This famous city was my first stop on my two month adventure around southern South America. I flew in from Santiago, and, after grabbing a bus, quickly met up with my couch surfer who had been very kind and very thorough in his directions on where to go from the airport.
He has a sweet little apartment in Monseratt; a trendy little neighborhood that was happily situated between the high end expensive parts and the more down to earth meager areas. After dropping off my stuff and meeting his cat Loki, we went out. By this time the sun was setting, so we headed to the historical old post office that had been converted into a sort of cultural arts center. Inside the building is a massive silver egg shaped amphitheater call the “Blue Whale” because of the size and the blue light that shines down from the top.
We couldn’t get into the concert, so we explored the building for a bit before leaving and getting some delicious authentic pizza. We found a place that seemed to be very high end, which is hard to imagine when it comes to pizza; but I felt out of place in my jeans and hiking boots. When the pizza came, I tried to move my plate out of the way, but the server gruffly moved it back and proceeded to serve me with an admittedly impressive fork and knife technique.
The next day was Sunday, and I wanted to take full advantage of the weekend only markets. We started off in San Telmo. It is definitely a tourist trap, but it’s easy to see why. We wandered through cobblestone streets, surrounded by beautiful old buildings, and ended up in a plaza where couples danced tango for tips.
I ended up buying a mate (pronounced matay), which is the name for a container and a drink. The drink is similar to a tea; the dried leaves are that of the yerba mate plant. You soak them in nearly boiling hot water, and drink it through a special straw called a bombilla. The container can be made from anything, though common choices are glass and wood. This simple drink is VERY popular in Argentina. You can see people walking around with their mate cups and a thermos of hot water all over the place. I enjoy the taste and so decided to get one so I can continue to enjoy it back home. To sweeten, you just add some sugar or sweetener to the hot water.
After the San Telmo market, we took the metro to another market in Recoleta. This is a much more affluent part of Buenos Aires, and you could tell by the shops. It was still touristy, but the artisanship was much more unique. And expensive. We didn’t stay long.
Instead we walked toward the United Nations Plaza where a sculpture of a giant metal flower stands in a shallow pool of water. It was donated to the city by an architect Eduardo Catalano. Each morning it opens up and each night it closes, like a real live flower.
After relaxing in the sun for a while, we decided to continue walking towards the rose garden called Paseo El Rosedal. The park was huge and beautiful and full of families taking advantage of the warm spring weekend. Unfortunately, it was too early for the roses to have bloomed, but there is a lovely path that goes through the garden and over streams. I wish I could have seen it in bloom a month later.After walking, we ended the evening with a couple of beers, and just chilled and talked for a few hours.
Monday morning I was ready to explore the city some more, and my method of choice was a walking tour. These are great ways to get some exercise and learn all about the city. I went with a company called Free Walks Buenos Aires. In truth, the tour is free, and at the end you tip however much you think you should. This system is kind of nice because the tour guide actually has some energy and tries to keep your interest since his pockets depend on it.
A lot of the one I went on was focused around the architecture of the buildings and the hundreds of statues that dot the massive city. We started at the grand Teatro Colón, which is the best place to hear opera.
We made our way across Avenida 9 de Julio (their independence day), which is the widest avenue in the world, and stopped to admire a statue of Christopher Columbus. There was another, much older, statue of him near the theater, but this newer one depicts the ugly truth of who he really was.
As we kept walking we learned that many of the buildings built in this city have a purpose for being where they are and looking the way they do. There are a myriad of spectacular palaces built during Argentina’s golden years when it was one of the richest countries in the world. Socioeconomic status was extremely important, and often shown through the architecture of the palace and the size of the front garden. Today, these grand buildings are used for embassies or swanky hotels.
The tour took about 5 hours and ended in front of the Recoleta cemetery, where are the rich people are buried. It’s a black, white, and gray maze of ancient creepy crypts adorned with all kinds of statues. I made my way back home by following Av. 9 de Julio and came across the famous letters. They had giant flowers and butterflies installed on them to celebrate the coming of spring.
The next morning, on Tuesday, I went to visit an area called La Boca. My couchsurfer said it was a must see, and helped me figure out a bus route to get there and back. So I braved the stiff cold breeze and took the 64 bus about 20 minutes south. I knew I was there when the gray buildings gave way to rainbow ones.
As you can see, even the walls of the school are painted. I spent about an hour or so wandering around the painted city, winding in and out of alleys and a plethora of gift shops. Eventually I found a tucked away restaurant that had wifi, and relaxed with some cheap beer and ordered asado (barbecue meat) with fries. After a filling lunch, I grabbed the 64 bus again and went home. It was a cloudy and rainy day, so I stayed home and spent time on the computer researching possible locations to visit. For my last night, I helped my host cook dinner, and we watched Rick and Morty while splitting a bottle of red wine.
Random Argentina Facts to Remember
- 1 U.S. = 17.50 Argentinian pesos (roughly)
- Post Offices are expensive and usually only accept cash. If you are visiting another country afterwards, wait until then to mail your things. Even postcard stamps cost around $4-$5 USD.
- DO NOT bring up the subject of the Falkland Islands (or Maldivinas as they call them). It is a terribly sore subject for all Argentinians and they rue the day the British took control of the islands. You will see a memorial of the Falkland Island war in every city or town you go to.
- Things to try while you’re there: steak, wine, and mate (if you don’t like the bitter taste, just add some sugar to the hot water you pour in it).
- Do not be afraid of the protests, they rarely turn violent.
- Their accent is a bit difficult as they pronounce the letters “ll” and “y” with the same “sh” sound. For example the Plaza de Mayo is pronounced Plaza de Masho.
- Argentinians love soccer more than you can comprehend (unless you’re from Argentina).
- The city is named after Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires, or Saint Mary of the Fair Winds. This is a figure revered by sailors.
- Buenos Aires is the city where the tango was born.
- Argentina was the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage in 2010.
- From 1974 to 1983 around 30,000 people went “missing” during the dictatorship. They are still considered missing since the bodies have never been recovered.
- This country is home to the southernmost city in the world; Ushuaia