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In October 2011 our little group: Sonia, Craig, Wendy and Richard visited Argentina. We spent two periods of time in Buenos Aires; at the start and at the end of our trip; and we two nights at the Iguassu Falls.

 

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a vast checkerboard of mainly three to fifteen storey buildings in various states of repair.  As it occupies the ancient flood plane of the River Plate it is largely flat; like Melbourne.  And like Melbourne, there is some impressive colonial architecture and it makes up for its geographical deficiencies; with its pleasant built environment and easy to walk, level streets.  It's a huge city that is very European in feel; and in its ethnic make-up. 

 

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Periodically wide avenues or boulevards intersect the checkerboard and parks and squares lie scattered here and there. Buildings vary in age and style from grand classic colonial to 1960's utilitarian /modernist. 

 

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The streets alternate in traffic direction and cabs take whichever is least congested.  But the traffic can be slow.  As is appropriate to such a crowded city the cars smaller than in Australia, with few SUVs, but many cars are new.  There is a metro with widely spaced stations that helps to relieve the congestion.

It is a relatively well-off city, compared to much of South America.  But the standard of living took a big knock when the country defaulted on its loans and had to start living within its means.  Since then things have been improving economically. The people are generally slim and healthy looking.

We were interested in Eva Peron and went to her tomb in a cemetery and to the Evita museum.

Eva was a girl of humble origins who just avoided prostitution.  She worked as a model, toured with a theatre company, and was cast in a few B-grade movies and radio shows.  By 1942 Eva was a recognised beauty and was chosen by the future dictator as his second (trophy) wife. They came to power under a socialist agenda but by 1947 were hob-knobbing with the Spanish fascists and the Vatican.  Peron seems to have been a self-serving demagogue.  Evita was his front person; much seen heading social improvement programmes and international good-will missions.  She was still only in her 20's.  By the age of 33 she was dead; from cancer.  Her death set of a wave of Princess Diana style hysteria.  But it is undoubtedly true that she was, both posthumously and while alive, a major force for women's rights, education and emancipation in Argentina.

 

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The cemetery was interesting. Religion still seems to be important for many in Argentina with deference to the Pope evident in museums and several religious programs on TV.  In the cemetery each family has a tomb structure occupying the space of a small room; mostly three or four metres square. But many have basements and some an upper storey. Recently occupied crypts, or those corpses that still have living relatives who care, are in good condition but many are in decay; with coffins visible and rotting away; covered in rat poo.  It's amazing what expense can be wasted on a corpse in the belief, perhapse, that the body will be raised at the second coming.

 

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Despite a lower average income than many European, North American or Australasian countries, today Argentina appears to be an advanced Western style first world society, with modern art of high quality, and an excellent classical gallery full of French impressionists; Dutch and Flemish masters; through the spectrum of European art to American modern and post-modern works, including a Jackson Polack.  This is just one of many other cultural qualifications and indicators, including dace and music.  Buenos Aires is generally very liveable; with some spectacular grand cafes and a restaurant on almost every corner.  The food is excellent and cheap by Sydney standards; but then it is so in many countries.

 

Iguassu

The falls at Iguassu are spectacular and even better up close.  The total volume is less than Niagara but they extend over a much wider distance and are higher.  They are on the international border and are best seen from Brazil but best experienced from Argentina where you can take a boat that goes under some smaller falls and gets well up into the mist. The noise and power of nature is sense numbing. There is little more to add; they are more to be experienced than written about.

 

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Return to Argentina

After our adventures in Peru and Bolivia we flew back to Buenos Aires, crossing the Andes twice more. Lima Airport was starting to feel like home.

Back in Buenos Aires we had a very pleasant day, culminating in an evening with friends. 

 

Uruguay

The following day we got up early to take a fast catamaran ferry to Colonia Del Sacramento in Uruguay across the River Plate.  The township is charmingly rustic but boasts a casino and a disused, crumbling, bull ring that may have played a part in the development of the Tango across the river.  We spent the day in cafes, wandering about, climbing the lighthouse and so on, before getting the ferry back.

 

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At this point the river is very wide and could even be described as a bay but a taste revealed that the water here is fresh; still a river. Even from the top of the lighthouse we couldn't see Buenos Aires on the other side; but from the top of high buildings in Buenos Aires you can see the other bank on the horizon. We speculated that this is due to Buenos Aires being shrouded in its own cloud of smog.

Clearly Uruguay, at least here, is a well-off, essentially European community.  It has some quite close similarities to Australia. Colonia is like an Australian country town.

 

And back...

When we returned to the Buenos Aires side, instead of getting a cab immediately, we took a stroll past the marinas to the down town area where there were various political rallies taking place with a degree of good humour; although the riot police lurked around the corner. We then caught the metro to our stop.

