Tango in Buenos Aires, glaciers in Patagonia. Our week-plus visit to the vast country of Argentina won’t, we hope, be our last. Especially since the $140 tourism pass (they get you coming and going, literally) which you need just to enter the country is good for a decade. Gotta get our money’s worth out of that!
You can fly direct from New York to Buenos Aires. But it costs more. So we elected for a changeover in Lima, Peru. That made the trip longer, of course…but also afforded awesome aerial views of the majestic snow-covered Andes. Welcome to South America!
This was our first trip to our neighbor continent, and the distances are greater than we imagined; flying to Mexico or the Caribbean is nothing compared to this. I think some of the surprise came from the lack of big time changes. When you travel long distances from the Americas to Europe or Asia, you have to adjust your body clock in a major way. But going from North to South America, you’re flying, and flying, and flying…but a couple of hours is the most you’ll have to adjust your watch.
Argentina’s most famous cultural export is, of course, tango. More on that later, but meanwhile have a look at this gigantic mural we happened upon. This is actually only part of it; it was too enormous to fit in one shot.
Buenos Aires is full of beautiful and interesting architecture.
Some is lovingly maintained; some, not so much. Graffiti is ever-present, most of it political, much of it praising Néstor Kirchner, the late former president, and his widow, current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Politics is pretty ugly here, and it’s everywhere. Whether the graffiti is truly grass-roots, I don’t know; we heard conflicting stories about how popular the current regime really is. There’s an election coming up this fall; then we’ll see whether Cristina wins a new term. And whether President Obama will snub Argentina again next time he visits South America.
The one part of town that’s more or less graffiti-free and spotlessly clean is the modern waterfront neighborhood of Puerto Madero, marked by Santiago Calatrava’s striking “Puente de la Mujer” (“Bridge of the Woman”). We New Yorkers didn’t have any trouble recognizing the architect’s style, having seen so many renderings of his upcoming World Trade Center transit hub, if it ever gets finished.
Puerto Madera is lined with fancy restaurants. When we walked by at around 7:30 PM, the waitstaff were standing around polishing plates; as in Spain, dinnertime in Buenos Aires doesn’t really roll around until about 10 PM. Only one spot was hopping at that early hour: TGI Friday’s. We couldn’t help laughing. What is it about American tourists that makes them fly all the way across the world and then rush to a mediocre chain restaurant they could go to at home? I mean, why bother traveling? Next up: an exciting visit to the Buenos Aires Hard Rock Cafe, I suppose.
In the wealthy Recoleta neighborhood, this whimsical footbridge caught my eye:
We failed to visit the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, since it was closed for renovations, but we did hit the modern art museum known as MALBA, the strange Museo Etnográfico Juan B. Ambrosetti, and, yes, the museum devoted to Argentina’s most famous daughter, the Evita Museum, which was surprisingly interesting and affecting.
Threading through tourist groups, we also visited her tomb in the impressive and famous Cementerio de la Recoleta. But I was more taken with the final resting place of the great Argentinian heavyweight boxer Luis Firpo, whose 1923 bout with Jack Dempsey is known to this day as one of the greatest fights in history.
The weather was beautiful and sunny during our first couple of days, and we took advantage in the Botanic Garden…
…and the Japanese Garden, because when you come to Buenos Aires, naturally, it’s all about, uh, the Japanese Garden.
Our travel agent had recommended we take a bus tour of the main city sights. Sure glad we didn’t take that advice. Flying to a foreign country to sit on a bus on hot, crowded city streets…not my idea of a vacation. And anyway, we got a taste of that at the start of a day trip to Tigre for a boat ride through the Paraná Delta. Stay tuned for that and lots more in the next installment. And then we head down to Patagonia for glaciers and icebergs, whiskey, steak—and a giant 4×4.