- LHR – Frankfurt
- Frankfurt – EZE (Buenos Aires)
- Exspanish School
Hola! I’ve finally made it across the Atlantic and to another new destination: the continent of South America. I was genuinely overwhelmed by the size of Buenos Aires as we flew over in the aeroplane and then sat for a further hour as the airport had lost power, meaning we couldn’t get off or inside! Customs was a daunting experience, but one that ran, for me anyway, without problem.
However, finding the hostel was not such a simple task. I got on the shuttle bus as I was told to, except it cost $190 (panic not, my friends, this is in pesos (1 peso = 5p) but I was only told this after my mini heart attack!), and it ran only to the central bus station and not direct to the hostel as advertised. Okay, so I thought a taxi from there might be manageable but it seems my lack of Spanish didn’t help things and thus, I walked the 3.1km’s with a rucksack on both my front and back, panicking somewhat about all the people I was passing.
I think I was just exhausted, hot and nervous. I had no problems getting to Milhouse Avenue hostel, other than being extremely sweaty upon arrival. The staff were helpful and I had a few hours to kill before check-in, so I ditched my bags and set off to the Plaza Congresso; an impressive Congressional building a short walk from the hostel. My walk also scouted a few blocks around the hostel and to the ‘BA’ sign so that I could feel more touristy.
Come 2pm though, I needed a rest from my overnight travelling and just tucked up in bed for a few hours before I attempted much social interaction. I think the journey to Buenos Aires had been a little overwhelming though. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one in my room fast asleep by 9pm.
The following day was a Sunday: market day! After some breakfast with a group of Swedish girls in my room, I learnt that two of them were sick and wanted to stay in bed that morning. So, myself and their friend, Matilda, head off to San Telmo market, a neighbourhood adjacent to Plaza de Mayo (where the president lives). In Argentinian Spanish, they pronounce ‘y’ as ‘sh’ so Plaza de Mayo is Plaza de Masho.
The market was vast, spanning 12 blocks (i.e. 1200 buildings long!) with all the usual market brick-a-brack. We also found some hidden gems between the stalls; two permanent inside antique markets similar to Borough market.
On our walk back along the street we also experienced a massive Argentinian BBQ and some street tango dancers to complete our morning of authentic Argentinian market experience.
Back at the hostel I ordered a campaniro, which is a chorizo sandwhich but beef chorizo. My god was it good! And after re-fuelling, I then hopped in a taxi to travel 20 blocks down to my Argentinian host for the next two weeks.
Lilliana lived in Almagro, just north of Milhouse hostel but still in central BA. Her apartment was quaint but so beautiful and my room was adorable. I met her whole family who had come around for Sunday lunch and smiled stupidly as they asked me, in Spanish, how I was etc. (to which I had yet to learn the reply. See next few days in school!). Following the introductions and unpacking, Lilliana took me on a little tour of the block so I could see the bank, restaurants and cafes, supermarket and find the Subte (subway) ready to travel the next morning.
When we got back, I needed a bit of a rest to take it all in and snacked on some fruit and the Argentinian Sunday delicacies of pastries that Lilliana gave me. I didn’t much fancy trying out BA that Sunday night and had an early start so spent my evening searching more tourist info about BA and some simple Spanish phrases before turning out my light fairly early doors.
Monday morning was the big day. My first day at school! I hopped on “la linea ‘A'” of the Subte, at estacion Castro Barros (Castro Barros station) towards Plaza de Mayo and then walked 4 blocks to 457 (the building number), 25 de Mayo (the street name). BA is organised very well in blocks much like New York.
Upon arrival I was told I needn’t sit the examination considering my Spanish skills were so “poco” (little). Therefore, I sat making some friends and drinking coffee in the lobby before our orientation and then eventually class. My teacher was Angeles, a sweet woman with a clear passion for teaching Spanish! She certainly made the lessons entertaining. Two of the girls I’d met in the lobby were also in my class, Katherine and Nigina, which was nice.
At 1pm, classes finished and Katherine and I decided to wonder a little of BA. We first head to Puerto Madera to walk along the river but soon the sun became relentless and sweat was dripping down us so that we had to take many restbites in the shade! Along the river we saw ‘puente de la mujer’ (the bridge of women). I guess you can take what you want from that and this photo:
After realising the weather was not suitable conditions for walking in, we attempted to catch a bus to Boca but had several failed attempts and thus, hailed a cab and set off. Arriving at El Caminito, the pedestrian street of La Boca, we were warmly greeted by craft stalls, restaurants, tango dancers, tourists, and an array of wonderful colours. Each building was painted with all colours of the rainbow and the streets were really something.
