Argentina: Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires hit us like a ton of bricks.  We flew all day from Panama City to Bogota, Columbia (where we had a little baggage/ticket snafu which was all worked out by the amazing customer service of Aerolineas Argentinas) and then on to BA.  Arriving in Buenos Aires, we were welcomed with a $140.00 entry fee EACH.  Our cab from the airport took us to the wrong apartment in the wrong neighborhood, so we were extremely late (11pm) to the key exchange for our rental.  And, it was no big deal because the couple we rented from–they hadn’t even eaten dinner yet.  Little did we know, but our whole schedule was about to change drastically, as well.

For example in Buenos Aires, one may spend a day like this:

10am – wake up

2pm – venture out to a cafe for a 1oz coffee (rarely more) and maybe 1oz of water or fresh orange juice

6pm – find something sweet like small cakes, cookies or scoops (yes, scoops!) of dulce de leche to have as a treat and spend hours eating it

11pm – eat a massive steak and drink really inexpensive great wine for dinner

Repeat, as needed with the time between spent window shopping.

Our first morning, we woke up at 10am and you would have had to kill me to get me up any earlier.  My body already knew what my mind didn’t: Buenos Aires was not for those (like me) with early bed times.  In typical fashion, we didn’t consult the map and headed out for the day on foot with the intention of going to the Recoleta Cemetery as it was just three blocks away from our apartment.  A short two hours later, the map in our minds finally matched the actual city and we found it easily.

The Recoleta area is extremely wealthy, filled with palaces and designer stores.  The cemetery reflects that.  It’s full of “blocks and blocks” of tombs to worship the families buried inside.  Each mausoleum is bigger than the next.  There is more stained glass than in any cemetery in the world which is, interestingly, an art enjoyed from the inside out, as pointed out by a tour guide.  Evita is buried in this cemetery.  Her tomb draws mobs of people, but it’s hard to find, so people end up wandering the whole cemetery before they find it.  Funny enough, it’s probably the worst place for her to be buried considering she spent much of her short life fighting for the rights of women and the poor.  This cemetery is anything but poor, but there is more disrepair than you would imagine.  The grounds around it were also quite stunning.  When we arrived, there was a large arts market in full swing.  Woodworkers, leather workers, artisans, jewelers, knitters…artists of all kinds selling goods.  We lost ourselves looking at every last detail and finally resigned that we would need to mail a few things home.  It was THAT good.

Right next to Recoleta is Retiro…another extremely wealthy neighborhood in Buenos Aires.  Here you can spot what one tour guide called “lions” or women who’ve had major work done.  In Argentina, it’s easy to use your insurance to pay for plastic surgery, so it’s not uncommon for young men and women to start accumulating “jobs.”  In fact, we’ve heard insurance companies reward healthy people with one free service per year.  Walking through the area, the same guide said, “like the Serengeti, this place is full of lions.”  Our guide explained, that due to the pride of the Argentinean people, they are very vain.  Eating cookies all day doesn’t help their figures so they put a lot of effort into their appearance including exercise and surgery.

I visited Argentina in 2008 when the prices were insanely low.  I kept telling Joshua how cheap everything was, but what we found was a different place.  Due to an incredibly fast rising inflation and a goal of keeping the peso pegged to the dollar, Argentina’s prices have soared.  We checked a current magazine for subway prices and found they had already doubled since it was published just the season before.  This was nothing new for Argentina as we’ve heard that there was one month years back where inflation hit 200%.  It’s not quite the deal it used to be but there are some things that stand out: wine, rellenos (bread filled with meats and cheeses) and the bus.  Actually, the cheapest thing we did was the Buenos Aires Free Tour.  Our guide, Gaston, provided tours twice daily of different areas of Buenos Aires, giving information, history and stories about his home town.  We spent one morning in the Microcentro.  We walked down the famous Avenida de Mayo, crossing” the widest street in the world” (which come to find out is just over half the width of a larger one in nearby Brazil), Avenida 9 de Julio, past the “Pink House” before the tour ended at the central obelisk.

My favorite part of the tour was not the history of Argentina, but the inside information about how to order coffee in Argentina, how to ride the bus/subway and how Argentinean men hit on women.  For coffee, there are 5 types: café con leche (only for the morning), café (espresso only), cortado (espresso with a bit of milk), jarrito (milk with a bit of espresso), submarino (hot milk with a chocolate to drop in).  They never carry coffee from a café.  It can take several hours to drink 1oz.  The buses are the best transportation in the city, but require coins which are extremely hard to come by.  There’s actually a whole black market that sells them.  Once you step on the bus, you say “uno veinte,” drop in your coins and hold on.  The bus moves before the doors close and street lanes are frivolous.  Cabs, buses, cars drive however they want without regard for people or other stationary or moving obstacles.  Our guide was very clear that riding the subway was risky as well especially during rush hour as you might “get pregnant through your eyes” due to the Argentinean men.  There’s a Spanish word only used in Buenos Aires to describe how these men approach women—chamullo which basically means full of bullshit.

During our foot attack of BA, we passed the Teatro Colon which we found was recently renovated and reopened for performances.  The ballet, Carmen, was running its last three days.  We showed up in our “Sunday Best” which for me is a quick-dry, sunscreen, black dress and for Joshua is zip off pants and a button down.  We stood in line for tickets and read about the theater during our wait.  We found out there was a dress code that we may not meet due to our lack of shoe choices: running shoes, Toms and Chacos…not really fashion forward but functional for traveling.  So once we had selected our tickets, Joshua asked if we could attend in what we were wearing…yes!  But then, he lifted up his dirty shoe to the counter, “even in these?”  The ticket lady was appalled and we were sent home without an opportunity to see the ballet unless we got new shoes.

