Sunday, 9 March 2014


27th Feb - 2nd Mar 2014

View over Buenos Aires to the north-west from the Torres de los Ingleses. River Plate to the right.

Several of us wedding guests were accommodated in a pleasant little hostelry, L'Hotel Palermo, in the Palermo district in the north-west of the city. A very smart area with lots of decent bars, restaurants and clubs of one sort or another including 'tango' clubs known as 'milongas'. I went to one, the Canning Salon, twice actually (it features on YouTube) because it was amusing to watch the locals, some quite elderly, strutting their stuff and they put on a display by professionals at 2.00am and hourly after that One really has to get used to the fact that the locals' social life starts very late. I met a lovely girl called Innuenda, or some such, who offered lessons....genuine lessons that is, but sadly only on Tues and Thurs and I would be away by then. I may be back. As you are no doubt aware the tango originated in Argentina, and they certainly play on it.

Left: Here, drawn on the pavement in Palermo, are some basic steps. I gave it a try (solo) but only succeeded in falling over. It's a subtle dance and requires considerable practice with a partner who knows what they are doing.

Right: People who know what they are doing do it on the street, for commercial reasons of some sort.

.....while others just like to hide behind cardboard cut-outs.

.....even those old enough to know better. I believe this couple (right) are more at home with Scottish reels.

A walk around La Boca was quite interesting. La Boca is the port area in the south-east of the city and the home of Boca Juniors fútbol club. Fútbol is a bit of an obsession here. The port area is a very lively, jolly and touristy place by day with many quaint cafes and bars and  but I suspect it is somewhat dodgy by night.

There were several cars in less than perfect condition parked on the roadside. I don't think we would have got very far in this one (left) as it only had two wheels. Perhaps the others had been removed for security reasons.

Whereas this feisty little number (right) was for sale. It didn't indicate how much for and it was tempting to ask for a test drive, but we couldn't find the owner. Unfortunately it only had one seat, the driver's, inside.

Left: I think this is a model of Mr Lionel Messi, a famous Argentine fútbol player, to whom one of my companions took a fancy. Just as well he couldn't run away.

Right: Another famous Argentinian, later to team up with Mr Fidel Castro, was Señor Ernesto 'Ché' Guevara. He was born in Buenos Aires. He is seen here teaming up with another of my fellow walkers, a well known revolutionary from north of the border.

After a few refuelling stops and a pleasant lunch on the riverside we recced the bus station in Retiro district near the Torres de los Ingleses (left). This 200' tower was a donation by the city's British community in 1916. The British had built and controlled the country's railway system at this time. The railways have become a bit of a shambles since then, even worse than the ones in Britain.

At some point we took a taxi. Taxis in any country are my 'béte noir'. I had, fortuitously, been well briefed on the subject by a charming German lady law student on the bus on my way into the city from the airport. She explained that there are two types of taxi here; radio controlled 'legit' ones, and bandits. They are all coloured black and yellow. The 'legit' ones have 'radio controlled' and a telephone number written on the side with an illuminated taxi sign on the roof and charge standard prices. The bandits have fast running meters or charge an exorbitant fixed price. Taxis are licenced to carry a max of 4 pax, and the police enforce this. The bandit taxis are sometimes prepared to take 5 pax. There were 5 of us and we duly took a bandit (right). OK, we were ripped off but the cost was still less than if we had hired two 'legit' ones. Swings and roundabouts. Olé!

On to the Recoleta cemetery. This is an extraordinary place with a maze of narrow alleyways between thousands of elaborate and often eccentrically built tombs (left). They are all designed, at presumably huge cost, in the style favoured by the occupants' families and house the remains of wealthy or important ex-people. The one we came to see was that of Señora Maria Eva Duarte de Perón, the lady married to the late President Juan Perón, and who died of cancer at the age of 33 in 1952. She was the illegitimate child of a wealthy rancher, Juan Duarte, and was an ex-model and B-movie actress. You probably know all about her and the fact that she became an iconic figure in Argentina as a sort of feminist/socialist rabble rouser. Her natural hair colour was black, but she permanently dyed it blonde and she inspired the amusing Lloyd-Webber musical 'Evita'. 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' and all that stuff with Julie Covington playing Evita and David Essex as Ché Guevara.

Her body was initially embalmed and was then whizzed all over the place, being damaged in the process (squashed face, lost left foot I'm told) and even stolen at one point, before being returned to Argentina and entombed here in the Duarte family tomb. Apparently she is securely, due to the fact that she had a tendency to play truant as a stiff, buried two levels down and beneath all the other Duartes inspiring the song; 'You Can't Nick Me I'm Underneath Ya'.

Left: Another view of one of the 'tomb alleys'. Easy to get lost in this maze and if so after the gates close at night it might be necessary to bunk down next to the nearest available coffin, with hot and cold running ghouls. Probably rudely woken in the morning by some chap with a brush who prods you and sings 'Don't Blame Me I'm Just the Cleana'.

Right: This is the balcony of a house in La Boca which features an Evita addressing her faithful. She is in yellow and blue which, coincidently, are the colours of the Boca Juniors fútbol team.

