Saturday, 29th November
Being all out of cereals and milk I had to make the short walk around the corner to pick up some more provisions for our next few mornings here in Buenos Aires. We are enjoying eating at home and not having to find somewhere new and exciting to have breakfast every day. Not that we do ever really succeed in that but you do feel the pressure when spending your money out on breakfast. Anyway, we were content to lounge in the apartment most of today, it was hot outside and overcast so humid. Around 30 degrees and humid is not tempting to wander the streets in although I did venture out around midday for a stroll and to pick up some groceries from the gluten-free store. Beforehand though I caught up on some blogging and got around to uploading videos from a while back. We have great wifi in the apartment so I am making use of it. It’s funny that before we came away we didn’t even really think we would have access to internet everywhere we went but we have felt more connected, at least to the Internet, overseas than in Australia. Every cafe and restaurant and even some shops boast ‘wifi’ on their signs. I was looking for an internet cafe the other day do so some printing and those seem to have died here but then with wifi being everywhere I can see why. The city is even in the process of connecting up the main areas with free wifi, such as the parks. It seems like it’s a utility like gas or electricity these days.
Being a Saturday I was expecting to see a lot of people out and about but it felt like a public holiday today with around half the shops shut, mostly in the residential areas, and shutters pulled down over windows on houses and apartments. I assume that because every day is go-go-go during the week with working followed by shopping and socialising in the evenings until late that when the weekends roll around people take a two-day ‘siesta’ and stay indoors. That’s what it feels like anyway. The main streets were busy but then in a city of 15 million people they are always going to be busy.
We had an early dinner tonight as we had tickets booked for a football match that kicked off at 9:30pm. They like to do things late here. The match we had tickets for was Independiente versus Newell’s Old Boys. Independiente consider themselves the ‘third’ team in Argentina after Boca Juniors and River Plate and are actually the most successful in terms of cups. They had a golden age back in the 1970’s with winning the South American equivalent of the European Champions League. The Copa Libertadores a number of times. Nowadays they are still a force to be reckoned with and this season are contenders for the league title. Before the match they were sitting fourth in the table with Racing Club, River Plate and Lanus above them. They could still win but had to win this match tonight to stay in contention. We had booked our tickets through an agency with a tour guide as it’s not really that recommended to go to a game by yourself, especially in some of the areas of the city where the teams are located. We met up with our guide, Luca (a die-hard River Plate fan) and we were driven to the suburb of Avellanda, south of the Buenos Aires city centre (about 20 minutes) where Indenpendiente are based. The weather forecast wasn’t too good and on our walk to the meeting point it started to rain and gale. Storms were forecast for tomorrow but it was looking very much like they were coming early. On the way to the stadium the weather got even worse and we weren’t sure that the game would even go head. We were going anyway though as this was our only chance for some Argentine football. On the way to the ground, Luca gave us the low-down of the do and don’ts and also some chants and offensive terms to keep an ear open for. He is certainly passionate about football and as I have mentioned a die-hard River Plate fan but for tonight it pained him to say he had to pretend to be an Independiente fan.
When we got to the stadium the original plan of a sausage and beer outside the ground was abandoned given the climatic conditions and we went straight into the ground where, undercover, we could ‘enjoy’ a stadium hamburger and coke. There is no alcohol allowed within 500m of the football grounds here because of violence issues and as another measure, no opposition fans are allowed to visit the grounds during match days. This means that all the fans in the ground are Independiente fans which I thought might mean a relatively quiet match but I was wrong. They still get loud even with none of the other teams fans here to hurl abuse at. Luckily, close to kick-off the rain all but stopped and we took our seats on the side-line and right by the pitch-side (best in the house) and the match kicked off. The fans are certainly passionate here and even with the 20,000 or so in the ground they created a great atmosphere. This was a must-win game and they made it hard on themselves by having a man sent-off in the first half then missing a string of chances, including an open goal (the player who missed was subbed immediately after), but they finally got their goal with around ten minutes to goal and the stadium erupted. It was a great match, loads of action and the result the team wanted. So, they were a happy bunch leaving the ground. This was when the guides seemed to be most concerned about us and they corralled us out the ground quickly and got us all together before taking us to the waiting minivan to ferry us back to the city centre. It was a fun night even with the weather being inclement to say the least. We had hoped to go to a River Plate of Boca Juniors match but they are enforcing a members-only ticket policy at the moment so this was the next best thing and as it turned out a great match to be at. I will be looking out for Independiente from now on and fingers crossed they can come from behind and win the league with only a couple of matches to go. It could happen.
