Tourism Corruption in Kenya
|Corruption exists in many forms across the world. Travelling often exposes the many forms this can take. I can remember arriving Delhi in the early hours of the morning with a group of school children, on our way north to Dharamsala, to set up a sports carnival for Tibetan Refugees. We had with us some extra bags with equipment for our project and a large box, in it a basketball pole and hoop. Our friendly customs official took exception to this particular parcel and demanded import duty to be paid immediately. Despite our explanations that this was to be a gift for the children and every possible gesticulation to attempt to explain its purpose, this particular customs official was not going to budge.
It is well known that most officials in India are corrupt and it now appeared that I would need to grease his palm with 'baksheesh' to allow our party to pass through easily. I prepared myself for the all-important bribe. Rustling in my pocket, I secured an appropriate rupee note and subtly allowed it to be seen by the official in front of me. What happened next was most unexpected. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by many more officials and police, all of whom were shouting in Hindi about the gall of this Englishman (me, I suspect). It became apparent, that I may have antagonised the official and made the situation a little worst. Later I realised that I had tried to bribe someone in full view of his superior, nearly losing him his job. No wonder he was a little angry!
It was time for plan B. I approached another official to negotiate the duty to be paid on the equipment. This proved to be equally difficult as the man had no clue what was in the box despite the picture on the side in glorious technicolour. I could see myself still at the airport at dawn, In a desperate attempt to explain further, I opened my wallet to reveal a picture of my 9year old son - he took this to mean that I wanted to see pictures of his family and shared his snaps of family and friends. After we had got to know each other in this typical Indian way, I was waved through customs like an old friend.
So, there's no corruption in India eh? Not quite. Two days later our driver was stopped by police for apparently overtaking illegally. Once we had coughed up the $10 bribe, we were allowed to continue!
Whilst in Kenya, a different type of corruption surfaced. By a roadside café one day, I got chatting with Mustofa a keen 6'3" salesman, eager to sell, trade and just get something from me. The sales teams here in Kenya are very industrious. Prices start ludicrously high in an attempt to get you to bid a lower price. Once bid, the battle begins and the house always wins! The Kenyans will trade old t.shirts, sunglasses (as long as you are wearing them - muzunga items carry more value), and pretty much anything you have on you. There are as many scams as there are Kenyans - one is ingenious and not exclusive to Africa. The so called 'change' scam. Here's how it works. The boy, invariably the younger the better, will ask the tourist their name and country, as always, and then politely for odd coins from their 'own country' as 'souvenir'. A harmless request that almost always results in the tourist giving over some odd change they had in their pocket from the airport. The tourist feels happy that a young boy is so interested in their home land and the youngster is building his world coin collection. Well if that was it, we would all be living in a snow-white, fairy-tale world, let me tell you! What happens next is the entrepreneurial move. Once you have bid farewell to the poor boy clutching worthless coins from back home, he sets about business finding another tourist from the same country. Once tracked down, the local will please and amaze this other tourist with his amazing knowledge of foreign lands and coins. By now, the tourist will naturally be impressed and the scam is nearly complete. The boy will then innocently ask the value of said coins in local currency (can you smell it yet?). With this information, he will ask the tourist to act as a 'money-changer' and convert it to local currency for him, explaining that although he would dearly love to keep his coin collection, he has to also feed his brothers and sisters. Who could refuse such a request?
Anyway, back to Mustofa and our little chat. Once we had gone past the fact that I was not in the market for a Maasai spear and did not want to trade my shorts or give any 'money from your country' - we had a rather sobering conversation. It all began when I complimented him on his command of the English language and an enquiry into why he hadn't secured a more financially rewarding job that would match his skills. His answer was startling.
"Here in Kenya" he began, "qualifications don't get you a job, only money does that. If I want a particular job, then I must pay for it. I must bribe the employer."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. In order to get a job, you need money. If there was ever a 'catch 22', this was it. This 'problem' or corruption, he explained is one of the main reasons for the level and consistency of poverty found here in Kenya. They simply cannot escape it. It is a vicious circle that entraps them. Mustofa was not put off by his country's corrupt employment methodology though. He is ambitious and very nearly got to be a soldier. Mustofa told me of how he sold two of his family goats to raise enough money to bribe a Captain with booze in order to get in the army. All went well until the morning after the night before, when the Captain could not remember Mustofa or the promises he had made. Despite letters of recommendation, he failed to even get an interview. It is hardly any wonder why crime is so rampant here - they really do not have any options.
