Number 45 Your Time Is Up
Chocolate heaven is Bariloche! It’s like a Latin version of “Charlie’s Chocolate Factory!” On every corner there is a chocolate shop or factory where you can watch men and women in white hats and uniforms swirl, stir and coat oodles of chocolate sweets. One even looks like a giant chocolate supermarket with a café and helado gelato shop as well. Right across our hotel we couldn’t resist going in more than once. Every time you go in they hand out a free chocolate to taste! At least it was better than the ubiquitous ham and cheese sandwiches. Even when you order a pizza it always looks like ham and cheese anyway. They seem to use it like butter. As for dinner, the best dish here is trout.
It’s a bit of a strange place, established by the early German, Welsh and Swiss colonists who brought pine trees, rosehip and rose flowers and very popular with the Argentinians as a getaway. The pine trees have unfortunately taken over the native trees. There is even a kitsch Swiss colony for the tourists which we stayed clear of and they also like taking photos with St. Bernards. Not much in the way of the Mapuche culture in town, just a lot of souvenir and crafty shops and hippies selling their wares at the local markets. The name itself is derived from a Mapuche word, Variluche, meaning people who live behind the mountains. Primarily though, Bariloche is an alpine skiing town in winter which by the looks of it would be very pretty when covered with snow.
The highlights are the really beautiful glacial lakes and snow topped mountains of the Andes. Waking up to the colours of the mountain peaks was always an inspiring sight. Crystal clear still lakes where you can see the stones by the shore, blue or green depending on the sunlight, and other parts so deep and cold that no-one has ever dived to the bottom. Although there are people who swim by the shore in the very few pebbled beaches around it, we just dipped our toes in it. It’s a pity that you can’t walk around the main lake Lago Nahuel Huapi yourself as most of the shore is taken up by private log homes and hotels so there is no public access.
The panaroma at the top of Cerro Catedral, one of the many mountains around Bariloche, gives you a stunning overview of the whole area with a myriad of lakes and valleys amidst the rolling magnificent ranges. No wonder the Mapuche defended this land so fiercely! I could have stayed there all day marvelling at how beautiful it all is. We realised that the best way to experience the lake is to camp by the shore as there are numerous fantastic camping grounds out of town. It’s a perfect place for a camping holiday, to fish, kayak or relax.
The highest mountain, an extinct volcano, is Tronador at 3.554 metres high. It practically took us all day to drive along the dirt tracks and winding roads, stopping at a waterfall along the way, to get there. When we got there it was so hot that we put on suncream. Yet you could see the thick rim of white icy snow at the top, some of it chipping and falling loudly, and the black melting glacier spanning out from the base. It’s black from the volcanic ash that falls all over it so it looks more like rock than ice. It’s very different from the spectacular Perito Moreno glacier and it’s only one of two in the world.
Crossing the lake to the Arraynes Bosque is also a highlight as it is a beautiful forest of native orange-brown trees. You can only access it by an organised tour with a catamaran and the boardwalk isn’t long enough to really appreciate it but it gives you a good idea of how perhaps most of this area was once wooded before the Europeans came. Cruising along the way there, tourists feed the seagulls for a holiday snap from the onboard photographer but they just add in the bird later for those who weren’t so lucky. This one Mike took. There is some interesting , even endangered, wildlife which you never see, of course, except for the stuffed animals in the museum- the puma, the bobcat, the Andean cat, the huina cat; the smallest deer in the world; eagles, owls and condors; the monito of the montana, meaning little mountain monkey, which is actually related to the marsupial http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monito_del_Monte. We were surprised that they allowed private boats to go on the island, a national park, with their pet dogs. Victoria Island, another cruise stop, is now a botanical garden, as a wealthy European cut down the natives in order to plant huge Californian trees, eucalyptus trees and so on.
We didn’t have time to do more as we had booked a local 4 day package which wasn’t bad as it included hotel and breakfast and a short tour. So on our last day we strolled along the pebbled beach, contemplating the beauty of the lake before we stuffed ourselves with more chocolate!
