A Travellerspoint blog

Buenos Aires, Argentina

days 168-179

sunny 10 °C


Buenos Aires: days 168-179

Ah, Buenos Aires. Its everything that you've heard it is, and more. Its alive, its brash, its in your face, its loud, its colourful, it doesn't really come alive until night has fallen and nobody ever sleeps. Oh and if you go to the bars and clubs at night you have to look pretty hard to find somebody who isn't good-looking, or if not at least think they are.

We had been intending on doing some Spanish lessons as soon as we found somewhere that we wanted to stay for a week or more, and when we got to BA we decided we'd found the right place. As I've said in previous blogs, sometimes you find a hostel and it clicks, and in Buenos Aires the "Sabatico" in Bario Concepcion was it. From the moment we arrived there was a good atmosphere in the common room/bar area and the front-desk staff showed us around, gave us information and generally made us feel at home.

As it was a mere 15 minutes walk from the hostel, our first stop was to explore the San Telmo area which is a mix of retro fashion shops, dingy/hip bars and restaurants with live tango shows and excellent steak and wine. On Sunday it also hosts one of the best markets that we've seen since we've been away. Calle Defensa is completely closed to traffic, and instead is lined with antiques, artisan crafts, clothes, people doing the tango and lots of people funkily dressed up including a strikingly similar Jack Sparrow, a man with a dress on that was set to look as if a gust of wind had caught him, and an old crooner stood on a soap-box singing rat pack classics.

We paid several visits to San Telmo during our stay in Buenos Aires and tried a few different restaurants and bars, but always had steak and wine. One of the best meals I've had since I was away was a 'bife de chorizo' cut of steak with a blue cheese sauce on top served with vegetables and roast potatoes... ooh-la-la. After eating we'd always end up at a dimly-lit, smokey bar and never had a bad night there. That said, San Telmo after dark has its fair share of rogues lurking in dark doorways and you need to keep your eye out. There is also a piece of graffiti that reads "Ingles fuera de Isles Malvines" so some people advise not letting it be known that you're English around the city, but I think that's daft and we had no problems during our stay.

Two days after we arrived it was Lou's birthday so I arranged tango lessons and a show afterwards. It was nice to have an excuse to get dressed up for a change so we both put on our Sunday best, had a Quilmes beer for courage and headed off to try and not embarrass ourselves too much. For the first 10 minutes of the lesson the teacher showed us the steps and told us how to hold ourselves. She then let us loose on each other, and as there were twice as many blokes as girls we had to swap partners every few minutes. This was fine for me until I got paired with a fiery Brazilian woman who sternly told me off every time I got a step wrong, which was fairly frequently. After the lesson we saw a tango show that was actually more like a play but good entertainment nevertheless

So on the Monday we started our first of 5 days of Spanish lessons. The course we chose was a 20 hour 'survival Spanish' course with the content geared towards how to ask for directions, ordering food in a restaurant, speaking to a hotel receptionist and some basic conversation skills. It was really well structured and we had a good laugh with the tutor. He spoke almost solely in Spanish which was tough to begin with but the only way to improve comprehension and got easier as the week went by.

During our spare time when we weren't at school we spent our time exploring the various 'barrios' (neighbourhoods). Our favourite was Boca – originally settled by Italian immigrants and now more than a little bit rough around the edges, but the centrepiece is a ecclectic mix of cafes, restaurants, live tango shows, pavement galleries and vividly colourful buildings. The buildings are all painted in primary colours as a throwback to the time when the only paint that was available was from the port and had been used to paint ships. The barrios are all unique and in complete contrast to Boca, Palermo is where the trendy, young and rich hangout. Its an enjoyable place to visit for cafes, bars and clubs (or if you have money, restaurants), but feels eminently more European than most of the rest of Buenos Aires. Its definitely "cool", but on a backpackers budget its best visited by day to window shop and people watch.

