A Travellerspoint blog

Playing God

sunny 25 °C
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Friday 19.10.05

It was the moment i had been waiting for for two weeks, when we arrived in Tierra Santa in the north of the city in the early afternoon. Though I can never claim to have had the most saintly of intentions when I went, I couldn't have guessed how entertaining our visit would be. It is after all, a theological theme park, a notion perhaps steeped more in kitsch than genuine religious reverence.

We were greeted at the entrance by life-size figures of animals, palm trees, shepherds and oddly, fairies. The fun only increased when we entered the park and ascended an artificial mountain to behold the crucifixion scene, all painstakingly recreated in fibreglass. Below us spread a fibreglass metropolis designed to represent an ancient city in the Middle East, setting the stage for the biblical re-enactments to come. We learned that Jesus conceivably used a whip to expel the prostitutes and money-changers off the steps of the temple, and later suffered the same punishment at the hands of the Romans prior to his martyrdom. Other religions were also honoured, such as Islam and Judaism, while even Gandhi had a little alcove in a corner. The most impressive sight was La Resurrección, featuring a 50 foot Jesucristo rising out of the artificial mountain every hour to the tune of Hallelujah and rapturous applause from the visiting church and school groups.

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We were present for the Miracle de Creación, which came complete with lasers, smoke machines and a Spanish voice over. Thankfully the school kids stopped screaming after God created light (bulbs) and rolled the fibreglass animals out on rails. I soon came to realise, as we exited the park, that I will probably be spending my afterlife in purgatory, an even more daunting prospect considering I never had previously believed in its existence.

The weekend seemed to only feature nightclubs, sleep, drinking and probably plenty of bizarre moments which seem to escape me right now, but I'm sure to have enjoyed. Ever have that feeling? Somewhere along the way Adam left for Australia, and in an unconnected incident I broke my previous record for 'Biggest and Juiciest Steak Ever', one that possibly left me almost a kilogram heavier. As the weekend became Monday, so sleep gradually took over until it was all-consuming; and with the weather slowly getting warmer, it would be prudent to heed previous self-advice and begin the diet.

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I was finally ready for a brief foray on Tuesday night, this time to Puerto Madero. This area of the city was once destined to become the city's port, but was closed in preference to the current port, a couple of kilometres or so north of the city centre. Puerto Madero fell into disrepair and disrepute until the 1990s, where a gradual revamp has seen it transform into one of the city's trendiest (and expensive) areas. Harbour cranes, relics of the past are lit up at night, standing guard over the channel which runs through the middle of the suburb.

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Posted by Jeremy T 12:59 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Dancing the Tango

sunny 27 °C
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Sunday 14.10.07

My mother Sally and two of her close friends were in Buenos Aires at the tail end of a month-long tour of South America. With fortunate timing and just a little planning, we were able to meet up twice in the city during the duration of her trip. This time we left together for the Tigre Delta on a clear, windless morning. The delta area sits north of Buenos Aires, where the Rio Parana meets the Rio Uruguay to form the Rio de la Plata, a huge estuary on which both Buenos Aires and Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay sit. The delta accumulated from sediments carried down the Rio Paraná, gathered from places such as Iguazu Falls, Itaipu Dam, the Pantanal wetlands in Brasil, the Rio Paraguay and from the Chaco region. We caught three separate trains to reach Tigre, the town on the southern limit of the delta.

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Being a Sunday, it was market day and the streets by the docks were packed with people. We boarded a boat for a tour of the delta, which left the docks promptly, heading towards the maze of channels. The banks of the various islands between are lined with pretty houses, all complete with their own docks and manicured gardens, while side channels branch out, overlooked by willow trees or spanned by quaint bridges. The entire area seemed devoted to relaxation and recreation, with resorts, parks and holiday homes watching the steady stream of launches, million-dollar yachts and tourist-filled catamarans go by. Back on dry land later, we had the opportunity to try one of Argentina's most bizarre treats - popcorn covered, toffeed fruit, with the choice of either apple, strawberry or fig. The flavour, somewhere between sickly sweet, sticky and savoury - was confusing on the palette to say the least. I farewelled my mother and her friends after nightfall, who were heading back to Australia later that evening.

