Book Travel

BACKPACKER CONFESSIONS: GIRL VS SOUTH AMERICA — PART 6 ARGENTINA — IGUAZU FALLS TO BUENOS AIRES

Iguazu Falls

The Iguazu Falls are one of the most incredible sights in South America and Argentina has the lion’s share. The location of the falls means that it borders Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The Brazilian side is Foz do Iguacu and it is essentially a corner of the falls with a viewing platform, but each side thinks their view is the best. 

On the Argentinian side, there is also a cool YHA hostel with a swimming pool that does BBQs so we stayed there in Puerto Iguazu. That night we made friends with a guy called Andy and two Americans, Shelley and her husband Eric. The couple drove us to the park the next day. We will meet Andy again in Buenos Aires.

The park has a tiered pricing system so ‘foreigners’ i.e. Americans and Europeans pay the highest price, other nationalities a middle price and friendly neighbours and Argentines the lowest price. It is not the only South American tourist attraction that does this.

Now, as a tourist, I think you pay over the odds for many things, knowingly or unknowingly and I would never ever be smug enough to think I got a ‘locals’ price anywhere. We did go through a charade of pretending to be Argentines as Eric spoke good Spanish, they clearly saw through this and we paid full whack. 

The best thing about Parque Iguazu was that I saw lots of wildlife – clouds of butterflies, a monitor lizard, a turtle, fish and the coatis are tame and beg for food from tourists. This wasn’t the first or last time I would be molested by a coati on this trip. There was plenty more of that to come.

Obviously, the falls are incredible, just really, really beautiful. Nothing like rainforest and a bit of mist to add atmosphere. You walk the trails and you can peer through the trees for views from different angles, our photos really did not do it justice. But the fact that the views were good is the problem that blights South America and that is logging – there is very little in the way of primary rainforest here, only secondary.

It is really no wonder that the coatis have been tempted out into the open. Their forest is not as rich as it once was and restoration is not in the pipeline. Will it be eroded to the point where we have falls and concrete? Casinos on the sides like Niagara? I sincerely hope not.

The next day our bus was booked to Buenos Aires in the late afternoon. I really wanted to get the bus to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. This was our only chance to visit Paraguay on this trip and Steph pissed about so much as she didn’t want to go that we ran out of time to get there and back. I was annoyed at her and at myself for not going anyway without her. I dyed my hair instead which was hardly satisfying considering I could be seeing a new country.

There is a sad afterword to this day which is that our friend Shelley died in 2017. She went missing near her hometown in California and she wasn’t there to pick up her two kids, Hunter and Isabel. This wasn’t like her and her car was found crashed and abandoned by the side of a highway. After four days they found her body, she’d drowned in the marsh near to where the car was found. The situation was mishandled by the police, or so her friends thought. It is devastating to her kids as she was a great mother and a great friend. I have never been some outpouring of grief as when the news came out that she’d gone. I cried. I always planned to visit her again and Steph did meet up with her in San Francisco later in this trip.

It just shows that even a short meeting with someone can touch your life and how one person can touch so many in their daily lives. One of her friends photoshopped a picture of her in a boat paddling into the sunset. She would have had a good laugh at that.

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Birds eye of Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires
El Obelisco

 

Buenos Fucking Aires

Buenos Aires is absolutely everything you’ve heard about and SO much more, it was a city that exceeded all my expectations and left me wanting more. Our arrival was a gorgeous day and no less than four people asked us if we needed help or directions from the as we made our way from the station to the hostel via the Subte metro system. As soon as I saw el Obelisco I knew I was in love. Why can’t Manchester be represented by a giant phallus? I would love that. An indie rock phallus covered in Smiths lyrics that plays the Stone Roses when you rub it.

Clubs and drugs are very big in BA especially with tourists to the extent that there are drug dealers that supply specifically to the foreign trade. I remember being given the number for ‘Gringo Pete’ which I used but could never get through, interestingly months after my return the Telegraph ran a two-page spread article about British people visiting Argentina purely for the drugs and the nightlife.

This is quite frankly hilarious when written from an office in London where drugs are absolutely rife and the city is often the setting of first drug experiences for many America, Australian and Europeans travellers alike. An added bonus of visiting London is that it is very easy to get high, and the same is true of Buenos Aires, why that would warrant any mention in a British broadsheet is completely beyond me.

