Helen & Randall in Buenos Aires

Saturday 16th May 2009

with one comment

We arrived in Buenos Aires international airport around 9.45 am and were greeted by anxious-looking people in white coats and masks collecting our ‘do you have swine flu’ questionnaires. They zapped us one by one by having us walk between a screen and a contraption that was apparently an infra-red sensor that would detect whether we had a fever. Who knows what would have happened if we had. Quarantine?

Some (but oddly not all) of the airport staff were also wearing masks including a girl working on the perfume counter in the duty-free, who was wearing a floaty green dress with sequins, who – rather impressively – had decorated her mask with sequins as well.

The airport was pretty easy to navigate including the taxi system, although we had our first experience of the cash machines that only dish out carefully-designed-to-annoy-you small amounts of money at a time. I don’t remember much of the taxi ride into town except for a slightly scary looking church in the suburbs and some of the thrown-together, probably unofficial, breeze-block and cement dwellings looking out onto the elevated highway. Our taxi driver unbelievably couldn’t remember where the Plaza Dorrego was and had to ask for directions. Luckily we were only about two streets away, so we were soon installed on a bar terrace on the Plaza with a coffee, followed shortly by a couple of Quilmes and some rather splendid toasted sandwiches in ‘Arab Bread’, while I attempted to phone the agency to let them know we were coming to check in a bit early.

Eventually we got through to someone who said we could go round to the apartment as the owner was there, so off we trundled with our suitcases to find it, which as it turned out was very straightforward because of the grid layout of the streets. After ringing the bell a couple of times we were greeted by the wild-haired and bandanna-ed Emilio who immediately invited us to join his ‘interpretive body work’ workshop, and hoped that we wouldn’t mind the music coming from his teaching studio off the patio of the building. Not at all as it turned out, although we somehow didn’t manage to make it to any of the workshops during our stay…

The apartment was a tiny upstairs studio off the passageway of the ‘chorizo’ – style building. There were a couple of other apartments also off the passageway; ours was the last before the doorway to the patio, then off the patio was Emilio’s apartment, his office and his studio, plus a set of metal steps up to the next floor where there were several more (bigger! nicer!) apartments that we had looked at but were already booked. As it turned out Helen had actually stayed in one of these during her first month or so in Buenos Aires, and had also had the joyous experience of hearing the music from Emilio’s studio and imagining the goings-on therein… After unpacking and a brief nap we wandered out to find an internet cafe so we could get in touch with Helen.

On the way we passed a rather charming-looking ice-cream parlour called Nonno Bianco which had both of us salivating. We hunted unsuccessfully for a while before going into what appeared to be some kind of private club or bar (we had to ring a doorbell to get in) to ask for directions to the nearest internet place. Inevitably we were directed back down the street we had just walked up. Yes! The internet cafe was actually INSIDE the ice cream parlour! Hoorah for a country that takes its puddings seriously!

Ice cream was sold by the cone, the quarter kilo, the half kilo and the kilo, to eat in or to take away in clever polystyrene insulated tubs. I tried to joke with the old lady on the till that Randall’s ‘cuarto-kilo de chocolate amargo’ was rather a lot, only to be met with a raised eyebrow and to be told: ‘Los caballeros suelen comer un cuarto-kilo’ Well that told me.

Now armed with an address and place name but with a couple of hours to play with (and with Randall entering a sugar-coma) we thought something savoury would be in order so we wandered a bit further and found a tiny empanada takeaway place with a couple of stools set up at a narrow bar by the window, and there we whiled away an hour or so, several empanadas and a couple of litres of beer.

Finally we caught a taxi on the street opposite the empanada place to ‘La Penya del Colorado’ to meet Helen. She had reserved a table near the stage, and by the time we had sat at it and got our menus, there she was! Complete with tango shoes in bag!

The music was ‘folkloric’ Argentinian music sung by a woman and her band – apparently it was a tribute album to her father who was/had been a famous singer in Argentina. We proceeded to drink too many bottles of Malbec and the following morning I had a hangover that made me cry.

Written by helenbcn

June 1, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Sunday 17th May 2009

leave a comment »

After recovering enough to be able to stand with my eyes open we managed to make it to the Antiques market on the Plaza Dorrego where we drank soft drinks and ate pizza until the hangover was well and truly gone, all the while watching the passers-by and the jewellery and hat stalls opposite.

