We were now in Argentina. From all the travellers we met, Buenos Aires seemed to be everyone’s highlight. The odd thing was, if you asked why they could only ever give a vague answer; “it has a nice atmosphere”, “there’s a nice cafe culture”, “it’s nice just to walk around”. It sounded like something straight out of a P.R. brochure, filled with all these pleasant words that actually mean nothing. Maybe it was the same phenomenon that gets South Americans excited about football, the single most boring sport in history. Buenos Aires is even referred to as “Paris of the South”. At least you can tell people that Paris has the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Despite the recommendations, I wasn’t going to get my hopes up on a town that has nice coffee. I’ve had nice coffee before in Waiouru. However, thankfully, Buenos Aires was great and not just because it was “nice”.
It started with the best hostel yet. We had a three bed dorm, with so much space. We were used to living in quite cramped spaces by now, where a successful shower is one where you don’t put your foot in the toilet climbing out. Bonus points if you don’t drop your clothes in too. In this dorm we even had a bath, not that I’d ever use something so germ ridden. We used the spacious opportunity to sort through our things, and I managed to shed about a kilo of accumulated rubbish.
Our first day in Buenos Aires was the most action packed yet. We started with a walk to some old buildings and the Washington statue replica. We were mainly trying to get our bearings. Then we started a bike tour around the city. “That sounds nice”, we thought. If I had any idea how terrifying it was going to be I would have raved and ranted beforehand, but who would have thought a bike ride would be dangerous when we had survived manic helicopter rides and hiking with snakes?! So innocently we hopped on our single speed cruiser bikes and followed the procession of tourists. There was one guide at the front and about fifteen tourists in tow. We were informed that there would be a guide at the back and if you stop at a red light he would bike to the front and help you cross the road. He also said that the buses might look like they are trying to run you over, but not to worry as they won’t actually do it. Still, not a flicker of worry crossed my face. We biked along the road for a few blocks when we got to the eighteen lane street, the widest in the world. Surely we won’t bike across that… But we did. The heart was starting to race a bit by now. The light changed red so I stopped and turned around. The guide at the back was gone. Hmm what are the give way rules here? As we crossed the intersection I realised that everyone had crossed to the far side of the road. Peddling frantically we dodged the cars to get to the other side. At that point we biked down a tiny street filled with buses and trucks. As they flew past I wasn’t sure if the bike was shaking from the wind being blown from them or the pure terror running through my veins. Still biking at full speed, as we tried to keep sight of the other bikes, surely enough a bus tried to cut us off and run us over. Brilliant.
In South America, drivers have this policy where they toot if they aren’t sure if you have seen them. It’s quite useful when you are crossing a road and looking the wrong way. They give you a toot and you stop. Motorcycles do the same thing when weaving through traffic. It does seem to be an effective way of reducing collisions. However, when experiencing this on a push bike it has an entirely different effect. It is no longer a reassuring toot to let you know someone else is in the general area, instead it is the signal to prepare for impact, pedal as fast as humanly possible and to attempt to swallow the banshee scream in your throat. After twenty minutes both Katie and I were shaking like leaves, and had turned a new shade of glow-in-the-dark white. I knew this was different from the manic helicopter ride, as I wasn’t the only one terrified. We only had four hours to go. Fortunately, we did get out of town and I can actually tell you what we saw after that. We stopped at the parliament buildings, the canal where all the rich people live, La Boca – a bright arty area, the football stadium and a park. The rest of the bike ride was actually quite nice. When we went back through town, I noticed he made us walk our bikes across the intersections. Perhaps he had seen the fear in our eyes.
That night we went to a tango show. It started with a lesson on how to tango. We learnt a ten step routine, which was a lot of fun. At the end of it we all received a certificate saying we had learnt the basics. The key was to perfect the “tango face”. This was followed by a three course meal and a tango show with professional dancers and an in-house band. The dancers were amazing and the whole experience was great. There was also all you can drink wine, which went down very well. There was a party at the hostel that night, so we met our new found tango friends there and checked out the Buenos Aires nightlife. We could have been in any bar in New Zealand, with the English music and laser lighting. It was a good night out though.
The next day we were feeling a bit worse for wear. We went back to the parliament buildings to see the mothers march in protest. Every Thursday these women go to the square protesting for information about their sons and daughters who were taken by the dictatorship government for speaking out. They don’t know what happened to their family members, and they just want answers. You can feel their anguish as they march and sing heartfelt songs.
That night we went out to a fancy steak house for dinner with an Australian girl. We each ordered 400 gram steaks. The waiter then supplied us with an endless number of sauces and accompaniments. It was a bit odd ordering and receiving only a hunk of meat on our plates. The steak was the size of the plate and was still sizzling when it arrived at the table. We then went to a tango club. We were hoping to experience an authentic club with proper dancers. Instead we were surrounded by English speakers. We saw what looked like three Argentine men walk in, but when they pulled out their cameras we realised they were no more authentic than we were. Then a girl from Palmerston North, who went to the same high school as me, showed up. It was time to leave.
We went to the Recoleta cemetery. It’s full of old tombs where all the rich people get buried. Evita’s grave is there. She’s buried 22 feet down as they were worried people might try to steal her body. It didn’t feel like a cemetery normally does. It was more of a sculpture museum, with the extravagant designs on the front of the tombs. I don’t think I’d like to be buried there. Too many nosy people looking in at the coffins.
Buenos Aires was pretty amazing… And it is only partly due to the “nice” atmosphere.