It’s labeled a suburb of Buenos Aires and yet a visit to Tigre will quickly make you see how remote (figuratively speaking) it is from the capital city whose population is over 10 million people. For visitors to Buenos Aires like my friend and me, Tigre is a popular day trip, easily accessible by the metro on the Mitre Line from the Retiro Station.
Tigre has an array of sights to offer, but most visitors come for a ride along the Parana Delta where they can witness a way of life that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Although my friend and I ended up dining at the local McDonalds (Buenos Aires has no shortage of McDonalds, including the only kosher McDonalds in the world outside of Israel), I still didn’t expect one in Tigre, a town that appeared to be heavily connected to its industrial seafaring past. European settlers were the first to arrive in the area and a port was developed to serve the needs of the delta residents and also to bring fruit and wood from the delta and ports upstream on the Parana River. Tigre was founded in 1820 after floods had destroyed other settlements in the area, and sits on an island created by several small streams and rivers. During our boat ride along the delta I could see how easily entire communities could be destroyed in a nanosecond with all the water that is present.
While tourists board the vintage style commuter launches and motorboats for pleasure, for locals they are a way of getting to where they need to be, whether it is school, work, relatives’ houses, or downtown Tigre so that they can take the train into the city. While the boat my friend and I bought tickets for was cramped and compact (an ode to earlier times), but was peaceful all the same. A middle aged man struck up a conversation with me and while I had a difficult time following him (his Porteno or Buenos Aires style accent was extremely thick), it was nice that a local was talking with me, a foreign tourist.
As the boat started off on its course along its web of inter-connecting rivers and streams, the Hollywood classic film The African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn came to mind. (In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s a tale of adventure that takes place on a river in Africa at the start of World War I.) While the locations were different (German East Africa versus Argentina), the water conditions, a pair of stark contrasts (the delta was entirely tame compared to the river the African Queen vessel is sailing on), and the two eras unfathomably apart (World War I versus 2007). When the boat stopped, some people boarded while others got off; they had reached their final destination. There was no road that a car could be driven on to reach home; they took a boat to get anywhere, even in the 21st century. It was easy to imagine in similar geographical locales, missionaries coming to these parts of the world to “spread the word.”
My favorite part was when the boat stopped at what appeared to be an elementary school. Children between the ages of six and ten boarded the boat, the smallest ones being lifted down by their teachers and into the arms of the boat’s staff. Donning life jackets along with their book bags, they looked absolutely adorable. I took a school bus when I was a child, the children of the delta went to school by boat.
The scenery along the delta ranged from dazzling mansions to humble dwellings, the poorer people without much in terms of means but all still lived in an area their ancestors had resided in for centuries before them. I was most awestruck by the buildings that I later read were from the Belle Epoque period. Deeper into the delta one came across rough looking shacks that were families’ homes but shortly after pulling away from the pier in Tigre you saw one bedazzling mansion or elaborate club after the next. These glorious looking buildings made me think of another Hollywood film, Alan Parker’s Evita, specifically the scenes when Eva Peron attends upper echelon events and galas but it still snubbed by the country’s centuries’ old aristocracy for having climbed her way to the top as first lady of Argentina. It made me wonder if Eva Peron had ever visited Tigre and the still gloried Tigre Club.
Our boat ride along the delta ended and we were back on our way to the frenetic chaos that is Buenos Aires. While I couldn’t imagine living in the delta today, my brief but eye opening visit there provided me with deep found respect for those who do.