Over the Andes, eventually

When I booked all of the flights for our round the world trip, I had been able to get fairly civilised times for most of them. The flight from Argentina to Peru seemed to be a decent enough time at 8:30am but having experienced the traffic around Buenos Aires, we didn’t want to be making the journey to the airport during the morning rush hour. While we would in theory be moving in the opposite direction to the weight of traffic, the lack of arterial routes through the city means that we would be directly impacted by the weight of traffic. Our experience has been that there’s no compunction about blocking intersections or making illegal turns, or any of a myriad other minor traffic infractions, so why take the risk. That’s why we were in an Uber at 5:45.

So it was that we arrived at the airport (variously called Buenos Aires International, Ezeiza International, or Ministro Pistarini International – take your pick) by 6:30, well in advance of our 8:30 take-off time. They broke the news to us that there was a delay, and that departure would be at 11:20. Disappointing news but our travel had been pretty much issue-free until now. I suppose we were due a hitch. We took comfort in the fact that we had access to the lounge and could relax with a spot of breakfast and a cup of tea. We also found out that Latam Airlines had just sent us an email advising us of the delay. Too late for us to have longer in bed this morning, but never mind.

We got chatting with a fellow passenger. He was a lawyer who now acted as an international arbitrator in contractual disputes and he was off to Lima to adjudicate on a municipal public transport contract. It was he who dropped the bombshell that the plane we were due to catch had not yet left Lima on its inward bound journey. Given that this was a 5 hour flight, I couldn’t help thinking this was bad news. I had the cunning idea to check Lima departures and discovered that the plane had in fact just taken to the air and was due to land in BA at 13:30. At the same time, we received another email confirming a departure time for us of 15:20.

On the off chance, I checked my travel insurance policy for flight delays. Sadly, they don’t start giving us money until we experience a 12 hour delay. Ishbel and I took turns amusing ourselves by walking the length of the terminal and browsing the duty free stores. I will soon need a replacement for what Ishbel calls my smelly stuff – Chanel Allure pour Homme. Surely I’ll get a good price duty free in Argentina? No. It’s 50% more expensive than in the UK. I’ll wait.

After a couple of episodes of aimless window shopping, and lunch, we finally got the call to board. We left at the adjusted time of 15:20 and landed five hours later, although the two hour time difference meant we were on the ground at 18:20 Peruvian time. We were in seats 1A and 1C and power walked through the airport to be first to arrive at an empty immigration counter, so whizzed through the formalities there. Peru is the first place we’ve been on this trip that didn’t require us to fill in any kind of landing card or custom declaration so we just showed the passports and strolled on through to baggage reclaim. We had a ten minute wait there for bags to start rolling off and ours duly arrived shortly thereafter.

We trotted outside to be greeted once more by a visible lack of hotel driver. Our Argentina experience had reduced my sangfroid about such eventualities to near zero so I started furiously tapping away on email to enquire as to his whereabouts when a large card hove into view bearing the legend “LEDDY”. Excellent. We packed everything in – even the dobro fit into the boot this time. For the past couple of journeys it has been occupying the front passenger seat.

We arrived at our hotel – Huaca Wasi. This is a lovely little boutique hotel in the Miraflores district of Lima. My advance reading on this part of the trip had created the expectation that Lima hadn’t improved all that much from the time a few years ago when it was the most dangerous city in South America. I had picked this area deliberately as it seemed to be one of the safest around. After checking in and unpacking, we took a short walk around the area and it certainly felt pretty safe. We grabbed a late supper at a place called El Enano, which was a dining counter on a corner.


But it was getting late by this time and we’d had a long day, so we decided to save more extensive exploration for the daylight hours.  We headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Markets and Parks

Our plan for Sunday was to visit the Feria de San Telmo, the market and fair held in the San Telmo district of the city every Sunday. We would be using the subway to get there, but there appeared to be a problem with our usual starting point on the D-line so we had to walk a bit further to get a train at Malabia Station on the B-line. Undaunted by this minor obstacle, we utilised our new-found public transport expertise to negotiate our way to Independencia station whence we had memorised a straightforward route to our destination.

It transpires that this is a big day for Argentina’s third national sport after football and rugby: political protest.

