The weather seemed to echo Jim┤s mood - it was foul again - absolutely bucketing down and thunder and lightening to boot. We were going to take the metro across town from the port to our new hostel in the Palermo area of the city, but when we saw how wet our bags had got just making it onto the baggage reclaim belt we opted for a taxi. The streets were like rivers and we were really glad we┤d got a cab when we arrived at the hostel and saw how wet all the other new arrivals were.
Once we┤d settled in and hung up our wet stuff to dry, we braved the elements again in order to make it to the American Express office across the city. We┤d read that in Buenos Aires you could exchange Am Ex TCs commission free in their office - like most things that sound too good to be true it was, so we ended up getting soaked and paying through the nose for getting at our own money.
We cheered ourselves up by having a lovely, cheap lunch in a nearby cafe and watching all the Porte˝os (Buenos Aires residents) rushing by in some very comical wet weather gear. I mean if it rains in London people will carry umbrellas and maybe wear macs, in BA we saw people dressed as if they just stepped off a trawler ship - yellow hooded anoraks, matching waterproof trousers and wellingtons. They looked like extras from a Fisherman┤s Friend advert - it was baffling, but funny.
I know that before we left the UK there was a bit of a trend for Pucci print wellies or wacky polka dot ones, but people here were actually wearing normal wellies with their business suits. Well while we┤re on the subject I need some help here - have fashions changed so dramatically while I┤ve been away that Porte˝os (who we┤ve read, more than once, are supposed to be some of the most attractive people on earth!) are the height of fashion. Take two examples - mullets and hareem pants.
We┤ve lost count of the number of people sporting mullet haircuts - some are full on Kevin Keagan/Diego Marradona types, others proudly wear little plaited rat┤s tails - is this now good, or deeply wrong as I suspect? As for the baggy trousers with cuffed ankles that were very fashionable in 1986 along with batwing polyester jumpers -are they witnessing some sort of revival or should I have done all these people a favour in the long term and performed a citizen┤s arrests on behalf of the International Fashion Police? Please tell me, I need to know.
Anyway sorry about the rant, back to our stay in Buenos Aires... After browsing a few leather shops in the centre of town we took the metro to the Evita Museum. This was housed in an old mansion which was used by the Eva Peron Foundation to house needy women and children. The displays inside were interesting, but lacking in any sort of rigorous analysis of her character. There were lots of photos on display and some of her dresses and handmade Parisian shoes (I heard one girl cooing over a particularly nice pair of black diamante encrusted heels!), naturally a lot was made of her good works, but her Nazi sympathies ere glossed over entirely.
She was clearly a very divisive woman - people either loved her or hated her. The old black and white footage of the scenes on the city┤s streets after her death were unbelievable. Millions of mourners came out to leave flowers. One thing neither of us had realised was that she was only 33 when she died and that her body was stolen by the military government that succeeded Peron┤s. She was only laid to rest in Recoleta cemetery 20 years later.
After the museum Jim was in need of some retail therapy so we took the metro over to Palermo. This is a cool area of the city with some great boutiques. The mini Wallpaper city guide we had mentioned some interior design and leather shops. We spent about $600 in just over an hour (about what 3 whole weeks in Laos cost us!!) buying designer cow hide rugs, beanbags, leather wallets and document organisers. Jim could have spent more, but the shops were closing and I was feeling quite nauseous after parting with quite so much cash. We had a drink in one of the many cool bars and then picked up some dinner on the way back to our hostel.
Despite getting up relatively early on Saturday morning, we faffed around so much before leaving that we had quite a mad dash across town to get to the Recoleta cemetery and back in time to go to the football that afternoon. The graveyard is in the well-to-do north of the city and houses the remains of several presidents, national heroes and of course Evita. There was a lot of opposition from the powers that be about placing her here, but the two sides seem to have come to a sort of compromise - she┤s made it in, but her grave is hidden down a side alley and is relatively plain. That doesn┤t stop the crowds though.
It was raining when we were there, but there were still lines of people waiting to see her grave along with the flowers left there daily and the brass plaques donated by among others, the city┤s Association of Taxi Drivers. We spent about an hour wandering around looking at all the weird and wonderful tombs, including one with a statue of a girl and a dog (which Jim thought looked very hippy) and one of a former boxer in his boots and dressing gown.
On the way out of the cemetery we had to dodge a professional dogwalker to get into a taxi. This woman was no amateur she had at least ten pooches of all shapes and sizes on leashes - very strange, but apparently quite common in this part of the city.
We got back to our hostel and had to wait 40 minutes to be picked up to go to the football. Our taxi driver had asked if we liked the sport and we┤d told him we were going to see La Boca that afternoon, he then proudly produced his special season ticket. He┤d been a club member for over 50 years!
We┤d been to see the football in the Maracana in Rio and had enjoyed, despite the poor mid-week turnout, so we decided to go and see a match in Buenos Aires. Again because we weren┤t quite sure what we were doing we booked with an agency through our hostel and it turns out it was just as well we did. Not because of any violence on the day, but because the club president is campaigning to become mayor of the city...
