Velatropa: A Hidden Eco-Village in Buenos Aires

There were many occasions during my time in Buenos Aires when I just felt the need to get out of the city and spend time with nature, something which wasn’t always easy to do. During a particularly bad period, after losing my first job and being kicked out of the apartment I’d moved in to just ten days earlier (long story), I decided I had to find an escape. A simple Google search for nature reserves lead me to discover Velatropa, an eco-village hidden behind one of the campuses of UBA, where a small community resided.

Velatropa

A sunny day in Velatropa

Velatropa was started by students from the urban design faculty in 2007 and is now dominated by young porteños and travellers, many of whom sleep in tents and treehouses. Members of the community live off what the city throws away and there are several permanent eco-buildings on-site, including a meeting space, library, art studio and kitchen. I was fascinated by this concept and eager to visit the community to find out more, but I’d heard it was rather tricky to locate, so I decided to tell a few friends about my new discovery and hope they’d join me on my mission to find it.

Playground

The eco-village’s playground

It wasn’t actually until a few months later that we finally got round to visiting this intriguing place, but we certainly chose the right day for it, for the sun was shining and it was lovely and warm outside. We had printed a map and directions off the internet, but still struggled to find Velatropa after getting off the bus; all that seemed to lie before us was a large wood with a few odd signs and bits of material. Once delving a little deeper, however, we came across something that began to resemble the pictures I’d seen and noticed people wandering between the trees in the distance. It wasn’t long before we caught up with these people, who introduced themselves and welcomed us to Velatropa.

Gardening

Helping out with the gardening

Some of the community members had been there only a few days, whilst others had been living at Velatropa for years. They showed us around their eco-village and explained what everything was and why it was there, along with the different ways in which they each contributed towards its development. We sat with them chatting and drinking mate in the sunshine, then spent a short time helping them out with some gardening. They told us they hold a series of workshops, whereby they teach others how to make art from waste and build structures using discarded materials, amongst other things. Towards the end of the day, they asked if we’d like to take part in a ‘sex education’ workshop, which sounded interesting so we thought “why not!” and went along with it.

Winter Solstice Festival

Chilling at the winter solstice festival

The workshop was basically a conversation about sex (in Spanish) that resulted in everyone giving each other massages, which was a bit odd but also quite amusing. Gradually, the sun began to set and the air turned cold, so we headed back to the centre of town, bidding farewell to our new friends. A few weeks later, I discovered that a winter solstice festival was taking place at Velatropa, with food, music, and more workshops (woohoo!) This time, I dragged a different group of friends along and we explored some more, stumbling upon things I had missed the first time round and chatting with new members of the community.

Tree hammock

Being silly in the big tree hammock

At one point, I spotted a giant hammock hanging high between two trees, with a rather sketchy rope ladder leading up to it, and decided it would be fun to go up there with some wine and watch the madness from above. People were dancing and playing drums beneath us, young children ran around freely and wafts of marijuana continually drifted through our nostrils. Then came the vegan dinner – no idea what it was, but it tasted good! After that, we decided to leave Velatropa, this time for the last time; we could have stayed and slept in the trees, but our comfortable beds were beckoning (plus we’d run out of wine). If, like me, you find city life rather suffocating at times, it’s worth taking the time to find places like this- who knows how many Velatropas there are dotted around the world…

Why Argentina is Wonderful (and Istanbul is not)

I eventually managed to tear myself away from the magnificent country that is Argentina, where I spent sixteen happy months in the company of some very special people. Although admittedly I was growing tired of Buenos Aires, which made me want to leave the entire country, as soon as I began travelling round the north, I was reminded of why this is such a great place to be. It was my final month and I wanted to make the most of it, so I booked myself on a train to Tucuman, which sits right at the end of the line (a good 30 hours from the capital). On the way I befriended an old lady, who taught me card games and shared her coffee, and we chatted almost non-stop. Then, upon arrival, I hopped straight on a bus to Tafí del Valle, a pretty little town surrounded by mountains, where I stayed for three nights. Over the course of those days, I met a guy from Amaicha, another nearby town, who showed me around on his motorbike, several students from La Plata, with whom I visited the Quilmes Ruins and two brothers, one who owned a restaurant next to my hostel and the other who played there in pen̄as every night alongside a friend of theirs.

