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Wander Woman

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

31 May 2005 (Tuesday) – Buenos Aires, Argentina

What would I do today? Wander around again, I supposed. Yes, after all, wandering around was how I had grown to know and love the city. My 2 months here in 2002 were spent checking out this barrio (neighbourhood) and that, navigating around by taking random buses using the excellent “Guia T” (Buenos Aires’ mammoth of a street directory with details on bus routes and everything), meandering down various streets and getting the feel of the barrios – ultra-snooty (Recoleta, San Isidro), upper-middle-class (Palermo, Belgrano), middle-class (Caballito, Flores, Floresta), somewhat low-class (Chacarita) and downright trashy (Once, near La Boca).

I was walking towards Av. Rivadavia along Av. Medrano when lo and behold, I happened upon Claudio, Claudia’s ex-husband!

Imagine, in an immense city of 12 million people (or rather 12.5 million as corrected by Claudio), with A LOT OF criss-crossing streets and an infinite time-span, what are the odds of anyone running into anyone familiar in this city, especially for me when I know like, what, 5 people here? Buenos Aires’ streets are designed such that in general, a block is about 100 m long. So after each 100 m, there would be a street that cuts across. Hence, at each intersection, there are 4 possibilities of heading off. As I had mentioned yesterday, the number of possible ways to go anywhere is frankly infinite as well! ¡Que raro!

Yummy chocolate and sweets from a traditional cafe Las Violetas along Av. Rivadavia

Once I reached Av. Rivadavia, for want of a destination to meander to, I decided to try and walk about 40 blocks to the barrio Floresta where I had stayed for 2 months then. Well, for old time sake. I am c-r-a-z-y!

Walking along the LONG Av. Rivadavia

It was a rather pleasant walk, as I stopped by kioscos to grab a superpancho (hot-dog) and a drink, admired the flowers found in the numerous florists located at nearly every block along this avenue, recognised this church and that park, enjoyed the aromas of mani (peanuts) and choripans (barbecued sausages clasped in buns) being cooked on the streets, avoided dogs’ poo and also the footprint stains of those who did not manage to avoid the dogs’ poo (often overlooked), popped into different stores having whatever on sale. The avenue is very long and the feel of the area subtly changed from fashionably trendy clothes stores and bookshops (around Caballito) to rather run-down shops selling tacky household wares and antiques.

I took my time but I was exhausted by the end of the walk. I grabbed a bus to try and go to Chacarita where there is a cemetery which I thought I could check out. Oooo… the area looked downright dodgy but by then, the cemetery had closed. As the bus passed by Av. Cordoba, I instinctively hopped off. I figured I would try and head home from here. Oh well, it was another 20 blocks to cover. ¡Vamos!

That evening, I met up with Diego, a new friend who had contacted me through Virtual Tourist, a travel-related website. We headed to Palermo Soho for a bite and a drink. Usually, on weekends, this area would be full of people but today, it was very quiet. The night scene of Buenos Aires had frankly changed a lot since the fire disaster in late December 2004 where more than 190 young people were killed. I did not know that they were killed from cyanide poisoning, some sort of chemical reaction that happened when the roof caught fire, and not from smoke inhalation! Gosh, I had no idea at all. The incident happened merely 3 days after the tsunami disaster in Asia. In Singapore, I remember reading a tiny article about the fire disaster in Buenos Aires but well, there and then, the news was just full of the tsunami horrors that had happened at our doorstep, nothing much about the rest of the world. Since the fire, many discotheques closed down in Buenos Aires and the night scene basically died with it. Slowly, they are coming back, it seemed, as Diego informed me.

Drinks with Diego in Palermo Soho

As I headed home at 11pm or so, I passed by several restaurants near Claudia’s house. Sheesh, this was another characteristic of Buenos Aires that I found quite interesting. At 7pm just now, when I was here, the restaurants were empty and I had thought that the food here must be crappy since obviously no one came. But now, they were all full, the Chinese restaurant, the bife restaurant, all full. Gosh. The porteños just enjoy going out really late.

I collapsed into the couch soon after I got home. I calculated the distance I covered today – well, nearly 14km.

Hmmm… useless amusing statistics time – My country, Singapore, is what… 45 km long? So, effectively, I covered 1/3 of the length of my country. My goodness, tomorrow, I am taking a break!


Monday, May 30th, 2005

30 May 2005 (Monday) – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Despite the weather report of 8-15ºC temperature today, the sky was cloudless and blue and the day looked wonderful. Quite unlike the rainy day of yesterday.

I had no idea what I would do today. In fact, I had no idea what I would do over the next few days in Buenos Aires. I just figured that somehow I would find something to amuse myself with. Well, today just looked like a great day to wander around the city centre to reacquaint myself with Buenos Aires.

Claudia’s apartment is about 30 mins by colectivo to the centre. But, hey, let’s just walk there. I trotted along Av. Cordoba, popping into the odd grocery and fruit stores until the perpendicular street names started looking familiar to me.

