Friday, 27 April 2012

Teaching begins and a visit to the San Telmo Markets

Kelly riding in the Palermo Parks, Argentina

COUNTRY: Argentina
PROJECT: Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Anna Craven and Co

I looked at the date today and was surprised when I realized that 3 and a half weeks had already flown by! However, looking back on all that we've done, the people we've met and the things we have seen since arrival, I can see how we've lost track of time so easily.

Ready to throw ourselves into the city, we packed our first weekend with plenty of sightseeing, visiting Recoleta cemetary, La Boca and San Telmo markets. Recoleta cemetary is nothing less than beautiful. With over 4000 vaults packed into an area the size of 3 city blocks, it was easy to get lost in the maze of carvings, sculptures and tombs of the city's elite, including that of Eva Peron.

That Saturday, we navigated the (highly complex but ultimately convenient) bus system to the barrio of La Boca, which is where we spent a couple of hours wandering around 'The Caminito', which was packed with tourists all cramming to view the brightly painted shops and houses, the tango dancers and cafes that sprawl onto the footpath. The next day we visited San Telmo Markets that come alive on Sundays with hundreds of artisan stalls lining the main street of Defensa and the lively but jam-packed antique market which crams into the main plaza Dorrego.

We were all so overwhelmed with the array of stalls and shops that we forgot to adore the beauty of San Telmo itself. It looks like a suburb you might find within a remote village in europe, with cobblestone streets and intricate, ornate buildings- such a difference from the sights of La Boca, and different again from our suburb of Recoleta.

We also managed to visit our first Parilla! In pairs, we shared a 'bife de chorizo' (ordered jugoso/juicy, as the argentines are notorious for their overlooked beef). This dish not only came with a huge slab of beautifully cooked meat, but rice, mashed sweet potato, onion, egg, capsicum and bread! I thought my stomach wouldn't be able to eat after that, but my weakness for argentine medialunas filled with dulce de leche, along with the ever-popular empanadas, and the ice cream from the heladeria across the road, once again proved me wrong.

It's safe to say we won't be underfed here, despite our measly attempts in the roadhouse kitchen! Some of us went into the Microcentro, to 'Plaza de Mayo' to watch the weekly vigil held by 'Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo' on Thursdays. These women (some of them in their 80s and 90s) are human rights activists who have fought since the dirty war (36 years ago) for their wish to re-unite with their 'lost children' who were abducted, tortured and killed by argentine government agents. It was a sobering experience to watch their march of chants and songs around the plaza, all wearing the famous blue and white headscarves. This was followed by a trip to cafe Tortoni, the oldest cafe in BA, where we enjoyed churros, coffees and submarinos!

We began our volunteering with LIFE, in La Ciudad Oculta (also known as the hidden city) which is one of the larger villas in Buenos Aires (these are more commonly known as slums, shanty towns or Favellas in the rest of the world). The children we've been working with are mostly between the ages of 3-14, and our aim is to provide them with further educational assistance, positive social interaction and help them to create lasting memories. As there are a few centers run by LIFE within the villa, we've got to know different groups of kids within different centers.

The conditions within the villas are a complete eye-opener. Most locals look at you in shock and awe if you tell them, you're working in Ciudad Oculta, but this intricate maze of brick, wood and mud that makes up the semi-permanent development, surrounding a the haunting and surreal sight of the abandoned hospital is beyond anything I was expecting. Depending on which center we choose to go to on each day, there are between 15 and 40 kids, and each time we have different activities planned.

These include mathematics, drawing, English, Spanish, basic manners and human interaction, games, skipping, soccer.... The list goes on... It's easy to see why we're so exhausted every time we return and crash into bed. It's a great way for us to practice our Spanish and already we've made some lovely little friends in Oculta. One of the nicest parts of our days there, is when the kids hold our hands to take us to the transport van that waits outside the villa, and a few clamber in with us for a joy ride down the block.

In the following days, Em and myself revisited San Telmo, whilst Jess, Nat and Sophie revisited La Boca. We've seen the beautiful Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore on Santa Fe (an old converted theatre with a cafe on the stage looking over a sea of golden light and libros), we've visited our favorite bar in Palermo multiple times, become regulars at a favorite cafe 'Casa de Gretha', had an R2A pizza and empenadas night on the residence terrace, eaten far to much frozen yoghurt and ice cream (so much so, that a couple of us are sponsoring each other to resist temptation),continued with our Spanish lessons 3 times a week and welcomed our final antipodeans member Kelly!

Last week we attended a La Boca home game at the famous La Bombonera Stadium! So along with a bus load of other eager tourists and backpackers (not hard to pick out the Aussie accents)' we stopped off at a football-themed bar for beer and pizza, before heading to the game! I can say on behalf of everyone that we've never attended a sporting match quite like this- you would've thought it was a grand final what with the fireworks and confetti that sprayed the sky before kick-off, however the fans were quick to let us know that this was infact a less-important game. Sitting in the socios (members) section was nothing less than wild. They sung and chanted and whistled the entire game and when the only 2 goals were scored, a few of us lost our footing... And voices.

On the weekend we visited the expansive and beautiful Palermo parks. Kelly and I hired bikes and rode around the pathways and ponds for a couple of hours amongst the hoards of rollerbladers and bikers, before heading to the Palermo markets in the Soho area, where the trees are adorned with fairy lights that overlook a small square of cafes, bars, restaurants and Bohemian market stalls. After a couple of cocktails, we then came home to find the girls very excited about the BA home delivery McDonalds and sushi - (an opportunity not to be missed).

Just today, we've booked our ferry tickets to Uruguay, as this weekend Argentina is celebrating yet another long weekend. We're all very excited to see Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo whilst there, and can't wait to see how the culture differs from our experiences in Buenos Aires.

Much love from Antips BA,
Anna (with Emily, Nat, Jess, Sophie and now Kelly!)

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