Buenos Aires, Argentina -- City Tour and Zoo
The next morning, however, we took advantage of the first part of the city tour that was included in our booked trip. While most of the Audubon members whom with we were traveling drove over to a nearby marsh area, we climbed aboard a tour bus and drove around various parts of downtown Buenos Aires,
The economy of Argentina was suffering terribly when we visited, and radical plans had been made and actions taken to try and get the economy back on track, but all had failed, and inflation was at an all time high. Most people preferred to be paid in foreign currency -- preferably US dollars, and almost every business, no matter how large or how small, had prices is US dollars, sometimes even to the exclusion of their own currency, which was rapidly approaching no value at all. Credit cards were not welcome, even in the big international hotels, which struck us as odd, but as it turned out the entire country's banking system was on the verge of collapse, making it nearly impossible for merchants to receive payments from the credit card companies. Buenos Aires was an expensive city even for the locals, and many were struggling to get by, but everywhere we went we saw enthusiastic people enjoying their beautiful city.
And yet the arrival of relative prosperity did not displace most of the original inhabitants, and so you find a glorious mix of residents going about their every day business the same as before the area became a tourist highlight, the locals who have set up businesses because of the tourist trade, and of course the tourists, who no doubt provide the major influx of income to the neighborhood.
We spent over an hour walking along the cobbled stones, enjoying the performance artists posing about the various landmarks, and just drinking in the atmosphere. Too soon we had to board our bus and head for our next destination, which would mercifully be where Elayne and I (and our friends Roberta and Justine) would jump ship and break out into the city on our own.
We wandered among the crypts, enjoying the wildly diverse themes and designs of each structure and tomb, and listening as our guide explained how entire families found their final resting places within. Many crypts had glass enclosure, and within each were the actually bones of the deceased, on display for all to see. Apparently the most recent inhabitant of such tombs are given this place of honor, while the previous occupant is displaced into the hidden reaches of the structure -- typically down a narrow and twisty stone stairway leading below ground. While many of the crypts were reasonably well maintained and obviously recently visited by (still living) family members, others were neglected and in various states of disrepair.
After touring the cemetery Justine, Roberta, Elayne and I enjoyed lunch in a nearby outdoor bistro beneath the spreading branches of an enormous tree. Tropical birds called out and flighted down from overhead as we indulged in various local delicacies. We watched the locals, either dining with us, or relaxing in the surrounding plaza as we finished our lunch and made ready to head off into the city on our own.
We had walked nearly all of the way through the zoo, and were preparing to leave through the opposite gate from where we entered when we caught wind of a familiar scent: the smell of a mustelid! We eagerly walked down a narrow walkway, which led to a large circular cage partitioned into several wedge shaped holding areas. Within each of these exhibits was a different member of the weasel family. A skunk was sleeping in one, while nearby a very friendly grison came up and asked for some attention. In between these two wild animals (although the grison was tame enough to have been someone's pet) was a domestic ferret! The ferret woke up and realized someone was spending a lot of time looking at him, and he too came over to the fencing, begging for some personal interaction. It had been over two weeks since we had last seen our own ferrets, and we wanted so bad to pick this guy up and hold him for the rest of the day, but the cage prevented anything more than verbal encouragement, and after a while this sable boy curled up in his food dish (just like a ferret!) and went to sleep. Reluctantly we left the zoo and began to walk back to our hotel several miles away.
Buenos Aires, Argentina -- Birding
I was ready to spend the rest of the day enjoying the comforts of our hotel room -- with Internet access (what a geek) -- while Elayne hiked over to a nearby wild life sanctuary (visible from our hotel) to do some additional birding. While I was researching skunk rescue organizations for, checking up on email, and looking at live images from the Cascade Ferret Network web-cam that is set up in our house, Elayne was spotting new species to add to her life list. Elayne then walked about the plaza near the hotel for one last look at Buenos Aires, and then it was time to leave.
As uneventful as the flight down, the return flight to Miami passed in a night of little rest and less comfort. We managed to secure two seats on an earlier return flight home, but at the gate we discovered there was actually only one seat available, and so Elayne took the earlier flight, which gave me an opportunity to have lunch with my sister Lois before I too returned to Portland.