Buenos tiempos en Buenos Aires

Trip Start Nov 06, 2009
Trip End May 28, 2011

Flag of Argentina  , Capital Federal District,
Wednesday, December 22, 2010


We spent our final day and night in Ushuaia with Pancho and Estefi, before leaving for Buenos Aires on Wednesday evening.

Pancho and Estefi took us out to see the beautiful Paso Garibaldi, just outside of Ushuaia, and we picnicked at Monte Oliva before saying our goodbyes and heading to the airport.

We both felt a pang of sadness to be leaving Ushuaia. Thanks to the friends we've made in Pancho and Estefi, and through staying at the wonderful Antarctica Hostel, and the fact that it's the first place in a long while which we've stayed in for more than 3 days, Ushuaia had really started to feel like a home away from home.

But we were also looking forward to getting to Buenos Aires.
Unfortunately owing to a two hour delay and Aerolineas Argentinas deciding to land the plane at the wrong airport, we arrived rather later than anticipated. 

Fortunately though BA is a city that never sleeps (not at night, anyway), so our hostel, Limehouse, was still very much open when we finally checked in at 3am. They gave us free gin & tonic on arrival which went a long way to improving our moods, and after a decent night's kip we ready to rock (or should that be tango) BA-style.
First impressions of BA:
Wow! It's hot hot hot! In more ways than one. The intense heat and humidity was a bit of a shock to the system after the dry frozen climate of Antarctica, but we're getting used to it and enjoying not having to wear socks for the first time in months.

Walking around the city we keep thinking we've been teleported back to Europe -  it feels more like Barcelona, Paris or Madrid, than a South American city. The European influences, particularly Italian and Spanish, can be seen all over the place - in the buildings (lots of faded colonial grandeur), food & wine (mmm!), lifestyle (siestas, fiestas), and the people (more European-looking than Europeans).

In fact Porteños ('people of the port' as BA folk refer to themselves) have to be some of the best-looking folk in the world; super-chic, cultured, superbly dressed. Although having said that there are also an alarming number of 80s-style mullets around that would make even Pat Sharpe's mane look tame.
So far in BA we have seen/visited:
The Obelisk
The first hostel we stayed in Limehouse, was very close to the iconic 'obelisco', downdown BA's central landmark. It sits at the intersection between Avenida 9 de Julio (the widest avenue in the world) and Corrientes and was built in 1936 to commemorate the city's fourth centenary.

BA's poshest neighbourhood, full of 5-star hotels, manicured parks, upmarket boutiques, bars and eateries, and several embassies housed in former mansions. Its cemetery, built around the 1732 convent and church of the monks of the Order of the Recoletos, is renowned for being the repository and resting place for the remains of several of the country's presidents, writers, poets, composers, soldiers, Nobel Peace Prize winners, explorers, and most famously of all, of Eva Perón. 

It was fascinating to walk amongst the mausoleums, memorials and monuments, all neatly arranged grid-style, like New York or Welwyn Garden City. Sort of. There are around 5000 vaults, all above ground, elaborately decorated in various architectural styles, in marble and stone. Some have been meticulously maintained, their marble facades and brass plaques gleaming, whilst others have been forgotten and left to rot, with windows smashed through and rubbish dumped inside.

Also in Recoleta there's a massive hydraulic metallic flower which opens and closes with the sun. Pretty cool.
La Casa Rosada
Or the Pink House; the President's gaff, from whose balcony Evita, and Madonna, famously rallied the gathered throngs in the Plaza de Mayo below. 

Some say the big pink palace at the end of the Plaza de Mayo was apparently painted that colour in an attempt to keep things neutral by mixing the red and white colours of Argentina's opposing Federalist (red) and Unitarist (white) parties. Others maintain that the original paint used was made with cow's blood in order to protect from the effects of humidity. Either way, it's very pink, and pretty with it.
Plaza de Mayo
The city's main square, named after the 25 May 1810 revolution that took place there (and eventually suceeded in gaining independence from Spain), is the focal point of political life in Argentina. It has been over the years, and continues to be, the center of political protests, activity and huge celebrations. 

