Fortunes, Misfortunes, and the Memories in Between
05.02.2011 - 18.02.2011
BeSorry for the seemingly endless delay between the posts. Upon further review I have definitely decided that Buenos Aires (hereto referred to as BA for brevity) is the city that never sleeps, and call me a porteño for having not slept to truly experience it. Although I cannot possibly capture all of the smells, sights, and experiences that have made up the time since my last posts, I will try and leave you with the best and worst (though not terrible) highlights of such an amazing time in Buenos Aires and Argentina in general.
This was the neighborhood my hostel, the Che Lagarto (see below) was situated in. What I liked most about it was the young, artist vibe. Every Sunday there is a market that runs through the main street, Defensa, for countless blocks and sells everything from the most touristy shirts and wares to handmade ashtrays, jewelery, and mate. The best part are the people dancing to local drum circles and bands in the side streets and the many cool galleries, cafes, and boutiques that also are open for you to peruse at the same time.
My personal favorite places here were El Federal, a cafe and bar that has been here for over a hundred years and has an amazing menu spanning all of the Argentinian fare you could ever think of along with home-made beers. For roughly $10 I had a dark beer and shared a platter of cheeses, olives, meats, tortillas, and pate with newfound friends. Another must for me was Gibraltar, a bar started by ex-pats that served microbrews along with amazing curries and other diverse items for the area.
Best of all, there were literally hostels dotting every street corner, allowing one the opportunity to check out the competition and potentially make some new friends.
This neighborhood was quick to do with to do as it centered around the soccer stadium for the hugely popular local team Boca Juniors and a very touristy street with colorfully painted houses called Caminito. On one of my first days here I went and did a tour of the stadium, learning songs, the history of the "club of clubs," and getting a insider's perspective as to why fans flock to the Bombonera from all parts of Argentina. Unfortunately I wasn't able to see a game (see below), but I was able to get a feel for the undying support of the local fans, as people for blocks and blocks around tailgate, dance, and sing along with the raucousness of the fans present at the game. I also got my first taste of parilla, or bbq here, trying some part of the cow called chinchulin (never figured out the names of the meat I ate, although it was usually delicious, cheap, and present everywhere).
As I am assuming every tourist must, I went to Recoleta to see the burial grounds of the elite and the final resting place of Eva Peron, who is still very much alive and well in the hearts and minds of almost every Argentinian. More than anything, I was struck by the omnipresence of urban decay, seeing mausoleums everywhere that must have been very grandiose and self-serving altars to proud families reduced to little more than decrepit and run-down structures. While the upkeep must be outrageous, there is definitely a touch of irony that in the end, nature consumes us all.
Other than the cemetery, there was a pretty good market each Saturday for artisans, great nearby ice creams shop called Freddo, and the National Museum of Fine Arts, which deserves a better description. Besides having a free entrance and the standard works by European and some South American masters, it does an amazing job of chronicling Argentinian art from pre-colonial to modern times and is a great way of seeing the development of the city through different mediums and perspectives. Surrounding the museum was a nice sculpture garden that was BA's version of New York City's "Museum Mile."
Like San Telmo this was another with a lot of things going on for someone my age culturally and socially. This was the location of the coolest shopping in BA, including local brands like Bolivar and Bensimon and cool restaurants surrounding open plazas. Additionally, this was the location of the best nightlife in the city (see below), frequently a destination for me and new-found friends in the hostel who were taking advantage of night-life deals being offered.
This was one of the two day-trips I went on while here. Just a short 1-hour and 1 peso ride away from the Retiro train station, this is the spot where all of the locals come to unwind during the weekends. Inter-dispersed throughout the delta of the Rio Plata are numerous wooded islands consisting of clubs, resorts, and places for people to hang out, play, and completely unwind. People get around from place to place via boat and canoe and then find a good spot on the beach to tan and swim, although the river was a bit brown for our tastes (either dirt or sediment). Besides this there was a huge market selling typically Argentinian goods with a no-nonsense attitude towards my best bargaining efforts.
San Antonio de Areco
This is an old gaucho town located roughly 2 hours away from the capital but also miles away in terms of ambiance and attitude. It reminded me as almost a cross between some of the quieter parts of the south of France with what I would imagine to be the old West. There are wild horses riding around the outskirts of town, a gaucho museum, and a variety of silversmiths selling elaborate pieces to the public. Besides this there is a quiet park with a river that is a gathering place during the weekend, a central square bordered by the church and the two busiest roads in the village, and little cafes that serve mate along with local delicacies. This was another welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, although it ultimately came at the expense of missing the Boca Juniors game (see below).
