Other photos of Argentina



ARGENTINA: Puerto Iguazu (see BRAZIL for Iguazu Falls), Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Villa la Angostura

URUGUAY: Montevideo, Punta del Este, Colonia 

September/November 2004



Pssst! Want to go to Europe for half-price? Well, it's not exactly Europe, but Buenos Aires is often called the Paris of the Western Hemisphere. When we visited in 2004, it was like being in Europe at 1980s prices! Once one of the world's most expensive cities, Buenos Aires has turned into a travel bargain.




Before we arrived, we knew only a little about Argentina: that it's almost the size of India, raises a lot of beef, borders five countries (Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile) and went to war with Great Britain over the Falklands Islands. And lost.


O.K. That's an exaggeration. We also knew about the "Dirty War" of 1975-83 in which some 30,000 people "disappeared" (i.e., they were grabbed out of their homes, tortured and killed.) We knew that Evita Peron lived here, because we saw Madonna in the film version of her life (a film which Argentineans dislike because it collapses fifty years of history and uses Che Guevara - who lived later than Evita - as a storyteller.) We also knew it as the country of Jorge Luis Borges, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and of "bad-boy" soccer player Diego Maradona. We already knew about good Argentinean wine. And we once tried to tango. And lost.


We think more travelers should come down here to visit. Why? There's something in it for everyone. Here's our sales pitch. You'll like Buenos Aires....




It's a big city (13 million) but the downtown Microcentre is compact and contains most of the interesting sights - making for fascinating walking. There's also a good subway system. The weather is delightful in spring (October/November) and autumn (March/April.) You can walk along wide tree-lined boulevards such as 22-lane Avenida 9 de Julio, quaint alleys in San Telmo, and the artsy sidewalks of Boca with colorful buildings and balcony sculptures.



You can walk to restaurants, bars, boutiques, museums, antique shops, Freddo's ice cream shops and lush green parks where you can drop for a nap after eating an ice cream cone. One of our favorite buildings was Teatro Colon - a 19th century

candy-box concert hall of gilt and velvet with fantastic acoustics. Another was El Alteno Bookstore - a magnificently restored legitimate theater now selling CDs, books and afternoon tea (below.)




Everywhere there's grand architecture in the European style - featuring cupolas and graceful balconies.






Vegetarians don't starve down here, but they could. About 80% of the restaurants in Buenos Aires are "parrillas" (pronounced "parrishas" because the Argentineans speak their own version of Spanish.) A parrilla has a huge fireplace grill where whole sides of grass-fed beef and lamb are barbecued; the steak here is the best anywhere. Warning: Do NOT order two steaks for two people. You'll burst. (We saw T-bone steaks for less than US$1 per pound at a meat market.) Steak is so good, cheap and plentiful that Lou actually got tired of it! Fortunately, there are lots of Italians here and the fresh pasta is excellent. Forget the pizza; most of it is pathetic in South America. There's also very good seafood. Argentinean wine is good and dirt-cheap. The the grocery stores carry wine costing from $1 all the way up to $7 a bottle! And if you want to try fine vintage wines, you can do it here at prices that would make Napa Valley vintners cringe.



Joan's favorite meal was a leisurely lunch at Cabana Las Lilas, an up-scale restaurant facing the Puerto Madera canal. The cover charge includes a huge appetizer platter (smoked salmon, prosciutto, grilled tomatoes and zucchini, blue cheese spread, salsas, imported olives, lavash and an endless supply of warm popovers.) We split a fabulous rib-eye steak, papas souffles (potatoes, not fathers) and an arugula/watercress salad. The bottle of wine was a Mendoza Malbec; dessert was tiramisu with coffee ice cream, plus espresso. THEN they brought out a selection of tiny chocolate truffles! This was our finest meal in Buenos Aires, at one of the city's best restaurants, and the total bill for two including tip was only US$54. (This was a big splurge for us. Our main meal of the day in Buenos Aires, including wine, normally cost about $15-18 for the two of us.) We ate so much at Las Lilas that we staggered to the nearest park, slept hard for half an hour and ate very little for the next three days!




