Postcard from Argentina

By | Category: Travel destinations

Kaye’s constant quest for adventure has taken her back to Argentina – the land of gauchos, glaciers, futbol, tango and beef

I love London but not, it transpires, in January. December is do-able – nowhere does Christmas with quite as much panache as the capital – but I’m wary of winter when the festive season has been and gone, the parties have stopped and we’re all back to work.

This time of year in London— leaves me, like Sundays –  a bit listless and aimless and occasionally depressed.

Some people, when they’re suffering from a severe case of the January blues, dig into a huge tub of Haagen-Dazs. Others, when they’re feeling sad, go shopping (well they don’t call it retail therapy for nothing!) Me? When I need a little better balance and perspective in my life, I turn to travel.

Travel seems to calm and settle me – it’s the nearest I get to sanity. Or perhaps as Michael Palin once put it, it’s simply become “increasingly obvious […] that I am addicted to travel and that there’s no point resisting the lure of the map and the atlas.”

Once I decided to escape the bone chillingly cold capital, the question became: “Where to go?” Usually I’ll wander off in a new direction taking heed of Heraclitus’ advice: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

I considered booking a ticket to Burma – back on the travel map after decades of political strife. Or Peru – with its white sandy deserts on the southern coast, breath-taking highlands in the Altiplano, lush jungles in the interior and famous Inca City of Machu Picchu – before BA launches its direct Gatwick to Lima flights in May. Both stood out by promising new experiences – and, crucially, t-shirt temperatures.


And yet, and yet… I found myself being lured back to Argentina. What can I say? Argentina has a pull on me. As readers of my Notes from a traveller series will know, I first visited the Paris of the South last February and planned to stay for a month (before checking out Chile) and write about it.

But when that trip was over, I wanted to go back and I did so – in early April 2016 – renewing acquaintances. But it wasn’t enough and I knew – as I bid a teary goodbye to Buenos Aires before boarding a flight to Bogota (Colombia) at the end of April that Argentina, the land of tango, beef, futbol, gauchos and proud, passionate people – had me in its grip.

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After most trips I tend to say, “what an amazing experience, but enough.” I’ll go home and write about my travels before turning my attention to a new destination. Not so with my Argentine odyssey. The trip may have been over, but it had become crystal clear that I wasn’t over Argentina. My discoveries and adventures had given me an appetite for more.

And so, when I woke up on New Years Day 2016, I found myself thinking of all the Argentines I’d met – Cami, Cande, Mati, Jennifer, Joanna, Javier, Emiliano, Artsey and the many, many Marias – who’d invited me back. Then Messi (an Argentine) won the Ballon d’Or – an annual association football award given by FIFA to the world’s best player du jour– and a new president, Macri, was voted in ending decades of Peronist rule and it seemed like a sign. Before I knew it, I was making plans to return and well, here we are…

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I touched down with my trusty backpack (as the TV travel host and author, Rick Steves, once said “Travel like Gandhi, with simple clothes, open eyes and an uncluttered mind”) five days ago.

It was something of an epic journey – this time I elected to fly via Sao Paulo as opposed to Madrid – but the paradox of it all is that though even though I have travelled so far, I feel very much at home.

More so in many ways that I do back in Blighty – a place where I was beginning to feel mystified. When I left London, everyone was talking about Celebrity Big Brother – a reality show where Z list celebrities  with weird names (Megan McKenna anyone?), whose common trait appears to be entering into disastrous relationships – hole up in a house and have their movements monitored by the Joe Public. Our TV  – like so much of Britain – has definitely seen better days…

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But I digress. I’m penning this postcard to you, dear reader, from a gorgeous cafe in Buenos Aires. For me much of BA’s charm is encapsulated in its traditional coffee houses. Stepping inside an establishment like Los 36 Billares or La Biela is akin to stepping back in time. Inside it is forever 1953. Smarty dressed waiters serve Cafe Cortados (essentially a shot of espresso, with an equal amount of steamed milk) and medialunas (to die for small croissants) to stylish Portenos (only professional athletes and tourists ever wear shorts in Baires, even in the height of summer) against a backdrop of stained glass windows and wooden panels for peanuts. What more could you ask for?

Buenos Aires cafes are the antithesis of the identikit Costa coffee shops selling overpriced java, that plague the high street back home. I feel in Harrow (my London base) – where Primark and Poundland rule the roost and the roads are awash in litter – as though I live in a place that has practically no appreciation for quality or class.

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Outside the cafe, the sun is shining and the portenos are dancing tango in the street (nothing and I mean nothing is more extraordinary than watching this steamy dance live) for the sheer fun of it. Yes life in Argentina, it seems to me – is pretty good.

Sure the weekly power cuts (Argentina is currently in the grip of an energy problem) and corruption (it remains early days for the new government) frustrate, but yet in my mind at least, it’s still one of the world’s greatest cities. My Porteno pals agree (Pope Francis is the exception to the rule: modesty is most definitely not an Argentinian trait) and claim that Mauricio Macri’s recent victory in the runoff election to become the country’s next president, will begin a new era not only for Buenos Aires and Argentina, but for the whole of South America.

So I have decided to stay put and experience for myself whether the new leader – the first elected in nearly a century who is not a Peronist – can steady Argentina’s shaky economy and bring about democracy. Well at least until winter is over in the northern hemisphere and I’ve learnt to tango ….

Talk to you in two weeks

Kaye

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Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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