opinions about life, work, and spirituality

Travel Highlights 13: Buenos Aires Day 1

November 25th, 2007

We arrive at our simple, clean hotel in San Telmo, one of the oldest barrios in Buenos Aires. We walk down Salle Defensa, a cobblestone one lane road lined with stately old buildings, antique shops and European style cafes (rather than say, North American style, ie. Starbastards). We are tired from our long bus ride overnight from San Ignacio, but have only a few days in BA, so we keenly march onwards. We head down Salle Florida, which has to be one of Buenos Aires’ more aggravating streets, in spite of the fact that its a pedestrian-only route. The street is fraught with commercial shopping stores, which each boast unbelievable sales and whose contents of colourful v-neck sweaters and angled leather jackets look blearily alike. The flow of people is compelling, and we have to fight our way past scores of salespeople on the streets who aggressively hand out pamphlet after pamphlet of advertisements.

We eat lunch off of Salle Florida, and are introduced to Buenos Aires’ dining (fabulous) and prices (jaw-dropping cheap). Up Salle Corrientes we tread, towards the giant obelisk that marks Buenos Aires’ 400th anniversary. We are in search of bookstore, in hope of a Spanish phrasebook, as we know even less Spanish than Portuguese. Argentina’s literacy rate stands at 98%, which is one of the best in the world, and certainly the most inspiring in South America. We figure if any place were to have the book we need, Buenos Aires, and particularly the notoriously bookstore-crammed area around Corrientes, will. We step into bookstore after bookstore, enthralled by the dizzying array of books and variety of architecture, but the necessary english-to-spanish phrasebook eludes us. Finally, we give up, and head back towards our hotel.

Three doors down from our hotel is the attractive Cafe Hippopotamo, with heavy wood tables and sturdy chairs, gilt glass windows and loads of character. We order what we think will be a light, but pleasant dinner: two salads, and a tortilla and smoothie to split between the two of us. What we get are two enormous cookie-jar sized salads, a tortilla the circumfrence of our dining table at home and a smoothie in a milk pitcher. My salad, which purported to be grilled vegetables and cheese, is in fact, someones entire vegetable garden tastily fired up with a full wheel of creamy cheese. The “tortilla” is actually a delicious omellete, stuffed with half of PEI’s potatoes, Italy’s sausages and England’s cheese. Needless to say, we are unable to finish our meal. The bill? About twelve dollars Canadian.

Earlier, while rifling through the Buenos Aires’ Herald, the city’s english newspaper, we caught an advertisement about a night of Argentine folk music at the Buenos Aires’ Cultural Centre. After dinner, we take a taxi to the Cultural Centre, and look forward to listening to some authentic Argentine music. We are befuddled, however, as we search through the cultural centre and see no similar advertisements on the walls, doors or in racks of pamphlets. The man at the information desk seems to know nothing about an evening of Argentine folk music. We head next door to the smaller art gallery and rehearsal hall. Music students with guitars, flutes, violins and cellos packed in hard sturdy cases or cloth bags strung from shoulders move past us, but there is no suggestion as to where the folk music might be. Finally, we ask a night guard, who through muddled english, explains to us that there is most certainly no folk music tonight. The night for folk music was a week ago. The english newspaper was wrong.

Disappointed, we tread for an hour back to our hotel. The cool air carries upon it the savoury scent of sizzling goat, lamb and beef. The streets are full of Argentines both young and old on their way to dinner. The sound of accordions zipping in and out; the sensual, appealing voice of tango beckons like a golden drop of aromatic cognac after a weary week of work. But we are tired, now, and even the sweet, sexy sound of Argentina’s music can’t lull us away from the comfort of bed.