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Cementerio de la Recoleta | Recoleta Cemetery
10th February 2015 - 0 comments
In: Travel
The Recoleta Cemetery is only a few blocks from our rented apartment, which made it really convenient for us to go and photograph this intriguing place. Located in the middle of the Recoleta neighbourhood, this cemetery is listed as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. We made several trips to the cemetery and each visit seemed to uncover a different layer of this amazing city of the dead. A fascinating combination of well maintained and elaborate marbled vaults and statues, as well as others that have fallen in state of disrepair and neglect.

The cemetery hold the remains of the rich and famous including past presidents, military heroes, influential politicians and, of course, probably the most visited - the mausoleum of Evita Peron. Each time we were there, someone approached us to ask for direction to Evita's tomb.

What's eerie about the cemetery is that in many cases, you can see the caskets through the glass doors or open doors of the mausoleums. It is a bit unsettling at first, but you get used to it eventually and you actually start admiring the elaborate work done on the wood and intricate hardware of the caskets. This is a city within the city and it is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways branching into little side streets.

I created a series of photographs while walking around the little streets of Recoleta cemetery. It may seem a little macabre at first, but I hope you find the images interesting, including one of the many feral cats that roam around the concrete corridors.























Getting Settled in Buenos Aires
26th January 2015 - 0 comments
In: Travel
It's been a week since my wife and I arrived in this vibrant city of Buenos Aires, and yet we feel that we have not even scratched the surface of what you can see and do in this city. It's a good thing that we planned to stay here for a month.

We have a high level plan of what we want to see in Buenos Aires, and we're always open to the joy of being "lost" in the city. We're always mindful, of course, of the dangerous areas to avoid and we take the usual precaution we would take in any other large city, but exploring areas that are a little off the beaten tracks can bring unexpected surprises, especially for photographers. There is an advantage to not completely planning your itinerary for each day and each hour ahead of time. For us, not planning everything and allowing ourselves to wander allows for spontaneity as well as the opportunity to follow recommendations by locals and other travellers. It makes for a more exciting vacation. Of course, it is easier to have a loose agenda as we plan to be here for a longer period of time.

We like to settle in one area for an extended period to really understand and experience the culture of the place we are visiting. The If-it's-Tuesday-this-must-be-Belgium kind of vacation is something that does not appeal to us. To authentically experience the everyday life of the people - the good and the bad - can be very rewarding. We like to settle into an apartment in an area where locals would live, and then we try to live as a local. We can learn a lot about the culture by going about and doing everyday mundane things that locals do.
One thing that we do to experience what it's like to be a local or in this case, Porteños (Spanish for someone who lives in the port city of Buenos Aires), is to take the local buses around the city. Buenos Aires has an amazing network of buses and subways that can quickly get you around the city. Taking the local buses exposes you to the public that no rented car, organized tour, or taxi can do. There are many similarities between commuters here and North American cities; many of them have their earphones on listening to music , as well as either texting or browsing social media. Not to mention talking on their cell phone loud enough for others to hear. But one thing I noticed is that some makes the sign of the cross when we pass in front of a church. This gave me a flashback of my childhood in Manila where almost everyone does this.

Having coffee with the locals at one of the many cafes is always a great experience. We have not been disappointed by the Italian-style coffee served everywhere here. Although mate is the official national drink (prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba mate), most of the people I've seen in here drink coffee - probably true to Argentina's celebrated Italian heritage. As in many Latin American countries, flan (my favourite) is available in most cafes and restaurants and goes well with cafe con leche. It is usually serve with dulce de leche or whipped cream. A close second is Budin de Pan, or bread pudding. The Argentine version is a smooth dessert (no chunks of bread) and is also served with dulce de leche or whipped cream on the side. Other pastries we also tried and really liked are medialuna (croissants but sweeter than we're used to) and Alfajores de Maicena, which is basically a two cookie sandwich with dulce de leche in the middle. Really loving dulce de leche!

Here are some images of the places we've been to this week. A couple of surprises we've encountered while wandering the streets: as an antique bookstore in a beautiful art deco building, and a commercial gallery called Galería Güemes.

La Calesita






Galería Güemes






La librería El Ateneo



Cafe Tortoni

Exchanging Currency is a Covert Affair in Buenos Aires
20th January 2015 - 0 comments
In: Travel
The financial crisis is Argentina and the government's restrictions on the purchase of US dollars have created an alternative or parallel black market exchange called "blue rate". The blue rate is at least 50% more than the official exchange rate which makes your money go a longer way when paying for hotels, restaurants or goods. This is a boon for tourists travelling to the country, if you are carrying physical green bucks. In order to get the blue rate, you need to go to an underground "cueva" to change your dollars to pesos. Going through the cueva can be a daunting experience almost like going through a covert mission .

My experience (may have been slightly exaggerated):

I have a contact in Buenos Aires. His name is Rodrigo (name changed to protect his identity). He sent me a message after arriving at my rented condo to go to a cueva address to meet a guy to exchange our money. The cueva was on a busy part of Recoleta district, only a few blocks away so I didn't feel that I'm in any danger. After walking the uneven sidewalks and avoiding a few doggie doos (it appears that poop & scoop is not mandatory here), I arrived at the address and realized that it was an art store. I was confused and double checked the address . After verifying that it was the correct, I looked inside the store and saw only a couple of paintings hanging on the wall. It looked bare for an art store. I tried to open the door, but it was locked. There was a buzzer on the right side of the door and I hesitantly pressed it. No answer. I looked up and noticed a camera pointed in my direction. I pressed the buzzer again and I still did not get an answer. After the third try, I gave up. I feel I've been compromised that's why I was not let in.

I texted Rodrigo about my failed mission and he sent me back another address. He said to ask for Nadia (I figured she must be Russian), and I have to be there before 4:00 pm. I looked at my watch. I had less than half an hour to go to the cueva, which was fifteen blocks away. I started walking fast, almost running. I got there with a few minutes to spare. The cueva is a small women's clothing store, but this time, I was not surprised to find a business fronting the cueva. There was an old man sitting by the door and I nodded to him. He gave me a suspicious look as I went inside. A lady approached me and I said that I'm looking for Nadia. She led me to the back of the store and signaled me to go through a black door that looked like a change room. I pulled the door but it was locked. A moment later, I heard a buzzer and the door was unlocked. I went inside . The room was painted black and only big enough for one person. It was dark except for a small window which was protected by glass. A woman was standing behind the glass and did not look friendly. I pulled out hundred dollar bills and counted them in front of her. I slid them under a small opening in the window. She quickly grabbed the cash and started punching numbers in her small calculator. She showed me the numbers on the display screen, and I nodded okay. She disappeared to the back of the room with my cash and for a minute, I wasn't sure if she'd be back. The small dark room was hot and I could feel sweat beading on my forehead. I took a deep breath and wiped the sweat off with my sleeve. She showed up after a couple of minutes (although it felt like an eternity) and started counting the pesos in front of me. I smiled as I put the money in my pocket and was buzzed out of the small room. The store was closed by then and the old man unlocked the door to let me out. I felt relieved as I smelled the fresh air outside, feeling the pesos in my pocket and hoping not to get robbed on my way home.