As previously mentioned, we found a hostel we really liked in the Sabatico and as we stayed there for 11 nights we got to know the staff and other long-stay travellers quite well, including 3 Mexican girls who we introduced Gin & Tonic to, the owner Sebastian and our regular drinking partner Brian who did the night shift. We would generally get back from school around 5, have a nap and then have a beer with Brian, us practicing our Spanish and him practicing his English which worked well for everybody and with the aid of the popular social lubricant of alcohol we managed to improve vastly and Brian learned the words to some Queen songs. Later on the Mexican girls would appear and do everything in their power to stop you from going to bed sober, or even relatively so.

After one such night of excess, I awoke in the early hours to a loud thud and to my surprise Lou was lying on the floor next to my bunk; she had fallen out of the top bunk. To say that I was surprised would be an under-statement – the top bunk was more than 6 feet off the ground and the only sign of injury I could find was a tiny bump on her elbow. I think being drunk will have helped, as her body would have been relaxed, but it was really a minor miracle that we didn't have to pay a visit to the local A&E.

After we'd been at the hostel for a few days the owner Sebastian invited us to an afternoon barbecue at his house an hour outside of Buenos Aires. There were about 10 of us in total and we had what could only be described as a veritable feast. To start we had a salad and a choripan (chorizo sausage in a bun), then a plate full of all sorts of different cuts of the cow appeared and everybody helped themselves. Almost none of the cow went to waste and everybody had to have a nap afterwards due to the quantity of meat consumed.

We were initially due to leave Buenos Aires on the Saturday but after I realised that it was the first weekend of the new football season and River Plate were playing on the Sunday plans were quickly changed. Its long been high up on my list of things to do to see a football match in South America and this match was perfect; Argentina's most successful team River Plate's first game back in the top league after their first ever relegation 2 seasons before. Even better they were playing the team that beat them in the play-off and it was a 70,000 sell-out. The atmosphere was everything I expected and hoped it would be – hostile, noisy and passionate. In the end River lost 2-1 but the match had everything – a red card for the opposition keeper, a disallowed last minute goal and a missed penalty by River in the last seconds. After the game the home fans were kept behind for an hour to allow the away fans to get out of the city, such had been the ferocity of the riots when the two teams last met, and River Plate were relegated. No such riots this time but a fantastic experience that will live long in the memory. There is also a short video of the match above.

Posted by Kan_Kan_Can 09:07 Archived in Argentina Tagged plate river san la buenos aires boca telmo quilmes sabatico Comments (0)

Cordoba, Argentina

days 164-168

sunny 10 °C


After the not so salubrious experience of Tucuman we were glad to get to Cordoba, a predominantly university city known for its cultural, literary and artistic history. We also found what turned out to be a really great hostel - “Che Salguero”. The facilities were excellent, and vibe was good and the other travellers staying there was a good mix. Sometimes you get to a hostel and get a good feeling, we both got that and so decided to stay for a few days before heading to Buenos Aires.

Aside from wandering about and getting the feel for the city, we took advantage of the fact on Wednesdays all museums are free in Argentina. There was a really good one called “D2” on the site of what was previously a detention centre. There wasn't much information in English, but from what we could gather it was where political prisoners were held, but the experience of walking around cells and seeing pictures of detainees was enough to give you a good impression of what had gone on here. Out of the other museums that we saw, the modern art museum was the highlight with some really interesting pieces on display in a grand old building. Definitely worth a visit.

Whilst in Cordoba we also caught a local bus to Alta Gracia, about 30km from the city. The highlights in the small, affluent town are a 17th century jesuit missionary, and the holiday home of the Guevara family, that Che was to later make a household name. In terms of cultural significance, the holiday home doesn't really have much as Che was only very young when his family used to take him there, but apparently it does house some letters he wrote to his family when he was older. I say apparently, as the fee to enter the house/museum was more than 10 quid each so we took a few photos from outside and had a look around the neighbourhood instead, which was an interesting mix of detached houses and derelict houses of former splendour. The missionary was a much cheaper experience and just as interesting, with lots of old artefacts that had been retained and restored and were on display behind red ropes (which set off a ridiculously loud alarm if you touch them, which I accidentally did trying to get a closer look at something or other).

