This is our fourth visit to Argentina. The last two have been short, passing through trips, way stations on route to Paraguay and the Bolivian alti Plano. So it's been interesting to have a longer stay this time. We've been closing some gaps, completing some unfinished business, but also to watch the small, incremental changes that a country makes.
Passing through the small agricultural pampa towns then, a common sighting was the heavy ribbed glass bottles set out like the doorstep milk delivery pint bottle. The soda siphon. The historical significance of soda, had been to cut the sharp edge from the local red wine. Only, now the local rotgut wins medals and has achieved world renown. Yet the tradition still lives on, now with the morning's cafe con leche, the small dimpled shot glass of carbonated water that arrives with the selection of sweetener sachets. At first I couldn't work out the blue caps with the plastic trigger handles discarded in the ditch were. It was a new discovery for the amateurish refuse archeologist. Eventually enlightenment comes. Returnable glass has given way to the polyethylene terephalate bottle, and with it the back garden industry for refills.
I've never really associated Argentina with the camper van. If one of these behemoths of the North American camping experiences hove into view, it would inevitably have a Brazilian plate, even the smaller, more compact van, ones that are such an integral part of New Zealand touring are still a rare sight. That is until a few days ago; it could be coincidence, but we're starting to find them. One was Uruguayan. A home conversion. The basic 'tranny' white van to which a blacksmith had created a bolt-on side awning, the roofracks was welded rebar, the Jerrycan carrier a pop riveted fruit crate. A classic of Uruguayan thinking. Yet somehow some of the North American concept of 'the great outdoor camping concept' has seeped south of the equator. It was cold last night, it would have been much colder in one of these tincans, these un-insulated boxes, than in our tent. So they decided to switch on the engine and power up the heater. An half hour of vocal competition for the dogs. So USA.
Another change is just the other side of our tent. To understand the local camping tradition, is to realise that the asado, the barbecuing pit is central. Fire is king. It's about the beef. Everything else is an adjunct, mere acolytes. Even the Quilmes beer and the amped up music. It's a true outdoor experience and if it starts to rain the tent gets the plastic sheet, not the human. And that tent; until now has been a rabbit hutch igloo with, I have to assume the internal proportion of a tardis. A family of five can live amicably in two square metres. Such that on occasions we've been embarrassed by our own modest tent's footprint. Not anymore. The condominium tent, those detached bungaloids, are starting to materialise. However, they appear to be no more watertight than their predecessors. They still require the construction of a moat, only now it's longer. Signage requesting that the sappers desist their trench warfare are still ignored, in much the same way as the order not to drive around the site is. These signs are all faded, alluding to a previous age, pre- the latest toy. The quad bike. Bought and riden by dad and the younger offspring. Round and round and round. The speed increasing with the confidence and the consequential pall of dust. A new phenomena, just like the spread of secured wifi.
Once we could poach a conection outside a school, an hospital or the local authority offices. We got adept at tracking, hunting the wave; it became a game. True, wifi is starting to become available in the larger conurbation's plazas and the petrol station is becoming the new 'telecottage'. Business meeting room, recharging station, sports bar. But speeds are slow, it takes the first half of the big game from Spain, to download three pictures and publish one blog.
Still somethings don't change. The ice cream shop still dispenses twenty-seven flavours, a sizeable minority featuring variations on a theme of dulce de leche. They still party till six in the morning, the DJ screwing the amp, such that at one point I thought the 'events' venue had gone mobil, moving five blocks closer. Slow changes, only I've just been seved my cafe con leche sin soda....what are things coming to?