Week Seven: Argentina

Seven weeks travelling are done and I’m well and truly adjusted to Argentinian/South American time. That’s why this blog is a day late. It’s also being written in the two free days I have off volunteering because of both a strike and a national holiday. They are frequent.

Hola a todos,

Buenos Aires, as I said last week, is a Latin American city with a European feel. And it already feels pretty homely, too.

Buenos Aires

Over the last week, I’ve become undeniably accustomed to the Argentinian lifestyle. Late nights, slow mornings, evening naps, large beers, big meals, Dulce de Leche at all times and zero work done.

An English work ethic seems miles away from me right now. The Argentines like to laugh at that fact. They are much more social, family/friend-orientated than we are and probably happier, although much less productive.

Last Tuesday was my first day coaching with the charity, United Through Sport. An hour of volleyball and an hour of football were both fun. I’m coaching in the area of the city called Barracas which is in between the area of Recoleta, a nice place where I’m staying, and the ‘slums’ of the city where the kids live.

The coaching is, of course, fun, as it always is. It mainly consists of playing with the kids rather than any coaching, but that’s not the main point. As one of the full-time football coaches said after a punch up in training, the point is not improving people as footballers, but as people.

It’s quite symbolic when all the volunteers (including me) head back to the ‘city’ after training on the number 37 bus while all the kids walk in the opposite direction on the same road down towards the ‘slums’.

I trained with a teenage football team on Wednesday evening and any ideas of a relaxed playing style quickly disappeared when a crunching tackle came my way after two minutes. Aggression is probably the main characteristic of Argentine football games.

The teenagers weren’t quite as open as the kids from the previous day to volunteers and foreigners coming to help. But, thankfully, I managed to score a few goals and earn at least a bit of respect from them and now, like in Colombia, I’m greeted in a friendly manner by most of the group.

Since then, I’ve coached them a couple more times but the best bits of being in Buenos Aires have been the nightlife, including the club that is directly downstairs from our accommodation, and just being able to settle in to somewhere properly. I’ve cooked food in big portions to last a week and that’s oddly satisfying.

Over the weekend, I was busy. On Saturday, I visited the area of La Boca, the home of Boca Juniors and La Bombonera. A Dutch guy and I both admitted we felt like six-year-old kids again when we quite literally stumbled across one of the most iconic football stadiums in world football. It’s special. And I’ll be going back just to look at it and the area around it many times.

The nearby neighbourhood is also great, although very touristy. La Boca has a tourist-focused market with fake football shirts (I have bought seven in the last week. Oops), maté cups (maté is a traditional Argentinian tea kind of drink) and much more. It’s colourful with loads of graffiti and lots of friendly people.

On Sunday, we Uber-d our way to San Telmo market. It’s a market, in San Telmo. It is also very touristy but nice, and more importantly, I found a bar to watch Manchester United draw disappointingly to Chelsea. With cheap beer and food, it didn’t really matter.

And after watching that game, I headed to Argentinos Juniors, the football club where Diego Maradona first played, to watch them take on San Lorenzo (another porteño club) in the Copa Superliga. I was joined by two Dutch guys and another Londoner and we managed to get a ticket in the lively section of the ground that was basked in sun.

The smell of marijuana was unavoidable, as was the sight of almost everyone surrounding us lighting up a joint. Above us were use strips of material in the colours of Argentinos Juniors and for the 90 minutes, we sang as best as we could with the ‘ultras’ while being burnt by the Sun. It was fantastic. Juniors won 1-0.

To start this week, I’ve been coaching some more but the last two days have been free because of strikes and holidays, and so I visited the River Plate Stadium to try and buy tickets for one of their upcoming matches. After an intensely stressful four hours involving a long online queue, a 90-second window in which to purchase tickets and many failed attempts, we have secured four tickets to River Plate against Internacional (a Brazilian team) in the Copa Libertadores (the South American continental club tournament). That’ll be great.

Buenos Aires already feels like home and I’ve met great people here from all over the world (mainly English-speaking so far). This weekend, I’ll head to Iguazu Falls with some of them to see some of the largest waterfalls in the world on the Argentinian-Brazilian border.

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