Once we were sufficiently restored we had a poke about the market, which seemed to consist mainly of people flogging their own or other peoples’ family heirlooms; a stark reminder of how Argentina’s ‘crisis’ has been going on for a lot longer than for the rest of us. Lots of jewellery, soda siphon bottles (?) and – rather splendidly – a chandelier repair stall, where a chap patiently eviscerated old, broken or unwanted chandeliers to provide replacement parts for the repair of still-loved ones.

Going on amongst the somewhat mournful collection of stalls were tango demonstrations of varying skill and comedy levels, which we mainly ignored until, heading away from the plaza down Defensa, we finally heard ‘El Afronte’, the Orquesta Tipica’ about which Helen had been raving the previous night:

With the incongruous towers of Puerto Madero in view, we headed towards the port and the park/nature reserve the other side of it, where we walked along the promenade at the edge of the park marvelling at the tat for sale, the bright yellow choripan stalls every fifty metres or so, and the cool kids with their waaaaay over the top ‘West Coast Chopper’ style bikes.

On the way we stopped for a rest in a small tree-lined park and heard, coming from the other side of the hedge, what sounded like live salsa music. On investigation this turned out to be an outdoor aerobics class complete with screamingly camp instructor, a couple of experienced participants, the inevitable small girls and one befuddled and be-jeaned chap who had clearly been press-ganged by his girlfriend. An utterly joyful sight on a slightly hung-over Sunday afternoon.

In need of a coffee we wandered back towards Puerto Madero and found a cafe with a terrace where we could sit and watch the (brown, silty) river, the roller-bladers, the cyclists and the gentle promenaders. The cafe turned out to be rather grand, and had a live opera show with four singers and a full-on sound system. I rather enjoyed the experience of emerging from the staircase from the toilets (all gilt and mirrors, naturally) accompanied by a rousing chorus from Verdi. Later as we walked back into town we heard several people humming and whistling snatches of ‘O Sole Mio’ and knew exactly where they had come from.

We walked back via c/ Defensa where the tail end of the market was still running, augmented by at least two live samba bands and any number of itinerant empanada sellers. After jigging along to samba music for a while we spotted the Havanna shop selling the ‘original and best’ make of ‘alfajores’ – impossibly sweet confections of cornflour biscuit and dulce de leche – and had to stop to buy a few to take home.

Written by helenbcn

June 1, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Monday 18th May 2009

leave a comment »

Monday was the day we discovered the excellent breakfast café a few blocks from our apartment. On a corner of our street, it had a formica counter with glass display cabinets, formica tables, and a black and white peg-board for displaying the prices. After several of their fantastic toasted sandwiches each, Randall decided to try the local speciality a ‘submarino’ – a glass of hot milk with a bar of chocolate sunk in it, which you stir and poke until it melts. He pronounced this to be rather good, although I stuck to the black coffee as usual.

With the legendary tango-shoe-shop ‘Comme Il Faut’ as a destination, we wandered through town as far as the Plaza de Mayo and the ‘Pink House’ (‘check’). The Plaza de Mayo is known as the place where the ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ rally, although they weren’t there as we passed. There was a small, permanent-looking encampment of Falklands/Malvinas war veterans campaigning for something – pensions I think – but otherwise it was a fairly quiet plaza in the middle of crazy traffic and bustle.

After a further café stop – for tea this time – we made it to Comme Il Faut. Inside a small gallery of shops, to reach it you climb several flights of winding stairs and ring a doorbell to request entry. Inside is a whirl of gilded Louis XV-style chaise-longues, mirrors, boxes, tissue paper and beautiful, beautiful shoes. The assistants ask a few basic questions about one’s size and style preferences and then from the next room produce a stack of boxes for review. A quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for each style is sufficient, then they leave you to start trying on your ‘yeses’ while they whisk away the ‘nos’ and bring another stack for your perusal. There was quite a camaraderie between the customers, with swaps, comparisons and plenty of oohing and aahing. At one point a very brave gentleman appeared, alone but with several web-page print-out pictures of shoes. The assistants wrangled him beautifully and he headed off, swiftly and apparently content, with at least two pairs of gorgeous red shoes for – one assumes – some lucky lady.

