Pedro Ávila

With Paraguay safely behind me and Argentina ahead, I had fewer things to deal with but I was still in a bad place.

At first I thought that arriving in Buenos Aires eight hours later than planned for a trip that would really only last a couple of days would put us way too far behind. I was pensive as we waited for our luggage but on the two-hour bus ride from the airport to the city center I snapped out of it as I watched the city go by.

Foreign sights always remind me of what drives me and what makes my heart beat faster or my smile grow wider. The fog was lifting over the city and I could see the typical panoramas of Buenos Aires beggining to stretch before me as the bus moved closer and closer to the capital. Flags and trinkets being sold under the freeway, except these flags were different. I’ve always been used to the Brazilian version of this scene — Brazilian flags and hammocks – but in Buenos Aires the flags were pale blue and white, and the hammocks were cow hide rugs. Weird.

Little things like that littered my field of vision, though the poverty level remained much the same. Some things don’t change with geography. Experiences though, are richer on soils far from my comfort zone and my Spanish, I was quickly realizing, was terrible. This was going to be mighty uncomfortable.

The bus dumped us in the middle of the center on the Avenida de Mayo, where things looked very different from the city outskirts. There was an unmistakably European feel to the city. Sure, there were still many similarities between Buenos Aires and the old center of São Paulo. There were markets, and there was traffic. There were beggars and soot-covered buildings. But there were also balconies on the façades, people smoking everywhere, meals came in small portions and on street corners, instead of a bakery, you were more likely to find a book store. These are the little things that make traveling 26,000 kilometers in a week worth it all.

So despite a very real need for rest we faced the reality that precious time had been lost, and that the evening would yield us plenty of time for sleep. Ergo, we hit the streets.

One of the good things about staying in the city center in Buenos Aires is that it gives you access to pretty much all you need as a two-day tourist. In some cities this is not the case as not all the points of interest for a 2 day stay are in the center. In BA, trying to see things outside the center if you’re only staying 2 days is folly. Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo, the Obelisco in the Plaza de la Republica and several scattered churches can be visited over the span of the afternoon and we even managed to squeeze in a meal at the infamous Cafe Tortoni.

After all that, though, with aching feet and almost brain-dead from exhaustion, we allowed our consciousness to lose itself for awhile, and we didn’t really put a time limit on it.

Our consciousnesses were gone for well over 13 hours and we could’ve slept more… but we weren’t about to give in to laziness – I was, after all, on the company time, you know?

Oops. Did I forget to mention that?

The whole reason for this trip had been that I had a client in São Paulo that wasn’t quite ready for me and the company wasn’t about to fly me home only to come back in a couple of days. That’s when we found cheap tickets and escaped to South America like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

We walked to San Telmo and La Boca, two charming neighborhoods of BA. On the way to La Boca we passed the Casa Amarilla, a replica of the house of Almirante Brown, a revered Navy hero of the Portenos, as residents of Buenos Aires are known.

Do you care about this guy? I certainly didn’t, but we didn’t know enough to even know if we should care so we walked in. Suddenly: experts.

Our lack of knowledge of the Almirante changed right quick when a Navy officer (who apparently wanted to be a tour guide instead) gave us the scoop on Argentinian Navy history 101 right on the steps of the place. He wouldn’t let me leave if I didn’t take his card and a history text book along with promises to call if I needed anything.

OK dude. How about a career change?

In La Boca we got hungry and dined to tango dancers and music as genuine as it gets…even the waiter did a solo performance. We had parilla, the local special which could be described as a huge fucking plate of meat. Awesome.

Fuck the vegetarians where it hurts — that’s what they say in BA, though they say it with half a cow and all kinds of meats I’m not comfortable describing. Y en espanol…sabes?

We took a bus to Retiro and San Nicolas, northern neighborhoods of the Parisian stretch of town and there saw the sights there were to see. These included the Teatro Colon and a good diner for a well-deserved beer to recoup the strengths. We ended up walking down La Florida, a shopping strip that is adequately tasteful and in which leather stuff is amply available for cheap.

I’ve always wished I could wear a leather jacket but I’d never found one that,  for under $500, didn’t make it seem as if I was trying to look like the Fonz.

But I guess BA is the place to do it and I loved the thing they custom made for me so much that I didn’t take it off for days. On the way back to our temporary abode we watched a gathering on the street where a trio (two dudes and a smoking hot Argentinian babe) danced some tango. It seemed innocent enough until they ambushed me to dance with her.

Must be the jacket, I thought, but I was wrong.

As I posed for some pictures with this babe of sparkling smiles and many talents (including deception), her two gaucho partners stepped in and made me dance with them instead for all to see.

