Final Chapter: Buenos Aires

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
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Trip End Aug 29, 2010


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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Our cheap flight from La Paz to Buenos Aires annoyingly had us backtrack for a layover in Lima. This flight became less annoying once we looked out the window and were able to check out some of the cool canyon country near Arequipa, Peru that we didn't have time to see earlier.

Once we arrived in Buenos, we immediately sought out cheap housing. This proved to be difficult a) because we had just come from our private double in La Paz that cost $5 each, b) we thought the exchange rate was 3 Argentine pesos to a dollar rather than the true 4:1, and c) the hostels were just plain expensive here. We ended up at the LimeHouse, it was the best deal we could find.

Our First Choripan

After dropping our bags we met up with Allie and Becky and went to grab some classic Porteño (Buenos Aires residents) grub: choripan. This delicious invention is a grilled chorizo sausage cut in half and served in a baguette sandwich. The red chili sauce and green, garlicky chimichurri sauce made the sandwich as deadly as your next day breath. It puts a hot dog to shame.

The Apartment

The next day we walked around the city a bit and tried to arrange to visit some of the rooms we wanted to rent, as we would be there for the next 17 days. Eventually we settled for a one bedroom apartment in San Telmo.

San Telmo is due South of the city center and has a old BA feel to it: cobblestone streets and colorful, hand-painted signs. On Sundays the street nearest ours (Defensa) closes down to allow walkers to stroll amidst stalls of shiny antiques and hippie bracelets. (And that weird old guy with the chicken noise makers who yells in accented English: "Chicken! 5 pesos!)

We rented from a nice guy named Walter. Walter sang in the local choir. He enjoys ballet photographs. Walter was Robin's favorite. That's all we know about Walter.

Enough about Walter. The apartment was perfect. Once David arrived he slept on the couch/bed and the gas stove was key for frying up the cheap Argentine steaks. Our balcony would have gotten more use had it been warmer. Spring was battling for supremacy with Winter when we arrived and it was never super warm.

The Big City and Recoleta Cemetery

David arrived on our third day there and we took a big walk around the city, trying to walk all the way to Palermo. This looks totally doable on the tourist map, it's maybe only 30 or 40 blocks. But, the blocks are jumbo, New York sized and the city is enormous. We cruised past the huge Obelisk, peaked inside the opera house, Teatro Colón, and eventually found ourselves at the Recoleta cemetery after walking for a couple hours.

La Recoleta Cemetery is the eternal resting place of choice for BA's rich and famous. I was picturing a bunch of tombstones and maybe a few statues. However, the dead celebrities are housed in mausoleums arranged along pathways that make the cemetery feel like a miniature city. The mausoleums are almost all adorned with sculptures of marble or bronze. Evita is buried in there, but her family crypt was plain in comparison to others. You'd think some of these people spent all their remaining fortune on their crypt. The cemetery is very impressive and highly recommended. It's hard to take a bad picture in there.

David found one that was more along the lines of his budget and style...see picture for details.

The Zoo

The BA zoo was pretty awesome. It was great to see an emphasis on the animals from SA. We had already seen the llama, alpaca, and vicuña, but we hadn't yet run into their Argentine relative, the guanaco. We were excited to see some at the BA zoo. They also had the rare Andean spectacled bear, flamingos, a white tiger, toucans, a cheetah, and a bunch of other creatures.

The oddest thing about the zoo was that you could buy animal food at the entrance and then throw these little bits of dried dog food to any of the animals you wanted as much as you wanted, with only a few exceptions. This mostly resulted in children (and some adults) throwing the brown chunks as hard as they could at the animals' heads. At the elephant exhibit, some of the hurled food would fall at the base of the moat surrounding the elephant exhibit. Amazingly, the elephant closest to us knelt down and used its trunk to sweep up and then grab a trunkful of tasty morsels from the dry moat four feet below her.

Another odd thing were the wild nuetria type things that were running around free. Also, we watched a just-born goat try to find its way to it's mom's teat for about 20 minutes. Also, everyone there was drinking maté as usual, and the zoo even had a hot water vending machine for refilling your maté thermos.

