It would be impossible (or rather boring) for me to have given you a blow by blow of my experiences in Argentina. Instead, as you’ve seen, I’ve focused on a few thematic posts. However, there were some quirky things that happened that I couldn’t resist sharing and that only fit under these titles and make up entertaining travel memories.
Clandestino Clowns and Hardcore Bolivian dancers
My visiting brother was excited about coming to Buenos Aires to do some dancing, not the sort you’re thinking of, he isn’t a Tango aficionado, he just wanted to dance, and if possible to some of his favorite music style: reggae. Well, Buenos Aires is a big city and important South American capital, there’s something for everyone beyond Tango. With a little googling, he found a reggae concert for us to go to, porque no? It sounded fun. We had some drinks and snacks at home then headed up to Palermo. This was our first time up in that neighborhood, but a place I’d find myself returning back to frequently as this was where most of the nightlife happened. We chose at random one of the area’s many lively bars for a last drink before arriving at the concert for the scheduled opening time of 11:30 pm. Arriving right on time to the concert venue, we joined the already forming line, double checking with fellow attendees that we were all there for the same concert, si si. Five, ten, fifteen minutes go by, the line was growing and smartly, knowing how these lines worked (unlike us), drink vendors appeared, leading to us purchasing our Fernet and Cola (described in my last post).
Finally letting us in after an hour outside, the stage was taken up by the “Clandestino Clowns” show… hmmm not exactly a typical opening act, but I guess reggae attracts alternative people, and these were “alternative” clowns (featured in the photo above). We didn’t mind… at first… but then geez .. their show kept going on and on. Finally they packed up their act and it appeared the “real” opening act was about to begin (now at about 1:30 am). On bounces Miss Bolivia… and her dancers. At first we got into the catchy dancehall, hip hop beats of Miss Bolivia, but after a little while as her dancers warmed up we weren’t sure if we should be laughing or grooving, click on the video above to decide for yourself. They were something else! I’m not sure if they were on a maté high or something else. It was entertaining for a while and we danced along, however, we’d come for something completely different.
When they were finished (around 3:00 am), we were eager for the headliners to come on. Fifteen minutes later the stage lights came back on… shining on whom? Those darn clandestino clowns! Fifteen, Thirty, Forty-five minutes went by and still no reggae band. There I was starting to fall asleep against the wall sitting on some steps upstairs, my brother was drinking more G&Ts out of boredom and we finally headed home at 4:00 am… no reggae concert for us that night! Perhaps none for the other concert-goers too? Or at 5:00 am??
The Woody Allen “Review”
You’d think we might have learnt our lesson, pero no. We decided to attempt another concert. It was a Tuesday night so not the most happening of the week. Looking through the listings, a title jumped out at us. The Woody Allen review? Wow, it’d be cool to see Woody Allen… I’d read before that he sometimes puts on little concerts when he’s shooting a movie. Could his next city be Buenos Aires?? Possibly! Didn’t we see a film crew downtown that very day??
So out we went to this little back room jazz club not too far from our place. Arriving soon before the concert was set to begin we luckily scored the second to last set of tickets. We nestled into our little table and ordered some drinks. A few musicians came out shortly after. Not Woody, but we just figured that this must be the opening group. They were sweet and from what I could gather from their song intros in Spanish, they made reference to Woody’s films, I also recognized some of the tunes from his movies. Perhaps these were his local music buddies he played with when he was in town? And could some of the fellow attendees be his local film buddies as well?
We patiently listened and sipped away at our drinks, on they played. And played. After about an hour we started getting a little suspicious. I think it hit Josh and I about the same time… Woody was not actually playing… this was just a tribute band! Indeed Woody only made an appearance through the band leader’s intros. We laughed and ordered a last G&T, what else could we do? When they finished up we heard a few other misled North Americans making their own little revelatory comments. We’d all been a little lost in translation, not to the fault of our poor Spanish, the ad for the concert had a photo of Woody playing his clarinet, though reading the fine print afterwards, it was clearer what the concert really was. We stopped going to concerts after this.
