Category: Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina – Part II – Stepping Outside of San Telmo

This post is a continuation of Buenos Aires, Argentina – Part I.  Here we get a chance to step outside our neighbourhood of San Telmo.

What to See and Do Outside of San Telmo

Recoleta Cemetery

Walking into the Recoleta Cemetery is quite an experience.  You enter from a busy street, filled with the noise of everyday city life, and are suddenly enveloped in a quiet, tree-lined space with statues, crypts, mausoleums and tombs.  And cats.

The cemetery was created in 1822 and spans 4 city blocks.  Plots are reserved for the country’s historical figures and for the rich and famous.  The most popular site is that of Eva Perón (who you may know as Evita/Madonna/Don’t Cry For Me Argentina), which was covered in large wreaths of flowers when we visited.  She lies 5 metres underground, well protected, to prevent her body from being stolen.  This may sound strange, but yes, she was carried off on more than one occasion by the Argentinian military.  You can learn more about ‘The 20-year Odyssey of Eva Perón’s body’ by reading this BBC article.

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Teatro Colon

Another must see in Buenos Aires is the world’s third best opera house (as ranked by National Geographic), Teatro Colon.  We partook in an excellent tour of the theatre and were wowed by the incredible Italian, Viennese and French architecture, beautiful sculptures and immense leg work involved in hand-placing each of the hundreds of decorative tiles found throughout the theatre.

The theatre is considered to be amongst the top five performance venues in the world, due to the excellent acoustics.  Luciano Pavarotti was quoted saying that the acoustics were so perfect that it made him nervous to perform as any mistake would be amplified.

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If you wish to watch a performance at the theatre, many options are available, including ballet, opera and classical music performances.  For $12 USD per person we purchased standing room only tickets in the nosebleed section and watched Beethoven’s opera Fidelio.  Even from the heavens the opera was outstanding.

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Museums

We visited a few museums but the most notable was the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes .  The nice thing about museums in Buenos Aires is most of them offer free entrance or have a half-price entry fee once a week.  Bellas Artes was huge with a good variety of international and local art pieces.

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La Casa Rosada (or The Pink House)

La Casa Rosada is the government house and office of the President of Argentina.

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Argentinians love a good demonstration, and gather frequently to protest a variety of issues.  The closest we came to witnessing such an event was when a massive crowd of screaming girls ran across the intersection in front of us one day when we were out walking with our moms.  We asked a police man what was going on and he replied, “A Justin Bieber concert.”

Puerto Madero

Formerly a port area, Puerto Madero is a very modern neighbourhood in Buenos Aires.  It is a good place to go for a walk along the water and check out a few floating ships and interesting bridges.  If you continue through the neighbourhood there is a nice ecological reserve with wide gravel walking trails.  Beyond that, you won’t see too much there other than a large brick Catholic university, North American chain restaurants and large glass buildings.

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Walrus Books

This English book store was near our apartment in San Telmo.  It was one of my favourite places to visit as they always had relaxing music playing and there was a huge variety of used books.

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El Ateneo Grand Splendid Book Store

Built in 1919, this bookstore was originally a performing arts theatre hosted many of the tango greats.  In 1929 the theatre was transformed into a cinema, boasting the first in Buenos Aires to show film with sound.  Silent films were accompanied by live tango orchestras.  In 2000 the theatre became under threat of demolition due to poor economy but was saved and turned into the bookstore it is today.

There is a tiny selection of English books, but who cares!  The place is indeed so splendid that you will just wander around appreciating the view.

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And that’s a wrap, folks!  See you on the flip side.  ‘Merica, here we come.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina – Part I – San Telmo and a Surprise

With our truck enjoying its four to six week Atlantic cruise, it was time for us to settle in for several weeks and wait until our beloved arrived at the Jacksonville, Florida port.  It made more sense for us to rent an apartment in Buenos Aires and stick around in Argentina than it did to fly… well, basically anywhere.  Lucky for us, Buenos Aires had quite a bit to keep us busy for those weeks.