After trying on several pairs I spotted the woman next to me trying on a pair of black shoes with a Pucci print heel and some sparkly bits, so requested a pair to try myself. This set off something of a trend so by the time I was paying for mine I think they had sold about four pairs of this ‘limited edition’ shoe!

Next it was time to go and meet Helen and a couple of her friends at La Confiteria Ideal, beautiful old art deco tea rooms with an upstairs room dedicated (now) to very traditional -style milongas. We took a taxi that went a bit of a round-about route (but dropped the meter price when I grumbled about it) and met them in the high arched doorway of La Ideal, where all the girls spent a few minutes comparing our fabulous shoes and peering into the faded splendour of the downstairs tea room before heading up the wide staircase (complete with rickety cage-style lift in the centre) to the milonga. We paid our 15 pesos each, and while normally we would have been split into couples (us) and single ladies (Helen and friends), because some of us weren’t dancing we were ‘allowed’ to sit together.

Helen explained the etiquette of the milonga, where the men always ask the women to dance – through a series of complicated eye-contacts, raised-eyebrows, nods and finally the approach. For women, it is essential not to stand before the (gentle)man is right in front of you, just in case he was actually winking and nodding at someone behind you. Eek.

All this attempting to make eye-contact (or in my case attempting to avoid it) made it tricky to get the attention of a waiter!

Later in the evening – after she had been off to another tango class and we had been for empanadas and beer again, we met Helen briefly in ‘La Poesia’, a small restaurant in San Telmo with an apparent literary heritage, including brass plaques on the tables describing the works that had been produced at each table along with the names of the authors and collaborators. As Randall and Helen both ordered steak and pronounced it to be excellent I felt duty bound to give it a go, and was surprisingly impressed.

Written by helenbcn

June 1, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tuesday May 19th 2009

leave a comment »

With the jet-lag finally catching up with us, on Tuesday we made the most of the fact we were on holiday by staying in bed watching crap films on the tiny TV. We did venture out of the house once to pick up beer and pizza, after failing to find any pizza delivery numbers in any of the guide books.

We ended up with a couple of basic but yummy mozzarella (or ‘muzzarella’ as they call it) and tomato pizzas from a ‘make it while you wait’ place, although while we were out I did find a take-away flyer so they do exist!

Written by helenbcn

June 1, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Wednesday 20th May 2009

leave a comment »

After our marathon day of lieing around watching TV, eating pizza and drinking beer, we woke up early the following day – early enough to think that heading down to the park to see the sunrise would be a great idea. As we approached we realised that the sunrise wouldn’t in fact be visible from the park, but in any case we had an early morning walk with coffee and seriously sugary pastries from a cart run by a couple of friendly Peruvians busily sucking on their maté.

After a quick visit back to the flat, where Ingrid and Emilio’s cat made repeated attempts to scamper upstairs, we headed out for ‘proper’ breakfast and to hunt for a cashpoint that would distribute a sensible amount in pesos. The bank mission was easy enough – a branch of Santander on Av Belgrano did the business (a small hurrah for the international banking system which has come so far since I when I was trying to cash travellers cheques in Dehra Dun; a 3-cups-of-chai transaction at least). Breakfast was something more of a chore – a promising looking ‘businessman’s cafe’ was offering a prix-fixe breakfast of orange juce, coffee and either media-lunas (sweet and stodgy baby crossiants) or toast. Simple enough yet apparently requiring almost forty minutes to procure. Fortunately some kindly soul had left their newspaper behind, so we practiced our Spanish translation by reading the article about the recently discovered fossil of the oldest recognisable mammal which passed the time.

Inevitably by the time this meagre breakfast arrived and we had demolished it in under two minutes we were both hungry again, so after a token wander we ducked into another eatery on Avenida 9 Julio for another Argentina classic – ‘tarta’ (pie). I had a splendid pie of filo pastry stuffed with ham, cheese, egg, potato and tomato and Randall had a slightly less interesting but probably more filling assortment of empanadas.

At this point it was almost time for my lunch date – yes, more food, oops – with Helen so we split up, me heading by taxi to Palermo Viejo and Randall heading off towards Recoleta on foot. My taxi journey was a reminder of just how huge even the central part of the city is, taking almost an hour by a pretty direct route (obsessed as I am with knowing my location I usually follow taxi routes with a map).

