Buenos Aires - Montevideo (29/09/15 - 12/11/15)
After the vast emptiness of much of Australia, Buenos Aires was a shock to all the senses.
How to describe this pulsing energetic mayhem of traffic, people, chatter, yelling, roadworks, smells of pastries and asado, fumes, perfumes, cigarette smoke, sweet roasting nuts, coffee, sirens and dogs dogs dogs all melding together in an uncanny harmony.
All with a back drop of the rapid-fire Spanish language, incredibly beautiful buildings from hundreds of years ago to the early 20th century to the modern glassy structures all competing for the skyline, pavements in a state of repair threatening to wreck the sturdiest ankle all while trying to dodge the dog-poop every few meters, multiple parks with huge scraggy old trees and minimal grass mostly inhabited by dogs and their walkers and hardly a word of English either written or spoken!
Haha so we wanted adventure - I think we've found a place which will provide!
La Boca, Caminito
In the south east of the city near the old port is the suburb of La Boca, it is a relatively poor area but famous for its football team – the Boca Juniors and their home stadium, which along with much of the neighborhood is brightly painted in the team colours of navy and yellow. Also in the area is the Caminito, which became famous in the 1950's when a local artist painted the houses in a small abandoned street bright colours, this has extended and it has grown in popularity, the area also apparently inspired the music for the famous tango “Caminito” and tango dancers and memorabilia are prolific in the streets and restaurants.
We couldn't help but notice the beautiful impressive Palacio Barolo and booked ourselves onto a tour – an incredibe experience which culminated in a climb up a narrow winding stairwell for the last six floors to the lighthouse on the top and sitting on a small 2x2 batten to keep us off the glass – meanwhile looking down on the city from 100meters! (a health & safety officers' nightmare).
The design is a story in itself but briefly the whole building is based on Dante's Divine Comedy, with the 22 floors divided into three sections representing hell, purgatory and heaven, it is 100m tall, one meter for each canto of the Divine Comedy, the lighthouse can be seen in Montevideo, Uruguay, where it has a twin brother the Palacio Salvo and when it was completed in 1923 it was not only the tallest building in Buenos Aires but also the whole of South America.
La Recoleta cemetery is described as one of the world's best cemeteries – an unusual claim to fame but one easily explained by a visit! It is the resting place of Eva Peron and multiple other notables including presidents, Nobel prize winners and a granddaughter of Napoleon and it is breathtaking! You wander through what appears to be a small city full of over 4,500 mausoleums containing individual and family vaults, many of which are protected by the state as National monuments. Some of the mausoleums are maintained in perfect condition while others are dilapidated and uncared for, all are fascinating!
A visit to the Teatro Colon is like a walk back in time and into a different magical world of gold and velvet and chandeliers, ranked the third best opera house in the world, it originally opened in 1908 but fell into disrepair through some of Argentina's turbulent years and has recently been refurbished. It would be incredible to attend a performance here – but the guided tour was pretty memorable!
Due to delayed delivery of our truck we ended up in Montevideo for nearly 3 weeks, after Buenos Aires the pace of life here was slower and more pleasant, the people relaxed, friendly and helpful, the air clearer and life just seemed a little more simple. Dodging dog poop was still a high priority, there was probably even less english spoken and we were surprised by the popularity of smoking, tobacco or otherwise, and the funniest thing we saw was Policemen on Segways!!!
Wandering on our first Sunday we stumbled on a huge market covering 6-8 blocks – incredible fresh fruit, veges, meats, cheeses, crafts galore, food stalls and hundreds of random mix stalls selling new and secondhand items. The ancient farmers trucks, camaraderie among the vendors and beef kababs were awesome and drew us back each Sunday.
“La Rambla” is Montevideo's amazing coastal walkway, several meters wide but we never managed to get a fix on its length, somewhere between 20 & 35km depending on who you spoke to! We made the most of it and walked for varying distances most days along with many locals fishing, walking, running, skating etc, or just sitting drinking 'mate' (an incredibly popular caffiene-rich infusion). The colour of the sea is a surprise after the clear waters of NZ and Australia – an interesting purply brown as a result of the Rio de la Plata dumping its muddy water into Montevideo bay.