My Wild Rover experience was certainly a bit more jolly after getting back from the Colca Canyon tour. It was a Friday, there was no reason to get up early the next day, and I now had friends, real friends. The tour group had more or less collectively decided to get drunk that night, and the meeting place would be the Wild Rover bar. I napped for a while and then found some dinner while a contingent went to Starbucks and had a backpack stolen.
When I perched myself at the bar beside my two Brazilian friends the bar was still pretty quiet and populated almost exclusively by guys, much to the Brazilians’ disgust (they’d spent much of the tour imagining scantily-clad Brasileñas dancing in various important spots, then describing the scene to us in vivid detail). They bought me a Jägerbomb and kindly pretended not to be aghast when I admitted I had no idea what I was supposed to do. (For those similarly ignorant: you recite some speech like a murmuring drunkard – the words aren’t that important – then you drop the shot glass into the redbull and down it.)
Beer was 8 soles and there was a happy hour, so by the time the others arrived at the bar I was pleasantly tipsy. Every so often someone behind the bar shouted ‘free shots’ and you were encouraged to approach the bar, tilt your head back and ceremonially receive some flavoured shot. At some point people started dancing on the bar. They induced flashing recollections of school discos with their costumes and painted faces and attention-grabbing stunts: slices of nightmares long buried under attempts at maturity. I pushed the images out and tried to find the whole situation not embarrassing.
Later, after the Brazilians had slunk off to ‘go skiing’ – as they described it the next day – there was a mass exodus to a club called Deja Vu. I was drunk enough to dance freely, albeit badly, and yet to avoid the need to buy another drink. The club had two levels and was mostly filled with gringos, Peruvian girls trying to seduce gringos, and Peruvian guys hoping to pick up the pieces. Our group mostly stuck together, dancing awkwardly in a circle and, if someone was feeling quite audacious, dancing with each other. People began to disappear mysteriously, and at around 4am I noted that my group were nowhere to be seen. I made it back to the hostel without incident, much to my surprise, and probably made a lot of noise going to bed.
Our next stop is Cruz del Condor, so called for obvious reasons: there’s lots of Condors. Despite the crowds of cameras attached to tourists’ faces, this place is special. Even in the cliff-lined valleys of Patagonia a Condor sighting was rare, a moment of gliding beauty silhouetted against the sky and then gone, disappeared down into the depths or round some corner.
But here, here the Condors come in twos and threes and fours, sometimes playing for the crowds, sometimes sitting on a rock ledge and puffing up their chests for the cameras, sometimes soaring right there, almost within reach, blocking out the sun and caressing the sky with their finger-like wings. They are so close I can see their ugly vulture heads and the distinctive white collar. I remember someone once being described as a BOBFOC: Body Off Baywatch, Face Off Crimewatch. The Condor must be the bird kingdom’s equivalent.
(Apparently in the States they say Butterface, as in ‘everything but her face’ which is rather good, except that it’s sexist (there’s no Buthisface) and it casts butter in a negative light, which should be against the law as a form of hate speech.)
A ginger-haired vendor passes. He is covered from head to toe in white cloth. On his head is a straw hat – a colonial relic – under which sits a wider green one. He looks absurd. I wonder about his ancestry: Irish? Scottish? Perhaps his great grandfather, a young dreamer bored of the grey estates of Glasgow, signed up to crew a ship bound for the Americas, and found himself here, on this very beach, when the fancy apartments were just palm trees bearing coconuts and every-coloured parrots. He saw the light, jumped ship and stayed, then founded an army of little ginger chaps to wonder the streets and remind him of Scotland.
Another vendor walks past with a useless foot. It vibrates like rubber as it flops against the sand. Those carrying lemonade carry it in cylindrical silver tubs, the ice rattles as they pass. Up above a propeller drones, mixing with the foaming sea and the cries of the vendors. It’s a plane chugging a banner through the perfect blue sky advertising a type of cachaça – sugar cane rum, the key ingredient in the Caipirinha. A few clouds congeal amongst the peaks. An ageing man stands and his belly bursts out over his shorts and comfortably lolls about. He strokes it pensively.
Max and I pitched up at Ipanema and found a space amongst the multitude and ordered a couple of chairs and an umbrella. While one of us was reading the other would swim, and then we’d switch. After an hour or so a man sat down opposite us. He wasn’t reading, and his shades prevented us seeing exactly where he was looking, but given that we were taking up most of his field of vision we assumed he was looking at us. We continued reading, although the spectre of his package looming out of focus just above the top of the page made it difficult to read productively.
A short while later an older man sat beside him, his package likewise wrapped up in nothing more than skimpy speedos. His face looked like a stretched out piece of leather, on which was printed a fixed look of vague curiosity. For the first time we look around, really look around, and see all around us gay pride flags and men with ripped torsos creaming up their equally ripped counterparts, and couples sitting side by side with matching speedos. I look across at Max, by my side in his short shorts, and he looks at me, the pale and skinny Englishman in his sports shorts, and we both go “ooohhh… so that’s why…”. We’re around Post 9, the gay-friendly part of Ipanema.
Reta is a small village with one tarmac road on the southern coast of Provincia Buenos Aires. It’s sound is rustling leaves, for the wind blows ceaselessly. On the beach it is almost unbearable. The first time we made our way there with nothing more than swimming costumes and towels, ready to sample the apparently warmer waters of the southern coast. The great dunes guarding the entrance to the beach offered ample warning of what was to come but, being unscientific, we failed to relate dunes to high winds, and so descending to the beach was quite a shock. Sand like flying needles thrashed up the beach and cut into our skin. Before we’d made it to the sea we were cowering for protection under our towels.
While the beach is not the best place to hang out during the day, as evening approaches there is no better place to be than huddled together on the slope of the dune, watching the sun sink into the sea. Only a small portion of Argentina’s coastline goes horizontally East to West; the rest is vertical, facing the Atlantic head-on. Reta is on that thin slither, to the East of the bigger Monte Hermoso, and so it is one of the few places in Argentina in which the sun does indeed set beyond the sea.