It Takes Two to Tango

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Tuesday, October 11, 2005

At JFK security in New York we picked up our hand luggage from the scanner and nonchalantly put our laptop back in the briefcase. As we hastened off to our gate we were intercepted by an anxious fellow passenger with an urgent question. Yes, it turned out that we had inadvertently picked up his identical Toshiba! After having narrowly avoided a disastrous mix up, we were all able to see the humorous side of the situation (and potential for a good short story, Angie?!). It seems it was our lucky day, as we were upgraded to business class on the long leg to Santiago and were able to get a good sleep. Back in Buenos Aires we found our way to Retiro station and took the Mitre commuter train out to Tigre. Our first order of business: checking out the van, of course! It was looking a little lonely and dejected, but started up at the first turn of the key and just begged to be given a good wash and get set up for the road again.

Although we had figured on having a quiet few days to get ourselves organized and re-oriented, before we barely had time to turn around we had an offer we couldn't resist. A weekend camping with members of the Argentina Westfalia Club in the Entre Rios area of the Delta del Paraná near Zárate - a good chance to make some new friends. By Saturday afternoon eight vans, each with their contingent of 'Westfaleros', congregated at a shady site close to the river. We spent the weekend exchanging stories and checking out each others vans - oh, and eating, of course! Carlos was the 'Rey de la Parrilla' (BBQ King) and on two separate occasions served up huge assortments of grilled steaks, chops, ribs, spicy sausage, chicken and a variety of other mouth-watering offerings from his sizzling asado. This was a very friendly group where we immediately felt at home, and of course we were besieged with questions about our trip down through the Americas. Interspersed with good food and fine wines, we shared the ubiquitous mate gourd and enjoyed the lyrical musical entertainment provided by Ana and Gina.

We were invited to this get-together by Dandy and Ester, who run a garage in San Isidro specializing in Porsche, BMW and Mercedes. We had met up with them back in February at Lake Nahuel Huapi - who could miss their bright orange '68 VW Bus with, it turned out, almost 900,000 km on the clock! They had extended an open invitation to stop by their workshop if we needed any maintenance done, so we took them up on their offer and followed them on the trip back from Entre Rios through the insanely congested traffic heading into BsAs on Sunday night. For the next three and a half days we managed about a day's work on the van - interspersed with Dandy regaling us with his amaranthine stories of life in Argentina after being left behind by the ship on which he was a young German engineer back in the 1970s. Other distractions during the thirteen-hour days were extended lunch breaks with copious amounts of wine supplied by various friends who stopped by to visit. Meanwhile, we camped out in the workshop overnights (a unique experience, even for us) and Ester kept us supplied with tea and media-lunas and other delicious pastries during the day.

During the week we also managed a day in BsAs investigating our shipping options, and checking out a few more of the sights. Porteños are well known for their elegant and fashionable taste and are well served by many very ritzy shopping plazas and downtown promenades. If you are in need of an exquisite leather coat or a pair of classy boots, then Galerías Pacifico or Avenida Florida are certainly places to check out. A stroll around the amazing Cementario de la Recoletta was another eye-opener on the tradition and privilege afforded the elite of high Argentinean society. Access to one of the ornately ostentatious mausoleums is only gained if you are an aristocratic family member in good standing - Evita Perón apparently ruffled quite a few feathers when she was finally laid to rest here after subterfuge worthy of a John le Carré novel! Our visit to the Museum of Fine Arts was supposed to round off the day, but it was somewhat upstaged when we ran into a film set outside one of the large department stores on our way back to the train station. Christmas comes early to BsAs!

By the Columbus Day long weekend (falling on the same date as Thanksgiving) we were back in Tigre to make our final preparations for getting back on the road. It is a very significant holiday here in Argentina, so the crowds in this holiday town were overwhelming and there was absolutely no room at Casona la Ruchi - or anywhere else for that matter. Luckily, Alejandra at our favourite B&B invited us to camp in the garden - alongside the swimming pool and surrounded by trees in spring blossom. With elegant breakfast trays provided each morning, what could be nicer! The van got its long awaited thorough cleaning inside and out, and we got everything restocked and reorganized to our satisfaction. Our quest for propane turned out to be a wild goose chase (what else is new!), but we were confident that we would have more success in a smaller town further up the delta.

On Sunday we spent the afternoon at the famous San Telmo antiques fair in Plaza Dorrego browsing the stalls and enjoying the wide array of street entertainment - from outdoor tango to puppet shows; from mime artists to stiff-legged stilt performers; from bangles and beads to tributes to Carlos Gardel, the legendary heart-throb tango singer who died in a plane crash seventy years ago. Our main objective though, was to experience first-hand the seductive allure of a professional tango performance. We found it in the smoky duskiness of El Balcon and were spellbound by this demonstration of such a passionate and sensual dance. From its somewhat raw origins in the barrios of BsAs in the late 19th century it developed into the sophisticated craze that swept Europe before WWI. Today it is serious business for dedicated 'tanguistas' who demonstrate intense concentration as they observe all the rituals and hidden codes of what amounts to a secret society. Alas, our meagre attempts to tango have resulted in nothing more than a terrible tangle - maybe not too surprising for any our friends who are familiar with our non-existent dancing skills!

Thanksgiving Monday we celebrated with a special offering of eggs on toast. We had dined royally at the tango hall the previous evening, and besides, we had already celebrated with a somewhat premature but nonetheless magnificent thanksgiving turkey dinner at Sally & Ron's with good company the week before we left Ottawa. The next day, as we finally set out on the Pan American Highway heading for the border with Uruguay, we ran smack into a national truckers strike - burning tyres and all!
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