We grabbed a taxi to the trendiest neighborhood in the city, Palermo Viejo. We spent over a week at this hostel because it was seriously mint. A true European hostel experience with small dorm rooms, a trendy little common area with couches and constant music playing through antique speakers. There are plenty of Scandinavian people here which is rather refreshing. The two owners are incredibly friendly and helpful. A hipster Frenchman obsessed with the graphic T from Marseilles and a local from BA who exudes relaxed wherever he goes, hence the chosen name of the hostel, ¨Chill House¨. The Palermo district is divided into two neighborhoods named after American hot spots. We are living in the fashion boutique capital of the continent in Soho. Across the train tracks you can find the Hollywood neighborhood infamous for its fusion restaurants, modern trendy bistros and fantastic nightlife.
As I travel around the world I always try to think to myself if I could ever live in the city or town I am visiting. I have been to many a city and few really catch my heart. I can say with great zeal that I could easily see myself living in Palermo Soho Buenos Aires. Even talking about this place makes my heart skip a beat. It reminds me of parts of New York City as the streets are lined with huge sycamore trees as well as the Queen West area of Toronto with its art lover’s boutiques and clothing emporiums.
After arriving at the hostel we strolled down to the main square as the weekly outdoor market was taking place today. It seems like South American commerce is driven by the concept of purchasing goods off the street, fantastic I think. Palermo´s weekly market is different from the others we have been to. Instead of selling hand made goods and jewelry you find upscale fashion boutiques sending workers out onto the street to sell their high end clothing. The side walks were lined with hangers hanging from tree limbs featuring fantastic evening gowns, leather jackets and flashy shoes. We strolled down the fashion filled streets with our sunglasses on as the sun was blasting itself down on the city. Sarah and I both agreed that we were elated that we left our old HI Hostel as it had became known for its ¨marijuana ass¨ smell, aka musty. This neighborhood was so fresh and full of an incredible bohemian art expression that passed through the trees in the breeze. Fashions in Buenos Aires are really wild and unique. We walked into one store that made several jacket styles from the 70´s with unconventional fabrics and swooping textures. One jacket had huge buttons, brown corduroy and fur cuffs. I really enjoyed the men’s store Wannabe, tag line; the double you store. We walked into a women’s couture shop which had all of its dresses on hangers hooked onto diamond rings hanging from plastic string which fell from the ceiling. I thoroughly enjoyed their seating area, big red doughnut shaped couches. The fitting rooms were made of car wash multicolored plastic strips. I love the simple creative thought processes that appears so quirky here. I made my first purchase of the trip today at a men’s store called Bensimon. I bought a purple and black button up v-neck cashmere sweater. I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of holding my small little boutique paper bag down the street for the rest of the day.
We walked to the Hollywood district as there are several very well known restaurants in the area with impressive menus. We realized everything was closed soon after arriving in the area. We had arrived the eve of the national election and Argentina takes their elections very seriously! The majority of restaurants were closed; we wanted to visit a Brazilian French fusion spot but it was closed so we tried to get into a modern Vietnamese spot but it was also shut down. We actually bumped into the guy from Chicago on the street who is staying at our hostel. We crossed over the train tracks while bobbing our heads to a live six man rock-jazz band playing at an open market on a side street.
The three of us decided to stop at a restaurant called L´ecole as it looked promising. I ordered a Fanta and munched on a Phylo pastry filled with pumpkin and cheese served with leek and toasted almond butter. The restaurant was really chilled out with fresh cut purple Daisy’s and big white pained windows. The guy from Chicago is really fascinating. He has been traveling for three years straight. He blows our trip entirely out of the water. He has been pretty much everywhere on earth. He travels with a suitcase and a laptop so he isn’t a grungy backpacker. He funds his trips by working a few hours a day on his laptop buying and selling Internet companies. Wild. He has the best life on earth I think. We chatted with him throughout lunch about wild experiences he has had across the globe. It was rather enchanting. Sarah thinks he is somewhat of a stud muffin. I think he looks like a young George Clooney. Those Americans!
We walked back to the hostel and stopped at a grocery store on the way to pick up bevy for the evening. We bought a bottle of banana and kiwi liquor for three dollars a pop. We got back to the hostel and were hit by an obscure sense of culture shock. In Argentina, 24 hours before an election, it is illegal for any restaurant or bar to sell alcohol! All of the clubs and bars that night would be dry as a bone. We really couldn’t fathom how a country could just go dry for an election, but here you get fined if you don´t vote. Sarah and I decided to grab take out pizza down the road and attempted to order something that resembled a normal pepperoni pizza. We ended up opening the box and finding huge sliced sausage and green olives (much to Sarah´s dismay). It is rather humorous to see Sarah squirm at the sight of olives. She has a long lasting phobia of them and she can´t wrap her head around the idea that in South America they put olives on everything even when you don´t order them. She asked me to flick them off half the pizza immediately as the olive juices would surely seep into the cheesy goodness.
Walking back to the hostel in the dark I realized at this time of night there are two sorts of individuals combing the streets. Every few seconds you can see teenage boys on bicycles delivering Chinese food or pizza across the street. Unfortunately you can also find many men rummaging through huge piles of garbage. It appears this is the cities solutions to recycling. They don´t have a formal recycling system, instead poor folks rip open garbage bags on the street and pick out items in the trash that they can get money for at the recycling depot. We got back to the hostel and drank cocktails all night long while telling corny jokes to the fantastical people lounging in the living room. The crowd pleaser;
Person 1; Would you like a frozen banana?
Person 2; No, but I would like a regular banana in a few hours…PAUSE…so yes.