Little to my knowledge a surprise was being planned behind my back.  Our apartment had an extra bedroom so Richard invited his mom Louise (you may remember her from her visit at Christmastime in Chile!) to come and stay with us.  A few days later she booked her flights and was scheduled to arrive during the last 10 days of our stay in Buenos Aires.  Sneakily, and without my knowledge, Louise invited my mom to come down with her in order to surprise me.  Richard was in on the surprise as well.  The day of the moms’ flight down, Louise (by accident) posted a picture on Facebook of the two of them at the airport.  My brain went to mush.  Why was my mom at the airport with Louise?  Wasn’t she supposed to be somewhere else?  Was she just visiting Louise at the airport?  I did not comprehend.  Then, slowly, I looked at Richard with wide, teary eyes and said, “Is my mommy coming?”  He grinned and I burst into tears.  The surprise was supposed to happen at the airport, but for the sake of my pride I am glad my ugly cry occurred in the comfort of our own apartment.

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Casa San Telmo

We e-mailed Luis and Lacey of Lost World Expedition as we knew they spent some good quality time in various apartments in the San Telmo area.  They directed us to the Casa San Telmo website, which has a variety of apartments for rent at a relatively inexpensive rate.  The booking process is fairly easy, but can be a bit annoying if you are in a rush.  Try to book ahead of time and check your junk e-mail box if you haven’t heard back from them in a timely manner.  Wifi is included in the monthly rate.

Our first apartment was a super legitimate loft with brick ceilings, a full kitchen, hot shower, and two bedrooms.  There was also a private courtyard with a table and chairs, but the weather was generally pretty cool when we were there so we didn’t spend much time lounging outside.  We both caught serious 10-day head colds, trapping us inside and pretty much staying put on the couch with our blankies imbibing hot tea with lemon, ginger and honey and doing rosemary infused facial steams.

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Other than dealing with our sickness we had a great experience in the apartment.  Every Monday we would smell fresh roasting coffee from the nearby cafe, and almost daily we heard the meowing of our neighbourhood cats and music from somewhere in the building complex ranging from traditional, lovely Argentinian tango to Justin Bieber.

Speaking of noises, we had a very enthusiastic neighbour who seemed to be working towards some sort of world record for loudest and most frequent sexual intercourse.  By the time we left the apartment we were hearing her up to three times per day.  Not super awkward at all when hanging out with our moms.  Louise leaned out the window at one point and shouted, “Brava! Brava! Brava!”  Almost two months later we were in Portland, Maine eating pizza with some fellow Overland travellers, Nate and Sarah of The Long Way South, and they had the exact same loud neighbour in their apartment in Buenos Aires.  Is it the maté or what?  If somebody can tell us how this woman is achieving this kind of excitement, be sure to let me know.

Our second apartment was only a couple of blocks away, which we stayed in for one night at the end of our trip.  We loved the super funky decor with chandeliers, large pieces of wall art, and watching our moms climb up the treehouse ladder to the tiny loft upstairs. #sorrynotsorry

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What to See and Do in San Telmo

San Telmo was a neat neighbourhood to hang out in and we enjoyed being there for the duration of our time in Buenos Aires.  Tall wooden doors lined the streets, the gateway to mysterious things behind ranging from antique stores to apartments to shops selling produce.  The sidewalks were very narrow, often constructed of small concrete tiles, and if more than one person was walking it was nearly impossible to avoid stepping into the street.  The sidewalks in San Telmo were also littered with dog crap.  We made sure to keep our eyes open for suspect brown smears, for some reason negligently left by dog owners.  Speaking of dogs, there were a lot of them.  Not the street dogs that we were used to, but the jacket-clad, well manicured, bejewelled kind.  We usually spotted several dog walkers per day, providing much needed exercise to the hounds that were cooped up all day inside small city apartments.

A cab driver gave us some excellent advice for Buenos Aires: “look up.”  This advice opened up a world to us that we wouldn’t have experienced (especially while trying to avoid doggy doo) otherwise.  Iron balconies with hanging clothes, bikes, plants, French and Spanish architecture, sculptures, beautifully decorated windows, and people’s staring faces became apparent when we cranked our necks upwards towards the sky.  Back down at ground level busses rumbled past, black exhaust fumes filling our faces with cancerous noxious fumes.  But then we looked back up again and spotted some graffiti or an elegant balcony with white wooden shutters.

The following is a list of things we really enjoyed while we were in San Telmo.

