Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, was my first stop in South America. Here I would kick-off my epic adventure. Flying on my own, I was shortly joined by two friends where we would see the sites, begin to soak up the World Cup fever, eat the best steak in the world and, of course, we were there to “enjoy” Argentina – by diving into B.A’s renowned nightlife! I have recounted all our endeavours over the 6 days.
DAY 1: Recovering from Jet-lag
After a typically uncomfortable long-distance flight from Heathrow to Buenos Aires via Rome (the highlight of which was spotting the Egyptian football team checking in for an Air France flight yet realising that they hadn’t even made it to the World Cup), I spent my first day in South America trying to adjust and recover from jet-lag. I managed to exchange some US dollars for Argentinian Pesos at the airport and just about communicated my way to Milhouse Avenue hostel via shuttle bus.
With a few hours to kill before check-in I decided to join a walking tour to the park-filled suburb of Palermo and began meeting fellow travellers, most of which were fellow English and Aussies on a World Cup trip. We spent a pleasant few hours travelling on packed buses, strolling through parks and then tucking into my first Argentinian steak and sipping cervezas. I opted for a quick siesta but I wasn’t able to drag myself out of bed to resume the evening’s festivities. My recovery was disturbed by my Irish dorm-mates catching up on everything they could muster before they eventually left me in peace.
DAY 2: “Cambio, Cambio”
In the morning, I sampled the hostel’s free breakfast and awaited the arrival of my Buenos Aires companions, Alex and Joe. Fresh off the flight and craving real food, we headed out for lunch to downtown Avenue de Florida and experienced the black market of B.A’s currency exchange. Lining the pedestrian street were currency dealers, calling “cambio, cambio”, which translates as exchange. I had already asked for recommendations, expected rates and ways of spotting fake notes at the hostel, so I walked into the news-stand and inspected each $100 (Peso) note for the right hologram and full line, before counting and confirming the price. Top Tip: It’s worth noting that when travelling to Argentina it is far more advantageous to bring US dollars and exchange for Argentinian Pesos at the black market, but beware of fake notes. People have claimed to receive fake bills from ATMs even! The current official exchange rate is roughly AR$8 for US$1 but at the “blue rate” you can get over AR$11 – getting yourself about 45% more bang for your buck! Not to mention the experience of operating on this illegal, yet generally accepted, black market.
After lunch, we wandered the streets of B.A. to take in the riverside and main Plaza, most significantly the ‘Casa Rosada’ (Pink House) [left],from the balcony of which Evita
Peron spoke to the masses. Messi’s face looked out from every billboard and poster, and later from every TV advert. We then made the tourist mistake of drinking too early by watching a couple of afternoon football friendlies and enjoying dinner and beers. Fatigued by jet lag, we attempted a short nap and barely managed to make it out for the night. We dug deep and with the help of vodka-red bull and a few “Messi”s (a generous dose of vodka with lemonade and lime) we partied til the early hours.
DAY 3: San Telmo Sunday Market
Joe was the early-riser and he managed to get us up for the Sunday market in the ‘barrio’ (suburb) of San Telmo. Here, we wondered the cobbled streets and perused the street stalls displaying their mixture of crafts and tat. We enjoyed a fine lunch at an Italian restaurant, Amici Miei, and then took a particularly bizarre tour of B.A’s archaeology at ‘El Zanjón de Granados’. We were taken through the forgotten tunnels of B.A’s old sewer and water wells but failed to grasp their significance…interesting nonetheless! We topped off the afternoon with a Quilmes and some live music, before wandering back to the hostel.
We began to adjust to the Buenos Aires lifestyle by taking a late-afternoon siesta and awakening for dinner and the evening’s entertainment. This again consisted of an amazing steak dinner, some delicious Malbec wine and drinks at the sister hostel (Milhouse Hipo). We were treated to live music by a ’90s Bitch’ ironically serving up ‘noughties’ tunes, and met some interesting Aussie characters, who provided some great quotes that we rehashed for the next few days. Our favourite was by the self-proclaimed ‘el lobo de Milhouse’ (the wolf of our hostel): “Are you here to see Argentina or to enjoy it?” The typical B.A. night was rounded off with a few hours getting pretty trashed at a night-club (most of which I have failed to recall)!
Day 4: La Bombonera
To our credit, we kept productivity levels high and made it up for the 11am tour to the barrio of ‘La Boca’…however, the tour was booked up and we had to make our own way there. It was a long traipse in the supposedly winter sun, but with the Boca Juniors stadium in sight we wandered the shady streets, keeping our wits about us and steering clear of the resident dogs. The ‘La Bombanera’ stadium tour was filled with friendly banter, directed by a guy that ridiculed anyone considering Pele better than Maradona, and providing amusing tales of Riquelme’s dispute with Maradona and methods to distract River Plate rivals in the inferior away dressing room.
We whiled away the last few hours of sunshine nursing a few beers in the colourful ‘el Caminito’ street where street artists and tango performers strut their stuff. When darkness began to fall we opted for taking a taxi rather than braving the rough streets of ‘la boca’ and retired to our room for a much needed siesta.
Once again I forced myself out of bed to join the lads for yet another sumptuous steak and Malbec dinner. This time we dined at a local San Telmo restaurant, El Desnivel, where we got our taste buds going by sampling the tasty chorizo (sausages) displayed so temptingly on the grill as we entered. With my belly full and having conquered the giant litre bottle of Quilmes beer, I struggled to keep my heavy eyes open at the restaurant so we taxied back to the hostel and retired to bed ahead of an early rise the next morning.
DAY 5: Trip to Uruguay
Read about our day trip to Colonia del Sacramento here
After a disappointing Uruguayan lunch, we returned to our favourite San Telmo restaurant that evening. I attempted to break convention by ordering pork yet this did not prove to be a massive alteration as I was served a similarly thick cut of meat with a typical serving of ‘papas fritas’ but was delicious nonetheless.
Another winning combination of hostel beers and a 2nd trip to Palermo’s ‘Kika’ nightclub for it’s highly acclaimed Tuesday night ‘Hype’ delivered another quality B.A. night.
DAY 6: Cementario de la Recoleta
Our last day in Buenos Aires didn’t begin til 2pm and our 1st errand was picking up ibuprofen and bandages for Alex’s injured ankle: sustained after a few ‘Messi’s the previous night. The day’s trip was to the affluent barrio ‘la Recoleta’, where we visited a huge cemetary filled with extravagant mausoleums for B.A’s rich and famous. We spent over an hour exploring the avenues of this surreal cemetery, aimlessly searching for the resting place of Evita Peron (I may have missed the directions stated in the guidebook), until we were driven away by the most violent thunderstorm I’ve ever experienced. There was a blinding flash of lightning simultaneously striking with an almighty clap of thunder that caused the three of us to duck and cry aloud. It even left my ears ringing and brought the onset of a headache. We took shelter and watched in awe as the thunderstorm created a sombre mood over this neighbourhood of the dead.
We started our final evening chatting to fellow travellers over a couple of happy hour ‘chopps’ (draught beer) then proceeded to our last steak dinner with an Aussie companion. We swapped stories over the ever-present bread rolls and oversized bottled beers, then tucked into juicy, thick cuts of rib-eye steak. With our limited Spanish vocabulary we had to resort to using hand gestures for ordering: to which our waiter responded in perfect English, “you mean mashed potatoes?”
I called it an early night, briefly attempting to blog in my tipsy state with music blaring below me, so retired to bed. My compadres partied on in spite of our early flight the following morning, so when morning came around I was the one to rally the boys and get us to the airport where we bid farewell to Buenos Aires: king of steak and late nightlife!