Last known location: London, England

Goals and Gauchos

D: From Singapore we embarked on a mammoth plane journey, across 11 time zones and over 12,000 miles to reach South America. The first leg was seven hours to Doha, and we managed to get a few hours sleep. After a three hour break looking round the huge duty free shop in the Qatar capital, the next leg was a sixteen hour slog to Sao Paulo. We had our second breakfast of the day and whiled away the hours watching films and playing games in between relatively unsuccessful attempts to sleep! After the stop in Sao Paulo, where we were confined to the plane, it was just over two hours further to Argentina. We finally arrived in Buenos Aires at 9.30pm, after 28 hours of travelling!

After waiting ages for our bags we then had to queue at an exchange counter for the best part of an hour – we had no money and as it was a Sunday night and a bank holiday weekend all the cash machines were empty! That wasn’t really what we needed, and we finally arrived at our hostel at 11.30pm very much ready for bed! We finally came to at about 1pm the next day! We spent the next couple of days in a slightly dazed, jetlagged state. The following two nights I couldn’t sleep at all (Gem did slightly better), and it took until Thursday until we felt vaguely normal!

In between all this we did manage to explore our local area a little bit. The hostel was situated in San Telmo, one of the city’s oldest districts, with cobbled streets and squares, filled with nice cafes, restaurants, antique shops and markets. Our first meal out was the traditional Argentine feast of steak accompanied by plenty of red wine, which down very well, and was to be repeated by me most days – Gem dared to go against tradition and eat salads and vegetables!

We also managed to find time to explore the nearby Microcentro, the main centre of the city. We visited the Plaza de Mayo, the scene of many significant events in Argentine history. Facing the square is the Casa Rosada, where Eva Peron addressed the crowds in the 1940’s. We had quick peak inside, just long enough for Gem to pose with a guard and see a few portraits of legendary Argentines. Further along the square is the Catedral Metropolitana, containing the tomb of the liberator of the country, Jose de San Martin. We also had time to explore Ave Florida, one of the busiest shopping streets in town. We seemed to have arrived on a public holiday, so lots of the shops were closed, but we did make it to Richmond Cafe for coffee – apparently a popular hangout for writers over the years. That night we also managed to watch the Spurs Champions League game in the bar at the hostel, which I was pretty pleased with. The atmosphere had been much better the night before though for the Barca-Arsenal game, as the bar was giving away free shots for everyone every time Lio Messi scored!

Our hostel ran walking tours a few days a week, so we took advantage of one to explore the working class neighbourhood of La Boca. Situated next to the port, the area was originally the home of Italian dock workers, who built there homes from the remnants of their old ships. Most of these are brightly coloured, and a few streets seem to have been tarted up for the tourists! Looking down from some of the balconies are cartoonish figures of famous Argentines – Maradona seemed a popular choice! The area is also home to Boca Juniors, one of the most popular teams in Argentina and one of his former clubs. We went past the ground, but were told not to bother with the museum as it was just full of football stuff – that sounded fine to me, but our guide didn’t seem much of a football fan! We didn’t stray too far off the beaten track in La Boca, our guide told us how she’d been robbed at knife point just down the road so thought it Recoleta Cemetary, Buenos Aires (4)[2]was wise to keep to the main streets!

One of the stranger tourist attractions in Buenos Aires is the Recoleta Cemetery, a small village of tombs and memorials to the city’s rich and powerful. Some of the tombs were in a bit of a shoddy state, starting to crumble and succumb to vegetation, but most were impressive marble constructions, with windows, doors and stairs to the basement. Seeing the coffins of entire families inside was a bit creepy and it was an eerie place to say the least!

Gaucho Time!
G: After several days in the city we thought it would be fun to get out into the country, so we booked ourselves in for a Gaucho Party.  This basically involved being taken to a ranch about an hour outside of Buenos Aires and spending the day horse riding, eating meat, drinking wine and watching various local performances.  We were greeted on arrival with an empanada and a glass of red wine and then the activities began.  The first challenge was the horse riding. I’d done a bit of horse riding before, years ago, but Dan was a novice.  We were given no instruction, however, and simply plonked on top of some lovely, but rather big, horses.  Cue minor panic from Dan – particularly because his horse seemed quite eager to get to the head of the queue so trotted off in front of the others!  My horse was very slow – and, despite my attempts to get him to break into a trot, was very happy hanging back and stopping to graze every few metres!  The ride only took about 20 minutes and showed us around the ranch, which was lovely – lots of green open spaces with horses grazing, dogs running about and even a couple of peacocks strutting their stuff!

