Things have improved since the long journey down here. After a couple of days adjusting to being here and exploring the area close to the hostel I ventured out into the wider city. Seeing areas of abject poverty and also of amazing wealth.
The days here begin at about 10:25 as the breakfast provided by the hostel is only available until 10:30. It's not much; just bread, a couple of spreads and cornflakes but it is enough to survive on and it saves money, always key. For some of this it is not enough of an enticement. Pete is yet to make it to breakfast though Nick only seems to have missed one.
Just down from the hostel is the massive Av 9 de Julio which takes a while to cross at around 100m wide! In city plans it is the width of a city block that has been used as a street. The first few days involved walking along here and along the Av de Mayo which has Congress at one end and the Presidential Offices at the other (La Casa Rosada). We tried a few of the places to eat around here finding a mix of good and bad. McDonalds here seems kind of expensive at around 25 pesos for a combo (I just had a look inside, that's all). Having heard tales of amazing Argentine steak we had a look around with no success, but that only made the discovery all the more sweet when we came across it later...
Yesterday in an effort to get out a bit we signed up for a walking tour of 'La Boca' that was organised by the hostel. Every time I had read about La Boca it had been coupled with a warning to stay in the main streets and watch constantly for pickpockets. This led me to spend the whole day with my hands firmly in my pockets on my wallet and camera and to be glad of our group of 20 or so. La Boca was an amazing riot of colour due to the use there of whatever paint the locals could get their hands on and the strong tango culture in the area. There were tango show in just about every restaurant and the street art was all tango. La Boca was the first port of Buenos Aires and was once one of the more prosperous areas of the city but an epidemic in the 1870s drove out the wealthy and most of the factories closed down in the decades following although there are still a couple there. Luck was with us and the river was in one of its cleaner periods, though still filthy. Heidi (our friendly guide) told us groups in the past have had to run past the river due to the smell and she had seen dead dogs and even a human head float past with the other rubbish. (In an odd chage of topic) we had lunch after wandering through the markets at an outdoor grill that had the most amazingly huge fillet steaks. Pete and I decided to splurge on the most expensive steaks at 45 pesos (about NZ$17) while Nick opted for a rice and tuna salad. When the food came out he regretted his choice. Half a kilo at least of beautiful fillet steak for each of us was the best lunch I've had in a while. The Boca Juniors football stadium tour followed and there we saw the old club of Maradona and his own private box (from a distance). There we also heard of the horrifying behaviour of the fans. Apparently the away fans (who sit above the home fans and are seperated from them by barbed wire and steel fences) get so worked up at the games they urinate and worse over the edge onto the opposing fans below. The hostel can organise tickets for its guests but that dampened my enthusiasm to see a game there. The day finished with a tango lesson back at the hostel, which I nailed. It's an interesting dance and its origins show through. I am now an expert tangoisto or something like that.
Today was the tour to Recoleta. Heidi was such a good guide I had to do another. The contrast here was amazing. There was so much money in this area of the city, both old and new. Some of the buildings could only be described as palaces. Many of these have now become emabassies as the original inhabitants moved out of the city to massive estates in the countryside. These buildings were so impressive, especially the Vatican embassy which had been donated by some ludicrously rich plutocrat and had a golden bed for the pope to sleep in should he choose to visit the city. To demonstrate the variety of wealth here I should mention that we also saw Shakira's apartment. The other highlight of today was the Recoleta Cemetary. This place is like a city of mausoleums surrounded by a massive brick wall. These mausoleums are sometimes like mini versions of the palaces outside, sometimes like modern hotels and sometimes like opulent recreations of classical temples. Here we saw the resting place of Eva Peron and heard a little about her life. The cemetary is full now but funerals are still held and families with existing mausoleums can continue to inter members into their private crypts. Most of the structures there have stairs leading down into unknown darkness several levels below the ground. Lunch was late at around four and I had a delicious pizza at a place just across the road (to jump to a very different topic). The pizza here, along with the steak, seems to be very good.
Somehow I've also managed to catch a lot of the olympics including at least the last half of every Canadian mens Hockey game so far. Unfortunately as everyone here is an Aussie, a Brit, a Kiwi or South American so there are few fans except for a lone American. And everyone enjoys a good biathalon race.
Tomorrow I leave for Puerto Iguazu to see the falls. It is a 19 hour overnight bus trip but as we decided to go Super-Cama (first class) with fully lie flat leather seats, movies in english and meals I think it will be a fairly easy journey. I'm sure I've forgotten things, ah well. I will try to add another update after I see the falls and may add anything else I remember. Adios