In planning our future destinations in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, we realized that bulky fleece jackets and woolen sweaters would be unnecessary as we traveled back into warmer equatorial weather. Abby and I needed the postal services available in a real city in order to ship our big box of clothes and extra Spanish-language books back to the States where Rusty’s brother, Ron, would receive and store them for us at his home near Sacramento.
So we headed for La Plata, Argentina. This meant bussing north through the coastal farmlands for five hours, but we would still be an hour’s drive southeast of Buenos Aires.
La Plata has half-a-million inhabitants and is the capital of the province of Buenos Aires. I realize this is a bit confusing because Argentina’s capital city is named Buenos Aires and forms its own federal-governmental district, just like Washington, D.C. However, Argentines liked the name so much that they also chose to name the surrounding province Buenos Aires—and its capital is the city of La Plata.
La Plata is a perfect example of how an urban planner’s great-sounding mental model turned into a royal mess when implemented on the ground. The city has the shape of an immense square with a central park and two main diagonal avenues, north-south and east-west. Other than the diagonals, all streets are on a rectangular grid. However, these diagonals intersect the regular right-angle intersections resulting in a six-way star of criss-crossing cars. As pedestrians, we were forced to look out for that dangerous and unexpected traffic of an extra street’s oncoming and turning vehicles. These diagonals had their own awkwardly placed and hard-to-see signals so you never knew whether they had red or green lights before you stepped off the curb. And for some reason, the diagonals never had street signs along them, so using them for city navigation was worse than useless.
Because the hostel in Mar Chiquita had no internet, we had no way to book ahead for our next place to stay. So Abby waited with our bags at the bus station while I spent an hour walking the surrounding blocks checking out the hotels we’d read about in our guide books. Although the first two places were small and dingy, they were surprisingly expensive at $65 and $80 per night. But a fortunate wrong turn at a diagonal street took me to the Benevento Hotel, a lovely old mansion that had been converted into a beautiful boutique inn. However, I was disappointed to learn that their best off-season rates were still $97 for their matrimonial double room.
Discouraged, I went back to the bus station to report my findings to Abby. To my surprise, she suggested that we splurge and stay at the Benevento in order to enjoy the luxury of a big, clean, comfortable bedroom and bathroom—a refreshing change from our previous rustic lodgings. I was thrilled that my secret wish was also shared by my spouse.
The next morning, we went down to the dining room to see what their breakfast offered. To our amazement, in addition to the customary croissants, we beheld tables spread with pastries, pies, cakes, and cookies. Though tempting, we were relieved to see that they also offered a big bowl of fresh fruit, a variety of cold cereals, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
During our last breakfast there, we met two families sitting at a neighboring table—one from El Dorado Hills, California (15 miles from Ron’s home in Orangevale!), and the other formerly from California and now living in La Plata. Each had a 12-year-old boy in soccer gear, as were their two dads. We learned they’d enrolled in a one-week soccer camp taught by a premier Argentine coach. On this particular morning, all the fruit and cereal was gone, leaving only sweets. Abby then overheard a conversation between those two boys that surprised and delighted her. As they looked at the breakfast selection, one boy said to the other, “There’s nothing healthy here to eat!” Abby laughed and complimented him on his astute observation. He then said, “This all looks so heavenly, but I know it won’t be good for me.” Abby was pleased with what a great job his parents had done on teaching him about nutrition. Those sugar-loving Argentines could learn much from that All-American boy!
Near our hotel, we found a crafts store that sold us a sturdy cardboard carton the size we’d estimated to hold all our surplus stuff. Back in our room, we each did a final inventory of our belongings, separating things into a must-have pile and a box-up pile. Everything to go fit snugly to the very top of our box, so I carried it the five or so blocks to the city’s central post office.
At the international-shipping counter, the woman clerk did a cursory check of the contents and then weighed it all. Following our hotel manager’s recommendation, we chose to send it by certified mail to better ensure safe delivery, but we didn’t really know what method was most cost effective. We had hoped to keep the total cost under $150, but when we learned that our box required $200 in postage, we decided we’d pay the extra $50 in order to send it on its way.
Some how on our bus trip to La Plata, I picked up some bad bacteria that started my lower digestive tract rumbling. By that afternoon, I was feeling its full effects. Although we’d only planned to spend two days in La Plata, Abby and I were both relieved that we had such comfortable quarters in which I could rest and recuperate for two extra days.
Once on the mend, I joined Abby on a tour of La Plata’s highly rated museum of natural history. We found that it contained an incredibly broad presentation of anthropological and biological specimens, sort of a miniature Smithsonian. We were especially impressed with their display of ceramics from every major Central and South American indigenous culture, and we wondered how they’d amassed such a high-quality collection from so many different countries.
Our lovely little hotel: The Benevento
The big park at the city’s center offered broad boulevards and tree-lined sidewalks.
Within the park, we found this impressive entrance to their museum.
Abby admires this saber-toothed tiger guardian.
That’s one big, ugly armidillo!
A creature from our nightmares: a prehistoric tarantula!
This beautiful collection of pre-Columbian pottery showed both amazing realism and whimsical artistry.
We next made plans to move northwest to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital and the second largest city in South America, (at three million, just behind Sao Paulo, Brazil). From our readings and discussions with fellow travelers, we were prepared to experience its extremes of both beauty and blight common to all of the world’s mega-cities. We hoped to find and focus on the beauty as much as possible.
We loved these twisting, tall trees that shaded many of the residential avenues.
