An Accidental Encounter in the Villas in Buenos Aires

Monday 8 August

Crossing the coast into Chile revealed beautiful green paddocks rising up into grassy hills. With the snow capped Andes in the distance and clear blue sky’s it’s quite stunning.

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Smog surrounded Santiago as the Boeing 787 landed, applying full brakes, I presume to get an early exit from the runway.  We walked off the plane, down a few corridors and straight onto the waiting Boeing 767 for our flight to Buenos Aires. The trip across the Andes was stunning to say the least. These snow covered mountains extend to the north and south, on this clear day beyond the horizons.

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The trip from the airport to the hotel took us through an interesting part of town with what seem to be standard unfinished houses on one side of the road and ten to fifteen story old apartments on the other. The thirty kilometre trip took aver an hour.

The Four Seasons Hotel is quite flash. The room has doors that open up into the bathroom.

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We took a stroll down to the El Mirasol restaurant for a very tasty eye fillet steak. This place with acoustic tiles on the ceiling and lots of waiters always at the ready is a great place to enjoy an Argentinian steak.

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Tuesday 9 August

Sylvia headed off to work. I took a stroll heading northwest through the town. As I  left the hotel there was a heavy police and military presence with guys donning body armour. I asked a porter what was going down. “The Australians are coming” was the answer.

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Not far up the road is La Recoleta. This is a cemetery full of tombs. It’s quite unique as with many of the tombs one can look through the windows or in some cases just bars and see the coffins inside. Some are in disrepair. It was looking in one of these I realised that they go down below the ground with six or eight coffins stacked on top of each other with a steep stairway leading down to the bottom. Originated in November 1822 as the city’s  first public cemetery, the fifty two thousand square metre site has 4800 tombs. Evita Peron lies here along with many famous people.

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Next was a brief stop at a large columned building with a grand foyer that turned out to be the university. ” No photos allowed”, I was told by a friendly security guard after taking a couple.

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Across the road is the Museo National de Bellas Artes, with art ranging from naked people to things I did not understand. One room had a large rug on the floor with some broken lights on it like they had fallen from the ceiling.  The next had photos of people with dots over their faces and a couple of ladders in the centre of the room. I wandered in thinking “well that’s art”. A guy stopped me and said its not open yet we are setting it up. Oops those ladders were serving a purpose!!

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The roads here are really wide with up to six lanes going in one direction.

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Heading northwest iI wandered through continuous parks for several kilometres, passing a Zoo, a Planaterio, tennis courts, several small lakes, and a large officious brick building with an outer wrought iron and an inner brick fence that looked like a military complex but turned out to be the sewerage treatment plant.

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As I passed the second statue of a horse-mounted hero, who had obviously at some point had a hand in either conquering or saving this land, I wondered how the statue makers are going to get on portraying our current prime minister, in my opinion probably the best we have ever had. He rode into town in a BMW.

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As I crossed the rail overbridge an aircraft flew low overhead on approach to land at the airport almost in the centre of town. A little to the east on the water front is Parque De La Memoria. I think a memorial to those who lost there lives to various bad regimes who have ruled here in the past. A statue stands in the water not far from the shore to represent those whose bodies were dumped here. After a coffee and a glass of wine at a Bahamas over looking the River Plate I followed the shoreline back towards the city.

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Fishing is popular here with dozens of people lined up along the sea wall casting into the sea. Some rods have bells on them to alert the sometimes sleeping owners that something is on the line. I never did see anyone catch anything. Food carts along the way seemed to be doing good business.

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As I got closer to the city it became more industrial. Men worked on the footpath installing fibre-optic cable which they pulled through by hand using a nylon line. As I closed on the port area some guys had a footpath BBQ going with a rather large chunk of meat on it.

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Large trucks rumbled down the road and the footpath became nonexistent. I had to get either over, under or round the end of the railway lines to get back to the hotel. I headed down an industrial road towards the rail line. After rounding a few corners I was suddenly in the villas (slums) as they are called here (pronounced veejas). Buildings are literally stacked up under the motorway, built of various materials amongst a maze of wires to distribute the stolen electricity to the shacks, many built with stolen materials on stolen land. They were quite intriguing.

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Kids played and looked up in amazement as a gringo wandered into there domain. Dogs growled and barked but not just at me. The map had indicated what looked like a path up onto the motorway and over the railway lines. This was not to be. Committed now, the what had been narrow concrete lanes now turned to mud. Young men hung around gazing at and discussing this stupid gringo with flash camera in hand. It was not the time or place to stop and put the camera in my pack. Committed and with a purpose I pushed on. Each group that looked at me received a big smile and a loud “ola”, one of my five Spanish words. Some tried to engage with me but I waved and pushed on. The sun was behind me so I stayed in the sunlight to watch any shadows closing on me. Soon a single shadow was closing so I stepped aside turned and put my hand out to shake this young man’s hand. Taken aback he shook my hand then walked alongside me attempting to engage in conversation. Soon there was an alley on the left. I indicated I was going that way and he carried on after spotting the three cops there.

