As our coach moves through the rain-soaked streets of Buenos Aires to begin a city tour, I muse that Buenos Aires has a different feel than Rio de Janeiro, which we visited a few days ago. It seems statelier and more serious than Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps this is because Buenos Aires is the capital city of Argentina. Perhaps it’s due to the people and their environment and history.
Our tour group arrived here yesterday on a flight from Iguassu Falls after viewing that area’s magnificent waterfalls. Today is the second-last day of sight-seeing in this week-long South American tour that my friend Diane and I have enjoyed.
Our first stop is in the La Boca neighborhood, which looks more bohemian than the stately and classical buildings we passed on our way here. Situated at the mouth of the Rio (River) de la Plata, La Boca was the port where immigrants from Europe landed and settled. The port was abandoned due to silting and industrial pollution, but the neighborhood remains vibrant and interesting. According to our guide Maria, a native of Buenos Aires, the tango was invented in La Boca.
I browse the store that Maria recommends without buying anything, and then go outside into the rain to meander the streets and eye the brightly painted buildings.
Colorful buildings are a hallmark of the La Boca working class neighborhood in Buenos Aires.
Next, we go to the city center known as the Plaza de Mayo in honor of the political and social events that took place in Buenos Aires during May 1810. This bloodless “revolution” culminated on May 25 with the installation of a local government in Buenos Aires not chosen by Spain, the ruling imperial power at that time. Full independence for the country wasn’t achieved until 1816. Through the years, the Plaza has been the center of political activity, and many demonstrations have been held here.
Statue on the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires commemorating May 25, 1810, the beginning of Argentina’s independence from Spain. May 25 is an Argentine holiday.
Across the street from the Plaza de Mayo is La Casa Rosada a block-long building where the president of Argentina lives. Translated from Spanish, the language Argentineans speak, La Casa Rosada means The Pink House.
Comparable to the U.S. White House, La Casa Rosada (The Pink House) is home to the executive branch of Argentina’s federal government.
Although I’d like to browse the area more, I’m glad to escape the damp and chill of the rain and board the coach and go north to a cemetery in the exclusive Recoleta neighborhood. By the time we reach the cemetery, the rain lets up somewhat.
The cemetery is like no other I’ve ever seen–it resembles a city of elaborate marble mausoleums jammed close together.
A small tomb in the the Cemetery of the Recoleta in Buenos Aires.
As we move through the cemetery walkways, we see quite a few feral cats. I photograph a black-and-white cat that reminds me of our black-and-white cat Belle who passed on 15 years ago.
A cat grooms itself on the grounds of the Cemetery of the Recoleta.
The Cemetery of the Recoleta is the burial place for the Buenos Aires elite. Many famous people are buried here, including Eva Peron, the popular wife of President Juan Peron memorialized in the musical, Evita, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
A plaque at the Duarte family tomb marks the burial site of Eva Peron, former first lady of Argentina.
Back at the hotel, I feel as if I’m getting a cold. I reluctantly decide not to attend the evening dinner with the tango performance.
But the next morning, I feel fine and join the group for an hour-and-a-half drive into the flat, grassy plains of Argentina known as the Pampas. The Pampas are home to the gauchos, Argentina’s cowboys, who are known for their horsemanship. At the Estancia Santa Susana ranch, we tour several old homestead buildings, now museums with artifacts and photos from earlier days on the Pampas ranches.
The grounds are muddy, but it’s determined the wagon rides can go on as scheduled. I awkwardly climb on the wagon and chat with the gaucho driver while others board. He agrees to let me photograph him.
An Argentine gaucho waits atop a wagon to give visitors a ride at the ranch. In photographing the gaucho head-on, I got a photo that curiously skews the flat Pampas landscape in the background.
When the wagon is full, the group poses for a photo.
Visitors await a wagon ride at the Santa Susana ranch.
As we ride along, our gaucho driver points out interesting sights. Everyone exclaims at two diminutive owls clearly visible in the open grass. I later learn they are burrowing owls.
Burrowing owls hover over their nest in the Pampas grasslands.
The ride finished, we have lunch at the ranch and watch a tango performance. I really enjoy the tango music and rhythms and appreciate the tango performers’ artistry. But I don’t like the male and female roles the dance portrays. The man’s role seems domineering, and the dance often ends with the woman in a subservient position at the man’s feet. Yet, the tango remains important to cultural history, as well as to music and dance, because its choreography offers a glimpse into the history of gender relationships not only in Argentina, but also the world.
After lunch, we go and sit on benches to watch the gauchos put on a show. As I situate myself, I notice lots of horses near several barns in the distance. Here in front of us, gauchos assemble with groups of horses for the performance.
A gaucho’s horse looks at me from the corner of its eye after its performance.
I can’t see the action well enough to understand completely what is happening, but apparently the gauchos are having a competition. Gauchos in sets of three race their horses at a gallop around an oval track. As they go under a beam, they try to snag a ring that hangs from the beam. They do this multiple times. I think, but I’m not sure, they use different horses each time they ride.
I worry the mud may be hard on the horses, but not one falters as the gauchos and horses go through their performance.
I snap photo after photo as the horses gallop in front of me during the competition, but they are too fast, and I’m too slow. I have trouble timing the click correctly to get the horses fully in the photo. I mostly get photos of the hindquarters of horses as they move past me.
Riding hard while competing in a game, gauchos and their horses blur past viewers.
The gaucho and horse performance over, our week of sightseeing in Brazil and Argentina is over, and we go back to our hotel. As I pack the ticket stubs and other memorabilia I’ve gathered during the trip, I fondly remember the experiences I’ve had. I’ve seen spectacular and beautiful places. I’ve increased my knowledge and appreciation of the culture, nature and history of Brazil and Argentina. I’ve had fun. Brazil and Argentina–their people and nature–are now in my heart and mind.
Previous articles in this South American travel series:
Scenes from Rio–beaches, mountains and more, published October 5, 2007.
Rio’s Botanical Garden–orchids, lipstick and more, published October 12, 2007.
Scenes from Corcovado Mountain–a world wonder, Nigerian sailors and more, published October 19, 2007.
Iguassu, Iguacu, Iguazu–waterfalls, waterfalls and more, published November 4, 2007.