Buenos Aires sure was a head-spinning week or so. We watched a game of soccer in a crowd famous for being the most fanatical and passionate in the world; we attended a local birthday at probably the biggest house we’ve ever been inside (as a guest); we ate a whole heap of meat; smelt rotting rich corpses; arrived from our longest direct bus trip yet; got tattooed; visited a kilometer long street market full of antiques and watched sexy dancing. That’s quite a bit, so let’s start at the beginning.
Story 1: Getting to the Party On-Time (or several hours late…)
Ok. So leaving Sao Paulo, we (despite Bebeto’s advice and efforts to find us a cheap flight) took a bus directly to Buenos Aires. Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires is a distance of 2,200km. The bus was scheduled for 36 hours, which is an awful long time, getting off only for food. It took 40 hours. They didn’t even show a movie. Even the Bolivian buses showed movies. Brazil buses, you guys are expensive lazy jerks.
So our bus ended up arriving at 2pm. We’d arranged with our Argentinian friends Arnie and Marusia, who we’d met in the Galapagos Islands, to get to their place around 2pm – it was their daughter Isabella’s 13th birthday. So we headed to the CBD, dropped some stuff off at our hostel for the next night, grabbed a couple of empanadas for lunch and went to find a birthday present for Isabella. We found an awesome little gift store with all sorts of gifty things, but we could already see that BsAs has incredible shopping.
Finally, around 5pm, we got in a taxi and made our way to Arnie and Marusia’s. They actually live in a private gated community called Pilar, about 45km outside of the city. When we arrived at Arnie’s place, we were gobsmacked. The place was massive, and really beautifully done. The house utilised Mexican-influenced architecture with a gorgeous huge outdoor area, linked in beautifully with the adjacent rooms in the house: perfect for entertaining a 13 year old’s birthday party! We caught up with Arnie, Marusia and their lovely kids, and exchanged news from our recent past over some delicious caipirinha’s, while Arnie and their cook started to get their asado going.
Australian’s pride themselves on their barbeques, so do Americans. South Africans will talk for hours about how delicious a brai is. And all three are completely justified in their pride in their outdoor cooking prowess – they are all different and all delicious. However, none of them compare with the Argentinian asado. The asado is cooked on hot charcoals, and inevitably means bad news for several species of animal for each meal. An Argentine friend recently explained that when catering for an asado, you work on the basis of 500 grams of meat per person, plus a chorizo sausage not much smaller than their forearm.
Arnie’s asado was predictably excellent, he’s the sort of person who takes pride in everything he does, and doesn’t leave things to chance for turning out how he’d like. While cooking and chatting, it was great to see all the kids playing sport in the backyard, they’re all little athletes! We got to meet a bunch of Arnie and Marusia’s friends and family, all lovely folks too, and everyone made us feel like old friends. It was super to catch up with those guys, we’re really touched that they invited us into their home, and really hope we get to return the favour in the future.
Story 2: That’s Quite a Market
In BsAs, we were staying in the region of San Telmo, which used to be the abode of choice for all the brightest and best of Buenos Aires, until some plagues put large parts of the brightest and best 6 feet under the ground, meaning a move to higher ground at Palermo. Some time after the rich moved out and the plumbing was improved, it became a Bohemian artist district. Now it’s becoming yuppy town again, filled with boutique clothes stores, art stores and dozens of antiquaries.
Each Sunday in San Telmo, there is a market that runs down one of the streets running north to south for about a kilometer. The street is closed to traffic, and venders of mate cups, clothes, artwork, food and all other manner of things move in. Street performers and buskers ply their trade to the thousands of tourists and locals alike wandering through looking for something special. The highlight (aside from some delicious choripan – Argentina’s entrant for Miss Hot Dog) was the antique market. Argentina celebrated its bicententary last year, and in that 200 years, apparently nobody in Buenos Aires has thrown anything out, instead selling them in San Telmo. You could find everything from house numbers to instruments to old Playboy magazines and everything between. Pretty cool stuff, you just don’t see it in Australia.
Story 3: ¡Yo Soy Boca!
Argentina is generally regarded as having the most fanatical soccer fans in the world. Within Argentina, the most fanatical supporters are from Boca Junior, where the fans are known as Jugador 12 (player number 12) and the club where Diego Maradona played. We found ourselves in the most fanatical part of the crowd, on Maradona’s birthday (he was at the game), in a top of the table clash. We got there pretty early to get a decent spot, and saw most of the reserves game too.
As the main event got closer, the local supporters piled into the stadium, and toilet rolls and ribbons started flying, flags dropped down over our head and everyone around us started singing, dancing and climbing up anything that might let them get a better view of the game. Which was strange, because once the game started (and especially after Boca knocked in 2 quick goals) no one around us really seemed to be watching the game. They were more interested in singing and dancing and making sure everyone else was doing the same. The pushing and shoving started to feel like a little bit like a mosh pit, but all good natured. We did our best to get the hang of the words, but mostly we were just singing the tune, but the locals seemed to appreciate the effort. The atmosphere was like nothing I’d ever experienced before; like a major sport event mixed with a punk rock concert, but all happy. People were doing things that would get them kicked out of any sporting event in Australia. Half the guys that we could see around us had tattoos with the club logo. These guys (and it was almost entirely guys in this section of the crowd) really know how to get into a sporting event.
Boca ended up winning 3-1, which was a relief to the riot police and firemen at the ground who would have to clean up the mess afterwards. There were hundreds of riot police there, armed with batons and occasionally shot guns (is that really an appropriate crowd control weapon?). But all the punters were happy, and we made our way on to the pub to celebrate, chowing on pizza and drinking beer with a few of the other guys from the game. We ended up leaving at around 1am, passing a couple shagging in the street (colourful BsAs!), and Bron and I found a place to grab a bite to eat.
