The Ghosts of La Recoleta

She came to us after Mass.

We had watched the people leaving the church, the men pulling on gloves, the women buttoning coats against the chill June air. Older women, dressed in black, tightening their headscarves. Always a good opportunity for some money, using all that guilt, that longing for a better world, that recognition that there might be a God. So we pulled the thin blanket tighter, sat upright on the newspaper, stared into their faces, held out our hands.

Most people looked away, embarrassed by our youth, repulsed by our smell perhaps. Wishing we were invisible. But some looked, even if only to shake their heads. Perhaps to wonder why we were there, who our parents were and where they might be. A few gave money, coins we grasped in our dirty chipped-nailed fingers, slid into pockets, saved for later. Then the woman came.

She stood for a moment, deciding. Searched our faces, considered walking away, dismissing the thought, the belief, the commitment. But she had already decided really. The choice had been made, while she stood before the icon, while she lit the candle, while she allowed herself, for one brief second, to truly seek her God’s face. So she leaned towards me, worried that she might be seen, asked if I was the eldest. Did we sleep here at night? Did we have no shelter now it was winter?

I indicated that I was in charge, suspicious of her motives, nodded slowly, not wanting to commit, ready to deny it in a whisper. For shelter, I glanced upwards, at the high concrete overhang. Not that it was much shelter. When it rained, the water would find a way through, run in rivulets along the broken paving slabs, often soaking the newspaper we lay on for warmth.

Sometimes we used one of the abandoned theatres opposite a faded villa, the weathered gargoyles scowling at us as we pushed through a gap in the boarded up door. But it was always full of empty bottles. It was safer on the street. The cold was less of a threat than the drunken adults who lurked in the shadows of forgotten buildings.

When she told me to come, it was so faint, I barely heard her. The muttered address, the specific time, all whispered in a hurry. Hopeful perhaps that I would mishear, arrive too late or in the wrong place. That she could absolve her conscience by having tried whilst failing to deliver.

I thought about it all day. We sorted through the litter bins in Plaza San Martin, hopeful a wasteful tourist may have thrown away food. Or a bereaved relative, come to find a name on the wall of names, losing their appetite, throwing away their lunch. We watched the fat birds perched on the statues and wished we were them, could fly over the city, up to the sun.

When I told the others, sitting on the steps, looking back at the old clock tower, they wanted to go, to try our luck. What did we have to lose? There might be some food involved. So we went.

It wasn’t far. We left our blankets folded in their place, pushed back against the shop front. So we could come back later, our shelter would be reserved. If it rained, dry space would be hard to find.

We stayed on the main road, away from the broken roofed station, past the memorials and the park. It wasn’t an area we frequented, too full of tourists for the police to turn a blind eye. Too many rich people with carefully made up faces and stomachs full from the parilla. We followed the road, the black and yellow taxis speeding past, the occasional lorry slogging through the city from the pampas, stacked high with produce to sell.

We waited outside, loitering under the giant gum tree, its branches spread as wide as its height. We were early, not wanting to miss something that might be good. Or might not. But we could run if we needed to, back to the anonymity of the disused tracks.

We watched customers leaving the French cafe, the taxis waiting for fares in the little square, the stall holders packing up their wares. When the square was empty, only the pigeons left to find stray crumbs, she came. Hurrying across the faded grass, anxiety in every limb, every glance. She stood at a distance, checked we were unobserved, beckoned us over, turned and hastened back inside. We followed.

Afterwards, we could never be sure why we had. Why had we trusted her, risked walking through the arched entrance, let her pull the gates closed behind us, turn the key in the lock? Let her lead us past the map that guided visitors, through the wide doorway, onto the pathway beyond. Hidden by high stone walls, unseen.

We stood there. Five of us. Ragged and hungry and alone. No one to miss us. No one to care. No one to even notice.

We stood amongst the dead. On every side, the stone booths of the rich and famous protected their remains. Pointed roofed cathedrals, statues of angels, marble shelters. I knew this place. I knew the bereaved visited and the curious. People came to see the statues, the monuments, the plaques. They sought dead relatives, famous writers, the final resting place of Evita.

Beyond the perimeter, reaching towards the sky were the windows of tall buildings, like many eyes watching. An old man approached, as ancient as the tombs, stared at us, smiled a toothless smile, nodded at the woman. She turned to me, all business. Confident now we were unwatched, no possible witnesses.

