Another adventure with my friend Malcolm, this time we are going to South America and spending two months in Argentina and Brazil. Unfortunately, Malcolm arrived in New Zealand carrying a flu bug and even after being bed ridden for several days the bug is with us as we set off for Buenos Aires. Oh, those poor passengers on the airplane!
Buenos Aires is often referred as the Paris of South America, I will be interested to see if it lives up to its label.
This weeks blog will be in diary form:
Sunday, 28/08, 2016
The flight to BA is long and uneventful, just the way I like a flight to be. On arrival, the two of us breeze through customs, find our luggage and proceed to our taxi. It’s Sunday at 5.00pm and the drive into the city is fast, almost too fast. At our apartment on Chacabuca Street , San Telmo we are met by the owners who give us a basic checklist of does and don’ts. US Dollars change hands (as an inflation hedge Argentinians often require payment in US dollars) and then, we are on our own to settle in. The apartment has two bedrooms, it’s airy, with high ceilings and an has an old world Spanish charm, however the bathroom is not accessible except through the courtyard. How’s that going to work on a rainy night ? It’s winter in Buenos Aires and the temperatures at this time of year are colder than the Bay of Islands and around 9/10 Celsius (50F).
Every Sunday there is a market on Defensa, in San Telmo, so we catch the last half hour, and try and find a bank to get local currency (Argentinian Pesos). You would think getting money from an ATM is a simple task, but the first ATM’s we tried displayed the message “you can’t use your card on this machine”, after trying several banks, we finally get local dinero from Citibank. A 90 peso charge on a with-drawl of 2000 pesos and 2,000 seems to be the maximum you can get at one time. So, it’s a US $6 fee every $140. It’s a good job 2,000 pesos seems to go a long way in Argentina.
Before returning to the apartment Malcolm and I have dinner in local restaurant, steak, potatoes and mushrooms accompanied by a tasty red wine sauce. This is all washed down by a bottle of Argentinian Malbec and for the princely sum of $40 USD for the two of us.
Lunes, 29/08, 2016
A bad night’s sleep or “Oh, how I hate Jet-lag” Today, we are on a mission to find our Spanish lesson lady, and do grocery shopping. Sylvina our teacher wonders why I haven’t just emailed her. The truth is she’s a 2 minute walk away. Anyway, after setting up our lesson schedule it’s time to eat again, and this restaurant has a waitress who speaks some English. A bottle of wine and free empinadas ( Argentinian Cornish pasties) followed by meatballs stuffed with cheese. Very tasty! On the way back to our apartment, my nose dripping, I stop at a farmacia and purchase a decongestant. It’s wonderful that all pharmacists seem to speak some English. Anyway, it’s time for an afternoon nap!
Another, intermittent nights sleep, I’m starting to feel like an insomniac. And our Spanish Lessons begin at 10am for 2 hours a day for the next 10 days and then, it’s time to start exploring the city. On completion of our first lesson, I realize fluency is out of the question and I will just have to settle with some key phrases. We take the Subte (metro) to the the Recoletta cemetery in search of Eva Peron’s grave. We are successful thanks to a lovely lady who chases down the road to put us on a bus to the cemetery. It turned out we were quite a distance from our destination when we got off the Subte (metro).
the evening consists of Spanish homework, followed by a pint at the Gibraltar pub, which is just around the corner from the apartment. It’s a wonder how a couple of pints of Patagonia Pale Ale brighten up your day.
Health wise, my nose is now clear and other than a bad nights sleep, I am ready to approach the day. First, Spanish lessons with Sylvina, two hours is a really long time (at my age) when you are trying to learn. Definitely short attention span syndrome. After lessons we go to a Defensa restaurant and have a steak meal with a large bottle of Malbec, Malcolm leaves his bag in the restaurant and we have to backtrack to pick it up. We are on the Subte and had almost reached our destination of Plaza de Mayo before he realized. Reunited with his bag we start our trek on the Subte again. The Pink or Rose Palace is the seat of government in Buenos Aires, however the President does not live there, just does their 9-5 at this location. The balcony is famous as the place where Eva Peron addressed her adoring faithful. The Argentine Government allowed the movie starring Madonna as Evita to use the balcony for filming in the mid 1990’s. And it turns out that playing “Don’t cry for me Argentina” was banned on British Radio Stations during the Falklands war, even though it was written by a couple of English blokes……There is a police presence in the square with a water cannon close by. Obviously, they are always ready for social disruption. Afterwards, we walk across the square and enter a museum previously used as a prison.
Wednesday evening is the highlight of our week. We attend the Milonga, yes it’s tango time. Not that we are partaking, just watching. Our Tango classes start Tuesday next week. Anyway, the entrance is less than $10 US and a bottle of wine is $10, so we sit near the bar, eat empanadas and drink Malbec while listening to a ten piece tango orchestra All I can say is the band is fantastic, however Juan Tango is nowhere to be seen.
Jueves , 01/09/2016
Today, we have our Spanish lessons followed by a a stroll to see a Russian Orthodox church. It’s closed, and it starts to drizzle so we head back to our apartment to practice Verb Conjugation.
I’m still not sleeping through the night, I’m waking around 2.00 am and finally getting back to sleep at around 5.00am. However, we have to be up at 9.00 to have a shower before Spanish lessons at 10.00. Today, we planned our afternoon trip to Palermo to the Japanese Gardens and lunch at their restaurant. The gardens were beautiful and tranquil. On entering the restaurant I confidently step forward to ask for lunch in Spanish “Almuerzo, por favor” to which the waitress replied “No hamburguesa”. I’m crushed that my attempt at a Spanish accent was received so badly. The sushi in the restaurant was over priced and average for a restaurant of it’s supposed quality. Argentina is not the place to eat Japanese food! Palermo is a fairly affluent neighborhood, with very little character, and it is easy to imagine that you are in any large city. Tall buildings, average architecture and lot’s of walking with Malcolm lagging behind. By the time we reached home, San Telmo , we were both exceptionally tired and fall into bed. One thing worth noting, we took the Subte at around 17.30 and it was a crazy event, being part of a giant crowd that squeezed into a small railway car. We were so packed you couldn’t move your arms.
It’s Saturday, we are not taking Spanish lessons and have plans to go to La Boca, another barrio of Buenos Aires. A good opportunity to practice our Spanish “Quero ir” We take a taxi to El Caminito, La Boca “the walkway”, an area that has a street market and many restaurants with Juan and Juanito Tango dancing for your pleasure. And of course, as many pesos as they can extract from you. We found that Juan was really Alan who had traveled extensively in New Zealand for seven months. Having said this, it is a well worth while excursion and of course we pay for the obligatory photos of Jaunito Tango draped about our persons.
Domingo, 04/09, 2016
Sunday, a trip to the Feria los Matadores, or to the uninitiated “The Gaucho fair”. There probably wasn’t a real gaucho in sight, but there were many weekend gaucho’s dressed up in their finery and dancing in the square. We spend time talking with a lovely couple who pointed us in the direction of the best “choripan” in the market. And believe me, it was the best Argentinian hot-dog that I have tasted!
It has been cold and has been raining for the past 24 hours, so it’s Spanish lessons and working on “the diary” However, we always make time for our daily lunchtime meal and a bottle of Malbec.
Thoughts on Buenos Aires!
As to Buenos Aires being the Paris of South America, there are many buildings in a Haussmann style, however most are covered in graffiti and are in disrepair. However, the abundance of “Merde de Chien” on the sidewalks could make it similar to Paris, except in Paris the sidewalks are pressure washed on a daily basis and fines are handed out for dog droppings. Not in Buenos Aires!!