Well it finally had to happen. I managed to drag myself away from photographing beautiful women and drinking cheap beer to get my ass down into Buenos Aires.
It was time to get the camera out, dodge the muggers and thieves and get down to photographing the tourist spots.
But first another cup of coffee.
Then a look at the thermometer which surely must be wrong.
Then a look outside up into direct sunlight that would make a gremlin shriek.
So after two hours of faffing around further it was decided that no it wasnt going to get any cooler and we had a 3 hour window of good light to get at least some tourist shots under my belt.
When I came here I had two A4 pages of shots I wanted to take. I showed this to my hosts who did a lot of tutting, pointing, and sharp intakes of breath only before seen in the world of automobile mechanics.
It was decided that if I want to get home in approximately the same number of pieces I came in I’d better limit myself to all the other photos of Buenos Aires there are on the net.
It became apparent that there are only certain pictures from certain angles for a reason, firstly few tourists seem to come here and those that do are only stopping off for a day or two on the way to Antarctica or Patagonia or some other remote reason.
Thats a shame and then again it isnt. As people have offered by email I’ve long since lost hope of my chances of getting a job with the Argentinian tourist board. I like to think of myself as fairly streetwise having grown up in the lower falls area of Belfast during the height of the troubles but I keep reminding myself, you dont know _here_.
Thats what I have local guides for and for those of you thinking of travelling to places like BA this is well worth the investment. I say investment as its not really an expense. A local guide can give you a flavour no disney like cruise ship day pass can ever do.
Be sensible, dont wear jewelry, expensive watches, dont walk around with designer clothes on (fake or otherwise), take a minimum of stuff out with you, keep a photocopy of your passport somewhere. Always bear in mind that most crime is opportunist, no matter what country you are in. Dont take strange cabs, I had two young women jump in my car in Belfast one night and ask me to take them home because they couldnt afford a taxi. If I wasnt acting like their big brother I wonder what the hell they were thinking of. One lived up a dark road just outside Belfast and got me to drop them off there. Height of stupidity. But they were drunk, on a work night out and had spent their last few quid on a kebab rather than a bus or taxi.
It also sounds heartless but try to distance yourself from obvious targets as you might get caught in the crossfire.
Getting back to today the plan was to go to La Boca, walk to Caminito then walk round the shoreline to Puerto Madero. Sounds simple enough. Then why are tour busses dropping people off at the Boca stadium door, picking them up there then driving them the couple of blocks to Caminito? As my guide said, well it may just be a short distance between here and there but the muggers know that tourists will be walking that way so take your pictures, put your camera in your bag and then we walk down.
I stopped to get a picture of a local cop who was standing on the ‘border’ street corner giving out advice. He posed for a picture and asked me to make sure I captioned it with the word ‘underpaid’, so I will. We walked a block (about 100m) away from the Boca shops and had lunch, a steady stream of the odd one or two tourists walked past looking obviously like tourists and covering their cameras round their necks with their hands. Yes from my experience of Northern Ireland I highly doubt that will stop a bullet.
So on to Caminito and to be honest as a lot of the locals here describe it its the disneyworld version of BA. A couple of brightly painted houses, street cafes that even Michael Schumacher couldnt weave his way through and a few handicrafts stalls. We even had a Maradona lookalike to get photos with. Poor guy must have ate a lot of pies to get that physique.
I was more interested in the old areas that Caminito had been refurbished from, lots of old colonial and crumbling architecture, old bridges and cranes undergoing refurbishment. Real town planning or lack of in all its glory. As with any waterfront each building tells a part of the history and one leads to another telling the story of the area.
Then I got stopped by the police.
At first I thought it was something to do with no photos in the port area, there was a sign saying argentine naval prefecture or something like that so thought it must be something military. When my guides translated it as, your friend will not make it through this area alive, not with those trainers, we decided to get the bus to Puerto Madero.
On the bus through what can only truly be described as a slum it was obvious that our maps didnt tell the whole story, from tourist traps of Caminito to 3rd world in less than 300 yards. It was that stark.
Dont get me wrong when you live in that type of poverty and I remember similar stuff growing up, you really cant blame people for taking the only routes open to them. It is good to sit in an ivory tower and say I wouldnt do this or I wouldnt do that, you never know what you will do until you are in that situation. If your family havent eaten for 3 days and some dumbass tourist walks past with something that will feed your family for a month, then dont say what you would do in that situation until you are actually there.
As the saying goes, ‘Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes’, which reminds me I better put both pairs of Nikes back in the bag and buy something local.
As we got off the bus at Puerto Madero there was the sight of two cops in a wee hut which now I come to recognise as the boundaries of safe areas. We stay in a relatively safe area, the shops dont have grills on the windows and at busy times theres an armed cop every 100 metres or so. In the other areas they seem to be just left to get on with it.
Puerto Madero is a testament to new money, like a lot of other previously neglected cities it is full of gleaming new buildings, lovely walkways by the water, new bridges, cafes, expensive shops, a nice place to be. For me though I could be any modern city. The Santiago Calatrava bridge has its double in Dublin and to be honest it reminded me a lot of the regeneration of Dublins docks. The layouts were similar, right up to the masted ship sitting next to the Calatrava bridge. Maybe he thought no-one would find out.
Dear people of Buenos Aires,
I’ve designed you a new bridge that represents two people doing the Tango.
‘Santiago, Dublin have been on the phone asking where their new bridge design is’
‘Quick give me the Buenos Aires one’ quick scribble ‘Here that will do’
Dear people of Dublin,
I’ve designed you a new bridge that represents the Irish harp.
Well ok maybe a slight exaggeration but judge for yourselves.
So where does the take the boy out of Belfast come in?
Well at the start of the journey we visited the home of Boca Juniors. Argentinas best club ever (so I’m told). As I was completely unattached in the Argentine football world I am now a Boca fan.
So the stadium tour had to be done. Due to my love of football and having been in or toured a lot of the worlds great stadiums this really was the highlight of the day for me. Getting in and around the stadium, seeing the terracing, long since gone from UK football, the sparse nature of the visiting dressing room to the plush surroundings of the home dressing room with accompanying underground 5 a side warm up pitch. Just what you want to see, opposition – sod them!
On the tour the tour guide said she would split the couple of hundred people up into two groups, the spanish speakers and the english ones. So we were left in a group of about 9 and asked where we were from. Poland, England, Ireland, Scotland, France. We were then asked what teams we supported, which of course in my case is Liverpool (for my sins). As they went from Warsaw to Middlesborough to Norwich, the scottish guy in front of me said ‘Rangers’. Now, I dont follow Scottish football but something deep down in me wanted to scream ‘Celtic’. I did think better of it as to come halfway round the world to start a sectarian fight would only leave the muggers very confused.
So you can take the boy out of Belfast but you cant take Belfast out of the boy.
Tags: aires, america, argentina, boca, bridge, buenos, calatrava, caminito, city, crime, football, juniors, la, madero, muggers, mugging, puerto, santiago, soccer, south, teams, tour, touring, tourism, tourists, travel, travelling