The Tango Festival

We just happened to perfectly align the dates of our trip with BA's Tango Festival and Tango World Cup. (No, unfortunately they don't play soccer while dancing). The tango festival had free events everyday. We went to go see some tango music and watch some dancers. Those guys really knew their stuff. They made it look so easy, I knew it must be hard.

The city really loves Tango. In addition to the festival, people dancing on the streets for change in San Telmo.

One night, before going out, we heard tango music coming from an unmarked door across from our apartment. We investigated and found an underground dance club. We bought a bottle of wine and watched, being careful not to make eye contact with others, a possible signal that we wanted to dance.

Side note: when I say, "before going out" that means it was probably about midnight or 1 am. Dinner is usually eaten around 9 or 10, bars start hopping at 12, and clubs are empty before 2. When these people sleep I may never know.

Steak dinner

This wasn't so much a one time thing as an almost every night thing. Argentine free-range beef cost about $2.50 per pound, so we wasted little time in making an exception to our minimal red meat eating habit. The wine was equally affordable and so we pretended to be billionaires every night with our steak and wine dinners.

Reserva Ecologica by Bike

East of the city center, along the Rio de la Plata (the widest river in the world) is a wildlife reserve within biking distance from our place. We rented some bikes from Bicicleta Naranja and cruised over there. After all the steak, the exercise was welcome. We didn't see a whole lot of wildlife, but there were some cool cardinals and other birds. Along the river all we saw were a bunch of dead fish. It was bizarre being so close to the looming high rises of downtown yet being in seemingly untouched wetlands.

We rode back along the dike, passing over a cool pedestrian bridge along the way.

Demuru and the MALBA

David really wanted to check out the Latin American art museum or MALBA, so we joined him and planned to meet Allie there. We planned on eating lunch before the museum at a parrilla (Argentine steak house pronounced pareesha with their weird accent) we had found in the Lonely Planet Guide/Bible. As with many things in the Lonely Planet book, this parrilla had been closed for a number of years. Hmm. Ok. So we wandered towards the museum until we found a menú del dia at Demuru for 35 pesos, or about $8. It included bread, soup, steak, wine, and coffee. The meal was incredible, easily worth 35 dollars in the states. So grab lunch there if you're ever in the neighborhood.

The MALBA was pretty cool. Unfortunately the exhibit on display was a bunch of modern, geometric "art" that doesn't really do much for me. The fine arts museum was better.

Tierra Santa

On Saturday, we took the bus to Tierra Santa, the religious theme park. As usual, I had done no research and was expecting roller coasters in the shape of a cross or something. This place was nothing short of ridiculous. The place is themed to look just like Jerusalem around the time of 0.00 AD/BC. There weren't any roller coasters, but there was a 60 ft. high Jesus that rose from behind a hill every 15 minutes to animatronically move his hands and nod while Hallelujah blared from the PA. Other shows playing every quarter hour: The Creation, The Nativity, and The Last Supper. All complete with creepy animatronic figures.

All the workers there had to wear period clothing. And there were plenty of fake period people and Jesuses in various stages of The Passion. Fortunately, we happened to be there just in time for the live show. This consisted of dudes rocking out on keyboards playing synth horns and belly dancers shaking their carefully-covered butts.

La Boca

Every Sunday, the normally dangerous La Boca barrio features a little market and comes alive with tourists. We headed down there to check it out. The buildings were incredibly colorful and were very European. The market wasn't that big, but there was plenty of tango music and dancers dancing and just posing for pictures. The little street with all the colorful houses on it is aptly named the Caminito.

We also walked by the stadium where the famous Boca Juniors Futbol Club plays. We regret not going to see them play, but the tickets were way out of our price range.

Tango World Cup

The next day, we met up with Martina, our Porteña friend we met on the long bus ride from Ica to Cusco, for lunch. Earlier, Martina invited us out to a Peña, or traditional music bar. Peña Colorado was the name. It was great. After the main act, the bar handed out a bunch of guitars and people with the skillz started wailing and grooving. Anyway, the next day we had a great lunch with her in Palermo and then made our way back to San Telmo for the first open round of the Tango World Cup.

