I Had to Let It Happen, I Had to Change,

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
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Trip End Jun 01, 2012


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Flag of Argentina  ,
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

So onto Argentina proper – the land of mountains, wine,beef, tango and dodgy mullet hair cuts (and a lot of old Ford cars it seems – lots of sierras and orions). The first stop was to be Buenos Aires.

So I arrived in Buenos Aires at lunchtime on Saturday and got a taxi (lesson well and truly learnt) to the hotel to meet Helen. My first impressions on arrival were that is a very European city – a cross between Paris, Madrid and Southampton (the port bit anyway – thank god it doesn't have as many traffic lights).Now having attempted to do the whole backpacking thing I was now back to a bit of quality. Princess Helen (as she is apparently known by all who have previously travelled with her in the last couple of years, and a name she is happy to go by) doesn’t do backpacking anymore and is extremely proud that she no longer owns a sleeping bag or any walking boots (we are just so alike). Helen also has certain standards,  so we were now in a nice hotel (very cheap though). If a room doesn’t have a bidet then she won’t stay in it (not that Helen has the faintest idea how to use one – she thinks it’s a second toilet). 

We decided to take it easy on the first day – as Helen had just finished a very long term and was completely shatterd. We headed to the Plaza Intendente Alvear which was full of restaurants, the Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Pilar (a baroque colonial church), the city’s craft fair. After a lunch of steak and Malbec wine (potato and salad are very much secondary products in Argentina), we headed into the Cementerio de la Recoleta. This is one of those amazing cemeteries where the 'streets’ are lined with impressive statues and marble sarcophagi (no I don't know what it means either). The crypts hold the remains of the city’s elite: past presidents, military heroes, influential politicians and the rich and famous. Probably the most famous of all (well the only one I had heard of) is the grave of Eva Peron. So we started wondering around attempting to follow the instructions of how to get there in the Lonely Planet and not having too much success (in part due to the poor instructions from the L.P. and mostly actually due to my inability to read left from right). We managed to find it in the end after tagging along with a tour group (you know when you walk a few paces behind, pretending you were heading that way anyway – far enough from the group soo you don’t look like you are listening in but you actually are). At this point we realised that we had no idea of what Eva Peron actually looked like – but we came up with the answer – a cross between Elaine Paige and Madonna obviously.

Eva Peron’s grave is actually part of the Duarte family vault. We were expecting her to be with the grave of Juan Peron but apparently he’s elsewhere,  as in Argentina you are buried with your birth family not your marital one.

So a bit of history on Evita (Mat, Georgia and Claire you must be so proud). Argentina's most famous first lady, was born Maria Eva Duarte on 7 May 1919 in the village in the countryside outside Buenos Aires. She was the youngest of five children born to Juana Ibarguren and Juan Duarte (born out of wedlock).  Her father died when she was seven and the family struggled to make ends meet. Eva, commonly known as Evita, left school when she was 16 and went to Buenos Aires to pursue her dream of becoming a star (it's like a an olden day X Factor)

So she found a job on one of the radio stations and remained there until, in 1943, she met Juan Peron, the Secretary of Labour and Social Welfare, who had ambitions to be president, and was working with the Argentine workers to support this bid. Eva began a relationship with Peron and she helped him to win popular support (he left his mistress at this point too - she had to leave her suitcase in the hall). His popularity led to his arrest in 1945, but Evita helped to organise a mass demonstration that led to his release. They married in October 1945. The following year in 1946, General Peron became president. His wife devoted her time to the poor, or the descamisados (shirtless ones or workers - not Newcastle United Football fans), of Argentina and over the next seven years brought the working classes into a position of political power never witnessed before. She organised mass political rallies and spent millions of pounds of public money on the poor. She also got women the vote and legalised divorce. Standing on the balcony of the presidential residence, Casa Rosada, Eva Peron would address the crowds (that's the Don't Cry for me Argentina bit)

But the Peronist years were controversial. Although hailed a social champion and adored by the working classes, Evita, was feared and loathed by the military and the upper classes. They regarded her as a threat and believed she was using her public position to further her own personal aspirations. In 1951 Eva was nominated for vice-presidency but was forced to withdraw after pressure from the military and her ill health. She died from uterine cancer on 26 July 1952, aged just 32. The public grief was intense, and unprecedented in Argentina. There were fourteen days of mourning in which thousands of people visisted her body lying in state.

