Buenos Aires:Enter Crazy Drunk Parents to Big City

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
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27
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Trip End Jul 29, 2008


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Where I stayed
Grand Argentina Hotel

Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, February 22, 2008

We arrived to Buenos Aires a day later than we had expected, not too bad considering it could be worse.  We got all of out shit together and then headed for the hotel.  Grand Argentina Hotel, really nice place, fast internet, really awesome breakfast (with croissants and heaps of food) and it was only 3 blocks from the Obelisk and a 10 minute walk from the main plaza.  Buenos Aires is an incredible city, it has 15 million people living in it, great nightlife, really vibrant and it has endless things to do for tourists.  Our hotel was located on the largest street in the world (9 de Julio), this street has 16 lanes; eight in one direction and 8 in the other.  It`s huge.  At the center of the city is a huge round-about with an obelisk in the centre and the other amazing thing is the street was built to it`s current size in the 1930s and it is still the widest street in the world. 
 
We checked into our hotel, booked a city tour and then had some time to burn so we headed to the leather district.  This district is one street that is 3-4 blocks long and only has leather jackets, bags and couches made of leather.  I guess that since everyone in Argentina eats heaps of beef, there must be an over supply of leather and there was.  Every store we went to had about a dozen different styles that were different from the other stores as well, we all found jackets and paid roughly $150 - $200 CDN each.  Sarah found one jacket that she really liked but it didn't fit quite right so she was measured and then 3 days later they had made a custom jacket for her at the same price, I am sure glad I ate so much beef on this leg of the trip - it kept the cost of my leather jacket down. 
 
We got back to the hotel and then got on a bus city tour of Buenos Aires.  The city tour was pretty bad, the guide was not really knowledgeable of the city, even though she stated that every attraction was the most important to the city, then when asked why she didn't have a good explanation.  We saw some key things like the Recoletta Cemetery where Evita is buried and other things around the city like the Government House (Casa Rosada), a giant metallic flower, the Boca Juniors stadium (BA´s major team), La Caminita (tourist walking mall) and the Obelisk.  
 
That same night, yes it was an action packed day, we went to a Tango show called Señor Tango - it's a pretty cheesy name but the show was kick ass. The place where the show is, is pretty ritzy inside, reminds me of a 1920s restaurant with chandeliers, mood lighting and 3 levels of balconies.  Everyone got dinner and unlimited drinks and then the show began.  Before the show you could get your picture taken with 2 of the dancers, Sarah, Uwe and I all went on stage and got our photos.  One weird thing was the woman dancer had a really solid body (looked like a body of a 25-30 yr old) but when you looked at her face she looked like she was mid 40s, I guess all the tango pros are older because it takes time to get good and it must keep your body in top form.  The show started with 2 horses (yeah horses! real big ones too!) entering the stage from the restaurant and then trotting, prancing and jumping around.  The men on the horses were there to signify the clashing of the natives and the Spanish.  The entire show was sort of a history of Argentina since the Spanish arrived and also included lots of tango.  There was lots of great tango and then there was band solos including violin, accordion and piano.  Also there was gaucho (argentine cowboy) dancing, predominantly where they beat drums, stomp really loud and then bring out these balls attached to ropes that they swing around.  The northern natives were not left out as well, there was a Pan Flute solo that was pretty cool and then the show ended with people singing ¨Don't Cry for me Argentina¨ in Spanish - nice ending but songs when translated into other languages sort of lose out on the translation and then the song sounds a bit awkward. 
 
The next day we decided to walk around a neighbour (Barrio) called La Boca.  This is the same neighbourhood where the football team plays (Boca Jrs) and is probably still one of the poorest neighbourhoods is Buenos Aires.  Interesting thing about the place is all the houses are painted all sorts of random bright colours, the reason for this is the area was so poor that the locals got left over paint from the boats in the harbour and then painted their houses with it, really neat to see.  The area we went to in La Boca was called la Caminiata, which is a pedestrian area with restaurants, vendors, shops, wood cut outs to put your head through for photos, all sorts of stuff and also there are people tangoing in the street as well.  Kicked around here for a while and then we ordered Empanadas (meat pocket of beef, ham and cheese or veggies then wrapped in a bread pocket) for our parents to try.  Delicious!!
 
