Buenos Aires is a remarkable city, unique in South America. But its abiding memory for us is the time we narrowly averted disaster after picking up someone else’s backpack from our hostel and nearly flying off with it!
The three days that preceded it were fairly chilled for us. We arrived on Sunday and left on Wednesday, so this wasn’t the time for a hangover from hell (more of that to come in Santiago!)
After we arrived we moseyed along the San Telmo Sunday market, which stretches for several blocks and is great for people watching, cheap eats and trinket shopping.
Our hostel was also in San Telmo, a district that’s a sort of crumbling tribute to BA’s former colonial grandeur, now full of street art, eroding facades and boundless character.
The night ended with a slap up steak at Gran Parrilla del Plata; two 16oz sirloins with sides and a bottle of Malbec Reserva for £50 sounds like a bargain to us!
Monday was all about a walking tour of the city. Most walking tours are a whistle stop Greatest Hits of a city’s best buildings, but this one felt like a real insight in to what makes Buenos Aires and its people tick.
Martin our guide was born and bred in BA and had a real expert knowledge not only of the history of the city and its architecture, but the political, social and economic turmoil that created it.
Martin was passionate, opinionated, funny and knowledgable, and we really enjoyed listening to him.
He went in to great detail about the hyperinflation and government corruption that’s blighted Argentina’s economy for decades.
He also recounted the brutal tale of thousands of revolutionaries who went missing, assumed killed by the state, during the 70s and 80s. The mothers of the desaparecidos, as they are known, still campaign tirelessly to find out what happened to their sons and daughters, protesting weekly in the main Plaza de Mayo.
Something else which piqued our interest was the story of a derelict branch of Harrod’s department store on BA’s equivalent to London’s Oxford Street.
Since then it’s stood entirely empty, albeit for hosting a few events, and as Martin put it, gives a ‘post apocalyptic’ view of what could happen in Knightsbridge!
Tuesday included an ill-fated trip to the colourful buildings of La Boca, a working class neighbourhood that’s turned in to Buenos Aires’ tackiest tourist trap.
If you enjoy awful tango dancing on every corner, Maradona lookalikes, fibre glass Popes and bus loads of package tourists to share it all with, it might hold some kind of intrigue, but really, 15 minutes is enough.
We took refuge in the brushed concrete and white walls of the nearby Funacion Proa, a small piece of modernity amongst the retro craziness.
Then came Calamity Wednesday…
We started the day with a visit to Buenos Aires’ number one tourist attraction, which you may be surprised to discover is a gothic cemetery.
The Recoleta Cemetery attracts thousands of visitors a day, so we couldn’t resist a little wander around the extravagant tombs and crypts.
Set in one city block is a Labyrinth of ornate overground structures in memory of BA’s great, good and not so good.
Peering inside looking at the coffins may seem a little sinister, but most foreigners – like us – had little knowledge of the presidents and army generals buried here; it’s Evita’s tomb most people gravitate towards, laid to rest so close to those who despised her.
Laid to rest might be overstating it, as her embalmed remains were stolen after her untimely death in the 1950s, and only came to be in the family mausoleum in Recoleta in 1976 after 20 years of morbid toing and froing.
The iconic Eva Peron has a surprisingly modest memorial, befitting of her reputation for socialism and helping the poor.
After which we THOUGHT we’d left plenty of time to have a relaxing afternoon before leaving Argentina’s capital city!
Our flight to Mendoza left at 18.15pm from the domestic airport, close to the city centre. We collected our bags and left two hours early, remarking in the taxi on how stress free it had all been.
That was until we got to the front of the check in desk.
James realised his walking boots weren’t tied to his bag as they had been earlier. Consigned to them being pilfered by a light-fingered backpacker, we thought nothing of it initially. But the bag just didn’t feel right.
The straps felt different, so just before we checked the bags in, James opened his up, only to find a pink make up bag and knickers!
One hour until check in closes and our bag is 5 miles away at our hostel. In rush hour, it may as well be 50 miles. 60 minutes to get there and back.
We hailed the nearest taxi driver and told us to get back ‘rapido!’ He was an utter legend, bobbing and weaving through horrendous traffic to get us back in to town in time.
At one point, a series of green lights appeared to come on in sequence, as if someone was looking down on us.
5.08pm, we arrive back at the hostel. Hasty bag switchover complete, and 22 minutes to get back to the airport!
Another heroic driving performance from our driver got us back to the airport with seconds to spare. We flung all of the cash we had his way, forever grateful to him for saving the day!
The amazing check in staff got our passes printed pronto, we shuffled our way through security and immigration in our own terribly polite British way, and ran to Gate 11.
No flight number. The gate looked closed.
We could even see the pilots in the plane at the end of the gangway! Stress levels briefly peaked again before we learned the plane was elsewhere, slightly delayed and no one had boarded yet. Sod’s law at work. Relief washed over us.
So our final hours in beautiful Buenos Aires featured higher heart rates than anticipated, but these mini dramas make the travelling experience more exciting. At least we can say that now that James wasn’t stuck with frilly knickers for a week!
And to top it all off, 10 days later we realised the bag we nearly took with us was Aimee’s, who we met in BA and enjoyed a drunken pub crawl with in Santiago!
It’s a small world after all…