Monday, May 4, 2009
Reflections on Argentina...
Over the weekend I finally got my Argentina photos sorted and posted a travelogue of photos online. Click HERE if you want to take a peak.
My time there was mixed between business and tourism. I would say it was a nice balance. I had thought two weeks might be too long to be gone and exploring these new countries...but actually it went by fast and I left many places to be discovered in the future. Also hopefully next trip will be with my faithful partner who spent her time in Bogota instead while I was gone.
Argentina is very different from every other Latin country I have visited or lived in. I look at it as a unique crossroads between Europe and Latin America. Buenos Aires itself has so much European architecture and style...and not just Spanish. There is a lot of Italian and French influence as well throughout this fine city.
I had perfect weather almost the whole two weeks. I think there was one cloudy day with light sprinkles in BA (Buenos Aires)...otherwise it was usually sunny and very comfortable in the low 70s by day and down into the low 60s at night. Sweaters or light jackets were the mode at night. This is their fall season...going into the winter...which is just opposite of our seasons in North America. But...they hardly ever get snow that sticks on the ground...so if I have to do winter somewhere, this is my kind of winter. No shoveling...
The food...well, the standard cuisine fits right into my comfort food zone. Steak and cheeses along with fine wines are the standard mode here morning, noon and night. They serve ALL the great parts of domestic meat products...the kidneys, beef heart, tongue...it's all good in Latin America and especially in Argentina. A great steak and a half bottle of wine you will be hard pressed to spend more than $20 on. And a majority of these people are in good physical shape. You don't see the level of obesity that you do in North America or even here in Panama. I think they eat much less starches and are walking testimonial as a culture to the "Atkins Diet".
While there is plenty of traffic and congestion especially during rush hours, BA is chock full of parks and wide pedestrian thoroughfares that can get you across the city comfortably and safely at all hours of the day. There are lots of motor scooters and cycles along with a reasonable amount of bicycles that traverse the city instead of cars. Motorcycles and bikes seem to have free parking everywhere just like Panama, so as a motorbiker it is my kind of city.
There are trash cans everywhere and all the parks and plazas looked completely manicured and taken care of on a daily basis. There are lots of trees in the city compared to most big cities I have known...and of course it is always nice to have a major body of water like the Rio Plata that runs to the Atlantic ocean and provides a huge ocean port and water views from many parts of the city.
The service levels were far superior than Panama and Costa Rica where I have lived the past almost decade, though it would not be as consistent as most areas of North America. There seems to be good infrastructure for electricity, telcom and internet. I was able to "rent" a phone chip at the airport for local connectivity for $30 plus time for 2 weeks. Wireless broadband was plentiful in the public cafes to your private hotel room. Public transportation was plentiful with clean newer buses than I am used to, and taxis that all have working meters and normally friendly conversant chauffeurs...once again, a refreshing change from Panama or Costa Rica.
My peak experiences were the San Telmo neighborhood Sunday antiques market and a couple of the museums. The San Telmo Sundays have been going forever it seems and there were lots of interesting goods to be observed, musicians playing on every corner, living statues in elegant outfits, and a variety of food and drink for the masses. The "Recoleta" cemetery was very intriguing to me as was my personalized tour of the Jewish synagogue and museum. Since the 1860s the Jewish population has been very significant in the growth and expansion of Argentina as a culture and as a market. Interestingly, their population has shrunk from over 500,000 25 years ago to less than half that now. Many of the younger Jews have moved back to Israel or to other markets that have maybe had more stability economically than Argentina. The biggest factor has been the obliteration of the textile industries and mills which used to be more rampant in Argentina and run by the Jewish community.
Some of the negative you learn about Argentina over time is it's erratic economic and political pasts...which tend to go hand in hand. Historically there has been too much military oversight of this country and culture. To replace that, you now see huge government compared to the overall size of the population and economy and a significant tendency towards a socialistic system (of course we now see the USA going that direction as well). Apparently syndicates and labor laws make Argentina a difficult place to do certain kinds of business. For this reason many industries and wealthy people have left Argentina...if only to go over the border to smaller but more manageable Uruguay. Overall you see in their history a tendency to want strong monarchistic rule versus democracy...and this cultural fact alone would give me great pause to ever move here permanently. But...if you have all the money you need and don't have to work or do business in Argentina, it might be just what the doctor ordered for many people. I know a lot of famous Hollywood types have invested and/or live part time in Argentina...like Robert Duvall who reportedly married an Argentine lady and spends half his time in Argentina when not on a project.
I also got to know personally some of the key polo people in Argentina. Argentina is the global epicenter of Polo, the sport of "kings". Apparently the best polo horses and riders/players are found throughout the more than 40 polo clubs in Argentina. Some of the people I met with are trying to develop their sport in Panama now as a potential and natural site for centralized competition throughout the Americas. I have a lot of reasons for wanting this to happen.
So, in short summary, if you like being around attractive people, lots of hustle and bustle that seems to have a semblance of organization to it, and a wide variety of food and spirits and Tangos in the street...Buenos Aires and Argentina could be YOUR kind of place. I will be back, and hopefully get to know Cordoba and a couple other famous zones in Argentina I have yet to discover.