Go to the first post for Argentina
Another day in Cordoba, after a morning of meetings, David said, lets relax. He had some money from the funds to “Entertain” and he decided to treat me to lunch in his favourite restaurant. Not far from the Malvinas memorial, alongside the canalised river, was a rather non-descript building partly hidden by some small trees. On the inside, it was very dark but Marianno, David and I sat close to the window and looked back in on a steak house, more subtle than any American or British one, but still with the oak panelling, the plush seats and the fake greenery between each table partition. If the décor was fake, then the food wasn’t. It was in this room that I had the most tasty beef I have ever had. It was served on a wooden platter between the three of us, oozing with blood and juice, crispy brown on the outside, just the right amount of red once cut open. David sliced several drooling hunks of meat from this joint. I seem to remember there were some fries and a few bits of salad, but most of the meal consisted of this huge plate of meat. We drank a couple of bottles of the best Argentinean wine (I dared not mention Chilean wine in this part of the world, the UK were not the only past enemies of the Argentine). We talked, of work, of life in Argentina, of David’s student days in London, or Marianno’s hopes for the future. And the afternoon wore on in the most delightful way. I was a bit embarrassed that this was part of my working week.
My final day in Cordoba was taken up with a very strange co-incidence. From Andre we had learnt that a bunch of British scientists were turning up to discuss some exciting opportunities for Cordoba from the placement of a high tech satellite receiver in their region. This was way out of the league for David – he could never afford their routine imagery in the same way he could get from the NOAA satellite receiver he now had access to, but I was intrigued and wondered whether there might be some other linkages I could go for. My very enthusiastic project leader in Britain; Jim Williams, had told me it was vital I looked out for all sorts of other possibilities, and I had heard that some of the regional governments in Argentina were looking into launching a microsatellite, a cheap system that could send simple pictures back to earth.
So we tried to gatecrash this conference. I knew who was on the programme, but I think my old remote sensing supervisor from UCL in London was quite shocked when he looked up from his notes on starting his presentation and saw me sitting in the audience, fully attentive. Mike Barnsley had helped steer me through the last three or four months of my MSc work. It had been a strange supervision. I was working back down with NRI in Chatham while still living in London. The reverse commute was excellent. Sitting in an eight coach train with ten other passengers heading east while the whole of Kent was jammed onto every train going west. But it meant that I was remote from Mike and we had to schedule very precise meetings to ensure we met regularly, often late in the day when both of us were knackered. Although not his specialism, he helped me enormously, as he had done to all the students during the course. Always a remarkably cheerful bloke on the outside, he was both a very concerned individual on the inside, and another careful scholar. He and another old teacher, Ian Dowman, were both in this team and they both were rather taken aback with my presence here. David indulged me for a while and we sat through much of the conference, but I had to head for the airport for the marathon ride home. Marianno came with us again; I think he had enjoyed the outside influences for a brief period and didn’t want them to go away. I saw Cordoba airport in a little more detail. Typical of a busy provincial airport, it had a lot of through flow but nothing exotic like at long distance hubs, or as parochial and quaint as at the tiny airports. It had seventies architecture which said nothing. We checked my bags in; I always feel strange asking if they will go all the way to London. We had an hour or more and we sat in an upstairs bar and drank several beers. All three of us were sad to see this week end. I had had a wonderful time, learnt a lot, imparted a little, and I looked out over the runway to the east watching the white and blue Aerolineas Argentinas planes pull back and pull up to the gates. In the far distance, the blue sky was being replaced by rain. I began to feel I was going full circle; it had rained as David had driven me into the centre of the city on the first day, it was about to again.
Eventually I said my goodbyes and boarded the aircraft to Buenos Aires. As we taxied out to the runway, a fiery sunset made the Sierra Cordoba stand out in vivid relief. To the west, the already darkening skies were further darkened by storm clouds. We rose quickly to the east and left behind the sunset, and headed over the dusky Pampas. I got a good sense of the scale of this vast agricultural region as we went along, huge rectangular fields lined occasionally with trees. The odd farmhouse here and there, or the line of a road or railway with more activity along its length. And around the aircraft several thunder storms were releasing their anger. I looked across at lightning streak after lightning streak, some striking the ground, others playing in amongst the clouds themselves, lighting up the plumes of clouds all around them. Once or twice we bumped into the tail end of a shower, the craft plunging into a thick grey mist, but usually the pilot steered well enough clear and I was able to take in the massive power of the storm as it raced past in the opposite direction.
Night had overtaken me when I reached Buenos Aires airport. After passing the transit desk, I joined the intercontinental travellers in the long corridor. I bought a Maté container as my souvenir, and ambled up and down the terminal. Knowing how long I was to be aboard the Jumbo to Madrid I decided not to sit until the last moment. The busy flight home took off on time and as I settled down to dinner a couple of hours later, I glanced at the lights of Rio de Janeiro out of the window – little trails of light avoiding the sea and the hills around. I lost count of the number of towns and villages I saw out of the window before I eventually slumbered. When I woke, we were in a browny early morning mist heading up the west coast of Africa, the result of a sand storm and cold salty water mixture. It should be remembered the Atlantic is relatively narrow between South America and Africa, and it meant that most of our flight was over or close to land. We crossed into Portugal near Faro and then headed north east to Madrid. As I got out to look around for the Iberian flight back to Heathrow, it felt strange that although I had been nearly half way across the world, it had only been five days since I had sat in this terminal.