Buenos Aires…the Berlin of South America?


Buenos Aires was our next stop with a 24 hour overnight coach from Iguazu. I won’t write much about the journey since it was one of those experiences you simply had to be there for to appreciate, but more so for my own record, it was the funniest journey I have ever had. Both Dre and I have never laughed so hard for such a sustained period of time (which was incidentally a great abs work out since we had to laugh into our pillows to avoid disturbing anyone else; god knows I could do with it right now…yes the waste line is still expanding:( ) all at the expense of a classic American girl ( those who know her; this girl reminded us of Helen; Andre’s mate) who quite simply nearly shat herself watching the onboard movie, Buried with Ryan Reynolds

We had both read and heard an awful lot about BA and were really looking forward to it since we heard the nightlife rivals that of Berlin with some big name DJs playing. We also couldn’t have timed it better since there were a host of events taking place in the city over the next two weeks; a jazz festival, night of the museums, Gaucho festival just outside BA and Creamfields festival, so we decided to stay for over 12 nights; the longest we have stayed in any one place.

After learning more about Argentina’s more recent history following the great depression, specifically the horrific human rights violations that occurred during ‘Dirty War’ of the 70s, I can see why there are some similarities to Berlin given the cold war. Much like the Berliners, the people of BA really do value their freedom and have a strong youth activist political subculture which feeds the rich arts scene at your disposal. Whether its small gigs cropping up all over the city or one of the hundred top museums or art galleries ( which on this one particular saturday were open till 3.30am for free with the centre of the city closed off for live music at each museum) this city really does have it all and we tried our very best to see as much of it as we could.

Given the sheer amount we did during our stay and in order to do them justice, I plan to do a couple of separate posts.

We split our time between two different areas; San Telmo and Palermo, staying in some of the best hostels we have seen; Art Factory and Hostel Suites which were both in gorgeous old 1850 mansions. Visually the architecture in BA is the nicest we have seen in South America to date given that a lot of the buildings were built during Argentina’s boom eras of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. The early part of the last century has been particularly good to the city creating Parisian style neighbourhoods in all their grandeur and splendour.

Unfortunately military rule, corruption and economic crises post the historic default of $140b in 2002 have left their mark on this place and it’s people. Walking around I can’t quite stop thinking about the current economic crises in Europe that I have been following in the news.

Not withstanding the quite visible poverty you see around, along with the crumbling infrastructure, the effects are most prevalent within the people themselves. Whilst clearly in a better position than they have been previously, they are coming off the back of a pretty dire destructions in their own personal wealth and are in the main still recovering financially. Understandably still hugely weary of the inflation given the very recent memories of their bank accounts being limited to withdrawals of only $200 a week (a hugely unpopular movement by the government to avoid a run on the banks).

It does make you wonder whether the Argentina of the past 10 years will be the path to be trodden by Greece or even the UK for that matter?

This thought in combination with the huge presence of Standard bank (my favourite client) made me think of work quite a bit and more importantly what I will do when I am back in the UK.

Given the pace at which I am burning through the cash I will be quite literally broke when I get back! This has put a little bit of a downer on the last few days here. The realisation that I am not simply on a holiday has now truly hit home. If I want to last the 8 months and see the places I want to, I have to start being much more frugal with the cash and start cooking and not drinking a beer every night ( which is bloody expensive in comparison to everything else here).

This is the main reason I am sitting here at the hostel for the next two days catching up on things (mainly this blog) instead of gallivanting around the city spending more. So if you have been wondering why this particular post has been such a bore to read through…I have some time to kill 😉

Ideally we would have only stayed a long weekend and headed South sooner but hey life’s not bad at all so no need to complain! The one thing being in BA has thought me is that whilst I think I need to go out at night and experience the club scene, it’s not really what I am hear to do. To be perfectly honest given that things don’t kick off until 2am and finish around 10am, I don’t think I have the stamina anymore; particularly having not met any ‘locals’.

As a result, I have decided that the national parks and countryside is where I want to spend the majority of my time. The cities are of course important, but a long weekend in each will suffice. If I truly want to see things I have never seen before then I need to focus my time and limited budget on those remote places rather than the extravagant lifestyles of the city.

As a final comment I did want to jot down something about the ‘Madres de la Plaza de Mayo’ or the mothers of the disappeared which I think really does explain the most recent horrific history I believe to be at the core of modern-day Argentine culture and something that did move me.

The ‘Dirty War’ as us Europeans call it, explains the period between the late 60’s right through to the Falklands war which I remember hearing about and seeing on the news ( although given that the war only lasted 74 days and ended the year of my birth I must have seen it via programs about Thatcher?) which marked the end of military rule in Argentina. ( BTW it’s not cool to talk about the war as a Brit here).

During this rule there were over 30,000 people who simply disappeared and were in fact tortured and killed in what were effectively concentration camps to quash political opposition (again another parallel to Germany albeit faint). During this period of repression, any form of public gathering was banned with fatal repercussions.

1977 was a particularly brutal year of human rights violations, so 14 mothers marched into the main plaza outside the famous Casa Rosa (where Eva Peron gave her famous speeches) wearing their now iconic White head scarves (which were in fact old style cloth nappies) to demand for information about their missing children. This group of women developed into a powerful social movement and the only political movement to overtly challenge the military rule and are cited as helping kick-start the reestablishment of the countries civil society.

These days the group are more of a political party that are not really liked by many portenos (people from BA) since they have been tainted by involvement with the current government led by what I can only describe as a footballers wife, Cristina Kirchner; a former first lady and now president who is very unpopular with the educated population.

Given the evolution of the mothers party they have split into two factions with the Founding Line being the ‘grandmothers’ who to this day still hold silent vigils weekly in remembrance of the disappeared. As a group they are now a community that help people who were born in this period, people not too much older than myself who feel they could be children of the missing.

Many of the missing were young innocent people with families, often both parents would be killed with the kids being taken by the military to be raised as their own! So you can imagine some of these grandmothers still marching have 30 years later found long-lost grandchildren. Whilst this is nice on the one hand; these adults are now faced with the realisation that his or her parents that raised them are infect war criminals that murdered their real parents!

Right for those of you that bothered to read this essay to the end there are some more pics…sorry probably really boring to read 🙂

Casa Rosa

Grandmothers

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One comment on “Buenos Aires…the Berlin of South America?

  1. Don’t apologise babe. I’ve read in the newspapers about the grandmothers and finally you’ve just brought the story to life and made it very real.

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