“You came. Good. I wasn’t sure if you would. I must leave soon, I cannot be late home. But this is Juan. He works here, cleaning the graves. You can stay, it will be sheltered. There are blankets – and food, I can bring more each day, I will leave it somewhere in the evenings, when I lock up to go home. You can use the public washrooms, for water, but you must leave them clean. There must be no sign of you. You must be invisible,” she spoke in a rush, a rehearsed speech.

She paused. Not wanting to say it but knowing that she must.

“You can stay, but… in the daytime, when the cemetery is open, you must be hidden. Juan will show you, there is a place, below ground, where one of the coffins was stored. You can sleep, in the day, when there are people.

“At night,” she continued,”when the gates are locked, you will be free. You can run and play and be safe.”

She stopped, unsure now. Her eyes on my face, seeking reassurance, needing to know that this was better. That to have shelter and food and safety was better than the streets. But I didn’t know.

True, it would be easier to care for the little ones, good to escape the weather, the hunger, the predators. And it wasn’t the dark that scared me. Or the restricted movement in the day.

I looked into her eyes, saw kindness and concern. Knew she wanted to help.

“But,” I whispered, “but, what about the ghosts?”

She knelt then, placed two warm hands on my shoulders, peered straight into my eyes.

“You don’t need to worry about them,” she said. “You are the ghosts now.”

And so it was.

Juan led us to some rusted iron gates, unlocked the chain and they creaked open. He told us that this was a good shelter to choose, there was a cat who slept there, who would keep the mice away. We filed inside, over dead leaves that had blown inside, down steep stone steps to the tiny cavern below. There was a shelf – cleaned now, stacked with blankets, and I wondered briefly where Juan had moved the remains to, which coffin was now in the wrong vault.

Then I busied myself with blankets, helping to settle the little ones, to stop them eating all the food we had been left. Juan showed us how to loop the chain back through the gates, so they would look secure, so none of the visitors would attempt to disturb us.

We lived in the cemetery. We ate the food she left for us each evening, we slept on dry blankets in the safe shelter below the ground. Sometimes we would hear Juan, he often swept near our vault when there were tourists, a careful guard, covering any noise we might make, ever watchful.

But best of all, when it was dark, we would run and laugh and play. The high buildings outside added their lights to the stars, watched as we pretended to dance the tango in the city of the dead. We learned how to be children again.

Sometimes, when it is very dark, people walking past La Recoleta, fancy that they hear voices from within the high walls. The sound of laughter carries on the wind, and they hurry away, telling themselves they are imagining things, that the dead don’t giggle. Which is right. Dead people do not laugh nor dance nor play. But we do. We are the ghosts of La Recoleta.


Thank you for reading.




Last Day continued…..

So, after visiting the little town, we drove out to La Pampa – the grassy plains, and to a ranch. The road to the ranch was a dirt track, but still really wide (four lanes wide!) ALL the roads in Argentina seem to be very wide.

The ranch we visited was called Portenia Estancia, and was used for a film with Antonio Banderos and Emma Thompson. It was also the home of an author, Ricardo Guiraldas (who wrote a very famous book about gauchos, but when I tried to buy it on Amazon, I either have to pay about £700 for an English copy or learn fluent Spanish or Italian. Will wait for a Kindle version.)

We were shown around the house and gardens, and given snacks and lunch. Again, it felt more like we were guests than tourists, people were very friendly and hospitable.

A gaucho, Fredisco Pereyra, took us riding. We were given polite, slow horses as neither of us can ride. One of the horses walked through bushes to cut corners, was incredibly slow and walked along chewing lumps of tree (accountants aren’t necessarily great with animals.) We saw lots of cattle, pigs, horses, dogs. Mostly we saw grass – as far as you could see, stretching across the great flat plains. There were lots of clumps of pampas grass, which I assume is where it got its name ( It’s huge, you could fit several of England into the space.)

Lunch was at a long table in a room with a fire at one end. There were flowers on the table and we were served meats and salads, then pancakes with dolce latte and bananas. Along the table were people with other tour guides, so we listened to a range of languages and chatted with different people. After lunch, the gauchos played the guitar and sang some folk songs (which actually, was very tuneful, so was nice rather than embarrassing) and we were shown some traditional dances.

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There were lots of animals : dogs and puppies, pigs and piglets, horses and cattle. They all roamed free. It was how I felt animals should live. I have no problem with eating meat, but I do think animals should be free and happy while they are alive, not pumped full of hormones and kept in cages. I don’t think you could get much more ‘free range’ than the animals we saw.