Junin! Hey, Junin 500+ was where I studied Spanish for 2 months about 2.5 years ago! I skipped down 4 blocks to check out the school. Hmmm… it had moved 3 more blocks further down. Oh well, not quite the same anymore. But looking around me, I felt quite happy as I started to recognise this familiar area with the many textile stores.

I passed by Ayacucho, Riobamba, Callao and when I came upon Rodriguez Peña, I actually remembered a great asado place at Rodriguez Peña 600+ and decided to see if the restaurant was still there. Yes, it was and the asado was still as superb as before… yum yum… but at a higher price than 2.5 years ago.

Indeed, Claudia had mentioned last night that prices for things were starting to climb these few years, but unfortunately not their salaries. However, she admitted that overall, things were much, much better than before. Many more people have jobs now and seem to have better confidence for the future. Well, the plane from South Africa to Buenos Aires was probably half-filled with Argentines. So, I must say things must be going great now.

As I made sudden turns here and there, dashed across this and that street depending on which one had the ‘little yellowish-white walking man’ on (traffic lights in Buenos Aires do not usually have the ‘little green walking man’) and zig-zagged down the various streets and avenues – Viamonte, Montevideo, Paraguay, Parana, Santa Fe, Talcahuano, etc… it reminded me a little of a Jorge Luis Borges story “The Garden of Forking Paths” (or any of his limitless, infinity stories) at the endless possibilities, almost like a labyrinth, of heading to the city centre.

Palacio de Congreso

And so, again, I pondered upon my sudden decision to leave my job and take the path of heading to South America. Yes, I am still, NOW, still somewhat getting used to this idea and I am ALREADY in Argentina! I made the decision, I know. I bought the ticket, I know. And I boarded the plane 2 nights ago, that’s for sure. Now, standing here and feeling all NORMAL about things when I am halfway across the world, surrounded by people who look, speak and think differently from me, living in the opposite time-zone from my body-clock. Yep, I feel normal. I feel happy, yes, but normal. I am not feeling overwhelmed, if you know what I mean. I feel that this is just another path that I happened to take and so, let’s see where it heads. What is going on with me, you ask? I am still figuring things out in my head. Well, considering my whole bodyclock is out-of-whack, I am still on the sensory mode of my trip now. No philosophical musings as yet, haha.

Finally, I reached Calle Florida. Previously, I had mentioned that Buenos Aires is a booklover’s paradise. Now I know one of the reasons why I came back. I flew halfway across the world to browse at books I do not know how to read. I was ecstatic as I popped in and out of 4 or 5 bookstores consecutively. You cannot imagine the number of bookstores in this city! And each time I popped myself into one, there were always many other serious browsers – young and old – some making inquiries, others with several books clasped preciously in their hands. Books are very much part of their culture. 2 years ago, I headed straight to the English sections, if any. This time round, I fingered at some of these Spanish books rather seriously. In El Ateneo, one of the most beautiful bookstores here in Calle Florida, I took a couple of books and sat in the corner to read. Hmmm… I was not doing so badly. Perhaps, I would buy some later.

Shopping crowd at Calle Florida

Galerias Pacifico along Calle Florida

I recognised an elderly tango guy in front of C&A Department Store. This was ‘his spot’ 2 years ago as well. The lady looked familiar, but somewhat different. She seemed to have slapped on some weight. Oh well, so have I, so shut up. I still did not enjoy the performance from this couple, so I moved on. Later, at the junction of Calles Florida and Lavalle, I spotted another tango street performance. Yes, this other tango guy is the same one as the excellent dancer I liked 2 years ago. But the fish-net-stockings-clad, scarlet lipsticked ladies (he has 2 now) are definitely different. The other one had moved on.

Street Tango at the junction of Calle Florida and Lavalle, usually around 6pm

Ah, Buenos Aires… some things have changed, some have remained the same. My favourite parrillada (barbecued beef place) is still here. My favourite heladeria (ice-cream parlour) is gone. Well, nothing is permanent. Everything needs to move on and close a chapter in order to begin another one. Here I am, beginning a new chapter. And just like the falling leaves from the trees around the city, they have to wither in autumn in order to grow again come spring. Sounds like my job situation.

Halfway Across the Globe and Turn Left

Monday, May 30th, 2005
28 May 2005 (Saturday) - 29 May 2005 (Sunday) - Singapore to Buenos Aires, Argentina My first 2 days of travels were quite a blur for me. I only started laying out everything to be packed at 2pm in the afternoon of ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Night Before the Trip

Friday, May 27th, 2005
I've pulled this stunt before... Nearly 3 years ago, I left my job and did a RTW for 1 year. The ramblings of that trip are posted in Bootsnall RTW Travelogues 'The Year of Living Differently' at  And now... much ... [Continue reading this entry]