Day 96 -100: 3.4. - 7.4.2009
City tour at night
“We have been here before, haven’t we?” Even I recognize that I have seen the place before. Rodri has picked me up at the downtown hostel at 9 pm, shortly after I arrived. Now we are already cruising through Buenos Aires for almost two hours. He is showing me around the places of interest before we go for dinner. As the city is so big and many streets so small and windy, he got lost a few times himself. It only adds to the experience though. Buenos Aires at night is a cool sight. The hot spots are all illuminated. The city is at its feet without blocking the road with traffic jams though. It is a warm late summer night and we enjoy the cruising. After more than two hours we reach Rodri’s home. He introduces his parents to me (he still lives at home although he is 30 year old teacher and getting married soon. It is just too hard to afford an own flat in Buenos Aires.) before we leave to walk towards a restaurant to eat the obligate piece of meat. He has grown up in the area and seems to know everybody and every tree personally. The restaurant is a transformed old horse place. Very charming and located right next to the big horse racing areal. All together I am impressed by the size and wideness of the city. The big streets are so wide and there are so many huge green open areas that I never have the feeling that I am somehow stuck in such a big urban area. The place spreads so widely, it definitely helps being relaxed. And there is a nice mix between old buildings and areas and very modern areas like the restored old harbor. The first impression is definitely very positive. Not too different from Madrid or Barcelona though, which is not a terribly big surprise.
The biggest…the widest…the longest…Argentinean machismo
“We have the widest road, the longest road, the widest river etc… everything is big and macho here, that is just how we Argentineans are..” Stunning honesty from Rodri while he explains to me that the “Avenida 9 del Julio” is the widest urban road in the world. At seven lanes into each direction plus two side lanes each way for parking and turning this is not a surprise. It is huge. Another road is supposed to stretch for the longest distance through an urban area, not sure which one it is and whether this would stand up to a proper global benchmarking. For the Rio de la Plata to be the widest river in the world I do definitively believe this straight away. It simply looks like the ocean to me. The other side is nowhere in sight I think the width of the river here is 20 or 30 km. The argument could be whether we are talking about a river here or rather a delta of a river where it reaches into the sea. Where to draw the line? Nowhere.
Dormitory nightmares – edition 1
It is in the middle of the night. 4.30 am:“I just fu..cking hate boys. He stole my bed. That is so ridiculous.” The complaining of the drunk American girl (hardly 18 years old I guess) keeps going for a while. Her friend (another drunk American teenager) supports her where she can. “Fu..cking capitalists. This is just the worst case of capitalism I have seen. Must be an Israeli…” They just entered the 6-bed-dormitorio and seem to have this need to wake all of us up and to keep us awake for the rest of the night. And every other word is the f-word. The two are not exactly the best examples for a proper high English language and highest education I believe. Why else would an American - at the time of the global financial crisis which originated in the US more than anywhere else - insult other countries of a negative capitalism? How is the saying again? Don’t throw stones while sitting in a glass house? Anyway, they just keep complaining. Completely out of context at times and at the edge of really insulting the guy who supposedly took her bed personally. At some point myself and another dorm-member step in and explain to them that the word dormitory is derived from “dormire”, which means “to sleep” and not “to chat”. We offer tow options: Keep chatting but do it downstairs in the main area of the hostel or stay in the room and shut up. With a bit of a delay and some significant reluctance it finally works out and I can get back to sleep. A short and uneasy sleep. At the morning I am at the verge of leaving the hostel to find a hotel with an individual room, decide against it though for now. The US girls will check out today and the bathroom flooding cannot go on forever I hope (the bathroom had a 3 cm layer of water on the floor last night when I wanted to wash).
“Florida street? That is ca. 15 blocks this way.” The guy I have asked for directions points into the direction that I have just been coming from. Good. I just walked into the wrong direction for half an hour. Hm. How could that happen? Map not good enough? Me being confused after a night without a lot of sleep? Don’t know. Anyway. I turn around and walk back, pass the hostel again and keep going until Florid street for another 15 minutes. There, Florida street is a shopping street and pedestrian area, I find two good English books for my further journey and get a bite to eat. And I promise to myself to check house numbers and directions better as of now.
My Argentinean soccer experience
“Vamos, Racing!” The fans of both teams are singing for 90 minutes without a single second of pausing. The atmosphere in the stadium is great. Very emotional and quite intense. I am sitting (or rather standing up most of the time) on the upper ranks of the local team, which is called “Racing”. Rodri, his friend Gonzalo and myself are seeing the game vs River Plate. Both teams are from Buenos Aires, like most of the teams in the Argentinean first soccer division. Hence it is kind of a local derby. The people in the stadium really go with the game, waving, complaining, applauding and supporting big time. I enjoy that. A superb atmosphere.
