Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires. I had about 5 days to wander around here and nearby (Tigre and Colonia, Uruguay featured in upcoming posts). I really didn't know what to expect from BA... I found the city to be much more European than I had expected and a hell of a lot colder (it was mid-winter for them...and they are pretty far south). I also found that they fondly embrace their Argentine culture: their passion for tango, love of protein-heavy cuisine, European and, slowly and carefully emerging, African heritage, pride for their Pampas gauchos and of course, their intense and crazed obsession for futbol. A few of these things have become stereotypical of the country, and I found this is for good reason... nationally, Argentines really are somewhat obsessed with and genuinely proud of these things. These things are part of the national identity, and the neat thing is, it doesn't seem tacky or just a show for tourism...it seems genuine, which I genuinely appreciated.
The famous Maradona and his notorious "Hand of God" goal represented in this painting on the street. In the 1986 World Cup, Argentina played England, and Diego Maradona scored both goals in the 2-1 victory, which is big considering the tension between the two nations over the Falklands and the war fought between the two nations over those South Atlantic islands. His first goal came by way of a hand ball, which miraculously went unnoticed by the officials and became known as the "Hand of God" goal. I love the angels lifting Maradona, holding down the faceless English player, and blinding the officials here...as well as the strings attached to Maradona and being controlled by God. The second goal by Maradona was equally miraculous...from 60 m out and through no less than 6 English players! Note too the pillar mural seen here featuring tango dancers legs on cobbled streets and a horse...two more points I'll hit on a few times in this post.
The barrio of San Telmo...one of BA's oldest neighborhoods. I stayed here, enticed by the history and descriptions of old buildings and cobbled streets, great culture, and delicious and inexpensive food. San Telmo is historically important to BA, and it has seen its economic ups and downs. Now it is doing well, particularly concerning the income from the tourism industry. This mural represents some of the important aspects of the barrio, its football team and its history, including the candombe, an African-based tradition of drum playing.
Normal street view in San Telmo... the streets were very, very busy during the day but practically abandoned at night. However, I felt most safe in San Telmo, which cannot be said for other parts of the city...especially at night.
Another mural, but this a map of the neighborhood. Everything in BA is laid out on a grid, making it pretty easy to get around. Also, I was amazed by how walkable the city was...it seems huge when you look at maps of it, and indeed, when the city sprawl and metropolitan area is considered, it is second in size on the continent after Sao Paulo! However, the city center and central barrios are great to walk around in decent weather.
Oh the food.... one of my favorite parts of my stay in Argentina was eating the food and drinking the wine. Argentinians are very fond of all things meat. They have these parrillas, or grill-houses where seemingly endless amounts of meat, steaks, saussages, offal, everything are cooked up on massive grills. When I was still in Puerto Iguazu, I had my first Argentine dinner. It consisted of one of the steaks I had ever eaten, cooked to med-rare perfection and ideally seasoned, with fries on the side soaking in the juices. They serve it with this picante salsa consisting of chopped onions, peppers, and herbs too. I got that and a beer for only US$7.50... I knew I was going to like eating there. Once I got to BA, however, I quit on the beer and switched to wine. It's inexpensive and delicious... Argentina is one of the world's best wine-producing nations thanks to its variety of climates, several of which are perfectly suited for grape-growing. The picture above is from a small parrilla in San Telmo; I ended up eating at this place 4 different times. My meal consisted of the grilled ribs and blood sausage seen here, the unlimited bread, and a side of potatoes. Plus my own personal carafe (dolphin shaped) of Malbec wine... all for about US$12. I was sooooo excited to see blood sausage on the menu...I'm obsessed with the stuff after Ireland. The flavor is immensely similar to the Irish black pudding, however, the Argentine style of cooking it is different. The grind of the offal is more course and the sausage is cooked less thoroughly than in Ireland. It is still very chunky and juicy inside. I found it was best suited for smearing on the delicious bread.
BA is an antique-collectors paradise. There are a ton of antique markets around town, both officially set up in stores and out in open air markets on the streets and squares. This old rugby ball is representative of another favorite sport of Argentina.
