May 11, 2019
We are grateful for this downtime and well settled in the apartment but do miss much about being on the road: (1) our couch in Tigger is more comfortable than the one in here 🙁 and (2) the ability to move on if the weather sucks is a big plus when you live on the road. However, the rain doesn’t tend to hang around here all day or for days (so far anyway). We did read that BA gets more rain than London, England ! but with any luck, it won’t get that bad.
The Argentine peso has been going through a great deal of decline lately; when we first came to this country back in November for a month, we were getting 37 pesos to the USD – we now get around 45. Good for us but sad for the people here and sometimes it’s in our favour to pay for things in USD and the people like that; our guide for our Tango tour last week told us many people do not put USD in the bank and rather do the “money under the mattress” to safeguard its value!
Being right in the city there are not a lot of large supermarkets but several small ones and lots and lots small tiendas that sell fruits/veggies and many bakeries and butcher shops. We tend to shop about every four days at various stores and all this is done walking. Plastic bags are not available at most stores (although small shops tend to have them) and we carry one or two cloth bags with us pretty much every time we go out.
This is a map that shows greater Buenos Aires and the red ping is where we are in the San Telmo barrio:
Saturday was the start of a sunny week with high temps varying between 17 and 24 C / 62 and 75 F. Nighttime temps dropped to low double digits C / 50’s F. The apartment is a little cool in the mornings and early evenings as naturally, it has no central heat but there is an AC unit that can also heat the bedroom anyway.
During this, our third week in San Telmo, we took in the following:
- Finally spent a Sunday exploring the Sunday market in San Telmo (last Sunday it poured so it was called off and the Sunday before we only visited briefly). It is located one block away from our apartment and it’s several blocks long with vendors are set up on both sides of the street.
- Afterwards, we walked over to the seaside park in Puerto Madero. It was a lovely day and the sun felt so warm – a perfect fall day. This park is BA’s largest green space (think Vancouver’s Stanley Park or NYC’s Central Park) with walking and biking the main activities. The paths are not paved so roller blading and skateboard are not done here.
- On Monday morning before breakfast we walked to a laboratory to get some blood work done to check our cholesterol levels. Cost us only $12 each and we had the results the next morning via email.
- Tuesday morning we walked over to the Paraguayan embassy in the hopes of getting the visas we’ll need in August sorted. Paraguay, Brazil and Suriname are the three countries in South America you cannot get visas for upon arriving at the border (you could at an airport if you fly in though). Turns out that day AND the next were national holidays so no luck on that front. We did go online and get our applications for our Brazilian visas done electronically which we received the very next day – that doesn’t seem to be an option for Paraguay.
- That night our landlords got tickets to a futbol match and brought us along. Soccer tickets are not easy to get and they are not cheap. We had hoped to see a major league play but those prices are ridiculous and the season ends this month making the tickets to the final games even more expensive. Anyway, even getting tickets to a less major league game is not simple. Luckily for us, our landlady’s husband is a “member” of the Racing Club Athletico and he gets in free and can get tickets for guests. Even with that “in” we have to pay for a “security check”. Due to the animosity that can lead to violence that can occur at Argentine futbol games, all ticket holders have to have a card showing their identity. If you have been involved in “bad behavior” in the past, this is on record and you can be denied entry. Other than major cup games, only fans of the home team are allowed into the stadium and there are a few police checkpoints before entering the area, let alone the stadium itself. Our landlady needed copies of our passports to obtain these ID cards and bought tickets for us all to attend that night. We now have Racing ID cards:
They picked us up at 5 pm for a 7 pm match; we parked about ten blocks away and walked to the “cancha” (stadium). Members and their guests seat in the section opposite the team benches on the 2nd level with actual seats. There are “cheap” seats on the main level at either end of the pitch with no actual seats, just stairs but everyone ends up standing, cheering and singing pretty much the entire game.
We bought some burgers and cokes and the game started on time in this fashion:
There were several “dramatic” moments when players fell/were “injured” and a large golf cart comes on the field with a back board to take them off the field if required.
A few yellow cards were handed out and the home team won 2-1. The first half especially was very exciting and new for us. The cheering is almost nonstop and there is a band in the cheap seats sections revving the crowd up constantly. So much passion!
