. . . AROUND THE WORLD 2001/02
Africa 1999
Around-the-World 2001/02

The Team

Jeff Willner
1. Start: Recipe for Adventure
2. Zimbabwe: Hyperinflation
3. Namibia: Southern Circuit
4. South Africa: Circuit 2
5. Zambia/Malawi: Sketches
7. Kenya: Bandit Country
8. Ethiopia: Diary
9. Ethiopia: Border Run
10. Sudan: Across the Sahara
11. Egypt: Cape to Cairo
12. Jordan/Syria: Sept. 11th
13. Turkey: Hospitality
14. Bulgaria/Romania/ Hungary
15. Slovakia/Austria/Poland
16. The Baltics & Russia
17. Scandinavia
18. Western Europe
19. Brazil: Clearning Customs
20. Argentina: Revolution
21. Argentina: To Ushuaia
22. Patagonia Disaster
23. Buenos Aires Beautiful
24. Uruguay: Beaches
25. Chile: Expedition Life
26. Bolivia: Atacama
27. Peru: Transit
28. Galapagos: Gorgeous
29. Ecuador: Jungle Run
30. Knifepoint
31. Dubai: Lay over
32. Singapore/Malaysia
33. Thailand: Hospitality
34. Cambodia: Ankor Wat
35. Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong
36. Laos: Back to Basics
37. China: Beijing Tour
38. China: Shanxi
39. China: Western Province
40. China: Tibet
41: Nepal: Mountains
42. India: Driving Struggle
43. Pakistan: Dodging War
44. Iran: Overcharging
45. End: One Last Laugh

Sally DeFina
1. Cape Town: Robben Island
2. Zanzibar: Mike & I
3. Kenya: African Driving School
4. Sudan: Mud Crossing
5. Patagonia: Goodbye Max
6. Malaysia: Mike Update
7. Thailand: Ko Phangan
8. Cambodia: Phnom Penh
9. Vietnam: By Train
10. Laos: Vang Vieng
11. China: Meet Mr. Chen

Jody Finver
1. Start: Surreal Solipse
2. Great Zimbabwe
3. Brokedown in Kenyan Desert
4. Egypt: So Should I Hyphenate
5. Poland: Home is Where the Truck Is

Gulin Akoz
1. Start: Bits and Pieces
2. Zambia: Diaries
3. Egypt: Africa Memories
4. Turkey: For Your Information
5. The Team and The Bean
6. Somebody Else's Child
7. On My Own
8. Long Lost Memories of Childhood
9. The Tree and the Boy
10. Jealous
11. The Aftermath


Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition


Kensington Tours can help you plan your own expedition anywhere in the world.




#20 - So you want a Revolution
Jeff Willner - 20 December 2001

(Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA) – Ducking beneath the tear gas shells, I inched down the sidewalk of Sàenz Peña, trying to get a better picture of the rioters hurling stones and fire bombs. In between the mounted policemen and the burning barricades set up by the masked demonstrators was a kind-of no man’s land. Downtown Buenos Aires was under siege, the people had had enough of the government’s incompetence and on the very day we showed up the country was coming apart. I angled my crappy little Kodak no-zoom digital camera to get a better shot of the guy with a Molotov cocktail, when from down the street several hundred men suddenly rushed forward, pelting the horse mounted policemen with rocks. They turned and fled. I almost crapped my britches as the rioters bore down on me. Five people had been killed that afternoon – it would suck to be the sixth.

It had been a weird week. We left Rio last week on Wed. and drove south to Curitiba, a wonderfully clean and well presented city, where I got in an accident with a blue Ford Focus. It was my fault. I was in a left-turn lane and went straight instead (though it was raining and there were no markings on the road – but I digress). We paid the driver $200 to compensate for the sheered off mirror and massive gouge in the side of his car. There was a short side trip to check out Paranagua, and the amazing Avenida Graciosa (a mountainside road in a flower park). Amazing, but it rained the entire day. From there it was a long jaunt to Foz do Iguacu, where we spent a day walking and climbing over, under, and inside some of the world’s most picturesque waterfalls. And also my new Sony digital camera was stolen. After that we drove to Paraguay to check out Asuncion, a country that is only just emerging from decades of ugly dictatorship. The economy is barely emerging and it shows. As Jody remarked during the drive to the capitol, “This looks totally like Africa!” And it does. Nice, but it has a long way to go.

