(Where am I now: in the house of Martin, my Santa Fe couchsurfing contact, sitting beside a 21-year old brunette girl, Odile, from Barcelona, on an exchange program studying cinematography in Santa Fe – she's one of the people living in this house)
(What is the time now: 19:47 local time on Tuesday,
What am I listening to: Morcheeba, The Sea, coming from Martin's computer in the other room.)
Bus station galore.
I arrived in Santa Fe at 06:00 in the morning after a 6 hour all-night bus ride from Buenos Aires. Now I know what you are thinking when someone says the word "Bus" in Latin America. Packed buses full of peasants wearing sombreros, with chickens and goats and I don't know what else. Well, far from the truth. Argentina specifically has a very well developed (from a quality of buses standpoint) lonmg-distance bus network. You can practically get anywhere (even to Patagonia) by bus. And they are all very good quality buses, with reclining seats down to becoming full flat beds. I started writing yesterday's article but no way – was too tired and the seat was too soft to resist it.
The bus station, extremely clean (no comparison to the Greek KTEL station in Kiffisos) and quite high tech (Free WiFi allows me to send you these posts the past day). But they are not organized. I will write a separate post on this one called "Consolidate!" and it's my economic point of view on the topic of public transport in Argentina. I will dedicate it to Christoph since we always look for opportunities to improve things J So, overall a very positive impression. I can't wait for tomorrow's bus ride. I depart for Santa Fe at 18:30 for a +15hr bus ride to Iguazu, near the border of Brazil to see one of the worlds best waterfalls. I have booked the seat in the front of the bus (all are double-deckers). It has to be a magnificent site: both the sunset tomorrow but mostly the sunrise near Iguazú on Thursday.
You know what I am talking about? Think DeNiro in The Mission. That's where I am going.
Architecture Tex-Mex/Far West with a bit of French renaissance in it
I haven't seen so much "architectural diversity" in one city. I mean, ok in Athens all the apartments built after the 80's are diverse but that's simply because there's no proper building code enforced. At the end, in most of the areas they are all ugly boxes with balconies. Not here. First of all the most refreshing things is that seldom will you find buildings above 3 floors. Except for some mansions and government buildings – most places are 2 levels. And they are so beautiful. If I had an unlimited "repair" fund I would spend it in Santa Fe simply because the city needs it and also because it still has old buildings standing. I've attached a few of my favorites – they are not all beautiful but for sure indicate the diversity in the architecture. Each corner you turn you are up for a surprise. Something you don't expect just pops up: old, new, well maintained, in ruins, not important – it is just different! As you walk by, you don't know if you will meet Clint Eastwood and the Magnificent 7, or the some Parasol-holding French lady, or some modern '60s hippie. It's all there for you to walk around and see.
The best one of course (and my absolute favorite) is the one below, the Kiosk painted in Santa Fe beer colors (Santa Fe: Asi somos, asi bebemos/ this is who we are this is what we drink, says the local punch line)
Hosts vs. Hotels. (written Oct1st, 10:26am)
Why do you go to the Intercontinental or the Hilton when you travel? I guess because it gives you a minimum level of comfort and quality. You know what to expect. The little fluffy slippers and the bath-robe are always the same, even the toilet paper and the little pen and writing pad. In fact these places are so much alike that if you woke up with amnesia one day in a hotel room you probably wouldn't be able to answer the question:"Where am I?" unless the writing pad by your bedside had Hilton/Brussels on it.
Now this is not what happens to you if you try what I've been doing for the past week (I just realized I haven't even been a week on the road yet). My hosts in Santa Fe are 3 people. Martin, who I contacted thanks to Menelaos, Odile the Barcelona student and Pipi (yes might sound like a funny name in Europe but the guy can beat you up in a minute). I am starting to relearn the definition of the word "hospitality". This team of people has hosted an incredible number of couchsurfers and they have a guestbook to prove it – I am not evren the first greek they've hosted. And they take their mission seriously – they make sure you are taken care of and have all you need. It's interesting to see how you can actually connect with people without the luxury dinners, expensive bars etc – I went with Martin and bought 2kg of chicken (for 3 USD…) from the local butcher, peeled potatoes and an hour and a half later we had prepped up one hell of a dinner (with lots of beer) for the four of us. And we talked. Now clearly you need to speak Spanish and it is a bit tiring for me but I do what I can and connect how I want.
