Sunday, November 8, 2015

Final Thoughts on Argentina

*Try as I might to get the text bigger, things just aren't working for me tonight. Enjoy your squinting read....

We spent over a month in Argentina and I wouldn't hesitate to return. Despite it's tumultuous   past over the last few decades, and an economy that feels a bit less than stable, we felt quite safe and secure. There's so very much to love about the country, I can't help but compile a list to remind me why we enjoyed it so much.

1.     It's beautiful.

We only saw a small portion of the country, but Buenos Aires does have a very European feel to it. The views of Iguazu Falls are stunning. And even the bleak part of Patagonia we were in had it's own charm with the whale watching from the shore, and the walking among penguins in their nesting area. There is so much more I would like to explore: Salta, deeper into Patagonia, Mendoza, and of course, more of Buenos Aires.

2.  The people.

The people are warm, friendly and welcoming. I expected Eamon to be able to easily join in with boys playing with a soccer ball with ease - and he did, but what's a 10-year-old girl to do? How do you find friends when you don't speak the language. But Meaghan found some friends. The first, and most memorable, was bubbly and outgoing and chatted away in Spanish just as if Meaghan did understand. Meaghan discovered that if she just spoke English and used her hands a lot, her friend understood too. It helped immensely that the friend's mom spoke fabulous English, but the girls chatted away on their own and had a grand time.

3.     As part of their warmth, I adore how Argentines greet people. We are such an awkward cold people sometimes. The germophobia that consumes us does nothing to help make us a warmer people. In Argentina, you give a quick kiss next to a person's right cheek, together with a bit of a half embrace. That's how you meet strangers. One of Meaghan's friends greeted me that way when I first met her. The dad of one of our Airbnb hosts greeted me that way. One of our tour guides greeted us that way. I have to say, it's nice. And, I have no doubt that more people would have greeted us in this way if we didn't look so foreign, cold and awkward. 

4.     Every time a flight lands, moments after the wheels have touched down and the plane begins slowing down, everyone claps. It's quite something to see an entire plane load of people burst into applause for a typical landing. After leaving Argentina, it felt odd not too clap.

5.     The accent. Instead of the y-sound you have in yo, they have a softer sh sound. I think that sound is also used for the LL y-sound. And the j a bit of a sound similar to English. But I have to be honest, I couldn't tell the difference. I don't speak Spanish well enough to hear all the words; I just pick up words here and there and speak the bit that I know. But I did find that when we moved onto Chile, I found it much easier to listen to Spanish and at least hear the words being spoken even if I don't know the meaning.

6.     The cafés.


While Starbucks do appear on the odd corner, they come no where near the number or charm of the many cafés in Buenos Aires. Many afternoons we found ourselves walking past a café and easily convincing ourselves we needed to go try it out. Kerry and I both agree that we could get used to this kind of life. 

The café life is easily supported by the fact that Argentines eat supper late, as in 9 or 10 pm.  As a consequence, come 4 or 5 pm, people are hungry (which is why we eat supper between 5 and 6), so they pop into a café for a coffee and a snack. We never did embrace the late night meals, and instead just looked as though we were quite greedy at the 5pm snack time as we ate our supper.

7.     Anywhere Italians immigrate good food follows. That explains the cafés. It also explains the very good pizza that can be found anywhere, anytime. The kids were mighty happy. 

8.    Submarinos.


The wonderful chocolatey drinks called submarinos: you add a chocolate bar to hot milk. I suspect we'll be making these when we return home. 

9.     Dulce de leche. It's a thick caramel made from sweetened condensed milk. It appears ready to spread on your morning toast, add to sweets, and forms the middle of the alfajore - a two wafer cookie (either vanilla or chocolate) with dulce de leche gobbed on in the middle and sometimes dipped entirely in chocolate. 

10.     Ice cream

Ice cream is huge here. I have never seen so many ice cream shops so close together. And the ice cream is marvellous, like a creamy thick gelato. 

11.     While there are pickpockets around, that's not unlike many other cities anywhere in the world. Gun violence is apparently on the rise, but it's still pretty low. We felt safe pretty much everywhere we were. Walking was easy. Getting taxis was easy. 

12.     The decorated buses.


The buses run 24 hours all over the city. We only took one once as part of a tour, because you either need a lot of coins with four of us (hard to find, which rumour has it is because they are worth more melted down than as a coin, so certain people hoard, melt and have more money as a consequence) or a subte card, which is also hard to find and recharge with more money - a lot of work to just ride the bus for a bit of fun. And who doesn't like a bus that is decorated. I wish I'd gotten a better photo of a the outside of the bus. The one I have is too blurry to be decent. 

13.    The protests are frequent and interesting. A large group of people with signs, maybe some sort of drumming or music, and a megaphone can block off part of a street, and people seem to just carry on and work around the inconvenience and disruption. Unions wield enormous power since they can easily shut down the city on seemingly a moment's notice. 

14.     As great as the country is to visit, I would find it hard living here. In my lifetime, the country has had a military dictatorship under which thousands of people disappeared during the dirty war, seen the collapse of its economy in the early 90s and the devaluation of the peso that wiped out the savings of many and hit the middle class mighty hard.  

It now has an inflation rate of about 40% with this crazy, illegal but mostly ignored blue dollar exchange market so that the Argentines have a way to exchange pesos for dollars - or my case, get a better exchange rate for my dollars. See my post here about the blue market. It would be hard work to stay on top of things and be cagey enough to protect your life savings.

In addition to these woes, the political system is corrupt where the quest for power and siding with power prevails over any type of ideology. 

However, I don't need to live there to enjoy the country and the people. In fact, I almost feel that they need my tourist dollar and support. Not that I'm any great stabilizing force, but every little bit helps. Guess I'll just have to get back someday soon.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Your trip sounds absolutely amazing. What a treasure that you're documenting it so wonderfully on the blog. I really enjoy reading about your experiences!