Protest, Protests, PROTESTS!
No more concerts, but don’t worry, there was plenty of other entertainment to be found, literally around every corner, or at least around the corner from where we were staying. We were two short blocks from Obelisco, Argentina’s national monument, a modern version of an Egyptian obelisk of the and, what we quickly learnt, a popular meeting point for protests and rallies. From here they attendees tended to march towards the large Plaza de Mayo square, well, that is, if they went anywhere, often little groups would just hang out on the grass, banging away on their drums right there.
I’d thought the French were the world leaders in protesting. They might win with the actual striking part, but the Argentines win hands down on quantity and quality of their manifestaciones, the most famous being the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, who march around the square every Thursday at 4 pm in protest against the disappearance of 11,000 Argentines during the mid-century dictatorship. I saw them on my first day as I was strolling around to fight my jetlag. Then I ran into another small march… before coming to the rowdy one, which did not seem planned, with the group occupying the city bus (surrounded by riot police) captured in the photo.
For the others, we supposed that not all these lively gatherings were against some government action or cause, they were often in celebration. Practically every weekend there was some type of demonstration or street festival. My brother suggested that maybe we could start up a new tour, the protest experience, where a local expert would introduce the protest culture and then you too could don your matching T-Shirt and wave a flag or climb on a bus? Hmmm… any takers?
Car troubles… in No-man’s Land!
Who doesn’t have at least some mishaps with renting a car or driving in a foreign country? We had two; one for each of our rental car experiences. The first was on our weeklong stint in the Mendoza area. Besides having trouble finding some vineyards and our early-90s car’s slowish speed, the driving had been going quite well. We’d ventured high up into the Andes (described here) and had made it to the town we were spending the night in. Hungry for lunch, after checking into our odd accommodations, we cruised into Uspallata for a bite. Not so easy for two vegetarians… and at 4 pm, a touch on the late side even for Argentinian standards, we were inching into siesta time. We managed to find one decent enough looking place open, parked ourselves on the patio and devoured a mediocre pizza and salad with mainly ingredients from a can. That didn’t bother us at all, our stomachs were pleased and our thirst quenched by a refreshing Quilmes beer. Our content aura quickly dissipated arriving back at the car… the keys were not in our pockets, but in the car ignition. Merde.
We were at a crappy frontier town! Okay not as far out as in the photo above, but there might not even be a car S.O.S place within 100 kms! We’d be stranded and roasted for dinner at the parrilla BBQ place down the road! No need to panic, not with my handy brother around. We just need a hanger, he said. Darn, what’s “hanger” in Spanish? I racked my brains as I headed back to our lunch spot. My attempt to explain the situation coupled with drawing a small hanger got my point across, but they didn’t have any hangers. It was summer after all, they didn’t have coats to hang up or maybe since it wasn’t a very classy place they didn’t even have hangers any time of the year. They explained that all the shops that might have hangers (all one or two I imagined) were closed for siesta time, but said the hardware store which was up the road might be open. Off I returned up the road, passing my brother looking around for some wire in the ditches, I found the hardware shop and luckily it was open. Of course they didn’t sell hangers… however, they sold thick wire, at a bargain no less and with three dollars and under the admiring eye of the chef from the restaurant, Josh had the door open in a minute. Where had he learn those skills? We joked. Hopefully the chef hasn’t taken up a new career in car theft!
The second incident was in Uruguay, where we’d gone sort of on a whim one weekend. Crossing the ferry to Colonia de Sacramento in the rain, our prayers for sunshine were not met on the other side of the Rio de la Plata. Well, we could camp out in a cafe hoping it would dry up soon, but it was only 11 am, a little too early for Quilmes. In the ferry station, Josh noticed a car rental place, why don’t we just see how much it’ll be? I wasn’t keen on the idea at first, preferring to do some walking about. Nevertheless, the cheap price sweetened the deal and off we drove visiting the area around the town, safe from the rain. The cloud did eventually drifted off the bay, we had a nice sunny afternoon walking the small quaint streets.