Bariloche provides a first taste of southern Patagonia. Patagonia is my favourite place in Argentina. That’s why I wasn’t hesitant in returning after I had been before in previous years. Often seeming like a Latino Australia with it’s endless flat pampas and other times like a completely different magical place where stories about the fountain of youth and Journey to the End of the Earth grew. Continuing on, you will be rewarded by the most awesome beauty of the Parque Nacional de Glaciares, a glacier park which is the most pristine environment that I have ever experienced. It’s at El Calafate, not as overdeveloped as Bariloche and also not as yet accessible to the locals it seems but a must see wonder of the world.
Recoleta Waiters (Many of the bar and cafe waiters in Argentina have worked in the same establishment for 30 years)
Barbie Store in Palermo
San Telmo Dog Walker
We had a drink with genial Julian Pino, the owner of the Branco espacio de arte at San Telmo (www.artebranco.com.ar), a boutique hands on gallery where you can go through the artworks yourself and he has individual knowledge of each of the artists. We discovered that he had paintings of an Australian artist whom Mike photographs for, Joel Dickens. Small world! Julian said that it’s quite expensive to buy spray cans here so that’s why there are better stencil works. We even had seen a grafitti that used actual paint. We made a lot of comparisons, as you do when you’re having a cross-cultural conversation overseas, opinionated or not. He says that in a society like ours where people know and obey the rules, people know how to behave with one another but here it’s harder. In another way, I quite like the lack of adherence to rules because of the sense of freedom you get from that, and the inventiveness and creativity it inspires, which I feel we lack a bit back home. He also said that Argentinians are a people who enjoy reading, going to the cinema and theatre but Brazilians are a much more outdoorsy people. He said it was hard to find a bookshop in Brazil. They sound a bit like some of the Aussies.
The MALBA modern art gallery in swanky Palermo had an extensive exhibition on Andy Warhol including early polaroid photos of celebrities from the 1960’s and 70’s, film footage of Allen Ginsberg and other artists, self-portraits in drag and the other famous pop art pictures. Oddly, we saw that there were a couple of people dressed in Arab garb, with scarves around their heads, at the foot of the escalators and at the entrance to the exhibition. Then suddenly we were distracted when we were viewing the Campbells cans pictures. A very tall, dark, elegant young woman walked in, dressed head to toe in a long, form-fitting, light green dress with a hat that covered her hair. She was accompanied by an English speaking tour guide, various security men wearing ear-pieces and a couple of photographers. I asked one of the gallery attendants about her and she said that she was an Arab Princess from one of the Gulf countries! That aside we enjoyed the rest of the gallery. I never tire returning to look at Frida Khalo’s self-portrait. One other good thing about the MALBA is the café where we had delicious Indian tea and an authentic Caeser salad at last!
It’s so hard to get coins for the bus! One afternoon I asked three shops to change 2 pesos for coins and not one of them was helpful, even after I had bought some chocolate in one of them. Even banks are getting sick of people asking for coins. So Mike had a go in the next shop and lo and behold he was successful playing the dumb tourist. We decided that that would be his job from now on!
On our last Sunday at San Telmo markets the police turned up to evict half the vendors in Defensa. Apparently the shopkeepers dislike them for selling some similar items for a lower price and they didn’t have permits. They cleared their wares but protested by banging items and chanting at the police of which I took a short video. I have to admit that Defensa is more lively and interesting when it’s full of all kinds of street vendors.
Once again I returned to the Migration Department to ask about immigration records of my grandfather who had stayed here for a year or so. They gave me the address of another office in Independecia but warned me that records from the 1930’s weren’t computerised so they had to be found manually. I was beginning to feel that my chances of finding any information were getting slimmer and slimmer. The next day, with little hope, we went anyway. It turned out that it was just down the road from our apartment and that the office of CEMLA, Centro de Estudios Migratorios Latinoamericana, was housed in the Victoria Sailors Home 1837-1897. There was even a plaque that the Prince of Wales had visited during that period. It also turned out that after filling in a form it took just 10 mins to find my grandfather on the computerised database and print out the Certificate of Arrival for just 20 pesos. He came on the 25th March 1930 on the Belvedere ship with his brother. They didn’t have any information on his departure date but if I had known that it was that easy, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to get it!