We got dropped off in the centre of Palermo and walked back to our apartment. On the way I was feeling a bit peckish but not really wanting to sit down to eat and all the snack bars being closed (it was after midnight) it seemed that the only option was ice-cream which seems to be available 24 hours in this city. We went to the same corner-joint we went to the other day and had a couple of scoops each. We ate in the ice-cream bar with kids and elderly among those around us. It is so interesting to see the types of people out and about late at night here. It was around 1am and in London or Melbourne the only people you would get in a ice-cream parlour at that time would most likely be drunk. Not here though. Satisifed from the ice-cream (my new favourite flavour – dulce de leche with walnuts), we walked back to our apartment and we were back by 2am. Late for us by todays standards.
Sunday, 30th November
Today we had a ‘sleep-in’ until 10am then got up and had breakfast in the apartment as has become our norm whilst here in Buenos Aires. We had a plan today of visiting the San Telmo market and taking a look at the notorious neighbourhood of ‘La Boca’, home to the famous Boca Juniors football club. Following on from yesterday it was a grim day, cold and wet so we weren’t up for that much walking around. Around Buenos Aires they have a city tour bus as they do in most cities, this one though goes on a three and a half hour loop and you can buy a ticket for 24 hours so after breakfast we walked to a nearby stop to hop on the bus. That way we could see a bit of the city and also ride down to the ‘San Telmo’ neighbourhood where the sunday market was. We had been to San Telmo before but not during the day, we only came up here to see the tango show so were keen to have a look around this traditional and historic neighbourhood in daylight.
We bus first took us around some sights such as the obelisk before dropping us off in San Telmo. There is a market every day of the week here in the main square (Plaza Dorrego) but on sundays the market expands and spills out into other streets. It is a mix of handicrafts and antiques and having seen our fair share of these types of markets on our travels we weren’t intending on staying that long but had a good look around and it was good to try a ‘Chorpian’ (a grilled chorizo split down the middle and served in a roll with chimichurri sauce). It was a tasty market snack. The weather wasn’t that inviting so after around an hour at the market we found the bus stop again and waited for the next bus to come around the corner.
Our next stop was La Boca. La Boca is a neighbourhood that retains a strong European flavour, with many of its early settlers being from the Italian city of Genoa. The neighborhood sits at the mouth (‘boca’ in Spanish) of the Riachuelo hence the name. Before we got here though we went on a tour of the city centre with all the government buildings including the ‘Casa Rosada’ (Pink House, the government house). We were keen to see La Boca but being an rainy day and hearing that it can be a rather unfriendly area we thought a bus ride through would be a good option. The bus took us around lot of side streets and we had a good look at this area, going right passed the Boca Juniors football stadium. At one point a local youth shouted abuse at the bus as we went past. I caught a couple of words in Spanish that sounded familiar from the football the other night. I won’t write them down here, suffice to say they weren’t welcoming. It seemed like La Boca lived up to it’s reputation.
