04/03/2019 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
I’m almost at the end of my 90 day visa in Argentina so I thought I’d do a comparison of the country to Spain. How do they get on? I’ve not mentioned the people of the respective countries as the more I travel, the more it becomes obvious that there are good and bad in every country or region. I still say that 99.9% of folks in the world are ok, and if you are unlucky enough to encounter bad people then you are just unlucky. Also, it’s a great advantage to be able to speak the language and whilst in Spain I was struggling, but here in Argentina I’m getting better and therefore able to communicate with the locals and be less frustrating for them when they encounter me!
Let’s get something out of the way first. I’ve written the blog France v Spain and now I’m in Argentina so why, I can hear you asking isn’t it France v Spain v Argentina? Quite simply France have been thrashed by Spain and so miss the boat. They have great bread and cycling infrastructure but then they go and spoil it by being closed all the time and on those rare ocassions when they do condescend to open up, they go and play French jazz. Now don’t be alarmed or angry mes petits chou fleurs. It’s only votre ami, Wardy, poking a bit of fun at you. I do love you all really, mes petits Kermits.
Quick aside but still on the French theme, one of my all-time favourite books, which I highly recommend and is relevant and interesting historically, as well as being very funny is ‘1,000 years of annoying the French’ by Stephen Clarke. Should be made compulsory in all French schools from age 10 upwards. Something else before we get going. The only thing, musically, as bad as French jazz is country and western but at least if you play that stuff backwards you get your wife back, your kids back, your house back, your car back, your dog back and your gun back. No. It’s Spain v Argentina and that’s that.
First up motorists. Sorry Argentina but I can’t imagine any nationality getting close to the way the Spanish drive, especially in the way they respect cyclists, and for that matter, all other road users. They seem to realise that the roads are for everyone and act accordingly. Mucho respecto. (It’s well known of course that the Germans have fabulous training before being allowed on the roads but are they as good re cyclists? I don’t know yet) Now in Argentina they do have some of the same good habits. When overtaking the motorist will usually give you plenty of space, often moving all the way over to the opposite carriageway, except when there’s something coming the other way! In this situation the Spanish driver coming from behind the cyclist will slow down and allow the oncoming vehicle to pass before making their overtaking manoeuvre. The Argentinian drivers will plough on relentlessly and seem totally unable to slow down.
My theory is that when they set off they put a large rock on the accelerator and it stays there until their destination is reached. In this type of situation, they get all agitated and blow the horn aggressively and the cyclist has to get off the road. In such a big country I’m sure they have extremely long journeys to make, but surely about 30/40 seconds of delay can be made up over the next 500 kms or so somewhere, and it’s not as if the roads here are full of idiots like me taking their life in their hands. It’s a very dangerous habit along with the lack of any indication on the occasions when they do pull out to let others behind them have a clue about what they’re doing. They should all go to Spain to learn to drive, along with anyone else who doesn’t get that the roads are there for everyone.
So, Spain are 1 up and feeling good, but then we take a look at the ice cream factor and Argentina have come storming back with their trump card and joker all at once. I’m in a place called Tornquist right now and it’s the first time I’ve bothered to count how many flavours are available. The ‘heladeria’ I was in today had 56 varieties and when I asked for chocolate it was like the Spanish inquisition as the owner had 7 different options in that department! Great habit I’ve developed here is that I say I don’t know which one to choose and what’s the difference. Then you get samples of each, all for free! I always have my ice cream in quarter kilo tubs and for that amount I can choose 3 different flavours. I did an experiment, of the scientific kind naturally, recently, to see if I could eat a half kilo at one go. So that I didn’t look like a greedy git I had a quarter in one shop and then went to another shop just 80 metres up the road, for another. No problema, smashed it! I had to get to Spain’s 3rd largest city, Sevilla, before I saw anything like the ice cream shops here. In even small towns you can get it delivered to your house! I want to try at some point asking for half a kilo to be delivered to my green tent just behind the YPF gas station. Bet I’d get it!
Photos. Heladeria, ice cream shop in Tornquist. The best of the best so far in Argentina. 56 varieties and 26 different sorts of toppings. Heaven!
