For the first time since I arrived here in BA — over a week ago — today it stopped raining, and the sun came out! Yay — good weather at last (it's been wet and freezing all week, until now). So with the sun finally shining, I decided it was time to immediately seize the day, by seizing one of the free bikes that they have at The Clan, and to take myself on a bike tour around the city. As Master Yoda would say: "good this weather finally is, so ride a bicycle you must".
The bikes that they have at The Clan (only two of them) are absolute pieces of crap: they're about the most rudimentary things I've ever seen. No gears, no handbrakes (only pedal-backwards brakes — haven't used those since about the age of 5), and not much else, really: but they have seats, handlebars, and pedals, and that's enough to get you on the road. And everyone else in this city seems to ride equally crap bikes, anyway: and you wouldn't be experiencing the place properly, if you didn't ride the same rustbuckets as all the locals!
I set off at about midday — managing to get the bike down the stairs and through the security doors at The Clan with some difficulty — and then I was off. Took a little while to get used to the extreme dodginess of the bike, and to get up to speed with the traffic system in BA (or lack thereof): but once I'd survived the first 5 minutes, the rest was child's play.
The Clan bike.
First stop on today's bike tour was San Telmo: the funky artists' neighbourhood that I visited on Sunday, when it had its lively market going. Sadly, there was no market today: but all the trendy cafés and bars were still open, and there were still a few stalls set up in the main square. Riding in San Telmo can be a bit tricky, due to the bumpy old cobbled streets, and the fairly high amount of both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. But it's also a good, fun challenge.
Cobbled street in the centre of San Telmo.
From San Telmo I continued south, away from the downtown city centre, and towards the famous riverside area of La Boca (lit: "The Mouth" — referring to the mouth of the river, the Río de la Plata). Considering that I had no map, no compass, and no clear idea of where I had to go (I just kinda "tried to head south"), I think I did a pretty good job of finding my way there. La Boca is a poor, working-class area, with ramshackle houses (and even makeshift shelters) peppered amongst a sprawl of factories, warehouses, and docks. The area is dilapidated and a bit shifty; but nevertheless, it has a lot of character, and the people there seem to be reasonably friendly and non-hostile (during the day, anyway). La Boca also made for the best riding that I did today, as its many back streets are low on traffic (unlike most of BA), as well as flat and fairly well-maintained.
Big, ugly bridge overlooking the semi-slums of La Boca.
There is one little spot in the centre of La Boca, that's a starkly contrasting exception to the rest of the suburb. The street called "El Caminito" — and a few streets right next to it — is the well-known tourist haunt of the place, and the only part of La Boca that most tourists ever see. It's jam-packed with restaurants, cafés, souvenir shops, and street vendors selling artwork. A little bit like San Telmo — except that it's permeated by the working-class atmosphere of the neighbourhood surrounding it; and that it's next to the river, and has a nice view of, and a boardwalk by, the (hopelessly polluted) water.
Square on El Caminito.
Paintings for sale in La Boca.
Next to the water in La Boca.
From La Boca, I once again started cycling through the city, with an idea of where I wanted to go, but with nothing except a vague knowledge of my destination's whereabouts to get me there. Anyway, I guess I studied my LP map pretty well, and I guess that my sense of direction isn't too bad after all: because I seemed to get where I wanted to go without any problems (not that I was in a hurry, of course).
I headed west from La Boca, continuing through the poorer neighbourhoods near the riverside, before cutting north and heading back towards the city centre. I went through Barrio Once — where I did my kosher tour of BA — and from there, headed further north, through Barrio Norte and eventually Palermo: all the rich, upper-class, and heavily-trafficked parts of town. I stopped for lunch near a big park (I think it was sort of in Palermo), where I sat on the grass, and munched on some take-away gourmet empanadas while I basked in the ambiance. Nice area: lots of students lounging on the lawns; and lots of trendy-looking people walking their manicured pedigree dogs through the park.
Nice day to hang out in the park.
After that, all that I had left to cycle through and to see were the grand sights — such as the main plaza, and the fine arts museum — that take up much of the area north of the downtown city centre. And from there, it was straight down the gigantic Av. 9 de Julio, and back to the hostel.
Fine arts museum (the walking bridge next to it is good fun to ride over).
Leafy Plaza Recoleta.
Torre Inglés, the Big Ben wannabe of BA.
Big dude on a horse in the main square of Buenos Aires.
Av. 9 de Julio, claimed to be the biggest road in the world, with as many as 10 lanes of traffic on each side (in some spots). Takes about 10 minutes and 4 sets of traffic lights to cross this road.
El Obelisco, the big obelisk in the middle of Av. 9 de Julio.
All up, a very enjoyable day's riding. The traffic was less-than-ideal for most of my route: but La Boca provided a nice relief from this for a bit; and it was so good to get out and to enjoy some nice weather again, that it didn't bother me too much anyway. Buenos Aires is a beautiful city, and one of the best ways to experience and to appreciate its grand beauty is on a bicycle.