We started our travels in Buenos Aires – a city I’ve visited once before, and one I truly adore. Surprisingly European in appearance, it’s a city of grand architecture, fiery locals, excellent food, and colourful neighbourhoods.
We lucked out by finding a great hostel in San Telmo (Carlos Gardel Hostel, named after the Tango legend) that had a really nice roof terrace where we wiled away a lot of time drinking cheap £1 bottles of red wine and local beer, and eating empanadas from our local bakery. This was particularly lucky as we arrived at the peak of high season and everything was crazy expensive! Having said that, we still managed to eat out three nights out of four, sampling the local parrillas (steak houses) on the hunt for the perfect ‘bife de chorizo’ or ‘bife de lomo’, piled high with chimichurri. We were also (happily) introduced to the national obsession with Dulce De Leche (thick caramel) which we spread onto sweet buns every morning for the hostel breakfast, and also sampled in helado (posh icecream) form..! And of course, sandwiched between two biscuits in the form of Alfajores
On the hunt for the perfect steak, at Desnivel
Aside from eating (which occupied a LOT of our waking thoughts!) we also managed to fit in some culture. We visited iconic Plaza de Mayo (in the centre) and the Casa Rosada (presidential house) where we did a fantastic free tour round the house and saw the famous ‘Evita’ balcony, the state rooms, the president’s offices, and meeting rooms. Interestingly, one of the key rooms where the current female president De Kirchner delivers her speeches is decorated with famous Argentine women (including of course, Evita Peron!) which I thought was pretty awesome… although since we visited, there’s been some political hubbub about a scandal surrounding De Kirchner and a member of the secret police was murdered, and the secret police subsequently disbanded. So… maybe not so cool? The politics and history of this country are totally mad, talk about feisty! We also saw lots of protests happening in the square, although our poor (nonexistent) Spanish were a barrier to comprehension here!
Chilling with the guards at the Casa Rosada
Next, we visited the beautiful Recoleta Cemetary with its stunning elaborate gravestones and decorative statues to the rich, famous and infamous celebrities and aristocratic families of Argentina. We saw the Peron family tomb, and earwigged onto a tour where we discovered that the guy who invented the Argentine navy was actually an English-born Irishman (!), and pretty much half the navy and army were European immigrants. We walked around pretending to know who the important historical figures were, but basically just looking at pretty statues and graves made of stained glass and marble.
Evita’s grave at the Recoleta
We also visited the 3 de Julio park which has beautiful rose gardens and a lovely lake where we got chased by a gaggle of geese! Afterwards, since we were truly sunburnt by this point (our fresh British Winter skin not standing a chance in the 30 degree heat!) we sheltered in the MALBA art gallery, which is a fantastic modern art museum. Here we saw an exhibition on Neuvo Realist artist Anton Berni who was a total legend. He basically made totally mad collages using ‘objets trouves’ (stuff he found on the street) to highlight the disparity of wealth in the slums of Argentina, all centred around two fictional characters – a young boy and a prostitute. He documents their ‘lives’ through collages, and a crazy printing technique that involved sticking stuff down (like old keys and bike wheels) and making that into a print template! There was also some surrealist sculptures and plenty of paintings and collages involving lots of boobs and hilarious expressions, so that was pretty fun.
Anton Berni exhibition at the Malba
On our last couple of days, we visited La Boca, which is the colourful streets you’ve probably seen in photos of Buenos Aires. It’s a super poor district of the city that’s famed for two things – firstly, the colourful streets that are full of tango shows, and secondly, a really talented young football team that resides here (as you can tell, I know very little about the latter!) The streets are pretty cool though. It’s near a shipping port, and originated from when people built houses out of corrugated iron tin sheets from the docking yard and painted them to brighten them up. Now it’s just a tourist strip really, but a cool place to catch some free tango whilst nursing a long cheap beer, as we did.
Colourful houses and free tango in La Boca
We also visited San Telmo antiques market, to check out the eccentric buys – both old antiques and cool new creations, like handbags made out of old records and cassettes. We also saw a live mini puppet show, an old couple doing tango, a brass troop playing the Pulp Fiction soundtrack (amazing!!) and ate more helado. That’s pretty much all we could manage, given our stonking hangovers!
Puppets and antiques on San Telmo market
We then boarded our first (of many!) overnight 20+hour buses to our next stop, Puerto Iguazu….