27th February: Saturday Morning, Eziza Airport, Buenos Aires.
As we stood there sweating in the morning sun await Immigration clearance, one can’t help forming first impressions of the nation beyond the uniformed officials. Rusty, judging by the state of the airport fabric. Sluggish, judging by the speed of the luggage carousel. Chaotic, as many airport concourses are if you’re new to them. Similar, judging by the knuckle shuffling gesture the taxi driver gave to another motorist who change lanes all but on top of us on the 40 minute sprint into the city. Taxi drivers the world over – it would seem – are truly uniform in so many regards.
Saturday afternoon, Hotel Tower las Americas, Buenos Aires
Global telly is bemusing: have found England vs Ireland 6 Nations live rugby. In terms of coverage, it’s somewhat overshadowed by the coverage of the earthquake in Chile. No mention of this was made when we arrived in Eziza airport even though it turns out that Santiago airport was closed. No connecting flights to there then. A bit surprising that no one bothered to tell anyone on the inbound flight. Having now hooked up with the Welsh contingent here, they noticed nothing. Probably drunk, knowing them…..
But what would I know because after a lounge by the pool in the most wonderful heat, I retired to bed to give it forty winks in an effort to combat jetlag. It affects everyone in some way I s’pose, but specifically feeling somewhat dizzy, a throbbing headache the a touch of drunken swaying. When my alarm sounds some 75 minutes later I pretend to feel great and head out into the afternoon.
So how to describe Buenos Aires (BA)? Where to start? From a couple of hours on foot, on a Saturday, you can make a few observations. But only after the perking effects of a weapons grade café con leche. Latino city, grand boulevards from the late 19th century (when it became capital of the nation), even grander ones from the 1930s, a grid layout, a working port, a gentrified warehouse/marina district. On the street there are traffic-light hawkers, pavement beggars, families, couples. Vehicles of all flavours (more of which later). Busy shopping streets with urchins in your face, quieter places with lots of locals quietly hanging out with their families enjoying the warmth. It’s got a great vibe. It’s a bit faded and jaded in parts, but hey, where isn’t? I know I am.
My preferred technique for getting to know a city? Get lost on foot. With a tourist map in my pocket for nudging and cab fee for actually getting lost it’s hardly a high risk strategy. Boundaries, arteries and distracting side roads mean less than linear progress but offer surprise, exercise and those priceless little insights to a city’s heart. Half views of courtyards, crossing huge highways, cobbled alleyways, designer malls, mingling with the crowds, pausing for a Coke at a roadside bar, Banksy aping graffiti, police stop-n-searches (not me), TV crews and a million other tiny things. All of human life is here. Will do a more formal thing with my compadres tomorrow.
Something else that you notice though. History from one’s own lifetime. This became evident when getting my bearings I looked up at the name of the tram stop I was at and winced slightly at the name. Belgrano. Then, some way up the road in a plaza (garden) outside the Ministry of Defence building a veterans encampment with large home made signs arguing for justice and such like in regard to the Islas Malvinas. I was in my early teens when Maggie Thatch sent our boys to the south Atlantic and its flavour is all very real here with new wrangling over oil drilling rights in the region. I have no quarrel with these folks and move on quietly.
They do like their rugby here, with shops selling liveried national and league kit. Having caught the second half of the English game – which Ireland won – I noted from results scrolling across the screen that Sale were thrashed by Gloucester 3-47 . Funny: were I in Wiltshire it’d be likely that score would remain unknown to me.
The weather here is just the tonic for my jaded self. Late 20s, a little breeze and a notch of humidity. The kind of weather that makes you want to mosey. Not suitable for rushing unless you are intentionally seeking sweat. Along the quayside in Puerto Madero the atmosphere is just wonderful. It’s like a wonderful mash up of London Docklands, Swansea marina and the 6th street district of Austin Texas. Am immediately missing Mrs B immensely as this is our kind of place to spend the afternoon over a nice bottle of something. As I lean upon a guard rail, my reverie is broken by some nice local teens who ask me some directions in Spanish. I smile broadly and point out that they’ve picked on someone who has been a local for all of 90 minutes. They giggle and – in perfect English – say it’s their country and they should know better!
