Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

San Telmo & La Boca

We had arrived in Buenos Aires just in time for the famed Sunday market at San Telmo. We walked from our hostel through a very dead city centre and arrived at a sea of people swarming the main street along which the market was spread out. So that's where everybody is on the weekend!

Craning our necks, we could see the thronging crowd stretching for about 500m on both our left and right. Yeah, this market was really BIG! Thankfully, it turned out to be less packed than it seemed. The road was closed for the weekly event and simple makeshift handicraft stalls lined the curbs on either side.

Many stalls comprised of either a piece of cloth or table topped with wares. That was what I liked most about the market - it's simplicity. No need for fancy booths or cumbersome in-case-it-rains marquees. Vendors sat along the road, alongside coffee-drinkers in streetside cafes and flamboyant buskers, trying to make eye-contact with potential customers.

San Telmo Sunday street market

Many of the items offered for sale were beautifully designed works of art. Unlike the artisan markets in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia which sold virtually the same range of goods, right down to each stitch, the jewelry, accessories and clothes items displayed at San Telmo differed from stall to stall. We found the decorative household items very attractive too and were quite tempted to cart home a small souvenir for ourselves. In fact, if I had a new apartment (or my own hostel!) to decorate, I would head straight to San Telmo to pick out some items from the market.

Classic Tango-under-the-lamp souvenirs. These were made of nails. We didn't take many photos of the crafts, cos we felt a bit shy snapping photos but not buying anything.

String puppet show

Okay, we did buy something from the market - a GIANT calzone/empanada/curry-puff thing stuffed with ham and cheese. Big enough to share and still feel too full.

We had reached one end of the street and were about to turn back, but not before stopping to snap some photos. While we had our cameras lifted to our faces, a pair of strong hands suddenly grabbed us from behind by the scruffs of our necks! I jumped and gasped, instinctively tightening my grip on my camera.

"So how are my favourite Singaporeans in South America doing?" boomed a familiar voice above our heads. It was Ananda, the Malaysian whom we had met earlier in Chile on the Navimag ship! Fancy meeting him in a crowded market in Big City Buenos Aires! I guess we really do stick out from the South American crowd and other tourists, and must have been really easy to spot.

Together with Ananda, we strolled through the market while catching up on each other's adventures. He related tales of his 5-day trek in the Torres del Paine national park, where he watched the sun rise over Chile's iconic granite towers. Returning from the trek, he flew from Puerto Natales to Puerto Williams, the southernmost settlement in the world - even further south than Ushuaia - and zipping back across the Beagle Channel to Ushuaia in a Zodiac boat. All very exciting!

As we walked, Ananda kept getting stopped by curious locals asking where he was from. It turned out that an Indian man (whose family hails from India, not the same as native Indians in South America) is a really rare sight on this continent. Ananda said that sometimes, he offers people his arm to touch and tells them, "See, the colour doesn't run!" :P

From San Telmo, we hailed a cab (the safer option) to bring us to the colourful neighbourhood of La Boca. On Sundays, the main street, La Caminato, is teeming with tourists and street vendors. Beyond this safe weekend haven, the rest of La Boca is rundown and dodgy. From the street scene that day, you would never have guessed that bad things do happen in this cheerfully painted slice of Bohemia.

The iconic gate to La Caminito

Ordinarily, a colour combination like this would have given me a splitting headache. Funnily though, it all seemed to go quite well together in La Boca.

Unlike back home, weekends don't seem to whizz by for the people here. They stretch their Sundays by kissing for hours on street benches or posing for a portrait.

Sitting around doing nothing is not considered a waste of time here

La Boca is a good place to shop for Tango memorabilia, artwork, cute t-shirts and soccer-related souvenirs (soccer is big in Argentina.)

This lady had an idea for a nice pose

Although it was waaaaaay past the lunch hour, the cafes were packed with people enjoying a leisurely meal of Argentinian grilled meats and chewing in sync to the free Tango shows proffered by the restaurants.

Even the cafes are a riot of colour

Crowded outdoor restaurant with free Tango show

Intense and sultry Argentinian Tango

A tall lanky guy approached us, flyer in hand, inviting us to have lunch and a show at his restaurant. We were about to smile politely and refuse (still stuffed from that giant currypuffthing from San Telmo!) but Leo stopped us in our tracks - by speaking to us in Mandarin. Perfect Mandarin - calling us "peng you" (friend) and assuring us that the food at the restaurant "hen hao chi" and "bu hui gui' (delicious and not expensive)! We couldn't help but laughingly chat on in simple Mandarin.

Then along came Ananda, who had fallen behind us. We turned to Ananda to wax lyrical about Leo's Mandarin, but Leo intercepted us, asked Ananda where he was from, and started speaking to him in Bahasa Melayu! Our jaws dropped. This guy was really good! And his charm was definitely working on us - if I hadn't been too full to down heavy plates of grilled meat at 4pm that day, I might have just obediently wagged my tail and followed Leo to his restaurant for steak on a bone! Woof woof!!

Well Ananda did just that - follow Leo, but not for a meal. He had been planning to catch a 'live' football match between the popular Boca Juniors club and another local team that evening, and Leo happened to be bringing a group of New Zealanders to the game. The arrangement was just perfect for Ananda (who lives in Auckland.) Funny how these rugby-loving All Blacks supporters were all clamouring for tickets to watch footy. It seems that watching an Argentinian soccer match 'live' is a must-do for most tourists - it definitely had the hype of a life-changing experience!

And what did we two boring old farts do?

We went to the supermercado - to buy slabs of meaty cuts to cook for dinner!

Futbol - er, no thanks! Bife - YES PLEASE!


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