We were meeting in the café of a bookshop, and as I arrived first I had a poke about – wonderful selection of books, comics and periodicals in various languages, with rolling library-style ladders to get at the classics or more obscure items that presumably people know are there and ask for.

To my joy and surprise, the menu included an array of fruit- and vegetable-oriented dishes. This was novel because the apparently traditional cuisines of Buenos Aires (meat, potatoes and pasta) were starting to wear a trifle thin, and I was starting to feel decidedly portly, although I suppose having three breakfasts immediately followed by a ladies luncheon didn’t help. In any case my salad of roasted vegetables and seeds was perfect, and the chance to at least make a start on catching up with Helen was lovely.

After lunch and much gossping we wandered around Palermo as Helen pointed out the sights, such as a small shrine to some minor local saint, crowded with donations of – of all things – bottle tops. We finished our wander with fresh lemonade with ginger (me) and mint (Helen) at another cafe before catching a taxi downtown for Helen’s dentist appointment.

In the meantime Randall had been visiting some of the classic sights such as Eduardo Catalano’s ‘Floralis Generica’ (a sculpture of a flower made from steel and aluminium, whose petals open and close with the daylight), the borderline brutalist Biblioteca Nacional and the Recoleta cemetery, where amongst many old Buenos Aires families and assorted worthies, Eva Peron – Evita – is buried.

After meeting at home for a brief siesta, we headed out to meet Helen and the girls as arranged at the ‘Maldita Milonga’ at the Club Buen Ayre at Peru 571. This milonga is in a more modern style with free seating, where the people who dance together are mainly couples or friends who have come as a group, or people who know each other from other milongas. The treat at this night is the live performance from ‘El Orquesta Tipica El Afronte’ who we had seen in the street on the Sunday, but who come into their own in the live milonga environment.

We arrived early when the class was still in progress, so watched (instead of joining in…doh!) the tail end of it, revelling in the different styles and abilities of the participants. As the class finished and the milonga started to get underway, Helen arrived with her two girl friends, and we were joined by another Argentino friend of Helen’s – Marcelo – also a tango dancer.

The dancing was such a joy to watch, as we tried to spot couples who were used to dancing together, beginners, ‘show’ dancers and those whose style we liked.

One interesting thing we got to see was when one of the – obviously regular – girls’ birthday was announced. Apparently there is a tradition that on special occasions, such as birthdays, the girl gets to dance with lots of different partners during the same tango, and it is the only time that men are allowed to ‘cut in’. It seemed that all the chaps cutting in were friends and acquaintances, but the most interesting thing was to see the same girl being led by several different male leads with clearly different styles; it made the differences very clear as there was no-one else dancing and the female partner was the same for each. Helen was very excited that she was going to get to do this the following friday as it would be the celebration of her last day at her dance school.

When it all came to an an end at 2.30 it was something of a surprise and disappointment, although at least – after making sure the girls had a taxi – we could walk home in only a few minutes.

Written by helenbcn

June 1, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Thursday 21st May 2009

leave a comment »

The most exciting thing about thursday was that we had our first tango class! Helen had kindly put us in touch with her favourite teacher Mariana, who had suggested a preliminary one hour class from two until three, after Helen’s class. Despite the apparently unseasonal heat we decided to walk to the studio, and on the way I spotted several ‘albergue transitorios’ or ‘telos’ whose locations I stored away for later.

On passing a salon I popped in thinking I could get a quick leg wax. This was a very bad idea. Despite the guidebooks’ reassurances that it is practically impossible to get a bad leg wax in Buenos Aires I managed to achieve it. The sweet but presumably half blind lady asked if I wanted any other bits done, but I got out of there practically at a run, leaving them the 15 pesos, with around 50% of hairs remaining, bits of wax still stuck to me, and a nasty burn on one shin. Yikes.

The studio where Mariana was holding her classes was a comparative oasis of calm. Run by an Italian gentleman called Salverio, it was a classic Buenos Aires building of rambling salons set around little interior patios. We were offered coffee, and while we waited Salverio told us of his life as a tango dancer all over Europe (he seemed paticularly proud of his years in Paris) and Argentina, with illustrations via the various tango-show posters hung around the office. He explained that he had had a stroke and lost the ability to walk, and although he could now walk again he couldn’t dance any more. Interestingly (call Oliver Sacks!) he had also lost all the foreign languages that he had spoken, leaving him only with his native language, and the bits and pieces of Argentinian Spanish that he had re-learned since.

