Jason’s time in Bariloche was marked by a uniquely Argentinean experience – a visit to a Tangoria, an afterhours bar dedicated purely to the music and dancing of the tango.

 

Bariloche is an alpine lake town on the side of the Andes, just inside the Argentinean border. It’s renowned for its glamorous lifestyles, parties and skiing.

We arrived early in the morning, not really knowing what to expect. It was a cool crisp day, not unlike autumn in Sydney. Bright blue sky, a few wispy clouds, warm sun and a fresh breeze that made you want to get out and enjoy the day.

As there was no snow we headed into town and took in the sights. It is a beautiful city. After a day of trudging around, we headed back to the Hostel, bumped into a friend, picked up a few extra bodies and headed to the pub to take in some of the local flavours.

What turned out to be a very fun and pleasant evening soon ended abruptly as the hours flew by and it was suddenly closing time...midnight. We were resigned to leaving and just as we were heading out the door I flippantly asked if there was anywhere else open to get another beer. The waitress smiled and said "Of course, but I’ll have to give you some instructions on how to find it. Head up the street directly outside, go to the intersection, count three houses up on the left and then knock on the door”. Hmmm... this sounds dodgy we all thought, but hey we were up for an adventure.

We thanked her and trundled out onto the street and into the cold air and off up the hill as instructed, what we would find nobody knew. As we reached the intersection and counted up three houses, you could not hear a thing; there was no noise, no bar sounds, no music. We retraced our steps and concurred it was the place, but it was definitely not somewhere to get a drink. Wondering what to do we agreed we will at least knock.

We knocked, we held our breath and then suddenly a hatch opened on the door. Big enough to see a very large man’s face, he looked us up and down. We did not say a word, the hatch closed and the door abruptly opened. He ushered us in without a sound. Wow - what is going on here?

We entered what was a bar, a secret drinking hole that was full of men and women sitting at almost makeshift tables and chairs, heartily swilling beer. Certainly not the Hilton, but hey we’ll stay for a drink. We sat and ordered beers. None of the patrons took any notice of us. No-one even seemed to see us in there. It was a relief in some ways as we were a little on edge after the walk up to the bar, you hear of muggings in these situations all the time. In other ways though it was a little disappointing. I like to mingle with the locals and my Spanish was always better after a couple of drinks... or so I think.

Bored, I decided to take a walk and look around. I ventured out the back and down the hall and found pretty much the same. Just as I was returning to the table I saw a couple of people walking up some stairs. I peered down and could see a few people moving around although couldn’t really make out what was happening. I headed on down without thinking too much and walked into what would soon become one of my favourite memories of South America.

It turned out we were in an underground Tangoria (or at least that’s what we think they called it). An afterhours bar dedicated purely to the music and dancing of the tango, the world’s most passionate dance.

The ceilings were low and the place was crammed. It was dark, mysterious and even a little dangerous looking. It didn't take up the same floor space as the makeshift bar above; it seemed to stretch the width of two or three houses, like they had smashed the walls down to fit more people in. There were about 100 people down there, seated at small tables and chairs, perched on walls and even standing on boxes, but mostly clambering around trying to get a view of the main area where you could see a makeshift stage.

The music was stark and contagious. The singer looked like an ageing Barry Crocker - tall, thin and grey with a long face and a solemn voice. He sat perched upon a tall stool with an accordion in his lap, fingers wrapped around the keys, long thin legs stretched out in front of him. Singing to the night, his elbows shot out from his side with each change of chord or direction in the music. His accompaniment was a short rotund man sitting at a keyboard and wearing a red fez, I felt like I was in a Disney movie.

The highlight though was the dancers. There was only ever one couple at a time, they weren’t paid, it wasn’t an act, they were part of the crowd. They commanded the tiny dance floor and all of the attention in the room. They were brilliant and loved what they did. They shifted from side to side, flipped and gazed at each other. It was mesmerising. No-one spoke, no-one made a sound. They watched intently as the dancers moved around the dark floor, turning sharply with the music.

You could tell the crowd was there for the music and the dance. They watched with such intense respect that I felt honoured to be there.

Once the band finished the crowd roared with applause and without adieu another song started, a fresh couple appeared and they started dancing their version of the tango. It went all night. We stumbled out a few hours later. It was a truly bizarre and memorable experience.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user ramonballe.