When a Dream Lives Up to Expectations (Hello, Buenos Aires!)

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Wow.  I’ve longed to visit Buenos Aires for many years.  I’m not even sure where/how the dream started.  I just know that in the last year of my MBA program I was given the opportunity to study abroad and agonized over whether to apply for a program in Barcelona or Buenos Aires.  I had fantastic visions of my life in both cities, but in the end Barcelona won out.  I’ve never regretted that decision as Barcelona was everything I hoped for and more but I did wonder about the one left behind… Some day I vowed I would see Buenos Aires, if not as a student then at least as a tourist.

As I began planning the “3 months around the world” segment of my year off (which btw has slowly morphed into 7), I knew without a doubt that B.A. would be a stop on my tour.  In fact, I decided that it deserved more than just a few days so I got on Airbnb and found a small apartment in the Palermo/Recoleta neighborhood (a very nice area in the middle of the city) and made plans to stay for a month.  I must admit, however, that after my first night here I was worrying I’d made a mistake and set my expectations too high.

My day began catching a late morning flight after my stressful night of sickness and puking.  I went to bed with a crazy fever, unsure of whether or not I’d be unable to fly the next morning.  When morning came, I gave myself a long pep talk and a hot shower to get it together.  I made it to the airport and waited to board my 6.5 hr flight.  Sadly after boarding, I realized all the screens on the flight were not functioning and there would be no movies to distract me over the next few hours (Aerolinas Argentinas, not impressed!).  Another great moment is when they passed out the dinners… crackers, pasta, bread and cake.  I think the menu planner must be an actual shaft of wheat.  Seriously?!  I mean, who needs crackers on top of all that other stuff… why not a salad?  But I digress… so I arrived into a crowded airport in B.A. with a 1.5 hr wait to get through customs.  Once I got to the taxi queue I learned it was a 1 hr wait to catch a taxi due to the heavy rain.  Sigh.  So around 10pm at night, still feeling like poo, I finally arrived at my new apartment.  The rain didn’t add any charm and everything looked so dark, dirty and rundown.  My one silver lining was that my new landlord was super helpful and seemed like a really nice guy.  I went to bed hoping the next day would be better.

And better is was!  It’s amazing what some sunshine and good sleep can do for you.  Deciding I needed to get out and see the city to improve my impression of it, I opted to join a free walking tour later that morning.  Sprinting and sweating, I arrived at the meeting point just in time and began the 4 hr tour.

Street art is big here.  Below is a mural of Carlos Gardel (considered the Elvis of Tango).

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I met a few interesting people while on the tour, but seemed to click most with an American couple that I learned was living just 2 blocks away from me.  We decided to go for coffee after our tour and proceeded to have an interesting, laugh-filled 4 hour conversation.  Somewhere along the way, we decided they would join me for my first puerta cerrada dinner later that night.  (Puertas cerradas are closed kitchen dinners that require a reservation, are often set in someone’s home and feature a set menu created by a local chef.)  So my reservation for 1 became a reservation for 3 and whole lot more fun.  It’s moments like those where travel opens you up to new experiences and becomes something even greater than what you imagined.  It was such a nice surprise to find great company for a fancy dinner I’d planned to have alone.

After that, it was 5 more days to explore on my own before Nic arrived.  I made the most of my time, wandering around the city and trying new foods.  I must say that I’ve fallen in love with Buenos Aires.  There’s so much to see and do here.  Sometimes the best way to spend the day is just wondering around, exploring new neighborhoods, marveling at the architecture, partaking in as much ice cream/gelato as humanly possible and stopping for a coffee somewhere along the way.  The weather is a wonderful 75 and sunny here most days.  And thanks to a “blue market” for the US dollar, things are super affordable.  Everyday I feel so lucky to be here as I learn something new about this place.  I am especially aware of how lucky I am to be able to share this with one of my favorite people and without the stress/demands of working.  Everyday we wake up whenever we want to and decide what adventures we will have.  It’s kind of magical and a time I’m sure I’ll remember fondly when I return to the US.

