East of the Border

With the end of school on July 6th, I took off to Buenos Aires, Argentina two days later to finally see a part of the country that has been right next to me my whole time in Chile, right over the mountains that I can see (on those rare smog-less days) on my walk to the Metro. While BA is not right next door (it’s 1200km/770miles across the Southern Cone), it’s a shame I haven’t seen more of Argentina. But the timing of this trip was very important, not to celebrate finishing college (which is also exciting) but to visit a good friend who just started her semester in Argentina’s capital.
So I held off going, but finally got there and got to spend time with one of my favorite AU people who I would otherwise not see for an entire year. I landed around 5:00 in the afternoon last Sunday and after grimacing while I paid the entry fee, I couldn’t help but notice that everybody working in the airport was incredibly attractive. And everybody on the bus into the city. And the Argentineans working in the hostel. I never would have expected it to be possible to have such a high concentration of super attractive people, but it is. Now I understand my Chilean friends saying Argentina is a “beautiful” country.
After getting over this shock and checking into my room with three beefy Irish guys sporting Boondock Saints-esque tattoos, I met up with Julia (my AU friend), we found a nice local looking restaurant and I got the first stereotypical steak and wine dinner. We were early to the restaurant, sitting down around 9:30. Most Argentineans don’t eat dinner until 10-10:30, and starting our meal at this time was my first lesson in how Porteños (people of Buenos Aires) just don’t sleep. Ever.
 One of the best, but slightly surreal, experiences someone could have is catching up with a close friend from DC down in one of South America’s most vibrant capitals. Much like showing my parents around Chile, meeting up with somebody out of the normal context blew my mind. With so much to talk about, we spent a long time in the restaurant conversing over absurdly large steaks and a bottle of wine until 2:00 in the morning. Then, in (what seems to be) normal Porteño fashion, went out to a bar with a group of her friends, showing up “early” yet again since bars and clubs don’t really fill up until about 3:00 in the morning, which is after just about anything in the US would already be closed. I eventually got a cab back to the hostel around 6:00 in the morning, right around when most of the city was starting to think about heading home.
Unfortunately, I only had four days to see a city that requires so much more. So Julia and I met up that same morning at 11:00am, allowing ourselves a refreshing four hours of sleep. We wandered around the downtown area, doing touristy things such as sprint across Avenida 9 de Julio, the world’s widest street at 14 lanes, in order to make the impossibly short pedestrian light. If you get caught in the street, you end up playing a real-life version of Frogger. The drivers there made Santiaguino motorists seem tame.
Congressional building

An attempt at capturing the size of 9 de Julio
Congress from afar, similar to looking down Pennsylvania Avenue
Having missed breakfast, after touring three neighborhoods, we arrived to our fourth of the day, San Telmo, and finally found an affordable restaurant serving lucro, an Argentine dish of meat (of course) in some kind of soupy meat sauce (I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, other than delicious). What we intended to be a quick lunch ended up taking another three hours as the dropping temperature “forced” us to stay and sip some delicious spiked coffee. On the downside of having a relaxed lunch, it only left a few minutes to explore the neighborhood, which I found to be my favorite, with rowdy drum circles juxtaposing the old French-style houses and cobblestone streets. We wandered through an extensive antiques market with vendors pushing everything you could imagine: used leather jackets, silver and gold knives, dolls and license plates to name a few.
We didn’t have time to stick around, though, because we had to run to some other part of the city (I’m not too sure where I ended up) for a show by La Bomba de Tiempo (Time Bomb), a weekly drum group performance. It was intoxicating, and not because of the thick cloud of marijuana hanging over the crowd (don’t worry, parents, I didn’t partake). The drummers had absolute control over the crowd’s energy, inducing a semi-trance and rave-like dancing (alright, that part might have had to do with the weed). With each piece, the crowd got more excitable, and every climax evoked a greater cheer until the whole audience was jumping, swinging and shaking in what probably looked like a massive seizure to outsiders. The onda here was one that few musicians would ever be able to replicate. Here’s an idea of what they sound like, but the video is far from doing the performance justice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6_71ZEoGhg
Following the concert, which finished at a mere 10:30 at night (probably still afternoon for Porteños), I returned to the hostel as its nightly party got started. After making friends with a group of Australians, I ended up going to a club and staying out this time until 7am, and got up at 10:00 again the next morning. At this point I was still surprisingly functional, despite seven hours of sleep in two nights.
I woke up for a walking tour around La Boca neighborhood, an area famous for the Boca Juniors football (soccer) club and its colorful houses. We visited the stadium and learned about how the neighborhood’s culture seems to revolve around the team. We then ate lunch and visited El Caminito (little walk), a small street where tango was born and consequently named after a tango song. This is where the colorful houses are most prominently displayed, stemming from a tradition of residents using boat crews’ spare paint for their houses. It actually reminded me of a 100 meter long version of Valparaiso, without the hills.

Boca Juniors stadium

After Julia’s class ended we met up for another carnivorous dinner, this time ordering a complete grill, in which they gave us hefty chunks of every cut of cow (including intestines, which are pretty gross), plus sausages and chicken. Needless to say, the serving platter was huge. But we managed to eat the whole thing, as well as dessert and two bottles of wine, all for about $15 each. I would have gotten heavy really quickly if I had studied there instead of Santiago.
For my last full day in Argentina, I wandered with my Australian friends around Recoleta , Buenos Aires’ insanely wealthy neighborhood. More important to us, however, was the cemetery, the architecture in which is more fascinating than in most real cities.  Rather than be a field of tombstones, the cemetery is a labyrinth of grandiose mausoleums made of marble and granite with angels soaring above them. Looking at these made it hard to remember that I was in a cemetery, until I saw the recently opened caskets as a result of grave robbers. (No photos for this one; I felt weird taking pictures of dead people)
My final day in Buenos Aires came much too quickly, considering how much just the downtown offers. I had to catch a bus to the airport at 3:00, so I got up at 10 (this time with a whole five hours of sleep) and quickly ran around the major parts of the city I had missed. There is a lot that I didn’t see, but I made sure to get to one attraction that Julia had pointed out to me earlier. It is a bookstore converted from a theater, which is a fascinating renovation. You shop for books on the mezzanines and main seating area with ornate pillars and frescos, and can grab a coffee at the café where the stage used to be, overlooking all of the action. My monstrous tourist camera was denied photos, but this page has a couple of photos to give an idea: http://argentinastravel.com/268/el-ateneo-in-buenos-aires-a-bookstore-to-end-all-bookstores/.
After staring in awe at the building for a number of minutes, I raced back to the hostel for a quick goodbye to Julia and a few other travelers that I will run into again in Cusco next week, and then caught the bus to the airport. It was a short, whirlwind five days. It all happened so fast that it feels hard to believe it even happened. Three days later, I think I’m still trying to catch up on sleep and my body trying to recover from eating almost exclusively meat. While the partying, food and concert were fantastic, the best part by far was getting to share exploring a new city with such a good friend. It’s comforting to know that, wherever we end up in the world, I’ll never be too far away from someone close.
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