This day was a big hassle. We got up early to take an early shuttle from the lodge at the Torres park entrance with the plan to take the early overland bus to Puerto Natales, Chile. Then we had to catch another outgoing overland bus to our old stomping grounds in El Calafate, Argentina for a flight from there to Buenos Aires. Of course, when we get to the entrance at 9 am we find out that there are no buses running until 2 PM. Better planning would not have helped, since our air flight was the next day and we had to leave Chile and get back to the closest airport, that was in Argentina. We were not alone. Some fellow gringo backpackers from San Francisco and Chicago, in-laws, were also stuck. They had prearranged tickets, but their bus was also coming in the afternoon. At first we were ticked off by the wait, but we all killed time sharing stories and adventures and slight personal histories. The husband from Chicago who I dubbed “Ironman” had twisted his ankle and could not wear his normal boots as there was too much pressure on the sore spot. Instead, he wore flip flops up the trail to the Towers. That was unbelievably crazy to me, but his group confirmed it. Also, I had actually observed a trekker walking barefoot at Fitz Roy, so it is not impossible. Our little group had a nice time hanging together and then we ended up taking the same bus back to Puerto Natales, Chile for one night. We stayed at the same Hostel Morocho, and left early for the bus that would take us to El Calafate, Argentina by mid-day. We arrived in El Calafate, and simply dragged our luggage around to our favorite restaurant for lunch. They called us a cab to take us to the Airport which left promptly at 7 pm.
Finally, we arrive in Buenos Aires by 10 PM. We caught a cab to our Airbnb in the Polermo District of BA. We liked it. This 3rd floor modern Airbnb was a one-bedroom apt. with 1.5 baths, nice kitchen, laundry on premises, and good security. Pablo met us at 11 PM to let us in and called once again the next day to check up. He left us his SUBE card which gives access to all busses and subways which we then used often to get around.
Buenos Aires is a mega, world class city. It is said to be the top tourist city in South America. It is multicultural from 150 years of inviting immigration, raising the population to 13 million people who live in the metro area. The largest ethnic group is actually Italian, a lot of Spanish and Germans too, with the largest Jewish population in South America, and a good smattering of Asians.
BA is the Home of Pope Francis and we had a chance to walk in to his Cathedral. Also, we were lightheartedly shown a poster of the Pope proudly displayed at his barber shop, “We cut the Pope’s Hair”.
Our usual mode of operation is to discover the city with walking tours. We checked the map.
For walking tour No.1 we were met at the steps of the world renowned Opera House. We decided to take the bus across town. When we got to the bus stop, it just was not clear as to which bus numbered route to take. We asked different people who tried to help and we would cross the street to another stop for pickup. Wrong again. Before we made any fatal mistake we changed our tactics and decided to take the subway. We were at the entrance, we had the SUBE card and a map. We knew we had to get to the Opera House. We checked the board for the correct line and jumped on. The SUBE is modern, clean and fast. We arrived on time.
Buenos Aires has a mixture of architecture, but in its post-colonial days wanted to emulate France. Its government buildings were in the French provincial style, as were many of its first commercial buildings. BA was sometimes referred to as the Paris of South America. Later the architecture emulated New York with Empire State building clones. Today there is a combination of the French style and then the modern touch. It is eclectic and there are not always smooth transitions.
The Opera House is the pride of BA and Argentina and was designed by Italian Architects. The building materials were imported from Europe and no expense was spared with beautiful murals, gold leaf paint and stained glass. At this time in history Argentina had become the 5th richest country in the world and wanted to show off it new prosperity. The Opera house had perfect acoustics within its 3 deck seating auditorium. The lower levels had full workshops to create ward robes and scenery. As well as Opera, there is Ballet and Orchestra presentations. Check out the photos in the gallery below
The Pink Palace is the residence of the President. It was designed in the French style. The Baine of S. America is the internet. Tours of the palace must be made on line and by the time we finished the Opera House tour, we had little time or opportunity to get connected. As well, English speaking tours are only available once a day at 2 pm, not like the multiple Spanish tours.
This was an unfortunate miss.
The city has very large boulevards which move traffic efficiently and add a touch of elegance. The boulevards lead to the various plazas around the city commemorating the immigrants and countries that have affected BA. There are plazas for Italians, British, French, Germans, Irish, etc. There is also a tall slender obelisk that looks kind of like Washington Monument. It is called “Obelisk”. It was these type of design foibles that had our guide making fun of the City Planners of old and new. He was critical that BA planners where looking backwards 200 years for French and European styles and not looking ahead as a new world Country. Our guide as a person who has lived through military coups and erratic inflation was somewhat militant about the history of Argentina and the many governments.
One building for which he was proud arose from the large, multi-story Eva Peron facial sculpture on the side of this building. The Peron’s, the President and his wife Eva Peron, where both beloved and hated by the people of Argentina. As usual, political winds are fickle. Nevertheless, the metal sculpture of Eva Peron is dramatic.