In Belgrano, which used to be a city itself before amalgamating with BA in the 19th century, we saw a little Chinatown with it’s usual symbolic gate and ubiquitous red lanterns in front of kitsch shops. There were some Chinese restaurants but it felt like a smaller version of Sydney’s Chinatown. Apparently, the locals protested at the building of the gate and I heard that people in places like Merlo are actually proud of not having one Chinese shop or restaurant in their suburb. I fear that the Chinese experience a hard time in this city. A city which has no idea of the benefits of multiculturalism, only it’s fears. Julian had said that he wished he could go to a cultural barrio to eat out without having any fear like we do in Sydney but some places are dangerous here. We also saw the Arab-Hispanic garden at the Spanish museum which was lovely. The central square felt like Paris. On the whole, we liked the feel of Belgrano.
We saw a man on a bicycle carrying a basket of bread rolls so we asked him for one. He gave it to us free! Then we realised why when we saw a homeless man being given one too.
Every new person we met and every uncle I saw warned us, with colourful body language, to keep our eyes open and our bags close to us. Nothing ever happened! We have been lucky!
Buquebus (both ‘u’s pronounced as in book) rapido shipped us to Colonia, Uruguay in an hour. It was a bit strange to have the tourist class seats downstairs all facing the cafeteria and nothing else, nowhere to walk to unless it was the duty free shop. The crew or wanna-be air hostesses guarded the entrance to the first class view upstairs, full of empty seats. As we neared closer, after so many days of concrete, I breathed more easily when I saw a tree lined shore.
From the first moment, the atmosphere of Colonia felt relaxing and light, being uncrowded, clean and sunny but without the humidity of Buenos Aires. I can see why the Argentinians flock to this pretty sea-side town on summer weekends. We went about looking for accommodation, discovering that there were two prices, Uruguayan pesos and US dollars, for everything and that each hostel or hotel had their own exchange rate if you paid in pesos. We paid in pesos, later realising that the ATM’s also dispense dollars. The hostel we stayed at was a bit pricier than an Argentinian one, US$63 to US$33 respectively, even though you get the same thing but for $40 more you could make the most of it by staying at a 3 star hotel, luxurious by our Australian standards, equipped with indoor and outdoor swimming pool. Named the Italian Hotel it was owned by a friendly Urugayan-Australian lady who enjoyed talking with us about Australia as she had lived in Strathfield for 15 years.
Colonia was settled by the Portugese so there are lovely, charming old colonial houses transformed into restaurants and shops. There’s also beaches, fishing and sailing. We met an ex-pat Brazilian photographer who had set up his photography shop and with whom Mike conversed for hours. Strolling through the streets we kept stumbling unexpectedly across Candombe dances, a dance rooted in African slave history. (Mind you Argentinians African population disappeared!) Carnival was in the air! The drummers shuffle to represent chained feet, an old man and old woman figure symbolise wisdom with age, women and girls of all ages dancing in front and in one group the obligatory pretty girl in feathers dancing in the centre. Apparently, there are 2 groups of Candombe groups competing with one another.
The strangest thing that happened was in one restaurant where we were charged for the cutlery! If we had known we would have taken the cutlery with us as they probably re-package them for the next unsuspecting diner. In fact, they do seem stingy here as in the Green Hostel which we stayed in at Montevideo, we had to pay for the towels and the internet, unlike in Rosario. Why don’t they just add it to the total cost? It was a new hostel as they were still painting and renovating and there was not even a chair or bedside table in the room although it was clean and the bathrooms were new.
We stayed in the Cuidad Viejo, old city, near the port. As I followed Mike snapping away, on every corner there were jackhammers and generators. The whole area was being renovated and reconstructed. Next year it may look very different. On every corner too, there were the regular policemen as well as the tourist police, their role being described as a guide for tourists, but we suspect they were there more to protect. We saw a few locals being searched. In the evening, as workers go home, men from the slums arrive with their horse carts to go through the rubbish. Mike photographed this one girl who was with her Dad and with the cat and kittens watching from above. We weren’t sure how they would have taken it if we offered them some money?
