I read somewhere that memory is like a basket of fruit: adding new fruits will squash those at the bottom. I want to preserve the freshly picked fruits of my travels and suppose writing is like making marmalade – condensing the sweetness to something that will last. I will remember Argentina as a land of so much more green and colour than I expected. Dense forest, green valleys and lush yunga, where the country was not green there were rocky landscapes testifying to the ancient powers of the earth. I have seen views with colours and shapes that no artist could invent.
My friend one day expressed her surprise at how the best things of our trip were those we did not pay for, the events we hadn’t sought out. The tour of the red rock Quebrada de Cafayate, for example, was beautiful, but the tourist who burst into an opera song in the naturally formed amfitheater was what made it unforgettable. Her voice went straight into my heart and made me cry a little.
In Colonia Carlos Pellegrini the boat tour of the lake was amazing but what I like to remember of this tranquil village are the two ladies working at the little restaurant we visited often. The twinkle in their eyes when we tried our Spanish on them seemed to simultaneously convey a smirk and an expression of genuine kindness. They put our bill on name of “las chicas” and grew ever kinder the more we visited them.
Then there was San Miguel de Tucuman, a town we went to because the busfare there was cheaper than that to Salta. On our first night we passed a cafe that had four bowling lanes and thought “F*ck it dude, let’s go bowling!”. We ended up bowling with five Argentinian guys (laughing, high-fiving and talking about taxes and Evita Peron) who bought us ice cream at 2 am because we had won the game. Next day, one of these guys showed us panoramic views of the city, christ (a statue) and a peaceful waterfall.
A memory that adds extra sweetness to my Argentinean marmalade is that of the city Libertador Gral. San Martin. We went there to visit the nearby nature park, and the first impression the town made on us was both hostile and quiet (we passed a fight in the street while the rest of the town had its siesta). The nature park was gorgeous, it had rained the night before so the rived flowed with redbrown water and the yunga glistened in every colour green (and bright pink on some trees!). Yet it was the town that gave us our unforgettable experience. The owner of the old hotel we stayed in was charmingly dominant with a big belly and a cigarette permanently in his mouth, his wife and her friend overjoyed with the company of two Dutch girls. An hour upon check-in we were waved into the back offices of the hotel where, to our surprise, we found ourselves in a tiny radio studio. The big-breasted radio presenter fired lots of fast and excited Spanish our way, her mouth never leaving the microphone, to which I tried to respond in Spanish every time she looked expectantly my way. I saved our radio debut by speaking some Dutch live on air..Five minutes after our radio appearance the first fan stopped in front of the hotel to take a look at us: smile and wave! At night we talked to our hosts about family, Argentina and Geert Wilders (politico a la derecha del centro, si). We ate at their daughter´s restaurant where we were greeted with kisses and got the wine for free. It was the night we did karaoke and dancing. The next day our hostess took us to the bus station in a huge golden 4by4 and we hugged goodbye as old friends. We had yet another sweet memory in our backpack.
I will remember Argentina for many things. I loved the thousands of butterflies and hundreds of dogs that accompany you everywhere you go (see Gallery: “Tafi del Valle”). Argentina was the country where I learned some Spanish: its sh-accent I now have to learn to lose (chicken = not “posho” but “pojo”). It was a nation of beautiful women and rugged-looking men with stubbled jaws and dark eyes, so-called macho´s who were surprisingly affectionate with their children. It was a country where whole families transported themselves on one motorbike and men on horses waited for a red light. Where traffic came to a standstill for yet another manifestation or demonstration. Most of all I´ll never forget this country because of their succulent; bloody on the inside charred on the outside; extacy-provoking; best ever steaks.