Siga la Vaca – Parte I

13Feb09

Originally written on February 13, 2009

Hola todos!

If one follows tracks of a cow, one might end up either in Switzerland, India or Argentina. LOL I’ve opted out for the third choice and came to the country which instead of Sun should have had a steak on its national flag. This is the reason why I decided to name this email “Siga la Vaca” or “Follow the Cow”. (N.G., no necesito ninguna vaca que esta gorda… Por supuesto conocemos una. JAJAJAJA…)  

Obelisco at Plaza de la Republica, Buenos Aires

 The trip to Argentina was the longest flight I’ve ever taken. If direct, it takes about 14 hours from Toronto. After all, I was going from the country with igloos and Eskimos to the country that borders the South Pole.

My arrival to Buenos Aires was welcomed by a taxi driver who befriended me. His name is Jose and during the drive to the rented apartment, he preached to me, and confirmed my belief that Jesus loved me! I was relieved to hear that. No matter whether I was on St. Clair Avenue W, in front of London Bridge, or in an Argentine cab, I seem to get across people preaching Jesus’ caring love. LOL

My apartment was situated in the upscale Recoleta neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, right across from the famous cemetery (more about it later), and only three blocks away from J.G’s place. This also turned out to be very convenient.

On the day of my arrival to Argentina, eight days ago, everything did not end up well. I had doubts by the evening whether Jesus loved me after all.  The Internet connection in the apartment did not work, and my adapter turned out to be incompatible for the electrical sockets in Argentina, or it perhaps burnt down. I wasn’t the happiest at the moment so it was good I didn’t meet anyone that night. After much frustration and worry that I won’t be able to charge neither my computer nor camera, I went to bed, hoping that Jesus will love me more the following day.

And so he did. The first thing I did in the morning was to go to the nearby hardware store, explain my situation in a broken Spanish, and buy a new electrical plug for mere CND$2. My problems were solved albeit no Internet during my stay in the apartment.  

Palacio del Congreso, Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, turned out to be more beautiful and more interesting that my cousin’s pictures and stories were saying just one year ago. The city is called Paris of South America, but if you’ve been to Paris and Madrid, you would probably agree with me that the comparison of Buenos Aires to Madrid is more suitable. Both cities cherish similar laid-back lifestyle where one doesn’t dine before 10 pm nor go to a nightclub before 2 am. Of course, nightlife doesn’t die out even on early Monday mornings despite the fact that many need to be at work in several hours. The neoclassical buildings and wide avenues in BA reminded me of Gran Via in Madrid, and the pedestrian streets such as Calle Florida looked almost the same as shopping streets in Madrid leading to Puerta del Sol.  

Catedral Metropolitana, Buenos Aires

During my stay, I became friends with J.G. whose contacts I obtained through another friend.  J.G., although from the surroundings of Buenos Aires, has been on vacation from work and studying in London, UK. Since the two of us got along well on the first encounter, I was spending quite some time with him and his friends. It was great to get to know Porteños (people from BA) and explore the places that many tourists perhaps don’t get a chance to visit. So my adventure had began with them – starting with a dinner in a Swedish restaurant eating caviar and drinking champagne, having a VIP treatment at the re-opening of a nightclub, going for parilla (Argentina barbeque) and eating every bit of a cow (including intestines) to the point of digestive exhaustion, staying up late until 6-7 am in the morning either dancing or chilling at house parties, or simply having a quiet evening and going to cinema.

On Saturday night, we were supposed to go to a house party after some pre-drinking but since the party turned out to be lame for our liking (or perhaps most guests had left already since we arrived after 4 am), we decided to call it the night, get a couple of hours of sleep, and continue in the morning by going to the afterparty at 9 am. 

Luckily, I paced myself well, and stayed in Buenos Aires long enough to allow myself to recover from the long nights out, and yet to have enough time to go sightseeing. Instead of prolonging hedonism on Sunday morning, I decided to change my plan and visit the famous cemetery of Recoleta. I needed to visit major tourist attractions. 