Wowwy Wow Wow Wowwy. I can easily understand why this place is being considered for one of the "Seven Natural Wonders of the World." I was lucky enough to come in after a huge rain and leave before another, allowing me to see the immense falls on the Argentinian side and the Devil's Throat on the Brazilian at their most awe-inspiring. To see such immense of water moving is truly one of those "you-gotta-be-here-to-believe-this" moments, and I got the luxury of seeing them both from above on the well-built trials that link up the park and below as a part of a boat tour that literally takes you into the falls (trying to upload videos). Besides this I did a eco-adventure consisting of rapelling down a waterfall and zip-lines through the jungle that was time well spent on the first day there. The dichotomy between the lush and relatively silent jungle and the loud, dirty city was well worth the 18-hour one-way bus ride it took to get there (Note: buses in Argentina are amazing, with hot meals, fully reclining seats a la business class, and prompt service for roughly half of flying).
Ahh, the good old Che Lagarto network of hostels. If trademark infringement weren't an issue, I would replace its current motto of "a South American philosophy" with that of Hooter's: "delightfully tacky yet unrefined." Never have I been to such a place that was so full, unabashedly cheap and seedy and times, and yet still the time of my life. The best/worst part of it is that if you stayed at one you could stay at another for 20%, which made one overlook the cockroaches/ broken lights/ water damage/slanted pool and bootleg game tables/ pimps amongst the staff in order to get quite easily the cheapest rates around. Throw in the always full bar and constantly rotating beds and the $12/ night in BA and $7.60 you are paying in Iguaza seem like the steal of the century. Choosing this place on a whim was the best decision I made, as without it I wouldn't have met the countless Chileans/ Aussies/ Israelis/ English that made this leg of the trip unforgettable.
So far what I have experienced here has truly blown any notion I have had of "partying hard" out the water. What I came to learn after that first night was that people go out at 1:30 at the EARLIEST (basically first in), things truly get good around 4, and you aren't really having fun unless the sun has completely risen. Additionally, clubs that would be considered on point with the Meatpacking District or other "flash" (Aussie word I learned for posh or cool) areas cost at most $12.50 USD to get in. The most ridiculous one I discovered in speaking to a local and perusing online was called Mandarinne but also known as Terrazas. On any given Saturday night if you weren't here then you must have been sleeping or out of the city limits. I have never seen so many people waiting in line, taking up an entire driveway as if they were waiting in line to get into a Lakers Finals game against the Celtics. Add to this the thousands of people who end up in the 6 main salons inside and the riverfront patio and bungalow outside and you have a recipe for dancing until you see the sun rise over the river and the first planes taking off overhead from the nearby Jorge Newberry airport.
Dulce de Leche
Although BA and Argentina is known for its meat I was a huge fan of dulce de leche here, which is touted as a culinary delight. It finds its way into cookies, crepe-like pancakes, flan, and especially ice cream, which became one of my favorite indulgences on the trip. From anywhere between $.75 and $4 you could have one or two big scoops mixed with anything from chocolate to banana to nuts to caramel and even sometimes I had it in flan with another scoop of mate (truly Argentinian if you ask me). One good reason for leaving is avoiding its impact on the waist and the old wallet.
One of the most interesting/funny things that I have encountered while in BA specifically is that almost everyone meet seems to think that I am Brazilian, calling me brasilero. Whether it be receptionists at the hostel, street vendors, or even a female in the clsub, something about my increasingly dark complexion and sometimes the way I speak Spanish leads them to believe that I am a neighbor from the north. This had led me to believe that a.) I should learn a couple of phrases in Brazilian, get the required visa, and return home to find my true"mother" and live my new life amongst my long lost countrymen. b.) there is still a little bit of animosity/ competition between the two groups, as I have heard that some Argentinians find Brazilians "rude" and "aggressive," meaning that for one of the few times during the trip it would less stigmas attached to being an American foreigner coming in to a country. Just musings, though, that will have to be re-examined on my next trip down here.
I decided to put this section at the end for three reasons:
- I don't want to put a damper on such a great portion of the trip, especially in light of the delay
- In the grand scheme of things I have done pretty well with keeping it together
- The monetary value isn't worth the regrets if would have had if I didn't take risks
First off, I have the now two bottles of shampoo that have been stolen, which at this point is just funny that someone would want my anti-dandruff shampoo or used bar of soap at the hostel. Secondly, as mentioned above, I missed the Boca game because of the fact that the bus that was supposed to take me back to BA in time for the game never arrived and so I ended up getting a ride with a different carrier only to find out that my ticket was given away. Lastly, and most sadly, I lost $25 as a "deposit" on what I thought were going to be custom-made shoes to a guy named Hugo at the San Telmo market (one reason this post came out later is that I was waiting outside on the street corner for roughly an hour at our pre-determined spot). One could argue that I should have known it was a scam when, after I agreed to a deal, he ran to get a newspaper, which was then used to measure my feet, taken down my specifications, and create an ad-hoc business card with his name and phone number. Or maybe when he asked for the deposit and said he was taking a "vacation" down to the beach in the week that followed, leaving me two days to get the shows. Whatever the case, I saw custom shoes everywhere, including the molds for making them. For now I would like to believe that Hugo is still out there, waiting to do the transaction with me.
And you thought the last post was a bit of the long side. Hopefully, although cheekily, this makes up for the pro-longed absence and is a step towards more concise and regular journalism on the next stage of my journey in Seth Africa.