Monday, March 17, 2008

the draw specialist ...

We arrived back in Buenos Aires just over a week ago to begin the gradual process of rehabilitating ourselves back to something approaching normal life, by taking up a months rental on the apartment we stayed at during early January.

Porteño's (as the locals are called) like their evenings late. Mostly people don't sit down to eat until 10 or 11pm, and the cities nightclubs don't even open until 2am - much less get busy.

How do they do it you might well ask? Well, we've been wondering too and after asking around the answer seems to lie in extended lunch breaks akin to the Spanish siesta and taking "disco naps" in between finishing work and heading out for the evening.

Accordingly our days here have taken on a similar pattern (or at least without the work) of late nights enjoying world class steaks and wines at seriously bargain prices, the occasional cultural activity in the afternoon, but generally focusing our attention on enjoying the excellent nearby cafes (above) and the relative novelty of domesticity.

Other than joining the local gym to help counteract the adverse effects of this lifestyle (most notably the rapid onset of Argie Belly) we seem to have fallen into a remarkably similar pattern to our first week here, with one exception.

This time the football season is in full swing.

First Sunday in town and I joined a football tour for the local derby match between Boca Juniors and Independiente at the legendary Bombonera Stadium (above), along with 65,000 passionate supporters who provided every bit as much entertainment as the on-pitch action.

It was my third game of the trip and after the games in Japan and Vietnam both ended in draws I might reasonably hoped for more of a result from this game. Despite Boca scoring twice without reply, the fact that first was in their own net after a failed clearance meant I had to settle for the usual result after what was otherwise a highly entertaining high tempo game.

With football tours costing 150-250 Pesos for a 20-30 Peso ticket with return transport, I was keen to try going to a game without all the tourist "packaging". The following Sunday, armed with nothing more than a copy of the local bus timetable, a smattering of basic spanish and a chap called Brian from Chicago I headed for yet another local derby, this time between River Plate and Racing.

With Brian and I both effectively falling into the category of "big lads" we were trying not to be too nervous about the fact that River is the current home of football hooliganism in Buenos Aires. Strength in numbers and all that.

It all started off fairly smoothly. Within minutes of stepping off the bus we managed to score some black market tickets for the populares (terraces) for a fraction of the cost of a tour and proceeded towards the stadium with the rest of the fans. It wasn't until then that I started spotting some notable differences to the Boca game.

Just getting into the ground we had to pass through four separate security check points, receiving a gentle pat down at each. Along the way we saw some of the locals being dragged off for rather more vigorous searches, some even being required to blow into a breathalyser to domonstrate their sobriety. Once inside the stadium and climbing the staircase to the upper stadium tier we found the concourse lined with about 200 police in full riot gear with shields.

We quickly found somewhere to sit, a nice shady spot right under the video screen behind the goal mouth with a great arial view of the pitch.

It wasn't until a couple of minutes before kick off as we stood wedged shoulder-to-shoulder with local supporters that the banners started unfurling and we realised we were right at the back of the "Borrachos" or translated to English "Drunkards" - River's ultra hardcore supporters.

It was a little like being in the front few rows of a rock concert, and almost immediately I started to regret my choice of footwear. Flip flops. With no easy way of getting to a calmer area we just did our best to join in as they sang an endless repetoire of songs about taking marjuana, cocaine and famous fights with the police and supporters of other clubs.

It was a pretty unique experience that you definitely don't get on a tour, but in all honesty it wasn't too easy to keep our attention on the game so at half time we moved to an area of equally passionate, but slightly less physical support to watch out the second half.

The final score?

A seemingly innevitable 0-0 draw.