Passing the cops I turned left into a dead-end alley. Two old guys looked at me with surprise as I stuffed my camera into my back pack. We had a conversation without understanding a word each other said but I was sure they were telling me I shouldn’t be there.  An old guy and three young blokes rounded the corner into the alley indicating I should come with them. I looked at the two old guys who nodded their heads. I followed as they led the way back to the police.

Two policemen and a policewoman escorted me the rest of the way down the mud alley to the main road. As we parted and I shook their hands thanking then using the remainder of my Spanish words one said pointing back down the ally “very dangerous”. At the end of the day no matter where in the world one goes most people are pretty good.

On arriving back at the hotel the app in my phone said I had walked 28ks for the day.

At 830pm Michael and Mariana picked us up and took to Rio de la Plata. This was the old port area which has been transformed into restaurants and bars. We had first met last year in Salvador so it was great to catch up and share a meal together. They have started making cheese on Michael’s mothers farm where they go in the weekends.

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Wednesday 10 August

I took a stroll down to Rio de la Plato, where we had dinner last night, and booked a ferry to Colonia, across the river in Uruguay. With some time to spare I strolled down the canal. The ever present Buenos Aries smog hung in the background. Puente de la Mujer  (Woman’s Bridge) is a hive of activity with police blocking both ends. Apparently Greenpeace are quite strung up over some issue and have attached themselves to the rigging and are trying to unveil a banner. This is a really neat area with nice looking apartment blocks on the east side and the old port buildings turned into restaurants and offices on the west. The old restored cranes watch over the area.

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I was looking forward to the trip across the River Plate, famous for a great naval battle in December 1939  in which the HMNZS Achilles, along with two British Ships, helped disable the German battle ship Admiral Graf Spee,  which was later scuttled off Uruguay. Unfortunately the ferry was strictly stay inside only with very dirty windows.

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An hour later I stepped onto Uruguayan soil. Colonia is a pleasant clean town with a wide main street. I strolled through the town onto a hill overlooking the Rivera, a resort area.

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Strolling across the back of town I came across the local army base. While I was taking a couple of photos a rather well fed corporal invited me in for a look. In the compound a company of new soldiers were learning to march.

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I had time for a beer at a bar in the main street before it was time to catch the ferry back. An hour and a half on the ground in Uruguay hardly counts as a visit.


Thursday  11 August

Ave 9 de Julio is a huge boulevard that runs through the centre of town. Several kilometres long, it has a dedicated bus road down the middle with almost nonstop bus shelters. There is a big memorial in the middle. Evia Perion features on a building at the end. Dog walking is a big deal here – packs of up to ten dogs of all different breeds are connected on leads surrounding the handler. There was even a dog run in a local park.

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It’s protest day today and many unions are out with drums, banners and fire crackers trying to get their point across.

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At the end of the boulevard I turned right and strolled through various parts of the town eventually reaching La Boca and El Caminito. Situated on the edge of the canal, this area is quite attractive with colourful buildings and markets.

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Camera safely in my pack I strolled back up the edge of the canal which looked a bit rough. A motorway bridge here was designed so the whole centre span lifts up to let ships through. There is another big structure next to it but I am not sure what that is for.

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A bit further on there were a few new Villas built under the motorway.

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Eventually I arrived at the Pink Palace where the president hangs out but which is more famous for the speech Eva Peron gave from the balcony in October 1951 to a million people. I’m not quite sure how they packed them in as the square is not exactly huge. The police had erected steel barricades around the palace as the protesters were here in force.

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From there a stroll through the narrow streets of down town took me through a park back to the hotel.

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I stopped in at a local restaurant where the outside seats were all taken. I asked a chap occupying a table if he minded if I joined him. “As long as you don’t mind cigar smoke” he said as he puffed on his Cohiba. “Not at all” I replied as I sat down taking a Montecristo from my pack. Miguel was soon joined by Marcelo and Antonio. We had a great chat about the city and country.

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Argentina has had a bit of a rough run for the last hundred years with lots of bad or  corrupt leaders.  Inflation in over the past year has been over 40% but is slowly coming down. In the past famous for its beef exports, soya beans came on the scene and with direct drilling took over the cattle market. Fences were removed as farmers switched to soya. Recently that market dropped and with fences gone it is making it hard to switch back to beef.

All too soon the afternoon was over and I was meeting Sylvia at the airport for our flight to Rio.

One thought on “An Accidental Encounter in the Villas in Buenos Aires

  1. Anonymous says:

    Another adventure Roger. I thought you would have too smart to walk down alleyways

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