Feeling Bueno in Buenos Aires

We were really looking forward to exploring other parts of Argentina. So far we’d only really seen the Patagonian parts, which were unbelievably impressive, but I personally couldn’t wait to visit Buenos Aires. Everyone we’d met so far on the trip had nothing but good things to say about it so we were both really excited. Plus, Will, Tom’s brother was coming to join us for 11 days so all in all, excitement levels were at an all time high.

Will had found us a lovely little B+B in Palermo Soho, a trendy neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Amazingly we all managed to arrive at exactly the same time from separate airports and there was much hugging and screeching going on on the pavement outside the B+B! The very kind owner had bought us some sushi and greeted us with wine and beer, if first impressions were anything to go by we were in for a great time. After a bit of a sit down and catch up we decided to head out for a few drinks. Our new best friend David, the B+B owner, insisted on guiding us around the local area. He pointed out good watering holes and the pubs with the cheapest beer. It almost felt like a little village within the city itself and reminded me a bit of the area we’d stayed in in Santiago, we all instantly loved it.

The following day we headed out to change some money. This may seem like a bit of an odd thing to write about, but bear with me. Basically the official exchange rate from American dollars to pesos whilst we were there was around 7 pesos to the dollar. However, if you go and change it on the ‘black market’ you can get rates of up to 11 pesos per dollar, which makes everything much cheaper. In 2001 the annual inflation levels in Argentina were really high but the official exchange rate in relation to the dollar didn’t devalue quickly enough and therefore made traveling to Argentina really expensive. After 2011 restrictions were put in place on the amount of dollars Argentine citizens could buy for savings, and as a result the black market for American dollars picked up. Travelers to Argentina with US dollars (which Will kindly brought out for us) can use the black market ‘blue rate’ to get more pesos for their dollars, clear as mud! (I’ve tried to explain this the best I can, in reality I’m still confused!)

Next stop was La Recoleta Cemetery. We really were living the high life, an exchange shop in the morning and a cemetery in the afternoon, but this was no ordinary graveyard. It contained graves of notable people including Eva Peron (Evita) and former presidents of Argentina. Instead of being a traditional graveyard with small headstones this was streets full of tombs and sculptures with over 6,400 mausoleums. It was absolutely amazing and like nowhere else I’ve ever visited. It didn’t feel at all spooky or eerie, it was just beautiful.

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Eva Peron’s grave was definitely the most popular and there were loads of flowers decorating her resting place. I felt a bit sorry for some of the neglected tombs and graves though, some of them clearly hadn’t been looked after for years. It made me sad to see them with smashed glass windows and overgrown weeds.

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Whilst in Argentina we desperately wanted to go and see a football match, and preferably Boca Juniors. Unfortunately for us Boca weren’t playing at home whilst we were in the capital city so we instead settled for River Plate v Arsenal (Argentinian Arsenal, not the gunners). Buying football tickets in Argentina isn’t as straightforward as it should be. To get tickets ourselves we had to be members of the club or else buy them the day before, not on match day. As we’d only arrived late the night before there was no way of doing that so we had to pay over the odds and go with a ‘tour’. This meant someone chaperoned us from our B+B to our seats and back again. I guess for some people who weren’t used to the atmosphere of a live match this may have been necessary, but we all felt there was way too much handholding and we’d have been perfectly fine making our own way there. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great experience and the atmosphere inside the stadium was amazing. The fans just didn’t stop singing and we all particularly enjoyed the crowd on the other side of the stadium being led out by a huge brass band! It was such a great experience, even if the only goal we saw was a dodgy penalty (River Plate 1-0 Arsenal)

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After spending the previous day in a graveyard and currency exchange place we decided to wander around a different part of the city and headed to San Telmo. San Telmo is the oldest barrio (neighbourhood) in Buenos Aires and wandering around there was almost like going back in time. The cobbled streets were lined with beautiful old buildings and it really was the perfect place just to wander around. Even Tom seemed to like it, and he hates pointless walking! As beautiful and amazing as the city is one thing they have got drastically wrong is their mapping system. For some reason, known only to the person who supplies the tourist maps, the top of the map isn’t always north! The small map we were using had the northern suburbs of the city on the right of the map whereas the big ones dotted around the city were a different way round (still not with the top being north I hasten to add!) Now this may not seem like much of a problem, but trust me, when you are trying to wander around an unknown city being able to compare your map with the umpteen other maps dotted around the place is pretty crucial. It’s safe to say we got a little lost. It didn’t matter though as it was nice to get a feel for the city by wandering around the streets.

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That evening we planned to meet up with a couple we’d met on the W trek, Bene and Mitch, and go to a drumming show. A friend of theirs told them about this drumming group called La Bomba de Tiempo that played every Monday night at the Konex Theatre. It sounded intriguing so we all decided to go. Well, it was amazing. After having a beer in the queue outside we headed in and the atmosphere was eclectic. The drumming started off quite slowly and then steadily built up throughout the evening and the finale was mind-blowing. If you ever find yourselves in Buenos Aires on a Monday night then make sure you head to the Konex. Plus anywhere that sells a litre of beer for only 35 pesos (£2.60) is a great place in my book!!

