Friday, June 28, 2013

FALL 2012: Buenos Aires: The Paris of South America?


After 10 DAYS  of transatlantic crossing we at last reached the NEW WORLD:  Buenos Aires, Argentina was our first stop.  Coming into the harbor on a beautiful Fall day, the skies were blue, the skyscrapers of Buenos Aires glistening in the sun. 

 The only bad news for me was that the dreaded blue screen had appeared on my computer the evening before.  As I disembarked, I left it with our most capable IT guy who told me he would look it over while we were in Buenos Aires.  I decided to let the internet gods decide my fate, and set out to enjoy Buenos Aires.

 The first day, we walked all the way from the harbor through an iffy market area near the train station.  Everyone was  looking for cash machines, having eschewed the ATM at the dock because it had a long line.  That was a bad idea as we had a very difficult time finding anything although the further we walked, the more interesting Buenos Aires appeared – a long wide park with lots of trees (like the Washington Mall) between broad boulevards cahehrrying buses cars, and pedestrians into the main city. 

Older buildings mix with modern new one.  It’s a bustling town and I see at once why some called it the Paris of the new world.   I and others are also looking for the Big Red  (Sightseeing bus) which had proved so popular in England and South Africa but  was eluding us in BA.  Finding the stop at last, I realized it was too late for me to tour as I needed to eat before joining my afternoon bird tour at the preserve area back on the water.

Walking back through town, I arrived at the Costanera Su, the natural preserve adjacent to the port,  and met my guide  Marcelo who runs Birding Buenos Aires.  Marcelo is a biologist who used to work for the government but now has his own birding guide business.  His girlfriend still works for the national parks as a wildlife biologist.  I had such a good time with him.  We were in the field for almost four hours. 
Red Crested Cardinal - Paroaria coronata

While with Marcelo, I saw 47 species, and heard 10 more. Marcelo later sent me a list which links to photos and sound recordings (appended at the end of this blog for those who love to look at or listen to birds).

I felt so soul satisfied that evening after seeing the beautiful birds and hearing their songs and being on an excursion that didn’t “move along;" instead we sauntered.  Marcelo had a great pace and he seemed as excited as I to see the various birds.  He was the perfect companion.  I would recommend (and will do so on Trip Adviser).

The next day I embarked on a trip to the La Recoleta de Cemeterio  with two lifelong learners Lisa and Ann.  The cemetery is located adjacent to a church, where we met a man who offered himself as a guide.  He was excellent and told us so much more than we could have learned on our own.  The cemeterio of mausoleums (is the plural mausoleia?) is like a small city with streets and passageways, park areas, statutary,  and two- or even three-story mausoleums.

We took pictures and listened to the stories – like the bride who died on her wedding day and was buried.  Later, because of some intuition, her bereaved mother insists on exhuming her and finds that the girl had awakened and tried to get out of the coffin but alas suffocated. 
We see the mausoleum of Eva Duarte Peron, buried in the Duarte family vault and decorated with flowers and mementos brought daily by Argentinians who still venerate her spirit.  Artists were buried here – I found a plaque for Juan Luis Borges was here, but according to the internet he is buried in Switzerland.  He left the country when Peron returned from exile.

