Good Airs

Wednesday, October 19th 2005

When I woke up in the morning we were flying over the delta of the Río Paraná, as it opens out into the huge Río de la Plata. It was a beautiful sunny morning as we touched down at Ezeiza airport. I got the first of what would be many Argentinian passport stamps and headed out into a new country.

I'd made a major tactical error by not checking in advance how many pesos there were to the dollar. My guidebook was published before the collapse of the economy in 2001, and as far as it was concerned the peso was still tied to the dollar. None of the currency places seemed to have a written rate up anywhere, so I just guessed a likely exchange rate based on the prices of food in the cafes, got out a reasonable quantity of pesos and grabbed a taxi for the city. The confusion continued when the taxi seemed absurdly expensive - about two days worth of travel budget for a trip into the city. And why was the price in US dollars anyway? I twigged eventually that they used the dollar symbol for pesos, and the price was only half a day's travel budget.

I stayed at the fabulous Sandanzas hostel in San Telmo, south of the city centre, where a coffee had always just brewed and the staff were always keen to help a traveller find interesting things to do. After a quick breakfast there I set off into the centre of the city, enjoying the feeling of being in a big city in a distant country. In a spaced-out jetlag haze, I walked up Paseo Colón, enjoying the hot sunshine.

I got pleasantly lost, wandering randomly down side streets and getting a feel for the place. After a while I emerged on Calle Flórida, the main shopping street, and wandered along there to the Plaza de Mayo. There was a noisy left-wing demonstration going on there, with drums, music, firecrackers and shouting, but I couldn't work out what exactly was being demonstrated about.

As afternoon turned to evening I walked back down to San Telmo, and spent the evening struggling to stay awake and talk intelligibly to other travellers. By 10pm I couldn't go any further and crashed out, not to return to consciousness for almost twelve hours.

My first stay in Buenos Aires was to be a brief one, because I'd bought a bus ticket to Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, leaving on my second evening in South America. I spend my second day in Buenos Aires feeling slighly more coherent, and hung around with Sharon from Essex who I'd met in the hostel. She'd done much the same route as I was going to do but the other way around, and was now at the end of her trip. She needed to reconfirm her ticket home so we walked up to the offices of Iberia, on Avenida 9 Julio. I liked the fact that every town in Argentina has an Avenida 9 Julio because it's my birthday.

Tickets sorted, we got a licuado at a cafe and sat in the sunshine. Licuados are fruity sweet milkshakes and I hadn't had one since I was in Central America so I really enjoyed it. Our business in this part of town done with, we walked back to San Telmo and on south into La Boca. We passed the Boca Juniors stadium and I silently cursed Maradona and his infamous 'hand of god' as we walked by.

We explored La Boca for a while, and stopped for refreshments in a lot of cafes. One was by what we'd assumed was a disused railway line and we were surprised when a freight train suddenly rumbled by.

At 6pm I headed to Retiro bus station to catch the bus to Paraguay. A huge, luxurious bus pulled in to the stand not long after I got there, and a beautiful attendent emerged. Through the darkened windows I could see large, comfortable seats and what looked like a coffee machine. My ticket had only cost £12 so it looked like my luck was in. But no - the beautiful attendant looked at my ticket with haughty disdain and told me it was for a different bus. The giant bus pulled out and revealed a much smaller, tattier bus. Slightly disappointed, I began to doze off as we headed into the Buenos Aires rush hour on our way to Paraguay.

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