We caught the end of Helen’s lesson (intimidating!) and started on ours with the very basic ‘learning to walk’ that everyone has to go through. Mariana was – and remained as we had more lessons – very patient although occasionally had to chastise Randall for his ‘salsa hips’! Despite getting a first taste of just how complicated a dance the tango is, I was immediately hooked. At the end of the class we arranged further lessons for Friday and Saturday, and would have planned for Monday too if it hadn’t been a national holiday. In the end it was just as well that we didn’t make any plans for Monday, as we ended up doing something much more exciting.

After the class we walked home again, but this time via the smaller streets, Venezuela, Mexico and Chile . On the corner of Venezuela and San Jose we found a nice pasta restaurant that actually had steamed broccoli on the menu (vegetables being a bit of a rarity by all accounts), so we treated ourselves to fantastic fresh pasta – me with pesto and Randall with garlic mushrooms in a cream sauce – and crunchy steamed broccoli with garlic. The restaurant had an open kitchen where we could see more pasta being made, although it took me a while to work out what they were doing!

After a brief internet visit and a wander around the San Telmo market we headed back for a siesta, and when we woke up it was time to head off again for more food – this time to Helen’s little studio flat for dinner with her and Santi.

Although we had planned to take the Subte, by the time we were ready we were (guess what) late so another marathon taxi journey across town was required.

It was a hot and humid evening, and Helen’s place was tiny, but luckily she had a small balcony so we had a bit of a breeze to counteract heat form the oven where she been roasting squash, and the hob where the risotto was being prepared while we cracked open a couple of litros de cerveza and chatted about this and that.

Santi arrived from football practice with a neck injury and a kilo of take-out ice cream, and we sat down to dinner Argentinian-style around midnight – in Buenos Aires they eat even later than in Spain. Helen had been to the local fish shop to buy smoked salmon, prawns and other bits for starters so we discussed how fish just doesn’t appear on menus very much in Buenos Aires because the meat is so good (vegetarianism still being a bit exotic) – it was the first time Helen had prepared fish at home and even Santi said that although he liked it he rarely ate fish.

By the time we got around to dessert we realised that the ice cream had never made it to the fridge, so it was a bit melted and gloopy despite its polystyrene container, but all the more enjoyable for it. Apparently Helen’s favourite – rum and raisin – is considered a bit of an ‘old ladies’ choice’ but Santi had graciously included it in the mix he had ordered.

At some point, late, after a couple of bottles of wine between us, we left and caught a taxi home from Av. Corrientes.

Written by helenbcn

June 1, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Friday 22nd May 2009

leave a comment »

Friday required a little lie-in followed by a substantial breakfast so we headed out to our favourite breakfast place on the corner where Randall had toasties and a submarino again, whereas I was inspired by someone at the next table having what was presumably his lunch and had fish (yes! It does appear on some menus after all!) and mashed potatoes, which was bloody fantastic. While breakfasting we flicked through the Time Out guide with the idea of finding somewhere to go for a romantic dinner á deux, and found an excellent-sounding place called ‘La Viniera de Gualterio Bolivar’ – a place run by an Argentinian chef who used to work with Ferran Adria in El Bulli.

After deciding that this could be a good option we checked the address and realised that it was about twenty metres away on the same street, so after breakfast…er… brunch we stuck our heads around the door and made a reservation.

As we were obviously northern european the charming Maitre offered us an 8.30 table – the time when the restaurant opens. When we asked for a later booking at 10pm he actually nodded approvingly! There was no a la carte, the only option was the 11 course chef’s tasting menu so I was a little apprehensive because several of the courses were meat, however we agreed to share the fish and meat courses so neither of us would have to eat anything we didn’t like. With that all arranged, and a tango class with Mariana at 7pm, we headed off on the Subte to Palermo to read our books in the park.

The walk from the Plaza Italia Subte station to the Parque Tres de Febrero runs along Av. Sarmiento which borders the zoo. While peeking through the fences to marvel at the flamingos Randall was splatted with something…we weren’t sure whether to blame the birds or the chap loitering nearby; living in Barcelona makes me suspicious of the ‘let me help you wipe that off while I relieve you of your wallet’ scam so it made me a bit edgy and I insisted we walked away before stopping to clean up. A very helpful couple then stopped to offer us water and tissues and I was probably a bit short with them even though they were genuinely trying to be helpful, which I felt bad about later.

