No funciona (Not working)

Thursday 12 May 2011 – Saturday 11 June 2011

Buenos Aires, was it going to live up to all the hype of being the most vibrant and exciting city in South America? I was really excited about heading there, one because I would be putting my clothes into a draw for at least two weeks, two because I would be staying in an apartment and three I would be sharing a bed with a sexy Swede… by the name of Hanna. We’d met on the very first day of my travels and bumped into each other in Colombia a few times and then I passed by the beach where Hanna was working in Ecuador. It was five and a half months since we’d seen each other.

My first impression of Buenos Aires wasn’t so good. Like most cities, the area around the station is never nice and it’s one of the first times that I’ve felt quite vulnerable carrying my worldly possessions, (albeit holey smelly clothes that are worth about three empanadas) though mainly because there were so many people around. It was the first time that I felt like I was in a busy city. It felt like I was back in London. Rather than take a taxi, I took the ridiculously cheap Subte (underground) for ARS1.10, the equivalent of 18p and reached the apartment fine in the bohemian area of San Telmo better known for it’s antiques. It turns out I would be sharing with nine others, all young professionals mainly from Europe with the majority being creative individuals all there to work or study or do both. Myself and Hanna felt like the vagabonds as we were merely there for a jolly. I soon settled into a routine of no routine.

The chill out area in the apartment, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The roof terrace of the apartment where I had breakfast (at lunch time) every morning (well afternoon)

Whilst in BA, nothing seemed to function properly. My body-clock got completely messed up. Porteñas (locals who are from BA) eat really late, it’s not unusual for a family, sometimes with a baby, to enter a restaurant at 11pm for a light dinner of a kilo of meat and a bottle of wine. After dinner, Porteñas go out and party until at least 7am by which time the kebab on the way home is actually breakfast. They sleep for most of the day rising late and beginning the days activities well into the afternoon.

Partying all night is fun but then I hate sleeping until the afternoon, I beat myself up and feel like one of those rebellious 18 year old Gap Year travellers who fester in party hostels all day and waste their lives away. This is just the way it is in BA. I did manage to pretty much do an activity a day (even if this was just go for a coffee – one day this was literally the only thing I managed), though the activity usually started around 2pm rather than the morning, generally with an non functioning brain.

I did start off with good intentions on my very first day though. On my introduction to BA after lunch and mate (type of herbal tea using yerba that the Argentines drink constantly out of a non functional gourd and metal straw whilst clenching a flask of hot water under their armpit) on the roof terrace, we headed to the Holocaust Museum for a nice fun start, then for a rip off bite to eat, treated ourselves to some tetro pack wine much to the disgust of our fellow flatmates (I’m sure they were wondering who these new pikeys were) then headed to a private view in a gallery in Palermo (plusher end of the town where everyone goes out), with some interesting erotic, purply pink ink drawings. The majority of the people there were skinny gay art students in bollock hugging garish trousers. One piece of art was so rude that it was behind a curtain and myself and Hanna were asked to partake in a video that a funny gay guy was filming where we had to act really shocked when we peered through the curtain. By the fifth time it was just embarrassing. He wasn’t impressed so decided to film himself emerging from the curtain in some sort of sexual tongue waggling through fingers in true Kingpin styleee whilst making groaning sounds. We left the too cool for skool gang and got enticed into a bar offering free pizzas only to have missed out by minutes, meet a guy from Austria and end up in a hip hop club with sleezy men up to our eyeballs (not literally as the men are actually taller than 5 foot in BA thank the lord). We get back at 6am and have breakfast. So after completely overdoing it on my first day with multiple activities, I thought I’d step off the gas a little and do nothing.

I felt tired for the first month in BA; I stayed for a month. My motivation seemed to have gone out of the window but then it was difficult when there wasn’t even the hostel breakfast of dry bread, butter and jam to look forward to before 10am in the morning. Myself and Hanna congratulated ourselves if we got up before 10am and out of the apartment before 11am. Also there were no tours organised by the hostels to get up for as we were staying in an apartment.

We went on one tour in a month which was to a football game at La Bombonera (meaning chocolate box as the stadium resembles a one, there was nothing chocolaty about it), to see Boca Juniors play and supposedly the craziest supporters in the world. I’d contacted my Porteño friends asking how to go about getting tickets as it’s one activity where it’s advised that it’s too dangerous to do independently and myself and Hanna were reluctant to go with a ‘gringo’ tour. Hanna had worked at a hostel for a few days before I arrived so had a contact to try too (although she’d completely forgotten what he looked like) and luckily he was able to get us tickets though we’d have to join the tour at the hostel. Tickets are usually around ARS100 each unless it’s a really big game. We paid ARS150 and all the gringos paid ARS330. We felt pretty smug. I think the worst thing about the tour was the fact that all 70 travellers, bar one Spanish guy, were speaking English. It was the first time that we’re been surrounded by so many English speaking travellers and felt really strange. I generally try and avoid the young party crowds where Spanish is rarely spoken.

