dog & Mistress from London, who said our Russia book was, “Not a travel book - resembles a boorish drunken conversation in a bad pub."'
  ‘Ah, well, apart from that, show me some evidence that suggests our books are anything more than thought provoking bundles of joy.’
  'What about that review from Ventura Angelo from Brescia in Italy, who said our Russia book was “Overall good, but too many wisecracks and sexcapades”.’
  I scratch my freshly shaved head with irritation. ‘So not everyone likes our books. Who cares! Maybe these people need to get out more and smell the humour.’
  ‘Listen, Chris, without publicity and good reviews the books in the garden shed are pulp.’
  ‘But I've done loads of promotion.’
  ‘Telling girls about the books while drunk in some London bar isn't promotion, buddy.’
  ‘Yes it is. It’s called word of mouth.’
  ‘Whatever you call it, it’s not enough. Look, I'm not saying it's time for us to give up on what we've been trying to achieve here, but you have to admit books aren't exactly flying off the shelves.’
  ‘What happened to all of those press releases we sent out before we came away?’
  ‘Nothing. We haven’t heard a dickey bird. I mean, you’d think the newspapers and radio stations would be interested to hear about two guys driving across Russia in an old banger.’
  ‘Well, that’s why we've come to South America, isn't it?’
  ‘Yeah, to go on a new adventure, because we refuse to sit around waiting for the fucking phone to ring!’ Si yells, stabbing his fork into a bull’s testicle.
  ‘Hear, hear,’ I sing, pouring another glass of wine. ‘How’s your hangover?’
  ‘I feel like someone has just tangoed over my face.’
  I smile and half fill his glass.
  Si straightens his posture. ‘Don’t you worry, Chris. This old dog isn't about to curl up in his smelly basket just yet.’
  ‘Thank god for that.’
  ‘There is one minor concern I have, though.’
  I roll my eyes. ‘What is it now?’
  ‘I've been studying the map of South America and, I'm not sure how to tell you this, but I think we may be in the wrong place.’
  ‘How do you mean?’
  ‘Let me explain. The idea is to traverse the Trans-oceanic highway from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast of South America, isn't it? Where we’ll cross over the Peruvian Andes, fight our way through the Madre de Dios from the Inca City of Cusco to the Amazon frontier town of Puerto Maldonado, and then travel all over Brazil in search of the ultimate carnival.’
  I nod my head. ‘That’s right.’
  ‘But we’re not on the Pacific Coast. We’re on the Atlantic.’
  ‘I know that, you donkey.’
  ‘So, why didn't we fly into Peru? We’re three thousand kilometres away from the start of our journey.’
  ‘Buenos Aires was the cheapest flight we could find, remember?’
  ‘I'm not blowing cash on another plane ticket. My money situation is already as tight as a gnat’s arse.’
  ‘Who said anything about flying? We don't have to fly. We’re going to get the bus.’
  ‘The bus?’
  ‘Uh-huh, and I'm not talking about just any old bus, either. I'm talking about an express bus…a luxury coach…a five star hotel on wheels.’
  ‘We can't afford that.'
  ‘That’s where you’re wrong my strange half-witted fiend. Overnight buses in Argentina are reasonably priced, they serve steak and fine wine and, if we’re really clever, each bus journey will save us a night’s accommodation.’
  ‘You’re a genius,’ Si laughs, rubbing his hands together. ‘So, where do we head first?’
  ‘Now, this is where it gets interesting. Apparently, you can cross the Rio de la Plata on a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. It’s supposed to be a beautiful historic town with pavement caf├ęs, cobbled streets and sandy beaches.’ I study Si’s pale complexion. ‘Hey, you never know, you might even get a tan.’
  Si looks slightly confused. ‘When do we go?’
  ‘Right now.’
  ‘This very minute?’
  ‘Yep, a ferry leaves in about an hour.’
  He begins to panic. ‘There isn't time. We’ll never make it.’
  ‘Of course we will. All we have to do is grab our bags from the hotel and jump in a taxi.’
  ‘But what about my washing? I haven’t done my washing.’
  ‘Shit, yes, spontaneity. OK, let’s do it. Let’s go to Uruguay!’

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