Brown Skin, Brown Beach
Mar del Plata, Argentina
There's no absolutely denying it, my place is on the coast—although Mar del Plata wouldn't exactly be my choice of locations for much more than a brief visit.
Mar del Plata (or Mardel as I read it's called, but have never hear), use to be the spot for upper-class Argentineans to vacation. Expensive summer-homes were built with front porches, stone façades, and gable roofs covered with Spanish or French tiles. Today the city of over 550,000 (7th largest in Argentina) is the premiere beach getaway for the working- and middle-class—between four and six million people visit every year.
I found this little paragraph rather interesting when doing some research about the city:
Mar del Plata's declining exclusivity is reflected in the number of hotels that belong to labor unions, in the one- and two-star categories, that date from the Perón era. Since then, working- and middle-class families have deluged the city in the summer months, despite the survival of some elite barrios. In others, though, generic high-rises have blocked the sun and blighted the neighborhood.
By far the most interesting thing I've encountered in this town has been the Torre Tanque waterworks.
My first afternoon in town I was walking through a posh neighborhood when over the red tiled homes and surrounding trees I noticed a massive piece of Europe jutting into the sky. What the hell? I asked myself, and changed direction. Someone has built a damn castle tower in the middle of the neighborhood!
I gawked at the structure for a bit (obviously built in the last half century), then proceeded to the beach, making a mental note to figure out what it was. I returned the next day with my camera, and found the front door to the property to be open. Curious as I always am, I walked in.
At the foot of the large tower was a small museum of water pump related items, facility schematics, and the omnipresent hum of machinery somewhere below. Stairs circled upwards around the room, ultimately leading to a dizzying spiral staircase about half way up.
A woman greeted me and told me (in speedy Spanish) about the facility. Designed by architect Cornelio Lange and built in 1943, the tower (standing 88 meters above sea level) was the solution to Mar del Plata's water-distribution problem—Mar del Plata gets all its water from wells—with an elevated tank of 500,000 liters, above an underground water reservoir of 13 million liters.
You can climb the stairs or take an elevator to the top of the structure and get a great view of the city. To the south you can see the red Spanish tiles of the upper-class homes, or in the opposite direction view the clusters of apartment buildings (similar to Buenos Aires).
I walked down to some of the southern beaches (really not that far, just a couple of kilometers) near the commercial fishing port. What I noticed was only a marginal improvement in the beach, but a radical improvement in the attractiveness of the people on it.
I was really getting rather depressed sitting on the beaches near the city center. The sand was about the color of dirt, and the people were, to put it very mildly, unattractive.
Take local bus #221 that runs up and down the coastline and go hang out with the attractive people—you deserve it.
It's Not You, It's Me
I sit in parks, plazas, restaurants, and cafés, and simply watch people (interacting with each other and the environment around them). I've spent a lot of hours doing this, and as a result I've seen a lot of couples breaking up—the voices may be hushed, but you don't need to hear (or even understand) the words to figure out what's happening. I think it's amazingly interesting how the vocal language may change from to place, but the body language doesn't.
I wish the best for the two sitting in front of me while I was eating a sandwich last night. You both had wedding rings on, but who knows if you were ending the marriage or an affair (not the least bit uncommon in this Italian influenced culture).
Just as an afterthought, many women wear jewelry on their fingers here in Argentina, and it was confusing for me how to tell if someone was married or not—women (and girls) will wear rings on the ring finger of the left hand, regardless of status. In many countries this finger is traditionally reserved as an indication that a spouse is in the picture.
I'm told by an Argentine in Rosario that a gold ring (typically simple, without diamonds, etc), on the left ring finger means married—anything else is just for the look.
Ever since I arrived in Argentina I've been in love with this new condiment. No, not dulce de leche. It's called Salsa Golf (Gulf sauce).
The color is a pastel orange, and I'm told that it's a combination of mayonnaise and ketchup, but I think it has a more of a spiced tang to it than that. Apparently Mar del Plata is the birthplace of the stuff. This sauce is definitely in the win column for Argentina.
Why Not Southern Argentina?
I've been asked on more than one occasion why I haven't ventured down south, into Patagonia (the name given to the southern region of this continent). It really comes down to three things: Frame of mind, apparel, and expense.
I have no doubt that the southern regions of Argentina and Chile are gorgious—I've seen photos from fellow backpackers and it looks lovely—but I truly don't have the motivation at the moment. My shoes and clothes are for cities, villages, and beaches, not the southern most towns in the world.
It's that, and I find the price bus travel to be out of my comfort zone. I've spent about 100 pesos on roundtrip travel to Mar del Plata, and think it's a little silly for just a total of 11 hours. The distances (and cost) that would be required to move about large expanses of Patagonia wouldn't make me smile.
Truth is, I'm going to be sitting for dozens and dozens of hours on expensive buses in Brazil, and don't feel much like doing the same in Argentina—although I do think it'd be very nice to return and visit the region one day (but with a tent, boots, and warmer clothing).
I'm jumping back to Buenos Aires tomorrow morning. One nice thing about the capital city is the opportunity to see people I've kept in contact with again. Last week I said goodbye to a great couple from Australia that I met in Central America. They've been moving in a southern direction on the same path as I have (albeit in an even faster, zigzag pattern), and got the chance to meet up with them from time to time.
We sat and recounted the year in Latin America, while drinking several nice bottles of wine. Jason and Karen, you will be missed. I couldn't have asked for better scouts.
I've got people rollin' back into BsAs for the end of the year festivities though, and it will be good to see their faces again. Zach from Panama and Dr. Mario from Colombia: Good times are afoot. Babak, one of my oldest friends, will be here on the 31st—let the games begin.