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Published: January 17th 2008
Weeks 12- 13
Buenos Aires is one of South America´s most sophisticated and appealing cities with 3 million inhabitants in its centre and a further 10 million in the suburbs. There are numerous elegant older buildings and the districts (barrios) range from the cobbled streets of San Telmo to the rough neighbourhood of La Boca with its colourfully painted metal houses to chic Recoleta and trendy Palermo. Our hostel was close to Avenue de 9 Julio with its 16 lanes running from San Telmo to Recoleta with a white obelisk at its centre. The Hostel Santa where the group was staying had dorms for 4-8 people, plenty of loud music and a small kitchen. I had decided to find my own accommodation during my stay in BA and set off that afternoon to find Metro I, a colonial style building near Congress. It certainly seemed quiet inside but the pleasant room had a balcony overlooking a busy city intersection. On the way back to Hostel Santa to collect some belongings, I decided to go into a local hairdresser (also a training college for budding hair dressers) to get my hair cut and coloured (highlights). It was a big mistake as techniques
here are much cruder than in the UK. Shears are preferred to scissors and peroxide was used to bleach the hair in preparation for the colour. Gatsha, a truck mate, had to persuade me to continue breathing as I saw the result in the mirror. I decided that my hairband had to remain a permanent accessory to deal with this situation. Later than evening, I met Matias, the Buenos Airen I had met back in Bariloche, who took me out to dinner (lomo steak and spaghetti) although we were caught on our return in a massive electrical storm which was exciting to say the least!
Next day, I had arranged to meet David and Cat in downtown BA to do some shopping. Givenm the host weather, I was in need of some new clothers and having found a boutique with a 50% sale, decided to buy some outfits in one place. We had lunch at Cafe Florida, a popular lunchtime venue for locals along one of the main shopping streets in BA. Then a visit to the travel offices to book a ferry over to Colonia in Uruquay the following day. Having checked emails, one was from Georg (fellow
walker back in Torres del Paines) requesting me to pick up his camera that had been repaired in BA and bring it with me to Colonia where he was staying. Having collected the camera, I decided to cancel my booking at the Metro hostel and return to Hostel Santa to keep appraised of group activities. We ate at a local restaurant that evening and whilst my fish in white sauce was great, a few of my companions complained of an upset stomach the next day.
I had intended to rise at 6.45am the next day in order to be at the ferry port at 8.00am but another disturbed and sleepless hostel night meant that I overslept and when I actually woke up at 7.28am I had only 30 minutes to get ready and be at the terminal! I panicked but managed to get to the terminal by 8.05am, a minor miracle considering the taxi driver I flagged down had no idea where the embarkation point was for the Colonia Express, one of two catamaran services plying the route between Argentina and Colonia, Uruquay across Rio de la Plata.
The crossing took just over one hour and Colonia turned
out to be a quaint laid back town, a UNESCO world cultural heritage site founded in 1680. Its major importance used to be as a source of smuggled trade items undercutting Spain´s mercantile monopoly as British goods made their way from Colonia into BA through exchange with the Portuguese. I met up with Georg to give him the repaired camera and he showed me around the town. It certainly had a very colonial feel with its cobbled streets and numerous sycamores affording some protection from the hot sun. We spent our time in the Barrio Historico (portuguese colony) as Georg pointed out the fortified walls, various small museums depicting life in past centuries, the ruins of a former convent and the 19th century lighthouse which afforded good views of the town and the yacht harbour. I assisted Georg with some clothes purchases and we enjoyed a pleasant lunch under the twin towers of a church at a restaurant called El Drugstore - its decor a medley of modern art reproductions with live music. This was also an opportunity to taste media y media which turned out to be a mix of champagne and wine. I had to catch the 5.00pm
Colourful metal houses
ferry back to BA in order to join the group at a Tango show which started at 11.00pm so I bade my farewells to Georg and retuned to Argentina.
