As I write this post I am leaving Bs As on the ferry to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, and despite the adventures I have ahead it’s with a sense of regret. I have absolutely fallen in love with this vibrant, colourful city which has everything you could dream of on offer, plus more!
Maybe one of the reasons it was so easy for me to imagine living here is because I spent 3 days actually staying in my friend Joanne’s lovely house in Palermo Soho, the perfect neighbourhood known for its hundreds of bars, clubs and restaurants filled with the hippest porteños (Bs As locals). I met Joanne while living in Toulouse and it was so nice to be with a familiar face from a context other than my trip. She was the most generous host and I think just being in a home made a huge difference for my experience, making a nice change from almost 2 months of hostels and hotels! With Joanne and her friends, I got to know the Palermo’s lively nightlife and sample some of the amazing food on offer (read: the best steak you’ve ever had, more on that).
I got in on Friday morning from a gruelling night bus, which was thankfully my penultimate of this entire trip as I don’t think I could manage many more!! After a few hours catching up on much needed sleep (it is amazing how much better quality Zs you get alone rather than sharing with 6-10 people!!), I braved the rain to take a walking tour of the centre. Interesting to hear the history, and see the European style architecture, but not toooo distinctive from other cities – but I would later discover it is other neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires which give it its real flavour. The centre is about 30 mins bus away from Palermo and I was grateful to have spontaneously got an Argentinean SIM card the day before, as I was able to use my mobile data to work out the crazy transport system. If anyone was coming here I’d highly recommend paying £5 or so to get some internet for your mobile for the week, as the city is so spread out it can be hard to navigate. The website Cómo Llegó was an extremely useful tool to see which public transport option would suit you, and with a Sube card you then only pay 6 pesos (40p) to use the bus. Maybe a slight luxury but I was able to see a lot as a result, and it cost the same as a drink in a bar!
Friday night was a late one dancing the night away first at Joanne’s house and later at some kind of edgy club; Saturday was consequently a hungover day. We did eventually get out and walk around Palermo Soho and Hollywood, which, while less historical than my Friday walk, was (in my opinion) was a much better way to feel the relaxed and friendly vibe that I Ioved about the whole city. We topped the day off with a massive ‘ojo de bife’ steak between 3 of us… up until that point the best steak I’ve had in my life – tender and juicy and despite being such a huge cut of meat.
Sunday we got up early to make the most of the day, and headed to the colourful working class port district of La Boca (so named as it is at the mouth of the river). Or more specifically, we mainly stuck to the very small Caminito part of La Boca – the only tourist friendly and thus relatively safe part in this otherwise dangerous district. The bus dropped us about 4 blocks away and the walk there, even in lovely sun and broad daylight, was quite uncomfortable feeling. However, once in the safer part, we enjoyed browsing the markets among the brightly painted corrugated iron walls of the buildings. We got a local ‘choripan’ from a stall, a delicious kind of sausage in bread with spicy sauces and onion and pepper. So nice!
Then we made our way to the highlight of any Sunday in Buenos Aires – the San Telmo market. Artesanal stalls fill the streets for blocks on end, selling bags, jewellery, ornaments, paintings… anything you can think of. I finally bought a mate cup for a very reasonable price. Mate is basically like a green tea made with fresh herbs and every Argentinian carries a thermos full of the stuff plus a kind of cup and metal straw to drink it through. (Mate is pronounced Mah-Teh, te means tea in Spanish.) I even heard that it’s hard to buy mate in coffee shops because everyone brings it with them in the day so it’s not a profitable business at all. Joanne also told me she thinks it is one of the reasons Argentinian people seem so ageless, with great skin – constantly staying hydrated and the herbs contain good stuff too. The one I bought was made from a cut and dried out aubergine and I love it!