The national bird of Argentina is rufous hornero, we saw lots of the nests. They look a bit like House Martin nests in England and have a little hole which always faces north (because here, north is warm. I never got used to that, in my mind, north is cold!) The gauchos use the bird nests for orienteering, even if there is no sun, they can see which way is north.

Came back tired but happy. I have found a mosquito bite on my forehead, which is very annoying as I smothered myself in repellent. They have dengue fever in Argentina, so I am hoping this was a healthy mosquito.

The film (which shows the estancia we visited), ‘Imagining Argentina’ is a bit odd. I think the people at the estancia were slightly embarrassed by it, and I wonder if they had realised before it was released what it was about, as it didn’t show Argentina in a very good light. It’s not at all the sort of film I would usually watch, as it was horribly violent and a bit weird, but it was interesting to see places that we visited. It shows the story of Argentina during the late 1970’s, when the regime refused to allow any opposition. It was a time when lots of people went missing, they became known as ‘The Disappeared’. I had no idea, before we visited Buenos Aires, of any of the history. In my guide book, it said that every Thursday there is a procession of women outside Casa Rosada, protesting about the Disappeared. They are still waiting for information about their sons, husbands, sisters. I didn’t go to look, so I don’t know if the women are there are not. But that so many people disappeared – estimates of 30,000 people went missing between mid 1970s and 1982, when the regime collapsed following the war over the Falkland Islands – is terrible. It reminded me of stories about the old Soviet Union. As I said, I had never heard, I had no idea what was happening. It is very easy to ignore the circumstances in countries that don’t affect us. But the world is small, these places are accessible, the people are the same as us.

Argentina still has political problems, especially with their economy. But it has excellent natural resources and an intelligent, educated population. Buenos Aires is like a faded Paris. With the right governance, it could  be a very different place in the near future. We won’t sell our left over pesos, they would be worth very little with the exchange rate now anyway. In a couple of years, I think they will be worth significantly more. If I had money to invest, I think I would invest in Argentina. The new government seems a sensible one.

Tomorrow we go home. It has been a lovely trip, though I’m quite looking forward to being home again. I wonder how much the ducklings will have grown and if the eggs by the pond have hatched yet.

If ever you come here, the two things you MUST do are eat alfajores with your coffee and visit a parrilla (the Argentinian version of a grilled meat restaurant. They cook roughly a whole cow at a time.)


I would also recommend that you try to avoid coming with someone who only knows some of the words to, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, but who sings it every time you pass a monument to Evita. There are lots of these monuments in Argentina, trust me.


Bye for now,
Anne x

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Final Day in Argentina – A Letter

Today was our last day. We paid for a tour out of the city, booked through the hotel with ‘Signature Tours’ ( – it was brilliant. We wanted to see La pampas, the cattle rearing plains of Argentina. As it’s ‘low season’ it was just the two of us and a man in his car. He drove us out of the city, explaining things about the buildings as we passed them, so we started to understand a little more about Argentina. He then took us to a town and a ranch, introducing us to various people and showing us different places. It was all very friendly, it felt more like an acquaintance introducing us to his friends than a paid tour guide. It was also nice because, unlike on other tours we have done, we weren’t taken somewhere random (like a jade factory) and then left in awkward silence while the owner waits for us to buy something that we don’t really want. This guide didn’t even take us into the shop part of the places we visited, he wanted to show us things, not sell us things.

As we left Buenos Aires, we passed some poorer areas, they looked like the favelas we saw in Brazil, though maybe not quite as poor. Marcello told us that they were mostly occupied by immigrants from Peru, Paraguay, Chile. He said they work hard, often in construction, and are gradually moving to different areas. I asked if the homeless people that we saw on the streets were also immigrants, but he said that no, they were probably Argentinians. Economics are very hard here, due to the very high inflation. Everyone is hopeful that the newly elected government can turn things around in the next couple of years.

Marcello also told us about the gauchos that we’d be seeing. They are mainly men who work with cattle. They wear either hats (cowboy hats) or berets. The ranches, which are called “estancia” breed cattle, plus horses for working, polo and racing.

We went to the little town of San Antonio Areco. My favourite bit was the gaucho bars, I felt like I had walked into a cowboy film. The are still used today, though they’ve preserved the historical features. There was a post outside, for tying up the horses. Inside, the walls were shelved to the ceiling and full of ancient bottles of liquor, soap, shoes, tins of tea – all the things that the gauchos would have come into town to buy. The counter used to have bars all along it, with little windows for the drinks to be passed through, a bit like the railings or glass screens that you get in banks and post-offices today. This was to protect the staff and stock from the rowdy gauchos in an age when alcohol was more expensive. Is this where the term ‘bar’ originates from? (Tell me if you know!) The floors were tiled, there were ceiling fans and even an old fashioned til. You could so imagine a cowboy walking in and shooting all the bottles.

