Food, tango, markets, food tango, architecture, food and tango!
07.03.2010 - 21.03.2010 25 °C
Hello beautiful, attractive and intelligent blog readers!
Shall we tango? Yes? Of course!
This is a little bit of a long blog, covering Rosario and Buenos Aires. The last part goes into detail about a local soccer derby I went to so for those that have their eyes roll over when it comes to sport - you can probably get save some of your moments on earth by skipping that section.
But enough about that - let's get into it!
Rosario and the Simple Pleasures
March 8th to March 11th (3 days)
From Mendoza we headed West – “Go west!” - to Rosario, about 4 hours out of BA. It was a 14 hour bus ride and I nary slept a wink, and Chelle had a few hours at best so we arrived pretty spacey – something we are becoming accustomed to. Rosario had been recommended to us by travellers in Mendoza as a good chilled place to spend a few days, and it certainly lived up to that reputation.
Rosario has some historical sights to see, including Che Guevara’s place of birth and the national monument; but it’s not a place that relies on history or natural beauty to bring in the visitors. Instead it relies on some simple pleasures: great food, music and shopping – most of them offered all at once in the multi-purpose shops. Chelle and I had decided to do a quick detox in Rosario (which lasted a FULL 24 hours!) and it felt like Rosario was playing the role of the temptress, with an ice cream store, pizzeria or boutique chocolate and wine store to be found on pretty much every corner. Damn you Rosario! You’re the devil on our shoulder!
Most of our time was spent in Rosario wandering the streets and discovering a few gems along the way, including a vego restaurant way out yonder, an art gallery reconstructed from old silos, a microbrewery with tasting selections and our favourite: a music cafe a 5 min walk from our hostel, where you could sit at tables, relax, order great meals and get good quality live music played to you.
Yes – we did it tough in Rosario.
Buenos Aires the Land of Tango
March 12th to March 23rd (11 days)
From Rosario it was off to Buenos Aires (BA)! Less than a 4 hour bus trip too – i.e. just down the road. In planning our world trip BA had been one of the places we were really looking forward to - a place rich in culture, history and entertainment; and of course – the home of the tango! *insert clap and sound of feet tapping passionately on floor*
Unfortunately our enthusiasm for BA had been slightly dampened by horror stories we had heard along the way: people getting held up at gunpoint at 10am, robbed in the parks, pick-pocketed, fake money, etc. And after what had happened in Mendoza, we were on high alert arriving into BA – in fact I would have described us as PARANOID. Tiny Argentinian girls would run past and we’d be like, “Who’s that?! What does she want?? Hmmm, does she look dodgy to you??” and we’d grab our bags tighter.
Fortunately our paranoia quickly subsided, and though one can always be unlucky, if you keep your wits about you there is nothing to be afraid of in BA.
So with that said, onto the highlights tour!
We arrived in the evening to BA and decided to take it easy. Our entertainment that night consisted of seeing how much we could eat at a Vegetarian all-you-can-eat place without exploding, something we have vowed never to try again (food 1; humans: 0). Stick to those pay-by-weight places.
The next day brought our first foray to the micro-center (i.e. “CBD”) of BA, including a crossing of the 12 lane highway that is 9 De Julio - a stark illustration that we were no longer in Patagonia.
The micro-center is a hive of activity, plenty of shops and the usual touristy allures but nothing much that interested us travelers-on-a-budget (or deluding-ourselves-we’re-on-a-budget). What did end up sucking us in though was the open-air tourist bus. Yes, it’s true – we did one.
BA is a city of many personalities in each of its districts, and is actually a great city to see via an open air bus. Plus you get to wear headphones that make you look like a DJ – doesn’t get better than that.
Here’s some of our observations and experiences of BA’s districts as we passed them by:
Micro-center: full of historical buildings, statues and grand architecture, also now serves as a bustling CBD area complete with both locals selling their wares on the street to shops that could be in any city’s CBD
La Boca: dangerous in its side streets and touristy full of tango and colour in its main ones. We embraced our tourist-side (we were, after all, open-air-busing it) and stopped in La Boca for lunch, some sangria and a tango show. The couple doing the tango clearly had a knack for picking talent from a crowd and asked me come up for an impromptu performance.
