We’ve touched down in El Bolson, hippie capital of Argentina apparently and after our wholesomely pure walk into the forest it’s market day. Considering we are carrying our lives on our backs we really can’t collect souvenirs but there is conveniently no carry on baggage limit to our stomachs so it’s time to suck up. Market day today means fat day, that horrid cliche term for points dieters on their day to forget the counting and eat all they want, why not just eat decent food and do that every day I wonder? The first haze of our visit into Argentina was spent adopting the local diet of meat and wine which then became accompanied by the more everyday plague of sugar, white bread, cheese and fat at strategically bad times of the day. After correcting this diet train smash and hunting down any available vegetable in the last month we are due for a good old fashioned day of indulgence this time in our own way. Some aspects of local culture just shouldn’t be embraced after all.
The walk into El Bolson town shows a tourist town that doesn’t quite tick the usual tourist boxes; maybe town government isn’t too organised, maybe it’s the hippie vibe. Who really knows and in two full days here we’re not going to find out but it’s a town full of eroded footpaths, unkempt parks and an overarching need for a bit of spit and polish, or is it? And the cars, we can’t ignore the cars; safe to say that Argentina doesn’t have roadworthy tests for car registration, the inordinate number of deathtraps still in motion here is equally frightening and hilarious. Opposing this sense of run-down rough edges, El Bolson has a great lively vibe, we see about us plenty of alive smiling faces, we hear music, laughter and the general bustle on the streets shows off a community that is vibrant and social. Rough edges with a great vibe, I dislike the label ‘hippie’, maybe it is a progressively retro-sympathetic town after all.
In no time like the clearing of clouds to rain sunshine down upon an apparition we round the ATM queue to find the bountiful feeding ground that is the market right before us, our bovine pasture. I think I hear a choir sing. Taking a step aside from our recent mountain sojourn we amble slowly taking in all manner of arts and crafts, local produce and of course food. It’s a pumping market even early in the day and the work on offer blessedly steers clear of the cheap import plague that infests so many markets of this kind; it’s authentic, genuine and real. Some artisans working on their goods right in the market stall showing off their skills that matched markets in Ecuador which is a big compliment.
But enough foreplay, it’s food time and we’re starving. There’s plenty of options abound and first up we opt for an arabic empanada before the lamb sandwich washed down with a raspberry and orange juice and a raspberry and yoghurt smoothie, we couldn’t get just one. We devour these little pieces of heaven on a patch of grass beside the market to watch the world go by and soak up the relaxed carefree atmosphere. Only a small deviation though, back into the binge we take down a shawarmi (like a kebab wrap) and cram in a big slice of organic vegie pie, this food is cheese free and genuine, the choir sings again. This is nearly as good as a Mexican market and a blessed abandonment of the limited Argentinian diet which punitively swamps this country. We finish up with a fruit laden waffle and even dare a little bit of cream, crazy I know. Oh and we might have stopped for a couple of cakes on the way out to take back to the hostel, yes this is the most glorious of fat days and a couple of bottles of wine on the way back just seems right today.
Attempting to chill out in town we pass a cafe we wanted to try near the market that is closed from 1-4pm, of course, so typically Argentina, back to the hostel it is. Sitting in a hammock, checking rugby scores we crack out a cake and wile away the afternoon, of course it doesn’t take long to open the first bottle of wine. As well as being a fat day it’s turning out to be a down time day, this most casual of places an unavoidable setting for a much needed unwind, a skinny day in that respect. On the way out our neighbour in our cabin, Ross invites us to his birthday. A little stunned at this odd request we hesitantly agree as he tells us with a broad smile that it’s just a dinner in our cabin. Oh easy, we’re there. We hastily offer to cook for the occasion and throw together an even hastier plan to flesh out our own dinner we’ve started to accommodate our now festively larger group.
And the party does go ahead with all the patched together fanfare that accompanies a travelling birthday, that is to say very light on streamers, party hats and brightly wrapped gifts. Instead these occasions away from home are more often punctuated with a cling to the important, company in the shape of new found friends drawn together by fast forming bonds of the lonely traveller. Ross and his partner Emma are in El Bolson to embark on a farm-stay adventure learning natural building methods, hippies of a sort in common vernacular. But it doesn’t seem right to slap the ‘H’ word on this couple bucking the cliche of the often conservative capitalist American. Having a social conscience and seeking a less packaged-convenience way to live seems to be a much needed approach in our post-modern existence, something to be lauded, not labelled.
Over wine and food our somewhat motley crew forms bonds that might be a little too distant to connect at other times. Capitalist system whipping boy escapists (that’s us) are not after all native companions with broad horizon contra-modernists, but travelling does make social categories seem distant, condescending and absurd. We meet new friends, we learn new things and unsurprisingly the feelings of friendship, connection and community are welcomingly all too common. This blank anaemic day of rest was meant to be a fat day in food sense alone yet we climb to bed tipsy and stuffed to bursting in so many other ways, not a food fat-day but a day that could only have one tag, just a big fat day.