The historical Columbian museum across from our hostel exhibiting indigenous pottery and weaving as well as a photography exhibition on Venezualian indigenous people from the 1950’s was good. People were generally friendly and curious, most of them carrying their mate flasks, often mistaking us for Brazilians as we realised that they are regarded as wealthy enough to travel in South America. But I was glad to leave this busy, polluted city where Garibaldi, the 19th century Italian revolutionary had once lived and fought, and return to the quietness of Colonia.
Had we more time, we may have continued along the east coast towards Brazil, but it’s also where loads of tourists flock to the Uruguayan Gold Coast so we headed back to our cool home. Funny, how we’re calling it home now.
Caterina y Tio Santo
I went to the Museum of Immigration which is part of the Department of Immigration to do some genealogy research. The museum was closed for several months, like many other museums in Buenos Aires, so I asked someone in the office where could I go to find out some information about my late grandfather who had come to Argentina as a young man. This was in Edificio building 3. They sent me to Edificio 6. I asked the same thing here but they sent me to a large tent. There was a reception area and clerks in the tent, Bolivian and Peruvians waiting with some tourists. After waiting in a queue and waiting again for the clerk to ask someone else, they sent me back to Edificio 3! In Edificio 3 they were closing up and told me to come back Lunes on Monday!
These photos are of my cousins and my great-Uncle, my late maternal grandmother’s brother. He had the parilla barbecue going for lunch even though it was 40 degrees. We had had parilla the night before at his son’s home as well! It usually takes about 2 hours for the meat to cook and they cook everything-beef, chicken, pork. No seafood. A lot of Coca Cola and cerveza Quilmes. Luckily there was pasta and salad as well. At his son’s house we didn’t eat until 10pm and by the time it was 2am it was too late to go home and we were too tired so we stayed. We thought we would leave the next morning but we ended up staying all day at my great-uncles so didn’t get back to the apartment until 9pm. We’re never really sure how it will end up going when we’re with family as they keep us with them as long as they wish. With our zen-like attitude we gladly offer ourselves as hostages to their generous and kind hospitality.
My great-Uncle had photos of my mother as a child which were interesting. I also photographed his identity cards. He proudly told me stories of how they migrated to Argentina, of his grandfather, that is my great-great-grandfather, who went to the USA several times to work, of the war and of people in our family. Talking with my aunt, my father’s sister, I also discovered that my great-great-grandfather was adopted so we don’t know if our family name is the adopted one or the original name. We will probably never know as it wasn’t bureaucratic in those days.
Either I am not saying it properly or they’re not bothering to listen very well. When I asked for water con gas, with gas, I get it without. When I asked for a ham and cheese roll with lettuce and tomato I get it without the vegetables. I must say that this has happened only in San Telmo centre where they also add a compulsory tip to the bill. This hasn’t happened outside this area. In fact, a few streets away from the plaza and you only pay the local price.
There are warnings of dengue fever telling people not to leave any water lying around. Yet the government does nothing about the puddles of water in the streets that come from the bad drainage and the air conditioning system. Even as you walk along the streets of Buenos Aires water drips on you from the air conditioning. At least they attempt to fumugate the parks.
People are generally friendly, eager to chat with foreigners to find out what you think of their country, to tell you where they think the best places are to go and as equally eager to tell you about the political and economic problems. By now my speaking has improved and they ask me “you’re not from Argentina are you? But you speak castellano well? “ One person asked me “how long have you been living here?” thinking that I’ve been here a year already.
Mike has been picking up a few words especially “un foto por favor” and “todo bien”.
Motorists don’t seem too fussed about using their headlights at night although they have just introduced the laws that seatbelts are compulsory.
G string bikinis are very popular at the beach and on TV they never tire asking women to twirl around for them or zooming in on their butts. Even teenage girls wear them. You’d think they would be used to it by now but they keep filming it.
