#7 Argentina, March 6, 2005

Dear Everybody,

I’m headed north from Buenos Aires through the Pampas toward the falls at Iguazu. First stop was Rosario which had many interesting turn of the century buildings, including the apartment building where Che Guevara was born. I had coffee in a building that reminded me of Gaudis in Barcelona—of which I’ve only seen pictures. Rosario has been very fast growing and quite a commercial center. The wide, brown Parana River runs through it and big ships can come up the river to this town.

Next stop up the line was Santa Fe, smaller than Rosario, but the provincial capital. A pleasant mellow town with 17th century colonial churches and many fountain-filled plazas. While I was there, there was a bus drivers’ strike. About 50 long distance buses lined the main plaza on three sides, which fronts the provincial government building. The flyers taped to their buses proclaimed that the transport of passengers was ‘en crisis terminal’ as their wages were too low, etc.

All you Dr. Atkins dieters, have I found the place for you! It is a thatched roofed restaurant called El Quincho de Chiquito on the banks of the mile-wide Parana River. The name seemed to have something to do with boxing, at least the words were printed on somebody’s boxing shorts, and there was lots of boxing memorabilia around.

As I sat down I ordered a tap beer and then another—they were small and I had walked a long way. The dinner was a set price affair, but since I didn’t see any menu (there weren’t any) I didn’t know what to expect. First the waiter brought a crabmeat starter, then 4 meatballs, then a yummy fish empanada (the wrap was the only carb in the whole meal besides a not very interesting bread basket); next about 10 oz. of deep fat fried fish with two very good sauces—one a light tomato and the other a deep, rich mushroom sauce. This was all removed for the main course—half a 15 inch fish split lengthwise, broiled to perfection and served only with lemon wedges. These Argentines take their protein intake seriously!

It was all great, but I was longing for a potato or a salad, so I had another beer. There were absolutely no condiments on the table—no salt, pepper, butter, oil—nothing. It was way too much food, even for me. When I got the bill—what a surprise—the whole thing, beers and all with tip, was under $7.00! That seemed awfully cheap, even for Argentina. No wonder this huge place was swarming with locals. I didn’t see any tourists there, but I don’t think there are any in these towns.

A couple of comments on Argentine style: 1) Virtually all women and half of the men ‘cover the gray.’ I have hardly seen a woman with gray hair on the entire trip. And since I let my hair go gray last summer (it’s almost white) I must be a standout here. Many older men color their hair, too.

2) The young women are very fond of the low slung pants and cropped tank top. Interestingly the European backpackers also wear this style, and either they’re carrying a few extra pounds or they’re three months pregnant. The very pregnant Argentines wear this with the cropped tank top not coming anywhere near their naval, leaving most of their fecundity bare naked! I have seen more than one couple with the young man sensually stroking his partner’s abdomen. Maybe I’ve just been out of touch with this age group back home, and of course Minnesota winters may be a deterrent to this style, but I don’t think I’ve seen this before. Come to think of it, about 20 years ago in Rio very pregnant young women wore the briefest bikinis at the beach—maybe it’s a South American thing.

3) Lots of smokers. I would say that 30 % of the people smoke—old, young, middle-aged, male and female. Typically restaurants don’t have non-smoking areas.

I’m in Corrientes now, which is also a provincial capital. I had an interesting 10 hour bus ride yesterday. It was the only bus I could get that didn’t arrive in Corrientes in the middle of the night, but it was the milk run. We stopped in five towns along the way, and we were on a small two-lane highway rather than a freeway which is where the direct buses go. Actually it was kind of nice having a view of the farmland, the animals (many, many cattle, horses, sheep and a few goats) and the smaller towns which were about 80 miles apart. I actually saw who I’m calling a gaucho—a man on horseback wearing what I think was ‘gaucho’ clothing. The terrain was as flat as a pancake.

I did a walking tour of the town this morning before it got too hot. Yes, it’s hot, hot summer here. I looked at the plazas, the churches, and some wonderful outdoor murals. One church honored a wooden 16th century cross that miraculously didn’t burn when rebellious Indians tried to set fire to it.

Tomorrow I’ll move north again—only two more hops to Iguazu.


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