Argentina: the medium-rare wrapup
It's a whole different ball game from virtually everywhere else on this continent, is Argentina. So European in many ways, so Latin in others. Such proud, life-loving, first-world people — and such a pitifully crap economy and government. So many luxuries that the rest of the continent can only dream of, and at prices that Westerners can only drool at. Where else can you find a steak bigger than some African countries, juicier than a fresh tropical mango, and ready-to-eat at a time when most of the world is asleep? Or a bottle of red wine tastier than champagne, and as cheap as a chocolate bar back home? Or an endless supply of really beautiful people, able to dance like nothing you've ever seen, and frequenting night venues where "night" means "late night early morning"? I really do love this country. Even the Spanish here, incomprehensible as it is, still sounds beautiful. My only regret, really, is that I have to leave.
Well-done on steak
As happens with most visitors to Argentina, I think I've overdosed a bit on the steak. I've met quite a few people during my travels, who have reported leaving Argentina with several kilos more of themselves, than they had upon arrival. I suspect that the same may apply to me. I'm naturally a fairly skinny guy: but still, you can't just go around eating enormous hunks of meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and not expecting it to go somewhere. Although actually, it's the beer that you really have to cut down on, if weight is your concern: I understand that beer is about 10 times more effective than all the steaks in the world, when it comes to fattening you up. So yeah, Argentina hasn't made me fat, but I do feel more than a bit... full... after my time here. Time to get over to Brazil, and return to a nice 'ol tropical diet.
Why not enjoy life?
Everywhere I went in Argentina, I got the very clear impression that this is their attitude towards living. And if you ask me, they're 100% right: why not indeed? Why have stale bread for breakfast, when you can have medialunas (croissants)? Why travel on a cramped and uncomfortable bus, when you can go on a spacious and extravagent one? Why wear horrible old clothes and look like a bum, when you can dress stylishly and look like a star? Why live in a falling-apart mud brick house, when you can live in a proper first-world residence? Completely opposite to the way people live in PEB — but really, a much more logical and pleasant way to live.
Here in Argentina — even more than in most Western countries (except perhaps France, and several of its neighbours) — their philosophy is that luxury things need not be "luxury" at all. They need not be expensive, and rare, and available only to a select few. They can be cheap, and everywhere, and available for all. And hey: they have the resources, the land, and the know-how to make it happen. So with all that in mind, why would they do things any other way?
Not the real thing?
As with Chile, one criticism I can certainly make of Argentina is that "it doesn't feel like the real South America". It looks, it feels, and it is quite a Westernised country. It has a very small indigenous population, with most of its people being immigrants from Europe. There are many things that you can experience to the max up in PEB, and that you can barely experience at all down here (except perhaps up in the north, around Salta — but I didn't go there).
But if you ask me, the many and varied attractions of Argentina mean that despite this, it's still a must-see place to visit in South America. It may not be quite the epicentre of heritage and culture around here — not like what you'll find in the Central Andean highlands, or deep in the Amazon jungle — but it's still got a very unique and appealing culture of its own.
Give me more!
I didn't make it to Argentina until this point in time, closer to the end of my South American adventure. And as such, I ended up having a mere three weeks to experience it. For such a big and attraction-filled place, three weeks was peanuts. Didn't even come close to doing the place justice. But I specifically decided that I'd had enough of rushing around, and that I didn't want to even try and see everywhere on the Argentinean gringo trail. So I saw Bariloche, Buenos Aires, and Iguazu — and I saw them properly. But there's no doubt at all: I simply must come back here one day, and see the rest.
Mendoza. I knew that if I spent three days in Mendoza, it would only be torturing myself — I'd wish I had another three months to spend there. So instead, I skipped it. Don't worry: one day I'll see Mendoza, and I'll see it, and climb it, and raft it, and bike it, and hike it (and drink it! — home of 70% of Argentina's wine), to death. But Mendoza was not somewhere that I was prepared to simply pop into, and tick off my list — it deserves so much more than that, I just know it does.
Patagonia. One day, my dream is to cycle through all of Patagonia — say, from Ushuaia to Bariloche — and to see this incredible natural wonderland properly. El Calafate, El Chaltén, Puerto Madryn, Esquel: the lot. All these spots that I've heard so many good things about, and that I've neglected to visit on this trip. I'll get there one day — only a matter of time. But speaking of time: really, I can only do one trip at a time!
All up, I think I've had a great introduction to Argentina. I've certainly seen enough to want more. And I've taken my time, savoured every place to the max, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. But with only two weeks left in my trip, I haven't got the luxury to dilly-dally around any longer. Brazil is calling. Argentina, fear not: you and me will get together some other time.