I have so many friends and relatives to stay with in Buenos Aires that there’s no need to sleep outside. But sometimes all that socialising is a bit too much for me, especially coming from my more relaxed lifestyle in England where I have plenty of time and space to myself. My relatives warned me that Buenos Aires is very dangerous by night so I shouldn’t sleep outside.
One day I went to an area called Bernal, where my grandfather grew up, to use the library there. Since the 90’s the government stopped funding it but it has continued as a charity, only just scraping by each year. It has a spacious reading room with free wireless internet.
When it closed I discovered that they leave the wireless router on all night and I could sit in the square opposite and still get a good signal. Later I continued working in a gelaterie that also has wifi. Such was my concentration that I didn’t watch the time and discovered that gelateries in Buenos Aires don’t seem to have any closing time on a Saturday night. It was now 01:00, far too late to turn up at my elderly granny’s house, and nobody else was expecting me.
No worries, I thought, I’ve got my bivvy bag with me, I’ll have a scout around for a place to sleep; it would be great to see if I can get away with it in Buenos Aires.
This is a short film about my lifestyle shot last Summer in London.
Many thanks to Matt Hopkins and all the team at Progress Films in Brighton for crafting such a beautiful work of art out of such an unsightly subject as me.
This is one of a series of films about interesting characters who live among us in England – for more visit englandyourengland.tv.
Argentinian friends were joking about how they celebrate Christmas in the hot Summer but yet they have Christmas trees, sweet treats and cakes that they normally only eat in the Winter, and ‘Papa Noel’ – Father Christmas – still dresses in a very warm red and white suit. I suppose that’s inevitable when the vast majority of the world’s population lives in the Northern Hemisphere and celebrates Christmas in the Winter. As is the custom here, my mother’s family gathered together on Christmas Eve ready to raise a toast to Jesus at midnight with glasses of cheap champagne. We ate together with hundreds of others in the Church that my family attends here in Quilmes, Buenos Aires.
At midnight there were fireworks and people shared presents. As we were in a Church we sung a few songs to the Author of CHRISTmas. As you may have read in my earlier posts I don’t know if God really exists but just in case He does I joined in with the singing. A good time was had by all. Christmas Day is often spent cooling down by the poolside and sharing an ‘asado’ – a barbeque, Argentinian style.
It has been a bit hectic meeting friends in Oxford, attending Christmas dinners and trying to get ready for a 75 day trip to Argentina all in the space of three days. It took me longer than expected to dismantle my bike and put it in a bag that I bought from New Zealand: the Tardis designed by Ground Effect. In hindsight I would definitely recommend dismantling your bike and bagging it, then putting it back together again, a long time before you’re due to travel so you don’t end up missing a flight, forgetting to take essential tools or spending ages fiddling around at foreign airports/stations.
I took the wheels, saddle, stem and rear derailleur off; the SPD clipless pedals were small enough to leave on. My extra-large-sized Mongoose ‘Crossway 250′ gents’ hybrid bike fitted neatly into the unpadded but sturdy bag, which I took with me on the bus from Oxford to Heathrow Airport Terminal Five.
I was due to fly to Argentina in four days and I had lots of preparation to do in Oxford but I decided that instead of taking the bus there I would cycle all the way from London to Oxford to get in shape for some ambitious long distance cycling I have planned for my time in Argentina.
After some farewell drinks with my friend Shama in Southwark I cruised up to the south bank of the Thames and made my way upriver. It was a mild night of about six Celsius with no wind; the riverside is always beautiful on nights like this. The area around Waterloo Bridge was very busy with a Christmas fayre, and there were all kinds of delicious foods on sale.
I wanted to make good progress before bedding down for the night, to ensure that I would make it to Oxford by the end of the next day – I didn’t want to leave myself with a marathon of 70 miles to go. I planned to go up the Thames to Brentford and join the Grand Union Canal, to follow the quiet, scenic towpath with no traffic or traffic lights, my usual route out of West London. But instead of taking the Slough Arm and the Thames Valley Cycle Route as I have done several times in the past, I wanted to try a new route: continue up the Grand Union towards Watford, turn off at Rickmansworth then up over the Chiltern Hills through Buckinghamshire. There the towns of Amersham, Prestwood, and Princes Risborough lead the way down onto the Oxfordshire clay, the section known as National Cycle Route 57.