I need to make a point, on the way to the supermarket we did a little detour, I visited his mother. Yes, she welcomed us, had us sit down and try some snacks, had a beer with us and talked. No English, but I can manage – my story is easy enough to say, their questions on Europe so fascinating, it seems a world apart to them. I guess the way we think Latin America is for us. Am I back to the times where people actually appreciate the contact with their species…?
The biggest surprise is the sleeping time – that's where you realize that the guest gets the best mattress in the house. Sure you sleep on the floor of the living room but who cares about this anyway?
Seems to me that Xenios Zeus (Ancient Greek god of hospitality) made a stop in Santa Fe on his way to Olympus mountain.
Argentinian culture: Hugs, Mate and Receipts
You learn a lot about people's culture and attitude by how they greet each other when you first meet them. We say for example that Greeks are very warm but when they meet someone they just extend the hand to shake and say "Hárika" (Happy/delighted). It's rather superficial: how can you say you're happy meeting someone unless you really know them (ok I do, if it's a hot girl but that's not the norm). To be fair, in Latin American countries they say "Mucho gusto" or "Encantdo" so I guess it's the same. In Switzerland you kiss 3 times / that can also be a hassle – you try saying hello to a group of 10 people and you have 300 hundred kisses flying around. (Although my x-girlfriend gives one kiss to her friends, so I guess that's what Swiss really do when they know someone, the rest is to complicate the foreigners)
Back to Argentina though. Here, friend, relative or first acquaintance is greeted in the same nice way, you approach, put your righ arm over the left shoulder of the person and actually hug him (you heads are side by side) even give a kiss on the cheek and say your name at the same time. I like that. Simple, warm, efficient. It has caused though numerous funny mishaps with my name. When I do it, I say "Kostas", they say theirs and then when they step back they say: "Y tu nombre?" (and your name is…) And I repeat: Kostas. This is because my name is so phonetically close to "Como Estas?", (How are you?) that people don't register it. I think I will be calling myself Mr Howareyou as of now on…
Mate (not the thing humans and animals do to procreate)
Yesterday, first day in Santa Fe, was a holiday, Saint of the city (San Geronimo), so at around 13:00 the city reminded you of the green line in Cyprus or the DMZ (Demilitarized zone) in Korea or I don't know what – no one in the streets. No one. Have you seen the film "The day after, part 2" where the dude wakes up and roams the Earth with no one else around? That's how it was.
At around 18:30 when I was taking a siesta on a park bench next to a water fountain (mom, don't worry, they can't rob me because they were all having siestas too) it started happening. People, all ages coming out to take a walk, strolling around in prams, kids playing around and the whole park came alive. And then I saw them. Most couples or groups of friends were holding a thermos of hot water and a strange mug with a metal "straw" (if straw could ever be metal). This is Mate, pronounced (Mah-te) and it's an institution in Argentina, something like "Tea time" for the Brits. Mate is a herb (hierba), quite bitter in the beginning but leaves an interesting taste at the end. It does take some time to get used to it though. Drinking mate is a whole ritual for the people here, from the way they prepare it, till the way they serve it. It now comes in "tea-bags" as well but as they told me, no comparison.
There's even a sort of joke: A couple goes back to the guy's house and he tells her: "we can ether have sex or have some mate. Ah but I am out of "hierba"… I guess in some cases it is also "mate" in English then as well…
"You want some breakfast? Eat a receipt"
I woke up this morning and Odile was already up and busy, preparing coffee in this HUGE pot. It's like the standard espresso system (not Nespresso, please people!) where you put the coffee in one compartment and the water in the other – I first used it in Dubai with George – but think BIG. It looks like a little pressure cooker. She pointed at the paper bag on the table and said: "you can eat one of the facturas if you want, they're filled with jam or cream".
Since when can I eat receipts (factura=λογαριασμος/GR=facture/FR) I asked myself and since when do they come in flavours? Ah the beauty of Latin American Spanish – many words just don't have the same meaning. So facturas are pastries, like croissants in Europe. Have one and then ask for the receipt as well.
A few days ago in Buenos Aires, Menelaos was giving instructions to the taxi driver: "tiene que doblar en calle Martin" (you must "double" in Martin street) and the guy turned into the street. I then asked with my Spanish/tourist accent: Porqué doblar y no "girar" (turn). And the taxi driver answered: because if you want to "girar" you got to be in Spain. Respect.
(Comments? leave one below :-) ) Next stop Iguazu waterfalls!