Another day, I was told that when a person does actually get a job, the corruption does not end there. The new employee must now pay a percentage of their salary each month to their new employee for giving them the job. This blackmail is indefinite.
All this is very sad - mainly because there is no solution. Nothing can be done to alleviate this level of corruption from this society. What is even sadder is the reality of how very unfortunate it is here - what can an intelligent, ambitious person do? Nothing. Whereas, we have all the choices and opportunities imaginable when it comes to our future and often squander it. We are always reminded to cherish what we have and be thankful but no truer thing can be emphasised here. We are so lucky to be living in a society that allows ambition to flourish and encourage enterprise to grow. Let us live each of our 'tax free' working days as if we are lucky to have it.
Bus to Dar
Deciding to take the bus was never a choice at all. There were no trains and we had decided long ago to overland ten African countries and were determined to do it. There was a choice between the 'posh' (by African standards) Scandinavian Line and the more down to earth, Akamba. Travelling for one year often means choosing the least expensive option, so the half price Akamba always seemed more attractive. Still a little hesitant about it's safety record, we decided to visit both offices to make an informed decision. The decision was made for us by the Scandinavian company being full - so Akamba it was with promises of individual arm rests, reading light and DVD player.
On the day of travel we took a taxi to the bus station, having being warned of the unsavouriness of this part of town. Watching out for each other, we waited patiently for our bus to arrive. At first we were a little concerned that we would get on the right one and so we asked several other people if this was the bus to Dar. Confident now, we pushed our way onto Akamba's finest and secured the front two seats, a decision we would later regret. Immediately we questioned one another. Could this possibly be the bus described by the Akamba agent only 48 hours earlier. We had seen a 'rickety' old bus standing outside their office and he described the bus we would be taking as 'different class', in an attempt to comfort us. This bus was different class indeed - it was worst!
We left on time giving us no chance to reconsider our fate - we were the only foreigners aboard. Within two hours we cruised up to the Tanzanian border and our hearts began to race again knowing that our Kenyan visa was way out of date! The Kenyan official didn't even raise his head as he stamped each passport placed before him. We were no exception. Then we ambled over the border crossing towards a 'shed-like' construction - this was the Tanzanian Immigration building. I pondered why it takes five days to obtain a visa for Tanzania in London when here within seconds of us passing over the appropriate fee, a three month visa is issued without a second glance
Clearing customs was an equally simple process. It involved us carrying our bags into a tiny annex of the immigration hut and receiving a chalked 'x' upon our bags.
The landscape is noticeably different here - amongst the plains of Africa, there are mountains and although we didn't get to actually see the beast, due to low cloud, we knew that we were brushing passed the mighty Kilimanjaro for the first time. As we sped along the straight highways that separated each village, our nerves began to twitch again as our view brought about cause for concern. Along the road, women dressed in brightly coloured clothing (bright enough to make any green-cross code fan proud), carrying loads of many shapes and sizes on their heads and children herding goats, became the focus of our concern. Our Akamba driver seems not to even notice them clinging to the edge of the road as he 'steams' past. Every now and then, we get so close that we actually force them from the pavement onto the adjacent ditch. I cannot bring myself to watch any longer. I feel sure there will be a collision at any moment. Thankfully, the Tanzanian government must share our concern as it has invested thousands of shillings in the construction of many 'sleeping policemen' in an attempt to slow Akamba bus drivers down and preserve women and children.
By mid-afternoon, we, that is the whole bus, were starving. I am confident about this by the way people left the bus when we arrived at Tanzania's equivalent of the Little Chef. I followed curiously and was lead to a dark hatch, from where endless chicken and chips were produced instantaneously. We would learn later that this is Africa's main fare. Within ten minutes, our driver was back aboard, honking his horn to summon us all back. He had devoured his 'bird' and couldn't understand why everyone else hadn't. All part of the cunning Akamba plan though, as we would discover.
You see, they wait until the passengers are really hungry and the food stop will only take minutes. Passengers will return to the bus feeling full and within a few minutes, sleepy. They rely on the fact that their passengers will actually fall asleep, because they really don't want you to be awake for the night driving! This was where we realised that our seat selection had been so poor. It is difficult to describe the last two hours of that journey without it sounding like something from theme park. The only difference between this ride and one at Blackpool Pleasure Beach is that the latter only lasts three minutes, whereas our journey seemed infinite. Our driver had either eaten kilos of carrots as a young man and could see in the dark, or he was a madman. I know where my money lay.