Walking over the Quilmes Ruins

Walking over the Quilmes Ruins

Having had such a good start to my trip, I didn’t think it could get any better, but I continued to meet more lovely people, who showed a genuine interest in getting to know me and spending time in my company. Cafayate was next, where I spent a couple of nights with a friendly girl named Flor and Alvaro, one of the brothers from Tafí. We watched the World Cup matches together, explored the town and its surroundings, cooked, sang and danced non-stop in the local bars. One day, we drove through the breathtaking Quebrada de las Conchas and made a stop at Alemanía, once a thriving railway town, where now only approximately ten families reside. It’s quite a spooky place, and the people living there aren’t used to receiving foreigner visitors, yet they too were extremely friendly towards us. Overall, my time in Cafayate was fun-filled and I have many fond memories of this special and unique place.

The residents of Alemanía

The residents of Alemanía

Throughout the trip, I encountered several musicians and began travelling with two of them, Leo and Mariano, along with a Dutch girl named Rose. The four of us walked, talked, laughed and ate delicious meals together, and each night the boys played Blues songs, which Rose and I would sing along to. I was in my element; music, food, stunning natural scenery and the best company I could have asked for. It was perfect. Sadly though, all good things must come to an end and, after a few weeks of hopping from one tiny town to the next, it was time to return to the big city. However, I decided to return to Tafí del Valle, the place where it all began, one last time along the way, accompanied by Leo. On the first evening, Leo and Alvaro played together in the restaurant and wowed the diners, who were clearly more accustomed to hearing Argentine folklore than Blues songs. We then spent the rest of the night jamming and one thing I’ll never forget is hearing the two guys and Guito, the other musician, create an incredible song out of nowhere, which they played for ages while I simply sat and listened in amazement.

The awesome foursome: Leo, Mariano, Rose and me

The awesome foursome: Leo, Mariano, Rose and me

Although I wasn’t particularly looking forward to being in Buenos Aires once again, I was very happy when, on my final night, several of my closest friends in the city came to an asado that I’d organised. As well as sharing a delicious meal and several glasses of wine, we reminisced over what had been a truly wonderful year and I was given some touching gifts, such as a personalised Argentinian flag which they’d all written messages on. Leaving was tough, as I had to say goodbye to a number of people that I really love, but I knew that I was returning to people I love back in the UK too.

My last night in Buenos Aires

My last night in Buenos Aires

Unfortunately, a not-so-enjoyable experience was to follow: flying home. Not only did I have to endure a lengthy stopover in Sao Paulo but, when it came to catching a second flight from Istanbul, I was informed by the airport screens that all flights had been delayed by approximately eight hours due to a storm. Groaning with despair, I rushed over to the helpdesk in an attempt to change my flight, but clearly everyone else had the same idea as the queue was endless. Still, I stuck it out, though the whinging and complaints made by other passengers, the rudeness of the staff and the overall negative vibe made it practically unbearable. Fortunately I was able to change flights, which was just as well, as my original flight was later cancelled. We all had to wait in a stuffy waiting room as the new flight became gradually more and more delayed and, despite being extremely tired, I was determined not to fall asleep for fear of missing the darn thing. Typically though, as I trudged from Gate 301, the original boarding gate, to Gate 225, which was literally at the other end of Atatürk Airport, I managed to drop my passport without even realising, until I’d almost arrived. In a state of panic, I began screaming at the nearest security guard that he HAS to help me find it, as I’ve already waited an eternity for this flight and now, as it’s finally ready for boarding, I have lost the crucial document. He simply tells me to ‘try the information desk’, and so I run there, sobbing helplessly and receiving patronising comments from the people I run past, only to discover another epic queue. This time, I simply barged to the front and, to my utmost relief, saw the passport lying on the desk. With that, I grabbed it and continued running. Despite the odds, I did eventually make it to London where, just to top it all off, I was informed that my luggage has been misplaced… an absolute quilombo, as they say in Argentina. However, two nightmarish days of travelling was all worth it for the two unforgettable years I’d spent abroad.

Back in the UK!

Back in the UK!

So that is why, in my opinion, Argentina is so wonderful and, although I am extremely happy to be back, I know I will miss that country and its people every day until I finally have the chance to return.

An ambitious bike ride

I’m not a city person – far from it in fact – so living in a city the size of Buenos Aires, where the pace is quick, the traffic relentless and the noise and smell at times unbearable, I’d often find myself longing to be somewhere rural and remote; I certainly got what I wished for on this particular occasion. It was August (winter time in Argentina) and I was itching to do something different with my weekend. I began browsing the BsAs weekend getaway section on Couchsurfing and spotted something about a bike trip to a small town in the provinces, where the plan was to camp and enjoy some time out of the city. Without hesitation, I got in touch with the guy organising it all and he said I’d be more than welcome to join. My next step was to try and obtain all the things I didn’t yet have but needed for the trip, such a tent, sleeping bag, roll mat and bike (everything basically). I borrowed a sleeping bag off a friend, a rather dodgy bike with no gears from one of my colleagues and a tent from Julian, the guy at my local sandwich shop, who I bought my lunch off every day. After packing a small bag, stuffing a Tupperware box full of sausage pasta and buying a few other snacks and drinks, I was ready to go.

