Postcard from Argentina: part five

By | Category: Travel destinations

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

Continued from last time


Buenas dias dear reader,

I am penning this fortnight’s postcard from unsung Uruguay. I’ve escaped to Argentina’s lesser known neighbour for a bit of beach action. For while Argentina may boast South America’s highest peak (step forward Cerro Aconcagua), best beef, widest avenue (hello 9 de Julio) and most exhilarating city (take a bow Buenos Aires), when it comes to beaches, the country can’t compete with the palm tree studded white sands you’ll find in South American countries such as Colombia, Brazil and yes, Uruguay.

What’s more, reaching Uruguay – where hospitality is a national obsession (forget footballer Luis Suarez’s penchant for taking chunks out of his opponents) – is a piece of cake. Crossing the river that separates Argentina and Uruguay by ferry, takes the same amount of time as it does to travel from one side of Buenos Aires to another by bus.

But I digress… The time I have spent in  Punte del Este and Punta del Diablo – two tropical paradises on Uruguay’s Atlantic coast – hasn’t been wasted. Rather it has afforded me the opportunity to take stock and assimilate what I have discovered during my two months, to date, in Argentina.

Without further ado, here’s the low-down on what I have learnt while living in the land of gauchos and glaciers…

The Argentines adore drama
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Or as my friend Juan – a Porteno (BA resident) – puts it: “We don’t have a middle road. We like drama too much”. The porteños are always celebrating or criticising something and, as such, public parades and protests are as much a daily event as dinner. Most of the frenzied and at times downright scary (think smoke bombs, flares et al) activity appears to take place outside of the legendary La Casa Rosada whose pretty pink facade was originally achieved by, erm, mixing pigs’ blood with whitewash.

Everyone is in therapy
Buenos Aires may be best known as the the capital of tango, but it’s also the world’s capital of psychoanalysis – a method of psychology invented by Sigmund Freud. Seriously: I have never met so many shrinks and that’s because absolutely everyone – rich and poor alike – goes in for psychoanalysis.  It’s an Argentine addiction that’s up there with football and coffee. A conversation with a Porteño will invariably start with the sentence “My analyst says…” – proof that psychoanalysis isn’t a taboo, in the same way it is back home. I asked an Argentine mate (another Maria) who, doesn’t appear to have any hang ups, why she signs up for therapy. Maria’s response? “Yes I am pretty great [Argentines aren’t big on modesty] but I’m not perfect. Who is? We can all be improved.”  Quite. Maria’s reply makes perfect sense in my mind – but then maybe I have just spent too much time in the Paris of the south.

Cash is king
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It’s a ‘cash only’ world in Argentina which has taken some getting used to – I can’t remember the last time I carried cash in the UK. Back home in London, my generation uses plastic to pay for absolutely everything from tube fares to food shopping. In Argentina if you want to pay with a card – be it credit or debit – you need to present your actual passport (photocopies aren’t accepted) making it much less stressful (and safer) to simply carry cash on your person. Even in the Buenos Aires’ barrio of Palermo – a little corner of perfectly manicured middle-class paradise packed full of chi chi bars and boutiques – a staggering amount of restaurants sport signs in their window saying ‘cash only’.

Argentina is all about the night
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Never mind New York, New Orleans, London, Las Vegas, Ibiza and Istanbul. Argentina is the real destination that doesn’t sleep. Regardless of which region of the country you visit, don’t expect to eat dinner before 10pm – at the earliest. Meals usually wrap up around midnight after which Argentines will head to a bar until 2am, before making a beeline to a boliche (club) at 3am. Call it a night before 4am and you’ll be considered an amateur. What’s more, Argentina’s legendary nightlife isn’t reserved solely for the weekend. Argentines have a fantastic ability to stay out until the wee small hours of the morning (the fact that they’re not big drinkers probably helps) during the working week and somehow still be at their desks by 9am. Talking of time, Argentines aren’t big on punctuality. Case in point? I arranged to meet a couple of Argentines early on, one evening at 8pm. They finally showed up at 8.50pm, just as I was about to give up waiting and go home. The duo scratched their heads in surprise that I had rocked up the arranged time of 8pm, before a look of understanding crossed their faces only for them to exclaim: “Ah! But you’re British…”  My message? Everything in Argentina starts when it starts, so just relax and (try to) enjoy the ride. Así es Argentina…

Don’t go shoe shopping in Argentina
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If you’re looking to purchase a pair of tango shoes, you’re in the right place. Good quality tango shoes are sold up and down the country but particularly in Buenos Aires – the capital of tango – on streets such as Suipacha. And if you pay in cash, you’ll qualify for a 10 per cent discount off the ticket price.
But when it comes to proper shoe shopping, forget it. The otherwise stylish and impeccably attired Argentines seem to have a penchant for ugly footwear – think chunky, seven inch high platform sandals – that they will wear with anything and everything.
Shopping for clothes isn’t any more enjoyable. Argentine ladies tend to be on the slender side so, if you’re a slim British size 10, don’t be (too) offended when you’re handed a XXL dress by the sales assistant. Plus, bizarrely, clothes are bewildering expensive – even if you’re wise with currency and have swapped US dollars for the blue rate (approximately 13 pesos to the pound) in a cueva (unofficial exchange office).
Conversely good value souvenirs include alfajores (cookie sandwiches filled with divine dulche de leche, a milky, caramel sauce), football shirts and leather goods sold in markets like the legendary San Telmo Sunday mercado.

Long distance buses are brilliant
Covering 2,780,400 sq km Argentina is an enormous country – the eighth largest in the world – so wherever you go, remember that distances are vast and travel times can be lengthy. The cashed up can criss-cross the country by air but budget conscious travellers will need to board a bus to reach Bariloche, Mendoza, Igauzu and other Argentine gems. Sure the travel times can be lengthy but don’t despair, as bus journeys in Argentina are anything but boring. Argentines claim that their country invented public bus. The people have a point. There might be a lot wrong with the country – read corruption, crime, strike action and hyperinflation – but Argentina’s long distance buses (where beds, booze, food and films come as standard) are outstanding and affordable. National Express would do well to take note…

Talk to you tomorrow,

Kaye

x

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To read the second part of Kaye’s postcard from Argentina: part five, don’t forget to log onto Just About Travel tomorrow!

To read part one of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part two of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part three of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part four of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here and here

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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