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11 Signs You Definitely Belong In South America

South America is no one thing. From Colombia in the north to Argentina in the south, the level of diversity is incredible. Home to some of the friendliest people on earth, it’s cultures have endured conquistadors and rapid environmental changes among other things. Sure, it can be raucous and at times treacherous, but anyone who has travelled through the continent will be able to point to at least one city and say, “Yeah, I could live there”. For the uninitiated, if you identify with any points on the below list, it might be time to start packing and saying your farewells to friends and family.

#1 You look great in a Panama hat

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But what’s that you say? Panama is in Central America? This is true, but the Panama hat in fact originated in Ecuador, and that’s still the place to find the finest examples. Both tough and breathable, the Panama hat is perfect summer wear, whether strolling through historic Cuenca or padding the sand in Manta. The finest panama hats are said to be impervious to water and able to be rolled and passed through a wedding ring.


#2 Tango is your dance of love

If you like your dancing to be romantic, melancholic and given to fatalism, you’d be well suited to the tango milongas of Buenos Aires. As Argentina’s most famous cultural export, it’s quite normal to find yourself entwined with your partner – after the best steak dinner of your life– in the twilight of a brisk evening sashaying through the vibrant streets.


#3 You adore wearing colour

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If drab greys make you look forlorn and you want the world to see you shine from the clothing out, you’ll definitely feel at home in South America. Traditional dress throughout the continent is a cacophony of colours – cool weather Andean attire of the layered poncho-like Lliklla of Peru contrast vividly beside the near-nudity and brilliant body paint of those indigenous to the humid Amazon basin. While traditional dress is rarely worn among young city folk, it shouldn’t dissuade you from living your most fluorescent life.


#4 You love to walk on the wild side

The Andean mountain ranges run the length of the South American continent from Colombia through to Chile. If you’re up to it, there is no better place in the world to find adventure. Whether trekking to Machu Picchu via the Salkantay pass, mountain biking in Banõs, crossing mountain gorges on grass bridges or rock climbing Pulpito Del Diablo in Colombia – if living on the edge of a cliff is your thing, why aren’t you here already?


#5 There’s no such thing as too much partying

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Carnival. If only we could harness the kinetic energy produced by this enormous snaking line of half-naked, vibrating humanity – surely there’s enough energy there to power Rio De Janeiro for the duration of the century. If partying is what you love to do, then join the throng in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo or Salvador for an extreme seven days and nights of revelry.


#6 You are intrigued by failed social experiments

Located deep in the Amazon basin, Henry Ford attempted to create a rubber factory and an American neighbourhood as a way to push his idealist view of contemporary society while also cutting his dependence on British produced rubber for his Ford motor cars. The operation was an entire failure. The abandoned relics are slowly returning to nature much like the Ford Falcon my childhood neighbour kept on bricks in his backyard.


#7 You like the high life

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No continent in the world boasts as many cities at high altitude as South America. Seventeen of the world’s top 20 highest cities are in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Quito, the capital of Ecuador and Bogota, the capital of Colombia both sit higher than two-and-a-half kilometres above sea level. And while visiting such great heights can cause altitude sickness, the body does eventually adapt. It’s also been suggested that living at altitude can keep you slim. Just don’t be in a rush to hike up any mountains – the thin oxygen makes the required heavy breathing difficult.


#8 You’re praised on your driving skills

If you’re a post-career F1 driver, you might consider making the move to Venezuela. They have the cheapest petrol on the planet – you can typically fill up for less than one dollar. Road laws are implied rather than implemented – Venezuelan police revoked a driver’s license for the first time in 2011. You’ll need your driving skills to negotiate roadways that are more like a demolition derby than orderly traffic. You know things are going to get rough when the taxi drivers’ preference is a solid ‘70s American muscle car.


#9 You could live on tropical fruit

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Fruit is the true hero of digestive tracts across South America. There are only so many days you can eat plates filled mostly with meat and rice before things just, you know, stop moving. A daily dose of fibrous fruit is basically a requirement and the diversity of fruit is incredible, especially in low-lying countries close to the Equator. Situated deep in the Amazon basin, Manaus market in Brazil is especially interesting with hundreds of different local tropical fruits on offer that are impossible to export.


#10 It’s time for your 2pm nap

Staying awake through an entire day is difficult, and there’s nothing like a siesta to see you through. Living within a culture that mandates a daytime nap is by far the most compelling reason to emigrate. Even Brazil, a country that doesn’t benefit from this Spanish colonial tradition, is getting in on it.


