What was he thinking? Diego, a tour operator contacted on line, had booked a nearly 70-year old man and a woman using a cane into a tango class. Had you added the ages of any three others in the class, you would have been hard pressed to match either of us. But it was fun, we did okay, and it was followed by a nice (if not great) dinner with lots of good wine and front table seats to a great dance show that traced the evolution of the tango from 1890 to the present. It was a wonderful first night off the ship.
The ship docked for a full day and night in Buenos Aires, a very busy shipping port and the most industrial of any cruise port we had ever visited. We took a Holland America excursion through several neighborhoods to the town of San Isidro. Signs proclaimed U.S brands everywhere. We then boarded a small river boat for an hour’s ride around the Delta de Paraná where the Tigre and Paraná Rivers meet before joining the Paraguay River to form the Rio Plata.
People live on islands in the delta, many in fairly nice houses, despite the fact there is no water or sewer, usually no electricity, and all services including groceries and transport to school are by boat. It was interesting to see, but our guide spoke in long complicated sentences with many connected phrases and was hard to follow. Perhaps she studied Faulkner.
Despite the fact they are about three times as expensive, we often take cruise ship tours because they are well organized, safe, and the ship will wait if anything goes wrong. We wanted to see Iguazύ Falls. The ship offered a twelve-hour day-trip that spent only about one hour at the falls for about thirteen hundred dollars a person. It just didn’t seem worth it, so we went on line and found Diego at Discover Uruguay/Discover Iguazύ Falls. Talking to others on the ship, it appears Diego maintains about ten websites that all lead to his Connecticut office.
After some discussion, we agreed to a package that included transfer from the ship to a four-star hotel in Buenos Aires, a day tour, the tango tour, flights to and from Iguazύ, two nights there, a tour of the falls, another night at the Buenos Aires hotel and transfer to our flight home, all for a couple hundred dollars more than Holland was asking for just a day trip.
We were early getting off the ship. Diego’s driver was not. So we were a little nervous standing by the terminal watching others leave. But Gustavo arrived with a van, took us to the hotel where checked in, checked our large bags and left immediately for our day tour.
Unlike a cruise tour, there were just four of us on the van. Our guide Patricia was very pleasant, easy to understand and accommodating to our individual requests (the two women with us really liked to take pictures).
Buenos Aires has four million people in 48 neighborhoods covering about 200 square kilometers. We first stopped to see a gigantic metal sculpture of a flower by the artist Eduardo Catalana which opens and closes twice a
day. Then we took a walk in the beautiful Third of February Park, a late 19th century park in the prosperous neighborhood Palermo.
After Palermo, Patricia took us to her favorite spots in the Recoleta Cemetery which is laid out like a city with streets and avenues where the wealthy and important built mausoleums with basement burial vaults to show off their prosperity. There are hired staff that clean and polish, but when the family dies out or loses its wealth, they fall into neglect. Patricia told many interesting stories, but because there were long lines, we did not bother to visit Evita.
We next had lunch in the Boca, the original old port where immigrants painted their metal-sheathed homes with left over ship paint. Because
the port has always been such a part of city life, those who live in Buenos Aires are referred to as Porteños.
A freight train passed slowly down the street outside our restaurant while we were at lunch. After lunch, we walked around the colorful neighborhood looking at the many shops, street vendors and performers. However, it was getting very hot so Alie just sat on a shaded bench in a little breeze and watched the passing scene.
We then continued on to see some of the more modern sections of the city, including a walk along the river where old warehouses have been converted for contemporary use. There are offices, shops, apartments, hotels and restaurants.
Our final stop for the day – at our request – was the Cathedral of Buenos Aires, where the present Pope Francis was Archbishop. It is an interesting building built like a Greek temple rather than a European cathedral. Inside, almost anything that isn’t rose marble is gold. Alie wondered that he was able to maintain his humble life style amidst such splendor. When the Pope was Archbishop here, he was famous for using the subway and buses to get around. A block away is the Casa Rosada (Pink House), the Presidential palace which is actually more an office. The President, who declares herself to be a socialist, prefers to live in a wealthy suburb and commute each day by helicopter.
I was particularly interested in the tomb of San Martín, the national liberator-hero. His tomb has been combined with the tomb of their unknown soldier and is guarded by troops from a regiment he created in the early 19th century. He was not Catholic and would not likely have been buried there in modern times, but at the time of his death it was the only place prominent enough to qualify. We had seen the simple grave of his “wife and friend” in Recoleta.
We then went back to the Hotel Obelisco to unpack, shower and relax before our tango evening. It was not a “four star” hotel, but it was clean, nice and centrally located. We also had great friendly service with the bellboy even warning us in sign language to watch for pickpockets when we went out at night.
Had we closely read the material Diego sent us, we would have known (or perhaps optimistically guessed) we would be dancing a simple tango within a few hours. Our instructor was good; indeed, he has to be the best to have us doing a tango. What fun; what a great day!