Day 15 Sun 19th Jan 2014
I k-i-d y-o-u n-o-t. See the photographic evidence for yourself (click to enlarge and marvel).
Need I say more? After sidling out of the breakfast room with this now-hidden delight to take a photo, I later return the item so my name can continue to garnish the platters of guests for years to come.
Lest our own memories of the history of Patagonian flood and drought fade too fast, Hywel and I trade electronic datasets after breakfast and I encourage him to finish photographing the pages of his notebooks (“More valuable than your passport” has been my constant harping). As he catches his taxi to the airport for his earlier flight to the UK, I wish him ‘Buen viaje’, and I decide to go for a walk around the stifling streets. After all, what other freakish delights might await around the corner? It takes about one minute for me to come back to grim reality. A few strides up the street, a sweaty, dishevelled, wild-eyed guy stops me and frantically asks: “Do you speak English?”. Quickly looking around me to make sure that this is not an elaborate precursor to a mugging, a conversation ensues, in which he claims to have been assaulted and robbed of all his possessions at the bus station. Now he has nothing: no passport, no money, no change of clothes. His flight ticket is electronic so in theory can be accessed, but obviously he needs a new passport. It’s Sunday, and the Belgian Embassy is closed, as would be any other embassy. He’s shaking badly. If he does represent scene one of a mugging show, he’s a bloody good warm up for the main act and quite possibly deserves my valuables. Stepping out of the sun into the shade of a small shop, I offer him a cool drink to calm him down, but he refuses. I also offer him a US$50 bill, which could fetch around 500 Argentine pesos using the unofficial exchange rate. This would be enough to see him through a couple of days. After all, I’m still riding a long wave of good luck, but I know only too well that some waves eventually crash on rocky shores. By a quirk of fate, I could be in a similar position in the future. Rather apologetically, he accepts. I hope he makes it back to Belgium.
I walk the rather dirty streets of downtown in that strange, subdued Sunday atmosphere that’s brought about by half the shops being open and half being closed. The broken paving slabs, turds and glass are at least more visible in the bright light. Piles of trash are sweating as the mercury rises and give off pungent smells. Police are very visible but this doesn’t seem to deter the businesses of the hawkers and unofficial money changers. The black economy seems to be booming. Even when I buy a t-shirt with the Boca Juniors colours for my little junior, the shopkeeper warns me to watch my backpack. If Buenos Aires has charm, I have yet to find it in this part of the city. But I have been to BA before, and I know that there are better parts. So I persist, and make my way to the more elegant parts around the broad avenues de mayo and 9 de julio. Monuments and placards abound, and serve to commemorate the key events in Argentina’s turbulent history. This is an improvement on the dirty shopping streets of downtown. But then I nearly get mown down by a car full of Argentine muchachos while I’m (legally) padding across a pedestrian crosswalk. We end up in a shouting and gesticulating match – they driving slowly down the avenue while I walk rather more quickly in the other direction – and I realise it is time to go back to the hotel.