Last updated on November 6th, 2018 at 07:09 am

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.

Interior of Havanna cafe - La Plata

The interiors of one of the Havanna cafés in La Plata.

Havanna cafe logo - La PlataHavanna 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.

Images from commercial neighbourhood - La Plata

Left: “Lost in Wonderland” in an old public building that today houses an art museum and sundry offices. Right: Buskers of all kinds work traffic lights in Latin America. This juggler was very very good, but tragi-comically, often by the time he finished, the cars were already on their way.

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.

Metropolican Cathedral of La Plata - La Plata

Top left and right: The Cathedral wasn’t as venerable as some others, but the cheerful Jesus in the frieze over the front entrance, and the statue of the Virgin Mary inside, were delightful! Bottom: The La Plata government centre, seen from the steps of the Cathedral. Carlos works in one of the buildings that straddle the government centre in the middle. Fortunately, though, he was on vacation during my visit.

Band rehearsal

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.)

Three guys in band - La Plata

The band plays Carlos’ composition “Quiquenu,” a tribute to his departed friend and Meher Baba contact, Eduardo Nunez, known as “Quique.”

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.

Parrilla Lo de Tato, a restaurant specializing in Argentine beef - La Plata

The bright red décor at Parrilla Lo de Tato. Top: some other customers and our energetic waiter. Bottom: Carlos and Sergio, and the tasty Asado beef dish that we shared.

Blood sausage - La PlataThe interior decor was bright red—a bit maudlin, perhaps, but, well, festive. There were black linen napkins, set off against the crimson tablecloths and curtains.

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!

Scene outside butcher shop - La Plata

About this photo, Carlos wrote: “In every butcher shop, every second morning, in every town and city all over the country, you see these people downloading the meat from the trucks.”

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.

Images from various streets - La Plata

Top left: People waiting for the bus in a working-class and industrial neighborhood. Top right: A strange-looking tree encountered while “lost.” Carlos writes: “This tree’s name is Ceiba speciosa, known as ‘palo borracho’ (drunken stick) here. It has no real wooden fibres, but some that accumulate water inside… You gotta see its fruits, in springtime they get open and let go kinda cotton where the seeds are kept.” Bottom left: A nice mosaic behind a locked gate. Bottom right: A Ray Charles mural near the hotel.

A reverie

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:

Last day in La Plata - La PlataLast Day in La Plata

I go out on the street.
Though the air
is still cool,
sunlight falls sharply
upon every object.

I don’t want
this beauty to shatter.
I want everything to stay as it is!
The days here have been perfect,

but I leave tomorrow
and nothing can
protect me from time
and its handmaiden,

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.

Scenes during a search for a black beret - La Plata

New sights on the way via a new route. Top left: a high narrow building rises. Top right: Bas-relief on the outer wall of a school building. Bottom left: A cultural centre in a mostly residential neighborhood. Bottom right: The ladies in the first shop off the target street, Calle 12.

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.

More scenes from the search for a black beret - La Plata

Top left: a street merchant who didn’t sell boinas, but was honest enough to direct me to the next guy down the way. Top right: A merchant’s street display. At the very bottom right—boina! Bottom left: The author in his old, tried-and-true beret. Right: (taken in Peru) The new one! Carlos said, “I don’t think it’s really a Basque beret. It looks more like an English riding hat!” Whatever it was, turned sideways, it did the trick nicely!

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.

Paintings from provincial art museum - La Plata

From the exhibit at the Emilio Pettoruti Provincial Art Museum in La Plata. Left: a work by the featured artist, Miguel Carlos Victorica. Right: an eye-catching framed poem that was also part of the museum exhibit.

Meeting Elena

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:

Gifts from friend Carlos to Max - La Plata

The two gifts presented by Carlos: Left, an Argentine/American friendship pin. Right, a leather wallet bearing a design by Argentine Indians, who, Carlos said sadly, fared even worse than those in the U.S.

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.

Elena, mother of Carlos - La Plata

Carlos and his mother, the spirited, feisty and gracious Elena

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.

Looking out window of Jorge Newbery Airport in Buenos Aires - La Plata

Looking out the Havanna Café window at the Rio de la Plata, from the Jorge Newbery airport in Buenos Aires.

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 

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