I love Argentina.
I love the people.
I love the language.
I love trying out my very limited Spanish.
I love that they love me trying my Spanish.
I love them trying their English.
The following article has been written by our friend Barbara Mitchell. Barbara recently worked alongside the New Zealand Black Sticks hockey team as they attempted to win the World League Hockey Final in Argentina. Thank you Barb, the article is fantastic and you have certainly wet ones appetite for visiting Argentina!
The people of Argentina seem to have it just right – they smile, they’re passionate about pretty much everything, they know how to relax, they know how to dine, they do lovely red wine, and oh, did I mention the steak – lomo or chorizo anyone?
Just recently, I was fortunate enough to be working on a sports event held in Rosario, some 300km north-west of Buenos Aires.
I was also fortunate to fly on Air New Zealand’s inaugural flight, which now makes travelling to Buenos Aires very easy.
It was a fun flight, with a traditional Maori welcome when we landed in Buenos Aires, and as I went down the escalator to collect my bag, a tango dance was in progress –welcome to South America!
After a five and a half hour bus trip, I arrived in the city Rosario.
Rosario is the largest city in the province of Sante Fe – and the third largest city in Argentina – and sits on the western shore of the Paraná River. It is a major railroad terminal and shipping centre for northeastern Argentina.
But while all that industry might go on around you, it is still possible to lie on the beach and watch the ships go by, although the beach is a little different to what we Kiwis are used to.
One ‘must see’ when you visit Rosario is the Monumento Nacional a la Bandera. This imposing monument was inaugurated on June 20, 1957, the anniversary of the death of Manuel Belgrano, creator of the Argentine flag. The flag, with its distinctive blue and white horizontal bands and a golden sun in the centre, was raised for the first time on an island on the opposite shore of the Paraná river on February 27, 1812. The magnificent looking flag blowing in the wind is a constant reminder of both the proud and turbulent history of this country.
The Puerto Norte Hotel I stayed in is located in an area on the quayside. This was previously a run-down dockland area, highly industrialised and far from the desirable residency area it is now. The whole area is still undergoing huge development. The hotel itself is an architect’s dream. It was built on top of a silo structure and stands as a symbol of the architectural heritage that characterises the city of Rosario.
There is still some way to go in finishing the development, but it is definitely on the right track.
The Museum of Contemporary Art which is nearby is also an abandoned grain silo.
The footpaths and roads running alongside the river make for an easy wander into the central city – or a jog or cycle.
On Sundays the road is closed to vehicles until midday – what a great idea. People were out in their dozens walking, running, roller-blading or cycling around the streets without fear of accident.
On one of our ‘rest days’ during the event, two of us hired bikes and went exploring, heading out of the city towards the huge suspension bridge that spans the river some eight kilometres away. Hiring bikes was a breeze, this city is geared up for activity and so, armed with water and maps, we headed off for the day.
The cycleways along the river are pretty good and when we had to go on the road, we found the traffic to be very accommodating. Auckland drivers could definitely learn a thing or two! I would certainly highly recommend sightseeing by cycle, you get all the benefits of exercise and fresh air and you can stop whenever you see something of interest. And there are plenty of pit-stops along the way.
Graffiti in Argentina is not as we know it – it’s colourful, it tells a story and it makes you stop to take it all in, or to take a picture. The walls of buildings all over the city are made colourful by this art.
With our own deep-rooted culture, we could certainly see a whole heap more of this type of art in New Zealand please.
Being somewhat a coffee snob, I was really hoping I could get a decent brew within walking distance to my hotel. It turned out to be an easy choice and took me all of 30 seconds. Each morning, the lovely Gisela and Carlena would smile at me as I stumbled through my coffee request in Spanish. Within a couple of days, I didn’t have to ask – we understood each other, but still enjoyed trying to communicate.
Finally, I cannot finish without mentioning a particular sports team. Where else in the world is there a women’s team treated as rock stars and mobbed by adoring fans.
Yes in Argentina, Las Leonas (The Lionesses) are superstars – not football, but field hockey. Not men, but women.
As their bus arrived at the stadium, which by the way has just been renamed the Mundialista de Hockey Luciana Aymar Stadium, to honour their most famous player, the crowd leave their seats in the stand and rush towards the on-coming bus and their favourite team.
Las Leonas won the Argentina Hockey World League Final 2015 beating New Zealand 5-1.
Although this was all about the Argentina team, it was a great performance by the New Zealand Black Sticks to be in their first major international final since 2010. The enraptured crowd gave the Black Sticks huge applause to acknowledge the part they played in the final.
So as I eat my last steak (they don’t do small!) and drink my last glass of Malbec – neither tastes as good back in NZ – I think about when my next visit might be … because there will be one.
Maybe I’ll move to Argentina to immerse myself in the language and culture … and the beautiful people.
And to the lovely, smiling Argentina girl behind the AirNZ check-in desk at Buenos Aires International Airport who greeted me with ‘Kia Ora’, I say … ‘la próxima vez’ – until next time!