Our Sunday at Mar Chiquita was sweaty, salty, sunny and sweet. Driving into Miramar town, the street opened up to a picaresque view of the sea. Not a real sea, of course, but I could have easily been fooled if no one told me otherwise. Mar Chiquita (tiny ocean) is a 50 mile long saline lake in the center of Argentina. It is the biggest lake in the country and the only one containing salt water; hence the name. With long, golden beaches, waves rolling up along the shore, seagulls sitting on the docks, and a horizon of endless blue-grey water, it perfectly resembles a true beach.
Mario’s puppy, Pandita (little panda in Spanish) squirmed in the back seat, anxious to get out. We’d been driving for two hours and the car was a furnace from the sun. I could tell she was thirsty. Pobrecita. Now three months old, Pandita has been living in Mario’s apartment since she was born. His family had two pure bred Akita Inus, a Japanese breed like in the movie “Hachiko”, who surprised the family with four little puppies this fall. Mario kept Pandita, his favorite, but she quickly grew too big and too rowdy for apartment life. Now we are looking for new owners. Everyone loves her when they meet her, but not one person will agree to buy and look after the pup.
We grabbed our backpack, gave Pandita some water, and the three of us happily set off down the beach. Walking with the puppy, we always attract a lot of attention. The Akita Inu breed is rare in South America and strangers are drawn to her because of her exotic appearance. Every time we walk past a group of people, especially women and girls, there is an eruption of oohs and ahhs and “que linda” “que hermosa.” Mario and I call it la magica (magic) of Pandita. She has a sort of magnetic pull that draws people to her involuntarily. There at Mar Chiquita it was no different. Every few steps we would stop and let admirers pet her and complement her attraction. Surprisingly, with so many suiters the little princess still can’t find someone to buy her. We will keep trying.
We walked for a while along the shore, admiring the water and taking in our surroundings. Online I’d read that the lake was home to a huge assortment of bird species, the most intriguing being the flamingo. When we asked the locals about the flamingos, however, they told us we were out of luck. It was the off season and few had been spotted that week. Mario and I were disappointed, but the place was so beautiful that the news didn’t dampen our mood. The sun was much stronger at the lake than back in Nueva Córdoba, and it must have been a good 85 – 90 degrees (F) out that day. It was time for a swim.
Pandita had never swam before. She always tried to jump in puddles and dip her paws in the stream when we took her on walks near the apartment, but she’d never made the full plunge. The primary reason we brought her with us this time was to make her swim.
We selected a nice spot along the shore where we took off our clothes and left the backpack. It was at the bottom of a flight of stairs, descending down into the water. A perfect place to watch your things while you swim. Mario and I waded in first. The water was warm like a pool, but cool enough to relieve you from the heat. I’m still not used to warm water swimming, coming from Oregon- land of the freezing water. The salt content in Mar Chiquita was so high it made your skin tingle. When water dried on your skin it left streaks of white residue like chalk.
Now it was time for la loquita (little wild one). Mario carried her in then handed her off to me, waist deep. She alternated between squirming in terror and clawing at my arms, and pawing the water playfully, intrigued. When we finally put her completely in we immediately burst out laughing. She floated! The water was so salty she didn’t have to move at all; her furry little body floated like a bobber on the waves. She seemed to be enjoying herself, casually paddling her front paws and riding the current. We continued to laugh at her laziness. She refused to move her back legs at all and only paddled her front legs in a slow, lethargic manner. She will be in for a shock when she goes for a swim in a freshwater lake someday. There, she will have to be more proactive.
As we relaxed in the water, a large flock of birds came into view on the horizon. We could tell they were not seagulls; their silhouettes were much bigger in size. It was a huge group, close to 50 in total. We watched as they flew closer and closer. Suddenly we both realized what we were witnessing. “Mira, mira!” we yelled, pointing. We craned back our necks and strained our eyes. Above our heads flew the flock of pink flamingos. We’d seen them after all. We stood in silence for a few minutes, watching as their shapes disappeared in the distance and marveling at our luck.
Getting out of the water we realized our necks and shoulders were burnt to a crisp. As I mentioned earlier, the sun seemed to be much stronger there. We lathered up with sunscreen, but it was too late. Putting on our clothes and walking up into town, we were a motley crew. Wet clothes, strawberry red skin, and crusted, white salt adorning our limbs. My hair was crunchy and corse; Pandita looked like she’d gotten highlights because of the salt crystals clinging to her fur.
Our burnt skin had about hit its capacity and, unknowingly, many hours had passed as we walked the beach and went swimming, so we agreed to call it a day. We splurged on two hefty ice cream cones that tasted like pure heaven after being in the sun so long. Once we finished licking up every last bit of creamy goodness, we loaded Pandita into the car. Then we eased our crusty bodies onto the hot, black seats of the car and began the two hour drive back home.