Sunday is a very quiet day in most of the city but the one area to come alive then is San Telmo which is famed for it’s antique market. So we headed out in the direction of San Telmo, on the way walking through the central area to visit some of the major sites (to be honest we had a map with pictures of the major sites on it so we just went to each of them).


First of all we headed to the Avenida 9 de Julio, which is a very wide avenue in the very centre of the city. Its name honours the country's independence day on July 9, 1816. The avenue has up to seven lanes in each direction and is flanked on either side by streets with an additional four lanes. It takes about 20 minutes to cross the road. In the middle of the avenue in the Plaza de la Republica is the Obelisco de Buenos Aires, which is a national historic monumenta nd icon of Buenos Aires. it was built to commemorate the fourth centenary of the first foundation of the city.

We then walked to the Plaza de Mayo. This square was the scene of the 25 May 1810 revolution that led to independence and since then the plaza has been a hub of political life in Argentina. The people gathered to hear Juan and Eva Peron and crowds gathered once again on April 2, 1982 and several occasions thereafter to hail de facto President Leopoldo Galtieri for Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands, which launched the Falklands War. I did a bit of research into the Falklands when I was there (does wiklipedia constitute research)?, and found a bit more on the reason why there was the conflict. Basically President Galtieri was head of the military regime and was in power during the time when Argentina had a faltering economy and much social unrest. Galtieri was struggling to hold onto power so he played the nationalist card and invaded the Falklands, which had been claimed by Argentina as its own Islas Malvinas for nearly a century and a half. Argentina assumed that Britian would not use military force and after a bit of diplmatic wrangling would concede the islands. Unfortunately for Galtieri  he picked a fight with the wrong person (wrong woman to be exact). Margaret Thatcher was also struggling in the polls following much unrest in the UK. This was her moment to prove her worth and she did. The conflict lasted 74 days and killed 255 British servicemen and 649 Argentinians - over half of them were on the General Belgrano.  After the war had finished in Argentina the outcome prompted large protests against the ruling military government, which hastened its downfall. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government was bolstered by the successful outcome, which helped carry them to victory in the 1983 election.

As well as this since 1977, the plaza, is where the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have congregated with signs and pictures of desaparecidos, their children, who were subject to forced disappearance by the Argentine military in the Dirty War, during the National Reorganisation Process. People perceived to be supportive of subversive activities (that would include expressing left-wing ideas, or having any link with these people, however tenuous) would be illegally detained, subject to abuse and torture, and finally murdered in secret. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo took advantage of the symbolic importance of the Plaza to open the public's eyes to what the military regime was doing.

The main building on the square are the offices of the President, the Casa Rosada (the Pink House). This is where the famous balcony that Juan and Eva Peron preached to their people and where Madonna sang ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ in the film version of Evita. The theory is that the pink colour comes from when in the 19th century the palace was painted with bovine blood.

Following on from this we headed into Puerto Madero which is the newest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires and it is a regenerated waterfront area. It was apparently modelled on a London’s Docklands and Millwall. It has a swing bridge that apparently is meant to look like a couple doing the Argentine Tango.

So onto San Telmo which is the oldest barrio (neighborhood) of Buenos Aires and is characterised by its colonial buildings. Cafes, tango parlors and antique shops line the cobblestone streets, which are often filled with artists and dancers. On the way we stopped for lunch in a cafe and they had a huge map of the world on their wall. They had labelled  the Falklands as the Malvina’s and as being Argentinian. Every other map we have seen has also shown the same. It took a lot of restraint to stop myself finding a red and correcting it for them.

Monday,a nd we headed to the neighbourhood of La Boca. In the mid-19th century it became home to Spanish and Italian immigrants and today it is one of the more run-down neighbourhoods. It is however home to perhaps the most famous football club in Argentina, the Club Atlético Boca Juniors., Boca Juniors currently play in the Argentine Primera División and are the current champions of football in Argentina, and is historically considered one of the greatest football clubs in the world (after Coventry City and Wigan Athletic obviously). It’s most famous player is a certain Diego Maradona. The other thing it is famous for is the  colourful houses along the pedestrian street, called the Caminito. Here tango artists (or actuallt mostly not – they spend most of their time trying to entice tourists to have their photos taken with then in tango poses).

In the evening we well to the La Ventana Tango Show. This was an evening where you get a  three course meal, wine, and then there is also entertainment in the form of several Argentine Tango dancers, a hilarious Argentine Folk Act and  two Argentine orchestras comprising a pianist, a string trio and several men playing acordians. It the middle a woman came out and pretended to be Evita singing the Spanish version of ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ Well at least that’s what I think it was – she could have singing the items on a Chinese Takeaway Menu for all I knew. We sat at a table with Rex and Barbara from You +1'd this publicly. UndoAlbuquerque, New Mexico in the US and they were really lovely. They were a retired couple and had lots of tales about their travels around the world.

