A Travellerspoint blog

La vida porteña.. mas o menos :)

rain 11 °C

Now that the weather has picked up (thank god!), the word has spread amongst the moquito community that my face is a guaranteed tasty and nutritious meal. How annoying! So now I'm sporting a a fair number of bites, but only on the right side of my face and right upper arm, making me think that it was a mass sneak attack in the dead of night, or perhaps one obese mosquito which in return for its gluttony is now unable to fly. I hope it's the latter.

I realised that I haven't said much about my daily life here, or described in much detail the quirky bits of Buenos Aires that make it such an interesting place to live. One of the things I love about my barrio, San Telmo, is that the more you walk around it the more you notice. Every day it's as if bars and cafes have appeared out of nowhere, in places you hadn't observed before. The other day, I went with Raul and another friend to a concert in San Telmo, and behind an inconspicuous door and up some stairs was a venue maybe the size of the great hall in Leeds, where we have our exams and graduations and various other stuff. For those of you who have not had the privilege of Sophie's-tour-of-Leeds (or indeed those who don't study there), suffice to say that it was big, and you wouldn't have imagined it even existed from the outside.

I have invested three pesos (US$1) in a big bottle of soda. The sifón de soda is quite the revelation to me – always the cheapest drink in restaurants (cheaper than sparkling water), you get a big glass bottle delivered to you with a sort of lever and a nozzle, from which you may dispense as much or as little water as you wish. The first time I ordered a sifón, either I was a little enthusiastic, or the lever was a little too sensitive, but I proceeded to drench myself rather embarrassingly, and a chuckling waiter had to come and give me a new placemat etc. That he didn't change the bottle makes me think that it was probably me that was faulty, rather than the sifón. Anyway, despite a problematic beginning, I love the sifón purely for its novelty value, and I have one on my desk so I can top up my water then and there. I know that it's probably not much more exciting than a normal bottle of water, I just like the thrill of the level and nozzle element.

One drink that I've not managed to get to grips with is mate. Mate is a kind of tea – you fill up a little mate cup to the top with leaves and add water (or as Raul does, water heated with a little milk and honey). Then you drink it out of a metal straw, I forget its name, and keep topping up with hot water. Mate is a massive part of Argentine (and Chilean?) culture, and if people get together to drink mate it's a case of passing it around and one person always being responsible for topping it up. In fact, in the Motorcycle Diaries (the book) every half page 'Che' seems to be drinking more mate. People walk around the markets with a mate and a thermos flask so they can top themselves up. It's all really cool, and I would love to love mate but unfortunately it's really disgusting and I have no idea why people are so in love with it! Even with the slightly more tolerable milk and honey additions it's just really bitter. Like sucking on a piece of bark (I imagine). I'll keep trying.

The food here is great. Everywhere sells empanadas (bliss!), fugazzeta and delicious, delicious steak. Indeed, one of the loveliest steaks I've had recently was in a place down the road from my apartment called Manolo's which is untouched by the guidebooks, loved by locals, super cheap and extra yummy for it. By 9 the place is always rammed, and people stand around waiting for a table. When you order a steak here, there's no messing around. You are delivered a slab of meat, and that's it, so you have to be careful to get your potato product of some sort and a salad (the feel-less-guilty aspect of the meal). The meat is awesomely lean and juicy, and in general astonishing. Worth a trip, if any of you were thinking about it!

I have tried, since moving into the apartment, to cook for myself more than eating out, and now apart from the odd meal I restrict myself to a coffee or hot chocolate and 'churros' – like donuts, but straight – in one of San Telmo's many lovely little cafes. For things that I can't get from the friendly man in San Telmo market, I have to go to the supermarket around the corner, which makes a desperate attempt at emulating the Tescos/Wal Marts of this world, and calls itself 'Leader Price'. It's one of the weirder super markets I've ever experienced. For example, there are about 5 shelves occupied only by salt for about 3 meters. The vegetables are hidden away at the back, near the synthetic rubber masquerading as 'mozarella'. Among the tinned vegetables, which boast about 4m x 5 shelves of sweet corn, beans or chickpeas are not to be found. They have, at least, a good pasta selection, although no sauce to be found, and it took me a week of visits before I encountered any tinned tomatoes. Suffice to say the peculiarities of my local supermercado have limited a little my cooking efforts – no ground black pepper and no spices (although I finally found some in a random street stall in a little plastic bag for a peso).

