Week Thirteen: Argentina

For the penultimate time, I’m tapping away at an iPad keyboard that has travelled many thousands of miles with me, through Caribbean beaches, the jungle, El Salar, Patagonia, waterfalls and more. I have under two weeks left in South America.

Hola a todos,

This time last week I had just returned from Patagonia, my brain still full of wonder over the sheer beauty of such a large area, linked together by long, flat roads traversed by oil lorries and bearded, hitchhiking backpackers.

I’ve since been making the most of Buenos Aires in the knowledge of how little remaining time there is. I’ve re-visited places that I have come to love in the city and stumbled across more spots that need re-visiting in future.

In some ways, I’m ready to come home. I’m salivating at the idea of fish & chips, a curry or just some fresh milk that wasn’t originally a powder. I can’t wait for people to be on time rather than an hour late, I can’t wait to see everyone again. But I’m also realising how much I’ll miss the daily routine of Buenos Aires. People have left already from our group, and it never feels quite the same. I’ll miss the shop beneath our hostel with the incessantly grumpy owner, the butchers who have an incomprehensible strong porteño accent, the empanada shop in San Telmo market, the football shirt collector of two decades in the same place who has told me to start doing the same England, the man who paints with his feet while dancing tango in La Boca. But I’ll come back.

Buenos Aires

It’s been a busy week since Patagonia. Three others and I are all in our final fortnight and we made an unspoken agreement to make every night count. That’s led to a lot of nights leading on long into the day, a lot of good food and even more football shirts, of course.

Coaching has continued, as ever. Last week I had two sessions in the villa (slum) of Rodrigo Bueno. The pitch, as explained previously, is right on the edge of the start of the villa, while just metres away, glass structures shoot skywards to emphasise the painful gap between rich and poor in Buenos Aires.

Both sessions in Rodrigo Bueno were good, with the coach letting us lead our own sessions with the kids. We tried to provide something slightly different from normal to take away from the staleness that can often happen at football training. I tried to instil some English discipline on kids who insisted they always play on the same team. It didn’t go down particularly well and the regular coach gave me a wry smile as he watched on. Hopefully it went some way towards teaching them a lesson. But maybe not.

After coaching on Wednesday, we stepped off the pitch and immediately into the small restaurant that provides delicious large portions of milanesa (schnitzel-like Argentine dish), chips and salad for low prices, accompanied by a sensationally hot sauce that never fails to set fire to the tongue.

Thursday saw another trip downstairs to the stupidly and dangerously convenient nightclub. As good as ever.

The next day, we trekked back to Mercado San Telmo for what must have been my seventh or eighth visit. I returned, as always, to the retro football shirts stall where a short, tanned man with balding hair and thin, wired glasses slowly walks about informing the browsers how rare each shirt is and which famous player donned it in their heyday. I finally bought in stock as I had promised him I would, getting more than half price for each shirt and taking home nine of them. We also ate empanadas, drank iced coffee before strolling out into the sun and catching a taxi home.

On Saturday, we visited another of my favourite places once more, the barrio of La Boca. Colourful, particularly in the golden sun, and intensely touristic, the food is good, the football shirts unashamedly fake and the performers unashamedly asking for money.

Once more, we sat in the sun after a quick walk around, ate choripan and watched a group of drummers reaching the sky with their thumps. Then we made our way to the river (La Boca means the mouth of the river) and watched as the colourful reflections of the houses turned blurry in the sunset.

Homeward bound, we went to Palermo, the main nightlife district and stayed long into the morning before heading to Recoleta Cemetery, one of Buenos Aires’ most popular tourist attractions. Straight from the night out, it was utterly empty and tranquil with sun just beginning to come up.

After a sleep of far too few hours, I headed back to San Telmo, this time to a little bar called La Puerta Roja. Literally translating as The Red Door, it is just that. There’s no external sign to show a bar exists, except a small chalkboard advertising the biggest upcoming football games and their timings. You open an always-shut metal door, climb up a set of stairs and find yourself in a great football-watching bar with cheap beer and great food, each portion the size of a meal for three.

To start off the new week on Monday, coaching began again and would end up being my final volunteering session with the charity in Buenos Aires. Rain has called off all sessions since. Afterwards, we directed ourselves to Afromood, the Monday night Afro-music group who perform in Palermo. It’s in a small bar, the floor is slippy and it only aids the extravagant dancing everyone is encouraged to do by the brilliant mood that surrounds them.

Don Julio

On Tuesday, I finally got a luxurious taste of Buenos Aires steak. The meat so far has been fantastic, and cheap. But I’ve been saving a trip to the city’s finest establishment for my final week and it has finally come round.

With rain imminent, we were dismayed to be told it was an hour-and-a-half wait for a table for six, but we chose to stay. We were quickly handed a glass of champagne each and then small trays of empanadas were brought round to accompany the unlimited supply of free drink.

That made the wait pass quickly and we were soon brought into the back of the restaurant where the thunderstorm outside couldn’t be heard and given seriously fancy service. Fresh bread dumped onto the table with brilliant chumicurri sauce before ordering Malbec from Mendoza as is customary.

The steak came in enormous portions, double what you would normally expected, and cooked perfectly on its own plate. The chips came separately, and weren’t needed at all. Steaks the size of a human head would be enough to satisfy our appetite.

It was truly Argentine, finishing past 1AM and we grabbed a taxi home to avoid the thunderstorm which has carried on since and caused us to be under near house arrest.

Next

A few more days in Buenos Aires before leaving to Rio de Janeiro on Sunday where my ever-improving Spanish will be completely useless. Two Copa America matches, one in Rio and one in Sao Paolo, and then back home on the 21st, landing the next day in London.

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