The San Telmo Sunday Market

Every Sunday artisans from all over the city gather in San Telmo to display their wares for sale.  There are many items, including antiques, maté gourds, leather goods (belts, wallets), jewelry, art (paintings, photography), hand-made notebooks, aprons and felt hats.  The market runs along several cobblestone streets, which are shut down to traffic during market day.  The event is always busy with tourists and locals crowding through the streets checking out the items for sale.

We wandered from stall to stall, the smell of palo santo and sugary roasted peanuts filling our nostrils.  We saw men doing magic tricks, puppeteering and busking, while others paced around with some sort of plastic contraption in their hands, surprising passers by with its loud, chicken-squawk noise.

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The main square, Plaza Dorrego, was filled to the brim with antiques.  We saw paintings, old black and white photographs, fur coats, glasses, china, cutlery, old cigarette packages, medicine tins, ancient razors, knitting hooks and block and tackle.  More upscale antique shops could be found around the square as well as throughout the San Telmo neighbourhood.  They were often filled with enormous marble sculptures, crystal chandeliers, and thick wooden furniture.

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Milonga

Oh my goodness, I LOVE milonga.  Milonga is a place or event where tango dancing takes place, such as at a dance hall or club.  We went to Maldita Milonga in San Telmo (at the Buenos Ayres Club at Peru 571; $10 USD per person) and had an amazing time.  If you show up at 9 p.m. you must partake in the free tango lesson.  It was pretty fun to watch our moms dancing the tango with various dudes, gliding around the dance floor and giggling up a storm.  After the hour long tango lesson a live band comes on stage and plays a few sets of modern tango music.  The band played instruments such as banoneóns (small accordions), a piano, violins, cello, and bass.  Couples continued to dance while the band played.

The tango is an intimate experience.  It is addictive to watch – especially watching the women’s feet carrying out complicated footwork and swift snappy movements in their tango heels.  Partners keep very close to one another, eyes closed.  As North Americans we are not used to being this close to another person, the dance defying all rules about boundaries and personal bubbles.  But it is all part of the art.  Strangers break apart during music breaks and become chatty and informal with one another, until the next round of song breaks out and they are velcro-d together once more.  The women wear anything from jeans to dresses, often dancing with older men as young men are few and far between.

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After several hours of dancing and well into the evening (or morning at this point?) a professional couple took to the dance floor to strut their stuff.  Dang.  We couldn’t help but stand and clap after their performance.  Beautiful cultural practices always tickle my heart strings, and this was definitely one of them.  Grinding at the clubs just seems tacky when you could wrap your arms around someone and dance cheek to cheek like a sophisticated and sensual human being, Milonga-style.

Walking Around and Checking Out Cars, Street Art and Architecture 

Just observing the neighbourhood was fun in and of itself.  Bring your camera, but be careful! We were warned many times by locals about the high rate of petty crime in the area.  We were never threatened, but we did see many women wearing their backpacks on the front of their bodies to avoid being robbed.  On the other hand we did see tourists with cameras hanging around their necks, wandered about, map in hand, and we only hoped their cameras remained in their possession for the rest of their visit.

We often saw cars parked on the side of the road in a no parking zone with their hoods up and/or a sign saying that their car was in ‘disrepair.’  Nice trick.

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Where and What to Eat in San Telmo

The food, the food, the food!  We tried everything from steak and red wine to French inspired croissants to ice cream.  Buenos Aires has it all.  I relied heavily on the Pick Up the Fork food blog, which has an incredibly comprehensive list of great food places in each neighbourhood.

Choripan

I’m going to say something that may shock people, but I am undecided about choripan.  Perhaps I never really had the right kind, but I found it to be mediocre at best.  Basically choripan is a type of sandwich involving a bun with chorizo sausage in the middle.  Add a variety of toppings and this should really be one of the best things ever.  I don’t know why, but all of the toppings we had were quite oily when I was expecting a vinegar-y type of onion/veggie experience to counteract the high fat content of the chorizo sausage.  Richard had a differing opinion and quite liked choripan.  So you’ll have to try it out yourself.  Challenge accepted, right?

