Thursday, January 10, 2008

grave tales from Buenos Aries ...

I first visited Buenos Aries as part of the trip that took me to Antarctica.

Having discovered then that two days was not nearly long enough to fully appreciate this city of 13 million people I've been looking forward to coming back ever since.

After deciding to take a little longer here than the usual couple of nights we rented a swanky loft apartment in San Telmo for the week. With the cafes, bars and restaurants of the famous Plaza Dorrego just 2 blocks away we have found ourselves slipping into the cities late night cafe culture with consumate ease.

In all honesty we haven't really done anything touristy all week, except for making the obligatory visit to Recoleta Cemetary and the grave of Eva "Evita" Peron - complete with "guard cat".

The grave itself is actually one of the more modest in the cemetary and I found it more interesting exploring the labyrinth of lavishly gothic creations, where, if you take a peek through the window you can sometimes see generations of coffins stacked in racks descending downwards. Creepy stuff indeed.

Of course if you head out to the cemetary its a good idea to prepare yourself for a sombre afternoon, but I still found myself a little disturbed by the ajar coffin lid I discovered lurking behind one of a series of square doors in huge marble "wall of death".

Sleep well tonight folks. I recommend leaving the light on.

Of course I'm not saying the people here are vain, but the apparent need for immortalisation in ostentatious marble mauseleums seems to coincide neatly with some of the other information in our guidebook. Consider the fact that Argentines make more use of more psychoanalysis and cosmetic surgery than other nation on the planet and it starts to build an interesting picture of the national pscyhe.

As if further proof were needed, our taxi driver from the airport was the double of Pierluigi Collina. I guess I shouldn't really find this suprising as the other Argentine obsession is football - I mean, where else would make use of your local plastic surgeon to imitate the worlds most famous football referee?

Its a heady mix that makes hanging around this amazing city of 13 million people a pretty entertaining pastime. However none of this information prepared me adequately for what I saw out of the window of our local cafe as we sat down for a late lunch yesterday afternoon.

As I looked up I saw a hunchbacked old lady in a black hooded cape, lurching along the pavement at suprising speed. As she looked up she had an enormous grin and an unsettling glare in her eyes which had other pedestrians scattering to give her a wide berth. I had one of those moments where I instantly just knew something was very wrong and felt a chill run down my spine.

The moment of realisation came a few seconds later as I spotted the Adam's apple of a man in drag. Quite what he was trying to acheive I can't say, but he looked like he was having incredibly good fun scaring the life out of the passers by - from the looks on their faces they were every bit as disturbed as I had been.

Even after a week there is a lot I still can't explain about Buenos Aries, it just seems to get under your skin - so we've decided to return for an even longer stay in March. For now though it's time to pack up, buy sleeping bags and insect repellent as we fly south to meet up with the rest of our expedition crew for another trip into the wilderness ...

The other thing I can't fathom is the ATM system here.

After the initial shock of only being permitted a US$100 maximum withdrawal sent me scurrying to my emergency money in order to pay the rent, I have since learned that you just need to insert your card again for another series of transactions until you reach your own banks daily limit. Pointless? I think so.

Thankfully there is solace to be found in the national brew of Quilmes - thanks to the 2002 meltdown of the Argentine economy it's just 45p a litre - almost as cheap as China and in such a great location. Who could ask for anything more?

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