After six weeks in our Buenos Aires apartment it was a case of stay there forever or move on up the trail. We were itching to get on the move but also very sad to be leaving what had become our home (actually the nearest we’ve to a home for over a year). We’d got to know people in the neighbourhood and I had got very used to the daily routine of working remotely for guys I know in the UK. But with the project winding down for a while and the north calling it was time to book a bus and repack our rucksacks.
Our semi-cama bus to Salta was scheduled to take 21 hours and we were concerned that it might be a sleepless night. As it turned out we had a comfortable journey munching our empanadas while the Argentinian countryside rolled by. If you are used to UK coach services then Argentinian buses are a absolute joy. These ships of the pampas are more luxurious than long haul flights and semi-cama is roughly equivalent to premium economy in the air. So after watching the A-Team we settled down to what was a restful nights sleep before a short transfer to the northern city of Salta.
After the cold and grey of Buenos Aires Salta felt like a breath of summer. There is something about the north of the country – the people look less European and more Andean, life seems to run at a more leisurely pace. As we hoisted our bags on our backs we were greeted by some familiar faces. A couple we met in Christchurch, NZ had come to buy some tickets to Mendoza. This seems to be the way it is in Argentina – you are destined to meet acquaintances in the unlikely places.
So we’ve made the best of the warmth by eating alfresco on the plaza, cafecito in our neighbourhood Havanna and taking the teleférico up Cerro San Bernardo. Now we’re back to the more typical cool and overcast days but we’re still enjoying the northern pace of life – so much so that we’ve extended our stay here for another few days.
One of the nice things about renting an apartment and sticking around for a while is the chance to pretend you’re a local. We have a regular cafe for lunch, a local bakery where we buy empanadas and brownies filled with dulce de leche, and a daily conversation with the veg guy in the local supermarket.
One of the even nicer things about renting an apartment was getting to go and watch the Argentina Mexico match in the home of friends/business partners of the woman who owns it. Gonzalo and Natalia were gracious enough to welcome us into their home, feed us, ply us with wine and then once the match was over (and I was totally in awe of the passion with which they and their other guests supported the national team) introduce us to Fernet. A bitter, aromatic spirit, Fernet is considered to be the national drink of Argentina and is certainly an acquired taste. Most commonly mixed with Coca-Cola it has a somewhat medicinal flavour, a little like mouthwash or cough mixture. As a drink it is decidedly odd…I’m glad we tried it but I’m not entirely sure I’ll be drinking it again.
On the way home after the match we stopped at El Obelisco to marvel at the on-going celebrations. The cheering, flag waving, horn honking and general revelry more than two hours after the end of the game would have put you in mind of a country that had won the world cup rather than merely made it to the quarter finals (I say merely – if only the England team had managed such a mere feat!).
If I was more practised at this blogging lark I’d have some amazing photos of flag waving, face painted Porteños to insert here but I’m not, so I don’t. Once Argentina have beaten Germany I’ll have something to show you. Until then here’s a gratuitous shot of baked goods…
I love a public holiday. Even when I’m travelling and the concept of a day off has little meaning I like the idea of other people having one and celebrating or commemorating something. I like looking up the reasons behind the holiday on Wikipedia – or even asking the locals when I understand enough of the language to understand the answer. It seems that every time we go to New Zealand (okay, that should actually read both times we’ve been to NZ) the day before we leave turns out to be a national holiday; Waitangi day in 2007 and this year the Queen’s birthday. Why don’t we get a day off for the Queen’s birthday!? Not that I particularly want to celebrate the Queen’s birthday but another day off is always welcome. Apparently the Whitsun bank holiday kind of includes the Queen’s birthday by default but frankly I don’t think that’s good enough!!
But I digress…
The Dia de la Bandera Nacional (day of the national flag) is celebrated in Argentina on the third Monday in June and commemorates its creator Manual Belgrano. The city of Rosario celebrates the day with speeches and a parade but in Buenos Aires it appears to be celebrated like any other extra day off – shopping, eating and spending time with family and friends. Thinking it would be churlish not to join in we headed back towards Palermo for an afternoon of window shopping, people watching and another visit to b-Blue.
There’s something about Palermo that reminds me of Notting Hill. Grand houses, good restaurants, shops I can’t afford, well dressed mothers and their mini-me children, and tourists, lots of tourists. Interestingly I feel as much a foreigner in Notting Hill as I do Palermo and very much enjoy visiting both but wouldn’t want to live in either. It was weird hearing snatches of English conversation as we wandered the streets, I thought at first my Spanish had magically improved but quickly realised that the reason I could understand what they were saying was, in fact, because they were speaking English. Oh well, I never claimed to be clever!
These are the kinds of days I enjoy most when travelling – hanging out in a neighbourhood, watching the world go by, eating and drinking. Doing it on a national holiday just makes it even sweeter.
Apparently once you cross Costa Rica everything gets more expensive
The lovely b-Blue – from the inside…
...and the outside
One of the things I love best about traveling is meeting new people. Whether it’s the 45 minute conversation with people whose names you never learn (like the Canadian woman we met in Sucre, Bolivia who had spent a month learning to weave in Ardara, the small town in the Northwest of Ireland near where John’s family own a renovated schoolhouse) or our close friend Sheridan that we met in Alaska over 10 years ago, who stayed with us for a while in London and who we recently spent a wonderful few days with in Sydney. The hard thing about traveling is that the friends that you make often live at least an ocean away. I can safely say that some of the people I love most in the whole world live at least half that world away from me.
