Published: May 26th 2008May 1st 2008
And then without further ado to Buenos Aires, Alan giving me a guided tour as we drove in, ´that´s the River Plate stadium...´he said, ´...where the River Plate football team play their HOME games. Not their AWAY games. They play those in other team´s stadiums...´and then moments later pointing at some outdoor fields, ´...those men are playing soccer.´ Riveting...
Alan then went on to talk about River Plate´s arch-rivals, Boca, his favourite team in Buenos Aires, who Diego Maradona used to play for. His description of the beauty of the Boca football jersey was quite moving in parts.
Having observed him in close quarters I´ve noticed that the deprivation of his football game every Tuesday night has affected him badly. Every seven days or so, from around half ten to half eleven he contorts himself, at first I thought he was copying my (very occasional) Yoga moves, but now I am of the firm opinion that he´s miming the moves he used to make during the five-a-side. When John said that the team had disbanded, I swear I saw tears form in his eyes.
But back to BA. We were delighted to find our San Telmo hostel was
an old style house on Chile (that´s the name of the street - they´re often called names of countries, e.g. Paraguay, Peru, Chile, Bolivia... great way to travel around South America on a budget). The girl working there told us we should just move and live there forever. After ten nights I have to say she has a point. It´s a cool city.
She´s a lovely Canadian who is crazy about Buenos Aires, Tango and Argentina, and was full of chat, particularly about ice-cream (Helado as it is known here). She recommended many flavours but warned us to go easy as she had to buy special ice-cream-pants (trousers, not underwear as us Irish might think) due to its deliciousness. She did a 360 degree spin and we had a look at her ice-cream-pants (which she was wearing at the time) and they did have a sort of Aladdin quality to them, baggy at the top giving additional space should the girth of her thighs explode somewhat, and tight at the bottom (just above the ankles). She had a lovely figure and I didn´t quite understand why she needed special additional potential thigh material.
Over the coming week and
Caught in the moment
Tango on Plaza Dorrego
a bit we noticed these pants worn by many BA ladies, leading me to conclude that they are quite the fashion item en ce moment. I have a feeling that she was just enjoying swishing around showing them off to us and that ice-cream was just an excuse to do so.
However she did put the fear of God in us so with the will-power of two Martyrs being burnt at the stake, somehow we managed to only eat one enormous tub of ice-cream from Freddos (a delightful brand of ice-creamery) despite the fact that it was the nicest cold food I´ve ever tasted in my entire existence.
That night we wandered around San Telmo, stopping for a pizza and then going for a cerveza (beer) before repairing to the hostel roof terrace to gazing at the stars. We were both delighted as we booked to stay in an apartment in San Telmo near the hostel, and it was a cool area.
Waking early we had our breakfast of bread and ´dulce de leche´a caramel-type spread beloved in Argentina - they put it on bread and in cakes - it is delicious. While we munched Oscar, the
More sweet graff
This colourful piece popped up overnight round the corner from our apartment
man who runs the hostel, chatted to us, as did another guest Kia, a Norwegian girl in the city to learn Spanish for a month who was also moving into an apartment on our street that morning.
After a few hours wandering down by the river, high-fiving one another as we were in Buenos Aires, one of the cities we´d always wanted to see, and rating the attire of the joggers and walkers from minus four to twelve (it was great fun), at the appointed hour we made our way to the apartment and met with Diego, a six-foot-two, big-bellied, wide-smiling son of the family who own our building on Bolivar y Independencia.
Diego showed us around and after the trading of keys for cash we shut the door and jumped around in absolute delight at the fact that for the next ten days we had a gaf to call our own in Buenos Aires. It was very groovy - high ceilings, wooden floors, a teeny balcony.
We called back for our bags from Oscar who was delighted that we liked our place and then stopped to get supplies before going home to cook ourselves pasta and
La Boca streets
Some of the amazing brightly coloured houses
drink oodles of wine. Happy days!