Seeing as we now did have a car, we adventured off to the north of the country in search of the Atlantic coast, which we found after getting lost in Montevideo, a few hours later in Punte del Este. After a lovely day and night there, we headed back to Colonia to catch our ferry. After surviving the horrible highways of the Argentinian Andes we were thrilled with the modern void of traffic toll routes in Uruguay. This is not Argentina, as the rental car guy had told us, proud of his quite advanced, less corrupt country. Things had been going so well and the roads so smooth. Then about 20 minutes from Montevideo, came a sudden loud bang. A flat tire. Merde again.
Would we make our ferry?? Good thing we planned to return a full day before Josh’s flight, so it was total panic if we missed the ferry, but what would we do if we were stranded on the highway, nice as it was… not exactly homey! Fortunately there was an extra tire, and double fortune had it that Josh was handy at that too, and had it changed in about ten minutes and off we neared towards Montevideo. We spent less time changing the tire than we did getting out of being lost once again in the city with few directional signs. And we made our ferry.
Speaking of rentals… we happened upon an odd one… or rather they happened upon us. As I recounted in my Mendoza wine post, my brother and I were staying in a nice small town over Christmas. Our friendly hotel staff gave us some tips on a vineyard in town which was open on Christmas eve afternoon. So we left the car behind and start off in the direction he marked on our map. Once on the main street, we soon noticed we’d been joined by a little furry black friend, the dog in the first two photos. She tagged along just like she was our dog, or even town ambassador, walking with us for easily 20 minutes and off onto several different streets. No need to bring your dog on holiday to this part of the world, one will find you!
The second was actually in Uruguay. We’d arrived in Punta del Este and after spending a few hours on the beach and walking around, we needed a refreshing cerveza. We opted for a local brand: Patricia. Soon enough we had more than one Patricia, one on our table and one at our feet! This is what we baptized our second rent-a-dog (pictured in the second two photos above and coincidentally another black dog). She wasn’t begging for food, not at all, she just wanted some companionship. From the bar, she cruised around with us up to see the sunset. As the sky darkened we slowly made our way back to the hotel. She might have been getting a tad bored, she was starting to make other friends but still following us, we felt a little bad when we slipped into our hotel and she waiting around outside for us. Though when we went back out for dinner, she was gone, off with new friends we supposed.
Pepe the Pet Fruit Bat
I did have another “pet,” though this time a very unwanted one. One night returning home from an expat event after my brother had left, I was getting reading for bed and preparing my toothbrush in the bathroom when something dark caught my eye to the right. Ahh! What the heck was that! A little black creature was crawling slowly (picture: slow motion, out of a grave) poking his little head above the backside of my laundry hamper. Fleeing the room, I was tough out of luck, as much as I didn’t want to go to bed not having brushed my teeth, I had to take out my contact lenses… A mad dash make into the bathroom secured the required utensils and I firmly closed the door.
I figured the creature must be a bat, evening though it was bizarrely not flying around, it was crawling. I later found out that it was most likely a fruit bat, which are found here, and apparently crawl when they are afraid. Well, if he didn’t want to be afraid… he shouldn’t have crept into my bathroom! Of course it was our fault for leaving the little bathroom window open.
The following morning I cautiously opened the bathroom door, first looking towards the hamper. Nada. Then to the shower (my destination), perhaps he’d be hanging upside down from the curtain rod. The coast appeared to be clear. My nerves started to calm down, possibly distracted by my too hot shower. I dared grab my hairbrush and used the bathroom to an absolute minimum that day.
That night I had my fernet and pisco date and after getting everything ready, I did some emailing waiting for my late date to arrive. My faraway mind already dreaming of tasty pisco sours and more was called back to earth, not by the buzzer of my building or a phone call, but by a little tickle on my foot. Holy batman! The little bat had crawled out of the bathroom and across the living room floor to say “hola.”
I jumped up, flinging the poor frightened bat under the coffee table. I scurried into the kitchen to track down the best temporary cage for my flightless new pet, a plastic salad bowl would do the trick. I’d actually planned to ask my date to see if he could find the bat, I wasn’t expecting the bat to find us instead, but I couldn’t bare to try lifting up the bowl and tossing my new pet out the window. It was now totally freaked out and flying around under the bowl.