If you’re lucky, and we often are, these friends will make an effort to come and join you on your travels. And occasionally the gods of serendipity are smiling down upon you and you find yourselves in the same city quite by chance. We met our lovely friend Helga who is from Trinidad and Tobago when we were studying Spanish in Santiago de Chile in 2007. She was staying in our hostel and listened to our language school tales of woe with great patience and fortitude. We met up with her again in Mendoza, Argentina a few weeks later and have exchanged emails ever since. As you can imagine we were very pleased to discover that we would be in Buenos Aires at the same time this June (if only for a day or so) and made arrangements to meet.
So on Friday we made our way to across town to Palermo to meet up with Helga at her hostel (The Eco Pampa Palermo – only open for a few months and pretty cool from what we saw) and watch the England match before heading out for the evening. The less said about the football the better – suffice to say the crowning moment was when the hostel manager translated the commentator’s “this is the most boring match in the history of the world cup” comment for us just in case we’d missed it. After finishing the lovely Mendozan Malbec that had helped alleviate our boredom we headed out to explore Palermo Soho and find somewhere to eat.
One of the things we like most about Buenos Aires is the wide availability of vegetarian food in a city/country better known for its meat. We also like the fact that it is possible, nay almost compulsory, to eat at 10pm. Unless you were looking for a veggie or organic restaurant in Palermo last Friday that is. We did manage to imbibe an amazing smoothie in b-Blue, which also does food apparently but unfortunately closes at 9pm in Winter. We then we spent a while combing the streets to find a restaurant that matched both our culinary preferences AND our budgets. Just as were beginning to think that vegetarians in BA had to be home before 10pm for fear of turning into rabid carnivores (every place we would have wanted to eat in seemed to be closing just as we arrived) we found ourselves at Xalapa. It felt odd to be eating Mexican food surrounded by Spanish speakers and not be in Mexico, but the food wasn’t bad – not spicy enough although that’s nothing new in Argentina and the company was perfect.
Helga has made her way to Mendoza before heading home and we may not see her for another 3 years but it was wonderful to catch up with an old friend in a new place once again.
What a wonderful way to start the day. 4 times in 90 minutes our apartment building rang with the sound of our neighbours celebrating the successes of their national football team. Our apartment owner had warned us not to expect any service, well, pretty much anywhere, while Argentina were playing and this was emphasised by scenes of virtually empty intersections on the morning news. Not that this was a problem; there is little I like more than starting the day with a great cup of coffee and an exhibition of attacking flair.
And then, then I got to spend the afternoon watching Mexico beating France for the first time ever, with yummy lunch at Origen and a stupid sending off in-between. What a day full of win!
Speaking of the football, which I have to admit I’ve spent a lot of time doing over the past few days (offline at least). It seems as if our fridge has been feeling a little left out and has decided to join in by turning into a vuvuzela. We were awoken at around 5am by a ridiculously loud buzzing noise coming from somewhere in the apartment, a noise which my sleep addled brain initially attributed to said vuvuzela and then to the flying beetle that had committed hari-kiri by flying into the fan in our room in Varkala. Being the intrepid traveler that I am I stayed warm and cozy under the covers whilst John set out to investigate. Pinpointing the sound as coming from the kitchen, John ventured down the spiral staircase to encounter the 1950’s fridge doing a fair impersonation of a South African football crowd. At some point during the night, undoubtedly fed up of being unable to see the TV and thus watch Argentina play, it had decided to stop working and was buzzing loudly in indignation. Cue frantic mopping up of defrosting icebox and ritual unplugging of disgraced fridge before returning to blissful slumber. Luckily the fridge seems to have seen the error of its ways (a word or two from John can have that effect, or so I’m told) and is currently humming quietly away to itself. Long may it continue.
When a fridge is this cute you can forgive it almost anything
Aforementioned beetle a few hours before its sad demise
We arrived in Buenos Aires in the middle of a thunderstorm but being the hardcore travelers cheapskates that we are this didn’t put a dampener on our plans to forgo the taxi and take the subte to San Telmo. Shouldn’t be a problem we thought, it’s not rush hour and anyway we’re Londoners – what could possibly go wrong? Actually nothing, not on the subte anyway; it was a bit crowded, I felt bad for taking up so much space with my luggage (I don’t have that much, honest) but otherwise all was good. It was the 8 blocks in the pouring rain that did me in. For future reference Cate + backpack + pouring rain + slimy pavement = accident waiting to happen. One moment I was striding along like an amazon with an umbrella, the next I was on my back like an upturned beetle feeling just a little embarrassed. And quite wet. And with a painful ankle. Did I mention the feeling embarrassed? Good, just wanted to make sure.
As a result our first 48 hours in Buenos Aires haven’t quite been the action packed thrill a minute one might imagine. There’s been a great deal of sitting with said ankle elevated above my heart, eating empanadas and alfajores and drinking malbec, but very little adventuring. I have, however, managed to hobble around San Telmo once or twice and have discovered my new favourite local bistro, Origen, and made friends with the guys in the local bakery and supermarket so it hasn’t been a total washout.
No adventuring means no newly taken photos of Buenos Aires to share but seeing as we’ve been so tardy with filling you in on our adventures thus far I shall leave you with a few thoughts/pictures from Mexico.
We adored Mexico. Our first few days were spent exploring Mexico City, which was a far more interesting, walkable and friendly place than we’d been led to believe (particularly after talking to immigration officials in San Francisco who’d almost had us afearing for our lives). This article by Christine Delsol puts it far more eloquently than I ever could but suffice to say we loved it so much that we went back twice in the time we were in Mexico and would do so again in a heartbeat. These are some of the reasons why…