Week Eight: Argentina

By the time of my next post, I will have been in South America for two months. I saw a KFC for the first time a couple of days ago, and realised that I have actually been here for a long time now.

On my flight to one of the world’s seven natural wonders (more on that in a second, obviously), I went through my phone’s camera roll deleting duplicates and pointless videos that I no longer need. It made me realise just how much I have already done, bringing back memories of Colombia and Bolivia that have already begun to fade as my brain mercilessly selects the very best to maintain as high-definition throwbacks. Now, my last week.

Hola a todos,

Buenos Aires continues to be fantastic, as do the people here. The experience of my two-and-a-half weeks here is so different to travelling by myself. Colombia and Bolivia were filled with strange encounters with random locals chewing on coca leaves or selling gaseosa. I haven’t had that here because I’m never alone, I’m never the strange white person sitting in a tiny bus terminal at 4:30 in the morning with a Manchester United bobble hat and a distinct lack of coca leaves.

But what I do get instead is new friends from the Netherlands, England, America, Italy, France, Australia and elsewhere. It’s different, but still brilliant.

Buenos Aires

Much of the last week has involved either consuming large amounts of the local Quilmes beer (they sell it by the litre for the price of a pint) and then recovering from that consumption. But in the hours where I’m not enjoying cheap beer, there is still a lot to be done. As I’ve always said since getting here, lazy days while abroad are productive days at home.

I’ve continued to coach with the same kids as the last couple of weeks, although there have been a few disruptions. On Tuesday, the local porteños held another general strike. They have a lot to protest about, including the rapid inflation which has seen one pound rise in value from 52 pesos when I arrived to 58 already. The economy is a disgrace and so much of the country lives in abject poverty, including the kids and teenagers who I get to coach in Buenos Aires.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, it was Labour Day. Another day off. There are no buses or trams running so being able to do things is very restricted. Even flights are cancelled, including for some people in my group who suddenly found themselves with five extra days in Buenos Aires.

But Thursday was a new day where people did actually work, including me. My training session remained off so I followed the two Dutch coaches to a different area of the city, across the river into Puerto Madero, where skyscrapers rise high and slums are hiding just a mile away.

This was more like the experience that I had in Colombia, with a pitch closely surrounded by housing and tiny shops or cafes where locals danced and drank all evening, where the kids’ love of football is all-consuming and the sport is the only thing they really have in life. But also where the parents know how hard life really is and how little support is given by the state and so can often take out anger on their own kids.

Translating for the Dutch coaches as Jose Mourinho once did for Sir Bobby Robson in Barcelona (not that I’m drawing parallels), we coached a couple of sessions over a couple of hours as the sun set over the pitch and the posh, newly-built financial buildings and hotels in the distance became merely black shadows jutting into the sky.

Dogs roamed, and were occasionally hit by a stray ball. One clearance from defence rose towards the small floodlights and landed in a 2×2 metre balcony. A woman came out after some shouts from below and dropped it back down for play to resume.

I’m looking forward to going back there this week. It’s got genuine character, whereas my other location does not match the aggression of the players who take to it.

Iguazu Falls

Now, for the wonder of the world that I teased in the beginning. Iguazu Falls lies on the border between Brazil and Argentina while the border with Paraguay is a few miles to the west.

It is a collection of preposterously sized waterfalls that run across the land for miles. It’s the largest waterfall system in the world and has been in films like Moonraker, Black Panther and Miami Vice.

They were apparently formed when a God cut the Iguazu river in half. He found out his wife-to-be had fled with her mortal lover and so he split the river into hundreds of huge sections causing them to fall to their death. There are many other legends including serpent gods. The reality is something I probably learnt in my Geography A-Level but can’t remember in great detail.

Me and a friend from the hostel flew out to Puerto Iguazu on Saturday afternoon in jeans and coats caused by the mild Buenos Aires weather. We stepped off the plane into 80% humidity and 29 degree heat and quickly changed into shorts. That made me realise just how far we had actually flown. It’s not quite a short trip north of Buenos Aires, you in fact bypass the whole of Uruguay and travel hundreds of miles.

We suffered from the many mosquitos and woke the next morning to take a bus to the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls. There, we walked on various trails, seeing the waterfalls from all angles, feeling the mist rising from many metres below and the splash coming from many metres above. In the humidity, that was refreshing. There’s not much to say about the waterfalls. Pictures, although they will never truly show the size and greatness of this place, do the job better.

The next morning, I went over to the Brazilian side. We were in Brazil for less than three hours, but it was worth it.

Then we flew home and were greeted back at the hostel by a collection of new volunteers from various places around the world. This evening, we’re going to watch River Plate (the current South American champions) play in the continent’s biggest club football tournament. That’ll be after coaching again.

Until next week…

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