We left La Boca to get to a football game that afternoon.  We went to a River Plate (CARP) game, River is one of the 5 football teams in Buenos Aires.   To our luck we managed to get a game where they played another team from Buenos Aires (San Lorenzo).   We were at the River stadium, so naturally cheered for River.   In BA most people cheer for Boca Juniors and all the other teams in the city are not liked.   Especially River they are in the north part of the city, a little bit wealthier and have more national titles than Boca Jr.  So the game was nuts, River won 2-0, but the spectators about 1.5 hrs before the game string up all their cloth banners and sheets and what not on the stadium bleachers.  One thing to note, there is no beer sold in the stadium and the visiting team fans are in their own area which is surrounded by chainlike fence and has razor wire at the top.   While the River fans put up their banners so did the San Lorenzo fans, to shrill whistles and chanting.  When the game ended and River won, we all had to wait around for a bit and initially we weren`t sure why...All that we could see was the opposing team in the bleachers above getting really pissed at the crude taunting from the River fans below so they were ripping off chair seats and throwing them down.  So, the San Lorenzo fans were let out first, loaded into a bus and then police escorted to the highway - this all happened before the River fans were let out.  They also entered the stadium this way before the game started - they had a police escort bring them in from the highway.   I guess in the past not enough time was given to make sure the visiting fans had cleared the area and some people were purposely run over in the street (nuts, since the other team is from a southern part of the city!!).  All teams also have their own hooligans, some of which are serving time for murder of the opposing teams hooligans...!  Crazy, because at Hockey games everyone sits together and drinks beer, but that just wouldn't fly at a football game.  We all left after in good sprits and everyone had a blast at the football game.   
  
We went off the next day to a gaucho estancia (like a cowboy ranch) for us all to get a little fresh air, see some traditional dancing and gaucho games, and also for Uwe to have a place to wear his new gaucho clothes!  We received more of a high-capacity tourist tour than what we initially thought we would, but it was still excellent.  The only stress that caused was a shortage in horses for those wanting to ride, but no big deal (once the Asians stopped yelling at Uwe and me that is...).  We actually received a much better city tour of Buenos Aires on the way out to the farm than when we originally had paid for exactly that, so that was a bonus.  We also learned a lot more about the gaucho traditions and lifestyles which was interesting too
 
So, our day basically consisted of a short horse ride around the property, followed by a delicious parilla lunch with all the meat and wine we wanted.  This was good in some ways - it was very entertaining for me to see Uwe and Patsy get good and drunk, very loud, and break into song along with the entertainment, but it was also bad in some ways - for example, it was bad for Nik who was sandwiched directly between Uwe and Patsy...muuuhaha  Needless to say, it was a fun lunch!! They had dancers and singers on stage who danced the traditional Argentine dances and did a traditional Gaucho dance where they swing and hit these solid balls off the floor in a rhythm.  Very entertaining, but not as entertaining as when they began singing traditional songs of all the tourist's countries.  This got really good when it was China's song and the microphone was quickly swiped out of the singer's hand by one of the Chinese visitors...Better yet the song just kept going and going and going...it felt a lot like a karaoke bar at this point.  Canada's was absolutely atrocious with `Alouetta` that was further butchered by the Canadian who jumped up to lead this song - literally, people in the room were crying - it was so terrible it was actually hilarious.  After lunch we saw some traditional Gaucho games including the ring game where we saw three Gaucho`s holding a small stick gallop towards a goal post where three wedding rings were hung.  As they pass beneath the goal, they need to put their stick through the hanging ring in order to gain the right to marry the girl who's family the ring belongs to.  It looks pretty hard.  We then just strolled around, had some delicious coffee and desserts, said good bye to our new gaucho friend and then were off.  The rest of the day was quite chill - Nik`s family did some shopping and I picked up my *custom* made leather-jacket (it`s silly how cheap this stuff is down here) and we all reconvened later for a nice meat-less dinner. 
 
