Here we go, my first blog… EVER. Apologies in advance… I am typing this on my phone’s keypad.
It is just before 0700hours on Monday morning, and Buenos Aires is slowly awakening to the new week. I don’t sleep very well (and the jetlag hasn’t helped) so I’ll put my insomnia to some good use.
Where to start? There are so many things to tell you… Most important things first: Paul and I are doing very well, and we are still talking to each other 🙂
Buenos Aires has turned out to be an easy starting point for our journey around South and Central America. We’ve been staying in San Telmo, just south of the city centre and north of La Boca (even non-soccer fans will know Boca Juniors and Maradona). The house we’re staying at belongs to a tango dancer who is currently on a world tour. He’s renting out a few rooms, so it’s not just us here but his housekeepers and a few fellow travellers. I’m glad we chose San Telmo. The barrio has a lot of character, many old buildings, cobbled streets, is full of antique shops and has a great street market on Sundays.
A protest in Buenos Aires?
Our stint in Buenos Aires started with a very typical thing for Buenos Aires as we were told later… a protest. Initially, we weren’t allowed to disembark the plane because some of the airport security staff were on strike… Waiting for further news, the captain then announced that the cleaning personnel was on strike too, and we’d better use the plane’s toilets as there may be no toilet paper left in the airport. Paul and I were laughing as toilet paper was one of the items we decided we won’t take with us and buy instead along the way. Long story short… we were left off the aeroplane eventually and saw the strike as we left the airport (it even made the news the next day)… greeted by BA’s late morning heat and humidity.
A rip off as soon as we arrive
Being so obviously tourists it doesn’t come as a surprise that people try to rip us off… starting with the taxi ride from the airport which would have cost us 298 pesos had we taken the first taxi we got into. We ended up paying 180 pesos, still more than locals, but more reasonable for a 1/2 hour taxi ride.
This first experience aside, we found the portenyos (the people of Buenos Aires) friendly and helpful… particularly when it comes to helping us master the challenges of the local public transport: The first time we used the bus we had no idea that notes were of no use or how to operate the ticket machine. An older guy changed our note and showed us how to use the machine. How nice… We have since worked out that the fare is not always the same… people announce to the driver where they’re going, and he sets the amount on the machine… which stays till the next person requires a different amount… as we found out the hard way is suddenly short of money as the machine charged us more than we required. Again a friendly local gave us the missing coin. If you are thinking this sounds like we’re short of coins all the time… this is true. If you ever come here and plan on using the bus network get lots of coins from one of the banks or one of those charge cards that many locals use.
What else is worth telling you about? I mentioned the heat and humidity… Well, we wanted a proper summer after the experience in Sydney this year, and we definitely got it here. Blue skies in the morning and scorching sun in the afternoon… the occasional rain and thunderstorm providing only temporary relief.
We started finding our bearings by joining a free (apart from the tip at the end) walking tour, taking in all the important sights in the city centre… very tiring but very informative too. We learned a lot about Argentina’s turbulent history…
… about Evita (who came to BA seeking work as an actress at the age of 15, became First Lady at the age of 27 and passed away at only 33 years of age). We stood at the very same balcony at the Casa Rosada where Evita and Juan Peron held their speeches, and Maradona and his team were celebrated as the Soccer Worldcup winners.
Democracy is mandatory
We learned about the importance of democracy (there is now an obligation to vote in Argentina, the same as in Australia). Some of you may know about the Dirty War that occurred here between 1976 and 1983… when ~30,000 people disappeared. To this day, every Thursday, mothers of those disappeared protest in front of the Casa Rosada. Unfortunately, we are running out of time and won’t be able to visit ESMA, one of the former detention centres (and now a museum) in Buenos Aires where many of those missing people were taken to be tortured and killed… The museum is still in its infancy as it seems. It was not easy to actually find out about things like opening times and tours.
Tango in Argentina? Really
What about the dancing? some of you may ask. Of course, we’ve danced here too… that’s why we came here in the first place 🙂 Friday and Saturday nights were reserved for experiencing Buenos Aires’ Latin Dance and Tango scenes. We did a Bachata class with a Guillermo look-alike at 11 pm one night, followed by social dancing from 1 am, and we had two very different Tango lessons, one at night at a 100-year-old Tango Salon, the other at an alternative community centre in our barrio. We also stumbled upon a really cool Cuban club on our way back home one day… Rey Castro. We would have liked to dance there too but 6 days and nights are just not enough.
What did we do though was to go to La Boca twice… why? you may wonder. Well, we went the first time on Saturday to experience Caminito, one of the most photographed streets of BA, and to check out La Bombonera, the Boca Juniors stadium, and its museum. Sadly for us, this happened to be the night when Boca fans farewelled one of their biggest idols, the Titan, Martin Palermo, who scored more goals for his club than any other including Maradona (who has a personal lifetime VIP lounge in the East wall of the stadium as we learned today). It’s such a contrast seeing the rich barrios of Palermo and Recoleta (which could easily be ritzy suburbs in Madrid or Milan) and then walking through the rough poor neighbourhood of La Boca where it smells of sewerage only a few blocks away from the touristy waterfront. The stadium is right in the middle of it like a giant concrete box painted in gold and blue and separated from the houses around it by only a small street. Everyone around here seems to live for the club… houses are painted in the club colours, Maradona murals on walls, memorabilia for sale everywhere. No wonder that little kids here dream of becoming soccer stars.
6 action-packed days are coming to an end, and how else to finish them than with a traditional Parilla. My stomach filled with yummy barbequed meat and roasted peppers I’m going say goodbye for now. Tomorrow morning, we’re heading north to Iguazu Falls.
Feature image courtesy of @travelbuenosaires.