Crossing into Argentina was like moving into civilization. Nice roads, cool pool halls with extensive menus, and parity to the US dollar. Easy conversion – one peso equals one dollar. Except that the prices are too high for our measly budget. We ended up camping in a gas station parking lot in order to avoid a $40 hotel bill. It’s a huge country, over a thousand kilometers from the border of Paraguay to the capitol Buenos Aires. As we drove in there were little weird things that didn’t make sense. Most of the stores in the little towns were closed. And the giant Carrefour hypermarts had empty parking lots. Passing through the toll station fifty kilometers out of BA, a soldier flagged us down and said some obviously important things in Spanish. I nodded and took off. “What did he say”, asked Jody. “No idea”, I replied. The mysteries were deepening.

Inexplicably, the highway was suddenly closed off, all traffic was forced up an exit ramp with no detour signs and no idea where to go. We looked around trying to figure things out. To the right, a mob of kids and young men were swarming over a couple of loaded flat-bed trucks. Yelling. Someone cut the tie-down line and the mob ripped off the tarp. I think the truck was carrying notepaper or writing tablets because people scrambled to the top of the load and started flinging boxes off to the waiting crowd. Several hit the ground and burst open, scattering sheets of paper everywhere. Looters? Was this normal? “Lock the doors!” I said, and we drove across a grass median to get out of there. Weaving through neighborhoods we found our way back to the highway, still unsure why it had been closed.

After finding a cheap hotel downtown we went to an Internet café. Wow. Cavallo, the Finance Minister had just resigned together with the entire Cabinet after rioting and looting in the suburbs of Buenos Aires had left a dozen dead. And there were demonstrations going on mere blocks from us. You gotta love up to the minute web news. No big deal we figured. We’d dodge the demonstrations and go sightseeing as usual the next day.

Wrong. Gulin took off across the river to visit Uruguay and Jody and I walked up the pedestrian mall toward Plaza de Mayo – where the congress and a lot of pretty old buildings are located. On the way we tried to get some pesos from bank machines. There were long lines and most of the machines were out of service. It turned out that one of Cavallo’s last moves was to limit bank withdrawals (after a run on the bank had pushed the country to near insolvency) and sensing trouble, people were desperately trying to get whatever money they could out of their bank accounts. In the Citibank branch two pretty tellers were directing the lines, soothing tempers, and doing their best to control the crowds. Stores had pulled down their steel anti-theft doors halfway, shoppers had to duck underneath to get inside, everyone seemed to be holding their breath. We continued down the street. Suddenly a flood of people poured at us, we turned and ran into the shelter of a bank entrance. Tear gas. Police were breaking up demonstrations in Plaza de Mayo. A snappily dressed businessman walked passed and made a comment in Spanish. "No comprende" we said. He stopped, "Are you tourists?" "Yes, we just arrived last night." "Welcome to Argentina!"

Jody and I went to a café to get coffee. “I have got to see this up close”, I said. Grabbed my camera and took off. Approaching from a side street I found myself in the midst of young men, shirts off over their faces. Tear gas was making things dicey. Through trial and error I realized that you can’t wipe off your eyes when the tear gas blinds you, it just makes it worse. You gotta just take it and let the tears wash away the pain. I guess that’s why it’s called Tear Gas. Individuals would start yelling slogans, or just “Argentina!”. But mostly the group seemed like bored, unemployed men, who had nothing to lose. At 20% unemployment, a lot of people had been hard off for a long time. Police stayed several blocks away but kept firing tear gas canisters from shotguns. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the streets were being re-paved and there were plenty of rocks lying around for ammunition. With the police too far away, the group turned on the plate-glass windows of an insurance company. Bam. Bam. Crash. With bricks and stones they demolished the front of the shop. Several guys ran in and snatched computers, disappearing into the smoke with their loot. I started feeling conspicuous in my Junglerunner t-shirt and little camera. I tried to avoid eye contact, but when the demolition started a couple of the guys began glancing in my direction. Time to go.