On we marched (no more bandit taxis) to the Plaza de Mayo at the end of which is the Casa Rosada (Pink House). I remember this featured in the musical. It was from the balcony of which Eva Perón spoke (or sang in the case of Julie Covington) to inspire her devotees. This is the Office and Official Residence (although she doesn't live here) of the President, an Evita type called Christina Kirchner whom, I was informed, is sinking the country into even more serious debt. Sounds like she is a Gordon Brown in drag. Talking of which it is a permanent task here to get a good rate of exchange for your dollar. The official rate is, right now, about 7.70 pesos to the $. You can get, on the 'blue' market anything up to 12 pesos, or more. I am not an economist but something seems to be a bit wrong here. I was advised to come with US$ to change at a good rate and avoid using ATMs or credit cards. So far so good. I only hope nobody nicks my dollars.

Right: The obelisk in the Plaza de la Republica in the city centre which, I think, is to commemorate the independence of Argentina from Spain signed on the 9th July 1816 (in Tucumán...just about the only thing Tucumán is famous for, apart from sugar). The 9th of July is commemorated in all towns and cities in Argentina in the form of monuments, street names, plazas and, just near hear, a Metro station.

The Metro (Underground) rail system (left) in this city is simple, efficient and cheap. It costs a mere 3.5 pesos (about 20p) for any one underground visit of whatever distance. On Sundays, as I discovered, some of the station ticket offices are unmanned and one can just walk in free with no check out at the other end. Also none of the pestilential, bossy and pointless 'announcements' that anger me so much on the London system. It reminds me, and forgive the rant, of the loud irritating platform announcements on London Underground insisting we 'use all avylable doors' to board the train. I tried this once. I managed to use 5 doors before they all closed leaving me stranded on the platform. What is wrong with using only one door, I ask myself? The people who think up these ridiculous and unnecessary, indeed counter-productive, bits of gobbledegook 'advice' should be put in a lunatic asylum. I could rant on and on about silly transport 'announcements' which merely serve to disturb the peace, but will desist. Temporarily.

Another trip downtown took us to the San Telmo district and it's famous street market. There are lots of useful, and useless, and amusing things on sale over a large area of streets and arcades. Guitar musicians, some amazingly good, and other entertainers provide a welcome diversion. I bought a colourful leather belt which, at the time of writing, is still in one piece. We had a decent and healthy lunch in a local café followed by a long wander (watching carefully for pickpockets using our self invented 'anti-pickpocket' drills). 
Right: This noisy tank-like vehicle pulled up next to our café. It was a mobile second-hand bookshop! The books were stacked around it like Chobham armour!
I mentioned 'anti pick-pocket' drills. These were inspired by an incident which occurred to a friend of mine just the day before the wedding. He is one of the guys, a Lt. General as it happens, who bravely rode over the Andes. He, in company with two others, all three large and strong blokes, were walking along a main city centre street in full daylight when he felt an arm gently embrace him from behind. He thought it was someone he knew greeting him in 'laddish' fashion but before he could react, and with his arms firmly but gently pinioned, his rather valuable Rolex watch which he had owned for 30 years was expertly and fast as lightening stripped from his wrist. The thief was onto a nearby motorbike driven by a colleague and off into the traffic in a flash. It all happened so quickly and expertly and, one has to admit, painlessly! They were just left standing gaping at the departing bike, even if one of them had the wits to throw, in futile frustration, a rock at the departing robbers. These street thieves are experts and have obviously been well trained at night-school in the dark arts of tourist watch and wallet removal. It was a salutary warning for the rest of us. Prenez guarde, as they say somewhere, and hide your valuables carefully.

A statue at the entrance to the polo ground. Rather a good one, I thought. 

Right: I forgot to include this in my previous visit to watch the polo; one of the many official photographers present. It must be incredibly difficult to get a good action pic of polo in play due to the fast and unpredictable movement of the game, but this chap is not taking any chances with the length of his lens. There again, as we all know, it's not the size that counts but the way you use it.

Left: The grand entrance to the Buenos Aires racecourse opposite the main road bordering the polo ground. I had to wander inside. There was no racing today and I snuck up into the stands unchallenged.

OK; it was a functional and well kept dirt-track but the place looked pretty immaculate.

Right: The finishing post.

Left: The view from the luxurious Members stand and restaurant. It was shortly after I took this photo that I was politely ejected by a security guard. Yes, he was very polite as indeed I have found all of the staff and functionaries we have so far dealt with. The hotel staff have been immensely kind and helpful; nothing is too much bother. They are all Argentinian (no foreigners with alien attitudes, if you get my gist) and all seem intensely keen to make us Brits feel welcome. It is a refreshing change from some parts of YouKay.

Right: Nearly forgot it; this is the Buenos Aires City Post Office. What a magnificent building! I remember equally great architecture with the post offices in such diverse places  as Mexico City and Ho Chi Minh City. Why do the post offices in UK resemble scruffy Nissan huts manned by refugees?

There is much much more to be seen in this beautiful city of Buenos Aires. I haven't even started on the fascinating buildings, museums, monuments and sculptures in and around the many parks in the city. I might get back to do a bit more here if I have time. The place, and the people, have so far impressed me immensely. It seems a very welcoming and, on the whole, a (relatively) safe, smart, clean and hassle-free place with a most civilised attitude. It is also comparatively cheap, if you can get a good rate of exchange, even though you might  lose a watch from time to time if you're not careful!

Next stop is to be up in the north-west at the town of Jujuy ( pronounced, with relish, Hoo Hooey )

Hasta luego amigos.............

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