Buenos Aires (ARG) – Mar del Plata (ARG)
“Welcome to Buenos Aires boys! I’ll meet you at the gate at 17:00h”. We’re still mooring Luci in Yacht Club Argentino, when we receive a WhatsApp message from Omar. We met our new friend in Brazil when he was a crew member on another sailboat. From the moment we arrive in his hometown Omar offers his help. It starts with navigating us through the caprices of Argentine bureaucracy. We heard frightening stories from cruisers needing several days to complete the paperwork with immigration, customs and the coastguard, so we are prepared for the worst. Yet Omar knows his way around town and the authorities, so we and Lucipara are officially cleared in within three hours, on a Friday evening that is! Relieved and thankful for Omar’s assistance, we celebrate with an Italian dinner on the quay at Puerto Madero. This British-style port was recently renovated and now boasts walking promenades lined by restaurants and upmarket apartment buildings. It would prove to be the first of many city highlights Omar would take us to.
Highlights in High Speed
Omar has cleared his weekend agenda to take us on a tour around the city. Our starting point is the Plaza de Mayo, where the monumental Casa Rosada – the Pink House – houses the presidential offices. In front of it a monument symbolizes the nation’s independence struggles only 200 years ago. Around it we find floor tiles with head-scarfs painted in white. They represent the Mothers who protested and still protest against the disappearance and murder of their children during the military dictatorship in the seventies and eighties of the last century. They became a symbol of resistance and later a political force in their own right. For us it’s a reminder of how recently the country returned to democracy.
As Omar takes us along stately Avenida de Mayo to the parliament building, he points to a demolished concrete bench. “There are weekly protests here against the government. Some turn violent, with stone throwing or, like last week, demolishing and throwing parts of these benches.” Omar explains that many are unhappy with the government’s austerity measures. “Under the previous government, there were many handouts. At the same time there was a lot of corruption, so many of the former government officials are in jail now.” Not much later we notice more evidence of the political divisions in the country’s present and past. As we cross 11-lane Avenida de 9 Julio, we spot an image of Evita Perón on the side of a building. “Her supporters see her talking into a microphone, her opponents say she eats a hamburger”, Omar says with a smile. And at her grave at Recoleta cemetery: “She is buried deep and behind locks, so her supporters don’t take pieces of her as relics, and so her opponents don’t destroy her remains!” Omar sure knows how to add couleur locale to the city’s touristic highlights.
The tone is lighter at Sunday’s street market in San Telmo with its antiquities and open-air tango performances. “Of course, this is mostly for gringos”, Omar grins, referring to tourists. “I’ll show you where the locals go.” He proceeds to takes us to the public tango lessons at the Centro Cultural Kirchner, which anybody can join, no matter the level. As we weren’t sporting our tango shoes, we were restricted to watching the mixed crowd give it a go. That same evening at the same venue the spectacle is even grander when we attend a passionate tango and concert performance by a semi-professional group of musicians, singers and dancers. Thank you Omar!
Buenos Aires’s streets being traffic-choked, our preferred way to get around is on foot or by subway. Strolling around, we pass one grill restaurant after another. Not really surprising, given that Argentina is known as the Beef Capital of the World. Although we are not big meat eaters, we decide to give one of these “Parillas” a try and are overwhelmed. The portions are huge and the quality of our steaks outstanding. No wonder these places are popular with locals and foreigners alike. Yet we learn that in recent years the tide is turning. More and more people seem to realize that eating too much meat is unhealthy, causes animal suffering, drives deforestation and contributes to climate disruption. In line with this trend, vegetarian and vegan restaurants have been popping up like mushrooms in Buenos Aires. We’re eager to explore (and taste!) the city’s plant-based food options.
