Tigre Delta tour and Desnivel

One of your ‘must do’ items in Buenos Aires is apparently a tour of the Tigre Delta. Tigre is actually a separate town about 25kms north of BA, that gets it name from the ‘tigers’ (jaguars actually) that used to be hunted here.  It is accessible by bus, car, train and of course, by river boats.

Tigre has become a huge tourist destination in recent years with large resort/spa locations being built in among the rivers and canals.  Important celebrities, ‘such as Madonna, you know the Madonna?’ have been known to holiday here.

Oddly, touring the delta by river felt a lot of like doing a Florida swamp tour.  Tourists are loaded onto river craft of varying size and modernity, and are then taken powering up the Rio de la Plata (River Plate) until you reach the mouth of the delta.  From there you find yourself winding through canals and effectively peering into people’s backyards!

Each home has its own little jetty or pontoon as this is a community that thrives on its waterways.  They have mail boats, rubbish boats, supermarket boats and even ice-cream boats that service the community.  Kids get to and from school by boat. Houses are varying from grand to dilapidated, some have permanent residents and many are able to be rented as holiday destinations.  The guide on the boat mentioned that many of them are weekend homes for people who live and work in the city. In the centre of the delta is this odd house covered by a glass cube – it is the house of one, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, considered the ‘Father of Argentinian Classrooms’ or the founder of modern Argentinian education.  Built in the 1860s, the house has been placed in the glass cube to preserve it from the wind, weather and constant humidity. The area is well known for its rowers and the Argentinian Rowing Club is located in the delta… leading to the common site of crazy people out rowing at midday… without hats. Further towards the town of Tigre, you can see large marketplaces where people can come (by boat) to do larger shopping and pick up supplies. Also nearby is the famous Parque de la Costa, which is like the largest amusement park in Argentina or South America or something or other… I kinda wasn’t paying attention when he said that bit  😛   In my defence, we do live barely half an hour from a handful of theme parks, so I’m not all that interested in them. After our genteel pottering around on boats for the morning, we got to go visit the beautiful Cathedral de San Isidro which, oddly enough, is located in the centre of the small town of San Isidro.  The Cathedral was built in 1898 on the site where a cathedral had stood since the early 1700s.  As per usual for South American structures from this period (well, so it seemed from our extensive tour last year), it was designed by French architects and is built in a very aesthetically pleasing, neogothic style.  It has gorgeous stained glass windows and its spire reaches just shy of 70m tall (which is the same height as Buenos Aire’s Obelisk, don’t you know?).  It has recently undergone extensive renovations which is why the entire building looks brand new.  It is a truly lovely church. After we visited the Cathedral we had a quick stop, just long enough for a lemon gelato and then it was time to head back to Buenos Aires.  We decided to make like the Spanish for the remainder of the afternoon and have a much-needed siesta.

Now, yesterday Ceri – the loquacious Canadian – had recommended to us ‘the best local Argentinian steakhouse in Buenos Aires’ that has ‘steak so tender you can cut it with a spoon!’.  Well, this is a pretty big call and we thought it needed to be checked out – but we were so tired yesterday that we had planned on going this evening instead.

The restaurant is called Desnivel and is on Defensor Av, about a kilometre and a half from our hotel. So we decided to walk down and cab it back.  It was a nice evening for a stroll through the cobbled streets of Buenos Aires.  🙂  Everywhere you walk you can see the strong European influence – and moving through the different streets feels like going from Paris to Italy just by going over a block or two.

We stumbled onto these cute sculptures set up on a park bench – you can see these guys on souvenirs everywhere.  The little girl is called Mafalda and she is the star of a comic strip.   Mafalda, is supposed to reflect the Argentinian middle classes combined with the thoughts of the more progressive youth. She is often depicted concerned about world peace and the state of humanity and apparently has somewhat serious, but endearing attitude problems.  You see her on everything here – from aprons and stationery to mate cups and keychains. Anyway, we made it to Desnivel just as the place was opening at 7pm.  Argentines traditionally dine quite late and while we wandered into a nearly empty restuarant, the place was getting quite busy as patrons kept walking in as late as 9:30pm to 10pm.

As you enter, you get to parade past the BBQ, which smell absolutely delicious.  Ceri had told us yesterday they don’t use any spices on the meats while cooking, just a light salt rub.  Any flavours are added after the cook.

