After the sprawl of Buenos Aires, a change of pace is welcomed. Birthplace of Che Guevara, Leo Messi, and according to Argentine folklore, the most beautiful women in the country, Rosario is the perfect spot. It’s compact but has everything you need, and has a few pleasant surprises tucked away.
The first surprise was its people. Everyone has two things in common: they are all football mad, and they are all extremely friendly and generous. This is even to the extent where my money was refused on local buses every day because someone would either want to pay for me or the driver would tell me not to worry. It was normally followed by a big smile and “los rosarinos somos así” – “we’re like that in Rosario”.
The very first person we met, Mateo, told us that Rosario Central, the locally adored football team, were playing the next day and that it was a must see. “You’ve never seen football like it,” he said. I didn’t take much convincing, so the next afternoon we headed across town to Central’s stadium. Four hours before kick off, busloads (literally) of riot police arrive…turns out Mateo was right, I hadn’t seen football like it.
Tickets and beers secured, we follow the unmistakable noise of drums and lager-fuelled singing. The streets are a sea of yellow and blue, and with having recently won the Argentina Cup, the fans are in the highest spirits. Being the only people without either a Central shirt or tattoo, we stand out like a sore thumb.
It doesn’t take long to make friends however, and we’re quickly being summoned over by the locals to down some Fernet, the pre-match spirit of choice. They weren’t the only ones to notice us, as the local TV crew come dashing over. It was time for my debut on Argentine TV, including questions about what we’re doing in Rosario, what football’s like in other parts of the world, and what would I do if football was on the same day as Valentine’s Day (football obviously).
We follow the crowds into the stands, and come kick off the place is rocking, people precariously clinging on to any semi-supportive railing they can find.
The football itself may not have been the greatest with no goals scored, but the real spectacle is the rabid crowd, with any venture into the opposition’s third getting things fired up again.
Fun in the sun
A Rosarino’s other weekend pastime is working on their tan. The city was founded on the river, and if you follow its winding path 15 minutes out of town you land at the beach. Golden sand, ice cold cocktails, and the local radio’s summer party stage in full flight a little further down the beach, it’s not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
After a few hours of the local pop hits, the crowd’s excitement at the stage is turned up a notch, so we venture down. It’s the one and only Lit Killah, the Buenos Aires autotune rap sensation, 1.8 million Instagram followers and 0 musical talent.
United in Conflict
It’s worth spending a day wandering the streets of Rosario too. While it may not have the long, storied history of more often visited locations, part of Rosario’s charm is the stories of the community sticking together to overcome tough times. This is best represented by the town’s cooperative supermarket. After the economic crisis of 2001, which saw people’s life savings wiped out, the employees came together to take over the building. This served as a community stronghold, a symbol of resistance, of demonstrating what people are capable of when they are fighting for the same cause. The same group still own the space, and as well as continuing to operate the small supermarket, it more importantly serves the community. It’s used by charities and organisations who work for good causes, holding meetings, organising protests, and so on. The space itself has barely been altered since those incidents of 2001 and it’s one of those places where you can feel its history as soon as you walk in – the posters on the walls from protests of years gone by, the tired but storied faces of those within. It’s still dutifully operated by the people who fought for it, including the old man at the cafe who asks you for the price of your delicious alfajores because his eyesight started fading many years ago.
It’s a little bit dusty and a little bit dim, with the only sign of development being upstairs. Local teenagers have been given the privilege of painting a series of murals commemorating the stories of this place.
Rosario’s other landmark has also come to represent previous conflict. The National Flag Memorial is a beautiful structure in the middle of the city, which was built to represent the flag of Argentina being created and raised for the first time in Rosario in 1812. Unfortunately it now also stands for something much darker. Since the Falklands war, the monument’s observation tower has become a suicide spot, as a huge number of those who fought continue to suffer with PTSD and the difficulties of reintegrating back into society. A fence has recently been erected to try to stop these sad incidents, but a fence doesn’t solve the deeper issues – official statistics state that since the end of the conflict, more soldiers have committed suicide then those who were killed in conflict.
Its history may be relatively unknown, its beaches may not be the most iconic, and its football team may not be the greatest, but Rosario is an endearing long weekend which has a little bit of everything. And if you’re there and ever need any help just ask the first person you see – they’ll probably pay your bus fare, introduce you to their family and tell you where to go for dinner. Rosarinos are like that.