Published: August 10th 2010August 5th 2010
As with all large cities, actually getting into the centre on the bus was a long process, with us having to pass the sprawling urban areas before finally coming to a stop at Retiro, the main bus terminal. However, the multi-level building was fairly modern with all the ticket offices contained on the upper level: useful for us to scout out companies for our onward journey. This task completed we ventured outside and into the mass of humanity - the most we had seen in one place for a long time - in search of the Subte (the Argentinean version of the metro/underground) which we caught to our hostel.
We had chosen to stay in the area of San Telmo, a district to the south of the centre and famous for being one of the two areas from which the Tango emerged. It is indeed a lovely place, with many of the streets being cobbled and the buildings having a faded grandeur about them that is very appealing. Our hostel had been booked previously (a discount was had as it is part of the Hostelling International group, which we had recently joined to take advantage of such benefits) so,
once we had successfully emerged from sub-levels we checked into the converted town house. The room was much nicer than the previous hostel (and as we found out that night - it thankfully lacked the same level of snorers!)
Not feeling particularly tired despite a rubbish night´s sleep, we firstly stopped by the local bakery to buy two large pieces of quiche before finding the small Plaza Dorrego nearby that is well known for its Sunday antique Market and evening tango displays. Sitting on the wall eating our lunch in the sun was great - although the chilly breeze reminded us that it was indeed winter and that we should not get too comfortable as movement fights off the cold.
After a turn of the square, looking at the many cafes and antique shops we directed ourselves towards the centre of the city, a 15min walk away. Pleasantly there were no high-rise buildings on our route with the tallest being only about 5 stories or so; not until the central plaza did we encounter anything that began to make us feel small and insignificant - and ever so slightly claustrophobic. However, the place was impressive: government buildings and
statues, banks and shops all edged the main area from which many roads radiated creating a busy and purposeful atmosphere.
We paused on a bench briefly (but not so briefly that an Argentinean ´Big Issue´ guy couldn’t hone in on us…) then took a deep breath before immersing ourselves in the crowds. My goodness, it felt like we were being swallowed up! Watching very carefully where we stepped for fear of loosing each other and/or being bumped into by the focused shoppers on the pedestrian streets we pushed forward and just about managed to appreciate the modern shops that were on offer for exploration. Some well appointed book shops and tons of shoe outlets: even touts trying to get us to but leather coats and tango tickets!
However, after about an hour and a good loop of some major streets later, we decided that it was time to head back as lack of sleep (and being overwhelmed by such a large place after several much more manageable places) meant fatigue had caught up with us. We bought supplies for tea and called it a day.
Breakfast was a welcome assortment of hot drinks, cereal (a rarity) and
bread rolls - of course with the offer of Dulce de Leche. This set us up well for the long walk we had planned into the district of La Boca: named for the area at the mouth of the river. The walk was fairly uneventful with a cloudy sky for company, but we were not disappointed as we approached this postcard-famous area. The popular stadium was the first building to greet us, towering over the rather shabby looking houses with a proud air - and so it should. Boca Juniors are world famous and have produced some of Argentina´s football legends, including Diego Maradona.
The streets around the riverside are the most photogenic owing to their brightly painted corrugated facades (encouraged by a national artist) and lively art scene. Indeed, as you draw near (dodging past the tourist buses) the colours shout at you - almost as loudly as the stunningly dressed ladies and gents dressed in Tango gear and wanting you to pose for a photo with them. Artists sell their wares along the sides of the pedestrianised roads and I was amazed at how many cafes could offer Tango shows. Regardless of the obvious ´tourist-trap´ nature of
the place it was endearing: an open air museum of an area that has seen real poverty but managed to keep alive and spawn a world renowned dance. Brilliant.
Our return walk took us past another small park that held the National Historical Museum supposedly worth a visit. As soon as we walked in we had our doubts: no English translations to be seen. Sadly, despite the hugely important looking documents on show and large displays it was all lost on us and we made a hasty departure after a cursory look around. I wish guide books told you about such things!
The afternoon was spent taking the Subte a little further north and exploring Plaza San Martin (a nice green space just on the outskirts of the main shopping area, giving brief respite to the weary walker) and some more of the shops themselves, which were still packed. From the park, which is split over a couple of levels and overlooks the bus and train station, you can see the Argentinean ´Big Ben´(up for debate in my books) and some great old buildings, some with turrets! Architecture is a big plus in this amazing city - so
many quirky things to spy!
The last whole day we had in the city was spend initially on a bit of a wild goose chase. Our hostel manager - and indeed several leaflets we had found in the place - had made it clear that some bus companies gave 10% discount on bus tickets if you were an HI member. To claim this we had to travel to the main office of the HI company and collect a voucher which involved a trip into the centre. As we were going to the bus station anyway we were happy to do this to save a few pounds (things being more expensive in Argentina in general) so on the Subte we got.
Reaching the office we were informed their printer was broken so we would have to venture a good distance down the road to another hostel who were licensed to sell tickets. Off we went……to be told they no longer had that offer, but they could give us the ticket we wanted - for more than we would pay at the bus company’s office itself!! We politely refused and began the LONG walk back up the road to the
bus terminal….. Bloody people - get your information sorted! Thankfully we were more successful at the station, securing two tickets to Iguazu for the following afternoon.
That evening we had booked up to see a proper Tango show in the centre - organized through the hostel. It was supposed to be a real spectacle, including dinner and a free Tango lesson prior to the performance. I had bought some tights so I could wear the one smart outfit in my possession (have to look the part you know) and Warren got to wear his nice black shirt, so it was as a very a-typical traveling pair that got onto the coach!
The building in which the show was held was very grand and also holds the title of first ´Tango Show´in the city - something for which it is very popular. We were herded inside and given a complimentary drink (mix of red and white wine with local spirits - tasty yet lethal in large measures!) before being taken ´below stairs´ for our lesson. The 30ish women and 15 men were shown 3 basic Tango moves by 4 of the dancers who we would later see on stage.
They were excellent, speaking Spanish, Portuguese and English and leading the large class with humour. Even Warren got up and learnt a few steps! By the end of the hour we were paired up and trying out our newly acquired skills - with varying levels of success!
Once the session was over we returned upstairs and were seated at long, linen covered tables in a grand auditorium. The wine was constantly poured (open bars are great) and was a tasty accompaniment to the delicious steak and chips we were served as part of the 3 course meal. The best steak I have ever tasted……. This was followed by chocolate covered ice-cream which we only just managed to finish before the performance began.
The show was a mixture of tango dances and traditional folk dance/music, including: soloists, duets, an Andean musician and drummers. Apart from the sole musician, the rest of the acts were accompanied by the most talented 5 piece orchestra - the whole thing was phenomenal and very well put together. The only section that was a little misplaced was the performance of the main song from Évita´: very patriotic, but suited to a show such as
this? The singer was brilliant though, so it was still enjoyable.
The dances became more and more elaborate and exotic - racy stuff! By the end of the evening I was in awe of the women (and the men in some cases) and the way they could bend and move their bodies - impressive! We completed the evening by joining up with some other travelers (one our room mate) and, once we had got back to the hostel and finished the bottle of wine we had commandeered from the ´free bar´, went to a bar for drinks, a game of pool and dancing. It was a great night, but he latest we had experienced in a while, so we were both quite tired by the time we rolled in at 3am.
Unfortunately we could not have a lie-in due to an early breakfast-serving time and we also had our bus to catch. We had just enough time to explore the craft market in the local plaza before heading to the bus terminal and waiting for our transportation north.
There are more photos below