31.12.2007 - 07.12.2007 24 °C
It was a relief to leave the claustrophobic confines of Buenos Aires and head south toward bluer waters. We left for Mar del Plata in the morning, and though we were able to escape Latin America's third largest city, we still found ourselves well within the boundaries of the Argentinean province of the same name. The inter-city coaches in this country are among the finest in the world, and we opted for Cama class, best described as 'fully reclining all-cow comfort'; as an added bonus coming garnished with free Havanna Alfajores. Mar del Plata (meaning Silver Sea) was just five hours away, merely a trip around the block by South American standards, and not a long time after the little hand ambled past the upright position we were aboard a local bus heading out along the southern Atlantic coast to where we'd be staying.
Anahí's friend Elisa lives with her family in the northern and more tranquilo part of the city, and I have to say we received a red-carpet foreign diplomat's reception, complete with free bicycle rental (pre-puncture only), all the 1kbps internet we could handle and the promise of a mutually beneficial Mar del Plata/Melbourne free-trade agreement at the end of it. We would have the bungalow to ourselves, and our every need pandered to by Elisa's mother. But the best was yet to come, as the smell from the approaching New Year's feast began to waft seemingly halfway across the neighbourhood. After darkness had fallen on the last day of 2007, the feast, big enough to feed a stable of starving greyhounds, began featuring at least four varieties of stuffed whole chicken and naturally plenty of other meaty offerings. Enormous too was the variety of alcohol on offer, with cratefuls of beer and wine and enough bubbly sidra (cider) to propel oneself to the upper reaches of Willy Wonka's fizzy-lifting room. Explosions overhead heralded the approach of midnight, and we all ran out to the street to get a better look. The suburban fireworks display is not a part of Australian tradition, mostly because of the impossibility of attaining the equipment, but Latin Americans will find any excuse to make a loud noise and some pretty colours.
Having spent many a holiday on Australia's fine stretches of sand, I was a smidgeon disappointed when I first laid eyes on the beaches of Mar del Plata. The northern beaches are all tiny half-moon shapes, strung together by a series of breakwaters and looking like they had spent time on the Atlantic continental shelf before being hauled to the shore for human enjoyment. From the colour of the city's main beaches fronting the boardwalks and ice-cream parlours, they could've been dredged from the asteroid belt. Whatever sand is left on these weathered shores is obscured by rows upon rows upon rows of beach huts for rent and the remainder covered bumper to bumper by the sunbathing masses. Hundreds of thousands of Argentineans make the journey in summer to get away, though when every second porteño from Buenos Aires is breathing over your shoulder, you may wonder exactly what they are escaping from. In fact the climate in the capital over January becomes unbearable, and for someone that has spent even a single summer there, it's really no surprise why everyone wants to leave.
Capitalism comes snapping at the heels of all these beach-goers, a fact which cannot be escaped unless one flies a couple of parsecs away from the popular zones. While all points of sale downtown - including pharmacies - are almost entirely cloaked in Coke Zero or other fizzy beverage signs (one even cheekily named Farmacia Zero), aeroplanes promote hygiene products by buzzing overhead the beaches, which themselves are often named after various local and international corporations. The town is slowly disappearing under the waves of its own national popularity, though because of stiff competition from the more famous beaches in Uruguay and Brasil, it is fairly unknown to foreigners. In spite of all this, Mar del Plata is a relaxing place to visit, helped in volumes by the locals, who are a helpful and friendly bunch.
Perhaps sporting hang-overs (or is that hangs-over?) from the previous year's excesses, we took turns at being ill the first couple of days into the new year, but were ready to party by the fourth. Good timing too, as a Japanese DJ named Satoshi Tomeii was billed to play at a venue on one of the city's more beautiful southern beaches. The best of the night was saved until last, when we spilled out onto the balcony for the final two hours of his marathon set. The solar system's most-favouritest ball of superheated gasses rose over the sea as the bacchan boogying continued, this time with forward rolls, comet tails streaming from the tips of my fingers and fancy but sometimes disastrous footwork from some of the local lads on the dew-soaked deck. The vibe and music of the party left us with a nebular afterglow that shone as bright as the morning sun, or maybe it was just wonderfully blissful to be breathing at that point in time.
After a week relaxing on the coast, it was time for me to leave on the seventh, to make my way back to the helter-swelter of Buenos Aires in January. For want of hard currency, future mentionable moments would be fewer and farer between than ever before, and I would have to sit patiently, often for hours on end trying to find them. Or myself.