Buenos Aires has a lot to offer, and we are quite enjoying our time here. It’s a big city (3 million people within city limits, another 10 million around the edges), but despite the extensive subway and train system, it’s not that easy to get around. The routes all radiate out from downtown, more or less east to west with no north-south connectors, so huge areas of town are not easy to reach except perhaps by bus, which we haven’t figured out because there is no route map or schedule posted anywhere and the tour books advise against even trying to figure it out. This means we end up doing a lot of walking. We’re wearing out our shoes and our feet in the process, but we’re wandering around a new neighbourhood almost every day and continue to be delighted by what we find. We like this city, although there are piles of garbage, abandoned car wrecks, dog poop, and broken sidewalks everywhere, and some days the air pollution is so bad you can taste it. Yuck!
El Caminita, a small area in the La Boca neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, is this city’s Gastown or Pike Place Market. It’s a small area that links visitors to city history through old buildings, historic markers, and cultural activities, but also packed with souvenir shops, cafes, and bars. Rather than a steam clock or flying fish, the photo opportunity here, aside from the brightly painted old buildings themselves, are tango dancers practicing their art in classic tango garb and posing with tourists for donations.
Local artists have adorned the streets with murals and an alley that cuts across the four-square-block mini-district features a series of small sculptures and other installations. We popped into a century-old café-bar and ordered drinks and some pastries – the pastries came but we had to seek out the server three times before he finally brought us our cervezas. Thusly refreshed we began the long walk back to the nearest section of town served by the subway, stopping for dinner at a small English-pub in San Telmo with British and Thai food on the menu. We’re sure everyone reading this has heard something about the appetite for meat here in Argentina – and maybe we’re not hanging out in the finest restaurants in town, but they overcook it terribly and there is little effort to enhance it with sauces or side dishes. So the Gibraltor is a rare oasis with a well-timed happy hour and good food at reasonable prices.
We do have a kitchen in our apartment, and frequent a number of small panaderias and verdurerias for fresh-baked empanadas and vegetables, and a larger grocery store for everything else. At the big store, if you want to buy vegetables, you have to take them to a weighing counter, usually involving a line-up. Everything has to be in a separate plastic bag that is sealed with the price sticker – they won’t simply attach the sticker to a single item like an onion – it has to be in a bag of its own. Clearly an environmentally-unfriendly practice, so we don’t buy fruit and vegetables at the big store anymore.
For a change of pace, and another set of stamps in our passport, we took the fast ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. The old part of town is a UNESCO world heritage site, with buildings and bits of ancient stone walls and foundations dating back to the mid-1600s when the area was under Portuguese control. The town and fortification changed hands eight times over about 200 years as Portugal and Spain fought over control of territory and trade routes. The townsite features seven dusty mini-museums, although three of them were closed the day we were there. That day the town was also serving as a set for a film crew that was working in the old alley ways and buildings. The highlight of the day was sitting on the patio of the Buddha Bar, with a clear view across the river as the sun set – the first sunset over water we’ve seen in a month and it was quite spectacular (the photos below hopefully do it justice).
For another dramatic change of pace we put a lot of effort into buying advance tickets (not easy for gringos!), and then attending, our first Latin American futbol game. The home team was River Plate and the visiting team was Gimnasia from Jujay province. Buying the tickets a day early, we kept getiting directed to different stadium entrances until finally someone pointed us to a security guard, sleeping in his chair, behind which was an almost invisible ticket counter. On game day we had to pass through several security gates and pat-downs around the outside of the stadium, and once inside we realized we were in a section that was fenced in, with rows of barbed wire at the top. The balcony level above us was also fenced in, but reserved for supporters of the visiting team. We had been advised to arrive 90 minutes early to get good seats in our section, and by the time the game was about to get underway it looked like most of the 70,000 seats and standing areas were quite full. Just before the game started a large drum band arrived in the stands across the field from us, and they kept the drumming going the whole time we were there.
It was fascinating to watch the entire crowd sing all the team songs with great clarity and intense passion throughout the game, interrupted only to curse officials or Gimnesia players when a call went against River Plate or should have been called against Gimnasia. Even the children sitting near us sang the songs and swore on cue! Unexpectedly low cloud moved in and the temperature dropped dramatically halfway through the game and we were so cold we left before the game finished, but happy to be out before the masses in order to get home directly and quickly (River Plate went on to win the game 1-0.).
More neighbourhoods to explore, stay tuned!