Friday, January 13, 2006

Back To The Beach

Puerto Madryn, Argentina

After our return to Ushuaia (U), the OC was presented with some choices. We had to be in Buenos Aires (BA) on or about the 15th, but how we were to get there was an open question. Two likely routes presented themselves. The first was to travel inland along the Argentine side of the Andes. This route afforded lots of opportunities to trek, admire glaciers, and be bumped around in crappy buses on semi-paved roads. The second was to follow the good road along the coast and stop somewhere that the water is warm and the beer is cold. Since we had seen enough ice to last for quite some time, we opted to thaw our toes in the warm sands of Puerto Madryn (PM) rather than further their transition into carbonite in the mountains.

All buses out of U were booked until well in the next week, so we were forced to opt for a convenient and competitively priced flight/bus combo. The OC left early in the morning, spent an afternoon kicking around in the somewhat spooky town of Rio Gallegos, then jumped on an overnight bus to PM in the afternoon. We arrived to gloriously warm sunshine and checked into a fusty (according to Lonely Planet) little place 2 minutes from the shore. Rather than go straight for the sun and sand, various errands were pursued. I had a very intense need for a haircut. My short-cropped travel-do was just about at honkey-afro status. In addition, Jason had let his hair go so long that he was starting to look a bit normal. After a unsuccessful random search, I inquired in desperation at the tourist information bureau. Surprisingly, they presented us with the precise location of three options in easy walking distance. That is some good tourist info.

We stumbled into option #1 and hastily announced our desires. Jason was looking to go blond. I was just looking to stop looking like Kramer all the damn time. Jason got his turn first in the big chair. This particular hair-cuttery was tailor-made for the OC. Owned and operated by a youngish mom called Natalia, it was apparently HQ for a group of well-coifed young hipster girls that came and went among an avalanche of kisses, hugs, and mobile phone bleeps. I dozed off for a bit and woke to find a hastily drawn "no sleeping" sign posted conspicuously before my eyes. The staff pumped us full of mate (see Argentine food article to come), bought us coffee, and were generally a good laugh all around. Jason's color job went well and I took my place for a very quick "#2 all around" cut with a beard-trimming to match. I look like a reasonable man again.

After the cuts, we hung out for a bit chatting with Natalia over cigarettes. I got her to sign my neck so I could be a legitimate piece of hair art. Jason took a few photos of the three of us in questionable poses. After some resistance, we convinced Hair Captain N to join us for supper. She led the way to a nearby parilla joint and did the ordering on our behalf. A mighty all-Spanish conversation erupted over a pile of grilled lamb, a nice salad, and a bottle of distinctively Argentine wine. I stuggled a bit to understand the goings on, but I believe that Jason and Natalia were arguing the relative merits of life in big cities and smaller towns. Jason was avowedly in the former camp. I busied myself scarfing down chimichurri-enhanced lamb. It was damn good.

We spent at least one full afternoon chilling on the beach. We were joined by a mixed group heavy on the kids and light on the (non-South American) tourists. The number of children and pregnant women in PM stood out like a knocked-up belly. There is a lot of birthing going on in these parts. It is not yet clear if this is a pan-Argentine issue or something localized to the Patagonian coast. We made the long-ish walk up to the "Ecocenter" - a sort of natural history museum focused on life in the Patagonian sea. I learned some interesting bits about sea lions and admired the view from the observation tower. This part of Argentina is famous for sea birds and mammals, kayaking, scuba, windsurfing, and other adventure sports. I am somewhat confused to report that the OC indulged in exactly none of these offerings. After Antarctica, rest trumped adventure and nature pretty soundly.

We made an effort to go out our last night in town, but pool with the local teenagers and lonely beers in a nice but hardly active DJ bar were all the action we could scrape up. Night life in this hood starts on the late side and we had to be up early. Lame, I know, but I am tired of traveling drunk, then sleepy, then hungover. It is hard to count the number of times I have boarded a bus or plane in this state - not in small part because I can not remember many of those instances at all. We left town thoroughly thawed, in good health, and ready for the bright lights of BA. I gotta side with Jason on this one, big cities are where it's at.


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