“they live a different rhythm of life here don’t they?”
We arrived at Retiro bus terminal and were told to take care with our belongings during the short walk to San Martin train station. There are two favela like streets in between the stations but we negotiated them without difficulty. We had booked a city centre apartment through Airbnb which was a decision well made. The apartment was in the city’s Palermo district, a leafy urban area with nice restaurants and boutique shops similar to Notting Hill in London. Palermo was a train ride and a long walk away from Retiro but we soon managed to find our new abode, a top floor apartment with a balcony and a great view across the city. The apartment cost a little bit more than a hostel but it was worth the extra cost to have some space and to be able to cook some food in our own kitchen.
I found an 8K race in the North of the city that was due to run two days later and so we spent an afternoon trying to locate the registration point which was in a gym, another train ride and a long walk awa in another part of the city. Registering for a race in Argentina when you don’t speak Spanish is difficult, especially when the registrar wants to see your passport and you don’t have it but we persevered and a good hour later we came away with a race number and a t-shirt for the San Andres 8k. The challenge now would be to find the race start in an entirely different part of the city, a train ride and a long walk away the following Sunday.
We spent the following morning walking round the city. We worked out the underground or “Subte” system and then whizzed from place to place. I couldn’t help but keep thinking that Buenos Aires is London in South America, the two cities are so similar. We visited the presidential palace workplace of President, Cristina Kirchner. We were able to walk into her office, apparently she commutes from her residence just outside the city to the Presidential Palace each day. There were personal family photos on her desk and paintings that it looked like her children had painted for her on the walls. It was just like anyone else’s office but big and posh, you could feel the power coming from the furniture.
On the walls which flank the corridor leading to Crissy’s office there is a montage of images of great Argentinian moments and even greater Argentinian people. Pride of place, centrally located right in the middle of this patriotic pathway was an illuminated montage of Maradona breaking the English defence in the 1986 World Cup – I wondered what psychology was at play here. I imagined Argentina’s most powerful woman each day as she walks down that corridor of power to her office pausing only momentarily to glance to see Argentina’s most famous son wrecking havoc with English lines of defence – there’s a subliminal message in it I’m sure. We moved on up Avenue Mayo to visit Cafe Tortini “the one cafe in Buenos Aires that you must visit“. according to their website. It sold coffee and cakes and wasn’t worth the queue.
The next day was race day. We left early before dawn at about 5:30am, this was when we witnessed for the first time how Buenos Arians live for the night. The cafe bars and takeaway’s were still full, the streets were buzzing and people were still drinking alcohol as if it was 2am. I felt a bit out of place wearing Lycra and donning my sports bag but everyone seemed too drunk to notice. We had a long walk in the dark to the station. It looked like the station was closed but a train rolled in so we got on it. It took 50 minutes to reach San Fernando and we had no idea where the race start was from there. There were two men that got off the train with us, just us and them. One of the men looked like a running type so I tapped him on the shoulder and then jogged on the spot whilst pointing first to me, then to him and finally in the direction of the street in front of us. (roughly translated that meant “I’m doing a race, are you doing it too? and do you know if the race starts up this street?) It was met with a broad smile, he understood, he was going the race and it was up the road so we followed him and his mate on the long walk to San Andres University where the race began.
It turned out the same man was Marino Flor and he went on to win the race. His “mate” was his coach. We had become friends during the long walk to the start so we got a photo together at the end and I witnessed Marino’s broad smile for a second time. The race was fun but God am I unfit. By 7K I was grateful it wasn’t 10K and I staggered over the line in about 35 minutes, it’s not easy to keep fit on the road but I must try harder.
In the evening we celebrated by meeting Jeff and Esmee our pals from Holland. We have been followed similar paths since we met in Sucre, Bolivia and we were able to meet again in Tupiza, Salta and now Buenos Aires. We had a great steak and some red wine and then found an underground Tango Milonga, it was brilliant. This is where the locals came to Tango and being creatures of the night the place didn’t get going until about 3am. We paid an entry fee of $60 Pesos (about £4) but if you arrived after 3am there was no entry fee. The opposite would happen in England. We were well oiled by 3am but the place got busier and busier and we were fascinated watching the locals tango so we stayed and “people watched” some more. The dancers go into a trance like state as their cheeks meet, after that it is poetry on the dance floor, brilliant to watch. By 4:30am we could last no more, we walked back up the steps of the Armenian Embassy under which the Milonga was taking place. We stumbled past more people just making their way in and then I practised my tango steps on a footplate outside on the pavement -that was a mistake in my condition. It was that evening whilst we gazed at the dancing and watched people pour into the club at such late hours that Jeff and I agreed – Buenos Arians live a different rhythm of life.
The next day we travelled by bus to La Boca home of the world famous Boca Juniors Football Club. It took us three unsuccessful attempts at bus rides before we eventually found La Boca. We took a tour of the stadium and witnessed the passion of Argentinian football through the guides dramatic speeches. She told us (and she wasn’t joking) that the away fans are afforded a small area in the top of the stands were the sun shines directly upon them. The away fans are not offered the chance to buy of food or water, “they can burn and dehydrate up there if they want to come into the Bombonera” we were told! The away team is given a similarly primitive dressing room directly underneath the home end where 16,000 fans jump up and down in unison to try and unnerve the away team who are preparing for the match below! In addition to the football stadium the streets outside the Bombonera are full of arty stalls, the buildings are colouful and the area has a real urban artistic feel about it. We didn’t stay long, La Boca is reputed to not be the safest of areas so we caught the bus back to the hustle of downtown to take pictures of Avenue 9 de Julio, the world’s widest Avenue. We crossed all 20 lanes stopping at refuge islands in between carriageways to marvel at the traffic which connects to the Pan American Highway.
Our time in Buenios Airies was coming to and end. On the final evening we went to a live tango show, it was great. the performers were a mixed couple and had travelled the world together. They were perhaps at the better end of their careers but the dancing was passionate and interesting. We met the dancers at the end, they were really friendly and happy to pose for pictures, they seemed genuinely glad that we had come to see their show. It was a great way to end our fantastic trip to Buenos Aires the city of the night, viva la Fiesta!