#11 You like to play by your own rules

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Do you hate standing in orderly queues or waiting your turn at the deli counter? Do you feel as though music should be played as loud as possible, whatever time of day? If you have an energetic personality and a vague disregard for order, you’ll thrive in South America. Arriving from orderly Australia into the wonderful “do whatever you want” South American lifestyle is certainly a refreshing change. That is, until your neighbourhood fishermen start blasting reggaeton at 4am to get the day started.

This first appeared at AWOL.com.au

What makes a dive bar a dive bar?

The American dive bar, the neighbourhood bar. Whatever you want to call it – the historic refuge for those wanting to escape the puritanical eye and drink themselves some sanity. A place to find comfort, friends, comrades in misery or to let loose. Where the great cross-section of society comes to be together in quiet salute to the powers of alcohol. It’s a beautiful thing. We examine what makes an American dive bar a dive bar.

Isn’t a dive bar just a pub?

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The dive bar is a truly American invention. In Australia we have those lousy, but comfortable pubs where you are likely to find counter meals and a dearth of craft beer. Our pubs are usually large places, multiple rooms catering to different purposes. The buildings are often grand and in no way shy of their use. America, on the other hand, has a long puritanical history that drove its bars underground. Dive bars blend in with their surrounds, announcing their existence with small signs that turn neon by night attracting barflys like moths. Entrances to the more historic venues are often concealed in an effort to hide the shame of those coming and going.


They’re locals in the truest sense

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I’ve come to LA’s Cozy Inn, five minutes drive from Sony Picture Studios in Culver City, to ponder the question of what makes a dive bar a dive bar? Firstly, the most important aspect of a dive bar should be that it represent the area it is located, dive bars in New York, say, or suburban Milwaukee are going to be different in the minutia but similar in feel to the Cozy Inn. The first thing that should strike you is the lack of light, at a dive bar it is midnight all the time. I fumble my way from the door to the bar finding a seat in the darkness. Like many dive bars in Los Angeles the only natural light penetrating the darkness at the Cozy leaks in from an open door, it’s a concrete box surrounded by parking.

I ask Matt, the bartender, a north-eastern transplant who I’m yet to see without a Pittsburgh Pirates cap, what makes the Cozy Inn unique. His answer reveals how completely local dive bars are, the only comparisons he can draw are to the other two dive bars in the area, as anything outside of this geographical location isn’t a valid comparison. Matt explains, “Around the corner you got Joxer Daley’s, and they’ve got the draughts, if you want beer on tap that’s where you go. At Cinema Bar they’ve got the smoking area outdoors, and sometimes they do music. But here at the Cozy, we pour hard, that’s what we’re known for, we pour hard.” I tell the bartender I like tequila drinks. Coming from a land where every millilitre of liquor is measured and accounted for watching Matt free pour my drink and deliver me something that is probably 80% Jose Cuervo is both very generous and a little terrifying. “That’ll be $6.50, and you should know we tip here in The United States,” he says.


A typical dive bar

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A dive bar is not a place to be seen, it is a place to leave status at the door and connect with people on equal footing, where the high rub elbows with the low. A dive bar should never make you feel rushed or hurried. Here at the Cozy I see a number of people who I can confidently say have been slowly sipping beer at the bar since before 10am, and this is only a conservative estimate as the place opens at 6am – like all good dive’s should. The majority of the floor space has been given over to games: shuffleboard, a couple of pool tables, actually very few places to sit – strange as the name is the Cozy Inn. Dive Bars should have at least a picture of the bar’s owner somewhere on the wall, although extra points are awarded if, as at the Cozy, above the bar are pictures of regulars struggling with the weight of enormous fish pulled from the open sea nearby.

Additionally, if you find a wall with various mugs engraved with regular’s names hanging on the wall, you’re definitely in a dive bar. While the trend among drinking establishments is to add food to their list of offerings, a true dive bar will, at best, serve a small offering of American classics that require a deep fryer. Onion rings, chilli dogs, nachos, French fries, buffalo wings and burgers. Also expect to find reasonably priced beer-and-shot-combos and a jukebox of some kind. I’d always prefer to see a CD jukebox heavy with classic metal but more usually these days it’s the internet kind. At the Cozy you can pay money to push down playlists requested by others, perfect if you’re having a quick beer and can’t stand to hear Born In the U.S.A. again.


What’s in a name?

