South America Trip Day 5 – Argentina – Buenos Aires

After such a busy day yesterday, and a late night on the fernet, Alex and I rewarded ourselves with a late check-out of the splendid Moreno Hotel, and then went to a nice restaurant – Relax – for the Executivo Menu. It was the kind of old restaurant that hasn’t forgotten the most important rule – customer satisfaction is paramount. Try telling that to the bloke in Uruguay yesterday. In complete contrast, the portly old waiter with neatly trimmed greying moustache here looked after us as though we were his grandchildren. He was the type of waiter you only see in the finest of establishments in other parts of the world, their breed having been taken over by surly college kids or drop-outs who think they are far too cool to be serving you. No, here was a waiter who took pride in his work – busying himself, an air of brisk efficiency and impeccable manners about him, immaculately dressed in white shirt, black waistcoat and black bow-tie as he cleared away cups and plates, set cutlery, took orders, and served drinks, sorting out both the regulars in their big coats reading newspapers, and people like me and Alex, whom he patiently waited for while we tried to remember the Spanish for ‘meat.’ He’d probably worked here all his life.

We ate heartily, then set out into the cold air to Retiro bus station, where we bought a ticket to Mendoza – a first class Executivo bed seat for around $400 Pesos ($100 US). Expensive – but luxurious, we were promised – and for a 14 hour trip, luxurious would be nice. The bus system in Argentina is excellent – multiple routes, and different classes of bus mean long trips to virtually anywhere in Argentina are affordable to anyone. So we’d booked passage on the First Class bus, and we were looking forward to the luxury. First, we had the rest of the day to kill before the 7pm departure.

We decided to go for a long stroll from the bus station in Retiro, to the Recoleta cemetery, a walk that took us through some of Buenos Aires’ poshest and most exclusive suburbs. Here, old French style buildings are in abundance, designer shopping malls, classy museums and lush, lush parks are everywhere. What a contrast to La Boca! The sun was out now, and it made a huge difference to Alex and I’s mood. Blue skies were overhead, we were passing fountains in the street, gorgeous old buildings with lovely wooden shutters….it was as though we were in a different city entirely. Buenos Aires, for all its energy, looks a bit drab on a cloudy winters day – now it was finally showing us its beauty and splendour. We got to the Cementerio De La Recoleta – where all the most famous and previously influential people in Argentina are buried. “Donde es Diego Maradona?’ Asked Alex, enquiring the whereabouts of the footy legend’s grave. The ticket seller didn’t look amused, and we wandered into the cemetery. It feels a bit strange ‘star spotting’ dead people. Some of the statues and marble sarcophagi were impressive, and some crypts were adorned with fresh flowers -loads of them. Others, however, were forgotten about, caskets rotting away, whoever was inside obviously neglected by both the general public and their family. “We all end up like this mate, I told Alex, somberly. “We’ve got to live for the moment. Remember the old woman on the plane. We could die tomorrow.” I was trying to whip up enthusiasm for our trip to Mendoza – we needed some real adventure – to feel alive again, and slightly in danger. It left both of us feeling depressed though, wandering through this vast cemetery. We found Evita’s grave, which was easy enough as that’s where all the tourists were gathered. It was an unassuming black marble entrance, with a little gold plaque naming the people buried inside, all members of Evita’s family. It was time to go – enough death for one day.

We stopped in a little cafe across from the cemetery and had a submarino and a cappuccino. We then hopped in a cab. Our cab driver was a real character – the sort you never forget. We were heading towards Congreso and Florida, as I wanted to find the vintage sports store Alex bought his River Plate shirt from, and buy myself a vintage Boca Juniors shirt. The cab driver, after lots of chat in Spanish, of which Alex and I were really doing our best, suddenly burst into song. He was clearly a Beatles fan, and, as we crawled along in rush hour traffic, we got through ‘Yesterday’, ‘Love Me Do’, ‘Let it Be’, and ‘Hey Jude’, with all three of us singing as loudly as we could. The driver had quite a voice, and was still a charming old crooner no doubt. It was a lovely, real experience – and something small like that means so much sometimes, and tells you a lot about the culture you’re in. For taxi drivers are the heart and soul and mind of the city. We hopped out in the middle of a huge traffic jam and headed towards the Obelisco. But something was wrong. The sound of flash bangs going off was rattling the window panes around, and there was the ominous beating of a drum, and the presence of hundreds of people with banners, as well as a sizable police presence. Another protest, about what I wasn’t certain, but something political for sure. There were 2 sides to this protest. One group was stationed at one side of Avenue 9 de Julio, and another group at the other side, chanting against each other vehemently. Alex and I stuck around out of curiosity, and the groups eventually turned and marched towards the obelisco. It was a rare sight – the widest street in the world completely empty of traffic. It was eerily quiet save the chanting and the drums, as though the rest of Microcentro had gone away. Alex and I didn’t have much time to spare, so we headed down Florida to find the vintage sports shop.

There it was. What I’d been searching for. A circa 1980s Boca Juniors top with the iconic number 10 on the back, figure hugging to say the least, but then that was the style back then. Dark blue with the gold band in the middle. The chap behind the counter was happy to see us again for sure, and thanked us warmly as we left. We now had only 30 minutes to get back to the Moreno Hotel to pick up our luggage, then head to the bus station. We jogged most of the way, and made it the station to catch the 7pm Andersmar Executivo bus. It was the most luxurious bus I’d ever been on. Alex and I sat upstairs. The wide comfy leather seats relined all the way back, to become comfortable beds. For the first few hours, we chatted and ate. The bus came with a waiter, who put slide in trays at our seats before serving us a three-course meal with our choice of wine. It was chocolate and champagne for dessert, followed by a special game of Andersmar Bingo – which provided Alex and I with an excellent chance to practice our Spanish numbers. The prize was a bottle of champagne. Alex won, but he didn’t realise until too late, as he’d missed a few numbers. Never mind. It was soon time for bed, and I had the best sleep of the entire trip – it was like business class on a plane. Incredible bus ride. It was finally time to leave Buenos Aires then, but it had left a lasting impression, and I can’t wait to come back.

Author: Neil

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