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We were all on a high from the show so we decided to try out one of the clubs nearby. The place was random to say the least! To be completely honest, I can’t actually remember much about it, probably something to do with the cheap beer, but I do remember a music video with a weird hamster being on the big screen and making Tom’s hair look as stupid as possible, it was a fun night!

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For our final day in Buenos Aires we decided to head to La Boca, a barrio where many of the houses and shops are painted bright colours. It is also famously the home of football team Boca Juniors who play their games at La Bombobera (The chocolate box in Spanish) We knew that it was going to be pretty touristy but we all wanted to visit the footy stadium and also see the famous Caminito street.

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After a wander up and down colourful Caminitio we headed to the stadium and decided to do the stadium tour along with the museum. As there were no matches on there whilst we were in town we at least wanted to experience the interior, and we weren’t disappointed. I only wish we could have been there for a match as I can only imagine how deafening the atmosphere would be.

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Our guide explained that the terraces we stood on at one point was directly above the away changing rooms so the home fans jumped up and down constantly before kick-off and at half time to make things loud and uncomfortable for the traveling players! We saw Diego Maradonna’s executive box, which the staff at the stadium weren’t allowed to enter without his permission! It was great, and we were so glad we opted for the full tour.

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As it was rush hour when we decided to leave La Boca we thought we’d just get the bus into town and then get the subway home as the traffic in an evening was a nightmare. However, when the bus turned up, it was the same number bus as the one we got on the way there so we decided to play it by ear and if the traffic was bad we’d jump off early, and if not we’d stay on…what a bad decision that turned out to be!

We had checked with the driver that he was going past the cathedral (where we knew we could get the subway home) and he confirmed that he was. Unfortunately for us the roads were pretty clear so we decided to stay on the bus all the way home and didn’t get off at the cathedral. We did think it was a little strange that loads of people kept getting on the bus speaking to the driver and then promptly getting off. At one point someone from the bus company knocked on the bus window and asked if we should have got off by now, but we told him we’d decided to stay on. We just thought maybe we hadn’t paid enough bus fare or the driver was being helpful and making sure we didn’t get lost…how wrong we were! Suddenly, the bus made a sharp turn to the right and before we knew what was happening we were on the motorway heading out of town…aah. I asked the man next to me where we were going and his response was “the countryside” ssshhiitttt! After a conversation with the helpful man who spoke English it turned out that the bus was the same number bus as the one we traveled on earlier, but this one had a little sign at the front which meant it went to the outer suburbs of Buenos Aires and not Palermo! Why it couldn’t have had a different number I’ll never know? He also informed us that we wouldn’t be able to get off for another half an hour at least, depending on the traffic! It would have been ok if we hadn’t had plans for the evening but we’d booked a table at this famous steak restaurant and if you were more than three minutes late they gave your table away! Tom was stressing, probably because he was scared we were going to miss out on food, whilst myself and Will found the whole situation pretty amusing!! Thankfully for us luck was on our side and the roads were clear. We hopped off the bus as soon as we could and decided that we shouldn’t risk another bus journey and decided to get a taxi back…it was all highly amusing!!

The restaurant we’d booked for that evening was called La Cabrera and we’d heard nothing but good things about it from fellow travelers. Bene and Mitch were also joining us as they also wanted to try this famous restaurant. I wish I could write that it was the best meal we’d ever had and it was worthy of all the hype but unfortunately it wasn’t as good as it should have been. The service was ridiculously slow, and both mine and Will’s steaks were past well done when we’d asked for medium rare and rare. To be fair when my steak returned the second time it was amazing, and one of the best I’ve ever had. Tom said his was average and we were just a bit disappointed that the big meal we’d all been looking forward to failed to deliver, oh well. The wine was nice though!!

The next stop on our Argentinean adventure was Mendoza and the best way to get there was the overnight bus. Unlike Will we were used to these long-haul buses but the one’s in Argentina were a cut above the rest. We had leather reclining seats and a waiter who brought us food and drink, including wine! It was honestly like travelling business class on a flight (not that I ever have!) We arrived in Mendoza fully refreshed after a lovely night’s sleep. I made sure Will was aware that this was by far and away the best bus we’d been on on the trip so far and our stories of mouldy cramped rave buses with flashing disco lights and no air-conditioning weren’t made up!

Mendoza is a city on the eastern side of the Andes. There isn’t that much to see in the city itself but the surrounding areas are beautiful and it is famous for it’s wine production. On arrival we booked a trip for the following day which ventured into the surrounding picturesque areas before we headed off to explore the city. It was never going to be as architecturally beautiful as Buenos Aires but the city wasn’t the reason we’d headed over to this part of Argentina. It was pleasant enough and after a wander around the park we decided to head back to the hostel for an early night.