Story 4: One prick and you’re committed
Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking more and more about getting a tattoo. Eventually, I made a decision that when we were in Buenos Aires I’d get one done, on the basis that it’s probably likely to be more regulated and cleaner and blood-transmitted-infection-free than, say, Bolivia (not that I’m implying that tattooists in Bolivia are hepatitis ridden cowboys using old bamboo for their work), but still, from what I’ve read, around a quarter of the price of Australia. Over time, Bron and I developed a design that we were happy with, although we were still finalising some of the final details 20 minutes before walking into the parlour, and worked out exactly where I wanted it (right calf as it turns out). Even at that point, I wasn’t positive I could follow through with this, it was pretty nerve-racking. Combined with the fact that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find an English speaking artist (our Spanish is decent, but this isn’t the sort of thing where one wants a misunderstanding), and never being tattooed before, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect.
After a search on the internet, we found a highly recommended parlour called American Tattoo in the very cool Bond Street Complex, a shopping centre/homage to all things underground, full of tattoo parlours, music shops, piercing parlours, graffiti and the scent of weed. I could not have been more impressed by this outfit. They had an excellent waiting area, complete with a chandelier and cool artwork; their receptionist and a few of the tattooists spoke excellent English; it was hospital clean; none of the guys working there looked like they were on parole. The quality of their art all seemed excellent. They made sure I saw that all of the needles were auto-claved and that I was all disinfected before being pricked. Within minutes of arriving we were completely at ease, and feeling good about things. My artist, Nacho, gave us some really good advice on how to improve the design, with the introduction of shading, and using a font for the words that will age well (rookie tip: cursive writing is only good for BIG writing). While he prepared a final template of the design, Bron and I wandered around the shop; Bron ended up replacing her belly ring with a nice new shiny number.
I was surprised how quickly the actual tattooing process took. It took around an hour, and with the exception of the odd place here or there it was pretty painless (the soft skin near the knee was the sharpest), and a few times I almost dozed off. A tendency to kick or jerk sometimes when I’m about to fall asleep meant that this could have been disastrous, not to mention uncomfortable.
Although it’s still in the healing stage, I’m really happy with the outcome. The shading is developing nicely, the lines are really clean, and I (and importantly, Bron) both think it looks good on me. So yeah, if thinking of getting a tattoo in Buenos Aires, rest assured: they’re clean, they’re good at what they do (hell, pretty much everyone in Argentina seems to have tattoos) and they’re good value.
Here's the final product, though still healing, so it'll keep improving!
Story 5: Why I Never Want to be Buried in a Tomb
South America is resplendent with massive tourist attractions. The Galapagos Islands, Torres del Paine, Salar de Uyuni, Iguazu Falls, the Amazon. Cartagena, Machu Picchu and Christ the Redeemer are all great examples of more anthropocentric attractions. Definitely one of the stranger major attractions we’ve seen is the Necropolis of Recoleta, where those best and brightest whom escaped San Telmo were placed when they died, in giant tombs of ornate splendour. Which is great, except when your family stops visiting you, the stained glass window breaks, and eventually the wooden coffin you were put in becomes a little less airtight - resulting in the occassional wiff of, well, yeah. The result is (and bear in mind this walking through a place where generations of families put each other in boxes, and stuff them on top of each other, kind of like spare clothes in a storeroom) a little disturbing.
Malodors aside, it was still a strange place. Some nice statues and beautiful mausoleums mingled with buildings 150 years old that were in clear neglect, where across the path, a family would be inside their families tomb changing the flowers and dusting up a little. There was a queue to walk past Evita’s tomb; it’s possible to see her coffin looking through the glass. As interesting a sight as this is, and if you go to Buenos Aires, I’d recommend an hour or so of your time is in order, I’m not sure I’d want to pay a huge amount of money to be shelved in a tourist attraction.
Dr Jose Carallero's (it means Knight) family didn't spring for the long lasting monument.
Story 6: Tango ‘til they’re Sore – A Tom Waits Reference
Buenos Aires is the city of tango. It was invented here, and is easily the most popular dance. So whilst in BsAs, we caught a tango show. Nothing over-the-top (and there are some incredibly over-the-top shows), but it was still a remarkable experience.
Neither of us ‘know’ dance, but the athleticism, precision and speed of the dancers was pretty incredible. There was a small orchestra and singer which added to the atmosphere and we were close enough to hear the dancers’ feet on the wooden boards. The costumes were amazing, the girls pretty and lithe, the guys greasy and sleazy, all the dancers amazing, and it really was a hell of a lot of fun.
Each dance was a story. Some romantic, some funny, some burlesquish - celebrating tango's invention when drunk men danced together. They were well orchestrated, well told and allowed the dancers to show just how damn good they were.
The orchestra deserves a special mention. They had the best piano accordian player I've ever seen kicking around providing a super backdrop, whilst the singer managed to add a real extra element to proceedings whilst also sounding like he had 2 kilograms of testicles. Superb stuff.
A while ago, after claiming that Santiago was winning the most livable city in South America contest, a friend, whose opinion I trust, politely told me to shut up until I’d seen Buenos Aires. Henceforth, I’ve had pretty high expectations for this city. And happily, it has lived up to and exceeded these expectations. The food is good, and actually pretty varied. The infrastructure is good. The city is safe, vibrant and fun. There is loads to see, there is nice weather, and lots of good day trips.
One last thing, and I apologise, this has been a long entry. Argentinians, and the people from Buenos Aires, have a reputation for being arrogant and a little standoffish. From our week or so there, and our experiences travelling, we’ve found it completely the opposite – they are welcoming, proud to show you their city, and itching to feed you a whole heap of meat. Some city.