Two to Tango

Trip Start Feb 18, 2008
Trip End Mar 07, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Thursday, March 6, 2008

We got up in plenty of time for breakfast. We were surprised that they had the full set up for breakfast after all today is the day we get thrown off of the ship. We had a wonderful breakfast and then went downstairs to wait for our dismemberment number to be called. They were running a little behind but probably only by around 45 minutes. That isn't too shabby. Better than what we expected. The embarkation was such a cluster and so was the first tender to shore. They have seemed to learn a lot through all of that and they had a pretty organized system set in place.

They loaded us on a bus that took us to the exit of the port authority. It was a pretty simple process, we picked up our luggage and loaded it on to the xray machines. After exiting there was a little bit of chaos. Some of the passengers were taking transit to the airport while others were meeting for tours of Buenos Aires before heading to the airport. We were one of the few that were grabbing a taxi into Buenos Aires. After a little orientation we found the line for the taxis. I think that we were the only Non Spanish speaking passengers in this line. They definitely had designed this for cruise passengers. There was a set fee for the taxi that you paid up front no matter your destination. It was higher than the actual taxi fare but it was the only choice.

We showed the address to the man taking the money and he told the driver while we loaded our luggage in the back. Cory and I took the first taxi. We missed out on the commotion when poor Paulie was almost left behind. They had loaded their luggage in the taxi. The trunk was still open and Jeremiah had gotten in the taxi when it took off, trunk open and Paulie calling out "You forgot me!!!! Don't leave me!!!!" This seems to be something that happens every trip, Paulie gets left behind. It is especially funny since he is the one that says "I am your son, I will just follow you." Poor Paulie. Jeremiah was able to stop the taxi driver before they got too far and they got Paulie.
Cory and I made our poor attempt in Spanish to say hello and introduce ourselves. His English was limited but still greater than our Spanish. He told us he liked getting to practice his English on us. He explained that he had been driving a Taxi for some time and that he was too old to try anything else. He had never been out of Argentina but would like to some day. He was so nice. 

We arrived at the Concorde Hotel with Paulie and Jeremiah right behind us. The front desk at the hotel was fabulous. They said that they could have a room ready in just an hour but that if we wanted to head out into the city that they would keep our bags secure. The Front desk cashier called a taxi for us and we started our journey into the city...

First stop: La Recoleta Cemetery. It is a famous cemetery located in the exclusive Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Cemetery includes graves of some of the most influential and important persons of Argentina, including several presidents, scientists, and wealthy characters. Internationally, Eva Perón is the best known person buried in this cemetery.

Our taxi driver drops us off at the cathedral just down the street from the cemetery. Basilica Nuestra Señora Del Pilar is decorated in traditional Spanish style. Guilded alters with beautiful red backgrounds decorate the walls. It is beautiful. When we first arrived here a tour bus had just dropped off a bunch of tourists. As most crowds they were noisy, didn't turn off the flash of their cameras and ignored the small crowds of worshipers trying to make confession. Not wanting to be confused as one of them we waited outside until they had left. After they had left we quietly went in took in this part of the culture, looked around, and took a few pictures (with the flash turned off on our camera).

We walked down the sidewalk to the entrance of the cemetery. The entrance to the cemetery is through neo-classical gates with tall Greek columns. Outside stood people on both sides of the gates saying that there was no charge for entrance but a donation was suggested. Not knowing any better we gave a donation. After thinking about it I don't think that they were associated with the cemetery at all. I am behind supporting charitable organizations but I don't like supporting deceit. Oh well sometimes desperation is a motivator and we felt that we had done something decent. 

The moment that we passed the gates we were in awe. The cemetery contains many elaborate marble mausoleums, decorated with statues, in a wide variety of architectural styles. It was as beautiful as many of the art museums that we have seen around the world. I think that at that moment we were in heaven. I guess the current residents were hoping that would be their destination.

The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums.

While many of the mausoleums are in fine shape and well-maintained, others have fallen into disrepair. We found several with broken glass, littered with rubbish, and on occasion used as a janitorial supply closet, with cleaning and maintenance products stored on top of coffins. What was fascinating is that when you peered into the mausoleums the elaborately carved wooden coffins were in plan sight. They didn't hide the use of the mausoleum behind stone plaques. Cory and I have been fascinated by the cultural differences in death, we have seen funerals in Egypt and Thailand. We have been to cemeteries in England and France. The great Pyramids of Egypt and the Valley of the Kings symbols of ancient burials. Every country has a whole culture that surrounds death. 

Each mausoleum bears the family name etched into the facade; brass or bronze plaques are added to the front for particular family members. La Recoleta is one of those cemeteries where the tradition of engraving a death date but no birth date has been maintained.

One interesting and unique aspect of La Recoleta is a colony of feral cats that resides within the gates. It wasn't but a few minutes until we saw the first cat and then started to see them all over the place. They seemed to be content with just a little attention and a rub on the head. They roamed the walkways and slept in some of the mausoleums that were accessible. 

We did our best to find the quiet crowd free areas of the cemetery. Tourist buses would drop off hordes of tourist all tightly grouped. They had the highlights that they would hit and then leave. We took a more leisurely stroll taking in all of the wonder of the city of the dead. After several hours we left back out the front gate where the same man that had taken our donation tried to get another from us. He apologized when I said, "you already got ours." 

