You find our hero and heroine in somewhat of a sticky situation, Argentina is experiencing a heat wave. It´s Hot with a capital H and the temperatures have not hit the current heights of 35 degrees at this time in the year for a good 50 years. We are literally melting in a big and stuffy city. Sitting on anything has become a hazard, as we feel our buttocks melting like a cheese slice to the seat until we have to peel ourselves off unceremoniously. Oh and before we have to deal with chorus of ´stop moaning` from those freezing their nether regions off in England, you can at least make yourself warmer, we can`t cool down. The local deal with the heat in the only way they know how, namely slipping into their tightest pair of jeans (clearly not realising that denim merely exacerbates the problem) and sipping on their mate. Now I have mentioned the phenomonen that is Mate drinking before, but the obsession with it in these parts verges on the ridiculous. It is the most impractical pastime I have ever seen. To be a Mate drinker you, like the countless other members of the population, need to carry your silver mate cup and silver mate straw, normally full to the brim with herbs and if that weren´t bad enough you need a thermos full of water twice the heat it is outside. You literally see hundreds of people carrying this get up as they go up the street. Madness! Oh and what is the obsession with putting everything you buy in a plastic bag however big or small. I thought the UK was lagging behind on the green stakes, but Latin America, with the excpetion of Costa Rica, is a mere dot on the horizon behind us. Bearing in mind the size of the place that is kind of worrying. The other day, in an attempt to beat the heat, we bought a couple of ice lollies. The guy behind the the till promptly put them in a plastic bag for us and handed it to us. What did he think we were going to do? Take them home, allowing them to melt and then drink them.
So since we returned from over the river in Uruguay we have been mainly attempting to keep our core temperatures from exceeding 100 degrees. One such effort saw us make our way out to the suburb of Hurlingham on a visit to one of the international billingualschools that have long since been the reserve of the children of British Ex Pats, but have been latterly taken over by the wealthy Argentinian society. St Hilda´s College is a beautiful little place, run very much like the independent schools back home and there was definitely something reassuring to be back inside the walls of my usual place of work. The offer of a job was fairly forthcoming in the brief time that we were there. All very nice, but I´m not sure whether we are quite ready for mass scale decampment to Buenos Aires suburbs just yet bearing in mind the increasing cost of living in these parts.
Hurlingham is also the location of one of the premier country clubs in Argentina and the school were kind enough to send us down there to have look around the grounds, given that the vast majority of their students make up the core of its membership. This provided us with an unforseen opportunity to tick another activity off the Argentina to do list: Watch some polo. Now being new to this particular sporting activity and, unlike the wife, not having grown up mucking out a large four legged animal I was rather keen to see what the fuss was all about. I can now without doubt contend that behind rowing this is the greatest waste of money I have ever seen. To the unitiated it is the equivalent of watching primary school football, where everyone crowds around the ball, through luck more than judgement, someone makes decent contact with the ball and sends it hurling up the field, everyone chases after it, with any luck there´s more contact with the ball sending it further up the field, every one chases after it, before someone misses the ball and everyone runs past it and has to turn around with a turning circle akin to that of the Titanic and the whole charade carries on for a further four periods of 7 minutes up and down the pitch. Do you want to know why polo matches are normally accompanied by copious amounts of champagne and canapes? Well if anyone actually watched the game they are in danger of slipping into a peaceful, yet potentially dangerous, coma. So International Polo Board here are my suggestions to liven up your sport: get rid of the sticks and make the horses have to kick the ball…then we´ll see how well trained the animals are or, as this is a sport for the strong jaw lined, horsey toothed elite, let´s make it really elite and replace the horses with poor people. Then there will be a physical challenge to the proceedings. I await with bated breath your response.
While Hurlingham shows you one end of the spectrum, the train ride out there is one hell of an eye opener. I´m not sure either of us have ever seen poverty the likes of which you see from the ride out of the city. There are families, young children and all living in shacks a few metres from the passing trains. The contrast between the haves and the have nots could not be starker. And sadly I don´t think it´s about to change anytime soon. The one thing you notice about a number of the coutries we have been through, is the number of kids begging or rummaging in rubbish for the crust of a pizza or the left over leaves from a salad. It is not a sight we are used to at home and in person it is hard to bear.
One of the things you realise about Argentina pretty soon is exaclty how big the country is. Our rather naive plans of heading all the way south and all the way north were picked to pieces fairly early when we realised it required 40 hours on a coach to get down to the famous Perito Moreno glacier in the south. So yet another change of plan; after saying all year we weren´t heading to the Iguazu Falls we bought a bus ticket there. This gave us a chance to sample the legendary Argentinian coach network that is so highly praised by travellers. On boarding our 17 hour flight, I say flight because it has more in common with airplane travel than coach travel in England, we were seated in our fully reclining large comfy seats, with footrests and we pretty soon realised that these two charis were actually the nicest accomodation we have stayed in for a while. In fact we could just travel up and down the country for the next week, never seeing anything, but just relaxing. Films are shown as in Chile, but in this case good ones. 3 meals were provided, the dinner complete with starter, main course and desert. And here´s the brilliant bit, wth dinner comes a half bottle of wine and is followed by a nightcap of either whisky or champagne. What the hell...you only live once.
So we arrived at Puerto Iguazu and set straight off to explore the Argentinian side of Cataratas...the waterfalls to the uninitiated. One of the things about travelling is your new found respect for nature and we have already been rendered speechless by a number of sights, not least the shot of me actually cooking in a kitchen. So I am running out of words to describe such spectacles of wonder and amazement. The falls, that sit on the Brazilian and Argentinian border are majestic and the world sublime, a beauty combined with danger, is the most perfect summation I can offer you. The sheer amount of water being displaced appears unreal, as do the hundreds of small birds that fly in and out the falling water. The foam is immense, think your bubble bath and times that size about a billion times, and getting up close to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil´s Throat), the noise is as defeaning as the spray is blinding. It´s like take a cold shower with hundreds of other people, but given the heat of the day is actually quite pleasurable. The Argentinina side allows you to get very close to a vast number of falls, as you follow the shoreline and make your way to the look out points. The temptation to want to dive in, is almost unbearable but is tempered by the knowledge that death would be fairly immediate. You can´t really get an idea of the scale of this site from pictures, but it certainly gets the two thumbs up from us if you are thinking about travelling in this part of the world.
So this brings us to today. We have just got back from stepping over the border into Brazil, coutry number 13, to view the falls from that side. The Brazilian side is supposed togive you the grand over view as opposed to the more intimate one from Argentina. It certainly does that, but there is one particular viewing platform that allows you to get so close, you feel like you are literally surrounded by water. In addition, there are acres of National Park to explore and tons of wildlife, some of which has been known to steal your lunch if you are not careful. The one dissapointment is that if you are going just to the falls, you get no Brazilian stamp going over the border. They just let you in. Surely however convenient, this is rife for abuse. So for a brief few hours, Ravi amd Kirsty Kothakota had exited Argentina, but were actually officially in no country. So whether this counts as country 13 is open to interpretation.
And so the Latin American section of our journey is coming to an end, as next week, via brief stop back in Santiago to see our new adopted family member Tito, we fly onwards to Auckland. Before we leave we plan to indulge in a few more steaks, some tango lessons and a few more leisurely promenades around the city of Buenos Aires. I love not working.