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December 18, 2004

Last South American Update

Hard to believe that this time tomorrow, I'll be touching down in Panama City for an overnight layover, and in about 48 hours, I'll be at my parents' house in New Jersey!

Buenos Aires has been very good to me, and I've really been enjoying my time here. I've managed to meet some interesting people who've helped me experience all that this city has to offer, from free tango shows to all-night bars to the best steak I've ever eaten and much, much more.

I happened to be in town on Dia del Tango, December 11, which is the birthday of Carlos Gardel, a famous tango singer who died in 1953. The day before I'd met some locals and expats, among them a German couple who knew about a free tango show happening on Dia del Tango. They stood in line to get us tickets, and we met up at the theater later for the show. It was absolutely fantastic. There was a full orchestra, and up to 10 couples dancing on stage at the same time. The dancers only danced to every other song, which allowed the audience a chance to pay attention to the music as well--when those dancers were on stage, I was paying little attention to the music, except as it so perfectly matched their movements. Tango is sultry, passionate, amazing to watch, and looks really, really hard to do. I'm impressed by all the great dancers I've seen, both at this show and in the street and in restaurants, too (yes, the tango really is everywhere--I certainly didn't need to put any effort into seeking it out).

The next day was the big weekly street fair in San Telmo, where I was staying. Most of the stands were antique dealers, but there were also some artists and artesans and lots of street performers, too, including a tango orchestra. At the fair I ran into a couple I had known in Cusco, proving that South America continues to be very, very small on this travelers' circuit. I think San Telmo is my favorite neighborhood in the city, or at least the one I can actually see myself living in. It's a little funkier, and also has nice narrow streets that make it feel more like a neighborhood. Where I'm staying now, in the middle of town, is just a street in the middle of a big city, so there's less character, but it's a convenient location and I've got a nice room with a balcony overlooking the street.

Mostly I've been eating (too much), drinking (also too much), and shopping (again too much), with a little sightseeing thrown in on the side. I've been to a few museums here that focus on Latin American art, which is great--I saw a lot of great artists that are woefully underrepresented in other museums of the world. I went to the Evita museum yesterday, which was interesting, and makes me want to know more about her, particularly because she and her husband, Juan Peron, who was President in the 50s, had such a cult following. I also went to the famous Recoleta cemetery, where Evita and tons of other famous Argentines are buried. The map showing where all the notables are buried looked to be a who's who of everyone who has a street named after them in this country. I recognized lots of names for that reason, but don't know who any of them really are. Evita's family's mausoleum is much less elaborate than many in the cemetery. It's a beautiful place, and with only mausoleums (no regular gravestones), it feels like a small city. This is definitely the cemetery of the elite, and some of the mausoleums are incredibly ornate (and even ostentatious). Apparently the family pays for the upkeep of their mausoleum, and there are some that have fallen into complete disrepair, with cobwebs and broken windows--it's sad to think there's no one left in the family. Many of the coffins are visible inside the mausoleum, which is unusual. A guy there told me that they use a special method of preservation that prevents the bodies from smelling, so they can keep the coffins out like that.

Certainly no good segue from coffins to shopping... Everything is so cheap here that I've easily slipped into a consumer mode I haven't allowed myself for years. It's not helping my budget, but I've bought CDs, shoes, clothes... and I even went to the spa today! I got a massage; facial; unlimited time in a Turkish bath, Finnish bath, and sauna; and a snack for less than $30--you can't beat that. A nice way to spend my last afternoon in South America, particularly since I was out so late last night I got home at 7:45 this morning. Can't believe I'm still standing, honestly, but it was really fun. A few days ago I met a British woman who lives in Lima and her friend who lives here. The friend's band was playing last night, so we went to see them and it was just the beginning of a very long night out. It's amazing to me that you can stay out all night here, and there's always somewhere to go, and the drinks keep flowing no matter what the hour. We also had a fancy dinner last night in what is probably considered the best restaurant in the city. I had a steak as big as my head and it was excellent. But interestingly, I think another steak I had that cost half as much was just as good (but smaller, more like the size of my outstretched hand).

Earlier this week I spent a night at an estancia, or ranch, about 2 hours from the city. It was nice to see some of the countryside, and experience a bit of the gaucho life. I went horseback riding for the first time in my life, and it was a cool environment for it, following a young gaucho across the Argentine plains. I was able to take two rides of about an hour each and really enjoyed it. Although it was a little scary, I even got my horse to gallop a few times! The estancia was my biggest splurge, and mostly worth it because of the riding and because of the unbelievable barbecue lunch we had with unlimited meat, wine, and side dishes. The other food was a little disappointing, though, and the estancia's set up was also a little strange. There wasn't a lot of infrastructure--not even a proper front desk for check-in. It felt like there wasn't anyone really taking care of the guests, arranging activities, or even explaining what activities were available, and since I was paying US$110 for the night, full board--a fortune by current Argentine prices--I expected a little coddling. I couldn't even get someone to fix the overhead light in my room. But it was still fun, and thankfully I met some cool people there from Morocco, Holland, and England, so I didn't eat meals alone and even played pool and ping pong and went swimming, too.

Another day I took a day trip to the town of Tigre, a 50-minute train ride from the city. It's where a lot of people go to escape the summer heat (which has abated a bit since I've been here, thankfully), located on a river and with acces to a delta where I took a boat tour. It's lushly green and beautiful there, although the water is very brown. About 3,000 people live out on the canals/rivers of the delta, and it was fascinating to me to see how they live. The houses range from shacks to mansions, but everyone's got a dock and some sort of boat, and there's even a grocery store on a boat! My plan that day became to have a house someday in Tigre--maybe I'll retire to Buenos Aires and have a summer house in Tigre. Or even better, I should find a way to get paid in dollars (or pounds, or euros) and live down here. I'd be set.

So I really like the city, but am not sure what else to say about it and why I like it exactly. I haven't taken a lot of pictures, I guess because many parts of it don't look that different from other cities I've been to, particularly Paris. The people are really, really nice, and are often compared to Italians--not unreasonable since there are lots of Italian immigrants here. It's a nice place to end my trip, but also so very different from where I started my trip in Peru that I can hardly remember some of the other experiences I've had in the last 3 months. Luckily I have my updates and plenty of pictures to jog my memory. It seems like it won't be a very harsh adjustment from Buenos Aires to the States--less so than if I were heading back from Peru, I imagine--but it will still be strange, I'm sure.

Posted by Amy on December 18, 2004 02:28 PM
Category: Buenos Aires
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