The times of curries, monks and traffic driving on the wrong side of the road are behind us. For the next few weeks at least, things are going to have a more familiar taste. With a twist.
Visiting a relative
A new continent, a new country, a new city. Everything new? Not quite. Arriving in Buenos Aires felt like visiting your lovely aunty: it feels familiar, similar to your parent’s house. There is a similar vibe in the house, and there are similar bakeries round the corner, bars, theatres. Just like home. Same same… but different though. For instance, instead of tapas here you get empanadas. And they are very tasty.
And same language. Except that in this respect, there are some differences too. Understanding the menu can sometimes be a challenge, words for corn, beans or peanuts for example are different from what we are used to. And then, there is the situation with the verb “coger”. In Spain, “coger” means “to pick up”, “to grab” or “to catch” something. Here though, it means to have sex with somebody… or something. Example:
Que collectivo debemos coger para ir a Palermo?
Which bus should we catch/fuck to get to Palermo?
…depending on whether you are in Madrid or Buenos Aires. We are going to have some fun here.
Getting to know Argentina
Free Walking Tours have been around for a while. The name can be misleading: they really shouldn’t be called “free”, as pretty much everyone ends up paying the suggested fee and they tend to be good. The one in Buenos Aires was no different.
From its independence from the Spanish Empire to the years of military dictatorship and finally the more recent times of democracy, ours was packed with facts and stories about why Argentina is the way it is today. After taking us around Buenos Aires’ old district, it finished at Recoleta Cemetery. Perhaps the only place in the world which acts both as a tourist attraction and a cemetery?
Buried here – according to the official version that is – lies the body of someone special, Evita Perón. As we found out, few characters have ever polarised public opinion in such way. As a singer once said: people can love or hate Eva Perón but they can’t forget her. To simplify things, her detractors claim that she manipulated the poor to stay in power. Her supporters on the other hand, would say that she was the first politician to fight for the rights of the working class.
Politics and history – I know, I am hungry too.
The moment of truth
But of course, Argentina is also renowned for producing the best beef in the world and we were decided to check if there was any truth in that claim. Our restaurant of choice was Don Julio, a parrilla tucked away in the neighbourhood of Palermo. We ordered two different cuts of bife de chorizo, with no starters or other non-sense distractions that would have taken our attention away from the main course.
It was one of the best steaks of our lives and the wine was delicious. As far as our stomach is concerned, Argentina looks promising.
Rough at night, colourful during the day
Where are you going today?
Ah, very nice. Make sure you leave the neighbourhood before 17.00h or so. And watch your belongings, specially your camera. And don’t go outside the two main streets. And be careful with pickpockets, even on the bus. Apart from all that, have fun!
That was the actual conversation with the owner of our hostel. The reality was not so scary. But the fame is there. Welcome to La Boca.
Genoese immigrants settled and lived in this part of the city and changed its face forever – following their tradition, they painted their houses with a specific colour so that sailors could identify their home, when they return from the sea.
Aside from the colourful buildings, some of the walls boast beautiful drawings, with stylised lines and flowered, climbing plants. Its name, fileteado.
Without any incidents to report, we safely made our way north, to the oldest neighbourhood in the capital.
A step back in time
Stepping into San Telmo, just north from La Boca, was like taking a train back in time. Cobblestone streets with old colonial houses and big patios welcoming the visitor inside to explore.
Antique shops, vintage clothes, old memorabilia, cool furniture and vinyls. I don’t need any of that, but I would be happy going window shopping here every Saturday afternoon for the next few years.
A huge market, book stores, a lively public square, street artists and old cafes in nearly every corner. This place has soul.
Asking around we found a small restaurant, decorated with posters from Maradona’s greatest moments, serving simple yet tasty food. Only locals here, and us.
Malbec, La Boca, steaks, am I missing anything… yes – Tango!
It was early by the time we arrived at La Catedral, a well known Milonga in down town, to take our first ever Tango lessons. Some say it is full of character, others that it is run down and has seen better days. For us, the dance floor, the quirky chairs and dust-covered sofas and all the other paraphernalia had definitely something magical about it.
It did not look like that cat was keen on teaching us a move or two and so we decided to come back later. But just as we were walking out, Pablo, the teacher, stormed in asking our names and commanding us to the dance floor. About two hours later, Carlos Gardel was like an old friend of us.
Our last dinner in Buenos Aires finished off on a sweet note. Sure, there was some more Malbec and another succulent steak, but this time it was the desert that stole the show. Flan casero con dulce de leche y crema. Like visiting your aunty, but with a twist.
Bureaucracy had us coming to Argentina instead of the US. Thank you bureaucracy.
We travel a few thousand kilometres south, towards the end of the Earth, in search for ice and mountains. Yes, Patagonia!