Gaucho gear for sale in the market in San Telmo's main square, the Plaza Dorrego...a highly recommended excursion. Argentina's Pampas are enormous plains ideal for ranching, which also partially explains the obsession with meat dishes... they have some of the best beef to choose from in the world. I only saw part of the Pampas from the bus on the way down from Puerto Iguazu, but they seemed beautiful (mist shrouded and in an other-worldly, pale blue light in the morning) and were massively expansive.
Collectors Quilmes beer bottles. Quilmes is the national beer...a light lager style. Like I said, nothing special when compared to the wine.
Tango. By sheer luck, I ended up in BA for their annual tango festival. By additional luck, I was staying in San Telmo, which is one of the centers of the tango activity. I witnessed several milongas, which are public gatherings to celebrate tango through music and dancing. I learned a lot about the dance and really developed a good appreciation for its underlying simplicity, yet intricacy and beauty at the master-level.
Tango was invented in BA. In the more conservative 1800's, this dance allowed a guy and girl to get into a promiscuously close embrace, which apparently contributed to its popularity. Nowadays, many different forms of tango exist, but the basics are all the same: you and a partner walk, yes walk, around in a counter-clockwise circle. That's it. Anything else, like dips, twirls, kicks, etc can be added in for bonus points. I found it intriguingly interesting, which is unusual, since I'm not a big dance fanatic, but I found everything from the subtle invitation (a slight nod or gesture from the man, returned as a sometimes even slighter reaction by the woman) to the elegant movement and complex interactions to be amazing. I'd recommend doing some research online and watching some videos if you are interested in this fascinating dance; I'm not able in anyway to do it justice with only words and still-pictures.
I saw this tango show in the Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo...this old guy was a smooth classic. These two must be popular...they are also in the picture on the Wikipedia Tango site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentine_Tango!
The Pink House, La Casa Rosada, which is the Argentine equivalent of the White House, serving as the physical epicenter of the executive branch of the government.
In the Plaza de Mayo, downtown BA's main square. It was here on the 25th of May, 1810 that a revolution started that led to Argentine independence. It's in the downtown area around here that you really feel more like you are in Europe then South America.
This building's architecture is based on Dante's Divine Comedy, with the lower floors representing the seven layers Hell, Purgatory at the base of the central tower, and Heaven above. Pretty impressive stuff.
A cracked-face angel inside La Recoleta Cemetery...an enormous cemetery for BA's historic and wealthy right in the city center. This was easily one of my favorite parts of the city...I could wander around in there for hours just looking at all the details on the seemingly countless vaults and tombs.
The cemetery consists of a maze of mausoleums, vaults, and tombs, each of which seems more exquisite than the last.
It's a modern-day necropolis, city of the dead. Really neat and kind of spooky. We were wondering how special you would have to be to arrange or attend parties amongst these houses of the dead.
Evita is buried here. She has her very own cult following, and half of everyone visiting the cemetery seemed to be there just to see her tomb.
Did I mention it was a bit creepy? The pic below shows one of the many crypt doors that was eerily ajar, revealing the coffins within.
Many of the tombs were immaculately well maintained and up-kept, though there were also quite a few that had fallen into serious disrepair. It really did feel like you were walking around some macabre city in miniature...so cool.
At the awesome market outside of the cemetery, we were treated to this wonderful marching beat. Drums are a big thing in BA culture... which is partially a result of the African heritage of the slaves brought to South America during the colonial period. Drums are also a popular part of football matches as fans from opposing squads try to out-drum each other to show their support.
Candombe street parade outside my hostel. I found myself following several of these traditional drum parades, which are evidence of the slowly emerging African culture in BA. There is nothing like having an uplifting drum beat as a background, and you could hear these candombe's quite often wandering around San Telmo.
Finally, La Boca: the mouth. La Boca is another barrio, neighboring San Telmo, but very, very different. It is a blue-collar neighborhood where many of the city's dock-workers live and play and can be a bit intimidating for visitors.
Maradona...a national hero. Also most popular in La Boca since he played for their local team, the Juniors.
Fanatics indeed....football (soccer) is immensely popular here and another important part of the culture. They take pride in the sport and their many teams, from the local ones right up to the national squad. As is the norm, tango is also featured on the mural below.