surprising argentina

surprising argentina

As we become increasingly aware of our short time on this planet, priorities for life, including travel, are often discussed. Little did we imagine that Argentina would take priority in our own travel plans. Encouraged by one daughter, we enjoyed an amazing two weeks in Buenos Aries and north-west Argentina. The appetite has been whetted for more, in a fascinating country with 5000km of coastline from tropical to sub Antarctic environments.  

 Rich with Inca heritage and battles with European invaders, and of politics over the past 60 years that have swayed between military rule and Peronist power (past and present), Argentina seems poised to regain lost prosperity. There are stark contrasts between regional poverty – almost third world poverty – and some of the well to do in Buenos Aries. Another contrast is old world sophistication and the vibrant energy of the young. Gauchos, tango dancers and i phones happily coexist, and yet it’s easy to sense substantial change ahead in this highly urbanised, exciting country of 42 million people. Low taxation and high inflation are current challenges for this resurgent, resource rich nation.

 From a tourism perspective, Argentina has seemingly untapped potential. Before the direct Qantas flight home from Buenos Aries (which shifts to Santiago in April 2012), I talked with Geoff McGeary, the founder and owner of APT, who has just established a business in Argentina. The adventure business is booming and he can’t keep up with demand from Australia alone. The country is accessible and interesting, with key points of differentiation in a tourism world that is increasingly homogeneous.

 Argentinians love football, siestas, and have a strong sense of community. The European influence – not only from Spain but from Italy as well – permeates local life, with bidets to be found even in hostels. This is an accommodating country, one which is tolerant and welcoming. It also possesses an energy brooding beneath the siesta – an energy that will make Argentina economically more powerful and accessible to the world. There is a pervasive sense of hope and justice in Argentina, just nine years after the dramas of police shooting protestors in the streets.

 Argentina served up surprises everywhere:

  •  Argentina is a food bowl. We enjoyed the quality of the produce available on the domestic market – much of it reflecting no middle men in the supply chain, although supermarkets are starting to put pressure on small local shop keepers as they have done in every other part of the developing world. Some food was exceptional – like freshly squeezed orange juice; organically grown and dried peaches; fresh shelled walnuts; raisins; tomatoes that tasted as if they came from the back garden; succulent corn; ripe and cheap avocadoes; abundant and tender fresh asparagus and of course the meat – fillet steak was AUD 8.00 a kg in most retails outlets
  • The insidious influence of western diet is having an impact on the local population with obesity apparent and possibly aligned with an overwhelming consumption of soft drink, confectionary and very sweet and fatty bakery items. What a shame given the corn and other foodstuffs that formed the base diet for Argentinians in the past
  • The behaviour of children and young adults is as we knew it forty years ago – respectful, controlled and cheerful. We were amused by the habit of very young students wearing lab coats – like young engineers. Bizarre but cute!
  • Old cars are abundant, particularly in regional Argentina  – Ford 100’s, Ford Falcons, old Peugot 504’s and Renault 12’s, Fiats and the ubiquitous Volkswagens and  Toyotas
  • Beverage consumption varies from the comfort of flasks of mate tea to fizzy drinks to the hip wine bars of Palermo serving craft beer on tap and wine by the glass. Red wine is improving and represents a real global opportunity for the industry – blessed with cheap labour and proven terroir. Quaffing wine is very cheap and good wines excellent value. AUD10 will deliver a seriously good Cabernet or Malbec.
  • Whatever happened to the African slaves who were abundant in the 19th Century? Little is written about this subject. Did they leave due to the prejudices of the military; did they become subsumed into the population; or did they perish?
  • Although Argentina has seen a large influx of Spanish, Italian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, there is almost no Asian or Muslim presence in the country

Leave a Reply