Getting to Argentina isn’t generally easy – doubly so when you start in China. On searching for flights online all different combinations via Doha, America and even London all returned the same total flight time of 30 hours. Looking it up I found a simple reason – Beijing and Buenos Aires are almost exact antipodes of each other, I could barely find somewhere further to fly to.
A friend of Pedro who works with American Airlines very kindly got me a standby ticket via Dallas and although the business seats filled up for all the flights I did manage to get a full row in economy to myself on a brand new 787 Dreamliner and consequently got a full nights sleep on the first leg.
A stopover in Dallas allowed me to load up on dollars before another 11 hour flight to BA. Amazingly given the 11 hour time difference and distance travelled I arrived in pretty good shape.
Buenos Aires was a complete change from Beijing – blue sky and warm with lots of outdoor cafes and activity.
Due to the policies of the last few years of the government exchange controls were introduced primarily to prevent citizens transferring their money out to hard currencies such as the Euro and Dollar. The exchange rate was fixed at an artificially inflated level around 10 pesos to $1. Quickly a parallel market in ‘blue dollars’ sprang to life at a rate of 15 pesos/$1 so in order to maximise spending power one needs to change on the blue market. Credit cards and ATM withdrawals used the official rate so they represent particularly bad value.
I walked along Florida street where people, nicknamed ‘little trees’, stand there all day shouting ‘cambio cambio’. I approached one and was brought to a magazine stand which was doing far more business in the back dealing with paper money rather than selling papers. These unofficial exchange offices are called ‘cuevas’ or caves.
Pedro’s friend Sean kindly allowed me to stay in his place in Belgrano and walking around the city there is a distinctly European flavour – Italian, French and sometimes Spanish architecture reproduced wholesale throughout neighbourhoods, outdoor old-fashioned cafes and so on.
I had arrived in the middle of presidential election campaigning season and took the opportunity to visit the Casa Rosada – the official presidential residence. There was a gallery of Latin American Patriots which contained some of the typical Spanish-liberation heroes but some more recent surprise entries such as Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. The exhibition contained plenty of maps of the Falklands/Malvinas overlayed with Argentine flags.
The islands appear to have some Dunkirk style glorious-defeat significance throughout the country – possibly as a source of national cohesion in the face of or distraction from other problems.
Along the main drag of Avenida de Mayo I got caught up in a parade for the incumbent Peronist party with all the paraphernalia that goes with it. The candidate eventually went on to lose the election narrowly which marked a change in direction after decades of populist party rule.
Later we headed downtown to check out Olsen restaurant – a Nordic/south American fusion restaurant with outdoor terrace down in Palermo and then on to Milion bar for a few cocktails before hitting the tiles at 3am – they have definitely borrowed the late start culture from Spain and Italy!
Feeling something like the dead the next day I decided to head to the Recoleta Cemetery where the great and good of BA life are interred. The family plots range from the falling apart to the downright ostentatious. Here was Evita Perons final resting place.
While wandering the cemetery I happened by surprise on a Celtic cross of a family of Duggans and I couldn’t help imagining what their story was to end up here a century ago – clearly made good – at the end of the world.