August 28, 2007

Buenos Aires

Last night was another great night of learning of other cultures. It started with me sharing some wine with some American and British students. I left the table when I noticed a guy who looked really bored and needed someone to talk to. He was from Holland and coincidentally, he had studied Spanish at the same place I had in Cuernavaca, Mexico. What a small world. He was sitting next to some girls who eventually got engaged in our conversation.

Eventually, I began to speak exclusively with one of the girls, Francene from Colombia. We spoke in Spanish for a couple hours, allowing me to greatly improve my Spanish and to learn greatly about the current social and political conditions in Bogota. It was a great conversation, and it didn’t hurt that she was extremely cute.

I eventually went to bed and in the morning went on adventures with Alex from Brazil. I like to walk and he likes to ride and we don’t speak the same languages, so it is a very interesting friendship. Anyways, he convinced me to take a bus to the barrio “La Boca.” He only won because the hostel workers said that it wasn’t a safe walk, even for 2 men. We bussed to La Boca and I wasn’t overly impressed. It is a very yuppyish tourist trap surrounded by extreme poverty. What is cool with the barrio is that every building is painted the colors of football teams.

We walked around, saw some expensive trinkets and then walked to the local football stadium. The local team, Boca Juniors, is very popular and perhaps the best in Argentina. We paid to tour the stadium but having no tie to the team, it was only okay. However, I can see why it is a popular tour—I’d pay big bucks for a behind the scenes tour of the Metrodome.

After the stadium, I convinced Alex to walk a few miles to our next destination, a huge nature reserve along the water. The workers at the hostel weren’t lying, it was a bda neighborhood, probably the worst I’ve ever walked through. About three blocks from the touristy Boca, the streets were dead and all the houses were reminiscent of an upscale shantytown. A few people came outside of their houses and just glared at us while we walked by. It was like this for about 2 miles, and then it became very exclusive, everyone wearing suits and hanging out at beautiful public plazas.

We eventually made it to the park. It is a beautiful nature reserve with the Rio de la Plata on one side and the city on the other. It is roughly the same size of Central Park, but it isn’t 100% man made. We walked a bit in the park and then went back into the city and had some phenomenal, cheap food from a street vendor. Next, we slowly progressed (lots of breaks and Alex kept asking for directions because I don’t think he realized that I knew where we were going). Eventually we made it to the Japanese Garden.

The garden was a gift from Japan back around the 1950s. It was small, but still demanded a few photos. Alex and I also went our separate ways at this point. He wanted to bus, and I wanted to walk.

I headed south through Palermo. I followed the Avenue Liberador for about 3-4 miles. IT is a grand avenue (running North/South) with 12 lanes of traffic. At times, both sides of the avenue were parks. If not, one side was a park and the other majestic, expensive high-rises. I was very impressed and leisurely walked this distance, stopping to take in the sights or to view a monument from time to time (I have never been in a city with so many monuments).

Eventually, I came upon Retiro, the large transportation center. I wanted to buy a bus ticket for somewhere, but I didn’t have my guidebook to know where to buy one for. On a whim, I bought a ticket from the first booth to a city with a familiar name, Rawson. I thought I had read about this city, but I was mistaken. I don’t think Rawson has many, or any, tourists, so we’ll see how it goes.

Anyways, I bought my ticket and began walking to my hostel. Along the way, I encountered another thing Buenos Aires is famous for, demonstrations. Ever since 2000 when the economy collapsed, there have been widespread demonstrations by the piqueteros. Apparently, there are multiple a day, and they are now just treated as a common occurrence. Because they are so common, I expected them to all be rather small, but I was surprised by its enormity. Literally thousands of people marched through the streets for block after block. I was impressed by the organization. I guess after multiple demonstrations a day for a couple years, the protesters get good (perhaps not effective). I also was surprised how none of the non-participants were even fazed by it. Everyone went on like it was all normal.

Due to the crowds, it took me awhile longer to return to my hostel than expected. When I got there, Alex wanted to go shopping for gifts, and I was a good guide. I was dead tired, but decided it’d be nice to see some more of the city.

Photo info:
1. Picture of El Caminito in La Boca
2. Photo of La Bombonera, the stadium of the Boca Juniors
3. Me by bridge in La Boca, not Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge
4. Me by cool movable bridge in downtown Buenos Aires
5. Me with some big carp-like fish in Japanese Garden (photo taken for Brandon)
6. Me with some banzai trees in Japanese Garden (photo taken for James)
7. Fuzzy movie of some demonstrators in Buenos Aires
8. Avenida Florida where Alex bought gifts

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