Che, Pesos and dog sweaters..

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Che, Pesos and dog sweaters..
Rosario, Argentina

Rosario, Argentina

There’s a couple of interesting things about this ol’ town Rosario. Firstly, Che Guevara was born here, and the Argentinian flag was first raised here in 1812 so it’s the center for the National Flag Day celebration on June 20th. It’s also a bit of a university town known for it’s terrific preservation of colonial buildings and streets; it’s described as Argentina’s second city for culture after Buenos Aires. Attractive enough for us to pay it a visit, plus it makes for a nice way to break up a long trip to BA from Posadas.

We greeted our cama class bus with some trepidation because we’d paid about a hundred bucks for a nice seat and some on-board service, and we had to sit there for a good 16 hours or so; so you want to make sure you’re going to be comfortable and get your moneys worth.

Travel always re-enforces to me just how polite we are back home. Generally you don’t push in, you let people go before you, be gracious, thankful and smile. Funny thing is, it seems most of the world (well the destinations we’ve been to.. ) don’t find those values overly important. Not to say they’re rude, but it’s just different. If you don’t go putting yourself forward to get your bags on the bus, or get to the front of the line to get on the bus.. you’re going to be last. So that’s how we roll now.. just get on up there and get it done. Old ladies and invalids move aside.. you’re too slow!

I thought cama was worth it. We had this great reclining seat that almost got you horizontal. Yes, you were kinda sleeping in the lap of the person behind you but we’re all in this together right? Then there’s this nice lady who distributes things like hot meals (shepherds pie, random bread articles, cheese spread, a pale looking salad), tea and coffee and a generous whiskey night cap (smashed!).. she’d then hand out pillows and blankets at around 10pm and the lights went out soon after. It’s a lot like a train actually, a steady rhythm of motion, a few bumps here and there. It’s like being a baby in rocking cot. So I was lucky enough to get some 4 hours sleep, whilst Rebecca got none.

We arrived at Rosario at about 5:30am in the morning. And it was horribly cold, probably 5 or 6 degrees. We sat around for a bit until we found a coffee shop, began to order some coffee in whatever Spanish we could muster and were told by the waiter..
‘Hey.. no no no.. you can speak English’
‘Great.. one coffee with milk and a double espresso please’ .. blank stare
‘Uno cafe con leite y uno espresso doble’
‘Si, dos por favor’
‘Si! Muy bein’ and off he trots.

He comes back with coffees and two croissants per person. Not quite right but credit for gusto!
We hung around a bit because we weren’t due to check-in at our hotel until 3pm. And it was.. nearly 7am. In the end we decided to just show up at the hotel, if the room was ready we could get right in, otherwise we could ditch our luggage and go for a brisk morning walk. After getting advise from some station staff we find the municipal bus stop and jump on bus 146 to our hotel.. watching the little blue dot approach the red flag on the iPhone GPS. ‘How did we ever do this before?’ I say to Rebecca. Last time we’d have had to have gone to an Internet cafe, print out a local map, look up addresses and mark the spots. Then carefully try to spot street signs as we passed them. How times have changed. 

According to plan we ditched our bags at the hotel and took to the chilly Rosario streets. As it was only about 8:30am it was still winter dawn, foggy and atmospheric. Instantly you feel you’ve been transported to Europe. Narrow and commonly tree-lined streets, consistent square blocks with old fashioned bar/restaurants on the corners. Arched windows and dark wooden frames with gold plated old-style writing hiding dark wooden bars and floors with tables and chairs with old men playing chess inside. There’s these beautiful 1700 era buildings with the massive arched doorways and solid wood doors, with wrought iron hinges, there’s colonnades and carvings, and that marzipan style roofing. Some of them covered in graffiti, with modern socialist slogans, reflective of the ideology of eras of Montoneros. The roads are an interweaving of old cobblestones and pavings with modern asphalt.

We’d walked maybe 3 blocks and we’re at the flag monument. Kind of like the War Memorial in the domain in Melbourne back home, but on a European scale. So a single rising block monument at one end, with a giant Argentine flag draped down one side, through to a basilica on the other end with an eternal flame enclosed in a short colonnade promenade in the middle. Surrounding the memorial are those typical Spanish apartments with the foot balcony enclosed in wrought iron, and draping Argentine flags for the national flag ceremony.

It was absolutely freezing and there was some heat to be extracted from the eternal flame, so we paid our respects, mindful of the Falklands, and stole some heat. We wandered up through the pedestrianised mall at Av. Cordoba where there’s a flourishing cafe culture happening. The corner bar/restaurants kick it up a gear in this district, due probably to the clientele being bankers and government workers. The buildings are astonishing as well. Cupolas and bass reliefs, marbles and again colonnades. It makes for a very immersive environment and again the city feels safe and welcoming, if not with some hesitation. So far, the Argentines appear a bit grumpy but perhaps it’s just customary. We smash down breakfast at McDonalds. Sure, there were more authentic options but it’s not always about that.. is it? And we head down Av. Pelligrini toward the park. Av Pelligrini has that American, broad boulevard, with wide pavement style thing going, with a huge smattering of grill restaurants and bars and luncheon joints along the way. The main drags have their fair share of ratty kids and you’re always a little on guard, hands in pockets as you pass. I’ve grown accustomed to looking a little crazy eyed when I pass potential muggers. As if to say ‘Sure you might get 20 bucks but I’ll be taking your eyeballs’..

