Villa Epecuen

I’d heard about Villa Epecuen a while ago, firstly through a photo essay, and then my friend Stephen Phelan visited and it jumped to the top of my must-visit places in Argentina.

Ruins, Villa Epecuen
Ruins, Villa Epecuen

Last week 4 of us took off on a mini road-trip and as luck would have it our route took us past the town to Carhué, some 10 kilometres south of the the ruined village, so we took a small detour and headed off to see what was left of Villa Epecuen.

Wheelbarrow, Villa Epecuen
Wheelbarrow, Villa Epecuen

Villa Epecuen was founded on the banks of Lago Epecuen in the early 20th Century and soon became a popular tourist resort with crowds flocking from Buenos Aires to sample the curative qualities of the mineral-rich water of the lake. They say that by the 1950s, the village’s population of 1,500 would swell to more than 6,500 in the high season.

Window frames, Epecuen
Window frames, Epecuen

But the lake, the very thing that drew the visitors would prove to be Villa Epecuen’s undoing. In November 1985, 8 days of heavy rain burst a nearby dam and the waters began to rise, slowly enough for the residents to evacuate, but too fast to prevent the flooding and before long Villa Epecuen was under 10 metres of water.

Steps, Villa Epecuen
Steps, Villa Epecuen

And there it remained until a few years ago when the water began receding, revealing a ruined and very different place. Much of the water evaporated leaving a thick layer of salt coating much of the remains, giving the place a very sparse and blasted look.

Salty tree, Epecuen
Salty tree, Epecuen

The main streets have been cleared, and every year more of the village is uncovered, but only one resident remains, or more accurately, returned. 83 year old Pablo Novak returned to his home once the waters had lowered sufficiently – claiming that he was born there and is happy to die there.

Avenida de Mayo, Villa Epecuen
Avenida de Mayo, Villa Epecuen

Daniel Tunnard – The Brit on the Buses

I came across Daniel Tunnard’s blog Colectivaizeishon a few weeks ago and was instantly taken with his idea of catching every one of the 141 bus lines in Buenos Aires and writing about it. As a fellow Brit and Buenos Aires colectivo fan, I asked him a few questions to find out some more about the project and the idea behind it.

Who are you, where are you from originally and how long have you been in Buenos Aires?

I was born in Sheffield and grew up in Stockport. When you’ve lived in the shadow of Stockport viaduct for thirteen years, anywhere else is an exciting prospect. Not to denigrate the viaduct of course, it’s a fine piece of civil engineering. I’ve been living in Buenos Aires since January 1999. It’s not that much, I know English people who’ve been here since the 80s. I endeavour daily to avoid picking up their resignation and/or bitterness. I moved out here for an Argentine girl who I’d known for two days and corresponded with by letter for two years. Yeah, pretty stupid/romantic, depending on your gender. Reader, I married her. And divorced her. Then I married another Argentine. I did it in a church the second time, believing such spiritual gravitas would prevent a second divorce. The organist played us out with a Beatles song. Like I said, gravitas.

Your current project is called Colectivaizeishon – tell us about it
I’m taking all 141 bus lines in Buenos Aires. People think this is a book about the buses of Buenos Aires. It isn’t. I haven’t worked out what it is about yet, but it’s more interesting than buses. It’s essentially a string of random observations, sarcastic comments and the occasional pleasantry for the easily-offended Argentines. It’s also a documentary, which I have to tell you about because, like a crap charades player, every time I mention the book I forget about the film, and my producer gets offended. She’s Argentine.

What’s the longest bus journey you’ve been on so far? Have you fallen asleep yet?

On a bus, Buenos AiresI once took a 48-hour bus from Cusco to Lima and got plenty of shut-eye. In Buenos Aires, the 110 goes 70 blocks as the crow flies via the longest route imaginable. It’s only 90 minutes but your arse feels like it’s been 3 hours. But there aren’t any seriously long journeys because it’s all in the capital, so I avoid mammoth treks like the 60 from Constitución to Escobar. I take 3 buses a day, and some of those days have been very long. I spent 11 hours on the buses one day at the start of December. You could have watered a minor agricultural smallholding with the sweat from my perineum. Sorry, no more arse gags. I fell asleep on the 36. I’d been up since 5am in a bid to beat the traffic. Had a nice kip during the boring parts of Flores, but didn’t beat the traffic. The only way to beat the traffic would be to start taking the buses at 10pm and go through the night. I intend to do this, as soon as I grow a pair.

