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Toon Traveller in Buenos Aires

First in a series of columns from our independent travel writer

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by Alwyn S, for outsideleft.com
No longer the 'Paris of the South', but perhaps, 'the Napoli of the Americas', rough edged mix of faded glory, slow poverty, a tragic fall, distressing, and somehow beguiling.
by Alwyn S, for outsideleft.com
No longer the 'Paris of the South', but perhaps, 'the Napoli of the Americas', rough edged mix of faded glory, slow poverty, a tragic fall, distressing, and somehow beguiling.

Diary

2 november 2019

Touched down in Buenos Aires – fine cool grey, dismal post dawn, through immigration on three hours economy class snooze, jet lagged, book bus ticket, woke from hotel sleep to tremendous thunderstorm over Buenos Aires - sounded like bombs being dropped - then sleep and snooze, it’s 7.05am. I’m starting to feel alive on a Buenos Aires Saturday, no plans, other than exploring memories of 2010 trip.

Get Breakfast Done! (as BoJo may have said). Priority of the day. 

Downside, lost or forgot raincoat, and spare specs, so no room for mistakes or losses. It's not the cost, well partly, it’s more the struggle to see and the humiliation of that. It's crap eyes becoming an erosion of self confidence. The coat (sure I left it in the taxi, will be pissed if it’s on the floor at home) – specs loss, day’s damper.

Wander Buenos Aires docks, same as London, swish dockside bars, restaurants to be seen in, rowers, things forgotten remembered, a boarded and shuttered Harrods, closed? I’m reminded of past glories, all over Buenos Aires: coffee, churros, pizza n cerveza negroni, cafés, sights, voices, soft ninos hustle but not a problem, no anger, resentment not worth it. poor kids, they gotta eat.

No plans for sights today. Seeing only the shocking poverty, doorway sleepers, cardboard beds, beggars, scammers, ‘Gambino' ‘Dollars’ women and men, counterfeiters. The streets bustle, silent and raucous cheek to cheek, street to street like a tango couple. ceaseless traffic, lights obeyed, police in pairs, pistol-hipped, and body-armoured, blood on the street, wondered why, a violent stabbing,spoke a truth of sorts, caution, people shuffling on the street, people ‘sleeping in their shoes’, Neil Young had that right.

No longer the ‘Paris of the South', but perhaps, 'the Napoli of the Americas'. rough edged mix of faded glory, slow poverty, a tragic fall, distressing, and somehow beguiling.

 

 3 November 2019

‘Saturday night's alright for fighting’, not physically in Buenos Aires. Barrio life, terrifyingly brutal, not here in the centre, sad to see its glorious heart ripped out, segmented, and eco–apartheid developing. 15 years ago rich and poor lived and worked cheek by jowl,  no more, the rich play on the docks, work downtown in the financial quarter, Corrientes, and Harrods the glorious book shops – gone, like the bulk of the middle class, safe jobs and lives, casualised, sad to see, and sorry to say - Buenos Aires looks like Malaga 20 years ago: sad, gutted, unloved, and abandoned. 

I previously enjoyed the Buenos night, the parades and walks, echoes of a long past, clothes, faces not happy but pesos in the pocket, empanadas in hand, kids with cola and guide books talk style, the tourists wanting cheap eats, and the Buenos Aires buzz, but that memory’s lost. Buenos Aires feels like Alzheimer’s writ large, mumbling about its glory days, egged on by voracious tourists wanting a ‘tango  touch’, but Tango is dreams broken, loss, pain, regret and violent death, a metaphor for the city and the nation, love lies bleeding as its hope coughs and splatters in the gutter. 

Learnt how to ask for taster in a trendy micro brew, imported beer pubs

Learnt that Leys are bloody expensive, and just as horrible as at home

Learnt to have empanadas cold. 

 

4 November 2019

Read Paul Theroux – The Old Patagonian Express, good travel book and his observations tell a tale and shout his own prejudices – we’ve all got them.

His observations on travellers, Americans and Europeans are spot on- we've met them and been them: speak a bit of lingo, whine about hassle, they're poor, you’re exchange-rate, hotel-cost obsessed, and looking for the cheapest everything. I’m reminded of a couple I met in Turkey many decades ago, despite plunging Turkish lira, ‘what difference does it make, we’re on holiday to spend money, not to save it’. Stuck with me ever since. So the rate falls and a l lose 2 Peso Arg per $ - 100 dollars - - 200 pesos down that’s coffee plus croissant big deal - ain't gonna kill me. BUT poor Argentineans get really stuffed, forever on the wrong side of inflation, and starvation. Yeah, he had that right, and sad to say, I’ve been that money grabbing money changer, that edge to get ‘one over on people’,  it's futile and empty.

Reminded, listening to the ‘Cambio, Wessele, Dollar, Euro’, cries – knowing tourists are chasing that extra Peso or two. Tourists get the deserved counterfeit note and story to tell. I wonder how many ‘fess up’, hard to admit ‘You been taken, You been had’ but hey, that’s learning. That patter – ‘Gambio, Gambio, dollar, Gambio, Gambio, Gambioj, qpeuru  dollar, amigooooo, hombreee, gambio’, like flies but desperate people , police bribed, money made, fleeces fleeced.

 

5 november 2019

Landed at la fin de Mundo as excited as my first visit to Buenos Aires in 2006, guide book once understood the approach, utterly awesome in a way that only spectacular places can be. Huge snow capped ragged shattered snow smothered peaks, cotton wool clouds, bluest fishy blue , a rocking and rolling approach, dipping and flipping, and then blue watered Beagle channel, and we're there.  Touch down. Waiting for bags purple, black, red and blue, Generation Game prizes rolling past pashing and grabbing and I thought I was the excited one. 

Taxi and hotel, outta town too far, taxi's back – hey ho, - wandered town  4 seasons in an hour, wild weather, resolute people, frontier feel at world’s end.  Hitching posts, blacksmiths, saloons, and full length dusters would fit well, but it’s North Face, Merrell, and Marmoot, 4x4s and ski shops. Coffee sipping, snowflakes driven  huddled tourists, skies blue to grey in a traffic light's blink. Harbour tranquil must be a cruise due, ‘T' shirt ‘Malvinas es Argentina'”s down here it's personal, Belgrano part crewed here, resentment  only at lack of respect. 

Fish stew, perfectly spiced, filling and warm, intimate atmosphere savour the non cruise days, lovely – sit -slurp – supp- sip, Patagonian wines what a surprise, or is it imagination, or stretching Patagonia who cares beagle channel beer, one for sipping not supping. Lovely days end, quit the day at the top, sail close to perfection but always leave something to chase the next time.

Mountains 

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Alwyn S

Born - happy family, school great mates still see 7 / 8 in year, degreed, beer n fun, work was lazy but usually happy, retired. Learning from mum and dads travel exploits.

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