Just when we thought our passport troubles were behind us, our long distance bus to Buenos Aires was stopped before the Paraguay/Argentina border for a document check. We held our breath as the large man who had boarded our bus looked and looked at Jen and LaMont’s passports. Finally, he went into a lecture about how we needed two stamps: one for exiting a country and one for entering. And we were missing one.
I had to stifle a laugh just because his speech was nearly verbatim what we heard from the border controller a day or two prior. I couldn’t be mad. They are only doing their job and I’m happy to know they actually check that things are being done properly.
But when he explained that our friends were technically in the country illegally, due to their lack of proper stampage (he hadn’t gotten to our passports yet, where the same problem awaited), I had visions of things going terribly wrong, no one listening to our story about it being an honest mistake, and having to watch Jen and LaMont get sent off on the next plane outta there.
Even though he left with our passports for what felt like an entire Lord of the Rings and we began to hear (imagine?) the groans of the other passengers who were ready to get back on the road, they eventually showed grace and we were home free. Phew.
Relaxed and relieved, we tilted our fancy bus seats way, way back and drifted off to sleep. Moments later, our bus stopped and everyone got out. A bathroom break? Why can’t people just use the bathroom on the bus? Why are we the only ones who don’t know what’s going on? Eventually we’re ushered into a nice dining hall where the rest of our bus mates are already seated enjoying an empanada appetizer. Waiters donning fancy suits efficiently served us drinks, a nice chicken and rice meal, and then a flan dessert. We were herded back to the bus as quickly as we entered. On the road again with stomachs full of an unexpectedly legitimate meal, with clocks pushing the midnight hour.
One of the first things we did in Buenos Aires was take a walking tour from a company called BA Free Tours. Our guide was informative and entertaining and spoke clear English. It was tipped base at the end of the tour and I highly recommend it as an intro to the city and the stories behind some hot spots downtown.
Like this normal looking street of businesses near downtown Buenos Aires.
But scroll up for another look. Do you see anything unusual? Along the top of the buildings on the left-hand side? There’s a house! The story is that someone built it there so he could have time to go home for his lunch break. Not a bad idea. It’s right next to the tall Obelisk monument.
We also learned about the congress building that only opens its front doors about once a year when the president visits. (She doesn’t like to have to explain herself to the people, our guide explained with a laugh.)
We saw the Pink House where the president “works.” (Air marks compliments of our tour guide who explained that the president lives a 45-minute helicopter ride from the Pink House. She flies in each day.) You can see when the president is inside the building if there are two Argentine flags flying outside. If she’s not there, there is only one. I found these public symbols interesting since the US sometimes tries to hide where our president is for security reasons.
We admired the monument at the Plaza de Mayo where mothers started meeting to protest the disappearance of their children in the Dirty War. At the time it was illegal for more than 3 people to congregate in public, so the group of mothers broke into groups of 3 and walked around the plaza in protest. To this day, more than 30 years later, they still meet once a week to walk in protest for their children, many who were never found.
We saw the oldest coffee shop in Buenos Aires, Cafe Tortoni, and later went back for drinks. I had tasty sweet churros dunked in the richest hot chocolate. And I do believe the café paired the two menu items especially for dunking purposes. My favorite.
And of course, the city is alive with the spirit of Evita, the beloved former first lady and the base of the musical in her namesake. She’s honored on sides of buildings, shown below, as well as remembered on one of the left balconies of the Pink House, shown 3 photos up, where Evita (and later Madonna playing Evita) passionately spoke to the people.
The city is vibrant and its buildings are entertainment for the eye. It has lush tree-filled plazas to stroll and refreshing fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice for sale on the street.
Through the morning tour and exploring on our own, we started to get our bearings in this new city. Of course all that walking can be tiring, so an ice cream slash coffee break was in order.
We ended the day touring the oldest part of the church, now set up as a museum, that claims the famous Recoleta Cemetery as its own.
Through its small windows we got glimpses of the impressive cemetery which we would tour in all its glory (and I will write about) another day.