The tango show was held at Cafe Tortoni, a cafe established over 100 years ago and its suitably grand interior had chandeliers, large mirrors and traditionally dressed waiters. The show itself focused on the history of tango and how, from its humble beginnings, it became the sophisticated dance it is today. There were several pairs of tango dancers but not the number I had expected and there was no opportunity to dance oneself. After the show, some of the group went clubbing having earlier spent some time in an Irish bar enjoying happy hour.
Next day, Russell, Sylvia and myself made our way to what was described as a hippie market in Palermo which proved to be interesting but small so we decided to go to La Boca on public transport. La Boca is BA´s most colourful barrio and was settled and built up by Italian immigrants along a small waterway lined with warehouses. The Caminito is a popular pedestrian walkway with brightly painted houses and plenty of artisants
and handicrafts and the area has very much a Bohemian feel to it, set within a working class neighbourhood. This is also the home of the Boca juniors soccer team, once the club of popular but disgraced superstar Diego Maradona. La Boca is certainly a fun place with street performers and tango dancers entertaining the tourists as they eat in the outdoor cafes and restaurants. I was tempted to buy some of the crafts but prices were high and affer several hours and numerous photos, we took the bus back to town. I then decided to do some other sightseeing which included:
* Casa Rosada - Presidential Palace. This building is pink in colour which is thought to have come from a former President´s attempts to make peace by blending the red of the federalists with the white of the unitarists. Others however think that it comes from painting the palace with bovine blood, a historical practice. It was from this palace balcony that Juan and Eva Peron and other politicans have entralled the crowds and where Madonna sang for her movie Evita. Unfortunately, the palace is under renovation until 2010 so it was not possible to take a tour.
* Plazo de Mayo - this is a magnet for political activities and there are still protests every Thursday by mothers wanting a full accounting of Dirty War atrocities. The plaza has a statue commemorating Argentina´s initial independence in 1810.
* Catedral Metropolitana - looking more like a civil building with its triangular gacade and neo classical columns with bas reliefs featuring Biblical characters.
* Iglesia San Ignacio - the city´s oldest colonial church.
Given it is vacation time, many museums were closed for January/February which somewhat limited our cultural ambitions. I had hoped to visit the Teatro Colon, a world class facility for opera, ballet and classical music which first opened in 1908 with a presentation of Aida. It occupies an entire city block, is 7 storeys high and seats 2500 spectators with standing room for another thousand. However, it was closed for six months. That evening, we had a steak in a ´parrilla´(steak house) in Puerto Madero, an upmarket business district along a renovated waterfront not dissimilar to the London docklands. It was elegant and pricey!
Our plan for the final day in BA was to go to the Recoleta cemetery, a mini city of ostentatious
mausoleums of the wealthy and powerful. We found Evita Peron´s grave down a narrow street and noted several tombs where the inhabitants had managed to reach the ripe old age of 100 years - no mean feat. Coming out of the cemetery, the park had been transformed into a large crafts market and we whiled away several hours making purchases before trying to get a local bus to San Telmo.
San Telmo, according to the Lonely Planet ´ is the birthplace of the tango and an artists quarter where Bohemians find large spaces at low rents´. Plaza Dorrego in the heart of the barrio is an antiques market on Sunday and was thronged by dozens of vendors and shoppers. There were plenty of markets stalls lining the streets and I almost succombed once again to the pretty and unique handicrafts for sale as I found my way back to the hostel. That evening we ate at ´Grants´´ - an all you can eat restaurant that provided excellent choice and value for money at 28 pesos per person (4 UKP).
The next day we bid farewell to BA and continued towards Iguazu Falls spending one night en route in
a campsite in Yapeyu where I was on cooking duty all evening. Another 10 hour drive the following day was punctuated by a stop to visit the Jesuit Missions - now a set of ruins - before finally arriving in Puerto Iguazu, a town which hosts visitors to the Argentinian side of the falls. We camped at Veijo Americano, a large well appointed campsite a few kms from the falls.
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