In Bed with Maradona
Trip Start Sep 22, 2012
12Trip End Oct 21, 2012
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Today it was Sayonara to Santiago and Buenos Dias to Buenos Aires as we crossed the border to another country today, Argentina. Unfortunately the day didn't start well as I was again wide awake at 4am and unable to sleep! Ted managed quite well, so I amused myself with "Angry Birds" until the sun came up. We didn't have to leave until the afternoon, so Ted and I thought it would be a good idea to see more of Santiago before leaving.
We decided on Santa Lucía Hill, since it was a great lookout in the middle of the city. I cleverly loaded directions onto my iPhone from Google Maps. I then stupidly believed it would be accurate. After the directions sent us to the Central Fish Market instead, I decided to follow Ted's gut instinct and follow him instead. We did finally arrive at the Hill and it was beautiful
Our hostess Tatiana kissed us goodbye when we left today, and arranged for her husband to drive us to the airport when our taxi driver didn't make it. There were heaps of seats on our flight today (phew!) and our first experience with LAN was a very good one, as the aeroplanes look spotless and new. When we arrived in Buenos Aires (noticeably colder than Santiago), we were thrilled to pay another entry fee - this time $100 each for Australians. No doubt it was sour grapes because we beat them in the rugby last week!
Since our taxi driver here didn't turn up (it must be a South American thing), we took another taxi to our hotel which is smack in the middle of Abasto. On the way, we passed two trucks of cows on the freeway, which we both found distressing considering what the biggest meal in Argentina is! Our accommodation is a stunning boutique hotel although, the problem with being so central is that it's so damn noisy! It looks like the ear plugs will be utilized tonight
Since it was getting late, we walked around for dinner and decided to just go to the food court in the Abasto art deco shopping centre across the road. The area seems a bit limited with restaurants so we had to settle for El Cheapo. I got really excited when I saw Kosher McDonalds but sadly it was closed. I love trying new foods and this seemed pretty unique to me!
Tomorrow we'll be taking our first walking tour of the city so hopefully it won't disappoint. BA is huge compared to Santiago, so hopefully Argentina has the same charm that entranced us about Chile.
Well I was wide awake yet again at the early hours of the morning, whilst Ted slept soundly. Now I know how George Lutz in "The Amityville Horror" felt. At least this time i was lucky enough to fall back asleep and not be totally shattered during the day. Today was our first full day in BA and we made the most of it
After breakfast we got dressed and went towards Plaza Italia for a sightseeing tour. When we were in Santiago we wore jeans and we boiled. Today we were shorts and froze. Clearly Ted and I are awesome at dressing for the climates.
When we arrived at Plaza Italia, I'd forgotten to make a note of whereabouts to meet the tour guide so we wandered around in a period of uncertainty until, lo and behold, our guide Jonathan turned up. This was one of the many free tours offered in BA which we've taken to doing ever since we did one in Madrid. We also had a Pommy bloke, three Irish lads and a Colombian girl, who sounded like Sofia Vergara, on our tour .
We have been constantly warned about pickpockets, particularly on public transport, so before going anywhere, we were advised to put all belongings into our backpacks and constantly carry them to the front. It's easy to see why - you are really standing shoulder to shoulder regardless of the time of day but hey, I guess pick pocketing has become a common thing the world over.
After learning about the bus system, we boarded one of these red rattlers and were on our way. One word of advice - make sure you hold on tight! I think I've felt more secure serving hot beverages on a Dash 8 aeroplane during summer turbulence than I did standing upright on these buses! Carlos Gardel, the famous singer and songwriter has a huge influence here. His portrait is painted all around his neighbourhood. We saw the Carlos Gardel home, photographed the Carlos Gardel theatre, posed in front of the Carlos Gardel statue and bought a hot drink at the Carlos Gardel themed Starbucks (actually I'm kidding about the last one)
By a spooky coincidence, we ended up walking around long enough that our lunch break was at the Abasto shopping centre directly behind our hotel. Since Ted and I were still freezing, we took this opportunity to go back and change into warmer gear. After lunch, we caught the metro to see El Congreso Nacional and La Plaza de Congreso, which basically translates to the National Congress and the park in front of it. It's actually based on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C, but with less homeless people camped around it.
One thing disappointing about BA is that the graffiti has become so bad, a lot of the sights have fences around them to avoid anyone getting near them! They should just be paying the graffiti artists to re-paint the city in the same way as the Carlos Gardel neighbourhood to beautify the city. Well, that's my suggestion anyway.
