Leaving the warmth of Brazil’s beaches and people was no easy feat, but as they say in theater… the show must go on. Next on the travel itinerary was the vast country of Argentina, beginning in its cosmopolitan capital of Buenos Aires.
Though Argentina and Brazil share a continent, a border, and (somewhat) similar languages, they couldn’t be more different culturally and economically. Brazil has the feel of a country on the rise, with deep social problems yet explosive economic progress and an uninhibited joie de vivre. In Argentina, on the other hand, the dominant vibe is cultural sophistication mixed with a nostalgia for better days. It is a country that has risen, fallen hard, and has cautious optimism to rise again.
The porteños, or people of Buenos Aires, look and act more European than stereotypical South American. Their blood is mostly Spanish, German and Italian, and they speak with a very distinctive Spanish accent as if to elevate themselves above their South American neighbors. They carry themselves with a confidence bordering on arrogance, and often come across as distant and unfriendly until you get to know them. That said, they’re not bad people, they just take a bit longer to open up. If there’s anything I’ve learned from traveling over 40 countries around the world, it’s that cultures and communication styles are different, but at their core all people are equally warm.
Aesthetically, Buenos Aires (or BsAs as it’s commonly abbreviated here) doesn’t look like any other South American city that I’ve seen. It has European-style boulevards, architecture, and cafes that are more reminiscent of Paris than Sao Paulo. In fact, a Parisian friend with whom we recently shared dinner said that it reminds him of home. There is also world-class shopping in BsAs, at least for foreigners with hard currency. The Argentinian peso has been very weak ever since it was unpegged to the US dollar in 2001, which triggered a major economic crisis here. For Americans, Europeans, and even Brazilians these days, it’s a relatively cheap country to travel and shop.
We stayed in Buenos Aires for three full weeks, enjoying the food, the shopping, and all the creature comforts that a big city has to offer. Coming straight from the rugged Amazon, for me it was a very pleasant reprise. We don’t have much to show for it other than some new designer clothes and photos from our graffiti tour (BsAs is famous for its street art) but it was a much-needed rest stop on a long traveling journey. Our days were mostly filled with strolls around town and through the park, soaking up the sun and ubiquitous high-speed wifi access. I finally got caught up with my P90X workouts and ate enough inexpensive and delicious Argentinian steak to disgust most mortals.
We did get some culture in as well, such as a tango show at Cafe Tortoni (Argentina’s oldest and most revered cafe), a visit to the Recoleta cemetery for the obligatory visit to Evita’s grave (and we watched the movie “Evita” to get some historical context), a visit to the Casa Rosada where Evita and her husband Juan Perón addressed adoring fans, a stroll through the famous Caminito in La Boca, and the accidental attendance of a huge parade to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the end of Argentina’s military dictatorship.
We now understand why Buenos Aires is so popular amongst American tourists. It’s cosmopolitan, sophisticated, safe, and even feels a bit like home.