South America #1: ARGENTINA (2017)

PART ONE – BUENOS ARIES

They say that ‘Travel Broadens the Mind’ and whilst it certainly does generate a sense of enjoyment, adventure and confidence … it’s also just plain good craic as well! Back in March, I signed up online to venture off an 18-day trip to Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil and God knows – even with the thump to the bank balance – I’m most certainly glad that I did. 

Why those places, you ask? Maybe it was because I’d often seen clips of them on telly when I was growing up watching shows about where the likes of Maradona or Pelé had come from. Then again, maybe it was because it was a place that very few people I knew had been to. Or now that I look back, maybe it was a little from column A and a little from column B.

The first part of the journey began with an early morning arrival in Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aries. Getting there wasn’t without its challenges. At my stopover in Frankfurt along the way, I and a few other perfect strangers only had a matter of minutes to get off the Dublin-Frankfurt flight and find our gate for the ‘Now Boarding’ flight to Buenos Aries. 

Two Polish guys, an American couple and myself raced through that huge airport in Germany in what could only be described as something akin to that scene in Home Alone when the MacAllister family are on the charge to catch their flight. Thankfully, we all made it just in time at the boarding gate. Just in time … for a 14 hour flight, right enough.

Arrival in Buenos Aries the next morning was met with a temporary hitch. My transportation guy didn’t show up, but I wasn’t worried. ‘Sure I’ve made it this far, haven’t I?’ was the thought. That’s when I met Victor. A local taxi-driver who turned out to be one of the biggest legends I was to meet in many a year. Small, chubby and tanned but fierce sound.

We got chatting in his cab and through translator app on his phone, we got communicating. He offered to take me on a guided tour of the city. Usually I’d never advise this but I trusted him when he purposely showed me his identity papers and also when he made a point of stopping only at an ATM that had police present; his way of showing I could trust him. 

Both of us realised we loved football so he brought me to Boca to show me the ‘real part of the city.’ Later he showed me some multi-coloured arts shops and cafés that he explained used to be houses where families were heaped intoright up until recent decades. Soon after, he brought me into the city centre. 

Always trying to be the good guide, he’d only park beside cops and was seemingly very proud of how I wanted to learn about his native city. As a History teacher, that helps. He pointed at one building in the beautiful city centre area and singingly muttered ‘Balcony! You know … No Cry for me Argentinaaa! Eva Peron, Si?’ I knew what he meant. Legend.

He brought me safely to my hotel, helped me with my bags and although we had agreed a fare, I threw him a few extra pesos for being such a great and protective guide. We even hugged and called each other ‘amigos.’ What a wonderful start to the adventure that was and it was fairly educational too. See kids, learning is fun. 

I spent the next two days getting to know my official Tour Guide (Rodrigo from Chile) and the other travellers who’d signed up to this trip; 14 of us in total from ranging from Ireland, Germany, England and Australia. My first thought was ‘Nice one! That’s four mighty good beer drinking nations right there! Result!’ 

The remainder of the time in Buenos Aries was getting to know the group gradually but I still used the time to explore the city myself at first before going to a cracking show where some hugely famous South American drums band did a live performance that had the venue rocking; including me after I loosened up a bit. 

But it wasn’t all football talk with taxi-drivers, sussing out new beer buddies and jumping about at concerts. On our last night in the city, things very plush altogether. I’d signed up to attend a cultural Tango show and we were even taught a few moves by a professional backstage before our swanky meal under the chandeliers and lights of the place.

Sure you just never know when you’d be at a wedding now and ya can woo some local lass with some romantic Latin dance, now can ya? I’d never thought I’d see myself learning that type of dance before dining on steak and wine in an immensely sophisticated restaurant while watching a gala dance performance but sure it’s all about experiencing new things, I suppose. 

These first two highly eventful days in the Argentinian capital were a great opener to the trip. I saw how the city contrasts itself from the rundown yet spirited community of Boca to the sort of European and sophisticated feel of the more central parts of the city; with its wonderful Spanish looking architecture and vibes.

With the exception of Micheal, my German roommate, I was still only learning the names of most of my group, but that would change for the better when we ventured into Uruguay to see the sights of its towns, its wonderful city of Montevideo and its farmlands where we lived in ranch-house, played cards and milked cows. 

Yes you heard me! Donegal boyo goes across the planet to milk a cow but I’ll fill yous in on that next time.

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