A Dog’s Life


March 2016

We spotted the notice on a lamp post, inviting owners of salchichas (dachshunds) to a gathering in a park by the river the next afternoon, starting at 14:00.  It was being organized by a Facebook page called Salchichas Uruguay.  As we passed that park on La Rambla nearly every day, we decided to go that way the next day.

We had lunch in nearly Punta Carretas, and headed for the park.  Even if we had not already known where the park was, all we would have had to do was to follow the stream of salchichas, all heading in the same direction.

And when we arrived at the park there were already a multitude sniffing each other, barking, yapping, growling, lifting their leg, and vacating their bowels.  And that was just the dog owners.

The Facebook page had about 1000 members at that time and the organizers had expected 50-100 owners to turn up.  They were quite overwhelmed by the response, and by the end of the day over 400 dogs had attended.

Meeting of dachshund owners

There were only two requirements for the owners; all dogs had to be kept on a leash and no females in heat were welcome.  I could imagine the ensuing chaos if an owner had not respected the second requirement.  It would have been comical to watch.

Un Ménage á trois

During the afternoon there were gifts handed out, a raffle was drawn, and prizes were given for the best dressed dog.

A rather embarrassed dachshund trying to look inconspicuous

Every day we saw many dogs on La Rambla, most not on a leash, despite the busy traffic on one side.  They seem be well trained and responsive to the owners and I have never once seen two Pocitos dogs growl or fight.  Many run with their owners, and I have even seen one that swims along parallel to the beach, while the owner strolls along, usually talking on his phone.

There are many owners, perhaps older citizens, who employ dog walkers to exercise their pet.  Over the three summers that I have been in Pocitos, I have got to know two of the many dog walkers, one who specializes in small dogs, and the other in large dogs.  They told me that the maximum either have taken at one time is 14-16 and the guy who takes only large dogs is built like a weight lifter.  His own dog is not on a leash, and trots ahead and stops at each light, until it is told it can cross.  It is amazing to watch the human-to-dog communication.

One of many dog walkers in Montevideo

We also saw dog walkers in Buenos Aires, but the ones that we saw were wearing special belts, to which they snap the leashes, leaving their hands free and eliminating the risk of a dog escaping.

Three dog walkers in Buenos Aires

In Mendoza, we saw many street dogs, especially in the park.  In no way were they aggressive; they were more a nuisance, in that they wanted to be adopted, and they insisted in following one everywhere.

My eldest son, Andrew, had a similar experience in North West Argentina, where street dogs followed him and his friends from where they were staying, when they went hiking in the nearby foothills of the Andes.

Andrew in the Andes with his faithful canine friend

We also saw many street dogs in Santiago de Chile.  To cross a busy street, they sit at an intersection, waiting for the lights to turn green.  Sometimes they cross with people, at other times by themselves.

A street dog in Santiago de Chile, waiting to cross the street

In English the expression ‘leading a dog’s life’ can have two diametrically opposed meanings.

On the one hand it can mean something that is pleasant – the good life: pampered, well fed, warm, comfortable.

But it can also mean something that is unpleasant – a rough life: sleeping outside in all weathers and surviving on scraps.

In our time there, we saw very many examples of both extremes.

Mendoza Parks

Mendoza is in the foothills of the Andes, on the main road that runs from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile.  It was totally destroyed in 1861 in an earthquake measuring 7.2 and of its population of 12,000, an estimated 4300 were killed and 750 injured.  The city was rebuilt in a nearby location.

The rebuilt city has a 6×6 block core, with plazas on each of the four corner blocks and a huge 2×2 block central plaza, known as Plaza de la Independencia.  Each of the plazas is well shaded by massive trees, that were probably planted during the redevelopment.  From my window in the excellent El Portal Suites, beside the Plaza de Chile, I can see a huge hawk on the topmost branches of a huge coniferous tree waiting for its even larger parents to return with dinner.  There are reputedly at least four hawks resident in this plaza.  I suspect that they keep the local pigeon population well under control.

 Plaza de Chile in the early evening

In Montevideo and here in Mendoza, it is not unusual to see jugglers performing at busy junctions.  As soon as the lights change, they perform and then dart alongside the traffic, collecting contributions.  Many of the characters are remarkably talented.  But here in Mendoza I witnessed an unusual act at an intersection; a couple dancing tango to their own musical accompaniment.  Not only were they talented, but the presence of their baby in a pram on the pavement raised the poignancy of their performance:  not only were the drivers contributing but also people passing by on the pavement.  A little while later I saw the couple sitting on a bench in the park, the mother breast feeding the baby.  I suspect that they would have an interesting story to tell.

About a twenty minute walk to the west of the Plaza de la Independencia lies the Parque General San Martín.  With almost 400 ha and 17km of roads and paths, it is one of the largest park areas in Argentina.  The park contains a zoo and an open air theatre, as well as an 800m rowing lake, a football stadium, horse jumping arena, a velodrome, an athletic track, a tennis club and a golf course.  And all day long, regardless of the temperature being in the 30s, a horde of runners, young and old, throng the paths.

 The rowing lake in Parque General San Martín

As well as the wide range of sporting facilities in the park, there are several open air restaurants with excellent food and wine.  It is not surprising that on each day of my stay in Mendoza, my feet, as if on automatic pilot, led me back to the park.