Note: The following two blog posts are the final submissions by Ruthi and Rankin Skinner from their time spent in South America earlier this year.
Buenos Aires is a large, cosmopolitan and truly beautiful city with a European feel. Everyone who visits seems to fall under her spell. This is an immigrant city, most of its original inhabitants having migrated from Spain and Italy. The architecture is definitely European, along with the layout of the streets, broad boulevards with green space in the center. Buenos Aires lies in the Pampas. Pampas actually means “land with no trees”, but one of B.A.’s early presidents had the vision and foresight to have planted 150,000 trees during his term of office, and the trend has continued. Now Buenos Aires is tree-lined from one end of the city to the other. Every park has public art and the people here frequent these lovely parks regularly.
We arrived at Ezeiza International Airport via Lima, Peru. It is a 30-minute taxi ride from the airport to the center of town. We stayed at Las Naciones Hotel, right in the center of the theatre district, and situated on Ave. Corriantes, one of the main streets in town. We arrived in early evening and everything was lit up, with big billboards advertising all the plays. The city was (as it always seems to be) alive! Folks here walk arm-in-arm at all hours of the night; lovers, friends, whole families with their kids, even kids who seem to be all alone (!!). Most restaurants do not open until 8 or 9 P.M., and no one eats early here. One of our favorite things to do was to sit in outdoor cafes, have a coffee or share a bottle of wine and people watch. Speaking of wines, Argentina is known for some of the best wines in South America. In one restaurant, we had a great small bottle of Malbec for $17 Argentine Pesos ($4.25). We are not meat eaters, but everyone raves over the steaks here. Of course, Argentina considers itself to be the beef capital of the world. The steak houses (parrillas) will give you a choice of several different cuts, and the servings seem to always be more than any normal appetite can handle. Argentinians will tell you it is so good because free-range Argentine cows eat nutritious pampas grass, without the massive quantities of corn, antibiotics and growth hormones which American and European stock is given in feedlots. In Argentina, the average yearly intake of beef is 70 kg/person.
Buenos Aires proper has a population of 3,000,000, not including the surrounding area which swells to 12.4 million. B.A. is separated into 48 separate neighborhoods, some very wealthy, others desperately poor. The city is also known for its cutting-edge designers and great shopping. One cool shopping street (1 block from our hotel) is Calle Florida, a long pedestrian street with no automobile access. It is one of the main arteries of this neighborhood. It is always jammed during the day with business people, shoppers and tourists seeking vehicle-free access from north to south without bus fumes and honking taxis. Buskers, beggars and street vendors thrive here, adding color and noise. The day we shopped here, there were several bands playing along the street, including a jazz band, Otavalan flute band (they’re everywhere, they’re everywhere) and reggae musicians. Ruthi was pleased to find our daughter Erin some cha-cha little sandles here.
A note: We really do not discriminate between our kids, grandkids and in-laws. The ATM at the airport in B.A. had eaten our debit card, so our shopping possibilities were severely hampered. What the heck. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was because of needing to use the phone when we reached Puerto Iguazu to call our bank back home that we were treated to that charming little town, which we wrote about in a previous blog. Then, David Coffey just brought us down some cash from Winchester, so shopping would pick up again in Quito.
The next day we visited several of the neighborhoods. One, Recoleta, had tree-lined streets with mansions copied after ones found in Europe. If you want one of these you had better have plenty of cash. Most of the middle class citizens live in Palermo, another interesting area in 3 distinct parts. Many museums are found here, as well as many embassies of different countries. In one of the parks here is found one of Buenos Aires’ most unique sculptures. It is a monumental flower by Eduardo Catalano, constructed of polished aluminum much like the museum in Bilbao. An interesting feature is it is solar-powered and the petals close at night. Really cool! Next, we visited La Boca, a blue-collar neighborhood, where many of the houses are covered with corrugated metal and painted in bright colors. This neighborhood is a rough one and it is not recommended to stroll away from the main streets, where there is constantly a street fair, with tango dancers, musicians and artists. Another neighborhood nearby, and known for its antique shops and great cafes, is San Telmo.
The newest and least conventional of B.A.’s barrios is Puerto Madero, located east of Microcentro. Once an old waterfront, it is now a wonderful place to stroll, boasting cobblestone walkways and a long line of attractive brick warehouses which have been converted into ritzy lofts, business offices and upscale restaurants. Skyscrapers are being built here in record numbers and here is found some of B.A.’s most expensive real estate.
Of course, no visit to B.A. is complete without a visit to the tomb of Eva Peron (Evita) who championed the poor during her husband’s presidency and gave women the right to vote. Today she is revered with saint-like love and respect by nearly all Argentinians. Tragically, she died of cancer at only age 33. There is a beautiful much-oversized statue of her in the park where her body lies, testament to the way in which her memory is treasured.
Another site which should not be missed is La Plaza de Mayo, where in 1977, 14 mothers marched to demand information about their missing children. This was during the human rights violations of then-President Jorge Rafael Videla. These women’s bravery turned into a strong social movement which challenged the military government. Their movement is credited for the country’s return to civil government in 1983. Thousands of young people disappeared during this time and the mothers continue to march in the plaza demanding retribution and information. In 2005 the Argentine Supreme Court overturned an amnesty (which until then protected former military officers suspected and accused of human rights violations during the 1973-1986 military dictatorship). Mothers still hold silent vigils every Thursday afternoon in remembrance of the “disappeared”.
Sadly, our time in Buenos Aires came to an end, but we left knowing we had only touched the surface of what this great city has to offer. Stay tuned: if at all possible, we’ll be back for a longer stay next year.