Pinamar, Villa Gessel, Mar Del Plata, Fangio - big trip - diary - argentina - february 2003

Approaching Mar del Plata

Fishing boats

Cold beach

Thursday 9 - Sunday 16 February

Forgetting the frustration of having to wait for the laptop to be fixed, we headed south east to the beach resort of Pinamar. The TV and newspapers have had reports of almost a million visitors to this coastline (a huge increase from the 150,000 yearly average) and the pictures of bikini-clad dorises were all that was needed to tempt us in that direction.

The initial impression was a bit different - we arrived as a huge thundercloud rumbled overhead, the now dark beach turned into a sandstorm with people rushing to shelter from the coming rain. Finding a campsite was easy and once the storm had passed we walked into the centre of town. Pinamar very closely resembles a posh ski resort but with sand instead of snow. Lots of expensive shops and restaurants, advertising everywhere with special stands for almost every car manufacturer showing off their latest models and the latest cars.

After a couple of nights it got a bit boring so we moved down the coast a scant 16 kms to Villa Gessel. This place was a bit more normal but also much busier with a lot more life to it. The long beach was packed with people but the inclement weather made it hard to decide whether to sunbathe or go and have a hot drink. The Argies have got both options covered - they sunbathe and drink hot maté at the same time.

Sea Lion 'nature reserve'...

...beside a ships graveyard...

...which is wicked, aye

Mobile popcorn

Beach at Pinamar

The FBI are taking over this investigation

Further down the coast Mar Del Plata is a big city resort with half a million residents and lots of tourists. The weather had turned cold so the beach was almost deserted, our campsite was 10 minutes drive out of town and it was a Monday. In other words no action at all. Some enjoyment was salvaged from the place by the excellent port area where there is a fishing fleet moored and a small colony of sea lions right beside the road. They don't smell too good this close up but they're good to watch, the tourists are too with all the women and children pulling funny faces whilst holding their noses against the reek. Right beside the animals is a ships graveyard of fantastic rusted hulks listing wildly and in various states of decay.

One of Fangio's first cars

One of his best, Mercedes Silver Arrow

Landy hacks around Balcarce racetrack

Looking down on our campsite at Balcarce

Balcarce, birthplace of Juan Fangio, one of the greatest racing drivers of all time, is an hours drive away from the coast and well worth the trip. The Fangio museum houses a fantastic collection of memorabilia and cars which are presented, together with the history of the man himself, on several levels of the old town hall building. Just outside the town is the campground and sports complex complete with swimming pool, basketball and more. It is situated at the foot of the tallest hill around (a bit over 300m) we set out to climb its misty summit. While coming back down we spotted a small black frog thing with a red belly and iridescent dots - turned out to be a young iguana....never knew that. The old bloke at the campsite shared more useful information, telling us that the hill we'd just scaled has the oldest known rocks on earth.

Before leaving Balcarce we took a quick spin around Fangio's racetrack which is nestled on a hillside. You pay 5 pesos for as long as you like and we did a few scorching laps in the landy, its 70hp allowing us to exceed the recommended 80km/h speed limit, just!

We returned to Villa Gessel via a toll-avoiding dirt road for a couple more nights until the good news that the laptop was fixed led us back to Buenos Aires to collect it. At last, now we can head south!

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