We stayed in a notorious Gringo hostel called the Milhouse and like BA it exceeded our expectations. There were four in our dorm room and we befriended Esther and Angela who were our Aussie bunk neighbours.

They were scared of everything and had just come from Bolivia. They’d spent all their time in BA so far in the shopping centre as they were frightened to go out. We took them under our wing and we went on lots of day (and night) trips as a foursome.

Our first trip out was to the beautiful colourful district of La Boca. There are lots of trinkets for sale and Esther wanted to find her name, I said that I thought Esther was a pretty common name in Chile and Argentina. This proved to be right as the stallholder said that most of the women in his family were also named Esther.

Many of La Boca’s residents are of Italian descent, specifically from the Genoa region. It is probably the most colourful place I have ever been to and there are hundreds of paintings for sale, where artists have tried to capture it. We also saw a dog dressed in a La Boca Juniors strip, after googling it this seems to be a common thing. Even the canines are passionate about football, but let’s face it they can’t dance the Tango…but then again neither could we…

Tango originated on the border of Uruguay and Argentina so both countries are listed by UNESCO as the lords of the dance. It has both African and European heritage and there are many different styles of Tango. The craze went around the world and was appropriated by many countries, especially in Europe.

We all went to Tango lessons together which I didn’t mind apart from having to dance with people that I didn’t know. After all this dancing we then went to a Tango meal to see the professionals at work with the Argentine speciality – steak.

Angela didn’t eat her steak as it was so rare ‘it was still mooing’. The stage show that we watched probably was a little touristy but it felt classy and the dancing was very dramatic and atmospheric. Needless to say that we drank them out of wine.

Another day we visited Evita Peron’s grave in La Recoleta Cemetery. She was the first lady of Argentina as well as an actress and the wife of Presidente Juan Peron. He had a lot of enemies and he used her to further his political career. She died aged 33 from cancer after being the first Argentine person to undergo chemotherapy.

I was so hungover that I threw up in a carrier bag so as not to vomit on the sacred ground. If I ever meet Madonna I will have to apologise for disrespecting her this way.

The gravestones here were incredibly fancy and the graveyard has been named one of the top ten in the world by CNN. Also on the list, if you’re interested, are cemeteries in St Louis, Vienna, London, Sydney, New York, Paris (of course), Georgia (the state), Moscow and Chile.

We also visited the Evita museum or Museo Evita which chronicles her life in outfits, photos and artefacts. It is housed in a building that was used to house the homeless which she set up. I couldn’t see her pointy bra though, I looked for it everywhere.

We also stood outside the Casa Rosada (pink house) in the centre which is another piece of the Peron puzzle as she stood on the balcony an sang to everyone, in English, while everyone cried.

Interestingly, the saga of her life continued after her death as her embalmed body went missing for 16 years. It even got damaged and then cleaned up again like an ottoman you find in the attic. This restoration was done by Peron’s third wife no less!

The military got rid of her body as anything pro-Peron was banned after he was usurped, her body was stored in a van and offices and they made wax decoy models to confuse her supporters. She was sent to Milan to be buried under a fake name and then she was given back to Peron and they displayed her in their house until he regained his presidency and she finally got to return to BA.

So, what I haven’t mentioned is there was a certain flirtation level with the staff at the Milhouse hostel, this inevitably led to friendship tensions, huge amounts of worries for me and omissions of truth on my part. I started a serious flirtation with hostel-worker Pato (Short for Patricio, not the Spanish word for duck). This didn’t actually go anywhere but we became Facebook friends.

This all started when Steph was staying up late with the late-shift staff while she was pissed off her head and probably hoping to get some. She stayed up so early with one of the guys that when the cleaning staff came in they all gave the three kisses to her as well as the object of her affections, Tomas, as it the polite Argentine way.

One night the four of us plus some others went on a night out to Niceto which is the place to be on a Thursday night. There are acts on the stage so it gets quite popular, I had been jokingly flirting with a guy I thought was gay. He turned out not to be and then I cringed as I realised I’d been all over someone I was not remotely attracted to, and there were even pictures of me doing just that, which Steph used to taunt me with later on.