If you were in charge of a bus line, what changes would you make?

Buenos Aires TramI’d make the bus run on rails and call it a tram. It would have a little bell that went ding-a-ling. Men would wear suits and hats and bow upon meeting like men. There would also be a miniature railway running round above the seats, to entertain the children. And all passengers would be required to carry cones of gold dust in case of accidents, like in that film about the woman with the eyebrows.

Do you have a favourite line? What’s so good about it?

The 39 from Barracas to Chacarita is an old favourite because i used to take it when I lived in Palermo Viejo and the drivers wait for you even if the lights are green. And there’s a sign on the window wishing you a happy birthday, even if it isn’t your birthday. You don’t get that kind of random salutation on other buses. I also enjoyed the 23 and 26, because they took me to a shanty town without my asking, and I’d always wanted to go to one but didn’t like to ask.

What plans do you have for your next project?

I’m still trying to get the project before this one published, which is a novel about a filmmaker who finds Brian May in his wardrobe with a time travel machine he crafted from a fireplace and motorcycle engine. After 12 literary agents rejected it, I turned to unconventional promotional techniques and I wrote a song about Brian May’s thesis and posted it on youtube. Brian May posted it on his website and wrote to me to congratulate me. I sent him the novel. Haven’t heard back.

I have an idea to take all the trains in Argentina, but it’s not the kind of thing you can do during the day and be back home for tea, and it would be more like conventional travel writing, which isn’t what I want to do. I also have an idea to make a miniature model of Buenos Aires in 1924, when there were still trams, and have a miniature version of myself take all the miniature tramlines in miniature Buenos Aires. I bet I couldn’t find a publisher for that, either.

Evita’s Office in the CGT Building

Peron bust in the lobby
Peron bust in the lobby
I got a request the other day from a tour client who wanted to visit Eva Perón’s office in the CGT Building in San Telmo. I was aware that Evita had had an office there, after all it was famously where her embalmed body was kept in the 3 years between her death and its disappearance at the hands of a military government in 1955, but I didn’t know if you could visit it or not and couldn’t find any information about it online. So, making the most of a rainy day and nobody turning up for the tour, I headed to San Telmo to see what I could find out.

The CGT (Confederación General del Trabajo, the umbrella trade union movement) headquarters are on Azopardo, on the block behind the Engineering Faculty on the not very interesting side of Paseo Colón. The building was opened in 1950 and doesn’t appear to have changed much since. The movement itself played a vital role in Peronism and at its height represented more than 6 million workers and 2,500 unions.

Evita's Office, CGT Building, Buenos Aires
Evita’s Office, CGT Building, Buenos Aires

Following Evita’s death on 26th July 1952, her body was quickly embalmed and displayed in public in the Ministry of Labour building (which currently features 2 enormous murals of her) for the grieving nation to pay their respects (more than 2,000 people needed treatment for injuries sustained in the rush of trying to get closer to the body). In August the body was moved to her old office in the CGT building, where it was kept under lock and key and only visiting dignitaries and ambassadors were allowed to visit. I was told that Dr Pedro Ara held the only key and even Perón had to ask permission to see the body.

Eva Peron's ID card
Eva Peron’s ID card, note the number, 0000001

Kept here whilst plans were being made for the construction of a huge monument in her memory, plans changed in December 1955 when Perón was overthrown by a military coup and fled into exile. It was made illegal to possess any image of the Peróns, or to even say their names and Evita’s body was taken from the office by the incoming regime and disappeared without a trace. 16 years later it was revealed that the body had been buried under an assumed name in Milan. Initially taken to Spain to be with Perón once again, her body made it back to Argentina in 1975 after Perón’s return and subsequent death.

Eva Peron's Desk
Eva Peron’s Desk

The office today is a small shrine to the woman and the legend, the walls are adorned with images of her and newspaper clippings of the important events surrounding her life.