San Telmo: gritty and with crime problems historical, San Telmo is one of the places to be for night life, music and clubs. Plenty of great places to eat; also home to the famous Sunday markets – more on that shortly.
Palermo: an up-market version of San Telmo, plenty of great places to eat, many on the very swanky end. Safer than San Telmo, and we called it home for 4 nights at the Chill Hostel.
The bus tour took most of the day, and walking back home in the evening Chelle and I came across a place with a Tango class sign on the door. We had been talking about doing a Tango lesson – “when in Rome” - so thought, “why not ask if these guys do them.” They looked like a local type of setup – perfect. The guy who greeted us quickly recognized we were non-locals with dodgy Spanish skills and broke into fluent English – also perfect. There was to be a tango class there that night in about an hour – SOLD!
Chelle and I got into our best tango gear (thongs and street shoes) and turned up relieved to see that we were not the only Tango-virgins there - plenty of nervous shuffles going on. The place was a small hall type of setup selling drinks and snacks in the back corner and with an open floor made for dancing. We were split into groups of beginners and non-beginners and it was time to TANGO!
Chelle and I did Salsa back in Australia, which I really sucked at but persevered with and ended up enjoying. Salsa is more structured with the 7-step as it’s centerpiece. Tango is more of an impromptu type of dance, with basic moves, yes, but reliant on two people physically leaning against each other almost locked in straight from the waist up and responding and moving to the music. It’s very dramatic. It’s also - pretty damn intimate! You get swapped partners in class and you are literally leaning closely with chests pressed against another person you have not met before. You also are practically whispering into their ear your heads are so close together. Suffice to say – my single brothers reading this blog – get yourselves to a Tango class pronto!
After the lesson the venue had a Friday-night special: music and open-floor Tango. We got a drink and sat down to watch and enjoy as the professionals took over the floor, that was, until some first time amateurs could not resist and decided to get up and show them how’s it done – welcome Ben and Chelle! We did our best to avoid knocking other couples over (only JUST succeeding) and I can’t say what we were doing was exactly Tango, but we had good fun and a laugh and were there tango-ing in front of people after one lesson – a good true BA experience!
Sorry we don’t have any photos to share, it was an experience only moment. Here’s roughly what we looked like if you want to picture it:
The next 5 days in BA were spent mostly exploring the city by foot during the day and going out at night for dinner or a show. By the end of it we really felt like we had got to know BA as a city, and we LOVED it!
Here’s the highlights tour:
Markets, markets markets: BA loves its markets, and like much of South America, no pavement space is to be wasted in trying to spruik something. There are official markets however and we first visited the Recoleta markets and then the big daddy of markets: San Telmo. We walked San Telmo markets for no less than 6 hours, hardly stopping at any stall for more than a brief moment and still couldn’t get to see it all! Street performers and artists had come out to play and there were people everywhere.
We finished the markets with a visit to one of the famous café’s in the area, Plaza Dorrego, and then met up with our friends Ads and George for dinner and beers in San Telmo square, surrounded by Tango going late into the night. It was then onto Puerto Madero, known for its many fine restaurants along the water. But it was Sunday night (which is always quiet) and we were a little rowdy and might not have been too popular with the romantic dinner crowd, so we made our own fun.
La Recoleta Cemetery: cemeteries are not usually high on the priority list to visit in a city but this is one exception. Set in Recoleta the rather originally named La Recoleta cemetery is a place where the who’s who of BA and Argentina came to be buried, with the extravagance of your burial plot symbolic of how rich and successful your family was – or how much you wanted to “one-up” the Jones’. Eva Perron is buried in this cemetery as is the previous President and many before him.
It’s a fascinating place to walk through, and contains 100’s of cemetery sites. Individuals or whole families are buried in each site and people have to buy not only land in the cemetery but pay ongoing rental there as well. Going through the cemetery Chelle and I talked about what the working class of BA must think about such a cemetery with its extravagance and wealth. There’s more money in one of those graves than most people will see in their lifetime. It’s almost like the rich are preserving and highlighting the socio-economic divide even in their death.
Drumming La Bomba style! Every Monday in BA at the cultural centre there’s a drumming concert called La Bamba de Tiempo where 15 or so drummers get together for a 2 hour performance in various styles and generally with a special guest from locally or around the world joining them for the last hour. Before the main concert starts a group of amateurs first perform some improvised routines including drums, shakers, symbols and other percussion. People take turns to be the conductor using some type of code to control the group that we couldn’t decipher, and people rotate around the instruments. Each conducter brings his own energy and style and the drumming talent is incredible – you can tell they have the beats and rhythms in their blood.
