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Patagonia: Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aire

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

25 December: Microcentro, San Telmo, Puerto Madero, Palermo & Recoleta I’d arrive in Buenos Aires on the eve of Christmas, mainly to recuperate from the 2 days of flying from Asia, and also to have a look around the city before the real Patagonian adventure starts.

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First Morning in Buenos Aires

First day of this trip and i will attempt to walk around without carrying a DSLR. There is something strange about carrying one around a city. I barely, if ever, print any city scene beyond 5R. That is also why I prefer to be quick and fast around cities with small cameras like the Canon S95. My plan on this first day is to start off by surveying the tourist area of Buenos Aires next to the hotel at Microcentro smack in the centre of town. There’s a tourist street called Florida. Think Oxford Street, Orchard Road and you get it right. There’s probably much more souvenir shops here than anywhere in Buenos Aires, and I would be expecting quite a number of football jersey shops. Most of the shops are all closed today, being Christmas and the Argentinians being pretty religious and all, except for the usual tourist stores selling tourist paraphernalia. Seems to be quite a number of Burger Kings around in the city centre.

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I am where it says I am.

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At the park: I was hoping it was not my mind playing tricks on me, these tree branches just look unique.

At the end of Florida is Plaza Libertador Saint Martin, a park that sticks out on the map. I walk around with a hotel given free tourist map, and just to be sure, I have Google Maps on my Android device as well. The latest Gmaps circa December 2010 is quite nifty, you zoom in to street level till you get the 3D buildings and then just move it around the area I plan to visit and the app will cache the map on the phone. Too bad the GPS on the Samsung Galaxy S sucks so much it is slow and inaccurate, but it will do for a tourist.

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Monumento a los caídos en Malvinas at the end of Plaza Libertador

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I don’t believe this is a metro station. Subterranean passageway on Florida should be the right answer!

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Usually I see this in China only. On a hot day, what’s the best way to cool down?

The apparent thing while walking around downtown Buenos Aires is that signboards here are almost all donated by some company or another and the ones in this park are donated by American Express. Walk a little farther and you see signs donated by the local telephone company, Claro. Cars on the streets are mainly small Fiats and Fords for police and taxis. Saw quite a number of old cars from the 70s too. There are just tourists and homeless hanging around this park. Time to make my way back on Florida aiming straight to San Telmo to see some old parts of Buenos Aires.

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Plaza de Mayo

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Cabildo de Buenos Aires, around Plaza de Mayo

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Catedral Metropolitana

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Quiet Streets at Plaza de Mayo

Headed straight down Florida and I’m now at Plaza de Mayo outside of my plan. That Catedral Metropolitana is an interesting one. Its got a Roman architecture, I initially mistook it for a library. Doesn’t look like a typical church at all. Casa de Gobierno is a reddish building in the same square. The rest of the central square is strewn with rubbish and pigeons are everywhere in the form of the bird and droppings. The lawn is partly dried up, perhaps due to a hot summer, not somewhere you’d want to lie down for a sun tan. Museo de Cabildo is a white building that’s one of the standouts here but closed on this public holiday, but also apparently for a cleanup renovation which it seems to desperately need. Boards are used to cover up all the windows which suggests that the homeless love this place.

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A Pub Signboard close to San Telmo

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I like the old cars in Buenos Aires, they are sometimes very well kept.

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Cobblestone streets tell me I’m at San Telmo (I think, but I’m quite sure based on Google Maps)

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Not all places in San Telmo is quaint and tourist friendly.

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If something is predicatable, I just like tiles like these. Very Iznik in style, but obviously not made the same way.

After a long enough walk, along quiet streets devoid of traffic, I’m at San Telmo along Peru street and left along Humberto. Drunks are all over the street, broken bottles and graffiti are everywhere. There are some sections of this place that has old cobblestone streets. They are to the left of Bolivar St. Walked up to Plaza Dorrego with outdoor cafe ‘Todo Mundo’. Looks full of tourists. I move on. Pardon the staccato type. Not that easy to walk on a hot day and writing this at the same time on the iPhone. I’m using Plaintext this time to do all these typing, what it does is that it saves the text file onto dropbox.com and I will be able to access it when I get back to my iMac at home when its all done.

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Museo de la Parroquia, San Telmo

Humberto I and Defensa. Right at Museo Penitenciaro Antonio Ballve which is not open today right at the corner of the small park. Sign outside describes the history and what to expect on the inside. Next to it along Humberto is a church-like building called Museo de la Parroquia (Apparently also called Museo Iglesia San Pedro González Telmo). That’s it for me at San Telmo. Nothing is opened today, streets are quiet and it is a hot day. Time to walk back to the hotel and a detour at Puerto Madero.