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We also saw silver smiths at work. They make lots of horse related things – cups for polo matches, silver versions of the things that gauchos carry, horse ornaments. The gauchos carry knives (you can buy them in silver sheaves) and boleadoras. These were originally stones, wrapped in leather at the end of ropes. The gauchos would throw them, lasso style, at the legs of ostriches, to catch them. You can now buy silver versions, the stones in leather replaced with ornate silver balls. The work with silver was an incredibly slow, careful process. The designs were beautiful, real works of art. You would have to be both very artistic and very patient to do their job.

We saw a cheese and meat shop. The locals go there after work, for a platter of nibbles and a drink and chat (there were tables at the back.)

We saw a chocolate shop. They make the chocolate themselves from cacao, so we saw the beans and husks – which were much bigger than I expected, almost the size of coconuts. The bean is inside and they heat it first, to separate the cacao and the butter (which is white, but hard – more like chalk than butter.) They then add milk and sugar to make the chocolate. I would’ve liked to watch the process with the bean, but we weren’t taken to see that bit, we could only watch them work with the melted chocolate, through a glass panel.

IMG_4319 A traditional drink in Argentina, called ‘mate’ (pronounced ‘mah-tae’). The straws have a filter and people walk around drinking it. It’s a herb, like a bitter tea.





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The silversmith’s work bench and the cheese shop

IMG_4322 A cacao bean next to the husk.






We then went to the ranch. This letter is getting a bit long, plus I want to tell you a little about the past in Argentina, the regimes and “The Disappeared”, so I’ll finish now and write again tomorrow.

Take care,
Anne x


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Another day in Argentina : Letter to a Sister

Went to La Recoleta. This is mainly a large cemetery, which is not a place I would usually visit but it featured in all the guide books and was recommended by our taxi driver. We walked there from the hotel. Passed a few people sleeping in the street, whole families in some cases, which is never a comfortable experience. The only other place that I have passed homeless children is Mumbai.

Found La Recoleta, in the middle of a park with market stalls. Was glad the family weren’t with me to complain about me liking spooky places and not being ‘normal’. I thought of you – you would’ve have spent hours taking photographs at strange angles with clever close-ups. I just snapped a few pictures, none of which really captured the atmosphere.

The cemetery is huge, like a small village of monuments and booths. Some had steps leading down, littered with soiled bags, empty bottles, coated in dust and cobwebs. Some had coffins stacked in view of the doorway covered in white lace cloths. Some coffins were crumbling, threatening to spill their contents, others were pristine, polished oak with shiny fixtures. The booths were white marble, grey granite, weathered stone and black steel gates. There were lots of statues and angels and domes. A little like miniature cathedrals, with the dead being worshipped rather than God.

It was a little incongruous, after passing families of homeless people. I am a tourist here, I don’t know what help is available, but at a glance it looked as if the dead have better shelter than the poor.

We saw the tomb where Evita is buried, and several other dignitaries, then we left.

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Went to La Biela, a traditional coffee house just outside the cemetery, opposite a giant ancient gum tree. It had a motor racing theme due to being a favourite spot in the 1950’s for drivers and fans. There was memorabilia on the walls and spanners carved into the chair backs. It had a lovely traditional Argentinian feel, we could’ve stayed there for hours.

We drank coffee sprinkled with cinnamon, which tasted almost of oregano and ate ‘alfajores’, which were shortbread biscuits filled with dolce leche. The cafe was empty when we arrived at 9:30 and was full by 10am – lots of well maintained elderly Argentinians and young tourists. You would have liked it there.

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Ate a very late lunch in a parilla (name for a steak restaurant.) Walked from hotel heading south, along narrow streets littered with blankets reserving sites for the homeless, dog mess and broken pavements. The houses on either side were a muddle of faded villas with gargoyles and balconies and modern apartment blocks. We passed a burnt out theatre, a derelict mansion and tiny newsagents. It felt real, interesting and full of life. Buenos Aires is growing on me – perhaps you need more than a day here before you notice it properly.