The following morning was the first hot and sunny day we had experienced on our trip thus far (and would last indefinitely to our great fortunes). The great majority of stores in the city were closed for the election so we decided to take a taxi to San Talmo for the ever so famous Sunday Antique Fair. For any antique lover this fair would make you fall over and salivate for hours. Approximately thirteen blocks of the cobblestone filled Defensia Avenue are lined with specialty antique shops. Each store typically specializes in a different kind of antique. We saw several adorable shops focusing on; antique baby dolls, music boxes, gloves and flapper dresses from the 20´s, boutique hats and coloured feathers, art galleries, animal hide throw rugs, massive amounts of cutlery, rusted old things for your garden, chandeliers, bronze and marble statues and hundreds of vintage clothing shops with endless cabinets of sparkling jewelry. Our favorite spot was an old apartment building that has been converted into a two story antique bazaar. Weaving in and out of different rooms in the house was rather fun. I personally enjoyed walking into the washroom which featured antique hand mirrors and combs. Sarah and I both kept thinking how much our parents would love to spend hours upon hours sifting through these antiques as they both have an affinity for everything classically old. The sheer number of antiques at incredibly low prices was mind boggling. After running our eyes up and down the store front antique shops we arrived at the central square where the outdoor market takes place every Sunday.
The air smelled of roasted honey buttered almonds and peanuts and the sun blasted itself through the huge sycamore trees above, casting dramatic shadows on the cobblestone streets bellow our feet. At the center of the square you can find hoards of people sitting at tables enjoying pannini’s and espresso while watching local tango dancers pounding their feet for tourists. The outdoor market was similar to the many other markets we have seen thus far on our trip. Vendors selling jewelry had an interesting way of displaying their products. Shiny rings and earring’s were affixed to large cloth umbrellas so you could spin them around 360 degrees. I felt the sun slowly warming my face to a satisfactory burn which didn´t phase me in the least. It is apparent when mulling through markets such as these that a mandatory stipulation exists for those selling their goods, you must be a qualified and passionate hippy. The market was packed with the slow moving bustle of people gawking at all of the interesting items for sale. Vendors pushed through the crowd with trolleys selling Mate and meringue treats.
We walked over to the San Pedro Telmo Cathedral (built in 1806) and sat on a bench while staring up at the huge statue of a Spanish saint holding a bronze ship. A man in a Nike jumpsuit came over to us asking for money for transportation as he had apparently just been let out of prison moments ago. I thoroughly enjoy creative schemes such as the one he created for us at that moment. I plugged myself into Fat Boy Slim and pranced down the street while inhaling a fair amount of incense in the breeze. We walked several blocks further down the street to a Nightmare Before Christmas sort of doll store, an antique mannequin gallery, and an old school puppet store. A man was dancing in the street with a life sized doll of a tango dancing female as he paraded himself comically throughout the crowds. We stopped for a few minutes to watch what appeared to be a rather large family of gypsies dancing in a circle to a six man band.
We found a delectable place to eat lunch on the corner of a street where an old lady sat on a stool blowing bubbles into the sky. The restaurant is called Sr. Telmo and upon entering through the thin and heavy front door we gazed over a jam packed restaurant. We waited for a table to clear as waitresses ran back and forth from the kitchen with a great speed and vigor. We sat at an antique oak table and indulged in a bowl of chive and Parmesan crackers before our meal arrived. I was ever so disappointed because I felt a great urge within my soul to consume an artisanal beer with my pizza lunch. I had forgotten however that the dry spell was still very much alive in the city so I stuck to Coca Cola Light. I even asked if I could have wine because wine isn´t really considered alcohol here. The waitress smirked at me, boo to that. We ordered a ridiculously cheese filled Five Cheese Pizza with Roquefort, Mozzarella, Provolone, Parmesan and Queso de cabra with a béchamel sauce smeared over the crust. We shared a huge salad of lettuce, corn, mozzarella, tomato and ham. The restaurant was really beautiful with huge windows looking out towards the antique fair outside. Thick brick walls with plastered cement featured local artist’s representations of the art of tango, oil on panel. We busted our guts eating as slowly as possible. I was feeling a bit exhausted from our arduous day so I ordered a cafe con lechee before we headed back onto the darkening streets.
We walked north to the prominent July 9th Avenue which cuts itself through the center of the city. The center of the avenue is lined with a sizable park which features an interesting mix of trees, grasses, shrubs and ponds on each block of this incredibly long central street. It is rather fun to walk down the avenue in the dark as hundreds of cars speed by. An interesting feeling to walk through a beautiful garden filled park while the busiest streets in the city surround you on either side. Sarah experienced an irritating Bank conundrum. We walked into about ten banks to take out money from an ATM until she realized she would only be able to take out a maximum of 350 pesos. After she had finally filled up her empty wallet we walked towards the Oblisco, stopping at several elaborate fountains and a hilarious statue of a cowboy jolting through space on horseback. We arrived back at the hostel after waving the billboard filled street goodbye.
Sarah and I played two rounds of chess while drinking some cocktails before heading out with a group of our hostelling friends for the night. We spend the night at one of the cities most popular disco´s called Amerika. We arrived at 2am to a packed bar (on a Sunday, are you kidding me, people don´t work here on Monday mornings apparently). We assumed the place was packed because everyone was celebrating the end of the dry spell and positive election results (the Liberals won). Purchasing drinks at the bar here is a bit annoying as a huge line forms in front of cashiers who sell drink tickets. Bartenders never actually exchange any money with you. We ordered Vodka 7up and the bartender poured about 2oz of vodka into our glasses, stopped, asked us if we wanted any more and proceeded to fill our glass practically to the brim with Smirnoff. I think we should have called our drinks vodka with a splash of 7up. The club is two floors high with several balconies that look out onto the main dance floor. Any member of the dance pack can jump up on huge cubes on the floor and live as a go-go dancer for several euphoric moments. On the top floor there was an interesting little space ship structure which housed a separate dance floor with different selection of music from the main dance floor below. The top floor also features a dimly lit lounge area where people seem to relax and exit with an assortment of purple hickeys on their neck. The evening was enchanting, I ended up walking back to the hostel just after 7am. This was officially the latest night of my life and I wasn´t even a bit tired when I got home. I think I have officially passed through the finish line. With a smile on my face I believe I have graduated and become an official BA dance kid.