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Puerto Madero

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This restaurant was closed when I was there, but it does have a nice looking parilla grill.

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Puerto Madero Cranes

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Usual format: posh apartments on top, posh restaurants below.

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Not everything is flashy in Puerto Madero

It helps that Puerto Madero is just next to San Telmo on the map, it is still a walk and a half away, but not that far for someone that is used to walking. New developments start to show up at Dique 1. At least after seeing the old buildings in San Telmo, this is a welcomed sight. Restaurants are everywhere overlooking the waterfront. Puerto Madero is littered with large dockside cranes still intact to impart the port atmosphere. Most of the restaurants here are Parrilla-type restaurants specializing in grills. The price looks on the high side but that would be what you’d expect here. Every city has one of these redeveloped areas with restaurants with crisp white table clothes. It’s early 1 pm and I am not in the mood for a heavy lunch. It is a long walk back to the hotel, and I have my phone wifi on just in case I spot an open access point to send out some emails and sync Plaintext.

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Metro station entrance

1644hrs: Microcentro. Taking the metro for the first time. They call it the Subte. No tickets required today probably because of Christmas, the ticketing gates are opened, at least and I don’t speak spanish, since everyone just passes through it, I do the same. Nothing special about the metro here. As dirty as any European metro. Taking the B line train from Florida to the next stop to switch to the D line.

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Buenos Aires Metro. Its Christmas day.

Now this is where it gets confusing. Guards were closing up the entrance to the platform. Followed the guys over to another entrance and I have no idea if there is a train or not here at 9 de Julio station. People are moving from one end of the platform to another to look at the opposite platform. I do the same and noticed on the other side there are some security guys standing about with a stretcher and something that looks like a long garbage pile covered in black plastic trash bag. Dead body in metro so they’re closing up the platform. That’s a first for me! Before long, the train arrives so I can stick to the original plan and no need to take a taxi. On my way to Ministro Carranza station to have a walk at Las Canitas and Palermo districts. That’s a good 10 stops away from 9 de Julio so guessing half an hour or so.

I walked the whole of Ave Santa Fe to Recoleta without seeing too many functioning shops. That’s from Las Canitas region to Racoleta, at least a few kilometers. Restaurants are also mostly closed. As usual opened shops are those mini marts opened by Chinese. I can’t tell the dialect they were speaking, sounds like Vietnamese to me and not too much Cantonese. As walked in Palermo, the shops clustered around D metro stations, some cafes and pizza parlour are opened. Otherwise the street is messy with dog shit all over and it is clear that people step on it all the time. Reminds me of Paris. People like to keep dogs but they don’t clean up after their pets. After a while I decided to take the metro but this time the lady at the counter wants money for the ticket. So now I can’t explain why the counter lady at Florida didn’t bother collecting money. I passed her 100 pesos and she showed a sour face and refused to take the note. I understand why. But for the fun of it I had to curse her in a different language. It’s starting to get close to 7 pm so I decided to talk a slow walk towards Recoleta for dinner before going back to the hotel, the night is still young.

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Plaza San Martin de Tours, just outside Recoleta Cemetery

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My first evening in Buenos Aires, this is along Av Cordoba

Soon I reach an area with a little higher concentration of bars than the rest of Palermo I just walked just now. Ah, the elevated sculptures of angels on one side of the road opposite of the bars tell me that this has to be the Recoleta cemetery. A quick check on Google Maps confirmed this. Some fancy, some look more ordinary but they all look towards the sea. I had my first big juicy Argentinian steak there, never thought steak tasted so good without any sauce or dressing on it. And then it was a slow walk back to my hotel along Av. Del Libertador, after having a good day without too much jet lag affecting me. That buffer day in Los Angeles is starting to look like a good idea.

26 December: Microcentro, La Boca & Puerto Madero

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Teatro Colon

Started off today’s walk with a stroll to the Teatro Colon (-34.600998, -58.38259) on Av 9 de Julio. Here’s the short review of the place. Renovated. Clean. Security everywhere. Possibly called the Colon because of a nearby huge obelisk erected in the middle of the wide avenue. This area is full of Tango theaters, I’m guessing because they all seem to advertise tango, and the probability of a temporary tango festival happening at this time is probably unlikely, Buenos Aires, being famous for the dance. I guess a city cannot be cultured without its theaters, so this is where all the culture in this city is located.

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Lunch. Pizza. Happy.