Since 1977 the Madres de Plaza de Mayo ('the 'Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo') whose children 'disappeared' during Argentina's 'Dirty War' under the military dictatorship of 1976-1983 have gathered there every thursday afternoon, holding signs and photos of their missing children and wearing white headscarves embroidered with their names. 
Unfortunately we weren't in BA on a Thursday, although we did see a another high profile protest taking place in the plaza; for over 3 years around 350 former soldiers have, in shifts, camped out in the plaza and kept a vigil in an attempt to get the government to recognise them as war veterans. According to Argentine law, war veterans are only those who saw combat in 
the theater of operations. These guys were support soldiers stationed on along the country's coast and airbases during the Falklands/Islas Malvinas war, but as they didn't actually fight, they therefore supposedly don't count as veterans. And they're not happy about it.
Puerto Madero
Another posh, but much newer, part of the city. Puerto Madero is a tastefully revamped former docklands area. The old 18th century redbrick warehouse buildings have been converted into fancy bars and restaurants, over-looking a yacht-filled dock. A bit like Liverpool's Albert Dock, minus Fred's weathermap. 

a Milonga
Michelle, who we met on the Antarctica trip, was also in BA for a couple of days before heading home to New York, so we joined her for an evening at 'La Confiteria Ideal'. Argentinians really love their Tango and tango clubs, 'milongas', are dotted all over the city. 
La Confitería Ideal is an old-fashioned milonga, in a beautiful period building, which holds dances most afternoons and evenings, every day of the week. It was also the setting for Evita; how exciting! 
We spent the evening too scared to get up and dance ourselves, but mesmerised by the dancers - not just the real pros for whom every hour or so the dance floor was cleared so that they could do a little show, but also buy the regular punters. The crowd was a real mix - from young 20-somethings to couples well into their 80s, some glammed up to the nines, others very casual - but all danced amazingly well. The place oozed with a passion, drama and sensuality that can only exist in Buenos Aires.
Tierra Santa (well, almost!)
Michelle had also heard about an amazing-sounding amusement park. She couldn't remember the name and it wasn't on the map, but she'd passed it on the way from the airport, and it was Jesus-themed, with regular Creation, Nativity and Last Supper shows, belly dancers and hourly resurrections. It just sounded too good to miss so we set out to find it.
Fortunately the tourist info office lady didn't laugh right in our faces when we tried to explan that we were looking for some kind of Disney Godland, directed us straight to Tierra Santa, the world's first religious theme park! We were so excited as we made our way on the bus to the holy land! 
Unfortunately when we arrived there at around 1pm we discovered that the holy land also closes for siesta time - it's opening hours were 4-10pm. 'A chance to visit Jerusalem all year round' the entrance gate sign teased us, grr! 
Michelle had to catch a flight that afternoon so couldn't hang around for it to open. In a valiant attempt to make the security guard feel sorry for her and let us in, Michelle stuck her head through the iron bars of the park's pearly gates and begged the security guard in hilarious pigeon Spanish to let her in as she had a plane to catch. Unfortunately the security 
guard showed no compassion and sent us on our way. All we could do was peer through the gates to the plastic donkeys, oxen and palm trees and imagine the holy grail that lay beyond, just out of our reach <sigh>.
Buenos Aires Zoo
As we couldn't get into Tierra Santa we decided to visit the zoo instead. And immediately regretted it. It has a surprisingly large collection of animals, many of which are unfortunately housed in depressingly small enclosures. 

The flamingos, peacocks, maras, beavers and tapirs looked happy enough, but the parrots, lion, bengal tiger, leopard, elephant, giraffes, rhinos, bears, and in partiuclar the poor very hot looking polar bear desperately tring to keep cool in a tiny shaded corner of his small grubby living quarters, weren't much fun to look at so we didn't stay long.

San Telmo
We decided to move hostels in order to get a feel for another area of the city. A lot of hostels are based in the historic bohemian barrio of San Telmo, which was the original residential area of BA until yellow fever hit and those who could afford to escape moved out to what is now Recoleta.
We loved San Telmo as soon as we arrived there - all cobblestoned streets, colonial era buildings, art galleries, bookshops, antique and bric-a-brac shops, arcades, pretty churches, museums, and loads of quirky bars and cafes. A bit run down, rough and ready, but with a unique charm. 