En route to Lujan

En route to Lujan

It all started well, as the sun was shining and everyone appeared to be in a good mood. I knew nobody, but then quite a few other people were in the same boat, so it didn’t really matter. We first boarded a train with our bikes from Retiro, Buenos Aires’ main station, to Lujan, which is approximately 60 miles away. It was my first time on a train in Argentina and I was amazed at the way they functioned; the doors didn’t close, people would just hop on and off without the train really stopping, and everyone was drinking and lighting up cigarettes and joints- it was awesome!

The bike ride

The bike ride

Upon arrival in Lujan, we all took a few pictures of the town and its impressive cathedral, before hopping on our bikes and beginning the journey to our destination. It was a beautiful bike ride, but on this useless, gearless bike and with all my stuff on the back, I found myself getting rather tired. Hours passed and we’d barely taken a break, but we had to keep going, as it was beginning to get dark and we were worried we wouldn’t make it to the campsite in time. There was another minor issue – we’d lost Lucas, the guy with all the maps and information, as he’d gone back to accompany a friend who was struggling with the pace. Unsurprisingly, we got lost but, by some miracle, we stumbled across another campsite in a town called Capilla del Señor and were told there was enough space for all of us to crash. Once we’d all put up our tents, we lit a big fire, made some mate and laid all the food we’d brought with us out on the table, which got shared and passed around (my sausage pasta went down a treat). There was whisky too, naturally, and plenty of weed to go around. I was beginning to relax and enjoy my surroundings as, even though it was freezing cold by this stage, we were in a peaceful spot beneath a star filled sky, which was about as different from Buenos Aires as I could have hoped.

Dinner at the campsite

Dinner at the campsite

My mood changed for the worse though when I eventually went to bed, for I was exhausted but knew I was going to get no sleep once it occurred to me that I’d brought along a lightweight sleeping bag and forgotten about the mat. I can safely say now that it was the coldest I have EVER been, colder than when I was camping along the Inca Trail, colder than the tiny room with a broken heater beside the Great Wall of China, where the conditions were also fairly frosty. I spent the entire night shivering and checking my watch every five minutes, simply waiting for the sun to rise so I would finally return to a normal temperature. To make matters worse, my muscles were aching like crazy from all the cycling.

The beautiful Capilla del Señor

The beautiful Capilla del Señor

The following day, the majority of the group wanted to continue cycling but Lucas and his friend, who’d finally shown up, said they’d prefer to spend the day relaxing in the sunshine. A guy that I’d been chatting to a fair amount, whose name was Gaby, also decided to stick around, so I thought I’d join them. Besides, it was Sunday so I had to return to the city that night. After much walking, talking, sunbathing and meat eating, we slowly made our way to the train station (if you could even call it that) to catch a train back to Buenos Aires. This is when the picture of an idyllic weekend in the countryside that I had in my mind started to turn sour… we waited and waited, only to be told that all trains departing from the station that day had been cancelled because the conductor simply hadn’t shown up. None of us had the money to pay for another night’s camping, or to buy a proper meal, so we sat at the station eating crackers with cheese and drinking box wine. I began to see the funny side, and suggested we took all our stuff and cycled round the town, thinking it could be quite entertaining in our tipsy states (and it was). We stumbled into a bar at one point, scrimping together the last of our pennies to buy a beer each, then eventually made our way back to the station to set up ‘camp’ at around 2am.

Attempting to stay warm at the train station

Attempting to stay warm at the train station

The next morning was even worse than the previous one; I woke up tired and achy once again, this time with such a bad hangover that I was sick all over the train tracks. With no food, no money and no idea when a train would finally show up, our only option was to remain at the station and hope for the best. Finally, after approximately five hours, Lucas spotted the unmistakeable outline of a train in the distance, slowly making its way towards us, at which we all began rejoicing. We had just boarded and slotted our bikes into place, when the conductor marched up to us and insisted that we get off immediately, as bikes were not permitted on this particular train. I could hardly believe my ears and began protesting in my broken Spanish, but he clearly wasn’t in the mood to argue. At first we refused to move, but the other passengers began to complain, so we reluctantly took our possessions and disembarked the train. In a moment of blind rage, I threw my bottle of water at the conductor and yelled something rude at his back, as the train gradually pulled away. We were screwed.

Waiting for the train...