The next day our tour visited some beautiful scenery, even if our guide wasn’t the best! We’d booked a tour in both English and Spanish so we knew what we were looking at etc. The problem was our guide started off doing full translations of both but as the day wore on the descriptions in spanish were about 10 times as long as the English ones! He did amuse us with his constant question of “did you like it?” though. Our tour included the beautiful Potrerillos dam and we were constantly surrounded by amazing views of the Andes.

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We also did a mini-trek to see amazing views of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas, stunning.

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We weren’t sure whether we’d get food or not so in true backpacker style we brought a packed lunch and had to sit in a derelict building eating our butties whilst everyone else tucked in to a nice warm meal inside, well we couldn’t waste food! It did lead to some amusing pictures with the camera timer and a lovely photo of Will which Tom kindly send to his mum for Mother’s Day!!

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After our food we headed to what our guide had described on many occasions as ‘the highlight of our trip’, the Puente del Inca (inca’s bridge). Scientists aren’t certain how the bridge was originally formed but they think historically snow and ice formed a bridge across the river and the sulphurous water eventually built up and once the ice melted the sulphur remained and therefore formed the bridge that can be seen today, something like that anyway!!

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I must admit it was impressive, and our guide clearly loved it!!

That evening we decided to go out for some more wine and meat, well we were in Argentina!

The next day it was wine tour day and like our wine tour in New Zealand we decided that the best way to travel was by bike! We headed out to Mr Hugo’s bike rentals in a nearby village near many of the vineyards and set off on our trip. Tom managed to get a puncture within the first 20 minutes but luckily Mr Hugo was only a phone call away and quickly arrived with a replacement bike. Our first port of call was an olive oil, liqueur and chocolate factory which was amazing.

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After sampling everything they had to offer we continued on to a few more vineyards and sampled some local wines. I thought we’d be having nothing but red wine but one of our favourites was actually a sparkling Chardonnay, and I usually hate Chardonnay. We even bought a few bottles and headed on. It was a lovely day, the sun was shining and scenery was stunning. Luckily we were heading down a quieter road when I thought it would be a good idea to race Tom! It turned out not to be one of my better ideas and I can only thank my lucky stars that we weren’t on the main road. Whilst trying to overtake him I went flying off my bike and landed in a heap on the floor! I was more concerned about the bottle of fizzy wine which was in my bike basket, but luckily that came away unscathed, which is more than I can say for me. I had scraped all down my leg, my elbow was starting to swell, I had pins and needles in my hand for ages and the worlds biggest bruise on my thigh. All in all though, it could have been a lot worse!! Not wanting to miss out on anything we still managed to fit in a visit to a brewery before calling it a day!

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Our final destination before Will left was a trip to the incredible Iguazu falls. I’d managed to find us a lovely bungalow to stay in which was a little bit out of town but perfect for the 3 of us. We’d read that if time allowed definitely visit both the Argentinian side and the Brazilian side, so that was the plan.

We decided to do the Argentinian side first as we knew this would be the longer of the two days, and we weren’t disappointed. The waterfalls were absolutely stunning, I can see why they were one of the new seven wonders of the world, the pictures don’t so them justice at all.

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We decided to leave the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s throat) fall until last as this was supposedly the ‘highlight of the trip’ so instead headed to the dock and onto the boat which went close to the falls. Everyone said that boat was worth doing but at first it didn’t seem to get very close to the falls at all (I later worked out this was for photos before the real soaking began!) After a nice pootle round camera’s went away and the real fun began. The boat went whizzing towards the falls and only when you thought you were going to go completely under did it change direction. It was so much fun and like a natural water ride you find at theme parks! It’s safe to say we were absolutely drenched when we got off the boat!

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After eating our sandwiches we explored the little island in the middle of the falls, San Martin, which not only offered great views, but was also full of wildlife.

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It was then that we decided to hop onto the little train and go to Devil’s throat, we weren’t diappointed that we’d left it until the end. It was truly spectacular, especially when the sun shone through it to create beautiful rainbows.

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That evening we decided to head out for our last meal together and found a great little traditional restaurant and ate some more amazing meat.

The Brazillian side of the falls was comletely different to the Argentinian side and I’m really pleased we made the effort to do both. Weirdly we didn’t have to stamp in to Brazil, so technically we could have gone missing in Brazil and no-one would ever know, but anyway…I think the views of the falls speak for themselves

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The coatis, racoon like creatures were a bit more of a pest on the Brazillian side. We saw one eat a girl’s cheeseburger and try and eat someone else’s ice-cream…although it was amusing watching one climb out of a bin!

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Then that was it for our Argentinian adventure. We had such a great time with Will and managed to see so much in short amount of time. Argentina was such a fantastic country, from glaciers and penguins to mighty waterfalls and stunning architecture it’s definitely a country we’ll never forget.

To see some more photos please click here.

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