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Where we in Australia might reach to honour place or history when we name a pub, dive bars can take a comical approach: Dew Drop Inn, The Horny Toad, He’s Not Here, The Stumble Inn. There are also a high percentage of dives that go the more personal route of simply being named after their owner: Beefy’s Cabin, Dear John’s, Sadie’s Flying Elephant. But more often than not the name will speak to the scene inside: Rock Bottom Lounge, Sports Harbour, Merrimaker, The Shelter and The Liquor Box.

I would like to lead off a list of America’s best dive bars with the most famous dive bar in the world, Moe’s Taven. The scene of many evenings of convivial drinking between Barney, Lenny, Carl and Homer Simpson. Unfortunately, being fictional and all, it’s a difficult place to visit. But the following list should be a good start to your Americana odyssey. And if you need me, I’ll be sitting here at The Cozy Inn propping up the bar until Matt calls last drinks. Bottoms-up.

Try these dive bars next time you’re State-side.

#1 Mean-Eyed Cat, Austin, Texas

#2 Lucky’s Lounge, Boston, Massachusetts

#3 Rudy’ Bar & Grill, New York City, New York

#4 Lee Harvey’s, Dallas, Texas

#5 Jasper’s Saloon, Lompoc, California

This article first appeared at AWOL.com.au

(Lead image: Jim Nix/Flickr)

Experimenting with blackberries at Forrest Brewing

While holidaying on the beaches of the Otway ranges this unseasonably cool summer it has been natural for holiday makers thoughts to turn away from beaches and to the spectacular forests inland. My interest in Forrest Brewing was piqued after a visit to the Wye River Pub, where I tried a stout from the mid-sized bottle that have become Forrest Brewing’s trademark. Arriving in town from the Great Ocean Road Forrest Brewing is difficult to miss, a one level former general store with BREWERY written across the silver corrugated roof in gigantic letters. A circular sawblade painted with the Forrest Brewing logo is the first indication of the origin of the township’s name and its former industry.

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A glass window looks from the dining room down to the small brewery where Matt Bradshaw diligently experiments and produces 800 liters of beer a week. The pub serves four beers, the sourish silvertop, a floral but cleanly-balanced pale ale, a mid-strength Irish red ale that manages to pack in a bunch of malty flavor and the stout which had encouraged me to visit in the first place.

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I found Matt deep in process of creating a specialty beer that will only be available at this year’s Geelong’s Great Australian Beer Festival. The forest location had given him inspiration, ‘I went out last night and foraged for a bunch of blackberries, I’ve been inspired by European fruit beers and am experimenting with a blackberry Belgian ale.’ Mid brew he inspects the fermenting liquid, ‘I’m hoping it doesn’t come out a bright purple.’

Of the breweries four permanent beers the pale ale comes the closest to 5% ABV, a decision literally driven by the requirements of having a destination brew-pub. Says Matt, ‘You’re either relying on the 170 residents of Forrest to buy your beer or you make sure people can still drive home after trying the product.’ A ‘tasting pallet’ of five samples at the bar will cost you $8 and comes in at 2 standard drinks. When asked if the experimental beer would follow in the same pattern, ‘Well,’ smiles Matt, ‘hopefully no one is driving home from a beer festival.’

This piece first appeared in the Surf Coast Times on 19/02/2015

Knowing where you’re at by knowing where it began.

I grew up on the Victorian surf coast in Australia. I learnt to surf on an 8’ funboard with electric blue bottom and cream deck at Ocean Grove. I spent my summers dodging closeouts and nippers at Wye River, the sandbars were always going to sort themselves out with the next easterly swell or river flood – neither did. Pulling on wetsuits year round was normal, cold water was the only water I knew. Booties meant you didn’t have to come in direct contact with floating kelp. From Point Lonsdale to Torquay to Aireys Inlet, there wasn’t a beach break I hadn’t surfed, still too much a novice to brave the reef breaks, still scared of waves over 3’ and usually one of the few surfers under 25 in water dominated by grey hair, rotund bellies and

DSC_4822 beaten-up longboards. I remember the lineups being quiet, dawn patrollers a hardy bunch who were there to surf and left the yakking to the carpark. The sky nearly always low and surfers in the perpetual pose of bare hands in neoprened arm pits to keep warm.