Waiting for the train…

The only way to get back now, or so we believed, was on our bikes, though it was already getting dark. However, just minutes later, we managed to find a man with a truck and, after a small amount of pleading, he agreed to take all of us, plus our bikes, to Lujan- it appeared our luck had changed. The journey still seemed to take forever, mainly because we were all hungry, thirsty (should never have chucked that water) and desperate for a shower. We made it back to Retiro at long last though and I cycled home through the city on my dodgy bike in the dark, struggling to keep my eyes open. Thankfully, I made it back in one piece and, after a decent meal and shower, I crawled into my bed, with a newfound appreciation of the city.

All aboard the rescue truck!

All aboard the rescue truck!

How One Article Led to Two Magnificent Weeks Away

Last year, I visited the ghost town of Villa Epecuén for the weekend with a couple of friends. We had the pleasure of meeting the town’s last remaining resident, Pablo Novak, who fled along with everyone else when the town was flooded back in 1985, but chose to return once the flood waters had receded. Pablo had proudly shown us articles based on Epecuén’s story, and demonstrated his collection of photos of the town, past and present. His loyalty to Epecuén touched me, and inspired me to write an article based on our experience there, which I wanted to send him. However, Pablo lives without electricity and I don’t even think the post reaches his small house in the woods, so before I left I asked him how I’d be able to show him what I’d written. He then told me to contact his grandson, whose name was Christian, before scribbling his email address down on a scrap piece of paper for me.

Pablo Novak: Villa Epecuén's only resident

Pablo Novak: Villa Epecuén’s only resident

A week or so later, I wrote my article and sent it Christian’s way, along with a note explaining who I was and why I’d chosen to write about Epecuén. To my delight, Christian was really excited to receive my message and thanked me profoundly for my words and photos. We continued to talk over Facebook and at one point he offered to host me, should I wish to return to Carhué, Epecuén’s neighbouring city- I decided to take him up on this offer. Christian picked me up from Buenos Aires on Tuesday March 18th and drove me to back to Carhué, along with his father and, throughout the journey, both quizzed me on my opinion on, well, pretty much everything! I was asked what I thought about Margaret Thatcher, Rolls Royce, French perfume, the Argentine president, mate, Benny Hill, Rover, some Italian motorcycle brand I’d never heard of, the Falklands War… by the end of all the questioning, I was exhausted and passed out in the back of the car.

A bright, sunny morning at Christian's house

A bright, sunny morning at Christian’s house

As I awoke, we were just pulling into Carhué. Christian showed me into his house and insisted that I took his bed, while he slept on the sofa. Part of me was reluctant to do so, for I felt it was a bit unfair that I should have his nice comfortable bed after he’d done all the driving, but the other part was very grateful for such luxury. We both enjoyed a cup of tea at his kitchen table before saying goodnight to one another and heading bedwards. I felt like my head had barely hit the pillow when I awoke to the sound of karma karma karma karma karma chame-le-on blaring out of the speakers.  It was morning, my first morning in Carhue, Christian was making breakfast with 80’s songs playing in the background, the sun was shining and I felt very content.

Sunset on the beach

Sunset on the beach

Over the course of the next two weeks, I met all of Christian’s friends, went on lengthy walks, joined a tennis class, swam in the salty lagoon, played cards, ate copious amounts of meat and drank copious amounts of mate. Two backpackers, who had previously visited Carhué as part of their trip, returned and they too were welcomed into Christian’s house. The four of us enjoyed many meals cooked by the other residents of the city, sunsets on the beach, music at all hours of day and night and soaking up the relaxing atmosphere that came with this beautiful, special place. One day, we were invited to an amazing house in the countryside, where we ate asado in the sunshine, trotted around on horse-back and explored the seemingly infinite grounds.

Enjoying some peace in the countryside

Enjoying some peace in the countryside

My last two days, however, were perhaps the most special; I had met a Bolivian woman the previous week when asking for directions and we had begun chatting, then she introduced me to her two children and we spent some time together, before I told her I had to move on. After she urged me to return, I made sure I did so, taking the remains of an apple crumble I’d made the day before with me. Seeing the joy on this woman’s face when I went back to see her was really touching; I hadn’t expected my visit to mean so much to her! She welcomed me into her house, where she served fresh fruit and wonderful home-made bread, and we chatted some more, while the children ran about the kitchen excitedly. I stayed for a while, helped the elder of the two girls with her maths homework (though I think she was more capable of multiplying fractions than I was) and then bid farewell to the family once again. On my last night, I cooked a spaghetti bolognese for Christian and his friends, and we ate, drank red wine and reminisced about the past days spent together, all of which had been very happy… and it was all thanks to that one article! And Christian’s good, kind nature of course. To all the people from Carhué who read this, gracias por todo y espero verlos pronto! Besos, chau for now!

