Man In A Suitcase

Buenos Aires, Argentina

If you've been following this adventure in sequence, we left off in Iguassu Falls at the border between Brazil and Argentina. Continue now across the Iguassu River, past a long line of trucks (I made the transit on Sunday, while commercial traffic sits waiting for God and the Customs office to go back to work), stopping briefly at the Argentine Immigration office, past an even longer line of trucks waiting to enter Brazil and finally to the tiny under-construction airport at Iguazu. (I'm told it's been under construction for five years now. Even the pyramids didn't take this long.)

And thence to Buenos Aires, the most European city on the continent. From the Casa Rosada (the Pink House), where Evita used to visit her adoring populace to incredibly wide tree-lined boulevards named after dates, this is a city designed to impress. Buenos Aires has some of the grandeur of Paris but adds a warmth and a charm and an accessibility that Paris neither possesses nor wishes to possess.

My hotel was conveniently situated at the end of one of the city's pedestrian streets, which reminded me a bit of Copenhagen's Stroget. And once I figured out how to negotiate the intersections (the city doesn't much go in for traffic lights on smaller streets, while drivers seem to consider walkers fair game) I began to discover the joys of exploring the city's many neighborhoods. I also explored the Buenos Aires subway system, which is cheap, efficient and generally got to within a mile or so of where I wanted to go.

La Boca is one of the city's more colorful neighborhoods, both figuratively and literally. This was once the Italian part of town, where the locals dressed up their corrugated tin houses by painting them in dramatic colors. The Italians have moved elsewhere; the houses remain as a draw to tourists. And enterprising locals take advantage of the stream of visitors. Like this pasty-faced character, who provided a fine photo op for would-be tango partners.

It always interests me to see which aspects of U.S. culture penetrate other countries. Zorro's success doesn't surprise me, although I did get a laugh from the title La Mascara Del Zorro. Somehow I can't take Antonio Banderas quite as seriously knowing that his dark eyes are cosmetically augmented. And what am I to think from Head & Shoulders' sponsorship of the film? Makeup and dandruff? What would his fans say?

Having encountered my share of mimes around Buenos Aires, I half expected this fellow in yellow to be another one. But no, this Dick Tracy is a lifesize mannequin for a restaurant in Recoleta, coincidentally placed half way between Evita's grave and the Hard Rock Cafe. A bigger surprise was was the discovery of an Argentine pizza chain named after Tracy. Is there some deeper meaning to this Dick fixation?

San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina

Patagonia; surely one of the more magical place names in the world. (If you haven't read Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia, do so immediately. Do it now; I'll still be here when you get back.) My first exposure to Patagonia came with my arrival in Bariloche, a little Swiss village at the eastern edge of Nahuel Huapi National Park. The park's name is another one of those historic jokes; when an early explorer asked a local tribe the name of one of the islands he replied "nahuel huapi", which means "Danger! There are pumas on the island!" (Kind of like the name kangaroo, which I was once informed is aboriginal for "Beats the hell out of me!") Settled primarily by Swiss in the late 19th century, Bariloche is probably the best place south of the Equator to get fondue or spaetzle. It's also home to some of the best chocolate outside Europe.

Oh yeah, the scenery isn't half bad either. These views were taken from the top of Cerro Campanario, which you reach by a ski-type chairlift. The Andes are magnificent in late spring; I can only imagine how they would look in winter, when the skiers descend on the area. But not too many; we're a long way from the big population centers.

(By the way, the town's name is another historical joke. San Carlos wasn't a saint; he was an early shopkeeper who was once misaddressed in a letter as San Carlos instead of Senor. Bariloche is a local tribal name meaning "the people over the mountain", which is how the natives on the Chilean side of the Andes thought of them.)

A few readers of these pages have commented on the lack of pictures of your humble author. (They did. Really. And they weren't even related to me.) To correct that imbalance I offer these two examples. The one on the left I call Self-Portrait With Lupins; it was taken on the way back down from Cerro Campanario to terra firma. (And I must say that I never looked better.) The shot at right was taken the following day during the long lake crossing into Chile. That twelve hour journey involves a bus to a catamaran to a bus to a boat to a bus to a cat to a bus. This was taken on the boat across Lago Frias, still on the Argentine side and a mere two and a half hours into the journey. Which may be why I could still raise a smile. (Kidding; I'm kidding.)

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