While crossing from the eastern side to the western side of Argentina, there was a lot of emptiness. Much of the way was desert, without a lot except sand, dirt, and fencepost along the side of the road. Every 40 to 80km would be a tiny town, many barely surviving, eking out a living from the farmers living nearby. These towns usually had only the most basic of amenities - maybe a tienda or restaurant, a little pension run by an enterprising woman, and a place for the new bus linking Viedma to Bariloche to stop.
Ramos Mexia was one such town. The day before, the woman running the pension shrugged when I asked what there was on the road ahead. “A very small town” she warned me. Riding into the town late the next day (with two other cyclists from New Zealand) I couldn’t help but agree. Definitely not a lot going on… or so we assumedWe found the pension (surprisingly, Ramos Mexia had one) where an easily excitable woman was rushing around. Three of us! Uh oh. She apologized, the town was very full, many visitors, and I would have to make do with a much smaller room than normal.
Visitors? I asked why. “There is a fiesta today! The town fiesta! Many visitors… do you want dinner?” she yelled at us. We weren’t sure about dinner, but a fiesta… in this little town we’d been preparing to suffer through! “Que suerte!” I told her. What luck! I did a bit more information gathering, and confirmed that the fiesta would end that night. At the moment, a rodeo was going on, and later in the evening would be dancing and music. A local woman and her niece, Mariana, offered to drive us to the rodeo.Wow, it was just like you’d imagine: men dressed in their gaucho best, groups of spectators drinking Quilmes from the hood of old beat-up pick-ups trucks, riders wheeling around on their horses, chorizo for sale, the stands crowded with more people than the town could possibly hold. And of course, everyone staring at us… this wasn’t a festival that had made its way onto the tourist trail!
We took a few pictures, smiled and waved, and had a few pictures taken of us. We had arrived just in time for the last demonstration - the winner taking a final ride on a bucking bronco. He lasted about twenty seconds, and everyone cheered.
Mariana and her aunt then brought us back to the pension, but first, they invited us to an asado at their house. I translated for Julie and Thomas, and we agreed to meet them in a few hours, around 10PM at night. People here eat late!Meanwhile, back at the pension our landlady was running around like a chicken with her head cut off. She was one of those people who just kept talking louder and louder the more excited she got, and today was a big night for her. Thirteen people would be eating dinner at the pension - a tiny little house with only three rooms for guests! I think she was a little relieved when I told her we’d be eating dinner with Mariana and Cristina.
While I tried to relax in my teeny single, I could clearly hear her yelling into her cell phone, passing her gossip through the villages. Each conversation, somehow, amazingly, she got louder. “Thirteen people for the asado! Oh, and three foreigners staying here!” we were high on the gossip list, even with the fiesta on.
After a lovely asado with Cristina and Mariana (just the five of us, with probably 30 pounds of barbecued meat to split…) we were invited to play cards with a few more members of the family. Rummy! I love rummy! Except, of course, they play rummy a bit differently here.. and it involves a small wager. We’ll call that one a “meal tax” cause sure enough, none of the foreigners came home with the pot.
Already very late, the dance was just beginning. A band was in from Bahia Blanca, and it sounded like a lot of fun. Julie and I had to talk Thomas into breaking his bedtime (we didn’t arrive at the dance until 2AM… what are these people thinking starting so late!)
We headed down to the town gymnasium, packed with guys in the back, crepe paper decorations hanging from the ceiling, dancing couples in the center, and the very talented band playing traditional music. The hall was almost overwhelmingly male, but Mariana and a few of her friends were too busy eyeing the band members to dance with anyone else. “Guapo!” we all agreed. The band, all in matching outfits, played a few songs of fast tango, speeding up more and more, dancing with their instruments, switching between accordian and electric guitar.Then, the music stopped. Intermission. Mariana explained that it was the crowning of the queen of the town. A red carpet was laid down and 6 or 7 young women each strutted their stuff down the proverbial catwalk, posing like contestants in America’s Next Top Model, throwing roses, and soaking in the cheers of the crowd. The announcements confused me at first. They went something like “Vanessa is 16 years old and likes dancing, music, and sports. She has a 96 [something], a 67 [something] and a 102 [something.]” Eventually I realized that along with names and ages, the contestants’ measurements were being announced - once-teenaged girls everywhere will wince with me.
When the parade was finished, the band took the stage again. Really, I’ve said it already but they were very good - a surprisingly high quality for such a small function. And very cute, which doesn’t hurt. Thomas took a turn dancing with each of us, none very good, except his final dance with Mariana where she took the lead, danced the male role, and helped keep him from embarassing himself a third time on the dance floor.
Around 4AM, we left for home and sleep. Not quite as early as we’d like, but you really don’t want to skip those things that make traveling special, and we all agreed it had been a fantastic night.