WHERE: Buenos Aires, Argentina (with a short trip across the river to Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay)
WHEN: January/February, 2009, 21 days
WHO: Ken + Una
WHERE DID WE STAY? We rented an apartment on Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. A stunning apartment in a charmingly run-down Art Nouveau building. Perks? Colorful neighbours that were very easy to spy on since our hallway window looked on to their courtyard; Incredibly high ceilings that diffused the heat; Steps away from daily tango and flamenco performances on the Plaza.
BEST MEAL? A bottle of Malbec and Ojo de bife at La Cabrera Parilla in Palermo Soho. Plus, complimentary champagne on the sidewalk, while you wait // Croque Madame on puff pastry at the MALBA art museum. Perhaps not a local favourite, but we came back 3 (!) times // Meat empanadas from a neighbourhood place, the favourite hangout of local old gentlemen. // And when we needed a break from all that Argentinean steak, Origen a small veggie restaurant in San Telmo
WHAT WE DID TO PREPARE: Believe it or not we did about 6 weeks worth of tango lessons (courtesy of the parents). We were way too embarrassed to unleash our skills on the unsuspecting locals, but it made us appreciate the intricacies of what we saw.
DON’T MISS: Lezama park: this was exactly how I pictured South America, dusty futbol fields, old trees, families enjoying the shade and improvised market stalls all around // La Recoletta cemetery: a city of graves. // San Telmo market on Sundays: worth pushing through the crowds to see the street performers and look for treasures. // The city zoo: Ken was really into the animal shelters, the architecture matched the animal’s origin.
BIZZARO SIGHTING: Leathery seniors playing a fierce game of tennis in their speedos // Spotting the Yugoslavian ‘Society for Mutual Aid’ established in 1878!
HIGHLIGHT: Many beautiful wide boulevards lined with trees and 19th century architecture, which you could mistake for Paris if it wasn’t for the sun bleaching and palpable latin energy // Stumbling upon impromptu dancing in the streets, from middle-aged couples embraced in a tango to synchronized hip-hop in the park.
HOW COULD THERE POSSIBLY BE SO MUCH: Money in cardboard pick-up… When the Argentine economy collapsed in December 2001, the poorest residents of B.A. began making their living by collecting cardboard for recycling. They are known as the “cartoñeros” and come out every evening around dusk, along the main boulevards.
MOMENT OF PAUSE: Beggar children coming up to our table and asking for food from our plates. Let the moral dilemma begin.
RISKIEST MOVE: Perhaps not risky at all, other than being warned against it a few too many times: walking from San Telmo to the city’s poorest but most colourful neighbourhood, La Boca port, past the crowds of hooligans lining up at La Bombonera, home to the famed futbol team Boca Juniors.
MOST RELAXED: Beers on a lovely back patio of resto bar Patrimonie (in Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay) overlooking the river, followed by a wait for our ferry in the company of very affectionate stray dogs.
FIRST TIME: This far south!
EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS? Pretty much met our expectations. A beautiful and bustling city, but if it had not been so cost prohibitive we would have explored more of the country in the three weeks there.
COOLEST BUY: Vintage matchboxes at San Telmo’s indoor market stands (see my What to Buy guide) // Noisemaker in the shape of a chicken that drives our dog batty // A chess-set, where elaborately carved conquistadores face off with the natives.
GUIDE WE USED: Argentina by D&K (of course)
POCKET RATING: $$$ (out of 5)
KEN’S PHOTOGRAPHABILITY RATING: * * * * (out of 5)