Did I say we were looking forward to some sunshine in Buenos Aires? D’oh!...
It all started pretty promisingly as our flight from Ushuaia dropped us in the warmth of BA’s airport (this was a god send, so glad we did not bus it!) and checked into our cool hostel as recommended by Tommy and Clare. A quick exchange of jeans, jumpers and jackets for shorts and t-shirts and we were off exploring our neighbourhood for some dinner, steak of course! Hungers and thirsts satisfied we returned to the hostel to plan our days ahead. We generally find big cities to be a disappointment as to truly appreciate them I think you need to live like a local over a few weeks rather than snatching a few ‘touristy’ days, but having heard from so many people along our travels of the great times they’ve had in Buenos Aires we were excited to immerse ourselves in the home of tango and steak! And so despite the dauntingly huge map laid out in front of us, a plan was hatched.
The plan had us leaving BA (as the backpacker lingo insists the town be called) in 8 days time. This was largely to allow us time to take in a local football match, which I was really keen to do having heard so much about the passion of the South American supporters, but also gave us time to take in a quick 3 day trip to Uruguay as it’s only a couple of hours away by ferry.
And so it was that the following day we set about our task proper and began to take in some sights. Like any other large city BA is actually made up of many unique areas that have merged over time to create the urban sprawl that exists today. Each area has a vibe very much of its own and so to get the best feel for these we decided to set out on foot for what proved to be a huge walk! One of the problems (if that is indeed the right word) with having seen so many amazing things during this trip is that your expectation levels are greatly increased, normal just doesn’t seem to cut it! And so whilst it was nice to stroll amongst the differing neighbourhoods and soak up the atmosphere the walk was for the large part uninspiring. That was until we reached the cemetery. The cemetery in BA is one of the cities “must do’s”. Set out almost like a mini city itself with a grid like system of avenues, this is where the rich and famous of BA are buried. Tomb after extravagant tomb line up alongside each other down avenue after avenue and it would be possible to get lost for hours wandering amongst them and taking in the grandeur. It’s also good fun to scare your girlfriend by pointing out the tombs most likely to be home to vampires and zombies! By far the biggest reason for coming into the cemetery though is to see the tomb of Eva Peron, a woman famous for having played the role of Madonna in a film. Or something like that anyway.... Her tomb was surprisingly bland compared to many of those surrounding it but the sheer number of people crowding round it to have their picture taken showed the esteem in which she is held here.
And so after a slightly disappointing day overall we looked to the evening for some entertainment. This is where BA comes alive. Being a Monday night the place to go was La Bomba de Tiempo. This is a group of 15 or so percussion instrument playing guys who beat out improvised tunes for a couple of hours in what seems to be an old warehouse. The result is awesome as hundreds of spectators lose themselves in the brilliant beats (and the beer) and dance the night away. We had so much fun. Even the weather couldn’t dampen things as the heavens opened into a storm the scale of which neither of us has ever witnessed before. The rain was torrential and within minutes the make shift dance area was flooded in mid shin deep water but still the drums played on and still the dancing continued. It was brilliant! We returned to the hostel later that night, via a McDonald’s pit stop (purely to escape the downpour of course) to discover that the rain had knocked out the electricity. BA may indeed be a huge, modern city but we’re definitely still in a third world country! Still, we went to bed happy having had a great night.
The next day proved to be much like the one preceding it. Having learnt our lesson the day before though we did at least take to the public transport system this time. More wandering in more neighbourhoods (but this time in solidly heavy rain) left us with much the same opinion as the previous day; nice enough city but just a city all the same. We did however tick off more of BA’s must do’s including the presidential building from which Eva Peron waved whilst playing Madonna in that previously mentioned film.... The day was once again rescued by its night time activities. This time Tango! Wisely swapping our thongs for shoes we decided it was time to learn how to Tango. The Tango hall we went to had a great set-up whereby they provide free group lessons early in the evening before allowing you to dance the night away. And so we both took our places in a group of 50 odd on a dance floor made for 20 and strutted our stuff. I’d like to say at this point that we took to the Tango likes ducks to water but I’d be lying. When we weren’t bumping into every other couple around us on the cramped dance floor we were stepping on each other’s feet. Still we managed to pick up a few moves and had fun watching some equally awful gringo’s around us. Once the lessons were finished the locals took over and we had great fun leaving them to it, sitting back and admiring their skills.