By the time we got to the park I was bemoaning the lack of ice cream stalls which seemed strange for the city, until we considered that people probably bring their own from their favourite take-out place. We managed to get in a couple of hours of reading while lying on the rather uncomfortable grass (we really hadn’t thought this through…) before the midges got too much and in any case we had to head home and get ready for tango.

On the way home we popped into the internet café nearest the flat to find out what Helen was up to. When it was time to pay didn’t have enough change in coins. In a typical Buenos Aires way – a combination of possessiveness about small change and genuine friendliness – the manager told us we could pay next time.

We had to take a taxi to tango in the end and we were still really late, but Mariana still had time to give us a 90 minute class. At the end of it we both noticed we were aching from the unfamilar positions (okay – contortions) we had been striking.

After heading home for another change of clothes – for dinner this time – we wandered to the corner of our street and into the magical ‘El Viniera del Gualterio Bolivar’.

Expansive hand gestures and prolific use of adjectives are required to describe this meal, so instead I will let the menu do the talking:

The restaurant is tiny, with about four tables and an open kitchen downstairs, and another four tables on the galleried upper floor. Our table overlooked the ground floor so I could spy on the other diners’ food and on one potentially disastrous occasion almost ping a perfectly sculpted raw baby carrot into their pudding. Saved by my ninja responses, thank goodness.

We opted for the ‘waiter’s choice’ wine flight and our wonderful waiter introduced himself saying he could intervene as much or as little as we liked when it came to describing and imparting information about the various dishes and wines. To his obvious delight we asked for full intervention which was fascinating both for the information and for the evident enthusiasm – well, joy really – with which it was delivered.

Towards the end of the meal – after the orange-blosson candy-floss and before the coffee and chocolates – I thanked him for this, to which he responded by rhapsodising about how great it was to work in a place where quality was everything, about how they all had to both taste and understand every dish, and about what a jolly good all round chap the chef was. Well frankly we were already fans, but it was nice to hear it confirmed from the troops!

When we finally rolled out around midnight we met Helen in La Poesia for a nightcap; more hand gestures and adjectives ensured. At some point I believe we offered to help her move house the following day, although unfortunately we managed to fumble that completely. She was heading out of town for the long weekend – off to Mar de la Plata – so we mused about doing something similar.

Written by helenbcn

June 1, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Saturday 23rd May 2009

leave a comment »

Saturday was also moving day for us, so we packed up and I headed out to forage for breakfast. Our usual place was sadly closed but after a short wander I found a sweet old-fashioned bakery on Carlos Calvo that not only did toasted sandwiches but also had a fantastic selection of freshly baked cakes and pastries, so I chose a few and brought them back to the flat for a picnic breakfast. After a brief panic (on my part only) because we hadn’t been able to contact Emilio, the agency confirmed that he would be there to return our deposit and indeed he was. The move consisted of dragging our cases a few blocks to the house with the green door that we had identified earlier in the week.

The block was another ‘chorizo’ house with a number of apartments but this one was a bit posher than the previous one, having been renovated by the landlady and another architect. The apartments were set around a patio-style garden with a small pool, plenty of garden furniture and an asado, which we vowed to use before we left.

The mad landlady Mercedes – tall, dyed-blonde, deep-cleavaged tango fanatic – met us to drop off the keys, briefly showed us around our loft apartment at the end of the garden and then shot off to her tango lesson. We were a bit disappointed that the flat didn’t have the advertised computer, and that the washing machine didn’t work (too many tenants breaking it, apparently) but otherwise it was fantastic, so after playing with the various salvage-style fixtured and fittings for a while we bundled up all the laundry we had been saving and dropped it off at the laundrette around the corner for a service wash before heading off to our own tango lesson.

This time it was Mariana who was late, so we sat on the landing of the studio drinking water, watching other groups and couples coming in to practice, and occasionally attempting to perfect our tango posture by copying the dramatic poses ion all the posters.

By the time Mariana arrived the only room left was a little studio on the roof terrace which was baking hot. As we had rushed there and not changed our shoes I had to dance in Randall’s socks, which was certainly funnier than it was straightforward. After the one hour class we were both covered in sweat and I was convinced that I was getting worse not better, but still, it was fun.

