Buenos Dias, Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires looked spectacular from the moment we stepped out on the deck of the ferry and saw the skyline across the darkness of the River Plate. It didn’t fail to live up to expectations.

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European in style and architecture, but built on a typically American grid, Buenos Aires was formally introduced to us through a bicycle tour on our first afternoon. Armed with bright orange and slightly cumbersome bikes (for some reason, both here and in Montevideo, we were thoroughly confused by the back and front brakes being on opposite sides to the norm), we attempted a four hour guided ride around a city renowned for its motorists’ hostility to pedal power. Right turns were often close to life-threatening and the guide gave pretty ropey explanations on our stops, but on the whole it was a good way to get orientated. In La Boca we saw the somewhat down-at-heel mixed with the downright touristy, all linked by a singular passion for Boca Juniors football club. A certain Diego Maradonna, a love/hate character in English football, seemed to have at least as many shrines as Argentina’s other great legend Eva Peron, and whilst the Disney-esque figures were fun, we drew the line at a Blackpool style photo board, where your head can replace that of an Argentinian player arm-in-arm with the little hand-baller. Thus no such photo. Sorry.

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Aside from the touristy tango demonstrations at overpriced cafes and the tacky gift shops selling Maradonna relics, La Boca’s colourful corrugated houses do tell an interesting tale. Set as it is on an old docks, the story goes that the mismatched colours that give the area some if its only charm come from the days when the residents had to scrounge whatever leftover paint they could from the ships. Meanwhile, the football colours of Boca Juniors come from an agreement to take the colours of the flag of next ship that sailed into the port. When a Swedish ship appeared, blue and yellow became the club’s now famous colours.

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As we continued on our way, trying hard to stay in one piece despite the sometimes erratic guidance, we passed other sights of note such as a memorial to another BA sportsman, legendary racing driver Juan Manuel Fangio (complete with life-sized stone replica of his Mercedes-Benz), and the famous Casa Rosada where Evita (and subsequently Madonna) put in quite the performance.

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The next day, having survived the cycling and recovered from an unfortunate wallet-theft incident during the otherwise fantastic performance of the percussion group Bomba Del Tiempo (below) we headed to see Evita’s final resting place. The cemetery at Recoletta is in itself a metaphor for the history of Argentina and Buenos Aires. Sleek marble stands next to crumbling gothic former grandeur, and a strong military presence stands next to huge memorials to writers, poets and former presidents. Set out in a gridded maze that mirrors the city, the biggest draw here is undoubtedly the Duarte family grave where, reputedly three levels underground and more secure than some bank vaults, the embalmed body of Evita still brings flowers, tears and a significant queue.

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The story of Eva Peron’s death is almost as amazing as that of her life. You can read mire about it here, but in short, her body given the appearance of ‘artistically rendered sleep’ and displayed in public for over two years. After Juan Peron was overthrown in a coup in 1955, her body was removed to Italy by the military junta and only recovered by her husband in 1971. Apparently he and his third wife decided to keep the corpse on a platform next to the dining table at his then home in exile in Spain. After his return to favour and power in 1973, Eva’s body was finally laid to rest in the cemetery. Rather a case of another suitcase in another morgue.

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The legend and worship of Eva Peron is evident all across the city, and in the week where a female president was re-elected, something of her political legacy is perhaps also alive. Nevertheless with high inflation and worried over the stability of the peso, Buenos Aires feels slightly on edge. Coupled with the recent convictions of some of the military leaders from Argentina’s Dirty War in the late 70s and early 80s, it seems an important time politically in a country so important to the stability of the region.

So, having munched on the obligatory and delicious enormous steak (more on the weird timetabling of the Argentine day to follow) we have set out for our final mammoth journey to Patagonia. Despite the vast distances however, we are determined to spend our last weekend in Buenos Aires. The tango is not over…

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