"Argentina 2002-03" story # 11

Tecka, Chubut, Argentina           February 25, 2003

A-boppadee, boppadee, bop.
     Hey-o! From Chile, I headed back to Bariloche, Argentina. "Bariloche te da fiaca," another young traveller said to me. (Bariloche sucks you into its laziness.) This is very true. The people there do a lot of nothing, sometimes, lazily.
     But, not this MichiBarilochegander! Not me. I{d suffered through the "fiaca," already, and once was enough to learn me. I couldn´t sit around doing nothing. I had important things to do! ...
     I suppose I don´t have anyone fooled there. I´ve never had anything important to do. But, the road was summoning me ...
     Before leaving, my friends who work at the lower-class discotech, Diversión (including my cool tango teacher, Charly), and I went out one last time. In one bar, Charly and some others did an Argentinian folkloric pairs dance. They clapped their hands, rocked side-to-side, tapped open feet towards their partners, swung their necks back-and-forth, and danced around each other. It was as if my friends were gentle, Amish farmers. ... who, of course, drank.
     We said good-bye at seven a.m. I was going to be tired after this, yes, but if I didn´t go hitchhiking soon, Amish people´s lifes would be at stake! Not really, but I like to feel like I´m doing something important now and again.
     I headed south: along impressive mountains, past three large, quiet lakes (one green, one blue, and one black) and their beaches surrounded by armies of conifers.
     The second car to pick me up was an architect and his Pan-american champion mountain-bike-racing son. They invited me to stay in a cabin they had beside their rural home, on a green lawn beneath El Bolsón town´s sky-stretching mountain wall. Realizing the world-saving importance of this visit, I performed my guest´s duties with honor and pride. I slept cozily in their bed, ate lots of their food, watched SpongeBob SquarePants, proudly defeated their fifteen-year-old daughter in ping pong one game out of ten, even played Scrabble in spanish.
     After two days here, I went to head south. But, the Argentinian hitchhiking - which had already been suspect - really fell through. At one point, I waited three-and-a-half hours while uncaring Argentinians drove by at a rate of one or two a minute. (In Patagonia, backpacking hitchhikers are common, friendly, and safe, but we wait more and more every year.) I would´ve thrown in the thumb and resorted to buses for the rest of my Argentina travelling, but, when I turned around to hitchhike north to a bus station, I was ironically picked up by a car that was going south - in the morning. And, they invited me along.
     The next day, these two young, female doctors came straight to the architect´s house to pick me up after my tea and marmelade breakfast. I was putting the "king" in "hitchhiking." We checked out one of the Patagonian Andes´ Lake District lakes together, where you could snorkel in fresh blue water while looking up at snow-capped mountains. Afterwards, we drove south to Esquel (the hitchhiking king chipped in for gas).
     It ain´t easy trying to live on US$6.67 a day, but that´s the situation I´ve been in. The next day, I wanted to hitchhike from the Andes, across the Patagonian desert, and to the Atlantic coast. 640 long, empty kilometers.
     A mid-forties couple stopped for me at the edge of Esquel. They´d moved to Esquel, a town of 30,000 amid lakes and mountains and forest, from Buenos Aires. I assumed they would like their new life there, but they said, "No," when I asked them. "Egoista," they said about the people. (Selfish.) Like Bariloche on a smaller scale, they said the people of Esquel also fight for the tourist dollars. It´s so competative that the owner of one discotech there has used violence or sent gay people to newly opening clubs, in efforts to run them out of business.
     It´s surprising, but the terrible Argentinian crisis has not brought this country together, it´s only further divided it. The quality of life of everyone has plummeted. But, most people only think irrationally of having their own purchasing powers return - quick! - to post-crisis levels, selfishly ignoring the fact that half the country is now poor and a fifth of the country doesn´t make enough money to live and eat the necessities.
     How does a country with so much livestock, fruits, vegetables, soy, nuts, fish, petroleum, and land fail to provide for so few people?
     The country clutches hard-core capitalism so blindly they wouldn´t let go if it was an anchor sinking in the sea. All the roots of the current crisis - the corrupt drug lords who buy votes to become President; the high interest rates paid by the country on its foreign loans; the wealthy business-men who favorably paid back loans to the nation only after the peso had devalued; the sale of the country´s best public companies to foreigners; the freedom of large employers to shut down and move when another province´s taxes favor them - are examples of criminal, preferential, or foolish capitalism that have crippled the country´s people. Yet, the people still hear the promises of luxuries and a European-style of living. They don´t hear the hungry people who will needlessly continue starving, nor the joys of a country where people matter, not money. They don´t learn.
     At the beginning of the road to the Patagonian coast, I began walking. With my two thirty-pound bags, I passed through sand and dry grass of the Patagonian desert. On a swamp beside the road, flamingoes, whose pink grew darkest on the perimeter of their wings, took off flapping wings loudly on the surface of the water.
     Cars came at me from beneath an enormous, pea-green pyramid of earth, but I didn´t mind when they didn´t stop. At least I wasn´t in some closed-window bus.
     Hannibal, a pizza-deliverer who´d left Buenos Aires on his own to travel to all ends of southern Argentina in his new truck, picked me up and we began chatting. He told me that Argentina has a communist candidate for President, Samora, but that he wasn´t anywhere close to winning.
     Now, six-hundred kilometers of desert can get pretty boring, so I´ve got a present for you. Open it up. Not too fast, ´cuz you´re gonna wanna savor this. That´s right! ... just for you! ... betcha didn´t think I´d do it, but I did! ... another MODERN ODDYSEUS´ TOP 5!!! Woohoo!
     To start ´er off, The Top 5 Worst Things About Argentina!