Florentina, my Bolivian friend, and one of her daughters

Florentina, my Bolivian friend, and one of her daughters

Burning Argentina: Aurora 2014

The legendary Burning Man in Nevada attracts thousands of festivalgoers each year and, as a result of its success, different versions of the festival now take place in South Africa, Spain, Australia and Japan to name a few. This year saw the birth of Burning Argentina, aka Aurora, near a small town called Bragado in the Buenos Aires provinces. After hearing the news from a friend’s housemate, I instantly decided this was something I simply couldn’t miss.

The location of Aurora 2014

The location of Aurora 2014

The week leading up to the event was spent buying and preparing meals to take with us, choosing which fancy dress to wear and ensuring that we had all the necessities for four days in el medio de la nada. After waking up early on Saturday to pack the car, we set off with a box of hash brownies for breakfast and three hours of pounding trance to get us in the mood. We managed to reach Bragado without any problems, but then got significantly lost (probably the fault of the brownies) when trying to find the exact location of the festival. Eventually we saw the Aurora symbol on a white gatepost, the entrance to the festival; we’d made it!

The Aurora symbol

The Aurora symbol

Upon arrival, I was quite surprised at how few people there were, but as the festival progressed I began to realise this was a good thing, as it made for a more intimate setting. I decided to take it easy that first day, get to know our neighbours and explore our surroundings. A five-minute walk from the campsite was a forest, which had been decorated with multi-coloured mannequins and other miscellaneous objects, such as light bulbs and a phone box. The DJ booth had also been set up there and, on a vast patch of grass just behind, lay the wooden man himself. After wandering around for a bit, I joined in on the communal asado and chatted to the others over a few cups of wine, before gradually drifting off beside the campfire.

The colourful forest

The colourful forest

The stifling heat made it nigh on impossible to sleep in, so we got up early the next morning and headed to the lake for a swim. The temperature of the water was perfect, the soft mud at the bottom massaged my feet and, as I observed my surroundings, I could see nothing other than trees, butterflies and seemingly endless fields of corn. We were as remote as remote could be and that made me incredibly happy. People found different ways to amuse themselves during the day; the more active ones would embark on adventurous trails, kick a football about and kayak along the river, whilst others would relax with music and card games, draw pictures and smoke shisha. As the sun went down, everyone would don their costumes and walk around handing out little gifts such as lollipops, whistles, glow bands and stickers. Unexpectedly, there was a wedding that night, conducted by men in masks, which saw the bride and groom get covered in foam as spectators cheered, took pictures and threw rice on them. Up at the woods, various different DJ’s played a mixture of music, ranging from ambient to techno to trance, while we danced and waved our glow bands in the air. Each time cold got the better of us, we’d sit by the fire just metres away, engage in conversation with whoever else happened to be there, then return to the ‘dancefloor’ and continue. It was very easy to lose track of time, and all of a sudden I noticed it was getting light and the birds were starting to sing, as day three of the festival emerged.

The unexpected wedding

The unexpected wedding

Our last day was a good one, we hadn’t had very much sleep (again), but I felt very content nonetheless. We walked, swam, cooked pizzas on the parrilla, watched a live band up at the forest, then prepared ourselves for the climax of the festival: watching the man burn. This was quite a spectacle, which began with a procession from the campsite to the top of the hill, where the man had been raised and was ready to be ignited. As flaming branches were hurled upon him, the crowd stood and watched, their claps and cheers growing louder the more he burned. People had gongs and drums, one man even played his violin throughout, rendering it all the more mystical and dramatic. Eventually, every part of him had fallen and, as the last bit of wood turned to ashes, the beats from the DJ booth started up once again. More masks, more dancing and more strange and rather trippy episodes, such as seeing a baby armadillo run through the crowds, were to follow as we partied on into the night.

Watching the man burn away

Watching the man burn away

The blissful sunny weather that we’d been fortunate to experience finally abandoned us in the early hours on Tuesday, the last day of the festival. Once we realised that the rainwater was coming in through our tent and everything was getting soaked, we got up, packed our things in plastic bags and quickly shoved them into the car. On the way out, the car got stuck in the mud three times and had to be pushed, but we eventually made it back to Bragado, where we sat in a petrol station café, damp and delirious, clutching warm cups of coffee. It wasn’t the best end to the festival, but we’d had such fun that it seemed totally worth it, and I have nothing but fond memories of Aurora 2014.

