Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bike trip to Tigre and San Isidro (Ken)

As I was walking back home from the Ecological Reserve, I ran into the Bike Tour group I had read about in Lonely Planet . There were about a dozen people milling around Plaza San Martin just before 2:00, so I asked about the tours for tomorrow. They said, just show up about 10 minutes before the tours starts. I decided to go in the morning ad got there at about 9:15. Nobody was there.

Just before 9:30, some girls started arriving with bikes and two other tourists gathered. In all there were three guides and three tourists. They asked what a tour I wanted and I told them I wanted to go to Tigre and San Isidro. This involves taking a train about 15 miles north of Buenos Aires. I expected them to say that since the group was small would I mind taking the tour with the other two. But no, “Great,” she said. “You will go with Ana.”

The tour is 4 hours and $90 pesos. We took the bikes and headed to Ritero train station. The train system was built by the British—and you can tell because the trains run on the wrong side of the tracks. Ana gave me my tour in Spanish. She was very kind and repeated for me. When I totally didn’t understand, she’d throw in some English. She encouraged me to ask questions, but I had to think of questions I was able to ask that would elicit answers I was able to understand.

The train ride as just as odd as you would expect. Men selling things would take turns giving their sales pitches. They all went something like this guy selling those little portable book lights.

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention for just a few moments. I have here a very special product. It is a nightlight that, with the press of a button unfolds to reveal this powerful light. You can clip it on a book or a magazine and read. It makes and excellent nightlight and an excellent gift. Now you may expect to pay 15, 18, even 20 pesos for such an item. But no, today it is only 5 pesos. Five pesos, nothing more.”

He then makes his way up-and-down the train car seeing if there are any takes. On that day, I had the opportunity to purchase a measuring tape, a ruler with cartoon characters, a plastic pen and pencil case, a set of colored pencils, a recorder, and was serenaded by a Peruvian pipe-and-stringed instrument musician, and a blind harmonica player.

So we got to Tigre. This is a delta where there is fertile land that was used for growing fruits and vegetables. However, it flooded so much that, when transportation became better, the Argentines gave up and moved elsewhere. It is now a tourist destination. A 45 minute train ride for less than a peso can get you out of the city into trees, and water, and quiet. The old Fruit Port is a tourist market. There are boat tours and boat rentals and houses up on stilts to protect against the floods.

We got back on the train, my beautiful tour guide and I, and went to San Isidro. This is where the wealthy live. They have large houses up on the hill with a panoramic view of El Rio De La Plate. Next, Ana took me to a place where I could see the City Of Buenos Aires off in the distance. Up close, the river, full of silt from its journey through the delta, looks like the color of Café con Leche. But, when you see the full expanse of the surface of the water, it is silver. The sun catches the shiny edges of the silt and reflects off.

We got back on the train, heard a few more sales pitches. I got a glimpse of the Misery Villages just across the railroad tracks form the Palermo Race track. It looks like Haiti, very sad.

I got home in once piece and, after four hours, I was Spanished-out!. School starts again Monday, so my weekdays will once again be filled with classes, homework, and studying. At least I got some sightseeing done and got out of the city during my off week.

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