Argentina – Part 1

By Johnie Jonker

During Feb/Mar 2006 a colleague and I had the good fortune to visit Argentina for the installation of observation equipment on helicopters of the La Plata Police Airwing. La Plata is a university town 50km SE of Buenos Aires.

After an uneventful journey via Brazil with an overnight stop at a local hotel prior to getting a connecting flight the following day, we arrived in Buenos Aires from where a pre-arranged shuttle took us to the Hotel Corregidor in La Plata.

Uneventful maybe, but only due to taking precautions prior to leaving home. Brazil being a Yellow Fever zone, requires visitors to be vaccinated against this disease prior to departure from their home country. Not liking needles, I argued that as I am not visiting that part of Brazil where this disease is prevalent – just down the road from the airport as a transit passenger – this injection should not be required. I thought I was making progress with this argument, when the following scenario was explained to me: Upon arrival in Brazil, I am going to be asked to present my Yellow Fever vaccination certificate to the immigration official. Should I be unable to produce this, there are two options: Return home on the next available flight at your own cost, or have the relevant injection administered by a customs official. The thought of the second option somehow made me feel faint straight away and I resignedly went for the injection at my local travel clinic. Admittedly, it did not hurt that much.

Upon completion of our daily working activities at the local airfield – being picked up by the police at the hotel every morning, arriving back at around 4pm – Piet and I had long evenings to discover the town – shops stayed open till 7 pm – and see the sights. We also rarely dined at the hotel, but preferred any of the numerous restaurants in close vicinity.

After the second World War, many Germans (also Italians) left Europe and settled in Argentina, putting up breweries and restaurants. Two streets up from the hotel was one such German restaurant, which we frequented on more than one occasion. The fact that it had a genuine German name and typical beer-related logo did not necessarily mean that anyone working in the restaurant understood a single word of it. Their German was therefore on a par with their English.

Trying to decipher the menu we managed to work out the difference between chicken, beef and fish, but noted that absolutely no mutton was available. This puzzled me, as I distinctly remember attending an event as a student, advertised as an “Argentynse skaapbraai” [Argentinian sheep barbeque], where the sheep carcass was stretched flat and supported diagonally over the fire, almost like one side of a tent. Oh well, maybe a different part of Argentina then, or I was misled.

On our first visit we pointed to an item on the menu and were pleasantly surprised with a really good steak. The waiter fortunately understood what “birra” meant, which helped. Imagine our surprise when we visited the same restaurant a few nights later and ordered the same item, getting something looking and tasting completely different. In an attempt to get to the bottom of this enigma – via hand-signs and our best Spanish – we finally understood from the waiter the following: The previous time we had pointed at this item on the menu, we did so halfway through the description. This time we pointed 4 words on (in the same description). “Eet no same”. Dead right there, mate. Eat was very different.

On another evening, we made a unique discovery. We visited a nice family restaurant (although judging by the age of the patrons, it looked a bit like pensioners day at Checkers) right behind the hotel. What made it unusual was that it had an ENGLISH menu.

Also unique, was that the tables came with complementary peanuts. Roasted, but still in the shell. No provision was made to place the empty shells somewhere, but we noticed shells all over the floor throughout the restaurant. So, blending with the locals, we also tossed the shells over our shoulders as we worked through the contents of the bowl. It felt quite rebellious messing like this and not having to clean up afterwards. Oh, what fun!

Anyway, the mussels – with no garlic – I ordered, were tiny. Like the oysters you get in the tins, easily more than a 100 in a cereal bowl. The taste got a bit tedious towards the end, so we decided that we’ll be looking for a restaurant that serves Mexican food real soon.  

Regarding the language barrier, some keen local (Sefrican) linguists sometimes consider visiting this country for an extended holiday in order to practise their theoretical Spanish. This is not the place to do so, as the language has a large spattering of Italian intermixed. For learning a pure Spanish, Uruguay – just across the river mouth from Buenos Aires – is the better place.

In addition to our evenings out, we had one weekend of intensive sightseeing, and the following two parts describe this.

Part 2 to follow



One Response to “Argentina – Part 1”

  • Nice bit of humorous writing. Where is part 2?