Monday, March 7, 2016

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Let's Tango! Or Stay Out Until 6AM

Buenos Aires was a total 180.  I seriously rolled in at 11pm after that 51-hour transit from Johannesburg, thinking I'd be able to crash peacefully in my hostel. Life had other plans.  I arrived to find my hostel roommates getting ready to go out.  One of the roommates was like, "Maybe I'll take a nap and then shower before we go."  And this was almost midnight (they did turn out to be lovely people, by the way).

The night afterwards, I went out for a quick drink with some new friends, and before you know it, it was like 4AM (people here have dinner at ~11pm!) - I was so proud of myself and was secretly patting myself on the back for being such a champion and staying out so late....and then arrived back to my hostel to find that I was the first one home.  What.  HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE HERE.  To think I had originally scoffed that my hostel breakfast went all the way until 11am....

What It's All About:
Buenos Aires is the big, cosmopolitan, vibrant capital of Argentina. Its streets look distinctly European (the buildings are beautiful!), and its many neighborhoods are scattered with cafes, bars, markets, and shops.  The city just has this energy - there are weekend markets in the streets, people are doing tango everywhere (granted, this may just be for the tourists BUT WHATEVER), there's outdoor seating everywhere - it's just the coolest place.

I stayed in BA for 5 days in the San Telmo neighborhood.  The streets are all laid out in a grid, so it's super super easy to navigate your way around.  In fact, if there was one tiny complaint I have about the city is that it is distinctly NOT walkable - everything is very spread out, and the trains don't go everywhere you need (though they all have free WiFi in the stations!).  To fully access everywhere, you need to take the bus, which involves buying a card that's only available in certain stores, then you need to add money on the card, etc. Maybe I'm spoiled by NYC transit.  Anyhow, Buenos Aires was GREAT.

Cliffnotes of the Day (I am squeezing 5 days in here, so):
  • Started Day 1 with a free walking tour of the central district. 

Flowery trees, people walking dogs - it feels like Spring!

This is the National Congress building, where the walking tour started

Some of the buildings - our guide said that locals (called Porteños) have always thought themselves grander and a little better than the rest of Latin America, so they emulated the European style of buildings back in the day.  He said the style isn't really European, though - it's like a tacky version of what they imagine European buildings to look like.

THIS is the Palacio Barolo, inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. The bottom floors symbolize Hell, the middle floors are Purgatory, and the upper floors are Heaven. There are 22 floors and each floor has 22 offices, which is the same number of stanzas in the poem, and as the number nine is super important (maybe you can tell I've never actually ready the poem...?), it is also repeated everywhere - the number of entries, the number of arches, etc. It was inaugurated on Dante's birthday, and there are about a million other Dante-related facts that I can't remember.

Went out for a drink with new friends from the walking tour! L to R: Joe (UK), Rose (US), Flora (France), and Gab (Canada)

  • Day 2, headed to the Sunday San Telmo market!

Since I missed the hostel's 11am breakfast, I had to go out to eat.  Pictured: a giant bowl of bacon, eggs, bread, and PROOF THAT I WAS TRYING TO CATCH UP ON THE BLOG

Friends from the walking tour Arthur (Belgium) and Rose and I went to check out the San Telmo market

San Telmo market - they seriously sold the coolest things. It wasn't one of those markets where every other stall has the same stuff. Times like these, I wish I didn't just have a (tiny, super overstuffed) backpack with me...

Arthur taught Rose and I that this is Mafalda, a famous cartoon from Argentina that tackles issues like political satire in a cutesy way. So we went to take a photo with them.

This band was playing in an outdoor square where people were drinking coffees and beers and it was the best vibe ever

A pretty church, and the streets of San Telmo


The Casa Rosada, or the Presidential office/mansion.  These balconies are where Eva Perón made her speeches to the masses. The president no longer lives here and the new presidential party doesn't allow people inside anymore. Also, see the big black gates at the front - there have been a significant number of protests here in the past, so now they have perma-gates to prevent people from getting close.

Panorama of the Playa de Mayo, the main square

We walked down to the riverbank to hang out and look at a famous bridge that is supposed to look like a tango dancer

Crew at the bridge

And we ran into an impromptu tango dance on the street. Fun fact, did you know that tango is totally improvised?  You're supposed to be able to know the next steps based on being in tune with your partner and reading cues from his body.  It's like Improv for dance!

Arthur and Rose on the famous tango-dancer bridge. I'm no architect, but this does not look like a person dancing tango at all to me. It looks like a harp. 

Waterfront at night

This is a church! Somebody famous is buried here. Why can't I remember who. But see how Greek/Roman it looks?

Rose and I went down to the Palermo neighborhood for a glass of wine and a delicious dinner outdoors. Palermo is where all the trendy cafes/bars/clubs are - it's kind of where all the tourists go at night so it's a little pricier but it is the CUTEST and against my will (or true to form), this was my favorite neighborhood.

