Last week, Buenos Aires beckoned us. To temporarily leave Bolivia behind and enjoy the gluttony and luxury of her tree lined streets. Well, actually it
was Uncle Doug who beckoned us, but either way off we went, and almost nothing could have been such a 180 degree contrast to the life we were living in the Andes. Talk about culture shock- when they say that Buenos Aires (BA) is comparable to any metropolitan European city, they speak the truth.
In a classic Uncle Doug Michels move,
we received an email in La Paz notifying us that sometime in the next week he needed to fly somewhere far away (for the airline miles) and was thinking of Buenos Aires. A few days and a lot of emails later, we were in route to Argentina. It was an adventure of mixed feeling for us. As we had reached and passed our 6 month mark on the trip, I had fallen into a temporary slump. I had been missing the simple pleasures of home (wherever that is). Silly things- mostly associated with “nesting”- like cleaning my own kitchen after cooking a delicious meal (or cleaning any kitchen, as strange as that sounds), sleeping under my down comforter and on my own bed (I don’t even own a bed, actually, so my own bed is actually just a fantasy), walking to my favorite Seattle coffee shop, ordering a thick creamy latte and heading to Green Lake…those type of things. And even simpler things like having a towel that actual wraps all the way around me (quick dry packable travel towels are amazing inventions, but I’m the first to admit that they leave something to be desired.), having an super baggy soft sweatshirt to crawl into on a lazy rainy day (didn’t quite fit into the ‘Easy to Cram into my Backpack’ category), and frozen gluten free pizza…oh how I miss a slice of pizza (not to worry the gluten-ous folks- there is a TON of pizza down here!) Anyway, the part of me that was busy wallowing in my own ridiculous self pity was thrilled at the prospect of a week of Uncle Doug style spoiling. There is nowhere in South America I would rather enjoy an Uncle Doug treatment than in Buenos Aires.
But there was another part of me that hesitated to drop everything and fly to BA for a week. Even now I can’t quite pinpoint where that hesitation comes from. Is it money? We were not only gifted a RT ticket from Bolivia but also a private room in a beautiful loft rented for the week, and countless hours indulging in food that I never even knew existed (I’ll get into that later). I come from a family that has always supported me financially- from paying nursing school loans to helping me travel in Central America after college graduation. My family believes in travel like they believe in education. When I started working as a nurse, I was suddenly and for the first time in my life financially independent and I was so proud of that. For three years I worked full time, always with the goal of saving money for this trip. Cameron and I have been planning this year long adventure since we got back from our last one, and every penny I put in the bank was one step closer to a year of adventure around the world- a year I had earned myself. Being able to save enough to quit my job and do THIS was a huge deal for me. So for my family to be able to step in out of the blue and offer a mini trip of luxury after we had spent 6 months bargaining for stark hotel rooms in an attempt to make our money stretch felt almost like it canceled out my three years of saving.
But maybe it had nothing to do with the money at all- maybe my hesitation had more to do with the general concept of a year long trip. For both Cameron and I, a major draw of doing a trip like this is the idea of getting “off the map” for a while. Of challenging ourselves to living simply (although our version of ‘simple’ is pitiful compared to the average living expenses down here…) and getting by on what we can carry on our backs. Of sewing up my one pair of leggings 10 times instead of buying new ones. Of wearing that tee shirt one more time before it absolutely has to be washed. Of learning to cut our own hair and hand wash our own clothes and read books we would have never read because it’s all we have. Those are the things we love about traveling- it’s a challenge and I honestly believe we will come home different people. I venture to even claim better people. Maybe it’s because we both grew up without wanting for anything- but this lifestyle of getting by on what we have is attractive to us. So when we are offered a chance to temporarily step outside of this life we have built, it makes it feel a little less genuine in a way. That we can live out of our backpacks is less impressive if we can afford to fly home for a quick visit. That we know how to survive on $5 per person per day by eating at the local market means less when we can pick up and fly to BA to spent $50 on a steak. These are issues I think about a lot. I love the feeling of being able to get by. I find myself more and more like my mother in my joy at hanging clothes on the line to dry, of the excitement I feel in the idea of starting my own garden and turning my own compost pile. I relish in the prospect of being a poor student, keeping track of how much money I spend on delicious Seattle coffee every week. But in my heart, I know the only probable reason I enjoy these feelings is because I have never really needed something I couldn’t have. It’s a complex issue for me, and one that had come to my mind relentlessly over the last 10 years of my life.
Anyway, all my personal issues aside,
Cameron and I packed up our bags and jet-setted to Buenos Aires. Moving beyond my mixed feelings, I was ecstatic to see familiar faces and to be showered with hugs. Uncle Doug, Aunt Helen, and a new friend Nina awaited us in a beautiful 3 bedroom loft. I wrapped myself in real sized plush towels, took high pressure showers, lounged under the air conditioner, and cleaned the kitchen like a mad woman.