On our last night in Cordoba the hostel was nearly full so they decided to put a BBQ on. The chef was Gus, a Peruvian chap, and he served up some fantastic barbecued chicken marinated in his own "secret" recipe that heavily featured both beer and chillis. During the meal we got chatting to a couple of young Danish chaps who, after the meal, produced a bottle of spirits that they described as "what the Bolivian miners drink". The effect of one or two shots of this near-proof spirit was that everybody went from a bit tipsy from the beer, to pretty drunk in no time. Aside from the disgusting miners drink, we were dry, so me and Gus collected a kitty and went to get "fernet" – an Italian herby-tasting liquor that is popular throughout Argentina but especially so in Cordoba, and is always mixed with coca-cola. When the fernet was gone, the 6 of us that were remaining headed into town to a club that had a Brazilian night on. Our attempt to join in with the highly organised and well practiced dancing that was going on in the club was met with either laughs or looks of severe disdain, so we drank more shots of tequila and danced even more badly.

The 'problem' with clubs in South America is that they close very late and its easy to lose track of time, so by the time we got back to the hostel we only had about 4 hours until our 10am bus left. Lou went straight to bed but I sat up for a while with Gus and by the time I got to bed it was pretty pointless getting undressed, so I set the alarm and got on top of my bed fully clothed. Either the alarm didn't go off, or I just turned it off, either way I was awoken with a start at 9:55 by the hostel owner who told us that he had just got to the hostel, and we had 5 minutes to make the bus. That was obviously going to be impossible, so as we walked down to the bus station still half-cut I was trying to think of a sob story in my best Spanish that the bus company might believe. Either it happens quite often or the lady took pity on us because she took one look at the ticket, one look at the sorry state of the pair of us and gave us new tickets to depart for Buenos Aires at 12 without any charge. The original tickets had cost us nearly 60 quid so we were more than a bit happy. When we finally boarded the bus we both slept for almost the whole 9 hour journey, and when we woke up we were staring wide-eyed at the behemoth that is Buenos Aires.

Posted by Kan_Kan_Can 16:12 Archived in Argentina Tagged bbq cordoba asado Comments (0)

Restaurant in Salta, Argentina

overcast 13 °C

Posted by Kan_Kan_Can 15:28 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Tucuman, Argentina

days 162-164

sunny 12 °C


When we arrived into Tucuman at 9pm on a Friday evening, for a split second I thought we had been transported through space and time to a different place. There were gangs of lads wearing tracksuits, congregated in a menacing formation and gesticulating aggressively at the bus. I thought for a moment we had somehow pulled into Tower Hill, Kirkby.

It didn't get much better after we got off the bus either. The hostel we had planned on staying at was only 10 minutes walk from the bus station so it seemed pointless taking a taxi, and after asking directions from the utterly useless tourist information office in the bus station, we set off. We got to the main road that we had to cross and on the other side were scores and scores of people hanging around the street engaging in heavy alcohol consumption. The only thing to do when walking around at night with a backpack on is to at least try and look as cocky and confident as everybody else, so while we were waiting in the central reservation I was busy practicing my best aggressive face. As I was busy practicing my best scowl, I saw a motorbike approaching quite closely out of the corner of my eye and just about managed to avoid a punch that was thrown at me from the passenger, said punch skimming my shoulder rather than hitting me in the face as it appears it was intended. As the bike roared off the passenger was looking back and laughing, and I thought "what a lovely chap".

We crossed the road and made our way through the drunken masses without any further problems, I imagine due to my impressive scowl, although the atmosphere was definitely more than a bit intimidating with just about everybody who we went past staring at us. When you've got a backpack on your back there is no hiding the fact that you've got all of your possessions with you. You know it, and they know it, and if there is a time when you're most vulnerable to petty theft, then when you're in transit between places is it.

We got to the hotel only to find out there was a dancing competition in town that weekend, and so he was completely full. We hadn't stayed in a hostel or hotel that had been full for a long time, so it was quite unfortunate that this one was. The receptionist kindly rang through to another hostel who did have space and duly gave us directions. The only problem was that the other hostel was 11 blocks away and in a bit of a dodgy area. We did the walk in less than 10 minutes along the badly lit streets passing people lurking in doorways, gangs of youths and more tramps than call Euston station 'home', and were so happy to reach the hostel unscathed that we immediately went across the road for a beer, and decided to leave as soon as possible.

