Wining On: T-time

The season might officially be called autumn, but that’s not to say it’s time to baton down the hatches and seek out winter woollies quite yet.

While the evenings may be cooler, and a warm welcome to brisker air waves at night, waking hours are still bright, sunny and fairly even (it will rain, or it will shine), and now that the pterodactyl-sized mosquitoes have chosen new skins to land upon, late March and early April could provide the ideal opportunity to spend a day or longer in Tigre.

In The Expat (Buenos Aires Herald, February 26), screenwriter Matt Graham, who regularly visits the Delta to escape for a weekend, called it “the secret to living in Buenos Aires. It’s so beautiful and haunting. I go to a place in the second section (of the delta, in Tigre) way beyond the Paraná River. You could be in the middle of the Amazon.”

Although it appears some are reluctant to embrace the concept of Tigre and its hundreds of little islands, tea-coloured streams and rivers lapping at their banks — the murky waters are caused by the nautical activity moving the silt — not even the idea of visiting a unique ecosystem spanning 210,000-km squared will prove to be a convincing argument.

But should the train — either the extortionate De la costa service (10 pesos for Argentines, 15 for foreigners one-way) with its leafier view or the cheap seats from Retiro — sound tempting, being marooned for an island lunch in the Delta should definitely be a large enough hook.

Although the area is developing — with plenty of cabins for rent, even spas, kayaking schools and restaurants offering lunch combined with deckchairs for sleeping off a heavy meal — Tigre’s islands haven’t suffered from Palermification.

Business may be brisker at the weekend, but if the chugging waterbus takes you to the Delta’s second section, not ever the irritating “brrp” of a Nextel phone will be any bother over the next 48 hours.

True marooning may, however, put the fear of your chosen God into the average city dweller who chooses to rent a house on stilts, so to ensure starvation is kept at bay, pack a suitcase of steak and some liquids, if only to get one over on the high prices of the floating supermarket.

GET REAL. For the no-less adventurous, meanwhile, a day trip may be ample time spent in the closest thing Buenos Aires has to the Amazon. Lurking behind some bullrushes, which a happy labrador may be leaping through instead of the requisite birdlife, is La Real, a former cider brewery whose lands used to bursting with apple trees, which has morphed into a cozy, albeit not luxurious, all-inclusive lodging, which serves up a meaty banquet once you arrive on dry land.

Making use of the private jetty, an abundant salad bar, which would appease the most militant of vegetarians, awaits hungry travellers famished after the 20-minute ferry ride. But fear not, ye eaters of meat, platters bearing ribs and flank will be thrust under your nose, and if the toddler at the next table can get his three-and-a-half teeth around some meat ‘n bone, then so can you.

Although the last ferry back to “civilization” and a packed train leaves La Real before 7pm, there is plenty of time for a ping-pong tournament, a wander of the island, or a well-deserved doze in a hammock. With plenty of space for all and sundry, it makes perfect sense to while away an afternoon at La Real, an
d if the weather is playing ball, take a dip in the river — I am the living, breathing proof that it’s fine to swim in, even if it is the least tantalizing looking water known to mankind.

However, without the need to embark upon any vessel, a different option on the mainland is the regenerated Puerto de Frutos. Although I like to consider my toolbox isn’t usually lacking, I’ve never found the Mercados del Delta, which houses the old fruit market, until last week.

The port is still functioning, bringing in reeds destined to become wicker furniture, and logs were being lifted by cranes from an impossibly small boat to a truck onshore that Friday morning. Regenerated three years ago, the fruit market is now a thriving hub of tiny boutiques with double dock views selling innovative homewares, clothing and accessories — not too dissimilar to goodies found in Palermo, but subject to a very different panorama.

Of particular interest are the old silos, now converted into eateries, but the circular form remains, keeping history in motion. Starboard of Época de quesos cheese store, looking inland, is the delightful Belinda Café & Deli, which wouldn’t look out of place back in Palermo, except that ceiling-to-floor windows offer a pleasant view of the River Luján, and there is little need to keep an eye out for motochorros along the quay.

Aside from producing a tempting display of DDL-heavy brownies, lemon pie and cheesecakes, Belinda’s chefs are keen to vamp up common main courses, and they do so successfully: a fried quail egg, watercress salad and balsamic vinegar spruced up a cheese and ham sandwich (see photo). Meanwhile, pasta stuffed in house steered clear of the standard bolognese or dubious pink salsa mixta, and truffle-stuffed ravioli with a liberal dashing of cheese and walnut sauce were a veritable treat.

The Puerto de Frutos closes come 8pm, so catch the boats unloading quayside in daylight hours — there’s plenty of nautical but nice action to be had, so commandeer a table for an afternoon and make-believe that you really are marooned.

La Real
Río Carapachay and Arroyo Gallo Fiambre, Delta del Tigre
Tel: 4728-3075

Belinda Café & Deli
Local 37, Los Sauces and Eucalipto, Puerto de Frutos, Tigre
Tel: 4749-1795

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