Buenos Aires: The Real City that Never Sleeps
On January 31st, I kicked off the adventure of a lifetime! It was two days worth of traveling with nothing but a single checked back, a backpack and my laptop bag. Before I knew it, I was about to start a new year with a group of 50 strangers who had all decided to jet off to Buenos Aires to embark on ourRemote Year journey.
There was just as much excitement as there was nerves. I was landing in a completely new city, in a country and frankly a continent that I'd never even been in, about to meet 50 new strangers that would be my tramily (travel family) for the rest of the year. I was intimidated as all hell. But, we started off the year with an almost literal bang, ringing in the New Year together, complete with mucho vino, name tags, sparklers, and what New Years Eve would be complete without shenanigans! I definitely had my fair share of struggles the first month, but looking back and realizing that it's already been a month of shenanigans is definitely blowing me away! So, here's as much of a re-cap as I can give you, about what I loved and generally things to think about for those of you who ever consider going to Buenos Aires!
The street art. I'm just going to get this out there now so that I don't belabor it throughout this post. I'm obsessed with Buenos Aires street art! I never knew that street art would be something I love until I stepped into this city. Mostly because I never considered that it could be anything more than tagging and the hip-hop style graffiti that you often see in cities. Though that kind of art can be cool, it's def not my preference. But, Buenos Aires street art scene absolutely took my breath away! I actually made it a priority to go on a Graffiti Tour in the neighborhood I was staying in, Palermo, so that I could learn more about it and find some of the hidden artistic gems. And I'm so happy I did! It was by-far my favorite tour I did in Buenos Aires. The other tours were good, interesting, enlightening, but this tour was incredible! I never realized that street art is a culture in and of itself in Buenos Aires. On the tour, we were able to hear how it flourished, arose out of illegality, was influenced and still is influenced by graffiti tagging, and how BA (short for Buenos Aires, and I'll probably use it a lot in this post) has become a Mecca for street artists all over the world! It was absolutely fascinating and I highly encourage anyone in BA with even a remote interest in art to check it out!
La Recoleta. La Recoleta is something that I'd read a little bit about before I came to BA. Mostly, I'd read that it was a cemetary in the heart of the city and it was a must-see, while you were in BA. So, one Sunday when a group of us were organizing a walking tour to the bookstore (more on that later), the metal flower, and La Recoleta, I said "hell yeah" and joined in on the fun. Mostly, though, I wanted to go to the cemetary to take pictures. Call me a weird if you want, but I absolutely love taking pictures at cemetaries. The wear and tear. The symmetry all the headstones lined up alongside each other. The contrast of the vibrantly-colored flowers next to the grays and blacks. Love love love. but, what was so different about La Recoleta was just how ornate it is. It's an exclusive cemetary to boot, so most of the people in here are shelling out big bucks to lay their family members to rest here, and, let's just say that they spare no expense. Here's a little info on La Recoleta from the professionals and why it's so special.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid. Otherwise known as the most amazing bookstore I've ever been inside of. We were only here for maybe 20-30 minutes. But that's really all you need. All you need to do is just duck inside and look around at this converted theater turned into one of the top 10 bookstores in the word. It's majestic. Breathtaking even to think that this incredible building is now the home to the equivalent of a Borders. How lucky the people are that work here and get to see this incredible building everyday. If you want, maybe stay for a quick lunch and/or a coffee and attempt to find the small section of this store that is actually in English, but otherwise, just soak up the incredible beauty that is this building.
Floralis Generica. Floralis Generica is a huge metal sculpture situated within walking distance of La Recoleta cemetery. It's an aesthetically beautiful sculpture, partially because of the reflecting pool that the sculpture sits in. But what makes it especially cool is that it opens and closes depending upon the time of day. Starting at sunrise, the flower opens ("...is reborn"), fully opens at mid-day and then closes again, becoming fully closed at night. This mechanism also protects the flower, automatically closing it in strong winds! If you can on your future trip to BA, because you know you want to go now, try to visit the flower and multiple times of day to see it at it's different stages!
Incredible music. One of the absolute highlights of my time in Buenos Areas was going to an open mic night where we got to hear a number of local musicians perform covers and original songs. Literally not one person that sang that night was bad. They were all amazing! Including our two RY representatives, Travis and Laura (who sang and rapped, respectively).