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Ice Cream

The ice cream in Buenos Aires is THE BEST I’ve ever had.  Well, I haven’t been to Italy yet but from what we’ve heard Argentina’s ice cream is very similar to Italian gelato, as it stems from the Italian immigration during the 19th century.  Whatever it is, we found ourselves visiting the local heladerías (ice cream parlours) way too often, ordering obscene amounts of the stuff to satisfy our cravings.  They even offer a dangerous service called ice cream delivery, which we didn’t dare give in to.  That walk to the parlour was pretty important considering how much delicious ice cream we were ingesting.

Our two favourite places were: 1. Nonna Bianca and 2. Freddo.  Personally I preferred Nonna but everyone has their own favourite.  As for flavours, there were about a million to choose from.  Dulce de Leche was a popular one.  The photo below shows raspberry (dark red), pistachio (green), strawberry (light pink) and dulce de leche (brown).  You can order your ice cream in various sizes, up to 1 kilo.

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Coffee and Treats

Ol’Days Coffee was a tasty option close to Puerto Madero (more about that neighbourhood later…).  They had a variety of your classic hipster coffee preparation techniques including French Press, Kemex and pour-over.  Their loose leaf teas were quite good, and an order of almond milk brought me quite a surprise — they make their own and didn’t charge extra for it.

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Le Blé (means ‘wheat’ in French) is a French cafe with several locations in the city.  They had, hands down, the best pain au chocolat I have ever consumed.  We visited the San Telmo location several times with our moms (and by several times I mean the staff knew us and we took multiple pictures with them by the end) and always enjoyed our giant mugs of coffee, food and pastries.  In most cafes in Buenos Aires they serve your coffee or tea with a quaint glass of sparkling water and a tiny shortbread biscuit.  Now that’s classy.

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Red Meat and Red Wine

El Refuerzo was conveniently located next door to our apartment, so we went with our moms for a delicious dinner.  Starting with some house white wine or Imperial lager, we picked our way through the little dishes of picadas (sampler plate of meat and cheese) — eggplant and garlic tapenade, olives, cured cheeses and meat, and bread.

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Oh yeah, and this.  I think Louise’s face says it all.  Steak with chimichurri sauce and roasted vegetables.

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El Banco Rojo was our go-to spot when we got lazy and didn’t feel like cooking.  This tiny take-away spot has minimal seating and is always busy with loud music cranked, but the very reasonably priced burgers are delicious and worth the wait.  They have varying daily specials and their fries are to die for (thinly sliced and heavily seasoned, almost like chips).  To give you an idea of the daily specials, ‘The Kiwi’ boasted beef, cheese, panceta, beets, a fried egg and salsa while ‘The Bolas Tristes’ had beef, provolone, panceta, chimichurri, lettuce and mayonnaise with sweet chili sauce.  My former vegetarian self hates me, but… when in Buenos Aires!

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Another melt in your mouth, flavourful steak experience in Buenos Aires worth mentioning, La Brigada.  The classier-than-a-pub ambiance and framed football jersey panelled walls were a nice touch.  Louise had the short ribs and it was apparent that she experienced a spiritual-like existence during the meal.

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Groceries and Markets

There is a plethora of fresh produce hidden away behind wooden doors in Buenos Aires.  Our favourite places to shop included the San Telmo Daily Market (located inside a large hall with a huge variety of fruit and veggies), the San Telmo Verde Feria Organica (organic farmer’s market twice a week), and the health food store just down the street from San Telmo Verde (can’t recall the name), which had a ton of teas, dried lentils, pastas, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and non-dairy milks available.

So there you have it.  You may wonder what delightful things we encountered when we stepped out of the neighbourhood of San Telmo.  You will have to read our next post to find out.


The Drive North – RN3, Argentina

The drive north from Ushuaia, Argentina on RN3 was really just an exercise in keeping ourselves entertained.  3,094 kilometers to Buenos Aires in five days isn’t really that bad, but the straight roads, relentless headwinds, and never changing scenery meant we had to keep busy between gas stations and empty campgrounds.  We spent months driving south along the Andes, so it took some time to get used to flat plains and the epic sunsets through the driver-side window of the truck.

Our road trip Groundhog Day looked a lot like this: wake up at the empty campground (it was off season) or behind the YPF gas station (beside the truck drivers), fill up on fuel and coffee, and settle in for a long drive.  We had some audio books, so we started listening to the longest one we had, Shantaram, and drove north for hours and hours.  When the sun went down we found another campground or gas station and prepared to do the exact same thing the following day.

