Sat 04.04.09 BA
So I know this sounds a little funny, but apparently the most famous and popular tourist attraction in BA is a cemetery, namely Recoleta. To walk there from our hostel took around 45 minutes, where we saw some of the nicer, more established neighborhoods of BA. The cemetery had a large artisan market there on the Saturday, sprawling through networks of garden paths where there were some of the most massive and oldest Moreton Bay Figs (over 200 years old) we had ever seen. The branches were spread out so much, they were being propped up by numerous columns along their length and a restaurant used the canopy for alfresco dining.`
At the market, we bought a nice silver ‘wedding’ ring for Kate for 35 Pesos (A$17) to replace the coconut shell one which had broken weeks earlier. The cemetery itself is a little weird really. It’s choc-a-bloc with the marble clad and elaborately decorated mausoleums of the wealthiest and most noble of BA’s citizens. The most famous and most visited of these is of Eva ‘Évita’ Peron. Ironically, though everyone feels the need to visit it, most people’s coffins are in clear view through the doors of most mausoleums whilst Evita’s is not due to repeated grave robberies in the past. Apparently, after recovering her remains for the last time, she was buried elsewhere, not quite so ceremoniously under several meters of concrete.
With the dead people not able to hold our attention much longer and after weeks of nature and wildlife we were hungry to see something that resembled modern architecture. So we moved on through more parkland to the national library, a huge concrete, tree-like structure where all the books are kept ‘in the roots’ underground, whilst the reading rooms are located a few stories off the ground (in the ‘tree canopy’), leaving public place at ground level. A nice-idea, but an ugly building. The view however, from the reading room was good.
We walked through more parkland, via some relatively average sights which included a huge chrome flower with motorized petals which shut during the night just like a real one. With the purpose of this lost on us, we moved on quickly to find coffee and pastries to delay the need for dinner. On the way home, we fruitlessly (and somewhat desperately) searched for a good and cheap steakhouse for which we had sketchy directions from other travelers. But, dejected and famished from the search, we entered a place which looked okay, but more importantly was open. The menu was promising, but entirely misleading. We ordered many separate times to only have the waitress return a few minutes later to apologise and report that they had run out of all the items that we wanted and should try again. Tired of this game and ready to throw some furniture, we asked her to remove the ‘menu’ along with herself and to bring out whatever was actually available. Big-mistake people. Our desperation yielded a boot-leather-like, paper-thin crumbed ‘steak’ and chewy fries – all for the privilege of handing over the same amount of money that we were told could buy us all-you-can-eat steaks and luscious salads. The traveler’s stories of a land of good, cheap steaks and cheaper red wine was a world away now and seeming more and more impossible as evidenced by our budget for Argentina which by now was looking shell-shocked. Working off the Lonely Planet’s budget guide in US dollars, we had doubled our projected costs over a few days with no sign of relief soon. Maybe the money was getting in the way, but the ‘Paris of South America’ was fast turning out to be a load of hot air.
Sun 05.04.09 BA
With Maura and Andrew and on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning we walked to San Telmo for Sunday market. After a month in Brazil’s sun even Andrew’s skin was becoming less pink and more resilient to a spot of sun, however Andrew from New York with his Irish heritage had to endure quips about his ‘Legionnaires’ hat and Maura (also of Irish descent) just stuck to the shade to prevent having to utilize the layers of applied blockout sunscreen, full-length clothing and broad-brimmed hat. On the way to San Telmo we had to cross the dreaded Avenue 9 de Julio, or ‘The Julio’ (pronounced hoo-leo) as it had been dubbed by Maura. This 20-lane ‘avenue’ (divided in 3 arteries interspersed with greenery) is a remaining mark on the city left by one of Argentina’s many fascist governments or dictatorships over the years. Apparently, it’s construction and widening involved the merciless demolition of some of Argentina’s best 18th and 19th century mansions (similar in scale and grandeur to Paris’ best streets) which used to front the city’s most important boulevard at the time. We’re all for grand gestures, however the width of this street is ridiculous. We quickly learnt that if you wanted to get across in one light change, as soon as the traffic stopped you had to sprint (seriously sprint) across the hundred-or-so meters to make it to the other side. If you decided to take it easy, it would take you fifteen minutes at least with all the light changes. If you were an old man, you would be taking a packed lunch. After completing the Julio, we were soon in San Telmo, in our opinion, BA’s best suburb, filled with streetside cafes, bars and antique shops. Hungry from the Juilo, we sat and enjoyed BA’s best Mixto (Jamon con Queso - ham and cheese toastie) and coffee (to rival a German milch café) at a nice street corner café in the sun. We had headed to San Telmo for the market and the streets were bursting with stalls selling trinkets, crafts, art, food and antiques. Amongst so much else, Andrew found some really nice antique watches (for good money mind you) including Breitlings, Omegas, Rolexes and Raymond Wiels. The street performers were a highlight also with tango dancers, street bands, maestros and puppeteers adding yet more flavour to the street. We’d seen our fair share of street performers on this trip so far, but these were clearly the best – with original ideas and clever and talented performances, not just the guy who spray-paints himself in silver everyday, dresses up like the local historical hero and stands still on a box only to spring to life and surprise a hapless and un-aware tourist.
