Sunday, February 12, 2006

Buenos Aires, Argentina (1 week)

Hola! Que tal!

Buenos Aires is simply too big to explore in anything less than a month. In 1 week, this is what we found- B.A. is made up of different barrios (neighbourhoods) which all have their own character. The general feel of the whole place is of huge jacaranda trees reaching halfway up the expanse of apartments that rise vertically from the sidewalk everywhere. In B.A. everyone seems to live in an apartment. With the humidity, air con is a must, so the experience of walking along the street is that you are often dripped on by these air cons from above. Also, since Argentina is recovering economically, everywhere there is broken sidewalk. Each shop seems to have a different paver in front, usually a decorative embossed kind. Unless you look where you are going, you are always stumbling over uneven and cracked sidewalk.

With our base at a backpackers in Palermo run by young Argentine guys, we learn some rudimentary spanish and set out to try to get to know the place. First, shopping in the very cool and funky Palermo Soho, where we would have spent loads of money if it weren´t for having to carry whatever we get on our backs for the next 4 months! Here you see the professional dog walkers, fit men who can have more than 20 large dogs (not Kits sized) on leashes being exercised around the city. Our Australian friend Georgi cleaned up here since this was her last stop before home- for 3 days she shopped. The price tags are what you would expect at home, but since there are 3 pesos to $1 US, everything´s really cheap. Cute restaurants and shops everywhere. One night we went out for Parilla (Argentine meat dinner) and since that ended at about 12, we decided to go to the bar to dance. In Palermo Soho there is a round plaza surrounded by bars and clubs. By 2 the place started to get quite busy, but not until 3am did people start to dance! We haven´t adjusted to the latin way of life, where dinner is at around 10pm, and dancing much later. Shops all shut in the middle of the day when you would normally want to go shopping, and forget about getting anything to eat before 9pm. This has proved quite an adjustment. You will see entire families (kids and all) heading out for dinner as late as 1pm in Argentina.

B. A. is laid out with large monumental plazas featuring statues of big men on horses (usually called Plaza San Martin!) connected with large wide streets. Though there are lanes, these seem to be mere suggestions as, from the window of various taxis we took, we would watch 8 lanes of traffic seem to float between lanes for no apparent reason. We would straddle the dividing line for long stretches, and no one uses blinkers. It all seems to be a large merging game, and it´s a wonder the cars aren´t more banged up. At the center of it all is a huge obelisk that all the traffic seems to orbit around.

We found some calm in the Recoleta cemetary, where Evita, among many famous Argentine war heroes and some sports heroes, are laid to rest. Very cool with every private mausauleum burial different from the next architecturally. What was nice about this area is that it is also the rich part of town, so there is some fancy shopping and cleaner streets. Some astronomically huge ficus trees in this part of town also.

On night #3, I started to get sick, but went out anyway, to a tango bar in San Telmo. You can´t go to B.A. without seeing what they are most proud of, and it was rightly a good show. However, next day, I was down for the count for two solid days- Alison was to follow for two days after me. Worst timing ever because I had a ticket to a La Boca Juniors soccer game in the La Boca stadium that I had to give up (a pretty big deal for me- I love soccer). Georgi was kind enough to show me some video clips on her digital camera when she got back- imagine a whole section of the stadium standing room only and caged off, and the mass pulsating as they all jump up and down together. The crowd was chanting the whole time with everyone wearing the team colours and with banners spanning huge sections of the stadium and there were little pieces of paper flying everywhere... what a rush!!

So back to the sick part- a word of warning to anyone from Vancouver- there is a lot of air pollution in B.A.! And people smoke inside everywhere. When buses take off at an intersection, they leave behind a plume of very black smoke for our fresh lungs to ingest. Expect to get sick on around day 4. Today is now the 12th and Alison and I are both still hacking up whatever gunk got inside our lungs in Buenos Aires.

What else? B.A. is definitely a people watching kind of place with sexy latin women strutting around and the men grateful with long looks. It's all very innocent though and even flattering. The pace of people walking around seems slower than Vancouver. People are out on the street to hang out, with no apparent rush or destination. We were able to partake some Mate, which we would discover is a national obsession. It's a leafy drink drunk in a special gourd cup and through a silver straw. The first person fills up the cup with hot water and finishes it, then fills up the cup and passes it to the next person, and so on. It tastes ok, the taste probably grows on you. Buenos Aires is very loud. We were apparently in the quiet part of town, but you'd never guess it with needing to wear ear plugs to sleep at night.

Last day, I headed out with Georgi to check out the run down botanical garden, complete with a statue of famous B.A. landscape architect Charles Thays. Mostly what we found were tons and tons of wild mangey cats, they were everywhere. On to the MALBA modern art museum, of course closed on Tuesdays (that day). Then on to Barrio Parque, the most expensive neighbourhood in B.A., also laid out by Thays. We spoke to one man who was renting a house for $4000 US a month. He said the houses cost about 1 million dollars US, hard to imagine that cheap compared to Vancouver where 1 million doesn't go very far. Can't remember the costs of apartments in Palermo, but they were very cheap. Finally, I headed to the Teatro Colon, Argentina's famous opera house which was very ornate. The place is ringed with 6 balconies, the first 3 of which are made up of box seats, each one seating 6. Cool to imagine how opulent it must have been when first opened. Now, the boxes for a whole season go for a very cheap price for us, for the Argentinians it is expensive. Below the theatre they have developed practice rooms and costume making rooms, and they store tens of thousands of costumes here year round.

I could have stayed in Buenos Aires for another couple of weeks, but Alison is not a city girl and we did have places to go and things to do. So after about 6 days, we decided to head over the river to Uruguay. We were craning our necks out the taxi window at the vast expanses of unexplored Buenos Aires that we were leaving behind on our ride to the ferry. So I recommend to come, rent an apartment in Palermo for a month, and get to know the city. It's very cool.


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