We went to a concert at Teatro Colon to see world-famous Argentine pianist Martha Argerich  www.argerich.org/

backed by a 75-piece orchestra. Incredible!  We perched in "chicken seats" of the sixth balcony, moving down to empty second balcony seats when the lights dimmed.  www.bsasliteraria.com.ar/teatro.htm


But there's more... Top-level jazz musicians Brad Mehldau and Dave Holland appeared in the city - unfortunately just after we left. We did get to see a wonderful performance by the Argentine Ballet featuring Twyla Tharp choreography set to nine songs by Frank Sinatra. And you can't avoid seeing tango performances everywhere - in the streets, parks, restaurants and nightclubs. (Does the male tango dancer below look familiar?)






We took a subway, train and bus to the outskirts of the city to watch a rugby game in which the "scrum" of 16 hulking players scuttled back and forth across the field like a large demented crab; we also saw two (free) polo matches in which the (very) rich polo players charged furiously around a huge field swinging mallets and changing "ponies" (gorgeous thoroughbred horses) every few minutes. Futbol (soccer) is played at world-class levels here, in stadiums filled with world-class rowdy fans. We watched Olympics champion Argentina beat Uruguay 4-2 in a World Cup qualifier. It was a relatively peaceful match by South American standards. They didn't even have to use the many German shepherd police dogs on duty, and the Uruguay fans were protected by 30-foot high wire mesh. The stadium was rockin' with intense chanting, taunting and swaying amidst smoke bombs, banners, flags and balloons.






Every Friday afternoon at 3:30 elderly women in white kerchiefs parade around Plaza de Mayo in front of  Casa Rosada, the pink presidential palace. (Evita Peron spoke to the masses from one of its balconies.) "The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo" are protesting - as they have every Friday for twenty years - the disappearance of their sons, daughters and grandchildren. The day after seeing the parade, we read in the paper that one of the founding mothers had just found her granddaughter who had disappeared as a baby in 1978. The woman, now 27 and living in Canada, called to tell her grandmother "I love you." www.fire.or.cr/junio01/mothers2.htm 



These demonstrations are a continual reminder of Argentina's bloody past under a succession of military dictatorships. One Argentinean told us proudly that Kirchener, the current president, is one of two civilian presidents - in a row!




Here is your chance to look like a big spender without being one. The economy still suffers from the latest financial meltdown of 2002 when the government defaulted on $100 billion in debt and devalued the peso. That's why, though times are hard for Argentineans, everything here is inexpensive for Americans and Europeans. Our comfortable room in Hotel Marbella, with private bath and French doors opening onto Avenida de Mayo, cost only $20/night, including breakfast. After Joan ordered a made-to-measure, sleek black lambskin jacket at Poppy onAv Florida, Lou insisted she also buy a bright red one he calls her chica (loosely translated as red hot momma) jacket - which we found in another store. And Lou got a rugged black jacket of cowskin for himself. (Joan calls it his macho jacket.) Leather clothing is beautiful, reasonable (all those steaks mean lots of leather) and can be made-to-order in a day or two. Leather briefcases, purses, boots, shoes, belts, wallets, desk accessories, whips (for polo, silly) - you name it, they've got it in leather. (That's Joan on the balcony of our Marbella Hotel room - wearing her new red leather jacket and pretending to give an Evita speech.)







We went twice to a cafe to meet for several hours with a friendly group of English-speaking porteņos (residents of Buenos Aires.) The group speaks only in English at these meetings. We discussed politics, economics, history, art, travel, culture, education and careers. These people - mostly in their 20s and 30s - were warm and welcoming, and were delighted when we called Argentina a First World country. The group's website:  grupo_de_ingles@hotmail.com




Stay home.


Just kidding! Buenos Aires is one foreign city where you'll feel very comfortable. Unlike most of South America, you can drink the tap water and trust that raw vegetables won't make you sick. You even can put toilet paper into the toilet! And you'll feel as safe in Bs.As. as you would in any large city - provided you take the usual big city precautions. Again, it's more like visiting a European city than a South American one, as Argentineans are about 92% European in background; there are very few indigenous people here, and most live in the far northern parts of the country. So the customs and culture here won't be that different from Boston or San Francisco. Well, except that Argentineans like to sip mate - the dregs of bitter herbs - from a gourd with a silver straw.  And pedestrians do NOT have the right of way or any other rights, for that matter.... and Argentineans eat a TON of meat.... and they speak funny Spanish. Oops, we have some new Argentinean friends who are reading this. (Sorry!)


