Although our arrival in Argentina was relatively hassle-free, the trip from the airport to the hostel made us slightly uneasy as to what we had let ourselves in for on this trip. The drive took us through some of the city's poorest neighbourhoods, with towerblock after towerblock of dirty, blackened housing extending out in front of us down the motorway
The rain that greeted us on our arrival dampened the smog of the huge city but the dark sky also helped to confuse our already disorientated sense of time. Going to sleep for a few hours in the afternoon resulted in a 15 hour mega-nap and after waking up at 4am we decided to explore Buenos Aires in the morning.
We began by exploring the San Telmo area and slowly started to adjust to our new environment. The culture shock from a small Welsh town to a huge South American city is quite staggering and even the smallest everyday task like crossing a road seems difficult. Avenida 9 de Julio is a massive 12 lane avenue to the west of the waterfront and attempting to second guess Argentinean driving habits can be a tiring and dangerous task! Avoiding various obstacles like being run over by a bus/ car/ moped/ person or stepping in dog poo, we slowly made our way around the city.
A quick Spanish lesson at the hostel jogged my memory of the language a bit but I found it very different to the Spanish I was taught at school (by a French woman...).
We met another English guy called Arron so we went out in San Telmo for a few drinks at about 11pm one night. the bars around Plaza Dorrego were completely deserted so we spent a few hours laughing at the bar manager who was convinced that becuase we were English we MUST love Madonna and put her DVD on for us especially.... then he got pretty hammered and started dancing and singing. In typical Argentinean fashion the bar began filling up at about 2am and was rammed by half past.
When the bar finally closed the manager seemed to have taken a shine to us and let us take some beer home in a martini bottle which seemed to cause some kind of chemical reaction and started bubbling over the side. Wandering and weaving our way back through the empty streets at about 5am the three of us resembled a horrible Brits on Tour TV show about drunken holidaymakers in Majorca, clutching our alcohol for dear life and with Arron pointing out the 'picture frames' on the floor (they were boards over holes in the pavement, yet another South American pedestrian obstacle).
In the following days we made friends with a guy called Rick from Chicago and an Aussie called Sal who we spent many happy nights with, sitting on the roof drinking red wine and coke, as well as eating amazing pizza from Ugi's (3 extra packets of oregano, yes please) ...
Because BA was the first city we visited on this trip we planned the exploration of it with meticulous detail, giving ourselves one or two days for each area. We spent a relaxing day walking around Palermo's parks and feeding cats in the botanical gardens. Another day we visited the Congresso and Tribulanes areas where we watched protest after protest of workers, students, Madres de Plaza de Mayo and various other groups.
The political determination to be heard in South American nations is unbelievable, coming from a generally socially apathetic nation it was so refreshing to hear people actively fighting for what they believe in, on the streets, every day. The effort and organisation that must go into the protests is incredible. We must have witnessed about 12 demonstrations in the 10 days we were in BA, each one with at least 100 people marching. One in particular was extraordinary; a sit- down demo on Av. de Mayo (a usually very busy road in the centre of the Microcentro) involving at least 500 people who had scattered masses of white flyers all over the road for about 3 blocks; they even cleaned them up afterwards!
On Saturday day we went to see the weird cemetery in Recoleta where Eva Peron is buried. Its like a park of mini- houses for dead rich people.. Visitors don't really seem to respect the dead that much, more than once we saw someone sitting on the front steps of the tombs having a drink or smoke a cigarette. Later on in the afternoon we went to the Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival, which was completely free. There was a few brilliant acts, including a quartet called Escalandrum and Donny McCaslin. Sitting in the burning sun listening to jazz in Buenos Aires seemed so cool, and the fact that we were actually travelling finally started to kick in.
On Sunday 19th we did something we had been planning to do for a few months (and that Nick had wanted to do for years) and went to the Superclassico football derby between River Plate and Boca Juniors, two rival Buenos Aires teams. I could not care less about football but Nick assured me that South American football is a 'slightly' different experience than in the UK. We had spent a lot of money on these tickets and when we arrived at the ground the buzz of excitement from the crowd and the people we were with finally rubbed off and I began to get into the spirit a bit more. The hostel manager Cecilia had come with us even though she was a Boca fan and we were in the River stand, and she taught us some anti- River songs.... not a good idea!
Before the game even began the crowds were going mental, with banners covering every square inch of the stadium and nearly every fan on the top tier holding red and white inflatable things, but nothing compared to the sheer volume of the chanting, drums and constant foot stomping. The match itself wasn't very exciting (not that I was watching it much) and ended 1-0 to Boca. The fans didn't seem to get too nasty, but riot police segregated the Boca fans and we had to wait half an hour at the end for them to be escorted out of the stadium.
On the Monday we decided to visit the La Boca area of BA; everyone told us to take a taxi or bus down there because it is notoriously dangerous for travellers but we walked down to Parque Lezamo and there was a German couple who didn't seem too worried so we went with them. The aim was to have a look at La Bonbonera, Boca Juniors' stadium and then to El Caminito. On the way to the stadium the local seemed pretty bemused as to why we were there but friendly all the same. El Caminito was really really touristy with loads of sightseers taking photos of the brightly coloured houses and tango dancers but it all seemed so forced and fake. The locals obviously don't like them invading their neighbourhood but have no other means of income. A hand painted sign near the docks called La Boca "Barrio Bonito" with a Nike tick beside it. That pretty much sums up the area.
On our last night in BA we went to a restaurant with some people from the hostel and got pestered by a student dressed as Charlie Chaplin and then by the non-persistent rose selling lady who we had met on the night we arrived and about 4 times in between. She must have been about 70 but went around every single bar and restaurant in San Telmo attempting to sell roses to couples. When you said 'no' she just shuffled along to the next table and tried again, without any pushiness or pleading like all the other people selling things in the city. It seemed so awful that a lady that age would need to spend her nights (at 2am sometimes) approaching drunken tourists and being rejected over and over...
Went to La Puerta Roja (The Red Door) club which was really cool, full of uber- cool students dancing to uber- cool music in funky surroundings... needless to say we stood out like sore thumbs in all of our smelly gringo-ness! Saying goodbye to everyone the next day before we made our way into Patagonia was to be the first of many, many, many farewells to amazing people we'd meet on this trip. We quickly learnt that saying goodbye to people is the very worst thing about travelling. Not even Bolivian buses come close.