AND we saw this massive stack of sliced provolne ready to be cooked… looks like piles of wax.After we ordered some drinks – caipirinha, margartita, and pisco sours… our lump of wax came out like this – well cooked and covered in peppers, bacon, provoletta, and herbs.  Absolutely beautiful.  Add a tiny bit of chimichurri and Bob’s your uncle. After sharing some provaletta for an entre, we had steak tenderloins (what we would just call a fillet steak) that was served drowning in delicious mushroom sauce and with pomme noisettes.  None a pesky vegetable in sight at this steakhouse  😉   And Ceri was right, I have never – and I mean that literally – I have never had such tender steak in my life. Thanks to Ceri’s advice we ordered one steak between the two of us and didn’t have to be rolled out of the restaurant.The steak cut like butter and almost melted in your mouth.  It was beautifully cooked and so light and tender.  Phenomenal… we were all commenting what a shame it was we hadn’t made the effort to come last night as we would have been back for a second meal tonight as well, it was that good!

In lieu of dessert, we decided to have some limoncello… about nine shots later!

Eventually our waiter just brought over the damn bottle.  🙂
Finally, well fed and cheerful, we paid for our meal in what looks like a king’s ransom and spilled out onto the street to find a cab.

We finished the night with mojitos on the rooftop bar back at the hotel… nattering until the bar staff kicked us out!  😛  What a great night!  We will have to come back and do it again some time.

Buenos Aires Walking Tour

Today we had lined up to do a walking tour with our new friend Ceri – pronounced, ‘Kerry’, he’s a pretty cool, (and very cheeky), Canadian dude, with a Welsh name and a British accent, living in Argentina with English wife, who makes shoes for a living and does tour guiding on the side (or perhaps it’s the other way around). He’s also a photographer, an outspoken democratic socialist and speaks English, Spanish, French, and the language of ‘love’! Yes… he actually said that.  🙂   Right off the bat, we could tell Ceri was quite the character as he starting taking the piss within minutes of meeting us.  A bold move for a tour guide… I can imagine American pax love that shit..! Personally, I found him to be intelligent, genuine and charming.  So off we went to explore the city to check out the architecture, a tiny bit of history and some of his favourite spots.

A couple of blocks from the hotel, we stopped at the Embassy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, such that it was (the Empire not the Embassy).  It was built prior to WWI in a German neo-gothic style is one of Buenos Aires most imposing buildings.  It is unfortunately not open to the public and houses boring office spaces now, but apparently is really lovely inside. The sculpture surrounding the building is quite impressive with figurative motifs of the architects and people involved in the building of the structure, along with decorative motifs of owls, phoenix and other creatures in among the stonework.One of our next stops was the Parque Lezama… where we roundly ignored the statue of Pedro de Mendoza who allegedly founded the city of Buenos Aires in 1536, and went instead wandering the back streets to find a cafe.  Being Australian, Ceri thought we’d want to find ‘good coffee’.  It is apparently the one thing that Australians want when they get here and so he took us to a cafe- where we ordered one lemonade, one iced tea and one iced coffee, as I don’t drink coffee at all and none of us are big coffee drinkers. It was at this point, he questioned if we were actually Australian.

While at the markets we met the local butcher who provides all the meat for the nearby Argentinian steakhouses, a grocer and a local wine merchant, who promptly pulled out a bottle of local white wine, a Bodega-Colomé Torrontés 2016 and four glasses.  It’s roughly about 10:30am at this point, but sure why not.  The wine comes from the Calchaqui Valley and I must say, it was excellent regardless of the hour.  Our wine merchant friend didn’t try to sell us anything, just watched us raise a glass and wished us a good day.  From here we made our way towards the Casa Rosada.

Streetscapes near the Parque Lezama… Random window above the street level near Defensor – makes me feel like the repair work I need to do on my own home isn’t so desperate after all.
The streets on the way to Casa Rosada – the famous Presidential Palace, were increasingly congested with all the protesting that was going on.  The Casa Rosada was so busy and surrounded by so much construction, clumps of cruise ship tourists, traffic and chaos that I have stolen… err appropriated, a pic from Wikipedia to include here so you can actually see (and so that I will be able to remember) what the building it is supposed to look like!

We sat on some steps opposite the Palace and had a discussion about the building, and rebuilding of the Palace over the years, the state of Argentinian politics, and discussed some of the different approaches that Argentina vs Australia take to global problems.  For example on immigration – Argentina is seeing a lot of Venezuelan immigrants at the moment as a result of instability in that region and rather than take those refugees and ship them offshore to detention hellholes, the Argentinan government is expediting visas and citizenships for these people primarily because they bring skills and abilities to the country, but there’s an added benefit that it is apparently pissing off the Venezuelan government to no end.

