Monday, January 08, 2007

The Argentine National Festival of Cherries

Perito Moreno is a small town about 20km from Laguna Buenos Aires, which is South America's second largest lake. Is Lake Titacaca the biggest? I don't know. It also has the same name as one of the most famous glaciers in the world, which is a few hundred miles South of here. Wonder how many people end up here by accident? Anyway, bus arrived here at about 8pm, and I ambled along the main street, San Martin, with all of my gear. [GPS: 45.58615S, 70.92648W]. The temperature was cool but pleasant, and sun very low in the sky.

Further to walk than most treks

The place has a Canadian mountain-town feel to it - lots of pine, grid roads, plenty of space. My book had two hotels in it, but I picked up a leaflet in the Tourist Information Office which remarkably was still open at almost 9pm on a Friday night! Just as well, as my two hotels were both full, and it was now dark! Gulp! After about an hour of walking, with my shoulders now rather painful, I came across Hotel Santa Cruz, and thankfully a room, for 50 pesos (£13) per night. The guy that runs the place is a lovely chap, 73 years old, and I think his name is Tino, though I find it a bit difficult to understand what he's saying! Of course, I managed to communicate my order of a cold beer to him - some things are just too important to get wrong!

The bus ride from Comodoro Rivadavia was uneventful, but interesting. Stressful boarding experience because it wasn't fixed seating. Felt like Ryanair all over again!

Individuality was encouraged

The bus followed the coast for a while then turned inland and the vast majority of the journey was through an oil field, complete with those rocking horse extraction things (someone give me the name!) every mile or so, stretching as far as the eye could see over the light green and brown colours over the plain - I suppose a "prairie" might be a good description.

I could happily watch it for hours!

Passed through Las Helas, which is a town primarily devoted to these oil fields (enormous depots of spare parts could be seen), then to PM. Bus was continuing to Los Antiguous, where they have a Cherry Festival till Sunday. I was hoping to see the Cave of the Hands tomorrow, with the 10,000 year old paintings, but I've spent the whole evening trying to find someone to take me there and haven't succeeded. So probably heading on to the festival. I love cherries, and can quite happily chomp through hundreds of them. However cherry-flavoured anything I generally find repulsive. So will be interesting!

The Patagonian expanse of nothingness

Awake early the next morning for the bus, which Tino assured me was at 9am from the bus station. Tried to have a wash, ignoring the rather suspicious-looking hairs on the soap provided! Furthermore there was no sign of Tino to hand my key in, knocking didn't work, and no letterbox. I left the key in the door in my room. Just as well I paid the night before, eh? Walked to the bus station, where there was little sign of life either.

Lights.. off..

Bought coffee and croissants from the petrol station next door, then sat and waited, chatting briefly to a middle-aged lady who seemed to have no specific destination - she was going to Los Antiguos and might carry on into Chile. When I bought my croissants a chap introduced himself as being from Brazil, and offered me a slice of "dairylea"-type cheese. He'd studied in Leicester apparently. It seems, from my brief experience of Patagonia, that the place is full of random encounters with strangers. Everyone is travelling here, everyone has a story to tell, and this was what formed the basis of Bruce Chatwin's book. I can see now how it came about. If you were to spend a significant period of time here you would be full of random stories and histories which I'm sure could be strung together into a novel.

Soon after pulling out of Perito Moreno, the mountain ranges appear in the distance, which always gets my heart racing! It looks particularly good as they rise up over large flat plains, so I guess they are much further away than they seem to be. Looking at the map I think it's the Hielo Norte. Lago Buenos Aires appears on the right too, a deep shade of blue. Incidentally later I come across a map of the Santa Cruz province, and originally the whole state was divided into small (small on the plan, not in reality obviously) squares of land, which were handed out to people - the government would grant land to, for example, a group of Welsh settlers (Puerto Madryn), or others. Also for a while I believe there was some sort of law that if you fenced off a piece of land, it was yours. Some people must have become very rich! Anyway, we arrive in Los Antiguos. It's chaos. I hadn't realised how popular this festival is.. It's the Argentinian Glastonbury! There are literally thousands of tents, with most gardens and sidewalks turned into camp sites.

Beaten to it by the hippies

I realise that there is no way I will find accommodation. It's camping or carry on. The sensible thing would have been to stay in Perito Moreno and daytrip it, but it's too late for that!

I find a place eventually, pay 8 pesos (£2) and set my tent up amongst all the others. [GPS: 46.54847S, 71.62631W].

Smallest tent for biggest person in the garden

Slightly amusing turnaround - here it's a real problem that my tent soaks up heat. After freezing to death in Peru, here I can't enter my sweltering tent during the day! The little thermometer button I have hanging off my main pack reads 45C, which may not be especially reliable, but is certainly an indication! I literally can't touch my padlock. The weather itself (outside of the tent) is glorious - like an English summer. Sunny, hardly a cloud in the sky, and a light coolish breeze. Apparently the wind is usually much stronger - two guys I've met here say that in El Calafate your tent ends up getting squashed. Something to look forward to! The reason why it is so windy is that we are effectively in the gap between two large ranges - Hielo Sur and Norte, and so I think the wind funnels between them. That's my theory anyway!