When we got up the next day we headed down to the bus station, a much less intimidating experience in the daylight, and bought a ticket to go to Cordoba the next morning at 8am. That gave us one day to have a look around which was more than enough. There was a small market to browse and a plaza to do a lap of, but very few shops in the centre were open and you got the impression that if the city had ever had its heyday then it was long gone. The one highlight of the day was stumbling upon a 50 piece orchestra who played for an hour or so to promote some shows they were doing in town. Mid-afternoon we gave up on sight-seeing and went in search of a supermarket to get some steak to cook for tea, and quilmes to wash it down. We also made some butties to take on the the bus the next day and stuck them in the fridge until the morning.

As we were up early on the Sunday morning to catch our bus, we had a relatively early night. When we got up, we went to the fridge to collect our lunch and discovered that one of the 4 sandwiches that we had made for lunch had gone missing, presumably taken by one of the drunkern Frenchmen we could hear were still partying in the dorm opposite our room. I saw the funny side, and was thankful that he had left us 3 (although did wonder that if a drunkern Frenchman didn't want to eat it, how bad was it?) but Lou was outraged. It is one of the negative aspects of staying in hostels, and I was equally outraged when half of our cheese went missing in the hostel we stayed at in Salta, but its just one of those things unfortunately. Unless you catch somebody in the act, what can you do? It happens so frequently that it isn't just one or two people who do it, but a sizeable minority. If you can't afford some cheese to put on your pasta and sauce then perhaps its time to go home, grow some dreadlocks and live in a squat.

Posted by Kan_Kan_Can 15:12 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina tucuman Comments (0)

Salta, Argentina

days 159-162

sunny 14 °C


After the 12 hour bus journey from San Pedro in Chile, we arrived in Salta in Northern Argentina at close to midnight. The first thing we noticed about Argentina was that there was much more hustle and bustle than there had been in Chile. In fact according to one bloke we had met in La Serena, the Chileans (much to their chargrin) are known as "the Brits of South America" due to their reserved nature, which is a label that nobody would ever attach to the Argies, for more reasons than one!

On the bus we had met a couple from near to Birmingham who were heading to the same hostel as us – '7 duendes', and as it turned out we shared a 4 bed dorm to keep costs low. As we checked in and settled down, as Salta is somewhat of an adrenalin junkie location, talk turned to bungee jumping, the pros and cons of, and the likelyhood of anybody partaking in such an outrageously anti survival instinct activity. I had never given a bungee jump any serious thought in the past, but had definitely adopted a passive "no way" attitude to it. For reasons unknown, during the short conversation my stance changed completely and 3 of us agreed to book it together the next day. The other bloke had a carefully considered "cold day in hell" stance which he didn't waver from at all, and fair play to him. Afterall, who would really want to sling themselves off a bridge with only a piece of elastic for support?

The next day we made some enquiries and booked the jump for the day after, to be picked up at 3pm. For the rest the day I put the jump out of my mind and in fact didn't think about it much until I was stood on a metal platform extended from a bridge and was looking down. But more about that later.

After we'd made the booking, Lou and I went to explore Salta. The central plaza was alive with activity – there was barely a seat to be had on the terrace outside any of the cafes, and there were several bands vying for attention. There were also scantily clad girls dancing to promote a restaurant, or bar or something, and the whole ambience was one of activity and energy. After we got bored of people watching we decided to head up to the summit of Cerro San Bernardo, which had been highly recommended for a panoramic view of the city. The way the vast majority of people get to the top is via the 'teleferico' (cable car), but the day we were there the queues were outrageously long so we decided to take the 1200 steps instead. It was a pretty hot day and the only other company we had on the walk up were young couples canoodling on the benches that were thoughtfully provided every 20 metres or so, and hardcore hill runners – the mere sight of which makes you feel terribly guilty for not being in peak physical condition (or indeed anywhere close to). We used the rest stops to learn a few new Spanish words, and by the time we got to the top, which took an hour or so, we were more proficient in the language by 20 words or so. The views from the top were indeed worthwhile and after having a coffee in the cafe up there we took the teleferico back down to enjoy yet more good views, albeit from a shaky cable car elevated a hundred metres or so above the ground. I took this opportunity to remind Lou what we were planning to do tomorrow: "Lou, look down. Looks far doesn't it? We'll be throwing ourselves off a bridge about this height tomorrow". Conversation in the cable car was pretty sparse from then on in.

