Don't cry for us Argentina
Trip Start Aug 31, 2012
17Trip End Apr 30, 2013
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It's the day after that then, Christmas Eve morning, and we find ourselves after a night of the most uncomfortable bus travel we might ever have experienced (seats that didn’t recline, windows that rattled ominously in their frames, arm rests adorned with something sticky and air-conditioning that probably didn’t even work back when the bus was born mid-last century), sitting on a pavement at just after 6am, leaning against our bags on a smelly street in Cordoba, a city somewhere in the middle of Argentina, and doggedly ringing the bell and banging on the door of the hostel we have wisely booked ourselves into (in the case of our couchsurfing host once again turning out to be all false promises). If you remember we had been offered a couch for Christmas, but as yet have not received an address and so wanted to be prepared for disappointment
What kind of person offers up their house to strangers at Christmas? To call Marta one in a million would be a grievous understatement. To call her our saviour might be a little over the top. Somewhere, in the middle of those two descriptions, lies Marta Roganti, a woman who gave us not only a home (in the form of a small flat attached to the outside of their house) for Christmas, but the welcome of a family we must have known in a former life. Her and her three children, Fernanda (24), Alvaro (21) and Maria Jose (18) became our family for the Christmas of 2012
There have been many things about Argentina that we have found less than endearing; even some that have really pissed us off. Marta turned our feelings around, spun the experience on its head, and showed us the best of Argentina by showing us the best of humanity. After a few days of warmth and friendship - being driven to the beautiful local countryside to swim in sun-drenched rivers, being taken out for drinks and taken care of like we were real brother, sister and children, being taught about Argentinean music, culture and history - saying goodbye was difficult. We were truly choked up to be leaving.
I’m afraid that being the luckiest people in the world doesn’t make for an interesting read
Moving on, then…
Buenos Aires, city about which songs are written, second largest urban area in South America, and home to about 60% of all Argentineans, is pretty cool. It has a historic centre of beautiful buildings along massive avenues, rich in architecture of European style and street art graffiti of a dissident nature. Wandering around is certainly a treat for the eyes and a work-out for your neck, gazing ever upwards at the splendours, and ever downwards to avoid the dog poo. Buenos Aires doesn’t have the cultural and beautiful religious sights of Chile’s Santiago, or the staggeringly fascinating edifices of Peru’s Cusco or the uniquely calming high-altitude charm of Ecuador’s Quito. Still, it’s pretty cool. The most recognized symbol of Buenos Aires, and Argentina they say, is the Obelisk: A famously phallic symbol that sits in the middle of the widest avenue in the world: Avenue 9th of July (all streets in South America seem to be named after famous dates), consisting of nine lanes of traffic, and stretching 140 metres from one side to the other (you could fit two football pitches side by side onto it)
We learned the reason for the Falklands War with Great Britain. If you don’t care for a brief history lesson, skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise: In Argentina, the Falklands are called Malvinas. The Malvinas had been colonized by the British navy from way back in about 1883, when they took it off some other European country. It seems a fact that before Europeans first discovered it in the 17th century, or round-abouts, there had been no native inhabitants on the islands. Argentina therefore could do little about having the Malvinas claimed by the Brits, not having that much in the way of a navy themselves, and so didn’t bother to put up much argument for a long time, but for about 150 years (since Argentina became a single state and declared its independence from the Spanish) held onto a resentment that seemed to bury itself into their national psyche. The phrase "Malvinas son Argentina’s" was a kind of rally-round cry. When differences occurred between Argentineans, a hearty shout of “The Malvinas are Argentina’s” would have the heartening effect of pulling people together in camaraderie, a common cause, something everyone agreed upon and shared. And so, it could only be a matter of time before some smart-arse politician used this fact to take advantage of the populace and draw attention away from some devastating economic crisis or such..
Fast-forward to 1982 then, and this politician (some military dictator or other – if they haven’t made a movie about them I generally don’t know anything about them) sent a few ships to attack and take back the Malvinas (Falklands remember, for those that fell asleep during the first half of the class), in order to distract the people from the shitty job the government were doing. The people duly waved their flags and “hoo-rah!”d in support until about two and a half months later when they realized that the reclamation of their beloved long-lost land was somewhat folly when taking into consideration that their little collection of boats weren’t much match for the greatest naval force in the world. The British warships took a couple of months to reach the islands, and the skirmish lasted a couple of weeks after that. The Argentinean people smacked their foreheads in frustration and anger at falling for this political rouse, but then, to make a sad story a little happier, they used this dunderfuddle as an excuse to oust the military dictators that had been making such of a mess of things, and replace them with their first democratic government since 1973. Since then, Argentina has enjoyed its longest period of uninterrupted democracy in the last century or so. Every cloud, eh?
The Argies held onto their hatred of the Brits for only four years, until they beat them at football in the world cup in Mexico. And they actually happily admit to Maradonna’s cheating and getting away with it. Frankly I’m surprised the incident didn’t spark a national holiday. It seems a typically Argentinean trait to use one’s hand to score a goal, and then cheekily show off about it. This is one thing that cannot be held against them. If we were honest, wouldn’t we all happily gloat about cheating if we could so blatantly get away with it? Yes we would
We are pleased to report that Argentineans can be cheeky, funny, mocking, self-deprecating or rude, and in many ways therefore remind me of English people. For that I must love them. Portenos have the highest percentage of plastic surgery rates in the world (supposedly, everyone on private health care gets a free operation every two years), and we had some fun playing spot-the-silicone-job. They also have the highest rate of people in therapy (even more than Americans), which might vindicate us describing them as a complicated people. They’re sweet-talking, bullshitting, friendly, loud, 75kg of beef a year-eating and charmingly proud, though one of the greatest things about these people may be that they just cannot simply be narrowed down to such singular definitions as this, as our most recent friendship has proven.
We spent over a week in Buenos Aires, staying with yet another couchsurfing host who, once again, did more for us than we deserved. Juan (“Hwan” if you want to pronounce it correctly, “John” if you don’t) had offered us a room in his house over the New Year period. We cheekily asked him if we could stay a little longer while we awaited delivery of our new Kindle (e-book reader – to replace the one that was nicked from us in Mendoza)
So, whilst in Buenos Aires, we did a lot of sightseeing. We offered up our patronage to the free Museo de Bellas Artes (Beautiful Art Museum), witnessing original sculptures by Rodin (including the famous The Kiss), and various paintings by such names I've heard of like Monet, Manet, Degas and Van Gogh
“The president is finally gone! But who will take his place? Well his wife seems a logical choice… Well maybe not logical but she was sitting in the closest chair, so why not? Hoorah for the new president! On with the football game…”
One of the greatest things we were to discover in Buenos Aires, was one of Argentina’s proudest pastimes, that of Parilla, (“par-eeya”), which seems to roughly translate to “stuff your gut full of as much barbecued meat as you can possibly squeeze in,” and which seems to be to Argentineans what dumplings are to Chinese
We spent New Year’s Eve in true Argentinean style; at a nightclub that didn’t even open until after 1am (luckily living with Marta had prepared us for the lifestyle of staying up all night and sleeping all day). We taxied out to the swanky area of Buenos Aires, inserted ourselves into an upstairs bar at about twenty minutes before twelve, and toasted in midnight from a balcony with a beautiful view of the city’s skyline, glugging free champagne as the air exploded with fireworks. It was all very romantic, but after ten minutes of being chatted to by other foreigners, we snuck away to find the nightclub at which Internet had promised us a big party was taking place