Into Argentina

Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
Trip End May 31, 2004

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Thursday, April 24, 2003

Before I even arrived in Argentina I had already met a few of the locals while travelling through Central America and Brazil. I had the feeling it wasnīt going to be a dull experience. It all started in the north east at Iguazu Falls. I took a bus all the way down to Rosario. A small city three hours north west of Buenos Aires. This city is not often visited by the backpacking community, so I was looking forward to getting away from the beaten track for a while. Rosario is famous for two reasons:

1. Its where Ernesto Che Guevara was born
2. Its where Gervasio lives

I came here because of number 2. After our long chats in Mexico I thought we had many issues to resolve, mainly about Happiness and Warm Guns .....
At last I would now hang out with the people of the country as opposed to other travellers. Donīt get me wrong its great meeting other travellers, but sometimes you miss out alot if you dont get to know the people who actually live there. And for the next two weeks I got to live and breathe Argentina. Having said that I also learned about some things from back home. Gervasio and his friends (David and Pocho) were very interested in English literature and music (esp. Beatles and Pink Floyd). I remember one evening in a taxi with David and Pocho, and suddenly David starts to quote some English poem to me. Its also interesting to note that while I have been travelling, I have heard Beatles alot more often on the radio. In England you are lucky to hear them once a year.

Rosario is this city sitting on the muddy Parana river. Very European and clean its quite strange to think that the revolutionary icon that is Che Guevara was born in such a conservative and middle-class city. In fact you wouldnīt know he was born here as there seems to be no memorials or statues dedicated to him. There isnīt even a sign outside the house he was born in. This is also where the national flag was designed. There is even a huge memorial to the flag. Personally I think any flag showing a sun with a face on it deserves a medal.

Its interesting to note that the British have contributed to this great country. Firstly, they built the original railway system and secondly, the footballing clubs were either started or inspired by us Brits. Hence you have clubs called Racing, Newells Old Boys and River Plate.
One match I saw was a local derby in their top league. It was between Rosario Central and Newells Old Boys. The passion was almost scary. The noise was relentless. And when the other team scored a goal, the fans would just sing louder (interesting because losing fans in England seem to stop singing). It was like the world cup final. A packed stadium on a cloudless sunny day. It started with singing and then suddenly it gets louder, rising to a fever pitch and then you hear bangs and cant see the pitch. Fireworks and smoke are released. The teams have arrived on the pitch. Watching the fans taunt each other was very amusing. But when the rocks started flying it starts to get a little crazy. Police just casually move fans back until they start throwing again. There were times when I thought things would get out of control. Unfortunately for Gervasio and David, Rosario Central beat Newells Old Boys 3-0. Pocho on the other hand was a happy chap.

During my stay in Rosario I also developed this taste for Mate (pronounced MA-TEH), the tea they drink here. Its basically like bitter tea but drunk from a fancy almost ornamental vessel through a metal straw called a bombilla (BOM-BEE-SHA). This is popular in Argentina and normally you will see people walking around with their Mate and a thermos flask of hot water. Its supposed to be shared amongst friends and how you prepare the Mate and where you pour the water effects the taste. I have many good memories from Rosario, but probably my favourite is drinking Mate with Gervasio sitting next to a fire on the river Parana, sun setting over the city, gauchos riding past to check their cattle while we talked about the mysteries of life and a book called Heart of Darkness (Apocalypse Now).....

After the lazy days of Rosario it was onwards to the bustling sometimes riotous capital: Buenos Aires. Translated this means Good Airs! Again this is very European and has some impressive theatres and buildings which would not look out of place in London, Vienna or Hull. And there is alot of police standing around with big sticks waiting for public demonstrations to turn nasty. While I was there though, apart from people banging pots and banging on bank doors I never saw any trouble. The first impression of Buenos Aires: pleasant city. And the Portenos (folk from BA) were friendly especially. I took in a tango show and went to all the sights: Casa Rosada where Evita greeted her crowds, La Boca where the Italian immigrants arrived and home of Boca Juniors, the cat infested parks of Palermo and generally wandered aimlessly through the streets. And I also ate alot of meat. The quality and price of a good steak here is just too good. Literally you could pay $2 for a steak. I also tried some of the more choice parts that they eat over here like intestine and glands (mmmmmmm!). Nothing is spared from the poor cow. However they live a healthy life which is the reason for the high quality of the meat.

I suppose I have to mention the Islands as I am here. Yes the Falklands or Islas Malvinas. On more than one occassion they were brought up (not by me, okay only once by me). As a Brit I was wondering what sort of reception I would receive here. And I was surprised at how the Argentinians actually seem to dare I say, admire our culture. But when the "F" word is mentioned......the mood can change. There are streets named after the islands. One is called Malvinas Argentinas! And the children sing songs about it.
It is quite sad really because of the casualties suffered. I think most Argentinians would agree the decision to invade was not a wise one anyway. Their government at the time was going through hard times and decided to distract the publics attention by reclaiming the islands. Strangely enough our own lovely Premier at the time was also having a hard time at home. Nothing like a little war to get the voters back (this sounds very topical). And here endeth the history lesson.

After making many friends in the capital, I ended up staying 3 weeks in all (as opposed to my original 4 day plan). And so I have given all this up for the natural wonders of Argentina and Chile at the southernmost reaches of the continent. Glaciers, mountains, pyschedelic skies and alien abductions await.....
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