Week Twenty: birthday, burgers, buses, boats and bye bye Buenos Aires

I began the week/ I turned 22 in the best way I know how: in the crowded, dimly lit, most happening hotspot in Palermo: Burger Joint. Aside from their distorted megaphone cruelly tricking you into thinking your name is being called, their burgers (and curry ketchup) are the stuff dreams are made of. Throw in a bargain beer and heaps of atmosphere and I’m sold.

Sales pitch over, and onto the rest of the big BA b’day bonanza. As May 25th marks the celebration of the 1810 revolution, we began with a mosey around the Plaza de Mayo, to see what was kicking. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people stood milling around; with nothing obviously organised in place (we had probably slept through some sort of parade knowing me) everyone just took to the streets, to watch, protest, wander and eat copiously.

Whilst clouds consumed the main Avenida de Mayo from all the choripan barbecues, my birthday date, Cass, and I retreated indoors for a glamorous birthday lunch at the famous Cafe Tortoni. We stepped back in time, to the world of hardwood pillars, stained glass ceilings, creepy mannequins and waiters in bow ties. Deeming lunch unnecessary, I ordered nothing more than cake, champagne and more cake; the ideal birthday trio!

As we walked off the sugar rush, I indulged in purchasing a present for myself from the glorious El Ateneo bookshop. We also attracted a few bemused stares as we sealed the date with a roadside tango session. Unfortunately, attempting to learn from an elaborate floor diagram didn’t prove all that easy; more like grown up, ungraceful hopscotch.

Arriving home, we were joined by our new hostel recruits for the partying to commence. I felt particularly lucky when Katy (who I thought had been having a siesta) walked in with an indulgent cake and a Disney princess balloon, to complete all my birthday dreams. On a trip populated almost entirely by brand new faces, it was a privilege to have my (relatively) long-term Aussie gal pals around to spoil me.

An evening in a trendy Palermo bar (rather than a burger place) and some late-night street hot dogs rounded off the day almost exactly the way it had began. I quietly congratulated myself on choosing the perfect city and a wonderful crowd to spend the day with; and I’d like to thank Argentina for throwing a country-wide bank holiday fiesta in my honour!

The next few days were, as expected, a little slow moving. Unfortunately, my treasure hunt for a birthday card waiting at the post office was somewhat fruitless, in that said office had been converted into a museum of all things postal. This journey did however bring me to the riverside Puerto Madero neighbourhood. Clearly once run down and industrial, the red brick warehouses along sided the yacht dock now house a plethora of restaurants and simply scream ‘gentrification!’ Throw in the art gallery housing the expansive private collection of Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat (someone rich and important I assume) and you’ve got yourself a very civilised spot to shelter from the blustery afternoon.

Tenuously in-keeping with the international art on display (Warhol, Dali and Turner to name drop but a few) I proceeded to explore some of the less classically Latino pursuits BA offered. A trip to Chinatown (or ‘Barrio Chino’) presented plenty of shops selling utter crap and satisfied my cravings for chow mien (that had been plaguing me for several months!) A brief hissy fit about hating all the clothes in my backpack led to an outing in the overpriced and super chic Alto Palermo shopping mall. And, the pièce de résistance of being a rubbish tourist, a desire to escape alcohol for the evening steered us towards watching the new X-Men film in our local cinema! The speakers were somewhat dampened as most of the audience were focused on the Spanish subtitles, but otherwise, I very briefly completely forgot I was in Argentina!

Having entirely moved in and clearly become too comfortable in this city, I finally designated a leaving date and Cass and I planned one last hurrah. Having heard about BA’s penchant for underground Speakeasy bars, we become consumed with the idea of getting into one. With a little help from Facebook (and a lot of help from my formerly-local friend Sophia) we garnered this week’s password and got ourselves all dolled up. This involved piecing together any basic forms of glamour to be found within my backpack; cue donning my new top and cutting holes in my tights, as sandals were my only remotely acceptable footwear, despite the monsoons!

