Journal 16 - January 8, 2003

Buenos Aires » Go Back

Journal 16
Once in Argentina I quickly made my way to its beautiful capitol, Buenos Aires, a spectacular city rich with French and Italian heritage. This mixed with a hot Latin influence makes for a phenomenal city. Known as the Paris of the Americas, Buenos Aires is amazing, by far my favorite city so far in South America, and right up there with New York. Unlike Cusco, Buenos Aires has a life of its own, and while Cusco would be nothing without the tourists who fill the restaurants and discos, Buenos Aires is a huge, throbbing, tango-dancing, incredible city of over ten million people. Although it was a relief to arrive here, my appreciation of this country goes way beyond the satisfaction I felt upon arriving in what feels like a first-world nation. I simply love it. Travel in Peru and Bolivia is difficult, as I've explained in previous emails, and always rewarding thanks to boundless natural beauty and fascinating scenery. Argentina is so much different, delicious foods, paved roads, great busses, movie theatres, opera houses, European culture, and a sense of sexuality, something that was less prevalent in Peru and Bolivia. And Argentina has lots of beautiful women. Argentineans in general are beautiful people, an amazing Euro-Latin mix of French, Italian, Spanish and German. Absolutely amazing.

And the busses, long gone are the proverbial chicken buses of the developing world. Now when I get on a bus I feel like I'm stepping onto the Star Ship Enterprise. Double Decker luxury liners with free sodas, coffee, leg room, bathrooms, curtains, air-conditioning when it's hot, a heater when it's cold, and climate control to make it all work. Movies, reclining seats, nobody in the isles, a completely different experience. Almost enough to make yesterday's 22-hour ride pleasant, or at least bearable.

The country Argentina is beautiful too, with huge mountains, beaches, grasslands, desert, like a big California. And I can't say enough about the capitol city Buenos Aires, an international city with hundreds of years of history, beautiful French and Italian architecture, more trees than I've seen in any city anywhere, beautiful parks, fountains, and statues. With the French-Italian influence and Latin culture, this town is a gem, European feel and flavor, with Latin spice. The nightlife is incredible too, but as I mentioned before, don't bother before 2:00 a.m. Sleep until noon or later, explore the city, museums, shops, endless cafes with delicious espresso drinks, siesta from 5-7, 7-9, or 9-11, go to eat around midnight, then the discos from two until sunrise, what a life.

The food is unbelievable, which is very important for me, during my trip I've talked so much about food at some points that some friends have suggested I write a guide to eating your way around South America. My first night in Buenos Aires I arrived at the hostel recommended by my friend, I was starving. Minutes after arriving I jumped in a cab with some English blokes on their way to an all-you-can-eat buffet. A buffet to end all buffets, endless appetizers, quiches, vegetables, pasta made to order, and of course Argentinean beef. The food was incredible, almost Biltmore level for those of you in Santa Barbara, including the best desserts I've tasted since Emilio's or my grandmother's house. All for less than $6.00 U.S. in a fancy restaurant. In fact I was embarrassed to be there wearing shorts, running shoes and a t-shirt, this while the beautiful Argentineans were impeccably dressed. Bon appetit.

My first day I walked around the city, much like in New York this is the thing to do, but here there are more parks, more plazas, and more beautiful buildings to look at, so during the endless hours of walking you can take a break, sit on a park bench in the shade, or sit in a cafe and admire the French-style buildings, amazing. Great shopping too, which I didn't expect to be impressed by. Very chic and cosmopolitan shops and malls, with everything a person could want. Leather, lots of it, and high quality, time to get the jacket I've always wanted, shipping it home might cost more than the jacket.

The people in the hostel I stayed in are great too, by far the best hostel I've been in, very social, which can be great for a solo traveler, but bad too. For some the hostel becomes a bit of a trap, as evidenced by some of the people I've met who have been there for months just hanging out.

New Year's eve was pretty quiet by Buenos Aires standards, and as often is the case, it didn't live up to the hype. Kind of hard to celebrate the New Year if nobody goes out until 2:00 a.m., so we had a little party at the hostel until 11:30, at which time we went to the Obelisco, a tall Washington Monument look-alike in the center of the Avenida 9 de Julio, reportedly the World's widest road. The scene at the Obelisco was hilarious, 40 gringos looking for a party, all hoping for a Times Square-style celebration, only to find two police officers and no Argentineans. The New Year came and went with much Champagne sprayed in the air, and little else. Afterwards we all went back to the hostel for a while before going out to the discos. Unfortunately they were packed, so we went to a party at an Argentinean's house, which was packed also, but sufficient for us to dance the night away until long after sunrise.

On January second I decided to celebrate the New Year by doing something I've wanted to do for a long time. What better way to bring in the new year than by jumping out of an airplane from 10,000 ft.? For a while I thought I had outgrown the urge to skydive, but when presented with the opportunity, I jumped at it. An hour drive from Buenos Aires, in a town called Lobos, up we flew in the tiny Cessna, each with an Argentine skydiving master strapped to our backs. Once at 10,000 ft. they have you step out of the plane onto a small platform, smile at the camera man, then before you know it the instructor jumps and you're flying through the air at 200 km an hour, no time to think and no time for reaction, just enjoy the ride and try not to pee your pants. All the while the camera man is flying around snapping pictures and rolling video on his digital recorder. Afterwards we went back to the hostel, tapes in hand, and sat down to entertain the others. The video was great, and I can't wait to see the roll of film, definitely a great way to bring in the New Year.

The rest of my time in Buenos Aires was wonderful, I made friends with some Columbian girls in the hostel who were only in Buenos Aires for a short time, which meant they were keen on exploring the city, unlike some of the others, so we went and explored famous La Boca, a brilliantly painted neighborhood rich with history thanks to the Italian immigrants who migrated there between 1860 and 1910. The neighborhood boasts brightly painted multicolored houses and shops. Years ago the residents of the community used the leftover paint from the ships in the community's port to paint their houses, making for a mismatched rainbow of bright yellows, blues, greens, reds and others. The present day neighborhood has maintained the tradition and remains a brightly colored collage of buildings.

The next day we visited Recoleta, one of the most beautiful and expensive neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. Block after block of French style buildings, restaurants, green parks, absolutely fantastic. Some say that the neighborhood is a copy of some of Paris' finer neighborhoods, and on the weekends there are huge handicraft fairs and tons of street performers. Our main purpose for going there was to visit the Recoleta Cemetery, one of the most famous in the world, at six hectares in size. The crypts, graves and monuments are amazing, some bigger than my apartment back in Santa Barbara. Row after row of mausoleum made me feel like I was back on Wall Street in New York; the canyon-esque rows block the sun, creating a perfectly spooky atmosphere with help from the endless crosses and gargoyles.

Overall my time in Buenos Aires was incredible. I love the city and can't wait to go back for another two weeks in February. First I need to head to southern Argentina, the Lake District, glaciers, national parks, and Patagonia, which should be amazing for a nature boy like me. After Argentina I'll make my way to Brazil, which is supposed to be amazing as well, although it's hard to imagine anything better than Argentina.

Happy New Year.

Justin