On our final day we headed of to the middle-class, leafy district of Palermo full of grassy parks, grand monuments and embassies. On the way we stopped at the Flor de Metal. Officially the flower goes by the name of Floralis Generica, but since nobody seems to be able to remember that 'scientific' name, it usually gets called the Steel Flower.  The Flower can be found in the middle of the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. Apparently the metal sculptures acts like a real flower in that its gigantic petals are open during the day and then close for the night with a red glow emanating from within. There are four special nights a year where the petals remain open: 25th May, 21st September and the 24th and 31st of December. When we visited it wasn’t working and apparently it hasn’t for several months because it’s broken and the company – Lockheed Martin who built aren’t in Argentina any more (just about sums it all up).

We then headed to the Evita museum, as we still didn’t know that much about Eva Peron and more than anything we wanted to see what she actually did look like (a bit more Madonna than Elaine Paige it seems). It had some interesting videos and information on her life and death interspersed with some of her clothes and shoes. By the end of it we weren’t too sure what to make of it all.  She was either a woman who made incredible impact on thousands of impoverished people’s lives in Argentina and should be remembered as one of the world’s greatest figures (in fact many people have petitioned the Vatican unsuccessfully for her to be made a saint) who died tragically young at the age of 33. Or she was just a woman from a small village in the middle  nowhere who got very lucky and ended up with some fabulous clothes and shoes and lived a very privileged existence. If her life hadn’t have been cut short when it did, it it very likely that everything would have unravelled, and she would have forced into exile with her husband and history would be telling a very different story (and I very much doubt there would be a musical).

So the final chapter of the Buenos Aires story and one that must be told ....the laundry. So the day before I very excitedly put some clothes into the hotel laundry service. Now I knew it wouldn’t be as cheap as it was in Ecuador (but a least here there was a chance of you getting your own clothes back and them not having written your room number all over the label or just on the clothes themselves). I dutifully filled in one of those forms where you need to itemise what you are putting in. It didn’t state how much for each item but surely it couldn’t be too bad. I went for the 24 hour service so it would be back the morning we were leaving. So I woke up with a little feeling of excitement – just like Christmas morning when you were a kid. Believe me when you are travelling there is great excitement in clean washing, and don’t even go there on how it feels if they’ve ironed it too. It’s up there with when you discover there is a hairdryer in the room (Sam I know you are there with me on this – Sam used to email me photos of the hairdryers in the hotel rooms she was in). Anyway it was late coming back but just before we headed out for the day the maid lady came with my lovely, cleaned and ironed washing (yes Mum they'd even ironed the pants). So we went to check out and I was charged 335 Argentine Pesos for the washing. I nearly fell over.  This was about £55. I hadn’t even put in that much !!!! So boys and girls the moral of the story is when you are travelling with Princess Helen and in hotels with bidets don’t use the hotel laundry.

Sorry rant over - and now for the plenary (that will be a first) Buenos Aires is an amazing city with the potential to be one of the greatest cities in the world. It is a city with colonial architecture (mostly pink), amazing restaurants and bar it has stylish clothing shops like you would find in Paris or Milan (yes Iike I would know). The  amazing antique markets and music and dancing in the streets are like something I have never experienced anywhere else in the world. It is a city that is full of passion and beauty but then like the rest of the country it is completely at odds with itself. The country should be the economic powerhouse of the continent and a potential world power but instead it can’t quite get it’s act together. Every ten years or so it will slip into another economic crisis due to the incapabilities of its politicians and corruption. So come on Argentina, get it together - stop trying to get your islands back (they are really wet and windy and just have a few sheep anyway) and let the rest of the world see how incredible you are.
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Comments

Caroline on

It's not just sheep on the Falklands - they have penguins and elephant seals too!! They are also floating on oil, which may explain the interest shown in some otherwise fairly bleak and windswept islands.

Mum on

Thanks Liz - Now Bill has retired we are looking for a new source of income.
Open a laundry!!! Buenos Aires looks a lovely city. Another city for the wish list. Must do the lottery this week, because I am going to need a lot of money to see all these places.

Anne Cooper on

Great to hear your news-cheered me up with the holiday spirit while I'm sat here plowing through work. Definitely interested in Patagonia for future trip-wasn't so sure about Galapagos!

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