Dead mannequin: symbolic of our state on Tuesday morning

Dead mannequin: symbolic of our state on Tuesday morning

 

—VERSIÓN ESPAÑOLA—

Había unas personas del festival que no podían leer el articulo porque no saben leer inglés. Por eso, un genio que se conoce con el nombre de Cris Ferloni hizo una traducción, para que todos puedan entender. Un enorme gracias Cris!

El legendario Burning Man en Nevada, atrae a miles de personas al festival cada año, y como resultado de su éxito, diferentes versiones del festival tienen lugar en Sudáfrica, España, Australia y Japón por solo nombrar algunos. Este año vimos el nacimiento del Burning Argentina, bajo el nombre de Aurora, cerca de un pequeño pueblo llamado Bragado en la provincia de Buenos Aires. Después de habanos enterado de esto por medio de un amigo de un chico que vive con nosotros, instantáneamente decidí que era algo que simplemente no me podía perder.

Él ubicación de Aurora 2014

Él ubicación de Aurora 2014

La semana previa al evento nos la pasamos comprando comida para llevar, eligiendo que disfraz iba a usar y asegurándonos de tener todo lo necesario para esos 4 días en el medio de la nada. Después de despertarnos temprano el sábado, cargamos el auto, nos pusimos en marcha con un paquete de brownies con hachís para desayunar y tras tres horas palpitando el evento para ponernos en ambiente. Nos las arreglamos para llegar a Bragado sin ningún problema, pero entonces nos recontar perdimos (probablemente por culpa de los brownies), mientras tratábamos de encontrar la dirección exacta del festival, de repente vimos el Símbolo de Aurora en un poste blanco en una entrada. La entrada al festival! Lo habíamos logrado!

El símbolo de Aurora

El símbolo de Aurora

Una vez que llegamos, estaba un poco sorprendida por la poca gente que había, pero a medida que se iba desarrollando el festival me di cuenta de que era algo bueno, iba a ser un ambiente mas íntimo. Decidí tomarlo con calma el primer día, conocer a nuestros vecinos y explorar los alrededores. A unos 5 minutos a pié de la zona de acampe había un bosque, el cual estaba decorado con maniquíes multicolores y otros diversos objetos, como lamparitas y un teléfono. La cabina del Dj también estaba ahí y en una gran parte de pasto justo detrás, estaba acostado el hombre de madera. Tras pasear un rato, me uní al asado comunal y a conversar con los demás mediante algunas copas de vino, para de a poco estar al lado de la fogata.

El bosque de colores

El bosque de colores

El calor sofocante hizo que prácticamente fuera imposible dormir, por eso nos despertamos temprano y nos fuimos al lago a nadar un ratito. La temperatura del agua era perfecta, el barro blandito del fondo masajeaba mis pies, entonces observé a mi alrededor y no puede ver nada, mas que solamente árboles, mariposas y lo que parecían ser interminables campos de maíz. Estábamos tan lejos como se podía y eso me hizo increíblemente feliz. Las personas encontraban diferentes formas de pasar el rato durante el día, los mas activos recorrían, jugaban con una pelota de fútbol, hacían kayac a lo largo del lago, otros simplemente se relajaban con la música y jugaban a las cartas, otros dibujaban o fumaban. A medida que el sol se puso, todo el mundo se vestía con sus trajes y paseaban por ahí dando regalos como chupetines, silbatos, pulseras de colores y stickers. Inesperadamente hubo un casamiento esa noche, el cual fué llevado a cabo por hombres con máscaras, vimos a la novia y al novio cubiertos de espuma, como espectadores aplaudimos, sacamos fotos y les tiramos arroz. En el Bosque varios Dj´s pusieron una variedad de música que iba desde Ambient, a Techno y hasta Trance, mientras nosotros bailábamos y agitábamos nuestras pulseras de colores en el aire. El frío se iba apoderando cada vez mas de nosotros por lo que nos fuimos a sentar junto a una fogata a poco metros de ahí, una vez allí charlábamos con quienquiera que estuviese ahí y al ratito volvíamos a la pista. Fue realmente fácil perder la noción del tiempo, y de repente me di cuenta de que se estaba haciendo de día y los pájaros empezaron a cantar, el tercer día del festival había llegado.

