Monday, December 28, 2009

San Antonio de Areco, in the Flood

For most of the past week, I’ve been moving southward from Puerto Iguazú to the Argentine Pampas, through moderate to occasionally heavy rains, before finally arriving at the “gaucho capital” of San Antonio de Areco, in Buenos Aires province, on Xmas Eve. Most of the next day I spent exploring San Antonio, in the process of updating Moon Handbooks Argentina and Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires (in which the town appears as an excursion, only 113 km west of the Argentine capital). I was also writing up material from my travels since mid-November.

On Saturday the 26th I had planned to visit the devotional center of Luján and the nearby village of
Carlos Keen before continuing to Buenos Aires, but the night of the 25th it began to storm, with bright-as-day lightning and louder-than-fireworks thunder, so that I even disconnected the computer to avoid any potential electrical storm damage before going to sleep.

When I awoke that morning, though, the ensuing downpour kept me from continuing to Buenos Aires, and the power had gone off in the vicinity of the central Plaza Arellano, where I was staying at the time. By the time it ceased raining, around midday, I learned that the Río Areco - which often floods in this low-lying terrain - had spilled over its banks and risen to within a block of the plaza. Matheu street, one block north, had itself become a knee-deep river channel. Ruta Nacional 8, which leads west toward Mendoza, was also underwater and it was even difficult to drive east to Buenos Aires. I decided to spend another night in San Antonio, despite the apparently rising river.

I moved, however, to a handsome new two-room B&B, La Demorada, on slightly higher ground and, during the rest of the day, the river dropped slightly. Yesterday, meanwhile, westbound highways continued underwater, requiring major detours for anybody traveling toward Mendoza or Rosario, Argentina’s “second city” on the upper Río Paraná. Yesterday eastbound RN 8 to Buenos Aires dried out and I arrived in the city by early afternoon.

There is some evidence that San Antonio’s floods may not have been an exclusively natural disaster, having been exacerbated by illegal drainage canals on ranchers’ pastures. As so often in Argentina, the search for villains - or scapegoats - is underway.

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