Argentina – Part 2

March 2006: Buenos Aires

By JJ Jonker  

The hotel concierge explained to us in broken English – Eengleesh, she’s no beeg here – how to get to the bus terminus in La Plata, and which bus to take, so we left for Buenos Aires after breakfast. Busses depart every 20 minutes until 12 pm, and from then on every hour, so no real planning is required. Just arrive at the terminus and get on the first departing bus. It never ceases to amaze me – coming from a country where public transport is not a priority – how well it works in pretty much ANY other place I’ve visited.

Public transport is also very cheap. For this excursion, R9.20 covered a return trip of more than an hour each way in excess of 50km on a good dual carriage road and a very comfortable bus, including reclining seats. This is definitely the way to see Argentina as a backpacker.

When the bus arrived in BsAs, we reported at the Sheraton as per instruction by our concierge to enquire about city sightseeing tours, reserving seats for an afternoon tour. We then walked via a beautiful park to the tourist strip (Florida Street). The park has 200 year+ rubber trees and also Kapok trees with its beautiful pink flowers. Being from Pretoria, it was strange to also see Jacaranda trees so far from home. Subsequently I learnt that this tree is actually indigenous to South America, ours hailing from Brazil. A special enclosed area is provided for dogs – basically a crèche – where for a fee, you “park” your animal under supervision when you go shopping.

The city has a number of these green areas – well-maintained parks with ancient trees – and the odd vagrant sleeping on a bench. The main street, 9 July Avenue (when they declared themselves independent from Spain), is 140m wide. It has two sets of roads running parallel – 6 lanes and 2 lanes – in BOTH directions, claimed to be the widest in the world.


Just below the park is what used to be called the British Clock Tower. This Elizabethan-style 7-storey structure – the Argentine Big Ben – was a gift from the British community of Buenos Aires after building the nearby railroad station complex.

However, after losing the Falklands war, the Argentines were somewhat upset and went on a renaming spree concerning everything British, hence the tower was renamed the Torre Monumental. This differs from our local approach where the renaming spree followed a political victory. Sore losers on the one hand, vs sore winners on the other. Go figure.


The Florida Street area, which is open for pedestrian traffic only, is very viby, with especially leather and wine shops in abundance. A huge range of items is on sale here, mostly well priced even from a South African tourist point-of-view. This is where my colleague Piet Bosch cost me a lot of money.

He managed to get himself invited (or was that “solicited”?) by a marketeer to an off-street factory outlet for leather jackets. I ended up buying a jacket and he bought nothing. Contrary to the sales talk in the street regarding their claim that it will be made within 2.5 hours, this is not valid on a Saturday. It is not quite as cheap as in India, but better made. At least both of us got a hug from the young sales lady after signing the purchase. But as promised, the jacket was ready on the Monday, when Piet and I got on the bus again that afternoon doing the round trip from La Plata to BsAs in three hours, returning with the jacket.

On the way to the hotel to join the tour group, we stopped in the park again and sat on a bench. We were then approached by a very friendly local striking up a conversation by telling us what kind of trees are growing in the park, where to get tourist information, what to see, etc. But as you may well know, you can spot these types – and their mission – a mile off. Usually at your gate, late Saturday afternoon.

He was (as suspected), collecting money. This on behalf of the Argentinean Ministry of Health for their Campaign of National Struggle against Aids and Drugs. He explained that they were caring for 60 AIDS children in a home and that this was the purpose of his fund-raising. Not to depress him totally, we refrained from giving him our local statistics, and contributed happily for his dedication on a Saturday. OK, and also because he knew who Nelson Mandela was. His parting words were ‘Pretoria Forever!’

The bus tour was comprehensive, with a bilingual – English/Spanish – guide. Also on the tour, were two couples from Mexico and Peru, respectively. They acknowledged us when I had to announce where we were from, appearing noticeably puzzled. Possibly by our skin colour, I thought. White Africans?

One of the destinations was La Boca, the Tango district. This consisted of a brightly painted (like the Muizenberg cabanas) corrugated iron village, converted into curio shops. This was typical of how the poor lived way back. Couples demonstrated the tango in the streets, every 50m or so. But other than the touristy image portrayed by the shows, one got the impression that this was a hard life. Almost all the girls had a number of large holes in their black fish-net stockings, giving the dance the image of a subsistence industry. The tango seems very technical, and appears to be some form of competition, akin to ice skating, with definite sequences having to be performed during it. It is not flowing and does not look like fun either. Definitely not Kobus’ birthday opskop [party] at Sarelsrivier. 


This is also where we lost the Mexican couple on the tour. We had good instructions as to how to wander through the village ALWAYS making right turns to get back to the bus, but after ¾ hour plus an extra 10 minutes, we departed without them. Piet and I were in no hurry, but the guide probably had other commitments. Hopefully they got back to the hotel, as they had left their bag on the bus.


 Earlier in the tour, we also went to Evita’s Balcony at the end of an open square cut in two by steel palisade fencing to prevent demonstrators from storming the building. It was peaceful on the day, but we had a very honest tour-guide, so she told us more than just the good stuff – refer to Part 3 – Vandalism, for more detail.

 Her term for being mugged was ‘an inconvenience’. Although warnings against pick-pockets are supplied in the guides, we did not experience this, or ever felt threatened.

Other than the female beggars sitting in a heap outside the entrance of the cathedral we visited, there was also a boemelaar [hobo] inside, having an undisturbed Saturday afternoon nap, stretched out on one of the pews with all his possessions gathered round. The cathedral itself had a new facade (American colonial style) on the street, but inside was original, beautiful as all cathedrals, with very good acoustics. None of the echoing you sometimes get. 


While we were there – and to me this is always what makes a visit to such a place special rather than the building itself, however wonderful it may be – a local youth group had started singing. 

Accompanied by an acoustic guitar and vocally led by a choir-mistress. Her voice, before the others joined in, was beautifully easy and natural. The Spanish equivalent of the Irish folk voice. Some readers may understand what I mean.  

To while the time away until our return trip to La Plata, we had a beer at a pavement café, irritated by small children, all of them well-fed and clothed, begging at the tables. 

This activity seemed to be organized father/son or mother/daughter teams. While some parents also begged, most of this was opportunistic. While waiting for the pedestrian lights to change, the (cute) daughter would quickly test the clients at the side-walk café, and then report back to mother before crossing the street together. 

We inadvertently got on the “platteland” [rural area] bus back to La Plata. It ended up at the same bus terminus we had departed from earlier that day, but went a bit off the beaten track, taking 30 min longer than the morning trip. When the bus driver looked at Piet’s ticket when we boarded, he had a few things to say, but being all in Spanish and not actually forcing us off the bus, we thought he was just making conversation. We realized afterwards he was probably saying: “Wrong bus”. 

Part 3 to follow 



One Response to “Argentina – Part 2”

  • Oh, so here it is! Blush blush.

    Another enjoyable article. Now for part 3. Where is it? Oh,just above this box. Got it!