After working a half day on Thursday, I headed back out to Banfield with Vero to meet up with her friends Pablo, Paola, and Maru. The plan was simple: Pablo's parents loaned us their car, and his aunt loaned us her apartment in Mar del Plata for the weekend. Though it was already 3:30 pm on December 31st, we took off for the beach town 4.5-6 hours south of Buenos Aires to celebrate New Years' Eve.
There's a special kind of energy in a packed car at the beginning of a road trip, when it feels like nothing can stop you, and whether the wind blows in through the window or the air conditioner is on full blast, you feel fresh and free. No work for 3 days and a holiday to boot. Not too shabby. Already in Buenos Aires Province, we headed south through towns that reminded me more of the Latin America I was familiar with last year, and the farther south we headed the fewer the houses were, shanty as they seemed, and the older the cars got. Eventually we were in nothing but open fields, and all around us we were in the Pampas.
The pampas are what I imagine the Midwest of the United States to be like. Never having been, I have to use movies and pictures as a basis, but down this road in Argentina there was nothing but open space on the left and right, plain and flat as far as the horizon. A sky so wide and open that it felt like you could almost see the curve of the earth. Living in a city, the world is obscured by buildings, and the view is often only as far as the next block, but in the pampas, you have nothing to block your vision, and what you see is what extends for miles and miles beyond that. Other than some cows and a random house or two, there isn't much else going on.
Though I'd met Pablo and Paola a week ago when I went to their house for dinner, it was still like starting over again in terms of conversation. It's always going to be hard to jump into a group of old friends, especially in another language, so at first I sat back and mostly listened. This is also the best way to learn the language. An untold number of words have entered my vocabulary since Thursday, not only because I asked but because I listened. Soon enough the ice was broken and I got into the conversations just the same, though obviously giving space when stories were told that I was unfamiliar with. It's to be expected that you won't understand everything, and continuously asking what something means gets annoying.
The mate was passed around consistently, and I found myself totally comfortable and at ease with the process. Though I asked questions about it, nothing could be as simple as drinking a tea through a straw for a moment. Maybe I feel most immersed when I share mate, and I've gotten to the point where I look forward to drinking it and sharing the experience. Maybe one of the funniest things I've taught anyone since living in Latin America is "Fuggin' brown bears," which really means nothing. It's just a play on words originating from my friend Adam who once said, "Beers, fuckin' brown beers...fuggin' brown bears." "Fuggin' Brown Bears" went on to be my fantasy football team's name for two years.
For some reason, this came up in the trip, and everyone took to it, practicing it and getting it down well. It would keep coming up through the weekend. The hours passed by quickly and by 9:30 pm we were pulling into Mar del Plata, ahead of schedule. After dropping off our things, we picked up some food and drinks, and then had dinner at the apartment. It was a totally different New Years' experience than I'm used to. For years now, I've met up with friends early on, maybe 7 or 8 pm to begin partying and by midnight, it was practically a blur. With deep winter outside, we stayed in a house and went home at 1 or 2 am.
Here, it's a summer holiday and Argentinians don't even go out until after midnight. I found that most people will celebrate with a dinner with friends or family, toast at midnight, and then maybe go out dancing depending on the age group. We celebrated from the balcony listening to fireworks going off all around at midnight, and then joined the crowds heading to the beach. The fireworks, both personal and public, were deafening, and music was blasting loudly in one of the squares where hundreds of kids decked out in white were dancing. Apparently wearing white on New Years' is a tradition in Brazil that has recently made its way into Argentina.
We had another toast at the waters edge, freezing as the wind blew in ferociously. Mar del Plata gets very windy and cold at night, and with a sweater on, I was still freezing. Once we could take it no longer we stopped in the plaza for a bit and then went out to a street filled with bars to dance for a couple of hours before calling it a night. There was no need to rush anything, as we had the whole weekend to relax and go to the beach...
Above: From a plaza in the center of Mar del Plata, post midnight, January 1, 2010