Not to worry if you don't speak Spanish. Nearly all hotel receptionists and waiters know at least a little English. Menus are printed in both Spanish and English; you can read the daily English-language Buenos Aires Herald newspaper; any hotel room costing more than $15 a day will have cable television with either CNN or BBC in English - and first-run American films are shown in theaters in their original English, with Spanish subtitles. But if you do learn a little Spanish you'll enjoy yourself even more.




URUGUAY: It's easy to visit another country on a day-trip from Buenos Aires, because Uruguay is just an hour's ferry ride away! However, three or four days would be a better amount of time to spend here, as two charming cities are within easy reach of the ferry by bus. The capital, Montevideo, is a wonderful city, with beautiful architecture (photo below), good food and interesting sights. We were fortunate to stay here for two nights with a hospitable young couple of graphic designers. We'd met Flora on a long-distance bus in Turkey in 2001 and had stayed in touch via e-mail. Here she is with boyfriend Nico and father Felipe.





We also spent two nights with Sam (the friend of a friend), an ex-pat American who now lives in Punta del Este - a resort area frequented by international rock stars and models. We were there before the summer season began, and its huddle of high-rise condominium buildings seemed rather dreary and its beaches weren't very impressive compared to those in Hawaii. However, we were impressed by Colonia - a charming town by the ferry port. We stayed here two nights, and wandered around the narrow lanes to gaze at the elegant colonial architecture, check out the boutiques, eat in excellent cafes and visit an old port museum.

IGUAZU FALLS: Take a side-trip from Buenos Aires to awesome Iguazu Falls. See  BRAZIL

BARILOCHE: Take a side trip from Buenos Aires to Bariloche - a charming resort town nestled up against the Andes, facing a beautiful lake. Good times to visit are winter (June, July, August) to enjoy one of South America's largest ski complexes, or autumn (March, April) and spring (November) for trekking, hiking and fishing. In summer (December, January, February) Bariloche is hot, and crowded with boistrous Argentinean students on vacation.


One day we took a city bus to the foot of Cerro Lopez, and hiked for four hours up a trail (the last hour in snow) to pink Refugio Lopez - a trekking "hut" maintained by a local mountaineering society. We were the lone guests in the 85-bed refugio (that has only one toilet!), so ate our meals in the woodstove-warmed kitchen with the cook - the shy, hermit-like caretaker. The photo below was taken through the kitchen window.

Other photos of Argentina

VILLA LA ANGOSTURA: At the other end of the lake from Bariloche, this stone-and-timber resort village has considerable charm. There are several excellent restaurants mixed in with the inevitable gift shops. From town, you can walk trails to scenic overlooks and waterfalls, or walk the length of a beautiful island and catch a cruise boat back to town.

PATAGONIA:  The vast southern part of Argentina, with its magnificent pampas, mountains, trekking huts and glaciers, is a fabulous destination in its own right. See PATAGONIA



Buenos Aires travel article:  www.departures.com/tr/tr_0598_buenosairesindex.html

GUIDEBOOKS:  South America; South America on a Shoestring, Trekking in the Patagonian Andes (all by Lonely Planet); Argentina (Moon Handbooks); Argentina (Footprints Guides)

BACKGROUND READING:  The Motorcycle Diaries: A Latin American Journey by Ernesto Che Guevara, Cintio Vitier & Aleida Guevara; Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend by Patrick Symmes

FILMS:  The Official Story; Evita; Motorcycle Diaries; Kiss of the Spider Woman

(2004 Prices)

BUENOS AIRES:  Hotel Marbella: Av de Mayo 1261  English spoken.  www.hotelmarbella.com.ar

IGUAZU FALLS: Round-trip airfare between Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls is $200, or take a comfortable Crucero del Norte cama-suite bus (19 hours) - $100/round-trip.




Joan and Lou Rose     joanandlou@ramblingroses.net