Too many close shaves to mention - no hair left on the bus!! One with Akamba's competition, Scandanavian nearly killed us outright. I can't say actually how close we did come to collision, because I had closed my eyes and began to pray by then! Finally we arrived, or so we thought. We tried to disembark rather hastily at a weighbridge, 40km away from Dar! Wishful thinking! Soon though, we did arrive and booked ourselves into a guesthouse for the night. The type of place that always makes me question why I am travelling in the first place! The perfect end to perfect day! Akuna Matata as they say here with amazing frequency - no problem!
Travellers expensive mistakes
|If you're interested in taking fun weekend breaks while saving hundreds of pounds on flights, hotels & cars, then this is going to be the most exciting message you'll ever read.
Many travellers make one or more of these expensive mistakes that is costing them hundreds of extra pounds on their vacations...
Some of the most expensive mistakes made by travellers include:
Expensive Mistake #1 - Using an offline travel agent (who gets a big cut out of every deal) instead of quickly and easily booking your own tickets online at some of the most popular deep discount travel websites like Expedia UK, All Hotels, FlyBe etc.
Expensive Mistake #2 - Booking Flight tickets at one travel website, hotel tickets at another travel website & car rentals on a third travel website. (Hint: You get the best deals by booking flights, hotels and care hires all at the same place on popular sites like Expedia UK. Savvy shoppers book package deals which include flight, hotel & car rentals instead of booking each separately to get the best deals. Go ahead and ask one of your net savvy friends and see if what I said is true.)
Expensive Mistake #3 - Using smaller travel websites instead of booking with the biggies. Gigantic travel websites like Expedia UK have a lions share of the online travel market. This means they can often get you unbelievably low fares which you just can't find anywhere else. Besides I personally feel safer giving my credit card numbers to a reputable site like Expedia UK.
Count yourself lucky if you haven't made any of these mistakes yet because expensive mistakes like these can shrink your retirement account faster than you can blink...
Financially savvy Britons are ditching their travel agents in droves and booking their tickets online. They are getting phenomenal rates on their Flight, Hotel and Car deals...
The biggest beneficiary is the frequent traveller & those who love to vacation but can't afford the steep prices. After all who doesn't want a few hundred extra pounds left in their pockets after taking a relaxing vacation!
They are many competing online travel websites. However there are very, very, very few one stop solutions where you can book your flight, hotel and car deals in one integrated package. For e.g. All Hotels (You can book only hotels), FlyBe (Only air tickets) are two of the competing sites. Likewise there are many other smaller players in the UK online travel market with very limited offerings. (I won't even mention them...you can easily find them yourself).
a) Ridiculously cheap rates especially on their flights and hotels.
b) One of the oldest and most reputed online travel companys. So I can safely use my credit card on their site without worrying about security issues.
c) Easy to check different deals at once.
d) Their deeply discounted ready made holiday packages will satisfy even the most picky traveller. They have a variety of holiday packages for different categories of travellers...(e.g. Beach Holidays, Florida Holidays, Caribbean Holidays, Far Easy and OZ holidays, plus lots more including city breaks, luxury breaks, shopping breaks, ski deals & holidays for couples among others.)
e) And lastly because of their size they have great deals to even obscure places.
All of their ready made holiday packages include flight tickets and hotel accomodations in addition to a few other complimentary perks.
Argentina: Buenos Aires
|We did what any tourist would do on their first visit to a capital city and found Buenos Aires´equivalent of Trafalgar Square - Plaza Mayo. Joining us for the day was our new friend Jonathan, a 19 year old northerner who was knowledgeable beyond his years. Plaza Mayo is home to a cathedral, lots of museums, a statue of a man riding a horse and of course a large pink building - Casa Rosada! Casa Rosada is not the headquarters of the gay rights movement of Argentina, but is actually the offices of the president. Plaza Mayo has seen many a riot and in fact to the west of the Plaza there was a demonstration of sorts occuring as we snapped away at the pink building etc. It´s from Casa Rosada that Peron and Evita waved to their subjects or ´descamibados´, the shirtless ones, as they called them. Naturally we visited the museum inside Casa Rosa, which gives a good, if basic flavour of Argentina´s political history before heading off to tourist number two stop.
Café Tortini is a living museum and little-changed from when it opened some 100 years ago, and for something so touristy, the coffee was excellent and cheap, less than a pound a cup.
