Friday, March 4, 2016

From Azul Town to Azure Skies

4 March 2016

We picked up our little car on Wednesday, and of course everything takes longer than planned.  Richard took care of the paperwork, I ran around the airport from terminal to terminal, collecting maps from the tourism centers (which are inside the arrival area, so I had to get a guard to open the area from the outside and let me in).

Finally, we were on our way, with the plan being head south and to the coast.

This part of Argentina is flat.  Perfect for farms and cattle ranches.  That's about all there is here - farms, huge herds of cattle, and straight flat roads.  With the occasional tractor or cow on the road, and signs warning that animals may be present on Ruta 3, the national highway.

Argentina is roughly one third the size of the USA at 1,068,302 square miles (or 2,766,890 square kilometers).  The length is about 3,650 km (2,268 miles) from north to south, and the width is 1,430 km (889 miles) from the Andes in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east - at the widest point, of course, because the country is shaped somewhat like an ice cream cone, point at the bottom.

Given that size and those dimensions, we know it will take time to get around.  Especially if we meet to cow or bull on the road from time to time.

So our first day, we drove from the international airport south of Buenos Aires, heading vaguely SW toward the beach area.  We drove until late afternoon, and arrived in the town of Azul (meaning "blue" in Spanish).  And no, no idea why the town was named Azul.

But it's a pretty little town, some 50-60,000 residents, with old buildings dating back to the 1830s, when the town was first established.  (Mostly as a fort to protect the city of Buenos Aires from raids by the indigenous peoples.) 

We found an acceptable hotel, nothing fancy, and then headed into the central part of town for some dinner.  

Now, the average time for dinner in Argentina is some time between 9 PM to 11 PM.  We tend to head out about 8 PM, which is a bit early and some restaurants aren't ready for customers for dinner.  (We often end up with something like an omelet for dinner.  I really can't eat a steak at 9 PM or so, not and get to sleep before 2 AM.)

So we were walking around at twilight, maybe 7 PM.  None of the usual dinner sorts of restaurants were ready.  Places that are open at that hour are usually serving Argentinians a small snack - maybe a coffee, juice, or a beer, with possibly some sliced cheese or something.  Or a sweet, like ice cream, cake, or the ever-present medialuna, a honey-glazed croissant.

However, this meant the lighting made for some dramatic photos of the important buildings of Azul, with sunset glowing behind the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary as well as the statue of, well, I'm not sure, one of the heroes of Argentinian history.  The white building is the Palacio Municipal, the center of the local government.  

We had our light dinner and walked back to our hotel.  The day had been warm, but once the sun set the night was cold!  Buenos Aires never quite got cold at night, but Azul was close to 400 km (240 miles or so) away, so I guess we're no longer feeling those warm evening ocean breezes.

We got back on the road by mid-morning and turned off Ruta 3 onto Ruta 226, which angles more SE.  This would give us more opportunity to spend time along the southern coast of this curve of Argentina.  Beach time!

So we continued our way past farms growing corn, herds of cows, and the intermittent bright yellow flash of a field of sunflowers.

As we approached the coast, we started to see hills - they looked so strange after so much time of nothing but flat plains.  And then there were the rocky table lands, huge mesas or plateaus, looking like hills that had their top curves chopped off.  This actually looked almost like a canyon, except that it was green and the mesas were scattered randomly across the landscape.  But they were definitely rock at their core, the stone visible in the areas where the soil has eroded.  Makes sense, this is why these mesas didn't erode away when the rest of the land was washed away by rivers or pushed away by glaciers eons ago.  It was a very eerie kind of landscape, despite the blue blue skies and sunny day.

And then the coast - beaches!  The Atlantic Ocean !  Finally!  Except, well, we've been so spoiled by our years in the Caribbean and our visits to South Pacific islands.  There was a strong chilly wind blowing, foretelling of the cold winter to come.  The ocean looked murky and dark, churning waves onto the dark sand beach.  It wasn't tropical, it wasn't warm, it wasn't inviting.  And the city, Mar del Plata, was crowded and busy and touristy.

So we headed west and a little more south again, outside Mar del Plata, to the quieter beach towns.  Richard found a little café where the waitress drew a wonderful little map for us, easy to follow and and labelled and everything!  (When was the last time you had a random stranger draw a map for you?  Such a nice woman!)

We had checked the weather report and knew that rain was expected today, Friday, so we finally found a nice hotel and opted to stay two nights.  Who wants to drive in the cold rain when you can stay in a warm hotel with access to the heated pool, sauna, and steam room?

I managed to get some photos in during a lull in the storms.  The sky was a fabulous dark grey with a hint of blue, heavy with approaching rain, a wonderful contrast to the silvery green of the ocean as it was churned up by the wind and waves.  With the white foamy surf washing up on the rain-darkened beach.  

The buildings are "balnearios," day spas.  People come to the beach and hang out at the spa so they can swim in the ocean, or the spa pool, and have access to showers and all those other facilities.  Plus there are also little cabanas for changing clothes, as well as beach chairs and umbrellas.  Yesterday the place was packed, but today everything is empty.

We're nice and cozy in our hotel, a bit nicer than our usual, and yes, it's been raining most of today.  We put on warm and waterproof clothes and headed out to the beach, but by the time we made it out the door it was pouring, with the rain bouncing back up from the pavement, it was hitting with such force!

Sometimes enforced relaxing days are good.

And here's a map of the first two/three days of our road trip:



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