The main concert was more of a classic show, and Chelle and I were right up the front centre stage until our ears could handle no more. The crowd was your hip, hop and happening BA crowd, hippies and the young and trendy hanging out. Felt a little bit like a Byron Bay Blues festival crowd, and the number of joints being smoked would have made Bobby Marley proud!
Art, cafes and culture: in the micro-center is one of BA’s most famous cafes, Tortoni’s. Historically it was home to some of the city’s finest artists and thinkers, many of whom are remembered with paintings and drawings that line the café (strangely we are not yet up there). Next door is the tango museum which details the history of tango from its roots to modern day art-form.
BA also houses a fine art museum with an impressive collection of classical paintings, including works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Rembrant, Monet and Mayonnaise (cue Jack Handy). We also discovered a local artist Xul Solar whose paintings were fully of colour and movement and won the inaugural Chelle and Ben Buenos Aires Art Prize.
Next on the cultural tour was the Eva Perron museum, detailed her extraordinary life and rise in the political landscape of BA. Highly recommended googling for more information on a woman who had such a dramatic impact on the people of Argentina and was so well loved by the working class.
No experience of BA night life would be complete with some great food and live music. This meant the hard work of visiting Jazz clubs and eating dinners with goats cheese and fig jam – we did this just for you, our dear blog readers! No need to thank us!
We had planned to stay in BA for one week and it ended up being a week and half before we left, so we had to make the tough decision not to go to Uruguay at large – in particular, Montevideo. As a consolation we still had time to fit in a day trip to Colonia.
Colonia is a 3 hour one-way boat trip from BA and is a historical city lined with cobblestone roads that make for an enjoyable walking tour, including the fort, museums, churches and the lighthouse. It has a artistic feel to it as a town and is lined with some of the best arts and crafts shops we have found in South America - probably a good thing we had run out of Uruguaian cash by then. The food is also fantastic, with plenty of fish options given that it’s a coastal town.
Some might call Colonia a tourist trap, and it does make for an expensive day trip – but hey we had fun. And we got an impromptu dance show on the boat on the way home – what more could you want?
The crazy tribal fight masqueraded as a soccer game: Boca vs River
WARNING: long story of a soccer game coming up!
The time in BA was coming to an end *cue tears* but we’d held out another day for one primary reason: the local Boca vs River soccer game. Sport must always remain the number one priority of an Aussie male! This is one of the fiercest sporting rivalries in the world, only happening a few times a year; and seeing it in Boca stadium ranks as one of the great football experiences you can have. It’s much more than a football game to Boca and River fans, this is about history and identity as well. River is known as the richer, elite football club (“booooooooooo”) while Boca is the working class club (“Boca! Boca! Boca!). Both have huge fan bases in BA, with Boca being slightly larger. This was a home Boca game so I knew which way the cookie crumbled.
The ticket to the game costs the locals only about AUD $10, but it’s impossible to get as a tourist unless you go through a tour that adds a zero and then some to the price. Chelle decided to opt out of the game as we were planning to go in Brazil as well, so it was off I went for the big day out – what could possibly go wrong!
Firstly, it started raining. And not just sprinkling, POURING down. I’d come well prepared for this in shorts and a t-shirt, and waited for the bus to the game huddled under shelter. The bus takes you there at 11am even though the game doesn’t start till 3pm, so we were all hoping it was a passing shower and we’d be right by kick-off.
One hour later we turn up to the queue to get into the stadium and it’s still pelting down rain. A smart guy was selling poncho’s at the entrance and most of us tourists frantically grabbed one and preserved the last bit of dryness we had. Even garbage bags were going for a premium! The queue to the game is something to be seen, it goes for about 500metres even hours before the game, as there is no reserved seating and it’s first in best dressed. In the queue the Boca chants start and people are jumping up and down and generally going crazy. Us tourists were as well, even if we had no idea what we were chanting! (Most likely: “watch the gringos dance! Watch the gringos dance!”)
