Two and a half days left to go in La Plata! The only thing on my schedule was Carlos’ jazz band rehearsal. However, I wasn’t too worried about filling the time. There was an art museum, if I could ever find it, as well as numerous unexplored pathways in this city of almost a million people. But first, on Monday morning, I went to Havanna.
Havanna was the Argentine coffee chain I’d enjoyed with Carlos in Buenos Aires. He’d said they were all over, and sure enough, Google Maps located one just a few blocks catty-corner from Plaza San Martin, across from the hotel.
I spent the morning there, uploading the two previous days’ photos to Facebook and writing commentary. Few people I knew had been in Argentina. I wanted to create and share a vivid picture of the vibrant life here.
At lunchtime, I walked out into the pleasant neighbourhood of upscale shops, lucked into a godsend of a take-out place, and traipsed around some more, devouring a terrific burrito. After an hour, a sudden awareness of exhaustion came up, necessitating my return to the hotel for a nap.
A walk with a friend
In mid-afternoon, Carlos stopped by. I explained how Google Maps had showed me an art museum near the Havanna cafe, but I hadn’t been able to find it on the actual street.
It turned out to be hidden in plain sight: part of a palatial but neglected old public building that dominated the neighbourhood. The museum area was closed on Monday, but we were able to see some of the work through a glass partition.
Leaving there, we walked some more, ending up at the church in Plaza Moreno, which turned out to be the Metropolitan Cathedral of La Plata.
That night, I got to experience a jazz band rehearsal, something I’d never done even in America. Carlos’ friend Sergio was the drummer. They’ve played music together for 20 years.
The bass player’s name was Liano. Almost all the compositions were Carlos originals. I enjoyed the hour and a half of music. (The band “disbanded” shortly after my visit. Carlos and Sergio are now working with a Brazilian singer.)
After the rehearsal, Sergio took us in his car to a nearby restaurant specializing in Argentine beef. It was an odd-looking place, a brick box with metal bars on the windows and no big sign outside trumpeting its existence.
The culinary experimentation I’d begun in Oaxaca, Mexico 10 days earlier by sampling fried crickets, continued as I ate a small “blood sausage.” I would’ve shied away from it, most likely, at home. As far as taste, it was good.
The “Asado” and wine and salad were delicious. I enjoyed conversing with Sergio, a gentle spirit with a nice sense of humor. Carlos once again acted as translator when necessary.
Navigating the maze of streets
The next morning, seeking to reprise my previous a.m. of uploading at Havanna, I somehow got lost! The streets began to look odder and odder. Finally, a sure sign presented itself that I was no longer in the “right neighbourhood” with the upscale café and the smart shops!
Getting lost, of course, ended up enhancing my experience of the city, besides adding several thousand “steps” on my phone app. (I was getting up to 19,000 steps… 6 or 7 miles or about 10 kilometres of walking… on some days during my Latin America odyssey.) I discovered things I never would otherwise have seen. After walking a couple of miles, I caught a taxi to Havanna and did what I’d set out to do.
That afternoon, I walked over to Plaza San Martin and sat for a little while on a bench, looking at the hotel. It was my last full day in La Plata. After lunch on Wednesday, a taxi would take me to the international airport in Buenos Aires and I’d fly to Lima, Peru and then Iquitos, in the Amazon region.
This last stay of my trip would be a different kind of experience. Instead of staying in a plush hotel, I’d be living in a grass lodge with Claire, a friend who’s a working shaman in a Peruvian village.
While all of that thrilled me, I also felt a pang about leaving this city which had been so good to me and felt so safe. I got out my notebook and scrawled a few thoughts:
The search for a black beret
That morning, looking for the black beret that was part of my outfit most days, I realized I’d set it down on one of the napkins the night before at the beef restaurant. It had become invisible, and I’d left it there.
A beret was a necessity, partly because I wore my big Meher Baba button on it. [Note: “Baba-lovers” don’t proselytize, but when travelling, I often wear a button, which allows folks on the street in other countries a look at a being I’ve experienced as Infinite Consciousness. One sees it as a service. Most passers-by seem oblivious… how many thought the young Baba on the button was Che, I wonder? But during my Latin American explorations, there were 20 or 30 “Who is that?” inquiries, in response to which I usually gave the person a little photo-card and said “He’s very special. There’s lots of info on the internet.”]
Where to find a new beret? The quest required some sleuthing. My intuition told me to look on Calle 12, the street of clothing shops that I’d stumbled onto a few evenings before.
As I approached Calle 12, I realized that I didn’t even know how to say “beret” in Spanish! I stopped in a little shop just before getting to the main street and tried to communicate with the ladies there.
“Beret,” I said, trying to mime one on my head. They didn’t speak much English, but we eventually communicated enough for me to learn that 1) the Spanish word for beret is “boina” and 2) The shops along Calle 12 didn’t sell them—but some of the street merchants did.
The quest ended successfully! I was able to proudly mount my Baba button on a beret—or at least something that looked like a beret—as I prowled the streets of Iquitos, Peru, the next week.
Finding an elusive art museum
My last morning in La Plata—after yet another Havanna session—I had time to search for the Provincial Art Museum, which, like the other one in town, seemed elusive. It was in a neighbourhood that fronted on a section of Plaza San Martin, yet was for some reason surrounded by iron gates that were guarded by small, rather relaxed police or military contingents.
After going back and forth several times while staring quizzically at Google Maps, I finally found the building. The exhibit, by a renowned Argentine painter named Miguel Carlos Victorica, was satisfying and I felt the effort hadn’t been in vain.
Next, I met Carlos back at the hotel. We strolled over to Modelo for a final lunch together. I was surprised and deeply touched as he presented me with two extremely thoughtful gifts:
After our meal, Carlos prepared to depart the restaurant. He was due soon at the care facility where his mother was recovering from a recent illness. I hadn’t known whether she was in a condition to have visitors, but realizing this was my last chance, I asked if I could come.
We walked together across town on one of the diagonal streets that streamlined such a project. Carlos wasn’t overjoyed about the care facility, and I wondered whether it would be something medieval. As we went down the hallway and up a flight of stairs, I thought of a birthday party I’d recently attended for a friend in a similar care home in the States. The two places seemed about on par.
We entered the room shared by several women, and Carlos introduced me to Elena, his Mom. I found her and her roommates absolutely charming! I played a harmonica song for Elena as she ate her lunch.
Half an hour later, I took my leave of my friends, feeling, well, just right, and walked back to the hotel in the warm winter sunshine. It was a nice farewell to the city.
The taxi driver was already waiting. Having checked out earlier, I got my bag from storage and eased into the cab for the ride to Buenos Aires. In another hour and a half, I had a last coffee at the airport Havanna café, overlooking the Rio de la Plata.
A little while later, I boarded the plane that would take me over the Andes and the Atacama Desert to Peru.
To read about the author’s previous days spent in La Plata, visit THE PERSONAL TOUCH IN LA PLATA, ARGENTINA: Travels in Latin America [Part 7]»
To start at the beginning of the series, visit THE WONDERS OF OAXACA: Travels in Latin America [Part 1]»
all images: Max Reif