Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Buenos Aires

After having such a wonderful experience in Iguazu seeing the falls, it was time to move on, especially as there isn't all that much more to do in the area once you've seen the obvious. Heading south to Buenos Aires, I stopped off in Rosario for a couple days to see a friend from my travels last year and then onward to BA, home to some 13 million people and the capital of Argentina. Getting down is easy enough, booking buses here is no problem, finding one that is cheap, is however. Even with the shorter 4/5 hour journeys, there aren't tacky old buses to hop on which cost next to nothing.

Arriving in Buenos Aires' main bus terminal, Retiro, getting about the city is easy enough. There is a pretty decent underground called Subte which is remarkable value, only about 30p a ride anywhere, none of that zonal rubbish. The whole system is also spectacularly painted and definitely the most colourful and attractive underground I have been on. There is also a comprehensive bus service, however, the problem with the buses though is that you have to pay in coins, these coins are then hoarded by the bus companies and sold on the black market. Sounds stupid and a little hard to believe but when you get here it really is a nightmare trying to get your hands on some change.

Artwork on the subway

Even the carriages had it

As a city, Buenos Aires is full of history and culture, with plenty to see and do during the day and more so in the evenings and at night. For me, the city doesn't really wake up until midnight, and don't even think about going to a club before 2am, how lame.

By and large there are certain activities that have a reputation and run daily, weekly or otherwise. One such activity is La Bomba de Tiempo which takes place in the Konex arena in downtown BA every Monday night. The seventeen strong band comes on stage at 8pm and for the next couple hours play tribal beats which you just can't help to dance to. Beers and fernet and cokes abound and pretty soon everyone is dancing and jumping around to the music. It's great fun, and the night we went the place was packed so there was an even more charged atmosphere about the place.

On Sundays, there is the San Telmo market. San Telmo is known as the tango centre of BA and with good reason; tango classes, shows and street performers abound in this old area of the city. The market itself doesn't get going until the late hours of the afternoon and carries on well after dark, even street vendors need a siesta you know. As with most markets, the usual fare is available: souvenirs, mates, bombillas and token trinkets native to BA and the rest of Argentina.

The tango shows are prevalent all over BA and it's almost got to a stage where they are so Hollywood, touristy and over the top that some people will tell you it's not worth it any more, however, you won't know if you don't try it. Going with a crowd recommended by the hostel, we got ourselves a decent deal in that for 40 quid you get a tango lesson (the simplest moves possible in the Tango world I imagine), a meal with wine and thereafter you are treated to a show.

No doubt the shows differ in some ways but I'm sure they are all similar in style and moves. The show was split into three acts: 1900s, 1940s and 1970s. For each part, the dancers acted out scenes which were likely to have occurred at the time and then followed it up with dancing reminiscent of that age. The men wore pretty much the same type of costumes, meanwhile the women had a bit more work in the costume department and looked resplendent in their outfits which sometimes didn't leave too much to the imagination.


Daytime tango

Street band

Night time tango

Impromptu band

Tango show

As for other sights around the city, one way to see some of them is through one of the few 'free tours' that are available and take place on certain days of the week. The guides speak English, are very knowledgeable and don't push you for money. However, given the circumstances, a tip is expected and you can't begrudge them that as for the most part they are students providing a service to tourists in their spare time. So rather than just randomly walking with your nose in a guidebook to find out where you are or going on a pointless bus tour of the city, you get a more intimate feel for what you are experiencing. Too bad I was hanging by a thread and even walking was an effort let alone taking in information. I still enjoyed it though, and it's a great way to ingratiate yourself with the downtown area and meet people.

North of Avenida de Mayo (which is the main street in the city) and perpendicular to Avenida 9 de Julio (claimed to be the widest road in the world, not sure about that though) is Plaza de la Republica. Here lies the Obelisco de Buenos Aires which is an iconic national monument and basically commemorates 400 years of BA as a city. It's also a great place to start a rally or a protest, something that happens very often apparently.

Downtown BA

Protest in action


Further north in Recoleta lies the famous Cementerio de la Recoleta, this is a cemetery for the well to do. We're not talking small graves or headstones, here people have gone all out and built miniature churches and shrines, erected colossal monuments and tombs and carved statues of everything from the deceased to various depictions from the Bible. Famous people of old now reside here ranging from Presidents, politicians, scientists, writers, athletes and Evita.

To the south is the poorer area of La Boca, home to the Boca Juniors. Typically they had a home game the day before I arrived and one the day after I left though. Who has three away games in one week, c'mon on. Not planned but I may very well have to come back just for a home game. Quite looking forward to comparing it to a Russian match in terms of atmosphere, although it surely can't be any dodgier than Zenit-Spartak..

The area itself felt safe enough to walk around and after a while you find yourself in the the very touristy area of Caminito. We were warned it was very touristy after 11am but even I was surprised at what I found: restaurants with people beckoning you to go in, souvenirs stall at every turn and everything overpriced. It felt like South East Asia but without the good prices. Needless to say I didn't hang around too long as there really wasn't anything to do besides check out a few buildings which have amassed a surprising reputation due to a lick of paint on the walls. Speaking of which, people were literally taking photos posing next to a bench or a coloured wall, made me wonder if that could be a tourist attraction back home, not so sure.

La Boca

It's just a bench though

Loads more to see and do no doubt but time is money and I want to get south before the summer ends and the weather turns cold, so, next stop Ushuaia for trekking and the natural beauty Patagonia has to offer.

No comments:

Post a Comment