You might remember that when we were in Zambia back in March, we met a trio of beautiful Argentinians I like to call “the Lovelies.” Friends since grammar school, Martina, Mariana, and Manuela (also known as “the three M’s”) share a passion for travel. Together they have explored the far reaches of South America and this year they made the leap across the Atlantic to Africa. When we met them they had already spent time in South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe and were planning a stint in Namibia as well. As we rode the Jollyboys shuttle van to Victoria Falls, where Manuela was about to bungy jump, they asked us all about our trip and encouraged us to come to their homeland, a country whose virtues they passionately extolled. We met up with them later that night at Jollyboys where they prepared a full South American itinerary for us and promised us a personal introduction to Buenos Aires.
I emailed the lovelies when we were in Eastern Europe and they immediately whipped into action on our behalf sending info about hotels, rental cars, and places to visit. I called Martina the day we arrived in Buenos Aires and we met she and Mariana the next day in a park in Recoleta. Manuela, who is really Brazilian, was on a business trip to Brazil. It was strange to see the lovelies in winter gear since they had seemed so at home in their flip flops, tank tops, and peasant skirts in Africa. The cold weather did little to deter their warmth and they showered us with hugs and Argentinian hospitality.
The next day they took us to the colorful waterfront district of La Boca. Promising us that the cabs here are in fact safe, they whisked us away to the edgy neighborhood where blue collar barrio meets tourist mecca. As the sun faded into the horizon, the temperature dipped and our stomachs started rumbling. It turns out taxis don’t go to La Boca at night (the tourists vanish once the sun goes down). We were just about to hop a bus back to Recoleta when the lovelies worked their magic and snared two taxis. We shared a dinner of milanesa (breaded beef) and submarinos (chocolate bars in milk) in a restaurant opposite the famed cemetery and thanked our lucky stars we were once again in a land of culinary plenty.
Next day Martina and Mariana took us to Tigre to an awesome asado (barbeque) place owned by Martina’s friends. We gorged on a myriad of meat products–beef, chicken, pork–but still could not fully embrace the Argentine ability to eat anything that comes from a farm animal. The most expensive dish on offer was gizzard. Martina assured us it was delectable, but only McKane and Tom were brave enough to try. I remember my grandfather eating chicken gizzard when I was a kid but somehow I figured it was an organ meat that had been phased out over the ensuing decades. Obviously I was wrong. Martina was also the only one with a penchant for blood…blood sausage that it. They call it morcilla here. It looks like a normal kielbasa with the notable exception of its color–dark red bordering on black…that would be the blood. Yuck. Martina assured us that it was an acquired taste, one that she had developed in recent years. We were happy for her, we replied, so much so that we would gladly leave all the morcilla for her.
After the meal, we strolled the old fruit docks which are now a center for cheap home decor products and stumbled upon a carousel. The little kids insisted they had to ride and Martina was eager to join them. She accompanied them on multiple rides, one in the spinning teacup, and by the time they emerged she had started calling Asher by the nickname I use, “baby girl” lending it her own flair by adding a Southern accent (which I don’t have).
By that time their nascent bond already ran deep. Asher had spent the better part of the day trying to convince Martina to quit smoking and finally succeeded. Spurred on by a supportive and equally concerned Mariana, she tried all the usual arguments–it’s bad for your health, it smells nasty, etc.–but when they fell short, she resorted to craftier methods. At lunch she crawled under the table, unzipped Martina’s bag, and removed the offending Lucky Strikes. We discovered them on the way out, but by then Martina had begun to seriously consider her preschool soul sister’s request. Mariana had coached Asher on how to say, “No fumar, por favor, Martina.” “If she looks me in the eye and asks me in Spanish, there’s no way I can say no,” she pledged. On the train home Asher mastered the plea and sprang it on Martina. “That’s it. I’m quitting,” she said. (Nine days later she has yet to smoke!)
