What follows are some of my recent experiences in Argentina that made my time in the country such a memorable and enjoyable escapade.
The first involves a tiny bar in Buenos Aires, where there is barely room between the street-facing wall and the bar for two people to stand side-by-side. The bar was opened at some point in the mid-1800’s and many of the bottles adorning its shelves are still carrying dust from those days. I was taken to this bar by a local and I was surely the only ‘gringo’ there, in this dark drinking hole huddled away on a residential street somewhere near the Palermo district. What I witnessed there made me feel like I had stepped back in time, to at least the days before amplification of musical instruments was made possible.
Jutting out from the crumbling wall, half-way along the premises, was a tiny red wooden platform, no bigger than 1.5m X 1.5m and upon it were two gentlemen who played tango songs from yesteryear that held everyone captivated. The guitarist was a virtuoso whose subtle interplay with the singer was masterful, delicate, restrained and flawless. The singer was a balding fellow in his seventies,
sporting white hair and a cheeky glint in his eyes. When they would begin to play, every patron would fall silent, listening to and watching these two masters of their craft perform without the aid of microphones, reverb, effects pedals or any other form of technology. If someone uttered a sound, a glance was cast their way and they abruptly fell silent.
As I sipped on my Fernet and Coke, I also took in the patrons, who varied in age from university students to wizened tango aficionados, who wore the hats and clothing you see in tango performances around the city. This wasn’t for show though. This was real. In between songs, the singer would regale the patrons with stories and anecdotes, sometimes related to the songs, sometimes not. He was a performer in the traditional sense, at times inspiring laughter, at other times a keen ear, always with gesticulations and taking in the gaze of every person in the bar. Some people were even leaning in from the midnight air outside, resting on the sill of the open window as the soft yellow light from the bar fell across their faces. By the time their set came to
a close, I was left smiling and pinching myself that I had been privy to such a performance, one which harkened back to the days of Buenos Aires in full bloom.
My next sequence of highlights came thick and fast in Argentina’s visually spectacular north-west, in the provinces of Salta and Jujuy. One day I took a unique train journey on the Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds)
, which certainly lives up to its name. In fact, it goes far above the clouds as it ascends to heights of over 4,000m above sea level. One particular bridge, or viaduct, is 4,200m above sea level, making it the highest train bridge in the world. It took three years just to make the mathematical calculations before they could begin construction of this viaduct, in order to ensure that the train is not blown off the tracks as it crosses the ravine. It is an overly expensive ticket for a foreigner, but I enjoyed the experience none-the-less, due to the landscapes that revealed themselves to me through the windows, ranging from mountainsides that contained more colours than a painter’s pallete, to desert plains backed by imperious snowy peaks.
have previously written about my visit to the tiny village of Cachi, which was equalled, if not bettered, by a visit to Iruya. Having hired a car to explore Jujuy properly, the drive from Humahuaca to Iruya was one that Hertz surely would not have let me undertake if they knew it was in my plans. The road is unsealed, consisting of rocks, dirt and a few river crossings. To describe the landscape as singular in its beauty is hardly adequate. Inspiring awe doesn’t quite capture it either. The range of colours, remote villages and altitudes all left me breathless. Then, after managing to keep the car in one piece, I spied Iruya, with the last of the sun’s rays illuminating the yellow church tower; the first visible sight of this village which is nestled in the elbow of a green and mountainous valley. The streets (some of which are too narrow for vehicles) are paved with enormous and irregularly shaped stones, the buildings seem to be as old as the hills and life there moves at a barely perceptible pace. Dawn and dusk are splendid hours, where the slanting rays create a play of colours on the mountainsides and
there is a golden hue in the thin air.
There is so much more that I could write, such as describing the Cerro de siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colours)
that presides over Purmamarca; the road journey to Salines Grande (the largest salt flats in Argentina), where many a truck has met an untimely end, as evidenced by their carcases which failing brakes are responsible for, due to the steep and seemingly never-ending switchbacks which cut swathes up and down the mountainsides; the folklore music that I listened to in Tilcara; the eye-catching eroded formations and colours on display along the Quebrada de las Conchas (Seashell Ravine), close to the wine producing village of Cafayate; the list goes on. Every Argentine that I conversed with during my travels told me that I MUST
visit the north-west, which is something I will now be stressing to every person I meet who intends on travelling to this engaging country.
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