So far I’ve managed to…

  • Survive a week of Spanish classes
  • Attend an Argentinian BBQ (i.e. meatfest) at a local’s home
  • Attend another meatfest at La Cabrera Restaurant where an order of ravioli, bread, chorizo, multiple side dishes, a melted cheese dish, a chicken dish, wine, water and 4 large steaks cost $17 per person after tip
  • Wander through the Recoleta Cemetery (Evita’s final resting place)
  • Take a day trip to Tigre to see the delta

Some photo proof of how awesome this city is…

A random church we found and a quick snapshot from the Recoleta Cemetery.

 

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A view from Recoleta that includes the huge metal flower, Floralis Generica and a snapshot of a random street in Palermo

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And sometimes you just spontaneously wander into a shop that looks like this…

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As with Colombia, I’ve witnessed first-hand some incredible kindness here in Argentina.  My landlord is one of the nicest people I’ve met.  He’s always eager to help and super responsive but more than that he seems genuinely interested and engaged.  We invited him and his girlfriend out for a drink (as a rain check for missing his birthday party which he was kind enough to invite us to) and they gladly accepted.  What I thought we be an hour-long hangout turned into 3 hrs as the conversation really got going.  And in the end he insisted on paying.  What?!  It also turns out that he and his girlfriend will be in Thailand around the same time I’m planning to be there so we might have a Southeast Asian hangout later this summer.  And then there’s the local who invited us to his BBQ.  As with many other people on this trip, I had never met him before arriving at his house for a dinner with 10-12 of his closest friends.  But he treated us like old friends and even ended up giving us a ride home at 3am even though his party was still going!  I’d actually been connected with him through an old mentor of mine that is now a coworker of his.  Just this simple connection and he reached out to me with an invitation soon after I arrived to BA.   Everyone at the dinner was kind and very forgiving of my mediocre Spanish (it turned out that several of his friends spoke no English, so my rusty and awkward pauses-filled Spanish it was).  The evening was an interesting glimpse into the life of a Porteno (those from BA) and a chance to get to know the culture a bit better.

My 3 most interesting observations from that night…

  1. These people eat a lot of meat.  A. Lot.  There were at least 5 rounds of meat parts being passed around and we ate for over 2 hrs.
  2. Portenos stay up LATE.  We arrived around 9pm and by 12am, I was ready for bed.  I noticed a friend of his starting to yawn and felt certain that we could leave soon, riding out on her goodbye coattails.  At 3am, they finally ended the dinner portion of the night and everyone began to break out the pesos for some poker.  Nooo!!!  I desperately looked to the yawner to see what she would do… She was getting our her pesos too!  I resigned myself to lameness and we soon went home.
  3. Portenos are passionate.  Nic’s Spanish is much much better than mine.  And to his credit he carried a lot of the conversation for us (which I was very grateful for).  As some point, I made the mistake of asking their thoughts on Argentina’s economic situation… What came next was one friend’s passionate response with his thoughts on US/S. America relations, the government of Argentina, US governmental policies and the issues of his country.  We’re talking some big words, people.  And in rapid fire Spanish.  I probably understood 40% of what he was saying but at some point gave up and just smiled saying “si” when it felt appropriate.  Several times there would be a pause in the conversation and I would re-direct my gaze feeling confident that breaking eye contact would end the conversation but alas that he was too smart for my tricks.

I’m looking forward to my next few weeks here.  Hopefully soon, there will be a day trip to Uruguay involved.  Nic and I also just finished planning a trip to Mendoza for the end of our time here in Argentina.  I was able to use some recently accrued frequent flyer miles to reserve 2 nights at the Park Hyatt and we managed to score a promo on 1st class bus tickets so we are considering this the splurge of our trip.  I’ve already started researching vineyards I want to visit and Nic has started compiling his list of outdoorsy/nature type things he wants to see.  Should be a fun trip if (I can survive the wilderness portion!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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