Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Buenos Aires - An Introduction

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, November 30, 2008)

I promised to finally get to our Buenos Aires trip and I'm going to stick to that promise. But I'm only going to get to an introduction to the city. Next week I'll tackle all the different things we did there. Then, either the week after that, or a week later, I'll write another Thin White Rope road story. It's been way too long since I've done one of those and I still have quite a few tales to tell about touring with them and several other bands.

Next year promises not only a lot of change for all of us politically and socially, but I think it will be a BIG year of change for Skip and me. More on that shortly, after the first of the year.

So, thanks for reading and being so damned patient with me. I'll warn you now that you haven't heard the last of my Proposition 8 rants, but I'm going to try to give it a rest for a month or so. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the first part of my thoughts on Argentina. See you next week.



I first decided that I wanted to visit Argentina when I met singer Juana Molina ( and her husband when they did an instore appearance at the record store I worked at over a decade ago. They were both great people and their descriptions of the capitol city, Buenos Aires, had me adding the city to the top of my list of future must-visit places. I placed it third, right under Paris and Cape Town. These days, Skip and I don't have a lot of money, so when we plan out vacations, we try to do them as cheaply as possible. We managed top spend ten days in Cape Town a couple of years ago for a little less than $3000 for the whole trip. (We always fly on frequent flyer miles we build up through credit card purchases, so we never factor in flight charges.) I had heard that Argentina was similarly cheap for Americans and as I researched the country, I began to see just how cheap it would be. A couple of decades ago, the country's economy dropped into the toilet. The history of the country is very much like many other South American countries in that it has been plagued by revolution and dictatorships. It is only in recent years that the country has begun to pull itself out of its problems and build itself up to a major world force. The economy is getting stronger, but it's doing so slowly.

We found that our dollar was worth about 3 Argentine Pesos, but that one peso spends like one dollar. In other words, if a steak at a restaurant costs 30 pesos, it only cost us $10. We spent eight days there and spent a little over $3000. We probably could have gotten by cheaper, except we did some tourist things there that cost us a good amount of money, such as paying a local to take us to a soccer game, but more on that next week.

The city itself is beautiful and unlike any city I've ever been to before. It's known as "the Paris of South America", but I think that's stretching it a bit. Paris is gorgeous and romantic. It's a shiny, bright city of history and art. Buenos Aires isn't that shiny and bright. The sidewalks are crumbling in many places and covered with dogshit. You really have to be careful while walking around that you don't trip over raised sidewalk tiles or step into a squishy mess that no one seems to care enough about to clean up. Architecture there is a mixed bag. While walking down a street, you'll see one building that looks like it should be in New Orleans, right next to a building straight out of Berlin, right next to another that is a modern structure of steel and glass. Parks are everywhere and they are full of sculptures and fountains, old and modern. The Puerto area has been revamped and is now a modern looking place with skyscrapers, amazing restaurants and one of the most beautiful foot bridges I've ever seen. You can find many pictures of the city here:

The people are friendly and very good looking. People would stop on the streets to help us if we looked like we were lost. Not many of them speak English well, but they do what they can to try to communicate. (A relief after seeing so many "Speak English or go home" signs in Philadelphia.) I've never seen people eat so much and stay so fit though. Their meat heavy meals are huge and eaten late at night. But it was the best tasting meat I've ever eaten.

We decided not to visit any museums while there. We can see art anywhere and with the limited time we had, we wanted to see the city and its surroundings more than the inside of some museum. We packed our days though and seldom stopped to rest once we woke up and got on our way. We visited every part of the main city (except for Boca and I'll talk about that later as well.) We went to a soccer game and took a trip to the Pampas on the outskirts and spent a day with Gauchos, the Argentine cowboys. We took a ferry over to Uruguay. We saw Mudhoney play a wild set. We spent lots of time in wine bars and restaurants and got to eat things we've never eaten before. We went to landmarks like Casa Rosado, the Woman's Bridge, the Obelisco, and Recoleta, the graveyard where Evita Peron is buried. We even went to the zoo and wandered around with strange animals.

In the end, despite its economic and infrastructure problems, I think I felt more at home in Buenos Aires than any foreign city I've been to in a long time. I never felt unsafe and had no problems figuring out how the city worked, including subways, cabs, and asking for and about mate. It's a great place and I hope to be able to go back in the future. Not only to revisit the city, but to visit the rest of the country as well, especially the wine regions of Mendoza and Salta, and Terra del Fuego, the glacier bound area at the bottom of the country.

I'll get to specifics next week. You'll hear all about crazed soccer fans; how we almost got stranded in Colonia del Sacramento; the incident of drunken dancing with a female gaucho, and how we tried to figure out if jackalopes were edible. I'll tell about massive meals of proteins and potatoes; and tales of terror in the backseat of a taxicab. And there's so much more. It was a vacation I'll never forget.

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