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Day 86 – El Bolson Is for Hippies

January 4, 2011

Location: El Bolson, Argentina

Date: Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Every town in Latin America has a market day. Vendors descend on a central location, often the town square (another town staple) and vend their wares. A visit to a local market is often a CliffsNotes version of a town’s culture—a summary of what makes a town tick. Some markets are more touristy than others. Some, like the Bac Ha Market in Vietnam, are for locals (how many tourists do you know who want to buy a cow?). Regardless, markets are a peek at local life; you just have to skip the souvenir stands and look at what the locals are buying, selling, and eating.

In El Bolson, a little mountain town in the Lakes District of Argentina, market days are Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Geared towards tourists, you still get an idea of what non-tourists in this town are about. Stands filled with fresh produce; stalls of wood crafts; artisanal hand creams, fruit jams, and alfajores; and tiendas selling pints from the areas plentiful microbrews. This is a town that prizes its artisans, its small time food makers, and its handmade jewelries. And its beer.

It’s also a town of hippies. Hordes of them. How can you tell? Well, I’d be happy to answer that, and a few other questions.

Interviewer: So how can you tell El Bolson is a hippie town?

Mervyn: Well, first off there are lots of people with dreadlocks.

Interviewer: But that doesn’t make it hippie. For example, don’t Rastafarians wear dreadlocks?

Mervyn: Yes, they do. Dreadlocks are necessary, but not sufficient to indicate hippie-dom.

Interviewer: Okay Mr. Fancy Pants Edjumacation, what else is did you see that was “necessary, but not sufficient”?

Mervyn: There was also lots of handmade jewelry, Bob Marley red-yellow-green, the smell of copious amounts of weed, and sandals.

Interviewer: Anything else?

Mervyn: Well you can’t really call yourself a hippie town unless you’ve got at least one drum circle. For example, San Francisco, California—an undeniable hippie town—has what seems like a 24/7 drum circle in Golden Gate Park, located, appropriately enough, next to Hippie Hill. At half-a-mile you can hear the beats and from 100 yards you can get a buzz from the cannabis cloud. True to form, El Bolson had no less than two drum circles.

Interviewer: Okay. We’re well on our way.

Mervyn: Yes we are. But the aroma of ganja isn’t only telltale smell. Hippies don’t seem to worry about hygiene. We’re talkin’ unbathed, unshaven, unwashed, un-smelling-good.

Interviewer: Wow. Way to stereotype.

Mervyn: Yeah, well that’s what we do here at The Overpacker. Remember, too, that dreads can’t stand up to the power of even cheap shampoo. Wash your hair and it just isn’t going to mat like good dreads should. So, in a weird way, I think hippies are just as vain as the mainstream culture they reject, just that their vanity revolves around smelling bad.

Interviewer: Weird. So their rejection of hygiene is actually them embracing a form of putting on airs?

Mervyn: Yeah, but just not in the way you usually would. Same goes for the whole not shaving thing. It sets them apart like a Gucci or LV label might for other people. El Bolson is no exception. The hippies here are so hardcore, even their grapes have hair. Look.

Interviewer: Holy god almighty! What the heck is that?

Mervyn: It’s a hairy, unshaven grape.

Well, technically I think it’s a gooseberry, not a grape, but that doesn’t take make it any less hairy. In the berry’s defense, it did tasted good and didn’t smell foul at all.

Interviewer: Wow.

Mervyn: You’re telling me. I put that prickly thing in my mouth. But hippie-dom doesn’t stop at the fruits. Getting high has an effect on everything. For example, hippies listen to some tripped out music. You ever listened to Phish? Sometimes, they want their music so weird they create their own instruments. I can only imagine you do this when you’re trippin’ balls.

Interviewer: That thing looks like a space turtle. What does it sound like?

Mervyn: Something like a steel drum or marimba, but if it were being played from the deck of a flying saucer. While their instruments are weird, hippies do have the food thing down pretty well. All that time not washing seems to be devoted to working in the fields. The market is filled with fresh fruit and vegetable stands. All of it organic, of course.

Interviewer: Wait a minute. You’ve talked a lot of crap, but so far it doesn’t seem like you’ve really proved that El Bolson is a hippie town. Couldn’t you also say that this is a Rastafari town? They don’t wash their dreads, revere Bob Marley, and love to get high, don’t they? You’re just making this up aren’t you?

Mervyn: Ummm. . .yeah. Kinda. But making stuff up is kind of the nature of this site.

Interviewer: Ah hah! So this could be a Rastafari town, not a hippie one! You’re full of monkey poop!

Mervyn: I’m going to pretend that was a question. Yes, there are many similarities between hippies and rastas but there are two things that kick El Bolson from the rasta family.

First up, Rastafari is a religion. An Africocentric religion that calls Africa “Zion”, believes Haile Selassie—a former emperor of Ethiopia—is Jesus Christ resurrected, and that Paradise will be recreated in Africa. I’m pretty sure these people aren’t religious. I’m pretty sure most don’t dream of someday moving to Africa.

Interviewer: But how can you know? You been to one of their communes or something and watched them not worship?

Mervyn: No. But that brings me to the second thing that makes these people not-Rastafari: I’m pretty sure there are no Black people in El Bolson much less Africans. The closest they get are a couple of white folks verging on skin cancer. And while I don’t think being Black or African is necessary to be a Rastafarian, I think you probably have to have met one or at least want to meet one. Can’t say I got that vibe here.

That’s in part because Argentina isn’t among the world’s most tolerant societies. It’s very homogenous, due in no small part to the country’s extermination of nearly all its dark-skinned native population. It’s part of why Argentina feels more like Europe and less like South America. The country doesn’t have a tradition of embracing non-Europeans and, I think it’s safe to say that Africans are about as non-European as you can get. All that leaves me skeptical that these folks have embraced a religion that hopes to someday call Africa Paradise, regardless of whether they like to spend hours “reasoning” on ganja.

Interviewer: But you still don’t know, do you? Perhaps they keep their Black people on the commune. Or maybe their Black leader only comes out on special occasions. Or maybe they’re all just light-skinned, Spanish-speaking Africans.

Mervyn: Good point. You win. They must be Rastafarians.

Interviewer: That was easy. Almost, too easy.

Mervyn: Well, you’re a pretty smart guy. Who am I to disagree with you?

Interviewer: Good point. And I’m very good-looking, too.

Mervyn: You certainly are.

Interviewer: I feel like this is getting self-serving.

Mervyn: Well, this whole site is a kind of exercise in narcissism, so I’d say this is par for the course.

Interviewer: Couldn’t agree more. Writing and interviews both require an inflated sense of self-importance–this piece is both those and more.

Mervyn: Yes. Yes it is. To express their vanity hippies have their dreads and I have this site.

Interviewer: And in both cases, we’re all grateful that the internet doesn’t force us to smell either one of you.

Mervyn: Or smell you for that matter.

Interviewer: Good point.

GALLERY: No bonus pictures today.

Mervyn is a traveler who brings too much, eats too much, and writes way too much.  To learn more, read his overwritten FAQ or flip through the archives.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. brian t permalink
    March 22, 2011 12:47 pm

    nothing says hippie like a good drum circle.

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