- *Firstly, apologies to everyone who's following this blog; I have had internet access throughout the last couple of weeks but not long enough to do this blog entry justice. I am currently in Kaikoura, NZ and am using a miserable rainy day as a perfect opportunity to get you all up to date. (Being able to turn negatives into positives is essential whilst travelling solo, I've found.) I think I'll do a few separate entries leading up to where I am now as there is so much to say and I have so many photos to share!**
- ***Message for Tom Cartwright - your watch/compass trick works in the southern hemisphere and, yes, it does point to North instead of South!****
It didn't take me long to realise that the hostel I'd booked into upon arrival in Argentina's capital city wasn't for me. No names mentioned...(Hostel Sudamerika) It was very cliquey and nobody seemed to want to talk to someone they didn't know (not the sort of atmosphere you usually get in a backpacker place). Upon subsequent consideration, it may have just been because I had been surrounded by so many friendly people in Chile and western Argentina that to be on my own again was a bit of a shock. This was the first (and only, so far) point in my trip when I really felt down and missed home. Nevertheless, hostelbookers.com recommended me another hostel with really great reviews so I decided to make the change...
The Obelisco stands in the centre of the widest road in the world - over 13 lanes.
It turned out to be a very good decision. Pax hostel and, in particular, the people I met there ended up being the highlight of my time in BA. The hostel had some great touches: squeeze your own orange juice for breakfast, all-you-can-eat breakfast with eggs (!), free Skype to call home, a rooftop terrace with BBQ, great showers and really welcoming, helpful staff. Shall we say, it was the binary opposite of the previous hostel (I hope Paul Morris is reading this!) Even tiny little things like a water purifier/cooler made living 'normally' that bit easier.
I felt there wasn't really very much to see in BA, for a city of its immense size - one of the biggest in Latin America. Also, I ended up spending a few days longer there than I would have liked. I had planned to take a side trip to Uruguay, catching the ferry over the Rio de la Plata to Colonia, as this looked very beautiful. However the price was prohibitively high and I decided that I could not afford it. Apparently prices sky rocket for a few weeks after New Year as this is peak summer holiday time for Argentineans. Still, this meant that I had more time to relax in the sun and read my book (again, think positive).
Government building - 'The Pink House'
Some parts of the city look very European. BA is known as 'The Paris of the South'. Not sure about that, but I can see what they mean.
The city's waterfront, Puerto Madero, was a pleasant place to stroll and there were some interesting old boats. This is definitely one of the more upmarket parts of the city with lots of fancy cafes and restaurants overlooking the marina. The area around Pax hostel, Constitucion, however, was somewhat unsavoury and, in certain places, downright dangerous.
The Reserva Ecologica offered a peaceful release from the crowds and the pollution of the city. The area was reclaimed from the sea and the swampy, leafy invironment is home to many beautiful birds. I saw an iguana there - great to see some wildlife after all the stray dogs and cats in the city.
Most South American cities are really dirty; BA is no exception. People leave their rubbish on the corners of roads and many older buildings have a grimy coating which just leaves you feeling unclean. (One of the things I noticed, and enjoyed, when I got to New Zealand was how clean everything is and how good the fresh air smells!)
One afternoon I went to La Boca, one of the Barrios to the south of the city and home to the infamous football team Boca. The staff at my hostel were very clear that this district is the most dangerous in BA - "You have to get the bus, don't bring too much money and stay in the main street." Apparently being even two blocks away from the main touristy area is seriously bad news and muggings/kidnappings are common, even in the day time. Of course, I took their advice and was fine. Boca is culturally one of the most interesting parts of the city with it brightly coloured houses and tango displays on the street.
One evening I went out, with two German guys and an American, Dan (renamed Dank by a hippie), to Palermo and ate at the, supposed, best steak restaurant in Argentina, La Cabrera. It really was amazing - huge, so tender and served with about 20 little bowls of side tasters on a massive wooden board. Not cheap but, considering the quality and how much you'd have to pay at home, definitely worth it.
As I said before, Pax hostel was a great place to meet interesting people and have fun, especially in the evenings. My new found comrades and I propped up the cellar bar most nights. Spontaneous, late night games of beer-pong always led to some great laughs. One night some of the staff went out clubbing and took a group of us 'gringos' (non-locals) along too which was great fun. The managers of the hostel owned another property in the city, affectionately known as the 'Crack House,' which housed staff and a few long term Pax guests who couldn't bring themselves to part with the place. Whilst no longer inhabited by substance abusers (well, mostly) the flats had more than their fair share of cockroaches... Still, I guess it would have been a cheap place to rent.
Whilst safer than many South American cities, you still have to be very careful in BA - even in the day time. I quickly got into the habit of bringing the bare minimum of things with me when going out and, if going down the street to get dinner, I would empty my wallet of all the money I knew I wouldn't need - just in case. I got the impression that the police were very corrupt too and, whilst having no dealings with them myself, people told me that just a few pesos is enough to make them turn a blind eye to some lesser offences - such as speeding or drug dealing. And on the subject of drugs, I was slightly surprised to learn that most taxi drivers have a stash of cocaine in their glove box to sell, as well as offering the 'conventional' cab service. It's another world!
(*To Dad and Y4 - Mr Mouli enjoyed his time in Argentina. You can just about see the famous Obelisco in the background.*)
On January 10th I caught the shuttle to the airport and began the 8 hour wait for my flight to Auckland, which soon became a 10hr wait (thanks Aerolineas Argentinas - always delayed). So, at half past 4am, after witnessing a spectacular lightning display overhead, I trudged onto the plane for my 13 hour flight. This was fairly uneventful, after a scarily bumpy few minutes following takeoff as we flew through the thunderstorm. Got some brilliant viwes of the sunrise from above the clouds and of icebergs as we flew over the Antarctic (pointed out by the pilot).
You don't see that everyday!
First glimpses of New Zealand: The mountains you can see above are in the Tongariro National Park - I was walking there a few days ago. Didn't know that when I was in the plane though!
Arrived at Auckland on the morning of the 12th and proceeded straight to the city centre to get on with some sightseeing. Such a relief to be able to speak English again, and it was mercifully cooler than Buenos Aires - a pleasant 25 degrees.