In just a day, I went from this:
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.
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.