The National Capital of Cherries

So having established camp, I leave my main pack in the tent and wander off into town with all valuables with me. In general though, Argentina and Chile both feel extremely safe, or at least down here in Patagonia they do. General feedback from books and people I've spoken to is similar. However, there's safety and then there's common sense. All valuables stay with me! I wander into town, climb to the small lookout, from which one can see the Helio North in the distance,

Getting closer to the good stuff

The stage is set for tonight

.. then buy a beer (it's mid-morning but most people seem to be drinking, several drunk, already! NB: Cherry = cereza, easily mistaken for cerVeza, i.e. beer!) and head to the river, Rio Los Antiguos. Lots of people are paddling about, none swimming, partially because it's really rather shallow here, but also fairly nippy! Good for dunking my feet into, dunking my bottle of beer into, and reading my book.

Reaches parts other rivers don't

Natural refrigeration

Back into town, and I decide I must try to find some cherries. It is the cherry festival after all! One would have expected them to be all over the place. Eventually I find a couple of stalls selling them. No related cherry items though, just the fruit. The Swiss guys I meet later find a cherry pie somewhere.

Who ate all the cherry pies?

After a couple more beers (which are sold in litres) and a scientific comparison of the two hot-dogs available (choripan is a meaty "real" sausage, though the one I have on this occasion is gristly to the point of being horrible; panchos is a "frankfurter" sausage), then I head back to my "hotel".

A meal fit for a king

The cherries are good. I offer them round. I eat lots.

In the spirit of the festival

The "Grayson" look

As is common sense, too many cherries are a bad thing. After about two thirds of a kilo I resolve to eat no more cherries. I understand why the locals all refuse my offers! Furthermore the locals are keen to point out that beer + cherries leads to rather unpleasant volumes of wind. I decide this is not true by the following day, but unfortunately it's a delayed effect - like heavy exercise, it's the day after ("maƱana passata" when it "kicks in". Fortunately on a windy day, so I don't think I've been found out.

Light breeze in the other direction meant I was safe

The boss of the place and his girlfriend offer me tea. Not just any tea though - "Mate". Allow me to explain. For the past few days I've spotted people sucking away on what looks like a strange pipe.

Watch and learn

I had assumed they were smoking. Nope - drinking tea! The way it works is that you have a small cup, which you fill with finely cut tea leaves.

Not sure what Customs and Excise would make of it

Into this you poke a metal tube with a filter of a kind at the end. You douse it with sugar (of course), then pour hot water on to the sugar until the cup is filled. You then suck through the tube, pretty much immediately. The tea is quite bitter, but very nice. It's also a communal thing - you finish your cup, top it up again, then hand it on to the next person.

The finished product

Whilst drinking tea, I meet a couple of Argentian guys, who are dental students on holiday, and had just come from Antarctica, which they could do because one of their fathers is involved in the boat company (it's very very expensive usually). They had a great time, and are now heading home to Rosario, where the girls are supposedly much prettier that here! They invite me to join them in going to watch the rodeo in the afternoon, an offer which I gladly accept. They also speak English, which makes me a happy boy!

The boys

We head to the show ground, which is next to where the concert will be tonight.

Ambulance waits in the corner for the inevitable

There is a good crowd enjoying the spectacle. Lots of cowboys. Apparently here it is not a fashion disaster for grown men to wear over-sized red woolly berets. The hat of choice is clearly a (don't know my hat names) squashed black stetson. Beer comes in litres (as soon as I explain to the boys that we don't share them!). The guys behind the bar are amazed that I'm perfectly happy carrying three beers by myself. By way of explanation I say I'm from England.

The rodeo format is thus: untamed horses are brought over and tied to a post whilst a saddle is strapped on to them. Some of them buck against this, stamp their feet etc, sending clouds of dust flying up.

The musical build up makes the event

Meanwhile a commentator waffles on, and as the time approaches, someone sings and plucks on a guitar, singing the same verses each time, building up until the cowboy is ready, when someone pulls the rope lose and whacks the horse on the backside to "kickstart" the rodeo. Cue horse bucking and jumping all over the place, chap hanging on for dear life.

Holding on for dear life..

Suspect that is a position from which he will not recover

Some of them survive 30 seconds till a whistle is blown, others are thrown off immediately. Most of it looks quite good fun, but some of the horses almost flip on to their back, which looks kinda tough on the guy trying to hold on!

There's some sort of competition going on, though I have no idea how it is scored or what the rules are. As with most sport events, it seems like a sideline to the bar, where the real competition is going on! After the rodeo, we go for some food, and I chat briefly with a chile chica - a girl from Chile, sitting on the next table (across the border from here is a town called Chile Chico), before heading to the concert.

Chile chicas

Not my one..

The music is a mixture of traditional Argentine music, mostly guitar based, some music which could be "modern" Andean, and some traditional rock and roll!

Darkness descends over a happy crowd

My tent neighbours had clearly had as much beer as us

Blurry shots

Mid-evening there is a beauty contest, during which my camera was used by other persons and frankly rather a large number of photos were taken. I'm still deleting two days later.

I know which one I'd pick!

The intellect was also tested

and also some comedy, of which I am not entirely appreciative. How to feel completely alientated in a crowd of several thousands - watch comedy which you don't understand. My fault for not doing my homework for Jenny of course!

What is he saying?! It's obviously funny, but..

More festival as soon as I find a slightly less painful internet connection!

1 comment:

pine-cones said...