Published: May 16th 2008April 29th 2008
Regarding the fancy-pants buses of South America, we booked into a cama from Cordoba to Rosario as we have been assured that they are vastly superior to the semi-cama which in turn is vastly superior to any bus I´d ever been on before Chile and Argentina. But I guess I'm a classy bird with a taste for comfort and so for this trip we booked cama.
Unfortunately, despite our seats ability to recline 160 degrees and the nicely polystyrene packed snacks doled out on a silver platter (ok, no platter, but nice snacks), an hour or so into the journey, there was a bit of a 'putt-putt-bang' and the engine on our cama bus failed dismally and we ended up sitting, albeit terribly comfortably, on the verge watching the traffic streaking by. Despite my lack of the language, from the lengthy discussions I ascertained that there was an electronic fault, that the driver was worried but expected a bus to arrive in forty minutes, that the lady with the bouffant in a cardigan that a female Carrington would have worn was terribly annoyed at this (she brayed angrily and gesticulated wildly), that the business man at the front was resigned
You may not be able to ride it, but it will never be stolen...
to the fact (he shrugged his shoulders and reclined his seat back a little further), and that the beautiful young Argentinian girls in front of us didn´t mind particularly and continued to flick their long, straight, shiny hair from side to side, gossiping as they did.
Eventually the driver managed to hail down a rival companies bus and we all bundled off. Grabbing our backpacks, Alan and I went to the other bus, noticing that many of our fellow passengers, the bouffant lady, businessman and beautiful young girls, turned their noses up at bus. It was a semi-cama. They decided to stay by the side of the road and wait for a cama. I thought about it for about ten seconds and then decided that I'm not such a classy bird after all and jumped aboard the semi-cama, the polystyrene box of treats garnering much excitement and envy from my fellow semi-cama passengers who had never before seen such luxury, and we zoomed on towards Rosario.
Rosario is a very pretty town, and this is where Ché Guevara was born (we actually sought out his first home one day, in an apartment block without a plaque - pity
The ghost of Kurt Cobain
haunts the streets of Rosario
he wasn't a Dubliner, we have a plaque for pretty much every free gig either U2 or the Boom Town Rats played in Dublin - I fully anticipate we'll walk by our house when we get home and there will be a plaque up saying 'this is where Alan and Aoife once lived, and we were so delighted when they left that the neighbours all got together to put this up in celebration').
We wandered around Rosario, stopping for some steak and chips in a lovely bistro. The man who made the Argentinian flag, Manuel Belgrano, was from Rosario so afterwards we looked at a big monument to him which has an eternal flame burning. I quite like the Argentinian 'banderas' or flag with its triband of blue and white and the striking yellow sun. Alan mused that perhaps Antonio Banderas would be known as Tony Flags if he was from Ireland and may have had less allure as a result.
Around this time we began to notice that many street names seem to be the same in different Argentinian cities - there are 'Independencia', 'Bolivar', 'Plaza de Mayo', 'Cordoba' and numerous others that seem to pop up,
A poodle watches the world go by without him
which is a tad disorientating as you whizz from city to city, and sometimes when you're a little tired and not so good at directions, you get baffled (i.e. I got a bit confused in Rosario on one street, thinking that I was going batty as I thought it looked entirely different than I remembered, until I realised I was actually remembering a street of the same name in Cordoba).
Our hostel was run by a family of characters, along the lines of Fawlty Towers. It was quirky, charming and a little unusual. For example they didn´t have any record of our booking, then they gave us the wrong key for the room, then they realised they didn't know where the right key was and had to try around fifty of them until they found the right one. Then they didn't serve a breakfast even though they said they did, and when we went to leave they didn´t know how to charge us - perplexing!
However Jose the owner was a real charmer and one evening while Alan was chilling in the room, I was sitting outside and he came out and started yapping away to me, and
Sun and sky
Argentina's national flag, Rosario
we tried to communicate despite a lack of understanding of each other's languages (he spoke Italian, Spanish and Portuguese while I struggle with English, Irish, German and French and have about twenty words of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese combined, know about ten words of Japanese and Chinese, can only currently remember three Russian words and one Mongolian - so as one did, I waved my hands a lot and used all of my words from all of these languages and he listened patiently nodding and then burst out with his own load of words and gestures).