We pulled up outside Frank’s bar, a dark doorway on an empty backstreet in Palermo. I sheepishly mumbled ‘Anne Frank’ to the bouncer who then nonchalantly ushered us in. If you’ve ever wondered what lies behind the back wall of a phone booth, I now know! Leaning against the cubicle’s edge opened up a sultry and glamorous haven of chandeliers, strong cocktails and sexy bar men (apparently that last being what they’re known for!) Admittedly it wasn’t all that complex to get in, being that we had some severely underdressed tagalongs join us without issue. But it still felt like we had been let in on a secret world, distinctly miles away from the grotty hostel lifestyle to which I am now so accustomed.

Unable to afford many of the mixologists’ finest concoctions, we directed a taxi towards the nearest ‘mejor fiesta’ and found ourselves, yet again, in Kika- a club that is always full, somewhat overpriced and overwhelmingly exudes pheromones! Back in the Latino swing of things, the Cumbia beats blared and, along with our new Guatemalan companions, I danced away my last night in my favourite city.

Three hours late for checkout, but awarded a grace period due to my long term hostel residency, it was leaving day! I just managed to squeeze in one last trip to Burger Joint and an all too brief reunion with my travel-buddy/ pen-pal Joseph (from many moons ago in Bogota) before rushing to the bus station. Entirely jealous that Cass was embarking on a month long ‘real life’ stay in Buenos Aires, sad to leave her behind and already missing this bustling city, I needed to get to Iguazu. I waved goodbye to the ubiquitous subway D-line keyboard playing busker and jumped on my first 18 hour bus in weeks.

Puerto Iguazu is a relatively quiet little town, yet still I arrived almost famous: ‘You must be Sacha?!’ Sadly, my newfound inability to plan ahead or stick to a schedule meant I missed catching up with Flora and Haydn (this was due to be a whole week of travel buddy reunions) but they had clearly left a good review of me on those hostel-dwellers I met.

A free welcome drink, an early night and I was ready to take on a natural wonder! Arriving in the national park, there was sprawling jungle, thieving coaties (essentially raccoons) and the odd capuchin monkey jumping between branches; what wasn’t immediately obviously however, was any sign of nearby water! Yet, this delayed gratification came to fruition about half way around our first trail through the undergrowth, as the awe inspiring waterfalls were revealed up ahead.

It’s a rare phenomenon, but words almost fail me. Hundreds of impressively tall, impossibly powerful waterfalls combine to form a rainbow-framed horseshoe around the river. Numerous, easily-navigated trails allow you to witness all of the falls from every angle imaginable. At times, the walks take you via some smaller, stand-alone falls, which, unfortunately, faded into insignificance by comparison. Other times, such as crossing the kilometre long bridge over the seemingly tranquil river, you forget the natural force that lies just moments away.

We explored the park from top to bottom, from a plinth hanging over the lip of ‘Garganta del Diablo’ (or ‘Devil’s Throat) to a slippery, rocky path at the foot of the entire panorama, this is a view that one could never tire of. (What can get a little tiring are the crowds that descent upon the park in the afternoons, so I can recommend striving for an early start and a smug feeling of having the entire paradise to yourself.)

Having got up close to one of the falls earlier in the day, the mist alone was plenty dampening. Yet the boat ride underneath the falls was an entirely different matter! I treated myself to an expensive, yet exhilarating speedboat trip into the crashing waves. As our captain battled the rapids, we were tossed around like rag dolls and entirely blinded by the spray. My trousers were soaked through to my knickers, yet I was remarkably safe and dry within my raincoat and walking boots; thank you Mr Peter Storm, may I suggest your next ad campaign includes ‘Iguazu-proof’

Not wanting to overdo it, I skipped the Brasilian side of the falls, having heard that they offer a much more tranquil, panoramic view from a distance. Instead I found a super cheap flight to Rio (cheaper than any of the 24 hour buses!) and crossed the border at last.

Not even having touched down amongst the “dangers” of Brasil and I have already experienced my first hostel theft! Missing: A bag containing half a bag of pasta, my prized spice collection and a single chewy sweet. I was distraught and my faith in humanity was shot. Luckily travelling tends to have a way of reaffirming that faith almost hourly. Bring on the joys that await in Rio- even if I won’t understand, because it’ll all be in Portuguese!


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