Next we saw the Palacio Barolo on Avenida de Mayo, which was once the tallest building in South America
We then caught a 1920s wooden subway train (graffitied) to Plaza de Mayo, which is the home of the Casa Rosada, which is the official executive mansion and office of the President of Argentina, and is well-known as the location where Eva Peron addressed the masses. Her balcony wasn't as high as I'd expected - she could've crowd surfed if she wanted! Plaza de Mayo is the home of the weekly Madres de la Plaza de Mayo protests, which we are returning there tomorrow to see. If you haven't read about these women, please do so here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mothers_of_the_Plaza_de_Mayo
After the tour ended, Ted and I walked down to the river, saw nothing interesting, and headed back along Parque Colon (named after Christopher Columbus) before going back to our hotel. This evening we were attending something called "The Argentine Experience" (http://www.theargentineexperience.com/) which I'd read good reviews about on Trip Advisor, so we got dressed and ready for the evening
It ended up being awesome! It was located a short distance away and as soon as we arrived, there were about 14 other guests there. We were dressed up in aprons and hats, and were seated at long tables of two. Our first task was to make empanadas after a short demonstration with the the ingredients provided. This was helped by the fact that our wine glasses were never empty. Then we had to be creative (my weakest point) and make the most original empanadas. I tried to make the Sydney Opera House, but it looked more like a bear claw. Ted tried to make a mouth, ended up changing it to Lisa Simpson, and the end result was more like The Blob. Then they baked them all in the oven and we got to eat our creations.
Then we had dinner of Argentine beef (which made us sad for that truckload of cows we saw) and chimichurri (a sauce used for grilled meat), which I hate to admit, tasted really good. Apparently a lot of the beef in the country has reduced in quality since an economic crisis a while back, but the hosts assured us this beef was high grade premium. Next we got to make and try mate, the traditional Argentinian drink, which is prepared from steeping dried leaves of yerba mate in hot water, and served with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd
One thing we've noticed here is how Argentinians have a tendency to speak with their hands (showing their Italian influence no doubt), so we also received a quick lesson in hand gestures such as "watch out", "cheapskate" and "up yours" (yet strangely their wasn't an Argentinian gesture for "I am happy that your team won the football today"). We then finished off the evening with the Argentinian dessert Dulce de Leche which, to me, was like a caramelised Oreo. Definitely not complaining though, as it tasted great. In fact the evening was all going swimmingly until we went to pay and they advised they didn't take credit card! Poor Ted had to run six blocks to find an ATM machine and come back. Clearly a misunderstanding there!
We then caught a taxi back which I had some hesitation about after hearing horror stories about Peru, but the owner of Argentine experience said it wasn't the case here. One interesting thing is how awesome my Spanish was in the taxi home after a few red wines. I felt sorry for the driver though - it was like having a Spanish Bruce McAvaney in the front seat!
Tomorrow is our kickback day. We were determined that this holiday wouldn't be as stressful as the last, so here's hoping we can learn to relax.
Argh, another poor night of sleep. I need to wind down better after the day instead of lying there thinking about the next day's plans or how to say something in Spanish. Since we had a late night last night, today we took the opportunity to just take our time and explore more of the city.
We caught the metro into the city again, and Ted was the lucky(?) one who got to stand right next to a group of instrument playing Peruvian musicians. Today we considered going to La Boca but, for a reason we found out later, the streets around the Casa Rosada were blocked off by barriers and police. We decided to walk around Avenida Corrientes and Avenida Julio de Nueve to explore more of the city instead. Ted and I finally found some Argentinian T-shirts to buy, guaranteed to make us look like true South American football hooligans!
I had been feeling quite confident about my Spanish lately but unfortunately today I had a fast talking Spanish waitress who was even harder to understand than a Coffs Harbour hotel transport driver (the people at work will know what I mean here)
Suddenly out of the blue, a demonstration turned up complete with crackers, banners and a group of unwashed civilians. Nothing much really happened except for a whole lot of noise and hooplah before they retreated back to where they came from. Las Madres had already arrived so I made a donation to their cause, and we watched their peaceful, yet moving demonstration. When I saw the elderly faces of these women and how sad their eyes were, it almost brought a tear to mine.
This evening we did another free tour, of the Retiro area, which is viewed as the aristocratic Buenos Aires. One thing we have heard repeatedly is how Buenos Aireans are very snobby people and believe they are the best. Well I certainly like their city, so it is justified in a way. We met in Plaza San Martin and our guide Camila gave us a totally different viewpoint of the city. For starters, demonstrations are a weekly occurrence here (sometimes more so), which is why the police make an appearance every time to protect the Casa Rosada
We saw the memorial Monumento a los caídos en Malvinas, dedicated to the young men killed in the Falklands War. It was quite an interesting story, hearing about how naive the Argentinians were about the whole affair, since their media were relaying stories about how they were winning the battle against the UK. This is certainly a country that has had more than its fair share of dictatorships.