Tigre & the Argentinian Delta. One of our track events (ie. events that Remote Year organizes for us to do) was to head to the Argentinian river delta. We left early on Saturday and took a bus to Tigre, where we took a water taxi into the delta. It was everything you would think a river delta would be, except for the fact that it's extraordinarily developed. I was expecting something akin to the Everglades. But, that wasn't the case. yes, there were offshoots of the river branching every which way, but on each little offshoot, there were houses on stilts with their own little dock, kayak and canoe rack, and the odd boat here and there. Once we arrived into the delta, we had about a 10-15 minute walk along the trails to Inez & Julian's place! They had canoes, a dock off which we could go swimming, and the cheapest wine I bought in the entirety of my stay in Argentina! We ate, we drank, we swam, and we generally enjoyed a kickass day out on the delta. We even made plans to potentially invest in a Remote Year timeshare for this incredibly, lush, beauitful and peaceful place! I'm definitely still game for that plan!
La Boca. For those of you that don't know, La Boca is one of the most famous places in Buenos Aires. It's also one of the most touristy, but I personally believe that that isn't a reason to not check it out. It's also home to one of Argentina's most famous soccer teams, Boca Juniors. So, needless to say, Boca was one of my must see places! In my last week in BA, I was finally able to make it to Boca on my biking tour, which I highly recommend and you can check out here if you're visiting BA. We weren't there for too long, but we were able to hear some of the history of Buenos Aires, see some more street art (yay!), and check out the most famous section, El Caminito. Basically, boca means "mouth" in Spanish. This area got it's name because it's right by the mouth of the river. It has never been the wealthiest of areas because it's where all the immigrants tended to settle upon arriving in Buenos Aires, mostly because of it's proximity to the port. Now, because it wasn't the wealthiest of areas, the neighborhood looked pretty drab. That is until the street artist, who's name escapes me, returned to his hometown and old stomping grounds in La Boca and decided he wanted to bring a little color to the place to liven things up. And the vibrant colors of El Caminito were born! Since then, street artists have moved in, adding bike sculptures, huge murals, etc. to really make La Boca and El Caminito very vibrant, albeit touristy, spots! We even had the opportunity to stop and check out the stadium, from the outside of course,and sample some of Argentina's choice beverage, Fernet and coke. Not my favorite, but when in Argentina, do what the Argentinians do!
The nightlife of Palermo. One of my favorite things about the neighborhood that we stayed in, other than the street art, was the sheer abundance of nightlife, restaurants and bars. Don Julio, one of the best steakhouses in Buenos Aires, is in Palermo, among many other good steakhouses and eateries. There's tons of clubs and speakeasies, but, what's more my style, were all the breweries. What we call "craft beer" in the states, they call "cervezas artesenales" or artisan beers in Argentina! And there were so many places to try local craft beer! So, when I wasn't sipping Malbec, I was definitely checking out the local beer scene.
La Carona Polo Club for Polo Day. Also one of my favorite things we did in Buenos Aires! After an action-packed weekend at Iguazu Falls, my Sunday was spent with a huge crew of remotes, learning about, watching and playing polo! I have no experience with polo. I've never watched it before. I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was that it involved horses and something that resembled a crochet mallet. And it was fast. We showed up at this ranch about an hour outside of Buenos Aires, and upon arriving were greeted by empandas, tons of wine, orange juice, water, and the promise of a really amazing day! Not long after everyone had settled in and had their drink of choice, we sat down next to the field and proceeded to be educated in polo. They taught us how the game works, why it's so rare, and then we watched the first of about 4 periods of polo.
La Plaza de Mayo. This is the heart of Buenos Aires. We were able to go here on our Free walking tour and it was interesting learning about the history of country. Though I wouldn't necessarily suggest the free walking tour (sue me, I really didn't enjoy it), I would suggest checking out this area, including Calle de Mayo. Check out the beautiful architecture, the congress building, Palacio Barolo, the presidential house, etc. It's all very cool!
La comida. Seriously, Buenos Aires has an incredible gastronomy scene. And so I don't belabor this too much, I'll just say this. Eat all the asado you can get your hands on, eat all the chori, drink all the Malbec, and defintiely check out some of these restaurant recommendations.
- Chori on Thames
- Peron Peron
- Don Julio (One of the best steakhouses in Buenos Aires, just to go if for nothing else)
- Basically, anytime a local invites you for an asado, say yes! It will be amazing
Other things to check out:
- The Japanese Gardens (aka. El Jardin Japones)
- Bosques de Palermo - Seriously, Palermo has amazing parks! Just go hand out in some of them!
