The final part of my week-long mini sojourn to Uruguay and Buenos Aires.
It took almost as long to get into Buenos Aires from Tigre on the bus as it took to leisurely motor along the delta from Carmelo, Uruguay. The traffic was awful and it was growing dark. I also felt a little sick because all I had had for lunch were nine small saltine crackers, two marshmallow chocolates, a mini candy bar I had left from United’s lounge in Chicago, and some water.
Once let down in the center of Buenos Aires, I determined I should take the subway to the neighborhood of San Telmo to find the hostel. I found a subway entrance and simply followed the crowd. I grew a little nervous when I realized I had reached the platform and was without a ticket; I had seen no ticket counter, no turnstiles. It was 80 degrees above ground in Buenos Aires that day, in early winter, yet the air conditioning (if there ever is any) in the underground was turned off, and with the crowds, the temperature was even warmer. The platform was already full when myself and my large backpack pushed our way into a small corner near the entrance and a shop, but people just kept coming and coming and coming. Soon it was like a sauna, and no trains arrived. In broken Spanish I asked the woman next to me where the ticket counters were and she pointed upstairs, but you could not even see upstairs anymore with the still-arriving mobs. She asked how I managed to get downstairs without a ticket, but I honestly had no clue. I saw no place to buy one and simply followed the crowd. She said it would not be a problem. I felt trapped because I saw no easy way to force my way up through that crowd. And still no trains arrived. I asked the woman how much a taxi might cost to my destination and she told me four or five pesos (about $1.50-$2.00). What? How much is the subway? Seventy centavos. Well if the taxi was only a few dollars I would much prefer to take it than suffer the rising heat of the train-less underground. But you can walk, she says, it is only 15 blocks! How wonderful to hear that someone would think that walking 15 blocks was very doable and easy! In many places the common response to a destination 15 blocks away would be that it was far too distant to walk. Another young man offered to go upstairs as well and show me where I could catch a bus; he said the subway workers were on strike. And so we shoved our way up the stalled escalator, past all the people still unknowingly descending into the tunnel.
Upstairs the air felt refreshingly cool so I decided to walk. I made it to the hostel to check in just in time for the storm to break. It was about 8 PM and I was starving, but when I tried to go outside I was soaked within five minutes even though I carried an umbrella. I went back inside the hostel and took a shower. By the time I was finished the torrential rain was over. I walked the ten blocks to the Plaza Dorengo where I found a small, dark, smoky cafe with windows open onto the plaza and a guitarist singing traditional songs. Though I had been reluctant at first to eat where there might be loud music, prefering to be somewhere quiet, I stayed almost two hours savoring my salad with Roquefort cheese and empañada along with the sounds of lonely, romantic ballads. I thought, now, my holiday is turning around.
Except the weather was not up to cooperating. It was overcast as I stepped out the next day to head to the posh side of Buenos Aires. to visit the Cemeterio de la Recoleta – where the crème de la crème are buried in grand, ornate tombs. It was lightly raining when I reached the gates of the cemetery but it seemed appropriate weather for the location. The Recoleta Cemetery is like a small city for the weathly, powerful, and connected deceased. A small park and a posh shopping center with very upscale furniture stores and chic eateries, including the Hard Rock Cafe Buenos Aires abut the high walls. Inside there is a grand entrance with statues and wide streets leading off from a sort of central square. Friendly cats – no wonder they have the reputation of being associated with death – leisurely stroll around the lanes, lie on the steps to the mausoleums, leap from the tomb rooftops, dart into open, un-cared for tombs, and give guided tours. Well, for at least 20 minutes I was tailed by one particular cat until we caught sight of a rival furry tour guide, and then she took off. I am here in a large part to see the tomb of Eva Peron. I followed an English tour I heard was heading for her tomb, though had I wandered around by myself it would probably not have proved difficult to find as there was a large crowd standing in front of it. Her tomb, regardless of the controversy surrounding her life and still her legacy in death, is a pilgrimage site. I paced nearby until the crowd left and then as the rain fell steadily harder, was able to get a close up look. I tried to peer into the tomb, but to be honest I had a small feeling that if even the slightest movement might happen anywhere near me I would probably scream. As Evita was embalmed, a uncommon practice in Argentina, I thought perhaps the body might be more on display. I know that sounds rather morbid, but the entire cemetery appeared to revel in grotesque, over-the-top demonstrations.
