Mar Del Plata, Argentina

Having arrived in Mar del Plata on what was allegedly a cold night, according to my couchsurfing host (varying under 10 degrees) I was treated to a light supper of pasta and eggs before heading to bed. I had arrived via coach from Bahia Blanca, around midnight, and chased around the city with a taxi driver looking for an open bank, (all the bank machines are kept securely behind glass doors in cash lobbies). Needless to say the ride cost me more than what a hostel would have cost for the night. That's why I saw sense i staying longer than just the one night.

This city set the scene for my first couch surfing experience. My host's unrivalled hospitality was remarkable. Just below her apartment the local store looked like an epicurean delicatessen that once would have thrived in the Ireland of the 80s. Cured meats, hefty wheels of cheese, local beers, salads, canned vegetables, and confectionery of all kinds filled the shelves, choc-a-bloc, in a display that at home in our modern economy we would call a rare treat, reserved for only the high streets, of our most fashinable neighbourhoods. But I guess this was a good neighbourhood, two blocks from the shore of the Atlantic, and wider reaches of the Rio Plata estuary.

Apparently the place is 'black' with people in the summer time, literally shoulder to shoulder along the urban beach front, so it's just as well I came in the 'winter' (ha... they don't know the meaning of the word).

As is customary in this culturally finely tuned nation, the public free-art is of a high standard reflecting the effect of critical-mass, and quite incisive in its cynicism and black humour. The less political messages still carry a nice edge of causticity, and visual weight.

I have been questioned in the past about my attitudes toward urban design in my work and in my personal exchanges. I will always marvel at the endeavours of mankind in the construction of buildings and places of this scale. This is the "Havanna" building (not the correct title - but home of the Havanna confectionery conpany, whose "Alfajores" though wider than the average mouth, are eaten with one lift of a hand, such is their delectability). These apartments have a fairly unrivalled view across the Atlantic, and should the weather be better as it might in January the goings-on of the sun-bathers below.

Cesar Pelli, architect of the Petrons Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, himself an Argentine native has come home to do this, the first of three towers on the beach front. The attention to detail in design is evident in the crisp edges and corners, the dedication to design quality imbued in the appropriateness of geometric forms, uncompromising intelligence in construction execution - all in cast-in-situ concrete, the material of choice here, always elegant, valuer engineerd, and all-purpose - why the hell not? (oh yeah, trade unions... forgot that).

Though the economy may be faltering, it is evident that there is less hubbub about tall buildings, their effect on the neighbours, and it would not surprise me if the general approach to developement, is one of uncomplicated straightforwardness and frank aspiration.

Yours truly enjoying the big city, tallest building in Mar Del Plata behind me. (Buenos Aires yet to come...)

And on my second night, the red carpet was rolled out for me by these great people. Left to right; Diana (Col.), Agustina, my host (Arg.), Ursula (Col.) Benoit (Fr.), Vicki (Arg.), Gurutz (Basque), Anthony (Fr.), Nancy(Arg.) and Laura (Col.). Laura served us up a lovely evening meal and we danced until the small hours. These fine people all work as researchers at the Instituto de Investigaciones en Ciencia y Technologia de Materials, at the Universidad de Mar Del Plata.

I was very interested to hear from the Columbians of the travel delights awaiting me in their home country, such as the City of Cartagena. Just Google the damn thing, and make sure your face is close to the keyboard so your jaw doesn't hurt when it hits the floor. I'm already there in my mind and soul. The body as usual leaves one down, badly.

Then it was off to the club with Nancy and Agustina, "Wallace" (as in William Wallace, another Gallic hero held in high esteem on this side of the Atlantic) in fact; "You may take our lives, but you'll never take our freedom" is the club motto, emblazoned on the interiors. Argentine disco music, or at least what was playing in this club, sounds basic enough on the radio, but when the auld Reggaeton is blasted out en masse, its farly infectious, and the sweat cannot be seen on our faces here - but then again, I don't remember whether this was taken before or after the club.

Lord, those natives can really move. I enjoyed myself, and I even got a fist pump from some lad that looked like Cristiano Ronaldo for dancing with two chicks at the same time; obviously the fact that it was all good clean fun was completely lost on that fella.

[some pictures removed]

Sunday was nice and slow with a pleasant walk through the commercial district, and the mandatory injection of sugar by way of Argentine ice-cream treats. The selection is good, and I elected to go for the chocolate in both forms "Chocolate de las Fundadores" (I'm Reneral Roca is rolling in his grave) - nuts, caramel, coconut, dulce de leche, white and dark together (just like Brazil) ..... description pointless, it has to be experienced.

Someone said, a seal would be the right animal here. Not a lion, or an eagle, no not an elephant, no.... Hmm... is there a less "elegant" animal perhaps. And this is just one of two seal bookends framing the bay from the street.

Arrroooooo-gaaaaaaahhh !!

Agusinta prepared some savoury cream biscuits later that evening and we washed them down in company with Vicki as I planned my next stage of the trip. A few cups of sweet Mate later and the belly was crying out for some gentle food lining, it can be rough stuff, that gaucho fuel. You know you are among good people however when they share their customs with you and their mate; it is a privilege to meet such good people - jayziz, its like being at home sure.

Thanks Agustina for making my stay so nice - final meal being served up in Mar Del Plata, Salchichas with Potato Gratin and Salad. Yum.

Just landed in Buenos Aires..... Awwwww yeaaah.