We arrived in Buenos Aires on January 14, 2015 after 24 hours of uneventful flights and long layovers. Needless to say were very happy to see our prearranged driver, Don Julio, holding a sign with our names at the airport. Less than 90 minutes later we were at our apartment in the Palermo neighborhood, a place we’ll call home for the next month.
Week #1: Getting to Know Buenos Aires
Exploring by Foot
Within a few hours of our arrival we were out walking the streets of our neighborhood. We were hungry and needed to move our legs. Our mission was twofold: find a grocery store and don’t get lost. Relying on Spanish from 30 years ago, Harry was able to ask a few kind strangers where to go shopping. We ended up at a market, bought a few provisions and headed back home. Or so we thought. We walked a few blocks this way, then a few blocks that way. When we finally both agreed that we were totally lost we went into a little cafe to ask for directions. The woman pulled up Google maps on her laptop and showed us that we really were only a few blocks away from home, just in a totally different direction. Go figure.
Apparently getting lost on our first day in BA was just a sign of things to come. The numerous traffic circles and diagonal streets make getting one’s bearings more challenging than usual. On a good day we take turns being right, and on a normal day we’re both wrong. We are constantly consulting different maps and racking our brains to remember where we’ve been relative to where we are trying to go. Of course everything is in Spanish which makes it even more challenging. Plus, street signs are often hidden or missing altogether.
We know better than to stand on a street corner looking lost, so our MO is to go into a store to regroup. More times than not the shopkeeper will help us out. Bonus if we can understand what s/he’s saying. Everyday we feel like we have a better grasp on our surroundings.
We have been on a walking adventure pretty much every day, spending three or four hours exploring in a new direction. Logging several miles a day in the intense heat has been both exhausting and satisfying. BA’s architecture is an interesting mix of French, Spanish and Italian influences. The old and the new are often side-by-side. BA is also known for its street art. Murals and graffiti are ever-present and make for a colorful addition to the local landscape.
We’re pleased to report that we’ve yet to step in the ubiquitous dog poop. It’s a local custom for dog owners to let one’s dog poop on the sidewalk and leave it where it lands. And there are a lot of dogs in the city! Of course we probably just jinxed ourselves.
Ellen + Amin
As luck would have it, Harry’s cousin Ellen and her husband Amin also arrived in BA the same day we did! They will be spending nine weeks in Argentina, using BA as their base camp. Ellen is a retired Spanish teacher so of course her language skills have been very useful on a number of occasions. “Once a teacher, always a teacher” is definitely the case with Ellen and we’ve been grateful for her on-the-spot lessons. The four of us have had a lot of fun adventures together.
The streets here are fast and busy, and no one drives with as much speed and daring maneuvers as the city bus drivers. Within a second of the last person stepping on or off the bus, the driver accelerates at full speed like a bat out of hell. It’s amazing that we haven’t seen any accidents yet, although Harry was witness to two taxi drivers fighting in the middle of the street over the hoods of their cars. The fight ended when one driver spat on the other.
Harry, Amin and I signed up right away for Spanish classes and we’ve already completed one of two weeks. Although the Spanish is coming slowly, we’re especially pleased with the cultural and social components the school has to offer. We’ve enjoyed meeting other travelers and the local teachers. My tango lesson was sixty minutes of fun confusion and made me realize that while I won’t be dancing in a club anytime soon, I still love the tradition, music and moves.
One of the benefits of traveling in the southern hemisphere in January is that there are many local fruits and vegetables in season. It’s really nice to have fresh fruit and vegetable stands on almost every block. Watermelon, peaches and mangos are a few of the treats that are currently available. BA is known for grass-fed beef, empanadas and, thanks to the large Italian population, pizza. Their quiches are pretty tasty, too. And of course let’s not forget about the wine!
I know many of you will hate us, but here it goes: it’s hot here. Really hot. It’s been in the upper 80’s and 90’s since we arrived with a nice dose of humidity tossed in for good measure. We are hot and sweaty everywhere we go. No complaints, just the facts.
As we look to start week #2 we are ready for more Spanish adventures in this fascinating city!