Then it’s down to Corrientes for lunch. It is noon and extremely warm. Good that the weather is not too humid. The cars are coming back onto the streets today on boxing day and most of the shops are open. The buses here, I noticed is almost as decorated as the jeepneys in the Philippines. Maybe it has to do with the conquistadors. The other observation is their love to stick telecom towers on top of building, looking extremely ugly breaking the original aesthetic of the building. I’m sure the original architect never expected the owners would stick a tall tower on top of it. And I’m looking at the type of slim towers secured by cables on all sides.

Had a good pizza for lunch. Not especially fine, this shop is made for a quick meal. But the mozarrella they put on the pizza was fresh and plentiful. Which makes a good enough Napolitana for me. With that much cholesterol and fat for lunch, I’m afraid I might just pass out sleeping on the street!

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Monument to Pedro de Mendoza at Parque Lezama

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Lazy afternoon at Parque Lezama

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On the way from Parque Lezama to La Boca

To prevent myself from sleeping after the meal I continue the walk southwards, and fast, along Av 9 de Julio passing roads named after countries. Just passed Venezuela and now Mexico is coming up. Still a long walk to La Boca. Pretty ambitious day. In new places, if time permits, I prefer to take a walk and experience the whole city rather than an easy taxi ride where you’re in one spot and suddenly you appear in another. Took a long break at Parque Lezama (-34.625611, -58.370715). There is a monument dedicated to Pedro de Mendoza. Perhaps the founder of Buenos Aires. On the north west corner of the park are restaurants and cafes. Will take a long break here after walking for close to an hour. Nothing much to do on this Sunday afternoon before continuing to La Boca, just a lazy day in a new location.

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How do I know I’m close to Boca Juniors Stadium? Then again, this mural is quite common in this area, there must be a template sold somewhere.

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Outside the stadium

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Outside stadium souvenir shop entrance

1550hrs: Reached La Boca. Quickly had an iced cappuccino at Cafe Mendoza and quickly the neighborhood turns messier and looks poorer, which is quite the norm with the area around major stadiums. A little while more I come across the yellow and blue colored towering structure that is the home of Boca Juniors (-34.636227, -58.36435). Souvenir shops are everywhere but I know myself better. All souvenirs that I buy end up in storage very quickly, so no souvenirs other than photos. A little bit southwards is Camanito (-34.639281, -58.36298), a street full of bright colours and street stalls selling street paintings and portraitures. I don’t personally understand why someone would buy one of those. To tell friends who visit them where they bought it? If it’s still hanging on the wall in ten years time. But there should be plenty of buyers people, which is why people are still selling it in all tourist locations anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the sun is still directly above right now, meaning that colors are not as saturated as they could be, so I took just a few grab shots with my small camera and went straight to the docks (-34.639502, -58.36140) for a little break. Quite disappointing destination. Maybe I was over-expecting what I would see here at La Boca. I will have to comb wikipedia later today when I get back to the hotel to learn more about this place. In the mean time, I shall sit here by the piers and enjoy the breeze before the long walk back. I guess I could take the metro but I still need to walk this city, and collect GPS plots. Did I ever mention my GPS was on all the while in my bag logging all this?

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Pier at La Boca

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These giant cranes at La Boca doesn’t seem to be operational, just a landmark.

On the way back stumbled across a dodgy looking part of the city right next to La Boca tourist area. Residents here are lounging on the street bare-chested with beer, streets are messy and gutted cars can be seen left there to rot. Somehow it didn’t look like a good place to be walking especially if you look different to them. Time to plug in the iPhone audio, and quickly make my way back towards the crowded area around the stadium. One guy even stuck his hand out for a high five. I slapped it and walked away being careful not to strike up a conversation or get distracted. Distraction is the most common trick employed by thieves on tourists. Next Direction on the way back to the hotel: Puerto Madero. Safe. Familiar. Boring.

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Navigation in Buenos Aires with a Samsung Galaxy S and Google Maps

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Second day of Puerto Madero

The good thing about today, the day after Christmas, is that the choice for food is much better. Close to the hotel I saw this Parrilla called “La Posada de 1820” (-34.600877, -58.374157) with a respectable looking grill and much more relaxing atmosphere than Puerto Madero. Ordered a serving of Parrilla special, short ribs, chicken, sausages and blood sausages. Thought about leaving the giant grilled bife de lomo to another day since I have 3 more weeks in Argentina. Time to try the other dishes first. Tenderloin later. Ordered a side dish of boiled vegetables to drown the guilt. All dishes here seem to come with small mini baguettes in mini baskets. Skip. Where’s the meat? One first word I learnt here is “carne”. Next would be “gracias”. Priorities. I’m surprised the orange juice here is usually freshly pressed without any dilution. Wine was tempting but not in the mood to have half a bottle of a Mendoza.

