Days: 378-381 (8 July 2015 – 11 July 2015)
Total distance travelled: 84,319.66 kilometres (52,372.46 miles)
Argentina’s Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day) was almost upon us, but before that we had another day out in the capital, just Sarah and I.
Our now normal walk to one of the two nearby train stations had us wondering if people we’re queuing for a new Apple release, as the streets were packed with solid lines of people.
Turns out it was in fact pay day, and this line was simply locals withdrawing their entire earnings from their account!
This by all accounts is not unusual behaviour, as ever since the economic crash here in 2001 (where people lost a lot of money), there has been no trust in the banks.
After taking in this mini circus, we were headed downtown where we breakfasted on a serve of what might possibly be our last empanadas in Argentina, before making our way to the San Telmo district and a building known as El Zanjon.
Back in the 1980’s, this was a decrepit former tenement building in a run down quarter of the city, on the brink of collapse, and purchased by an enterprising local with dreams of opening a grand, new restaurant here.
Then they found the tunnels…
Turns out a stream once ran through this neighbourhood, and at some point it had been built over, hence these ancient tunnels that had been unearthed.
We almost baulked at the entrance fee, but decided it was too unique an opportunity to pass up.
Essentially under restoration for the thirty years since its discovery, this privately funded enterprise (it’s no government funded affair) allows a glimpse into the city’s past, all the way back to the 1530’s.
True, the building wasn’t constructed then, however the stream was indeed here at that time, so therein lies the connection.
An explore of and through the levels of the building, tastefully and indeed elegantly restored (certain areas are used to host functions, just one way the museum can recoup some of the costs from the restoration), one can see the different layers, built one atop the other as the building itself has evolved.
Originally a lavish home, it was converted over hundreds of years into a tenement block (basically a crowded, dirty property for poor families).
Indeed most of the visible structure is this 19th century construction, however as the people of El Zanjon say themselves, it is possible to see “foundations, old walls, floors, water wells, sewage pits which were built and destroyed between 1730 and 1865.“.
The exhibition is complemented well by old maps and illustrations of the various periods that have overlapped with the locations life, whilst the areas beneath are well ventilated and climate controlled (indeed their is even a library available to dedicated researchers down there), not at all damp or musty.
In all, it was a fascinating place.
Now insert another night of sleep, and we find ourselves waking on Dia de la Independencia, a national holiday!
After witnessing higher levels of patriotism here than we generally see at home, we woke with misplaced expectations of a grand celebration within the capital.
Insert that Argentinean quirk, where the raucous celebrations seem to occur only where the event took place (in this case, the region of Tucuman I believe), whilst elsewhere, people just enjoy the holiday.
But plans we had however, as it coincided perfectly with our final day and night in the country.
We’d been invited to family affairs with both Carolina and Nacho’s families.
Suddenly we had visions of food comas…
A short walk found us at the home of Carolina’s sister, where the whole family would soon be arriving, and it was there that we watched the magic of an Argentinean barbecue unfold.
Sure, there were salads, but who could resist those ridiculously good scents wafting from the barbecue, or the plates of hot cheese that were placed before us.
It was potentially life threatening for the arteries, but so deliciously good!
We were by now completely stuffed and ready to burst, but our day was not yet done.
There still remained Nacho’s side of the family, and they insisted on kicking the afternoon off with a bit of additional, last minute sight-seeing.
It started off with a bit of family indulgence, taking us a couple of neighbourhoods over to visit the football (soccer) stadium that hosts Banfield, the team they so passionately support, and that Sarah and myself could not help but adopt as our own.
In a sense the football theme continued, as we were next headed to la Boca, the neighbourhood famous the world over for one of the most famous football clubs anywhere, Boca Juniors.
Now this particular hood comes with a bit of a rough reputation, and we witnessed first hand some of its inner workings seconds after we found a park and began to make our way from the vehicle.
Suddenly a young guy approached who we’d earlier noted working under the hood of a nearby car.
After asking if we were okay, for a small fee, he’d watch the car.
That’s right, protection money, and as our Argentinean companions explained, if we didn’t pay them anything, the car would not be okay!
But worry not, this time it was cheap.
On Boca match-days, apparently the going rate is around $200.00 US!!
It seemed so foreign to us, but as our friends (and eventually us) would like to say, it shouldn’t be normal, “Pero… es Argentina!” (But… it’s Argentina)
At least the area itself was cute enough.
In fact the whole neighbourhood was one beautiful maze of cobbled streets and colourful buildings.
You could see it wasn’t a place gifted with a lot of wealth, but these days the area seems to do much better, if the steady stream of tourists is anything to gauge by…
It all seemed far too soon that we were seated at yet another dinner table, still bloated from lunch, but somehow now expected to push on and get both a large dinner and dessert into us.
Laughter was the order of the night, as Nacho and his dad baited his mum into all sorts of playful arguments.
Somehow we got our food down, by now we were all feeling very lethargic having eaten the equivalent of our body weights in meat… but it was one hell of an enjoyable day.
* Entrance into El Zanjon cost us $150.00 pesos per person including an English speaking guide (it’s not possible to wander independently).
* The day of independence for Argentina is on the 9th of July.