I met Jose Maria at our 350.org event a few weeks back, and after telling him how I was a big fan of the LA Critical Mass, I had no choice but to participate in the La Plata Critical Mass, which he happens to be in charge of.
Tonight, while in the hunt for live music, I stumbled upon this folklore Peña. I was familiar with Peñas from my time in Peru, where most of the “legit” flute and folkorica bands would play. My friend Ali and I peered in the window and upon seeing 6 of our friends rocking out to some 4 part harmonies, we had to go in.
The first group was traditional Argentine folklorica: flutes, lots of drums, guitars and even a xylophone-type instrument. The experience was enhanced by my friends Ihintza and Narua, who broke out their songbook and launched into some folklorica from their Basque homeland. The second group looked like a family project, complete with the weird wacky uncle on bass. They were sloppy to start, but ended up rallying behind their super talented frontman who could play pan pipes, flute, guitar and every other indigenous instrument he could get his hands on.
One of my frequent criticisms of bands are the ones that try to cover too many genres within one set, which was exactly what happened here. We had Peruvian flute ballads, Mapuche Andean sonatas, Guaraní galaguetzas, you name it. The venue Salamanca had a great vibe however, very cozy; reminded me of a Native American longhouse, will definitely return before my time here is up.
On my lunch break, I took the liberty of biking out the fabled Wal-Mart of La Plata. Like most Wal-Marts, it was confined to the outskirts of town and I had to head past the city limits to get there. Riding highway shoulders on beach cruisers is not advisable in Argentina, just FYI.
Alright, so I’ve lived (at least for a few weeks at a time) in my share of places on this earth, but have somehow always managed to avoid a local homestay for some reason or another. Having had my fair share of travelers chastise me for not having taken advantage at “the ultimate cultural endeavor,” I bit this time for Argentina and went for the homestay.
For the past month and a half, I’ve been working for an Environmental NGO called Fundación Biosfera. My boss, Horacio, started the NGO in 1991 and still lives in the same dual house/office. The biggest asset is his network. There are about 50 or so professionals, students and interns that put in work for La Plata and I’m sure I will describe each and every one at some point.
All are regional variances of the Latin American cowboy, not unlike their North American counterpart, of which I am currently dressed as right now. It’s good that my first entry happens to be on my favorite holiday of the year, as usually, I am rushing to put last minute embellishments on my super-awesome costume in the US. Since Halloween is rather low key in Argentina, all you really need to do is make the effort and you’re “participating.” This is why my Cowboy hat and western shirt shall suffice.