Evita's Peron

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Flag of Argentina  , Capital Federal District,
Friday, January 16, 2009

IMH: It's easy to believe that Buenos Aires (BA) is one of South America's most eclectic cities, graced with European architecture, atmospheric neighbourhoods and bustling nightlife. I hope this entry does justice to this enticing city!
We took a 15 hour night bus from Mendoza to BA and arrived (as usual) pretty tired, but excited to have our own living space and kitchen again. We found a delightful (albeit very hot) 1 bedroom apartment in Palermo, a neighbourhood known for its leafy parks North West of the centre, for less than what a hostel would have cost us. The location was perfect as even though BA is a very big city, most sights and events happen in the central or downtown area which is only a few metro stops from Palermo.
We spent the first day exploring the neighbourhood and had dinner in one of the many fancy restaurants in Palermo SOHO.
I was very excited about being in BA as it is so much more sophisticated that the other South America cities we've visited and we decided to spend more time here to really experience it. The extended period of 9 nights - almost the longest in one place on our trip so far - is due to our decision to exclude Uruguay from this trip. We just got tired of moving all the time and had a lot of admin to conclude. Hopefully we can visit Uruguay sometime in our future travels.
It was stifling hot in BA with temperatures reaching 40degrees celsius accompanied with high humidity. Our ground floor apartment had very poor ventilation and it was unbearable to be indoors during the day. We decided to spend most of the time outside, where there is at least a little breeze. 
After a good night's rest we started with the historical section of BA. The microcentro holds many of the city's historical buildings dating back to the 19th century, as well as museums. Av 9 de Julio is super broad with 8 lanes on wither side of the road circling around the phallic Obelisco, a major symbol of BA.
On the two pedestrian streets, La Valle and Florida, we fought our way through business people, tourists, street vendors and - performers, past leather, cashmere and souvenir shops. As long as you keep your wits about where your wallet is at all times - you're fine.
Plaza de Mayo is surrounded by beautiful buildings of historic importance; like the Cathedral Metropolitano - which contains the tomb of the liberator Jose de San Martin, Argentina's most ventured historical figure, pink Casa Rosada with the famous balcony where Evita Peron energized adoring crowds during her heyday in the 1940s and Inglesia San Igracio - BA's oldest church. Somehow I though they would have made more of a fuss of Evita's balcony, but at least the building is pink.
We strolled down Puerto Madero, the newly renovated docklands, lined with trendy (read pricy) restaurants and bars with a feature bridge crossing one of the docks.
We ended the evening wandering the cobble streets of San Telmo, home of BA's main tango and antiques area. The lower rent apparently attracted many artists and we thoroughly enjoyed the wall art.
By chance we saw that the 2009 Dakar was finishing on the first Sunday we were in BA. Ryan was in his element, even though we missed seeing the actual racing, we got to see the awards. It seemed as though we required tickets to enter the stadium where the finale was held, but as we stood at the gate, clueless as to where to get the tickets, an organiser from one of the teams handed us two VIP wristbands. Wow, we were sorted. Not only could we get into the grandstand to view the award ceremony, we were delighted to find we also had access to the VIP area where free food and drinks are served with access to the area where the winners are interviewed with full access to their cars! I even got a shot with Ryan and Geniel de Villiers, the South African driver of the car that finished in first place.
I don't think I quite appreciated the ceremony as I should have. But after meeting some of the people in the VIP section I now understand how difficult it is to even finish without injury or writing-off the car, never mind finishing in the top 10. I was astounded by the amount of people involved in the racing of one car - a crew of 50+ and a support vehicle! This is big business. We were very proud that a South African driver for Volkswagen finished first and also that all the Volkswagens raced (which finished in 5th, 2nd and 1st places if I remember correctly) were manfactured in South Africa. This truly was a day to remember!
Tigre is one of the most popular riverfront towns about 1 hour North from BA. We didn't realise that BA does not front on the ocean. But the brown Rio de a Plata, a river which ends in a delta with 5000+ islands between Argentina and Uruguay.  We made a day-trip of it and enjoyed a 1.5hour bat cruise along a section of the delta, jealously ogling some of the ritzy riverfront homes complete with jetty's and boats. We enjoyed perfectly prepared trout and good Argentinian wine on a deck of a riverfront restaurant and watched the sun set.
Affordable, well-made leather products are one of Argentina's claims to fame and as we had plenty of time in BA, we decided to spend a day shopping around for the best deal. Florida Street is packed with leather shops boasting well-made products with a price tag for American, European and English tourists. It does seem to offer the best variety of handbags, briefcases and dress shoes.
Munillo Street (a random street not in the tourist area at all) has twice as many shops dedicated to all sorts of leather products and their jackets and casual shoes are very reasonably priced.
We felt we missed-out on some good wine tasting in Mendoza and wanted to see what we can organise in BA to make-up for it. We found a lovely restaurant - Casa Coupage, where the two owner sommeliers serve only 4 tables on Thursday and Friday evenings with an amazing 4 course meal in "Modern Argentinian Style". They have a very big wine list and we also had an option to do a tasting of a selection of the wines. We tried a very interesting 1997 Melbec from a boutique winery who age their reds in ton-size oak barrels
Satisfied that we've caught-up on the wine experience we were looking for, we went for a walk in the ritzy Recoleta neighbourhood, which holds one of BA's prime tourist attractions - Cementerio de la Recoleta. This cemetery is surrounded by high walls and houses the remains of the Argentinian elite in ornate splendour. We even got to see Evita's grave, where she was buried with her family and not the Perons.
Another architectural masterpiece is the Facultad de Ingenieria, an engineering school making a majestically Gothic statement. Lastly visited one of my favourite emblems of BA - the metal flower sculpture, Floralis Generica, of which the petals closes at night like a real flower.
Closer to home we ended the day with a stroll in Palermo's famous parks. The parks did not seem very green; we suspect it's due to the summer sun and little rain.
The highlight of BA was the live Tango show at Bar Sur in San Telmo. Some Tango shows are very touristy with hundreds of people. We opted for the more intimate option at Bar Sur, the oldest Tango establishment in BA which seats about 20 people on the dance floor. The evening consisted of 3 musicians who played beautifully, four dancers (2 couples) and a singer, who performed "Don't cry for me Argentina" 3 times on Ryan's request. The Tango was originally performed by prostitutes only, but was later accepted by the upper-class as a dance form. It is very sensual though. We were asked to participate and even though we couldn't Tango, we were taught a step or two. We had a wonderful romantic evening out and afterwards, we joined the bustling nightlife scene of Palermo Viejo on our way home.
Unfortunately we missed a live Flamenco show when we were in Spain, but found a theatre who presented a show on the last night in BA for a very reasonable price. It was brilliant! The dancers were both masters in Flamenco and trained in Spain. I wish I understood more Spanish as I'm sure we missed a bit of the story told through the songs accompanied with the dance. I am very proud of Ryan for being open to see so many "song and dance" shows.
On our last day we had the entire day free, before getting an 18 hour night bus to Puerto Iguazu for 3 nights from where we can visit the Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. We spent the day wandering through Palermo Hollywood's boutiques, flea markets, street stalls and enjoyed a great traditional meal accompanied with great wine over lunch. Ryan made the most of any meal out by ordering steak and has become an expert on cuts and cooking do's and don't.
We had a great time in BA - enjoyed the culture, city, history, food & wine and we were also able to catch-up on some admin and planning for our return to South Africa in one month's time.
Even though the bus ride ended-up to be longer than 18 hours (as usual) and we got very little sleep, I was excited to see the Iguazu falls and compare them to the mighty Niagara Falls in Canada.
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