Instead, we treated ourselves to a night on the town starting with a submarino and churros at the oldest café in all of Buenos Aires.  As rain started to dump outside, we decided that ordering a bottle of wine and waiting it out was a better idea than going home wet.

Once the rain subsided, we were fortunate enough to discover the most delicious pizza: Fuggazetta.  It is cheese stuffed with ham and cheese and covered in crispy grilled onions and cheese.  My stomach growls thinking about it.

The next day we were feeling ambitious and got out the door by noon (a real accomplishment).  Buenos Aires has a bike program where you can pick up a bike for free from one of 12 locations, as long as you drop it off at another station within the hour.  Another plan foiled!  Being that it was the week of Semana Santa (Easter), the stations were all closed.  Plan B was the same as always, by foot.

We headed to the artsy and hip area known as Palermo where you go to find the trendiest shops and nightlife.  The window shopping in Palermo is unparalleled.  Each store meticulously merchandises their windows with the best product to pull you inside.  I still get compliments on my purchases from my last visit, but didn’t have the motivation to carry any more weight in my backpack…keeping my spending in check.  Joshua, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to give up on taking me to the ballet, so his mindset was different: daddy needs a new pair of shoes.  He ended up with two pairs of handmade classics.  Great fun for his wardrobe and the post office who will make a fortune when we mail them home.  Added perk, we made it to the ballet.

In Palermo we enjoyed our 6PM snack complete with miniature coffee, spoonful of dulce de leche and a chocolate ganache tart filled with, you guessed it, dulce de leche.  We looked to the table next to us, and two older ladies were sharing a bowl of the stuff.  We couldn’t help but laugh.  Content with our two-hour snack, we headed back to our apartment to rest up for our 11PM dinner at the local Italian restaurant.  This is life in Buenos Aires.

Inspired by our chance meeting with the Rabbi in Panama, Joshua decided to get in touch with the local Chabad House to see if we could find a Passover Seder while in town.  Buenos Aires has one of the largest Jewish populations outside of Israel.  Instead of providing suggestions, the Rabbi invited us to his home for the first night of Passover.  One thing you should know about Passover is that every Seder meal is different.  There are so many variables to account for: the food, the length of the seder, the process, the wine and the conversation.  This one scored a 10 for ambiance and 10 for food.  It was like an 8 course meal.  Food just kept coming and coming.  The Matzah was handmade in Israel and imported for the night.  We also escaped the uncomfortable feeling of having to figure out a way to politely decline the gefilte fish as there was none on the table.  Chabad flew down a young Rabbi from Montreal to sit with the English speakers and explain each of the traditions.  One of the most memorable was the explanation for why you overfill the 4 cups of wine.  The wine represents good fortune, so you want as much of it as possible.  We literally poured our glasses over a bowl to make sure it was topped off.  If you’ve ever had kosher wine, it sounds great in theory, but is painful in practice.  Five hours later we said goodbye to our hosts.  I planned to use my time in Argentina to do it right—one kiss on the cheek for all greetings both men and women.  But of course, I forgot where I was, and as the Rabbi skillfully avoided me, the “no touching women” rule came to mind–my big faux pas for the night.

We saved our time in San Telmo and La Boca for a Sunday…the day they come alive.  San Telmo houses a famous antique and arts market where thousands of people roam the streets looking at goods laid out for miles.   There’s everything from antique Chanel watches, to sheep wool coats, to handmade leather bags and jewelry.  Had we not already been concerned with how we would be mailing back the shoes and other souvenirs, we could have gone wild.  The colors alone were worth the visit, but add in the sun, great music and interesting food (waffle cone filled with dulce de leche?) and this was one of my favorite activities in the city.

Just a little down the road, you can almost feel the color of La Boca before you arrive.  It receives the most divisive reviews of any neighborhood in Buenos Aires.  It’s supposedly dangerous and rowdy.  Dangerous, I’m not sure—the vendors are far more aggressive than other places, but rowdy is definitely true.  It is home to the stadium of the best soccer team in Argentina, Boca Juniors, which shakes during games and the crowd sings and dances throughout the entire 90 minutes.  The barrio’s claim to fame is the brightly colored buildings that line the street known as Caminito in red, yellow, green and blue.  Our redshirts, somehow, still attracted attention.

What stands out about Buenos Aires is the street Tango, dogwalkers (and dog poop!) and the parilla steaks.  Guaranteed you’ll see all three.

One thought on “Argentina: Buenos Aires

  1. Hola Laura and Josh!!!
    It’s Mike and Whitney from La Mariposa. I (Mike) have been following (enviously) your travels. Great, and very informative and entertaining, blog posts! All is well here in Pensacola. Sailing charter season has been very strong, which keeps me very busy — but not so much time to spend with Whit. Whit’s busy with her custom ironwork biz (her website http://www.whitneybutlerdesigns.com) Safe travels. Can’t wait to read about your Sheldrick Trust blog post 🙂 Take care, Mike and Whit
    p.s. Josh: nice new shoes. They should go well with your custom suit

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