We meet Alejandra Pais at Bio Sólo Orgánico. Her parents were true pioneers when they opened the first vegetarian restaurant in Argentina over 16 years ago. The menu features many local and regional ingredients, all organic. She explains how it got started: “My parents started this restaurant because they experienced themselves that a meat-based diet can cause illness. At first, our restaurant served a niche, but today we are almost considered mainstream.” Although Alejandra tells us that most of her customers come here to eat healthy food, we soon experience that there must be another reason. It tastes absolutely delicious!
At our next pit stop, Vicky Jackson confirms Alejandra’s comments on the relation between food and health. After starting The Wellbar Journal, a blog on healthy, meatless food recipes, she became an influencer on Instagram. Building on her digital success, she opened her own restaurant in Buenos Aires in early 2018: Wellbar. The menu is predominantly vegetarian and vegan, but not exclusively. “We also have a meat dishes on the menu, for example with organic chicken.” When we ask here why, she jokingly adds. “So the typical Argentinian boyfriend can also be convinced to eat here. And maybe he’ll try a vegetarian dish the next time he comes!” There’s probably some truth to it! It surely is a testament to how deeply engrained the meat culture is in Argentine society.
Building on the country’s meat culture is La Reverde Parrillita Vegana, a vegan steakhouse. They serve the same traditional dishes as the parillas, but use plant-based meat alternatives instead. When we show up without a reservation, we are lucky to get a table. Minutes after it opens for the night, the place is full. Its success and that of the other vegetarian restaurants prove that plant-based food is gaining ground. And what’s not to like? While the success may be due to healthier food choices, more people eating vegetarian or vegan is better for animals and saves natural resources. Stay tuned for a separate sustainable solution item on eating meatless in Buenos Aires.
Ticking Items off Our To-Do-List
As much as we enjoy getting to know Argentina’s capital city and its food culture, we realize that we also have boat work to do. Lucipara needs to be in the best possible shape before we head into the wilderness of Patagonia. Since our last maintenance stop on Tenerife six months ago, we have steadily been adding items to our to-do list for Buenos Aires. Thanks to its thriving boating culture, all services are available here, and once again we can count on Omar to know exactly where to go.
Together we take a train to a sailmaker in the San Isidro suburb. We leave the genoa with him for some repairs that we can’t do ourselves. In the same street is Alunox. They are welding specialists who also helped friends of ours nine years ago. We ask them to repair a stainless steel ring attached to the boom and parts of our woodstove. The next stop is the chandlery to get parts for our malfunctioning electric autopilot. To our relief it has our exact type of gyrocompass in stock, so we buy it to try and fix the autopilot ourselves.
Back on the boat, Floris climbs into the mast to repair the masthead light. He has to resort to acrobatic tricks, but manages it just before Willy and Cindy arrive on their sailing boat Pazzo.
Return of Social Life
The arrival of our American friends rings in a new phase of our time in Buenos Aires: social life. We last saw them in Brazil and are eager to catch up. We also meet their new crew: Willy’s brother John and his partner Anna. Before we know it our maintenance and sightseeing breaks are filled up with coffees, happy hours and dinners. No complaints.
Another happy reunion is arranged when we hear that New Yorkers Johnny and Tina are in town for a conference. It’s been years since Floris saw them, but it feels like yesterday when we catch up over dinner and again later in the week over coffee on the boat. We already look forward to sailing to New York someday and seeing them again.
Via mutual friends we also meet Leontine. She works at the Dutch embassy as agricultural attaché and takes us out for coffee. We discuss the state of affairs in Argentina and the Netherlands and soon move to sustainability topics. Eager to help us find sustainable solutions, Leontine promises to think about possible places for us to visit and contacts to meet. When she visits us in the marina in the weekend, she gets even more enthusiastic and together we fantasize about her visiting us somewhere else in South America. We can’t wait!
Taking on a Trainee
Yet before Leontine joins us on the boat, it’s Lars’s turn. For the next leg of our journey, we have made arrangements for him to be a crew member and trainee. We met Lars in Sweden the summer we left Amsterdam and he’s been following our travels ever since. When he came to our presentation in the Amsterdam Maritime Museum last spring, he appeared a bit shy, but eventually asked: “Please say no if it’s not possible, but I would really, really like to join you guys when you sail to Ushuaia”. His dream now becomes reality as he joins us on our next leg.
