Love and Loss in South America
Like a glittering jewel in the heart of South America, Buenos Aires stands in a class by itself. A melody of Latino and European influences, BA takes the best from both worlds and establishes herself as one of the few world-class cities in South America. She hits all of your senses and, like a drug, leaves you wanting more. The sounds of tango waft through La Boca and a river of cars flow down Av 9 de Julio, one of the world’s widest streets. Passers-by window shop the boutiques of Recoleta while tourists and residents alike saunter down Avenue Florida, a pedestrian only street. Come nightfall, Buenos Aires shakes off her daytime haze and people come out of the woodwork to party… and Porteños definitely know how to party.
I arrived in Buenos Aires after a a mind-numbingly long 18 hour ride from Salta. From everything I’ve heard about BA, my expectations were set very high. It’s one of those cities that everyone adores and I hoped she wouldn’t disappoint. As I found out, Buenos Aires would not. She’s not that type of girl.
A feeling of deja vu hit me as I left the bus terminal and I suddenly saw myself walking down Las Ramblas in Barcelona. The wide avenues, European architecture and cosmopolitan air all took me back to the place I had been nearly two years prior. BA also represented a departure from the moonscapes, deserts and mountains that had dominated my life for the past month and a half. She was a real metropolis, a return to the first-world, where people wore designer clothes and hustled and bustled about to their corporate jobs. Gone were the grittiness of Quito, La Paz and Lima, replaced by the clean lines and shaped curves of Buenos Aires. The people of BA were also different. They were no longer indigenous like the people of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Instead, I saw an interplay of South America and Europe in the faces and bodies of her citizens. Most strikingly, BA exuded an air of elegance and class that had been absent since I left San Francisco.
It felt good to be back in a real city.
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The beef of Argentina is legendary and with good reason. Grass fed, naturally grown, tender and succulent, Argentina has, quite possibly, the best beef in the world. And as a steak lover, what better place to eat it than Buenos Aires? I had gotten my first taste of Argentinian steak in Salta and I wanted more. A group of us decided to try out La Cabrera. This was the meal I’d been waiting for, the “splash-out” in my Lonely Planet guide. I had heard whispers of this restaurant all along the gringo-trail and it was finally within reach. Knowing that it could be a tourist trap (after all it was featured in LP), we asked some locals and they assured us that it was indeed one of the best steak houses in BA. We were sold.
We made our way to the neighborhood of Palermo and found La Cabrera. Alas, good news travels and there was a long line waiting outside. My worries were unfounded because like seasoned veterans, La Cabrera was prepared and served chilled champagne while we waited. 40 minutes or so later, we finally sat down and flipped through the menu – it was time to pick our battles. From a measly 200g cut of beef to the monster weighing in at 800g, each cut looked tantalizingly delicious. Some of the bolder one’s decided to slay the beast: 800g bife de chorizo. Others were not up to the challenge and went with smaller portions. Me, choosing quality over quality, picked up a 500g serving of Kobe beef. Six men, six cuts of meat engaged in mortal combat.
An hour later, two bottles of wine down, meat sweats in full force, some of us faced the uncomfortable reality that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. I bowed out preferring to savor my steak the next morning rather than force-feed it to myself that night. Others, in a testament to mankind’s unwavering will power, marched on and finished what they had started. Fed, buzzed and happy, the bill came and that’s when we truly began appreciating Argentina. Here we were sitting in one of the city’s finest restaurants, gorged full with some of the best beef in the world, with wine, champagne and the works all for a measly $35 per head. Buenos Aires, not only are you beautiful, but you are cheap.
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I like Porteños. They rise late and sleep late. Being in their city, it was only fitting that I adopt their lifestyle. Buenos Aires, like her sister Barcelona, doesn’t get started until late. People take their time during the day, recharge with a siesta, head out to dinner around 10pm and start getting ready to go out around midnight. By the time you’re in the cab, it’s 1 or 2am. The clubs and bars stay open through the night and by the time you roll back into bed, dawn is breaking. You quickly adapt and I ended up doing some ridiculous things like napping from midnight to 1am and waiting for McDonald’s to open for breakfast. I remember a night where we went to a plaza surrounded by bars and sat down for a couple of drinks. The place was buzzing with people coming and going, tables completely full of people talking, laughing, drinking. If you didn’t know better, you would’ve thought it was 10-11pm. When I looked down at my watch, it showed 3:30am. Most amazing was that more and more people showed up as the night went on.
In my six nights in BA, the earliest I went to sleep was around 4am and I never made it to the free hostel breakfast at 10:30am. My nights were spent at the variety of clubs around the city where the music was always good, the girls were dressed to kill and (I think) the drinks came cheap. Did I mention the girls were dressed to kill?
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Like its beef, Argentina’s women are also held in a rarefied air. Porteño women are a potent cocktail of South America and Europe genes. They possess an unique look that separates them from the largely homogeneous populations of South America. We can all thank those genes because they were gorgeous: fair skinned, with dirty blond/brunette hair, tall and slender. Not only were they beautiful, their abundance was amazing. Walking along the sidewalks, in restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs; you’d see them everywhere. I found it nearly impossible to walk outside and not see an attractive girl. Of all the places I’ve been, I think the only other place that had so many pretty girls was Aix-en-Provance, France and I doubt there’s any place better.
Argentinians also have a great sense of style. Think Italian, but less gaudy with not as many layers, necklaces, rings and other paraphernalia. If I were to describe it in one word, it would be “classy”. It’s not bombastic and loud like the bikini clad bombshells of Brazil (which are also incredibly gorgeous) nor is it the girl-next-door look of jeans and T-shirts worn by Californian girls. It’s modern, clean and doesn’t overwhelm the woman but rather compliments her. Porteño women take pride in their looks and the results speak for themselves. For me, it was like a breath of fresh air after Peru and Bolivia where fashion remained true to their Andean roots.
Oh yes, the Porteño men were pretty good looking too but I’m not the best judge for that.
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Buenos Aires has it all and my experiences there made it one of my favorite places in the world. Whether you go for the food, people or thumping night life, she won’t disappoint. Even though it’s been more than a year since I’ve left, the memories of her are still fresh in my mind. That’s because you never completely leave.
Buenos Aires, like any girl you’ve loved, will take a piece of your heart.