The visit to Tigre completed my sight-seeing in BA. I spent the rest of my time simple enjoying the city. It is a very pleasant place, with many parks, and wide avenues. The richer central areas reminded me of Paris, with Hausmann-style mansions set amongst more modern buildings.
I explored on foot, by taxi and by bus. Getting around proved to be easy. Taxis are abundant and cheap and use their meter without having to be asked. I also bought a “Sube” card to be able to use the buses. This was a bit tricky at first, since you have to tell the driver the name of the stop you will get off at, and since the network is very extensive with hundreds of buses and no maps – but with the help of Google, I managed it. The bus drivers seem to be paid according to how quickly they complete their route and race through the traffic like Formula 1 drivers. You need to sit down as soon as you have paid, since the driver will immediately hit the accelerator and roar off. In the centre, there are places where there are two parallel bus lanes, which allows the drivers of different buses to race each other. As a result, bus travel is surprisingly fast but might not be totally safe.
As I explored the city, I got to know local life better. There was a big inequality of incomes – some barrios are very opulent, and some very poor. The expensive areas have beautiful shady parks with wonderful tropical trees, but these are also places where the many homeless people sleep. Portenos enjoy life, and there are thousands of cafés, bars and restaurants that seem very busy at all hours of the day – I wondered if people ever worked. Sitting on a terrace and watching the world go by is a popular occupation – and a cheap one, since prices for food and drink are a fraction of what you would pay in Europe.
During my stay, this café culture was given a further boost by the football world cup. When Argentina played, those places showing the match would be besieged, whilst the rest of the city ground to a halt.
The games that did not involve Argentina were largely ignored. Lots of people wear the football shirt of the national team and everyone (almost literally, I only saw one exception amongst thousands) chooses Messi’s no. 10 shirt (I thought a football team had 11 players?). There were babies and even dogs wearing Messi’s shirt…
Another striking feature of the city – and Argentina as a whole – is their attachment to the Islas Malvinas, more commonly known as Britain’s Falkland Islands. Argentina lost several hundred soldiers, sailors and airmen in a failed attempt to invade the islands in 1982, and each city has its own square named after the “Heroes of the Malvinas”. Signs everywhere – on public buildings, on buses, in shops – proclaim that “Las Malvinas son Argentinas”.
The one thing I failed to properly explore in Buenos Aires was tango. The many tango shows on offer looked very touristy – like the Moulin Rouge in Paris, which I would never consider visiting – so I tried to find a “milonga” or place where ordinary people dance. I found a website listing all the milongas in the city and chose an open air one in front of the Congress building. The dancing was far from the vision of the elegant movement of sexy, well-dressed people I had expected. The few dancers wore jeans and t-shirts and the dance itself reminded me of the exercises they make residents do in old peoples’ homes. Searching out the “real” tango – if it exists – will need to wait for a future visit. My time wasn’t wasted, since in the evening light I had fine views of two of BA’s most beautiful buildings – the Congress, and the Palacio Barolo.
It is now nearly time to go. Here I am sitting at the terrace of Aldo’s wine bar on my last evening with a very good glass of Marsanne – I was sitting at the same terrace almost a month ago at the start of my trip.
What a journey it has been – seven flights, two bus trips across the border with Chile and well over 10,000km travelled to see some of the world’s most spectacular sights. In Buenos Aires it is 30C, sunny and a pint of excellent craft beer costs 2€ (or even less in happy hour). Tomorrow the forecast for London is for a high of 2C and beer costs 6€ a pint. It is rather sad that all of the cold weather clothing I packed for Patagonia is going to be more useful at home. I am not looking forward to going back…I even calculated that I could continue living here in my cheap but excellent flat and save money as compared to living in expensive London. But all good things come to an end…..
That is all for now – next trip is Egypt in February, click the “follow” button at the bottom right of this page if you would like automatic notifications when I post again. My final post of this series will be a “how to” with tips for travelling in Argentina.