We’ve been mainly catching buses for 1.20 pesos. They are always on time, never lingering after passengers board. But you need to always have coins ready or a bus ticket as they don’t accept notes at all. Taxis we are wary of as we’ve heard they give counterfeit 50 peso notes as change so never change a 100 peso note when you’re in a taxi. We’ve been given a lesson on how to check the notes.
Well to do Argentinians love dogs of all breeds.You see them walking in the park every evening after they’ve been cooped up in the apartments all day. There are even professional dog walkers who take out a few dogs at a time for a walk. They are just not very good at cleaning up after them, especially more so in Buenos Aires than Rosario. So you have to watch where you walk. Not so well to do Argentinians also like dogs but I’ve heard that some of them just let their dogs roam the streets for food instead of feeding them themselves so you can’t tell which one is a stray.
There are carts with horses in the suburbs where they pick up and buy, for a few pesos, any goods people don’t want in order to resell them probably. Cars people want to sell are identified by the 2/3 litre bottle of water on the boot. Abandoned stripped cars are left where they are.
Shanty towns on the outskirts of town along the highway although there is one close to Retiro station which the government is trying to get rid of by giving them money to leave. Homeless people everywhere on mattresses in the street. We saw one family with three kids wake up from sleeping on a mattress on the street and wondered if they were just a family who were passing through to go somewhere else as they didn’t look like the usual homeless people. Kids are sent in by the adults into restaurants while you eat to try to sell tissue paper, flowers or magazines. On buses and trains, adults do the same thing and sometimes they play music or sing too.
Weather has been unusual for this time of the year all over Argentina, rain and floods in the northern cities and deserts and snow in Bariloche while Buenos Aires is very humid, up to 40 degrees, until it rains.
Dog Walker “please apply, must like dogs!”
Recycling is privatised!
We went to Rosario for a couple of days instead of Mar de Plata, which we wanted to avoid as it’s their version of our Gold Coast. Located on the Parana River, part of the delta system, it’s a smaller city but also less crowded and much cleaner, not as many puddles or poop. It’s famous for its monument to the Argentinian flag. Rosario is also used as a weekend escape for the Buenos Aires portenos.
Most interestingly, it is the city where Che Guevara was born but there is not much Che paraphernalia about. In fact, people asked me where I bought my Che t-shirt. In Australia! There is only one monument in the park and the Casa Natal de Che but his house is privately owned so you can’t enter. One local even complained that the family sold their house really cheaply, for about 60,000 pesos. They are preparing for his birthday celebrations in June and we watched a performance rehearsal in a warehouse at the docks.
We took a boat to the main island on the rio river crossing the muddy brown waters in 20 minutes. There was a small brown sandy beach open but the rest of the beach and around the cafes and bars it was totally flooded! We weren’t warned about it at all when we bought the ticket. Because of lots of rain from Brazil lately, which is unusual, the river had risen about 5 metres so most of the beach was flooded and you couldn’t walk around the island at all. In Australia, they would usually close flooded areas. So we intended to leave after we finished our drink. Walking across the long jetty to the boat, we were halfway down when the boat just left, even though they had seen us coming! So we waited another hour. The next boat did wait for all the passengers. It seems they just do whatever they feel like.The next day we were waiting at the bus stop when a Brazilian tourist asked me if we had to catch the 153 “rojo o negro” red or black bus thinking that I was a local. We travelled together to the playa beach. Both the Brazilians and Australians were terribly disappointed by the playa, having been spoiled by our own beautiful beaches. Luckily we didn’t come to Argentina for the beaches.
Mike took these photos, of the ubiquitous professional dog walkers in the evening , of the memorial and of the grafitti at the docks, which was one of the best grafitti art we had seen so far. They’re not as good at grafitti as they are at stencil it seems… so far.
These are pics of the stall holders at the San Telmo markets. We chatted with the guy in the photo who recycled silver cutlery and transformed them into beautiful jewellery, reforming it by cutting and blacksmithing, setting gemstones like turqoise and rhodochrosite. Rhodochrosite is an Argentinian pinkish gemstone which “drips off the ceilings of underground caves to form stalactites”. Other stalls had paintings, hand made clothes and shoes, woodwork and leather goods.