Around the corner, I passed the Citibank branch where we had tried unsuccessfully to get money earlier in the morning. It was demolished. All the windows smashed, a fire burning outside, furniture strewn about inside. Wacky. I went up the street and waved my Junglerunner business card at a mounted cop, “I’m a journalist”. He waved me behind the police lines.

Unlike the US (when I visited the World Trade Center in NYC), the police didn’t care how close you got to the action. All the news agencies were there and the cameramen were taking crazy chances, venturing past the line of mounted and foot police into the firing zone to get better pictures. Of course I followed. I always wanted to be a photojournalist! A bank had been totally destroyed and I sidled down to have a better look. Windows smashed, furniture on fire inside, plants thrown onto the street, anything of value – gone. On the street across from me, a lunatic started baiting the police with a fire bomb clutched in his hand. “Bastardos! Imbecile!” Me and a couple of the news boys scurried close to frame the shot better. That’s when the rioters down the street grouped up and stormed the cops.

Pure sweet adrenaline flooded through me as the mob raced toward us. Rocks were hailing down, one photographer took one to the body and slumped behind a torched news stand. Rubber bullets and tear gas canisters were whizzing past us from the other direction. Me and another news flunky dove into the burned-out hulk of the bank, crunching over piles of broken glass to duck behind the smoking desks. I looked down at my Teva sandals – not the best choice for a long day of violent civil unrest. Rioters streamed past. Then the police re-grouped behind a black tank-like vehicle and tore into the middle of the pack, flailing with their cudgels. People fled everywhere. We ducked out of the bank and rushed back behind the police lines.

It went on like that for over an hour. Advance and retreat, trading tear gas for rocks. Man, if it had happened in the US there would be dozens of casualties lying around – can you imagine the carnage? Good ol’ boys would show up with their Glock 9mm pistols and start wreaking havoc. The Argentines were pissed off, upset, and doing damage, but at least all they were firing were stones. Down the street a dense pillar of black smoke started rising. The police formed up and stormed down to allow the fire engine to get through. It was another bank – and this time it had really been torched. After battling the fire for twenty minutes or so, suddenly the second floor crashed down, barely missing the firefighters inside. The photographer pack went nuts. Flames were roaring all over the building, the firefighters screaming for more water, smoke pouring out the top of the building – and in the distance the crack, crack, crash of rocks pounding off more building windows.

I went back to get Jody. “Want to see a riot up close?” “Absolutely!” she said. We headed back. The pitched battle had faded back to Plaza de la Republica, a huge white obelisk (like the Washington Monument in DC) in the middle of Buenos Aires’ main boulevard. Police were holding their line while the rioters beat the crap out of stores and restaurants. “I’ll be right back” I told Jody, and walked down into the middle of the pack. By now, live news coverage had attracted an even bigger crowd. People were setting fire to subway stations, pulling furniture out of shops and setting it on fire, and running off with shopping bags full of looted booty. Two guys looked at me and yelled (I think) “Hey! No pictures of us! No pictures!” No problem! I’m a journalist! From Canada – no problem! They turned back to the looting. Bam, Bam, Bam! The police charged in from another side street and a wall of gas rolled over us. I had gotten pretty good at handling the tear gas but this cloud nearly did me in. Staggering back up the street over twisted metal barricades, tears streaming down my face, I could barely see. Couldn’t open my eyes. Leaned against a smashed Men’s Wear shop window, then moved aside so the looters could get out more easily. I finally found Jody and suggested we go up a different side street for the view behind the police lines.

And that’s how the day went. I dodged and darted around getting way too close to the action looking for shots (my fabulous Sony digital camera with the 5x zoom lens had been stolen in Brazil and the little Kodak DC3800 had no zoom – in fact objects appear further away than they actually are). Jody took notes in her journal and chatted with the locals (came back with a lovely spent tear gas projectile shell casing). “This government is terrible, they do nothing, they do the wrong things, they f**k us” said a couple of the guys. Then, around 8:30pm, the battles subsided and the rioters started cheering. President de la Rua had resigned. What a day. We had arrived in town to see the results of bad fiscal policy turn into the worst rioting in decades, and at the end of it all, had been there when the government came apart by the will of the people. Awesome. Oh, and we also had the laundry done – so that was nice.


Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com