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Small demonstrations were congregating in various side streets, presumably with the intention of coalescing, or conflicting, at some later point. I couldn’t dissuade Ishbel from taking a surreptitious snap. I’m fairly certain that protesters, in general, prefer to avoid being captured for posterity but in this case, they either didn’t care or didn’t notice.

We eased ourselves in the direction of the market’s epicentre, Plaza Dorrego, but were slightly distracted by a large antique/flea market in its immediate vicinity. There was an amazing quantity of Peron memorabilia – both Eva and Juan. It’s clear that the lure of Peronism and the cult of personality around them remains strong here.

The San Telmo Sunday Market is very popular and we moved along its thronged streets keeping a watchful eye on our belongings. It’s a pickpocketing hotspot here, for obvious reasons.

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Eventually we reached Plaza Dorrego and meandered through the stalls. We stopped at a little restaurant, attracted by the elegantly dressed couple standing outside. Clearly, there was going to be some tango in this place. Having judiciously avoided being corralled into any of the many outrageously priced tango shows available across the city, we decided a little light lunch here might provide our fill of the dance.


We each had a salad while these two performed immediately in front of us on a tiny little dance floor. A stiletto heel whizzed past my ear as a couple of acrobatic movements were performed but luckily neither we nor any of the other diners were at any point impaled. This was a fun little add-on to our visit here and we were pleased to have seen tango performed during our visit. And we got a couple of fun photos out of it.

After lunch and another relaxed wander, we made our way back to the train station, passing yet another demonstration en route. It turned out that the D-Line was now running so we were able to get back to our usual stop at Plaza Italia and make our way back to the hotel.

The rest of Sunday evening was occupied with our previously booked Argentinian wine tasting. We presented ourselves at the JA wine shop at the appointed hour of 5pm and were escorted to their downstairs tasting room. We were the only two official customers for this evening, but our guide for the tasting had invited along a friend of his who is just starting a sommelier course in Buenos Aires. We were treated to a lovely selection of wines from boutique wineries that we would be unlikely to see in any mainstream wine store back home.

They also provided an excellent cheeseboard and cold cuts to accompany the wines. That was a pleasant conclusion to our Sunday evening and we retired to the hotel and made plans for our last full day in BA.

As part of our walking tour on Saturday, we had heard of a sculptor by the name of Lola Mora, an Argentinian woman who had scandalised polite society in the middle of the 19th century through her lifestyle and her works. Her masterpiece, the Nereids Fountain, was her gift to the Argentine people and government. Originally, it was sited just outside the Casa Rosada but was deemed so shocking that it was moved to an out of the way spot in Costanera Sur. As luck would have it, it was our intention to visit the Ecological Reserve in Costanera Sur, so we would be able to see what the fuss was all about.


It’s a wonderful piece of public art and should definitely be in a more accessible part of the city.

We made our way from here to the nature reserve, eager for Ishbel to get the tripod set up and the big lens attached to see what wildlife she could capture photographically. None, as it turned out. Never Trust Google. The place is closed on Mondays. Open every other day of the week, so we could have visited at any point during our stay. Apart from the very day we chose. Oh well, chin up and let’s find an alternative. It turns out that the Botanic Gardens is just outside our usual subway station at Plaza Italia. Let’s go there, instead!

But Ishbel had adventure on her mind. We wouldn’t simply walk back to the subway station where we had alighted. We would take…a bus! She was not to be dissuaded from this radical course of action so I allowed myself to be directed to a bus stop. I made a rudimentary attempt to pronounce Facultad de Medicina as our target stop and touched the travelcard to the reader twice. Amazingly, it worked. It took a while and we missed our stop by one, which wasn’t bad, but we arrived at our destination and managed the interchange with the subway like experienced Argentinian commuters.

We were proud of ourselves and our elation lasted all the way to gates of the Botanic Gardens. Which are also closed on Mondays. There was nothing else for it. Coffee and a slice of cake was the only remedy, of which we duly partook.

Our spirits buoyed somewhat by the tasty comestibles, we made our way back to the hotel and lost ourselves in the ever challenging task of packing for the next leg. Our flight to Lima was scheduled to leave at 8:30am on Tuesday morning, and we wanted to get to the airport in good time to avoid rush hour traffic. We got our luggage organised and headed out for dinner. On the night we had checked in, the concierge had advised us that  there was an excellent Italian restaurant just on the next corner, Il Matterello. For one reason and another, we hadn’t eaten there yet so decided to give it a try. He was right – it was excellent. A cheering meal with which to make our farewell to Argentina. Tomorrow  Peru!