Recoleta, Buenos Aires

Pere Lachaise has Jim Morrisson’s grave, Zentralfriedhof has Beethoven’s , and Recoleta has Evita’s. To be buried in Recoleta, is the symbol of high status which doesn’t come easily. Eva Duarte Peron was buried in this cemetery in her family’s mausoleum, while her husband, a multiple-time President of Argentina didn’t deserve such an honour.  The graveyard tells the story of the Argentine history and the amount of wealth and creativity one would put into an ornated monument of the last resting place. The walk through the cemetery on the early Sunday morning was very tranquil – something that I needed after a couple of nights out. Just as I was stepping out of the site bypassing newly arrived hordes of tourists, a funeral procession reminded me that this place might be a (bizarre) attraction, but it still serves its purpose as a last resting place of extinguished Porteños 

Plaque on Eva Peron's Family Tomb in Recoleta, Buenos Aires

As mentioned, Argentinians devour in their beef to the great extent, and if you are Hindu or vegetarian, your food options will be extremely limited. Even the presidential palace Casa Rosada obtained its name from the paint colour which was created by adding some bovine blood to it. Leather and fur shops could be seen everywhere in the city. They reminded me of the unbareable cold I’ll need to face soon upon my return to Canada. At this moment, looking at anything will long sleeves was absurd when the temperature is well above 30C.

Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires

 In addition, the cost of food is very low for the Canadian standards. For instance, a good lunch in a local eatery costs around CND $5 while a buffet style barbeque with 1L bottle of wine or 1L of beer per guest goes for about CND $12 or so. J.G. and I ate so much on Sunday evening, that both of us regretted it later in the night when we went to a nightclub. I had a feeling my stomach would explode!

 Although I stationed myself in the city, I planned to go to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay as a day trip. This would give me a chance to visit a country I never thought of going to. Well, I shouldn’t have gone.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Colonia is about 50 km by ferry across the river delta from BA. It was supposed to be a nice colonial Portuguese town which eventually was taken over by Spaniards. Yet after spending 45 min over there, I had seen everything. Aside from the tourists, it looked like a ghost town. It seemed as Pompeii had more inhabitants than Colonia. Thus, my countdown has begun until I board the ferry to head back to Argentina. 6 hours till boarding … I lay down on the bench in the pier, sun bathe and took a nap, 5 hours till boarding … I switch to the other side of the bench and took a nap… 4.5 hours till boarding, it got cloudy so I went for 1.5 hr lunch… 3 hours till boarding I tried to take a nap, and then the storm started so I headed to the port.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

 At the customs in the port, I experienced the well-known efficiency of Hispanic bureaucracy. The customs opened only 2 hours prior to the ferry departure, and nobody was informed about that. Basically, all of us checked in, and stood in a small corridor between the check-in counter and the customs. There was no way of going back. Eventually, the officers started arriving and by the time all of them greeted one another, gave pecks on the cheeks to one another, exchanged their stories of what happened during siesta time, the power went out in the port due to the storm! Five minutes later the computers were running yet again. As you can gather, everything was technologically advanced in Uruguay.

As if the day couldn’t get worse, it kept on raining even upon arrival to Buenos Aires. With no taxis in site, and not sure which public bus to take, I as many others, started walking in the thunderstorm towards my apartment (or where I thought it would be).  Imagine walking from Front St. to Bloor while the rain is pouring (that’s how far I had to go until I finally caught a cab), and the roads are uneven so one can’t even cross a road without getting feet completely soaked. I was more wet than when taking a shower. It was a great way to finalize my visit to Uruguay!

My last day in Buenos Aires, I spent swiping my credit card in the boutiques of Palermo Soho, a neighbourhood which very much looks like Soho in NYC except that there were less shops, and they were also more affordable. I spent a little fortune in La Coste because I couldn’t resist the end of summer sales and the fact that a polo T-shirt costs here 50% less than in North America.

Puente de la Mujer in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires

On Thursday morning after many sleepless nights and eating a whole cow during my one-week stay, I bid farewell to Buenos Aires, and left for Rio de Janeiro from where I’m completing this very long email.

I’ve seen only a tiny bit of Argentina, but the trip and the people that I’ve met over there were definitely worth the long journey.  So far, this is the only city in South America where I would consider living.

I hope all of you are doing well, and I’ll see many of you very soon!

Un besito, I.

 PS. To T.F.: You know many more details about my trip, and there is no way this holiday would turn out to be as wonderful had you not given me the right contacts. I’m eternally grateful to you. Un abrazo fuerte y nos conversamos por telefono cuando estoy en Toronto!

 PPS. N.L., duty free section at the airport in Buenos Aires had a butcher shop. I would have brought you a steak had I flown directly back to Toronto. 😉

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