My family came baring gluten free gifts and a bottle of tequila, my long lost love. When I managed to pull myself away from the comforts of the apartment, we wandered the beautiful tree lines streets of our neighborhood, Palmero. Palmero is chock full of trendy fashion boutiques (yikes! Suddenly my Teva sandals and one black travel dress weren’t quite cutting in the world of trend setting that BA is!), yoga studios, parks, and outdoor patios for sipping a beer and watching the world go by.
One Monday night after a giant board of cheese and salami and a couple jars of white wine sangria, I overshot the walk home and we ended up a few blocks too far. As we zig-zagged back to our apartment we stumbled upon a restaurant on the corner that was apparently The Place To Be on Monday, judging by the crowd waiting for tables at 11:30 pm. We vowed to return he next day and so began my new love affair with beef. When I took my first bite of that Kobe Waygu Bife de Chorizo (mystery cut- appears to be some kind of rump steak and is the most popular Buenos Aires cut of meat,
but we can’t seem to find a clear translation) I knew there was no going back. It melted in my mouth like butter, explosions of flavor coming with every time I bit down. I don’t know how else to describe it except orgasmic. And I wasn’t the only one. We soon discovered that we had unknowingly stumbled upon on the most recommended parrillas (Argentina grills) in Buenos Aires- and believe me that we went back for more. (It was called La Cabrera and in the Palmero neighborhood for anyone who wants to buy a ticket and head there right now).
Besides eating orgasmic meat, we managed to do a bit of site seeing. There are beautiful parks, plenty of plazas and churches, and countless neighborhoods, each known for it’s own flavor. Palmero, as I mentioned is one of the trendier parts of town, know for it’s shopping and night life. We wandered around San Telmo on Sunday when the huge antique market takes place. We toured the Recoleta Cemetery, resting place of Buenos Aires’ elite including presidents, nobel prize winners, and of course the lovely Evita. We took hundreds of photos in La Boca, the working class part of town. La Boca is known a home to an eccentric group of immigrants and dock workers who painted the clapboard and lean to houses in brilliant left over paint from the dock creating a tradition of vivid clashing
colors that tourists just can’t resist. La Boca is also home to La Bombanera (translates to little candy box), the home field for the Boca Juniors soccer team. La Bombanera is one of the most famous soccer stadiums in the world, known especially for being home to Diego Maradona, soccer player in the 70’s and 80’s and king of many a controversy (both personal and soccer related). But I’ll stop pretending that I know what I’m taking about and let Cameron take over on the Maradona
discussion. He dreams daily of the time when we (or maybe just HE, I’m a little nervous about braving a game since Argentinean are known as some of the most ‘passionate’ soccer fans in the world) will finally make it to a game at La Bombanera, and I’m sure that when it happens he will be compelled to write another blog post. 😉
Buenos Aires was a different world. Nina was constantly asking us questions about the similarities and differences between BA and the other places we’d been. She asked us what about Buenos Aires made it South American. Cam and I tried hard to answer this question. But we struggled- there was more that was different than that was the same. The streets of BA are wide and tree lined and the cars actually obey traffic rules. The taxis and buses
are all set prices, so no bargaining is required. The cafes serve Diet Coke and Decaf Coffee. Heck, the cafes actually serve real coffee (as in not instant). The streets are almost empty of vendors. If you want something, you go to an actual store instead of a street corner. Even the BA version of Spanish is totally different. I’ll need a good couple weeks there to learn to change all the ‘y’ sounds to ‘sh’ sounds. And one of the very biggest differences of all, for me at least, is that suddenly I can’t tell the difference between travelers and locals. Everyone is light skinned, and there are enough good bleach jobs that my blond hair isn’t the reason I stand out. Porteňas (girls from BA) strut around in floral mini dresses, wide belts, and high heels- suddenly the reason I stand out is that I’m not quite trendy enough, not because I’m white. After moving fluidly through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia- noting small differences but feeling pretty comfortable in customs and language, Buenos Aires could have been a different planet. Comparing BA to Bolivia is like apples and oranges. You just can’t do it. They are so completely different, and both absolutely amazing in their own way.
So, despite all the mixed feelings and the normal trials that come will family vacations, our week in Buenos Aires was absolutely amazing. It was an experience we never would have been able to duplicate on our own. We were spoiled rotten. We ate at places we never would have treated ourselves to. We drank Malbec we never would have glanced at. We were total tourists and it was wonderful. I got my fix of family time and luxury. And we got to share our discovery for a new country with people we love. I think we all fell head over heels for Buenos Aires.