We hired a private tour guide that Julie found on the web named Pedro Werberg. We walked the city and took taxis where it was too far to walk, hitting all of the highlights. We even rode a few stops on their subway train, which was the first one in South America and began operation in 1913. The car was original.
Given what is happening in Egypt, we visited their version of Liberty Square, which is smaller, but serves similar purposes. On Liberty Square is Casa Rosa where Juan and Evita Peron delivered their memorable speeches.
We visited a cathedral, which included the burial site of General Don Jose San Martin who freed Argentina (and Chile, Peru, and Equador) from the Spanish. As you can see, it is protected by an honor guard.
The architecture is very eclectic with much imported from Europe (both the architects and the building materials, statues, etc.). We saw lots of Italian, French and English influences. The city feels very European.
La Boca is the colorful area of Buenos Aries, developed by artists. The tango was born in this area.
We visited the San Telmo Market where meats, produce and antiques are sold.
We talked a lot about the history of Argentina from the Spanish through the Revolution (in 1812). After that, there was immigration from Europe, especially Italians. Interestingly, the people tend to be very Italian in the way they talk with their hands and are louder. There was even a point where they had to choose whether the language would be Spanish or Italian. After the revolution, the economy grew mostly around cattle and its byproducts. The 1940’s brought a dictatorship from Juan and Eva Peron. When Eva died, Juan went off the deep end and was deposed. They are still spoken of very reverently, because they were very much for the working class people. But they were most definitely a dictatorship.
In 2001 they had a major meltdown with 2000% inflation. So they pretty much took everyone’s savings away and devalued the peso by taking zeros off the currency.
We visited the business district which has the San Martin square in the middle.
Today, everything is controlled by the unions, although they still have 25% inflation. Health care is two tiered. The basic one is free, but not very good. If you are part of a union or a private company, then you get better, private health care (but it is expensive). They try to do things very inexpensively and get the job done, but not necessarily in a high quality way. The universities are completely free to anyone (even foreigners). They were taken over by the military when they were in power in the late 70’s and early 80’s and haven’t really recovered. That was when the Falkland War occurred, which the military dictator did in order to try to improve his popularity. The war lasted only 45 days and England eventually kicked the Argentinians out of the islands. The people of the Falkland’s are very British and taking them over really didn’t make any sense. The Argentine people don’t really care. Argentina lost 600 soldiers in the war. This is the memorial to them:
Our last stop we visited the Recoleta cemetery which had amazing crypts. The most illustrious citizens of Buenos Aries are buried there, including Evita. Both of these are crypt pictures (even though the second one looks like a building).
The tour was quite excellent. We really hit all of the city highlights and didn’t have to just sit on a bus to see them. With just Pedro and the two of us, we were able to ask any question and really get a feeling for life in BA. I highly recommend touring with him.
For the evening, we went to dinner and ate Argentine beef at a restaurant that Pedro recommended – The Happening. We went early (we didn’t have any lunch) and were almost the only people in the restaurant. It was cool because it was on a canal right near the River Plata. We ate outside (which it turned out cost each of us an extra $11 (pesos)). At the table near us was someone famous (we never found out who he was), but lots of people were watching him and a few even came up with and asked for autographs.
Argentine beef is famous because it is grass fed. However, Pedro informed us that more and more Argentine beef is being fed on feed because it is cheaper. When we were walking home, there was what appeared to be a massive protest of some kind (Pedro says that there are people protesting pretty much all of the time for one cause or another). They had an Armored Personal Carrier, police on horseback, the whole 9 yards. As we got closer, we saw the signs which all said freedom of speech (in English). Then we saw the cameras – and heard them shout “actiona” (or something like that). They were filming some kind of scene.
A couple of interesting observations:
1. Not very many people speak English. This is definitely in contrast with our visits to Europe where it was prevalent. It definitely makes things harder since we speak so little Spanish.
2. According to Pedro an awful lot of people are completely uneducated as they don’t see the point in it.
3. They don’t charge you to go into the churches, or the cemetery, or pretty much anything. It is an obvious source of revenue, but something that they just haven’t realized or feel won’t work with their population.
4. There is graffiti everywhere. Interestingly, it has nothing to do with gangs, it is all about various political parties protesting. Something they do a lot.
5. There is apparently a lot of crime (pick pockets, etc.) and one has to be very careful. When we met Pedro, he made sure that we didn’t have anything in our back pockets, no observable jewelry, etc.