Buenos Aires: the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Photo by Candela G. Sciaroni (2009)

Got up that morning with a slight hangover – nothing serious. Nothing that a shower, a cup of coffee and some medialunas wouldn’t fix. A bit of morning writing at some nearby cafe and off we go.  I have an occasional habit of getting in a random bus and see where it leads, but that day I felt like walking. The sun was shining and I was completely out of coins.

Ah, Buenos Aires.

Like many other cities, it’s a great place to walk around aimlessly (well, at least during the day). There are very interesting neighbourhoods and communes to see, such as San Telmo, La Boca, Abasto, Caballito, Palermo, Monstserrat, Belgrano, Flores, Recoleta, etc., just to name a few. It’s considered a twin-city of Lisbon and it does remind me a lot of my hometown: the nearby Río de la Plata, the old neighbourhoods and/or the occasional old house lurking between two modern buildings, the old cafes and the people in them, the overall looks of city life, etc. You can also expect a wide architectural and social variety in the capital (compare La Boca to Recoleta, for example). Strolling around, stopping by at some cafe for some newspaper reading, journal updating or simply to observe people, has never been as dandy.

And now for sports. No, I’m not going to discuss Boca Juniors and River Plate. It’s all about money now, fellow Reader. I should warn you that you should keep as much spare change possible when in Buenos Aires (yes, change, as in coins). Because only a few people have change in Buenos Aires (read this for some insight). It’s a tough, ruthless ‘sport’ to play. I got kicked out of buses more than once because I was some cents short for the ticket, and only had a bill (which is beyond the limits of acceptance for most reasonable porteños!). Since the drivers didn’t have any change for me either, they just stop the bus and open the door. Hence, I walk. For several times I went for a coffee, or bought water or something just to get some change. And you know something? Despite everything, I loved it. Sure, if you live there and have a job to attend, for example, I agree that it might be very frustrating. But there’s no such thing as a perfect city, and these things are what make them unique. After a week in Buenos Aires – Capital Federal, I went south to Bahía Blanca, to visit a good friend I had previously met in Ecuador (and with whom I had traveled before arriving to Bs As). Fortunately, Bahía Blanca (where you can find the legendary Planeta Empanada) wasn’t that interested in the “coin game” – so I got to save a lot of coins before heading back to the capital. Oh, yes. It would be the “portuguese coin supremacy” at Buenos Aires (allow me a “mwahahaha!!!”)… until I ran short of change again, of course. Short-lived reign, but intense. So, back to Buenos Aires. If you’re going there, when you’re buying something and they ask you if you got any spare change at all, just say “No“. Save the coins for later (or just save the coins, period!), don’t let them know you have any, and good luck. Has this changed by now? Don’t know, so here’s the tip anyway.

Moving on. The way I see it, Buenos Aires is a city made for you to enjoy the great outdoors (if the weather’s on your side, of course). That was the first thing which helped make me feel right at home in Argentina. You can always leave the house and go sit somewhere (the Plaza  Intendente Alvear a.k.a. Plaza Francia, for example). In cities such as Mendoza it’s quite funny because everybody has a siesta after lunch (wise people!), so most of the town was deserted. While going out in Argentina, you might also consider preparing and be ready to share some “yerba mate“(more or less pronounced “sh’ehr-bah mah-teh” – it’s a tea, completely addictive and you should at least try it once – the bitter, the better). I was already a fan before going to South America, but this is where I got to see the “mate culture” first-hand. “Mate” is a great way to make friends. For example, coming back to Buenos Aires (Capital Federal) from Bahía Blanca by train, there were approximately 12 hours to kill. Night train. So I was sitting down next to a young man in his twenties who was about to join the BsAs police force (and a bit nervous about it) and to some other guy (a construction worker, not really sure) in the seat in front of mine. The first asked us if we would like some “mate?” and we smiled and accepted. So he prepared it, and we started chatting about our lives, where we came from, our views on this and that, etc. We slept 3 hours, maybe. Which means we chatted and drank yerba mate for 9 hours…! We took turns to go to the food and drinks wagon, so we could get more hot water for the tea. Yerba mate really gets people together. In the morning we arrived to the Constitución train station, said goodbye and parted ways. Just like that… hasta la próxima!

Usually one person brings the mate, and the rest might bring some ‘facturas‘, cookies, whatever. And if you have ‘mate‘ in the company of others (which is more or less the whole point) and with a great background environment (a band playing, a view to a cityscape, waterscape, river, garden, etc.), then you’ve got one of the greatest simple “social rituals” I’ve ever known and a very effective excuse to leave the house; it’s a sort of near-perfect “ice-breaker” to be with people. As for the rest about Buenos Aires… I’m not going to digress and describe to you how fascinating the city is – just take my word for it. If you ever get to go there, better still. Plus, it’s dangerous for me to begin daydreaming and listing people and things I miss, like the empanadas, the accessible cultural life (for example, I went to this really nice & free jazz gig in Centro Cultural General San Martín), the markets as in San Telmo or Abasto (not the shopping mall, but all around it!), the streets, the subway, etc…!

Well, my last day in town had an anxious, nostalgic feel attached to it. In the morning I’ve decided to go for one of those touristic “tango-shots” while browsing the market around San Telmo; I eventualy found a group of tango dancers in the street: Lorena Vega & Rolando Genova. They were trying to convince people passing by to take a photo with them. Well, I did, and we also had a nice little chat and shared contacts. After spending the morning wandering around San Telmo (bought some ‘mates‘ and refrigerator magnets, which grandma loves) and having taken my “tango photo”, I went back to the hostel to get my stuff. Two friends I’d met there (salut, Daphne & Julie!) went with me to the BuqueBus terminal for a last coffee, and soon I’d be off to Montevideo.

Moments later the boat would be sailing away. Before the sun came down merging with the waters in the distance, I found myself looking at the city for quite some time, while it diminished in the horizon, and hoping I could go back one day. I reached my pocket and looked at some coins I had kept.

In the words of Bogie, I thought it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Si habláis Español y vendréis a visitar Lisboa, recomiendo que consulten la página de Lisboando.

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4 comments

  1. woah, I just blogged about Buenos Aires as well except not the city but the book by Chris Doyle. Nice photo, it has the look of memories.

  2. Love the mood and tones in this pic; great capture. There’s nothing I like better than to watch the world go by from the window of homely cafe with a good cup of coffee.

  3. So true about the ‘change’ situation. I’ve heard of people waiting by the bus stops during festivals and public events and selling change to people at a higher price than it’s worth. It took me about a month after leaving Buenos Aires until I realised it’s alright not to have a pocket full of change at all times!

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