‘It gets hot early in Buenos Aires’, I thought to myself, taking off my new llama wool poncho – bought for a steal at about nine hundred pesos, plus tax. The electronic departure screen at the bus station clicked and refreshed itself; as the destinations appeared, I took notice of just two: one would take me North, the other West. It was as symbolic a crossroads as I was ever likely to come across. I felt like Oedipus with a North Face fanny pack. The first bus was bound for the world famous, awe-inspiring Iguaçu falls, a wonder of the natural world where one can experience first hand the true might of nature in all its glory; the second bus went out into the Argentine Pampas, where you can see lots of cows.
That very morning, however, on scanning a map of the country, I spotted the name of a place in the enormous expanse west of Buenos Aires that leapt at me like a mugger on the streets of Mendoza. ‘Heréford’. Now, I’ve heard of Birminghams in Alabama and Crawfords in the Western Cape, but a Hereford, the town of my youth, in Argentina? What tale might these locals tell?
Here was a figurative and literal T-Junction. One path led to majesty and splendour, the other, though shrouded in the ethereal mists of uncertainty, probably led to more cows. The scene: a crowded Argentinian coach station. The player: a middle-class white kid on his gap year.
My mind made up, I sallied forth and leapt aboard the bus bound for Ameghino, a town at the heartland of the vast, fertile Pampas. ‘Convey me to destiny, mon amigo!’ I yipped at the driver, a thick-set native who flicked a finger of solidarity my way, and off we went.
The town of Ameghino, with its drab shop fronts and three-legged dogs, is not a major stop on the tourist trail. Arriving there eight hours later, feeling a bit a sticky, I wasn’t about to campaign for its recognition.
It was raining. I asked a passerby where Heréford was; they had never heard of it. I asked in a local barbershop; they told me January 23rd. Finally I asked in a garage. An oily face rolled out from under a chassis and told me that he didn’t know where Heréford was, but knew someone who might. The gentleman invited me into his Citroën and took me round the corner to the house of someone called Javier, who happened to be a farm administrator, currently employed by the hard-working people of Heréford.
Javier offered me some yerba maté, a hot, bitter drink enjoyed by Argentinians and respectfully declined by everyone else. He explained to me that Heréford was about thirty minutes away, only accessible by a dirt road that in this weather would be impassable, and that the only option would be to get a shakedown in a local hotel and drive over in the morning. Javier then phoned half the town who came over to laugh at me in Spanish, which doesn’t sound possible – but it is.
Morning came. Javier met me in his jeep and we trundled off. Standing alone in the boundless spread of the Pampas’ rolling pasture, Heréford doesn’t take you by surprise. The town was a collection of dilapidated farm buildings skirted by tall palm trees with a train station at one end not used since the 50s.
Javier showed me down a garden path to a large homestead. A few swarthy gauchos sloped out of their pens to eye me up, and I gave them a cheerful wink, which, to their credit, didn’t earn me the beating it deserved. The house belonged to an old lady, Mary Goodall, whose perfect English she attributed to her grandfather, Arthur, who was a Brit from the Hereford of the Welsh Marches. It had been Arthur and his brother who had first brought cattle over from Hereford to Argentina and decided to name a settlement after their hometown.
I took some pictures, posed next to the welcome sign, half wished I’d gone to the waterfall, and got a lift back to Ameghino. I was beginning to grow fond of the place, but having thanked Javier, I took a bus back onto the good old gringo trail, and went to try and find myself in Bolivia; incidentally, I did. But finding Heréford? Not that great.
Photo credit: Joe Viner