Sunday, January 23, 2011

Buenos Aries to Rasairo by Train

Argentina

Friday May 7, 2010

I rise with the birds and I take a taxi to Retiro station. The sun is shining, through the diffuse light. The autumn leaves add an orange tint to the green parks and plazas. Even the sleeping drunks and homeless at San Martin look good in the morning light
Ritiro station look as grand as the original railway barons 100 years ago instructed their architects to create.
The station is a hub of activity with doughnut bakers and newsagents selling their products. Workers hurry to the buses and taxis others walk off to go to their work clutching their bags in case pickpockets are lurking nearby.


-Retiro Station

I make my way to platform 8 which is full of families and merchants with bags full of wears to take up to Tucuman which is eighteen hours away (I am happy that my trip to Rosario is a mere six hours). The families loaded up with Hessian bags and cartons are heading to tourist class. Young children smiling and laughing who perhaps should be at school drag huge bags across the concourse. Humongous looking men pushing barrels who look as if they could kill hustle for trade and they are getting plenty of custom. A smiling girl is carrying a 20L container of fresh food, obviously for their family lunch.

Today is the 91 birthday of Evita
Celebrations are taking place all over Argentina. In Retiro women are holding their rosary beads bent over in corners praying for her soul. They know the tangible and phyiscologal benefits that Evita bought to their families

Today at the Recoletata cemetery hundreds will come to lay flowers on her tomb and pay their respects
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-Train to Tucuman (There were more than 30plus carriages).



When the massive humanity has moved off the platform I make my way down to check out my seat. I have booked a recliner seat and my carriage is clean. In fact it reminds me of the trains we used to travel on in the 1960’s. My seat is comfortable. The other passengers have a real interest in me as gringos do not travel by train.
[In fact middle class Argentineans and tourists travel by long distance buses. I had previously taken a bus from Salta to Mendoza and in a first class sleeper. And if unadventurous, it was certainly comfortable]
. One of the passengers takes me and shows me the restrooms and the restaurant which are all clean and the smell of the coffee percolates into the neighbouring carriages.
The train leaves on time at 9.55am and slowly makes its way through the marshalling yards. At the last minute a slim woman with long curly hair, long leather boots, looking quite hip sits herself down beside me. Her name is Monica and she is from Tucaman. We do not share a common tongue but my language guide provides a happy medium. I discover quickly that she has adult children and has a boutique in Tucaman and like the rest of them, she has been down to Buenos Aires to buy stock and also some perfume. In fact, my language book turns out to be quite a hit. She also has discovered the page about commerce and how to buy things including discounts. She writes the English translation down to the Spanish words. Other passengers are intrigued by her activity. She explains what it is. And my translation book disappears out of my sight for about an hour as all the other merchants in the train write down these commercial terms. In fact later on in the trip I gave a small lesson on pronunciation of these terms. I rock off to sleep and get a good hour kip. The train is making good speed and the whole line is double tracked. In every carriage there is a water cooler and polystyrene cups and keep the carriage and toilets clean.
There is a constant stream of people with their thermos flasks going down to the cafeteria to refill them to keep their beloved matte continuously flowing. The view out the window is a picturesque little towns occasionally dotted between large cattle farms and also some alfalfa and soy bean. Some of the towns we passed through have very attractive semi detached houses not unlike we have at home. Then from out of the blue from what seems nowhere a shanty town appears.

Beautiful brick railway stations fly by, a few look sad but most are maintained and look as strong and impressive as a locomotive. My ticket for a very comfortable recliner seat was only 29.5 pesos or approximately US$8. Economics were not the driver for my trip but purely adventure. And I would do this trip again. In fact the final destination Tucaman is worth a visit for some days and also the next stop at the town of Salta where I stayed 9 days.

Actually you could do a trip from Buenos Aires, stopping in Rosario for some days, get back on the train and travel another 6 hours to Salta and more days there and then on to Tucaman. This would be a great trip for those who are into trains and prefer adventure as opposed to a boring if comfortable bus.



Rosario

Rosario is world famous for being the birth place of Che Guevara. In fact Che, 30 years on, has sparked a tourist boom. People used to come and look at the building where he was born in, which is now a bank and the traffic became so much they have made a memorial at the Plaza de la Cooperacion.

-Che Guevara Memorial


There is now a Che Guevara hostel that you can stay in opposite his old home. And stone the crows there is a five star hotel opposite his memorial. There is a news agent there with a successful business selling the international herald tribune and other international publications and off course postcards, magnets and other paraphernalia of Che

. I arrived in Rosario booked into my wonderful Bed and Breakfast. Lungomare Trieste (www.lungomarebb.com). This is one of Rosario’s best kept secrets and a great home from home experience. The house is Catalan in style and the five bedrooms are brightly coloured and all have private bathrooms. A discovery on the roof terrace is a plunge pool. It is ideally suited for discovering Pichincha.
Pichincha is also where the railway station is sited and is now the cities hippest barrio. Once it was a nefarious like the old Montmartre of Paris.