It begins to rain quite hard and I discover that the batteries on my camera have died and the spare pair I thought I had are actually dead too. So, I decide to go and have lunch and see about buying some new batteries. It stops raining after some time and about 1 1/2 hours later I return to the cemetery, but it starts raining again! My umbrella makes it still bearable, so I did not mind too much. I was impressed with the excellent drainage system the cemetery seems to have – probably better than many of the neighborhoods for the living.
As I walk back towards the Subway I realize it is 3:30 PM and there are supposed to be tours in English at Casa Rosada (the Pink House), the Presidential Palace, only at 5 PM on Fridays. I feel lucky that I just happened to think of this and head off. I arrive at the palace around 4:20 PM. There is a fence around the front perimeter; people are going inside but they must pass muster with the guard there. I go up and explain I am there for the tour. He tells me to come back Monday. I explain that I am there for the ENGLISH tour on Fridays. He tells me they have been suspended and waves me away. Once again foiled. What is it about this trip?? I walk around the Palace and it suddenly begins to rain very hard. I pull out my umbrella and dash across the street to a government building with a large roofed entrance way. I make my way to Avenida Florida, the shopping street, which is so much livelier than on my first day only five days before. I find a tourist information office and go in to ask about Tango shows. I also ask them why the English tours of the Casa Rosada have been canceled. They look at me puzzled and say they have not been cancelled – they are every Friday at 4 PM. I briefly imagine myself running back through the rain just to give that guard a piece of my mind – typical developing country guard/police bullshit to just tell people things are closed, cancelled, or never existed. But I’m am no longer really that upset by these things, it just happens when you travel. Had I more time, I would just return another day. Its just I had only this one opportunity.
But I lucked out at last; I found a Tango show in San Telmo. They offered a five course meal and a 1 hour and 45 minute Tango show for US$55. At this point during this ever-frustrating holiday, I expected the food to be overcooked, the service to be bad, and the show a disappointment. But, it was all wonderful. I had the next to best seat in the house, the food was delicious, and the show of Tango music, song, and dance was incredible. It was the perfect final evening of my holiday. The next day my flight left at 7:40 pm and so I needed to leave the hostel for the airport at 5. I slept in, showered, and headed off once again to Avenida Florida for some shopping. I bought two CDs of Tango music, some Patagonian chocolate, and a winter coat – just $40 for a coat that would cost at least three times that in the U.S. I had a final meal of Argentine beef – a fast food place in the Galleria food court that did burgers, steak, sausages, and chicken to order on the grill right in front of the customer. Not your usual fast food place!
Just as I start heading back to the subway (to go to the hostel to catch the taxi to the airport) I notice a large crowd down one of the streets. I notice this because as I am crossing a three lane road I notice a few people standing in the middle of the road staring. I think at first these two guys must have a death wish or something, and then I turn and see down the Avenida toward the obelisk (which resembles the Washington Monument) a large crowd of people. Ooooh, a protest I think! I immediately think of my Aunt C who tells me when in a foreign country and you see a large crowd of people like that one should go AWAY from it. So, of course, I walk towards it, and I am glad I did. It turned out not to be a protest but a gaucho, or cowboy, festival. The roads were roped off and sand was placed down on one of the lanes. There were men and boys in traditional gaucho gear – ponchos, pañuelos (scarfs), flat topped, wide-brimmed felt hats, white dress shirts, bombacha trousers with matching jackets, and boots – astride their equally-decorative horses. Stereotypically perhaps, many of them smoking. Riders were galloping down the sand covered lane. I had to get going, but I took 10 minutes out to watch and take some pictures before heading toward the metro. Again, I felt lucky to have come upon this. Although I was disappointed that I was unable to stay longer, it was enough to have seen it at all.
I then arrived at the closest metro and found it closed! Would these unfortunate events never end? But now used to this, I quickly pulled out my Buenos Aires map and found the next subway stop. It was open and all was well. I made my flight with no problem and it was with a smile that I said goodbye to South America for now.