La boda imprevista

La boda imprevista

Nuestro último día fue muy bueno, no habíamos dormido mucho (otra vez), pero me sentía muy contenta de todos modos. Caminamos, nadamos, cocinamos pizzas en la parrilla, vimos tocar una banda en vivo en el bosque, nos estábamos preparado para el momento culmine del festival: ver al hombre arder. Fue todo un espectáculo, comenzó con una procesión desde el camping hasta la cima de la colina, en donde había sido levantado y estaba listo para ser quemado. Le acercaron ramas encendidas y la multitud se puso de pie para observar, aplaudían y vitoreaban cada vez más fuerte mientras mas se quemaba el muñeco. Algunos tenía gongs y tambores, incluso un hombre mientras tanto tocaba el violín, lo que hacía que sea aún más místico y dramático. Al ratito, cada parte del muñeco ya se había caído y cuando hasta la última astilla de madera se convirtió en cenizas, desde la cabina del Dj los sonidos, el ritmo volvió a sonar una vez mas. Más máscaras, más baile y los episodios más extraños tuvieron lugar, como ver a un bebé Armadillo correr a través de la multitud, íbamos a seguir de fiesta toda la noche.

Mirando el hombre queme

Mirando el hombre queme

El clima soleado y la suerte que habíamos tenido finalmente nos abandonó en las primeras horas del martes, el último día del festival. Una vez que nos dimos cuenta de que el agua de lluvia entraba por nuestra carpa y todo lo que teníamos se estaba empapando, nos levantamos, guardamos nuestras cosas en bolsas de plástico y rápidamente las metimos en el auto. A la salida, el coche se quedó atascado en el barro tres veces y lo tuvimos que empujar, pero finalmente pudimos volver a Bragado, ahí nos sentamos en un café en una estación de servicio, y tomamos un poco café caliente. No fue el mejor final para la fiesta, pero nos habíamos recontar divertido, por lo que hacía que todo eso valiera la pena, no tengo mas que buenos recuerdos de Aurora 2014.

Maniquí muerto: un símbolo de nuestro estado el martes por la mañana

Maniquí muerto: un símbolo de nuestro estado el martes por la mañana

A Serendipitous Weekend Away

One of the beautiful delta islands

One of Tigre’s beautiful delta islands

As it’s so humid during the summer months, the city of Buenos Aires becomes a pretty unpleasant place to spend much time in, so many people escape to the coast or visit nearby towns in the provinces. A popular choice of destination is Tigre, for although the town is nothing to write home about, lining the delta are a number of beautiful, tranquil islands where you can pay to spend a day or camp overnight. As usual, I wasn’t very organized and didn’t do any prior research into camping, so was fairly shocked when we were told it would cost AR$170 per person for one night, which was far more than we’d expected (or brought along with us). Needless to say, we spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find an alternative and by the evening, we were on a bus heading to a different town where we’d heard that camping was cheaper. There was a clear reason for that though; the campsite was right in the middle of the ghetto and, after a random woman on the bus overheard us discussing our plans, she urged us not to go unless we wanted to get robbed. With that, we simply got off the bus and returned to where we’d started.

Matilda Cocina Casera: home-turned restaurant

Matilda Cocina Casera: home-turned restaurant

After a few beers, the patch of grass we’d been lying on beside the riverbank began to seem like the most appealing place to spend the night, so we took off our shoes, laid a blanket on the ground and gradually dozed off. We managed to get about three hours of sleep before the police came and insisted we move on, so we did- to the plaza just across the street. After another two hours, they returned and explained to us in rather impatient tones that they didn’t want to catch us sleeping outdoors again. By that stage it was 7am, so we just decided to stay awake and pay for day access to one of the islands. We were obviously still half-asleep though, for we managed to miss our stop on the boat and after forty minutes were told we’d have to get off and wait for one going back in the opposite direction. The stop we disembarked at was for a tiny island owned by a man who’d transformed his house into a delightful restaurant, and who allowed us lie back in his hammocks and listen to music in return for a few swigs of Quilmes. We ended up spending most of the day on this island, enjoying the peace and quiet, the lovely views over the delta and the strange little furry caterpillars, who were pretty much all we had for company.

Enjoying our (practically) private island

Enjoying our (practically) private island

Eventually a boat arrived and we reluctantly hopped on it to return to Tigre, passing the island we’d intended to visit initially and thanking our luck that we’d missed the stop; it was jam-packed full of people and didn’t look nearly as nice as our spot! Next time we’ll be sure to take a few extra pesos along with us so we can buy lunch at Matilda Cocina Casera and spend the entire day there.

A Trip To a Flooded Ghost Town

Villa Epecuen

The ruins of Villa Epecuén

Last weekend, a couple of friends and I decided to visit Villa Epecuén, a ghost town in the Buenos Aires province, which re-emerged after being destroyed by floods in the ’80s and subsequently abandoned. On Friday evening, we all hopped on a rickety train which I thought would reach the neighbouring city of Carhue just three hours later; needless to say, it turned out to be an eleven-hour train ride, and we didn’t arrive until the following morning! It was undoubtedly worth every hour though, as well as the hangover that came with ‘accidentally’ finishing all our wine on the journey.

