We left MN in the dead of winter with packs filled to the brim and high hopes for the few months ahead. We chose Buenos Aires as our first stop because it of its rich culture and many beautiful and diverse landmarks. BA would also be our best option as our first stepping stone to one of our biggest goals of this trip; to make it to Patagonia.
The humidity and heaviness of the air in our lungs was instantaneous as soon as the plane touched ground. We had read that we were entering into the peak summer fever of Argentina, and with our blood thick from the cold we knew it would take a few days to adjust. As soon as we got off the plane we took a quick moment to take it in and celebrate... we'd finally made it.
Our taxi ride from the airport was mostly silent. Overwhelming exhaustion, the language barrier, and the countryside of Argentina had our minds fully occupied. Slummy neighborhoods and a roadside peppered with houses falling apart at the seams.
Blocks and blocks of poverty stricken suburbs made us feel timid and guilty in a way that we've been so fortunate to have these opportunities at our fingertips.
We booked our first week's stay through a website called Airbnb, which is a medium for people to rent rooms in their house to travelers. We stayed in Palermo which is an upscale, more modern district of Buenos Aires. When we arrived we were in awe of the architecture and beauty of his place.
Many different types of flora and colorful paint breathed life into this historic home built in the 1800's. Stepping from room to room we could feel the warmth of sunlight hit our skin from the open ceilings. One of the perks of staying with a host renting out multiple rooms is the opportunity to meet other people traveling and swap stories about tentative itineraries and how many weeks or months on the road.
Our Airbnb "hostel" was located perfectly, middle of the road among all the different places we wanted to see and photograph in BA. Puente de la Mujer, a footbridge in the Puerto Madero commercial district and La Boca, a neighborhood known for its brightly painted houses, were high in the lineup; along with many notorious landmarks we wanted to encounter some of the culturally significant pieces of BA as well.
16.6 million people in this ever growing city, it was refreshing to see how much of the culture continues to hold on. Argentina is known for its prominent tango scene. Milongas (venue where local people go to tango) are found throughout the city. We were excited to see the real deal, authentic tango BA is known for. When we arrived at the milonga we followed a narrow staircase that lead us to a dimly lit, magnificent room where tango classes were being held. It was clear to us then that this was an old cathedral transformed into a venue, a beautiful space with odd decorations covering the walls as if they'd been put there by accident.
We found a spot along the back wall so we could photograph and observe without being rude. The tangos don't start until around midnight and last until 3:00A.M., typical for this nocturnal city. The regulars trickled in, the music turned over from recorded to live. The dancers, one couple at a time made their way to the dance floor. The tango is an intimate dance, and it was easy to pick out the couples who'd been dancing together for years. Their feet were so perfectly sequenced together and to the music, as if they could read each other's minds. We watched for hours. It was a privilege to see for ourselves one of the cornerstones this culture was built on.
La Recoleta cemetery was another place we found ourselves lost in the history of. Many statues and mausoleums packed into a small area, built for the cities most wealthy families and individuals. Beyond the initial uneasy feeling of stepping into a cemetery came feelings of reverence and appreciation of the beautifully crafted stone work and statues lining every inch inside the gates. Some were so ancient they were falling apart, glass broken, and tombs open so you could see the caskets and burial linens.
One of the most famous individuals in La Recoleta cemetery in recent history is a woman by the name of Eva Perón, or "Evita." She was the second wife of Argentine President Juan Perón and served as the First Lady of Argentina until she died from cancer at the young age of 33. Millions of people traveled to BA after her death to mourn and pay their respects to this woman they loved so much.
The president had Evita's body perfectly preserved, it went on display for many years after her death publicly and in the presidents home. For many political reasons and because her body was such a powerful symbol of the amazing humanitarian work she did for the people of Argentina, Evita's body was stolen, moved from country to country and even hidden. Eventually many years later she was returned to Buenos Aires and buried in La Recoleta cemetery under three slabs of concrete to eliminate the risk of her body being stolen again.
Evita's grave is still continuously covered with flowers. One of the most iconic women in the history of Argentina, we highly recommend reading further into her interesting and powerful story.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Buenos Aires has a lot of popular modern architecture that is notable in the heart of the city. In the Puerto Madero commercial district of BA, we were surrounded by expensive cars, people in business suites talking on their cell phone in one hand and holding shopping bags in the other. The most wealthy district in BA, we were reminded all too well of our own consumerist society. However in the midst of the distress we were surrounded by some of the most admirable structures we'd seen this far. Puente de la Mujer, or, "the Woman's Bridge," is a well known, well photographed footbridge in the center of Puerto Madero.
The bridge is supposedly called the Women's Bridge because all of the streets in Puerto Madero are named after famous Argentine women. It's also said to be an interpretation of a couple doing the tango.
While feasting our eyes on skyline behind the bridges sexy lines and debating the best angles for photos, we noticed the natural light fading and the lights of the city take over. It was hard to take our attention away from the bridge and the reflection of the lights on the river below. We had much ground to cover to make the best of this night and the blue hour in BA.
Plaza de Mayo is the main square in central Buenos Aires. The obelisk in the center of this booming city center was built for the first anniversary of BA's independence from Spain.
It reminded us of a less exaggerated, less busy (BA locals on holiday) Times Square in NYC. Tourists line the streets and political activists gather to march on different nights of the week for different purposes. Enormous billboards flashing Coca-Cola commercials towered over us as we circled the block. The energy of this place is uninterrupted, day and night buzzing with people. We waved down a taxi to take us back to our placid hostel after a long day on foot in the bustling city.
The next day was rainy, damp and overall cooler than the last few. LaBoca was on the agenda, a part of town known for Caminito, the colorful artist's street by the river and shipping district. The houses here were built from scraps, sheet metal and planks recycled from the ship building yards. Caminito was originally painted by an artist who painted the abandoned streets to transform it into a stage for performances.
It's unfortunate how much poverty lies in this part of BA, a very run down neighborhood with invisible lines dividing the tourist center of Caminito from the rest of the streets. Today LaBoca is the definition of a tourist trap. Vendors line the streets and are careful not to cross into other's territories.
After our bona fide tango experience, it was clear the dancers asking for money on the cobblestone corners were actors, amateurs at best.
The rain seemed fitting to the emotional state of the people here. Even through we were surrounded by tourism, the simple beauty and underlying history of LaBoca was still appreciated and we understood why people make this a must-see stop during their time in BA.
It would be impossible to describe everything we saw and did in Buenos Aires. We were pleasantly surprised with how much the city had to offer and how welcoming and approachable the people were. Nothing but good stories and good memories were taken with us from BA. We hope to have the opportunity to return some day.
Now we head south, a bittersweet feeling. Our next stop, Puerto Madryn, is our gateway to Patagonia and a new chapter of our time abroad.