Argentina: Buenos Aires, what’s not to love?
6 days, 30 bottles of wine, 23 medialunas (croissants) and another 1/2 a cow later, we leave Buenos Aires (Bs As) – by far the best city on my radar!! I most definitely have fallen in love with this place; its people, romance, charm, etc. My heart is so full with things to say right now that I hope I can express myself to the level Bs As deserves. This morning I was sure Lani was going to have to drag me to the bus station against my will to get me to leave. But, the show must go on.
We arrived on Monday to Retiro station, a wildly intimidating transportation hub that services this city of 12 million with over 60 bus platforms, train lines, subway connections, etc. As is now routine, I headed to calling center to start calling hostels and Lani went to look for a friendly ATM and a map. Based on a recommendation from an Argentinian friend, we decided to stay in the neighborhood of San Telmo and I`ll have to remember to send him a big thanks because this barrio was 100% perfect for us. It`s historic, with great architecture, cafes, bookstores, bars, bookstores, coffee shops, pastry shops (for Lani!), and very pedestrian friendly!
My first impression of Bs As was one of physical comfort. It´s actually somewhere below brutally hot here. In fact, it´s a bit chilly and it´s such a welcomed change! We haven´t had hot water since we left Bogota, and for that I´ve been grateful because a hot shower would have killed me. But here, I actually had to dig out a long sleeve shirt. Whoohoo!! For someone who hates being hot, this is heavenly. And the days are much longer. We now have daylight until 8pm, which is much better than 5 like it was in Brazil.
Famished from our 18 hour bus jaunt, we headed out to find lunch. When it came time to order a beverage it was soda 4 pesos, bottle of water 3 pesos, beer 4 pesos, 1/2 bottle of wine 2.50 pesos. Hmmm…..I think I´m gonna like it here! And the house wine proved to be not too shabby.
There is no better way to experience a new city than on foot and walk we did. Our guesstimate is that we walked an average of 8 to 10 miles a day here, and we have the blisters to prove it! There is just so much to see and so many different barrios to explore. The first day we spent most of our time in el centro. Bs As has a very European feel to it. It´s clean, the people are beautiful and well dressed, there are elegant shops and cafes, and the poverty is minimal in comparison to the rest of S.A. We walked around the Plaza de Mayo, Plaza de San Martin, Avenida Florida (a pedestrian shopping area) and Avenida 9 de Julio. Av 9 de Julio is the widest Avenue in the world and in some parts it has up to 5 sections of street, each 4 to 6 lanes wide and lined with trees in full bloom. It´s pretty cool! The only problem was, we always seemed to want to be on the other side of it. As Lani pointed out, it was kind of like playing frogger trying to get back and forth across this street. I don´t know the significance of July 9th in Argentinian history, but I guess that is what Google is for. It´s quite common in SA to name streets after days and it gets confusing. Did you say July 12th or 20th? I´ll meet you on Nov 24th and July 1st. And they always seem to put Nov 1st right next to Nov 11th, so you just aren´t ever really sure of where you need to be. You could probably teach an entire history lesson just by looking at a map.
Tuesday we headed to the barrio La Boca and the area of Caminito. This place was touristy with extra cheese but it was really cute and we enjoyed our afternoon there. It is filled with brightly painted tin and wooden houses with colorful statues of people hanging out the windows and balconies. I also saw my first tango show on Argentinian soil as each sidewalk cafe came equipped with it´s own tango dancing couple. It was fun to watch while enjoying some wine and empanadas. At night we went out for a nice steak dinner. Bife of Chorizo (tenderloin) is a staple on any menu here and Argentinians sure do love their beef. Half of the time, they don´t even bother with sides, they just nibble from sizzling platters with different beef cuts. It was tasty, but grass fed cows sure are a lot chewier than the good ol´corn fed ones back home.
Wednesday we took off walking in the opposite direction to check out the northern part of town. Recoleta and Palermo are both the ritzier neighborhoods with museums and miles of parks. We went to the cemetery where Evita is buried and to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano. I also had to take advantage of being in a big cosmopolitan city to satisfy some food cravings. We took a big detour to get thai for lunch and we had tapas for dinner. Later in the week we had Mexican and Italian, so I think I´m set for a few more months. I feel like I talk about food a lot in this blog, but many times deciding where to have lunch and dinner are the highlights of the day. In fact, a few minutes ago when Lani and I were having our Bs As debriefing, the days were all running together and we couldn`t´t remember what we´d done each day until we thought back to where we´d eaten!