  • I spent the better morning of Day 3 trying to get myself a SUBE card to ride the bus, which was a major fail because the two stores I went to were sold out of them.  And the stores were not close. The most random stores ever sell these things. Minus points for efficiency, BA.  I eventually gave up and got a taxi over to the pretty neighborhood of La Boca.

La Boca is known for its colorful buildings. But is apparently dangerous at night. Don't come here at night, people.

La Boca streets

'Hola!' The (not-at-all-creepy) pope greets all from a second story window in La Boca.

Cobblestone streets. I think I can sit at outdoor cafés and people-watch for the rest of my life

Getting a churro and hot chocolate at the famous Café Tortoni, the oldest café in Buenos Aires

Headed to La Catédral - they give various levels of tango lessons daily, and at night it turns into an impromptu tango dance party

Creeping on Flora and Gab as they take their first tango lesson

  • Day 4: after another fail at getting myself a SUBE card (I'm now referring to them as the unicorn card, because I'm pretty sure they're a myth), I headed to the Recoleta Cemetery. This is a huge cemetery in the middle of town that houses tons mausoleums of the storied and famous residents of Buenos Aires (former presidents, etc. Also Evita!).  Each family has their own plot and mausoleum, which they decorate with statues, intricate carvings, marble, memorials, and plaques. They all look super different and are of varying ages.  The cemetery is huuuuuge - you can spend an entire afternoon getting lost in the labyrinth of tiny paths.

First gloomy day in BA = appropriate for a cemetery visit

I don't know if it's creepy to take photos of people's mausoleums, so I'm trying to contain myself

So many pathways, so many tombs. 

I like how old and crumbly this one is

And here is where Evita is buried!  She's very underground, don't worry.  Also, did you know her corpse was stolen and was missing for a long time?  #peopleareweird

Evita's plaque on her family mausoleum is in the below right corner.  She died of cancer at age 33 (didn't you guys watch the Madonna movie??), and was a huge supporter and champion of the working class, who adored her. The middle/high class, however, hated her. When she died, the words "Long live cancer" were graffitied all over town.

Last night dinner at a trendy restaurant in Palermo with hostel friends L to R Wesley, Juan, and Tam. The restaurant was called Perón Perón, and they would play this crazy militaristic anthem every so often. And the food was revolution-themed. Oh Buenos Aires, you've thought of everything.

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Buenos Aires is big on ice cream. This is not a personal opinion.  They had the largest portion of immigrants from Italy, so with them, came all the delicious gelaterias.  There's tons of them everywhere, and they are purportedly delicious. As I was semi suffering from food poisoning (Jesse got food poisoning as well, so I'm blaming Emirates on this one), I did not get to try (biggest regret of life).  But other people told me it was indeed delicious (choke, sob).
  • The economy is something else. Argentina suffers from a 40% inflation rate, and the government has known to be super corrupt and not-so-beneficial for the economy. This resulted in the blue market, an underground/informal money exchange (called the "blue rate") - this came about because the government restricted residents' ability to buy dollars back in 2012 (since nobody wanted to save in pesos given how crazy the inflation is). So the blue rate was started as a way to purchase dollars on the open market at market rate (instead of the crazy pegged government rate, which would be as much as 60% lower).  So even though it's "underground," basically everyone bought their dollars on the Blue Market, tourists included, up until recently. VERY recently (think Dec. 2015), the new government opened the peso to a floating rate for the first time - so now the blue rate is about equal to what you get out of ATMs.
  • On that note, the blue market is still very much alive today regardless.  Part of this is because it is impossible to get money out of ATMs.  The largest bill in Argentina is an 100-peso note, which is constantly devaluing, so it is currently equivalent to about $7.50.  THIS IS THE LARGEST BILL.  This means the ATMs run out of money constantly. Like, all the time. Like, you are more likely to find an empty ATM than one with cash. Getting cash here is the worrrrrrrst. I am sitting here cash-less currently because I can't find an ATM with money. I have resorted to drinking tap water today because I can't buy a bottle of water (which is safe, I just don't love tap water). First world problems.
  • The Spanish accent here is WEIRD.  A "y" makes an "sh" sound, and a "ll" makes a "j" sound. Por ejemplo, "Plaza de Mayo" is pronounced "Plaza de Mah-sho", and "me llamo" is more like "meh jjjjamo" (god I'm terrible at this phonetic spelling thing).  Anyhow, it's super confusing and I have no idea what anyone is saying, ever.


  1. Connie!!! I'm following your steps with your blog!! You are in South America!! Come to Brazil, come to Brasília, Please!!

    1. Ahhhh I want to so badly!! But Brazil has that pesky visa thing for U.S. citizens, and I don't have a visa, OR ELSE I WOULD! Are you sure you don't want to come meet me in Bolivia or Chile instead?!?!? :)