Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The End of the Line

The unexpected, final stop on our South American odyssey was the city of Buenos Aires. On a trip that I would say has had its fair share of adventures, I'm (mostly) happy that the Argentinian capital proved to be a microcosm of the same. Interaction with locals? Yes. Culture? Absolutely. Personal safety concerns? You'd better believe it. All in all, Buenos Aires turned out to be one of the best cities I've ever visited. That said, it definitely had some big city issues.... but I'm getting ahead of myself. In the words of Coldplay: Oh, let's go back to the start.

It was tough to know what to expect leading up to our arrival - about half of the people we met on our travels who had been to BsAs totally raved about it and the other half had absolutely nothing good to say about it (culminating in a Londoner telling us right before we arrived that it was, quite plainly, "a dump"). Appearance-wise, the streets looked decidedly European. Hobbles (the nickname I've given to my gimpy wife) was reminded of Paris and I was taken back down Memory Lane to Vienna. Our neighbourhood was filled with dozens of parks and the jacaranda trees lining the wide avenues and narrow streets alike were all in bloom, meaning that the city was teeming with purple flowers that filled with air with a pleasant, sweet fragrance. I guess if you had Hay Fever you would be less impressed, but I think the "dump" theory can pretty much be discarded.

For us, travelling is walking, and watching Hobbles limp to the grocery store on a daily basis (so as not to be left out of the evening's wine selection process) was truly an inspirational sight. Of course, as I would hope has become obvious by now, I kid. To be truthful, I arrived in BsAs upset that Kristin's injury probably meant that we wouldn't have an opportunity to properly experience the surroundings, but Kristin has willed herself to see about as much of the city as could have been expected from someone with a broken bone in their foot and probably more than 90% of able-bodied people could have managed. She has never ceased to amaze me on this trip.

While simply wandering the city, sampling the amazing cuisine and doing our first shopping of the trip have been memorable, we uncharacteristically planned some extras in BsAs that we were particularly excited about. In no particular order, I would say that the anticipated highlights of our stay in BsAs were: (1) the apartment we rented; (2) taking in a tango show; and (3) attending a soccer match.

1. Our apartment was a shade over 300 square feet, but, after more than four months on the move, you could have easily convinced me that it was five times as large. It's incredible what can excite you on the road. Kristin was ecstatic that there was a table to eat at and I was just tickled pink that our space was big enough to house a box of cereal and a carton of milk. It's also great that an apartment of this size takes only about 30 seconds to tidy up (or so Kristin tells me....).

2. The idea of attending a tango show probably was more appealing to Kristin prior to booking, but the production she picked out was unbelievably professional and sexy. That's right, parents - I'm saying the word "sexy" in a public forum. Basically, it was dancing, singing, acting and orchestra all rolled into one, and the best dancing I've ever seen to boot. It also didn't hurt that we ran into a live, public ballet production with about 20,000 spectators immediately outside the theatre and in front of one of the city's main landmarks (check out the obelisk in our pics) on the way to the show. These things just don't happen back home.

3. Of all the things we had planned, I was most jacked about the prospect of attending a soccer match featuring the La Boca Juinors (Maradonna's old team), especially after the big stadium I wanted to visit in Rio de Janeiro turned out to be closed in preparation for the 2014 World Cup. The La Boca neighbourhood and the soccer matches there are notoriously sketchy, so we went the safe route by paying a little more to go with a tour operator. After being briefed on the dangers of the neighbourhood, we were given a final set of instructions which included, "do not for any reason show your tickets to anybody, even if they claim to be police officers, as this is incredibly dangerous." So, you can imagine how thrilled we were when, five seconds after exiting our van, we were met by some very, very large men claiming to be police officers and demanding to see our tickets. This is where the expertise of our guide was to factor in, but I have never seen someone more petrified in my life. The twenty or so minutes that followed were infinitely more terrifying than when we were actually robbed in Colombia. After all of us had been stripped of our tickets (we were told that they were the type of tickets that should not have been sold to us in the first place .... or some BS like that), we were told to get back into the van along with the "police officers" and some other tourists they had rounded up, the former of which would make sure that we got seats inside the stadium. When we informed our guide that we had no intention of getting back into the van with these men, he told us that the one man had a gun and he would have to ask whether we would be allowed to leave. Ultimately, six of the 12 of us refused to get in the van and, after being followed down the street by some pretty creepy people, got into taxis and left the area. I had to settle for watching part of the soccer match on TV, but it was good to emerge from the crooked cop/thug shakedown relatively unscathed.

The soccer incident wasn't enough to taint what I felt was an utterly amazing city, but after a thwarted pickpocketing attempt on the subway a couple of days later, I think I'm finally looking forward to going home to Calgary for the first time (where most of the creeps spend the winter in Vancouver).

Our pictures from Buenos Aires are here. My final blog post is in the pipe. I'll post it sometime after I get home. Catch you on the flip side...

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