Wednesday, October 19, 2005

No mas violencia

That's the sign they paraded around the stadium before the Super Clasico - River Plate versus Boca Juniors. Rated as one of the greatest derbies in the world, the fans have a history of getting out of control. Which would explain the battalion of riot police, firemen, and leaf blowers.

I first heard about the big game last week while in Uruguay. When I arrived in Buenos Aires, the hostel had tickets (via the tourist bureau) for $AR180 (about $US60), which was a little pricey. After some consideration, I decided to head to the stadium and try my luck buying a ticket off the street. I took the the Subte (subway), and it was easy to follow the crowd making their way to the stadium. Getting closer, I could begin to hear the roar of the crowd (and this was still an hour a way from kickoff). As the stadium came into view, the streets became a maze, as the police were blocking off most of the routes. Eventually, I found my way into the shadow of the stadium and eye the scalper´s row. The first guy I make contact with has a ticket for $AR50. Weary about a fake ticket (they forge currency like crazy here), I was a little hesitent at first, but soon decided to buy it - bargaining and shopping around - or the failure to do so - has always been one of my downfalls (anyone interested in a Mao watch?). Not even sure where my seat was, I headed into the den.

Entering the stadium, I was faced with nearly full stands - and this is still almost one hour before the game. On the field are the youth teams playing. The stands are filled with River red - banners and signs lining the railings, and red bedecked fans all over. In the left endzone (okay, I'm not sure what it's called in football parlance - goalzones??) are most fervent River fans, with huge banners, flags, and the ceaseless songs and chants. To the right, in the upper deck endzone, covered in blue, are the Boca fans, literally caged in. They are surrounded by a 15 foot high fence, topped by barbed wire and ringer by police. On either side they've kept the seats completely empty, like a lion's cage at the zoo. These are the cheap seats, kind of like the bleacher's, where the most ardent fans (and most ardent hooligans) sit.

As the game approached kick off, the fans started getting louder and louder. When they began announcing the teams, streams of toilet paper and an onslaught of confetti came raining down out of the sky (bring on the army of leaf blowers). River unfurled a gigantic banner across the upper deck - it most have been about 100 by 150 feet. A few firecrackers popped off, but I didn't see any fires or very many flares. The fans got louder and louder, with all the River fans around me chanting at the Boca fans. The Boca fans - more renowned for their violence, where definitely the more fervent, nearly holding their own vocally while being out numbered probably 10 to 1. The game itself (almost a side show to the activities in the stands) was back and forth, with not very many good shots on goal the first half.

At half time, they had a demonstration of blind soccer. Which, would tend to require some peace and quiet. Which they got, from everyone but the Boca fans. They kept up with the pep band, the singing, and chanting all throughout. I don't think the upper crust River fans appreciated that, and I don't think the working class Boca fans cared. If there was going to be violence today, this could be the tipping point. But we escapted unscathed.

The second half saw a little more pressing from both sides, but neither squad was able to push the ball into the net. The last 5-10 minutes saw River getting quite lazy, and they were probably lucky to escape with the point against the division leading Boca team. At the end of the game, All the River fans had to stay in stands until the Boca fans cleared out of the stadium and got a head start out of the neighborhood (I'm not sure if this was for the protection of the Boca fans or the River fans). This took about 20 minutes as the Boca fans kept up their cheers and songs and had to be goaded out of the stadium by the police.

I think I'm beginning to become to addicted to football games. I've now seen a club game in Uzbekistan, a Uruguay-Argentina World Cup qualifying game in Montevideo, and River-Boca. I'm almost ready to start planning trips around football games - so when's the next Celtic-Rangers game anyways?

Saturday, October 8, 2005

The Sierras

I figure it's time for another update. Although it's been a pretty sedate week or so. I arrived in Cordoba and headed straight up to La Cumbre. Supposedly it´s one of the best places to paraglide (they hosted the World Paragliding Championships several years ago). Unfortunately, the winds were not in my favor and I was unable to jump off of any more mountains. In lieu of that, I went on a brief horse back ride. Not having been on a horse in over 20 years, brief was good enough. Two hours of horse back riding = two days of pain. The town of La Cumbre itself was nice, although it definitely seems like more of an Argentinian tourist destination then a spot on the backpacker's trail. There are about 45 hotels in town - with a population of about 7500 - but no hostels. I did find a very nice B&B type place that was pretty cheap though. Being the off season for Argentinians to travel, it seemed rather empty. But I did find some of the nicest steak I've ever had - 2" thick sirloins at a restaurant there that were simply amazing.

Moving on from La Cumbre, I headed back to Cordoba, the main stop in the Sierras. It's the second biggest city in Argentina, with a large college population. I spent most of my time there relaxing and taking in some of the sights - a few museums, and a very lovely pedestrian center in the middle of town.

One of my side trips from Cordoba was to Villa General Belgrano, where they have an annual Oktoberfest. It was a rousing time, even though it rained a little - the first I've seen since Iguazu almost a month ago. Kinda expensive as well, with liters of beer running 12 Pesos ($4US, to compar a liter bottle in the grocery store runs about 2 Pesos) but it was good artesenal, i.e. microbrew, beer.

After Oktoberfest I returned to Cordoba for a few days and then began my adventure to my present locale. Which would be Santa Fe. I kinda got stuck here, as my original destination was Rosario. But from Cordoba to Rosario all the buses ran late in the evening, so I looked into other options. One was Santa Fe, which is just a couple hours from Rosario. I finally found a company with a bus at 1pm - this was at about 12:30 - so I booked that. As soon as I got the ticket though, she told me it was leaving at 2:30. So I had to wait an extra hour and a half, which gave me time to grab some lunch. When I got to Santa Fe, at about 8 pm, my choices were to try and get a bus to Rosario, a bus to Montevideo, Uruguay, or stay the night. I decided to look for a Montevideo bus, but none were running that day. Or the next day. Meanwhile they're telling me which day the bus runs, but I can't figure it out, not because I can't understand the day (it's close enough to the French to figure out) but because I don't know what the present day is. I have a basic idea, but I'm not that sure. Anyways, I manage to go back to the bus station yesterday and buy a ticket for manana, tomorrow (which would be today) to Montevideo. In the meantime, I stayed at this pretty beat hotel across from the bus station - foam mattress and pillows, window facing the bus station, peeling wallpaper, the works. In the meantime, I´m trying to pass the next 11 hours before I go to catch the bus.

Anyways, that's been my less then overly exciting week. One more week of travel before I return to Buenos Aires. As I stated, I'm headed to Montevideo, Uruguay. From there I'll hit Colonia before crossing the river back to BsAs. I've got my apartment lined up, right smack in the middle of downtown BsAs, and classes start in just over a week. As an added bonus, I´ll be meeting up with a friend from college, and another friend of a friend who lives there.