Everyone was right: there is truly nothing going on in the old oil production town of Rio Gallegos. I didn’t even know where everyone was until I found the main street. I only call it ‘main street’ because it had more on it than the idle dog and tufts of overgown roadside grass that were the staple of most of the streets here. Oh yes, did I mention the wind? It was so strong at times you could lean into it at quite an acute angle without falling down.
Truly boring, and I couldn’t have been happier. After a distracted time in Buenos Aires I spent the two days catching up on some writing and sampling some wonderful baked goods. Each town, no matter how small seems to have an carb-injecting, endorphin-inducing bakery or ‘panaderia’. NOTE: I’ve given up trying to figure out how to enter accents on my laptop, so please don’t confuse my laziness for ignorance. These wonderful places spill their scents of fresh empanadas (meat, cheese or vegetable stuffed pouches), loafs and pies onto the sidewalk. It’s bordering on the use of unfair subliminal advertising. There’s also a lot of pizzerias, An obvious sign of the Italian influence in Argentina from back in the day. It’s often topped with the most unexpected yet delicious items, such as beets or palm hearts with’golf sauce’. I’m not sure where the name ‘golf sauce’ came from but it had to be sampled; a sort of mayonnaise ‘special sauce’ was the rather indulgent surprise.
I decided to stay for a second night and make a good dent on a book called Odyssey to Ushuaia. While I had actually decided to avoid that particular odyssey this time, it is a remarkably well written account about three odd characters that journey from upstate New York to Ushuaia on motorcycles. The story made me realize that as usual, I had a romanticized vision of the arduous experience; these experienced riders were constantly falling down and running into problems, including solid obstacles like trucks and fat tourists. I am still intent on tracking down a motorcycle, but the best lead I’ve found that isn’t an exorbitant rip-off is in Bariloche, about half way back up the country, so my 2-wheeled exploits will have to wait until then.
On my second night I found a parilla ‘resto-bar’ that was across the street from the town’s only attraction, a small casino. After consuming a healthy amount of local beer, my book seemed far less interesting than the group of four, strikingly out of place English girls sitting at a table nearby, smoking, drinking and generally being very ‘Brits on Tour’. If you know this expression, you’ll know that it’s usually accompanied by a series of horrendous songs than only the worst of drunken Brits around the world sing, perhaps in an sad effort to renew their claim ‘this bloody territory, mate!’. Indeed, long live imperial imperial rule, my slurring chums, the Queen would approve 😉
Of course my favorite ice-breaker as a ‘constantly quitting smoker’ is to ask for a cigarette and whther I can join the table, while simultaneously pulling up a seat to negate any other answer except ‘yes’. I take a special pride in watching people’s reactions to strangers; many people are happy to chat, others are immediately suspicious. The latter are the type of characters that I take special pride in winning over. At first, Emma was not at all happy that I’d joined the table but soon enough I had her timidly smiling, and then laughing with my story about learning to plough the Vietnamese rice paddies in a tux. Their guard was let down so by the time I introduced the idea of all going to the casino, it was an easy sell – even though none of them had ever been to one before. We all left the restaurant, past the jealous gaze of a table full of local men that looked that they would give their last empanada just for an acknowledgement from one of these pale-skinned beauties.
It was a lofty USD$1.25 to enter the casino, a small price to pay to be the happy corruptor of these four girls. Being a responsible bad influence I told them it was always a good idea to only bet with what you could afford to lose. In this case they pooled together USD$25. I matched it. I taught them the rules of routlette and then showed them how to play black jack. It was an odd sight to witness, these four girls placing bets in between a group of hefty Chilean men with cheekfuls of coca leaves. I’m a pretty ‘live and let live’ kinda guy but I must say, they were really disgusting characters; I don’t know whether it was a side effect of the addiction, or just a curse of their genes but not only were they all really quite obese but they had pockmarked skin and really nasty attitudes. I smiled congenially and turned my gaze back to the raucous girls. We hit the tables for the next 2 hours at which point I was out of chips and they were substantially up. Beginners luck!
“Girls, it’s been a pleasure but I have to retire – I have an early bus!”
“Oh don’t be a spoil-sport, ours is too and we’re just getting started!” Emma retorted! By this point she, like all of them, had the fire in her eyes that accompanies the taste of greed that any self-respecting gambler possesses. “We might just stay here until then!” To which the rest of them laughed with inebriated glee. After making my excuses I left, looking back just in time to catch the gaggling shrieks as they apparently “put it all on black! Yipee!”
As my bus pulled away the next morning I couldn’t help but feel more than a little responsible. I hoped that they made it out of that strange, ‘nothing going on’ town of Rio Gallegos.