Slum dog Millionaires
Finally, after 60hrs of travelling we'd made it! BA was practically bucolic as we drove in from the airport - lush meadows, conifers and oaks. We all squinted in the bright sunshine and absorbed the warmth of the day - already beyond 30 degrees and tropically humid, a wonderful contrast to where we had just come from.
We quickly found our pensione only to be turned back at the door by a doe-eyed adolescent security guard that we couldn't check in until 2pm...oh dear. These pongo Pirates would have to go around a few more times. We headed for the main drag and we immediately taken by the wonderfully wide boulevards and faded yet still glorious old buildings that lined the main avenue. And it had an old school "other era" feel to it all, with tailor shops, sidewalk cafe-bars, bookshops and the ubiquitous "farmacie". We de-camped in a cafe-bar and mangled our way through the menu, as the waiter grimaced, restocking our energy reserves with a big cooked breakfast and double espresso (coke for the boys).
Our loft room was cozy but comfortable and had a small balcony where we could spy across the rooftops of central BA - mostly empty offices and apartments.
3 hot showers later, we set out to explore the city. We didn't get far before huge drops of water splattered on the pavement and we ran for shelter into the nearby 'catedral metropolitana' - a huge and magnificent catholic-baroque place with vivid biblical frescoes and mosaics. More interestingly for me it was the mausoleum of General San Martín - the leader of the independence struggle from Spain.
The rain passed and steam rose from the pavement as we continued on: past the President's Palace (the casa rosada given its unusual pink paint job), down to the Park Colon where a diminutive Columbus looks over the waterfront and reclaimed mid flats of Puerto Madero. We stopped outside the rather dilapidated and sinister looking Ministry of Defence building - euphemistically called "Liberatador" where we found a sombre and modern memorial to the soldiers of the Malvinas War (the failed invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982). We also saw memorials and a tent city in the main plaza with activists seeking help for veterans (shockingly there have been almost as many suicides of Argentine soldiers as there were actuals deaths in the conflict).
After an afternoon siesta we headed out for our New Year's dinner, settling down for some good 'ol T-bones (no sides) and broiled beef burgers in a rooftop terrace overlooking a small tree-lined plaza where couples danced the Tango with guitars and accordion and soulful singing. Very low key and relaxed with local residents hanging out their windows and kids playing on the street.
We walked home along the back streets and noticed many parties - but all private family affairs with muffled music escaping from balconies and behind shuttered windows.
We passed through the central plaza again, but it was deserted save for the tent city residents who were drinking quietly. We saw the shadows of some fireworks and found some kids letting off firecrackers along the main avenue (like gunfire and now show) and that was the extent of our NYE. We were asleep before our heads hit the pillow.
The next day bloomed clear and bright with none of the heat and humidity of the day before and we set out early to explore. First to the National Congress, along Avenue 9 Mayo, where we soaked up the faded glory of place that was once at the centre of a Latin American Belle Époque - past theatres and grand hotels and artists' galleries and mercantile houses. Today this is a rather grim and gritty part of BA with homeless people camped in the plaza and few tourists venturing out.
We hopped on a bus and headed to the waterfront - a rather bland set of huge modernised warehouses full of apartments, cafes and restaurants - catering to the young and upwardly mobile set. And, thankfully, all completely shut - appearing abandoned but messy after the party the night before.
We didn't dawdle and after recharging on coffee and ice creams we headed to the real (read original waterfront) at La Boca, where we found some history come alive in the shanty town and cobble-stone streets where the Portenos unloaded and packed the trading ships that plied the Atlantic a hundred years ago.
With tin shanties painted in vibrant primary colours and the streets alive with artists and performers we enjoyed strolling the neighbourhood, sampling the stores and took a long lunch under an umbrella in a plaza overlooking the harbour.
After lunch we nervously trekked the alleyways to La Bombonera - the home of La Boca juniors and spiritual home of Diego Maradona, local and national Football God. A grim neighbourhood and with no pretence it overflowed with devotees paying homage to their ultimate hero. Young, old, rich and poor they all paid their respects. Adam gave us away as infidels by letting out a huge "Juddeeeee!" before we absconded.
Afternoon was spent in the sprawling parks of Ricoletta - the play fields of the city's middle class and old money. Bordered by stylish apartment buildings and up-market sidewalk cafes we watched families and PYTs lolling about in the sun and old matrons walking their equally well groomed poodles.
More ice cream at a confiteria where we watched the passing crowds before another meat-lovers dinner at trendy Palermo where Adam fell in love with our Argentine waitress, dazzling us with his 2 and a Half Men inspired small talk...needless to say, the only person he went to bed with was Felix (I did say our room was cosy).
Off to Baroloche this morning and into the serious part of our trip...
All safe and sound, but encouraging Adam to shower (again) is a challenge.