Back at the GardenHouse hostel that evening we did our bit for international relations and had a politically-correct evening talking about problems of the environment etc. over a glass of vino or two. Our fellow diplomats included two Americans (Jonathan and Serena) from San Franscisco, an Ozzie girl patiently waiting for her luggage that had got lost in Aukland and of course Jonathan, who as it turns out also had strong views on economics!
During the next couple of days we stuck closely to the advice of the Rough Guide and took in the city´s sites in between dodging the fast cars on the very wide roads!Tango, museums and art galleries was pretty much how we filled our time. The most interesting part of the city is La Boca, which is the poorest district of Buenos Aires, but also the most colourful. The stretch of La Boca by the docks is very touristy - you can shove your head in a Guacho or Tango dancer cut out and have your picture taken, take in a tango show, buy a painting of the area or you can just admire the very colourful buildings, which must have been painted some distant time ago, when a spare cargo of paint fell overboard? If one looks beyound the tourists there is, however, still evidence of traditional work at hand. For example a man with a basket was routinely making his way from stall to stall selling his lunch time snacks of empanados, and at the docks a couple of old tugs paddled across across the water, and at one point a freight train passed through the heart of the village. Also if one visits the gallery at the docks (Museo de Bellas Artes de la Boca) you can view the work of a famous former local artist, Beito Quinquela Martin, who has really captured the spirt of the working docks in its heyday.
La Boca is also the home to Boca Juniors footbal club, which boasts its most famous player as “hand of God” fame legend Maradona, who in Buenos Aires is as famous as God! The stadium is a palace among the working class houses that surround it from each side.
La Boca has a reputation as a dangerous place but we didn´t experience any problems, although we didn´t stray too far off the tourist track.
If La Boca is the colourful district of Buenos Aires, San Telmo is definitely the most fun. Although we´d already eaten in the district on a couple of occasions, Sunday (9 April) is when this old colonial style district really comes to life. Think tango, think Spanish guitar players and dancing in the streets and you´re half way there, the buzz however is much harder to explain, but suffice to say, you forget it´s a Sunday morning - Eleanor was in her heaven! Which was good because I had to leave her in the afernoon for an appointment with a football game.
River Plate v Institution was my first taste of South American footaball. The atonsphere was electric, I´ve been to an FA Cup final and several World Cup games and the atmosphere didn´t match this game. River Plate´s stadium was host to the 1978 World Cup final and although its c70,000 capacity was only three quaters full, you would never have known it, as the home fans never stopped singing or banging their drums for the entire match. To my surpirse it was also very much a family affair, which reminded me of the crowd at an American baseball ground. On the way into the stadium I witnessed a long posession of some thirty fans carrying into the ground, what could have been the world´s longest rolled up carpet? Their giant flag was put on show at least three times and it covered the length and breadth of the home end behind the goal. And for some five minutes at a time some 20,000 happy fans in full chorus chanted their anthem and bobbed from side to side completly oblivious of the game in front of them, which was surpirsing as the quality of football was very high. The final score was 3-1 to River, which put them back on top of the league.
We felt sad to be leaving Buenos Aires, but it was time to move on, to travel.
|I traveled to Colonia by a Buquebus ferry across the Rio de la Plata, which seemed to me to be the sea, although apparently it´s a river - well it must be the widest river on earth! I boarded the ferry with my backpack fully loaded, in a proud attempt to show that I was a traveller, and Eleanor sensibly loaded her rucksack onto the conveyor belt at check-in and boarded the ferry much more comfortably than me. Our channel crossing passed pleasently enough and lots of coffee and empanadas (mini pasties) kept us going on this epic three hour voyage.
The first thing we observed about the Uruguan people is that they seem to spend most of their time standing on street corners and passing the day drinking their Maté - a herbal tea that is drunk with a straw. You get the impression that if the Uruguans left their homes without their old fashioned flasks of hot water and cups of weed the whole nation would suffer from the hangover to end all hangovers.
