Epic American Adventures #13 – Beinvenido Buenos Aires
Time for another flashback, folks. This time we travel from Chile to Argentina…some of you may know that Argentina was spectacular in a lot of ways for us – good and bad.
Unfortunately the events resulted in a lack of photos towards the end of our time there, but I’m sure you’ll understand. For those who don’t know the gory details, read on and be amazed (or at least hopefully go “Hm, well what do you know?”).
Roughly one week later…
“I know it has been a long time since I last wrote and my only excuse is that there are some things I’ve had a bit of a mental block writing about. I’m sure you can imagine what I mean.
When we arrived in Buenos Aires after an uneventful flight, we were looking forward to some luxury – the start of our 3 night ‘independent’ G-Adventures tour. By independent it meant that we were basically provided with an airport transfer, 3 nights in a hotel, a half day walking tour, and a tango show with dinner. We got collected from the airport without a hitch and made our way to the lap of luxury!
My first impression of Buenos Aires was that it was absolutely massive. The amount of people, cars and buildings in this city is phenomenal. My second impression, as we neared our hotel, was of European opulence. Apparently the district we were staying in was once the hoity toity aristocratic area of Buenos Aires, and had maintained its air of snobbishness. We were welcomed by the G-Adventures representative and decided to have a rest before heading to a nearby steak place that had been recommended to us for dinner – apparently it’s another thing that Argentina is famous for!
Dinner was an experience – we ordered steak, mine with salad and Ryan’s with chips – however, what arrived were good pieces of beef (at least they had that going for them!), a head of lettuce, half a giant onion, some hot chips (no, not french fries – the packet of chips kind) and some slimy pieces of capsicum – interesting!
The next day, Saturday, we had a private walking tour. We were shown the areas of La Boca (‘the mouth’), San Telmo – where some very cool antique stores were, as well as terrible coffee, and some of the more important buildings in Buenos Aires, such as the pink house where Madonna filmed the famous window scene for Evita. I liked Buenos Aires! It was definitely one of the best cities we had visited so far, but I may be a bit biased as it reminds me so much of Europe.
We had an extremely interesting discussion with our tour guide (who was very nice). We discussed the fact that we had been warned by several people, including one person calling out of a bus window, to be careful of our camera. We talked about the fact that we had been to cities in which we felt much less safe, without anything ominous happening. We probably jinxed ourselves. But whatever the case, our guide felt confident that after living 32 years in Buenos Aires, she had never experienced any kind of robbery.
That night we ventured to our tango show and dinner – it turned out to be a tango lesson, show and dinner – bonus! Ryan was asked to demonstrate a move and quickly announced himself to be the teacher’s pet. After the lesson we enjoyed a great dinner (although my meat pie entree looked suspiciously like an empanada), and when the tango show started during dessert we realised that we really had no idea, from our brief lesson, what tango actually was. The dancers were absolutely phenomenal, completely sensual and their coordination and speed was astounding. One of those experiences that leave you feeling somewhat inadequate and uncoordinated in your own body.
We decided the next day to head back to San Telmo to go to the weekly market – this market stretched for blocks and had everything imaginable. We found so many things we liked, and quickly ran out of cash so decided to head to the nearby main square to find an ATM.
We took out some money and were walking back to the markets when we noticed a man driving a motorcycle the wrong way down the street, then making a u-turn and driving in front of us. I thought he looked a bit shifty and said to Ryan “What’s this idiot doing?” to which he replied “Maybe he’s buying the bike and testing it out?”.
We crossed the street and were walking under an alcove when the man on the bike pulled up on the footpath in front of us, and, still wearing his helmet, walked to intercept us. He grabbed Ryan by the shoulder and pulled a knife out of his jacket pocket.
I really didn’t know what to do, everything we’d read in the guide book had said if you’re threatened, give them what they want. You don’t know what lengths they will go to to get something out of you. We gave him the cash we had just taken out of the ATM and still he kept shouting at us in Spanish. We told him we didn’t have any more money and that we didn’t understand what he wanted and he finally said “mobile, mobile” so we gave him both our phones. I couldn’t pretend that we only had one on us, as he’d seen me taking a photo of the square with it as he was driving past. He quickly got back on his bike and rode off.
We started walking back to the markets and I said the only thing I could: ‘Fuck’. I was shaking a little, incredibly shocked, too shocked to be pissed off just yet (but trust me, that came). We headed back into the safety of the crowd. The entire thing had taken less than 5 minutes, 20 metres from safety and in full view of a McDonalds full of asian tourists.
Over the next hour we found a police station, waited half an hour for the only English speaking officer to be available, left a statement and got a police report, along with at least two other English speaking people who had had their bags snatched. We couldn’t obviously go back to the market to buy anything more, so we headed back to the hotel, stopping only for a big greasy burger and chips (I think I deserved it). I spent the rest of the evening with a bottle of red wine and a spa bath to calm me down.
I know there was absolutely nothing we could have done, we weren’t in a bad neighborhood, we aren’t wearing flashy clothes or jewellery. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I was so pissed off. Phones and money don’t matter, especially when we had travel insurance, but my liberty had been invaded, and most of all I was furious that a city that I had felt so good about now made me feel paranoid and scared walking down the street. I nearly jumped a foot in the air when someone turned suddenly in front of me on the way back to the hotel. It could have been much worse – we both had credit cards on us, and in fact I had my entire handbag, yet neither of those were taken. Thankfully we’d left the camera back at the hotel. At least we could recover from the shock in a nice private hotel room, even if it was our last night of the tour.
