The situation two weeks ago: Easter is coming, which means a long weekend. Buenos Aires is becoming too much and my head is going to explode. My friend is going back to South Africa and we would love to GET OUT for a bit, but teaching English is not very lucrative, and thus funds hinder many of my little projects. So, I jump on the web to see what can be made of this dyer situation, and it turns out, the answer is San Antonio de Areco.
“San Ant”, as it has become affectionately known in my wee head, lies 113 km North West of Capital Federal on the National Route 8. You can reach paradise either by bus (Chevallier and Pullman Belgrano both do regular trips)- which takes 2 hours on a super comfy bus and sets you back a whopping…AR$40 (one way, April 2011). You could alternatively rent a car and drive, or hell, its so close you could walk if you dare.
I was so desperate just to get a break from the city, I would of camped in an obscure field, but the fact is that San Antonio de Areco really is a preferable destination. The pueblo (town) sells itself on being the heart of gaucho culture (Argentinian cowboy) in the Buenos Aires province, and this is exactly what you get.
What to See: Traditional gaucho demonstration, eat in a pulperia (old school traditional eatery), pop into one of the many artesanal tiendas (shops) selling any number of gaucho artifacts including Boinas (the traditional beret type hats), cuchillos (knives) and ponchos, explore. Also, one can also partake in any number of commercial activities such as polo lessons or a visit to the spa.
Accommodation in the town caters to EVERYONE. There are 2 camping sites, 3 hostels, a variety of guest-houses and hotels and a healthy supply of estancias or farmstays too. I however, was doing things on the cheap and thus opted for all the freebies/cheapies that were practical.
My primary reasons for visiting San Ant were based on two primary factors: 1) it is not Capital Federal, Buenos Aires and 2) it is close to Capital Federal, Buenos Aires and thus not too time consuming nor expensive to get to. For once hind site indicates that San Antonio was an excellent option.
What I did: We arrived in the evening, and owing to the town’s tiny-ness, managed to navigate ourselves to the hostel via an 8 block stroll in the dark. We dumped our bags and wandered off to the town square for the cheapest (if not most spectacular) dinner I have had since arriving in Argentina. The next morning we pootled off around 11 am and didn’t return until after midnight. We spent the day exploring the quaint little town. During the course of our aimless exploring, we discovered 2 museums (out of about 10), both of which are small, and interesting enough to entertain people like me, who are not cultured enough to enjoy learning about history within the confines of an old, stuffy building (I exclude the British National Museum here). The prize however definitely goes to Museo Gauchesco Ricardo Guiraldes, where the curator has lovingly included a stuffed horse (taxidermy at its best), teeth and all. If anyone finds out why this was thought necessary when there are living specimens on every second corner of the town, please let me know.
Our first lunch the following afternoon in San Antonio de Areco was spent waiting for a table at Parilla El Rancho- a place with a nice view of the river, Rio Areco and a fairly nice ambiance on the terrace. But horrible service, even by Argentine standards, won them a mediocre review. The highlight was the bilingual menu which included such delicacies (translated directly from Castellano to English) as “nanny goat”, “suckling pig”, “spinach’s raviolli” and a salad consisting of “letucce, carrots, rucula, radichetta and oil”- someone just gave up when it came to the translation of green, leafy vegetables.
However, after sitting through a meh lunch, we were rewarded at dinner, when we received excellent service, in an excellent setting at La Esquina de Merti on the town square. As it was Friday, we were treated to the sounds of the regular Friday folk band, accompanied by chatting locals, many outfitted in traditional gaucho gear, and impromptu dancing…all completely natural, rooted with a distinct feeling of legitimacy. This spot doesn’t exist for the sake of the four Western tourists who visit in a month.
While there, with the excuse of Easter to back me up, I took an indulgent trip to the the local chocolatier, Chocolateria La Olla de Cobre…well worth it! The place is tiny and buzzing and home-y. Everything you want when sipping hot-chocolate on a rainy afternoon. And the solid chocolate was pretty tasty too.
Our last morning was spent on our rental bikes (track down Hostel Gaucho on the main street next to the river), tripping around the outskirts of town, taking in the fresh air and wide open spaces. A fabulous conclusion to a very fulfilling weekend!
As a final aside, I would like to mention that the entire weekend, including accommodation, restaurant meals, bus tickets, “must have” trinkets and rental bikes came to a total of AR$340. NO JOKES. So, if fresh air, open space, a taste of tradition, proximity to Capital, any one of the other pulls to this fab little town does not hook you, perhaps its unbelievable value for money will.
The main attractions are advertised on the city’s own excellent tourism site and are all culture based: San Antonio de Areco tourism. However, having said that, the site is fairly non-discerning, as it also advertises the zoo, which as far as I could see consists of a sheep, two monkeys and a parrot.
Have fun and explore Argentina!