Sunday, September 9, 2012

Don't cry for me... (Argentina!!!)

Sunday September 9, 2012
Though it was 8:30 am where I woke up, it was 4:30 am back home so I'm not sure if I got up early or slept in.  As quick as I could shower and throw my pants on, I was out the door exploring Buenos Aires.
My travels took me back down Florida Street all the the way to Plaza de Mayo which has nothing to do with mayonaise and everything to do with a grassy park where protestors tell the world about their struggles.
Plaza de Mayo

After a full minute of genuine sympathy for their causes, I headed south on various streets until I was comfortably lost, followed shortly by a feeling of being hopelessly lost. By then I had discovered the markets around Plaza Dorrego and I explored them for several hours, buying gifts and souvenirs for my loved ones.

A word, while I may, about the scents of a new city. Notwithstanding the fact that I have had two major sinus surgeries and spent 25 years in sawmills, planers and dusty workshops where the dust desensitized my ability to smell to about 15% of what a normal person smells.  That said, as I walked through the markets, I appreciated the delighful scents of fresh baked pastries from the bakeries, chorizo beef sausages cooking on charcoal barbeques, heavily perfumed senoritas, fresh worked leather products of every description and throughout the markets, people burned large sticks of heavenly incense which they sold in limitless types of burners. Sure, every now and again, one catches the smell of stale urine or walks through the smoky exhaust of a car that should have been retired long ago, but it was worth it!
Hand Knitting Scarves at the Sunday market along Defensa Street

I ended up in the San Telmo neighbourhood walking the whole length of Defensa Street which was made famous by the slaughter of the British when the locals chased them down this very street back to their ships in 1806. For several miles, I banged elbows with tourists, touts, hawkers and hookers selling everything including antiques, knick knacks, Justin Bieber T-shirts, and spanish versions of a popular book, "Cincueta Sombras de Grey". 

Yerba Mate ghourds for sale

I noticed while walking that many people were sipping a drink called "Yerba Mate" out of gourds that were carved for that purpose. They come with a metal "straw" with a strainer on one end and a place for your lips on the other.  I have a strong commitment to, "When in Rome..." so I bought one. It turns out that "Yerba" (Spanish for Herb) comes from a local tree and when steeped in hot (not boiling) water, is more popular here than any other type of tea or coffee.  First used by the indigenous and droopy breasted Guarani natives, it is now a national drink and people sit around everywhere drinking out of their gourds. Wikipedia says that the flavor of brewed Yerba Mate is strongly vegetable, herbal, and grassy, reminiscent of some varieties of green tea. The next step is to find some of this mysterious yet healthy Yerba.

I picked up several souvenirs and by then it was time for breakfast/lunch. Being a healthy person, I went to the fresh produce markets though my was not wanted here. Fortunately, there are no shortage of cash machines and I made out fine, including a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.


My next adventure started when I spied three wooden masts off to the direction of the ocean and though I had to jump two fences, slip under a gate marked "Prohibito" and run across a football (soccer) game, I made it to the ship.  It was the world famous Argentinian freighter called Fragata Sarmiento which sailed around the world 40 times between 1897 and 1938.  I slipped on board for an hour or so for 2 pesos and explored above and below decks, the highlight of course being the stuffed remains of the ship's dog Lampazo. (Not!)
It's 5:00 pm and I'm ready to go out and find some dinner, hopefully including a piece of malnourished chicken with no fat on it as it seems I have taken to healthy dieting lately and I have not satisfied my carnivorous needs for the day!
Oh and some Yerba Mate leaves...  :)
Update 7:30 pm.  I walked south until I found a suitable restaurant, stopping in a Super Marketo for some Yerba.  Wikipedia is right, 80% of the hot beverage shelf space is dedicated to Yerba Mate.  I bought a couple of two pound bags to last me until my next trip!
I nearly got attacked by J Lo wanting to tango with me!
This is the Almacen y Restaurant Suipacha, where I enjoyed a piece of grilled chicken breast, flattened over some shredded salad. Yum!
From there, I took a little sunset stroll down the Avenue Corrientes to watch the sun set on the 67m high Obelisco at the corner of Avenue 9 de Julio which coincidentally is the day of Argentina's independence in 1816. (And here  I thought it was because of Tom Hanks birthday landing on July 9th too!)
Interestingly, arriving at the Obelisk at the same time as me were a thousand screaming teenie boppers all carrying Justin Bieber posters, wearing his hats and screaming obsene invitations.  I was pushed across the street at which time I took my leave but I do believe the Biebs must have arrived because the crowd went absolutley nuts as I took my leave of that scene.
 I missed the Spanish version of Momma Mia which was just starting tonight... It would have been great!
Interestingly, in the two evenings that I have been here, I have walked by this kid holding a baby dozens of times.  Passers-by drop coins in his box by the dollar and yet he just cuddles the lethargic infant. I noticed the same set-up on street corners around the neighbourhood and am starting to wonder if it isn't a scam. Some of the babies look nothing like the crack-hoes holding them! Someone should look into this...
Well that's it for my adventurous day in Argentina. Tomorrow I am up at the crack of dawn catching a plane to Iguazu somewhere north of here right on the Brazilian-Argentinian border.  Once we get our visas, we fly to Sao Paulo, then to Brazilia and then take a private company jet to our final destination at Ourilandia Do Norte by Wednesday. The adventure continues!  :)