Newspaper Cuttings
Newspaper Cuttings

Entrance to the office is free, simply turn up at the CGT building between 11am and 5pm and ask to see the offices. You’ll be taken up by a delightful gentleman called Alfonso, who is a sprightly 82 years old and talks affectionately of the times, as a 20 year-old, he stood in the Plaza de Mayo shouting Evita’s name as she stood on the balcony of the Casa Rosada.

The guide
The guide

It’s a fascinating place to visit as there aren’t many rooms in Argentina that have held so much history over the years. As a museum it’s very small, and there’s very little to see beyond the newspaper clippings on the wall, but it’s brought to life by the guide who answers any questions you might have.

Entrance, CGT Building, Buenos Aires
Entrance, CGT Building, Buenos Aires – note the Peron busts either side of the steps

First published on my Buenos Aires Local Tours blog

Comparing Buenos Aires to other World Cities

Buenos Aires is often compared to other cities around the world. Many a guidebook waxes lyrical about the “Paris of the South”. Puerto Madero is Manhattan (at least to those who have never been to Manhattan) and the leafy parks of Palermo have reminded more than one visitor to the large open space of Central Park. I like a good comparison and today I began wondering how did Buenos Aires stack up to other world cities in terms of size. I know it’s 80 square miles with a population of a shade under 3 million, but what does that mean, when comparing to another city I know well, such as London? I decided to find out.

London vs Buenos Aires
London vs Buenos Aires

So here we have a map of London, taken from Google maps with the outline of Buenos Aires at the same scale overlaid. I’ve highlighted some of the well-known spots in the city to make it easier to gauge the size. The Plaza de Mayo is roughly where London Bridge is, which puts Plaza Dorrego round about Waterloo, Caminito in Peckham and Plaza Italia the other side of Regents Park on Primrose Hill and Congreso de Tucuman way out in Hendon.
Paris vs Buenos Aires
Paris vs Buenos Aires (click for full-size)

Paris may have influenced Buenos Aires from an architectural point of view, but the student certainly outgrew the master, with Paris nestling nicely within the Argentine capital, taking up around 50% of the land area.
New York vs Buenos Aires
New York vs Buenos Aires (click for full-size)

Unsurprisingly, New York is much more of a match for Buenos Aires with the 5 Boroughs dwarfing Capital Federal. Note the size of Central Park; about the same sort of distance as Plaza Italia to Chacarita – huge!

Any requests? More cities you’d like to see compared? let me know in the comments!

This post was originally published on Buenos Aires Local Tours.

Ciudad Evita – When a Name is Not Enough

If you have spent any time in Argentina, then you will have not failed to notice that they are very fond of naming things after notable characters in the country’s past. Streets, railway lines, squares and towns can all bear the names of important historical figures. In 1948, President Juan Domingo Perón decided to take that tradition one step further.

Founded about 20km from the centre of Buenos Aires and around 6km from Ezeiza airport, Ciudad Evita, a settlement of 15,000 houses, was of course, named after the First Lady of Argentina, Eva Perón. However, not content with simply applying the name, it was also decided that the town’s layout should be designed to portray an outline of the lady herself.

Ciudad Evita seen from above
Ciudad Evita seen from above, Google Maps

The surrounding area has been built up since the town was created, but her outline, complete with the characteristic bun at the back of her head can still clearly be seen on Google Maps. So next time you’re heading to the airport (on the motorway on the left of the picture), bear in mind just how close the memory of Evita is.

New Years Eve from the Top of the Palacio Barolo

I was lucky enough to see 2012 in at the top of the Palacio Barolo, the tallest building in South America when it was built 90 years ago. It’s a beautiful and fascinating place in its own right and I’ll do a post on it soon, but in the meantime enjoy the pics of Buenos Aires celebrating the New Year.

Congreso seen from Palacio Barolo
Congreso seen from Palacio Barolo, 1st Jan 2012
Fireworks next to Congreso
Fireworks next to Congreso

Congreso from Palacio Barolo

New Years Eve in Buenos Aires
New Years Eve in Buenos Aires