Mark and Mika Take on the WORLD!!! travel blog

Classic Buenos Aires!

Oh, the meat here is the BEST!

Our family in Buenos Aires

Acting like anchors at a television station

The ritzy Puerte Madera along the river

These colors would never fly in the US

Wow, wish Mark could dance like this!

This guy is doggone busy!

We were sitting at one of the beaches in Montevideo, Uruguay contemplating about our experiences in Buenos Aires when we wrote this. We haven't felt sand beneath our feet since July when we were at the Galapagos, and it feels like a little piece of home. But, more on Uruguay later. For now, Buenos Aires.

We arrived in Buenos Aires full of hopes and expectations, after another all night bus from Iguazu. It was freezing cold even though winter had almost ended. Buenos Aires is touted as the "Paris of South America" but in our opinion, it doesn't match up with the real thing, except for one aspect - there is plenty of dog poop littered around the streets. Everywhere you walk is a potential turd bomb, so it is difficult to take in the areas of Buenos Aires which are beautiful. You are always having to watch your feet!

We were slated to live with a single woman, which to us, meant plenty of good meals and plenty of time to practice our Spanish. Instead, we arrived to find out that her house was full of othe students, so she shipped us out to live with her boyfriend and his son. This proved to be a mixed blessing. They were both really nice, and we had a great time talking, but often the meals were a little lacking. Also, we had to walk and ride the subway 50 minutes to get to school. A few times, they gave us the impression that they were in the student housing business just for the money. The money they receive to have a student is pretty substantial. If you consider the fact that the average person gains about 4,000-10,000 American dollars a year (teachers only make 3,000), you can see why housing a student for about 75 dollars a week is a pretty good deal. The catch is this. The family is paid a certain daily amount. They have to feed the students and buy incidentals with this. Whatever they don't spend is theirs to keep. As you can see, this can lead to cheap, crappy meals. We experienced this a few times. For instance, once they bought a personal-sized pizza to share between 3 people, and another time we each received 2 teeny tiny empanadas for dinner. When the family invited us to eat out, we ended up paying for our dinner, even though the family was supposed to pay. But in their defense, they did improve the quality of our food as time went on. We came to find out that we were the guinea pigs for these two guys. They had no clue what to do for a dinner before we showed up. It was actually like staying at Mark's dad's house when he lived alone - nothing in the refrigerator or freezer. Anyway, we made the best of the situation.

Compared to the other cities we've visited in South America, Buenos Aires is truly sophisticated and developed. The city has the largest freeway system I've ever seen -- an 18 lane system, with 9 lanes going one way and another 9 the other called Avenida 9 de Julio. Right in the center of this freeway is a giant, white obelisk that punctuates the avenue. We had a lot of fun trying to cross this Avenida as we walked from one side of the city to the other. Besides, Buenos Aires also has a fast, efficient subway system that we used as our primary mode of transportation for about .25 cents per trip. Everyday, we would take the subway to school along with the other porteƱos destined for work, only to get smashed like canned sardines. One of the other routine activities was to walk along the main promenade lined with glitzy stores along Avenida Florida and Lavalle, trying our best to dart between a mass of people in a hurry to get somewhere. In Buenos Aires, there is that never-ending pulse of city life, people always on the move going to and from about their way. You wonder if they ever take the time to breathe. The city never rests.

One thing we had to quickly get accustomed to is the time of day people eat and go out in Buenos Aires. Most people don't have dinner until 10:00 PM and it's not uncommon to have desert at 12:30 in the morning. If you arrive at a disco at 2:00 AM in the morning, that's considered early, and people party all through the night and don't return home until 8:00 AM. For this reason, our Spanish school here started later than the other schools we've attended in South America - 9:00 AM Tuesdays through Fridays, and not until 10:00 AM on Mondays. On more than a few occasions, over half of our class was absent from partying a bit too much the night before. The food here doesn't have much to be desired. If you like pasta, pizza, and milanesas, you're in heaven, but it got a bit old having to eat the same things for 3 weeks. Each block of Buenos Aires is lined with at least 5 different cafes all serving the same thing. We don't think we will have much desire to eat pasta or pizza for awhile. Both of us put on some serious pounds on the pasta and pizza diet at 10:30 in the evening. But we have to say, their steaks and ice cream do live up to expectations! We've had the best grilled meat here that we've ever tasted. If you order a steak "well done" here, the people refuse to serve it.

In Buenos Aires, we also got the chance to go out in the evenings more so than the other cities. One particular evening, Lucas, our younger host, told us we were simply going out for dinner. So, unfortunately, Mika didn't have her camera to capture Mark's most humiliating moments. We ended up at a disco called the "Museum" where we feasted on an all you can eat buffet of pizza and pasta. But the fun really began when a former linebacker dressed up like a woman walked on stage and started singing and dancing. Our dinner table just so happened to be right next to the stage, and Mark stuck out like a sore thumb. The "he-woman" pulled him and a gay guy from Germany up to the stage to be part of the show. What occurred next was a comedy from another world. Anyway, the three of us danced for awhile, gyrating our hips and the like. But the dancing was only a warm up. This hulk explained to Mark in a machine gun Spanish that they were going to act out a scene from a romance. She and Mark were married, and Mark was supposedly having an affair with the other guy. So, the gay guy and I danced together on stage, and the linebacker found us together. You need to use your imagination on what happened on stage...a little disgusting or hilarious depending on who you were. For Mark, it was disgustingly funny. The transvestite sang a song of love to Mark, while she/he acted out every part of Kama Sutra. The audience roared, the surprised look on Mark's face was priceless, and Mika was doubled over in pain from laughter. If only we had our camera...

One other notable thing about Buenos Aires is their very active tango culture. Tango originated here, and on Saturdays and Sundays, you can walk down to the antiques and artesan markets to get a free show of people dancing tango on the streets. It's amazing to watch. We are always surprised that they don't trip over themselves with the fancy foot-play. There are so many styles of tango as well from the classical, romantic, to the sexy and acrobatic styles. We took tango lessons once at our Spanish school, and Mark was a really good sport. He had to learn to walk differently before he could dance. Unfortunately, we were unable to continue with our lessons due to a change in our class schedule. (Mark was probably grateful!) So tango lessons will have to wait.

It's incredible that we've been gone for 3 months now, and its almost time to return to the US for 4 days. We think of South America fondly as we near the end of this leg of the trip. But Uruguay is our last stop before home, and we plan to make the most of it.

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