Now that I’m functioning in Argentina Time it’s only apt and proper that I write about my first days in the country a full fortnight later.
Early doors on the 14th, after a shiggly ride, a dodgy landing and an aisle full of pins and needles I arrived in Ezeiza airport. Don’t be fooled, Ezeiza to Buenos Aires is like Beauvais to Paris. Bloody miles away. They say, that upon arrival, one must search for the Lion. This lion is the beginning of a quilombo (pron. kilombo – my fave new Argentian-Spanish word, which I think is best translated as a complete shambles) that leads you to the city centre via a coach-ride and a weird Bla-Bla-Car-taxi remix called a remis. This Tienda Leon service is the most reputable which essentially groups together people needing to go to the same neighbourhood. It’s easier than it sounds and after a day of my own company the chit-chat of my new neighbours was more than welcome.
During that journey of 30-odd kilometres, my eyes were both wide open and opened wide. I saw the national football team’s flashy training facility while on the outskirts small boys in wellies kicked cans, deflecting against wheels of trucks and the motorway’s metal railings. A microcosm of Argentinian society.. I don’t know? My first impression was one of sadness, and quite honestly, shock (and of how many lorries can they jam into one city??) I felt slightly guilty when the Remis stopped in Palermo, one of the loveliest neighbourhoods, and dropped me off at an eighth floor flat where Felipe lives (a friend and schoolmate of mine who came to Llandovery College in 2009 after winning a scholarship). I waited for the lift for about 5 minutes before realising that I had to open the door manually, and, embarassed, entered the flat to a warm Welsh welcome.
I seem to know more people than I had realised in Buenos Aires. The first night, I was treated to an amazing asado (in this context it’s a cut of meat. When in Rome one tucks in..) in a lovely restaurant with some of my brother’s friends; the second night I met up with an Uruguayan friend of mine from my Erasmus year which transformed into a Perpignan reunion in a cultural centre, dancing around a band of 7 musicians who, after every song moved around the circle to play a new instrument. I went for a run with Sian, who I know from athletics back home in West Wales. We chatted and chatted about our travels for miles. I also went out in La Plata one night to celebrate a graduation, which taught me three things 1) After the 8th glass, I still don’t like Fernet and Coke 2) Travelling in a car in Argentina is not for me or for anybody dear to me, thank you very much 3) 8.30am is justabout past my bedtime.
Spending time in a city doing as its people do is sure-fire way of getting a unique experience and I’m so glad and lucky that I got the chance to experience the city as I did. However, when those friends were at work I had to play hardcore tourist. Naturally, running turismo came into play and despite many stop-starts getting there, I fell in love with Bosques de Palermo and its Japanese Gardens, lakes and ducklings. What a beautiful place to run, to stroll, to be. I wandered along the Paseo de Historietas and ate my lunch with legendary Mafalda (introduced to me by my first Spanish teacher). I stepped inside El Ateneo, a bookshop, and spent an age in there stood in awe, wishing there was more space on the reading sofas for a little one.
In two days I became addicted to Havanna coffee and dulce de leche alfajores. Shopping is out of the question: the economy is a farce and clothes cost whatever the equivalent of a bomb, an arm and a leg in pesos is. Recoleta cementerio is at the same time beautiful, eerie and fascinating. I loved San Palermo, with its bars, its graffiti, its artsy shops and eclectic mix of people and I treated myself to a trip in a double decker bus. A trip to Boca didn’t disappoint: Diego Maradonna (or his lookalike, or was it?) lost the plot with me for taking a photo with him in the background. Plata (literally, silver aka money), he wanted, covering his face and pointing at my phone. My walk to the Bombonera stadium (named for its sweetie-jar shape) was riddled with people trying to sell me all sorts, from orange juice to Tango dances to portraits to a photo with a fake copa de libertadores. If you stray off the most colourfully beaten track in the history of the world, it ain’t so pretty, but its character, its people, it’s rainbow atmosphere, is magical.
There are bags and bags of things I want to do in Buenos Aires when I head back. I must say that after 3 days in Iguazu I felt like I was going home. The people I met were open, kind and fun, although of those I met none were your typical Porteño and mostly from other parts of the country and with a huge sense of empathy all being in the same boat (much like the Madrileños, in my biased opinion!). The food is outstanding, or re-rico as they say (empanadas, choripan, meat, pizzas, dulce de leche, ice cream and coffee!). Yet the money has seemingly been spent willy-nilly, building from scratch instead of fixing the broken and people dangle precariously on the edge of society, the reality often hidden behind walls away from the prying eyes of the tourist. You think you’re in an European city until you turn to see a mother sat with two babies with open hands and an empty stomach. But it’s a city that has its charm, its character, its colour and its culture and I look forward to December when I get to live it again.