“All through my wild days, my mad existence”

While I strive for some form of originality when cobbling together these blogs, there are some clichés which are just too irresistible. I was always going to fall into the trap of using a line from Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina for one of my Buenos Aires posts, and this is that day.

We had planned Saturday with military precision. We were going to venture onto the subway for the first time and had already identified a nearby shop that sold the requisite travel cards. We would then visit the National Museum of Fine Arts on Avenida del Libertador, then take a look at the Recoleta Cemetery before joining a 3pm walking tour of the city centre starting at the National Congress building.

Things got off to a swimming start when the hotel concierge offered us a travelcard that had been left behind by a previous guest. Buoyed by this piece of good fortune we practically skipped the ten blocks to the Plaza Italia subway station and negotiated our way across the system to our target station at Las Heras.

London creates certain expectations of how subways should be mapped. Specifically, if a station has an interchange between two (or more) lines, that station will have the same name on each of those lines. And the reverse should also hold true: if there are stations with the same name on two (or more) lines, you should be able to change between them. Neither of these rules hold true in Buenos Aires. To complete our journey, we alighted from the D-Line at Pueyrredon, and caught the H-Line at Santa Fe, which is the same station but with a different name. But we managed and arrived at our destination still filled with the joy that can only come from not only getting a free travelcard, but discovering it still had ARS 100 credit on it, permitting us free travel for the day.

We made our way from the station down to the museum. It was reputed to have a wonderful collection of European as well as South American works and, although Google indicated that Saturday was a busy day for the gallery, we still wanted to see it. Ishbel was even more delighted when we spotted a green-barred woodpecker in the park just across the road from it.


Sadly, we had forgotten the maxim that was rapidly becoming the Leddy family motto: Never Trust Google. Upon presenting ourselves at the front doors, we ascertained that the Museum was undergoing a major renovation, and would be closed until April 14th, well after we had departed this fair city.

Abandoning this part of the plan, we made our way to the Recoleta Cemetery, famously the (eventual) final resting place of Eva Peron. There are some lurid tales of the adventures of Evita’s body but her tomb is now secured against any future repetition.


For foreigners, Evita is certainly the cemetery’s best known occupant but her grave is far from being the most conspicuous or opulent. Recoleta is the final resting place of Argentina’s elite, and the monumental sculptures and architecturally extravagant crypts reflect that.

After our visit, we stopped off at a nearby Starbucks where I was too inattentive to notice and prevent them putting hot milk into our tea. We struggled through this horror of a hot drink but didn’t finish it before heading off once again into the public transport system. One change got us to the Congreso station where cheapskate tourists like ourselves were already massing to take advantage of the free city tour. As the clocks around the square struck 3:00pm, the two guides split us up between Spanish and English speakers. Both groups were quite large and I’d guess we had around 25 anglophones in our group. One aspect of walking in Buenos Aires with which we had become annoyingly familiar was the lack of pavement maintenance. The sidewalk is a constant trip hazard, and I’m certain our travel insurers would have preferred us to be driven everywhere. With a crowd this size, I hoped we’d be able to keep an eye on the guide and the pavement to prevent ankle injuries. As it turned out, the pavement-induced wobble if the person in front acted as a kind of early warning system of an upcoming hazard.

Our guide, Martin, started with an explanation of the creation of the Argentine nation, of which Buenos Aires was not originally a part. In fact, it participated in a civil war between Centralists and Federalists to try to retain its autonomy outside the fledgling nation. It lost, but still was made the capital. The city even secured its withdrawal from the Province of Buenos Aires, so that it is now a separate entity from the nation’s twenty-three provinces.

And that was only the start of the tour, outside the National Congress building. Martin went on to cover a vast array of topics, from the fact that Buenos Aires boasts one of only three statues of Rodin’s “The Thinker” that were cast during his lifetime…

DSC_0148 2 …to the power and influence of the Freemasons in late 19th and early 20th Century BA – some of whom appear to have had what verges on an unhealthy obsession with Dante. There are even rumours that they stole his remains from Italy but Italy won’t admit it.

