Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires. Everyone knows this South American capital as the home of tango. But there is much more to this chaotic metropolitan city than tango. During the few days I spent in Buenos Aires, I have to admit that I didn’t even go to see a tango show (I’m sure one of my good friends, who is an amazing tango dancer, would be shaking his head in disgust whilst reading this). Rather, my time in Buenos Aires was filled with perusing through the San Telmo Markets, wandering through La Recoleta Cemetery, visiting the botanical gardens, ravelling at La Boca and just simple meandering through the streets of Buenos Aires, with a bit of shopping and ice-cream eating thrown in.

The highlight of my stay in Buenos Aires was by far the Sunday markets at San Telmo. San Telmo is a neighbour of Buenos Aires, located roughly between Av. Independencia, Av. Caseros, Piedras and Av Ing Huergo. It is the oldest and one of the best preserved neighbourhood in the city. It was originally an industrial area of the working class, which became increasingly popular in the mid 19th century amongst the middle class. An epidemic of yellow fever swept through the neighbourhood in 1871, which resulted in many of the well-to-do relocating to other areas of Buenos Aires. This resulted in many homes being left vacant, which were filled by British, Italian and Russian migrants arriving in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the mid-20th century, the neighbourhood’s bohemian atmosphere began to attract local artists, which resulted in growing cultural activity in the area. Today San Telmo characterised by its colonial building, cobbled streets, bohemian atmosphere, tango halls and of course their famous Sunday antique and arts markets.

The markets are on every Sunday, I’m assuming, rain, hail or shine. The markets are concentrated around Plaza Dorrengo and run the length of Calle Defensa. Plaza Dorrengo is where to head to first, especially if you’re after antiques and vintage collectables. There is everything and anything you can imagine. From vintage soda bottles, to stamps, match boxes, cameras, jewellery, porcelain, glassware, clothing, silverware, vases, phones, clocks etc, etc. The quality is good and the prices are dear. But the selection is amazing, at atmosphere un-matchable and looking at all these items makes one think of all the people who, over the centuries, have lived in this amazing city. Whilst ogling over the antique markets, the sound of tango could be heard. Right beside the antique markets was a tango orchestra – complete with pianist, cellist, and hand accordion players – who’s playing was absolutely superb. I guess I’m no authority on the matter, but from my own subjective viewpoint, I thought they played extremely well and I found it difficult to remove myself and continue up Calle Defensa to see the rest of the markets. The atmosphere in Calle Defense was somewhat different that of Plaza Dorrengo. Storeholders were selling their goods literary on the streets, instead of in well set-up stalls, antiques were put aside in favour of hand-made items, bric-a-brac, leather goods, CDs (the general things you find at markets), the cultured atmosphere was replaced by haggling and crowds and the sound of tango was overtaken by that of contemporary rock and rap music. Although this part of the markets was vastly different from Plaza Dorrengo, it still had it’s own charm. The best of which was big tubs of dulce de leche. If you haven’t been to South America, you may not know about this sickly sweet spread. It’s basically a caramel made from condensed milk. I first tried it in Peru, where it is called manjar, and instantly fell in love. I was amazed to see that they were selling big tubs of it at the San Telmo markets, or even better, served in ice-cream waffle cones for about US$1. Yum-my at a bargain! Of course I had one, or maybe two.

One of my best loved places in Buenos Aires was La Recoleta Cemetery. Like Pere Lachaise Cemetery is Paris, which I absolutely adore, La Recoleta has an unusual charm, even though some may think spending an afternoon is a cemetery rather morbid. Especially since  there are many coffins which you can actually see and touch. I was rather disturb and uncomfortable at seeing this – as you can see by some of the following photographs, there are a number of coffins which have been exposed to the elements, due to the wear and tear, as well as perhaps the odd vandalism of a number of the mausoleums. It was interesting to see how these tombs were constructed – many were build above ground, but a few of which I peeped into, seemed to have stairs leading downwards, beneath the ground. Some were simple and plain, and others were very ornate, lined with gold and marble. Many mausoleums appeared to be well maintained and lovingly cared for, whilst others were obviously forgotten and have fallen into disrepair. La Recoleta cemetery was inaugurated in the mid-19th century, taking up 14 acres of land in the middle of today’s cosmopolitan Buenos Aires. The cemetery contains many elaborate and decorative mausoleums, fashioned in may styles including Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Baroque and Neo-Gothic.  These mausoleums, which usually house the remains of multiple members on one family, are arranged in sections, similar to city blocks, which wide tree-lined avenues, fanning off into little side streets. Many notable Argentine personalities are buried in the cemetery, the most famous of which being Eva Peron. On weekends, the parkland in front of the cemetery is home to some amazing arts and crafts markets (I have to admit I spent a bit of money and bought a beautiful stone tea set) as well as some local street food – not forgetting the famous Argentine BBQ.