Nearly a decade has passed and I’ve spent the majority of that living overseas. I’m now about to hit my mid-thirties and base myself in LA and leave when water temperatures drop and booties become a necessity. I’m probably more committed to surfing now than I ever have been, having finally developed the skills to competently ride a shortboard, skills I only really dreamed I’d ever have, and developed beyond a fear of rocks and reef breaks. When I arrive at the beach I’m now hoping to find waves over 3’. I never thought that the older I became the more surfing would become the thing that I do with my life, the star by which I navigate.

I’m home for Christmas, like all good sons should be. It’s summer but I’ve arrived to a Victorian cold snap that should transform into a minor heat wave in a few days, the old saying will always be true of Victoria – If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. I’ve been at the beach for dawn patrol, shivering in the light layers of clothing I though sufficient for a Victorian summer while packing in early winter LA. But the cold has been welcome, I feel committed to my surfing, as though making a sacrifice for the thing that I love. Dad has leant me his ‘88 Volvo with 355k on the clock before the odometer broke, a car to which he has strangely attached five roof racks, saying that he carried an eight meter piece of concrete board the other day as way of explanation. The radio has been updated and the central locking works, but most other feature are malfunctioning or not working at all. But the Volvo runs strong and has ample room in back for my board, sadly making the five roof racks redundant.

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With the radio up loud, vibrating the loose interior of the Volvo, I’ve been driving to the surf coast’s more famous surf spots, shivering on wooden viewing platforms, climbing down stairs to beaches partly wind protected by prehistoric limestone cliffs waiting to see the sets. The tough sand dune scrub and dull, wet-looking sand lit in patches by shafts of light penetrating cloud. The surf hasn’t been even remotely excellent, but I don’t care. The beaches that I surfed as a teenager are transformed, opened up to me by an increase in competency and experience. Waves where I once looked and thought, Well that’s for the good surfers, I can now conceivably sit on the shoulder at Bird Rock, Beacon Point or Winki, in the clean cold water that to me will always taste like oysters, and hope one or two waves swing wide.

Victorian surf culture stems from these surfers, the ones not running from lips but seeking them out and bouncing off them as though spring loaded, painting long curved lines on the face looking to get back to the power, the same surfers who are going to be building your house when they get out the water, or installing plumbing and electrics, or working the local supermarket, maybe teaching your kids. Although, these days they’re just as likely to work marketing for Rip Curl. These are the brave and reckless surfers, the nameless black wetsuited surfer you look up to. Victorian surfers have a worker’s ethic, the cold isn’t an issue because you get up and go surfing and that’s what you do, you just get on with it regardless. Having been exposed to Southern Californian lineups where competition is fierce and everyone is calling each other off waves and pecking orders are obvious and guarded, Victorian lineups are quiet, spread out, the assumption seems to be that if you don’t know better you shouldn’t be in the water. A long stare at someone dropping in has about the same effect as an expletive laden rant does at Topanga. Novices are ostracized until they learn.

I don’t want to make it sound unfriendly, because it isn’t. And being an outsider is part of the aesthetic. There is simply a unique rhythm to surfing here that it’s taken me a moment to adjust to after surfing elsewhere in the world. And the more surfing I do on this trip I see where my commitment to surfing stems from, where my relationship with water and waves began, my own personal surfing culture is so heavily influenced by Victoria’s Surf Coast, where surfing isn’t the white sands and warm water of Bondi or Snapper Rocks, where there aren’t beaches full of half-naked sun bathers, where the only reason to be at the beach is to walk the dog or go surfing. The natural environment is unforgiving, uncomfortable, and that breeds a sense of belonging, and respect. I’ve long enjoyed surfing alone because in Victoria you never are alone, you’re enduring the conditions with everyone else, all committed to the same goal of riding a decent wave or two before you thaw out and real life takes your day. Surfing Victoria isn’t more or less clean and pure than it is anywhere else, this isn’t intended as a comparison, to be honest there are better waves elsewhere, but the surfing life here doesn’t feel like something you do to keep fit, or to train for competition, or to win favor with those half naked people on the beach, or because someone has their camera out – there is nothing impressive about it, it just is what it is, surfing because surfing is fun and grounding and the best reason to get out of bed on a cold morning.

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I’ll keep making my morning pilgrimage in my Dad’s Volvo to visit those viewing platforms, always hoping to see the iconic sets wrapping into the Bells bowl. But even if the surf is consistently awful I’ll feel good, because I’m there and I’m committed and I’m part of this thing that makes me feel like I belong to this nature of cliffs, wind and rocks and to my home.

This piece first appeared 25/02/2015 at The Inertia.