You know it’s cold when the puddles are frozen rock solid. You know it’s cold when you blow as hard as you can but you still make a cloud. You know it’s cold when the drains are steaming because the sewers are warmer than the outdoors air.
I’m in Argentina now but I want to fill you in on my last week in London. A cold night was forecast, the coldest yet, so I couldn’t resist the temptation to sleep outdoors in a really exposed location and test the limits of my minimalist sleeping arrangement…
This is just a quick post to let you know that I made it to my granny’s house in Quilmes, Buenos Aires, a direct flight from London Heathrow to Ezeiza airport where I put my bike together and cycled straight to Quilmes, with no muggings or mishaps.
Unfortunately I don’t have the right adapter for my smartphone so might not be able to post here for a while. There are also a few things to share about my last week in London.
It’ll be a week of meeting old friends and seasonal festivities so I won’t have time to write anyway. I plan to stay here in Quilmes for at least a couple of weeks – this is not an adventure tour, I´m here to hang out with my mother’s elderly family who I haven’t seen for 11 years.
I’ve arrived in a heat wave, it’s 35 degrees Celsius in the shade, and feels like 45 because of high humidity. Quite a shock after I’ve just been training my body to generate loads of heat for sleeping outdoors at freezing temperatures. Hopefully the storm and the rains will come and then things will be back to the normal 30 Celsius…
Sadly, after our fun little holiday in Wales, I’m not seeing the lovely architect anymore. We didn’t have any argument, in fact I’ve never had an argument with a girlfriend before; it’s just that we want different things from a relationship, and neither of us is prepared to compromise. She is a beautiful girl; beautiful, kind and compassionate, with a heart twice the size of her body. She is definitely unique. I miss her warm hugs, but we’re still friends, and I look on the bright side: I get to spend a lot more nights outdoors in the Autumn and Winter, so I can test out different sleeping arrangements.
A month ago I described how I was planning to sleep outdoors without a sleeping bag by wearing lots of clothes stuffed with goose feather down. These clothes included a pair of trousers, a pullover and a vest all filled with the highest quality goose down and made by Peter Hutchinson Designs in Cheshire. The vest was worn under the pullover.
As documented in previous blog posts the down suit kept me very warm but I got frustrated because the weather wasn’t cold enough to test it properly – it only got down to about 4 degrees Celsius – and I wanted to know if this arrangement would be warm enough for the whole Winter.
So I decided to make my experiment more extreme and try sleeping out for a night without the down trousers and without the down vest. They’re not the most practical items that I’d wear during the day, I only bought them to see if they’d be warm enough to be able to sit outside and read or to sleep on the coldest nights of Winter. If I can sleep warm enough without them, at least for most of the year I won’t need to carry them around.
Lets look at all the clothes I carry with me in the late Autumn. To the right you can see how I currently dress to cycle around. Stiff SPD shoes, running leggings (because the padded cycling type take too long to dry), a thermal long-sleeved top (black), a bright yellow cycle jersey, a balaclava in neck-warmer configuration and the rest of my possessions in a backpack. It’s my attempt at combining practical thermal clothing with aerodynamic cycling. This is what I wear for most of the day.
Then I switch to evening configuration:
As you may have noticed I’m on a mission to find out how few material possessions I need to survive, and maintain a wholesome lifestyle. This will enable me to travel light and fast and have more fun adventures. Apart from my goose feather down clothing and the synthetic clothes which I wear cycling, this is everything I currently carry in my bag:
For an inventory list including the contents of my piano tuning kit please see my new page entitled Stuff, where I describe everything I need for this lifestyle and explain why certain ‘essentials’ got left out.
For a while now I’ve been travelling in the ‘ultralight’ category. Wikipedia gives a good intro to Ultralight Backpacking:
I spent a few more nights sleeping outdoors in London with no sleeping bag. They weren’t very cold but still a good opportunity to get used to the arrangement.
The first evening I cycled up towards Kentish town where I had a piano to tune the following day. For part of the journey I cycled next to an Irish astonault who had lost his rocket, gotten drunk and taken off on a Boris bike!
I stopped at St Pancras International Station to use the 24 hour toilets and to my delight I discovered that the street pianos were still there. They normally remove them after the Summer but they had left two in the station. This one is an old over-damped Brinsmead, about 100 years old: