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Off-season in Mar de las Pampas

By: Julia Henriquez
Photos : Demian Colman

 

What can you do during that bleak interim when it is not hot enough for sunbathing on the beach or taking dips in the ocean, but it is still pleasant enough to stroll at night without freezing to death? What about that time when the sun disappears, but the cold has not yet taken hold and the kids are still on vacation? Why not head for the coast? Not for summer activities and all their variants on land and sea, but to enjoy the dormant treasures of silence and tranquility.

Bustling with tourists during peak season, Mar de las Pampas lends itself to a quiet escape once the sun takes a holiday. Of the continent’s many southern Atlantic resorts, this is my favorite off-season spot.

Year after year, it waits patiently in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina —just 250 miles from the capital— for the summer to fill its streets with tourists who come seeking that perfect blend of forest, sand, and sea that is found only in the south. But now the tourists are gone, the sky shows us a melancholy face, and the silence reminds us of an era when this place was little more than sand dunes dancing in the wind.

It was in 1957 that Jacobo Zelzman purchased the first large lots here to realize his dream of creating the perfect family vacation destination. The greatest challenge was dealing with the sand dunes that enveloped the coastline. The wind constantly shifted the vast, high hills of sand, making it difficult to build here.

Even so, the builders of Villa Gesell, Cariló, and Pinamar were able to master the landscape, which encouraged Zelzman to pursue his project. With inexhaustible patience and an exhaustive forestation plan, Zelzman, together with agronomists Moretti and Takacs, managed to turn the dream into a reality. It took them 22 years, but in 1979, Mar de las Pampas advertised the last lots in what is now a favored summer destination for residents of the capital.

The mysterious aspect of Mar de las Pampas at summer’s end has a unique charm. The wood cabins seem to blend into a landscape tinted brown by poplars and willows, while the scent of the sea mixes with pine and eucalyptus; when night falls, the cocktail of scents is enriched by the smell of barbecue wafting from the chimneys of lovely wood and stone mansions.

Dining options in town are perhaps not as varied as during the summer, but there are certainly enough to keep you well-fed. Although this commercial hub —which offers tours, bike rental, games, and all sorts of activities during peak season— is practically deserted now, there are always delicious pastries at La Pinocha and samples of artisan chocolate from the local shop.

Without the live TV broadcasts of vacation activities and memorable parties for youngsters, everything is quieter, but no less interesting.

You can spend the days walking the twenty-block long Botanical Trail or getting lost in a springy-floored forest where spirits from the end of the world hide, at least according to the legends or realities that breathe life into the myths that abound in this land and those places further south. The trails belong to the spirits; we are merely visitors.

Secluded behind the dunes, the miles-long beaches are still after the tourists retreat, allowing visitors to imbibe the wistful atmosphere as they sip a hot mate.

The lively bathing resorts that hum during summer are closed; now the atmosphere even seems to lull the many birds, both large and small, into enjoying a post-season break as children make the most of the emptiness to frolic in the sand. The water, cold enough to be glacier melt, is clearly out of bounds, but its healing powers are still available by simply breathing in the saline mist rising from the waves.

Pass the time in a cocoon of peace while listening to the distant laughter of children, hugging a revitalizing tree, or happening across a spirit on the path, all before ending the day with hot chocolate in front of the fireplace. A trip to Mar de las Pampas is undoubtedly the best escape for this in-between season, which marks the end of the holidays and the beginning of a hopeful new year.