Monday 24 Apr
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Steak, red wine and football.
Buenos Aires is a fabulous city with wonderful elegant architecture, super fashion conscious residents and great food. Everything about it is more decadent and over the top than any other capital city I've ever been to. It's excess in the extreme - I went to get my hair cut and the woman next to me had three people attending to her. One washing her hair, whilst another person did her manicure and another her pedicure.
Walking around you can't help thinking that all this luxury is at the expense of the rest of the country which certainly doesn't live the lifestyle the residents of Buenos Aires enjoy. There's no visible slums in Buenos Aires, all the poor people are kicked out and live in a 10 mile radius outside the city. Often people we spoke to from neighbouring South American countries criticised the Argentinians for living in a dream world, and warned that they were heading for another economic collapse. When the peso was devalued 5 years ago it certainly wasn't the Chanel wearing residents of BA who who affected, and walking through the centre you could be mistaken in to thinking this was an extremely rich country with no poverty. The only reminder that all isn't quite as it seems are the families you see picking through the rubbish outside the boutiques. There's no real welfare state in Argentina and kids from the poorer areas are often refused entrance to BA's schools.
Whilst you're aware of all thE problems it's still difficult not to like the place, it is full of atmosphere, and travelling on the pound we were able to enjoy the best that BA had to offer. The San Telmo district where we were staying was like Shoreditch in London, only cooler, more fashionable and arty, with better bars and restaurants. We spent the week over indulging ourselves on Argentinian steak (the best in the world) and red wine.
The San Telmo and La Boca district is also the birthplace of Tango so we felt we had to take in a show. It could have been tacky and touristy but it was great. It was a tiny and intimate place, and walking through the door was like stepping back in to the 1920's. The bar was dark and moody. There was an old guy at the back hunched over a piano hammering out the tunes, whilst an aging singer dressed in sparkles belted out the songs. You could definitely hear her pain! Two young couples took turns dancing. I've never seen Tango performed before, it's a very dramatic and sensual dance. The dancers were all turns and flicks of the legs. It looked bloody complicated so we were more than a little reluctant when we were dragged up to dance by the professionals. We managed to stumble through one song before gladly scuttling back to our seats. It was all wonderfully atmospheric and the music and dancing went on until the early hours, but we left at 1am as we had more footwork trickery to see the next day from BA's premiere football team, River Plate.
We hadn't managed to see a game in our 6 months travelling Central and South America, which is pretty poor for two football fans, so we were pleased to hook up with Hernan, an avid River Plate fan, on our final day. We'd met Hernan two weeks earlier in Ushuiai, he lived in Buenos Aires and sorted us out with tickets. In Argentina women get in to games half price (one of the few female perks of the Latino culture), so my ticket to see Argentina's equivalent of Chelsea cost all of 70p!
River Plate were playing a smaller team called Instituto. There were no away supporters (Instituto are from Conception hundreds of miles away), but the River Plate fans more than made up for this. For the crowd the game was just one giant party. In fact most of them missed the first goal as they were covered under a huge banner (see photo). As the game wore on the atmosphere got more and more frenzied. The Samba bands got louder and the singing more animated. In fact the fans didn't ever really react to what was happening on the pitch. They were too busy having a good time. In the end River Plate won easily and the game finished 3-1, but who cares? What mattered was that everyone had a party. We left the stadium full of Latin spirit. It was a great end to our adventures in South America.