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The drive north along RN3 to Buenos Aires, Argentina is flat and straight with minimal traffic so Richard was a bit surprised when out of nowhere a red Land Cruiser with Montana plates that read “WEH8MUD” filled the sideview mirror.  Jeff and Monica?  We only knew these two through social media so it was crazy to see them in what felt like the middle of nowhere.

We pulled off the road and finally met with Overland The World… in the middle of nowhere Argentina on RN3. We stopped for a chat, then ate an impromptu lunch together, and before we knew it three whole hours had passed before it was time to part ways.  

Once again we shake our heads at how small this world is. We knew each other through other friends (and the power of the internets) but ended up meeting randomly at the bottom of South America.

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Magellanic Penguins

Ah, something else to break up the long day.  Penguins!  We stopped at the Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve in Chubut to see the largest colony of Magellanic Penguins in South America.

You can see thousands of penguins here and many of them will be an arms length away from you, but as the sign below says, don’t pet the penguins.

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Welsh Tea in Gaiman

The province of Chubut is home to the largest Welsh community outside of the UK.  During the 19th century many Welsh families emigrated to Patagonia after British officials attempted to restrict the use of their native language.  In the 1800s Argentina was very welcoming towards immigrants, especially those who agreed to live in the isolated land outside of Buenos Aires.  In 1865 a large group of 150 Welsh people sailed to South America, far from the influencing reach of the English.  The greatest concentration of remaining Welsh people and the hub of their culture can be found in Gaiman.

A large part of the Welsh culture are the tea houses.  Ty Gwyn is one of the oldest in the area so as we rolled into town, road weary and hungry, and knew this would be the most authentic place to stop and experience the “Welsh tea service.”

We were excited for tea and snacks, naively unaware of what was about to come.  A never ending pot of black tea, covered in a knitted cozy of course, was first to arrive.  Our tea with fresh milk was a perfect accompaniment to buttered fresh baked bread, biscuits and jam, and small cheese sandwiches.  This alone satisfied the road hunger and left us rubbing our protruding bellies.

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And then a couple of extra plates of desserts arrived.  What is happening?  Cream-filled chocolate cake, lemon tarts, apple pie, raspberry cream pie, blueberry scones, and some sort of Christmas cake finished up service.  We did our best to make our way through this gauntlet of desserts, put the remainder in our ARB fridge, and continued to enjoy those leftover desserts for two more days.

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Burrowing parrots

It became harder and harder to tear us away from RN3 to go and see anything.  As we motored north the pull of Buenos Aires became stronger and stronger.   The burrowing parrots at Balneario El Condor were only a half hour detour, but we were so focused on making progress that we almost didn’t stop here.  We realized that we were being dumb, so a quick u-turn and detour brought us to El Condor and one of  largest colonies of burrowing parrots.

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San Antonio de Areco

This is where shit stuff starts to get real.  After 12 months of travelling through South America it was time to clean out the truck and load it on a boat destined for Florida.  We stopped in the small town of San Antonio de Areco in the pouring rain and had to make a quick accommodation revision when the local campsite was not only closed, but completely flooded as well.  We found an inexpensive and completely empty B&B and started the lengthy process of cleaning out the truck.

All that hard work required sustenance and we found plenty of it in the form of picadas.  All of the local bars, cafes and restaurants served their own version of meat/cheese/bread on a platter.  We sampled these delicious spreads from every restaurant in walking distance.  After 3 days of indulging we were longing for a salad.

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Finally shipping day arrived.  We had contacted K-Line about their RORO (roll on, roll off) service from Buenos Aires to Jacksonville, Florida approximately a month before and had the drop off and shipping date pre-arranged.  Pablo gave us a time and contact person at the dock so all we had to do was show up.

The process in person was ridiculously easy compared to shipping from Colon-Panama.  We unbolted the small and easy to steal parts (just in case!), locked up everything else, signed a couple pieces of paper, handed off our key, grabbed our bags, and gave Little Red a couple of thank you pats on the hood before heading for our Buenos Aires apartment.

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So there we go, 48,800km over a total of about 18 months from Vancouver to Ushuaia, Argentina and a drive north along RN3 back up to Buenos Aires.

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