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Lost in La Plata: Adventures in Argentina

Sitting in a quiet ice cream parlour on the outskirts of Buenos Aires in the growing dark, with no internet access, imperfect Spanish and a long way from a bed, I wondered how I had arrived at this point.

Once successfully through the extranjeros queue, I met Barbara and her step father, who had kindly offered to drive me back. After a swift visit to see her mother and two dogs, we came to her own charmingly ramshackle and arty home. With its draughty stained-glass windows, decorative television, wild garden and fluorescent pink fridge (that she confessed had been painted in the throes of heartbreak). Complete with the obligatory frenzied dog and contrasting lay docile cat, it provided the perfect introduction to Argentinian life.

I enjoyed exploring La Plata and especially the cathedral, although attempting to buy food in the tiny supermerkado in Berisso was a challenge. La Plata is a university town and full of arty young students and political graffiti slogans such as ‘no queremos mas capitalismo’. That has only sprung up in the last five years or so, according to Barbara. I can imagine that before that, it would have been a very pretty town with its orange tree lined avenues and squares.

The advantage of staying with locals is that it is easier to gain a real insight into the culture of the city. Barbara played me South American music, let me drink tap water and explained the differences between Argentinian and Spanish pronunciations. I was told off for moving ruining her mate, the national caffeinated infusion of Argentina. Apparently, it is bad luck to move the bombilla, or metal straw, in the guampa gourd as if it were a spoon! I was also invited to take part in a circle of feminine energy at her friend’s house.

In order to get there, I had to take several buses across town. Barbara had joked that I was like Bambi in the middle of the forest, and I certainly felt that way attempting to catch rattling, speeding buses with what I’m increasingly realising is a flimsy grasp of Spanish. I did easily find the street but struggled to locate Barbara’s tatoo shop. I walked around and asked for directions at a shop (which turned out to be two doors away) to no avail. And so, eventually, I ended up sitting in the ice cream parlour, eating a lemon ice cream to avoid the enclosing panic.

I had just decided that I would have to ask all the shopkeepers for directions and, if that failed, search for an open Internet cafe, when the staff of the ice cream parlour took pity on me and gave me the code to the wifi. By talking to them, I learned that they were friends of Barbara’s colleague and was able to get directions to the shop. I was so intensely relieved at this fortunate serendipity that I think I agreed to go dancing with them and went on to greatly enjoy the feminine circle.

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