Yesterday's San Telmo antiques market boasted, amongst other things:
a sword concealed within a walking stick
an old unexploded grenade
a swastika rubber stamp (perhaps a result of the escape of many Nazis to South America..)
old telephones
mate cups of all manner of shapes and sizes
books dating over a hundred years old.

After a wander around, we hopped on a bus and headed to a gaucho market at the very edge of town. Apart from selling lots of pretty things, and tasty food (I've some delicious olive oil, cheese, olives and all manner of goodies, and my friend bought some lovely salami and cooked ham too, so we really feasted last night!), there was a stage with chacarera – another Argentine music/dance tradition, and a very different sort of thing than the tango. It certainly has the feel of a country dance, with drum and charango (a sort of tiny guitar) and singing and it's really, really great. It helped that the stage was in the middle of a really beautiful old square which was heavy with the smoke from an outdoor parilla selling choripan (hot dogs) for 5 pesos. Another street leading off the square was transformed into a horse track, and gauchos (cowboys, really) were racing their horses down the track at high speed, and with a tiny stick were catching a loop of metal about the size of a keyring which was suspended from a sort of football goal (but higher!) It sounds really random, but on a horse travelling at a fair rate of knots, it was really impressive that anyone was able to get it. As well as the older guys there were a few little chaps on horseback having a go too (for which they lowered the height of the loop!). Rather frustratingly I forgot my camera, but hopefully I'll get to go back in a week or two.

That evening, after a shower, we had planned to go to my friend's hostal and eat all the goodies we'd picked up. I bumped into my friends just outside their hostal, just as a drumming band had started playing. Everyone here can dance, and joined in, apart from us, since we can't really dance like latinos can. At all, in fact! It was an awesome atmosphere, and very much the kind of thing you bump into in S.Telmo.
After that, we walked past Plaza Dorrego, hoping for a quick drink before settling down to our meat and cheese feast and there was an outdoor milonga going on, with some lovely guitar music, so we stopped to watch, spied a ringside table and sat down with a chopp (draught) each of Quilmes (the local beer). Unfortunately, I think that being sat right by the dancing means that you'd like a dance, and before I knew it I was hauled up to the dance floor despite my protests that really, I can't dance tango – I've had one, very basic, lesson. After the first five minutes of trying to get me to position myself correctly (for which, I think, wearing high heels would actually be beneficial), it wasn't that bad, and fortunately my dancing partner was extremely patient with me! By the time I went to sit down my friend had vanished, and I looked around but couldn't see her. Then I sat down and realised that she'd been hauled up for a dance too – although she's had a few more lessons, I think she felt the same amount of alarm as I did! All very amusing. We went to her place and had our meal, and met an incredible young brazilian guitarist who played various sambas. I'll find out his myspace and post it because he really was exceptional. A generally pleasant end to the day, and I sloped back home tummy full of lots of lovely, lovely food and wine.

Anyway, enough for now, hope you're all well and please do keep e-mails and stuff coming, it's so nice hearing how you are!

All my love


PS: another 3 interviews lined up for this week, whoop!

Posted by fuzzbuzz85 10:59 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)


In the department of living, and in the project (finally!)

sunny 15 °C

Sorry for the lack of bloggage in the last week, partly because last week saw a step change from a touristy life-style in the hostal to deciding to get a place here and attempt to get some work done!

The apartment I´m living in is on Defensa and Independencia, which if you don´t know BsAs is about 7 blocks from Plaza de Mayo, the centre of all things BsAs. I´m living with a really, really lovely Spanish couple (Raul and Carmen), who don´t speak much English which, obviously, means good things for my Spanish. I have a pretty big room actually, with a nice comfy bed and lots of light, and we also have a little kitchen and a living room and the whole flat has lots of sweet old fashioned furniture. It´s so nice to have a place of my own, rather than sharing my room with 5 other random people and having to keep my stuff in a locker, plus I´ve also got a place to get some work done. I bought myself a cafetiere and have unholy amounts of coffee and type away on my little laptop in relative comfort - wish I could find some English Breakfast tea though!