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I joined a bunch of other eager tourists on Tuesday for a walking tour of La Boca, the most famous area of Buenos Aires. The bus dropped us at the spot which gave the area it's name - the mouth of a river, and the city's first port. It was here on the promenade overlooking a now very polluted dock that the sailors of old danced the tango with prostitutes in the night. The cultural heart of La Boca would have to be the Caminito (little way), a brilliantly painted street even by Latin American standards. La Boca has always been a poor neighbourhood, and the buildings of the Caminito, each previously inhabited by several families at once, were constructed from a hodgepodge of materials scrounged from the area, and painted with whatever colours were available at the time. Although artists inhabit the streets and tourists wander around posing with tango dancers during the day, at night the area is too dangerous to visit.

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From the cultural heart of Boca, we left for its spiritual one, La Bombonera - the Boca Juniors' stadium. Underneath the stadium is a museum, showcasing the club's numerous victories while attempting to describe 'La Pasión', apparently a feverish disease that Boca supporters and players are afflicted with for life. I learned the basic steps of the tango in the evening before heading out to Café Tortoni to watch the real thing being performed. Far from just a demonstration, the show featured two singers, live piano and accordion, and two couples whirling and stepping with a depth of passion that enthralled and excited, and left a roomful of people almost breathless.

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Posted by Jeremy T 05:17 Archived in Argentina Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Beef Sundaes & Ice Cream Steaks

Vegans beware!

overcast 22 °C
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Tuesday 09.10.07

As the precipitation in Buenos Aires turned torrential (for not the first time since we arrived), we left the capital, en route to Cordoba in the heart of Argentina. On the same, apparently treacherous stretch of dead-straight highway where I had seen an accident while travelling toward the capital, we encountered yet another while heading the opposite way. This time it was an overturned hauler reposing obliquely in the median ditch amongst its spilled payload of perhaps a tonne or two of sand. All day and into the evening, we cruised across flat grassy heartland that seemed to go on forever, and when we finally arrived in the second-largest city in Argentina, all was quiet on the city's streets.

The same could not be said the next day when the inner city thoroughfares teemed with people, so Adam and I joined the throng and embarked on a tour of the local cathedrals. The first was a grand peach edifice with blue domes and a giant crowned statue of the Virgin Mary presiding over the interior; the second a gilded Baroque renovation of an ancient Jesuit structure. In South America's early colonial past the city was occupied by the Jesuits, a devout Roman Catholic order, before their expulsion from the continent in 1767. The missionaries for the Society of Jesus were particularly disliked by both the Spanish and Portuguese for their opposition to slavery of the native people.

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We treated ourselves to a Parillada come evening, the famous Argentinean mixed grill, featuring such choice beef bits as ribs, intestines, stomach, kidneys and heart. It was a meaty assault on the senses, topped off with a 500gm, 4cm thick piece of prime beef that was undoubtedly the best we had ever had - a warm loaf of succulent delight that was not unlike a dessert in texture. We praised the creature that had previously nurtured this piece of flesh and tipped the staff handsomely, while keeping in mind the entire episode had set us back less than AUS$10 each. We stumbled across an ice cream parlour on the way home, and for a dollar more had steak-sized servings to top it all off.

We were on another bus on Thursday, bound for Argentina's Oktoberfest, held in Villa General Belgrano, a quaint (if a little contrived) town a couple of hours away. The town, celebrating its 75th anniversary, was settled partly by the survivors of a sunken German battle ship in the Battle of the River Plate in 1940, bringing German traditions, dancing, food and beer to the area. The southern part of South America, from Brasil to Chile is littered with Germanic settlers, most of whom arrived during or after World War II.

