Argentina means more to me than anyone would think. As someone from the east coast of Canada, just by looking at me, people wouldn’t think that I’d be connected to that country whatsoever. And to be fair, until this trip, I didn’t think I really was.
My grandmother, the spontaneous, loud, matriarch of my family was born in central Argentina, Santa Fe, to be exact, went to boarding school in Buenos Aires, and vacationed along the east coast of the Buenos Aires province, in a small beach town called Monte Hermoso. Before my time, my family often spent winters there in Monte Hermoso (or as my aunt simply calls it, Monte), and they always told stories about it when I was younger. Of course, at a young age, I didn’t think of how cool it was that they had a house right on the vicious sand dunes that eventually got swallowed up, or literally the fact that they spent enough time in Monte to even have stories like the ones they told me.
I tried to put into words how much this trip meant to me, but I’ve struggled for nearly 6 months to comprehend what kind of impact it had on my life and my understanding of my family.
The first moment that I realized significant the impact of Argentine culture had on my family was when I walked into an unassuming type of restaurant in the business district of Buenos Aires. My aunt and I were walking along a pedestrian only promenade, in the 30 degree humidity filled heat, seeing all the types of shops and restaurant patios around us. A lady heard our english, started to heckle us to come in to her restaurant, and I simply responded lo siento (sorry) to her and continued to walk. My aunt, however, always the curious, stopped dead in her tracks and grabbed my arm and looked at the menu. She began to speak to the lady fluently, and before I knew it, we were going in a corner door and down into a basement restaurant.
We both were cautious about what we were getting into — after all, I had no idea what my aunt and the lady had a conversation about — but as I came into view of the restaurant, I could see it was absolutely booming with camaraderie, wine, and servers chatting with all the locals. It consisted of a small bar in the corner, with the bartender enjoying himself as much as the clientele, boxing ring photos along the top of the walls, a couple of long picnic tables throughout the middle of the dining room, and some smaller, more intimate tables along the side. Everyone was having what looked like an amazing time; there wasn’t an empty glass of wine in the room, and there was plenty of laughter and smiles. Immediately, it felt like what was like a family gathering, but just on a bigger level. The older ladies looked classy but still had spunk in what they said, and there was a simple ease to their attitude around others.
“This is so Argentine, Em.” My aunt said to me. “We would go to places like this when we were younger.”
It then made sense as to why everyone in my family — except my incredibly Welsh grandfather — was so damn loud all the time, and had that kind of admirable comfort around groups of people. It was what they were brought up with.
I had feared that Argentina would be a bit of a culture shock, but I felt at ease, even in a bustling city like Buenos Aires. When we moved our vacation down to Monte Hermoso, it was even easier.
Monte, formally called Balneario Monte Hermoso — Balneario meaning beach front in Argentina, is a small town that’s packed during the summer season, with various surf shacks along the beach that stretches for miles.
At the end of the town, along a wide sand road beside a quiet end of the beach, there’s Sauce Grande, the Argentine version of a suburb. I had no idea where we were going in the car, but I didn’t question it. The sand lined roads were filled with small A-Frame homes, sand going up to the front door, evergreen trees and lavender fields around them.
My aunt stopped the car beside a house covered by dense trees and grass. There were no street signs, so I had no idea why she had stopped there. Prior to stopping, she was driving the car in what seemed like a maze.
“Wow. It’s untouched.” she said to herself. “Em, this is where we lived when we were here. This was Grandpa’s house.” She told me, referring to my great grandfather. My aunt, typically emotional about anything, was enamoured with the sight and let out a heavy sigh.
For some reason, we didn’t keep the house in the family. I have no idea why my grandparents insisted on leaving it untouched and abandoned, but they did. My great grandmother’s house in Monte was on the beach, but ended up getting completely covered in sand in the winter. My aunt never found it on her trips.
As I explored the property, a flood of memories came back to me: my Mum telling me about walking from the house to the local store owned by a traditional Argentine Gaucho, getting some snacks, and then walking to and from the beach. Her telling me the horror stories about a frog jumping out of the shower drain, being too hot to sleep with sheets but also fearing the bugs coming in through an open window. I understood it now; I could visualize it.
In order to get to the beach, one has to climb through sand dunes to get to the ocean and proper suntanning areas. There were small havens of greenery and flowers in the sand dunes, blocking people from the direct sun and harsh wind from the ocean.
“I would always hide in here with Julie when Mum and Alfredo were on the beach.” My aunt said, referring to my grandmother’s friend and his loyal German shepherd, Julie. “She loved trying to chase the tuka tukas.” Tuka tuka being a prairie dog popping out of their holes in the sand.
As I looked around the dunes, I could picture it, and I remembered her telling me similar stories when I was young. Later that day, when I sat behind the dunes reading my book, it felt cool, almost surreal, to think that this has been a tradition of sorts in my family for three generations.
The amount of small realizations I had whilst on the trip to Argentina are enough to last me a lifetime. I wish I had taken more photos, to come home and show my Mum what Monte Hermoso had looked like now, as well as Buenos Aires, but it was tough to capture how much one small side street could mean to me and my family on camera.
The locals of Monte Hermoso were all so lovely and so keen to talk to us — in Spanish, of course — that it made it feel like home. I understood why my family spent so much time there, and in the future, I could seem myself doing the same.