After walking home and collecting the washing, on the way ensuring that we could indeed rent DVDs from the local DVD-hire shop next door, we dropped everything off at the flat and headed out again to look for food that comprised at least some vegetables that weren’t potatoes. Fortunately on the corner of our street there was a small restaurant called ‘Origins’ which served all kinds of exotic (for Buenos Aires) dishes such as stir-fried vegetables, so we ate there and shared a couple of ‘litros’ before heading home – via the locutorio to pay back the two pesos we owed – for an early night.

Written by helenbcn

June 1, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Sunday 24th May 2009

leave a comment »

Monday would be a national holiday so we had decided to get out of town for a couple of days. As we had been looking at trips to Iguazu almost every day, but they were all really expensive, I had reluctantly given up on the idea and instead was looking at other options, the favourite of which was a trip into the Pampas to San Antonio de Areco, staying in the ‘Patio de Moreno’ boutique hotel and maybe going horse-riding with the gauchos.

However Randall’s persistence paid off and he found a couple of LAN air flights to Iguazu at around half the price we’d seen quoted elsewhere. After a bit of faffing about which day to come back, and confirming that there was affordable accommodation, we booked to leave early the following morning.

All excited, we headed back to the Plaza Dorrego for a repeat of the following Sunday: pizza and beer on the plaza while watching the world go by. Once again we had a wander around the market, then spotted a small gallery of shops which were mainly touristy but from where I bought some flat, smooth-soled shoes to use for tango practice. Our final stop before going home to pack and another early night was the Havanna shop to stock up on alfajores to take home.

Written by helenbcn

June 1, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Monday 25th May 2009

leave a comment »

In a taxi we had pre-booked via the radio-taxi number, we headed off to the domestic airport in a foggy dawn. On arrival the taxi-driver pronounced that all flights were grounded because of the fog and wished us luck with our journey – sweet. The check-in agent warned us of the same, and advised us to check the screens for information but that we could be delayed for four or five hours – eek!

On the plus side , this allowed us to have a leisurely breakfast at one of the breakfast bars ‘La Madeleine’ so we whiled away the time reading the dire warnings about swine flu and dengue and polishing off several coffees, tostadas and medialunas, plus orange juice and for Randall his new favourite thing – a submarino.

We were so ensconced in our breakfast that we missed the spectacular sunrise over the river, only catching it once the sun was already in the sky, reflecting dramatically off the skyscrapers of Palermo. Eventually our flight was called for just before nine, so less than a two hour delay – phew.

On the short flight they plied us with yet more food including very cute baby Havanna alfajores and lemon cookies. The view of Buenos Aires from the air made it clear just how incomprehensibly big a city it is, yet surrounded by water and greenery. During the approach to Iguazu I tried hard to spot the falls but sadly as it turned out we were on the wrong side of the plane.

Taxis from Iguazu airport into the town were expensive so we took the minibus option for fifteen pesos each. Our hotel turned out to be the first drop-off point, along the main road into the town of Puerto Iguazu which was lined with a number of low-rise mini-resort style hotels and complexes. Everything was incredibly lush and green, and the road from the airport – passing through national park-land – was like something from a National Geographic photograph; an undulating ribbon leading straight ahead and over the horizon, surrounded on either side by sub-tropical rainforest.

The Hotel Carmen was another low-rise colonial ranch style complex set in slightly wild gardens. Our room was basic but big, with a veranda looking into the dripping verdant gardens and land behind the hotel. We had a quick wander about about and looked at the pool (quite tempting although outdoor) and spotted some very impressive fungus amongst the lush plants and brightly-coloured butterflies, then we attempted to get the bus to the falls.

The receptionist had told us to wait at the hotel drive entrance for the bus, so when the first bus stopped (reluctantly – as with the busses in Buenos Aires they prefer to just slow down while you leap on!) we asked if they were going to the falls. The driver, with some helpful prompting from a small boy in the front seat, said that they were going into town but that (we understood) from there they would be going on to the falls.

When the bus reached Puerto Iguazu town we stayed on, and it was only after the bus left town again and headed off-road via muddy dirt tracks that we suspected something was up. On checking with the small boy it seemed that we should have changed busses in town in order to get another bus to the falls; however the result of this mistake was that we got a scenic tour of the villages around Puerto Iguazu that most people don’t see. The villages were obviously quite poor but surrounded by trees and flowers in such bright colours that everything looked quite beautiful.