- Thursday morning we returned to the Paraguayan consulate to apply for visas which took less than a half hour including payment in USD at a nearby bank (a hefty $150 each for Canadians – $10 more if your American!). They advised they will be ready later today or we could wait till morning to return. Later we received an email saying they needed proof of “economic solvency” as he’d forgotten to ask us while we were there so we had to send in a copy of a credit card (?). Very strange way to prove that…..
- That night we went to see the Philharmonic orchestra in the world renowned opera house “Teatro Colon” which is considered a “true monument of theatrical, lyrical and acoustic art, undoubtedly the best of all time” by Italian travel site: Travel 365. Construction on this building began in 1908 and took twenty years to complete. We are not symphony buffs by any means, but friends had recommended it, if only to see the theatre and hear the acoustics. It was not expensive (200 pesos each – less than $5). Now we knew we’d have an “obstructed view” but in reality we had no view of the stage!
The sound was beautiful but we did not recognize the music. The theatre was not completely full and we left at the intermission.
- Friday after picking up our Paraguayan visa:we stopped by Café Tortoni for lunch.
- Café Tortoni was begun on a different street than its present day location 1858 by a French immigrant whose surname was Touan and he named his business after a Parisian café of the same name. It was moved to its current location in 1880 and has been selected many times as one of the ten most beautiful cafes in the world. It has marble floors, stain glass and mahogany tables and also contains a back area with a stage where tango shows are performed. It has seen the likes of many famous people including Albert Einstein, Hilary Clinton and Robert Duvall. The waiters wear tuxedos with bow ties.
- Saturday we had reservations for an English tour of the Casa Rosada – you have to book 15 days out and provide your passport number to be “cleared” for a tour. (Similar to when you visit the White House.) They only offer tours in English on Saturdays. This is the building from which Presidents (including Juan Peron and Evita) make appearances to the public facing the huge Plaza de Mayo square. You actually get to walk through the President’s office but no photos or stopping are allowed.
The Casa Rosada is the executive mansion and office of the President of Argentina. The palatial mansion is known officially as Casa de Gobierno. However in recent years, the President lives at the Quinta de Olivos, the official residence of the President of Argentina, which is located in Olivos, Greater Buenos Aires. The building is also referred to as the “Government Palace”.
This is the view from the balcony facing the square where the President and Eva Peron would give speeches;
- Sunday we began our fourth week (that’s a loooong time for us in one place!). It was beginning to cool off and we did have a quick shower late in the afternoon. Midday we walked over to the largest supermarket in the city, Coto, to see if we could find some things that we’d been having trouble finding in this country. It’s a two story building and more like a department store (Target, Walmart) but has huge selections. We saw a half an aisle devoted to just “dulce de leche” and we took a photo but still couldn’t get the whole section in the pic!
“Dulce de leche” is a confection from Latin America prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a substance that derives its flavour from the Maillard reaction, also changing colour, with an appearance and flavour similar to caramel. Dulce de leche in Spanish for “candy [made] of milk” or “caramel”. (You can make this at home by simmering a can of condensed milk for about three hours – Fran’s done it!.)
Now unlike North America, the largest snack aisles here are filled with cookies and the chips/salty section is generally small but in this shop; no, it was an entire aisle like back home – the most popular chips we see are Lays plan (in Chile you see more Lays plain ripple which they call “corte Americo” which means American cut) and Doritos are everywhere. Grocery stores here have huge wine sections with some hard stuff for sale, and of course beer, and here Doug actually found Sambuca which he’d been struggling to find since we hit Chile/Argentina. We ended up finding a few of our “hard to find” items but not all.
- Monday and Tuesday the temperatures cooled off and we had some rain mostly overnight. The sun did peek out some on Tuesday but it wasn’t that warm. It’s rather cold in our apartment.
- Wednesday, the sun came out but didn’t warm up much. We decided to reach out to our landlady about the temperature in the apartment and she offered to buy us an electric heater which she dropped off before noon. That afternoon we made our way to the Museum of Latin American art – it’s there half price day! We had some recommends from friends who’d each spent a Wednesday afternoon there. So we got our daily steps by walking there (6.5 km / 4.6 mi) and to be honest we were not all that impressed. There are three floors to view; the basement had hardly anything at all; the top floor was a study in Argentine photography that we did not get much out of and the main hall was paintings that had a few interesting choices but most was not our cup of tea.
We grabbed a taxi out front and took it to the big Gallerias Mall to find some lunch and walked the final 1.5 km back to our apartment. The heater did make a big difference for the rest of our stay.