The following day Sarah and I planned to go shopping till we were dropping. We popped in a few neat boutiques, one of which actually had a full service bar beside the change rooms where you could order a mixed drink as you debated your fashion purchases (is that even legal back home?). I was ever so excited to find the Diesel boutique but once I arrived I was dismayed to realize the prices here are actually a lot steeper then back home. We walked through the area of Palermo full of locals munching down on beautiful little plates of food on the sidewalk. Several of the streets are filled with white leather couches and fine white linens. You couldn´t be more comfortable sitting on the street eating fine cuisine.
We walked into La Vueltas de la Vida Hindi Bazaar and ended up spending the next two hours creating our own Indian necklaces. The owner of the shop is a cute hipster girl who traveled to India and became obsessed with their jewelry and beading. She studied in London England at a prominent jewelry school and now runs this little eclectic shop. At first glance it looks like an old fashioned candy shop full of huge jars with brightly coloured candy. It even has one of those antique ladders which roll down the hall so the shopkeeper can grab whichever jar from the shelf above that she needs. Sarah and I realized how hard it is to make a truly funky necklace after toiling over which precious stones, bones, jewels and beads we wanted to feature on our finished piece. Mine turned out to be rather wild and tribal. On the leather portion of the necklace I have a huge white horn at the bottom center followed by big chunky wooden beads, Zebra black and white circular beads, long white hollowed bone, and two antique silver crusted precious stones. The back of the necklace is strung together by a brass chain. I look so bohemian, tribal and well just a bit eclectic. As I like it. We left the shop with smiles on our faces and stopped at another restaurant dive. I ordered a glass of Chardonnay and ricotta and ham raviolis with sun dried tomatoes, arugula and mushrooms. Mediocre food is such a waste, lost opportunity and depressing moment of the day.
We were ever so excited as we got into our taxi at 8pm for the Michelangelo Tango Experience. Michelangelo is in the heart of San Telmo and the most luxurious and prestigious Tango Performance in the city. The taxi stopped at a red carpet where a man in a tuxedo opened the door and welcomed us to the theater. The cobblestone streets flickered as the overhead gas lamps brightened up the night sky. At the entrance of the theater you pass through a velvety burgundy red curtain. In the next room you are transported into a beautiful ancient wine cellar cave which displays antique accordions and music boxes along the walls. We walked into the lounge where we were given complimentary champagne and a trio of corn tapas (corn bisque, corn empanadas and polenta with sun dried tomato pesto). A sax player strutted through the room as we were coaxed into having our picture taken by a photographer with a huge lens. The lounge was chick and simple with black and white tones accentuated by a plume of white lily’s. We were ushered upstairs to a gorgeous dining room.
We had excellent seats right in front of the rich red performance drapes where the dancers would be performing in a short while. We were given an unlimited supply of sparkling water, Medoc and Chardonnay wine. I enjoyed a three course meal which consisted of; Tomatoes and sweetened onions tarte tatin with black olives and arugula tapanade. Chicken breast with corn custard, roasted tomatoes and arugula, orange and sage syrup. Finished with a Dulce de Leche flan with mascarpone and caramelized almonds. I feel compelled to yell at everyone who told me I would be eating rice and beans for three months. I scoff at them even (followed by giggles). Suddenly the lights dimmed, the overhead stage lights beamed through dining room like smoky rods of bright.
In the center of the stage a five man band sat in bow tie and tuxedo with accordion, piano, violin and stand up bass. For the next two hours we watched three ever so talented couples dance across the stage kicking their legs, slamming their heels onto the floor and forming a sexual bond as they fell into the spirit of tango. I thoroughly enjoyed the exuberant hosts of the evening who sang as the dancers flew through the air. The costume changes were humorous and a plenty. I was probably more impressed with the number of costume changes than I was the talent of the dancers! The female singer held a diamond studded microphone and wailed about her lost lover as the portly male tenor belted out lyrics which continually featured the drumming boom of Buenos Aires. I chuckled at one point when I realized that I was watching a better version of the popular Dancing with the Stars television show.
After the show we hailed a taxi and ended up getting in a big fight with him over the price. It cost us 12 pesos to get from the hostel to the theater earlier in the evening and it seemed that his taxi was running up a quick bill. We ended up having to pay him 21 pesos to get home! Sarah argued with him in the local tongue as he told her it was impossible that we ever paid 12 pesos with such a huge distance across the city. She then said, I am not a liar. Her comment was followed by more banter and arguing regarding the impossibility of our declared taxi cost earlier in the evening. We arrived back at the hostel which was dead as ever. Our hostel friends had apparently decided to take a break tonight from the arduous dancing activity which had been taking place the last week or so. We sat in the lounge with my new best friend Martin. He works here on the night shift. He wears converse high tops, black skinny jeans and has a huge clown head of curly black hair. He also has an interesting ring through his nose which I like to tease him about. He is incredibly sarcastic and makes Sarah and I roll over laughing. Sometimes its fun to get lost in translation. He and I played a game of chess in which he blew me out of the water. He and I have a strong bond as we are both obsessed with Bjork. He had never heard the Medulla album so I plugged my iPod into the central speaker system and we listened to Mouths Cradle on repeat.