 

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This was when to only off-putting thing of the trip occurred - a pick-pocket stole my wallet. I was standing on the train engaged in conversation with Craig and a helpful local man when another man seemed to stumble into me getting off, when we reached a station.  As I was getting off the train two stops later I realised my wallet was missing. 

Thinking about it I'm still not sure it they were in cahoots or not. Our interlocutor seemed quite genuine, claiming to be an opera singer. My only doubt is that he claimed to be singing in Macbeth and didn't know that mentioning its name is supposed to be unlucky for performers, so that it is generally referred to as the 'Scottish play'. Also he mumbled the composer and it didn't sound like Verdi. But it’s difficult for me to make out some Spanish pronunciations and Wikipedia tells me there is also a version by Bloch; so I may well be suspecting a perfectly innocent, and otherwise helpful, little songster.

Fortunately I had scanned my credit cards back and front and had the page in my bag in our room; so that in less than 15 minutes I was back at the hotel cancelling them.  But I lost my driver's licence and a couple of other useful cards as well.  I expect the main loss will be the cash.  I was not carrying a fortune but it's annoying, putting a sour note on what has otherwise been a most enjoyable few days in Buenos Aires. The hotel called the police but they were totally unhelpful saying that the metro was not within their jurisdiction; I needed to go to a particular metro station to report it to the transit police. As there is no chance of recovering the cash and the cards will be confiscated the first time some one tries to use them, we went to dinner instead; and had a couple of nice bottles of wine to accompany some excellent Argentine steaks.

The following day we took the tourist bus to the 'home of tango’ Camerito Street in La Boca.  This is a small area of cafes and bars in what was once a waterside slum where the tango began as an erotic dance of the demimonde.  The wider area is still a bit on the slummy side.  Many of the houses are built in corrugated iron and some are adobe.  A number are in decay and seem to be abandoned; or squats.  

 

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But in the tourist area it is buzzing.  Cameras snap, scan, pan and zoom as girls and women in skirts split to the hip prance and spin and trot, legs akimbo, with angular men on little stages; to the tango.  Or they simply pose with tourists; leg up - here hold my thigh and smile. Giggle from the wives and girlfriends; a grimace from the young man whose partner’s thigh is being held insinuatingly by the faux-matador.

 

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In addition to the tango there are interludes of Spanish flamenco, with bull fighting flourishes, and African drum rhythms; demonstrating its antecedents. Tango related products pour out of the tourist shops.

 

Home James, and don’t spare the Kangaroos

After this brief interlude we fully expected to return to Sydney the following morning… to remember all that had happened and to dream of another adventure. But our run of airline related misadventures was yet to end.

Our plane was in the air on its way from Australia; our bags were packed; our seats allocated; our boarding passes at hand.  Then came first a warning e-mail from Jordan, Wendy’s daughter, check our flight again Qantas may have a problem.  

Both Craig and I have tablets that are ‘on-line’ most of the time – everywhere there is wi-fi and in particular in every hotel we stayed in.  I’m using mine to write these notes.  As we watched the Qantas site our flight went from all OK to 'flight cancelled'.  Qantas management had locked-out its staff; the whole airline was grounded.  Our first step was to see if the hotel could accommodate us for another couple of nights. It could.

The next morning there was still no resolution and the next Qantas flight was now scheduled to leave; so the queue might now be twice as long. So in the absence of any means of contacting Qantas (no phones were answering); an SMS was sent to our phones but we couldn’t reply; we all decided it was time to look for another carrier. Aerolineas Argentinas still had seats; they were ridiculously expensive but we would be in Sydney on the 1st to meet some deadlines. Another couple of hours were spent over the breakfast table, booking on-line and arranging payment.  So we would need to be up and out to the airport at 3:00 the next morning to begin the flight home; via New Zealand.

Aerolineas Argentinas is definitely a ‘no frills’ airline – probably the most basic international we have flown anywhere; and it was a very long flight.  But it got us home safely; despite the basic seats; a single channel in in-flight entertainment system, with overhead screens, playing randomly interleaved sections of three or four current movies, so that the system itself became a source of amusement to many; spartan food, mine soon dangerously embedded with shards of the ineffective fragile plastic cutlery; abrupt cabin staff, when seen at all; poor air circulation, leaving me at one stage bathed in perspiration despite my wearing just a thin cotton shirt; unintelligible English cabin announcements, the Spanish was often more informative; and a wildly veering, unstable approach, followed by a heavy double bounce, when landing in Auckland.  Possibly there was a strong cross-wind but the Sydney landing was not a lot better.  The other theory is too many pisco sours (see Peru). 

As it turns out, we might have been better to have done nothing.  Qantas put on another plane at short notice that would have got us home a few hours later.  Thus ironically, the whole incident has only served to demonstrate how much better Qantas usually are – when they choose to fly. 

At least the volcano in Chile stayed calm!

 

Also see:

Brazil

Peru

Bolivia

 

 

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