Sunday, 29 April 2012

snapshots: recoleta cemetery

14th April 2012

Buenos Aires, Argentina

              Just north of the city centre in Buenos Aires lies the upper-class neigbourhood of Recoleta. After strolling around the area I came across the high concrete walls of the famous Recoleta Cemetery which is home to the departed souls of some of Argentina´s most famous figures including celebrities, writers, presidents, artists and Evita herself. The cemetery was built in 1732 and due to the high profile of its inhabitants the tombs and graves are lavishly opulent in their design and construction. Marble sepulchres line the wide boulevards and narrow alleyways that connect this small city of death together and walking through the blocks of tombs I was amazed at the architectural engineering that went into creating some of these graves. Fallen angels stand side by side with proud presidents and a muted silence covers the gloomy metropolis which plays in great contrast to the hustle and bustle of the surrounding neighbourhood. Glancing into the sky, hooded figures gaze down at the crowds of people while marble crosses dazzle under slices of sunlight which reflect off their smooth surfaces. I took some photographs of my favourite tombs, I hope you see past their morbidity and appreciate the beauty on display.


The Skyscraper Tomb.
Cathedral Tomb.

Fallen Angel.

Eva Peron, more affectionately known as Evita by the Argentine people, rests in the Recoleta Cemetery under her family name of Duarte. Eva Peron was the second wife of President Juan Peron and she became a hero for the working class descamisados "shirtless ones" due to her political speeches concerning labor rights. She also championed women´s suffrage in Argentina and headed several charities. She also attempted to run for position of Vice President of the country but had to withdraw her candidacy due to her declining health . Just before her death (she died from cancer at just 33) she was given the title of "Spiritual Leader of the Nation" by the Argentine Congress and is still highly revered among the Argentine people today.

a week in buenos aires

12th - 18th Apirl 2012

Buenos Aires, Argentina

             So after 185 days and seven wildly different countries, I awoke on the 12th April aboard Aerolineas Argentinas flight 1183 after an eleven hour slog across the Pacific Ocean to find myself touching down in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, where I begin the final leg of this world wide trip. In a bizarre case of back to the future, I left Auckland at 19.00 on the 12th April and arrived in the capital of Argentina at 15.00 on the 12th April, which has left my body clock well and truly baffled and has turned me into a bit of an insomniac as I constantly find myself wide awake in bed all night and then shuffling through the streets in a zombie-like state during the day as I struggle to stay awake and adjust. After getting off the plane I decided to get the local bus into town rather than the expensive tourist wagon that was in operation outside the terminal doors. I therefore hauled my bag onto a pretty efficient looking bus which powered towards the centre of town, gradually picking up more and more people until I was rammed against the back window, totally unsure of where we were and when I was supposed to be getting off. Straight from the offset it became glaringly obvious that my complete lack of Spanish was going to be a problem because unlike Asia you can't really get by here purely on English. Many people spoke English in India as it is taught at school plus colonial flashbacks etc. and South East Asia was so rammed with other backpackers that unfortunately I rarely strayed from the universal English that pretty much every other traveller speaks. This of course made things very easy for me as English is my native language but it also made me lazy as their was no direct and demanding urgency to learn another tongue. My personal introduction to Argentina turned this notion on its head and it seemed that things would have to change. Although I speak very little Spanish, I am eager to pick up whatever I can in the time I have as learning the language of any country one travels to undoubtedly enriches the experience to no end. Spanish is also the first language I have come cross on this trip that is relatively accessible (same alphabet etc.) as learning Hindi or Thai in a short time frame is pretty much impossible unless you live in the country for an extended period I reckon. Seeing the mountain rise before me, I therefore flicked to the back pages of my guide book and browsed through the "Survival Spanish" section, where I memorised a few key phrases and although the language I spoke to those people on the bus could hardly be labelled as Spanish, through a series of arm gestures and "Spanglish" I somehow managed to get myself from the airport and into the hostel. I have heard that Buenos Aires is one of the main places in South America where English is widely accepted and understood but my experience was quite the opposite and the first few days in the country turned out to be a lonely affair as everyone in the hostel was either Brazilian (whole different kettle of Portuguese fish) or Argentines who spoke zero English and would look at me vacantly whenever I attempted to ask for something in kindergarten Spanish. On the second day in the city I purchased a small notebook and since then I have started to write down key phrases and jotting down new words that I come across as writing makes things stick in my memory a lot better. Let's see where I'm at in two months time!