We woke up at noon and decided to finally treat ourselves to a relaxation day. We walked to the spa located three blocks down the street. Sarah had a one hour facial for around thirteen dollars. I had a one hour full body massage for around sixteen dollars. I was ushered downstairs to the men’s change room where I was given a straight out of China kimono and a small pair of plastic Chinese slippers. The bottom floor is full of jet tubs and a warm thermal bath and sauna where naked old men laze around all day chatting. I walked up the stairs and was greeted by an old Chinese woman who grabbed my entire body and with a huge smile pushed me onto her massage bed. I was told to disrobe and threw myself onto the bed. I was a bit petrified of her gruffness. I lay on my back and she started to slap the top of my head. For the majority of the massage I had to bite my lip to stop myself from laughing. I was either incredibly ticklish or felt compelled to laugh at her technique. As the massage progressed I noticed the ever so corny music playing overhead. An interesting mix of Disney songs played by a Chinese string band, how ridiculously funny. I was given an adequate head scratching, an odd massage within my ear canal followed by a massage of my gums and eye balls. She did a lot of smacking, slapping and punching of my muscle groups. The most ridiculous moment was when she took two rattles and shook them over my groin, mint! I walked downstairs after an hour of table aerobics. I looked and felt like a well greased Butterball turkey. I walked downstairs to the showers and attempted to rid myself of the oil dripping from my fingers. I stood in my little Chinese sandals under the hot shower, standing beside a rather large golden statue of Buddha. Once I had thrown on my cloths I met Sarah outside. As we headed for lunch we both hysterically told our interesting spa experiences.
We ate lunch at the cutest little Vegetarian Indian restaurant called Krishna. The ambiance is incredible here as the walls are jammed with portraits of Hindi gods and goddesses. We sat on a long pink, green and purple pillow covered bench and glanced down at our menus while chewing on whole wheat bread smeared with pumpkin puree. Our table was adorned with an incredible assortment of glass, mirror and mosaic with a cute little vase of purple and yellow tulips. We enjoyed a lunch of vegetarian Indian goodness; banana Lassie, millet croquettes, thali (pakoras, raitha, ginger sabji rice, chutney and chapati), Gauranga potatoes (au gratin with cream, ricotta and spices), and cheese crepe with chutneys. The owner pranced through the restaurant throughout our meal in black tights, ballet slippers and a small little toy poodle attached to her wrist by a decorative leash. The sun threw itself through the thin doorway casting dramatic shadows onto the room’s brightly coloured pillows and flickered in the mirror mosaics of the dining rooms table tops. As we were paying our bill we heard the hilarious Spanish version of the song Aicha.
We walked several blocks and chatted about the cities obsession with stencil art. Sarah read somewhere that BA is known for this urban street creativity which appears on the side of buildings throughout the city. They all seem to enjoy trashing Bush and have some sort of romantic or political message. We passed by a huge billboard of The Spirit of Antonio Bandaras, fragrance before we arrived at the beautiful Evita museum. The museum is located in a beautiful heritage building which used to be a consulate and hotel a hundred years ago. The museum was really well designed and described an excellent account of her life. We saw a fascinating bookcase entitled Mito Blanco on the left (these were books that praised Eva and portrayed her as a Saint) and Mito Negro on the right (books that portrayed her as evil and horrid). Throughout the museum you are able to read excerpts from her book The Reason for My Life on the clean white walls. We watched a reel of her television and film performances as well as a huge gallery of newspaper clippings from the years after she met Peron. The place is full of her ornate dinner gowns and dresses as well as little nick nacks such as matchstick boxes with her face on them and her infamous Eva Peron Foundation Bills.
It was really interesting to learn more about how she impacted the country back in the 40s and 50s. She started the suffragette movement here and gave females the right to vote and hold public office. She also opened hundreds of schools, hospitals and elderly care facilities for the poor through her foundation. My favorite quote read ¨I have learned from Peron that only the humbles will save the humbles.¨ She also built beautiful resorts for children by the ocean so children who had never seen the mountains or ocean were able to experience a vacation for the first time in their lives. In the last room of the museum we sat on a bench and watched a somber video about her death. They played a clip of her speech that she made from her deathbed. It was heart wrenching to hear her quivering, emotional voice as she told the people of Argentina, ¨I leave you all a big hole for my heart.¨ She died at the young age of 33 followed by an incredibly moving fourteen day long funeral. Leading up to her funeral thousands of people stood outside her room at the Casa Roasada praying and singing for their Santa Evita. I was shocked to find out that her body was stolen by the military government and badly beaten. Her body was sent to Milan and then Madrid. Finally after much searching her family found the body and had it sent back to the city where it was laid to rest at the Recolleta cemetery. I was shocked to hear that they found her body badly beaten with broken fingers and feet. How horrible people can be. It was also mentioned that as she was on her death bed her poor supporters across the country started a huge prayer circle while her rich opponents wrote on buildings across the city ¨long live the cancer.¨
We walked back towards the hostel along the six block Jardin Zoologico. We walked through the Jardin Botanico as the sun started to set over the tree canopy above. The Botanical Garden was really pretty featuring hundreds of flowers, trees and even a lily pad pond with a beautiful stone statue of a young girl running through the water. The place is full of cats, hundreds of them. I even saw a few fatter cats sliding down the tops of greenhouse glass roofs which was rather humorous. I strolled back to the hostel with the Evita soundtrack bleating through my ears.