After attempting to save the world’s global refugee crisis and failing miserably, we moved onto the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, which was also surrounded by barricades getting ready for some social protest or other – Ceri tells us that protesting is pretty much a national Argentinian past time at this point.  That there are protests for something or other, literally every day.  It stems from many of today’s Argentinians being still very much mindful of their recent dictactorial political situation as recently as the 1980s.  We touched briefly on the Falklands War which we were informed was largely an enormous attempt at misdirection by a corrupt government to keep the populace from looking too hard at what was going on (which reinforces what we were told by the Falklanders we met in Stanley last year).

Anyway, the Cathedral is mostly known now as the home parish for the current Pope who was the Archbishop here before being elected to the Papacy.  The locals are extraordinarily proud of their Pope – and rightly so I think, he’s a vast improvement over the last few – and they talk of his humility and charity with great fondness and enthusiasm.

The Cathedral fronts directly onto the Plaza del Mayo which is a large open space often used for protesting… most notably it is the site where the ‘Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo’ congregate every Thursday as they have done since the mid-1980s. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have been turning up protesting that they do not know what has happened to their children and the tens of thousands of people who were ‘disappeared’ between 1976 and 1983. At that time, anyone who protested against the dictatorial government would find themselves ‘disappeared’.  Protesting was outlawed and protestors were kidnapped, tortured and murdered (apparently a favoured way to get rid of political dissidents was to torture them and then to fly them over the River Plata and throw them out of planes) This state-run terrorism campaign of the military dictatorship operated between 1976 and 1983, which is when the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo organised and started to protest the disappearance of their children.  You see the very Catholic Argentinians adore and respect their mothers above all else and they knew that no Argentinians would stand idle if they saw mothers being beaten and subdued in the streets.  So the government just had to let them alone… and while protesting is now completely legal, the Mothers have refused to be silent and they continue to protest nearly 40 years on.

After this depressing stop, we went for a wander off to pop into the famous Cafe Tortoni.  The Cafe Tortoni is on the Avenida de Mayo – built in the mid-1850s by a French immigrant whose name I have forgotten, it was the place to be for Parisien expats at the end of the 19thC.  The whole street feels like you are walking down a Paris boulevard, and the cafe itself has a beautiful and elegant ‘belle epoque’ feel about it, which has attracted intellectuals and celebrities alike for over 150 years.

We stepped out of the cafe and ran smack bang into… wouldn’t you know it, a workers union protest.  It was at this point I asked Ceri if all this political engagement and protesting ever brought about tangible change to which he replied, ‘Not really, but now they have their right to protest back, they’re intent on using it.’ From here we made our way to 9 July Avenue where one of the famous Evita balconies is located as well as an enormous 70m obelisk. The Obelisco de Buenos Aires was erected in the Plaza de la República on  9 de Julio in 1936 to commemorate the quadricentennial of the foundation of the city.  It’s quite a striking monument – you can’t miss it!

After this, we hopped a taxi to take us to the Recoleta Cemetary… because, well it was getting stupid hot and it was a couple of kilometres away.

The Recoleta Cemetery is mostly known as the resting place of Evita Peron, buried under her maiden name of Duarte.  But aside from this one famous grave, the place is a photographers dream and I make no apologies for how many pics are included here of the beautiful artistry that has gone into creating the monuments to passed loved ones… the place is open-air sculpture and decorative arts musuem in its own right.

The large walled cemetery is similar to one we saw in Punta Arenas in Chile last year, but quite five times the size, and quite ten times as ostentatious in its display of wealth and status.  The mausoleums are enormous, and all the materials and workmanship would have been imported from Europe. People from many different denominations are buried here. The Argentinians are a very cosmopolitan people having come from everywhere – this appears to have been the result of a dreadful policy that encouraged the slaughter of the indigenous peoples in the past, but has created a society that knows they are all from somewhere else, so they appear to be more tolerant of one another… Ceri claims the Argentines ‘are mostly Italian and Irish descent, speaking Spanish, dressing like French and wanting to be British.’ Presidente Alfonsin’s grave site – unlike most of the tombs here, this one is open sided and not locked. The graves are rich with symbolism – from trees of life, owls of wisdom, anchors of hope and memento mori.
This is a couple who hated each other but who were forced to live out their lives together – Catholics do not divorce – so in death they chose to be buried in the family plot feet pointing towards each other and busts facing away, not side by side as most loving couples would. It’s very honest in its own way. This is a momument to a woman named Ida – a very personal homage from a grieving husband.  Ida fell from a building and this statue depicts a woman helping her into the heavens. Eva Peron’s grave – the most visited grave in the cemetery.  It is the only one covered in flowers and tokens, though compared to many of the other tombs, it is plain, simple and not particularly artistic.  Evita was a very divisive figure so it is the only place in the cemetery that is under CCTV surveillance.

