Buenos Aires at last - I reach my hotel at eight. It seems there is a general transport strike, in protest at the government's response (or lack of it) to proposed tax cuts. Aerolineas Argentinas isn't operating today. They don't pass on this useful piece of information until I am in the taxi on the way to the airport, so I hitch a ride on the first leg of an Air France flight to Paris from Montevideo. I'm lucky. Some poor souls camped out in the baggage hall, when I arrive, have been waiting five hours for their luggage, as the handlers are on strike too.
Larceny features large now. Wikipedia tells me that Buenos Aires is generally one of the safest cities to visit in South America, safer than Los Angeles and Brussels. Nevertheless, the guide who meets me spends a great deal of time warning me about petty thieves, pickpockets and the necessity for not looking flashy when I go out. He obviously hasn't had a good look at me. And I've already been robbed in Uruguay.
Anyway, I go wandering in Buenos Aires. My hotel is in leafy Palermo but a guy still stops me and tells me to hide my camera. Nobody here seems to have read Wikipedia. Buenos Aires is known as Bs.As. Or just BA (as Evita said). It's the most visited city in South America, known for its vibrant multi cultural heritage and European style buildings.
I walk for fifteen miles ending hot and sore (it's 30 degrees) with blisters. I knew I was in for a long tramp, as it's a huge city. The population is three million, but it's 13 million if you count the whole of the Buenos Aires conurbation. My map doesn't help, as not everything is marked in the right place. And, for some reason, many of the parks and plazas only have one entrance so you can't just saunter through. You walk for several hundred yards before discovering that there is no other exit - salida unico. Someone has a wicked sense of humour.
I've marked out a route right across town. It meanders, as there is a lot to see. The Botanical Garden and the Rose Garden, the museums and churches, the ritzy shops, the majestic squares, the verdant parks, the giant obelisk, the opera house and the elegant cafes. Like Montevideo, BA is on the River Plate estuary. There are just a few glimpses of the water, as I wander.
The gardens are formally laid out, with red earth paths, and decorated with white sculptures and pergolas. The Rose Garden is particularly fragrant and at its best, with a great sea of blooms. There are statues of famous poets, a lake with a quaint bridge and over 1,000 different species of rose.
La Boca is possibly the most well known barrio or tourist area in Buenos Aires. It's vibrant and colourful and tango artists perform on the pedestrian street, the Caminito. It's actually only a very small area of the city and is surrounded by relatively poor housing. But the locals have made the most of what they have, with street murals, market stalls and tavernas. Most of the restaurants are, somewhat surprisingly, Italian, but the original settlers of La Boca were Genoese.
My final destination is the Avenida del Mayo, for nationally important buildings and the Casa Rosado (Pink Palace) especially - it's the seat of government. I saw it last time I was here, but my photo was poor and I'm determined to do better. Someone has other ideas. The palace is surrounded by barricades and hordes of excited policeman in and out of cars. I skirt round to the plaza on the opposite side. Here the barricades are decorated with pictures and slogans. At least that's something to take a photo of.
And half an hour later (I've been indulging in the delicious ice cream - if it's not beef, it's dulce de leche flavour here), a protest march proceeds down the street. There is drumming, a mass of red T shirts and huge Che Guevara banners. Presumably, the strike, the parade, the police presence and the barricades are all linked. It's an interesting spectacle to take in before I wend my way home, past the United Nations lotus sculptures and the Cafe Biela. This is a traditional spot for watching the world go by. And they do a very strong caipirinha.
My last morning in Buenos Aires. Just enough time to wander the streets of Palermo. Palermo is the modern, in vogue, area of the city, where anyone who is anyone lives and hangs out. There's Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho, both named after their American counterparts. Unofficially named Soho, after the 'village' in New York. This, as you would expect, is the hipster area of the city. Very colourful, very trendy. Converted warehouses, repurposed colonial houses. Full of boutiques, cafes, nightclubs and little farmers' markets.
I'm after the Evita Museum - the story just told like it is in the musical, mainly through photographs. María Eva Duarte or 'Evita' rose from an impoverished back ground, to marry the Juan Perón, in 1944. He became president in 1946. She was seen as great philanthropist and supporter of the working people and was aiming to become vice-president. But she succumbed to Cancer at the age of 33.. (He remained president until he died in 1974).
The airport is not the best organised I've ever been to. For most of the time I'm queuing there is only one check-in clerk operating eight desks. Just as I get to the front six more saunter back from lunch. In the departure lounge they operate the loudest tannoy announcements ever. No one is going to miss their flight by falling asleep, that's for sure. On to Asuncion.
(Read more about Argentina here.)
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