Los Gatos de Cemeterio

 That day I also discovered Café Bielo on the edge of the Recoleto property.  It was the perfect place to sit and enjoy the passers by.  The park also featured a craft fair over the weekend, and here I purchased a number of leather gifts for family members as well as a beautiful  knit wool stole for myself and several masks to use in the Captain’s Ball.  From the café, I also watched performers in the park dance the Tango for our pleasure and entertainment.
At long last, I was able to take the bus from this location and at least see the sights.  On this first day I visited the southern  part of the city – including
Later in the week, I took the bus for the rest of the tour, heading north toward the zoo, the parks, the museums, embassy areas with wide avenues and spring trees just beginning to blossom.
Museo de Arte Latinamericano de Buenos Aires
On Saturday, I joined Barry and Jane Penn Hollar and a group of students to visit Iglesia Evangelica Metodista "Cristo Rey" in Belgrano, a northern neighborhood of Buenos Aires.  After a train ride and a long walk through busy commercial areas and tree lined residential streets,  we arrived at the church, which Lutheran on Sundays  but was used by Cristo Rey on Saturday.  The minister was away, but we were well attended  with an interpreter at our side translating the Spanish service.  (Despite my Spanish class, I was unable to understand much of it.) 
 But as it is with prayers and music, much is understood without the literal translations.  Impressively, Barry gave a message in Spanish.  Afterwards, the group had arranged to have an “asada” for us, complete with beef and vegetables.  It was very delicious.  Then, the long trek home.
On the train,  I loved looking out the windows at the high rise buildings with people clustered in large well lit living rooms or on the balconies overlooking the city.  I could imagine their conversations and interactions.  From this view, Buenos Aires appeared very cosmopolitan and chic. 
However, there is one big caveat:  the infrastructure was greatly lacking.  Garbage packed in bags is littered even very fine neighborhoods, and in some of the commercial areas with outside vendors, trash and garbage were strewn about.
My favorite eating experience came when we returned to the Las Nazatenas, the asada restaurant I had visited the first day, and this time, I ordered with the group for a full or asada – lamb, beef, goat, pork -- all slowly broiled over wood and then served on a huge platter with grilled vegetables.  It was delicious.  I think I gained several pounds in Argentina and then Montevideo.  Of course we had lots of wine as well.
While in Argentina, a friend Bob and I tried to go to the tango performances at an old Café Tortoni,  but we arrived too late.  Still we enjoyed dessert and café at the restaurant and then walked through a room set up as an exhibit showing the many famous people, especially the literary circles, who had gathered there in the past.
When Jim and Shamim were leaving they stopped and visited with us.  They had made it in time for the tango show, which they reported was great fun.
What I had learned from my reading of Mempo Giardinelli’s An Impossible Balance and pre-port discussions was the impact the “dirty war” in Argentina had on the peoples and its culture.  This period from the 70s through 80s saw thousands of Argentinians imprisoned, killed or disappeared as the increasingly hostile governments killed anyone they thought hostile to their point of view.  Giardinelli’s novel, which I read in John Serio’s World Fiction Class, was an allegory of the Dirty War – and also a very funny book.  I regret I didn’t go with the class to meet Giradinelli as he sounded like an interesting person with lots to say.
I would gladly return to Argentina and think it would be fun to explore the interior as well.  On Semester at Sea, in the countries I had not visited, I found myself wanting to travel overland less and spend more time getting to know the great port areas we visited.

By the way, my computer hard drive died, but my files were saved.  Happy ending to the story this day.
List of Birds seen on Day 1:

1- Neotropic Cormorant

3- Snowy Egret

4- Giant Wood-rail (ONLY HEARD) - 

5- Gray-necked Wood-rail (ONLY HEARD) - 

6- Rufous-sided Crake (ONLY HEARD) - 

8- Kelp Gull

9- Picazuro Pigeon

10- Eared Dove

11- White-tipped Dove (ONLY HEARD) - 

12- Glittering-bellied Emerald - 

14- Green-barred Woodpecker

15- Southern Caracara

16- Chimango Caracara

17- White-eyed Parakeet

19- Rufous Hornero

20- Sulphur-throated Spinetail - 

21- Wren-like Rush-bird (ONLY HEARD) - 

22- Freckle-breasted Thornbird - 

24- White-crested Tyrannulet

26- Great Kiskadee

27- Tropical Kingbird

29- Red-eyed Vireo (ONLY HEARD) - 

30- Gray-breasted Martin

31- Brown-chested Martin

32- White-rumped Swallow

33- House Wren

35- Creamy-bellied Thrush

36- Rufous-bellied Thrush

37- Chalk-browed Mockingbird

38- European Starling (they're everywhere, aren't they?)

40- Yellow-billed Cardinal - 

41- Sayaca Tanager (ONLY HEARD) - 

42- Black-and-rufous Warbling-finch - 

43- Black-capped Warbling-finch - 

44- Saffron Finch

45- Double-collared Seedeater - 

46- Rufous-collared Sparrow

47- Ultramarine Grosbeak (ONLY HEARD) - 

48- Masked Yellowthroat

50- Epaulet Oriole

51- Shiny Cowbird

Floralis Generica in the Plaza Naciones Unidos
52- Bay-winged Cowbird

53- Yellow-winged Blackbird

54- White-browed Blackbird (ONLY HEARD) - 

55- Hooded Siskin

56- House Sparrow




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