Sarah and I chatted with Martin again tonight asking him about a good place to eat dinner. It is hard to ask locals about good places to eat as many of them can´t afford the kind of food we enjoy since their wage is so shitty. We basically told Martin we wanted a very nice expensive place (which was in fact very nice but half the price of what it would cost to eat the same meal back at home). He suggested El Diamante and when we asked what kind of cuisine it served he responded, “Palermo food.” He is so jokes. We arrived at the restaurant and had to walk through a boutique to get up the spiral staircases onto the roof top terrace. We were given a basket of piping hot foccia covered in fried onions and garlic. I enjoyed a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with my two course meal; Pechuga de pollo con guacomole y tomatoes secod, pico de gallo y maiz tostado. Finished with a nice little bowl of arancini (deep fried cheese risotto balls). We walked back to the hostel and spent the night chatting with the two new guys from Bern Switzerland and another two gents from Bordeaux France. I teased the two airheads from Kobenhaven as I now refer to them as Viking Princesses. I went through my iPod with Martin and suggested a few bands that he should look into and headed to bed early, at 2am.
The following morning Sarah and I departed for the first time to do our own thing for the day. I needed new shoes immediately as my current shoe situation is falling apart. I headed to Cordoba Street which is full of clothing and shoe outlets. I became incredibly depressed after about an hour of walking as the majority of stores all catered to women and the shoe selection was unimpressive. I came back to the hostel in low spirits. The owner of the hostel sat down with me and suggested shopping on Santa Fe Avenue at the Bondstreet Gallery. Sarah wanted to grab some English novels so we both took off on our first bus in the city to this area of town. The Bondstreet market is a three level mall full of graffiti walls, punk clothing culture, skateboard shops and tattoo parlors. I checked out DTS House and made two purchases. A blue and white striped hoody and Nike pink, white and gold alligator skin shoes. Ever so exciting. I walked back up Santa Fe to meet Sarah in the huge bookstore she had been browsing. El Afeneo is a beautifully converted performance theater that now houses thousands of books. It was really neat to see people reading their new books in what used to be the boxed seats of the theater. Rows upon rows of books sprawled across the different mezzanine floors above. The stage had been converted into a posh little cafe where I ended up finding Sarah sipping tea.
We grabbed the bus back to the hostel and made a supermarket dinner; butternut squash, apple and pear bisque with crustini. The whole hostel was very jovial tonight. We shared a bottle of Chablis and a bottle of vodka (which would have been 40 dollars at home, but sells for three dollars here). I´m not going to lie, we drank perhaps a bit too much. Five of six of us hung out in the lounge listening to Bjork’s Volta album. I became chummy with my new friend Ben from Bern Swiss-land. We played several games of chess. Once the evening came to an end the rules started to become a bit more lax as you can imagine. Ben and I went up onto the terrace and sat on a couch staring up into the sparkling sky before heading to bed with a two cheek kiss.
The following morning Sarah looked as though she had been hit by a truck. I felt dandy. We both lazed around the hostel until 4pm for our pickup. A big white van scooted onto the sidewalk and we were soon driving to the La Boca district of the city for the insane semi final match between Argentina’s La Boca Juniors and a team from Columbia. It was essential that La Boca won this game in order to stay in the tournament. We hopped out of the van and walked into a little garage cafe where we all drank Coke and munched on sausage with chimichuri sauce. The city at 6pm was now full of a very mysterious fog. We walked past many obnoxious vendors selling Boca paraphernalia such as hats, scarves and various items you can wave in the crowd. We got in a huge lineup and after being patted down by security we climbed up the wet two flights of stairs to our seating area. It was only after we got to the top of the staircase that we realized the wetness under our feet was actually puddles of urine. Absolutely disgusted by this news I almost heaved. The stadium has no washrooms so men literally just pee against the wall, how outrageous. We arrived at the most dangerous area in the stadium. Directly over one of the goal posts we stood for three hours watching the most ridiculous sporting event of my life.
Directly in front of us was a huge metal fence with riot police on the other side. The fence was strung on top with barbed wire (not that that stopped anyone from climbing over and ripping their jeans). The game started with a wild little cheerleader show followed by mind numbing screams as the opposing team came out onto the field. The most shocking experience of the whole game was the constant obscenities being yelled (and chanted) by the crowds. I can not even repeat what they said because they are so vulgar (most of which involved an insult about the oppositions mother). Once the Boca team came on the field the place went nuts. People jumped up onto the fence like Spiderman and started jumping onto the barbed wire, barbaric insanity. People lit fireworks in the crowd as well as sticks of dynamite which when lit spewed blue and yellow smoke into the stands. Hundreds of toilet paper rolls were thrown onto the field before the game started. A mass of white ribbons across the stands. Boca fans actually started to throw the toilet paper rolls at the opposing teams goalie. One of them actually hit him in the head and simultaneously 60 000 people started going crazy. Sarah and I held hands for most of the match in order to create some form of safety in comfort. When Boca made its first score my heart almost jumped out of my chest. Literal mayhem all around, screaming, people jumping onto each other, freaking out like it was the end of the world. I thought to myself, what is going to happen if the other team scores during this game. I was a bit terrified of the thought and crossed my fingers that Boca would win the match solely for my safety. The fog came and went throughout the game. At some points we weren´t even able to see the field as the cloud was so thick. Near the end of the game the entire field cleared miraculously and I could see the entire crowd bobbing up and down in the stands screaming like a massive swirling sea. Boca ended up winning the game, thank goodness with three goals. Once the game ended the crowds went insane. One man took of his jacket and lit it on fire with his lighter. We had to wait over an hour in our stands as they let different sections out earlier than others in order to lessen the chance of riots. We were all crammed together like sardines for several minutes until we were finally able to start slowly walking towards the exit (we were actually pushed several times it was rather insane). I slowly walked down the wet urine filled steps and tried to avoid falling down in puddles of piss. The entire experience was unforgettable. A bit ridiculous but I´m ever so glad I can say that I had the experience.
