Buenos Aires / Argentina

Government Palace in Buenos Aires

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We arrived in Buenos Aires around 8.00 and took a taxi into town to our apartment. A couple of our travelling friends, Shreesh and Neena, had been in BsAs for around 3 weeks by then, and have a friend who rents out apartments on a short term basis. They had put us in contact with him and he had offered us one for $US50 per night, which we gladly accepted. It turned out to be a good choice. We could make our own breakfast and even made dinner there once or twice. It was very spacious, close to everything and, most importantly, it was relatively quiet overnight - considering the fact that we were in the middle of a big city and that city was in Argentina!
We spent 4 days in Buenos Aires and covered quite a few of the main sights during that time. Our time there was marred a bit by the local pickpockets, who secretly spray some foul-smelling substance on your clothes and then come up quickly offering help with water and paper towels to clean up the 'bird dung', while they try to empty your pockets at the same time. Shreesh had lost his wallet through this type of operation and had warned us about it. The first time this happened to us, nobody rushed up offering to help, so we assumed that we really had been under a bird at the wrong time. But the second time it happened there were a couple who quickly offered help and I could clearly see the guy groping for Juergen's side pockets on his cargo pants while pretending to help clean off the shit! Juergen had a good hold on the pocket that held his wallet and I didn't take my hands off my bag, so they left quite suddenly, hopped in a taxi and were gone. There are many very annoying things about this experience, the first being that our clothes were severely soiled and we had no real provision to wash them. It was the weekend so finding a laundry was also impossible. The most disappointing thing though, is the feeling of violation that it brings - and how difficult we found it to not retire to our apartment and see nothing of the city. Strange that we can travel for 3 years in a camper and never be targeted by anyone, and then 1 day in central Santiago and they try for the backpack, and 2 days in BsAs and 2 hits - all unsuccessful but still the feeling of being violated.
When we did venture out, we were always on the lookout for people walking too close behind us - we would stop against the wall and wait for them to pass. After the second attack, we took taxis to the places we wanted to visit, when we would have preferred to walk. Walking would have given us a much better opportunity to experience this city is a more complete way. We did work out in hindsight that the attacks seemed to happen on the weekend and on streets that had very little pedestrian traffic. I imagine we had been followed from a busier street. And that they wouldn't dare try it in a crowded area because they want to be the only ones around to offer help to their 'victims' and they wouldn't want too many people to deal with at once.
That experience aside, I was pleased that we came back to Buenos Aires. It is a lively city, with the new and the old standing side by side in a fairly incongruous manner, but the older buildings, some in the art deco style, are really quite beautiful. We walked to Plaza de Mayo and took a tour (with handsomely clad soldiers for guides) through Casa de Gobierno, which is known as Casa Rosada because of its pink colour - a very beautiful building both inside and out. We also had a quick peek inside the cathedral, which is a bit overdone, but didn't come anywhere near the churches we had seen in Mexico!
Sunday is market day in San Telmo and we strolled through with a fair smattering of international tourists, mixed in with a lot of locals. There are a wide variety of stalls selling all sorts of things that we didn't need, including a large area devoted to antiques. In between were couples dancing the tango and musicians playing the tango [listen to some tango - Sound Snippet - 1,323kb], all with varying degrees of proficiency, for whatever coins people would leave. From there we went to La Boca, which is an area of brightly painted tin and/or wooden houses. It is one of the poorest and roughest areas within BA, but part of it has been cleaned up for tourists, and houses art and cultural centres, restaurants and lots of dancing. We first bought a very small tango picture, but then found a much larger painting that we paid quite a lot for. We presumed that the guy selling it was also the artist, and he appeared as though he didn't really have an easy life, so we didn't mind giving him money for something we really liked.
No visit to Buenos Aires is complete without a visit to the famous Recoleta area, where the cemetery is the final resting place of numerous famous, and infamous, personages including presidents, writers, Nobel Prize winners, army generals and so on (there is a list on Wikipedia). The person buried there, who is most well-known internationally, would have to be Eva Perón. We wandered through this rather large space, which has mausoleums built so intricately as to make the place appear to be a sort of miniature city. Some showed originality in design - others were simply ostentatious!
As well as sight-seeing, we visited the some of the shopping areas, but since our luggage is already more than we would have liked, we were really in no mood to shop. We also met Shreesh and Neena a couple of times to share more stories from our travels. Since they were also at the end of their American odyssey, the conversation turned more often to what it might be like to get back to 'normal life'. On one of these occasions we met in the famous Café Tortoni which has been functioning since 1858. The interior is rather splendid and we spent a pleasant couple of hours drinking coffee and eating cake and saying farewell to these friends, because the next morning we were leaving.
It is a sad fact that when one travels as we have these last years, that you often have to say goodbye to friends with no expectation of ever meeting again. And then sometimes the gods smile and you unexpectedly arrive in the same place at the same time and are pleasantly surprised. But more of that in the next update.
Yes, there will be further stories of our travels. We have been in Germany for only two and a half weeks and it seems like so much more - partly because we have done quite a lot and partly because travelling in Germany seems so far away from our life of the previous 2 years in Latin America!

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