Country #30: Argentina! – an introduction

Dear readers,

As related in previous posts, I turned 30 this year, and I’ve been trying to travel as much as possible in honor of my new decade. I realized a couple days after my birthday that I should have tried to visit 30 countries before I turned 30 (at that time I had been to 27), but I decided that visiting 30 countries by the end of the year in which I turned 30 was almost as good. I went to Morocco and Turkey in the summertime (I will eventually put up a post about Istanbul, which was amazing), which got me to 28 and 29 (along with a new continent!), and I decided that my 30th country should be a special one. In recent years I’ve taken to asking people what one country they would go to if they could only go to one more, and for me that answer was always and immediately Argentina. I’ve wanted to come here pretty much since I started learning Spanish. I can even remember being in 3rd grade and having my teacher, who I guess probably studied abroad here, teach us about the Argentine flag, the gauchos in the pampas, etc. In college as a Hispanic Studies and International Relations major, I spent a lot of time studying Latin American history and politics, and Argentina was always the country that most interested me in terms of both of those areas. I also learned quite a lot about Eva Peron, which makes me slightly less embarrassed to disclose that I know the words to every song from “Evita”, which I own (I used to show it to my Spanish students) and which I’ve also seen on the stage in London.

The only reason I haven’t been to Argentina before is, in all honesty, because I’ve been afraid of coming and never wanting to leave. I felt that way about Rio when I went in 2011, but given how much I already knew and loved about Argentina, I thought there was a significant chance that I’d feel that so strongly that I would actually have to uproot my life and move down here.

I arrived in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning after spending Christmas with family in Indiana, where it was cold. Let me tell you friends, if you, like me, have never traveled to the southern hemisphere during our winter months, you’ve been living wrong. I cannot tell you how my heart soared the moment I stepped off the plane into the 90-degree heat with the sun brightly shining down on everything. (This is especially welcome after spending the last few months in London, where it has been sunny for no more than 15 minutes at a time.) I immediately forgot that it was the end of December and felt like I had been transported to the end of June, suspended in time and far away from every source of stress.

The woman who checked my passport is the first person ever to make me feel genuinely welcome in the process. She asked me if I spoke Spanish (to which I was delighted to reply “Si!”) and then made a point of calling me by name as we worked through the rest of the procedures, as if I were a new friend she was welcoming into her home.

I also had a hilarious and unexpected welcome in a different form. Back in May when I went to Barcelona, I met an extraordinarily attractive man (who is now saved in my phone as “Hot Paolo”) who turned out to be an Argentine model/actor/singer living in Miami. I’ve kept in touch with him a bit (and hope to see him while here) and couldn’t help but start laughing out loud when I saw his face plastered on one of the sliding doors leading out of the customs area into the main lobby of the airport. I texted him as soon as I got a wifi connection and said “is it possible that your face is on an ad in the Buenos Aires airport?!”, to which he replied “yes that’s me! I’m glad I welcomed you to Argentina!”

I talked to my taxi driver for the duration of my trip into the city center; he said I spoke “excellent” Spanish, which made me very pleased, and I think it is a sign that I am meant to have a great time here that I, for once, am having no trouble mixing French with Spanish. I’m doing very well with retrieval of words I’ve had no occasion to use in recent years and speaking very fluidly indeed!

My best friend and #1 running and travel buddy Mary is also with me on this trip – together we’ve now been on five continents (North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America) this year! We are staying in Recoleta, a neighborhood in the central-west part of the city. Our apartment happens to have a rooftop pool, which again I can’t recommend enough in terms of planning future travel. Since Mary was arriving about 12 hours after me, I allowed myself a lazy start to my first day in Buenos Aires and immediately went up to the pool, where I soaked up more Vitamin D in an hour than I’d gotten from the last several months in London.

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Later in the afternoon I rallied and went over to San Telmo, a neighborhood on the southern edge of the city, to see its Sunday market. I navigated the Subte (subway) and had no trouble getting there, though I was troubled by the fact that I had packed a wardrobe suitable for European fashion when, based on what I observed among the Argentines on the Subte and the tourists in the market, everyone here dresses much more casually. (In my defense, everyone always talks about Buenos Aires being the physical and cultural Paris of South America, so I just assumed that I’d find people relatively dressed up!) I wandered through the market streets wearing a cute black dress and strappy sandals, feeling entirely overdressed next to locals and tourists wearing the universal tourist uniform: shorts and sneakers. Who knew! Anyway, in the market I caught my first tango performance – more on tango later, I’m sure – and saw lots of antiques and leather goods for sale. Nothing in particular caught my eye, but it felt great and entirely appropriate for Sunday afternoon to wander up the street seeing everything.

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black & white somehow seems more appropriate…

After about a 20-minute walk I found myself in none other than the famous Plaza de Mayo, home to the Casa Rosada (presidential palace, still in use as the president’s offices) and, on Thursdays, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, who still protest the disappearances of their children during the Dirty War. If I’m being honest, the Plaza was a bit underwhelming – maybe it will look different when we go back later in the week, but it was very quiet and just didn’t give off any sense of having been the site of major historical events (including Evita’s famous speech from the balcony of the Casa Rosada). I nonetheless took a few pictures, and then because I was pretty tired, I hopped back on the Subte and went back to the apartment for a little more pool time.

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La Casa Rosada

I’ll write more later today about what we’ve done so far (we are about to go see Evita’s grave!). Stay tuned to our adventures, which will include descriptions of delicious steak and wine, outdoor drumming concerts, and who knows what else!

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