Very funny, Argentina. You’ll get yours – just wait until you come to São Paulo – I’ll make you eat a cat and still smile about it. You know, for the pictures.

We headed back for some showers at the hostel to refresh the pores and clear the sweat from a long day of walking. I have it from reputable sources that we walked 33 kilometers that day, absurd as that might sound. But that only means that it took little persuastion for us to use the Subte (which is very reminiscient of the Parisian Metro) to Puerto Madera, where we strolled along the Riviera. But it was too crowded with classy Euro-wannabe restaurants and a faux-chic atmosphere that I recognized from too many restaurants that exist soley for the purposes of having business people impress their clients. We were neither impressed nor willing to spend that much money for so little meat, so we returned to the center for more wine, beer and pizza.

Meat pizza, of course.

We tried our damnedest to get up early. But running on something like 5 days straight of brutal travel and has a way of slapping the purpose right out of a man. Eventually we hit the subte like languid seals but at least we were languid seals that were determined enough to head out at all.

Sometimes that’s comfort enough.

At the Congresso Nacional we found a cafe and watched Argentina hand Serbia & Montenegro their asses on an epic 6-0 stretch, which frankly, readers, amazed even yours truly. I mean, the opponent was from the East-European block with a schizophrenia about their very name but it was a good game, nonetheless. We cheered with smiles on our faces but being from Brazil, in our hearts we were supposed to loath the enemy with ice-cold treachery.

Whatever. I think it’s adorable that they have two whole stars on their shields. Que fofinho.

The aftermath though. What a mess.

We had left the cafe while it was still 3-0 because, shit, we had things to do. All across town we counted the goals Argentina scored via a remote tracking system called “Everyone yell out your windows and if you have a horn, hit it“. Non-Brazilian flags were waived all over the place.

The truth is that they played a hell of a lot better than Brazil has been playing and shit and if I seem negative it’s only because Brazil has gotten so lazy, so full of Euro-all stars lately that it’s taken some of the fun out of watching them play, willing them to win. At this point, if Argentina were to play against Germany, I might actually root for them. What do you think of that, tradition?

Note: Later in the world cup of 2006, Argentina did, in fact go on to play against Germany. Germany beat them in a penalty shoot out, 4-2 but it was one of the most memorable games of the cup. I did not , in fact, root for Argentina. But they did play a good game.

In Palermo, during the game, no soul was on the street, and what few were there seemed to know nothing of the location of the planetarium. What few people offered us directions ended up sending us in every which direction at 8 blocks a pop, for which our feet cursed us in their own creative ways. Ironically, the thing was closed when we finally found it. And the reason? An extreme case of sixtonothing.

In some countries this sort of thing is normal.

We took a bus down to Recoleta to see the cemetery in which Evita is buried and saw there sights that can only be described as eerily Catholic. Christianity, and Catholiscism in particular, has a penchant for the macabre that really gets to be almost too much to handle at times. Mostly it’s just a nuisance for non-believers, like when you want to eat meat on a Friday, masturbate without being condemned to hell or have an abortion under a government that is “for the people”. But it’s a lot to handle, man, when you’re walking through a cemetery and to see the resting place of a figure as historical and momentous as Eva Perron and have to put up with such imagery. It’s overwhelming to be crowded by statues of saints, carvings of demons and angels, pits with entire families rotting inside and multiple sayings in latin.

Also, it makes it very anti-climactic to see whatever’s next on the itinerary. In our case it was the Rosedal, a rose garden with a picturesque bridge. Meh.

A metro back to downtown allowed us to regather our bags at the hostel and head for a bar or a cafe for a night of drinking while we waited for the right hour to head back to The Beast. We saw no reason to drink at the Ezeiza airport where Gol would certainly insist on demonstrating their ineptitude at flying on time again.

Whatever. I watched the Mexico vs. Angola game while I waited for things to stir. The world cup is a good time to be anywhere outside the USA, because you always have something to do. It could’ve been The Alutian Islands vs. Bora-Bora and I’d still have watched it.


Eventually though, all clocks run down. All games end. What the hell does that mean, Pete?

Who knows? I’m so tired.

Buenos Aires, Argentina – June, 2006

Pedro Ávila Pedro Ávila

For a reasonably sane & productive member of society (arguable, but let’s not complicate things), I’m far too mobile and unrooted. I travel quite a bit for a job that is simultaneously my greatest privilege and my worst burden.

So I write. And I write. Travel pieces, political journalism (a stretch from ranting but, still), short stories, poetry and other such riff-raff. I contribute to a handful of publications and will probably just keep going until something gives out, or someone gives in.


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Of smiles and roars