Buenos Aires...the jewel of Argentina!
Time for a period of relative settlement. Time for carniverous consumption and top quality vino tinto supping. Time for dancing, strolling and lazing in the sunshine. Time for Buenos Aires! I was excited and expectant of what to discover in this hugely popular city. Friends we had met in India had ingrained the high opinion that they held of the place in my mind. I couldn´t wait to experience the city for myself. We arrived on a Monday lunchtime and emerged from the bus station armed with a map and the motivation for showering and food! We tramped through the organised and easily understandable metro system and onto the modern streets of Central, shaded by the towering buildings looming over in a stoic, business-like manner. Akin to weird snails from out-of-town, we bumbled through the crowds of diligent worker ants whilst they streamed around us, keenly and busily missioning to their destinations with an urgent air. Not to say the worker ants didn´t care for their foreign snail comrades. The friendliness of the city exuded immediately, with one dashing young Argentinian interrupting our baffled state, as we walked round in small circles, truly bemused by the network of grids that make up BA, and said to us: ´Can I help you? I am here to serve...´ (yes, he actually said that). I could get used to this!
The rumours were true. BA was everything I´d expected and more. An electric city with oodles of character, buzzing night life, feasts of fodder at hungry fingertips, accessible transport, fashionable and arguably haughty porteños (BA locals), a vibrant art and music scene and European architecture stylishly blanketing the city but with an omniscient and disctinctive Argentinian flare. The majority of porteños have European origins, with Italian and Spanish descent being the most common, from the Calabrian, Ligurian, Piedmont, Lombardy and Neapolitan regions of Italy and from the Galician, Asturian, and Basque regions of Spain. As a result the social heritage of Buenos Aires, or the city of fair winds or good air is heavily European, most definitely another reason why I found the city so accessible. A strong undercurrent of protest and anarchy surges under the city streets, bubbling to the surface on a regular basis like a lava stream of fiery discontent. The vexation of porteños arises from the actions of the government and their history of violence in Argentina during the 1970s and 1980s. Amnesty International reported in 1979 that 15,000 disappeared (literally people who disappeared) had been abducted, tortured and possibly killed during the period of the Dirty War in which the military dictatorship repressed opposers to their rule. The Mothers March in Plaza de Mayo, the focal point of political life in Buenos Aires and in Argentina as a whole, is one example of the demonstrations that occur and undeniably, one of the most resonant, relentess, perserverant, longstanding and heartwrenching protests. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, is a unique organization of Argentine women who have become human rights activists in order to achieve a common goal. For over three decades, the Mothers have fought for the right to re-unite with their abducted children, who were some of the disappeared during the Dirty War. They began marching because they were desperate and didn´t know what else to do and now, still no answers have been provided. The Mothers continue to press the new government to help find answers to the kidnappings that took place in the Dirty War years and in the process have become a powerful political force. An inspiring yet incredibly saddening spectacle to see: the Mothers, now much older and debilitated as they totter round the Plaza, still adamantly and hopelessly searching for their lost children.
For our first week Sal and I stayed in Central, or City Center, together. We were a stones throw from the iconic and famously phallic Obelisco and right bang smack in the midst of the city action. I had planned to work in BA, try and save and make some money and keep myself out of mischief. I successfully found a job at a very popular hostel called Milhouse, also in Central, but had a week of freedom before they needed me to start. Sally and I invested in some all-important Spanish lessons which at the time helped my confidence, but I needed more, which I didn´t get. Ten hours were simply not enough! We linked up with the girls we had met in Paraty, Steph and Tess, who were staying in an idyllic little area called San Telmo. San Telmo is the oldest barrio of Buenos Aires. It is a well-preserved hub within the Argentine metropolis and is characterized by its colonial buildings. Cafes, tango parlors and antique shops line the cobblestone streets, which are often filled with artists and dancers. Sally eventually stayed in the area with Steph and Tess when I started my job as bus station pouncer for Milhouse, and so we spent many a day and evening soaking up the unique atmosphere of the place, wandering round the extensive Sunday market, and gorging on the world famous Chocolate Volcano pudding at Viva Viva (well, they were world famous in our eyes, and mouths!). We journeyed to La Boca a few times during our stay in BA, the distinctively colourful, vibrant and European-tasting barrio of BA. La Boca means mouth in Spanish and aptly sits at the mouth of the Riachuelo river. Many Italian and Spanish immigrants settled here, working at the docks and decorating the neighbourhood with bright paint left over from their spruce of the port. As a result, the buildings in and around La Boca are vividly coloured, often corrugated iron structures, plying an undeniable energy to the streets. Adding yet more energy to the area, La Boca is also home to the Boca Juniors, the home team of the nations´ most revered footballer, Diego Maradona. Surrounding La Bombonera stadium are walls, buildings and streets painted the team colours, blue and yellow. Mas color! The tango dancers lining the street of Caminito add another element of Argentinian flare to the atmosphere in La Boca. Stages were erected outside restaurants and cafes to accommodate the dramatic tango performances that occur every half an hour for the punters eyes. Tango is thought to have originated in Buenos Aires in the 1880s. The legions of European immigrants who missed their homelands and the women they left behind sought outcafes and bordellos to ease the loneliness. There the men mingled and danced with waitresses and prostitutes. It was a strong blend of machismo, passion and longing, with an almost fighting edge to it. Sharp pauses and abrupt directional changes punctuate the dance, high kicks add flair, and excitement and slow sweeps of the legs and pregnant gazes create an aura of longing, deprived love and heartache. The lament of the dancers is not only the struggle over love, but also a political and economic lament against disenfranchisement in society and class struggle. A incredibly beautiful and theatrical dance to behold and one that effortlessly adds texture and depth to the national identity.