We were in search of an ATM again. We started to wander from the cemetery through the park where people had brought their dogs to play. We spent a little time watching a dachshund and a puppy play then crossed the street into an area filled with restaurants. On first look at a menu it looked to be a very expensive restaurant... I keep forgetting that the dollar sign with only one line through it is the Peso sign and was one third cheaper than the dollar. We were getting tired and hungry looking for an ATM. We finally give up and decide to put whatever we eat on a credit card. We find a little place to eat. It was a brewery type restaurant with their own beer. We were met by a woman that when I said "Habla Anglaise?" She started speaking English with no Latin accent at all. The first half of her life was spent in California. She had only moved back to Argentina a few years before. It ended up being nice to be able to ask questions about the menu and she suggested the Cervasas that were good and we ordered yet another fantastic steak. We first had some appetizers, Fried Calamari. Delicious! It was a great meal and the beer was perfect.

She asked where we were going next. We told her La Boca and she advised us to be out of there before dark. This coming from someone that lives there made us believe that it was good advice. Having only one day in town we didn't have a lot of time. We didn't have time to take the local transportation so we were taking taxis. Outside of the restaurant we found a taxi that took all 4 of us to La Boca.

La Boca is a neighborhood, or barrio of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires. It retains a strong European flavor, with many of its early settlers being from the Italian city of Genoa. After a lengthy general strike, La Boca seceded from Argentina in 1882, and the rebels raised the Genoese flag, which was immediately torn down personally by then President Julio Argentino Roca.

It is one of the most picturesque places due to its colorful port setting. The corrugated roof style of the houses and the customs reflect the European influence, mainly southern Italian, who arrive between 1860 and 1910. Te so-called "a Piccola Italia (Little Italy) is stamped with Mediterranean style, from its typical restaurants "cantinas" to its architecture. Brightly painted multicolored houses, inhabited by families, called "conventillos" give La Boca its main characteristic. La Boca has always been a working class neighborhood and in the past, people used the paint left over from ships to paint their houses. You will notice that sidewalks are elevated to prevents flooding from the Rio de la Plta. 


We were dropped off near the brightly painted houses on Caminito Street. Before our feet hit the ground we were approached by the touts. We were handed pamphlets and encouraged to try out restaurants. With out the proper arsenal of Spanish words I resorted to patting my belly trying to express that I had just eaten. This got responses of  "you not fat, you twig." Guess my pantomime skills were lacking. Paulie had been getting sick and hadn't been doing too well. I think that it was the pollution. We hadn't had much sleep the night before either. Paulie shared that he was having a bit of a hard time coming to terms with the touts. He had done so well in Turkey and Italy when faced with the same thing. He said he understood that it was part of the culture but was feeling overwhelmed. Truthfully I think that the touts here were not as aggressive as those in Thailand and Turkey. There was no deceit involved just the hard sell with an aversion to no thank you.

The area was beautiful! The brightly colored buildings and murals that had the quality of some museum work. There were over sized figures carved first out of foam and then covered with some sort of coating. I found this out by inspecting some of the less maintained figures. They are all over Caminito Street. Some represent famous characters and others the early occupants of this area of Buenos Aires. 

Street artist and performers paint, dance tango and take pictures outdoors. There is also a handicrafts market where you can buy all kinds of things. 

We were in one of the shops trying to find a gift for our neighbors the Shepherds. They were taking care of our dog while we were gone and wanted to find something special for them. We were drawn to what we thought was a water pipe or something of the like. As we began to look at the gourds with their silver stands and silver straws one of the women in the store came over. This is where we suddenly felt rather stupid... She explained that the Yerba Mate [Yerba Mahtae or Jerba Mahtae] is an all natural green herbal drink, as rich in antioxidants as it is in culture. It can be consumed hot or cold ( Terere) and is a healthy and satisfying alternative to coffee. From the Guarani, to the early Jesuit Priests to Charles Darwin, Yerba Mate has had a rich history; and although its roots are in South America, Yerba Mate has crossed centuries, cultures, languages, and religions to become an integral part of the diet for millions of people around the world.

Mate is typically consumed with a traditional mate y bombilla, the silver straw used to drink out of the gourd. The girl explained that she often has mate with her mother. They treat it like a coffee break and discuss what is going on in their lives. It is not only a drink but social event.

She explained how to make the mate and we were sold. We had found something that was perfect to share with friends. Not only did we get one for Tina and Ken but we also bought one for ourselves. We found another store that sold the tea. After a little shopping we started to head out of La Boca. Again we were approached by the touts. I pulled out my get out of jail card, "No Tengo Lucas" I saw a slight look of confusion and then heard someone mention Platas another word for money. "Ce, No tengo Lucas, No tengo Platas, No tengo denaro" I even pulled my empty pocket inside out... they laughed and one of them said held out his hand with a coin in it while he said "for the bus!!!! " We all had a good laugh and hailed a taxi back to the hotel.

We were having a hard time deciding what to do next. We were only a couple of blocks from the shopping area but I was exhausted. I was ready for a shower and wanted to go to bed. We hadn't found an ATM and we needed money to get a taxi to the airport tomorrow. Cory left to find money and something to drink. By the time he got back I had repacked our luggage for the journey to Panama tomorrow. 

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