As we head to the airport to pick up Lars, we feel excited but also a bit nervous. On the one hand we’re glad to have sailed here in time for his arrival. On the other we’ve never had a trainee on board for such a long leg. Lars takes away our anxiety by settling in easily and enthusiastically. On board it doesn’t take him long to turn the guest cabin in the front into his “man cave”, decorating it with pictures and letters of his family, friends and girlfriend. Before we even sail our first miles together, Lars already becomes a true member of the crew when he helps us clean some of the trash floating in the waters of the YCA. We are also grateful for the spare engine parts, new bank-cards, and other supplies that he managed to sneak through customs for us.
Bye Bye Buenos Aires
After more than two weeks of intense city life, an ideal weather window is opening up to sail further south. With the boat maintenance completed and Lars on board, our preparations for Patagonia are on track and we are ready to go.
On our last day in the city, Omar once again makes time for us. He takes us to the maritime museum in Tigre. Its collection consists of many remnants of the Falklands war, but also of the original Lehg II. We marvel at the boat of famous sailing pioneer Vito Dumas. He managed to sail solo around the world back in the 1940s. “If it weren’t for the security cameras, I would have climbed onboard to kiss the mizzenmast”, Lars says in complete admiration. Thankful for another great outing, we say farewell to Omar, our guide and friend, with the promise to tour him around Amsterdam someday.
A few hours after Pazzo we leave the YCA. On the Rio de la Plata we are picked up by a gentle breeze that pushes us through the brown water towards the ocean. There the water turns blue again, while the wind remains perfectly stable. Lars is a bit confused. “This is not at all what I expected from sailing to Patagonia, but I can get used to this sunny weather”. As we set course for Mar del Plata, we recognize that Lars is an experienced sailor who wants to know all about Lucipara’s features. After a first night shift together, we deem him fit to do the next one alone. With the three of us taking turns, it means we can each sleep for six hours instead of three. Such luxury!
The Everest mountaineers have their Himalayan Base Camp, the Patagonian sailors have Mar del Plata. It is the last significant town and convenient harbor before Ushuaia in the very south. It is peak time to be here, for many sailors want to be in the south in summer to take advantage of the longer days and higher temperatures. We get one of the last berths in the Mar del Plata branch of the Yacht Club Argentino and are helped into it by the crews of some of the other south-going boats.
On the pontoon we recognize some friendly faces, such as the Swiss crews from Dada Tux and Maramalda, who we met in Uruguay.Others we only met digitally via the What’sApp group “South America Sailing Team 2018”, which Anna from Zoomax initiated. When all the boats are safely moored, Pazzo’s crew is quick to ask everyone to a barbeque. “The fish we caught is too big for us to eat alone!” is the pretext of their invitation. Our fishing was less successful, so we bring a green salad and homemade apple pie to the festive get-together. It proves to be a great icebreaker and soon we feel part of a community of like-minded sailors.
Even beyond Buenos Aires, Omar’s help continues. This time in the form of introducing us to his friend Monica. As a resident of Mar del Plata she knows her way around town, and as a marine biologist, she is a great source of information on Argentinian sea life. Monica and her daughter Cecilia take us under their wings and tour us around their city. We quickly learn that our base camp is not only Argentina’s primary holiday destination, but also a sizeable city. It includes different beaches, a large casino and countless apartment buildings. Argentina’s navy has an important base here, as does the fishing fleet. The navy base can’t be missed, as its fence has turned into an improvised memorial site. Countless banners, flowers and flags pay tribute to the 44 crew members that were lost when a submarine sank off the Patagonian coast a year ago. At the same time the banners reveal the families’ frustration about unanswered questions surrounding the tragedy.