Now beer. Again, Argentina are way ahead here, albeit with the proviso that the ‘cerveceria artesanal’, the craft beer outlets, don’t open until the evening. Spain has a variety of bottled beers, usually lagers, with occasionally the same stuff on draught. Their bars are open from lunchtime onwards, but the lager they sell in Spain would be called ‘cerveza industriales’, or ‘crap’ if I translate it into English. Particularly Heineken, ugh!
Photos. A selection of the excellent craft beer bars I’ve sampled here in Argentina. From top left, Laurino in Mercedes, Antares in Zarate, Deja Vu in San Carlos de Bolivar, Barrecho Parce in Tornquist finishing with two shots of Cara de Perro or ‘Dogface’ in Trelew.
Spain about to score an equalizer because now it’s tapas and in previous posts I’ve told about how, in Spain, in the right places, and they do need to be hunted out, it’s possible to eat for free but only if you can drink like a fish. No worries for me then! I was asking an Argentinian guy I met recently why the tapas culture hasn’t materialised over here and he just said that if they gave food for free his countrymen and women would eat but not be bothered about drinking so the bar would go bust very quickly. Fair point well made.
I’ve mentioned motorists but what about roads? Well Spain just edges this one as they have bigger and better shoulders for us pedal pushers to ride on. It’s very interesting to note though that the surfaces of the roads out of town are, in both countries, very good indeed for the most part, but in the towns and cities the deterioration is quite drastic and the same in both places.
Along with the roads Spain also edges the category of ‘services along the roadside’ simply because the country is smaller and distances between places are not so great. Here, particularly further south, there can be 150 kms or more between gas stations and sometimes when you arrive tired and hungry and you ask what’s on the menu you’re asked, ‘how do you want your vicuna, fried or boiled?’. Sorry, couldn’t resist putting that one in again as it still makes me laugh. In Spain I didn’t rely on gas stations to the extent I do here but there was always a village not too far away, and in Spain, where there’s a village there’s a bar, and unlike the French bars, it will be open!
Food next and Spain again comes out top in this category because of variety as well as quality. Along with ‘how do you want your vicuna’, you could be asked the question in Argentina, ‘which meat would you like with your meat?’ Now I don’t identify as a vegetarian but I do prefer to eat plenty of veggies and will usually pass up on a meat option because one of the few things I’m very fussy about when eating is fatty, or low quality, meat. So much so that during the last 6 years of my time in Laos I was effectively a vegetarian because the meat there was either awful or extremely expensive. There is good food here in Argentina and I have had a few fantastic meals but the food in Spain was more varied and of a consistently higher quality.
Camping was out of the question in Spain and so Argentina will win this particular medal even if, so far, I haven’t camped as much as I’d hoped I would. It will happen when I get away from the more major routes, and a lot of the gas stations here have camping places for tents and motorhomes. I have had a couple of places where I’ve just ‘bivvied’ by a gas station, abandoned building or restaurant, it’s finding the ones that are a bit sheltered from the wind and out of sight.
Photos. Roaring fire in an abandoned building south of Trelew. Bivvy on the deck of La Toscana near San Antonio Este, 5.00am on Christmas morning, my wild camp 80 kms north of Bahia Blanca.
Music now, and again Argentina win this round as here I’ve heard so much good stuff from the UK, but also a lot of great local music, particularly rock, but I am also getting into the ‘Latin groove’ as it can grow on you. Please don’t get alarmed though, I’m not going to start wearing Gloria Estefan underpants or anything like that! Thinking along those lines though I don’t wear any underpants, although that’s probably too much information????
From a general point of view, it’s obvious Spain is a wealthier country as there are more luxury cars and fewer ‘rustbuckets’. Also, fewer run-down buildings and areas of towns and cities. Sadly, Argentina seems to be doing less well economically but the people are fantastic and so friendly and welcoming. Spain also has great people. Both nationalities have strong family bonds and have great respect for the elderly who are included, it would appear, in all social gatherings.
Can’t think of much more to compare so in conclusion I feel safer in Spain when riding the bike out on the roads, and the food is more varied, better quality, and less meat centric. Here in Argentina the ice cream is to die for, and my usual lunchtime treat, and the craft beer scene is exceptional. I can’t really make a decision, one way or another because I like both countries massively, albeit in slightly different ways, so I’ve decided to call this a draw, and, no, there will not be a steward’s enquiry.
Thanks as always for reading this far, and may your God go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.