“Wise men say only fools rush in, BUT I can’t help falling in love with you”
The indecisive always confused couple agreed on Buenos Aires (BA) being the Numero UNO city they will move to.
Sure the city is crowded, busy, dirty, huge, confusing, people are all business; but we both felt like we are home. We felt like if home was ideal, it will be BA for us. Let me explain a bit about what home is to us. Gautam was born and brought up in the most crowded city in India: Bombay (Sure..sure, it’s Mumbai now) and Bombay is also my most favorite city in the whole wide world. Bombay is all things India for us, Bombay is passion, Bombay is heart. Each and every year, I get misty eyes when the plane lands at the ever under construction Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport. I get hit by the strong smell of the city, don’t ask me what it is, you don’t want to know. Despite of it being the obnoxious foul smell, it smells familiar. After the initial nostalgia, I do start to gag at the smell, but oh well. So you see, it is all relative. Despite of being crowded, busy, dirty, huge and confusing, practically BA is our ideal Bombay. It is definitely less of everything bad about it as compared to Bombay.
We spend about a week in Buenos and would have easily spent another one being busy and exploring the city. In most cities in South America, I think the Spaniards did a great job of building all the amazing plazas and parks in and around the cities, and leaving the same culture behind. Despite of being the monster of a city that BA is, it has numerous green spaces spread all around.
The first day started with walking one of the most crowded pedestrian streets: Florida. No one had the time to stop and look, people hurrying in all directions, shops buzzing with activity, blue and white striped T-shirts hanging around the entire street (it was 2 days before the Argentina/Colombia FIFA world cup qualifier game). Our Hosteling International hostel was smack in the middle of the busiest sections of Florida Street. Given the large underground market of currency exchange in Argentina, there is one word abuzz as you walk on this street “CAMBIO”. The chanting goes on and on. I guess, for every 100 people on the street there were at least 5 Cambios. They are relentless and persistent. Not too sure about how productive or reliable.
Buenos Aires is the capital and the largest city of Argentina. It is the second largest metropolitan area in South America. The city has migrants from all over South America and also from various parts of the world – seems like a land of opportunities and innovation. Recoleta Cemetery makes the list of top things to do in BA on pretty much every forum. There is a free tour staring at the entrance of Recoleta every Thursday. One smart innovative guide met us at our Hostel and said he conducts a city tour that ends at Recoleta for free. So along with a group of 8-9 people, we started our very convenient city tour. On our way to Recoleta he showed us various monuments, the most expensive building in BA, the bombed down Israeli consulate which is now a memorial ground. Thankfully we hadn’t researched a lot about Recoleta, so when we got there, it was a big surprise. Recoleta is a cemetery but not an ordinary one. It is the city of the rich and the famous dead. It is listed as one of the world’s best cemeteries. What a sight! Structure after structure of elaborate tombs. Each one associated with a story and has a unique feature. A few that stood out for being exceptionally beautiful and some others for the stories they tell. The famous Eva (Evita) Peron is buried in a very simple tomb; her funeral was attended by nearly 3 million people on the streets. Evita’s embalmed body was stolen and disappeared for about 16 years after the military took power in Argentina. Finally when it was returned to Argentina, the burial was a hurried and secretly guarded one. Evita’s body is under two trap doors secured with a marble floor. The remains are so secure that it can withstand a nuclear attack. “Don’t cry for me Argentina” made Evita famous in the world, thanks to Madonna. But surely the most famous Evita (even today) made Madonna famous in Argentina.
Another story that stood out was of the extraordinary beautiful girl Rufina, she was betrayed by her mother who was having an affair with her fiancé. She found out about it before the grand celebrations of her 16th birthday and collapsed. The doctor could not feel her pulse declared her dead, and she was put in a coffin ready for burial. When the coffin was opened to pay the last respects, they found scratched marks on the lid. Rufina was placed in the coffin with a condition characterized as Catalepsy (rigidity and low vital signs) :(. Another whimsical story was of a general and his wife, who fought all their lives for various reasons and the wife (who died after the General’s death) requested to build a tomb with their statues and their backs to each other. Fight till deaths do us part and some more. There are so many other interesting stories. The Recoleta cemetery is definitely a day’s worth of exploring.
We had to go back to Recoleta the next day to get it out of our systems, definitely don’t remember seeing anything this elaborate for the Dead. En route, we visited the most expensive Hotel in BA: Alvear Palace, a huge & elaborate hotel. We were told that the hotel guards will surely judge you by your appearance and decide if you are fit to enter based on your appearance and the clothes you are wearing, sounds so much like another city I know ;). Luckily, the reasonably dressed tourist passes this test.
We got lucky to get tickets for the FIFA qualifier game: Argentina Vs Colombia.We went to the game with a big crowd from our hostel, some Colombians and many others supporting Argentina (of course). Watching Messi in action was a dream come true. The crowd though was not as much fun. Apparently, Argentinians are more into club level football than national level, a bit disappointing. The tiny Colombian contingent was way louder than the majority Argentinians present in the stadium. The game was a draw.
There are some beautiful street fairs on the weekends. We ended up going to the Palermo market, San Telmo Antique Sunday market, and La Boca. All the markets are colorful, lively and full of unique sells. Definitely the San Telmo Sunday market was my favorite. I was really sad for not being able shop, but that’s one market I will surely go back to someday. Tango shows on the street are pretty common, and very authentic. The place is abuzz with people shopping, hanging out or just strolling.
La Boca is graffiti nation, very artistic and creative. In BA Graffiti is considered a form of art (this is true in many other places in South America). Graffiti artists are paid to decorate shops, streets and public squares. It is an art form of expression and considered to be representative of the sentiments of the citizens. All Metros are colorfully graffiti’ed, and it is not vandalism, it is on purpose. We enjoyed lunch at a restaurant in the neighborhood watching Gaucha and Tango shows accompanied by Beer cocktailed with Fanta. Argentina taught us new ways to drink our spirits. Beer with Fanta or Beer with Coke is common place. Most traffic signal lights have artists performing for tips – Juggling, Clown show, Acrobats, Juggling fire torches, etc.
Tigre is another great destination to spend a day out. The Metro takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get to Tigre; you can stroll in the beautiful Flower and fruit market. Take a long or a short hike in the swamps to the 3 Rivers. Though make sure to go there on a weekend day, weekdays are pretty much dead and deserted with most shops closed.
Intimate Tango show at the historical La Tortoni café inspired us to learn some Tango. We extended our trip a bit to take Tango classes. J It was a fun few hours of letting go and flowing with the music. Lots to remember and once you get the basics, it is all about innovation.
Stroll in the park or bike or skate or jog or just lay by the lake. The weekends are laid back and we were lucky to have the best weather to be outdoors. There is a free bike rental program “The Yellow cycle” sponsored by the city. A copy of your passport, sign a form and rent a bike for free. The yellow Bike stands for pickup and drop off are all over the city making it convenient to rent and renew rental. The only minor inconvenience is; you have to report back the bike every hour and renew the rental. It was a fun day biking allowing us to visit more art monuments & parks. We biked around several Plazas, Botanical Garden, Japanese Garden, Floralis Genérica (steel and aluminum flower sculpture that closes its petals in the evening and opens them in the morning). Modern art sculptures are common place in most of the green areas and parks.
The people, the pace, the rhythm, the beauty; everything intrigued us. We loved our time in BA and certainly hope our future leads to a much longer stint to experience the lively vibe of the city.