Aside from these unsavoury tales, we heard quite a bit about Argentina’s political turmoil, ancient and modern, together with a first hand account of supermarket shopping during a period of hyperinflation.

The tour ended outside the presidential palace – the  Casa Rosada – on the Plaza de Mayo. Here, we heard moving account of the struggle for justice of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. During the military rule of Argentina from 1976 to 1983, opposition was brutally wiped out. Also at this time, it was illegal to gather in a group of more than two people. If three people came together, they could be arrested for holding an unauthorised assembly. In the square outside the Casa Rosada during this time, many of the mothers of those who had been taken came together in pairs, and walked a silent circuit around the plaza, never stopping so that they could not be arrested as protestors. As a symbol of why they were there, they carried a tied, empty nappy (diaper) representing their missing child.

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Martin also told us that Argentina has one of the world’s most advanced DNA analysis labs for a heartbreaking reason. When dissident women were captured, there was a taboo on killing them if they were pregnant. In such cases, they were imprisoned until they gave birth. Once the child was born, the mother was killed and the baby given to a childless couple in favour with the regime using faked adoption papers. A campaign to track down these children is spearheaded by a group known as the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. I cannot begin to imagine the emotions experienced by the people identified by this process.

Our tour ended on a sobering note as we were made aware that the next day was March 24th, a public holiday in Argentina designated as the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice to commemorate these events.

I don’t speak Spanish, but I know that’s not Castillian

The classic Spanish, like what it is spoken in Spain, is Castillian. The version spoken in South America is different. In much the same way that English at home is different from the US or Australian versions, the language in South America has suffered what is known as colonial lag.  This is a (disputed) hypothesis which postulates that migrants who move far from their homeland tend to preserve their native language in the form that existed at the time of that migration. So although the season used to be known as fall in the UK, the latinate form – autumn – became more popular later while the original persisted in the US.

It would appear that a similar phenomenon exists in South America. This is somewhat annoying for me as it appears to impact the very few words and pronunciations in Spanish with which I am actually familiar. So, when I greet the locals with a jolly and robust “Buenas dias”, the response drops the endings. It appears that the ‘S’ is silent here, so I get back “Buena’ Dia’.” Similarly, I know that the rule is that when a pair of Ls appear in the middle of a word, I should pronounce them as a Y. So if I want the chicken from the menu, I should pronounce pollo as paw-yo. No. Here, the double L is pronounced like a soft ZH, so I need to say paw-zho. Or, more likely, just point.

This is all a lead up to our big Argentinian meal. I had heard recommendations for a place called Don Julio, a grill restaurant or parrilla that is so popular, it gets booked up months in advance. I had actually missed the availability for dinner on any date during our stay, but I had managed to get a 1pm lunch slot with which I was perfectly content. We took an extensive stroll around the Palermo neighbourhood before presenting ourselves at the threshold of the restaurant.


Although bookings are difficult to get, they do also offer a queuing system for the sufficiently patient. You can show up at the door and put your name on the list then wait for the requisite period to get a table. They were quoting 90 minutes to the guy in front of us as we arrived. When booking, they make a point of telling you that your table will be held for 15 minutes only. We made sure to be prompt and felt slightly smug as we gave our name to the host and were ushered immediately indoors and seated at our table for two.

Although smug, we were also ever so slightly envious of the outdoor hopefuls. It turns out that, every twenty minutes or so, small glasses of fizz are distributed to the queue together with miniature empanadas. We weren’t envious enough to stand outside and wait, though.

I had heard that portion sizes here were large and, given what we’d already experienced in Argentinian restaurants, there was no reason to doubt this intelligence. Accordingly, we skipped starters and went straight to main courses. We played it safe and each ordered a sirloin steak. After all, how excessively sized could that be?

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Really quite large indeed, turned out to be the answer. Mashed potato, roasted red peppers, and splendid red wine accompaniments made for an excellent lunch. We also had the kitchen theatre going on right behind me as the chefs worked their magic at the grill.

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This is a place that should be on your list if you come to Buenos Aires.

After that meal, there was nothing to do but try to walk off the weight of food. A small stroll through Palermo and then a relaxing evening sorted us out for the rest of the day. But, have no fear! We did undertake some planning for Saturday so that we would do something other than just eating lunch.