We waited in torrential rain for about an hour before finally getting into the stadium, only to find that our area was already completely packed out. There’s no seating, just standing, and to get even a clear view of the game requires pushing your way through local Boca fans like you’d push your way through a mosh pit. Fine if it’s a Jack Johnson concert; not so inviting when it’s crazy Boca fans.
The few of us that did decide to push through for a better view saw about 10 rows of prime seating right at the front of our grandstand area near the pitch. And it was all empty! Uh hah! How smart are we to see that!!! As we headed towards them we were told something along the lines of, “go sit there if you want, but, be prepared to be peed on for the next 80 minutes!” Hmmmm – let me weigh that one up!
See the River fans are quarantined to one part of the stadium, which was right above where we were standing. And because the River fans can’t stand the Boca fans – or vice-versa – they urinate and defacate and throw it into the Boca crowd during the game. Yep – that’s right! Flying pee and poo coming your way! You’d think being a home game that Boca organizers might have at least let the Boca fans and tourists enjoy such fun behavior but instead they are the ones getting done.
Given this, of course nobody sits within reaching distance of the River grandstand (apart from some brave souls who stand there with umbrellas – that’s commitment for the team) which has the net effect of squashing up the Boca crowd even further. It was wall-to-wall as it was with about an hour to go. By the time it reached kick-off you were squashed between at least two people and likely had your arms leaning on another person’s shoulder with the other stuck in the crowd. Mosh pit is the right description.
It’s an incredible spectacle at the Boca stadium as you are waiting for the game to start. There’s consistent chanting (apart from the “ole” bits we “rhubarbed” our way through), jumping up and down, Boca coloured balloons and paper confetti being thrown everywhere. It’s sensory overload and you can’t help but get caught up in it! And then a giant Boca team flag gets gradually rolled out over one end of the crowd – opposite us – and swayed from side to side. Before another flag appears over the top of it, and both giant flags sway side to side. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before at a sporting event; you can feel the passion and intensity in the stadium.
Finally it came time for kick-off, and a giant roar came around the crowd. One of the Boca strikers was to become the all-time leading Boca scorer if he got a goal and we were hoping to see it and be a part of it because it would have been WILD. The fans are crazy without the game even starting let alone an epic goal like that being scored! I had even planned a giant Australian “raaaarrrrrrrrrrr!” to mark the occasion.
As the teams kicked off the soccer ball stopped dead on the pitch – not a good sign. Players were sliding everywhere and the ball would hit dead patches consistently as they dribbled it around. It didn’t make for great football and after about 5 minutes the players all got together in the middle of the ground, started talking and agreed that, sure enough, just our luck – the game was to be cancelled!
With the pent up energy around the crowd this was not a good thing and we were told to expect fights to break out. Us tourists stuck together like lemmings and started heading out of the stadium. No-one was allowed to leave straight away as the River fans were given a brief window to leave the stadium and escape without getting seriously hurt. One of their routes of escape however was underneath a section of the grandstand we walked past on our way out. I started to video some of the mutual profanities and gestures going on between the fans (“You suck really bad, sir” and things like that) and as I did I started seeing things thrown into the River fans. It was chunks of the stadium that had been ripped off! Chunks of stadium cement.
Then, in my periphery I’ve seen someone rip a wooden door off the stadium and pick it up. I’m videoing from the side and as I pan around I hear one of the tourists yell “no way!” and see through the lens this door plummeting towards the River fans below. The guy had thrown the bloody door off the balcony! A group of River fans hadn’t seen it and I’ve watched the door come flying towards them thinking they are surely going to get fatally injured, and thankfully, just where the door was thrown there was a tree with a branch sticking out that the River fans walked under. The door hit the branch and gave just enough time for the fans to scatter. It was MADNESS! This was not a football game going on, it was a tribal fight!
Note: I'll try to upload a photo on this later.
Suffice to say us tourists sheepishly exited the stadium, slightly on edge. Didn’t help either being holed up for 30 minutes to make it safe for us. But we got out alive - and we may not have seen a football game, but we’d certainly got a taste of the Boca vs River experience. Can’t say I’ll be rushing back for another game any time soon – but I’ll keep the memories.
And with that rather dramatic day our BA stay had come to an end. Next stop –the mighty Iguazu falls!
Till then, take care
Love Ben and Chelle
p.s. Misc shots from BA