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We spent the hours before the festival kick-off climbing a nearby hill, Cerro de la Virgin to look over the surrounding forested bits, represented by a profusion of classically European trees. In true Latin American style, there was further reward for our hard work - nestled amongst the rocks at the top was a white cage in which was locked a small Virgin Mary figurine and a plastic red rose. As day turned to night the German-style beer from the local microbreweries began to flow while the local schools and organisations strutted their stuff on the stage. Rain too began to fall in near-equal proportions, and with all hotel beds in the town already taken, we left for Cordoba again by bus; followed by another agonising bus journey through the Argentinean prairie back to Buenos Aires the next day.

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Posted by Jeremy T 05:01 Archived in Argentina Tagged events Comments (0)

Unleash your Inner Hooligan!

A baptism of fire in Buenos Aires

overcast 21 °C
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Wednesday 03.10.07

I had been looking forward to my birthday all year, mostly because I had planned to celebrate it in Buenos Aires. I had made finally made it there the night before, and I couldn't have felt happier. The highlight of the day came in early afternoon, when we left on a bus for La Bombonera, the blue and yellow hued stadium of the Boca Juniors, the most famous football club in Buenos Aires. Adam, myself and the rest of the people on our tour were seated way up high in the steeply-tiered stadium, in seats affording a brilliant birds-eye view from near the halfway line. With over ninety minutes before kick-off the Boca supporters, well known for being the craziest in the world, were already singing, booing and cheering themselves into a lather.

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Finally the match started and the Boca Juniors set to work on a depleted San Lorenzo team, while up in a far corner of the stadium a dedicated (and raucous) group of the away fans were making as much noise as they could. As the home team began to dominate, scoring off a brilliant header, the Boca chanting got more and more intense. The stadium, now a Roman coliseum, throbbed with frenetic singing and jumping. The increasingly rabid crowd screamed, cheered and cursed at every turn even when it became clear their team would win. Finally, when win they did, it was to rapturous applause and yet more chanting. As the away fans were quietly led away first by an entourage of police, we could reflect that many Argentinean men, especially the Boca fans, rate Diego Maradona (an-ex Boca player voted the best footballer of all time) above even their mothers, who they adore more than God Himself.

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Thursday morning Adam and I caught a bus to Recoleta, an inner-city suburb and, upon finding ourselves standing outside one of the most lavish cemeteries in the world, decided to take a look. All available sites were taken by mausoleums made of expensive stone and stacked with caskets, flowers, candles and religious imagery. This cemetery stands as a who's who of Argentinian dead people, including that of Evita (Eva Perón), the famous philanthropist and former First Lady of Argentina.

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It wasn't long before we were making preparations for our first clubbing experience in Buenos Aires, where it is quite normal to arrive at 2.30am or later. Club 69 occupied what appeared to be a converted theatre, with a sunken dancefloor overlooked by a huge stage. Performers emerged in front of us as the techno pulsed, featuring mirror ball helmeted go-go groovers, fat feathered transvestites, barely-clad females on mobile pole platforms and even a strip tease. We took to the podium in the name of hedonism, and partied until 7am, when we caught a taxi returning to destination reality.

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It was with a little trepidation that I accepted an offer to play indoor soccer on Friday afternoon. I had barely slept and the only things I had eaten all day, a Quarter Pounder and large fries, were now churning uselessly within my guts. The eight of us playing on a field underneath an elevated highway were soon drenched in sweat, most of all Adam who didn't look very well at all. By the end of the match, I think most of us were happy it was over. Feeling that perhaps a healthy lifestyle could benefit me in some as yet unforeseen way, I swore off alcohol and junk food for the remainder of the day.

Saturday i spent watching sport instead, namely the Rugby World Cup and a cycling race up and down the 20-lane Avenida 9 Julio (The widest in the world) not far from our front door. Finally after a tactical nap, lots of water and perhaps a hint or two of alcohol, we left for Pacha, a world-famous club franchise. A huge white building stands north of the city centre on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, crowded with people, many dressed to impress and sporting sunglasses that are more trendy than yours. The music thumped inside, outside and in the various VIP areas, all of which I was refused entry to, possibly on irritatingly numerous occasions. It dawned on me, at the same time as the sun did over the water, looking around at the multitudes of trashed Argentineans around me, just why they were all wearing sunglasses in the first place.

