Friday, 13 November 2009

No bueno

Having navigated my way safely through hazardous cities such as Rio and Sao Paulo, it was of some surprise to find that my first minor disaster of my trip was a self-inflicted one.

Waiting for me in San Antonio de Areco last Saturday, alongside the annual Dia de la TradiciĆ³n festival was the discovery of my none to cheery finances. Although I feel Brazil on the whole had treated me well throughout the month of October, now I realised it was at a quite a cost. Issues with online banking had until this point prevented me from seeing that I´d been spending roughly three times more than what I´d planned for.

I´d been paying around £6 a night for most accomodations in Argentina so spending five days at the £18 a night Hostel Gaucho was not the remedy I was looking for. Swiftly I looked to stem this rapid loss of capital and when confirming my reservation with the propiertors, immediately reduced my stay to a couple of days.

Checked in and with a certain amount of composure restored I set about checking out the festivities that had drawn me here. Because of heavy rainfall over the previous days, the Saturday was to be a none event as the ground was still damp in places and this was deemed unsafe for the horses. With the sun shining brightly though, it offered me the chance to take a wander and get my bearings ahead of the next days main event.

Having grown tired of the grid layouts of Cordoba, Rosario and Posadas, I suppose it was only to be expetced that this farming town I´d hyped up so much was to also have the same street structure. So it did, but that is not where the fun was to be had. On the perimeter of the main block runs a tranquil little river and on the other side of this, the fields and buildings where the gaucho festival was being held. Even without any major events going on, there was plenty to do and see with craft stalls lining the riverfront, gauchos prowling the streets on horseback and giant cuts of meat being cooked over the equally expansive asados.

This kept me occupied into the early evening and as night fell, I crossed the river to check out the entertainment that had been promised. Eventually around a thousand people turned up to enjoy steak sandwiches, empanadas, beer and traditonal dancing. I joined a group of Americans who between them had a great selection of names. They were of no great significance on a relationship level but the names Maryweather and Fielding made me giggle inside and will remain there for some time.

By 11.30PM it had got pretty chilly so I headed back for some rest.

A buzz of excitement filled the streets on Sunday morning as everyone prepared for the day ahead. I left the hostel with another American, this time called Andrew (although he prefers ¨Drew¨) and we set up camp in the old town square to wait for the party to unravel.

Things kicked off with a display of dance and a band parade, capped off with a rousing rendition of the national anthem. Then the moment everyone had been waiting was upon us and for a solid two hours, we were treated to an unrivalled parade of macho men on horseback, some with slippers on, others just looking damn mean.

With my legs feeling heavy and my nose a little red, I had a brief break at the hostel before making my way over to the main park for the afternoon festivities. Me and Andrew had a mammoth steak sandwich before he went in pursuit of gaucho gifts, of which one was a knife with an osterich toe for the handle. ¨Ecstatic¨ doesn´t do his emotions justice.

We sat down on the grass and after a lenghty wait, were treated to a spectacular display of horsemanship as herds of them thundered around the ring, each group following their gaucho and his big bell.

By late afternoon we were hanging out with a mate drinking couple who ran one of the craft stalls and Drew was revelling in what became an impromptu Spanish lesson. This lasted around three hours at which point it was dark and I could barely stand.

Eventually food was on the cards so pizza between us and a local drunk was what we found. At around midnight I followed Drew in his search for a party that may still have been going on over at the park. It wasn´t but we did come across over three hundred bottles of Quilmes. In the midst of weighing up whether we should take some, we were rumbled by an old man we´d not seen, who was lying down on the grass behind us. Here ended the gaucho festival.

Since I´m paying for this internet access and until this point, my progress has been somewhat laboured, I´ll pick things up a little so you can get back to whatever you were doing.

Right, Monday and a return to something resembling normality.

I caught an early afternoon coach to Buenos Aires with a thirty two year old girl (lady?) called Kristina who was surprisingly pleasant despite coming from LA and loving the place. While she slept, possibly tired from my company, I planned what to do next. After much flicking through my guidebooks I settled on alleviating Chile from my travel plans in order to cut costs and also feel the warmth of Bolivia a little sooner. That will be at the begining of December however as with good friend Kobus joining me for ten days in Buenos Aires on the nineteenth of this month, I I will until this point be locked to the land on which I currently stand.

This rambling must stop.

By mid afternoon I had landed at Lime House Hostel where for five pounds a night, life is cheap and I am happy. Being slap bang next to Avenida 9 de Julio in the centre of the city, the location is excellent and as the sun set, I went for an amble around the local streets and plazas. Some lounging around at the hostel rounded things off before an inexpensive and welcomed sleep.

Tuesday was shared with Alex who I met up with again after hanging out with him in Cordoba and Rosario. As there was a subway strike, we were forced to make an hour-long walk to the La Boca district of the city, famous for its coloured buildings and home to Diego Maradona´s old club, Boca Juniors. Smaller than I´d imagined and slightly underwhelmed by the place, we got some pictures and returned to the centre. With an asado on the roof terrace at Alex´s hostel, my evening was taken care of, although the meat didn´t quite match up to what I´d enountered the previous night in gaucho country.

¨Five pesos Wednesday¨ centered around a visit to the Museum of Latin American Art and entry at the aforementioned cost. On display were some of the works of Andy Warhol which were appreciated to a decent degree but against the backdrop of my trip, will ultimately matter little. This time was spent with Alex and a jovial couple of Aussie blokes and during the day I picked up a cheap guide to Bolivia at a cozy little book shop which they´d been recommended. My evening consisted of steak once more and research into volunteer work as a means to saving money and helping civilisation.

Some people may take literacy offence to my repeated references to all the red meat I´m eating, however, I feel it is important in stressing my frequent consumption as I know it´s something you folks back home can´t afford to do and with Bolivia on the horizon, my time spent with this luxury is at a premium. Talking about food generally isn´t interesting but the being able to walk into a supermarket everyday and get half a kilo of steak for less than £1.50 is.

Yesterday was on the large very leisurely, with internet duties in the morning and an afternoon of walking and talking.

With no meat on the menu for lunch I instead went in search of some cultural nourishment. I found this at the Plaza de Mayo, where twenty three years after Argentinas Dirty War, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo march around the square, as they do every Thrusday, as way of remembering their ¨lost¨children/relatives who disappeared during the military dictatorship of that time. Their logo which is a white shawl, is painted on the ground all around the plaza and while I was there, they also had a substantial range of branded merchandise which American culture-vultures were eager to snap up.

Afterwards I caught up with three Aussies I met in Rio and joined them for beers at their place, before a quick steak-break and onto an average burelsque show at a nearby bar.

With 6 six days until Kobus´arrival, I will continue to enjoy this lovely city, keep a low profile and make sure I don´t let my final moments in Argentina hurt me as much as those dreamy days in Brazil.

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