On the project front, I first wrote up the information I (didn´t) have from the BsAs Province ministry of health. I say didn´t, because it shows hospital discharges, which doesn´t tell you anything about actual rates of disease, it just shows you how many people went to hospital with whatever disease. To exemplify how this distorts the information one gets:
In 2005 (the year for which I have the data), the population north of Buenos Aires, in the rather attractive Tigre and San Isidro municipalities, had a higher rate of hospital discharges for Diarrhoeal/Vomiting diseases than the areas south of Buenos Aires. In the areas south, not only are the population much poorer, but also they are living at the edges of the most polluted river in Buenos Aires. So why is the hospital discharge rate higher in the north? Most likely it´s because in the north the people are richer, and can afford to go to hospital. In the south, where health coverage through socially funded or privately funded plans is poor, they don´t go to hospital, but that doesn´t mean they haven´t any water-borne disease problems.

It´s the lack of useful data which I think is perhaps the most telling thing about the situation of poverty and basic facilities here (water/sanitation, for example). I had been obsessing about how privatisation had wrecked things - and don´t get me wrong, I still think it´s a rubbish policy - but I think the real problem is the lack of prioritisation of the living conditions of these people who live in shacks made of corrugated iron and have to spray sewage down the street with hoses, who are too scared for their safety to dispose of trash properly so chuck it out of the window on to the river bank. Instead of privatisation being the cause of this kind of problem, it´s a symptom of a general lack of interest on the part of the authorities - reflected in the abysmal regulation of water quality, the poor investment, the underspending of the budget assigned to clean up the Rio Riachuelo, and the lack of data collection about the effect of water/sanitation policy on health. The latter is the most telling because you can´t tell how good a policy is unless you actually collect information about its effects.
I also managed to finally get to talk to a rep from an organisation here yesterday, which was really interesting. Plus, she gave me a mound of really interesting and useful information (including some really beautifully produced books), which was really kind. I´m not sure my essay will be quite as attractive!

Unfortunately, I´ve not really done very much touristy stuff to report back - apart from visiting cafe tortoni http://www.cafetortoni.com.ar for a hot chocolate and churros. Pricey, but oh.so.good. Churros, by the way, are like donuts, but straight instead of round. Rather odd!

Anyway, I´d best go make some phone calls (people don´t respond to e-mail here, it has to be the scary telephone experience which is a bit nightmarish because people tend to talk five times faster on the phone!). Also, some really, really awful music has just started playing in the internet cafe (Lady in Red, to be exact!)

Will be in touch soon!

Soph x

Posted by fuzzbuzz85 08:31 Archived in Argentina Tagged educational Comments (0)

A trip to the cemetary and other activities

overcast 16 °C

Having complained in true British fashion about the heat and sweatiness of the Buenos Aires autumn, the city of good winds has avenged my rudeness with a cold snap that feels more like late autumn in Leeds, (although I now feel even more justified in complaining!) It's all jumpers, coats and cold noses now, although therefore more of an excuse to sit in a cafe with a book and a hot chocolate or one of Buenos Aires' extremely strong coffees. Since I last wrote, there have been lots of days mooching around at the hostal reading various papers online and searching for more organisations to approach for help with the project - I recently tried the world/pan-american health organisation in Bs As, with no success, and government defensoria del pueblo - an equivalent of legal aid, but who also campaign for the rights of inhabitants of the villas de emergencia, Buenos Aires' slums, also with no success. Oh well, plenty more organisations to talk to!
The day I tried those two places, I also finally made it to the little part north of plaza de mayo, around the plaza de general san martin, where there is a memorial to the soldiers killed in the Falkland/Malvinas conflict. 655 Argentine soldiers were killed, in what was a last ditch effort at keeping power by the dictators of the military junta, and a leapt at jingoistic opportunity by our own Iron Lady, which for her rescued the up-coming election (before the war she had been pitched to lose). Neither side attempted to resolve the crisis in any meaningful way when the Junta Generals landed in the Falklands, and in the short war following 255 British were killed as well as those on the Argentine side, never mind those injured. A rather sad and silly exercise in all, most of all since many people lost their lives so that Maggie and the Junta could hold on to power. DSCF0613.jpgThe other thing that I realised, however, was that as yet I've not seen an official monument to comemorate the 30,000 or so disappeared activists who were kidnapped and inevitably murdered by the Junta...

