So hello one and all, welcome to a mid week report from Buenos Aires, the so called 'coolest city' on the continent (according to the lonely planet!) Not for the first time in my life I find myself disagreeing strongly with this book. I must admit that the guidebook has been invaluable in some places I have visited, but in this case, because my time here in Buenos Aires has not been such a happy one, in general! There is certainly plenty to do around the city, tango shows (to which I am going to tonight), cafes, museums, churches, walking tours, bike tours, football (out of season now), and a busy night life, after 12am... but there is something in the initial dealings with the Buenos Aires public that I find personally quite frustrating. I see so many people walking around without emotion, or the emotion I seem to see is a frown, rather than a smile. Nobody (with the execption of my friend Valerita, and an fellow OT Carlos Luna and his colleagues on a professional visit yesterday), has shown any kind of willingness to be overly polite. Waiters can take forever to serve you, and I have been confronted with a darker side of they city (not particularly specific to BA), that has made me feel the need to mistrust others, rather than trust them... let me explain. On night one of my stay, I decided to go out on a 'pub crawl' something that is often organised through hostels and can help you meet other travelers very quickly and over a few beers! Not my preferred way to meet and greet, but in this age of lap tops and mobile phones,- I feel even traveling and backpacking has been affected by these social diseases, it makes meeting people that little more difficult! I must say that I had a good night and met some very nice people, (see pictures below).. including a nice brother and sister from Australia, a friendly Brazilian guy and a nice girl from Slovenia, Despite a good night socially, my new scarf,(the scarf I had just bought that day) was stolen from inside my coat! Luckily I had everything else in my pockets! Also, one of the bars gave me a fake 50 peso (10 pounds) note, which I clearly didn't realise until the next day when I went to buy another scarf! I was also warned that in my hostel it was advisable to buy padlocks for the lockers as other backpackers had told me how small things went missing. I really dislike having to mistrust others, and especially when traveling I have enjoyed the certain openness and trust that you really need to demonstrate and receive from others, to make your time en more enjoyable. Then came a real horror story from a room mate of mine in the hostel. This German guy, who has been traveling around the world, and is not naive about such things was out in Buenos Aires (BA) sight seeing. Whilst at one of the many monuments around the city a guy got chatting to him, and claimed to be another back packer (from Spain- remember everyone speaks Spanish here). Together they then went to see a couple more sights, and decided to go for a bit to eat (something I have done countless times all over the world). The German guy, who can certainly handle himself, remembers having some food and a glass of wine. The next things he remembers is waking up on the street about 4 hours later, with no wallet, money or cash cards! Luckily he still had his passport.. the so called other 'backpacker' had drugged his drink! When I was recounting this tale to another guy at the hostel, he said "oh yes I heard that happened to someone else too". This kind of story can be frightening, but acts as a good reminder to be careful, but this makes BA the first city that I have felt the need to think in such a cynical way, that perhaps every time I receive money I should check for fake bills, or always wonder if strangers who are being 'friendly' have another agenda? It's not the way I like to travel, think or act. A further little example was how on my first day a guy approached me claiming to be collecting for charity, and when I refused to give something, the guy just stopped talking and walked off in a impolite manner, it's a small thing but something that adds to the general impression of a place!
On a more cheery note, I have enjoyed many elements of the city and some personal and professional meetings here. There are many nice areas to walk around, including one of the older parts of they city called San Telmo, Where they sell such unique touristy things(sarcasm), such as... I also enjoyed a really nice evening in a little (but famous cafe) around the corner from my hostel, watching a tango show, with a girl I met on the pub crawl...
As with many of the visits to cities in Chile, Colombia and Argentina, my itinerary has included meeting up with OT's and OT students that I had met in the conference in Santiago! Here in Buenos Aires was no exception! After a couple of rather shitty days due to the scarf theft, dodgy currency and really bad wet and cold weather, I was able to meet up with Valerita, a final year OT student here in BA. We met in the evening for dinner of which her and her friends refused my offer to pay my share, and were able to have a lovely evening in a nice little restaurant, enjoying scrumptious food! See below... It was nice to be finally enjoying the company of nice friendly Argentinean folks in BA. A little more of my faith in the Buenos Aires people was further restored with a visit to the Nosotros Foundation. An Occupational Therapist by the name of Carlos Luna had contacted me via facebook, and invited to me visit his work with this foundation. The foundation in housed in the San Isidro district of Buenos Aires, which required me to take a little train ride to this district 30 minutes from Buenos Aires centre. There was plenty of entertainment on the train, with a group of musicians moving from carriage to carriage trying to earn a living, and people trying to sell chocolate or magnifying glasses... (I´m not sure about that one!) The foundation works with adults with 'intellectual disabilities' and offers activities and training programmes for work placements, along with promoting independence and also offers family support. The dedicated and welcoming staff were happy to let me visit many of the activities which included computer workshops, art and ceramics, a small bakery, mushroom growing and gardening, to name just a few. The history of the foundation is also a very heart warming and touching story, and the website is available in both English and Spanish, so please have a look at the web page or blog! (NOSOTROS FOUNDATION - http://www.fundacionnosotros.org.ar/) Here are a few pictures from the visit. So a resounding thanks to Carlos, and the staff and clients who made may day a very interesting, educational and most importantly, friendly visit!
So as you can probably tell, the first half of my week here in Buenos Aires has been a contrasting one! Perhaps my expectations of this city were too high, or by bad luck and chance the beginning of my time has been tinged with some negative experiences, but I want to give the city a chance to show me it's got more to it's character than I have experienced so far!
Regards from Argentina!