We stopped for some lunch at one of the restaurants to try out the local empanadas. They were similar to a mini Cornish pasty with different meat filings and pretty tasty. After this we continued our tour of the streets and side courtyards and mini markets, and then along the road towards the Boca Juniors stadium, which translates from Spanish to ‘the box of chocolates’.
I felt I had fully acquainted myself with my new friend Messi by the end of the afternoon and the humidity was becoming unbearable in the Barrio de Boca (the Boca neighbourhood). As such, we successfully boarded the number 64 bus back to Plaza de Mayo and parted ways on the Subte back to our respective hosts.
My evening was then spent doing homework, eating dinner and cooling off whilst Katherine had gone to see a percussion show on every Monday. I was waiting on her feedback so I could go the following week!
Tuesday morning started much the same, heading to school and learning the basics of Spanish. I also marked the start of what was to be a morning coffee ritual with Nigina. After class, Katherine and I decided to continue our city exploring and head to the Barrio of Recoleta. Recoleta is known for its cemetery, home to many big characters in Latin American history including Evita Peron, and its comparative wealth to the likes of Boca.
Walking in to the neighbourhood, the increased wealth was noticeable and the even more so inside the cemetery! It was quite a spectacle, with unbelievable architecture spanning every single grave (really they were more like tombs).
After an hour or so of roaming and planning our own place of rest, we stumbled across the cultural centre next door to the cemetery. It was free to enter and was almost like a kids version of the Tate modern. It was a bit odd but fun nonetheless. Outside though, there was a beautiful terrace neighbouring the Hard Rock Cafe of BA, which overlooked the national museum and a large park area and was a beautiful place to rest.
I was excited about Wednesday because it was tango day! After school, Katherine and I fetched some lunch near to the school building and then got Subte D towards the north east of the city. Katherine had a meeting and we parted ways as I wanted to head in to Las Caminitas, a small barrio which is known for its horse racing and polo stadiums and fields. Although I only wondered the streets outside these venues, they looked pretty impressive:
But the day had gotten extremely hot and I was sweating off my stick-on bra (!) so I decided it was best to take a rest in the park right opposite. I make it sound like this park was small but it was quite the opposite! Think Green Park + St.James Park in size, add some pedaloes, swans, people on roller-skates, runners, families, etc. It was perfect to sit under a tree, watch the world go by and complete my Spanish homework until the temperatures were more forgiving.
Come 4.30pm, I knew which bus I needed to get to my classe de tango (oh yes ladies and gentlemen, I went to tango!). However, the gods were clearly telling me tango was a poor idea as I just could not find the bus stop, the right direction or anything! Luckily I wasn’t the only poor sod suffering the confusion of the BA transportation system (I’d had a similar situation on the Subte the day before) and we were headed the same direction so shared a taxi there instead. I was a few minutes late for tango but at least I was there.
The tango class had many more females than males which meant we’d have to take on the role as leaders as well. To be honest, both felt unnatural to me seeing as I don’t ballroom or Latin dance but just like to bop and shake my booty in poison (RIP) and the likes. Our teacher taught us the basics of tango so we were ready for a milonga (underground all-night tango clubs) if we so desired. For those interested, this is how you tango:
- Always carry your weight in one leg at a time, then transfer it to the other
- Only move one leg at a time
- By and large, move in a geometric manner i.e. forwards, back and sideways but not really diagonal
- Follow either the rhythm and melody of the music as desired, slowing and quickening your tango pace or playing with your legs, feet etc.
- Finish being bent over with rose in mouth! (Very important)
I found myself to be better at leading than following but perhaps that just says something about my personality. That, or I was paired with shorter people and it seemed more natural. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed tango-ing and although I’m not quite mentally ready for a milonga just yet, I’d tango again.
I returned home and told Liliana about my tango lesson before crashing in to bed and watching several episodes of American Horror Story. My argentine nightlife has not existed so far but I’m more concerned about learning Spanish right now so perhaps that’s a good thing.
Thursday’s lessons saw us trying ‘mate’, the traditional Argentinian hot drink which is literally everywhere and more common than coffee. It’s extremely similar to green tea so got the thumbs up from me. Our lunch ritual then saw us head to Sante Fe, near Katherine’s apartment for a burger.
I spent the afternoon roaming the streets and the shops as it’s the main shopping district in BA. I was tired and not particularly in the mood for city tours so put my planned trip to Palermo on hold for another day. Though I did have a craving to exercise and after a few sentences of actual Spanish conversation when I got home, I learnt there were a couple of parks close by to which I could run. They’re extremely body conscious here so I expected their to be lots of other runners out too.
I was overwhelmed by just how many there were! More than normal walking pedestrians that’s for sure. And the parks were clearly geared up for this as there were outside gyms every 400m around Central Park and plenty of other one-off machines dotted around the other few parks. I ran the 2 miles to Central Park, stopped for a quick body-weight session and then continued my run home, finally feeling re-energised from the much needed exercise.
