Buenos Aires isn’t exactly terra incognita to me—I lost track of how many times we stayed in Argentina’s capital there since our initial trip to South America in 2002.
It’s a good destination for travellers. The big, cosmopolitan city is a hub in South America and it’s surprisingly affordable for many foreigners since the country is (always) in deep economic trouble. It’s one of these places that doesn’t change much because like their European ancestors, Argentinians tend to cling to the past, the good old days when the peso wasn’t falling 52% against the dollar. No matter what, Porteños will drink coffee with two medialunas, protest again whoever is doing a terrible job of leading the country, eat giant slices of pizzas with tons of mozzarella, queue for tickets to the latest theatre show, and go home tired and slightly depressed about the state of the world at the end of the day.
Buenos Aires was supposed to be an easy destination for me—a bit like going to your favourite restaurant and ordering the usual, you know what you’re going to get and it’s comforting.
Except that this time, Buenos Aires got me confused.
The city felt empty, for a start. Was everyone partying on the coast? Had Argentinians run away abroad, like Venezuelans are doing? Or was I just used to large and very populated Brazilian megalopolis?
Florida and Lavalle, the two popular pedestrian streets, were a ghost town. Many small businesses were closed—not for holidays, but for good. There were brand new franchises I didn’t recognize. Even the Pizzería La Rey, on Avenida Corrientes, in front of the Obelisco, was now a Kentucky franchise. Avenida Corrientes was a complete mess with construction work and there were new $1 and $5 coins. I counted more Venezuelan restaurants than pizza places in a few streets and I heard people speaking Quechua, one of the indigenous languages of Bolivia—obviously this is not an anti-immigration rant, but I was surprised because there seemed to be a wave of newcomers.
Then I tried to withdraw money and the transaction was declined. I smiled. One thing didn’t change—ATMs are still empty, especially on Saturdays and Sundays.
I found myself craving Brazilian snacks and ending conversations in Spanish saying “Ta, muita obrigada!” as if I hadn’t properly deleted all my Portuguese vocabulary.
I was stuck between Brazil and Argentina, not there anymore but no quite here yet, the common traveller dilemma.
Adapting always takes a bit of time. I needed to digest Argentina like you digest new information.
My first mission would be to explore the main barrios of the city to reconnect with the Latin world.
I walked to posh La Recoleta, where I bought fancy sandwiches de miga. I went to the weekly San Telmo market on Sunday and I found a lovely leather belt for 250 pesos ($7). I wandered around Palermo, home of eclectic restaurants, I took the bridges in Puerto Madero and its sleek skyscrapers, I sat on a bench on Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada—the office of the President of Argentina—and I went to Once to get fireworks (don’t ask, it’s a family tradition…).
In a way, it’s cool, I’m rediscovering the city.