Don’t cry for me Argentina.
Argentina was a little bit of a surprise package for me. It wasn’t a country I knew much about and for a little while we were thinking about skipping it altogether once we realised it was the wrong time of year and we were far too underprepared to journey south to Patagonia. However, I’m very glad we didn’t. I found it to be a country of contrasts, rich culture and beautiful countryside. And although it wouldn’t be up there on my list of favorite countries I did not spend one day here where I wasn’t enjoying myself.
We started off our Argentine journey in Puerto Iguazu, which is the town from which to visit the Argentinean side of Iguazu Falls. We had already visited the Brasillian side and been astounded so we set off to cross the border in a public bus. On the Brasillian side there was absolute uproar with hundreds of people sitting on the road in the hot sun waiting to be processed out of the country by a sole worker. We had time so our frustration was minimized but I really felt for the tour groups trying to visit from the other side of the border in an organised day trip. They were obviously frustrated too and begun chanting and clapping, just as we thought they were about to riot the border control officers said anyone as part of an organised tour could pass through without being stamped out. This changed our position on the cue by a few hundred people and we only had to wait about an hour after that. But after making friends with a Venezuelan and a Colombian in the line and discovering the cake we’d forgotten about in our backpack our experience was relatively painless. Once we crossed to the Argentinean side the process was smooth as silk, and was probably indicative of what was to come. We weren’t in classic South America any more as Argentina is far more developed than its northern neighbors. Puerto was a funny little town much like its Brasillian neighbor. It kind of had the vibe that it used to be very happening, the streets were eerily quiet at night but there was a buzz around town that the excitement of the falls was very close. Our hostel was an absolute dive but look, to be honest I would have slept in a cardboard box if it meant that I could see Iguazu Falls. It was honestly the single most amazing thing I have ever laid eyes on. 2.8km of extremely powerful waterfalls making rainbows everywhere and spraying spectators. It’s actually really hard to put in to words unless you have been. But it is jump around like a little kid with excitement kind of amazing. In Puerto Iguazu we also checked out an animal hospital which mostly comprised of animals like toucans, monkeys even ocelots that had been illegally kept as pets or injured in the wild. It was really great to get up close and learn some more about the native animals. We also went to a -10 degrees ice bar which was just a novelty but so much fun. Next up we caught a short flight to the capital, Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires was a place where the lonely planet authors description has hit the absolute nail on the head. It’s basically South Americas’ most happening, cosmopolitan city. It oozes sex appeal, grand buildings and gourmet bakery’s on every corner. Tango music playing around every turn. Vibrant markets and soccer-mad residents. However it is hard not to notice the dark undertones of a country heavily hit by recession. With inflation rates of over 100%. Argentina is a previously prosperous country heading down a very slippery slope. This was evident even just in a short visit here when I saw some of the most confronting and heartbreaking incidences of homelessness I have ever come across. People sleeping in ATMS, people sleeping in garbage bins, entire family’s constructing makeshift homes out of garbage bags and trees in the park. All in the freezing cold. My heart absolutely bled for these people. I did a little more research and unfortunately Argentina simply does not have the shelters or resources to help them.
The sudden contrast in weather left Brendan and I both with colds so we only had the energy for a few activities. I had a solo excursion to La Boca, the colorful Italian migrant area where tango was invented and absolutely loved the place. It is also home of one of the most famous soccer clubs in the world, Boca Juniors. I’m semi-interested in soccer but after seeing the electricity of this neighbourhood I was an avid fan of their club. I loved visiting their stadium and laughed at the tour guide casually telling me that away fans were no longer permitted to attend games because there were ‘too many fights and too many murders.’ I learnt about some of the local artists and how the community came about. The Italian migrants were promised land but upon arriving in Argentina it was found to be a false promise. So they were forced to live in hostel-like accommodation with many families at once. They mostly worked on the ships so they would use leftover paint from the ships hazard warnings to paint their hostel one wall, door or roof at a time depending on how much paint was left hence the famous colourful neighborhood. I found La Boca although very touristy to be perfectly preserved and I had my first real moment of ‘holy crap I’m in South America’.
One thing I had to do in Buenos Aires was experience some Tango. Many extravagant touristy shows are advertised but I wanted an authentic experience. So I found a ‘Milonga’ or basically a dance meeting in a bar. The bar was small but had a stage and a dance floor. The music was absolutely mind blowing. So passionate and authentic. I had previously thought the accordion was a kind of lame instrument but now it would have to be one of my favorites. People of all experiences filtered on and off the dance floor to tango. It was a once in a lifetime experience. After Buenos Aires we took a 17 hour bus to Mendoza to drink some wine, eat some steak and drive through the beautiful Andes mountains. We caught the bus from Mendoza to our next country, Chile. This bus trip is known as one of the most beautiful in the world as it winds through the Andes for almost the entire trip. It was truly breathtaking and we were lucky to have a seat right up the front. As Australians it’s hard to truly comprehend a mountain range as I for one had never seen one before. But for now, we are off to Chile!