We decided that as we had been in Argentina for almost a full day, we had waited quite long enough for a steak and so we arranged that evening to go and seak the national dish with the couple from Birmingham. As we were aware that Argentines like to eat late, we headed out about 9pm in search of a restaurant. We were recommended an area for good, cheap food and were lured into one restaurant with the promise of live music and cheap food. Being the person with the most Spanish in the group (although that wasn't saying much), the ordering was left to me. I ordered us all steak and chips for 3 quid and thought it would be rather criminal not to try some Argentine wine so ordered a local bottle for less than a tenner.

The atmosphere was quite subdued when we first sat down – there were another 3 or 4 covers but nobody seemed to be talking and the only background noise was a big bearded bloke quietly sound testing. However within minutes, and for reasons that we were unable to ascertain, the place was absolutely packed and there were queues outside. The bearded singer/song-writer soon began and the atmosphere had turned from pretty dull to a full-on party in no time. The people queing outside had even taken to dancing in the street and we quickly realised our seats right at the front of the restaurant were hot property.

Interspersed between aggressive Argentinian songs about hardship there was flamenco music at which point a couple would appear from nowhere and dance between the tables, and we felt extremely lucky to have stumbled upon this restaurant for our first experience of an Argentinian night out. After we finished our food, we assumed that we would have to move on to make way for somebody queing outside, however the waiter was having none of it and insisted we had more wine, which we duly did. Seeing everybody dancing in the street, the bearded singer invited them in and insisted that the waiters find some room for them. The place was already packed to the rafters but they were somehow squeezed into a corner and everybody was happy. After people had finished eating they started dancing around their tables and then after 3 hours of almost non-stop playing the bearded singer bid everybody goodnight and that was that. It was absolutely nothing like any restaurant experience we'd had before, and a great introduction to Argentina. There is a video of it a couple of posts above this one.

3pm the next day quickly came. We all woke up quite late as we had gone on to a couple of bars after the restaurant the night before, and no sooner had we had breakfast and had a stroll around town the taxi was there to pick us up. It was a 3 hour drive to the bungee destination and as I was sporting a fairly substantial hangover I slept for most of it and so had no time to really think about what I was about to do. I woke up with the bridge that we were to jump off in sight and the conversation was that it doesn't look all that high, and maybe it wouldn't be so scary afterall. Fast-forward an hour and even though I had all the equiptment on, I still hadn't really properly considered what I was about to do, and when the guide was going through the safety briefing whilst we were stood on the platform from which I was to jump, I was relaxed and care-free. Then I got to the edge and looked down. The physical change in my body when I looked down was akin to being hit on the head by a brick that you never see, i.e. You don't know what has hit you, but you know that something doesn't feel quite right. Thankfully, within a few seconds of looking down I heard the guide counting down from 3, and fighting against every survival instinct that exists in my brain, I put my arms out to the side and fell forward. I've never died, obviously, but the sensation when you start free falling towards the water is as close as I've ever felt. I tried to shout something but nothing came out. For a few seconds I was paralysed and then as I was bobbing up and down, and the danger had ceased, I re-gained control of my voicebox and something similar to "aghghghgblghagh" came out. A fantastic experience, but I can well imagine how so many people get to the top and can't do it. Lou made the same mistake as I did and looked down, except whereas my shock was all internal – externally I looked like peace and tranquility, if you looked up "white fear" in the dictionary, Lou's face on top of the platform would be there, staring back at you.

Posted by Kan_Kan_Can 14:45 Archived in Argentina Tagged dancing salta flamenco bungee steak Comments (0)

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