Saturday 27th February 2010: Silly o’clock in the morning
It’s funny how the, er, more senior generation blame the young. Because from my, albeit statistically insignificant sample, it’s the old who are recklessly at fault. Under the effects of the universal truth serum (triple Baileys) the parental generation (PG) – Katheryn, Peter and Pat (aka Mum) – let slip that their planning for this jaunt was nothing more than a whim under the affluence of incohol. Right now, 04.30 UK time or 01.30AM local Mum is feeling less than ship-shape. All due to…. what exactly?
The bartender at the nice place next door to the hotel tells that a Caipirosca is 250ml vodka, 2 x crushed limes with sugar and… well, that’s it. Apparently, it was a good idea have several of these. Personally, I thought finishing off with a generous Mohito was a masterstroke, but the others would apparently disagree. We had $246Ag of cocktails after a dinner of – basically- meat with a bottle of wine following a beer or two. For the PG, that was preceded by hotel room cocktails. IE: Quadruple Whiskeys, Baileys. Lovely. Now Mum is sat up in bed with a pre-sleep hangover of Biblical proportions. Am a bit worried she’s going to hurl. Tsk, parents today.
Of course, after industrial quantities of booze am feeling slightly wobbly myself but am sobered somewhat by the responsibility of room sharing. Really rather surreal feeling responsible for ones parent (singular). After this performance should I dock her allowance tomorrow?
Whatever, we had a lot of beef for dinner. No really, lots. Lots of meat washed down with a lovely Malbec and a walk home. It was going to the bar that was our (their) undoing. Why, I’m sober enough to blog ossifer. [Hic.]
Top Tip Time: Never go to the bar next door to your hotel with your parents and their friends because it will get out of hand.
2 X limes
Method: Roughly chop limes and add to bowl. Heap 3 X sugars in (v generously). Bruise and crush with pestle and transfer to cocktail shaker. Add ice and a bucket of vodka. Shake vigorously yet stylishly. Pour into brandy-type vase/glass that has rim already encrusted with sugar. Splash extra vodka on top for good measure. Have stomach pump at local A&E on standby.
Sunday 28th February: Walking off the Hangover with Peter.
It’s a big town this. So leaving the ladies to sleep we head off in the pleasant morning warmth for a couple of hours stride around the city. At the now gentrified port we see some bits of maritime furniture that give pause for thought. The capstans along the quayside were made at a foundry in Cardiff. It sets us thinking about the origins of things around the town and sure enough we see cues from Paris, Amsterdam and a host of Latin European styles. The port clock tower would look equally at home on the Solent. As it might with a name like Torro de los Ingleses. But as we turn from it heading up to Plaza San Martin an open memorial guarded by two machine gun toting young Argentines comes into view. As we approach it becomes quietly obvious that the several hundred names – Peter counts the stone tablets inscribed with 25 names on each – are those who were lost in the Malvinas conflict. 649 Argentine souls perished in the war I learn later. Britain lost 255. The eternal flame and giant Argentine flag overhead mean that us thoroughly British tourists beat a quite retreat. An eternal flame burns for them and – like the demonstration outside another Government ministry – the wound is still an open one.
Two and a half hours of pavement pounding later we arrive back at the hotel. The ladies are more chipper now so we head out in search of more beef based foodstuffs for lunch. In the afternoon the PG head out to find some culture whilst I stay in, snooze and then head out to a park to sit amongst the locals and read a novel. When I get in it’s clear that the sunburn-saving headgear I had diligently donned has left a comedy tide mark across my forehead. V amusing.
28th February Dinner @ Las Nazarenas
Went off to a parrilla – grill house – for dinner and ended up at Las Nazarenas.
Enormous steaks, grilled veggies and a bottle of Malbec. $453Ag. Less than £20/head for one of the best steaks I’ve had. Would cost more in meat alone from the local butcher home in Marlborough. Replete we walk home under a full moon in the warmth.
To follow a discussion about water going down the plughole a different way Pat tries an experiment in the bathroom. It is inconclusive. Is the whole water/plughole clockwise in the north, anti in the south an urban myth? Too tired tonight…