The following morning I felt a bit of a cold developing in my throat so I popped an Advil and suddenly felt very at ease and relaxed. We walked to the laundry and asked the lady there if we could get our clean cloths tonight. She said the earliest she could have them ready was by tomorrow. We pleaded explaining we needed them for the disco. She started to laugh and pretend to dance as she understood our plight. She said we could pick them up at 8pm just before she closed. With a splendid relaxed mood I started the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde. I had become bored with the current sappy historical romance, apparently not my favorite genre. We wandered down Palermo for a few hours. It seems like we have made this place our home now. Entirely relaxed every day without a need to run to the touristy spots of town. We found some new interesting boutique streets and checked out a shop that featured amazing screen print t-shirts and hoodys made with Indian pillow cases.
We came back to the hostel for another bout of chill time and then headed out for dinner at 9pm. We were looking for a place mentioned in our travel guide that was supposedly known for its handmade Armenian food. We arrive at the address, the Armenian Cultural Center and headed downstairs to a bit of a shock. Far from a traditional restaurant, the room was actually just a huge ball room full of what looked like people enjoying a church social. We laughed it off and walked upstairs with the address to Sarkis in hand. We grabbed a taxi to the restaurant and arrived to a packed sidewalk. About forty people were lined up waiting to get in. This place is apparently famous, we had no reservation however. We were told our wait would be 45 minutes so we walked down the street to Toribia cafe to sip on espresso. We headed back to the restaurant and were seated in five minutes.
The menu was rather huge and we had no idea how large the portions were going to be. I ordered a glass of vino blanco and Sarah and I shared Hummus and pureed eggplant dip with warm pita triangles. We told the waiter we wanted a chicken, nut and rice pilaf as well as a chicken kebab but his eyes rolled and told us it was too much food. Sarah thought he said, try eating these first three dishes and I’ll come back to see if you want more. After our three dishes we were stuffed. We could actually only eat three of the six huge falafel’s we were given anyways. Then the night suddenly became embarrassing. The waiter hadn´t been very clear. He comes by the table and drops a massive plate of chicken smothered in tzatziki, onions and tomatoes. We both started hysterically laughing and Sarah told him not to bring out any rice just in case he expected us to eat it. The most embarrassing part of our order were the stares we got from across the restaurant. Directly beside our table sat four beautiful local woman who actually pointed, laughed and stared at the amount of food we ate (and that remained on our table). We asked for everything to be wrapped up, paid, and ran out of there in order to remove the red flush from our embarrassed faces.
The entire hostel spent the night having a little party before heading to the Levitar Mood Bar. I drank water all night in an attempt to save my battery power for Saturday evening. We left the hostel at 1am, walked all the way to the main square to realize that the bar wasn´t even there. Hopped in a cab that took us one minute to the proper location. The bar was a small little spot with an outdoor patio to the left of the entrance and a bar and small dance floor on the right. Upstairs small intimate rooms featured coffee tables and plush white leather sofas to chitty chat. Half of the hostel was full of the Chill House family. I realized how much I was going to miss these people who had become my family over the last two weeks. Palermo had become my home. My family consisted of the two parents (owners) from France and Argentina followed by siblings from Ireland, New Jersey, Colorado, Connecticut, Texas, Switzerland, Canada, England, Israel and Australia. We all formed a circle in the center of the dance floor and goofed around until just after 3am. I stared around the bar and laughed as I saw all the locals sporting their much loved Converse kicks. The youth here have an incredible style that is so varied from Europe’s. Still hip but they have made clothing their own (along with their wild haircuts). We all left the bar and hit the street to the main square where we sat in a pub and made interesting ornaments out of napkins (paper airplanes, origami etc…). The server actually chastised us by taking our napkin dispenser away. A few of our family members (namely the UK and Switzerland) decided to order a huge hamburger with fries just before 4am. We the stood outside for what seemed like an age trying to decide where to go next. After much frustration (mostly felt by the Swiss) we headed back to Levitar. We all rushed in and I was absolutely shocked and appalled to be charged a 5 peso cover to enter the bar. All of the other guys apparently had not been told to pay anything. I shall now rant about how I hate straight bars. I hate the idea of females paying nothing to get in a bar whereas men have to pay simply because they are trying to create an atmosphere that condones random hookups. Gay bars never charge different covers based on gender, as it should be. We danced around a bit more until about 530am when Sarah and I decided to peace out and head home for needed rest. We bid our family farewell (who apparently hung around until 7am, wild ones). Sliding into a comfy bed is somewhat of a treasure.
We woke up at 1pm and showered and sipped some tea before heading to the subway. The metro is 70 cents here which is rather dirt cheap. We took to the end of the line at the Alem stop and walked through Luna Park towards beautiful Puerto Madero. This area is almost a complete replica of Vancouver´s Yale Town. Huge expensive condo´s right on the ten block canal which is lined with two rows of red brick old dock yard buildings which have now been converted into posh boutiques and restaurants. We walked over the central bridge which is painted white and looks similar to a pointy sun dial. The canals are filled with yachts and huge tall ships which tourists go photo crazy over. We watched the sun start to lower itself along the horizon as a team of rowers passed under the bridge heading toward the harbor. On our walk down the street a very charismatic young fellow in a suit came up and shook our hands. We were a bit taken aback and had no clue what he wanted from us…until he pulled out two slender bottles of perfume. We instantly started walking and waving our hands away from him, he was sneaky. We ate at the huge Spell Cafe which overlooks the cobble stone streets hugging the canal. I ordered a North Argentinean specialty; glazed chicken with honey mustard stuffed with green onions with a nice glass of Infiniti Chardonnay. We walked up to Palaza Justo where several huge colonial buildings can be found along the Marizzana del los Luces. We stopped at the huge Edificio Libertador where several war monuments and tanks dotted the grassy terrace. Before heading back to the subway station we stopped to watch a pack of skateboarders doing tricks over the plentiful staircases of the seven story Federal Communication building. Sitting on the subway we saw a man trying to sell ankle bandage. We laughed as it seemed like somewhat of an infomercial on wheels, iya Buenos Aires!
