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La Plata and the Diagonals

It all started at Retiro, Buenos Aires’s massive bus station. Imagine a 400-metre-long three-level building with all the common amenities of a regular bus station—bathrooms, eateries, luggage storage, etc.—and dozens of bus companies serving hundreds of destinations in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Peru and Paraguay. Intimidating and chaotic? You bet. Technically, the second level is organized by geographical regions—sur, norte, nordeste, etc.—to find companies easily for your destination in Argentina or elsewhere. Still, you will likely end up walking back and forth in the terminal to find the right booth, the right company and your destination unless you are a true Retiro expert.

We didn’t have long-distance-bus ambition that day. We just wanted to go to La Plata, a short one-hour ride from Buenos Aires. It wasn’t our first visit. We had stayed there for a few days two years earlier, when Mark was still a baby. Time to walk down the memory lane.

Paraguay… no. Bariloche… Nope.

“Mommy…? Is it a train station?”

“No Mark! It’s a freaking bus station! Where the hell is La Plata?”

We paced the terminal. Eventually, we wised up and realized that La Plata was so close to Buenos Aires that no giant double-decker bus would stop there. We exited the terminal and found our bus stop just outside, where a regular boring city bus was waiting.

I bought Mark the classic ham-and-cheese sandwich—Mark is delighted by the fact the Argentinian diet is completely vegetable-free—and we waited for a driver to show up. Meanwhile, asking around, I learned we needed a SUBE card to pay the fare. We had the one we had bought for the subway the day before, but no money on it. We rushed to the train terminal, charged it and ran back to the bus just as passengers were boarding.

An hour later, we got off where everybody did, before the official bus station. We were in La Plata, sure, but where exactly?

La Plata follows an elaborate city plan based upon balance and logic with diagonal avenues crossing the regular 5-kilometre-square grid pattern to connect the major plazas. The distinctive star design is elegant on paper but extremely confusing because you end up at intersections with up to eight streets going off in all directions.

I asked someone for directions to the city centre. The guy paused. I felt sorry for him—giving directions is never easy, let alone in La Plata where you can easily send innocent travellers like us in the wrong diagonal. Apparently, we were to take Calle 48 and eventually find diagonal 79. Hey, why not?

Amazingly, we actually did find the right streets and the city centre. On Plaza Moreno, we took pictures of the massive neo-Gothic cathedral, the largest in Argentina, but unfortunately it only opens at 4 p.m. so Mark wasn’t able to visit it.

We walked around—well, in diagonal—for a bit before heading back to Buenos Aires.

Yes, it was a completely uneventful trip. Was it worth it? I think so. We had no reason to go to La Plata but we had no reason not to either. This is what traveling is about, right?

La Plata and its diagonals
Statues Plaza Moreno
Catedral de La Plata
Statues Plaza Moreno
Catedral de La Plata
Statue of Eva Perón
Downtown La Plata from Plaza Moreno
Catedral de La Plata at the exact geographical centre of the city
City map with the diagonales painted on the ground at Plaza Moreno
Hot in La Plata
Government building with the usual political graffiti
Political graffiti in La Plata
Commemoration ceremony for the death of Castro
La Plata in Feng’s sunglasses
La Plata bus station

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