Inspired by a whole series of alternative London Tube maps I decided to make my very own version of the beloved Buenos Aires Subte map, but translated (taking some very major liberties) into English. Click the image for the full-size version – enjoy!
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?
I 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?
I’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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve touched on names that have no real significance in the native language but are hilarious when seen with English eyes before, but I have a new favourite due to a recent advertising campaign in Buenos Aires. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Moron University.
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.
Something a little more sober than usual today. Today and tomorrow mark the tenth anniversary of the marches and riots that took place all over Argentina in 2001 protesting against the effects of the economic crisis that had overtaken the country throughout the year. Photos from the events leading up to the riots and the events of the those 2 days are being displayed in Plaza de Congreso & Plaza de Mayo for the next week.
Explaining the causes of the crisis would take a much more economically-minded person than me, but it stemmed from the policy of the Menem government to peg the peso artificially to the dollar throughout the 90s. Known as the Uno a Uno, it was successful in its initial aim of controlling the hyperinflation of the late 1980s (when it hit 5,000%), but as the decade came to a close, Argentine exports became uncompetitive and the country entered a 3-year recession.
Throughout 2001 the crisis got worse with mass resignations from the cabinet and President de la Rúa losing all parliamentary support in the October elections. Added to this was the effect of the Corralito which limited bank withdrawals to stem the flood of money from the system, which was largely ineffective due to large institutional exceptions (and warnings being given to large companies) but hit the middle classes hard.
By this point Argentina was effectively in default on a $132bn international debt and on December 1st all bank accounts were frozen which paralysed the country and the protests began in earnest. A series of lootings in Buenos Aires province between the 16th and 19th December led the President to claim Peronist agitators were fuelling the violence and at 9pm on the 19th December 2001 he declared a state of emergency.
People began leaving their houses and a cacerolazo (banging saucepans with a wooden spoon) started as the people of Buenos Aires showed their unhappiness with the situation and converged on the Plaza de Mayo. On the 20th the protests continued as the police began cracking down violently on the protests and by the end of the day 26 people had been killed around the country, including 5 in the Plaza de Mayo. The situation was not helped by the resignation of the President the following day and his escape from the Casa Rosada by helicopter.
It’s a funny little place, Uruguay. It has a population of 3 million people in an area the size of Wales, England and Northern Ireland combined, half of which live in one city. I’m told people often get it confused with Paraguay, although I don’t think I’ve ever been guilty of that. In fact I know very little about Uruguay, which is a little strange given that I’ve been there more than 10 times, usually on a Visa Run (a 70 mile daytrip by ferry to Colonia to renew my 90 tourist stamp). Needing to renew my visa again, this time I decided to do things a little more in depth and spent a couple of days in Montevideo and even took a side trip to Punta del Este.
Punta del Este (or simply Punta if you’re in the know) is famous for one thing – attracting hordes of rich and famous Argentinians every summer. From January until April the magazine stands in Buenos Aires are full of glossy covers showing the beautiful people at play across the river in Punta. Sort of like a high-class Benidorm, but with fewer Germans, it didn’t strike me as the sort of place I would like very much.
However, in the spirit of discovery, coupled with the realisation that there was no way I was going to be able to stretch out a 3rd day looking round Montevideo, I hopped on a bus and headed east to the sea.
As the bus rounded the corner at the top of the cliff overlooking the sweep of the bay and Punta del Este appeared in the distance, a row of skyscrapers several miles long, my heart sank. I had visions of crowds with sunburned shoulders walking down the street with plastic mugs of beer stumbling from amusement arcade to bar.
It just goes to show however, that you must always travel with an open mind, because I actually found myself very pleasantly surprised by Punta del Este. Firstly it was clean. As in spotless. Maybe it was simply ready for the long summer season to come but the streets were tidy and empty. Wandering away from the centre past some seriously fancy summer homes, there was not a soul around and the clear skies and sea breezes both helped to create a relaxed sense of well-being.
I can believe that in the middle of February when half of Buenos Aires is crammed onto the beach it becomes a much less attractive place, but I thoroughly enjoyed strolling around the half-empty streets. In a strange way it was like leaving South America for a few hours and visiting a fantasy land where everything is clean and bright and every day is a holiday.