Seeing the world, one country at the time

Goodbye to Buenos Aires



On our last day in Buenos Aires we took a taxi to see the neighborhood of La Boca and its famous Caminito, an alley filled with artists’ works on display for sale and surrounded with impossibly bright, corrugated tin and wood houses. This street is so famous that the government gives the tenants money to paint it when the colors fade. La Boca is named after the mouth of the river where it lies and was a wealthy area of Buenos Aires until the yellow fever plague drove the rich to Recoleta and the place was taken over by Italian immigrants. It is still a working class neighborhood, an important port and home to Argentina’s famous soccer team, Boca Juniors, the rivals of River Plate. Their stadium is a popular site, especially for football fans like myself, and I wanted to visit it.

“I’d like to see the Boca Juniors Stadium” I told our taxi driver.
“It isn’t allowed to visit it, but if you want to see River Plate, I’ll be happy to take you on a tour.”
Despite my interest in his rival team, he took us past Boca Juniors stadium so we could see the place that had been the center of such brouhaha, pride and excitement over the past week, as rabid fans lined up for days to get tickets for the finals of the Sudamericana Cup, pulling over fences and littering the neighborhood with refuse, the effects of which we could still appreciate during our drive. CABJ (Club Atletico Boca Juniors) had won, so the team flags were everywhere and proud fans were flaunting their bright blue and yellow t-shirts and hats.
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We walked up and down El Caminito, admiring the artists’ work and the playdough colored buildings with their big cartoon figures on the balconies. The architecture is very working class; clapboard houses and aluminum roofs, but not without its charm. We shrugged off repeated attempts for our attention by some so-called tango dancers who just posed in order to charge us for taking their photo. If they had danced I would have considered it, but I reject the in-your-face approach. Instead, we found a quiet group of six in a back courtyard who were hidden by vendors and had no audience. They were young and seemed rather amateur, but we sat and enjoyed their different tango styles in peace.

A group of Brazilian drummers playing batucada passed by, drowning out the tango with their infectious music. One man danced with them in the street, to the horror of his wife, who waved him away from them and then proceeded to publicly scold him. We looked in the market at some very nice leather and jewelry items. It always makes me laugh when vendors say “you can touch without commitment” or “you can come in and look”. Well, I would hope so! This did not only happen in Buenos Aires. All over South America, vendors would say this, looking thoroughly pleased with themselves as if they were doing us a great favor by not forcing us to buy something we lift off their display.

After our tango fix, we returned to San Telmo to discover more, such as la Minima (the smallest house in the city), the Patios de San Telmo, and famous tango bars that we had somehow missed the rest of the week. We kept passing French style apartment buildings in need of repair that we would love to buy if we had disposable income. They were grand and had a dilapidated beauty that convinced Lars that he would love to live and work in Buenos Aires.
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Returning to the Plaza 25 de Mayo, we saw the Casa de la Moneda, the Argentine equivalent to the White House, only it is pink. In the back is a small museum with all the regalia, memorabilia and portraits of the presidents, of which Argentina has had as many as three in three years. The display translations to English were so laughable I had to memorialize them. Next, was a walk to La Defensa, where the definitive battle against the English was won. A couple of hours later we ended up in Lezama Park, site of the original city of Buenos Aires when it was founded by Pedro de Mendoza in 1536. It is large and neatly laid out but a bit unkempt. It contains the Museo Historico Nacional, which reviews Argentina’s turbulent history. The rest of the park is full of statues and gazebos. Across the road is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in typical Russian style, an impressive architectural gem. Curiously enough, it is still owned by Russia. We had lunch on a corner, in an old-fashioned café called El Hipopotomo. The waiter was very deliberate, the spitting image of Jeeves in Wooster and Jeeves. We savored a little feast of noquis and Spanish potato tortilla with cider that was so good it inspired us to buy two bottles for our next bus trip.

Back at the hotel, we packed up and grabbed a cab to the bus station. We had to pick up our tickets by eight pm. We stood at the ticket counter at 8:01. JIT as usual. The bus station is a madhouse, with around 80 terminals and packed with people. Once on our big comfy bus, Lars immediately opened a bottle of cider, which exploded like a gunshot and sent the cork ricocheting into the luggage bin and onto the head of the man in front of us. I think Lars scared everyone on that bus with the loud bang. Things didn’t get better when in the middle of the night a bag of ours containing a two liter bottle of water and two heavy whiskey glasses tumbled onto another seat mate’s head. I awoke to shattering glass and a big crash. I thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t in the US where I could have a lawsuit on my hands. I apologized profusely and felt terrible. At six am another full bottle fell on the lady in front of us. Lars shook me awake with the bad news. We decided to claim ignorance, afraid that at this point they would gladly pick us up by our earlobes and chuck us off the bus.

We were sorry to leave Buenos Aires, a city that finally felt like home to both of us, but Salta promised many more wonderful sights, new acquaintances and unbelievable landscapes.