South American Trilogy: Part 2
Updated: Feb 12
By Paul Mitchnick:
Read Part 1 of Paul's South American journey!
Getting to Argentina made for a very long day. Our journey had started the previous afternoon by flying from the island of Fernando de Noronha, off the coast of Brazil, to Recife on the mainland, sleeping in a downtown beige hotel until 3 A.M., getting to the airport, and a few hours of hungry waiting before an eight-hour flight with a stop in Sao Paulo, where we were not allowed to get off the plane. On the last leg of the flight, we flew over the Andes Mountains. They seemed close enough to touch, majestic enough to want
to . . .
Looking out the window has always been a treat for me. At age five, I graduated to the front seat of my father’s gray-blue Chevrolet coupe, and looking out the window became an active pastime. Then, it was where am I? This is something I want to see. Now, it’s here I am.
My brother Rob shares this with me. When we were kids, riding in the front seat was a pre-drive negotiation. Always. The drive to my Uncle Morris’s farm, where my love of horses began, had some great hills. The coupe kind of rose up at the top of the hills, and for one brief second it felt like the car was flying. That felt best in the front. If my brother got the front seat on the way there, I got it on the way back.
Sometimes on these farm visits, there was a pony saddled for us. My behavior was always exemplary in the hopes that it would end up with me on a horse. I was hooked.
We were bags of hammers on arrival in Buenos Aires. Our plan was to spend a brief afternoon in the city before heading to Estancia Don Joaquín for horseback riding. Located near the town of Esquina in the southwest province of Corrientes, it was an eight-hour bus ride north. Arrangements to get to the estancia (South American cattle ranch or farm) were made by Angie, the co-owner.
All fees, paid in advance, were deposited into a Miami account. Argentina has a very precarious banking system. The value of the peso is up and down like a child playing with power windows. No one can get a mortgage. One can only buy a house with cash.
Angie advised us to hire "Albert." We exchanged photos. Albert spoke English. He would meet us at the airport in the morning and get us to the bus in the evening. Albert would keep our luggage—a huge bonus.
Albert was an affable guy in his late fifties, originally from Uruguay. He would give us a little sightseeing tour, help with any errands, then leave us in the smart, refurbished old port, a very safe place to lunch and hang out until he ferried us to the bus terminal.
Chitchat was pleasant as our little sightseeing trip started. The temperature was in the early thirties this morning (and every morning), so I rolled down the window for some moving air. Well, you would have thought that I had urinated in his back seat. Albert just freaked out.
"Roll up the windows now!"
"Don’t stick your arm outside the window!"
"This is a bad neighbourhood!"
"This is a bad city!"
"You have to be careful here."
"Don’t look anyone in the eye."
"Carry your bags in front of you."
"Don’t pull out your camera anywhere."
"It isn’t safe anywhere in the evening."
"Blah, Blah, Blah."
Both Michaelin and I have travelled extensively around the world on either no money or very little. We’re not really package-tour travellers. I get the fact that this type of information is important. No one wants to walk down a blind alley. However, his tone conveyed a fearful war-zone anxiety that was anything but welcoming or necessary. We get it, and we can do this kind of travel. Albert hated Buenos Aires—not a good introduction to our free but careful spirits.
He dropped us off in one of the smartest barrios of Buenos Aires. Puerto Madero is a mix of the refurbished old warehouse area with plenty of new. Lots of restaurants in old buildings, lots of galleries in new buildings. Skyscrapers. A pair of swans. Even a man-made waterway with gondolas and gondoliers, of all things. And eye candy to both peruse and purchase. It has a rotating footbridge and a couple of construction cranes that speak to its old port history.
Walk, walk, walk . . . look, look, look . . .
Time to stop for a bite. Grilled meat rules in Argentina. We followed our noses until we came across a restaurant with a patio overlooking the water and a promenade. A very chic woman sat at the next table sipping white wine. The waiter approached with her bill and a small pair of tin snips. She leaned forward as the waiter cut the zap straps that attached her purse to her chair. Even in this very smart neighbourhood, restaurant thieves are masters at grabbing handbags and purses.
Going to take Albert’s warning a little more seriously now . . .
Albert picked us up at the appointed hour and place, then shepherded us to and through the bus terminal. Busy and crowded and hot, a bus terminal like any anywhere in the world. Tickets in hand, we bid Albert farewell at our bus.
"Would you like to be picked up at the ranch and driven back?"
"Maybe not so much, but thanks."
"You have my card, call me if you change your mind."
The bus was a modern two-level affair with first class on the upper level. We had stellar sleeper berths. The seats folded flat; there was a curtain, a TV, and a meal. Pretty cool. Michaelin slept. Not one to turn down a meal I’d paid for, I nibbled away while watching soap operas in Spanish—there were a lot of women sporting enormous eyelashes. Then I slept . . . sort of. The sound of the bus, the weaving of the road, the springs in the folded-flat seat became its own thing and never le