The decision was made–I had to get out of Buenos Aires for a weekend. The thought of my last vacation being a year ago and wasting the entire summer in the city working was too much, and I gave myself the option of either visiting Rosario, the disputed second city of Argentina or going to the coast, most likely to Mar del Plata. Both cities are about equal distance from the capital, roughly 4 hours by bus, but Mar del Plata is more expensive and this time of year is packed with summer vacationers. I tried to use Couchsurfing to find a place to stay and meet people but was unsuccessful, so in the end I booked a bed at the Rosario Inn hostel for $45 pesos a night. To save money I would wake up early Saturday and spend a day and a half or so.
Just making to to Retiro bus station in time, I jumped on the 9:01 am and by 12:30 pm we were pulling in to Rosario a half hour ahead of schedule. So far so good. I decided to talk to the guy next to me who was from Rosario and he began to give me advice right off the bat. In about one minute he used the word “European” four times to describe Rosario and its people, yet he displayed anything but a superior attitude. In fact, though he wasn’t exactly sure which city bus I should take to get to the hostel, he pulled out his wallet and gave me a bus ticket for free. Additionally, he gave me his recommendations on where to sight-see and go out at night. Rosario had just moved up a notch on my list.
Getting the right bus was a breeze, and I immediately noticed a difference in that with buses in Buenos Aires you always need exact change, which no one ever has in stores, making life miserable. But in Rosario every ride costs $2 ARG, and you can either buy a card that’s good for two rides or put two peso coins in the machine in the bus. Simple and smart, this city of about 1 million had a jump on Buenos Aires. The colectivo took me through the center which was so quiet and dead in the middle of the day that I could have sworn I was in a small village. In fact, as we pulled into the city I asked how much longer it would be until getting there and my bus neighbor said we were already in Rosario.
He warned me to keep an eye on the heat and sun, which was more powerful in Rosario than in Buenos Aires, and he was right. As soon as I got off the bus it hit me hard, and I actually wound up with a bad sunburn on my back and shoulders, more my fault than the sun, I suppose. I’d been warned, after all. I easily found my hostel after getting clear and easy directions from an old man, and walking through town I began to say good afternoon to anyone I passed in the street, with them doing the same. That small town feel was back and the peace and quiet of a lazy Saturday afternoon in the summer was infectious.
At the hostel I dropped off my bag, took a look around and quickly left to meet up with my Ecuadorian friend Andrea and a travel companion named Mica from France. By chance they were traveling to Rosario at the same time and found lodging with Couchsurfing, so we were going to meet up at the National Flag Memorial. The Argentine flag was designed by Manuel Belgrano in Rosario, and now a huge monument is their claim to fame. During the day it’s pretty tame, and though you can climb up to the top for a view of the city, it was closed for siesta when we went. At night however, it becomes lit up with the colors of the flag and is really beautiful.
Battling the extreme heat we had a picnic with sandwiches in the shade and went to meet up with Juan, the host for Andrea and Mica. Juan had a beautiful little villa a few blocks out of the center, but because the city is small and easily walkable we covered almost half of it in no time. An incredibly friendly and inviting man, he made me feel as if I was a guest with him as well. After talking for a couple of minutes he asked me if I was from Buenos Aires–a real compliment for me, saying essentially that my Spanish was so good that I had him fooled. The four of us then went down to the Paraná River, where for $20 we got a round trip ferry to the islands with a small beach. Though it’s just a river, the water was refreshing and half of the city seemed to be there drinking mate and sunning. One thing that I’d heard about was that the women in Rosario are incredibly beautiful, and are the most beautiful in the country. I can confirm this fact. I would say that a good 95% of the women (at least) are very attractive. But not only that, they are friendly and approachable.
We enjoyed the day until the sun set beyond the city, pulling one of those tricks when it says everything for you and leaves you speechless. Getting back to the mainland was a bit trickier as everyone on the beach lined up to get out at the same time, but unlike the last helicopter in Vietnam, this process moved smoothly and without much pushing or shoving. On the boat back as it was already night, we let the cool breeze wash over us and prepared for the night ahead…
To be continued