By 2am I was wide awake (I tried counting sheep but perhaps I should have chosen llamas) and now at 10pm I am still going – well the truth is that I did have a quick nap at the end of the arvo, before plunging out into the darkness seeking dinner, so I was sufficiently revived to keep going. Today’s rich and varied experiences, with the addition of colour and texture, have been brilliant and I can’t wait to tap them all down before my memory fades.
First up I splurged on a 24 hour hop on/hop off bus ticket. My goal was to get into Le Boca, a suburb through which I have been advised not to walk because of the common occurrence of attacks and thefts– although a couple of people I know walked in and out of there today with no mishap. Still I wouldn’t do so as a single traveller. This suburb is not serviced by the subway so rather than taking a Taxi, something which I am always averse to doing when I don’t have fluency in the language, I settled into the multi-stop option of the tourist bus. The Caminito area of Le Boca exceeded all my expectations and was truly memorable. Have a look at a selection of my photos below to get into the creative spirit that the area offered.
I wandered the streets of insane colour combinations and ignored the goods for sale. What interested me was the way the decoration, at a glance, disguised the poverty and actual ruin of the buildings. They were more like shacks thrown together with found second/third/fourth hand materials. Nothing looked strong, safe and secure yet everywhere there was a sense of proud community and a certain hard limited happiness. Quite extraordinary. And after the past blogs of pollution grey this environment was a pot of riches. And when the sun came out from time to time, the world sparkled. I also enjoyed the bigger skies over the Rio de la Plata that edges Le Boca; these made me realise that I feel suffocated by the intensity of endless tall buildings when the bigger sky view is seldom available in the rest of the city – as in most large cities.
On yesterday’s walking tour we were exhorted to try a national dish the ‘choripan’ before leaving the country, a chorizo sausage from Argentine meats in a bread roll. In the absence of any food offerings in Le Boca even faintly resembling vegetables I decided to give it a try; a once only effort. And … wait for it … I figured that I might as well wash it down with a local Malbec red wine. As a vegan teetotaller this was a massive departure from the norm. The food and wine arrived, and I relished every mouthful. However, I didn’t drink all the wine and gave the bottle to another table to empty – my self-discipline returned! Of course, we have chorizo in Australia and in my meat-eating days I enjoyed its spicy bite. Today’s sausage was mild by comparison but full of rich flavours – what do they do to their cattle? The bread bun was wonderfully pillow soft with a gentle crunch on the crust. I smeared an intensely red but mild chimichurri sauce and a tiny chopped salad liberally over the sausage for additional flavour. (Can one smear liberally?)
While I walked around Caminito before lunch I had noticed tango dancers wearing their sexy little tango shoes; the men in their 1940s suits and hats and the women with black-stockinged firm legs and an assortment of dresses from figure hugging with penetrating side splits to those that swung and floated ready to accentuate every dramatic movement of the dance. Through the air wafted tango music. It was intoxicating. Then, while I sat sipping my wine, the unexpected happened. Outside my café and outside the next café two pairs of tango dancers danced impromptu – for all passers-by to enjoy. Superb. Exotic. Feel the seductive power of the dance here. Verity and Noel this video should transport you back to Buenos Aires remembering when you visited last year.
My eyes wandered until I spotted two people who I had mentally pigeon-holed as Mr Hungarian and Ms English, in the absence of names, after meeting them yesterday. Holas and Hellos all round and we were immediately sharing our adventures and discoveries and thoughts on it all. A pleasant insertion into the day. We parted, and I wandered off ready to catch the bus to learn more about this amazing city. The value of this bus to me, with its audio in English, was that I now have a greater appreciation of the diversity in Buenos Aires (BA) and I have learnt about buildings and sites that I might wish to visit another day. Another value was talking with other tourists and learning from their experiences.
From the south of the city the bus wound its way to the north. I was headed back to Recoleta, the location of yesterday’s free walking tour. In particular, I was headed to the Recoleta cemetery. Once off the bus I plodded slowly in the warming day. After climbing a gentle slope even more slowly, I faced into what seemed to be a church. With typical curiosity I entered. Words are inadequate. The pictures below are gorgeous but can never translate the ambiance, the sense of space and peace that filled that church. Immense calm settled in my soul, and I was grateful for the over the top creativity of artists.
I have never seen Jesus in a sitting almost thinking position. I was reminded of Rodin’s The Thinker.
Overall, I felt the contrast between the elaborate decoration of a Spanish Baroque style and the quiet contemplative nature of the space to be quite thrilling. A wonderful find.
Next door to the church I found the Recoleta cemetery. The large size and stature of the edifices set a level of grandeur that I have not previously seen in such quantity. Stunning. The cemetery site is large; in over an hour of walking I barely covered a third of it. And there is no surface space for a new grave site; families either just dig deeper (and some had stairs leading underground) or layer the coffins up in the airy towers. Some are modernised while others show older architectural history. Extraordinary.
You may be amused to learn that the cemetery was so big that I got lost and since there were no signs and others couldn’t tell me where the exit was, it took some time before I found it. When I first arrived, I thought it would be smart to stick to the outer edges which I did until I felt it was time to leave. Then I cut across in the direction I felt would let me out, but I had failed to consider the fact the cemetery isn’t a neat rectangle and the rows on rows of tombs are not parallel. Finally the exit appeared.
Much relieved I headed off to board the bus and, soon after via many more tortuous turns through the city, eventually I returned to my Hotel.
This evening I walked four blocks for a vegan meal. I had just sat down when I heard someone attracting my attention. Sitting across the way were Mr Hungarian and Ms English (now known as vegan Gabor and Abigail) and they invited me to join them. Their plans for explorations are mighty impressive, starting with a bus trip from here to Chile over the Andes, then perhaps a cargo ship down through the fjords of Chile. Quite inspiring. It was marvellous to eat vegetables – the cafe only served burgers at night, so I ate another great bread roll this time clamped shut over the adjuki bean and sweet potato patty (must be my last day on bread or my body will pay!) To my surprise, my new-found friends paid for my meal – definitely a perfect way to end a great day.