In the evening we all enjoyed a hostel BBQ on the outdoor terrace while huddled together as the evening had suddenly frozen over. Sausage, steaks and salad with the smell of merlot in the cold night air. We all joked about in the lounge before taking several taxis to a rather distant club called Mint. We walked across a parking lot and found a rather large line of well dressed BA´s. Once we arrived at the front of the line the giant of a bouncer wouldn´t let us in because we weren´t 23 years old (and had no ID). We observed the rest of the line and noticed many young women getting through with no problem. Another fluke of a night as gender discrimination runs rampant in the city. The two Swiss boys felt the need to try again so we got in the line once more just to be rejected on the spot. Post rejection we walked back to the main street, picked up a cab and drove back to our hostel in a melancholy stupor. We ended up talking into the wee hours of the night, followed by grumbles about the success of our clubbing adventures.
We took a taxi in the morning to the Parque Naturaly Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur. A huge marsh, forest and wetland conservatory complete with bird sanctuary and biking paths. Before walking through the reserve we hung out at the carnival and market along the marshland boulevard. Vendors along the street were selling baked tortilla, parilla grilled steaks, cheese, fresh cakes, dulce de leche carmels, specialty liquors and roasted almonds. We walked towards the carnival and sat on a bench watching a hilarious man doing tae bo with about twenty or so young woman on a basketball court with the sound of Venga Boys and Benny Bassi in the background. The place was packed full of families munching on cotton candy, a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon just out of the hectic center of the city. The covered market had an eclectic assortment of antiques, coins, stamps and super hero figurines. We walked past these interesting vendors as Michael Jackson´s Billy Jean played around us. I saw several older woman dancing to the song under a huge sycamore tree in the afternoon sunlight. We headed towards the entrance of the reserve and passed by a bike rental shop and a man offering pony rides on his miniature horse. We walked over two kilometers stopping at various lookout points by the marsh and forest beyond. Birds chirpped the afternoon away, it was a very relaxing and surreal experience to be in the heart of a huge city in such a quiet and peaceful area. We left the park and found ourselves by a bus station, incredibly sketchy we walked quickly towards the commercial district of the city which is comprised of huge skyscrapers. Taking the subway back to the hostel we walked down Gascon passing by a two block bake sale where local woman sold their home made treats.
Our final evening at the Chill Hostel was spent with five other great friends. We walked down Cabrera to La Cabrera Parilla. The most famous steakhouse in Buenos Aires. After arriving we were told we would have to wait at least an hour and a half before being seated. Fortunately the sidewalk is lined with plush seats and those patrons waiting to be seated are given several glasses of champagne to make the wait more enjoyable. We were all, way to hungry to wait so we walked down the street to another very special high end restaurant. The restaurant called Bar Uriarte featured an open kitchen located directly on the street front. Pedestrians can peak right into the huge window and stare at chefs and cooks running around the kitchen making dinner. The restaurant is huge, full of private dining areas, a large central lounge with sofa and cushion seating. I tried not to think about the fact that I would be leaving the city in the morning. I have fallen in love with BA and the people I have met at the hostel have become a second family to me. We ate over a three hour period which was fantastically slow and social. I ate the following; risotto and cheese croquettes. A cheese platter of buffallo mozzerella, brie, gruyere and marinated parmesan. A warm bowl of roasted tomatoes, sweet red paper and foccia. We all shared several plates of pizza bread, a flat bread topped with sea salt, olive oil and rosemary. I ordered four glasses of Baileys on the rocks throughout dinner as they had a happy hour special (yes, happy hour ends at 11pm here). I finished off dinner with a plate of chocolate fondant and vanilla gelato. I was so stuffed, so happy.
It is impossible not to fall in love with Buenos Aires. I have learned a lot about peoples perceptions about South America living in this city. In school I was taught that Britain and France sought to colonize Canada and the Unites States because they were so rich in resources and opportunity. After staying in Buenos Aires it has become apparent that Spain spent far more money and time on Buenos Aires. BA was the largest colonized city in the world hundreds of years before New York was put on the map. Buenos Aires enchanted the Spanish hundreds of years ago. It still manages to capture people’s hearts today.
As I tear, I leave this city.
We called a taxi from the hostel and met the cabby downstairs who ended up refusing any of our Argentine pesos. He told us we should go to a bank and take out money so we could pay him properly in Uruguayan moola. We rolled our eyes as we were just leaving his country and had no use for his currency. We walked down the street and hailed a cab to the ferry station. We walked into the terminal and felt a bit awkward, the place was empty. We walked up to the front desk and the guy told us we were at the wrong terminal! Who knew there was more than one terminal in this god forsaken city! He said it would take 20 minutes to get there, our ferry left in 45 minutes! We hailed another cab and flew to the other side of the city. Anxiety a plenty, we ended up getting dropped off at the bus station with 15 minutes to spare. I was thinking “oh lordy we are going to miss this, why on earth are we at the bus station?” Then we found out that our ticket to BA was actually a two hour bus to Colonia followed by a ferry to BA. We had never been told this mind you. We found the correct bus and Sarah gave her over sized back pack to the man checking the luggage. He practically spit on her when she didn´t tip him. He then grabbed my bag and threw it on the road. He clearly was not in a good mood, where has hospitality gone these days? Apparently you have to tip the bus jockeys here in Uruguay. Which is so odd since we haven´t had to do that the entire trip. We also paid a sizable amount of money for this trip so it was a bit shocking when my bag was being thrown into the street rather than into the bus (where it belonged). A really nice business man winked at me, grabbed my bag and made sure it got checked in for me. We hopped on the two and a half hour bus ride in which I read the history and factoids about Uruguay. I felt the need to find something interesting about the country before I left it with a bad taste in my mouth.
