Processes move slowly in Argentina so having time on our hands we decided to book a hotel in Recoleta, one of the more popular neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. The hotel had the modern amenities of wifi and TV, with the older charm of dark wood, tiny slow elevators, and skeleton keys locks on the closet doors.
The hotel lobby was full of suitcases, backpacks, water bottles and chatter. Bob soon got talking to Jeff, a teacher from California, here with a group of about 30 students from a private Jewish high school. We learned that Buenos Aires has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, Jews having arrived over several different waves including while fleeing the Nazis during the war. Interestingly, many Argentinians were sympathetic to the Nazis, and allowed Nazi leaders to gain refuge here as well.
We found Recoleta to be quite walkable and we spent mornings taking in the parks and tourist attractions. This area was once home to the wealthy, and their mansions have been turned into theatres, galleries and apartments. The Parisian style buildings are close to the narrow streets, but even so the greenery is abundant with trees lining the sidewalks. We passed many spacious parks with huge trees dominating the space.
A major attraction in Recoleta is the cemetery with elaborate marble mausoleums, laid out in rows like city streets. Each one belongs to a family, and looking through the barred windows you can see stacks of caskets inside. Many of the grand structures are in disrepair, but others are still used today. We managed to find the tomb of Eva Perón, a once powerful and popular figure in Argentina, and even though she died in 1952, people still leave fresh roses for her.
We took a taxi to the Nacional Museo de Bella Arts, which houses works from Van Gogh and Monet, sculptures by Rodin, and a fabulous display of Andean artifacts. Most interesting was a collection of black and white photographs depicting life in Buenos Aires in the 1980’s.
Across the street was a popular landmark, the Florales Genérica, a large shimmering metallic flower whose petals open and close on an hydraulic system. We sat on lounge chairs waiting for the petals to move. But they didn’t. Later we learned that the petals close at sunset and reopen at 8 AM. Timing is everything!
In many places we have visited in South America, it’s not recommended to walk at night. But in the evening in Buenos Aires, the heat of the day has dissipated and the streets come alive. People are out for a stroll or heading to a restaurant or show. We tried not to go out too early as porteños (locals) eat at 8 pm or later. But of course we were usually among the first to arrive.
We chose a different style of restaurant food each night, the first being Argentinian style pizza. The crust and toppings were excellent, but it was loaded with provolone cheese. Even for cheese lovers the thick layer was a bit daunting.
Another evening, we ate comfort food, potato and bean dishes, baked in clay at a rustic gaucho restaurant.
Argentinian steak is purportedly some of the best in the world as the cattle are raised on pampas’s grass, resulting in lean delicious meat. We had to try it. And so on the third evening we ordered steak and salad and watched a polo match on TV. The salad was fresh and the grilled steak was definitely delicious. But I have to say, not better than beef at home.
For travellers, getting cash in Argentina is a constant conversation. In other South American countries, using our debit cards at an ATM makes sense. Not here. Argentina has two rates. The ATM gives us the government rate which is half the amount we can get from a Western Union. Seriously half. WU bases its rate on the market. So we downloaded the WU app, and Bob lined up daily at one of the many Western Union locations. It’s a hot and boring task standing in a line on the sidewalk for an hour or more, but necessary.
We have read that in this city of 15 million the far most common incident is petty theft, and we experienced that first hand . We were sitting in an outdoor restaurant, me having a glass of orange carrot juice, which did nothing to quench my heat driven thirst, when a teenaged boy in a dirty shirt sauntered in, carrying a few merchandise items for sale. They looked like packs of polo shirts and he had precisely 3 of them. Being waved off one table he approached the couple at the table behind Bob. This is how it went down.
He’s talking while he lays his merchandise against the table so it semi covers the man’s cell phone which is lying on the table. The woman starts looking through her purse for money, her husband glances over at her. Suddenly the kid just walks away. The couple look up in surprise that the kid is leaving, just as the waitress starts yelling. Instantly the kid bolts and all we see of him are his long skinny legs flying down the street. At this point the man realizes his cell phone is gone. Too late.
The police came and did interviews but it’s probably a hopeless case. We tightened up our loose ends, zipped up all zippers, and took a lesson in not feeling sorry for street vendors. If he hadn’t stolen that cell phone, we are certain he would have been flying down the street with Bobs red daypack in hand.
For our last evening we bought tickets to Tango Porteño, a touristy show for sure, but the location was walkable from our hotel. It was set in an old theatre, with a two tiered stage, the musicians standing on the top level above the dancers. There were two violins, two accordions, a string bass and a piano player. They performed brilliantly. The dancing and costume were highly entertaining making it worth the pricey tickets.
Now we are back at the campground. Sleeping in Vanna. Hanging out in the day. A couple from Austria arrived with a broken transmission on their new Toyota camper truck. Its a nice compact unit which they designed and had custom fabricated in Germany. They have to decide to get it going enough to limp to the port and send it home. Or have it fixed here which will take 2 months. A tough decision.
Sometimes this travelling life is not so easy.