When I first thought about a trip to South America, I had some ideas in my head about how things were – I knew it was no longer the place of the past decades, when some revolution or another would push one government out for another, be it from democracy to communist or military junta, or indeed vice versa. Hell, Brazil is right on the list of economies challenging the developed nations.
I do admit though there’s a little part of me that clung to the notion so deeply instilled by the Tin Tin comics, of all things, where one dictator was replaced by another only to himself be thrown out at the end of the day. It’d be a hell of a thing of it did happen, but let’s just say I wouldn’t mind Tin Tin’s role :-)
With this kind of context in mind, getting into Buenos Aires, I first felt a shock of the new – Ezezia Airport is very new and nicely fitted out – and then the polar opposite as we approached our hotel. In an ostensibly decent neighborhood, there was a feeling that you were in a place you didn’t necessarily want to hang out at night, judging by the sidewalks and the graffiti, which was ubiquitous. I felt a perverse thrill that perhaps trouble was bubbling under the surface…
So what did we do after putting our stuff down at 10pm? Naturally we wandered outside, assured by the nearby lights, late night pharmacy, McDonalds… And it turns out appearances are deceptive, because this was the kind of neighborhood where people were out with their kids at 11 in the evening, as others strolled to restaurants to get started on their meal.
If there’s one thing that seems common across South America at this point, it is that the people have a healthy disregard for time. Dinner at 11? Of course señor, you wouldn’t want to follow your afternoon snack at 6 too closely. Nightlife? Well, you wouldn’t want to start too early. Buenos Aires seems to beat the lot, with bars busy at 1, clubs at 2-3 AM and continuing past dawn (n.b. this may not apply on school nights…). The weekend days appear to be entirely for sleeping through.
But I digress; Bs As (as the locals shorten it) is a well rounded city, and once we got into the financial center it revealed itself to be on par with any European city. A 10-lanes-a-side avenue seems absurd right up until the moment you see it in action and realise it functions as a major artery no road back in Sydney does. The system of one way streets makes traffic flow sensible but navigation impossible short of being a local and knowing which goes where.
Getting to the fancy end of town, you realise there is a bucket load of money being made somehow in Argentina and someone is most assuredly there to take advantage. The differences are stark, and I wondered more than once how the conspicuous consumption would have sat with Argentina’s most famous son, Che Guevara.
(An aside: never have I ever seen so many McDonalds in such a small area as the city center of Buenos Aires. These people clearly love their American fast food as much if not more than the Americans themselves.)
We also witnessed the nationalism that pervades the place – the constant references to Las Malvinas (a.k.a. the Falklands), and the glittering praise for the President was on a level I never saw before, as was the veneration of Péron despite whatever negative sides there were to his rule.
We quickly left Evita and the Rosada Palace behind though; we had more important goals in mind, such as Rio de Janeiro and the street party to rule all parties, Carnaval.