We arose relatively early, ate toast and marmalade (taking forty minutes to toast the bread on our wimpy grill), and walked under sunny skies to Retiro. The day’s honour guard stood to attention in the war memorial and a pickpocket unzipped W’s backpack and had his hand inside before I shouted at him outside Retiro station. We were at the bus station well before 0930 but there was no sign of our service on the departure boards. We waited. There was still no news. We knew the range of stops from which the bus was due to depart so we left the lounge and sat near those bus bays. With us was the woman who had delayed our ticket purchase on the previous afternoon. She, too, was going to Areco. Several Chevallier buses arrived, disgorged their passengers and pulled away. Clearly, the buses were cleaned and otherwise prepared before starting their journeys from Buenos Aires. Still there was no sign of any bus to Rio Cuarto but all the others looked comfortable and clean. Eventually our bus arrived some 50 minutes late. We clambered aboard and up the stairs to our allocated seats. They were comfortable but a little too ready to recline. Every abrupt stop had us lying supine with a view of the ceiling. Fortunately such stops were few once we left the city and headed northwest through lush fields into the pampas. The scenery was pleasant but lacked drama and none of the bus stations where we stopped offered any great interest. It was pleasant to see a new landscape but it would be hard to recommend the trip to anyone. After two hours we reached the Areco bus station. It was a small ill-appointed stop near a metalled highway. A misaligned map showed the way into town but we would have been lost without the Maps.Me Android app on our phones.
We walked along narrow pavements outside small low twentieth century houses with a seedy air that gave way to small low nineteenth century houses with a seedy colonial air and cobbled streets around a small square filled with benches in the shade of trees around a central monument. Around the square were museums, an eighteenth century church, some bars, a cooperative grocery store and more houses. Beyond the square a short street led to a flagpole at the edge of a linear park beside a river. Several people had described Areco as the picturesque capital of gaucho culture but we saw none of this and the low single span bridge that is the town’s premier historic monument was overshadowed by construction vehicles in the process of dredging the river and building a modern extension to the old structure.
We used the public toilets in the park and sat on a stone bench to decide our next move. It was clear that outside the annual gaucho festival in February there was little to engage our enthusiasm. A couple of affable stray dogs sat beside us quietly without intruding so at least someone was pleased that we had visited. Two of the three museums were closed and none of our guidebooks or webpages had been very enthusiastic about the third but we had several strong recommendations for restaurants and bars. We chose a long-established parillada on the corner of the square. La Esquina de Merti had the air of a heritage building that had been modernised and later retrofitted with features from its earlier appearance. This refit was surprisingly pleasant albeit not entirely convincing. Our servers were charming and helpful and although the parilla grill was not used out of season they produced a fine meal of grilled steaks and a mixed salad with refreshing local beer from their reduced menu. Although the kitchen closed at 1500 they did not hurry us out as we dwelt on our final drinks before ambling into the warm square to sit reading our books on a bench under a tree. About half a dozen dogs explored the square and two black animals came to sit with us. After about an hour they had the confidence to lean against our legs and one diffidently licked my hand. They looked clean and healthy and, once the ice was broken, they were delighted to be stroked and scratched as they sat with us for another couple of hours until we set off back to the bus station.
Our bus back to Buenos Aires was more or less on time and the seats were comfortable even if the darkness obscured the meagre appeal of the landscape. We did not feel unsafe walking home through the city streets despite our recent experiences with pickpockets.