Curtain Call: a grand finale in Buenos Aires

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Here we are folks – the final act. The curtains are twitching above the great stage that has been my journey; they will soon hit the boards, and the many actors whom have trodden upon them will have taken their final bow and drifted away into the backstage of my memory. Before that happens (and before I get too dramatically metaphorical), however, there are a few final scenes and characters that deserve an airing.

I spent a wonderful final week volunteering at La Manzana, in which I mostly exchanged my spade for my laptop and got stuck into tweaking and translating the project website (take a look at the fruits of my labour here!). Every evening was filled with more of Sol’s sensational cooking, many many bottles of good, laughably cheap Argentinian wine and general shits and giggles around the campfire with the other volunteers. Anja and I said an emotional goodbye on Wednesday, and headed back to central BA, where she was to board a boat to Uruguay, and I was bound for Palermo – an end of town about which people had raved but which I had not yet investigated.

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Palermo. It’s hard not to love Palermo, with its twee little eateries and vintage boutiques set into a network of leafy cobbled avenues. It reminded me a lot of Portland – plenty of money flying around this neighbourhood, that’s for sure.

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The bank of memorable hostel characters has been well topped up by my Palermo digs this week. Particularly worthy of note was Ozgar, a Turkish bloke who approached me in the hostel bar one night, brandishing a bottle of wine in my face and telling me he hoped I appreciated a good Malbec. I didn’t go for the wine, but we did get talking about Japan; I had expressed an interest in going, and he told me that coincidentally he had “made his fortune” over there and that he could definitely sort me out with a good job if I was interested. It soon transpired that he had made said fortune by assuming ownership of a chain of strip clubs in Tokyo, and the kind of employment he had in mind for me was… rather beyond my area of expertise, shall we say! I clarified that I had my sights set on a different line of work (subtext: I am not remotely interested in using my feminine wiles – such as they are – to make men like you into millionaires, you massive sleazebag). He was gone the following morning.

Right at the other end of the sexuality spectrum, we have Pato – a long-term hostel-stayer and Buenos Aires native more camp than Alan Carr waving a giant rainbow flag from a glittering float at Brighton Pride while wearing a tutu. By the time I’d had time to identify my bed and throw my backpack down, Pato had given me a detailed biography of his hunky Brazilian boyfriend, along with a cutting breakdown of each of our fellow roommates (“…two French girls in Beds Three and Four – one snores, the other’s fat. German guy in Bed Seven – chain-smoker. Ugly. American in Bed Two is always on her phone, doesn’t speak Spanish. Plus stinky feet UGH.”) To Pato’s great excitement, two days ago a strapping young Swiss bloke moved into Bed Six. Batting his eyelids profusely and barely preventing a trail of drool from streaking down his chin, Pato asked the newcomer where he was from and for how long he was staying, while I listened from my bunk. No sooner had the Swiss dish shut the door on his way out to the shower, Pato swung his head conspiratorially in my direction and announced, “DEFINITELY gay. Did you SEE the way he was looking at me??” I giggled non-committally in response. Sometimes, stereotypes are hilariously accurate.

Chin-wags. My last few days have provided an excellent opportunity for catch-ups, and also for shooting the breeze with new acquaintances. It was great to be able to reconnect with Emma from university, who relocated to BA two years ago. We chatted a lot about our Cambridge memories, good and bad, and then hopped on a bus over to Belgrano, where she showed me China Town and we did some more quality wandering and chatting.

I was also over the moon to be able to check in with Paula and Monica, the awesome Argentinian duo with whom I did the salt flats expedition back in Bolivia. We spend a beautiful afternoon lunching, picking our way around the Saturday markets and reminiscing about the Bolivian adventure. So much love for those girls, total sweethearts.

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Later that evening, I found myself out in one of Palermo’s buzzing plazas, caught up in a heated debate with four lads from Rosario. It is quite a fascinating time to be here in Buenos Aires, in the wake of a divisive presidential election which has delivered conservative Macri into the Casa Rosada (the Americans have the White House; the Argentinians have the Pink House). Macri is expected to properly open the country up to international trade for the first time since the crash of 2001, which some welcome and others fear will make Argentina into one big cash cow for the United States… Debates such as the one in which I found myself in the Plaza Serrano that night are what make me thoroughly grateful to my younger self for deciding to learn Spanish – nothing beats hearing the passion and reactions of Argentinians on the ground first hand (hint: languages are COOL, have a go!!).

Fuerza Bruta. After helping Pato choose his outfit for the night back at the hostel, new travel chums Swiss Ornella, German Petra, Argentinian Lucas and I headed over to Recoleta for this artistic sensation which I had heard about a few years back. Fuerza Bruta is a veritable feast for the senses; it includes a lot of rousing, anarchic drumming and throwing of water and confetti, with performers on harnesses flying fearlessly around the auditorium while strobes distort your sight and unearthly beats pound your eardrums. The highlight was most definitely the water dancers; we craned our necks as mermaidesque figures writhed on a transparent, water-soaked platform above the audience’s heads. The effect is ethereal, unnerving and deeply beautiful. We all emerged an hour or so later, wide-eyed and slightly shell-shocked, in the best way possible. Incredible, visceral viewing.

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I have spent the rest of my last few days wandering around Buenos Aires’ many green spaces (el Rosedal is especially gorgeous), getting lost in the dilapidated charm of the San Telmo neighbourhood (and its humungous antiques market) and attempting to grasp the surreal fact that I will soon be feasting my eyes on the rolling hills of England… I am off to the airport shortly, so I will reserve my reflections of the whole crazy adventure for a final post when back on the sofa with a cuppa in hand, Tang on my lap and the Great British Bake-off playing in the background. See you on the other side!

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