- So Thursday we decided to try out the public transit system in BA and head out of the city. Our landlady provided us with a transit card with a small balance on it that is easy to recharge.
One of the easiest ways to get around Buenos Aires is with the city’s subway – or Subte, as it is called here. There are six Subte lines running through the city. The Subte in Buenos Aires is the oldest subway system in Latin America and was founded in 1913. The SUBE system includes the subway, buses and trains to nearby smaller cities. SUBE is also the name given to the card you use to enter and pay within the system.
We decided to head to the city of La Plata – the provincial capital, a big university town and the home to the country’s best natural history museum.
In 1892, Governor Rocha decided to erect a new city to host the provincial government institutions and a university which had already been planned. An urban planner named Pedro Benoit designed a city layout based on a “rationalist conception of urban centres”. The city has the shape of a square with a central park and two main diagonal avenues, north to south and east to west. In addition, there are numerous other shorter diagonal streets. This design is copied in a self-similar manner in small blocks of six by six blocks in length. For every six blocks, there is a small park or square. Other than the diagonal streets, all streets are on a rectangular grid and are numbered consecutively. Thus, La Plata is nicknamed “la ciudad de las diagonales” (city of diagonals).
The bus trip to the train station (took about 7 minutes) cost us 18 pesos each ($0.40) USD and the train to La Plata (about an hour in duration) cost us 12 pesos each ($0.26)! The trains are electric, above ground and are modern with large windows, air conditioning and bicycle sections.
Upon arrival we grabbed a cab to the Museum of Natural Science (cost just over a $1) which was actually quite a good one and we wandered it for about an hour.
We then walked down the main avenue to the central square, Plaza Moreno, to see the huge Gothic cathedral
and provincial government buildings
We decided to have some lunch and then walked back to the train station to return to San Telmo. It was a pretty inexpensive outing since the transportation was so cheap.
- Friday we awoke to yet another sunny but cool day and when Fran went to open the blinds in the living room, the “strap” that you use to pull them up broke! We Whatsapp’ed the landlady and she arranged for the super to come that afternoon to fix it. Around noon headed to take the subway into the barrio of Palermo to check out the street art/graffiti. Interestingly, the subway cost 19 pesos per person and didn’t seem to depend on how far you traveled.
Upon exiting the subway, we picked up some lunch and then empanadas for dinner. The super arrived around 5 and as he tried to fix the pull cord on the blinds, he realized one of the pulleys was broken and he went out to get a new one. After he fixed that and was putting the wall back together, the electrical cable for the wall sconces broke and he had to fix that too. Poor Roberto, what probably should have only taken 30 minutes took almost two hours!
The “Dirty War” and “The Disappeared”
In March 1976, a bloodless military coup took place ejecting Peron’s widow, Isabelita (she became president after his death), from power. General Jorge Rafael Videla became a dictator and ushered in a period of terror and brutality. From that time to 1983, security forces went around the country arresting, torturing, raping and killing people on their list of suspected leftists.
Victims died during torture, were machine-gunned at the edge of enormous pits, or were thrown, drugged, from airplanes into the sea; those individuals came to be known as “the missing,” or “desaparecidos.” The government made no effort to identify or document the desaparecidos. By “disappearing” them and disposing of their bodies, they could in effect pretend they never existed. Among the desaparecidos were children born to pregnant women who were kept alive long enough to give birth to their babies, then murdered. It is said that five hundred of those children, and others seized from their parents during the Dirty War, are thought to have been given to families more sympathetic to the regime. Since then, nearly 900 former members of the terror squads have been tried and convicted of crimes, many involving human rights abuses. But the chilling legacy of Argentina’s Dirty War lingers on—and until the mystery of the country’s missing is fully solved, the mothers and grandmothers of the desaparecidos will keep fighting for the truth.
It is estimated that 30,000 people were “disappeared” with no hope of legal process. Ironically, this reign of terror also ended in a military operation. Today the “Mothers (and Grandmothers) of the Disappeared” continue to fight to find the missing babies and the bodies of their family members who were “disappeared”. You see these symbols painted on a many a town square in the country:
They began marching in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada in 1977 (even through the World up held in Argentina in 1978) and to this day hold a march on Thursdays in the hopes of pressuring the government for more information and help to find their loved ones. Over 10,000 bodies have been recovered and identified and hundreds of the missing babies have been reunited with their families through maternal DNA (though not always happily).
A few pics from a walk around BA on Saturday…..