Carhue

Our first day in Carhue

After breakfast, which consisted of coffee, croissants and ice-cream, we pitched our tents at a local camp site, then began exploring our surroundings. We hired bikes, cycled to the nearby salt lagoon, whose salinity level is topped only by that of the Dead Sea, grabbed handfuls of the squelchy mud which lay at the bottom and proceeded to have an epic mud fight. Once that got old, we simply lay back and floated upon the dense waters, soaking up the sunshine and savouring the peaceful atmosphere. Later on, once the sun had gone down, we returned to that same spot to perch on the rocks and gaze up at the millions of stars.

Salt Lagoon Carhue

Getting muddy

On Sunday morning, we awoke to storms and such strong winds that our tents almost blew away. Not the types to be easily defeated though, we got back on our bikes and cycled (against the wind) to Villa Epecuén, passing the sinister matadero we’d visited the previous day and lines of dead trees that had turned white from the salt. Upon arrival in the town, each of us shuddered at the eeriness created by the deathly silence and further enhanced by the dark, stormy skies. What were once people’s homes, hotels and restaurants now exist only as piles of rubble and, although it is of course heart-wrenching to see the dire effects caused by these floods, it was a strangely beautiful sight. The most haunting was an old playground, where the seats of the swings had fallen off but the chains continued to creak as they swayed gently in the wind.

White trees

The whitened trees

I had heard that Villa Epecuén still had one remaining resident, but presumed this must have been a rumour, as surely nobody could live in a place like this. However, as we began to make our way back, I spotted a house through the trees beside which cows were grazing and a few chickens were running about, implying there must be some form of life in this desolate town after all. We approached the house tentatively as a couple of barking dogs bounded through the doorway, followed by a tiny old man who introduced himself as Pablo Novak, ‘el único habitante’- we’d found him! What’s more, Pablo invited us in and proceeded to offer us beers, salami and delicious queso casero, before presenting us with his hefty collection of newspaper and magazine articles based on Villa Epecuén. We browsed the collection and listened in awe as he recounted tales of the town’s past and present, telling us how his father was its founder and therefore he felt a certain loyalty to the town, which caused him to return home twenty-five years after the flood waters receded. He now lives in his small farmhouse with his animals, but without electricity or any other modern-day luxuries, and still visits the town daily to walk and read the paper. I was truly reluctant to leave when our time came to return home, but I gave Pablo a big hug and promised I’d write an article for him to add to his collection. Well Pablo, here you are…

Pablo Novak

Pablo Novak, lone resident of Villa Epecuén

Living With Artisans in El Bolson, Argentina

El Bolson

The hippy town of El Bolson

In the north of Patagonian Argentina, just a few hours away from the Chilean border is El Bolson, a mellow town where a vast number of hippies migrated to from Buenos Aires back in the 1970s. One afternoon, while visiting the local feria artesenal, I caught sight of four men laughing over a bottle of wine and I think it was just because they seemed so approachable that I found myself walking over to them and introducing myself. Five hours later, I was still there, slightly dizzy from the cheap wine and the thrill that came with meeting such wonderful, charismatic people, who appeared to be equally happy in my presence. When one of them asked if I’d like to join them all in the mountains for a few days, I instantly knew it was going to be one heck of an experience and didn’t hesitate in saying yes, before returning to the hostel to pack my bags and check out.

Plaza Pagano

All wine and smiles

I ended up spending a whole week in this small, remote house in the mountains where I was suddenly experiencing the real Argentina; rather than sitting in the hostel watching other backpackers stare at their iPads, a trend which has unfortunately become so commonplace, I was watching local artisans make their jewellery and, rather than browsing the stalls down at the market, I was standing behind them helping my new friends sell.

Casona de Odile

My last night at the hostel

I spent those days with the artisans working at the market, preparing endless vegetarian meals (it appeared I was the only one who wasn’t against eating meat), trying my hardest to participate in conversations, though my Spanish was broken and their English was non-existent, and dancing around the fire as they played a variety of musical instruments until I was too exhausted to stand. One evening, we visited some friends of theirs who had invited us round for dinner and everybody sat on the floor with no plates or cutlery, eating out of the pots with their hands. I secretly loved the fact I could finally enjoy my food properly and make a mess, knowing that nobody around me cared.

Artisan fair El Bolson

Helping out at the feria

By the end of my time in El Bolson, all the other market vendors in this small town recognised me and I never walked past one without receiving a wave, a cup of wine or a brownie loco (if I was lucky). I had begun to feel like a local, rather than a tourist, which I loved although eventually I had to tear myself away so that I could continue with my travels. It was a truly amazing cultural experience, however, and one that I shall never forget.