<%-- Page Title--%> Travel <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 131 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

November 21, 2003

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A Visit To The Land of Maradona

Syed Noor Hossain

The title may be misleading. This essay is not about football! But to most football lovers in Bangladesh, Argentina is synonymous with Maradona, who is perhaps the greatest footballer of the last century. I visited Argentina several times during the late nineties and early 2001. My last visit to the country took place at a time when Argentina was going through a serious economic crisis and saw several changes in the Presidency. Even in those bad days, I was amazed to see that high class and expensive restaurants were always full. That shows the typical trauma of the developing countries where the rich always seem to remain rich and only the poor and the lower middle class suffer when the going is bad for the economy.

I was located in Brasilia by virtue of my official assignment. But Brasilia was like a village in comparison to Buenos Aires, which is built as a beautiful European city. Some years ago, Argentina was also made famous by the musical Evita. To the lovers of Tagore literature, Buenos Aires has a special meaning too. Rabindranath had dedicated a whole book of poems, Bijaya, to Victoria Ocampo, the great socialite and writer of Buenos Aires of that time. Gurudev very cleverly translated Victoria as Bijaya and wrote a number of verses dedicated to the Argentine lady.

Unlike Brasilia, the Argentine capital has an aura of culture. The people take great pride in that and despise their less sophisticated Portuguese-speaking big brother. Once a proud nation and one of the richest countries in the early last century, Argentina was caught up in deep economic quagmire and large-scale unemployment. During the heyday of Argentina, some decades ago, the international donor agencies pumped more money into the Argentine economy than it could absorb. Consequently, the huge borrowed funds became deadweight and the economy virtually collapsed. For long, the government steadfastly pegged Peso to US Dollar at one to one. But finally it all crumbled. So Argentina, once a rich country, encountered the emergence of poor and hungry people. Before the economic crisis, Argentina had also enjoyed considerably higher per capita income than Brazil. The Argentine Peso depreciated considerably once it was left to the forces of the free market. Of course, the tourists are happy. They can now eat the finest steak in the world at a relatively affordable price. Argentine beef, to my mind, is unbeatable.

Argentina is a large country, covering over 2.7 million square kilometers. That makes it just less than one-third of Brazil. In terms of natural beauty, from the north to the south, it has some of the most magnificent places on earth. One of the areas of awesome beauty is the vast tract of land in the southern part of Argentina, known as Patagonia. In winter, the landscape gives the impression of an endless desert covered with snow. No human soul could be seen on either side of the single highway that leads to the perpetually snow covered glaciers in the south. I have not visited any other place on earth with which I can draw a good comparison. Perhaps Alaska, where I long to go, provides somewhat similar landscape reflecting the beauty of eternally snow-covered glaciers.

For average tourists, Patagonia provides the joy of experiencing the ride on dog sledge and snowmobile. And if one has considerable affinity for wild animals and zeal for adventure, Patagonia will be an exciting place to go. Depending on the season, tourists can see such exciting animals as whales, penguins, Fuegian Red Fox, Grey Patagonian Fox, Castilla Rabbit, Canadian Beavers, Muskrats, Guanaco, Sea Lions, Andean Condors, seagulls and eagles. My point of interest in Patagonia was to visit Perito Moreno glacier at El Calafate, a place that takes half a day to reach from Rio Gallegos, the capital of Santa Cruz, by a four-wheeler jeep. The Perito Moreno glacier was an unforgettable sight. When the sunlight reflects on the immense glacier it sparkles like a huge bluish crystal. Occasionally big chunks of ice come off the glacier with thundering noise.

While in Patagonia, I further went down the south and arrived at the southernmost city of the world Ushuaia, surrounded by lakes and magnificent mountains. The city is located in the province of Tierra del Fuego. The missionary zeal of the Europeans brought them this far. But one man's conquest was another man's demise. Some 10,000 original inhabitants whose ancestors came from Asia many thousands of years ago -- disappeared completely. A visit to the National Park in Ushuaia was worth it. I was told the colonisers introduced the Canadian beaver there and the little animals played havoc with the trees. I would have loved to photograph them but in frozen winter it was not possible.
From Ushuaia there is opportunity to take a boat trip to Antarctica during the summer. One can also go to Malvinas (the Falklands to the British). While in Argentina, I wish I could have travelled to the north. But then from the north to the south the distance is enormous, some 3,799 kilometres, and it is too ambitious for a short-term tourist to attain that goal. For him the best option in Argentina is to stay put in its capital, Buenos Aires, to enjoy the sensual tango, both in the night clubs and on the streets, and eat a fantastic barbecue dinner of juicy Argentine beef.

The writer is a photographer and author of several books. He is also president of The Prokriti Foundation.



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