Ceri photographs at the cemetery a lot and is preparing images for a book – which means he knows everyone here very well.  As we were leaving we met the security personnel who had plenty of questions for us about kangaroos and Australia’s dangerous wildlife.  They were also quite taken with our blue-eyed appearances and before you know it the mate was being offered around.  Having tried it before and remembering full well how bloody disgusting it tastes, I managed to avoid it, but this being Trisha’s first time in Argentina and being a good sport, decided to give it a go.  Her verdict: “It’s okay.”  How very politic of her.  🙂

And with that, we concluded our tour at the rooftop bar at our hotel, where we toasted with a lovely bottle of rose, and discussed more about the local culture, politics and religion. It was a very stimulating day all round and I had a wonderful time meeting Ceri.

I hope one day to see the Pope wearing some of his shoes!

La Boca

Woke up this morning bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to tackle the city with verve…! Yeah, I can’t back that up.  We all pretty much woke up bleary-eyed and feeling like wrung out dish rags.  Long-haul flights and drastic time changes will do that to you – every. single. time.  We breakfasted at the hotel and decided to jump on the HoHo (Hop-On, Hop-Off) bus to get a feel for the place with minimum effort.  We have a walking tour booked for tomorrow, so we were trying to see different parts of the city that we wouldn’t see tomorrow.  The one area that wasn’t on tomorrow’s itinerary was the bright and colourful La Boca neighbourhood, so we decided we would ride the bus there and make sure we jumped off to have a poke around.

The primary HoHo terminal in Buenos Aires just happened to be directly across the street from our hotel, so we didn’t have to go far to get our day started.  Lined up, bought some tickets and jumped on the next bus.  Unfortunately, the upper deck wasn’t covered like they usually are and there is no way I was going to spend a few hours in the midday sun, so we sat downstairs which limits your ability to view the architecture.

La Boca is a barrio that has a strong European flavour about it – having been settled quite early in the city’s history by Italian immigrants largely from the Genoa area.  It has some winding little pedestrian areas called the Caminito, where local artists are creating and selling their arts in markets and shops.  It’s well known for its colourful houses that have been built up for tourism over the last few years and it attracts a lot of visitors who are interested in tango, local art, food and culture.

The buildings here are old timber and corrugated iron construction, but they have been brightly painted by the bohemian community that lives in the area.  Other than these few very colourful streets that are decidedly touristic, the wider area is quite poor and unfortunately known to be a high crime area. It’s a very funky little barrio though and well worth checking out – with lots of markets, cafes, souvenir stores, people dancing the tango at midday, and a cool buzz about the place. Everything that stands still appears to have been painted in bright colours creating a very festive and cheerful atmosphere.  The markets are full of bright and interesting souvenirs as well, with lots of artwork and plenty of toruisty stuff.

We had a good look around, found a cafe for some overpriced lunch and watched the tango dancers strutting their stuff intently in the front of the restaurant. After that, we hopped back on the HoHo bus and head back uptown to see some more famous buildings. I’m not a big fan of HoHo buses in general – the droning of the guided audio tour tends to be a poor quality and not very engaging commentary that just about sends me to sleep, but it is a nice way to meander through a city and get a feel for a place.

We stayed on the bus until it took us full circle back to our hotel, where we all had a bit of a kip before heading out for a late tapas dinner.  We ended up at a great little tapas restaurant a few blocks from the hotel called Tancat Tasca – the food was delicious and the sangria was excellent too.

After that it was back to the hotel – we were all exhausted from doing what, I don’t know.  Probably the flight still catching up with us.

Buenos Aires Bound.

Well, we are off once again… this time to see a man about some penguins.  Antarctica!

Trish and I keep pinching ourselves – I can’t believe we are actually doing this.  Antarctica is on just about every traveller’s ‘Bucket List’, and it’s usually one of the hardest ones to tick off.  Apparently, Antarctica sees only 34,000 visitors a year, which is not a lot when you consider Disneyland gets around 44,000 visitors a day.