Colonia has a population of around 20,000 and it is something like the 4th biggest city in Uruguay, if you can class it as a city! It felt like a mixture of St. Ives and Seville. In fact the old town, the first place we headed for, is a world heritage site. So pretty, historic and charming. Our three days in Colonia was pretty much spent in the old town - long lunches and museums. Although we did have a bit of drama during our stay. I managed to cut my finger with the first use of my penknife and had to pay a visit to casualty and pay US$14 for some medical attention. For this I had the benefit of a doctor, a nurse and a translator and I jumped the queue of patients in casualty. Next time I have to go to casualty in England I´m going to pretend to be Uruguan and see if it works the other way round as well. Eleanor´s bit of excitement was falling off a horse. We had expected a gentle horse and cart ride around Colonia on our second morining there but our language skills had let us down, and there was no cart to be seen, just and old man who spoke no English and three horses that were seeing out their days as tourist transport. Although today they had obviously decided that enough was enough. My horse (I wasn´t given its name) dragged its feet behind the other two horses and attempted to eat grass or leaves at any opportunity, whereas Eleanor´s horse marched ahead clearly wanting to get the exercise over and done with as quickly as possible, or in fact much quicker than expected! As half way through our tour of boring country back roads, two men who were having problems with their motorbike, managed to get it started and revved it for all it was worth and Eleanor´s horse saw this as his opportunity to lose her. He reared up and threw Eleanor onto the ground. Eleanor looked up from the ground to the bikers and frustratingly looked for some Spanish swear words, but I knew she was alright, as it wasn´t long before he was on her feet and swearing her head off with her favourite English swear words. Eleanor insisted on getting back on the old nag, but I seized this as our oppotunity to end our ordeal. So we paid the old man and walked along the beach in the midday sun back into town. Ironically our next stop for three days was an estancia - a Uruguan ranch.
Estancia El Ceibo is in the region of Florida, four hours north of Colonoia - Uruguan gaucho country. I managed half an hour on a horse and Eleanor proved that her horse riding accident was a one off and gauchoed with the best of them. Saddle sore, we headed south east and for the coast again, destination Punta del Este, via Piariapolis.
If anyone asks you when dining in Uruguay (or Argentina for that matter), if you would like flan for dessert, don´t imagine a dry piece of sponge with a bit of fruit and gelatine on top. Flan is much nicer here – you will be served something that resembles either egg custard, or sometimes crème caramel. It is generally home-made and delicious. You are usually offered an option of dulce de leche or cream as an accompaniament, though I prefer it plain.
Dulce de Leche
Again, this is something you will come across at least as often in Argentina as in Uruguay. It is basically a soft caramel spread that you put on your toast or serve with desserts. You will often find pastries filled with it as well (many a time I´ve been deceived thinking I´m buying a chocolate croissant only to discover it in in fact of the caramel variety). It is quite sickly so is best eaten in small quantities. You will find home-made varieties sold practically everywhere you go, but I have to confess that I can never taste any difference whenever I eat it. Maybe I´m not a connoisseur but if I want something sweet and indulgent, give me chocolate any day! Car parkers and museum assistants
When parking your car in town, even on a roadside, you will often see someone sporting a fluorescent bib waving you in to the spot and being terribly helpful even though you don´t really need their assistance. It seems to be the norm that you tip these people to thank them for their help. I can´t quite work out people are paid to provide this service or if it is the Uruguayan equivalent of selling the Big Issue. I get the impression that unemployment must be quite high in the country because everywhere you go, even the tiniest, quietest museums with little more than one room to explore, you will find at least two assistants at the desk, often as many as half a dozen. Their main task seems to be ensuring that you write something in the visitors book. This can be quite frustrating when you have literally stuck your head through the door just to take a quick peek at the handful of fossils and stuffed bird. How can you describe the experience without being rude or insincere. ´Friendly staff´ was a phrase I found myself using a lot, which seemed to please them.
Dodgy traffic police
After having a very enjoyable stay in Uruguay with no sense of unease regarding our safety or belongings, our only moment of unease was when our car was pulled over by a traffic policeman. In Uruguay it is compulsory to drive with your headlights on, which we dutifully did. But the policeman spent several minutes playing with our headlights and trying to explain that there was some fault with them invisible to the human eye unless you were a Uruguan traffic policeman. He kept telling us that we would have to pay a $150 fine in Montevideo, which would be very inconvenient for us, but he seemed extremely reticient to fill out the necessary paperwork.
Fortunately he didn´t speak English so we played the dumb tourists and kept saying ´non entendiendo´. He seemed to give up, but just as he was walking back to our car he came back to give it one more go. Again, we refused to understand what he was getting at, and to his utter frustration he told us that he would tolerate us and let us go - but not until he made us shake his hand twice in gratitude. Some poor soul got pulled over just as we drove off. I dread to think how the person paid for the unfruitful time he wasted on us.
