Saturday, February 04, 2006

Buenos Aires

Throughout my few months on this exciting chunk of earth stretching from the northern tropics to the southern tip of the colonized world, one city has been complimented far more than any other - BA. Hence I decided a long time ago that whatever happened and wherever whims would drag me I had to have at least a week in this city. I have stuck by to that decision and that very time is now fast coming to its inevitable end. It has not disappointed.

On each side of my trip to Iguazu (by far the majority post the cascades), I have spent many very enjoyable hours soaking up this mega city. Approximately 13 million people live here, and driving in and out such figures do not surprise - it is huge. By recommendation I have stayed at The Clan Hostel on Alsina y Tacuari and right am at this moment listening to OK Computer as I recover from the endeavours of the last night in The Clan's chilled out ambience. I have no doubt it was the right choice. Occasionally hostels attain just the right mix between aiding relaxation and fiesta, functionality and easy-goingness, and The Clan succeeds.The staff are really friendly and the place well set up from the comfy loungy thingys to the roof terrace where you can sit for hours soaking up the noise and heat of this metropolis.

Days have been spent simply walking and walking where whim has taken me. I reckon my havainas have put way over 60 kms on the clock since I arrived. For me, this is the best way to see a city. Turn left, turn right, get lost and see what you find. It is also a great opportunity to think, either with company immersed in hours of conversation (cheers in particular Dave and Claudia) or on ones tod. The situ of intense sights, noises and smells. So much going on, so much alive that is largely oblivious to your presence. This facilitates my mind detaching from the day to day. I have loved it. Whether it is touching 40 degrees burning singlet marks or chilly and raining, the city has interested and enchanted me. A sort of Barcelona crossed with London as far I can tell, so many different barrios with so many different characters. I really am a city person and this one has everything, from charming piazzas in San Thelmo where you can watch tango and listen to Spanish guitar as the day winds slowly on, to the buzzing centro, slightly poncy Palermo, and poverty stricken docks of Boca. Real character.

One wandering that sticks out in my mind was with Dave to Boca and back again. This city in many ways appears European. But occasionally you see places that are a reminder that this is not Spain or Italy, but a long way away from where I grew up. Boca, once you get way from the one famous brightly coloured tourist street (seriously we saw police chaperoning rich tourists as they dared to venture a block or two away), is a very poor area. Both Dave and I have a strange need to find excitement, so we ended up in certainly one of the dodgiest areas of BA in our thongs (flip-flops - sorry I am being Australianised) rambling along as we were pestered by street children and given some severely dodgy looks. Boca is the docks of BA and docks have similar tendencies all over the world.

While such cities in Europe undoubtedly have much poverty, as in most places in this continent, BA has more. While there is a middle class in common, the difference here is the sudden drop below it. It reminded me of Colombia, where you have a lot of wealthy people with a very high standard of living, while at the same time having millions living in poverty. Here it is the divergence in wealth that strikes you rather than a lack of it in general (as opposed to Bolivia for example). I was lead to believe in my studies that it is your relative wealth to the man next door rather than absolute wealth that is most important in determining a persons happiness. In the light of this, it is not hard to see the route of many of this continent's problems. The economic collapse here did not help matters and fascinating street art is a product of the problems (pictures of a sample are above).

For those footie fans out there I will not fail to mention that we went to the Boca stadium which was impressive. Unfortunately I missed a match in arguably the most passionate theatre of the world's game by a day - grrrgh. Yet another reason to return - soon!!

Another wandering of note was all the way from Palermo (the sort of Notting Hill of the city) back to the far side of central with a slightly hungover Claudia. Loads of fun chatting largely about politics (from those of a bus to the Falklands) and adventures since we last caught up in La Paz. The highlight of which was an hour or so in what is often called the City of the Dead - Recolete Cemetary. It is a severely odd place. Row after row of 4,000 odd overtly decorated crypts. There are rows and rows of streets (sign posted and all) where peering in through the windows of grey buildings of mulitudinal design you catch a glimpse of the coffins of the great, good and bad of the city's past. From Evita, to generals, to children, they are all here. With the sky overcast and a drizzle that reminded me all to much of my imminent return to English weather, the place is undoubtedly eerie. The large statues, columns and Gothic nature of the tombs would be enough, but many a cracked open coffin and lurking cats are the coup de gras (I really hope I have spelt that correct).

The cats deserve more mention. There is something intrinsically strange and perhaps wrong with cats that are more comfortable with the dead then the alive. It may just be me, but I swear there was a strange look in their eyes as they creeped around the lavish resting places of those past. A really strange experience that has put me off the idea of seeking to stamp myself on this world after I am gone. However lavish the memorial it will fall to dust eventually. Yes, I do believe it is important to have some place where those who knew you and loved you can do there grieving and remembrance, but beyond that it does not matter. Such attempts did though create a very interesting experience, so I thank them for that.

Inevitably many of my memories of BA will surround something it is famous for - fiesta. A couple of highly successful poker nights, a crazy one at Bloody Sound an electronica club 35 minutes out of centro in a taxi going up to 130kmph (freestyle sports will never be the same again - Mik), a surprisingly enjoyable drum and bass night (where I discovered that dancing frantically when in the right mood can aid the accessing of some of the most well hidden recesses of the mind - I could not crack the ontological question), a large one to celebrate the opening of a hostel bar, a very heavily vino tinto influenced night in San Thelmo (ending in exceedingly interesting circumstances) and my final night out. The latter of which involved a tango show at one of the most famous old bars in the city, drinks at some nice bar, a lot of hope at club 69 dashed by confusion, many more taxis and the most stunning sunrise I have been blessed with. It says a lot about how people party in BA that a night which did not fully blossom still ends up with you watching out east over the docks as the sun rises red. Not surprisingly, by my final day I was and am knackered.

What has really made my time in BA has been the people. This trip has increasingly been a case of meeting up again and again with the same great people on a similar trail. This has meant that where there were originally brief acquaintances, there are now friendships. To name just some I have had the pleasure of meeting up again with the likes of Shaun, Anita, Helen, Adam, Claudia, Princess, Buster, James and, in fact, Mik and Dave as we had briefly been separated while I headed north. I hope I keep in contact with as many of them as possible so that we can recount a myriad of shared memories.

So to sum up BA - I think it is an exciting world city in which I would be delighted to not only return but if the circumstances arose live in. My closest thing to a criticism would be that people are not as openly friendly as in some other places I have had the privilege to visit. You only have to look at Paris or London where the people are even more standoffish to understand that this does not necessary bode negatively for a city - it is just another part of its character. Ummm, the possibility of a masters here in a few years time might just float my boat!!!
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