There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it.Charles Dudley Warner
Oct 27-Nov 27 2016
Our first stop on our around the world trip, Buenos Aires. We didn’t think this day would ever come, but here we were, beginning our life for the next several years travelling the world. After a first class flight from the United States, using miles I had saved, we stepped foot in South America for the very first time. For Maggie, it would be the last of the habitable continents for her to visit, a goal she had set and hoped to reach by 30. Together, we were excited to see what the next few months would have in store as we grabbed a taxi for our AirBnb.
During our one month stay we chose our base to be in the graceful and diverse Palermo neighborhood, or barrio. Located in central Buenos Aires, it is full of ornate apartments rising above even more ornate spires. Despite its expansive grandeur, Palermo’s niche neighborhoods felt approachable. We could browse boutiques and bookstores in Palermo SoHo, brunch the day away in Palermo Hollywood, and find peaceful seclusion at the parks of Palermo Chico. At night the streets would come alive as we joined the masses who came to eat and drink at the many outdoor patios. Overall, it had a very hip and youthful feel to it, but definitely refined.
Our apartment was a modern studio with a fantastic balcony on the fourth floor. The 10 story building also had a great rooftop deck that we would use many times during our stay. We met some of the buildings tenants during our stay that soon became our friends, always offering us drinks and snacks, and offering to help us in anyway that they could. We also became frequent visitors at the small and freindly asian run grocery store just down the street.
During our stay strolling the wide avenues and cobblestone streets of Buenos Aires’ barrios, it was almost impossible not to notice the fascinating array of architecture laid out before us. As a melting-pot city, Buenos Aires does not have a dominant architectural style but rather a haphazard arrangement of cosmopolitan designs. It was quite normal to see a Parisian-style mansion adjacent to an art-nouveau tower or a renaissance palace.
We would best compare the city to Barcelona, Paris or Madrid, depending on which part of town we were in. This is in part due to the city being built on mass immigration. The architects from Europe who arrived in the late 1800’s had wide and open spaces to build boulevards, diagonals, grand buildings, parks and plazas. Interesting enough, translating from the building styles, the attitudes of porteños, as they like to be called, are more identifiable with European culture and traditions then those of their Latin American neighbors.
While staying in Palermo, or visitng other nearby barrios, we had many fantasitc restaurants and cafes to choose from. We quickly learned that people ate dinner really late, around 10 being the busiest time, with many places staying open past midnight. Of course this meant that people don’t start there days until later the following day either, which I found to fit my lifestyle perfectly as I have always been more of a night owl. Satisfying Maggie, wine is an integral part of life in Buenos Aires, with a variety of Chilean and Argentine varietys to choose from. You could get an excellent bottle of wine for just $3 or $4 dollars!
Some of the food that we enjoyed most and that Argentina is known for included steaks, empanadas, and choripan. First, the beef is very good and the most famous dish of the country. People will literally eat it everyday, served in a variety of different cuts. The one’s we enjoyed the most were entraña, which is skirt steak; bife de lomo, probably the most common cut being a tenderloin; and bife de chorizo, which has nothing to do with sausage but is actually a sirloin, or New York strip steak. You can find beef all over the city at places called parrillas, which are restaurants, or you can attend an asado, which is the event of a barbeque itself.
Next is the empanadas. It seems like every country has their own version, what makes these ones different is that they are made with a flour-based dough, rather than maíz, or corn. Some of the most common kinds are filled with beef, chicken, ham and cheese, ham and onion, spinach, or humita, a sweet corn with white sauce. We would often grab a few for a snack or as an inexpensive lunch. We did find that the quality varied depending where we got them, but overall it was almost always a delicious experience.
Lastly was our favorite, choripan. The name comes from the combination of the names of its ingredients, a grilled chorizo (sausage) and a pan (crusty bread). The sausage was made out of either beef or pork, and always served hot off the grill, split down the middle, and on a baguette roll. We then loaded it up with a healthy dose of chimichurri sauce. The sauce can be red or green, but we found red the most often, made up of parsley, minced garlic, vegetable oil, oregano, and white vinegar. Yum! Our favorite was found at a small unassuming streetside parrilla in the nearby Vila Crespo barrio.