We looked at the bus route map and figured out that to get back to near our apartment would be another one and half hours so instead we opted to get off early and catch a cab back. Sunday is a quiet day here, much like yesterday so we weren’t missing much by heading back. We also fancied a sit down before heading out for dinner at 8pm. I had booked a table at what many proclaim to be the best steakhouse in Buenos Aires tonight. ‘La Cabrera’ is in the same neighbourhood as the one we are staying in so we walked there. When we got to the restaurant we found people waiting outside, and I was glad to have booked a table as it was a cold night and not that appealing to stand around outside in. We had the waiter choose us a bottle of wine as we don’t know much about wine at the best of times, let alone in Argentina. I was just getting the hang in Melbourne when we left. The wine he chose was a ’Saint Felicien’ Malbec and it was delicious. We then selected our steaks, we both opted for ‘Bife de Chorizo’ (sirloins), mine with a layer of roquefort cheese on top. We also ordered some roast potatoes with caramelised onions to accompany the meat. It turned out this wasn’t the only accompaniment though as the waiter showed up with around ten small dishes with various concoctions to go with our steaks. When the steaks came out they also came with three small dishes, a mustard sauce, corn puree and a silver-beet stew. Basically we ended up with no room on the table but we didn’t mind. We were here to eat after all. They don’t serve steaks on your plate here, rather to the table in a metal dish. You then carve it up and serve yourself using a fancy steak knife. It’s a nice way of eating, a little bit of everything on your plate. Like a buffet but you don’t need to move anywhere to stock up on food. The whole meal cost around 1,000 pesos (around USD80) which for a delicious meal at a fancy restaurant with a bottle of wine isn’t too bad we thought. We were too full for any ice-cream or a night-cap afterwards to walked home and to bed.
Monday, 1st December
We pottered around the flat in the morning, with a bus booked to leave the Retiro Bus Terminal at 5pm heading for Santiago in Chile. We had some packing to do and with buying more stuff here in Buenos Aires, it wasn’t that easy to fit it all in. We managed in the end but the rest of our trip will be a heavy one. We headed out for some lunch and after finding Sintaxis shut (it’s a monday) we opted for another cafe in Palermo which had a nice setting but the food wasn’t up to much. We took the long way home, with some time to kill before handing back the keys to our flat at 4pm.
After checking out and handing the keys back to the apartment’s owners, we maanged to get a cab as easy as walking out the flat and stopping one just passing by which took us the 20 minutes ride to the bus terminal. We had a bus booked for 5pm which would take us directly to Santiago in Chile. We were glad to have booked this last week as when I looked at the price at the ticket counter, it had gone up around USD40. We managed to buy our tickets for US$170 for the both of us. Considering this is for a more than 20 hour bus ride that’s a pretty good deal. It looked like an even better deal when we boarded the bus and saw our seats. We had the luxury seats in the downstairs of the double decker coach and we each had a personal entertainment screen. We were also served a three course meal with wine for dinner, too much food to eat but pleased we got fed as the last couple of buses we were lucky to get a biscuit. We watched a couple of movies before falling sleep for a broken sleep. Hopefully the next time we woke would be at the border between Argentina and Chile.
Tuesday, 2nd December
We woke up approaching the border and were served a breakfast with sweet (very sweet) coffee. The border was pretty much the same deal as last time when we came into Argentina but going the opposite way. We first got our exit stamp for Argentina, then to the next window where we got our entry stamp into Chile (again). We then had the most thorough customs check we have had so far on this trip. Chile is very protective of it’s agriculture and when coming from Argentina it seems to be even more protective than when coming from Peru, the last time we entered. We had all our bags scanned and I had to declare the food we were bringing with us. They took away the dried prunes but we could keep our bolognese sauce for dinner. It was a frozen portion left over from Buenos Aires. My tube of pringles popped in the altitude which made me jump but I was allowed to take this in. We were then back on the bus by midday for the 150 kilometre ride to Santiago. The ride was spectacular again, this is one of the most scenic bus journeys we have taken, through vineyards and up over the Andes before taking 28 hairpin turns down the other side and through more vineyards before getting to Santiago.
We arrived around 2:30pm at the bus terminal in Santiago and managed to catch a cab without too much hassle (on the meter) to our next abode, the SCL Suites, a serviced apartment where we will be staying for the next three nights. After arriving we checked in which pretty much just consisted of me telling the door security my name then getting the key. These apartments look like they have people staying here long-term. We have a pool at our disposal which will be nice as it’s hot here, a lot hotter than Buenos Aires. I went to the supermarket to get some laundry powder and also some wine whilst I was at it to go with dinner. We just lazed around the apartment for the evening, not that hard after a 21 hour bus ride and had the leftover bolognese from Buenos Aires for dinner with some more of that great gluten-free pasta to go with the pinot noir from the Chilean Casablanca Valley. We will have to try some Chilean wines to compare against the Argentine wines. We are staying in Bellavista, a lively part of Santiago and close to the centre.