Stocking Up as a Team
Just like all other boats, our key focus here at base camp is provisioning and arranging equipment. “I’m a big eater”, Lars warned us in Buenos Aires. That proved to be an understatement. We have had to double our portions since he joined. “We’ll have to stock up some more food”, Ivar assesses. Monica and Cecilia drive us to the local grocery store, equipped with an XL shopping list. We fill up their car to maximum capacity with the contents of three shopping carts. Will this be enough to last us to Ushuaia?
Monica also knows the best place to arrange long mooring lines, a necessity to keep our boat clear of the rocks in the many narrow, deep Patagonian inlets, or caletas. She takes us to a local fishing equipment outlet where we’re able to make a deal by also buying lines for Pazzo and Zoomax. Not much later, six rolls of 200-meter long lines are delivered to the YCA. John and Willy discover the best method to unpack these rolls and divide them into four bags containing a 100-meter long line each. Ivar and Lars copy their method, but only after spending hours untangling the line-spaghetti they created on the pontoon.
Being among boats with the same focus has more benefits. John is the first to find a store that refills foreign gas bottles and informs the rest of the group. That afternoon the storeowner looks somewhat surprised when he receives a collection of empty gas bottles with American, Swiss, French and Dutch fittings.
When it comes to participating in a joint diesel-truck delivery, we pass. We don’t need that much and just fill our jerry cans at the gas station. After that’s done, we focus on collecting firewood, as we plan to make use of our wood stove for heating in cold Patagonia.
Sustainable School 2.0
In-between all of the preparations, we take a bus to nearby Mar Chiquita. Recently another sustainable school opened there, also based on an Earthship design similar to the one we visited in Uruguay. Matias Rivero, responsible for education and community, enthusiastically tours us around. We recognize the same sustainable features, like the use of recycled and natural construction materials, the harvesting of solar energy and rainwater, and the creative ways the school uses examples from nature to teach the children. Matias also explains that the plan is to build more of these schools throughout South America, an initiative we greatly support. Stay tuned for a separate sustainable solution item on sustainable schools in South America.
And off We Go!
When a four-day long weather window of northeasterly wind appears in the forecasts, the buzz in the base camp changes. Fair weather is essential for a safe journey in these waters, which are notorious for their violent southwesterly storms. The crews speed up their final preparations in order to get ready to leave. We get together to discuss route, tactics and possible shelters along our way south with the Pazzo and Zoomax crews. None of us has ever sailed this coast before, so we rely on the experiences from sailors who previously navigated these waters. Everyone agrees that the best pilot book that has been written is the “Nautical Guide to Patagonia & Terra del Fuego” by Mariolina Rolfo and Giorgio Ardrizzi, commonly referred to as “the Patagonia bible”. Everytime we read another chapter of this insightful and detailed pilot book, our excitement reaches new heights. Are we up to the challenges ahead?
On our last evening, Cecilia and her friends surprise us with a lovely Argentinean-style dinner at a hip wine bar. It doesn’t only serve excellent local malbec wines, but also delicious food. We don’t know what to choose, so rely fully on the choices of our new friends. Sadly, we have to say farewell to them and lovely Monica that night, who helped us so much and became our friends so quickly.
The next morning, we somewhat nervously await the visit of the dreaded Prefectura, the Argentinean coastguard. It is their standard procedure to check the equipment of Patagonia-bound vessels. Have our preparations been sufficient? We did our best to comply with the official Argentinean equipment requirements to avoid unnecessary delays and extra costs for having to buy missing items here, but do not know how strict the checks are. When they arrive, their focus appears to be on inspecting our safety equipment and certificates, which are all to their liking. We sigh in relieve after having successfully passed this last hurdle.
With Lucipara in good shape, all the supplies we can carry, an extra crew member, and the approval of the authorities, we believe we’re as well prepared for the Patagonian wilderness as we can be. As we leave the safety of our base camp with sunshine and an offshore breeze, our friends from Pazzo are following closely. From here onwards, there are usually more depressions than safe shelters. Will we be able to reach one before the next storm arrives?