By Jayne Fox (Tour member).
We took the overnight plane trip from LA to Buenos Aires, arrived in Buenos Aires, had lunch on the riverfront, then took the ferry across the miles-wide mouth of the River Plate to Montevideo, Uruguay. The hotel there was fabulous. The city was a mixture of old and new; the archway in a couple pictures marked old town Montevideo from the newer parts. The guy with “I love MOM” written on his forehead is Aaron; he was the first of many players who had the misfortune to fall asleep at inopportune times during the trip and have graffiti scrawled on them (usually with permanent marker!).
While in Uruguay we had our first rugby match. It was at night (late) and was cold and foggy and we lost. We “Moms” were super cold, so the pic of Barbara warming her toes by the fire was taken in the Uruguay team’s clubhouse while we were waiting for the BBQ to be served. The rest of our time there was spent touring the city. We all agreed it was an unexpected gem, and would all go back again someday.
The people of Argentina all love to drink a concoction called Mate (ma-te). It is an herb that resembles oregano, and is packed into a cup made of a hollowed-out gourd. Boiling hot water is then poured over it and you drink it with a silver straw that has a sieve at the end to filter out the leaves. It is meant to be shared by all of your friends; all using the same straw, and it is rude to refuse. We thought at first it was a gimmick to sell these things to the tourists, but as the trip went on we saw people drinking it everywhere. Several boys bought mate cups and herbs and also drank it during the trip. It is kind of bitter, and an acquired taste, but very much a part of their culture.
After we came back to Argentina from Uruguay we settled into our hotel, which after 5 days there, felt like home. We had a city tour, and saw a fabulous city. We toured cathedrals, museums, the Colon Theatre, and most of the neighborhoods of the city. We shopped quite a bit, too! Rosaura [Aaron’s mom] speaks Spanish and got along great with the cab drivers and so we found out the real scoop on the shopping. The pictures show the Pink House, which is their White House. The President works there, but doesn’t live there. In the picture, left of the boys is a balcony that was where Eva Peron used to come out to address the people in the square. You can get quite close to the building. La Recoleta Cemetery is another stop we made. It is a huge place full of mausoleums for only the wealthy. They are ornate and beautiful. Eva Perón is buried there, but not Juan Perón. It is like a small city that is deserted; very weird. There are lots of cats there that some women take care of. Some of us went one night Tortoni Café, the oldest in Buenos Aires and very famous there..It is a tourist stop; a lot of people would just walk in and take pictures and leave. It was full the night we were there, and we had a drink and dessert and looked at the pictures of the famous people who have been there. We played pool in the back room; alongside pictures of Robert Duvall playing pool there. There were separate rooms, one downstairs and one on the main floor that were tango clubs. Tango was invented in Buenos Aires and you would see people doing the tango all over- in the streets, in cafes. One night some of us adults went to a dinner and then tango show at a club. It was magnificent. Another day, the boys had a private tango lesson, too. They did great!
Meanwhile, the boys were partying at the clubs and gathering small groups of female fans. The boys would give the girls the cell phone number of our tour guide and throughout our tour poor Auggie would have his phone ringing and some girl or another asking for one of the guys! They would show up at the games, too, and then hang around and go out partying with the boys after. The boys were mistaken for different American celebrities, and didn’t try too hard to clear it up. Blond Sammy was taken for Heath Ledger a couple times; he was very popular.
We had a day in the countryside to see how their cowboys gauchos- live. We toured a ranchero home, rode a trail horse, and had a great BBQ meal while watching them perform tango, country dances, and music. Then the gauchos rode in the pasture and captured the ring – which is when they ride at a full gallop toward a tiny ring suspended in a post overhead, and they have to spear it with a long stick thing. Then, they give the ring to a female for a kiss. That was fine, but the gaucho that gave me a ring decided I should go for a ride, and took me on a gallop that was pretty exciting. I think Woody has a video somewhere. The Boca neighborhood is near the water at the port. The reason the houses are so colorful is that the people there were poor and couldn’t afford paint for their houses, so used whatever paint was leftover from painting the ships on their own homes. It is very crazy there. You feel like it is a cross between a New Orleans mardi gras and Las Vegas showmen. People tango in the streets, and there are artists and vendors all over. Very fun city, Buenos Aires.
Cordoba. We left Buenos Aires and had a 10 hour overnight bus ride to the city of Cordoba. We arrived in the morning and checked into the hotel. Woody and I walked to the main square of the city in time to see a military presentation. The next day was going to be May 25th, which is the day Argentina celebrates their independence from Spain. The military band and soldiers were in the square and it was neat to watch. Also that day, we all went on a tour of the National University of Cordoba, oldest university in Argentina, founded in 1613, years before Harvard by Jesuits, who were later dispossessed and exiled by the government. It was fascinating to see. There are textbooks there that are centuries old and they can still be used by the students. The school girls followed the boys everywhere we went.