The next day, I headed to Recoleta to the famous cemetary. These things, that one must do as a tourist, feel somewhat strange to do, but there we are! The recoleta cemetary, as it turns out, is a thing to be beheld, like a city of the dead within the city. each family's tomb is like a small house (larger no doubt than those for living families 2km away in Villa 31), often made from materials imported from France or Italy, and with elaborate Angels, satues, pictures and other adornments. DSCF0639.jpgThe star performer in this strange collection of, well, death, is the tomb of Eva Peron, which is decorated with plaques from various unions and syndicates, who are no doubt responsible for changing the flowers tacked to the door. An interesting side fact is that Juan Peron never told Evita why she was dying (cervical cancer), something I'm sure our ethics classes would be outraged at. But strange that a woman with so much power, and so much responsibility, wasn't told her own diagnosis..

I then checked ou the Museo de las Bellas Artes, and the Museo de Artes Latinoamericanos en Bs As (MALBA), both of which were excellent, and had really quite impressive collections.

Last night found me in Avenida de Mayo watching the live tangoDSCF0652.jpg. Like last week, they had closed the street to traffic and had stages set up, this time with a tango orchestra outside the casa de la cultura, who were fantastic, and inspired passing argentinos to pair up and dance tango (because, y'know, everyone knows how of course). It was quite the atmosphere...DSCF0658.jpg
We headed to the next stage after that, where a band played a wonderful version of Libertango (a favourite of mine) amongst many other things.

Finally, we all walked back to plaza de mayo to welcome independence day - a process which involved waiting outside the Cabildo until midnight, when a military band stood on the balcony and played the national anthem (as ever, better than the jaw-droppingly dreary British one!) and the crowd sang along.

Anyway, best dash, but will write more soon! Thank you everyone who has sent me e-mails and comments, keep em coming, I love hearing from you guys! Much love to all..

Posted by fuzzbuzz85 12:21 Archived in Argentina Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Toilets, futbol and a first step...

sunny 20 °C

Having had a good night´s sleep, and the opportunity to get my bearings, yesterday I made a tentative but simple step into the world of my project, albeit not massively successful. With a lass in tow who´s also staying in the hostel, who fancied doing something a little unusual, we set off to the water museum, run by AySA. I hoped that there would be something, anything about water privatisation, and that it would be at least a vaguely informative but effort-lite first step.
Anyway, we had a bash at the tube, a deeply confusing experience, thus far I have gone to the wrong platform more times than the right one, had to have a sympathetic security guard to help us after pùlling the daft tourist card, paid 4 times for one journey by accident and generally had all manner of mishaps. I´ll get there.. at some point! The water museum is in Barrio Norte, near the University faculties of engineering, economics and medicine (a far more intimidating building than the worsely, which is just laughable really..), and housed in the most astonishing building I´ve seen thus far...DSCF3190.jpg

Unfortunately, the water museum (or the Palacio des aguas corrientes) wasn´t particularly illuminating, unless you have an above-average interest in pipes and toilets. It recounted the early history of water and sanitation in Bs As, and then mentioned the formation of the water company, ignoring the 13 years of Aguas Argentinas. If you´re aware of it, however, you can notice little bits of AASA everywhere - old signs warning residents not to waste water in restaurant bathrooms, or AASA drain covers.

In the afternoon, we went on a tour of San Telmo and La Boca. DSCF0507.jpgThe latter has some infamy attached to it as a dodgy area, and although many such stories are unfounded in La Boca it´s pretty true - it's one of the poorest areas in Buenos Aires- so going with a guide is pretty advisable. Anyway, our guide (a nice guy about my age) told us lots of interesting little things about bits of San Telmo, and about the football team - Boca Juniors - who havee a cultish following in Bs As. La Boca's houses, (which you can see on my photos) are boldly painted in bright colours although this is really for the benefit of tourists, the houses are traditionally painted green. DSCF0515.jpgThis is the birthplace of tango - a dance born from sailors and local ladies of ill-repute in the late 19th century - and still tango is performed in the street, although again for tourism more than anything else. DSCF0509.jpgStill, it's nice to have a coffee (always strong here, hurrah!) and watch what seems to be a highly complex dance.
That night, we attempted to go to a TangoJazz gig, but one of the band were ill, so we headed back to San Telmo and sat in a bar off Plaza Dorrego (the main square of San Telmo, my neighbourhood and one of the oldest in Buenos Aires) and watched a Jazz band with a glass of chopp Quilmes (draft Quilmes, the local lager) - a pleasant way to end the day I feel. DSCF0557.jpg