Arrived at Chiquilin in Calle Sarmento. Peered in window and it looked clean, so went in and sat in a corner table, under oil paintings and bottles of wine on shelves below the low ceiling. Ate more steak than the whole family would normally eat at home. All the restaurants here have an abundance of waiters dressed in black and white, most of whom seem to either speak English or understand my very bad Spanish.

Walked back to hotel. Exhausted but pleased with the day. Tomorrow we might go to Uruguay – I’ll let you know what it’s like.

Take care,
Love, Anne x

IMG_4227The Opera House








Probably not the best place to post letters.

The city seemed full of derelict post boxes!






P1090523 Tango dancing in the street.





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Letter to a Sister : Buenos Aires

As we flew into Buenos Aires, the horizon was red with dawn. A beautiful end to a 14 hour flight.

I was slightly worried going through immigration as I had been given a form to complete on the plane (at 2am). I managed the name and address bits but when it started asking about the make and series of my mobile, I gave up – ‘iPhone, very old’, was the best I could manage. Husband assured me that we only needed one per household and he had done one. No one ever asked for it anyway, so was an unnecessary worry.

On the way to the hotel, we passed a demonstration. They had blocked two lanes of the road (the roads here are really wide) and they had banners (which were in Spanish, so I couldn’t read them.) People had just abandoned their cars in the road and gone to join them. Our driver said this happens a lot.

The hotel, Park Tower, is right next to The English Tower. Our taxi driver said this was because it was a gift from the English. The guidebook said it was because it looks like Big Ben. It doesn’t.

Opposite is the war memorial for the Falklands War (interesting choice of position.) The politics are complicated, the fact that so many young men died is heartbreaking, whatever your nationality.

We looked around Galerias Pacifico, which used to be an art gallery but is now a shopping mall. The walls were beautifully decorated. The shops were just shops, so didn’t spend long in there.

We ate empanachas for supper. They are like mini fried pasties. Go well with beer.

IMG_4113 IMG_4112 English Clock and war memorial.






The night wasn’t terrible and I want to keep to UK time as it’s such a short trip. We ordered room service coffee at 4am. The coffee here is very dark, the milk tastes like evaporated milk, so you don’t want much. The room service menu has a separate price list. I’m guessing this is because inflation is currently 25%, so it saves them reprinting the whole menu every time prices go up. It was quite a challenge to get Argentinian currency before we came, and no one will buy it back from us when we go home. Most places accept credit cards or US dollars.

We walked to Casa Rosada, where Evita made her impassioned speeches from the balcony. I can’t tell you how much it was enhanced by Husband singing all the Lloyd Webber songs in my ear, very loudly and slightly off-key. The palace is pink – according to the guide book this is because it’s painted in cow’s blood. I wish I hadn’t known that, think I will stop reading guide book and make up my own reasons for things.

Crossed several major roads (multi-lane roads are a feature of Argentina. They do have lights to help you cross though.) Saw a bridge which is meant to resemble Tango dancers. Husband suggested we could strike a Tango pose and take selfies. We didn’t.

Walked along a river. Even in quite expensive areas, there are people sleeping rough under blankets. They didn’t ask for money, they were just bundled up under shop awnings. Sad.

We got a taxi to La Boca region. We were told in the hotel that it wasn’t safe for us to wander around, but there was one street, Caminito, which was full of tourists. We saw lots of painted houses, cafes with Tango dancers and singers, lots of street art. It was nice and interesting, though not very ‘real’.

I bought a cushion cover for my collection and a fridge magnet for Mum (I’m sure she’ll be delighted, you can never have too many fridge magnets and this one has a bottle opener attached.)

We got a taxi back to the hotel. We were told to only take taxis that had writing on the doors. If they had writing on both front and back doors, it means they’re owned by a company, so they are the best ones. They have a light at the front which tells you when they’re free. There are loads of taxis, so it was easy.

Went back and showered. The hotel’s bathroom products are called ‘Wine and Beauty’. They smell of wine. It’s not unpleasant, but I do feel a bit like I’ve washed my hair in a bottle of Chardonnay. It reminds me of when, as a teenager, I used to rinse my hair in vinegar because someone told me it would give me ginger highlights, and when it rained I smelt like a chip shop.

Went to bed at 6:30 (10:30 UK time.) Husband has muttered about my time plan very little. I will write again tomorrow and let you know what else we see.

Take care,
Love, Anne x

IMG_4134 IMG_4139 Casa Rosada




IMG_4159 Tango bridge






IMG_4175 IMG_4170 La Boca

IMG_4205 A ‘good’ taxi, with writing on both doors.






You can read my sister’s letter at :


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