Lunch was held in a large barn, full of 100 or so other visitors to the ranch – most of whom were South Americans.  There were some very rowdy Colombians and also a large groupDan & Gem sing 'Let It Be', Estancia Don Silvano, Buenos Aires (2) from Peru.  Dan and I were the only British although there were a few other Europeans.  Barbecued meat was the only thing on the menu – not much good being a vegetarian out here – and we were delivered plate after plate;  beef, chicken and sausage.  It was very tasty and Dan was in his element!  Throughout the meal we were entertained by a musician playing Argentine folk songs and dancers displaying traditional moves – including some tango.  Towards the end of the meal the musician started bringing calling up representatives from the mix of nationalities in the room and playing a famous song from their country.  I’d stupidly put my hand up earlier when he asked if there were any Brits in the room and, you guessed it, before too long we were called up to sing the Beatles classic “Let It Be”.  Luckily we’d had a few glasses of wine so we did belt out the chorus but unfortunately neither of us knew the other lyrics so we were left mumbling into the mike for a few awkward moments.  Thankfully the musician seemed to take pity on us and played the chorus on repeat towards the end.  I’ve no doubt that our singing was awful!  After every country had had a go – the Colombians gave a particularly enthusiastic performance – the lunch was wrapped up and we were ushered outside for the gaucho demonstration.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching two cowboys race horses and demonstrate their machismo by spearing rings hung from tree branches and proffering them to female audience members.  I was fortunate enough to receive one, and had to kiss the gaucho in return.  Dan, therefore, had to kiss the horse of the gaucho.  Sounds like an easy job but every time he got close the horse whinnied and backed away.  Much laughter from the audience.  He did eventually manage but came back to his seat rather red faced.  Rejected by a horse!  The day finished with traditional pastries and we were driven away from the beautiful countryside back into buzzing BA.

D: We decided to stay in Buenos Aires for a little longer so we could go to a football match on the Sunday (more on that later). The weather had been scorching all week so we thought we’d spend the Saturday with a picnic and a bottle of wine in one of the parks in Palermo – a wealthy northern district, with plenty of open space. We got there around lunchtime and found a pleasant spot, but all the time the sky was getting darker and darker, rumbles of thunder could be heard in the distance, and eventually the rain arrived. So after just a couple of hours we had to retreat to an Italian cafe to avoid getting soaked. Most Argentines are of either Spanish or Italian heritage so pasta and pizza are staple meals and that night we finally had a break from the steak!

Tango is huge in Argentina, and we had a lesson at our hostel, along with several other beginners. Despite the teacher’s patience, it’s safe to say we didn’t master it! I was apparently moving in all the wrong ways, and Gem didn’t take well to being led, but it was good fun all the same. During our time in the city we did manage to see some experts having a go – the big Tango shows were a bit out of our price range but there plenty of bars and restaurants that put on little shows, so we got a good idea of how it’s done!

Football Fix
On our last night in Buenos Aires we went see one of the countries biggest teams, River Plate, play at home to Velez Sarsfield, one of the many other sides from Buenos Aires. We decided to go as part of a group tour, as we’d heard it might not be the safest place to go if you didn’t know what you were doing! This did mean plenty of beer and pizza beforehand, and we got into the ground about an hour before the game.  Built in the 1930’s, it wasn’t the most modern stadium – the toilets had no lights or windows, which made things a bit tricky, and the seats in the stands had just enough legroom for a child to sit down! The place was packed though, there were so many banners everywhere that it was wonder half the people could see the pitch, and the fans made plenty of noise!

The game didn’t start too well for River, who went 1-0 down thanks to a disastrous goalkeeping gaff (which you can re-live here if you like that kind of thing), and that seemed to quieten the crowd down. However, just after half time they were awarded a slightly dubious penalty, which was duly despatched and got everyone jumping – you could feel the stand shaking at one point, hence the shakey camerawork below! Flares were lit and a there were some surprisingly tuneful songs as well.

It didn’t last though – with 5 minutes left they conceded again and ended up losing 2-1. Someone in an executive box behind us was spotted celebrating which didn’t go down well, and after a lot of angry shouting he was ushered out of a back entrance! It was a fun night for us though, even if the fans didn’t go home happy. Not the best game but the atmosphere made up for it!

The next day we moved on to Uruguay. Buenos Aires had been a very European start to our South American trip and a nice change after months in Asia!

  1. John 16 Mar, 2011

    I recognise both the steak and La Boca from the pictures.
    When your Mum and I were in La Boca, a little native Indian girl came and asked if she could have ( I thought ) a handful of the free peanuts that had come with our drinks from the bowl on the table. When I nodded and smiled she took the whole bowl! Obviously her need was greater than mine! Or she makes her living by imaginative begging.
    Have fun and stay safe

  2. Rose 16 Mar, 2011

    Dad and I went to lots of the places you visited but it was spring there then and the very wide avenues were lined with beautiful jacaranda trees with the most heavenly purple blossoms. Dad loved all the steaks too, but we never tried the tango, even though we went to watch a tango display about the origin of the dance. Some of the cemetery monuments were like small houses!

    Enjoy Montevideo.



  3. Helen 18 Mar, 2011

    Sounds so much fun! Now I fancy a steak 🙂 hxxx

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