The next day some of us adults went on a city tour. Cordoba is known for beautiful architecture; the Jesuits founded the city and built some amazing buildings. After the tour we headed to the Jockey Club for our third rugby game. It was a great game, we won 31-22. The Jockey Club was gorgeous- they had a big clubhouse and even an apparel shop; the boys did some shopping there. We have been impressed by the rugby clubs in Argentina. The next day we toured some sites in the city, then we loaded up the bus with everyone and headed to a town called Alta Gracia; it is in a higher elevation then Cordoba and truly a beautiful town. We went to tour the childhood home of Che Chevara (the man who created havoc by starting revolutions and most famously helped put Fidel Castro into power by triggering the revolution in Cuba. He is also the subject of the movie “Motorcycle Diaries”) A few boys were militant about not wanting to go on this tour because they believe Che was a communist and basically a bad man. He is a hero to some people in Argentina, though. We also toured a home of a Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla, and the Jesuit Estancia. That night we had a team dinner at a local humongous cafeteria type place that every kind of food you could think of. After dinner we again loaded up the bus about 10 p.m. and drove another 10 hours overnight to Mendoza.
Mendoza. We arrived about 9:00 a.m. Check in took a long time, and after lunch we all headed out for a city tour given by Victor, a local tour guide who joined us while we were there. The city is so pretty, small and very leafy. The trees are a big deal, because when the city was founded there were no trees. They were brought in and the city has a record of each and every one. Victor said the city couldn’t tell you how many people are in the town, but can identify every tree! We saw a lot of neat things there. They have a gigantic park area; similar to Central Park. There is a big lake with an upscale members-only club on it. There are riding trails, picnic areas and it is heavily used all year round. Victor said it is common for families to have picnics there at midnight! (That late eating thing, again.) We had our 4th and final rugby game in Mendoza. The team we played was called Banco Nacion. Our guys had problems with the opponents pulling dirty tricks like grabbing a guy’s ankle and twisting it, and using strangleholds. Trying to lodge a protest in broken Spanish to an unsympathetic ref was a waste of time. They played it out, we lost, and for a while it looked like our guys were going to pack it in and leave right after the game. Calmer heads prevailed, though, and they posed for the picture and even eventually did some gear trading. Trading shirts and pants is tradition after a match like this. A lot of guys really get into it and end up with some neat stuff. Woody trades with the refs, since he is a ref, too. It’s fun to watch the negotiations the boys go through. While we were watching the game I noticed some girls and heard one say she was from UC Davis! It turns out she is in [Jayne’s daughter] Tracy’s sorority. She is studying abroad, had run into some of the guys at a club the night before and came to see the game. We took her picture to show Tracy. We all went to the team’s clubhouse afterward for yet another gracious BBQ. They turned out to be really nice guys once you got them off the field!
The next day was our trip into the Andes. We left early in the morning and drove quite a way into the mountains. We stopped at a roadside hot springs and there were vendors selling wool sweaters and hats. The boys were freezing, and bought crazy patterned knit hats to wear (with their shorts- these California kids). They had the first of many snowball fights. We then drove farther up and stopped and went for a short hike on a trail that offers a good view of Aconcagua Peak. It was a beautiful day and we were the only people there. After the hike, we drove to a nearby ski resort and had a nice lunch- we were the only ones there, too. The ski areas weren’t open for the season, yet. That night we had a fun team dinner. It was dedicated to Wally- our head coach who didn’t make the trip-so there were lots of toasts and songs. The waiters loved the kids and tried to join in the cheers and made sure there were no empty wine bottles. The next day we toured two wineries- San Felipe and Familia Zuccardi. They were pretty similar to California wineries. Very modern and the tasting rooms set up the same. We had lunch at the second one, and it was gorgeous and the food delicious. The kids, and adults, bought a lot of wine at this winery. They were happy to see us, I’m sure.
We piled into the bus that night about 10 p.m. and had a very long bus trip back to Buenos Aires. We didn’t arrive until after noon the next day. It was foggy, and I was too nervous to sleep much. Luckily there is not much traffic on Argentina highways. Coming back to our original hotel in Buenos Aires felt like coming home. We settled in, and that night was our last team dinner. There were lots of toasts, speeches and it was emotional for some of the seniors. Our tour guide, Auggie, gave gifts to the coaches and team captain and gave us ladies aprons in the Argentina colors. We ladies sang a song we made up that touched on events of the trip, and also did our rugby cheer one last time. It was a really fun evening. The next day-our last day- some of us took a tour to an area called Delta del Tigre. It is a community just outside Buenos Aires made up of islands not connected with bridges and the residents can only get around by boat. We took a train to the boat dock, which was fun because we rode it along the riverfront and saw some pretty scenery. We had one stop and got out and found a rugby museum! We got on the boat and saw some beautiful scenery. The island has its own school, and the kids wait on their docks for the school bus boat. If you need groceries you hang a bottle on your dock and a grocery boat stops by. Very picturesque. After the tour, back in Buenos Aires, Woody and I walked to the waterfront to have lunch at a restaurant that looked nice. We had a great meal, and at the end the head waiter asked us where we were from and we told him about the trip and that this was our last day. He left and came back with 2 glasses of champagne for us and wished us a safe trip and speedy return to Argentina! What a nice way to end the trip! We all headed to the airport that evening and began our long trip home. It was a great experience.
See the tour photo album here.