Lost in Buenos Aires

In just a day, I went from this:

Road to Cafayate

To this:

Puerto Madero waterfront

Buenos Aires.  The Paris of South America.  To me, it was New York City, only more attractive and in Spanish.

I spent over two weeks in Bs As (interrupted by a short trip to Iguazu Falls), ate about four cows worth of steak, drank a good deal of Malbec and a little bit of Fernet, and interacted almost exclusively with fellow travelers.  I spent far too much time in hostels and far too much money in Palermo boutiques.

In those hostels, I met Norwegians, French, Brits, Aussies, South Africans, Germans, Brazilians, Venezuelans, Colombians, Canadians, Danish, but rarely ever an American.  I discovered both the appeal and the downside(s) to party hostels.  I learned to capitalize on the free breakfast (i.e., gorging myself on stale bread and bruised fruit so that I could skip lunch).  I came up with an elevator speech to share with new acquaintances, and got sick of hearing my own story.  I heard tales of travels in Vietnam and Mongolia and concerts in Belgium and Brazil from twenty-somethings who consider the globe their playground.  This beach in Thailand is far superior to that beach in the Philippines, you simply must go check it out!  In the end, it began to wear on me, and I found myself seeking solitude rather than companionship.

During my many solo walks, I realized that Buenos Aires is a city of beautiful people, most of whom dress themselves with great care.  I felt very small and unfashionable in my hiking boots.  It was another reminder that I am decidedly not a city gal.  I missed the desert.

It was the first place I’d been for months where I didn’t stand out immediately as a foreigner.  Blondes are in no short supply.  In some senses this was comforting; I could blend in.  But I also felt like I might disappear at any moment and no one would notice.  People spoke to me in fast Argentinian Spanish, and only when I replied with a confused stare did they realize I was a tourist.  My confusion was usually received with an eye-roll and a scoff.  Did I mention that this place reminds me of New York?

Nightlife is a big part of the Buenos Aires experience.  The city stays awake well past dawn when it decides to party, which may be a sustainable lifestyle for some Porteños, but I feel too old and too Anglo-Saxon to handle that for more than a day at a time.  I will admit I did have an incredibly fun and memorable night with my salt flat travel buddies during which we accidentally ended up at a gay club, but stayed and danced till the sun came out anyway.

My favorite thing about the city is the art.  Aesthetics are important there, on humans and in graveyards and in graffiti.  The parks are dazzling.  The colors are vibrant.  There are many pockets of quiet beauty, if you seek them out.

A statue of a mother in Cementerio de la Recoleta

Peering into a tomb in Cementerio de la Recoleta

Tiles on a small fountain in el Parque Tres de Febrero

The Rose Garden in el Parque Tres de Febrero

My favorite pocket of quiet

A cat that reminds me of Totoro, somewhere in San Telmo

Colorful buildings in La Boca

By the time my last few days in Buenos Aires rolled around, I was tired and overwhelmed by the colors and sounds and pace of the city (and maybe by the fact that I’d been traveling for two and a half months).  I was starting to pronounce my double l‘s and y‘s like a Porteña, which frightened me, and visions of Diego and Evita and Messi danced in my head before I fell asleep at night.  I found myself becoming insular and anti-touristy, too tired to visit any more statues or fountains or guidebook must-sees.  I sat at a lot of cafes and watched people, until I realized this was sort of a creepy and inefficient way to spend my travel time.  Two weeks was just too much.

I boarded a plane in Buenos Aires with heaps of gratitude despite my fatigue, recalling memories and images and sounds from the months before.  The rapid stream of thoughts was so engaging (or distracting), I didn’t watch any TV or sleep a wink on the nine-hour overnight plane ride.

I was, and am, ready for a cold-weather Christmas at home.

More reflections on my South American journey (part 1) and a post on Iguazu Falls coming soon.

10 comments

  1. LOL at “falling asleep to visions of Diego, Messi, and Evita” haha! I’m from NYC and heading out to BA next month, and people tell me all the time there won’t be much of a difference, not even the language as more than half of the people out here in NYC speak Spanish. However I highly suspect it’s going to be so much more different!

    • Yes, going from NYC to BA will be a nice transition. I almost wish I’d done that instead of going from Peru -> Bolivia -> Chile -> Buenos Aires. I went from gorgeous barren deserts, forests, old villages, to this massive metropolis, and I didn’t like it very much in comparison. But I think you’ll see it with different eyes coming right from New York.

  2. I lived in Buenos Aires for 3 months and you described the experience in a perfect nutshell. I could never capture the feeling from all the sensory overload and all the fashion, art, and music that streamed through the streets with my little camera. I came home with so many pictures that didn’t do that city justice. It is an exhausting place…but only because it is so full of life and one of my favorite places on earth. Thanks for sending me down memory lane! Bs As may make me a liar by forcing me to break my “must visit a place only once” rule until I make it around the world…

    • Cperigen, I am so glad to hear someone else confirm my observations in this incredible city. “Sensory overload” is a perfect way to describe the experience of Buenos Aires. It is exhausting, at times frustrating, but almost always beautiful. I’d find it hard not to return there some day. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  3. I love how you capture the colors in this post… That yellow building brings me so much joy, as does the tenderness of the Mary statue.

    I am all too familiar with the elevator speech, with getting sick of your own story, with “you simply must not miss this beach in Thailand.” I think part of making peace with that requires always being open to the new stories and to the evolution of your own. I usually tune out of the unmissable beach conversations and try to ask people about their more unusual, surprising memories of travel.

    Or… like you, I opt for solitude. I hope this Christmas is full of love, comfort and reflection. I am so lucky to share this journey with you.

    • Thank you Roxanne! It is difficult to really capture the feel of the city in photographs because there is so much going on, and so many divergent cultures and attitudes all coexisting. I decided just to focus on the things I found especially beautiful and to let my memories fill in the blanks.

      And you are right, you have to find a way to break up the “awesome beach” conversations or you’ll go crazy after a while. For me it was a matter of finding a place to stay that wasn’t too glutted with people, and finding little pockets of peace in the city where I could explore on my own. Ultimately I’ll need to learn to deal with those conversation and ask the types of questions you’ve suggested, unless I plan to never make friends on the road!

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