The next day, I made a foray into project world, heading to Avenida de Mayo to the offices of an NGO who have writtene a very good report on water privatisation and access in Buenos Aires. I had e-mailed them a week or two previously, with little success (I get the feeling that the e-mail organisational thing hasn't really taken off here!) So I put on a shirt and went to their office in person. The office block is something of a throwback to the 1950s, wiith its imposing wooden doors and wrought iron mechanical lift which I wished I had photographed.. I'll have to do that next time I'm there! A lady from the organisation had a chat about the project with me, adn gave me a few names (although helpfully when I e-mailed them the server was down, causing something of a delay!).

After that, it was only a few blocks walk to congreso DSCF0561.jpg, which is something of an improsing building on a large square, facing onto which on one side is the bookshop/cafe/office of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. I had a little pootle around their bookshop, which is proudly left wing with shelves upon shelves of books dedicated to Leninism, Marxism, Che Guevara, Anarchism, Sociology, Political Theory, Philosophy, and of course books by and about the Madres themselves. A leftist's dreambookshop, in essence! I spent quite some time there, marvelling at so many lefty books all in one place.

I went back to Guerrin for lunch - so yummy and cheap - and this time managed to have a slab of faina (a kind of chickpea polenta, very tasty) as well as my fugazzetta (stuffed crust cheese and onion pizza slice). Yum. After that a few of us went to see the Madres' weekly protest in the Plaza de Mayo, although it looked more like a stall than a protest (they're all really quite old now I suppose), so after a short while a few of us saw a film in Puerto Madero (a super-developed part of town) then finally went home. I swear all this walking my be doing me good because my calves are aching constantly!

That night, we went out to eat and missed most of a tango lesson in the hostal, but arrived back in just enough time to join everyone at a Milonga (a tango dance-hall) and see the real thing in action. Unlike salsa, tango is pretty intimidating so I didn't get very involved this time, but enjoyed the atmosphere and a bottle or two of Quilmes, thereby undoing the beneficial effects of all the exercise no doubt!

The next day, pretty exhausted, was a chill-out day, with a bit of work and mooching about at the hostal. Nothing very exciting to report there!

Saturday I met with a friend of a friend who was lovely, and I tried my firsst Milanesa (breaded veal served with cheese and sauce on top, rather odd but strangely compelling), and my first BsAs ice cream.... mmmmmmmmm. That evening I went with another hostal-made friend to a series of gigs, the first on Avenida de Mayo, which had been closed for the last of 4 weekends of outdoor cultural activities in the street. We saw a sort of celtic band playing outside the Bar Iberia, where I had my first empanadas a few days previously. You can't really beat the high french-style buildings and wide avenue of Av. de Mayo for a setting for an outdoor concert, never mind a concert which turned out to be very enjoyable. After that we walked back to plaza Dorrego, sat outside in the square where there was a flamenco band complete with a pair of dancers who were quite astonishing, especially as I'd never seen any flamenco before - I don't know how people physically do it without falling over with exhaustion, I really don't. The last round of gig was a not very impressive 'rock-blues' band, but by then we were exhausted again and were ready for bed. DSCF0600.jpg

Sunday became another work day, but I did head back to Dorrego to check out the antiques market. And really, when I say that everything is sold, I really mean everything, from old newspapers to cornets to old-style telephones (you know the ones in old movies with a separate mouthpiece and earpiece? Was SO tempted!) to ancient cameras and whole sets of cutlery and crockery. In fact, you can barely move for old stuff, so I'm going to have to stock up on novelty items before I return home.
Yesterday, another work day, ended in us (myself and another girl in the hostal, also a leeds graduate) joining a group of very friendly and fun Brazilians to dinner after another tango lesson (for the first time ever at such an event, an equal male:female ratio), which was nice too, but nicer still was the arrival of some rain, after 6 very sweaty days!

