Buenos Aires

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Where I stayed
Palermo Hostel

Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, January 5, 2007

Buenos Aires

A 5 hour bus trip from the seaside resort of Mar del Plata, and we arrive in our biggest metropolis since Mexico City. Buenos Aires is a huge, European styled capital with some 12 million people living in it's metropolitan area.

As you'd expect with a city of this size, there are several different areas to stay in, each with their own character and atmosphere. We opt for Palermo, which is described in the Lonely Planet as one of the city's trendiest areas.

We are hoping that BA's size and status will make is easy for us to get off the meat/pizza/pasta trail that so dominates Argentinian cuisine. On our first evening, we track down a South East Asian restaurant, but unfortunately the food turned out to be disappointing and unauthentic. After dinner we go for drinks in the hip Las Caņitas area, and finish the night off relaxing at a table outside a bar and enjoying a beer in Palermo's Plaza Serrano, which is said to be ground zero for BA's nightlife. Maybe we went on the wrong night, maybe we were out too early, I'm not sure, but although the area was atmospheric, the bars didn't exactly rock like they would in a European city of this size.

The next day we check out of our Palermo hostel, the shared bathrooms were just too disgusting, and check in to a city centre hostel, a stone's throw away from Avenida Corrientes, a main thoroughfare famous for its theatres. We spend the day exploring the city centre's sights by foot, including Avenida 9 de Julio which, with 16 lanes, is claimed by locals to be the widest street in the world. What's true is it's impossible to cross it in one go unless you run, so you get stuck somewhere in the middle, waiting for the traffic lights to change again.

That evening, we head out to an area called San Telmo, an atmospheric area, full of cobbled streets, colonial houses, and full of cafes and bars which just ooze character.

Before we know it, it's New Year's Eve, and we meet up with Patty's brother, Iņaki and his girlfriend, Andrea, who have traveled down from Brazil to join us for a few days.

We were disappointed to find out that Argentinians tend to see in the New Years at home with their family, rather than out with friends in a bar or restaurant. So there are none of the big street gatherings that you get for example, next to Big Ben in London, or in La Puerta del Sol in Madrid.

We see in the New Year at a Spanish Restaurant, doing the typical Spanish thing on the 31st of Dec, and that is to eat 12 grapes, one for each dong of midnight, after which the restaurant put on an impressive flamenco show.

Before we know it, it's 2am and the Argentinians have started to come out. We've got tickets for a club called Opera Bay, a very large and impressive nightclub, built in the city's regenerated docklands, and slightly resembling Sydney's Opera house.

As we dance the night away in this amazing disco, just before the sun comes up, they retract the roof from over the club's largest dance floor, which also faces the water. It was so cool to be dancing there in the open, next to the water, in the shadow of the city's skyscrapers, as the sun came up and shone brightly over the hundreds of clubbers, something we'll never forget.

After arriving home at 8am, the day was pretty much a write off, so we put our sightseeing on hold, and the next day we visit La Boca district. La Boca is a traditionally poor working class neighbourhood which is extremely colourful and atmospheric, with several street Tango shows.

The next day we say bye to Iņaki and Andrea and finish off our sightseeing, which included a visit to the Evita Museum and a visit to see the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

The Plaza de Mayo is famous for it's gathering every Thursday of the mothers of people who went missing during Argentina's Dirty War. Since 1977, these mothers have gathered here to protest and demand to know what happened to their sons and daughters. I first learnt about the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in a Spanish course back in the UK, so I really wanted to come here to see and meet some of them. We really admire their stamina and their determination and it was hard to hold back our emotions as we watched these old ladies, some of which can barely walk, march in a circle around the centre of the square.

Summing up Buenos Aires.

We had high expectations for Buenos Aires, believing that it would end up being amongst the best cities that we've ever seen. However, for a big city to impress us, it either has to be extremely varied, or have something unique. Buenos Aires really didn't have anything we haven't seen before, nor was it as cosmopolitan or varied as a European city of this size. So I suppose, in this respect, we've come away slightly disappointed.

Our favourite things about Buenos Aires were the huge and characterful cafes, which seem to occupy the corners of almost any major thoroughfare, the ornate shopping arcades, the Opera Bay nightclub, the colourful La Bocas neighbourhood and of course the excellent quality-price ratio.

In our opinion, Buenos Aires' biggest blemish is it's poor walk-ability. The drivers seem to have no respect whatsoever for pedestrians and tend to come at you with speed, or swerve around you whilst you're walking across the pedestrian crossing. The pavements are narrow, crowded, in pretty poor condition and littered with continuous obstacles like advertising boards, newspaper stands, and poorly positioned lampposts. They are also covered with omnipresent dog shit and rubbish from the nightly bin-scavenging. The locals don't seem to look where they are walking, and there is a continuous line of air-conditioning units dripping out their evaporated deposits from the high blocks of flats and onto your head. 

Obviously taking third world cities out of the equation, all of these above things combined to make Buenos Aires, one of the least pleasant cities to walk around that we have ever visited.

Let's hope that our next stop, Montevideo, will be a more civilized to explore on foot.
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