I don’t know if you know but huge amounts of pigeon **** smells a lot like bad seafood. I know this because one whole side of the Parque de Independence is completely covered it, so much so that the concrete is slicky and white, the trees look like those in a Christmas nativity scene and raw wood benches look painted white. Needless to say we skipped through that section and sat by the lake for a bit, watching couples and families plow those tandem foot-driven boat things through the water, before walking all the way back, and finally.. FINALLY getting into our room.

We slept in the next day, and hurriedly scoffed breakfast and charged down to the Flag Monument, it was the national flag celebration day and it all centers at Rosario. There was some 20km of sky-blue and white flag to be run through the streets, paraded by citizens and prefaced by a military procession and bands of gauchos. When we got there, seemingly kilometers of flag was draped around the streets of the monument, guarded by citizens assigned to their section. Around them were crowds of people listening to speeches from prominent notables; and as a true democracy will demonstrate, the odd boo and hiss as politicians (probably those like Joe Hockey) were introduced. And then the military marched, with their camo uniforms and ridiculously massive firearms. And then the gauchos; kilometers of three amigos sorts, adorned in ponchos and jewelry draped cowboy hats atop horses, also draped in jewelry and instructed to do this sideways trot thing. A clear demonstration and respectable demonstration mind-you of the gauchos command over their faithful steeds
. Impressive. It made me want to ditch this urban life and live off the land, eating canned food and drinking from cactus’s. Particularly when there’s kids no older than 5 on mature steeds, doing tricks.

We’d had the wonderful pleasure of being the audience to a four piece latin street band in the middle of Cordoba mall on 2 occasions. All dressed in white suits, double bass, keyboard, guitar and vocals and drums playing authentic tango rhythms. Their beautiful music punctuated by the passionate performance of one older gent. Who danced alone amid a crowd of people, perhaps reflecting on his younger tango days, where people danced spontaneously to street bands rather than simply sitting back and watching as common nowadays. He was joined by a bin sitting homeless man, who lost himself in the music amid a drunken haze, but still rhythmic and purely enjoying the moment. It was classic in it’s beauty but also it’s heart-warming humor. A great moment.

The other thing about Rosario is that on Av. Entre Rios number 480 you can see the childhood home of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. We’d gone to 408 instead and instead found a reasonably modern apartment complex.. ‘Wow…’ we thought ‘Must have been progressive architecture for the time’. Nope. Just the wrong address. 480 is instead a beautiful old 4 or 5 story building with those narrow shutter windows and foot-wide wrought iron foot wide balcony.

Oh and dogs wear jackets here as well. Everywhere in South America so far, domestic pets have free reign over the city.. they wander around, form social groups, chase buses and be chased by buses. But they’re also beautifully fashioned in knitted sweaters, stripes are in this season as well as earth colours such as khaki.

Unfortunately our last day in Rosario was all business as we’d been requested by the property management group who we’ve leased the apartment through in Buenos Aires to pay in U.S dollars. So our task was to visit banks and other financial institutions such as cambios and exchange houses to request that we either withdraw funds in U.S dollars or exchange pesos extracted from ATM’s to U.S dollars. Now the catch in this whole exercise, described subtly by our Latino cambio attendant was ‘this operation.. not possible.. against the law’. And it’s true, Argentina has unfortunately a bad history of equalising their currency against the U.S dollar some years ago. The result of which was poorly performing, uncompetitive exports. When the peso was finally re-balanced, Argentina was left with considerable billions in debt. More recently the government has imposed restrictions on foreign currency, particularly the greenback with the hope of getting Argentines to re-align their savings with pesos rather than dollars. This has had a significant effect on the economy as citizens have recently rushed to withdraw their stashes of dollars at a rate of 100 million a day.

Our little circumstance is a tiny reflection of this economic difficulty but it was fun to be involved. In the end, we conveyed the obvious dilemma to the management company who stated ‘we advise tenants to bring U.S dollars from home’. Fine if you’re traveling short term. Difficult for us. The result is the management company now imposes a 5 peso to the dollar exchange rate (market is 4.4). So we end up paying a bit more. Not to mention constant withdrawl’s from ATM’s, fee’s associated with.. and carrying around wads of hard cash. An experience in hard currency dealings amid government policy at the very least. Annoying.

Rosario has given us a taste of what we might expect in BA. We have an apartment booked for a week or so there while we take a Spanish course. You really do need it here, no-one speaks any English, so we’re hoping it will assist us in continuing to understand South America.


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