The first stop on our tour was to visit a traditional restaurant in La Boca. It was the same touristy restaurant that myself and Hanna had been dragged in the week before. This time we were all herded to the back where there was a separate bar, merely a crate of beer behind a table and the only available food being choripan. (Chorizo sausage in a small baguette). Everyone in the restaurant starred at the gringo lemmings as we trooped in. It was pretty awful and I felt like a bit of an animal.

La bombonera, Boca Juniors

Me and the sexy Swede at La bombonera checking out a few Nobs

In the stadium we were surrounded by hooded youths in the concrete stands opposite the crazy home fans. I’ve been to a few football games and they are by far the craziest fans I’ve even seen. At one point everyone at the opposite end was jumping up and down while singing (the same chant a millions times) to the sound of a band whilst twirling umbrellas; I thought the stand was going to collapse. It must be the most intimidating stadium for away fans to visit. They were nowhere to be seen but then when we saw piss get tipped onto the fans below us we realised that the away fans, Nobs Newells, were sat above. We were quite far back in the stand so luckily were safe from getting a golden shower.

The game wasn’t that exciting but La Boca beat the Nobs by 2 goals to nil, going completely crazy with each goal. When the game finished we were told that we’d have to wait about half an hour before we would be leaving. I figured it was because there were thousands of fans there and it would be hard to remain as a 70 strong group, but actually it was to allow the away fans out first so they could piss all over the stairwell and get on the Subte (Metro) before the home fans beat the crap out of them, nice.

The most annoying thing that wasn’t functioning was my compact camera which gave up on me on an incredible hike in Bariloche. It had served me well and I was slighly annoyed that it wasn’t going to last the duration of my trip. Hanna was glad that I was meeting her as her camera had packed up and figured she could just get copies from my camera, I was thinking the same thing. I was without a camera for a good few weeks, tried to get it fixed but it came back even worse so gave in and bought a new one in a country where electronic items are really expensive and generally not very good.

I’d visited the Zoo, watched a camel poo then sleep in what can only be described as the most uncomfortable position and seen some animals for the first time without a camera but as it wasn’t too expensive and Hanna was keen on going I went back with my new camera that I’d bought the day before. I’d taken about 15 pictures of a monkey that I’d befriended when my new camera decided to pack up. I was so annoyed, I wasn’t going to come back to the zoo for a third time.

As Argentina was not the place to get electronics fixed I thought I’d give my beloved PC a bash, (God knows how it happened) and have to get the screen replaced because ink had dispersed all over the screen, just as I was about to post my blog. In two months of being in Argentina my mobile didn’t work once even though I tried buying two different sim cards, going into numerous phone shops and topping it up twice with credit. Gah, nada estan funcionando. (Nothing is working).

My organs got well and truly battered, I realised this was a problem when I got alcohol poisoning. Four clubs in my first six days (about the same amount of clubs I’ve been to in the last 10 years), was a bit excessive. The funny thing is that I was in BA over four Saturdays but we never even really went out on a Saturday night. (I went out once but this was for a few local drinks and I was back by 4am so an early night). We chose instead to drink tea and eat cake in a nice part of town, read our books and then stroll back to the apartment. It’s just the way that it worked out, we’d go out during the week then come Saturday we’d always need a night off. But then the city never sleeps, which is why I loved it, there’s is always something different going on and if you want to go out until 6am on Sunday, you can, though I’m not sure how any local manages to keep to a routine and remain disciplined.

Hanna chilling in the country

Parrilla in the country

Still, although I moved at a very slow pace in BA, I still managed to do some really cool stuff which included activities that the average tourist wouldn’t do, thanks to staying in the apartment. Heading out to the country for the day courtesy of our landlord and a guy that lived in one of his other properties was great. Although I loved BA, it was nice to get out to somewhere rural for the day. We went horse riding, or more, we both shat our pants  at the mere thought of having to geton a horse (the last time I was on a horse was when I fell off it), and trotted around a field for a few minutes but luckily the parrilla (barbecued meat) was ready soon after we mounted so saved us, we went for a walk, ate mounds of tasty meat, dranks lots of mate, tried to understand what a local guy was saying but he was literally the fastest speaker I’ve encountered on my trip and I had to get him to repeat sentences about 5 times before I managed to even pluck out one word, it got quite comical in the end and we just ended up laughing at him. Usually if you ask someone to repeat something in Spanish they just repeat but louder, though perhaps a little clearer. This guy repeated the sentence just as quickly, using the same complex words all the time whilst barely moving his mouth. It wasn’t quite an Eustacia, where gaucho’s own millions of horses and acres of land in the country but still it was a really good day.