                    So then first impressions of Argentina? Well, my first week in B.A. was spent strolling all over the city and one of the things that struck me first, aside from the language issue, was that the city seems very European in its construction as the architecture, restaurants, cafes and street names all highlight the influence that the Spanish, Italian and French have had on this city over the hundreds of years. It's interesting to note that the city has acquired the nickname, the "Paris of South America", and after walking down the tree-lined Avenida de Mayo with its designer boutique shops and lavishly historical coffee establishments, I agree that it definitely felt similar to the French capital. The gargantuan 16 lane Avenida 9 de julio which is dominated by the 67m high Obelisco - a monument where fanatic football team fans come to celebrate following a win - also felt very French yet the endless amount of wood oven Pizzerias also gave the area an Italian flavour.  On the first day, after the first of many disrupted sleeps, I walked from my hostel which was in the relaxing San Telmo area up Chacabuco street towards the Plaza de Mayo which is home to the Casa Rosada - a large pink building that houses the offices of the President and executive branches of the government. The famous square has played a central role in Argentina's turbulent history playing host to founding presidents, devastating military coups, the fanaticism of Evita (more on this unique lady later on) and desperate crowds after the relatively recent economic crisis which brought the country to a stand still.  Following days were spent strolling along the cobbled Defensa street in the Montserrat neighbourhood - so called because residents poured boiling oil on invading British troops at the beginning of 19th century - past three-hundred year old churches and Jesuit mansions all the way to the shady confines of Lezama park, strutting through the trendy Recoleta with its impressive mini-city of a cemetery, strolling past the docks area with it's exclusive yacht clubs and checking out my first ever Andy Warhol at the Colecion de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat. The long days of walking were sustained by getting stuck into the very economical and delicious all you can buffets which dot every street corner and one evening I went to a local Parilla where I ordered up a big rump steak which arrived fat and juicy straight off the asado (grill). Beef is massive in Argentina and they sure know how to do a bloody great steak; so good in fact, that I'm not going to go into too much detail here about the mind blowing steak as I want to do a separate post about Argentine food later on.

              On the penultimate day in the city I woke up in the eight bed dormitory of the Tango hostel I was staying and was greeted by a feisty Venezuelan by the name of Darnell and an Australian girl called Grace who had just got into town that morning. They were actually the first English speaking people I came across in the hostel having been there for five nights and it was nice to be able to chat fluently in my mother tongue with someone after terrorising the rest of the hostel with my deplorable Spanish looking for some social interaction. There are pros and cons to travelling by yourself and that first week highlighted the latter for me as I normally make friends in the hostels but seeing as I had trouble communicating with the predominantly South American crowd that stayed at the Tango hostel it would have been nice to have a mate to fall back on. Still, high and lows I guess, and someone always turns up and this time they came in the form of an Australian and a Venezuelan. They had come over for a holiday and Grace was about to head home but Darnell was moving back to South America permanently having spent the past five years in Australia working in photography. Seeing as it was my final night in the capital we all agreed to go out and seeing as Darnell had some friends who lived in the city we bought a bottle of Fernet (a devilish medicine-tasting spirit)  and headed over to their flat for some pre drinks. Once at the flat we made up a bottle of Fernet con Coca and I had my first taste of the infamous drink that is consumed in huge quantities across the country. It was incredibly bitter although the Coca-Cola mixer helped and Santiago, one of Darnell’s friends, upon seeing me grimace after my first sip, said that drinking Fernet for the first time was like having sex for the first time; its painful at first but gets better the more you do it. The Venezualans were keen on getting the "Simon Pegg look-a-like" hammered as they kept passing the bottle back to me enthusiastically; not wanting to let the side down I gulped that evil-tasting concoction down for queen and country and once the bottle was finished we headed off to a sports bar where I was introduced to a whole gang of Darnells mates who were all either studying or working in the capital. I tried out a bit of the Spanish that I had recently learned which seemed to help English-Argentine relations - don’t mention the Malvinas! - and endeared me to the group although the relationship was once again on the rocks when I smashed them at table football. Standard. The Quilmes (Argentina beer) kept on flowing until I found myself at a huge club that blasted out Dubstep until the early morning hours. Around 5am I decided to head off as I had to catch a bus at 8.30am to Rosario and somehow managed to get back to the hostel after asking a very helpful crowd of transvestites the way to San Telmo - Donde Esta es San Telmo chaps? Getting back an hour later after getting horrendously lost on the buses, I got about two hours sleep before getting up and hobbling down to the Retiro bus terminal a little worse for wear.