Thursday we lost the morning to a violent thunderstorm, which gave us the change to get caught up on email and skypeing everyone back home. Internet is the cheapest here! 33 cents and hour, and it´s actually fast! When the skies cleared we walked down to the river front to check out the Rio de la Plata. This is the river that separates Bs As from Uruguay, but really wasn´t much other than expensive restaurants and stores. I´d asked our hostel dad where we should go to shop for leather goods and he said that the barrio of Once was the best place for that and cheap clothes, so we headed there. Cheap was an understatement and it was hard to limit ourselves with our purchases as Argentinians sure do wear really cute clothes. It is now urgent that someone come down to visit us with an extra suitcase to haul home our extra things. I may not be able to carry my pack anymore, but I´ll look damn good dragging it around! For dinner we went to a restaurant called Siga la Vaca. You gotta love a city where happy hour runs from midnight to 3am and you can show up at a restaurant at 11pm and it´s so full that there is a 30 minute wait. This was a parrilla restaurant, which is similar to the Brazilian rodizio, except you have to get up to get your endless meat instead of having it brought to the table. And it was tasty!!! You´d think I´d have gotten a hang of the Argentinian way by now, but no; when the waitress asked what we wanted as our included beverage, I said 2 glasses of red wine please. She looked at me with puzzlement and said, it´s a bottle of wine per person that´s included. Silly gringa. Maybe that is why the food tasted do good. Hmm? It was about this point when I realized that there just aren´t enough hours in the day in Bs As. I need at least 40 in order to get in everything I wanted to see and do. So, I did the logical thing and decided to give up sleeping. By yesterday I looked very much zombie-like, especially in comparison to Lani´s well-rested face but nothing a little (dad – brace yourself) espresso can´t cure. I went out to enjoy some drinks on the plaza near our hostel and to take in the atmosphere of the city.
On Friday we decided to check out the outskirts of the city and we took a field trip by train to the town of Tigre. It is a riverfront town known for it´s basketry and had a ton of stores along the water. Back to food, they have some very interesting pizza toppings down here. Today we saw hard-boiled egg pizza and french fry pizza. ?!?! That night, Lani was still sick so I was off to find some trouble to get into. This city likes to move and shake it so dancing it was!! I met a Colombian and 2 Argentinians and we went to a club they knew of. It´s funny to me that in Latin America, it´s the men that are the instigators of dancing, unlike home where usually guys prefer to be wallflowers. Most of the Argentinians I met are much better with US geography than elsewhere so far. Usually I say Colorado and they say, “oh, Texas”. um, no. But here, I say I´m from Colorado and they either say the Nuggets (which I find random), Southpark (ugh) or Bowling for Columbine. Michael Moore seems to be the only American that Argentinians actually do like. I´ve experienced Anti-Americanism throughout SA, but it´s definitely a lot stronger here. Lani can´t say much, but she does know how to say “I didn´t vote for Bush!” in Spanish!!! I´m so proud! It does make me sad though that our image abroad is so tarnished right now, but we are doing our best to represent our homeland well!! On the other hand, Argentinians just LOVE Colombians. So they really don´t know what to do with me.
On Saturday, about 30 very short minutes after I went to sleep, my damn alarm went off telling us that it was time to start our last day errands. We had to re-visit several of our barrios to buy souvenirs and gifts and take pictures that we´d missed. I have very few complaints about Bs As, but one of them is the strange business hours they have here. Things are never open when they should logically be open and it appears that they close up whenever the owner feels like it. And it always seems that the owner feels like it, just when I need it to be open. A bookstore might not be open at 4pm when I´m ready to buy something, but it will re-open at 11pm when I don´t have my money on me. My other complaint is that this is a very drippy city. Walking down the sidewalk you are constantly bombarded with things dripping off the buildings. Most of the time I was hesitant to look up and see what it was. I suppose some were A/C units, but it was chilly so I´m not sure. And I don´t like being dripped on by unidentifiable substances. Saturday night we went to a typical Tanguera (tango show) in a very old cafe that is a Bs As icon. It was definitely touristy but it was fun to watch. Tango is a very beautiful and sensual dance, and looks hella hard to actually do. I think this, along with samba, will be more of a spectator sport for me!
Today we walked out of our hostel door to find street market galore…my favorite!! We spent our last remaining hours in San Telmo enjoying all the market had to offer and to do what we do best, shop! Since this is an artsy-fartsy part of town, there were lots of cool street performers, and dancers, and musicians lining the streets. And now, we head back to Retiro station, where it all began. I must admit, I´m a wee bit excited to get on the bus so that I can take out the toothpicks propping my eyelids open and sleep away the 18 hour trip to Puerto Madryn, but again, sad to leave.
Buenos Aires is for the happy at heart. It´s about music, dancing, literature, romance, passion, expression, and it´s entirely captivating. Hopefully my heart will catch up with my in Patagonia!!