A potted history of Buenos Aires

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Thursday, August 15, 2013

So everyone remembers Evita, right? You know, the one played by Madonna in the musical, and that famous balcony scene (don't cry for me Argentina, blah blah)... That balcony is on the Casa Rosa, the presidential palace on the site of the original fort at the heart of Buenos Aires when it was founded in 1536. Our hostel was not far from there in the old district of San Telmo, all cobbled streets, run down old buildings and antique shops. It is a really interesting area and our hostel was lovely (especially after previous bedbugs) with our own much less glamorous balcony overlooking the streets below. This part of town came alive at night with bars that have been there since the 1800s willing to serve us whiskey in quadruple measures (El Federal amazing place) and bars with winner-stays-on pool till the early hours. Bob won 10 games in a row while Tracie chatted away with a Dutchman, an Argentinian, a Nigerian and an Englishman and pretended to be impressed... 

By 1850, San Telmo was full of aristocrats and their mansions complete with look-out towers they could watch their ships from in the port. One of the best things we saw in Buenos Aires was El Zanjon de Granados, just such a place restored into a fabulous museum. We took a tour of the old water tunnels under the house which were built to stop the flooding of the town and of the cisterns that provided water to the houses.

We learnt that these houses and the slaves living in them were abandoned in the 1870s due to an outbreak of yellow fever. All the rich people moved to Recoleta (which is still the posh part of town) and left all the slaves looking after the houses to die (charming). Recoleta now houses the weirdest cemetery either of us have ever been to - row upon row of grotesque mausoleums arranged like a town of terraced houses. You can actually see the coffins stacked up on shelves within each one. One of the most famous residents is Eva Peron (Evita again!) and her mausoleum is always covered in freshly laid flowers.

The water tunnels we visited eventually became redundant because the river receded and the port ended up further away from the town. This area is now a beautiful ecological reserve full of marsh land and birds which we visited when we hired bicycles for the day and took our chances with the Argentinian traffic on a mammoth 4 hour bike ride.

Once the posh-os had left San Telmo and the yellow fever had gone, lots of European immigrants arrived in response to advertisements for labour by the government (mainly from Italy and Spain, but also from Wales as you'll see in the next blog post!). The mansions turned into shops with tenement housing above them across San Telmo and spilling over into neighbouring Boca. They brought with them new dance styles that evolved into Argentinian Tango.... "Caminito" in la Boca district was very touristy but great to see- basically a fabulous maze of multicoloured streets with live street tango shows... And later we went to an evening tango show in an old school tango house back in San Telmo- far from the glitz of the Las Vegas style shows in the centre of town. You can see how close to the dancers we were (at points a little too close to some crotches!) and we fell in love with the squeeze box player who looked like he had been there since it all began.

As well as tango, the immigrants, in particular the British railway workers, also brought.....football and Boca Juniors and River Plate were born in the La Boca district. We had to go and see a Boca Juniors game at the famous Last Bombonera (chocolate box) stadium. We asked at our hostel and some guys in a minivan turned up, assuring us they had tickets. After waiting in the street outside the stadium for about half an hour we were snuck into the stadium area through the back of a restaurant, then a security guard held back the fence for us to sneak through to the turnstiles where we were snuck into the stadium. Lots of backhanders there! The game was just amazing and the fans didn't stop jumping and singing throughout (mostly about how River Plate fans were chickens, not because they were playing them but because of the fierce rivalry exacerbated by River Plate's permanent move to the posh part of town some hundred years ago).

So in summary....we loved this place, and that's only the half of it! See pics for more!


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Charlotte on

Wow guys it looks and sounds amazing! I hope that when you get back you can teach the rest if us to tango! X x

Kat on

Loving the updates guys, am so jealous all looks amazing and like so much fun! Keep the blog/photos coming :) xx

Emma & Glenn on

Looking amazing! Can't believe it's been a month already. To bore you with 'real life' stuff - we moved out today - yay! Only 3 months until we get to our final destination. Keep the updates coming x

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