I put down the glass of delicious red reluctantly (two euro a bottle, a classy mid shelf vino - they started at less than a euro a litre!) and decided to put on the pasta and packet sauce (a favourite dish of ours on the road, second only to instant noodles - which believe it or not are hard enough to come across in Argentina and Chile, business entrepreneurs here´s a niche to be exploited).
Unfortunately as I leaned in and touched the lit match to the gas ring there was a huge ´WHOOMP´sound and a surge of gas resulting in a big flame that died down straightaway. I stood up, not sure if my life had flashed in front of my eyes, and if it had my only conclusion was that my life was blue haloed by a circle of gold... profound.
Whilst I was pondering such thoughts my reliable witness (Alan) said I looked shocked and slightly singed. I lost a lot of eyelashes and the tips of my right eyebrow in the excitement. Alan giggled nervously and not sure what else to do, so did I.
rang Diego who thumped up the stairs and looked at the ring, confused. First of all he said that the gas was fine, and then when he fiddled with it and it didn´t work said that it was impossible to get anyone to look at it, maybe they would in a few days. Then he tried to spoof his way out of the situation saying there was no gas in the city at all due to shortages and then when we innocently said, ´really? Any idea when it will come back on?´ he got exasperated and said we could leave if we wanted to. Still dazed from the whoomp I blinked. Where were we going to go? And besides he had all of our cash. I went from dazed to annoyed in less than a second.
No more Mrs Nice Woman. Hell hath no fury like a woman singed. Using all of my Spanish and all of my dealing with tricksy situations experience (from decades in Dublin I´m used to sending back sandwiches, pints, sofas - ok one sofa, but still) and pointed at my eyelashes and where my eyebrow used to be and told him we wanted to
stay but needed to know that the gas would work.
It must have worked as when I looked up Alan was hiding behind the sofa and Diego was tiptoe-ing his way out of the apartment. Moments later he returned with his thin elegant sister who proceeded to do magic things with the ring, making it work properly. She also got a guy in from the gas company and we were assured that all was well in the world again. I will admit that every time I lit the gas after that I stood back though (as did Diego whenever he saw you walk by - oi Alan what do you mean?).
Alan and I spent the next few days chilling out, he drawing comics and I finishing some writing I´m working on. We wandered out for strolls around the area each day, delighting as we found new haunts to visit.
It was great having a good bit of time in one spot, and we spent ages wandering around the ´Mercado´which is housed in an old Victorian era building and has stalls for all things, from fruit and vegetables through to meat (a pigs head is on display
here), cakes and biscuits, clothes, antiques, white elephant type objects beloved to the Argentinians - old furs, jewellery, records and curios. We bought our vegetables and meat in the Mercado, enjoying interacting in our broken Spanish.
I found the most lovely hat in the Mercado which the lady wouldn´t do me a deal on, Alan said ´offer eight euro, max´and I did but she shook her head and said I was getting a bargain for less than ten euro ´good price for Argentina´she said. It was a cool hat - black and white with a red button, lovely. Left with no choice I did the whole sad eye thing to Alan and it worked! I have a new hat, yay! Argentina is the land of cool things to buy.
A few days later we chanced upon this cool Tango shoe shop with a very exuberant owner who laughed when I said that I had hardly any Spanish. ´Neither do I darling´she said, ´we speak the Castellano, not Spanish... you should remember this. Now give me your foot...´. I was enchanted and listened mesmerised as she chatted away about Tango, shoes, Argentina, men, life and slid my foot into
Father Fahy rests in Recoleta
"We have some of your countrymen here!" said the woman at the gate cheerfully
the most sparkly, shiny, sexy red shoe I´d ever seen. I looked at Alan and he shrugged. I was smitten.
