Buenos Aires - ‘Paris of the South’
Once our tummies were full of glorious grass fed steaks, milky chocolate, velvety wine from Bariloche– we set off for Buenos Aires (also known as BA). We spent our first few days in the downtown ‘Centro’ neighborhood where we navigated a famous 12-lane boulevard that cuts through the heart of the city. BA is a massive, sprawling city (12 million) divided into various neighborhoods, each having it’s own distinct character, style and people. Buenos Aires is like the New York of South America, if you are from there it’s the greatest place on the planet J It’s a city oozing with culture, decadent fashion, seductive music, scrumptious food and beautiful people.
Buenos Aires is the birthplace of Tango and Emily was determined to see some dancing. After doing some research and asking around we found that most shows were very touristic and overpriced, some topping $100! We were ecstatic to have the opportunity to spend an evening hanging out with Keith Liles, a poet who lived in Alaska and now lives in BA with his amazing girlfriend Kiki. We asked Keith and Kiki about Tango shows and they jumped right on the idea and lined up some tickets. The show was held at Esquina Homero Manzi, an old café with a 2-story high ceiling, crystal chandeliers sparkling and large stage at the front. We were served wine and snacks and the curtained opened to a four-piece band consisting of a pianist, violinist, accordion player and bassist back lit by soft colored lighting.
The show alternated between two singers belting out Argentinean love ballads. They were both probably well into their 60’s and the ‘porteno’ (man) was decked out in a flashy tuxedo and the ‘portena’ (woman) had an array of glitzy dresses. The six tango dancers were in equally sparkling, sexy attire. The athleticism of the dancers was incredible and the intricateness of the dance moves was mind-boggling. At many points during the show the dancers would kick between each other’s legs (obviously a dangerous move for the men) with such velocity and force that it made us gasp. The tango dances usually started out slow and seductive with the music and then got increasingly faster, until the crescendo finished with high kicking, spins and bends to end the dance. It was a fabulous evening surpassing our expectations.
We were in BA for five days and spent the rest of our time exploring the city’s many sites including a visit to the rose garden, a biking tour of the wildlife refuge near the Atlantic Ocean (it’s more like a swamp with a lot of birds), and strolling through the famous San Telmo Sunday Antique Market. The market is 15 blocks long and creates a pedestrian street for shoppers to mosey up and down. There was everything from jewelry to world globes, dummies showing internal anatomy, glassware, antique wedding dresses and even tango performers.
We experienced our first horse race at the local track. A group of people from our hostel was heading to the track and invited us to tag along. The horse track was fairly large complex and we placed our first and only bet of $2. Unfortunately we didn’t win but it was a really interesting experience.
BA is known for its world famous nightlife where the party doesn’t stop until very early in the morning. We had yet to experience this so we were ecstatic when the opportunity arose to hangout with a few local ‘portenos’ for an evening of memorable drinking and dancing. An acquaintance of Brendan had a friend named Alejandro who lives in BA and works as an accountant for Manpower, a staffing company. That evening we met Alejandro and his friends for a few drinks at his two-story apartment in the ‘SoHo’ neighborhood of Palermo. At about 1:30am we left Alejandro’s apartment in search of some nightlife. Some of his friends recommended a new club/lounge that had recently opened called Unicorn Bar. We did the usual thing where the guys wait in line while the girls go flirt with the doorman so everyone can all get in together. Miraculously it worked and we all headed inside…. What awaited us was a small two-story bar with a dance floor and roof top terrace decorated in… wait… you guessed it…. UNICORNS! Unicorn murals covered the walls and there was even a unicorn disco ball hanging over the dance floor, EPIC. However we didn’t last long and called it a night after a few drinks and some unicorn dancing.
Some other notable experiences in BA was visiting Evita’s grave in the city’s famous cemetery that resembles a small city with rows and rows of ornate mausoleums dating back a few hundred years. Another was experiencing the hippy drum circle performance of ‘La Bomba del Tiempo’ with 15 percussionists accompanied for a set by a experimental free-form pianist.
On our final night we sought out some local music at a small neighborhood art house called El Quetzal Casa Cultural. About 30 or more of us packed into a tiny room to witness the soulful voice and acoustic guitar of a local female folk artist named Valeria Cini. It was a collaborative show with two local Argentinean poets who gave an extremely animated slam poetry session during breaks in between the music. From what we gathered in our limited Spanish, most of the poems revolved around the theme of bashing fat and/or beautiful North Americans for trying to dominate the world. It was pretty awkward because we were the obviously the only North Americans in the room and everyone knew it… we took it all in good humor (it was actually pretty hilarious) and cheered for their brutal honesty.
When we boarded our plane to Madrid the next morning we couldn’t believe our time in South America was over. We had a plethora of memorable experiences, learned about 4 unique cultures and met some amazingly interesting people. After seeing and doing so much over 3 months we realized we had only scratched the surface of such an enormously diverse continent. We have already made a goal for our second temporary retirement to return to South America.
Up Next: A pit stop in Europe