What are the key differences I take away from this Argentinean soccer experience compared to Germany? Well, to play the high sitting expert first of all, I am surprised by the level that the teams are playing at, technically. The level is clearly lower than in Europe (which is confirmed by the locals around me and the reason why all the Argentineans only develop into real complete players once they are in Europe for a while). The teams get into the game through very intense physical effort and in-fighting. They don’t let the ball run a lot but rather run themselves. The game is very physical, rough and not characterized through tactical or technical highlights on either side. Secondly I am surprised to learn that one of the River Plate players, who I have mistaken as a coach or other non-playing club member due to him being quite a bit overweight, is supposed to be one of the strongest players in the league. He appears rather slow and doesn’t do anything good the whole game other than blocking and protecting the ball well. Thirdly the fans are much louder and much more emotional, which makes a stadium visit a great experience. It manifests itself not only in the 90 minutes of continued singing but also in the fact that after the game has finished almost everybody stays in the stadium for another 30-45 minutes to sing and celebrate, even the fans of the team that lost. And at last, the stadium security. I never felt threatened or endangered but we had to wait for more than an hour in front of the stadium before the gates would be opened. The police wanted the other fans to be well out of reach of the stadium first before letting the home crowd out. After a long time in and around the stadium I look back to a great Argentinean soccer experience.
Dormitory nightmares – edition 2
After I haven’t slept a lot last night (remember the drunk American girlies who have kept the whole dormitorio awake) I plan to go to bed early today. When I get back to the 6-bed-room I find that the others are just about to get ready to leave for a long night out in Buenos Aires. I seem to be living against the rhythm here somehow but definitely if there is one thing that I do not want to do it is getting drunk and staying out all night in noisy and smoky clubs. The others struggle to understand that but that doesn’t concern me the least. I am glad when they are gone because then I have freedom to sleep, which finally begins at 2 am with the last gone. At 8 am when I get up again the second from last guy is just coming back from the parties. One bed is still completely vacated. I pack my things, get some breakfast and move out into the crisp morning air of the streets of Buenos Aires. I have checked out and check into an individual room in a hotel across the street for the remaining two nights. A 50:50split between sleeping well and not sleeping well for my four nights in town seem to be appropriate to me.
San Telmo Street Fair
This is a nice morning walk. The air is still a bit crisp. It is sunny and the streets just begin to awaken on this Sunday morning. There is a mix between people who are about to call it a day and move to bed after some heavy partying and people who have just got up to appreciate the early hours of the day with fresh energy. I walk to San Telmo, an older part of town. There are various street fairs there. People there sell about everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if the would also sell their mothers & fathers if you asked them to. With my strict luggage limitations (I still have to move around a bit by bike, no long distances but a bit here and there) these kind of fairs and markets pose a challenge to me. I like buying local things and to bring back some stuff from any one of my trips. Here I have to chose well to not overload my luggage. Finally the decision falls for a hand-painted “Bienvenido” sign that will be inviting visitors into my home in a friendly way after I have come back. It is lightweight and easy to hide in one of my panniers as it is so flat. Supposedly the Italians have established the hand-painting in that part of Buenos Aires and have developed a very typical style by now. Well, I believe it because it makes me feel good.
I could be in Düsseldorf or Hamburg here. Puerto Madero is exactly like any other renovated old harbor area. The old brick buildings that used to be warehouses have been nicely renovated and make for a nice setting now. They are loaded with restaurants and bars in the ground floor and with flats (I guess loft-like) in the upper floors. The area is great to just walk around in the autumn sunshine, relax, eat and drink and enjoy the day. Which is exactly what I do.
Just what locals do in the weekend
1) BBQ at a friends’ place
The train is packed. You don’t even need to hold on to something because you cannot fall over anyway. Obviously many more people than just me want to get out of town on this Sunday afternoon. The weather is great and everybody is heading for Tigre, which is a town at the edge of the great River Delta at the northwestern border of Buenos Aires. I am delighted to see a young girl get up from her seat to ask an elderly woman over to take it. Hope is not lost on respect and mutual understanding in this world! I get off the train halfway because this is where Rodrigo is waiting for me. We walk from the train station to Gonzalo’s house in five minutes through a nice middle class neighborhood with mainly individual houses. Gonzalo is the friend who has been with us to see the soccer match yesterday. He happened to have a BBQ at his house today which he invited me to as well. Stuffed with meat and brownies we leave the place after a while to drive to the River delta at Tigre.
