Travel Writing Awards Entry

By Simon R Bunn

Argentinean Hospitality
Ring Ring: “Alright Diego?”
“Where are you man?”
“I’m in a place called Laguna Largo”
“Ah man what have you done… my mum’s threatening to throw me out?”
Many travellers idly utter the sentence “if ever you visit my Country you’re welcome to stay with me,” but the polite commonness of such a gesture is usually nonchalantly tossed aside like a Hostel rule book.  However, when South American lips deliver that farewell comment it would seem they truthfully mean it, and possess the tolerance to match their kindness.
My Argentinean Amigo, aptly named Diego, epitomised this philosophy scarcely a month after meeting him. Following a cluster of emails, surprisingly comfortable coach seats, and a personal escort from Cordoba’s main bus station we were at the Alonso household. For a country of economic malady, middle class Argentineans live well… bloody well! We were welcomed to directives of “our house is your house”, and the first inhabitant we met was the maid. Diego told us that his mum always endeavoured to employ “ugly” maids to limit the temptations of her hormonally growing sons.  Before we’d had chance to sit down “ugly” had a hearty breakfast in front of our still acclimatising eyes, and then we became briefly acquainted with Mrs Alonso and Diego’s older brother. Despite the English language being confined to its natives and Diego’s impressive grasp, the smiles, translations and hand gesticulations were warm enough to mark us with third degree burns. The invitation included our own separate bedrooms, free internet access, a drum kit and all the food in the building at our disposal… and it seemed clear it would be more uncouth not to indulge in the tangible homely luxuries a traveller is usually starved of. 
            By the second night of our stay we’d eaten a whole herd of BBQ’d cow with differing circles of Diego’s friends, and were sat in a stylish apartment with another group of mates keen to make us feel at home by playing “Manchester music” through westernised computers. Our mouths barely rested with attendees keen to chat with their “new friends” and discover “how do you like Argentina?” We didn’t enter the student populated City centre or the narcissistically named ‘Dorian Gray’ club until 4am, and that’s when an anticipated sexual conquest led to a new family.
At 9am, with the previous five hours A.W.O.L, I found myself on a Coach with local female Cecillia, leaving Argentina’s second city for Laguna Largos, one hour away. The household I found myself in was familiarly more humble than the Alonso’s but equally as hospitable. With seemingly no questions asked the mother had placed breakfast in my hands before we were excused to sleep in the door less bedroom she shared with her brother. On awaking I made this tale’s opening telephone conversation and discovered I’d done the one thing Diego had told me not to do: “Don’t bring any girls back.” Apparently I’d knocked on his door ridiculously drunk embracing Cecillia, only to be turned away forgetfully by an irate Mrs Alonso. Diego had faced the whirlwind of her anger for most of the day, before I suddenly felt that whirlwind transform into immeasurable guilt. How could I have disrespected the family that had been so kind to me and welcomed me into their home? What a way to pay them back.
            I spent the remainder of the day exploring the invisible attractions of Cecillia’s tiny cowboy like town. Meeting her friends and surroundings, I felt comfortable in the knowledge that I was the only “Gringo” in town, fascinating just by sight alone.  Like everyone else I’d met thus far in Argentina everyone was so affable, and dedicated to the question “how do you like Argentina?” Peer pressure is a powerful implement, and after clearing it with Diego, and putting reconciliation tactics for his mother in place, I conceded to their pleas and stayed in dusty Laguna Largo another night. We ended up going to Cecillia’s friends Uncles bar. None of them would let me spend a Peso, regardless of my imploring. In exchange for Europe’s ‘big fish, little fish, cardboard box’ dance they kept me whet with Fernet, introductions to intrigued locals, and created a song of acceptance called “Simon we love you”.
Breakfast was accompanied by photo albums suggesting I may soon be son in law, before time interrupted and I swapped families once more. Cecillia translated her parents persistent asking of “when are you going to come back,” as well as pleading “just one more hour” herself. I gave in once, but then left with the gift of a jumper, her address and the promise to write. I barely knew them but that didn’t quash the pain of knowing I’d never see them again.
            I arrived back at Diego’s mid swing of his Farwell BBQ, armed with a box of chocolates and an apology Cecillia had helped me write in Spanish. It was packed full of friends and family and the warmth of the house I’d felt prior to my dishonouring of rules catapulted me into action. Heading straight for Mrs Alonso, and breaking the shield of her relatives, I handed her the note and chocolates. She made me read it aloud in front of everyone. My monotone Spanish was by no means expert, but she appreciated the effort and bombarded me with hugs and kisses amongst a chorus of merciful “Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’s.” I’d been forgiven, and paradoxically my bond with Diego’s mum, family and friends had never been stronger.   
               That evening I left the Alonso’s with the message that I was “welcome back at anytime,” and with a greater understanding and insight into the culture and family values of a proud nation. One that will go out of their way to ensure that it’s visitors enjoy, and take only positive experiences, away with them. “How do I like Argentina?”  Simple, with the exception of locations blessed with extreme natural aesthetics, the beauty of a place lies undeniably in its people.