The next day we headed to our new hostel in San Telmo…I probably don’t have to tell you how NOT thrilled I was to actually be staying a few streets away from where we were mugged. Fortunately it was a really nice hostel. We’d been suggested it by a fellow traveler in Santiago, and it was definitely much nicer than most of the hotels we’d been in. Aside from moving accommodation, we spent the rest of the day in, only going out that night for an uneventful pub crawl (with minimal belongings). Tuesday was much the same, we stayed in, mostly thanks to Ryan’s massive hangover lol. We found a British pub for dinner and I had a fantastic pie! A real one!
On Wednesday we decided to face our fears (well, mine anyway) and venture out again. On our walk we saw a clothing shop called ‘Plop!’ and a cafe called ‘Rondas’. We headed to the indoor antiques market to try some coffee we’d seen earlier – it was actually a decent cup of coffee! We vowed we would be back. The antiques market actually also housed a fresh food market.
I’d still not been up to bringing a handbag out with us, and unless I chose to lug around the tablet (not happening) we didn’t have any way of snapping quick photos anymore. Let’s just say that the permanent produce markets they have in Chile and Argentina way trump any Saturday market in Brisbane. Very similar to the Queen Victoria markets in Melbourne, and also open every day. We found some very interesting fruit (including something shaped like a pear with all the colourings of a red apple). We didn’t buy any antiques, but we would definitely be back.
That night we decided to participate in another one of the hostel’s outings and headed to our first football game in South America – Argentina vs. Trinidad and Tobego. Free pizza and beer before the game put us in good spirits – luckily as the stadium didn’t serve alcohol! I hope things are different in Brazil otherwise it won’t be the Brazilians who are rioting!
The next day was another walking tour – this time of the fancier suburbs of Recoletta (where we had been staying previously) and Polermo. The districts themselves didn’t have too many notable landmarks, apart from the marvellously decadent mansions from the late 19th and early 20th century – most of which have now been turned into hotels, government buildings, and embassies. We finished the tour with a visit to Eva Peron’s tomb in the most amazing cemetery I have ever seen. It was more like a private park where the richest of the rich had a pissing contest of who had the most garish and over-sized mausoleum. Needless to say, it was more fascinating than creepy!
After the tour we decided to walk to the port – an area newly redesigned to welcome tourists, and hosting numerous nice restaurants. That’s what we were seeking – a nice restaurant to have a second try at the famous Argentinian steak. The only problem was that we got lost on the way and ended up near the military base instead of the port. After walking 20 minutes in the wrong direction, I don’t think the steak needed to be all that nice – I was so hungry that a McDonald’s Angus burger pattie would have made me happy at that moment. We finally found the right area, and a nice restaurant. We wolfed down the bread basket (much like in Europe, in Argentina you always get given a bread basket, but don’t be fooled – if you eat it it goes on the bill). We ordered steak, salad and fries to share (checking that it was indeed French Fries and not chips). The salad arrived first, delicious and hopefully a taste of things to come (pun intended!). Then came the piece-de-resistance – a steak. Just a steak. On a plate. Apparently we would be eating the things in the order we asked for them, not all at once. Hey, I was still too hungry to care. The steak was amazing, though Ryan’s was a little on the rare side, and things such as pepper and dianne sauce don’t exist in Argentina. Nicely seasoned enough that no sauce didn’t matter. Our chips finally arrived, and we were almost too full to eat any – satisfied!
Although we’d had a fantastic lunch, there was still room for a delicious gnocchi dinner that night, courtesy of Ryan.
Friday was, unfortunately, our last day in Argentina. After walking around a lot of places yesterday I felt I’d finally gotten over my uncomfortableness in the city. We headed back to the produce market, got another coffee and bought the ingredients for a great couscous dish (though we couldn’t find haloumi, Ally!). We spent our last day at the hostel so that Ryan could finish some work, before an all-you-can-eat Argentinian BBQ that night. We had a plane to catch the following afternoon to our final destination – Brazil! Ryan decided after the bbq to go out drinking with the other two boys – Ramon and Johnathan – that we were sharing a dorm with. I wisely stayed in, and made no bones about not having any time for hangovers the next day – Ryan’s included!
While it had it’s ups and downs, Argentina was definitely a great city to spend a week in. I don’t know if I’ll be back, but the draw of fantastic sights, amazing tango, and mouth watering food may be too much to resist…”
You know, I haven’t read this since I wrote it. And reading it now, it’s amazing to me how lucky we are to live in the country that we do. I know, this type of mugging could happen anytime to anyone. But most people in Australia never have to worry about it, never feel the after-effects. I went to Melbourne months later, arriving on a late flight with my friend Ally, and we had to get a tram to our hotel. We had to walk a fair way from our tram station and she couldn’t understand why I was rushing so quickly, feeling so pressured to get away from the street and to the hotel. Later I realised it was because I still had some underlying anxiety over being in such a vulnerable position. Lucky I have some sick boxing skills to back me up now!