So anyway, I've been busy, is the long and short of it! I'll try to be more regular with the messages - then I don't have so much to write at a time and you guys don't have so much to read! I'll keep you posted with the project progress, tomorrow I'm going to head to another organisation which is actually based in San Telmo, which is nice and easy at least!

All the best

Soph x

Posted by fuzzbuzz85 15:05 Archived in Argentina Tagged educational Comments (0)

The first day...

sunny 18 °C

Madrid airport is a remarkably unstimulating place. For 7 hours, I was presented with the following, fascinating entertainment options: Sit in starbucks, sit in 'Henry J Bean's', sit on a counter-ergonomic bench, go to the loo. In the end, I did a bit of everything, just to pass the time. Starbucks provided me with extremely expensive coffee, and Henry J Bean's offered me a range of delectable choices, from the 8 euro despair-burger-meal-deal, to the Nachos of misery, only 5 euros. Hm. Then I sat on the bench a bit more. Having exhausted my laptop batteries in Starbucks, I was inspired to see that some seasoned and intelligent fellow passenger had plugged his in at a discreetly positioned plug, and I almost ran to the next plug along, only to find that I had brought the American, not the European converter in my handluggage. You can imagine my relief when my ride arrived, and after 7 hours of containment in the Madrid Terminal 4 departure lounge, I leaped for joy at the prospect of another 11 hours, except now confined to a pressurised metal tube a mile above the earth.
Fortunately, I managed to sleep, and the rest of the time I read Naomi Klein's excellent 'Shock Doctrine', (a thoroughly depressing but none-the-less fascinating book), and talked to my friendly neighbour, a Bolivian physiotherapist who was travelling with his employer, a French-man who has lived in Bolivia for 20 years, and due to being disabled needs a lot in the way of care. Iberia really are an awful airline, heaven forbid passengers may be entertained, or even comfortable, no no no! I don't think they've refitted their planes for about 20 years.. so it was quite a miracle I even managed to lose consciousness at any point.
Anyway, I arrived, relieved and made my way to the 86 bus, which took a gazillion hours to convey me via some of the capital's better sights (congreso, the awesome avenida 9 de julio, and the Plaza de Mayo) to my hostel.
Obviously, a shower had become something of an emergency by then, but after that I hit the streets and pounded my way through Buenos Aires, taking photos and enjoying its size and the architecture (very pretty). The plaza de Mayo, behind the Casa Rosada is the usual scene of popular uprising - and there's a few police trucks there, complete with water canon. DSCF0456.jpgOne protest, which takes place weekly, is that by Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, and even now the Plaza de Mayo has their logo painted on the ground in the circle around one of the statues - the route of the Madres' march every Thursday morning. DSCF0465.jpgAlthough the dictatorship ended 20 years ago, the Madres continue to march to seek justice, and work to reunite families separated by a Military policy of forcing adoption of the children of leftist parents. It's pretty noble stuff, and my first port of call tomorrow morning will be the Madres-run cafe on Hipolíto Yrigoyen (or however it's spelt!) - I hear they're pretty active on economic reform too...
So then, up diagonal norte to the mighty 62 ft Obelisco - which is very big. DSCF0474.jpg But more awe inspiring is the street it sits in, Avenida 9 to Julio, an 18 lane monster, quite alarming - they've even got policemen with whistles to help you know when to cross the road (Ideal for me, being a bit hopeless at crossing roads really). DSCF0485.jpgA little more of a wander then I headed to Pizzeria Guerrín, a hectic and bewildering affair which only involves buying a slice of pizza and eating it at a stand-up canteen thing, but actually is much more stressful given the amount of people there! But what pizza, that one is definitely to be repeated. In a flustered panic, I only bought one slice, so I headed down to a café on Avenida de Mayo and tucked into a beer and some yummy empanadas - something I've been looking forward to since I left South America last, 4 years ago. Finally, now feeling the effects of my exertions, I meandered back to my hostel... and here I am now...
Tomorrow: Chasing relavent organisations, chasing friends of friends who might want to be my friend, eating steak...

Posted by fuzzbuzz85 14:18 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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