I rounded off Sunday with the incredible Fuerza Bruta show. It was the kind of thing that would have been better with people (Joanne had seen it earlier that week so I went alone) but it only runs Wednesday – Sunday, and it really is a must-see, so even if you can’t find someone JUST GO! I couldn’t find any concrete information on what it actually was, just repeatedly told I shouldn’t miss it, so I went with no idea what to expect. Well, I guess the reason there was no concrete info is because it’s very hard to sum up or explain. It’s just a crazy flurry of an hour of live dance, music and theatre, but sort of exploring raw emotion, or, as the name means in Spanish, brute force. Put it this way – the audience are standing as the ‘stage’ moves around them. This stage starts as a mad treadmill in the centre, with a man being fake shot while running, and eventually becomes a see-through swimming pool lowered over everyone’s heads with girls flailing and dancing in the water, and much more. Yes, really!
Monday morning I sadly said my goodbyes to Joanne as she started her working week, and went to check into my new G Adventures tour’s hotel. I still had a day to kill until the evening welcome meeting, so I went on the Free Walks tour of the Recoleta area, much recommended and in my opinion better than the city centre tour, and ending at the famous cemetery, also a must-see. There were lots of interesting facts and some sad history. In this photo below you can see a huge art deco building – the first skyscraper in Latin America – which a rich woman built in front of a church in order to spite its female owner, who was high up in the Catholic church and forbade her to marry her son. The church used to be visible from her house: not any more of course!! in the same picture you can also see the memorial to the lives lost in the Falklands War, the outline being of the islands. The Falklands are known as the Malvinas here and it is an incredibly sensitive subject still for next to all citizens. For example, every map in the country depicts the islands as part of Argentinean territory. As the war was not in my lifetime, nor did I study it at school, it is hard to understand the impact or nuances of the British side of the story, but suffice to say lots of lives were lost on the Argentinean side and it is a painful memory for the people here.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around before finally getting back to meet my group. Everyone seemed very nice and our guide, Celina, was full of ideas and suggestions. I actually already knew that the thing to do on Monday evening in Buenos Aires was to go to the weekly La Bomba de Tiempo drumming show at Konex Cultural Centre, but as we had our first tour evening I assumed we’d go for dinner and it wouldn’t be an option for me. However, Celina suggested we all go and give the group dinner a miss! I was so pleased to go, not only because it was an incredible experience full of brilliant music, but I was now only two items away from ticking off everything on my ‘to do’ list in Buenos Aires. With 5 days in total planned in the city, the longest I’ve spent anywhere in quite a while, you would think this would be a given. But it’s so vast and there’s so much to do, I wasn’t sure I would be able to!
The fab night at La Bomba tempted me to have a lie-in the next day but I dragged myself out of bed to revisit Palermo and treat myself to brunch at a lovely cafe Joanne and I visited on our hungover day – La Panera Rosa if anyone is looking for a recommendation. From there I walked to the large park area and relaxed on the grass by the water watching the friendly street dogs play (to clarify, the strays here are very well looked after and not a threat, very different to the UK), a perfect end to a busy few days. To my bemusement I also encountered people standing on walls and discovered they were peering into the zoo for free – well, if you can’t beat them join them!!
My time in Bs As and also Argentina wouldn’t be complete without one last steak and some tango, however. So, that evening a couple of us went to the famous La Cabrera restaurant for dinner where you get not only world-class steak, but really a whole experience – millions of sides and mini starters while you wait for mouthwateringly tender meat served in sharing portions on wooden platters. There’s a reason I said my previous steak was the best I’d had up until that point in time, as this next one (a tenderloin) has to take the crown!
After a very satisfying meal, and the park having been visited earlier, tango was the last thing on my bucket list. My friend Lauren and I therefore got a short taxi to La Catedral tango club. It was quite empty being a Tuesday (or maybe even a little early for the Argentinean culture!) but you could tell it would have a great atmosphere with a few more people. It is actually where the locals come to dance so not a touristy show, obviously sometimes a good thing but then there’s no guaranteed ‘pizzazz’… but we saw a few couples on the floor in a very underground feeling setting, so not a bad result at all.
So… in conclusion I absolutely loved Buenos Aires and as you can probably tell there was never a dull moment. In fact, I would easily come back on (for example) a 2 week holiday to this city and still feel like I had plenty to see and do. I don’t know if it was perhaps the kind of Latino-European fusion of culture there, the amazing hospitality Joanne showed me, or simply just a good time – but as I said, Buenos Aires is the kind of place where I could simply see myself calling it home. And there’s no better recommendation for a place than that!