The joys of tango, folklore dancing, and the old rock music have been replaced by drinking, going shopping, and buying luxuries.

My friends in Bariloche rarely ever played games or sports or went outside or tried something new. If they did something, it was to go out and drink. They watched tv and slept lots. Nobody I asked could even tell me if Bariloche had an outdoor soccer field.

Argentinian guys don´t want anything with a girl less than sex. They go out looking for sex. There´s no romance. Many girls, once they´ve reached age twenty, seem to fear guys who talk to them, and they have an emptiness in their solid gaze as if they´ve lost hope for love.
     For something to happen between a guy and a girl (in a club), the guy has to be "suffado" (persistent and forceful), because the girls don´t flirt. However, the girls sometimes respond to the persistent guys, encouraging them to keep acting this way. These kisses lead to sex, and many young girls have kids.

Bariloche, Patagonia was windy, cold, and cruel.

     OK. We move on now to the second half of our great adventure. To: The Top 5 Best Things About Argentina!

Whenever I hear this serene, surreal, progressive 80´s band, I wish I would´ve grown up an Argentinian.

2. MATÉ -
In the car, in their house, at work, or perched on a green plaza or beach, the Argentinians sip maté (hot water mixed with herbs and sometimes sugar) socially.

When guys greet guys in Argentina (just like when anyone greets a girl), they kiss cheeks. At first, I was a little freaked out by this. But, it allows male friends to care about each other a little more, and it indicates you´re happy to see someone.

Many young Argentinians go on trips together. They don´t go to consume, like some of the older generations and upper-er classes. They go with backpacks, sometimes hitchhiking, often camping, with little money (but, they don´t beg for money, as similar travellers do in Chile). Thet get to know nature and their friends, and grow together.


The Argentinian MEAT is also excellent.
     The guys have long hair, the girls are beautiful, and the hitchhiking has gotten me around (albeit with some difficulty). And Argentinian friends do seem to treat each other with a very caring warmth. But, on the whole, the country hasn´t so much impressed me. The country is too much about the money, not enough about the life, and it doesn´t seem to be taking intelligent steps to make things better.

All right, that´s enough, time to get that crackpot Modern Oddyseus off his soapbox.
     Standing at a gas station in the middle of the desert, I found a car of two sisters and their one young girl who would happily take me through the second half of our desert adventure.

To be continued ...

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