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Published: February 4th 2006
His face was leering into mine, uncomfortably close, his ugly grin accentuated by a thin greasy moustache. The discomforting, slightly theatrical effect was complemented by an odd looking suit and a tango hat - but then we were in a tourist bar watching tango lessons. He seemed very earnest, determined that we had some information for him. The fact that we could not speak Spanish didn't seem to bother him - he just spoke faster and louder. The two women with him look sullen and miserable.
Suddenly the penny dropped - "Kim, get the bag". Kim, nearer to our camera bag worth a good four months of travel budget, grabbed it and held it. She was already facing away from the interloper, annoyed by the hassle. He stopped talking to me and starting tapping her shoulder, progressively harder and more aggressively. I started shouting at him in English, talking continously over his continuous stream of Spanish, the only technique I've found that shuts people up. By now the whole tango class must have been watching us. When his mate, who was sat on a table the other side of Kim, dived for the bag next to ours and ran out,
the bag's owner rugby-tackled him before the door. A struggle followed - they were both beefy blokes - until a tall English tourist (looked like an ex-copper) joined in with a successfull half-nelson.
I had the chance to detain the greasy man with the hat, although I didn't fancy tackling the two women. However the thought that we had no actual evidence against him flashed through my mind, and such is the insanity of the British justice system these days I felt concerned that detaining him might be viewed as assault, and I would end up in more trouble than he did. So the three of them quickly walked out. None of the staff tried to stop them.
A policeman was quickly summonsed - they are a very common sight on the streets of Buenos Aires these days. The villain looked thoroughly miserable and dejected, as captured villains should. After a few minutes alone with the policeman in the corner of the bar, he perked up. His face took on a haughty, almost arrogant, demeanour and his shoulders lifted. We tried to tell our version of events to the policeman but he wasn't interested. Neither was anyone else,
Recoleta Cemetry, Buenos Aires
A veritable necropolis and one of the most impressive places in Buenos Aires. Resting place of much of Argentinian nobility, including Eva Peron.
except for the victim who had to go to the station to press charges. He urged us to come but the policeman just ignored us.
They left and we sat to finish our beers, explaining events to the assorted tourists whose faltering but delightful interprations of the Tango had been so rudely interrupted. Sadly we never saw the Tango performed properly in Argentina, but simply from watching beginners we learned and understood that it is a beautiful dance.
As the adrenalin surge left us and we once again thanked our luck, our post mortem suggested two other things. We were almost certainly saved by Kim's reluctance to face strangers who hassle us - almost immediately she had turned away and was facing the accomplice. Then we pondered the timing. There seemed three likely possibilities - either we were targeted completely by chance; or they were watching people come into the bar from outside; or they were tipped off by a staff member, aware of our large bag with tripod attached and our precarious position near the door. Occam's razor suggests the first but the timing suggests one of the latter - we had only been in there five
minutes when they came in and made straight for us, opening conversation almost immediately. It also seems odd that a cafe that is supported almost solely by tourists would not be aware of such people and prevent their entry - there were two people on the door we had to talk to before we were allowed in - unless of course they are in on it.
Sorry if it seems I have become a Daily Mail reader, obsessed by "crime and death and thievs", but to be honest, there is very little else to write about our brief trip to Argentina. Not a lot happened. As with Rio, Buenos Aires was experiencing unseasonally bad weather. We saw no sun in the three days we were there and experienced heavy rain. The lack of incident was compounded by the fact that, as it was the Argentinian holidays, the city was relatively deserted. In fact, I was very close to emulating this admirable blog "working title
". If you want to know more about Buenos Aires, take a look at "Last Tango in South America
" - I'm not being tongue in cheek in saying that photos of empanadas and coffee really sum up the heart of this
The Argentinian side of Iguassu falls is just as spectacular as the Brazilian side, perhaps slightly more so. You really need to see both. You also need a good full day to do the Argentinia side justice, and if you are the kind of person who likes to "be" in a place rather than to "do" a place then you might consider spending a couple of days - there are good places to swim, both legally and illegally, and I suspect places to explore away from the crowds - although we never made it to these. Be careful though - signs warn that they start shutting down attractions and walkways from 4.00pm, even though the park is open until seven at this time of year - although it seemed people were still heading out to the sights well after 5.00pm.
The small town near the falls seemed to be full, and in high season price-fixing is openly operated. We lucked on a big room in a dilapedated hostel that turned out to be excellent, offering free pool and ping-pong and a pleasant garden area in which to sit and relax. With the tropical temperatures, the tropical
The main boardwalk on the Brazilian side, as seen from the Argentinian side.
vegetation and the tropical sounds we felt like we were back in Africa, which was a good feeling. I was also utterly humiliated at speed chess by two friendly Argentinian blokes, one of whom had played Nigel Short, the other who kept repeating "The Hand of God" and "Don't cry for me Argentina" in a strange weasily voice reminiscent of a cartoon villain.
Happy enough with one day-long bus trip we flew Aerolineas Argentina into the city airport of Buenos Aires. The flight was reasonably priced, had good service and the airport is a short bus ride from the centre, but I won't go into the lengthy and frustrating internet booking process which eventually led to me traipsing into the centre of Rio to pay for an 'e-ticket' in person. Go figure.
Buenos Aires is a city of wide boulevards and Parisian-style architecture. It could be so beautiful but it is in rather a state of disrepair. I can fully understand those other bloggers who loved the place, but to be honest it left us slightly unmoved. I've also never come across a major city before with such a lack of diversity in food (Santiago?) - there are
almost no ethnic restaurants at all (Yes, I'm sure there are some but there are not many and they are not obvious). The trendy district of Saint Elmo is really rather nice but we only went there on our last night which was a mistake - we should have gone earlier.
The main shopping strip is a gaudy low-brow affair more reminiscent of Asia than Latin-America, except it has a Latin-American seediness. Whilst standing at a main intersection pondering which way best to go in search of a mains-charger for my mp3 player I was first accosted by a swarthy gentleman whispering "girls, girls girls", thrusting a card into my hand with a picture of a naked lady and a phone number. Seconds later I was accosted by a slightly more wholesome looking chap whispering, with an ironic smile, "wine wine wine". He thrust a card into my hand with a picture of a naked bottle of wine and a phone number. Hmmm, maybe this is my kinda town after all.
After three days we left South America, glad to have been there and glad to have survived with our belongings intact. I'm sitting writing this in a
rainy Sri Lanka and I already have a wistful longing for Bolivia and Southern Patagonia (not that Sri Lanka isn't a great place - so far it is).
The only other thing to report was our flight with Iberia from Buenos Aires to Madrid, which was quite simply the worst service I have ever experienced on a long-haul flight. I won't bore you with the details - it can be summed up by the cabin attendent, who, when asked for pepper to go in Kim's Bloody Mary simply collapsed with "Oh, I can't take this anymore". Quite.
Photographers Alberto Patrian
Has published lots of books on Argentina. Some great stuff covering all aspects of the country. Francisco Bedeschi
More varied subject matter, with the general theme being Argentina. Aldo Sessa
Specialist in Buenos Aires, and also runs a photography masterclass based around the city.
Others who had books out but I couldn't find web sites for include Daniel Rivademar, whose Patagonian photographs are very nice, Jasmine Ross, who has a book covering Patagonian wildlife, Florian van der Fecht and Enrique Limbrunner.
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