My knight in shining armor soon arrived and it made for a funny welcome. He tossed the bat out the window, but then it clinged to little ledge just outside it for a while. We baptized him Pepe and he became the brunt of many jokes and teasing. I even found the above kitchen tool in my place which strangely looked like the batman sign. I knew what to use if Pepe came back.
The craziest story might have to be this one…
There I was. Waiting. My brother was having a rather awful time in Patagonia, he had a stomach bug and no one spoke English, he wanted out. So I called up the airline and in my bad Spanish and with writing out phonetically how to spell his name in Spanish, I managed to change his flight back to earlier and at no charge. However, I’d already made plans with my new friends and I didn’t want to leave then in the lurch. Therefore, with my brother coming back from the airport around the same time as I was supposed to go off to the meeting place, I was planning on letting him in and taking off right after.
Can you come down. We’re almost back but the taxi driver won’t turn the meter on and is trying to rip me off. Was my brother’s text. I didn’t know how I could be of that much help, but since I could actually form sentences in Spanish, I’d try. After ragging out the taxi driver in basic scolding we threw him 100 pesos and got my brother out of the cab. Cabbies! We’d mostly had good experiences, but they were known for being a little sketchy down here and this guy helped keep up that bad reputation.
We sort of fled inside in case he was hanging around angry at us (not like he had any reason to be), so I took my brother back up stairs and we had a short chat before I headed off. Since I was now running later than was even acceptable here, I decided to take a taxi instead of the bus, thinking I’d get there faster. Going around the corner (again you never knew if the other guy was still there, even though he was certainly long, long gone), I hailed the first proper cab I saw. I got in the back seat and said buenas tardes. He started off, then he said something which I didn’t really understand, as he was reaching up to the meter, I thought he was going to reset it as it was already on a few pesos, thus I said yes. Snap! There he was taking a photo of me from his meter. Strange, but perhaps since it was built in, maybe that was the new safety procedure for them? Not like I looked like I could do him any harm or was going to jump out of the cab without paying… though with what comes next, not all that impossible!
After a block or so, he struck up conversation, quickly finding out he had a poorly-speaking foreign passenger. He didn’t seem to care and friendly gabbed away, something I’d encounter quite a lot, leading to some quirky conversation practice for me, yet this wasn’t exactly my objective at that very moment. He then slowed down his speed so we could better converse. I had places to be, people to see! Get a move on! He was driving so slow that we even got honked at by several other cabbies.
At first it was just average chit-chat, then he asked if I had a boyfriend etc. to which I must have fumbled out some sort of no and as we neared my destination he asked how I was getting home. I knew what he was hinting at. No, I wasn’t going to set a time for him to pick me up. So I said I didn’t know but he could give me his card and I might call him for taxi services (this sort of scenario wasn’t all that uncommon here as many cabbies give out their cards).
Do you really want my card? Was his reply. Actually no, but to be polite I replied si, si, having no idea why I might not want his card. He slowly got one out and passes it back, which I quickly scan expecting to see some taxi company details. An Exorcist?? Is that really a modern day profession?? Slowing down his speed once again to a car crawl, he pulled out a small notebook and flipped to a page that had a small drawing… of a roughly drawn genital area of a man, with scribbled circles around it. He proceeded to explain to me how he’d expelled the cancer out of this particular “patient/client.” He then went on to tell me that I was a different person when I was “Lily” or “Liliana” which he’d converted my name to be in Spanish and that he could go into more details over a drink sometime. No to the drink… but perhaps he did feel some sort of difference… a little bit of Tigresse? But she didn’t need any expelling!
I finally escaped from the Exorcist, who didn’t even drop me off in the right place, leading me to be even later for my dinner. Relieved as I was, I hoped he wasn’t using that little photo he took for any voodoo purposes. I might now be in France, but I might not be out of the Exorcist’s reach (lol).
I might have left Argentina, but may the surprises of life and travel continue on with my next adventures!