Anyway.  We had an uneventful transit – unless I count the quite severely damaged suitcase that greeted me in Buenos Aires.  Seriously, every corner was dinged in and it looked like it had been used to play football on the tarmac, but thankfully the bottle of port inside was safely intact.  I’ll be having words with Air New Zealand about that – a decent Samsonite suitcase is well around the $300-$400 mark and they just throw your shit around like it doesn’t matter at all.  I’d never buy really expensive luggage that was ever going to be checked on a flight.  But c’est la vie.  It turned up, which is better than the other most common travellers’ luggage problem, which is standing around the luggage conveyor belt wondering where the hell your suitcase is.  🙂

Border control and customs were uneventful too – well for us… saw the most ridiculous thing I have seen at any immigration control desk (with the exception of Russian immigration officers signing official paperwork for Chinese tourists by putting a pen in their hand and pretending to sign on their behalf, that is) in a long time. There was an over-coiffed, overdressed, overly made-up American lady trying to get through passport control and she was being asked to put her right thumb on on a scanner but was unable to comply – because of crazy long acrylic fingernails!  And by ‘crazy long’ I mean 3″ long fingernails?  She was literally unable to lay her thumb flat on the scanning pad.  The lady customs officer was unimpressed and took the issue to her supervisor – we could see them all laughing over the ridiculousness of the situation behind some frosted glass.  And those of us still standing in the queues were wondering if she was going to be refused entry to Argentina because of her fingernails!  Eventually, the customs officer came back and processed her with very ill temper without the scanned fingerprints – my guess is she wanted to come out and hand the silly woman some scissors…

Anyway, we got through the airport with minimum hiccups, a little guy with a sign bearing our name was waiting for us just outside – always love that, and it was off to find our hotel. We are staying at 725 Continental which is really well located in the centre of the city, and has huge rooms… 14′ ceilings and a bedroom about 5m x 5m, which felt like a startling contrast when compared to the shoebox we encountered in Shinjuku after walking off our last long-haul flights into Tokyo!

We were all a bit stuffed, so we pottered around a bit and went for a walk down Florida Avenue to find something for dinner.  Stumbled upon a local restaurant called Havannas, with a guy playing easy listening tunes on a saxophone and Italian food… so naturally we walked in and ordered empanadas – as you do.

Early night tonight and hopefully an easy day tomorrow.

Hockey Night in Canada

Okay, not really Hockey Night in Canada… more Hockey Afternoon in Langley – which for the record IS in Canada, but only barely! 😛  Once upon a time, a long long long time ago, Mr K lived on Vancouver Island and worked at a Wendy’s.  Now at that Wendy’s Mr K used to work with Peter and Scott.  Scott still lives in Victoria and he manages a veterinary clinic, but Peter is living here in Vancouver and works as a firefighter in Langley.  As it turns out, Peter has a young son who he regularly takes out on a Friday afternoon ‘stick ‘n’ puck’; which is a casual open ice hockey session for friends to get together and just slap the puck around for an hour or two… and Mr K and the Teenager signed up to have a go!Getting ready to hit the ice…And they’re off and running… err, skating.  Bit wobbly at first, but they both gained in confidence really quickly.Peter’s son – looking quite the pro in his Canuck’s jersey.  He told us all about his favourite players and the number of points, goals and assists they had made so far this season.  This kid is awesome, cute as a button, intelligent and polite, and really into his hockey.  🙂  I was taking photos (obviously) and trying really hard to crop other people’s kids out of these pics, but there were about 24 people on the ice at any point in time and another five in rotation skating in whenever anyone came off.  It was pretty hectic, and I swear there were four-year-olds out there who could skate rings around Mr K. The team from Down Under… making that shit look good fellas!  😛  Turns out playing ice hockey is not like riding a bike… Intense! Look at that grin – I think he likes ice hockey even more than snowboarding.  Dad and the Teenager all hot and sweaty but totally exhilarated.  Grandpa would be proud!  🙂 After ice hockey, seeing we were in the area, we took the opportunity to go and have a sticky beak around Pete’s work.  Peter has been working as a firefighter for eight years now, but was volunteering and working part-time long before that.  He strikes me as one of those fortunate people who have always known what they wanted to do in life, and he went out, worked hard, and got it done. The fire station was really interesting – as you can imagine, these guys respond to way more situations than just fires and their trucks seem well equipped for most situations.

Showing the boys the ropes. Thanks Pete, what a great day – coffees, hockey trivia with your Small Child, some stick ‘n’ puck ice hockey for Mr K and the Teenager, followed by a tour of the fire station.  I hope you make it to Australia one day so we can show you and the family around Brisbane.