Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Parkour in Buenos Aires: Part II – La Plata

Having been slightly apprehensive about the clearness of the directions to the meeting place in the train station the next day I decided to play things safe and left the hostel early to ensure that I had plenty of time to get lost if needed. Of course, this meant that things went smoothly and I arrived at the train station with about 30 minutes to spare. After exploring the station a bit, I found a place to sit and people-watch as I waited. After about 15 minutes I spotted one guy that had the distinct markings of a traceur (long sweatpants in the middle of summer, worn shoes, a backpack, and eyes that seem are constantly sizing up the surroundings with childlike curiosity). I saw him disappear down a flight of stairs as another traceur-looking guy came over and I decided to trust my gut and followed them. My hunch paid off and I arrived at the head of the stairs to see them climbing on a wall in the middle of the train station. I went down to introduce myself and found out that they were part of the training group for the day. Apparently there was a really big jump that “Russo” wanted to do, and since I had a camera with me, they asked me to get it…

Ten seconds after I had put the camera away, 5 police officers came down the stairs that he had just jumped and kicked us (by this time there were 6 of us) out after repeated protests and claims that it was perfectly safe because they knew what they were doing. The most interesting part was that right after we were escorted out the main doors, we went around to the side entrance of the station, entered through another set of doors, and walked right past the same police officers that had been so adamant about our exit from the station 3 minutes earlier. Apparently they thought that we had been adequately disciplined as they didn’t say anything as we walked by, bought our tickets, and boarded the train.

I spent the hour-long train ride getting to know the guys better and talking to them about their various backgrounds and parkour experience. They were really curious about my project, in particular about the people that I had met in the UK and Australia, and were very up to date on the latest YouTube videos, especially the English ones. They were very willing to talk to me about their own experiences and by time we were getting off at Tolosa I was already on a nickname basis with them (it was decided that “Blake” was a cool enough name that I didn’t need a nickname- nice job Mom and Dad).

The train ride was definitely a pretty interesting experience in and of itself as it didn’t resemble any sort of train ride that I’d taken before. Besides the vendors that walk up and down the train selling everything from hair ties to ice cream*, there was also the fact that the doors to the train were kept open the whole ride for ventilation. This led to all sorts of fun and mischief (a group of six very athletic and very energetic males between the ages of 16 and 24- kind of a given), like the parkour version of a “Chinese fire drill” (At each train stop, someone jumps off the train, does a back flip, and hops back on), “ghostriding” (jump out of the train and run alongside as it leaves the station and waiting until the last moment possible before hopping back in). Needless to say, not the safest of activities, but very entertaining.
* Note: A practice that needs to be duplicated in other major cities that have stifling summertime metros (Boston, New York, London, Paris…)

When we finally arrived at our destination I found myself staring at an Argentinean version of Vauxhall. The sign said that the building was a community center, but from the looks of it, it hadn’t been used for a while, and certainly wasn’t in use on a Sunday morning in the middle of the summer (Sundays are pretty quiet here for businesses). Despite the phrase “No Subir” (No Climbing) painted all over the place in large black letters, we spent about 4 hours training on and around the building.

While we were there our initial group of six was joined by a few more traceurs and when people’s stomachs started growling we walked over to the center of La Plata to grab something to eat and find some new training spots. Since it was the middle of the summer, and a Sunday, the city (a big student town) wasn’t too busy and almost all of the university buildings that we passed were vacant. It was oddly reminiscent of walking though Elephant & Castle housing estates in London- complete with broken windows, lots of trash, and an eerie feeling. I got some more footage of the guys in action and some pretty impressive jumps.

After wandering around some great spots in La Plata we headed for a local park where the guys had a lot of fun vaulting over objects and generally monkeying around. Throughout the day I got the distinct impression that I was privy to something that not many outsiders were invited to partake in and that I was witnessing the training of a group of guys that were essentially a “family”.

A family photo.

After some more flips and tricks in the park we headed back to the train station and the guys introduced me to “chorizo” (essentially sausage in a bun- but way better than anything I’ve had in the northern hemisphere though) as we waited for the train to take us back to Buenos Aires. The ride back was just as entertaining as it had been in the morning, with the addition of climbing around on the outside of the car as the train was moving, handstands in the aisles, and lachées(envision orangutans swinging between tree branches) through the train car to the applause of fellow passengers.

I think that even more important than cool footage that I got that day was the impression of these guys training habits and motivations for doing parkour. While the training wasn’t nearly as grueling as with Parkour Generations or the APA, and there were a lot more flips and tricks than I’ve seen elsewhere; the essence and the spirit of the movement remained the same. The few instances when I saw what some may call “pure parkour”, as in getting from one place to another quickly and efficiently, it was done with a fluidity and ease that showed that these guys did indeed have an understanding of this principle, but just chose to add some of their own flair and style to their movement the rest of the time.

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