Argentina: Buenos Aires
|We did what any tourist would do on their first visit to a capital city and found Buenos Aires´equivalent of Trafalgar Square - Plaza Mayo. Joining us for the day was our new friend Jonathan, a 19 year old northerner who was knowledgeable beyond his years. Plaza Mayo is home to a cathedral, lots of museums, a statue of a man riding a horse and of course a large pink building - Casa Rosada! Casa Rosada is not the headquarters of the gay rights movement of Argentina, but is actually the offices of the president. Plaza Mayo has seen many a riot and in fact to the west of the Plaza there was a demonstration of sorts occuring as we snapped away at the pink building etc. It´s from Casa Rosada that Peron and Evita waved to their subjects or ´descamibados´, the shirtless ones, as they called them. Naturally we visited the museum inside Casa Rosa, which gives a good, if basic flavour of Argentina´s political history before heading off to tourist number two stop.
Café Tortini is a living museum and little-changed from when it opened some 100 years ago, and for something so touristy, the coffee was excellent and cheap, less than a pound a cup.
Back at the GardenHouse hostel that evening we did our bit for international relations and had a politically-correct evening talking about problems of the environment etc. over a glass of vino or two. Our fellow diplomats included two Americans (Jonathan and Serena) from San Franscisco, an Ozzie girl patiently waiting for her luggage that had got lost in Aukland and of course Jonathan, who as it turns out also had strong views on economics!
During the next couple of days we stuck closely to the advice of the Rough Guide and took in the city´s sites in between dodging the fast cars on the very wide roads!Tango, museums and art galleries was pretty much how we filled our time. The most interesting part of the city is La Boca, which is the poorest district of Buenos Aires, but also the most colourful. The stretch of La Boca by the docks is very touristy - you can shove your head in a Guacho or Tango dancer cut out and have your picture taken, take in a tango show, buy a painting of the area or you can just admire the very colourful buildings, which must have been painted some distant time ago, when a spare cargo of paint fell overboard? If one looks beyound the tourists there is, however, still evidence of traditional work at hand. For example a man with a basket was routinely making his way from stall to stall selling his lunch time snacks of empanados, and at the docks a couple of old tugs paddled across across the water, and at one point a freight train passed through the heart of the village. Also if one visits the gallery at the docks (Museo de Bellas Artes de la Boca) you can view the work of a famous former local artist, Beito Quinquela Martin, who has really captured the spirt of the working docks in its heyday.
La Boca is also the home to Boca Juniors footbal club, which boasts its most famous player as “hand of God” fame legend Maradona, who in Buenos Aires is as famous as God! The stadium is a palace among the working class houses that surround it from each side.
La Boca has a reputation as a dangerous place but we didn´t experience any problems, although we didn´t stray too far off the tourist track.
If La Boca is the colourful district of Buenos Aires, San Telmo is definitely the most fun. Although we´d already eaten in the district on a couple of occasions, Sunday (9 April) is when this old colonial style district really comes to life. Think tango, think Spanish guitar players and dancing in the streets and you´re half way there, the buzz however is much harder to explain, but suffice to say, you forget it´s a Sunday morning - Eleanor was in her heaven! Which was good because I had to leave her in the afernoon for an appointment with a football game.
River Plate v Institution was my first taste of South American footaball. The atonsphere was electric, I´ve been to an FA Cup final and several World Cup games and the atmosphere didn´t match this game. River Plate´s stadium was host to the 1978 World Cup final and although its c70,000 capacity was only three quaters full, you would never have known it, as the home fans never stopped singing or banging their drums for the entire match. To my surpirse it was also very much a family affair, which reminded me of the crowd at an American baseball ground. On the way into the stadium I witnessed a long posession of some thirty fans carrying into the ground, what could have been the world´s longest rolled up carpet? Their giant flag was put on show at least three times and it covered the length and breadth of the home end behind the goal. And for some five minutes at a time some 20,000 happy fans in full chorus chanted their anthem and bobbed from side to side completly oblivious of the game in front of them, which was surpirsing as the quality of football was very high. The final score was 3-1 to River, which put them back on top of the league.
We felt sad to be leaving Buenos Aires, but it was time to move on, to travel.