The following day Marilou, Uwe and I went to Montevideo, Uruguay for the day.  We left pretty early, around 8am to get on a high-speed catamaran to Montevideo.  We got to the ferry terminal (Buquebus) arranged our tickets and then got on the boat.  We were late to get on the ferry, so Uwe because he wanted to see out and not sit with the ¨riff-raff¨ got us upgraded tickets and then we climbed the stairs to the executive lounge and chilled out for the ferry ride.  The ride was about 3hrs, when we arrived we took a bus tour of the city, which included lunch and everything.  The tour ended at a shopping centre, but, we decided to head to the old port of the city since it was bypassed in the tour.  Really neat old part of the city, we ate dinner then headed back to the ferry for the 3 hr, return trip across the river (Plate).  It was a pretty long day, we didn´t get back till about 1:30am in the morning.  Back to the hotel we took this wicked cab ride that took half the time it generally takes and was really fun, Marilou kept peeking from the back seat at the speedometer, we sped though narrow streets at about 80km/hr pretty fun end to the day.   Uruguay was really nice especially Montevideo, clean and it has a fair bit of history as well, everyone is much more laid back than the folks in Buenos Aires and the garbage is still collected by horse drawn carriage

While Nik and family went off to Uruguay, Patsy and I spent some quality time together.  We had a great sleep in and breakfast, hopped onto the metro system which cost us $0.90 each way (equivalent of about 30 cents) and took off to visit the Evita museum.  This museum is in one of the homes that she converted to a shelter for homeless mothers.  It was very interesting for me to learn more about such a prominent figure in Argentina`s history, if not South America`s.  More so, it was quite inspiring to see the difference that one woman was able to make - and a legacy that she was able to leave - during a time when woman were still unable to vote.  The museum followed her life from a child to her early death and featured video of the funeral procession she received (Buenos Aires was sold out of flowers for 3 weeks) as well as commentary from her sister reflecting on the beating Evita received when her body was stolen by the military.  There was much more, but of course too much to relate here.  After this, we walked around some beautiful Japanese gardens in the city and returned to the center where we treated to some of the best service we`ve ever received (our waiter was wonderful!) and some very delicious beer at this great cafe, close to our hotel.  All in all a wonderful day.

So my parents last day in South America and also Buenos Aires .  We took it pretty easy went to the pedestrian streets of Lavalle and Florida Avenida .  Bummed around for a few hours, Marilou and Uwe bought their final souvenirs.  To complete his gaucho costume my dad bought a gaucho poncho, so in all he had spurs, a big felt hat and then a poncho real slick.  We also bought a suitcase to put all of our crap that we had collected over the past 7 months that we could not send back.  Packed everything up and then had a good lunch and saw my parents to a cab.  Two wonderful weeks had passed very quickly with them.    
 
The following day Sarah, Patsy and I also took it easy.  Didn ´t do too much - took the occasional nap.  That night Sarah and I went out to dinner at this cheap hippie restaurant in Barrio Norte and to polish off the meal we chased it with an ice cream (naturally dulce de leche was involved).  