Our guide told us that a few weeks ago there were some serious riots after a Boca home game - the president suspected his political rivals had provoked it some how so he┤s withdrawn all tickets from sale until after the election. We only managed to get in by using someone elses┤ seaon tickets - all above board though apparently.
The Bombonera (or ┤Chocolate Box┤) holds about 45 thousand spectators and despite the lack of sales the place was over 3/4 full. The Neuvo Chicago opposition fans only had two small sections of the stands, but they made up for lack of numbers with their singing - they were really loud. The match was fun and the crowd were almost as energetic as the players - shouting, singing and making obscene gestures at each other - quite amusing to watch grown men act so childishly. La Boca won ther match two - nil, but only after a stern half time team talk I think as the first 45 minutes were very lacklustre.
After the football we went back to our hostel so Jim could warm up - he┤d not worn a jumper despite my advice! After a quick turnaround we decided to go and look for some dinner. We┤d been recommended a place by Lisa and Poppy, girls we┤d met in El Calafate, which was quite near our hostel so we walked that way for a look.
The queues were already beginning to build up, but we decided we┤d wait too as it did look good. Boy, are we glad we did, the food was excellent. Cabrerra on the corner of Thames and Cabrerra should feature in any carnivores trip to the city. We ordered steak cooked with thyme and kidneys with butter, garlic and parsley, they came with about two dozen little side dishes and just writing about them is making me feel hungry!
After dinner we retreated to bed as we had an important reason to set the alarm incredibly early the following morning. As Jim had been reminding me constantly at 9am UK time on Sunday 1st April, 2007 Glastonbury tickets were due to go on sale. He┤d registered us in Frankfurt so we could apply for them and then dragged me out of bed at 4.40am local time in order to try and buy them. He had the laptop and I had both the hostel┤s computers and amazingly after 1 hour 44 minutes of trying we got through - just one minute before they all sold out! How happy are we!
Despite being over the moon, we had to go back to bed and when we woke up later the weather was so bad we took our time over a late breakfast and only set off to explore the flea market in San Telmo at about lunchtime. This area of town is famous for antiques and formal and informal displays of the tango. We had a great couple of hours perusing the stalls and watching some dancers before deciding to travel further out of the city centre to go to another market.
Both our guidebooks raved about the Feria de Mataderos a traditional Gaucho or cowboy fair held every Sunday. We┤d told another couple at the football that we were planning to go and when we bumped into them in San Telmo they told us they┤d asked in their hostel about it. They┤d been told to avoid it at all costs - apparently there was nothing there and it could be dangerous. Despite hearing this we thought we┤d go and see for ourselves.
We caught a taxi from the end of the metro line and asked to be taken to the market, after abaout 5 minutes he pulled up at a couple of clothes stalls that were being packed up. We tried in broken Spanish to tell him that wasn┤t quite what we were looking for and said we wanted to got to the Gaucho fair. He basically refused to take us - said that if we went any further down the street we┤d be held up at gun point and have all our possessions stolen. This sounded serious so we thanked him and asked to be taken back to the metro.
We still can┤t work it out though - was he being over cautious or have our guidebooks got it wrong. We┤ve Googled the market and found a few good reports, so if you┤ve been do let us know and we┤ll try and make it next time we┤re here.
After the aborted market mission we headed back to San Telmo and wandered around some more before chosing to watch a tango show in Bar Sur. This turned out to be excellent. The cafe was tiny - it could seat maybe 25 people around little round tables - and so the atmosphere was very intimate. We arrived shortly after 8pm and didn┤t leave until nearly quarter to one and we were entertained the whole time.
There were two singers, two pianists (one we swear must have been pushing a hundred!), a guitarist and accordian player, a quartet and two young couples dancing. They were spellbinding. We ate our dinner and sipped our wine while watching entranced, they were so good they even coaxed me onto the dance floor at one stage, but believe me the tango┤s quite difficult in walking boots!
Monday was our last day in the city and we still wanted to see a few more thing, one of them was the neighbourhood of La Boca, which we hadn┤t really seen when we went to the football. It┤s a poorer area of town and does have a bit of a reputation as being a dangerous area for tourists so we took a taxi and decided to turn around if things were too quiet.
How wrong could we be? It was a public holiday here (25th anniversary of the invasion/liberation of the Falkland Islands/Ilas Malvinas) and the place was teeming. The neighbourhood is famous for its brightly painted corrugated iron and wood houses - an old Genoese tradition revived by a local artist. They┤re quite photogenic, but the few heavily policed streets that are safe to wander around are a bit like a tourist ghetto - interesting for what they are, but quite ghastly all the same.
After leaving La Boca we went in search of shopping opportunities again. I bought two beautiful leather handbags, but Jim wasn┤t quite so lucky - all the trendy men┤s store seemed to be closed. We returned to our hostel to try and cram all our new purchases into our packs and then caught a taxi to the bus station for our overnight journey to Mendoza.
Leaving Uruguay the immigration official almost made Jim throttle him by choosing to stamp the last blank page in his passport. It took a lot for me to calm him down - after all it was quite inconsiderate, he had plenty of space on other pages, but the sight of a pristine blank one was too much for the official to bear.