Although La Boca is extremely tourist focused, I rather enjoyed spending an afternoon amongst the hoards of tourists, tango dancers, Argentine BBQ restaurants and the sound of tango being played as you stroll down the street and marvel at all the sights, sounds and smells around you. This neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, located in the city’s south-east near the old port, was originally home to migrants from Genoa, Italy. Today, the neighbourhood is well known for La Bonbonera, the home of the Boca Juniors football team, it’s colourful architecture and its pedestrian street, The Caminito. I was initially somewhat apprehensive about visiting La Boca, especially after reading my Lonely Planet travel guide warning about frequent muggings in the neighbourhood, as well as some fellow travellers relating stories about others being held-up a gun point for a digital camera or a wallet. So I grabbed a fellow traveller I met on my adventure, who looks rather scary anyway, to come with me to La Boca. But surprisingly, the neighbourhood seemed rather safe and full of life – that is to say, along El Caminito and the surrounding streets, which we didn’t stray far from, getting a taxi to and from there. The area was full of life, and full of tourists too. After taking a few typical Buenos Aires shots with my camera, we sat down to an Argentine feast of BBQ meats of every shape and form. These people sure do love their meat and take great pride in cooking and serving it to perfection.

This is only a sneak peak of Buenos Aires – there are many more things to see and do in this big and vibrant city. I only had a few short days there, so I was unable to see it all.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

The Uros Islands, Peru

Water is in my veins. I literary grew up in the water – as a toddler we always had a blow-up pool in the backyard, as I grew older my parents bought me a slip ‘n’ slide, or two, and once we went through a few of those, placing the sprinkler under the trampoline on a hot summer’s day was better than heaven; I was forever doing squad swimming, both mornings and afternoons during my school days, I’d spend my entire summer holidays at the beach, or on my Dad’s boat… Even these days, when work and other commitments unfortunately take priority, I still make that bit of spare time to go for a jog along the beach, or around the bay, just to get a glimpse of the ocean, of the water. I’ve been very fortunate to have lived the majority of my life on Sydney’s northern beaches to be able to indulge in my love of water and the ocean. It must be in my blood. Both my parents come from the seaside towns on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. For generations we have lived by the sea, with the sea. So I always feel so refreshed and alive when being on the water. And this is exactly how I felt spending a beautiful sunny day floating on Lake Titicaca, on the Uros Islands, known as the floating islands, located on the Peruvian side of the lake, only a short boat’s trip from the town of Puno.

Just a little bit of information about the Uros Islands and the people who inhabit them:

The Uros Islands are inhabited by a race of people who pre-date the Inca civilisation. During their time, the Incas failed to take much notice of the ‘uncultured’ people of the floating islands, whom they believed to be simple and inferior, living on floating reed constructions, rather than in ‘grand cities’. Although the Uros people today have inter-married with local Aymara people, their civilisation and their customs still live on, outlasting that of the Incas. Although the Uros people do continue to live according to their traditional lifestyle, they have not completely rejected modern life – some people have motorised boats and solar panels to run electrical appliances, and most children attend school on one of the larger islands on the lake or in Puno.

There are approximately 40 floating islands that make up the Uros islands. These islands are constructed from totora, a native rush reed which grows on the banks of the lake. The dense roots of this reed create the foundation of the floating islands, which is about a metre in thickness. As the totora rots, more and more layers need to be added, meaning that the islands are in a constant state of repair and construction. Many of the islands change shape and size over time, accommodating the needs of the family which inhabits the island. The totora is also used in the construction of their houses and boats, and is also eaten and used for medicinal purposes by the native people.