We met up with our tour guide Carlos the next day who was to bring us on a walking tour of Plaza de Mayo, the historical heart of Buenos Aires.  We first meandered over through a tango district in downtown BA where we checked the schedule for that evening...While Carlos and I were in the lobby waiting for Nik and Patsy in the bathroom, I decided it was far too hot to be wearing full pants so I was just unzipping my convertibles in the front lobby when the manager busts into the front room where he began acting all hot and bothered and freaking out about something and forcing me to stop unzipping my pant legs...Of course I thought this to be a joke as I am merely converting pants to shorts but he kept going off about this being a public establishment etc etc until we were basically pushed out the door...Very funny I thought, and a nice start to our day!! Well, we next went to the Plaza de Mayo and on the way we learned how the start of Argentina`s independence began with Napolean defeating King Phillip of Spain and therefore there was no King to officially ´own` Argentina.  They kicked the viceroy out of Casa Rosada and initiated their self-governent, though not without conflicts for power within Argentina.  This happened in 1810.  Their official date of independence though is in 1816 when a King of Spain was re-instituted and then Argentina actually had to step up to a King and declare they sought independence.  General San Martin was the former Spanish militant who changed sides and then brought independence to Argentina.  We visited his tomb, as well as the tomb of General Manual Belgrano (creator of the Arg. flag), Casa Rosada (Evita`s famous speech, federal government building), a beautiful cathedral, city hall and a monument to the May revolution of 1810.  The square continues to be a large gathering center for Peronists every October 17th as well as every Thursday by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.  They endeavor to keep the pressure on the government to find those people (their sons) who `disappeared` during Videla`s Dirty War from `76 to `83.  Videla thought left-winged educated persons to be communists and therefore felt it his duty to torture and kill these communists to keep it from spreading (Catchy name - `National Reorganization Process`).  Sound a bit like what the US was doing to `help` Guatemala?  It should because the CIA had a hand in this one too, and those militants were trained in the School of the Americas...But I digress.  Anyways, we learned a lot more about the beginnings of Buenos Aires, the two poorly planned and failed attempts of the English to take Argentina in 1806 and 1807 (which actually gave them the confidence to declare independence from Spain in1810), it's importance as a port and much much more.  
 
Well, after all this some coffee was in order for Patsy and I while we left Nik to chill in the hotel.  We went to the classic Café Tortoni, the oldest café in the country, which has a distinct old-time tango culture about it and features nightly tango shows in it's basement and small back room.  The café was so great that we ended up reserving a table for their Saturday night tango show and it was well worth it.  It was in great contrast to the large glitzy show of Señor Tango - it was very intimate and personal.  The tango show loosely told a story of a pimp and his ladies and it was hilarious and very well done.  We were front row center for this which was great, especially when the gauchos did their special dance with the swinging balls and all I could think was `please don`t break, please don`t break` as I envisioned one of these gaucho balls dislodging my eye - I just kept one eye covered so I knew I would come out with at least one...It was a fantastic evening with excellent live music as well, a very nice compliment to our first tango show.  
 
It was nice that Saturday ended so well because it didn`t start that way...We had been receiving nothing but rain since our good weather charms (Nik`s parents) left on Wednesday and my dreams of seeing a real, live Pato game were fading with every drop.  The official game of Argentina, Pato is a traditional Argentina game played on horseback (like Polo) where the riders essentially need to get a leather ball through a hoop (like basketball) on their end of the field.  Inside this leather ball, traditionally, is a dead duck.  Today, however, it is much more boring and is only a ball.  Anyways, as game time approached on Saturday morning and I couldn't get through to the Club to confirm the game, we had to make our decision to just chance it or not, so we did.  We hopped a cab knowing it wasn't close, but not knowing just how friggen` far this field was...!!  Our cabbie was totally confused by our request to go to the middle of nowhere but obliged us and after a few toll-roads and a few directions from the neighbouring town and from the military base, we were there!  And only ½ hour late (1 hour drive total) and $70 pesos poorer...How exciting, and yet, where are all the horses?  Why are these 2 random men looking at us like we`re crazy...Ohhhh it's because the game was rained out and everyone knew it but us.  So, now $140 pesos plus generous tip (in fact, he gave me back money - a sure sign he pitied me for my planning stupidity) we were back where we started from.  This was an extra annoyance because I had also planned for us to visit the famous Teatro Colon, a theatre acclaimed for it's acoustics, and yet this was closed until 2010, no exceptions.  None.  (I asked a few times...).  I figure these are all just omens that I must come back.  Perhaps immigrate. 
 
Well, at least we could shop.  So I did and I bought 3 shirts and a skirt for about $20.  It was awesome.  We all put on our finest that night and headed out to the lovely tango show and officially wrapped up our splendid time in the capital of Buenos Aires. 

Chao, Suerte. Us.
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