Argentina, a country endowed with beauty
I was pleasantly surprised one fine morning when my son had called up from Bangalore to say that he is transferred abroad. However, the spirit was partially dampened when he disclosed that he is posted in a faraway place called Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. With limited geographical and political knowledge about the Latin American countries, my wife and I were busy calling up our friends and relations here and there to know more about Buenos Aires. Our friends had divergent views and some were quite sceptical about the whole idea of working there. To our great relief we could at last contact an old friend of ours who had long years of experience in Latin American countries. His first hand knowledge on the socio-cultural environment in Argentina inspired us to permit our son to take up this exciting assignment.
We could not resist the temptation of taking a holiday trip to this interesting country of Football fans out of our inquisitiveness couple of months after he left. We boarded South African Airlines from Mumbai International Airport in the month of September that year. It was a long flight with its first hopping at Johannesburg after a continuous flight of around 14 hours. The flight to our destination city of Buenos Aires took another 10 hours from Johannesburg.
We were awe struck by the beautiful nature and the climate in the city of Buenos Aires after flying for over 24 hours from Mumbai. All our tiredness and jet lag disappeared in no time.
The beautiful boulevards, well planned roads, monolithic structures, well-behaved, friendly and soft spoken people all around made us feel at home. Spanish is the widely spoken language here. It is a normal practice for the general people to communicate with sign languages, if someone does not speak Spanish as most of the population in the city do not understand English. The city is located on the western shore of the estuary of Rio de la Plata on the South East Coast of South American Continent. The literal meaning of Buenos Aires, as intended by the founders in the 16th Century, is “fair wind” or “good air.” After decades of political turmoil Buenos Aires is federalized at present. Argentina is an upper middle income economy.
Prior to 1880s, Argentina was an isolated backwater, dependent on the salted meat, wool, leather and hide industries. Argentine economy began to experience swift growth after 1880 through the export of livestock and grain commodities through British and French investments, marking the beginning of a significant economic expansion and mass European immigration. Among the major exportitems beef, citrus fruits, grapes, honey, maize, soybeans, sunflower seeds, wheat, leather goods, dairy products are on the top of the list.
The country is self sufficient in petroleum products and rich in minerals. Different metals and minerals mined include coal, copper, lead, magnesium, sulphur, tungsten, uranium etc.
In other words this is a country with abundant natural resources. Tourism sector is growing at a very fast pace in Argentina and it is a major revenue earning sector for the country. The industry is employing a huge number of workforces. Between 2002 and 2017, the number of foreign visitors has doubled despite a relative appreciation of the local currency “Peso” vis-a-vis the US Dollar.
Visitors are flocking to this country as it is perceived as affordable, exceptionally diverse and safe. A trip to Buenos Aires is incomplete without witnessing and participating in a Tango dance. Tango is a partner dance that originated in the 1880s along the Plate River, the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay and it spread to the rest of the world. Today many forms of Tango exist. Among the Tango dancing circles the authentic is considered to be one closest to the form of originally danced in Argentina and Uruguay. UNESCO has included Tango in the intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Argentina is one of the largest wine producers in the world. Going by the history of wine production in this country, the vines were planted in Santiago by the Missionaries who brought the plants from Mexico in the middle of sixteenth century because they could not celebrate mass in Christmas without wine. With the flow of the large number of European immigrants from Spain, Italy and France who are all traditionally wine producers and consumers the industry has grown very fast. The per capita wine consumption in Argentina today is around 28 litres, which is very high compared to many countries in the West. The Argentine wine is associated with fabulous country landscapes, horse polo, Tango and beautiful women. It is competing well with the major wine producers like United States, Australia, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand. Wine testing sessions are very popular among the tourists.
A popular traditional hot beverage in Argentina is “Mate.” It is prepared by steeping dried leaves of Yerba Mate in hot water. It is a caffeine-rich infused drink and it has quite a bit of similarity with tea. It is drunk with a metal straw. The straw is traditionally made of silver and called Bombilla by the locals.
While in Argentina, one should not miss the “Fiesta Gaucho” (Gaucho party) in the countryside. One can witness the Argentinean cowboys or Gauchos who live in the open plains at traditional ranches. The Gauchos come out to demonstrate the ring races and horse riding skills and directly interact with the tourists. A day-long trip also includes an “Asado,” which is a traditional Argentinean barbecue that includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks (varieties of local wines) and dessert with coffee and tea. The fun does not stop there. It is followed by folklore and Tango show. The show is of participative type and the tourists are invited to sing and dance. The people are very inquisitive about India and fond of Bollywood songs and dances.
A full-day or half-day trips to the delta islands in the Tigre River is a must for a tourist and see the impressive cathedrals and mansions built by the city’s old aristocratic families. These stilted homes and delta dwellers access goods and services through a network of floating markets. The only mode of transportation to these beautiful houses is through private boats and small ferries. This is a unique suburb built around the swampy land and meandering waterways. A cruise along Tigre River and day-long outing to the delta islands is a very refreshing experience.
In short, our trip to this wonderful country with so many diversities and natural beauty is an experience to be cherished for our whole life.
(The author is a widely travelled freelance writer, motivational speaker and a mechanical engineer)