Back on the main street all the traffic was being diverted because the president was visiting as part of the 25th May holiday celebrations. I overheard another foreigner being corrected when he asked about the visit of ‘El Presidente’. ‘La Presidente’ he was told, because of course Argentina currently has its first elected female head of state, Cristina Kirchner (whose husband Nestor Kirchner was also El Presidente before her).

By the time the bus returned to town were were hungry again, so after getting directions to the bus station from the small boy we stopped at a restaurant with a terrace to have lunch. We were obviously foreigners as we had chosen to sit outside – the locals in the know were in the air-conditioned interior – they presumably knew we would be pestered by wasps. For some reason I think of wasps as a particularly British summer problem but they were out in full force, cue much flapping of napkins and squealing on my part.

I ordered pasta which was fine, but Randall’s steak and mushroom risotto was really spectacular. I may have eaten more than my fair share of it…

Now fed and watered – and beered – we found the bus station and the correct bus to the falls. Back along the ribbon of road we went, past our hotel and into the National Park.

The entrance fee for the park was a fairly steep 60 pesos each, with an offer of half price entrance if you returned the following day, which seemed fair enough as we fully intended to. We had arrived quite late so just had time to catch the last propane-fueled mini-train from the park entrance to the station for the ‘Garganta del Diablo’ (Devil’s throat). This is the main part of the falls, which receives 70% of the water of the Rio Iguazu.

From the Garganta del Diablo station to the falls themselves took a gentle 15-minute walk along elevated walkways. These had been constructed on pillars driven into the river floor, apparently (according to the signs) previous walkways had been washed away in the ‘Great Flood’ several years previously when the water level had risen significantly. We passed over several different waterways, all part of the river Iguazu which splits almost like a delta before falling.

The spray from the falls became visible over the tree-tops looking almost like steam, and then we heard the noise which grew louder as we approached the viewing platform. Luckily for us there weren’t too many people (we had route-marched from the station to get there first!) so we had some wonderful views, and thankfully managed to get some good photos because words don’t really do justice to this astounding sight.

At the Garganta del Diablo the water drops the full height of the falls, unlike many of the other smaller falls which go in stair-steps. The sheer volume of water that is pouring, thrashing, over the edge, and has been doing for years, is difficult to comprehend. The surrounding air is so full of moisture that there are plants growing in every little nook in the rocks. Later we were told that there are species of plants that have evolved to this specific environment.

More people arrived and there was much photo-taking. We were all curious as to what it was that we were looking at on the very far side of the river – a tower in which there seemed to be a lift, and people on a viewing platform doing more or less the same as us.

This – as it turned out – was Brazil.

It was difficult to look away from the falls – the patterns of the water seem fractal, and the light changes as the amounts of spray and sun changes. Of course we were all drenched by spray; at one point because of a change in the wind direction it felt as if it was raining upwards as the spray was directed towards us.

Note to selves…rent the 1986 film ‘The Mission’ starring Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons which captures Iguazu Falls on film in its spectacular and thunderous glory.

Eventually we had to leave to get the last train which took us back to the park entrance, where amongst the gardens we spotted small rodenty creatures which turned out to be Coatis (not Capybaras, to my disappointment). Although the park was closing some of the activity booths were still open so we picked up a couple of flyers to read on the bus home.

The bus stop was busy, and as we waited we were treated to a stunning light show with the setting sun catching the top of a huge cumulonimbus cloud within which an intense thunderstorm was taking place – the flashes and forks of lightening from inside the cloud were quite quite captivating, although occasionally obscured from view by some entirely oblivious fellow tourists bumbling around looking at their digital photos and generally getting in the way!

We had originally planned to go for dinner in town, but as we were both tired and slightly stunned by the sights we instead sat on the terrace of the hotel and had a couple of beers while listening to the tweetling and chirruping of the gardens – the road was quiet as it was a holiday, so nature was headlining that night, once we had turned down the cheesy radio station that was playing behind the unstaffed bar!

The hotel did a buffet supper which wasn’t too expensive so we chanced it- in fact it was great, with loads of salads and vegetables as well as the inevitable steak (average, according to Randall). With dinner and a couple more beers inside us it was time to crash.

Written by helenbcn

June 1, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized