Cycling in a skirt

One life, some bicycles. A million possibilities, zero clue!

A Brief Interlude of Donkeys. Argentina Part 2

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The last post saw us relaxing by a lake in the middle of the Andes after a tough few days of riding. The tent is still pitched, but this is a brief break to return to Buenos Aires For Christmas.

I love spending Christmas in a different country. At home, it’s a holiday I can take or leave but somehow, the tinsel and festivities become way more magical when caught up in the theatre of a different culture. I have to say the 30+ degree (Celsius) heat also goes a long way towards my enjoyment of a Latin American Christmas too.

So, when the opportunity for a 3 week break cycling and sightseeing in Argentina comes along, I grab the chance.

I’ve long since had a fascination with Argentina, driven chiefly by a love of the musical Evita, probably not the most accurate representation I’m sure but, whatever your opinion on musical theatre, the real-life drama, politics and personalities are immensely gripping.

On landing in the capital, Buenos Aires I am as excited as a kid at, well, Christmas. I want to do everything and I want to do it now!

Over the next 5 days we will be walking a huge number of miles in and around the districts of the capital as there’s no better way to get to know a place than by tramping its parks and pavements.

The city is at its hottest and most humid right now in December but also at its most quiet as many Porteños (“people of the port” – the name of local residents) have decamped to more temperate climes for the holidays.

La Boca

The city itself, the largest in Argentina is composed of a multitude of different neighbourhoods all meeting and blending together in a glorious colourful fusion.

Nowhere does it do this better than La Boca, a vibrant, quirky neighbourhood, home of radical politics, street food, La Boca Juniors football and, most prominently, tango.

In the proliferation of dancehalls and out in La Caminito (the little cobbled streets) people dance, perform. It’s mesmerizing to watch and I would dearly love to join in with that sensuous, dramatic, expressive dance in the city where it was born.

So much did I want to dance that, before embarking on holiday, M and I decided we would learn to tango. Neither of us had ever danced before and, as it turns out, there’s a very good reason for this. Basically, because we’re utterly crap at it.

Two sessions at a local tango club which, the sign said, welcomed beginners, saw M and I quickly relegated to the corner of the room by the toilets to ‘practice quietly’ i.e. keep out the way. Both being of strong character neither of us would let the other take the lead and, possessing an appalling sense of rhythm and distinct lack of natural talent our careers as tango dancers were swiftly discounted as we descended into arguing and treading on each other’s toes. I don’t know who was more relieved, us or the teacher, when we bowed out after 2, tortuous lessons after managing to disrupt the entire class.

Back in La Boca and we were at least able to watch the street tango artists work their magic, us and the many people crowding the balconies in the crooked, colourful, narrow streets. Amongst the live balcony audiences, one could also spot sports icons and starlets (albeit fiberglass likenesses) such as Maradona (the footballer), the Pope and, sharing one platform, Eva Peron waving graciously alongside Che Guevara. Nice that they’re friends.

Catching the (very good) local bus out of the neighbourhood it’s easy to notice that outside of the cluster of tourist streets at its heart, La Boca has a seedier, edgier side. It’s a poorer neighbourhood with high levels of crime. Health-wise it’s also a hazard, its population running serious health risks from the Matanza-Riachuelo River which reportedly contains high levels of arsenic and lead due to years of unchecked pollution.

Casa Rosada, Museo Eva Peron and La Recoleta

From street dance to politics and the beautiful Casa Rosada (the Pink House) political pink power house and office of the president, situated amongst the other imposing government buildings facing down the Plaza de Mayo. For me, it will forever be synonymous with Eva Peron, Evita, as she addressed the crowds of Peronists gathered in the Plaza below, rousing support and action.

The story of Evita, her rise to political fame and power and the country’s perception of her is complex. Not universally liked or supported then, and now, she still has an almost mythical status amongst many. Casa Rosada now houses a political museum, sadly closed over Christmas, so I could only stare through the railings for a quick photograph.

Where you can get up close and personal with the legend however is through her clothing and personal effects housed in the beautiful Museo Eva Peron, a stunning Italianate mansion in the Palermo district. The museum charts Eva’s rise from child, to actress, to political and socialist icon alongside her husband Juan Domingo. There are snippets of her acting in early films and many of the outfits that she wore through the years. There is noticeably more commentary sometimes on her hats and gloves than on her political activities or social reform work, maybe a tactical move by the curators perhaps?

From Eva Peron’s life, the last stage of our pilgrimage was to her final resting place. For those who are interested the Evita story, her remains had almost as remarkable journey as her life, her body being kidnapped shortly after her demise in 1952. It was then over 20 years before her body was to be returned for burial in the Duarte family plot, a surprisingly modest tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery.

La Recoleta itself was a phenomenal place to visit. It’s been described as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world and you can see why. It’s a veritable city of individual monuments to the great and good of Argentina including presidents, poets and Nobel Prize winners, all linked by quaint cobbled alley ways. You could easily lose a whole day just wondering its quiet paths reading the inscriptions on some of its 6400 tombs and marvelling at the dramatic, elaborate marble sculptures and the crumbling, stone walls, sometimes with grisly glimpses of the residents in situ. Tombs housing families, pets and even, a whole child’s bedroom, displayed behind a glass façade by a family whose daughter was killed on her honeymoon. It was the strangest and most fascinating place.

Tierra Santa

The Latin American way of celebrating Christmas sees the main festivities fall on Christmas Eve and that night we wander the streets again taking in the sights and the sounds, the street parties and revellers. Christmas here too is a time for family and many are visiting theirs, sharing food and company. It feels good to be immersed in it all without having any obligations or expectations to meet. Christmas voyeurs.

As Christmas day dawns we put together a plan. It involves getting wet. Being so warm here and having already travelled many foot-aching miles we are desperate for a swim. There’s already been a 4-hour fruitless trek with our bathers and towels to find a recommended local swimming area. Closed, when we finally located it a sweaty afternoon later. Our air B&B host has assured us however that Parque Norte, the city’s famous water park is definitely open. What better way to spend a sunny Xmas day.

Definitely open, it transpires, is Buenos Aires language for maybe, but probably not.

As a taxi drops us by the firmly closed gates we join a few other disappointed bathers looking forlornly at the blue pools and water slides just out of reach. Regrouping outside however, I happen to notice that we are stood right next to another attraction I’d considered visiting and, even better it’s definitely open. What’s more, it’s probably the most perfect day of the year for a visit. Roll right on up to Tierra Santa (The Holy Land), none other than the world’s first religious theme park. From the virgin birth to crucifixion by way of multiple, fibreglass and animatronic life-sized models.

The description on the official website sums it up best ……

     “This theme park…..is based on a giant model of the city of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

Visitors can attend moments in Jesus Christ’s life, including the nativity, the last supper, the stations of the cross, ….. and even witness the creation of the world as according to the Old Testament. But the grand highlight is perhaps the recreation of Christ’s resurrection, which sees a model of Christ rise from an artificial mountain every 30 minutes.

Throughout the park, actors portray the inhabitants of Jerusalem …….Three restaurants offer Armenian and Arabic food, and pizza…….”

What passed were 3 hours where we were treated to an animatronic rendition of the nativity (think of Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World’ ride but with shepherds/angels), followed by installations of some of the creepiest fiberglass displays imaginable. Everything from Lazarus to the Last Supper, all laid out with photo opportunities for the aspiring modern-day pilgrim to insert them self in. The highlight for me was the large number of angry looking donkeys on display, presumably bought as a ‘job lot’ of rejects from a sunnier/happier park. They had a menacing glint in their eye I was very wary of.

Not being of a religious persuasion the visit was an amusing diversion for the afternoon and certainly an experience. The place was packed too with pilgrims munching pizza. Sadly, the main ‘Resurrection’ feature was postponed due a mechanical failure. I was most upset not to witness this half-hourly ‘rising from the dead’, where a massive 20-foot Jesus pops up in the air, against a back drop of incoming flights from the nearby airport.

Heading back to our apartment we agreed that it had undoubtedly been one unique and memorable Christmas. The final thing left to do of course to mark the end of both the festive season and our stay in Buenos Aires was to sample one of its famous steak houses.

Putting pescatarianism aside for the night, we headed for one of the world-renowned Parrillas, the ubiquitous grill restaurants across the city, to dive in to the biggest, juiciest steak and a delicious botte of Argentinian Malbec.

Quite a finale to what had been a whirlwind tour of this proud, cosmopolitan, vibrant city.

Now, back to the cycle touring and what happened next……….

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If you enjoy reading about adventure, travel, cycling or all 3 why not check out my book: How To Cycle Canada the Wrong Way.

Capture

It’s the story of a forty-something woman with no clue in life and no cycle touring experience. What she does have is a sense of adventure, a second hand bicycle and a skirt and the idea of riding across Canada….the wrong way.

Available on Amazon in e-reader and paperback formats.

*******************************************************************************************************

If you enjoy reading about adventure, travel, cycling or all 3 why not check out my book: How To Cycle Canada the Wrong Way.

Capture

It’s the story of a forty-something woman with no clue in life and no cycle touring experience. What she does have is a sense of adventure, a second hand bicycle and a skirt and the idea of riding across Canada….the wrong way.

Available on Amazon in e-reader and paperback formats.

Author: cycling in a skirt

A forty-something, journeying through life on two wheels. Possessor of limited common sense and practical ability, but full of a passion for adventure, life and bicycles. Writing about the highs and lows of cycling, cycle touring, skirts, silliness and the daily struggle not to grow up and be responsible.

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