The dinner bill came up to 85 peso. Not too bad. There was just too much for me. People here sure eat a lot. What I had for dinner is enough for two back where I came from. And I did not touch the potatoes at all, expecting the large portions. Most shops including this one also advertises exchange rate at the front door especially for USD. Probably meant I could pay with USD as well and the rates ranged from 3.9 to 4. The spread here is quite good paying in USD. This, compared to the 15% spread at the airport exchange bureau between USD and Argentinian peso, is a deal. Anyway left the restaurant very very bloated and it is time to return to the hotel and recover for the next day.

27 December: Central Buenos Aires This will be a lazy day. Started off with a move to another hotel just a short walk down the road. Everything is fine except the Internet at the Melia is not free. Again I’m very much against hotels that charge for Internet. Should be free like running water. Looks like I will have to look for open AP instead of paying the hotel chain for this basic necessity. The other thing is that I received sunburns from the last 2 days of walking Buenos Aires. I don’t think I will want to walk too much anymore so it will be a strolling day around Microcentro.

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The bookstore

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Where else would I be browsing?

This afternoon, I took a walk along Ave Santa Fe to El Attaneo bookstore that is popular on many travel websites. Its a hot day and most shops are opened by now. I was thinking between a heavy lunch and a sandwich and the guilt of last nights dinner means its a sandwich for lunch and a bottle of synthetic juice. El Atteneo is a nice place though most of the books are in Spanish, it is still possible to find the occasional English. The inside of this bookstore is a small theatre converted to a bookstore. The stage, complete with velvet curtains is now a coffee shop packed when I was there. Many in this bookstore are snapping away pictures along with flash exposures. I took a few and started to browse photography books on the ground floor. I need to cool down here before the walk back to the hotel in the hot sun. Not sure about the acoustics though, not an opera buff.

The walk back is just as uneventful except there was an intersection where pedestrians were crowding around someone on the ground and the police was present. Just like anywhere else, humans are curious animals. Another thing I noticed is that a lot of the stores and minimarts seem to be run by Chinese. How can you tell? Chinese owners always manage their cash registers.

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Huge slab of meat

Dinner tonight was at a restaurant called El Carbon (-34.597618, -58.372875). And I had a big slab of bife de lomo and side dish is always never included with the mains. I had grilled vegetables with it along with Argentinian Malbec. Never had beef that tender before. Great stuff. Argentina is starting to be a beef heaven for me.

28 December: La Boca & Recoleta

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Caminito Street in La Boca: Colours everywhere

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More colours

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This one was shot against the sun, around noon and the wall was in the shadows. Amazing how much you can pull out in postprocessing.

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There are a lot of people and mess in La Boca, so it is difficult to get isolated shots like this one.

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Tourists in La Boca, doing tourist things

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This is in one of the slightly less crowded streets

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Main Caminito street. Can’t miss this sight.

Today marks the first day of the photo workshop. We were supposed to spend some time at La Boca and Recoleta to practice composition. Nothing new about La Boca. I was there before except this time I have more camera fire power with me. It was a hot sunny day and I was drinking through many bottles of water. The bright sunlight made it very difficult to get anything with nice lighting but with close enough crop it is still possible to get something.

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It was a hot day at the cemetery, and I was waiting here for the right frame with “make a wish” above. Didn’t get what I wanted.

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Some of the mausoleum is quite elaborate at Recoleta

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One of the higher class corners in the cemetery.

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Maintenance goes on all the time here. And it looks like sometimes they remove the casket while the fix stuff.

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The colour version of this picture didn’t give enough of the right mood, but I thought the b&w version works better.

Recoleta cemetery is a little different. There are statues everywhere and for the adventurous, some crypts are open and it is possible to down the stairs and admire the caskets. In fact most crypts have ground level caskets and some are rotten out of care. Spooky enough even in bright daylight. Most tourists seem to make their way to Evita Peron’s crypt and that’s all. We spent a few hours there and had a few people asking us the direction to that famous spot. That’s the equivalent of Jim Morrisson’s grave in Pere Lachaise, Paris. Hot day. Gone through many pictures but still very disciplined. Plenty of time to concentrate on what to shoot.

Dinner time started with a little hunt along the main street to look for open wifi points. Did find a few, most of the cafes have open points. Had to find one just to send off all the emails that has been accumulated in my phone mailboxes. Dinner was at a restaurant I found on the street thanks to Tripadvisor.com called El Establo Cafe along Paraguay street. I think I’ve had enough meat for this stay at Buenos Aires so it will be fish tonight and especially need to try the Southern Trout.

Today is the last day in Buenos Aires. Tomorrow I will fly out to El Calafate, saying goodbye to the city and hello to Patagonia.

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I’ll end this post with more colours

*end*

Proceed to Lago Viedma, Argentina...