It was the last lesson with the very beginners on Friday morning so we concluded our morning of learning with photos and goodbyes to those fleeing the nest.
Katherine had been recommended a taco restaurant by her programme director (she’s volunteering at a day care in the slums) in Palermo which worked perfectly for my plans to wonder around that neighbourhood. It was worth the trip too and we also tried some massive grilled cheese starter thing.
We followed lunch with a walk around Palermosoho which is where all the designer shops and boutique cafes are in BA. It was a beautiful part of the city, reminiscent of quaint little French towns with mini market squares and flowers everywhere. The square here was called Plaza Serrano and was surrounded by plenty of bars, restaurants and clubs that would definitely have an awesome nighttime atmosphere. Somewhere to go back to next week when it’s not 100000% humidity!
We also stumbled across ‘The Ice Cream Masters’ and after spending all week craving ice cream, felt it rude not to purchase one. My options were limited as I’m not eating chocolate but my final giant tower of icy deliciousness had a lemon pie bottom topped by caramel and dulche de leche. I’ve certainly had some awesome ice cream on my travels so far!
Before heading back to Almargo, we stopped by the Centero Cultral again to buy tickets to an event that evening. The event, ‘Fuerza Bruta’, was recommended to me by Max on hearing it was the absolute best thing most people had done in BA. Those were some pretty high expectations! However, the show started at 11.30pm and was followed by a DJ set so I head back to the apartment for a nap, shower and food before getting ready for my first BA night adventure.
I met Katherine at her apartment in Recoleta, after realising the taxi driver spoke no English at all and I had nothing smaller than $500 pesos on me. Through broken Spanish and lots of begging “uno momento, por favor” for me to attempt to piece together sentences about money in my head, I worked out how to get him to just take me to Katherine and ask her to pay with a smaller amount of money! Friends save the day.
Following my attempts at Spanish (still definitely at A1 level but improving), I needed a grande cerviza and there were a few bars around the Centero Cultural that were perfect for our budgets, our ages and the bohemian atmosphere you kind of want from holiday drinks. Admittedly, it took us a while to work out how to actually purchase a beer and that you needed a token, but we got there and the barman was very accepting of my Spanglish! He did actually speak English but I wanted to practice and he helped to correct my mistakes.
The show was a weird and abstract contemporary dance type performance, demonstrating different features of Argentina but also wider art and well, oddness. I mean the first 10 minutes we’d been subjected to a big percussion and singing performance which was incredible, followed by an insane amount of strobe lighting and a guy running on a treadmill then being shot. It was bizarre and you’d not be enjoying life if you were high, but already at 10 minutes in, it was quite something.
It continued with girls dancing above our heads in a pool of water (this was featured as a Eurovision performance a few years ago) which was just utterly incredible, and others performing acrobatics along walls of tin foil. Then we had a big top tent and wind tunnel thing and smashing of paper boxes over people’s heads and dancing in confetti and more drums. It was unreal. No amount of description will do Fuerza Bruta justice but if anyone gets a chance to go, as they do tour worldwide, just do it and don’t question your purchase.
A DJ then followed the show and was loving life, as were we. So with more beer in hand and my dancing shoes on, I spent the rest of the night enjoying the best of the Argentinian house and dance scene (it was English and American music!).
Since I didn’t get back until 3.30am, I spent Saturday morning asleep and had to greet Liliana with “Buenos tardes” when I did eventually rise. I chose to recap some Spanish vocabulary and practice conjugating verbs for the early afternoon whilst I had Liliana to help me out (God, what an exciting life I lead!). However, did promise myself I’d get out the house that day and since it was Chinese New Year, thought it best to head to China Town and the celebrations in the city.
It is the year of the chicken. A giant chicken and dragon were painted on a board around the National Park Plaza in which the celebrations were held and a main stage showed off performances of tai chi, karate, some sword fighting, singing, dancing, etc. There was plenty of Asian street food to choose from too and so I treated myself to a steak spring roll type thing, yaki soba and then a lychee flavoured frozen mousse. All in all, a good few hours down in China Town! Well done China.
The heavens opened as I left the plaza and hopped on the bus. This meant that the short walk from the bus stop to my apartment was enough to soak me right through. But Liliana, ever the kind host, welcomed me with fresh clothes, a beer and slice of pizza and some attempted Spanish conversation. I sat and watched football with her and her father for a while which was good for my listening practice too and they made it feel like a Saturday night back st home, in front of the TV.
So, my second continent now and 94 days in to ‘life from a bag’ (although not strictly true because I went home to graduate but po-ta-to po-tah-to and all that), and so far, yo gusto Argentina y yo no hablo gustar español pero hablo un poco. Watch this space for week 2 in BA.