Argentina, another world

Published: April 8th 2010
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First delivery of what hopefully become a vast part of my blog

Buenos Aires, Monday March 1st, 2010

Arrival in BA after a flight that lasted 10 hours and which gave us the wrong local time, landed on a busy airfield with slow but efficient control. Taxi to hotel over wide and not overly busy highway to inner town, almost European like with music and coffee/sandwich bars everywhere. Hotel somewhat different than expected, almost Spartan rooms but good beds, ample ablution facilities, fairly quiet at night.
First impressions of the town are very positive, helped by a lovely breakfast after 9AM in café at the corner with friendly, helpful service. At night music and lively patronage until well after 12.
Next day sight-seeing on topless bus, metro train-ride (fast and cheap), window shopping etc.
Friday we spent sleeping most of the time. On Saturday we found some grocery shops nearby, including mini Carrefour. Bought crackers, cheese and salami for lunch. Hotel offers self-catering facilities but cooking our own diner is just not on: eating out is cheaper.
Sunday back to town, visit antique market. Very lively, with busy street vendors, buskers and live statues, all animated and very good. Demonstration of tango dancing was fabulous. We noted that, apart from the market and immediate surrounding streets, there was hardly any traffic in town; some places were as deserted as if totally abandoned. Almost eerie for a town with close to 10mil inhabitants.
Tuesday the 2nd of March was a day full of emotions. It was the day after the carnet de passages (essential for border crossings and, more specific, for getting our car into Argentina) was left on top of the ATM machine we drew money from on Monday. We had gone back as soon as we had noticed the carnet was not with us anymore, but it was too late. So, on Tuesday we went back to the bank where the ATM is situated, only to be told that nothing had been handed in. We were most astonished and relieved therefore to find the papers at the shipping agent we had visited the day before as well, after apparently a good citizen had taken the trouble to take it there when he found the business-card we had been given in the folder the papers were in. What joy and relieve!
That feeling of having been hit by a wave of good fortune lasted almost all day, until Ann realized she was missing something. A not-so-good citizen had lifted her cards (credit- and debit card together with her driver’s license we had extended our stay in South Africa for) and 700 Pesos (about R1400) out of her trousers pocket. It was like a nose dive after a victory roll.
Saturday 27 March. It’s amazing what new, unusual, strange and/or funny things one can see in a few days.
After the hotel in BA we moved into the country, but not before I also was hit by a pick-pocket, which cost me my ATM-card. No more money drawings, but fortunately we had some reserves in cash. So off we went to a place, only about a hundred km away, called Lujan (pronounced Luchan) where the town, a reasonable big one, is dwarfed by an outsized cathedral where the patron Saint of the town is housed, doubling as the patron Saint of passenger carrying transport.
Here we found a hostel, again with kitchen for self-catering, and a room facing the square in front of the cathedral. It proved less attractive than we thought, because it seemed that in the late evening owners of motorbikes would converge there to compare the volume of their bikes - after the dampers were removed. Most of the trip we had been driving in a heavy downpour, but the next morning the sky was clear. We wanted to visit the transport museum, but that proved to be closed in the morning, so on we went to the next stop, a town with a large shady campsite, mostly flooded with a few cm of water. We found a dry, elevated spot next to a small river, where I could fit the bulbar we had bought in South Africa just before the car was driven into the container. While doing this we were visited by the “policia” who needed to record our particulars, and otherwise were very friendly. At night, I cooked a strip of (beef) rib in our potje and that turned out a real tasty treat. We’ll do that again!
The town, San Antonio de Areco, boosts about 80 silversmiths, of which Draghi is the most famous and whose workshop also houses a museum of historical and new, mainly gaucho related peripherally in which he has gained nationwide recognition. Ever seen silver stirrups with space for a small glowing coal to keep the feet warm of the horseman in winter? That was one of the many exhibits of rare and costly silverware on display.
After visiting the museum it was time for lunch which we had in a rustic restaurant out of town, where we ordered, not knowing what to expect, a barbeque meal of beef. Other people on nearby tables’ ordered the same thing, plus a large portion of vegetables and chips. How they managed to consume all of that we didn’t know. As a matter of fact we took 1/3rd of Ann’s portion home (to the tent) to have the next day. The portions of meat were massive, perfectly cooked and very tasty, but too big for our shrunk tummies. I cut up the meat and mixed it with veggies, fried in the kitchen of a hostel in yet another town the next day for dinner. We were almost back in Buenos Aires where we hoped the replacement credit-and debit cards would be that David had requested from the bank in SA. But we had no such luck. Since its Saturday today we will have to wait in the hostel we were in previously for the cards to arrive on Monday or Tuesday.
April 8, we find ourselves holed up so to say in a hotel in Mare del Plata, a sizable town with a long boulevard, harbors for freight ships, deep see fishing boats, a fleet of shore fishing boats and squid fishers. And a male colony of sea lions in the shore fishing harbor.
The cards arrived at our hostel in Buenos Aires on Tuesday morning and after we had sorted out payment for our room, we went shopping in a large supermarket near the hotel. We parked the car near one of the entrances and selected the goods we needed and could store in our fridge. All seemed OK, until we got back where the car had been left. In fact, WE had left it there, but someone else had not: the car was gone. Once again that sinking feeling in our stomachs; this was not the first time it happened to us. Fortunately it was soon made clear to us that the municipality was responsible for it and we would have to go to the garage where removed cars were parked until the fine was paid. We took a taxi and sorted things out, noticing that the car-removal business in the city is an active and thriving business.
With our groceries collected we left town, having learned that in Buenos Aires parking on the left side of the street is illegal. We have learned now that other things we see as normal can’t be done in Argentina either: turning left in front of oncoming traffic (most streets are one-way) is not allowed. You are supposed to drive around a block on your right, turn into a street that has right-going traffic and cross over the two-way street. Ignoring lanes is also common and makes driving in busy streets rather tricky, sometimes. As most streets are one-way and traffic lights are not installed on those intersections, driving along one of those streets with either traffic from the left or the right is also hazardous. There are rules, but most drivers are quick to take the advantage if you hesitate.
There are numerous pizza-places and sandwiches, mostly “tostadies‘ or toasted sandwiches, flinterthin and with a combination of cheese and ham, seem what a lot of Argentiniens are living on.
We needed cooking gas and found it impossible to convince people that our equipment was suitable for LPG gas, we have used it for years but here we had to convert to propane.
Anyway, we camped, that first day out, in a campsite, part of a nature reserve close to the river mouth, where mosquito’s went in attack-mode as soon as we were close to the water. Ann wiped some 10 to 20 insects from my back within seconds of getting out of the car. Fortunately, further away from the water, in the shadow of tall trees where the campsite proper was, we had no problem. At night we enjoyed a campfire and the next morning we drove on to a real holiday resort where long queues of cars were heading to, at the cost again, where we were directed to a large camping with decent facilities. We stayed 2 nights under trees where buggies were building coarse communal nests and experienced the cool weather and cold wind from the sea. But the tent proved to stand up to the deteriorating weather.
After two days we decided to go to Mar del Plata and find a cheap hotel to wait for the arrival of the last ATM card we expect from South Africa, after which we can decide to go further South, of West, or even in Northerly direction, where the sun shines more warmly.


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