It was quite a strange, yet relaxing sensation being on these islands. The ground constantly undulates with the flow of the tide and current, feeling almost as though you were on some enormous waterbed. I still remember the feeling – I could have laid in the sun for hours, breathing in the refreshing lake air and the smell of the totora reed. The people of the islands were happy to show us how they lived – it was rather amazing to think that these people actually lived on these islands – it all seemed a little surreal, as though I was in some sort of bizarre theme park. Although the Uros people do rely heavily on tourism today, I still felt that in visiting the Uros islands, I was gaining a true snapshot into the lives of this extraordinary civilisation.

A day trip to the Uros Islands is most definitely on the ‘gringo trail’ to do list. There are many boats leaving Puno at numerous times of the day at you can complete the round trip within about 3 hours. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time, but some trips offer an overnight stay on the islands with one of the local families, as well as visiting some of the other nearby islands on the lake, which I’m sure would be well worthwhile.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

Breakfast in Calca

We were woken up at 4am by the buzzing of our alarms, after an extremely restless night’s sleep. A word of advice, if you wish to have a good night’s sleep during your stay in Cusco, avoid Loki Hostel. However, I must add that in all other respects the hostel was more than satisfactory – the staff were friendly, the rooms immaculately clean, they had a great bar which served fantastic food and drinks, and not to forget, the piping hot showers, which we discovered can be a rarity in this part of the world. On this particular night we wanted to get a good 6-7 hours of sleep, however, there was a party in the bar, which was directly across the courtyard from our room. I think everyone who was staying in the hostel that night was there, except for us of course, and the music was blaring until 3am! By about 2am we’d had enough. We went to the reception and asked if there was another room we could have. From this new room, the noise level from the bar was significantly diminished, but the room faced out towards the street. So rather than music and people yelling at the top of their lung, we listened to the incessantly noise of cars beeping down the street (There is a strange phenomena in Peru and Bolivia, where drivers continuously beep their car horns whilst they’re driving. We were told that because cars are somewhat ‘new’ in the region, people still don’t look when they cross the road, so in order to prevent accidents, drivers beep their horns to warn pedestrians).

Daniel, our Quechua (the native people of the Andean region of Peru) guide met us in the lobby of the hostel at the bright and early time of 4:30am! He looked disturbingly alert for such an early hour, especially in comparison to the two of us, who were still weary-eyed and drowsy from our disruptive night. We walked down the ghostly dark streets and piled in a bus with a bunch of men, women and sleeping children (apparently 4:30am isn’t considered to be particularly early for the Quechua people), who were carrying cages of chickens, sacks of corn, bags of cabbage and all sorts of other paraphernalia. After a two hour bumpy ride through the cobbled streets of Cusco and the unsealed roads of the surrounding countryside, we reach our first stop, Calca, for breakfast.

I was expecting breakfast to be a visit to a local bakery or something, maybe some pastries, or fruit, or I’m not quite sure what. Anyway, Daniel led us through the fresh produce markets of Calca to what seemed to be some sort of cafeteria, with all the stalls selling different types of soups and casseroles, with of course, large urns of coca tea (Coca tea is widely drunken in Andean regions, as it is believed to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness). We sat down in front of a stall and, with hungry eyes, watched our breakfast being prepared. Two bowls of simple chicken, vegetable and noodle soup were placed in front of us. Despite the wallowing steam, we ate eagerly. I have to say it was one of the best chicken noodle soups I have ever eaten. The spaghetti like noodles were so soft and tasty, and the broth so flavoursome I can still taste it now, months later.

 After our breakfast, we bought a few supplies for the first day of trekking, some fruit, quinoa museli bar and not forgetting our trusty walking sticks which served us well trekking up and down the mountain passes of the Lares Valley. Our final stop before we embarked on the three day trek were the aguas calientes (natural hot sulpha springs) of Lares, where we spent the remainder of the morning relaxing in the therapeutic pools.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina