Right from the time I arrived here, before even getting off the plane actually, one of the things that the locals suggested I do, was take a day trip to Tigre. Mind you, when I mentioned that I was thinking of going and staying overnight, they looked at me like I had two heads and said “Por que?”, explaining that there wasn’t much to do unless I went to one of the islands, where it would still just be me and the mosquitos.
Tigre is a town just a little north of BA, where the river delta system starts to spread out, creating a maze of little islands and a web of rivers. It is a popular weekend getaway for city dwellers, some of whom keep holiday houses there. Deciding to beat the weekend rush, I decided to go on a quiet Tuesday, when the rest of the city was working. It’s only an hour away on the local train – when they run on time! The train services seem to have been having all kinds of trouble here lately, so it took me a little longer than anticipated to arrive, but I was still there by midday.
Tigre is ALL about the river system, so the first thing I did was go in search of a nice little boat trip. I’d already been warned that tours of any more than an hour or two, although a relaxing way to pass time, were really just more of the same thing. Plus, we all know what happens when you book “a three hour tour” (queue music!). I bought a ticket for a one hour boat circuit, which included a free ticket for Tigre’s version of the hop on/hop off tourist bus. I had an hour to kill before the boat trip, so I had a quick walk around town. I could see now why friends had warned me that there wouldn’t be a great deal to do here had I stayed overnight! The town is split in two by the river running through it, with only a small city centre. There are some beautiful buildings, like the Buenos Aires Rowing Club, Argentina’s first and most important Rowing Club.
It was a steaming hot day, so the best spot to be was by the water, where there was at least a slight reprieve if you caught the whisper of a breeze, so I spent the last 10 minutes of my time sitting under the shade of a big tree and snacking on a yummy meat empanada. The temperature had been building over the previous few days and a storm was forecast to break the heat, but didn’t show signs of arriving for a day or two yet. Add the already high heat and humidity with the proximity to the delta and, whooshka, it felt like having a second skin. I was happy when the time came to board our little boat for the tour, and I positioned myself in a breeze maximising position. There were only four other tourists on the boat, a Spanish couple and a Canadian couple, and we were welcomed with a very sweet mini cup of coffee and an alfajor, the popular sweet shortbread biscuits sandwiching a layer of dulce de leche.
We got a nice view of some of the town’s sights as we left the port, like the beautiful Museum of Fine Arts which was once a casino and has been preserved for its current, more cultural use. We were then into the river and island network, and our guide explained to us that the islands have no connection to the main town other than by boat. There are no roads on the islands and, although some islands have foot bridges across the canals between them, there’s no bridge that connects to the main town. The houses along the river range from very large and pristine, to delapitated, tiny and run-down, but most have piers built out into the main rivers, even if they don’t have boats. There is a “colectivo” local boat service, much like the bus network in BA but on a much smaller scale, that can be flagged down from your own private pier or one of the colour-coded public piers. Locals use the colectivo either to get back and forth from Tigre, or to move between islands, but a particular hazard is missing your stop because, unlike the city, you can’t just hop and walk back a stop!
Along the way, other than private residences, we saw a couple of holiday spots, reminiscent of holiday camp sites along the Murray, and a small beach with imported white sand that gets topped up from time to time when the sand has been washed away. There were a few people swimming or jumping off docks, but the water is dirty and polluted and there’s no way you’d get me in there. We saw a group of school kids coming out of school for the day and waiting for their school boat to do the school run home. It must be a completely different way of life out here, and the locals biggest worry is high tides and flooding, which can occur in the wet season and, for this reason, many of the houses are built on stilts. Our guide pointed out ex-President Sarmiento’s prior home, which has now been encased in glass to protect it from the elements, and also showed us the garbage collection boat filling up with fuel to start his run.
We were soon back to town, having enjoyed our relaxing meander along the rivers, and I decided to take advantage of the hop on/hop off bus to see a little more of what the town has to offer. I got off at the furthest most spot, the Museum of Fine Arts, but the driver told me that it’s shut on Tuesdays. I took a nice walk along the water, back towards town, and decided to sit at probably the only true riverside restaurant, Il Novo Maria del Lujan. I sat on the large deck, catching the ever so slight breeze, and ordered something to eat and drink. It was too hot for a wine (yes, I really just said that), so I ordered a “licuado”, basically a blend of fruit, water and ice and, given this nation’s sweet tooth, probably a fistful of sugar. I was also not that hungry given the heat and the earlier empanada, but ordered an appetiser of Milanesas de Mozzarella, sinfully delicious little discs of mozzarella, crumbed and fried and served with a little homemade tomato sauce. For what I had, the restaurant is not cheap, but the location was great and it was worth it just to enjoy the Riverside deck and the breeze for a while.
I then took off walking back towards one of the other museums that I knew was on the bus route, and got back on the bus.
One of the main attractions to Tigre is the Puerto de Frutas, an old fruit port that has now been converted to a shopping district for all kinds off things, but particularly furniture and household items made from the wood of the local area. The bus driver told me that you can’t move in the place on weekends, it’s so busy with all the people that come into town, but that it would be quieter today and a lot of stalls would be closed. He was right, and although there was some nice stuff in the stalls that were open, I’m not exactly in the market for furniture and household items, so it didn’t take me long to look around.
As I left the port, I saw the station where the Tren de la Costa, or Coast Train, leaves from. It is 8 times the price of the local train I arrived on but, at 16 pesos, it’s still only about $3.50, and it is apparently cleaner and more scenic. I decided to take a look but a train left just as I walked up, and I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the next one in 20 minutes so instead, walked back into town to the main train station to get the local train back to Buenos Aires.
It was still steaming hot, and I had time to stop and buy an icypole at the train station, where the lady told me that she has just about been bought out. I’m glad it wasn’t just me feeling the heat! Thankfully, the train was cool and not too full, although the trains still weren’t exactly running all that well and, much to the disgust of many people who needed to continue on, the train terminated two stations early which, fortunately for me, was my stop anyway. Phew!
A great day out, and something very different to anything I’ve seen before. I can see the appeal of renting a house with a group of friends and escaping the city for a long weekend, but my friends had been right about not needing more than a day trip.