And the rest…
Rather than end on a negative note, here are few more things observations in brief: a hotch potch of different styles of architecture, especially in Punte del Este which seemed to be an architect´s testing ground; lots of birds – many of which I´ve never seen before and will probably never know their names; all the school children we saw were wearing white overcoats and big blue blousy bows that made them look like a cross between very young medical trainees and Little Lord Fauntleroy; extremely cautious drivers – you can walk faster than some of the cars; pink custard and fruit salad for breakfast; horses grazing by the roadside, or plodding mournfully through the streets of Montevideo dragging makeshift carts loaded with the city´s rubbish; lots of stray dogs everwhere, but never any cats; 80s music playing all the time; friendly people offering to give you directions every time you pause to glance at your map; empty gravel roads full of potholes and no road markings at junctions (which probably explains the cautious driving); lots of people fishing – some for sport, others because they need to; and finally flat fields dotted with cows that look like they should be in England.
Some Observations on Uruguay
|Having left Uruguay almost a month ago, here are my most vivid impressions of the country:
Travelling round Uruguay you feel like you have entered an American 1950s movie. All around you are vintage Ford pick up trucks and cars, most of them in pristine condition and still being driven. The most seem to be in Colonia, which feels like one big outdoor car museum.
I believe that maté is drunk all around South America but nowhere does is seem quite so ubiquitous as in Uruguay. Everywhere you go you will see people sitting on doorsteps or park benches with a flask beside them and a wooden cup in their hand. It will be filled with herbs (which look a bit like someone´s lawn cuttings), a few drops of hot water and a silver straw, which allows the recipient to enjoy the brew without getting annoying bits of dried herbs in their teeth).
Maté is a very social activity with as accompanying etiquette surely as strict as any Japanese tea party. Having placed the maté in one side of the cup, you add the straw and fill the cup with boiling water. Then you hand it to your drinking friend with the straw facing them. They sip until the water is depleted (which is only about five sips), making sure not to move the straw, as this stirs up the maté leaves. He hands it back and the master of ceremonies tops up the cup and either hands it to another amigo or drinks it himself. He will alternate between all the drinkers until his friend says ´gracias´, which means Í´ve had my fill, thank you very much´. Maté is an acquired taste so if you are ever invited to share some, be share be polite because you will keep getting it handed back to you until you say thank you!
If the Uruguayans aren´t drinking their brew they will be spotted walking around with the cup in hand and a flask tucked under their arm. It seems terribly inconvenient and extreme, as crazy as if the English starting walking round with a teapot in our hands. You would think that someone would open up a maté drinking hole just to save them the bother. But it seems that maté drinking is a very personal affair; you will rarely see it on the menu in restaurants or cafés. So, should anyone wish to start up a business in Uruguay I certainly don´t recommend opening a café. Like camels, the Uruguayans prefer to carry their own.
A parilla (pronounced ´parisha´) is the ultimate barbeque. As well as laughing in the face at any English attempt at cooking over an open fire, it will even outshine any Ozzie barbie. At first sight it looks like some form of primate torture instrument. A huge wire rack that a person could easily stretch out on, is lowered with a winch over a fire of charcoal and wood. Unlike Argentinian parilla grills, which are generally horizontal, Uruguans seem to like theirs at a right-angle with the fire placed at one end, underneath the highest part of the grill. I suspect this must have been designed by a man as a deliberate attempt to make barbecuing even more of a challenge, as the higher you place the meat the further it is vertically from the fire and the more chance it has of sliding down the grill to the lower end, where it won´t even get a tan.
But somehow it all works because we have eaten some very tasty steaks and chorizos cooked on various parillas, including one in the living room of an estancia where we stayed; one in a very simple ´parillada´ restaurant packed with locals and, the ultimate place: Mercado del Puerto. This old meat market near the harbour of Montevideo is a lively place crammed with parilladas - each one vying for your trade by cooking steaks the size of plates before your eyes. While you await your steak, entranced by the fire and salivating at your piece of prime beef, you can request a ´Medio Medio´ - a mixture of half-sparkling and half-still chilled white wine. Though very refreshing, don´t get too fond of it, as it is apparently unique to Mercado del Puerto. If you ask for it elsewhere in Uruguay you may find yourself being served a whisky concoction instead! It was imperative that we had our own attempt at cooking on a parilla, and the opportunity arose at a lovely little hostel just outside Punte del Este. We waited in vain as the meat gently blushed before us. Eventually some fellow hostellers took pity on us and suggested we spread the hot ashes underneath the lower part of the grill.