14 February, 2009

Protest Entre Ríos style and horses have oranges for breakfast

Hugo Ramón, my landlord for the weekend, had his legs spread about shoulder length apart. With the right foot slightly in front of the left and his eyes glaring straight into mine, he demonstrated the proper form of taking mate. Hugo cupped the mate with his right and and comfortably rested his left hand on his hip.

Why have a steak when a few cows are available?

"When talking to a gaucho you must show all your hands and look them straight in the eyes," he said in exceptionally slow Spanish for my benefit. "No surprises." Pretending to have a poncho and a knife, he faked a stab and retreated quickly while shielding himself with a make-belief poncho.

Hugo is not a gaucho. He is a painter and he rents his spare room out to Carnival tourists. Like others here in Entre Ríos Province, Hugo incessantly drinks mate, an herbal tea common in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and parts of South of Brazil.

A Gualeguaychú protest against a proposed paper mill across the river in Uruguay

* * *

I arrived in Gualeguaychú late on Friday afternoon. Having no reservations for a bed or a room at a hotel, I arrived with my tent and sleeping bag figuring I will sort myself out along the riverside beaches if need be. But alas, even the campgrounds are full! It is Carnival weekend.

"Che, che," Hugo yelled at me as I walked by his house. "Need a room?"

It´s perfect. The room is dark, hot, and slightly damp. But Hugo and his family speak no English (I got great Spanish lessons all weekend), are massively friendly hosts, and even showed me around town in his vintage Malibu.

All for 25 pesos a night . . .

The host's opinion of Carnival tourists came free of charge: Porteños (dangerous and crazy), Chileans (feminine and gay), Americans (can't dance and drink too much).

Gualeguaychú Carnival

* * *

"Lluvia," Samuel, one of Aurora's employees, said to me as he motioned to the sky. It is already 11pm on Sunday night. But if rain is coming, I better arm my tent with its rainfly. Sure enough, as the day broke in the morning, rain came pouring out of the heavens.

Not more than an hour ago, I got dropped off at the side of a remote highway, approximately 6 hours north of Buenos Aires. With nothing but the stars, my headlamp, and highway markers to guide me, I had two simple choices - hike the 12 km to Parque Nacional el Palmar's campsite, or take the 4 km walk to Aurora del Palmar, a nearby private reserve reportedly with superb campsites.

"Leave it to me," the Neuvo Expreso bus driver said to me earlier in the afternoon at the Gualeguaychú bus terminal. "I will get you to the Parque Nacional el Palmar." Marcello Daniel Bauza, broke into a big smile when he found out that I lived in Washington, DC. "I used to play professional soccer for the Washington Diplomats," the driver said to me. "How about if I speak English to you, and you can practice your Spanish with me?"

Sunset at La Aurora del Palmar

So off we went for the three hour ride, with the red glare of the bus' speedometer reflecting off our faces, chatting in Spanglish. At what we thought was the right distance marker, Marcello yelled "now!" With more of a rolling pause than a stop, the bus door swung open and I jumped out with my rucksack.

One worry I had walking on Highway 14 to Aurora del Palmar is the pace of traffic. Because of the rural nature of the route, I am not visible to oncoming cars and trucks until their headlights are close enough to reflect off my backpack. Keeping the headlamp on more as a warning to passing traffic, I took care to step off the road whenever cars came by.

2 km after I passed the national park marker, a white Toyota pickup with Argentina's national park ranger crest on its door stopped 100 meters in front of me. "Where are you going?" the driver grinned at me.

Horses and sheep have oranges for breakfast at La Aurora

More pictures of the trip can be found here.


Baino said...

Love the protest but who's looking at the plaquards? I think you're very gregarious to be doing all this alone but boy you meet some interesting people on the way! Enjoy the hike! A drink called 'mate' boy that'd go down well here "Have a mate, mate!"

Cuppa Jo said...

I love reading your adventures. Ever so slightly jealous.

Quickroute said...

glad you enjoyed the carnival and the after trip looks like a back to naturer retreat so well done on that - am overdosing on noodles right now - haven't had steak in a month!

Sven said...

Awesome post, Ted! If they have to brace themselves to drink tea, what do they do to drink liquor? Scrumdown? Oh, and your friend is right about Americans, or at least me...