Ok so I´ve never tangoed or been tangoed, but I´ve seen it live twice. And I fully intend to take it up. And they´re red, so they´ll go with the dress I got in Rosario. Also, if you are going to buy Tango shoes where else to buy them than Buenos Aires? And they were beautiful. And they were signed by this character who told me she made them herself. Plus, I pointed out to Alan using the last of my breath, and most importantly, I had never had a shoe fetish before - I mean, friends of mine love shoes, spend loads of money on them, have stacks of shoes, and here am I (at this point a tear entered the corner of my eye), a humble globe trotter, who has only one pair of Muck Boots (kindof ankle height wellies from New Zealand) and one pair of tattered Havianas (fake versions of the flip-flop brand bought in Bangkok) and (I gulped) battered plimsolls (bought in Cairns, and admired by the Kayak instructor at Abel Tasman, NZ).
Can´t a backpacker dream? Can´t a scruffy backpacker have nice sparkly impractical shoes?
(The moral of the story? I got the shoes! But none of my pleading, tears or passion helped... he agreed when I said he could get a Boca jersey - Boca being Diego Maradona´s team...)
We went to Boca, choosing to walk there despite the warnings of our guidebook and fellow backpackers. We didn´t decide to walk there because we´re well hard (yeah right, look at the state of us), it just happened that we were strolling along yapping and then got lost and then a little scared (due to aforementioned warnings) and eyed everyone suspiciously (even though they were all really nice people). Then we got into a taxi and asked to be taken to Boca, so the driver drove about one block, turned left and stopped. We felt a little silly but the thing is we probably would have kept walking straight and might have missed the wonderful streets of colourful buildings that the area is famed for. Delightfully we also got to see the famous Boca stadium, oh and Diego Maradona (well kindof, we saw a fake Diego, but it was good
enough for me).
A few days later Alan finally bought his jersey - tango shoes and football jerseys - does life get better than this?! He also went and got the full Argentina shopping treatment as he had to buy a suit for the wedding back home the week after next. The guy working there was a legend, kitting him out in minutes. It was strange in a cool way seeing my backpacking chum turn from t-shirt and shorts, haviana wearing man into sharp suit wearing man and then back again. Kind of a Clark Kent like experience. I also was taught the following word by the guy in the shop ´camisa´- which means shirt. He also taught me loads of other suit related words while we waited for Alan to turn into Super Alan, but I was craving some ice-cream so was a bit distracted.
Our apartment had a small balcony overlooking busy Bolivar street and I would sit looking at people passing by. Across the road a man called Jose ran a bookshop slash antique shop called ´The Melancholic Ruffian´and we rooted through his wares, Alan finding original artwork for a famous Argentine comic-strip to his
Pigeons threaten to obscure our view of Casa Rosada in Plaza de Mayo.
delight. Jose in his broken English, told us the story of the artist´s son selling him the pieces after his father died. It is strange to think that they were once so important and then turned into a comic, the original artwork being stored somewhere in a pile until the artist dies, then being sold by the son who wasn´t particularly interested to Jose, who likes unusual things until we happen to ramble by and find them, hidden under a pile of kids book and miscellaneous junk, and now they´re going to end up on a wall in Dublin of all the random places.
Around the corner from the Melancholic Ruffian I came across a great bookshop that sold English books, ´Walrus Books´ and I was so happy, browsing away. In Rosario I had picked up a copy of Fatherland which I´d long since finished. Delightfully there were two old Somerset Maugham books and I picked them up on two separate occasions, the girl working there remembering me the second time as she sipped on her Mate from a gourd through a silver straw. Culture and books, what more can a girl ask for!
Nearby there were many
May Day! May Day!
Our first proper street protest - note the guys with balaclavas and rudimentary weapons holding up the traffic...
groovy little cafes and bars and on Sunday around the corner there was an enormous market. It was full of those curious antiques, sentimental pieces that I couldn´t quite understand, that have value for people here and yet wouldn´t sell back where I´m from. For example, an old fur coat would be hung pride of place above a stall and surrounded by a small number of costume jewellery necklaces. On one stall a man sold antique knives and bizarrely nutcrackers - just normal nutcrackers from the look of them. Some stalls had a few pieces of old lace, or on one I saw ´baking soda´packets - in English, the type of baking soda you can still buy in any supermarket at home for a euro or something. The only familiar stalls were those selling coins, stamps and notes for collectors - and interestingly there were a lot of examples from Germany during the Nazi reign. It was great browsing but I didn´t buy anything.
