(Buenos Aires, Argentina- 19 November, 2013) Buenos Aires- speak the name and it sounds exotic. Who’d have thunk one day a couple of simple Texas natives would ever find themselves in such a place of magic and mystery? Certainly neither of us, and yet here we are.
As happy to be there as we were, we quickly realized there was no way Buenos Aires could live up to what its name conjures for exotic. BA is a great city in 18 different ways, but exotic, we didn’t find. What we did find was a vibrant city filled with lots and lots to see and do.
Our greatest delight was meeting up with friends, Gaby and Mauricio. You will meet them in a couple of our vids or pics. They are friends from Mexico that I’ve known for many years and are living and working in Buenos Aires for the next year and a half. We are so grateful to them for providing us with a place to stay and showing us around.
A Day at the Opera and Another at the Cemetery
At the center of downtown Buenos Aires is the theater district. We saw it as very robust version of New York City’s Broadway (even though neither of us have ever been to Broadway). There were a multitude of theaters large and small filling every niche of the street. Tango shows, musicals, comedies, take your pick. We considered seeing a tango show, but the ticket prices were Broadway big, so that was a no-go.
Perhaps what we ended up doing was way better anyway- a guided tour of the Teatro Colon opera house, the oldest and most elegant opera house in all of South America. When done right, guided tours can be fascinating and enriching, as this one was. How else would we have learned about the hidden seats built behind veiled curtains at the edges of the theater? These secluded seats were installed for rich widows who were not supposed to be seen in public for two full years after their husbands had died. But they just couldn’t resist that opera, eh?
Another day, we visited the Recoleta Cemetery. Why would anyone voluntarily choose to visit a cemetery, right? This was my thought upon first hearing of the idea. Once you see the place, however, it makes sense. It is a cemetery like no other we’d ever seen (or even heard of) in our lives. Each tomb was a literal monument to the person (or entire family) that was interred within it.
The creep-factor was pretty high, too. Many of the mausoleums were in sad states of deterioration. Doors into the vaults were sometimes broken allowing us to peek inside and see the caskets stacked up like summer camp bunk beds.
Many of Argentinas most rich, famous and powerful are buried there inside enormous, beautiful, and elaborate tombs. They seem locked in an eternal competition for whose tomb will be the most magnificent.
Who Doesn’t Love Soccer Now?
Anyone who knows me well has heard my rants against soccer. I do not like soccer. It is too simple, too boring and full of too many players doing too much standing around. The fact that soccer has so many millions of fans around the world is truly confounding. That said, I can appreciate any full-blown cultural phenomenon…. even when silly ol’ soccer lies at its center.
Soccer reigns supreme in these parts. Buenos Aires has the highest number of soccer teams per capita of any city in the world, so says the Internet. One of the most popular teams in BA is the River Plates, (a truly bizarre team name, right? River Plates? …really?).
Getting into the stadium was almost as much of a spectacle as the game itself. Streets surrounding the stadium were shut-down and barricaded to all through traffic, even foot traffic. The idea was to ultimately herd everyone through dedicated shoots for frisking. Men and women each had their own frisk-lines for efficiency (and discretion). We’d heard soccer matches could get rowdy and out-of-hand. What on earth were we in for?
Our friends Gaby and Mauricio were with us so four excellent lower-deck seats later and we were all settled-in for the game. Moments after taking our seats…from the upper deck to our left a parade of drums entered the stadium. Boom-ba-doom-ba-doom they pounded. Files of fans followed the drummers dancing and waving wildly. All took their places in a section of seats, though none actually sat down. Then the singing began…and from there it never stopped.
We’ve all heard cheers and chants from stadium crowds, fight songs, too. But what these fans were singing sounded more like love songs. Well, not all of them. Some songs were clever or campy, others snarky. All were amazingly melodic. The singing was all in Spanish, of course, so it was hard for us to understand a whole lot, but the cumulative feeling within each song was pure fun.
Here is a website that contains many of the River Plates songs, in case you’d like to hear more.
El Tigre and Puerto Madero
Our host, Mauricio, took us to a couple of unique places that both involve water. The first was a place called El Tigre– a huge river delta that fans out from the Paraña River and flows lazily into the Atlantic. Our visit to this unique place included an hour-long boat ride through the delta with a guide.
It was a fascinating glimpse into a life on the water. As our boat cruised through the winding and interconnected canals of water, we passed abandoned barges, richy-rich weekend houses, a huge art museum, and a house once owned by a former Argentine president, now completely encased in plexiglass.
If anyone has a need to hide from the world, like for example, because you are in trouble with the law or being hunted by the mafia, the El Tigre Delta is an excellent place to go.
The other water site we visited is called Puerto Madero. Buenos Aires sits on the southern Atlantic coast and has always been a vital port city. However, historically their attempts to build a good working port were fraught with issues. Puerto Madero was completed in 1897, but rendered obsolete within 10 years of its completion as cargo ships increased in sized until they could no longer manage the shallow waters that line the Argentine waterways. A new port was built nearby (with docks that extend further out into deep water). It is the new port that is still in use today. The original port, situated right in the heart of BA, was abandoned and served only as an urban eyesore for over six decades.
The turn-around of the old port began in the 90’s as dilapidated warehouses were converted into…(can you guess?)…loft apartments, clubs and restaurants. (Where have we seen this before?) Once the urban revitalization ball got rolling, it transformed the area into the beautiful place we had the pleasure of visiting. The crowning jewel of the effort was a beautiful pedestrian bridge.
Apparently, the citizens of Buenos Aires do not sleep. Regardless of how late into the night it got, hordes of people filled the streets of Buenos Aires making it perpetually difficult to move around by car. The night we were out happened to be the Noche de Museos or Night of Museums, an annual event in which all of the cities museums were open throughout the night and free to the public. As we drove home from Puerto Madero that night (around midnight) we witnessed block-long lines of people waiting to visit the one museum after another. Crazy! Either these people love their museums or they are suckers for anything that’s free.
The Night of Museums worked to our advantage down by the port, however, where a vintage sailing ship (and museum) called the Sarmiento was open to the public. Lights outline the ship’s sailing masts in the background of the pic below.
Best of the Rest
Near to Puerto Madero is the President’s residence, nicknamed the Pink House (for obvious reasons). At night, the building is lit up, but even during the day the stones from which the building is constructed have a pinkish tone. The other daytime pics in the collage are from our stroll through downtown BA.
Buenos Aires has a large number of enormous parks. Here’s Jessica walking Mauricio and Gaby’s sweet dog, Vuvu. Further below is one of BA’s most famous outdoor art projects. The pedals of the flower even close at night.
It’s Always Tea Time in Argentina
I want to revisit the subject mostly to emphasize the magnitude and omnipresence of the custom. Refresher: Multiple people share a single cup of mate tea. A silver metal straw with a tiny filter on the end of it is used draw the tea from a uniquely designed cup.
This custom was witnessed EVERYWHERE throughout Argentina. At every hostel, kiosk, store, street corner, people were either drinking their tea or toting their hot water bottles for refilling their next cup. When we went to Iguazu Falls, we saw streams of school children walking the through the trails and bridge-ways of the park carrying little thermoses of hot water.
The whole obsession with mate tea struck us as borderline absurd, but the spirit of sharing and warmth that it epitomizes does a good job of capturing the spirit of the Argentinian people as a whole.
After Buenos Aires we will fly south….way south…to the city of Ushuaia at the far southern end of South America.
Before we go, we want to express enormous thanks to Gaby and Mauricio for putting us up in their apartment, showing us around Buenos Aires, and sharing so generously their valued friendship.