2) Boat trip in the Tigre Delta
“Navigate carefully. Kids swimming!” Everything here is reapplied from road traffic to the water. Instead of signs with road names there are signs with the river (channel) names here. Our boat trip to explore the river delta in the Tigre region is fun. The delta is huge. There are channels all around, stretching between “islands” over a huge area. It is like a huge web. The most astonishing thing is that the islands are so well populated. There are houses all along the channels, hundreds of them, big and small. Many poets and artists have chosen to relocate to here from Buenos Aires to have more peace for their work. There are even so called “collectivos”, bus-boats, that navigate through the channels on a regular schedule to help the inhabitants move around and come into town. There are also supermarket boats floating from house to house to sell their goods. The traffic on the channels is quite dense. Often the boats cross each other closely and water spills into the boats. On one occasion I get a completely washing by a passing “rowdy”. He was so fast and hit exactly one of the waves made by our boat that he sent a big wave into us. Thank you. I guess he was the equivalent to a German Autobahn-Rowdy“, even they have been reapplied to the water here. At least it is warm enough for me not to freeze too much.
3) Casino visit
“This guy over there is Diego Maradona’s brother.” I look with curiosity to see how much alike they look. And they do quite a bit. The guy is much younger though, and hence looks more like Diego in his younger years too. Same body shape, same hair, same face. Funny. We are in the Casino of Tigre. After the boat trip we decided to get in here to win some money before we head back to town. While I confuse a number of people in the Casino because I mistake chips and want to play against the rules, which I haven’t had understood well enough by then so far it also has its good side. One of the Casino Managers who has come to help get things right offers drinks to myself and my company after he found out that I am a German and speak Spanish. In itself this shouldn’t be such a weird thing but it pays us the round of drinks and we are happy. We manage to win some money, decide to cash in and invest into ice cream back in town. This is the third day in a row that my evening ends on a huge portion of ice cream. Wonderful. Finally Rodigro and Andrea drop me at my hotel, hand over a nice present and we part ways for this visit. They have really made my visit to Buenos Aires a very special one. I feel I have seen much more of the purely touristic side of the city. They have opened up to let me have a sincere view into how they live here. That was wonderful and much appreciated by myself. Many thanks, Andrea and Rodrigo. Let me know when you will come and visit Germany so I can pay back my dues.
My imitation of a “normal (sun)day” in Buenos Aires
I get up at nine, buy a German newsletter, read it while having breakfast in a cafe round the corner (some croissants and tea), take a taxi to Recoleta (a part of B.A.), visit the Malba arts museum, do an hour of walking around in the sunshine outside, have lunch in a cafe in the shade (3 courses and a glass of white wine), read my book for an hour, do some more walking around before dropping to the ground (grass) in a park, sleep for an hour between other students of the campus, get up for dinner in a microbrewery in walking distance, while reading another newspaper (this time local), do some shopping on my walk back to the hotel, enjoy a huge portion of ice cream again (number 8 in four days I think), do some internet surfing and email checks in the hotel, take a short evening walk outside and go to bed at midnight. A perfect day !
“Hola, buenas dias. Que tal! Same as yesterday please.” By now (after one day) I have already almost established a ”routine” with the waiter in the café around the corner of the hotel. I am greeted nicely when I walk in to have my breakfast and read my newspaper. He knows what I took the day before and serves the same thing again today. Nice. I like this. This could be my routine if I was living here. I already went jogging for an hour before coming here to start the day. That was nice as well. Jogging is one of my preferred ways to explore a new city. You can cover a good distance and still experience the city very directly and first hand. I would take that into my routine as well I think.
The next cultural highlight I set is another museum visit. This time it is the museum of the Boca Juniors, Argentina’s most famous soccer club. Diego Maradona used to play here and there is no way of missing this. There are pictures and sculptures of him everywhere. This seems to do quite some injustice to all the other players who must have played here as well but it is just the way it is I guess. Maradona is so big here in Argentina, there is just no comparison for this. Even “Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer in Germany is to be seen at least one complete level below him with regards to popularity, respect and fame in the population. The stadium (La Bonbonera) is painted all yellow and blue in club colors. The “barrio” of “La Boca” spreads around the stadium and is a pretty one. Many houses are painted in intensive colors and make for a nice, colorful sight alltogether. Tango is big here and hence there are Tango bars and restaurants all around. There is also Tango dancing in the street for tourists and of course there are plenty of souvenir shops all over the place. They sell franchise goods of all forms and mainly have some kind of link to Maradona. I can well imagine how the barrio bursts with passion every time a soccer match is on.
Back to Ushuaia
Yes! I got the last window seat on the plane. Super. That will be a nice view that I can enjoy during take-off and landing. I am happy because I missed to ask for this on my way here and couldn’t see a thing. When I get on the plane another additional reality hits me though and I regret my choice. The plane I am on is a rather small one which has its engines attached to the body towards its rear end. Hence I find myself sitting next to window, yes, but also right next to an engine, with an immense noise and vibration level during the flight and without any view (except the one on the engine). Bad luck. This doesn’t change the bottom line conclusion though that my visit to Buenos Aires was a great idea and absolutely worthwhile doing. I enjoyed five days in a wonderful city in warm weather. I am prepared to go back into the cold for the coming 1,5 weeks again. Then Santiago de Chile will have to show me if it can cope with the great impressions that I took away from Buenos Aires.