Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hitting Up the Beach

Mar del Plata is the beach to go to in Argentina, mainly because it's really the only area with a stretch of water that is accessible for swimming and within close proximity to the majority of the population. If the trendier people go to Punta del Este in Uruguay, the regular majority vacation in Mar del Plata. With that being said, it's known for overcrowded beaches, with umbrellas touching each other as people pack in among the windy beaches. Though it's not too warm or cold, Mar del Plata is a varied place in summer.

During the summer the population can swell up to a million, but for the rest of the year it's a near ghost town, relatively speaking. Judging by the cold winds at night in the summer, I can imagine why no one would go in the winter. We woke up late on January 1st and took our time, eating breakfast and drinking mate on the balcony, waiting as the day warmed up after a morning rain. By the time we were ready to go the day had turned pleasant and warm, but not overbearingly hot. With the advantage of a car, we drove farther south, away from the packed beaches where those in the city without cars would wind up. We still had to battle through city traffic, but the difference in the laid back attitude of a beach town was clear, and it was a welcome relief from Buenos Aires.

The architecture of Mar del Plata is pretty interesting, with alpine houses and English Tudor's dotting the hills overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of beach-goers headed down to the water, and as we continued along the road the crowds tapered off a bit. Picking up some sandwiches for lunch, we got to a stretch of beach that, while had a good amount of people on it, was nothing compared to the beaches back in the city center. By the time we sat down and set up the umbrella, ate and put on sunscreen, the sun became hidden by dark clouds out at sea.

Our first day at the beach was short lived, as the ominous clouds turned to a heavy rain storm that came in quickly and without mercy. As a mass exodus slowly left the beach in double file, we got back to the car and sat soaked in traffic retreating to the city. Hail pounded the car, but within minutes the storm had passed. We killed some time by playing hangman on the car window frost and drinking mate. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing at the apartment and cleaning up for dinner at the seaport.

Unlike Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires, boats will unload their catches in Mar del Plata and allow people to buy fresh product right there. There's a section packed with restaurants, mostly all you can eat seafood, and we chose one that seemed to have a fair deal. Though it seemed like everything involved calamari in some way, we tried just about everything, and it was all good. I love fried calamari, and was happy with the large plate that I got. We picked up some lemon ice cream to put in champagne after dinner, and called it a night to make the most of our last full day at the beach on Saturday.

Going farther south on Saturday morning, we picked a nice looking beach that eventually swelled to a huge crowd, with umbrellas everywhere, getting me lost on the way back from a walk later in the day. The day was spent relaxing between some Frisbee, a picnic lunch, and trying but failing to learn the card game Truco. With a different deck of cards that have different values, I found this Argentinian game to be very confusing, especially when explained in a different language. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and before long the burn started to kick in, even though I put on sunscreen at least four times.

All told, we were at the beach from about 10:30 am until 7 pm or so, when the wind had picked up and the sun was setting. My feet had been badly burned, among other parts of my body, and were swelling to a pink and purple complexion, despite having spent a large portion of the day under the umbrella. Before going back to the city we took a different path home, through a wooded area with alpine houses, seemingly hidden among the forest. It was totally quiet and peaceful, and I could see that living there would be a peaceful existence.

A quick stop at a local fair reminded us that we were burnt and cold, so we got back on the trail home, to clean up and make dinner for the last night in Mar del Plata.

Above: Maru, Paola, Pablo; drinking mate at the beach; a duck and a shmuck

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