Buenos Aires: sizzling, scorchio, and a cemetery

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argentina street art

argentina street artFirst of all, if you’re wondering why there are no tales or photos of bicycles yet, it’s because we’re officially Being Tourists in Buenos Aires while acclimatising. The cycling won’t start until we arrive in Ushuaia (so if we’re boring you, you might want to wait until Thursday to hear about our adventures on two wheels).

Back to Buenos Aires, the idea was to get up stupidly early and avoid the worst of the heat. We had in mind to visit the famous Cementerio de la Recoleta in the north of the city, best known for being the place where Eva Perón now lies (after some flitting about) in the Duarte family tomb. As usual, we faffed around quite a bit, so took advantage of the free hostel breakfast which started at 08.30 (more dulce de leche, medialunas and orange juice) before heading off on foot in the direction of the cemetery. I’d be lying if I said the walk was pleasant. It was hot, sticky and the traffic was bonkers.

park in buenos airesIt was, however, very interesting to see Puerteños (as folk from Buenos Aires are known) going about their morning activities in simply oppressive heat: walking purposefully to work wearing not-very-much, driving boisterously, queuing urgently outside the Paro (unemployment) office. We spotted a novel approach to advertising in the form of billboard-carrying blokes, heavily sweating, who would walk out to stand in front of several lanes stationary traffic when the lights changed to red, and then shuffle back to sweat a bit more at the side of the road.

Eventually, we arrived in an area which bore more resemblance to affluent Regents Park in London than the 18eme in Paris – the pavements were unbroken, flower baskets were well-tended, and there was suddenly a great deal of greenery, with each park boasting its own bronze statue of someone vaguely important. We were pretty shattered by this point, having only walked about two miles, but in a sticky humidity which made us wish we were on our bikes, when at least we’d be creating our own, erm, wind.

eva peron graveThe cemetery was as we had expected – alleyway upon ginnel upon snicket of bizarre, ostentatious tombs in various styles (I’m not an expert, so from Wikipedia: The cemetery contains many elaborate marble mausoleums, decorated with statues, in a wide variety of architectural styles such as Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Baroque, and Neo-Gothic,[9] and most materials used between 1880 and 1930 in the construction of tombs were imported from Paris and Milan. I (Peli) found it all a bit over-the-top and tasteless for my liking, with each mausoleum competing with its neighbour for attention. And once the last eligible family member was walled up inside these monstrosities, there was no one left to tend to the grave, leaving them cobwebby, dusty and – in some cases – littered with rubbish. An eery place.

At the entrance we were urgently accosted by a well-dressed Argentine lady with a comically-plummy English accent, who insisted that we buy a guide to the cemetery, and congratulated us on having lived in Fulham, which, of course, she knew well. Woolly is good at politely making negative noises while moving away gently, so we managed to escape.

This is now Woolly taking up the story. In contrast to Peli, I do love cemeteries: the calm, spookyness (yes, I have clearly watched too many horror movies) and the history that is to be found there. Pere Lachaise in Paris, Nunhead in South East London to name a couple are my current favourites. And Cementerio de la Recoleta has just joined these.

One thing I find very bizarre is the respect that humans give to the dead, which is so different to the respect we tend to give to the living.

The nearly two hours of walking through busy – and pretty polluted – Buenos Aires streets in the heat really took it out of us, so we took a taxi back for an siesta.

pizza in san telmoFriends had recommended to us that we should try the pizzas here in San Telmo. Pizzerias in the UK could learn something from pizzerias here: actually put the filling you put on the menu on the pizza itself. Most times, you have to carefully distribute the very few available bits of pineapple to get a taste on every slice. The pizza we had last night definitely had the filling that was advertised on the menu, and in huge quantities. Each slice of pizza had a large round of pineapple and so much ham it hard to see that there was around 5mm of cheese underneath. The restaurant owners laughed at our attempts to eat our way through two pizzas grandes (we eventually admitted defeat and took the leftovers back to the hostel in a pizza box). Though the pizzas in San Telmo were not a patch on the pizzas we had at Arthurs Pass in New Zealand.

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