Keep on, keeping on.


Auckland to Buenos Aires
Location of Buenos Aires within Argentina.
The Casa Rosada. The locals of Buenos Aires love to protest and do so frequently. There are so many in front of the the Presidents office that the government just leave the barriers up all the time now. Walking around the city there would always be a gang of students banging a drum and waving banners in defiance of some new government legislation. 
As a result there is always a large police presence in the area.
The Cabildo at the opposite end of the plaza from the Casa Rosada is a  classic example of colonial architecture.
Avenido 9 de Julio is a massive 16 lane boulevard. 
The grand looking Obelisco on Avenida 9 de Julio where ecstatic football fans come to celebrate a victory. Buenos Aires is home to the the Boca Juniors, champions of Argentine football. 
The Congreso Nacional. Home to the Argentine parliament.

Walking along Avenida Florida.
Tango, Tango, Tango.
Buenos Aires has an extensive subway network which makes getting around the city very easy and very cheap.
On the subway. 
The Puento De La Mujer bridge. A footbridge in the Puerto Madero area of Buenos Aires. Finished in 2001, I read that its image synthesizes the figure of a couple dancing the Tango. 
Down by the docks. With funky effects.
Waiting for the bus.
Hello Argentina.

Monday, 23 April 2012

snapshots: auckland

26th March - 12th April 2012

Auckland, New Zealand

Quay Street in the centre of Auckland.
Just off the Viaduct Harbour.
Me standing on a mushroom at the top of Mt. Victoria. That is Rangitoto Island in the background, a giant flat egg of an island which can also be seen in the final frames of Biggle Vision #4 - Biggle Vision #4
The entrance to the Auckland Domain.
Inside the winter gardens at the Auckland Domain. Amazingly colourful flowers kicking about. 
The winter gardens. Spent an afternoon chilling here reading a book. Just got involved with Shantaram....turning into a bit of an epic and makes me miss India. Find out about it!
The water fountain at the beginning of Cornwall park which is dedicated to Sir John Logan Campbell, one of New Zealand´s first European settlers.
Cheeky rainbow kicking about in the jets of water.
The epic One Tree Hill.
The One Tree Hill Park which attracted big crowds on the sunny day I did the coast to coast walkway. See - Coast to Coast
A trip to New Zealand would not be complete without a few sheep chucked in. 
The base of the One Tree Hill obelisk.
The craters and terraces of One Tree Hill.
Heading to Jellicoe park on the final leg of the 16km coast to coast walk.
The coast to coast walkway signs were littered everywhere.
Sunset in Auckland.
Mark worked for Escape vans. On one of the final days in the city, along with Helen from the hostel, we headed over to Devonport which rests just over the harbour.
Me and Marky. Auckland life.
We climbed/drove up North Head in Devonport which used to be home to Fort Cautley. We came across some gun emplacements which had been built in reaction to the perceived threat posed by an increasing Russian navy in the Pacific in the 1870´s. 
The hill has an underground network of tunnels and cave that we went exploring.
Bye bye Auckland.