By Alison Lapshinoff
It is three o’clock and my stomach complains loudly that it has not been fed since nine, when it was given its usual morning offering of croissants and coffee. Not my first choice, nor my stomach’s, however, this country leaves little room for debate when it comes to breakfast.
The ruthless, late afternoon sun beats mercilessly on Anywhere, Argentina, the buildings shuttered and businesses locked up tight. I imagine their inhabitants within snoring in their beds or sprawled languorously on beaten couches while fanning the sweat from their collective brow, whiling away the sweltering afternoon. Around six, they will begin to arise from their long siesta. It will still be hot but bordering on tolerable. Businesses will reopen and shoppers will emerge from the corners of the city. At this time, it will be only two hours until the first of the few restaurants open for dinner, and about three until they are actually full of happy, well rested, dining Argentinians. My growling, impatient stomach is not in agreement with this new, forced dining schedule!
As Argentina has not yet been endowed with western conveniences such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, one must work a little harder to find mid-afternoon nourishment. Generally, a gas station or corner store can provide a few meager provisions between the quiet, hungry hours of two and eight o’clock. At these oases of air conditioning, the dehydrated, heat affected traveler might find bottles of water, bags of nuts, chips and cookies and perhaps a large bottle of Quilmes, the nation’s beer of choice. Offered in the agreeably large size denominations such as 750 ml or 1 L, two people can easily stave off hunger with one or two of these before the dining establishments finally open their doors to the hungry populace.
Most every city in the northern part of the country seems to be necessarily well-endowed with shade trees flanking luxuriously wide, tiled sidewalks leading to the central focal point, a large, shady plaza, ideal for whiling away siesta time. Here, children play amongst regal statues and stately fountains while adults sit idly and chat on benches, often sharing a cup of the nation’s traditional beverage, yerba mate , a bitter loose leaf tea, drunk through a metal straw with a filter on its bottom end called a bombilla .
In many towns such as this, travelers are rare and locals exist on relatively little. Although we conspicuously carry a guidebook and a camera, and ogle at our new surroundings in a way no local would, no one follows us around trying to sell us trinkets or coerce us into parting with our pesos for an overpriced tour. And although Argentina seems to employ a disproportionate amount of policemen who stand on patrol around the plazas and on street corners, ensuring all remains peaceful and quiet, they do not seem intimidating and they, too, pay us no mind.