Argentina, a journey in history

Patagonia, from asylum for dreamers and people on the run, to cradle for the Latin American country’s biodiversity

09-12-2016
A picture in the middle of the austral summer, in

A picture in the middle of the austral summer, in December, of lake Nahuel Huapi. San Carlos de Bariloche, or simply Bariloche, is a beautiful skiing resort on the foothills of the Andes, overlooking the lake.

Second episode

One fact about the government’s CocinAR project is striking: it lasts ten years. Years, not months. And this in a country like Argentina, where economic and political issues abound since endless times. One fact above all: inflation is at 24% and above. Many shops won’t accept credit card payments, money withdrawals are allocated and there are constant queues in the bank. And you soon realise changing currency can turn out to be a marathon, unless you go on the black market. You find obstacles, if you want to do it legally, even when you want to sell dollars or euros and not buy them from the rare bureau de change. I didn’t get why. Authorities should facilitate change so as to get money. Instead, this way, you get fed up and ask the first fishy looking person you meet in the street.

I believe I’m not the only one, visiting Argentina for the first time at 61, but many other people are not really aware of how vast this country celebrating in 2016 two hundred years of independence from Spain really is. And then how scarce its population is. It is second only to Brazil, keeping to Latin America, and eighth in the world, with a surface of 2 million and 780 square kilometres – nine times Italy, which is 301 thousand.

Estancia San Roman Propriedad Privada, you’re welcomed with this simple sign inside a farm that is not one of the widest in Patagonia, quite the contrary, but still is one and a half times as large as Milan

Estancia San Roman Propriedad Privada, you’re welcomed with this simple sign inside a farm that is not one of the widest in Patagonia, quite the contrary, but still is one and a half times as large as Milan

However, we’re 60 million in our little handkerchief of land, 18 more than our Argentinian cousins.

The geographic emptiness is fascinating. It certainly acts as a formidable magnet in my case, but it creates problems with those who experience and are subject to it constantly. It’s no coincidence that this invitation from the ministry of tourism, in parallel with the meeting in Bariloche with all the equivalents of our province tourism assessors, 23 plus the capital, started from Patagonia, a different place with iconic features. Just like the Amazon forest for Brazil and Peru. An authentic food biodiversity heaven.

Argentina has living legends, Papa Francesco and Diego Maradona above all, and other icons characterised by passion and pain, tango, or dreams and desperation. This is Patagonia, which Bruce Chatwin brought to homes all around the world in his stories, adding even more unique, misty legends.

A moment of the picnic organised on the 3rd December on the banks of the Limay, inside Estancia San Roman. The river separates the Patagonian provinces of Neuquen and Rio Negro

A moment of the picnic organised on the 3rd December on the banks of the Limay, inside Estancia San Roman. The river separates the Patagonian provinces of Neuquen and Rio Negro

For me to dream, during a picnic on the banks of the Limay river, it was enough to know that the farm where Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid sought refuge was relatively close, some 200 km to the south, down Ruta 40. Which in Patagonia is a distance perceived differently to 200 km in Italy.Those who decide to live here, are often chased by history - people on the run, like Nazi criminals such as Erich Priebke, whose name is associated with the slaughter at the Fosse Ardeatine; some say Adolf Hitler himself – or by poverty. But for many it is also an attempt to accomplish a dream or a business investment. In any case, whatever the initial stimulus, those who live here soon develop a different perception of cold, wind and space. In a nation which is 3700 km wide, and 5300 long, going down Ruta 40, from the border with Chile and Bolivia to the southernmost tip, Patagonia is a fascinating void. Now it’s he middle of the summer. Which means 30 or more degrees in Buenos Aires, but half as much over here, if not less. Like in the Lapland compared to central-southern Europe. In just one moment you can move from sun to tempest and then again sun.

The ranch that belonged to Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid in Cholila, in the Argentinian province of Chubut in Patagonia, some 200 km south of Bariloche. Its state was already terrible when Bruce Chatwin visited in the Seventies. The building was about to collapse when local authorities decided to renovate it in 2007. You may think it strange by the area, which when it was owned by the two gunmen was 6,100 hectares wide, is not considered a special attraction, so much so there’s no information centre nor an entrance ticket. Photo taken from Wikipedia

 

The ranch that belonged to Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid in Cholila, in the Argentinian province of Chubut in Patagonia, some 200 km south of Bariloche. Its state was already terrible when Bruce Chatwin visited in the Seventies. The building was about to collapse when local authorities decided to renovate it in 2007. You may think it strange by the area, which when it was owned by the two gunmen was 6,100 hectares wide, is not considered a special attraction, so much so there’s no information centre nor an entrance ticket. Photo taken from Wikipedia

 

Everything thins out and acquires proportions it’s hard to grasp. Take the province of Rio Negro, that of Bariloche, the mecca of South American alpine skiing. It is two thirds as wide as Italy and it has 600 thousand inhabitants. So as you walk down Estancia San Ramon and ask where’s the cattle, they show you the horizon: «We have an intensive breeding farm in the north of the country, one cow per hectare». As a European, your eyes are wide open. «And here? There’s more space, one cow per 35 hectares, and we have 25,000 hectares». Around one and a half times as big as Milan: 182 square km instead of 250, given you need 100 hectares for a square km. This is one of the most ancient estancias. They say it was here that Hitler hid himself when he fled Berlin in 1945. Forget the suicide in the chancellor’s bunker. And this is where we enter the utmost hyperspace, which Argentina would prefer to be erased as much as possible from the news, like with Dallas, eternally associated with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

2. To be continued. Here’s the first episode


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