We treated ourselves to dinner at La Cadrera in Palermo, regarded as one of the better Parillas (Charcoal-fired, open grills) in BA without going too crazy and we weren’t disappointed. Entrée was a heart of palm salad with a grilled provolone cheese which had Kate wondering how she had managed so far with so little cheese. The cheese, as spine-melting as it was would pale in comparison to the steak to come though – we shared a 500g rib eye which was accompanied with 13 (yes thirteen) different small side servings including potatoes three ways, olives, pickled onions, butter beans, mushrooms with truffles, lentils and ratatouille to name a few. All were excellent. Andrew from New York (not a fan of steak) tried to order a pasta which never came, so they prepared a ‘half serve’ of chicken caeser salad that came in a bowl the size of a horse’s feed bag! Two nice bottles of Argentinian Malbec sealed the deal and for just less than A$30 per person we had just had the best meal in South America so far.
Mon 06.04.09 BA
Woke a little late and rusty from the previous day’s dinner and drinks but stuck to our guns and went for a run down to BA’s docklands, Puerto Moderno. Unfortunately its big attraction, the ‘environmental wetlands’ park was closed for reasons unknown. Interestingly, this park was the pleasant result of a monumental mistake by the government who embarked on a project to reclaim land from the river delta for a new, modern and more efficient port. After reclaiming a massive area, the project was scrapped due to spiraling costs and left to decay. Over 15 years or so, plants and animals colonized the new wetlands and the city declared it an ‘Ecological Reserve’, providing some walking paths through it and generally washing their hands of the matter. It was nice to see some open public space, but to be honest, it was under-maintained and looked rather shabby from the outside. This sort of thing seemed fairly typical of the past governments (and South America in general), plagued by corruption and instability. We ran on, trying to stick to the parkland and unsuspectingly ended up in a very dodgy looking part of the port area only to be almost run over by trucks and attacked by a pack of mangy dogs. We made our way out, not exactly smiling but nonetheless unscathed before actually enjoying a small modern park and a bridge by Calatrava (renowned Spanish Architect) on the way back to the hostel. Maura and Andrew were waiting for us when we got back and we took the metro to Palermo (a pricey but nice neighbourhood) where we had lunch at a café overlooking the main square. Maura satiated her desire for a ‘finger pick’ meal of ham, cheese and olive chunks and Andrew from New York took a liking a kid hustling very poorly designed cards. Walking on through the extensive parkland (including a poor attempt at a botanical gardens), Maura stepped in dog-shit* and insisted we leave her in peace to sort it all out.
We visited the Japanese garden (our main target for the day), which we didn’t really need to come to BA to see and decided home was more interesting. We had planned a night or two before to utilize the parilla (charcoal BBQ) at the hostel and so we bought ingredients and a bag of coals on the way home. We cooked up an Argentinian feast with an Australian twist – surf and turf. It was gorgeous, and though not quite as good as last night, we had spent significantly less.
- This was strangely enough the only incident of stepping in dog litter in BA. We were constantly amazed (and therefore aware I guess) at the frequency of such land mines. No-one seems ‘big’ enough to pick up their dog’s shit. We appreciate that we do this well in Australia – we like that we can talk to friends, look up at the sky, trees and buildings without fear of such an incident, however admittedly this is possibly the least attractive feature of owning a dog in urban Australia.
Tue 07.04.09 Buenos Aires
Today we did nothing, seriously. We were so over BA that we couldn’t be bothered going out anywhere. We slept-in then said our goodbyes to Andrew and Maura who were heading to Uruguay for a night. They were kind enough to give us their private room for the night, which they had already paid for, so after we moved in there we caught up on some emails, blog and internet. The last task for the day was to call Millhouse Hostel to see whether Kate’s glasses had arrived by post from Rio, which they had not. Kate would be relying on her prescription sunglasses until Canada. We booked our Taxi for 5:00am and packed our bags for Peru.