After that, I decided to leave with Esther at about 1am and Steph stayed out with the Angela. I vaguely remember Steph talking to a guy I didn’t recognise and when Ange got in Steph didn’t come with her or have her phone on her.

I imagined what I would have to say to Steph’s mum as I lay waiting and worrying in our room, or if I would have to say she was missing. Morning became afternoon and she still hadn’t returned. I couldn’t be in that room anymore waiting for the door to open so I went to the cinema to see a James Bond film with the Aussies and some of the others.

The Australian girls said that Quantum of Solace reminded them of Bolivia which I thought was a bit overdramatic at the time, after being to Bolivia I can confirm that it definitely is not.

When we got back to the hostel, Steph had thankfully returned, but the relief speedily became a self-righteous rage. She was shamefaced as she knew I would be pissed off as the ‘mother’ of the two of us. And an overly critical mother at that. Steph apologised which was fair enough and I simmered down.

We were in BA and a fall-out wasn’t going to stop the carnage. Going out every night to a different place and making new ‘friends’ is expected and it is pretty much like freshers week in that respect.

The guy who Steph banged was a guy that worked at the hostel called Tomas and we will be hearing much more about him in a later chapter. The next night we went out drinking with some of the hostel staff and then we visited the sister hostel as the guys (and Steph) wanted to see Tomas who was working there so we could get some free booze from the bar.

I drunkenly made myself useful by opening the door for the few backpackers that were staying there as the mechanical door system had not yet been put into place. Tomas kept coming with me and helping me to open the door, thanking me for my help. I went off with Max and another hostel worker to an after party in a club that started at 8am in the morning and left Steph sitting awkwardly with Tomas at the reception desk.

At the after-party, there were blackout curtains to stop the daylight coming in and it was like being in some sort of prohibition drinking den. Pretty much everyone was speaking Spanish and Max aggressively snogged me at about 9am, probably to stop me talking bullshit.

I went back to his place along with the other guy and I was on the bed kissing Max when I decided this was not happening, he grabbed my arm when I said I was going and I broke free and overdramatically ran away into the street. I think I was so wasted that I misinterpreted his action, but leaving was the best decision.

I managed to find a Subte and as it was 10am at this point, people were going to work. I was hanging out of my arse and swaying from a railing like a total mess, whilst the commuters moved away from me.

I woke up and it was time to go to the football. I was really hungover and I ate a massive bag of crisps for breakfast. Guess who was leading the bus to the match? Tomas of course, him and Steph didn’t really speak after he’d snubbed her the night before.

When we were at the grounds there was so little space that I had to sit on the knee of some Irish guy who told me I’d be sat on the high chair if the cheerleaders came over our end. I went to get a hotdog to feed my hangover and I was gutted they didn’t have any beer. Tomas called me over and asked if I fancied a joint but I turned him down as I wanted to sit down and eat my hotdog.

We were of course at the stadia of La Boca Juniors. That’s right, stadia is the singular so get over it! We were in one of the more ‘placid’ stands and not in the fun stands where they throw bottles of their own piss at people. That’s why no-one is allowed alcohol.

The stadia is nicknamed La Bombonera or the candy box. Many famous footballers have done time here including Carlos Tevez and Diego Maradona. The club was founded by five working-class La Boca residents and the club’s first president was only 17. The club’s colours are the same as the Swedish flag and this is alleged to be because the founders said they would take the colours of the next boat to get into the port and it was from Sweden.

A Spanish school describes the atmosphere as thus: ‘Many suddenly realise that their home teams not only definitely do not enjoy the most passionate fan support in the world, but that that support actually seems kind of wimpy in comparison’. This isn’t an understatement as the emotion in that arena is raw as hell.

This was one of our last trips before it was time to leave. We were gutted to leave BA but our boat to Uruguay was booked so off we went. We paid extra for the lovely scenic route and a slick border crossing. Definitely an approved border crossing – in fact, it was the best we encountered on the whole trip.

To be honest the scenery was wasted on us as we slept through the entire hour-long journey. Getting the bus would have been cheaper and slower which wouldn’t have mattered to us as we were so depressed at leaving Argentina.

We didn’t think we would return but we changed our minds on that later when we made a massive u-turn to get back for NYE. We spent the next month in Brazil and Uruguay pining for BA. We honestly, and truly cried for Argentina. Just like Madonna.

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