Dancing, eating and drinking were the activities of choice in Buenos Aires and Sally, me and our little cohort of girlies did these things to an expert degree! When it came to eating, La Cabrera was without a doubt my highlight of the entire trip, if not my entire life! A tall order I hear you cry (seeing as I am such an expert eater!) but my dear lordy lord above, the steak at La Cabrera was mindblowingly good, not to mention the truly delicious and interesting condiments that came with the tender and perfectly cooked meat. Butter beans in a pesto sauce, peanuts and red pepper, creamy mash, sweet potato mash, sundried tomatoes and olives...you name it, they´d thought of it, and made it taste AMAZING! Needless to say we went back a couple of times and gorged on the delights of Argentinians most impressive cuisine...steak! I never knew I was such a carnivore until I cam to Argentina! When it came to dancing, in Buenos Aires you can party hard any night of the week. There is always something going on in this city and so we made sure we made the most of it...especially after our party drought in India. The first time I had been to a club during my entire 6 month trip was in BA and the night was a drum and bass night - perfecto! The ideal opportunity to shock out to some noisy music in a confined space packed with people. The nightlife I have truly longed for! And the event did not disappoint...Sally and I danced the night away, sweating it out and shaking our thangs until 5 in the morning, the bass running through my veins like an addictive chemical that made me spontaneously move my limbs in a way that had almost become alien to me. Almost, but not quite. By the end of the night it felt so natural again, and it certainly made me appreciate the beautiful array of naughty, bassy, delectable musical delights back home in Bristol! Yummy!
So after the first week of luxurious leisure time and money spanking in BA I had work to be getting on with. Extremely boring work at the Buenos Aires bus station no less. My job basically consisted of going to the bus station at 8 in the morning and hanging around suspiciously waiting for backpacker punters to pounce on as they emerged sleepily and unawares from their respective buses... really worthwhile work as you can imagine! I make it sound alot seedier than it was...but it really was mindnumbingly boring! I lasted for about 2 weeks being the bus station girl, managed to lure 20 people to the Milhouse Hostel, made a little money and saved a lot on accommodation. All worth it in the end and it simply made me long for the imminent chilled Brazilian days with Eddie even more, if that was possible!
Just before I left Argentina to meet Eddie, Sally T- the amazingly perfect travelling partner that is, went on her merry way up to North Argentina, carrying on her trip as I was heading back to Brazil to meet Eddie. It was a sad day leaving the ST...we had shared so many beautiful times, so many laughs, conjoinments and congregations with fantastic people, seen stunning sights and experienced unimaginable events together. She had become my right arm, my left leg, my third eye, and I didnt want us to part, although I was immensely excited to find out how our last few months of travelling would pan on our solitary paths. So, here marks the end of SAnna, Banana and Sally T´s, the pea and pods travelling time - the epically ridiculous rollercoaster ride that it was!
And so, after 3 and a half weeks in Buenos Aires it was time to depart. I felt like I had got to grips with a city, finally, after so long of nomadically moving from place to place without settling. BA was seductive, passionate and addictive and I vowed to return one day, maybe even to work and live. Who knows!? And my final, resonating memory of the city that I will leave with you, my avid blog readers with, is La Bomba de Tiempo (translated to Time Bomb). This Monday night event was the main event in BA, attended by porteños and gringos alike and consisted of a group of powerful drummers, featuring singers and guitar-players, enormous shifting crowds, long dreaded dancers, sexy drum beats that pumped straight through your bones, sweaty swaying bodies, rich atmosphere and a call for liberalism and freedom in a nation that have been betrayed and deceived and who feel disempowered and frustrated. The cries and body jerks of those porteños who dance and sing are appeals for justice and freedom from the chains of the crimes their former government committed. My stay in BA of course demanded 3 attendances at La Bomba, and each one was spectacularly electrifying, causing my crush on the city to intensify each week.
Thus, here ends Argentina...and here begins the reunion stint, the Eddie phase, the love session. Stay tuned!
Highlights since my last blog entry:
- Taking stock and appreciating the wonder of Sally T and Anna Bananas travelling extravaganza. So much love for you Sally T x
- Eating the best steak EVER at La Cabrera.
- Moving to the drum beats amongst the porteños at La Bomba de Tiempo