Concrete = Canvas

Artists at work, Concrete = Canvas

Concrete = Canvas

Flatmate Estebans's work of art, Concrete = Canvas

Concrete = Canvas

Concrete = Canvas

Concrete = Canvas

Another cool day was the event that our flatmate, Callie, had organised, the founder of Concrete = Canvas where street art is made accessible to everyone. Her latest project was to invite artists to paint the walls of a deprived gated community, formerly an abandoned textile factory but now home to 3000 residents, to inject some life and vibrancy into the vacant concrete walls. It was such an eye opener as usually if you got your camera out in similar surroundings it would be whipped out of your hand before a picture was taken. I met a few locals living there who were really friendly and the kids were so cute and got really excited by the circus show. I’d turned up two hours after I’d said that I’d meet Hanna due to non functioning streets. I’d found the street and got nearer to the actual number when the street disappeared only to restart about a km away. What’s that all about? So confusing. I’d stopped to ask at least 25 locals for directions, most of them not able to help me but everyone really went out of their way to help.

It was really good to get shown around by locals even though their idea of a good bar in the evening of a brightly lit cafe was interesting, sample traditional food where there were only locals, go to house parties, visit an cute organic food market where I treated myself to some expensive posh cheese only to have it robbed from the fridge, go to local bars where myself and Hanna were treated like celebrities (people were literally queuing up to speak to us and kept offering us their drinks as they never see tourists), share an apartment with nine others where we conversed mainly in Spanish which was tough as moving on from the basic Spanish that rolls off my tongue as I’ve said sentences like ‘I’m from England, I live in London, I am travelling’ about a million times, requires the next level of Spanish so much harder but good practice, but essentially, to live like a local for a short period was really good experience.

La Bomba del Tiempo

La Boca

La Boca

Obelisk, 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world, according to the Argentinian's

San Telmo antiques

Graffiti in San Telmo


My favourite hangout spot in BA where I spend a lot of time pretending to be a writer, La Poesia

Obviously we indulged ourselves in touristy stuff too. We went to some interesting galleries, art events, saw loads of graffiti, La Bomba de Tiempo only three times, a crazy drum show and a bad start to the week as it was on a Monday night but the best bit was the burrito man after the show who was the only vendor who was selling so much that he was sweating, (I was distraught the third time I went to La Bomba and he wasn’t there), spent was too much time in Palermo which was the other end of town but there was a huge park and where the main hub of nightlife was, got invited by Ben and Emma (who I met on the W) to a parrilla at their hostel, visited one of the worlds largest deltas, Tigre, for the day, (it was the second time I’d been on a train in seven and a half months), sampled some tasty food, got completely marketed out (though the antique markets of San Telmo were really good where I ummed and ahhed about whether to buy a glass soda syphon which would cost me about GBP40 just to send home as it weighed about two kilos), hired bikes and cycled through and around parks, visited the Recoleta Cemetery and went on a couple of city walks though right at the end of my stay. Everyone else had only been in BA for a matter of days but I tried to blag that it was actually more interesting to get to know a city first so you knew your bearings and weren’t just walking around aimlessly, I think they fell for it.

Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay

I popped over to Colonia deSacramento in Uruguay for the day as it’s just a short ferry ride away though nearly missed it as I’d partied till 6am the night before and had to be up at 7am to be at the port by 8am. I woke up at 7.59am and leapt out of bed, even contemplating not brushing my teeth but thought again, and made the 8.45am departure with minutes to spare. I met a friendly guy from Spain though could barely speak as my brain wasn’t functioning and kept having to wipe dribble from my mouth. It was a really sweet Colonial town though and good to escape the bright lights for a day even though I spent most of my hungover days at the cute cafe or Poesia (a writers cafe) just downstairs and next door to the apartment.

It was really sad leaving BA but after a month I really needed to give my liver and kidneys a bit of TLC so they function again, but it was fun, so worth the battering.

bit of TLC. Time to give my organs a break so they start functioning again.

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