This preliminary round was open to anyone and thus we saw people from all over the world competing. Each couple was given a number and about eight couples danced at once around the stage for three songs. They kept it moving right along as I believe there were over 400 entrants. It became pretty easy to pick out the pros from the weekend warriors, but we never found out the final judgment. We were hoping it would be more like American Idol in that they would be judged immediately or more like Survivor where they would be kicked off stage one by one until only one couple remained. You can only watch so much tango in one sitting, so we headed home for a steak dinner.

La Bomba

One thing everyone insisted that we just had to do in BA is go to La Bomba del Tiempo (The Time Bomb) on Monday nights. We showed up a bit late, but there was still a bit of show left. (They start godawfully early at 7 pm.) La Bomba is a Brazilian-style percussion show in this tricked out warehouse that only serves beer by the liter. The music was fun and the atmosphere was great. Definitely the place to be for young twenty-somethings. They mixed up the usual solid drumming with some electric guitar and harmonica.

Tigre and the Delta

We were trying to get out of the city, so David and I went to the South American Explorers Club office to try and check out some trip reports and get some ideas for a day out. We ended up rigging what we thought was going to be a sailboat ride from Tigre, a town just north of BA, through the river delta.

After taking the train a hour to Tigre, we watched as a small motor boat was brought down for us. Eh, it wasn't a sailboat, but it was comfortable and our captain was a super nice dude. The river delta was way cooler than I thought. It was full of summer/weekend homes built on stilts to avoid the fluctuating water level. The delta is split up by hundreds of small rivers that function like canals, so it was easy to get around.

Our guide even took us to his house for some beer, chips, and maté. All said it was a good day out of the city. We even saw a couple herrings or some similar bird. Unfortunately, as we had seen before, the river was filled with dead fish. Our captain explained that they were dying due to a disease, not because the river was polluted. It definitely looked polluted.

We were there on a Wednesday and it was pretty dead, but we could tell it must be a party on a summer weekend. There were plenty of riverside bars with Quilmes (the local beer) ready to go.

Las Madres, the Strike, and the Fine Art Museum

Every Thursday, Las Madres de Plaza del Mayo parade around la Plaza del Mayo in protest of the Guerra Suicia (dirty war). I don't know much about it but Wikipedia does. Apparently around 10,000 people disappeared during the 80's and the mothers still march every week until the government tells them where they went. Their dedication this many years after their loss was impressive.

Before the Madres marched in a circle around the obelisk in the plaza, there was a huge rally down one of the main streets coming to the plaza. It went on for a few blocks and we were able to gather that it was a number of labor unions on strike.

We had planned to go to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Art Museum) but upon arrival there was a hastily printed sign that it was closed due to a strike. Crap. Instead, we went to check out the enormous stainless flower in a park nearby. Apparently, it opens and closes with the sunrise and sunset.

The next day we returned and the Fine Art Museum was open. It was big and had some Goyas and a bunch of local artists that had some cool work. Luckily, the temporary exhibit was works by Antonio Berni, a local artist with some really creative stuff. You should check out his work if you haven't before.

Thelonius Jazz Club

That night we got our jams out at Thelonius, a jazz club in Palermo (where all the nightlife seemed to go on.) Tonight, the house band was playing a set full of Charlie Parker tunes. They were super tight and had the whole little place rocking. Definitely a worthwhile way to spend one of our last nights.

Epilogue

After returning to our favorite restaurant, Demuru, for lunch one last time and getting a choripan from our favorite hole-in-the wall, we were off for the airport.

We are now back in Portland. Evan's leaving today for Seattle to start his research position at UW and finish up his master's. Robin has started her job up at OHSU and is waiting to move into a new apartment in the next couple weeks.  We have only begun to reflect on our adventures but dream nightly of the Spanish language, coconut milkshakes, choripans and the beautiful Andes.

Hasta luego! E y R
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