We then walked around the Recoleta (read: snob!) area which is beautiful and classy. And apparently, loaded with plastic surgery addicts. Some of the health care funds provide free cosmetic surgery to its members, meaning you can have a boob job, tummy tuck and liposuction all at a Costco price! Psychologists are also free of charge, so this country would be paradise to Woody Allen. The tour concluded at the Cementerio de la Recoleta, the resting place of Eva Peron, which we will come back to during the day.
Since there were no metro stations in the area, we took a taxi back to the hotel. They are so cheap here! Sydney and New York should take a lesson from these fares. Even though our driver nearly ran over a nearby jogger and the photo identification on the dashboard never matches the person behind the wheel, we were impressed with the price
Tomorrow we head to Tigre in the north of the city.
Hooray, my jet lag has finally gone! I slept right through to 8am which is four hours later than normal. Ted has adapted well, but it took me a bit longer. This holiday is going to be an exception to our previous ones, namely for the fact that we're going to take it a lot more easily rather than race through everything like there's no tomorrow.
Since we'd already bought a 10 ride metro pass, we decided to take the Subte to Retiro, to catch the train to Tigre. Well the first train pulled up with so many people on board that the passengers were making face plants on the windows. Then the second train turned up with enough passengers to make Tokyo look subtle. When the third train turned up with a train carriage more overflowing than Roseanne in bike pants, we decided to abandon that idea and take a taxi instead.
Retiro is a madhouse
Ted chose the seating which wasn't in the best area, because as the train started to depart, a crazy man starting singing loudly and then asked for tips. We managed to ignore that one, but then a few stops later, a whole band complete with drums and acoustic guitar boarded the train and then they started performing for us! Who needs Muzak when you've got this type of entertainment?
When we arrived in Tigre, it certainly didn't knock our socks off just by walking around town (the nicest building was actually McDonald's), so we caught a boat (resembling the SS Minnow on a bad day) to Tres Bocas, which is a group of islands nearby. As dodgy as the boat ride was, we arrived in one piece and walked around the island. It was a kind of strange existence - a whole lot of houses either high up or on stilts, relying on river transportation, away from the hustle and bustle of the city
When we were walking back, Ted commented on how one of the boats looked like it had run aground. Well it had and coincidentally, it was the same boat that was supposed to be returning us to Tigre. We finally managed to return to Tigre 40 minutes late, after the boat driver also decided to pick up every resident and hitch-hiker on the way too.
After getting back to our hotel, we chilled for a while before getting ready for our night out. Before leaving Australia, I booked tickets to see a tango show at Esquina Carlos Gardel, due to the fact that everyone recommends seeing a tango show in BA. I admit that neither of us were that interested, and the $126 per person price tag was a deterrent but we were wrong. The show was sensational.
The tango show is on the same block as our hotel so we walked there and were readily impressed by the stunning interior of the room. Before going to our table, we posed for the token photo with a tango dancer who was supposedly wearing an authentic tango dress, but to me she looked more like a Hawaiian go-go dancer caught in a tropical hurricane
Our 3 course meal was awesome too, from starter right through to dessert. During the first course, we noticed a girl nearby sitting by herself. We'd already heard her speak English and saw she only had Portuguese speaking Brazilian couples near her, so I asked if she wanted to join us in our booth. She was very happy with the suggestion and relieved to have some people to talk to. Her name was Monica from the USA, and was traveling all through Argentina.
Then the show started and we loved it. Trust me, I'm not a fan of dancing at all, but the music, the costumes and the dancing were amazing. There were dancers of all ages, and all were extremely fast, flexible and frenetic. We would certainly recommend this show to anyone who makes a visit to Buenos Aires.
After the show, we farewelled Monica and caught a cab to go out partying with the Buenos Aires locals. Actually what happened after that is another story in itself, but as some things are best left sacred, I'll end today's entry here
Since we didn't get back until 5am (a boring night, trust me), our last full day in BA was always going to be chilled. After a slight sleep-in, we caught a taxi to Recoleta to visit the cemetery, and resting place of Eva Peron. Recoleta is really beautiful and European looking, so just going there is worth the fare alone.
The cemetery is really quite unique, with some of the tombs and mausoleums being very opulent. Eva Peron's grave is actually not signposted, so the easiest way to find it is to look for the hordes of tourists. The grave itself is quite underwhelming, but it is a good place to pay your respects.
Since we were already in a restaurant area, Ted thought it would be a good idea to try an Argentinian barbecue before we fly out tomorrow (I guess he's already forgotten about that truck of cows we saw from the airport). Clearly the BBQ's here are aimed at the carnivore in all of us, because the restaurant we went to brought out a whole hot plate to the table. There was enough meat to make six Big Macs
After paying the bill (which charged us extra because we sat outside), we then walked through some local street markets before realizing how tired we were and returned to our hotel.
Iguazu Falls tomorrow!
"Latins are tenderly enthusiastic. In Brazil they throw flowers at you. In Argentina they throw themselves.” - Marlene Dietrich