A chance to unpack the bags, meet the locals and dance tango!
18.12.2011 - 18.01.2012 32 °C
Buenos Aires is different from the South America we've seen so far, it's a bit like a European city, only friendly, subtropical and with some wierd bureaucratic practices (which we felt when we needed US dollars to pay for our apartment). There are a few indigenous South Americans here, but I think there are similar numbers in London. Most people seam to be descendants of Spaniards or Italians and after many years of living here have developed their own culture. Porteños love to party! It seams here that to eat before 9pm and hit a club before 2am is a social disgrace and there are many nights when we don't leave the party till 5am.
After spending our first night in a hostel in 'downtown' and taking the opportunity to cycle around much of the city while roads have their Sunday quiet moment we decide that our original idea of staying in Palermo Viejo is a good one. We book an apartment and move in on Monday - to the 20th floor! Our views over the city are fantastic! There is one hiccup as only cash payment is accepted and it will take us at least three days to get enough money out of the ATM (apartments like this in BA aren't the bargain they once were) and then we find that we can't change this into US$ due to a new rule the government has brought in...but tourists need pesos and I need dollars and I use this fact and 5 sets of tourists later we have changed all that we need
The first night in our apartment we go for a wander to check out our bit of town and then flop into a pizza restaurant. The waitress is super friendly and answers our multitude of questions - nearest swimming pools, best bars and clubs...And then M bumps into a chap called Carlos who just happens to be one of the few people in BA who does triathlons. Carlos is there with his family, including his 7 year old son Mateo and 3 week old daughter Luciania (very cute!!). Laura doesn't speak much English, so we converse with my strained Spanish while M and Carlos chat away in English. Carlos asks who we will be spending Christmas with and then when he finds out we have no family here he insists that we join them! Their food arrives and Carlos and M arrange to meet for a run the next day
We're a bit apprehensive about intruding on their Christmas, but Carlos is insistent and arranges a ride for us out to a friends country house with his brother, Christian, and girlfriend, Cynthia on Christmas Eve. The day is filled with lounging around the pool, playing football with Mateo and chatting with the other family members who arrive throughout the afternoon and evening. We light a bonfire so that there are coals for the parrilla and Laura's parents arrive with the meat. Laura's father wastes no time in shovelling red embers up under the grill and getting the meat cooking. He also does some asado pizza (BBQed pizza), morcilla (black pudding) and smaller cuts of meat as nibbles to keep us going. Yummy! I chat away to all in a mixture of English and Spanish while M tends to prefer to stick with English, which luckily most speak fairly well. Well into the evening we sit down to eat. The cuts of meat come one after another off the massive knife of Laura's dad. As midnight approaches fireworks start going off and we wake Mateo. Christmas is celebrated at midnight with Sidre (Sweet Cider) and Mateo finding a wheelbarrow full of presents! Most are for him, but there are a few for the adults and Luciania too, which Mateo reluctantly hands out.
Finally it's time to pack up and head back into town. The fireworks continue as we're driven along a jam-packed motorway. Aparently driving home at 2am on Christmas morning is normal here - luckily we haven't found the Argentinians to be big drinkers, but their driving leaves a lot to be desired!!
Back at our flat we have a panoramic view of the city's fireworks, which are not showing any sign of finishing. We crash out before they do.
Christmas Day is a more restful affair and M and I spend the day together, chatting with family, eating a beautiful steak that our local butcher has provided for us and drinking a fine, rich Malbec and Argentinian 'champagne'. We venture out to the park just before sunset to find it filled with rollerbladers, cyclists, strollers and families picnicing.
On New Years Eve M ran an 8km race with 3200 others! It's the biggest race in BA's calender and Carlos was comparing M did amazingly well, coming in the top 10%!! Especially as he'd barely fitted in any training and it was super hot!!
We'd been told that New Years Eve is another mad night for fireworks, but that it's a family celebration more than a grand party with friends. So we decide to keep our celebrations relaxed with a lovely meal followed by watching the fireworks from the roof of our apartment. This is just perfect as most of the fireworks are let off by individuals or families here in BA, so the spectical isn't just in one location and we had a great view of it all.
On New Years Day everything was closed, so we thought we'd enjoy wandering around some of the touristy parts of town...which were rammed! San Telmo's antiques market was up and running, a tango band provided great music and we enjoyed a coffee con leche and submarino (dark chocolate bar that you dissolve in hot milk - M's favorite!) in an historic bar. Wandering down to La Boca, we walk along the waterfront and then find the famous Caminito area with it's beautiful colourful buildings. On our way home we passed the Casa Rosada, the parliament house, from which Evita Peron amongst others rallied the masses with speeches from the balcony.
The other key even we had while in BA was Louise and Mario's wedding. Louise is a friend of M's who went off travelling around the world, met Mario in BA, fell in love and came back to stay! The wedding was so much fun We met Sarah and Remy (friends who had come over from London) and headed over to meet up with Louise's family. The ceremony was at 8pm in a beautiful church in an ecological reserve. We then headed to the reception where there was great food off the parrilla, speeches (got to bring a few English traditions over), singing and dancing. In the early hours a tango song was played and M and I took to the floor...and found we were joined by Louise's parents...none of the Argentinians at the wedding danced tango. So we had quite an audience! Several sets of ochos, some heros and a couple of gauchos later we were being praised for our tango skill...phew!
And this leads me to one of the main activities of our time in BA...bailar tango We take lots of lessons lessons, from a variety of teachers (not really the best way of doing it when you're a beginner, but it was fun...) and go to lots of milongas (this is a social dance, there will be a DJ or some live music and the tables and chairs are placed around the dancefloor so that men can easily invite the ladies to dance). Some of the milongas are full of amazing dancers and I don't get asked to dance, either because they don't know my ability or because M is sitting next to me, but we're happy to watch and enjoy a drink. Other milongas have more of a mixed bag of dancers and are less formal. These suit us much better!us much better and I'm up dancing most of the night. M dances mainly with me - it's much harder for an inexperienced guy to ask ladies to dance than the other way around as the man has to lead, watch out for other dancers who may cut you up and keep the rhythm. The more I dance the more admiration I have for the male lead. But even when he's not dancing M has a great time watching, enjoying the music and chatting to the friendly Portenos.
We also go to some great bars, a couple of clubs, a few yummy restaurants and eat A LOT of helado (italian style icecream, Mmmm). We meet up with some couchsurfers for coffee, beer, tango, language exchange and general chit chat. And we meet lots of other travellers who are having a ball, just like us!
(PS. More photos to follow once we get a chance to download them onto a laptop that works!)