Random things to know:
- Prepare for poo. On the sidewalks that is. There are a ton of dogs in Buenos Aires and we were told on one of our tours that their owners just tend to let them out at night to walk themselves. As a result, there's a lot of dog poop left unattended on the sidewalks, which, unfortunately, multiple people in our group stepped in. I felt like it took a week in BA for me to just start staring at the ground everywhere I walked to avoid stepping in poop. So, just be mindful.
- Cash cards are a must. Argentina is an incredibly cash based culture. If you learn anything about their culture while you're here, you'll realize that they are very mistrusting of banks and any of those larger institutions. So, they have a tendency to take cash out religiously, particularly after pay day. As a result, there will be many places you will frequent that will be cash-only and won't accept credit cards. That's a bummer, especially when you combine it with the fact that sometimes ATMs don't have any money. I don't think I've ever seen an ATM in the USA that didn't have any cash, but we're also not super cash-based. Let's just say "No tiene dinero" was a phrase I became familiar with. So, my suggestion is to bring multiple cash cards with you. I protected my ATM card with my life and only every brought it with me out of the house if I knew that I was going to the ATM. It made me a little stressed to know I only had one so if you have multiple, that's a good idea.
- Side note: ATM fees are killer. With taking cash out all the time at a foreign bank, it should be assumed that there will be ATM fees. But over time, with the sheer frequency at which I was taking out cash at the ATM, the ATM fees definitely stack up. So if you can prepare for that, or even if you can sign up for one of those handy bank accounts that reimburses you for ATM fees, I would do that.
- Bring a reusable bag if you plan on shopping at grocery stores (or pick one up for cheap!). Something we noticed very quickly at the store is that they don't provide you with bags. So, we had buy reusable bags to use for the remainder of the trip. I now covet mine and it will likely travel with me through the remainder of Latin America.
- Argentinians speak Spanish...differently. If you took Spanish way back when, you might feel relatively comfortable coming into Argentina and being able to speak or understand the language. But, be forewarned. There are actually a number of things that they pronounce different. You know the -ll that your Spanish teacher probably taught you was a "y" sound? Ya, in Argentina it's not. It's a "sh" sound. So, all of a sudden the very simple "quesadilla" (pronounced "kay-suh-dee-ya"), is instead pronounced "kay-suh-dee-sha." Ya I know. It's throwing me off too. Also, they have different words for you and I. I was told them yesterday but my Mexican Spanish programming has already taken back over and I forgot. I think for the most part, they understand our non-Argentinian mispronunciations, but this definitely makes it difficult when it comes to listening and understanding what they're saying. Even our native Spanish speaker, who is from Spain, periodically had misunderstandings because of the different pronunciations.
- Argentina time. This became a running joke throughout our time in Buenos Aires and related to two things: 1) starting things late, and 2) things just being at a much slower pace. Nothing demonstrated this more than an Instagram post that one of our remotes did showing the locals at our workspace enjoying lunch. They were all together, sharing a meal, taking their time, and have a loud, boisterous conversation. All the Americans? We were eating snacky lunches at our desks, still dialed in and working. Basically, Argentina time, especially at meal time, means taking your time. Enjoying your meal and enjoying your company, and those it became a running joke, it was probably a lesson we all needed to learn. So, the point of my sharing this is just to say that the pace of life is definitely slower, especially when it comes to meal time. So prepare for that!
- Late nights will definitely be a thing. It's been over a month now in Argentina, and I cannot get used to how late these people stay out. The best way to illustrate this the fact that most restaurants don't open for dinner until 8pm. 7pm if you're lucky. And if you go eat at that time, you'll likely have the restaurant all to yourself. Dinner is at like 10pm here. And, BONUS, they go out almost every night! Clubs don't open until 12am or 1pm, and they're usually out until 3, 4, 5am, if they come home and sleep at all. So, if you're really trying to integrate into the culture, just plan on not sleeping and/or being out really really late.
- Steak and vino. Nuff said. I don't know if I'll have belabored this enough, but steak and meat and lots of Malbec wine are definitely a part of the culture here. I say? Enjoy it. It's amazing and some of the best steak and red wine you'll have in the world! So, like I said before, eat all the steak, drink all the vino, and maybe you can call yourself an Argentinian when you're done!