Besides the inexpensive but great tasting wine with our meals or at home, we also went out on numerous occassions for drinks or cocktails. As a big fan of Bloody Mary’s I tried many throughout the city, finding my favorite at Bar 878, which offered several different and unique versions, including one using carrot juice. We also enjoyed cocktails and chatting the night away at the ethnic and art inspired Rey de Copas on multiple occassions. And yes, we even pulled an all nighter once staying up with the younger crowd one weekend at the friendly Jah Bar, where afterwards Maggie swore she had the best hamburger in her life from a nearby spot serving the late night, or in this case early morning masses.
We were happily adjusting into our new home, and it didn’t take long before Maggie was settled into her work routine (which she’ll discuss at some point) as well. Meanwhile, I would continue to explore many of the cities barrios, with my favorites being Palermo, Recoleta, and San Telmo. Palermo was the type of place I could live, and reading a bit about it before coming is why we chose to stay there. Recoleta felt like a classy European, established, and high-art area, while San Telmo was the wild and historic heart of the city, still rough around the edges. And while the city sits on a large body of water, River Plate, the widest river in the world which separates Argentina from Uruguay before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean, none of the cities barrios reach the muddy and rough waters. The city has historically turned it’s back on the water, reserving the waterfront for industry. Recently though, the exclusive and modern Puerto Madero neighborhood has developed along an inland river that used to be one of the cities main ports, undergoing a huge urban renewal in recent years.
Of course we had time for plenty of activities and events as well, with so much to choose from. Some of the activities we did (besides eating) included tango lessons with the excellent Alejandro Puerto, participating in a city ‘bike party’, touring the La Boca district, and enjoying the magnificient Jacaranda trees that were in bloom. We were also fortunate to be around for the annual ‘Night at the Museum’, an event where all museums and public buildings in the city stay open until the early morning with free admission. You can check out the post, Buenos Aires Part II, to read more in depth about these and some of the other things we saw and did while in Buenos Aires.
While Buenos Aires kept us plenty busy with many springtime events and a wide range of museums, we did get the opportunity to go outside the city on a couple of occasions as well. Once we headed north by train to visit the delta around the town of Tigre, and once we headed down south for one of the highlights of our stay, horseback riding in a national park with Caballos a la Par and the wonderful Adrian and Miriam.
Tigre is the gateway to many rivers and wetlands, reminding us of the types of areas you’d find in the southern United State’s, such as Louisiana. We visited the town’s old fruit harbor, the Puerto de Frutos, which has been transformed into a busy craft market, and nearby, checked out the Mate Museum, which traces the history of the traditional tea-like drink. Mate, or Yerba Mate, is a caffeine infused beverage, and while you can find it across South America, no place is as crazy about it as they are in Argentina. It is prepared by steeping dried leaves of Yerba Mate in hot water, served with a metal straw, called a bombilla, in a shared hollow calabash gourd. All over the parks and streets of Buenos Aires you would see people carrying their thermos of hot water and sipping on the drink along, or more traditionally sharing with friends. We enjoyed it, but be careful as it’s not hard to become overly caffeinated. To finish our visit in Tigre we also took a stroll along the towns charming riverside esplanade and enjoyed a nice meal on one of the nearby docks.
Mom and Dad McKinnie were visiting towards the end of our stay, so decided to plan a day trip south of Buenos Aires to do some horseback riding with them. We went with an outfit known as Caballos a la Par, and it ended up being unlike anything you can experience back in the States, which usually consists of riding in a single file line at a walking pace. Instead, we got a completely personal experience, just us and the guides Adrian and Miriam. We were able to trot and canter, alone or side by side, through a beautiful national park in pretty much whatever direction or pace we wanted. Before the ride we talked about horses, polo, and a bit about our travels, while Adrian performed a traditional Mate ceremony with us. After the ride we relaxed and enjoyed tasty pastries before heading back to Buenos Aires. We never felt rushed, having a truly a great experience as a family, something which we won’t ever forget.
A fascinating place, large and exotic, but not overwhelming, Buenos Aires made the perfect first stop on our around the world trip. It proved to be a good introduction to South America and a great place for Maggie to start her digital nomad lifestyle. It will always hold a special place in our hearts for being the place where we realized we can do it, we can travel the world and it’s going to be a wonderful experience. Any anxiety we had about doing something like this quickly washed away. Next we’d be heading north to the world’s largest system of waterfalls, which you can read about in the post Iguazu Falls.