After the train ride back to Buenos AIres, the kids were desperate to initiate the Lovelies into the She’s the Man club, but that particular rite of passage would have to wait until the following week. There was important schoolwork to be done and the Lovelies were integral to the effort. Dax’s online Spanish class requires him to record himself interviewing five Spanish speakers about their likes and dislikes. Armed with both wit and wisdom, the lovelies agreed to participate. Paula also jumped on board as did Tom and I have who have only un poco Spanish ability.
“Hola, Martina. What do you like to do?” he queried (in Spanish of course…I don’t know how to make the upside down question marks…what’s the deal with those anyway?). “Hola, Dax. I like to travel,” came her reply.
“What don’t you like to do?” The questions were rolling off his tongue with the requisite Latin flair now.
“I don’t like to eat rice,” was her droll reply. “I really do,” she quickly qualified in English. “I just didn’t know what to say.”
The interview turned to Mariana. “Hola, Mariana. What do you like to do?”
Without missing a beat, the quick-thinking Mariana answered, “I like to eat barbeque and the rice that Martina throws out.”
Now we were on a roll. Paula’s answers were more subdued, but she answered them as “beautiful woman, friend of my mother.”
Then it was my turn. “Mom, what do you like to do?” I had him teach me how to say, “I like to dance” in Spanish.
Next was Tom. “Dad, what do you like to do?” “I like to drink and watch your mother dance.” (We’re not sure where the drink part came from, especially since we’re teetotalers, but there was no way we were going to edit that one out. Hopefully Dax’s teacher finds humor in it as well.)
The Lovelies coached us on our accents and we tried to keep our composure as Dax recorded our mangled utterances. Then Martina, at Paula’s prompting, began demonstrating a bevy of Spanish accents for our unrefined American ears. The daughter of a diplomat, she spent her childhood in Buenos Aires, Budapest, and El Salvador and attended American schools much of the time. She looks South American but speaks English like a North American. She switched effortlessly from one accent to another with accompanying facial expressions and body gestures to boot. Argentine, Cuban, Chilean, Mexican, Continental Spanish, and even American were all part of her repertoire. We were rolling on the floor as she shifted from a rich, emotive Argentinian cadence to a flat, nasal American high school Spanish drawl. “Poor fah-voor. Grah-ci-us.” This girl is a magician of language and a comedienne to boot.
We bid our two Lovelies farewell for the week, since they’re now working stiffs, slaving away in offices to finance their next trip, probably to New Zealand. We invited them over for lunch on the following Sunday, Paula’s last day in Argentina, for Tom’s famous pasta bar and the long awaited She’s the Man viewing (we’ve got a 42″ flat screen in the apartment–posh!). I grilled them with more itinerary questions before the screening while Asher tattooed their arms with Crayola washable markers.
The Lovelies returned to our apartment tonight to bid us farewell and help us make some last minute bus reservations over the phone. This time Manu (Manuela), back from her travels, came as well. (She will soon be off to Ireland to spend time with a handsome young man she met in Mozambique..aaahhh, international romance…so we were glad to catch her while she was in town.) At last we had the 3 M’s together again. Tom suggested that if I started going by my middle name, Marie, I could become the fourth M. My hair’s the right color, but my accent is sorely deficient…and the rest of the Six might miss me if I took off with the Lovelies for parts unknown.
Meeting the Lovelies has been a highlight of our travels. They understand our desire to see, do, and experience because it’s part of them as well. They get all the same “You must be crazy” remarks from family and friends but continue on in their adventures undaunted. Mariana, who is even smaller than I am, was so determined to take her African trip earlier this year that when a thief snatched her handbag containing her passport just a few days before her departure, she ran after him and grabbed the bag back, risking life and limb to ensure she would go. That’s a woman who’s serious about her traveling.
The welcome the Lovelies extended us and the warmth they’ve shown over the past week and a half have made an indelible impression on us and ensured that Buenos Aires is now one of our favorite cities in the world (more on that later).
Adios, Lovelies. We’ll miss you!