Friday, 16 September 2005

Argentina (Wk 1 - Neuquén)

My parents were brought up in Argentina, so landing at Buenos Aires was of some emotional significance... just as well, then, that the first things to greet me, once through immigration, would make me feel so at home - a massive advertisement for Kit-Kats (originally made in York, UK!) and another for the Citroen C3 (I have the C2)...

The first thing to strike me as I stepped out into the streets of Buenos Aires was the smell; there are no restrictions on exhaust emissions, and on some streets (those to and from the main port area) the fumes are almost overpowering. But in most other respects, the city looks very European (with what looked to me like a strong French influence).

After a brief 3-hour stopover in the city, we boarded a plane to Neuquén, and 90 minutes later we were in Patagonia. Neuquén is a sort of oasis in what would otherwise be a desert-like environment with just very low vegetation sparsely covering the ground. But it's at the confluence of two rivers, and some very clever dykes and dams ensure a vast amount of water flows through irrigation canals that support a substantial orchard-based industry.

Silvia's family are of Italian descent, and like many Italian families (and, so far as I can tell, Argentineans more generally), food plays an important role in the family. Specifically, meat and red wine (and, in my case at least, whatever indigestion remedies were to hand). Much of the first week was spent seeing relatives, friends, and various local eccentrics who, we had been promised, would realize Sam and Jamie's desire for ... an armadillo.

We had made the mistake of asking my kids what they'd want from Argentina. For reasons I'm still unsure about, Sam said 'an armadillo'. I of course said 'no way', or words to that effect. But Silvia rose to the occasion and pointed out that armadillos are the hedgehogs of Patagonia, that they run around wild, and that of course we'd be able to bring one back (!) - or at least, bring back the scales. Big mistake... as we were now committed, no matter what... Fortunately, Silvia's mother knew someone who knew someone, and within the week we found a variety of armadillo plates (generally, years old, and forgotten in dusty corners). Little did we suspect that we would, before leaving, be presented with a live armadillo!