Our longest and most expensive bus ride yet – 22 hours and about £73 – took us down south and into Argentina. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires we headed to Milhouse Hipo hostel, after a couple of recommendations from travellers along the way. We were lucky to find ourselves placed in a 4 bed dorm with a lovely lone male traveller from Sydney called Tristan.
We dumped our bags and headed straight to the famous San Telmo Sunday market, with Tristan in tow (we seem to be making a habit of taking a lone male traveller with us on our adventures…). After that, we took him with us everywhere. The market went on for miles and had an array of exciting crafts as well as some touristy crap. There are vintage stalls or stores every corner you turn in BA, London hipsters would have had an absolute field day. Once again I found myself resenting my backpack and the fragile nature of posting things home. I tried a taco from a street seller who’s last words without prompting were “they’re fresh, don’t worry about it”. Don’t worry about what? The fact you’ve drugged it? Or that I’m likely to have the shits tomorrow? Thankfully, I’m alive and well.
On that note, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to not being able to flush toilet paper down the loo…putting aforementioned tissue paper in the bin after wiping feels very wrong and, speaking from experience, is particularly grim when you’re on your period or have a mild case of the shits.
After the market we headed to a pretty cool football orientated restaurant for our first taste of Argentinian steak. Andrea and Tristan had a quick go on the outdoor treadmill to work up an appetite. These outdoor gyms are EVERYWHERE in South America, and surprisingly extensive. They sure need it considering their diet…
It didn’t take long for me to decide I was a big fan of BA. With sky scrapers mostly swapped for European architecture and wide tree-lined avenues, it felt more familiar than what we had witnessed in Rio and São Paulo. Although every pavement is cracked, there is an abundance of graffiti and evident poverty, the city felt vibrant and alive. The widest avenue in the world – 9 de Julio Avenue – was right by our hostel and is 110 metres wide. It takes an absolute age to cross. The pedestrian crossing system is quite bizarre too; we had a few unintentional jay walking experiences where I considered saying my goodbyes.
The plan for the first day was momentarily scuppered when we discovered our walking tour had been cancelled. Luckily for us, Tristan had already explored the area and kindly offered to be our tour guide for free. We walked towards the north of the city, first to Recoleta – the famous necropolis where Evita is buried. The place was a vast puzzling maze; after a few wrong turns and some complaints in jest about our amateur tour guide we were able to locate her grave. Although many of the sites were OTT and a blatant show of money, I found the cemetery absolutely fascinating and like nothing I had ever seen before. These ornate and grand crypts hold the bodies of Argentina’s rich and famous, and considering costs start from the equivalent of £140,000 per year, you know it’s pretty exclusive. Yet, so many of the crypts were run down, dirty or literally crumbling in front of our eyes.
Across from the cemetery we had ice cream for lunch, as you do. I opted for my favourite South American sweet: dulce de leche flavoured ice cream with brownie pieces, almonds and extra dulce de leche sauce. Bliss.
We wandered towards Puerto Madero, the new and trendy part of town near the water. The renovated docklands really reminded me of parts of certain Camden. Accompanied by a hungry boy, we stopped in a TGI Fridays of all places for a burger and happy hour cocktails. Perhaps unsurprisingly it was a let down; my piña colada tasted like a Greggs savoury pastry. When Tristan reached for his bag and didn’t find it, my heart absolutely sank. Our second robbing experience of the trip was another sorry reminder that you really do have to be very mindful of your possessions in South America. Andrea got a brief look at the two girls who presumably stole the bag from around his feet (sat close, looked at menus and then left); watching her try to explain to the Argentinian police that one of them looked like a gypsy with a completely deformed face was mildly entertaining. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, and we all felt so terrible for Tristan. After the formalities of police paperwork and the stress of the situation, he announced that he just wanted to get drunk. As requested, we headed straight to the bar and did just that…
..so, my big night out in Buenos Aires didn’t quite turn out as imagined. Our hostel was hosting a ‘drinking olympics’ which consisted of only beer pong. Embarrassingly, Amy and I were out in the first round. Still, we drunk a few deceivingly strong cocktails and had a good evening with Tristan, 3 Irish guys and 2 Aussies we had met in Foz. Not too long after midnight, I headed up to the dorm to find Amy in bed, also feeling a bit funky. And not too long after that she threw up on the floor while I ran out on to the balcony to do exactly the same. Amy did the sensible thing of getting into bed and sleeping it off, while I optimistically took a 20 minute nap, glugged down some water and rejoined the party. Unfortunately that party didn’t last too long as Tristan and I found Andrea sprawled out on the sofa after being picked up and accidentally dropped on the hard tiled floor by one of the Aussies. Tristan and I stayed up until the early hours listening to the Lord of the Rings Soundtrack, ensuring Andrea was okay and stayed with us.