The following day was the first of our planned 3 in Uruguay. This came as a welcome break from walking around BA and despite an early start we were in high spirits on the ferry as we headed to South American country number 6. The ferry from BA takes you over to the town of Colonia – the oldest town in Uruguay and it is absolutely beautiful. The ferry may have only taken 2 hours from BA but it also took us back 300 years in time. The cobbled streets and colonial buildings were gorgeous, the Portuguese showing they have more flair for design than their Spanish counterparts! We happily wandered around the old port town for a few hours and had a nice relaxing lunch. In hindsight we should have enjoyed the tranquillity and stayed a night here but having walked round the entire town we decided to jump on a short bus journey and give ourselves more time in the capital; Montevideo.
Now I’m trying to think of something nice to say about Montevideo but sadly it’s another city that falls into that ‘just another city’ category. Having stayed the first night in a really crap hostel which seemed to be located down the darkest, quietest road in Uruguay we moved to a pretty nice place nearer the beach. Yep, Montevideo has a beach so I suppose that is one thing going for it. To be fair it also has an awesome meat market in which you can watch various cuts being cooked on huge asados and then gorge on until fit to burst. So actually that’s two things going for it! However I think the place is best summed up by the fact that we were at our happiest here when we cooked up a huge spag bol in the hostel then took over the TV room for the night watching the Winter Olympics! And so after 3 days we said goodbye to South American country number 6 early Saturday morning and returned to BA.
The ferry arrived back in BA by midday and we headed straight for one of the few areas we had left to visit. This was the area of La Boca, famous for being the home of the legendary Boca Juniors Football Club and also the highest crime rate in BA! Fortunately we were headed to the touristy area surrounding the famous street of Caminito so there would be no problems with crime. Unfortunately Boca Juniors were not at home this weekend so the game we’d be taking in the following day would be that of River Plate (Boca’s arch rivals from across town). As soon as we arrived in the Caminito area we finally felt that we’d found what BA is all about. The area is extremely touristy and plays up to this in every way imaginable but beneath all that the area is submerged in a bohemian, artistic, tango culture that is fascinating to soak up. The houses are coloured every pastel shade you can imagine with bright tango inspired signs hanging above shop windows. Every restaurant is an assault on your senses as the bright colours of a couple tangoing to the crowd accompany a live singer whilst hungry tourists enjoy their steaks. Despite being a small area we really enjoyed our few hours here. Even the ridiculous bus system in BA couldn’t spoil our afternoon. For anyone going to BA a word of advice: keep any change you are ever given. Nowhere in BA seems to give out change yet their buses will accept nothing else leaving you in the ridiculous position of not being able to go anywhere! Even attempting to buy things from the shop owners to gain some change was met with a ‘try walking’. Anyway, like I said, couldn’t ruin a good afternoon.
The following day was our last in BA and most importantly, football day! Now the football did not start til 4 so as a compromise for dragging Emma to a game I grudgingly accompanied her along to the famous San Telmo Sunday market. This was actually ok, I still maintain that every market in the world sells the exact same things but the great street meat sandwich for lunch made it all worthwhile. And so onto the football. Not knowing how popular the game may be we decided to arrive early to ensure we got a ticket. It was strange being in a ground over an hour before kickoff (I’m nearly always late to the Hammers!) but I’m glad we did. We managed to score seats opposite the diehard home fans and this meant we got to see the preparation that they put into every game. Already banners were hung all around the stadium but more were appearing with every minute as more and more fans arrived. By the time the players came out onto the pitch the throng of red and white hard core fans were bouncing up and down and in fine voice. It made for a great spectacle and I couldn’t help but watch the fans more than the game which in truth was disappointingly average. There was very little South American flair on show and apparently River Plate are having a bad season which was reflected in the final score of 1-1 against a team which probably had only a couple of hundred fans in the ground. It was excellent to witness though and I wish some of those awful Hammers games over the years had had such great crowd participation to take your mind off the game!
And so that was BA! In the end we liked it. The last couple of days especially showed us what a great city this can be, experiencing the culture of the tango in La Boca and seeing the passion of the locals at the football. Our nights out were great too but at the end of the day it is just another city and it’s definitely time to move on. Excitingly our bus journey up to the Iguazu falls will see us experience long haul Argentinean bus travel for the first time – we’ve heard it’s quite an experience! Bring on the champagne!
Love to all