Wednesday 24 April to Tuesday 30 April (Buenos Aires)
Refreshed after a good sleep, my full Buenos Aires experience begins.
After my first day in the city, next stop was Recoleta to see some of the cities major tourist attractions and landmarks. Heading north I passed through parks containing historical monuments and pieces of contemporary public art, before reaching a bridge over one of the main arterial roads. The bridge, covered in political statements and graffiti, led to the Centro Municipal de Exposiciones. Passing this dominating building I entered the Plaza Naciones Unidad to see the Floralis Genérica shining in the sun. Designd by Eduardo Catalano in 2002, this piece of public art is a giant sculptural flower with petals that close up at night (well, at least when it's functional) - a gift from the architect to the city.
Next stop was Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar - a small pretty colonial church, where I explored the Nave and its statuettes - some beautiful and intricate, others slightly gaudy in nature. I took a short look around the cloisters, which have been transformed into a rather old-fashioned Museum displaying statuettes, Priestley robes, art work and other religious
ephemera. Some items were worth an extra look, but overall not too much out of the ordinary.
Then it was on to the neighbouring Cementario de la Recoleta. This stunning "city of the dead" was reminiscent of the Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón that I visited in Havana, though it seemed more tightly packed. Main avenues and alleyways were full with family mausoleums - from the extravagant to the more simplistic. I wandered for several hours in this labyrinth, a feast of photographic opportunities and a place where being disoriented was easily achieved.
The main avenues were beautiful to walk along. In some of the tighter alleys, especially when you were alone, it felt slightly strange and creepy. This was made more so when passing some of the mausoleums where glass was broken and flora had become overgrown and started to fill the interiors. There was definitely a few shivers on my way round, despite the heat of the day. I couldn't help thinking it'd be a good location for a ghostly movie of some kind.
I had pretty much given up on locating the grave of Eva Perón, when I heard a group of Americans repeating "Evita!?
Evita!?" Having located a Guard from the cemetery, they were being taken to the site. I tagged along in a stealth like manner. Having expected to see a very grand mausoleum, I was surprised by its simplicity. She was also laid to rest in the Duarte family mausoleum rather than that of Perón. I'm still to discover if there is a reason for this. Many visitors had placed flowers in the iron work of the doors, which look especially bright against the blackness of the site.
That evening I went out with Anna from the hostel and a few newbies (John, Adrian and Michael) to a bar called Levitar in Palmero, where one of the hostel managers Antoine was DJ'ing. We stayed for a drink or two before Anna and I headed on to another place with Michael - a really friendly and easy-going Australian who had arrived that day. He has been based in London for around 10 years and was taking time out to travel for 4 months - trying desperately hard to decide where his next stop would be.
We enjoyed some live tango music by a band at a small colourful bar, followed by
two musicians - a guitarist and accordion player. After singing a couple of tunes themselves they invited a number of punters from the bar to sing a tune. Scarily, each had fantastic voices. It really did make it hit home that I was not "in Kansas anymore"!
Over the next few days I took the Grafittimundo tour (a 3 hour guided tour around the highlights of Buenos Aires street art), did a wee bit of shopping, meandered through Palmero Viejo and some of the parks around the area, visited the antiques market in San Telmo and went to a couple of Buenos Aires night clubs with friends from the Chill House.
The graffiti tour was fantastic and it seems the city is very tolerant of graffiti - hosting it's first Street Art / Graffiti Festival in 2012. Very randomly I ended up on the same tour as an American lady named Renee, who had flown in on the same flight as me from Dallas and queued with me through customs. Very small world!
Our guide Cecilia talked of the political elements to much of the street art, as well as sharing details of how much of the
work was created. One artist called Jaz uses materials such as gasoline and mud to create the paint for his pieces - many which are large scale artworks depicting images of animals, or creatures that are half man, half beast. Many artists had also been commissioned to decorate the exterior of businesses such as a film production office and restaurant. One man, a solicitor, had chosen to show his support for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner by stencilling some of her slogans on the outside of his house.
One of the best stories was hearing how a number of artists had requested the use of blank walls at a local bus depot. Having been refused a number of times, one artist's mother had taken it upon herself to visit - "reasoning with them" to hand over their walls. It seemed to do the trick. The wrath of this firecracker female clearly being more than they could handle.
We finished up at a bar, run by street artists, where I had a beer with Renee and another American lady called Karen who was in Buenos Aires studying Spanish for a few months. A lovely end to the day.
At the antiques market I met up with Ben and Michael from the hostel and enjoyed a few hours walking through the many streets - treating myself to a couple of bracelets. It wasn't to be Michael's day. Having tried and failed to buy a ferry ticket to Uruguay that morning, slightly losing his bearings around the port area (not a recommended area as a lone tourist), he then got questioned by a police man coming out of Starbucks on arriving at the market. Apparently he looked like a potential robber, so having just used the toilet was seen to be suspicious. After a somewhat stressed conversation and exchange of IDs he was allowed to get on with his day. Luckily he was able to see the funny side of it all, so we all had a bit of a giggle over that, predicting what the next challenge of the day might be.
Highlight of the clubbing was a place called Amerika where we went to enjoy a quiet Sunday night!!! It was enormous in size and I've not experienced a club quite like it. We arrived at 1am - early by Buenos Aires standards. It was pretty quiet
to begin with, but by 2am the place was packed with hundreds of people. House music blasted from the sound system and strobe lights were in full effect. From the first floor balcony the view was a sea of people, filling every space, moving in unison and dancing like their life depended on it. You couldn't help but get drawn into the frenzy! Having lost total track of time we eventually returned to the hostel around 6am, which showed us up as "tourists". Most locals would probably continue until at least 10am.
So how to describe this city? It's a buzzing metropolis that very rarely sleeps. The people work extremely hard and party even harder. Sky scrapers dominate the Micro Centro, the northern areas of the city are scattered with parks, whilst Palmero is full of trendy boutiques, funky little cafes, bars and many of the "go to" nightclubs. Traffic fills the streets day and night and there is a constant buzz. Only on Sundays is there a relative calm.
Many areas have a faded beauty, where stunning architectural features struggle to make themselves seen from beneath a layer of dust, dirt, pollution, litter and crumbling masonry. In
other areas the modern sits neatly alongside the old, providing a sense of grandeur and polish.
Litter is a problem across the whole city - though some areas less so than others - and the traffic can create a slightly claustrophobic atmosphere thanks to the omissions.
You can't help but love it though. There's something quite special about the people, the atmosphere and even the grime. It's definitely not somewhere to relax though, so the impending trip to Uruguay was looking quite welcome.
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