Based on an enthusiastic recommendation from a Belgian couple we’d met while at Lake Titicaca, we chose a bed and breakfast located in the Palermo Soho district called the Gorriti 4290 (also its address). From the outside, it looked just like the other weathered and graffiti-covered buildings on that block. But inside was a beautifully restored and expanded old house that had a central solarium surrounded by big, bright bedrooms for the guests. Its owner and manager was named Hernan, and he and his wife, infant child, and dog made their home in one wing on the first floor. Hernan spoke excellent English and skillfully balanced being both a stay-at-home dad and serving as our source for extensive tourist information for places to visit, shop, and eat. The closest restaurant he recommended was La Escondida, a parilla with an unexpectedly lavish salad bar that came with each meal. After our first lunch there, we returned for two more delicious dinners.
Hernan looks up information on his iPhone at the breakfast table where he always had fresh squeezed OJ, fruit, great coffee, and selection of breads.
Our primary goal while in Buenos Aires was to obtain a guidebook to all of Brazil written in English so that we could start planning in detail that next major phase of our journey. Although we’d downloaded an e-book version of the Moon Guide to Brazil on Abby’s Nook, it just didn’t work for making notes or referencing maps. So far, no bookstore we’d visited anywhere in Argentina had what we needed. During each of our three days exploring the different districts of this vast city, we spent hours checking in every available new and used shop, large or small, that we could find. But not a single English-language version existed anywhere. Because of these long and fruitless searches, we failed to find time to visit a tango club and see that sensuous dance done by professionals. However, we learned that most of these authentic night clubs didn’t get going until nearly midnight, so we might not have been able to stay up a lot later anyway.
We found this cultured cat that reminded us of Panda, but no English guide books.
This is the biggest and most beautiful bookstore we’d ever seen!
A 19th century playhouse converted in the 1920s to this resplendent bookstore.
You could take one of the box seats to examine your selections before you bought it.
The stage serves as a coffee shop—Starbucks can’t top this!
City folks here loved their dogs, but hired professional walkers to get them out for exercise during the day; this expert waits with 15 dogs plus his bicycle!
This big pack takes a break in a small, shady park.
This park’s mural even celebrates their love of dogs—we just wished they’d clean up after them!
Must be a novice, he only has seven dogs.
The other goal of Abby’s while in Buenos Aires was to visit the Recoleta Cemetery, an immense and eerie city of the dead and the location of Eva (“Evita”) Peron Duarte’s tomb.
The impressive entrance to this popular tourist site.
This map to all the crypts shows just how huge this cemetery is.
This city of the dead has Buenos Aires’ most expensive real estate.
We came across several cats here, a sanctuary from all the dogs outside the gates.
Down this unmarked side lane, we found the Duarte crypt and resting place for Evita.
One of our favorite days was our exploration of the Parque Tres de Febrero. This extensive river-side park system held an incredible variety of recreational and cultural facilities, including a botanical garden, a zoo, and the museum of modern South American art.
Both exotic and common plants abound in the botanical gardens.
This one reminded us of the Little Shop of Horrors.
We discovered what the yerba mate tea plant looks like.
This park is a popular for lunch-time siestas…
Including a large collection of cats who loved the protection of this dog-free gated park.
These pools mark the entrance to the old-fashioned zoological gardens.
An unusual two-tiered carrousel.
Several types of animals freely roam the grounds.
Rusty gets a closeup of one of the zoo’s many semi-tame maras.
Maras look like a weird mix of rabbit, deer, and goat.
A South American capybara, the world’s biggest rodent.
This 19th-century zoo still uses tiny spaces for humans to see its animals: here are african elephants in an imitation Indian temple.
A lazy lion with nothing to do but sleep in the sun.
The Museum of Modern South American Art
Unfortunately, the art of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and others we wanted to see was on loan to the U.S. and much of the replacement art was almost pornographic.
This museum’s cafe was the place to eat amazing pastries and see the city’s beautiful people socializing on its patio.
This former train station is now an upscale shopping center.
Plaza San Martin looking toward the Casa Rosada, the former president’s palace where Evita spoke to her followers from the balcony.
Corrientes Avenue with its obelisk that mimics the Washington Monument.
Early European-inspired architecture.
View across the Plaza de los Congresos to their capitol building.
Posters of current Presidente Cristina Fernández de Kirchner fill many public spaces.
Here Presidente Kirchner announces the nationalization of a multibillion dollar Spanish oil company.
The memorial to 649 Argentines that died in the 74-day 1982 Falklands/Malvinas war with Great Britain is decorated for its recent 30th anniversary commemoration. Presidente Kirchner used the anniversary to demand that Great Britain return the islands to Argentina. Great Britain ignored her.
Puerto Medero’s redeveloped waterfront—its warehouses are now trendy shops and ritzy restaurants with rollerbladers and walkers along its promenade.
In the foreground is the sailing ship Corvette Uruguay.
The Puente de la Muher (Bridge of the Woman) is said to reflect the passion of a tango dancer.
The Frigate Presidente Sarmiento.
The Tony Award-winning musical, Next to Normal, was written by Brian Yorkey (an Issaquah High graduate who’s now a famous playwright)—here’s a billboard showing that the play has come to Buenos Aires.
We enjoyed our four days in Buenos Aires and, even though the guidebooks warned us of potential crimes against tourists, we had no problems anywhere we walked, day or night. Our two months in Argentina had surpassed our most optimistic expectations for the beauty of its land, warmth of its people, and the excellence of its cuisine!
Onward next across the Rio Plata by ferry to Montevideo, Uruguay.