Anyway we were there having a conversation of sorts when suddenly he got very excited and zealous and ran inside, grabbing me by the hand and proceeded to sit me on a chair, produced a drum and insisting on giving me a lengthy one-man drum show, during which he either closed his eyes tightly or stared directly into mine without blinking, which meant I had to give him my full attention and was slightly dazed and a tad freaked out by the end of it. Not so Jose, who lept up from the drum and began dancing around to some Ricky Martin which
What's in the bag?
Aoife looking mighty pleased
was playing on the TV, I was content to watch, but of course he insisted I joined him.
So there are the two of us dancing around the sitting room to Ricky Martin, me practically in my PJs, nobody else there, a sixty year old man and a thirty year old woman, prancing around to 'she bangs' or something dreadful and I'm just delighted as we're on our own and I'll make my excuses in a second, when of course what happens but a few fellow hostellers returned to the scene. So Alan was up in our room chilling out, missing the show, while I was there dancing to a bunch of strangers practically in my PJs like some loonie, and when the other guys in the hostel tried to talk to me it became apparent that they had even less English than Jose so they took me for a complete weirdo, even though I tried to tell them was only dancing to Ricky Martin to keep Jose company and also because I felt like I had to do something to say cheers for the unexpected solo drum show and eye contact contest, and he then kept telling one
of these guys who was trying to rescue him from the PJ clad girl that I was ok, that I speak with the (he touched his heart) and I understand with the (he touched his eyes), well either that or he was saying, 'this girl she loves me (touching his heart), even though she doesn't speak Spanish, I see it in her eyes (touching his eyes). I said my 'ciao's' and fled.
One evening when we were avoiding Jose by wandering around the town, I spotted this beautiful boutique shop. I have avoided such places for the duration of this journey as I normally resemble someone who has been dragged through a hedge backwards and then sat on for a few days. However, the reason we´re in a bit of a hurry through South America is that we´re making our way back to Dublin for the wedding of Alan´s sister Orla and I can´t exactly turn up wearing jeans and a hoodie. So I wandered in, Alan following in my wake.
Shopping in South America is intimidating at first but if you stick it out, it is a wonderous joy. The reason it is a little intimidating is
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that there are oodles of staff working in all shops and once you wander in the door they come over giving you loads of attention. In Ireland when you get this much attention it typically means they think you are a shop-lifter. In my current state of attire, I suppose the first few shops where I received this attention made me feel a bit nervous and I kept expecting a police car to pull up by the kerb. But when I mentioned this to Alex (a girl we met in Mendoza) she laughed and totally agreed, but told me not to worry that they were only being helpful and gave me the following useful phrase: ´Solo estoy mirando´(I´m just looking). Now when I go into a shop I make some sort of attempt at that phrase and people back off, it´s wonderful, and then when I need help I just ask for it and to be honest I'm asking for help more frequently as the people working in the shops seem to know what I want more than I do myself.
In this fabulous boutique which I was perusing I did the whole ´mirando´thing for the first time and
Fine wines, fine times
Aoife raises a toast to Rosario in a Parisian style cafÃ©-bar
it worked so well that the woman working there said, ´yes, and if you want anything, just ask me´in English. So I wandered about and ended up chatting with her, and then tried on loads of clothes, really nice ones. Of course, I´m a bit of a lunatic when it comes to shopping and ended up buying this really mad dress, instead of the perfectly respectable things she showed me, and the downright raunchy numbers too (I said, ´I´m not sure that I could wear that to an Irish wedding´as she showed me red dress after red dress along the lines of Boysie´s wife´s type of attire)
In the end I chose this dress that is like a tennis dress with loads of black and red paint thrown on it - I´m currently debating whether I look loonie in it or not - the lovely girl working there said, in a diplomatic tone, ´this is a unique dress, so nobody have a dress like this at the wedding´and do you know what, she´s probably right. It turned out that the shop is one of an Argentinian designer, Maria Vazquez, I really liked her stuff. They took the dress and
folded it neatly, applied layers of tissue paper, a fancy box and an even fancier paper bag. So for one evening only I, Aoife O'Sullivan, sat in a fancy bar in Rosario drinking the most expensive bottle of wine on the list (€6) feeling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman sans prostitution but avec Alan Ryan who at least it can be said has less grey hair than Richard Gere.
Furiously early the next morning all tissue paper, fancy boxes and bags were tossed aside and the dress was shoved (carefully) into the top of my backpack as we're off to the big smoke. Watch out Buenos Aires, here we come!
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