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Posted by Jeremy T 12:54 Archived in Argentina Tagged events Comments (0)

What Bolsi Built

Final thoughts from a month spent in Paraguay....

sunny 30 °C
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Thursday 27.09.07

The last couple of weeks of fine weather had brought a change in the atmosphere of Paraguay - spring had begun, and Paraguay's already strange trees were flowering in even more weird and wonderful ways. Yet another change was apparent as I visited Plaza Uruguaya. The indigenous people had left, leaving just a terrible mess of rubbish which teams were now cleaning up, and after making some inquiries found they had been moved to the grounds of a military barracks in Asunción. They now had better access to sanitation and care for their children (some of which had been born in the city park), but perhaps their plight will become all but forgotten by the majority.

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I had moved to my friend Pedro's home midweek - a stylish, architecturally designed house, and its shape and attention to detail made it a very pleasant place to stay in. He lives with his father, now in a wheelchair after a stroke, and the house buzzes with an entourage of cleaners, therapists, nurses, four dogs, a cat and Maribel, a woman that lives there with her adult daughter and oversees the lot. Most of the week was spent sampling beverages, always the same ones and often repeatedly, but we were determined to make the most of Sunday, and left for another wakeboarding session on the Rio Paraguay. On the river, running a lot shallower thanks to the lack of rain, I was far more proficient on the board this time around, but my driving skills failed to please when I hit muddy bottom with the propeller on the inside of a bend whilst trying to steer clear of some waterskiing chump who had crashed.

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On Monday morning, my last in Paraguay, we left for Asunción's produce market, the biggest of any kind in the country, large enough that a car is needed to manoeuvre between the sections. Of course by 9.30am when we arrived, all the best tomatoes had gone, so while prices for the remaining crates were being organised, I picked my way between pyramids of pumpkins, obelisks built of onions and cairns made of capsicums; while noting this large smelly section was just one tiny part of the market, and i didn't even get to see the mandioca (Cassava) or potatoes across the car park. I gathered my belongings back at Pedro's house, and with a little hesitation, boarded the bus heading in a southerly direction for Buenos Aires. After a time (and perhaps a nap) we were cruising past grey-green fields dotted with palms, their fronds streaming back in the breeze like a gathering of hippies standing in a wind tunnel. The sun had set long before we crossed the border, and once a few hours of agonising formalities were over and done with, we were on our way into the night towards the capital of Argentina.

When I drew the blinds open after daybreak, it was as if we had landed in a different part of the world. Dead-pan heavy stratus cloud blanketed the sky, dumping rain onto swamps sprawling where fields should have been. Having failed to check the prevailing weather in Buenos Aires previously, things looked ominous for my stay. At one point we passed a car that had fallen off the side of the road (though not a curve lay in sight), swarmed over by emergency response teams. What surprised me most though, was the people I was sharing the ride with. I seemed to be surrounded by Paraguayans, many with their families, leaving their country to work in regions of Argentina. Thankfully the rain eased, and after 21 hours, the bus finally reached the terminal.

I checked my emails to discover a friend from Melbourne, Adam had arrived the night before, so I made my way to the hostel where he was staying. After he returned from a tour in the afternoon, we took a twilight stroll around the historical centre. Buenos Aires has shades of Paris and the rest of Europe, mixed into something that is not distinctly South American. Certainly there are more than a few things in common between this huge, cultured city and my own, Melbourne. I found it well presented and stately, with an air of sophistication. We walked through Plaza de Mayo, a square looked over by some of the city's most important buildings, including the Casa Rosada (Pink House). It was from the balcony of this building, the President's palace, that famous figures such as Pope John Paul II and Eva Perón have addressed the nation.

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Posted by Jeremy T 11:42 Archived in Paraguay Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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