That night we went out again to watch couples tangoeing on Plaza Dorrego to the sounds of a live band. A girl wearing a jacket that had a big ´no nazi´sign on it came to
Buenos Aires. Averageing one every other day!
talk to us for awhile, again one of those lost in translation conversations, we didn´t know what she was saying, and she didn´t understand us, but we were all happy. The couples were very impressive, and we stayed for ages, taking snaps. They had laid down a temporary wooden floor on the cobbles for the dancers and they swayed around the floor. One dance they did involved holding hankies aloft in the air and another was similar to the ´Fallai Luimni'or Walls of Limerick - an Irish dance involving people standing in lines and going in and out, dancing with their partner and the person opposite them at different times. Most enjoyable. I probably should have worn my new shoes, but then I might have been exposed as the fraud that I am.
Between picking up Fatherland in a hostel, Nazi stamps and money in the market, a load of second hand old German books in the bookshops, a girl wearing a no-Nazi jacket I was noticing a bit of a theme in Argentina (dot dot dot). The fact that a local bar was called ´Achtung´also raised our eyebrows.
On May Day we stood on the balcony, attracted
Buenos Aires colourful riverside neighbourhood
by the beating of sticks on drums, watching a crowd marching up Independencia, the first lot wielding wooden bats, wearing balaclavas and scarves around their faces. Banners in red and black were held by the followers, and a single file of police stood to stop traffic. On the last Thursday we were there we went to see the Mothers of the Disappeared marching across Plaza de Mayo, a group of determined, strong, loyal women who march every single Thursday in search of knowledge about their families who disappeared. We also chanced across a number of protests - walking down the street we ran into one near Florida and then from a taxi we saw another. They do like to protest here, and Alan was delighted, he had seeing a protest in South America as one of his ´must see´items for this part of the trip.
We also wandered around Recoleta Cemetery which is known as ´the city of the dead´. Surprisingly it isn´t that creepy, more it is a impressive with huge tombs many in very imaginative designs. Evita is buried there as are a vast number of other famous Argentinians, politicians, writers, successful business people and bank managers.
It´s one of those places that you can´t help but take photographs, and Alan and I both wrestled for the camera at times. There are loads of cats to watch, and another morbid sport I enjoyed was spotting the fashions and trends in tombs (i.e. loads of angels in the last century, some cool art deco graves and then the really modern glass and marble ones). As the light began to decline I did start feeling a bit surrounded by death and was happy to go back to the city of the living.
A lady who sells maps outside the gate chatted to us for ages about the cemetery and told us that she would love to see Ireland, that ´the ´Argies´and the Irish get on well, we are similar...´but that she doesn´t have enough money at the moment. That made me feel very privileged to be able to afford to travel to see her country and a little sad that she can´t come to see mine. A lot of Argentinians we met were quite annoyed about the collapse of the economy, although they seemed on the whole to feel that it is definitely improving, one young guy telling
me that the rate quoted on the exchange isn´t right between euro and peso, that wages are increasing and making the peso worth more. I don´t know if he´s right or not, but I did enjoy hearing the opinion of a number of Argentinians about their country, I met a lot of articulate people who were very passionate about their home.
Apart from that we just chilled, ate dulce y leche in pastries, on tostadas and from a spoon. After an emotional goodbye with Diego´s mum we hoisted the backpacks which are now even heavier due to sparkly shoes, football jerseys and suits, and headed to catch the most fanciest bus of all.
Oh yes my friends, it was a ´Super´Cama - with (get this!) fully reclinable seats, dinner, brekkie, vino and CHAMPAGNE! Ok so it was fifteen hours long, but we literally BOUNCED onto this bus with anticipation. Not only were we about to have the ultimate luxury bus adventure but we were on our way to the Iguazu waterfalls and we were so beany with anticipation, having read so many other TravelBloggers' accounts of them and now finally we´re going to see them ourselves.
I live here!
Our home for our time in Buenos Aires
on the bus - ah yeah!
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