Staying in the city's MicroCentro meant being close to the many sights of Buenos Aires. In fact, it was close enough that I didn't bother to use the subway. I simply walked. And walked. Armed with a map and my daypack, I got out of the hostel and immersed myself in the flow of a city that at first glance, looks more European than South American. Indeed, Buenos Aires has always been called the "Paris of South America". And its people? Oh, they speak Spanish with a distinctly Italian accent!
While there are New Yorkers in New York and Manileños in Manila, the local residents of Buenos Aires are called Porteños - or, people of the port. One doesn't have to look further than gaze into the waters of Rio dela Plata which historically served the city with maritime trade. Ever since a Spaniard explorer set foot in 1516, more Europeans followed (Italian, Portuguese, French and some others), diluting the native population into what it is today. Porteños may trace their roots to Europe - including the very visible architecture - but their heart and soul is solidly anchored in South America.
Only a few minutes after walking from the hostel, I reached Plaza de Mayo where Casa Rosada stands in all its pinkish glory. This is where the President of Argentina conducts the daily affairs of the state. But most famous of all, this is where Evita Peron used to wow a crowd of thousands as she spoke from one of the balconies overlooking the plaza. The movie "Evita" which starred Madonna was allowed to shoot in the same balcony. Today, as in the past, the plaza still reeks with the smell of discontent: there are protesters with their banners, most notable of which is the Madres de Plaza de Mayo.
It's quite common to see political graffiti scrawled all over the buildings in the MicroCentro of Buenos Aires. It's been like this 3 years ago when I first visited and one could already tell how lenient their government is to this kind of protests. But I was in for a surprise when I found out that not even the Metropolitan Cathedral, the main Catholic church in the capital, is spared from a hurried paint job of vandalism!
Just before entering the pedestrian-only Calle Florida, I came across this man sitting on the base of a monument that's also riddled with political graffiti.
A Porteño vendor selling roasted nuts at the entrance to Calle Florida is just one of the many that regularly do their trade in this area busy with foot traffic.
|In the center of Calle Florida is where a whole lot of business transactions happen|
|Anything from calabash gourd used for drinking Mate . . .|
|. . . to t-shirts with Che Guevara (who's from Argentina) . . .|
|. . . to knitted shawls . . .|
|. . . to souvenir baseball caps . . .|
|. . . and the odd shoeshine/shoe repair.|
|If nothing else is good enough, there's Gallerias Pacifico mall|
All that commercial activity - including those in the brick and mortar shops on both sides of the street - is not only good for bargain-hunting visitors but also offers a wonderful peek in the daily grind of the city. Right before reaching Plaza San Martin, the Galerias Pacifico mall entices those who prefer the branded names all too familiar in North America and Europe. However, I wasn't in the shopping mode here. I simply walked. And shoot.
From Plaza San Martin, it took me a good half hour of walking to reach Recoleta Cemetery. This is the place where the rich and famous of Argentina show off their wealth even in death. Mausoleums in various sizes and styles compete with each other, not much different in the wealthy subdivisions of the living. As expected, Eva Peron's grave is the star attraction, the first thing everyone wants to see (just like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre).
|One of Evita Peron's grave markers|
Established in 1822, the Recoleta Cemetery is the oldest operating grave site in Buenos Aires. It's open daily from 8am to 6pm. Entrance is free. There's a recently built neo-classical gate added, welcoming visitors to wander into its grid-like maze and be awed by what the living can do for its dead.
From the city of the dead, I retraced my steps and got back into the action of Calle Florida, still very much alive as the crowd of shoppers and visitors mill around even past 6pm. While music blasted from a boom box, a pair of Argentines danced to Tango, undoubtedly one of world's most romantic, seductive and elegant. We were all transfixed looking at this pair as they did fancy footwork. I could only wish I knew how to dance. I'm only good at walking.