I was met by the cheerful Alejandra who welcomed me like a long lost friend. After a welcome drink I hyped off with my map and went for a walk down to the Macro which is a modern art gallery situation in old grain silos painted in pastel colours.

-Macro Modern Art Gallery

I head off along the river bank soaking in the fresh air and the river views. I take a left turn where families and happy children are queuing up for a circus and opposite them was what looked like a pretty tough neighbourhood. I took a turn away from there and in chanced to meet a woman outside a shop who gave me directions back to my B&B and some bars and cafes. Flor and her friend Vanessa a firm bodied 34 year old architect invited me in for a drink.

Saturday morning I rise and go to the café boulevard Organ for toast and coffee. This is a deli café which serves continuous meals all day, boxes of food, tins of olives, crates of wine sit beneath the well stocked shelves and in front of a chillier of freshly prepared interesting and healthy looking food. The owner and host is colourful and smiling. His chef is jovial, good natured and can cook. I was to return later that night to have my evening meal where the food was warm and hearty and the clientele is local.

Herman and Daniela are a couple from Rosario who I had met a folk club in Salta.
I meet after lunch Herman and two of his friend’s brothers Javier and Sebastian. Sebastian lived and worked in New Zealand in 2009. New Zealand could not have a better ambassador than this young man. They are my hosts for the afternoon. We drive around the extensive river bank of river Parana which has got beautiful waterfront buildings which are in the process of restoration and the oldest used railway stations have been restored and are used as public amenities. The Parana River is the second largest in the Americas and flows from Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean. In Rosario it forms a huge Delta with lots of small islands and waterways. We also visit the Plaza de 25 and Mayo. There is a massive monument The Monumento Nacional a la Bandera. This is a monument to their national flag. It extends a block and is entirely made of concrete. It has a large viewing tower where there are 360degree views it also has an amphitheatre with wide steps as seating. A band is setting up for a concert as we wandered by. Argentine families including young children are wearing ribbon in blue and white which are the national colours and some young children have even bought their own flag. A continuous gas flame to the Unknown Soldier has a number of women dressed in black who are praying to the unknown soldiers who have lost their lives. Near the river is a monument for those who lost their lives in the Malians. This has again become a conversation topic and is an issue which is destined never to go away.


-Monumento Nacional a la Bandera

British oil companies have struck oil and the Argentine President Kircher has asked Hilary Clinton to mediate between Argentina and Great Britain to see a satisfactory settlement can be achieved over this disputed land. This land is known to the British and the Falkland islands where a war was fought in 1983. The Argentinean generals and dictators gave Margaret Thatcher the tools to win a landslide victory in 1983. This enabled her to entrench Thatcherism into the British economy and vocabulary.

Local’s camp, kayak, sail and fish in this natural maritime wonderland. There is a fish market with several fish mongers selling the fish which the river yields. This is near the stunning Puente Rosario-Victoria Bridge completed in 2006 which links the Rosario and Victoria provinces. Redundant river boats sit at piers and a modern day Che would take this bridge rather then a river boat and miss the adventures of some of his youth. This bridge along with the Macro gallery of contemporary arts set in a former serious of silos boldly painted in green, violet, blue and magenta give a 21st century look to Rosario. Rosario is a surprising find with hip café’s, bars and beautiful renaissance buildings. Cycling kayaking and walking options enable you to get a real feel for the city. As I have said before the creative use the wharf warehouses and old railway stations. As public amenities help give this a real 21st century feel. They still have a considerable stock of empty warehouses but the well respected socialist local government which has been elected now for three continuous terms has an ongoing renovation project and some of them are being used as stadiums for their volleyball and basketball teams.

Football is a religion and is present in most conversations .The coming world cup and the qualities of the various Argentine players are a known quality .Their concern is that will Maradonna be able to weld a world cup winning team .
They sympathise with me when I explain that this is the second time that New Zealand has made the draw and that we are against Brazil .


There is talk of improving railway services to fast modern trains, although this will certainly bring economic benefits to the region I would hate for it to kill off the old slow express.
Train travel will never appeal to some but to others is addictive and trains like this are a pleasure


-Puente Rosario-Victoria Bridge


The boulevard Orona is a beautiful street that stretches for 30 blocks. It has a central promenade which is beautifully sculptured public seats during the day grandparents watch their grandchildren play hop scotch and the old men play chess sipping their matte. During the night it is well illuminated as people promenaded. This is no boulevard of broken dreams.