Interesting factoid; Uruguay celebrates the Day of Gnocchi which is a big deal at restaurants on the 29th of each month. At some establishments gnocchi is all you can order on this day of the month! The tradition dates back to tough economic times when everyone was paid at the end of the month. By the time the 29th rolled around the only thing people could afford to cook were these delicious potato dumplings.
We got off our bus and made our way to the Argentine customs office. This is when I discovered part of my bag had a fowl odor of acrid garbage and toilet water. Never leave your personal belongings on the floor of a bus, ever, I have learned. The one hour ferry to BA was a bit of a crashing fiasco. Several old woman clutched their handkerchiefs and appeared as though they may spew at any moment. We were headed right into a fierce rain storm. We were fed little macaroons and dulce de leche cookies to tie us over. We were both starving and could not wait to eat at Argentina’s ever so famous steakhouse! We arrived into the port and the sky looked like a darkened watercolor with enthusiastic amounts of navy blue and dark grey behind the cities sky scrapers. We readied ourselves for a downpour at any moment. By the time we got our luggage it was starting to spit outside. We hailed our first cab to the bus station where we prepared ourselves for thieving and mugging by the most unscrupulous characters. We have heard many stories of this nature going on at the BA bus station. Somewhat of a past time for the cities youth here. We found the companies with service to Iguazu Falls and were able to book the last two full cama executive seats for the following evening at 7pm. I´m actually rather excited to take my first official direct overnight bus and have comfort in knowing that it will be comfortable and rather decadent. We hailed another cab to take us back to our beloved Chillhostel. The taxi got stuck right in the thick of rush hour and the rain started to really pour onto the city at this point. We rang the bell and received warm greetings from Martin and our other Chillhostel friends.
Our last random evening in BA was splendid. Both of the boys from Switzerland had arrived back from Iguazu that afternoon and raved about the experience. We made a booking for a party of six at La Cabrera and my mouth truly started to water knowing that I was going to the cities number one fine dining steak house. The following is a description of one of the best restaurant experiences of my life;
The six of us sat down at La Cabrera on the patio under a plastic awning with heaters above keeping us toasty warm. The pitter patter of light rain surrounded us as we were given our menus. The tables were huge which is necessary here as the steaks and ramekins which arrive at the table require a lot of table top space. One of the ladies in our party had been before so she warned us that we only need to order four steaks for a six person party as they are absolutely huge. We were brought a basket of soft tomato and garlic foccacia, tea biscuits and rolls with a cheese and garlic spread. We ordered the two best cuts of beef. The Bife de Chorizo (also called Argentine Steak) and Lomo (essentially fillet mignon seasoned with thyme and pepper). We bought several bottles of Bodegas Trapiche Malbec Origen. I want you all to realize that I have never been as shocked, exited, and entirely thrilled when three waiters walked over to our table with our meal. We were given two huge wooden boards of Bife de Chorizo which is a foot long steak, three inches thick. The lomos were perfectly cooked. I have never eaten steak this well seasoned or cooked in my entire life. We all started to buzz about how fantastic the food was. We chatted about how expensive these steaks would be at home. We were able to cut about seven steaks from each of the huge Bife de Chorizo steak logs. We figured steaks of this quality and quantity would cost over one hundred dollars at home, whereas we paid a measly ten dollars for each of them! The most remarkable part of the meal was the arrival of the tapas. When ordering steaks you aren´t even told about the accompanying treats. In a flash the waiters dropped down 32 ramekins onto the table of different savory items. The table was jam packed full of to die for aromas. I wrote down a few of the ramekin tapas dishes; applesauce, baby onions in red wine, mashed potatoes and mustard seed, baby potatoes and gravy, quail eggs and beans, truffle mushrooms, sauteed garlic, butternut squash and raisins, roasted red pepper, couscous with herbs, grape tomatoes with honey and nut mayonnaise, olive tapanade, apple and dill cream, chili broccoli. We talked for two hours, fed ourselves like kings all the while the weather chaos outside thundered around us. Its amazing how you can be so concentrated on lovely moments in your mouth and in dialog that you don´t notice the thundering downpour around you. We were all given shots of Lemoncello and little dark chocolate treats before grabbing a taxi back to the hostel.
We spent the next few hours in the lounge discussing outrageous things and rolling around on the floor laughing (thanks to our three dollar vodka). A big group of us headed to Disco Niceto at 2am located in Palermo Hollywood close by. We danced ourselves silly. Sarah and I were both ecstatic when we heard an electronic dance beat with words we recognized. Justin Timberlake brought Sexy Back for us on our last night in BA, thrilling. I clutched my water bottle and cocked my head up to the ceiling as smoke and fog puffed out of little machines over the central disco ball above. I was at total peace, trying to capture this moment forever as I knew it was my last here in Buenos Aires. It was also going to be one of our last disco experiences as we were soon entering rather volatile countries. We hopped into a taxi at 6am and flew through puddle filled streets for my last nap at Chillhouse.
We lazed around with friends for our last day in Buenos Aires. Ben went downtown to ¨fume and throw his fists¨ at Iberia airlines while David, Sarah and I went to the supermarket to buy the necessary items for lunch sandwiches. We also bought an incredibly dried out pound cake and Nestle ice cream log as a celebratory good bye dessert. It was really nice to relax and put our feet back with friends before our 17 hour bus ride to Puerto Iguazu, home of the most beautiful waterfalls on earth!