Alex Hart

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One hand in my pocket

This trip has planned for so long that it seems like a dream. As I arrive in Buenos Aires I am excited and apprehensive at the same time – but thankfully everything is the same as when I last visited. In Avenida Montevideo, all of the familiar cafes are still there despite the recession that has gripped the country. The fruit shop has moved from one side of the street to the other. When I mention this to the store owner (who looks Bolivian or perhaps he is from Salta) he grins broadly and says yes, that was before.
There seems to be a new sense of enthusiasm in the capital – the new Government cite high inflation and corruption as their biggest challenges, and I did hear grumbles about higher taxes but generally things seem to be a bit better. The relaxation on the USD has certainly helped. Yes there are still protests by Kirchner supporters but there doesen’t seem to be the same sense of resentment as before.

The biggest change however is that I feel like I have surfaced from underwater – suddenly I understand everything and the Spanish comes easily. In fact the only person who has spoken to me in English so far is the typically officious immigration official at the airport.

In Añatuya, I am welcomed with open arms and it is lovely to walk down the street and to be greeted by people I haven’t seen for 3 years. Even the little stray (now adopted) dog almost bowls me over in her excitement to say hello. I am reminded of the time the local padre tried to shoo her away while balancing precariously on his bicycle. Haciendo Camino marches on and the children in the Refugio home are a sheer delight. As ever I am humbled by their positive attitude and their sense of fun. Before the weekend is out I am playing basketball, sharing mate, comparing muscles with a seven year old and rolling around laughing with some of the best people I have met in a very long time.

Back in Buenos Aires I am about to be introduced to a tourist’s view of Argentina with some close friends from NZ but first we need some cash. Thanks to Carlos and Carlos we are introduced to a young lad called Pablo who is happy to change the beloved greenback for pesos. A swift call and he turns up on his bike with a bag stuffed full of wads of notes, As we ‘do the deal’ the concierge is looking on unhappily and probably wondering if the ordinary looking women are in fact dealing drugs. While C starts counting notes, Pablo and I do our best to shield her from the concierge. When Pablo tells me about his Bolivian and Columbian customers I try very hard not to think about the money laundering consequences……

Even after we ate the huge mountain of meat we still wanted more!

Even after we ate the huge mountain of meat we still wanted more!

If you are going to eat steak in Buenos Aires – go to La Cabrera where the well heeled and well groomed of Palermo eat. I have to say that we ate the sweetest and softest steak that I have ever eaten. Despite the enormous portions, I am ashamed to say we polished off the meat in 20 minutes! The waiting staff were at first a little standoffish or even rude as we clearly did not look like their typical clientele. But by the end of the evening my friends’ English charm had completely won them over and when we tried to teach them of the joys of a ‘rusty nail’ they reciprocated with free champagne. As my friends enjoy further demonstrations of Argentinean food and drink, I take some time out which includes reading the paper La Nacion . It is quite sobering and reveals some of Argentina´s other issues. In Rosario the people have been protesting for a return to law and order after 24 murders in the last month. There has been a disturbing clash between neo Nazi and Jewish students and in Córdoba, a group of old men sit, walking sticks in hand looking defiant as they await their sentences for torture and other crimes against humanity under the military Junta.
However the saddest thing for me was the advertisement by a group representing parents looking for their missing children, in which parents begged for news of their little ones.

As I hug my friends goodbye at the airport before heading for the chaos of the other terminal I realise that I am actually quite nervous about the next few months on my own in Madrid.