The next day we took Walking Tour No.2
As is often the case in South America, there are public protests in the government office area of Buenos Aires.
We observed but avoided the protesters that had placards and banners. Our second Guide, was also somewhat militant and political. He also told great stories.
In the center square near the Palace, there is a Plaza which has odd white paintings on the ground. These figures represent white bandanas. During the last recent military government of AR, many persons where rounded up and arrested for sedition. They were never heard from again and the government simply denied that any one was missing or that such persons existed. The government also prohibited demonstrations. But what the government could not or would not do was arrest the mothers wearing white bandanas marching in a quiet circle around the Plaza in mourning for their lost children.
Another most interesting story was about the challenge and competition between 3 wealthy Buenos Aires women. The first two women were widows from old money and very wealthy. They would compete for prestige in the community, and the best way to do that was support the Catholic Church with large offerings. The richest and most prestige woman had a son who fell in love with an immigrant’s daughter. She would not allow this relationship and threatened to disinherit the son. Here, money was thicker than love and the son left for Spain. Her son now protected, the women continued to donate and gave sufficient amounts to fund the building of a Cathedral for all to see and admire. The immigrant father was an industrious man and had been given the keen advise to buy as much “barb wire” fencing as he could. In those days the government’s immigration policy allowed man to keep as much land as they could fence. The man became very wealthy and his daughter benefited. The daughter also kept grudges. Near the time of completion of the widow’s Cathedral, the immigrant’s daughter purchased all the surrounding land and had large office buildings built all around the perimeter of the church. The view was blocked. Now you can only see the front to the Cathedral when walking on the narrow street named” Corina Kavanagh”! A true story.
Finally, the guide took us to the former site of the Embassy of Israel which had been bombed. To his regret, the authorities had never completed a satisfactory investigation into this terrorist act. The site is now a nondescript concrete park.
Finally, the guide took us to the Cementerio de la Rocoleta of Buenos Aires. The relatively small site has rows and rows of above ground mausoleum that where designed and crafted by some of the world’s great renaissance sculptors. As well, this was the location of the Eva Peron burial site, which was discreetly part of her family’s burial structure. Adverse politicians had caused her body to be interned at many different location and then finally come to rest here. The public, however, did not forget her and showed their respect.
Shopping street San Francisco Ave.
That afternoon, we had an opportunity to walk San Francisco Ave. in the famous Recoleta District and do some window shopping and a little actual shopping. We also walked to the Polo Grounds to buy our tickets for the weekend semifinal championships. We wanted to do something unusual in BA. Unfortunately, there was no Opera House productions scheduled during our timetable, so we thought “SPORTS”.
The Polo grounds were sparkling and reminded us of the set-up of ATP Professional Tennis matches. The pitch must be 2 football fields long and very wide with a short metal border, easily stepped over by the horses. The horses are the stars. As they rotate throughout the game the score board spits out their names. These are beautiful, lean and muscular horses. The rider’s names are listed on a fixed board. In our game, the riders and wore either bright pink or all white team uniforms and their horses matching leggings.
The skill and control exercised by the rider in controlling the horse and the horse responses are amazing. The players are going after a hard round ball swinging and hitting the ball with their lengthy mallet. The jockeying for position is not unlike what soccer players do to cut off their opponent and retreat in defense or attack in advantage. There are 8 periods. In our game the final score was 17 over 14. The white team, composed of all “Pierena” family members outlasted the mixed team which actually had one Canadian rider named Hendricks. We really enjoyed the outing. Our side of the stadium was more reserved but the opposite site was decked out in team coordinated colors and displayed signs and banners.
We walked home rather than take another UBER and noted the nearby Jardin Gardens. We thought we would return to them later and we did. Uber is new in BA and seems as efficient as in the USA.
Great ice cream!!
The next day we returned to the Jardin Gardens with its beautiful sculpture and plantings. This time we started with the local bus near our apartment to get across town. We could use our SUBE card here as well. When we left the Gardens we stopped in the surrounding fashionable neighborhood for super good ice cream, hand packed and with multiple flavors. We continued to walk on the main streets which were loaded with people out on the weekend. Checked out some stores and then continued toward our apartment. We reached a close area called SoHo. This neighborhood was filled with shops, boutiques, restaurants, and decent street art. Graffiti can become tiresome and be a blight, but creative street art can enhance the character of the neighborhood and signal fun and activity. The art does needs to be organic and natural for the area. The street named Fitz Roy runs through SoHo all the way to our street. We are very relaxed with the walk, which we have now made several times. We feel safe.
The next day we take Uber to the modern Jorge Freedman Airport and fly to the smallish airport of Punto Iguazu and taxi to our hostel in Centro Iguazu called 125 Hostel. Not a creative name, but really nice with a swimming pool and deck, nice rooms, starched sheets, and a first class restaurant, with rustic motif, that is highly rated in Lonely Planet. Our Host, who looked like Vin Diesel, had a never ending smile. We are in this city as our launching site to the world class Iguazu Waterfalls in the National Park.