Argentina, a country that, I will be honest, has never really been somewhere I have wanted to visit. Not because I have an aversion to it, it is just when I think of Argentina nothing in particular springs to mind. If I was to travel to South America, Peru, Chile and Ecuador would appear higher on my list of places to visit. Or at least that is how I felt until I read Helen Wilkie Travelogue, Rare Steak, Red Wine, Hot Tango!
Helen is not shy when it comes to adventures. This is a woman that, although born in Scotland, moved to Canada during her early twenties thinking she would stay for just one year, but then never left. Having always had itchy feet and a desire to travel, it wasn’t until her husband, Felix, sadly passed away in 2008 that she decided to venture to a country that had always fascinated her – Argentina.
“In January 2014, at an age when I thought such notions well behind me, I fell in love. Deeply, madly and forever.
Not with a person, but with a place.”
For me, it was this opening statement that made me want to read this memoir. It wasn’t necessarily the location that pulled me in to begin with, it was the person. We are all passionate about something – whether that is someone, an object or a place – and to openly admit to falling head over heels in love with a place shows that there must be something special about this place, surely.
In a day and age when worldwide travel has never been easier or more realistically priced, to have one person return time and time again to the same location is unusual, and therefore I want to read her story.
This memoir reflects on several trips to Argentina, and in particular centres around the city of Buenos Aires. This was never designed to be a travel guide, Helen is very clear on that, and so instead of listing places we should visit she describes a serious of different adventures she finds herself on during not one, but four trips to the South American country.
Through Helen’s vivid stories, we get to relive her experiences – the carnivals, the football matches, the trips to the seaside, how to celebrate New Year’s Eve Argentinean style and how to Tango.
Until reading this, I didn’t know that people flock to Argentina every year for their carnivals. More surprising was the fact that it was not Buenos Aires people were heading to but a place called Gualeguaychu, a place I have never even heard of.
Helen’s adventures are eye opening. I found myself spending more and more time on the internet googling locations that were completely alien to me.
Los Esteros del Iberá, Salta, Catamarca, Tucuman, Mendoza (especially during the La Vendimia wine festival) and Punta Del Este (which is technically in Uruguay but loved by the Argentineans) are all places I now want to visit but up until now have never even heard of. It just highlights that sometimes you have to piggyback onto other people’s adventures, hear their stories, and read about their experiences in order to find places that also appeal to you.
Malbec is also something I have become more aware of since reading Helen’s work. Don’t get me wrong, I have of course heard about this particular wine before, but have never really spent much time sampling it. Well, that has now also changed and my advice to everyone – if you enjoy a nice glass of red wine, next time you are in the supermarket make a beeline for the Malbecs, I promise you will not be disappointed.
Argentina is a passionate country; I don’t need to visit to understand this I just need to watch a game of football (futbol) and I can see it. This is also further demonstrated in the fancy footwork of the Tango; a dance that I definitely knew was associated with the country but once again, had forgotten about. Helen clearly has affection for the art of Tango and explains how, should you want to be part of the community in Buenos Aires, buying a pair of Tango shoes and taking some lessons is the perfect way to infiltrate the local scene. However, she does have a word of warning for everyone. Don’t jump in with both feet first, learn the steps, and develop a style, then and only then should you head off to a milonga. Being the home of Tango, people are quite rightly judgemental and therefore, if you have not mastered the basics being picked as a partner at the milongas that pop up around the city, will be very short lived.
Rare Steak, Red Wine, Hot Tango! May not have been written as a travel guide for people but for me, whilst I enjoyed the stories, this book has inspired me to plan a potential visit to Argentina in the future. My only concern at this point is that they seem to like their meats, which are commonly cooked on BBQ’s (asados), and so being a vegetarian, I need to see how easily it is to find veggie foods before buying a plane ticket.
Should You Read This Memoir About Argentina?
Would I recommend this book? If you are even vaguely interested in Argentina pick a copy up. It is a quick read at just 116 pages but it will give you a sense of the country. It provides you with an insight into what it is like to have both a short holiday and a longer trip to this wonderful part of the world. Although, I will be honest and say I was slightly disappointed with one aspect – the pictures. After reading some amazing descriptions and feeling like I was part of Helen’s adventure I also wanted to visual where she had been but unfortunately the grey, sometimes grainy images let her words down. It’s not enough to spoil the book as a whole but I do think that the loss of vibrant, colourful photos does affect the readers experience slightly.
Have you visited Argentina? Perhaps you have experiences you would like to share with us. If this is the case, please leave your comments below. Likewise, maybe you have read a book, fictional or otherwise, that you would like to recommend to us.
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I would like to thank Helen Wilkie for drawing my attention to this book and for providing a free copy for us to read and review. As always, all views and opinions are our own.