Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Europe in South America

Where in South America can you go where the people look like Italians, the buildings look French, the people speak Spanish, and have high tea like the Brits? Give up? 

Why Buenos Aires, of course!  Sam and I are just wrapping up the most vacationy part of our trip, having spent the three weeks in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires.  It feels like a European New York -- a bustling city that truly never sleeps with great shopping, delicious food, and amazing wine.  We have been staying in the center of the city in the Retiro neighborhood in a cozy apartment, which has been a nice change from hostels and hotels, that we were able to get thanks to a friend.  

From browsing through stores in Palermo, selling clothes by local designers, to dining in Puerto Madera, our time in Buenos Aires has consisted of a ton of walking around and exploring neighborhoods, eating a ton of meat (sorry to all my vegetarian friends!) and drinking lots of red wine. It is a fantastic city for walking around and probably the most complicated bus system I have ever seen (you need a 50 page booklet and a map just to figure out where the buses go - not to mention they only take coins, which are hard to get).  You will often find people giving tango performances in the street on the weekends. Sam and I attempted a tango class, and it is hard. We found it more enjoyable to watch the locals (or porteños, as they call themselves, because this is a port city) who actually know what they are doing.  

And to give you an indication of how crazy the schedule is here, one tango place we called on a Sunday night said lessons would start at midnight and dancing at 4:00 am.

During our time in Buenos Aires we also had several visitors: my sister Dana for a week, and Sam's parents for nearly two. 

With my sis!
It has been great for us to have some other people to talk to and to see our family members, plus since we had already been here for a whole week we got to play the parts of the "expert" tour guides.  Anyway, we took two fantastic walking tours with BA Free Tour (yes, they are actually free), the morning one about the history of Buenos Aires and the afternoon one about the culture.  

La Ventana, where we saw the Tango Show
We took Dana to a tango dinner show--it's not the type of tango you would see in a tango club, but a fun show nonetheless complete with a performance by a band that played music similar to what we heard in Bolivia and a gaucho (Argentine cowboy) doing this crazy dance involving swinging a couple leather balls on a long string, as well as an Evita performance that had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the show (Eva Peron, or Evita as we know her as from the Madonna movie in the 90s, is an icon of Buenos Aires who was both loved and hated by the people.  Even though she died several decades ago, her presence is still everywhere, including a new mural of her on the side of a building).  We got to see where she was buried in the beautiful and very exclusive Recoleta Cemetary, which also has a great craft market on the weekends.  
Mausoleum where Evita is buried
Finally, we spent a night in the gaucho town of San Antonio de Areco (near the town where we WWOOFed) at an estancia, where we were welcomed with wine and delicious empanadas, had a huge asado (or Argentine BBQ) lunch with endless amounts of meat and drank more wine, got to see some gaucho performances, rode horses, sat by the pool, and slept in "rustic" accommodations as Dana would call them (they felt luxurious compared to our accommodations on the farm, she just doesn't do well with bugs).  

Musical performance of traditional music during lunch
Guacho games--they go full speed on the horse and try to grab a hanging ring with a pencil.  If they catch the ring, they get to pick a bride.

The next day before returning to Buenos Aires we went to this little chocolate shop that was mentioned in our guidebook and tried alfajores for the first time.  They are the national sweet: dulce de leche sandwhiched between two cookies and usually powdered on the outside with coconut, these though were covered in chocolate or meringue. I don't know how we managed to go so long without trying these delicious cookies (they were especially amazing here).

Delicious chocolate-covered alfajor.  Nom nom.
With Sam's parents, in addition to the usual walking and touring around Buenos Aires, we took a 3-day trip up Iguazu Falls, which is north of Buenos Aires and on the boarder with Brazil (we might not have made it to Brazil on the trip but at least we can say we saw it!). The falls are even bigger than Niagra and the park they are in on the Argentine side is set up kind of like Disneyworld--nicely laid-out trails to follow with food stands all over and rides to purchase. Our shmoozy taxi driver who picked us up from the airport convinced us to do two of the rides--the first one was a very mellow 30-minute trip in an inflatible raft down the Iguazu River, and then the more adventurous Gran Aventura, which led us through some little rapids and under two waterfalls.  Because the falls are in the jungle there are of course lots of animals to see--lots of brightly colored butterflies, huge catfish, turtles, big spiders, and my favorite, the coatimundi.  These racoon-like animals were all over the park, and were super curious and would come right up to people (we saw a couple steal food out of someone's backpack). Overall, the falls were incredible and it was a nice break from the city.  (Picture to come later.)

We also took Sam's parents to a cooking class (sort of) called the Argentine Experience, but I will leave that to Sam to write about that and about what we have learned about Argentine culture in our next blog post.  Now I'm off to pack, heading to Santiago, Chile bright and early tomorrow!

More pictures below...
2012.3 Buenos Aires

2012.3 San Antonio de Areco

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