The next evening we met up with Dan, Luke (the Aussies) and Karena who we had met in Foz, and headed to Siga La Vaca – a famous all you can eat steak restaurant on the waterfront. They had the most amazing spread of sides, salads and a huge 2 manned grill. I even tried cow intestine, kidney and their version of black pudding which is essentially a liquid! As soon as we arrived the waitress cable tied our bags to our chairs. It is sad that this is necessary, but as we were in close proximity to where we had been the day before we gladly welcomed the sensible security measure. We were also surprised to find pudding and a bottle of wine each included in the price of our eat as much as you like dinner, which came to 315 ARG pesos (£16). If you go to BA it’s definitely worth a visit.
After a day of increased swelling, Andrea headed to the doctors the next day to be safe. She came back with the souvenir of a few brain scans, and news that she had a haematoma. Thankfully, other than the undoubtable pain and discomfort of a puffy face, she’s doing okay and will just have to ride it out.
Amy and I spent the whole of that day on our feet, determined to see every last bit of the city. I can’t fathom how far we walked, but let’s just say by the end I probably looked like I’d had another one of those Brazilian waxes. Our first stop was Plaza de Mayo at the heart of BA. We saw Casa Rosada, home to the presidents offices and balconies from which Evita preached, and went inside Catedral Metroplitana. In San Telmo we stumbled upon Paseo de la Historieta – a trail paying homage to Argentina’s comic characters past and present, and had a giggle following that and taking stupid photos.
After adventuring over the water, we headed to La Boca, Buenos Aires’ poorest neighbourhood and home to the famous Boca Juniors football club and stadium. It’s also the location of one of Buenos’ Aires most iconic images, the colourful Caminito. In the 1950’s a local artist named Quinquela Martín, painted some of the run down buildings and corrugated metal houses in bright colours in an attempt to rejuvenate the area. In 1959 the government declared Caminito a street museum. Now, it’s just a tacky tourist trap, with none of the charm or life you might imagine. The main street is crammed full of souvenir shops, restaurants and street performers tangoing for money or selling staged tango photos. The whole thing is a farce, and we didn’t really feel there was much to gain from visiting. This facade takes place in the most deprived and crime-filled area, and you only have to walk a few blocks away to gain a proper understanding of the neighbourhood and their hardships. We walked back through La Boca, sticking to the main roads, but in hindsight probably should have got the bus.
As well as sorting boring admin bits, on our last morning we headed to El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a theatre built in the 1920’s that is now a bookshop. It was absolutely beautiful, I could definitely see myself getting lost in a book or two in one of the old boxes, glass of wine in hand. We had a cup of coffee and shared a cake on the old stage. It had a brownie base, dulce de leche middle layer (spot a trend here) and then topped with Italian meringue. I wouldn’t know where to find the words to describe to you what it tasted like. Something celestial that’s for sure.
I had previously read in books and on blogs that you have to take everything South American’s say with a pinch of salt. We couldn’t have found this more true; whether it’s directions, costs, times, whatever, they’ll probably not tell you the complete truth. They are also incredibly slow at doing anything, and most processes are painfully inefficient. For example it often takes 15-20 minutes to book a bus ticket for 1 person, which also explains why you queue so much! Nothing is done with any urgency, and they all seem to have a ‘don’t care’ attitude about everything. It can be frustrating at times!
Love, Lottie xx