We were also fortunate to experience a Sunday in San Telmo - Feria day. The whole barrio fills up with artists, craftspeople, hippies, home chefs and antiques dealers peddling their wares, and musicians, dancers, human statues and street performers provide a great party soundtrack and visual feast. 

We spent several hours just strolling around, watching the various samba 
bands and parading dancers go by, and soaking up the San Telmo Sunday atmosphere.

A very trendy barrio where all the beautiful people live; full of swanky restaurants, bars, boutiques and 'boliches' (nightclubs).

La Boca
The old Italian port district, which famous for being both home to the Boca Juniors football club, and the birthplace of Tango. We'd heard that Caminito (named after the tango dance), the 'open air museum' street famous for it's colourful tin buildings, was touristy, but we hadn't quite anticipated veritable Tango Disneyland that it is. 

Every sheet metal building in the handful of small streets, colorfully restored by local artist Benito Quinquela Martín, is either a shop selling all manner of tango-related tourist tat, or an overpriced cafe/bar/restaurant with bored-looking tango dancers weaving between tables of bemused-looking gringos. We didn't stay long, but it was interesting to visit nevertheless.


Full of Art Deco and Art architecture, including the impressively austere deco-style Kavanagh building, BA's first skyscraper, over-looking Plaza San Martín.  
In Retiro's Plaza Fuerza Aerea Argentina we saw the Torre de los Ingleses (English Tower), aka the 'Southern Big Ben', a grand old 200ft clock tower decorated with symbols of the British empire - the Scottish thistle, English rose, Welsh dragon and Irish shamrock. It was donated Britain in 1916 (at a cost of 90,000 quid!) to commemorate 100 years of Argentinian Independence.

Also in retiro is the monument to 'los Caidos Malvinas', a memorial to those fallen in the Falklands/Malvinas war. We don't hear much about the Falklands war back home so much now, but we've noticed a lot of memorials to the war dead in Argentina, and also a lot of protest grafitti declaring 'Las Malvinas son nuestras' and against 'los piratas Ingleses'. Not surprising really since the war was only a couple of decades ago, so the dead are still mourned but the living, and the Plaza de Mayo campers continue to flight until they're granted war veteran status.

Reserva Costanera
Buenos Aires sprawls along the banks of the muddy Rio La Plata, part of which has been declared a nature reserve. It's only a few blocks away from the very heart of the city, so we spent an afternoon strolling around there. We didn't see much in the way of wildlife, although did spot a few woodpeckers and witnessed a really rather strange episode involving a disabled pigeon and a nasty-looking bird called a 'carancho'; 
As we sat reading under a shady tree we were distracted by a poor pigeon which seemed to have a broken wing. It kept trying to fly but wpould just flap and struggle and land only a few inches aware from its starting point. It was really sad to watch and after a few attempts it landed right by our feet and seemed be begging to be put out of its misery. 

As neither of us knew how to fix a bird's wing or wring a bird's neck, I tracked down a park ranger who said he'd get someone to see to it. Whether this meant call a vet (doubtful) or kill it (more likely) I don't know, but as he went off to find somebody, another pigeon arrived on the scene. It tried to initiate a bit of a chat with the poorly pigeon, which wasn't very responsive. Chatty pigeon didn't seem too bothered with this snub, however, and proceeded to mount poorly pidge. At that point poorly pigeon managed to flap rapist pigeon off - only to find a few seconds later an even greater predator on its case... 

A much bigger and very ugly vulture-like bird had spotted poorly pidge and was hopping over towards it. We both squirmed, wanting to protect poorly pidge from being ripped to beds, but were also wary of getting involved in nature at work and coming between evil carancho and his lunch. But just as we thought we were about to witness something gruesome, poorly pidge flew up into a tree! We were amazed - talk about fight or flight! Unfortunately it promptly fell out of the tree (it turned out it had a broken leg rather than a broken wing, so still pretty screwed anyway) but at least the carancho didn;t seem to see where it had fled so so it was safe - for the time being.

We didn't stick around to witness Part II of the story, but despite the disturbing avian drama, it was nice to spend a few hours inn the reserve escaping from the hustle and bustle of the city, whilst still in the centre of the city.

The verdict on BA so far - a bit of a shock to the system after Ushuaia and Antarctica, but muy bueno!



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