Estancia and Buenos Aires

This is quite an interesting title for this post, considering they are referring to two completely different things. I want to give you a nice summary of what I have been up to in the last two week-ends getaways. Life in Viedma has been following its course, I just moved in with a new host family last Thursday and I am very excited about it! Evening guitar and ukulele jams are part of the plan, and all my friends and colleagues here have been just the best for me! Sometimes being far from home in tougher situations can be disorienting, but I feel blessed to see everyone following up, texting, wondering how I am and why I wasn’t at my regular dance class (because I decided to stay home to spend time with my new family!). Even the simplest things down here seem to be natural – taking my jeans for repair and prohibiting me to pay for it, inviting me for free dance or gym classes, offering me a place to stay/crash if I’m not comfortable in my current living arrangement, etc.

Two weeks ago we did a day trip to one of my colleague’s farm, which here they call an estancia. It was about 1h30 from Viedma, although it could be done much faster on a nicer road OR with a bigger 4×4! We had a nice lunch with asado, salads and some good wine…. Apple crumble and cake! The family farm house is just beautiful with so much character – it has been in the family for generations and is an oasis for relaxing on a week-end. Large fire place, enough room to just sit and paint or read or relax for a day with the sun coming through the large windows on the back. And kilometers of fields with cows, horses, armadillos (minus one that got cold bloodily killed by the dog who was playing with it), lambs and sheep, and once again this never ending Patagonia sky and 360 horizon.

And then after about 6 weeks in Patagonia, I decided to take a short week-end trip in the big city and made my way up to Buenos Aires for 3 days. 12hrs bus trip one-way, but we can’t put a price on the beauty of Bs As, it’s culture, history and of course, the tango. The first thing I noticed was how relaxed I became travelling around by bus, taking the public transit and heading to my hostel on my own, “comme une grande”, in Bs As at 7am on a Friday. I have to say, the people at Retiro Terminal (huge bus station in Bs As, literally about 70 spot for departures and arrivals of buses) at that hour were quite useless – it took me about 20 minutes to find where I could charge my SUBE card (transit card in Argentina), as some kiosks were not open yet or their system was down (another common thing out here). Finally made my way to my hostel, where I was slightly early for check-in (3pm aha!). I had decided to stay in San Telmo, an older historic and tango district in Bs As, at the America Del Sur Hostel. The hostel was great, clean, with a great vibe, lots of common areas, nice kitchen and breakfast, and 5min away from transit. I loved that all the dorms were small (4 beds only), which was quieter, although it can get a bit noisy at night when people hang out on the terrace. That said – it turned out to be a perfect spot for me as a base to visit the area and join in various walking tours around La Boca, San Telmo, Puerto Madero and the Microcentro.

I have to say, I am quite surprised at the amount of history about Argentina I have learned since I’ve been here. Actually I’m going to have to say that my previous knowledge of Argentine history was quite bad before I got here – I knew a lot about the culture, the tango and the music, but barely nothing in terms of political context and history. One thing to be said is that there has been some very, very dark times in Argentina history that still today keep shaping mentalities and beliefs from Argentine people. From the 38 000 abductions and stolen babies by the militaries 40 years ago, to the “grand-mothers” still protesting and trying to find their grand-sons or grand-daughters through DNA testing, to the twice stolen cadaver of Eva Peron…

When in Bs As I did a walking tour of La Boca, which started directly at my hostel. The tour was just about over 2hrs, but they offered to do an extended tour to San Telmo and the need South district for a total contribution of 200 pesos, and total time of about 5hrs… So here I went (because you know how much I like walking!)! The district of La Boca is where the famous El Caminito is – typically is the colorful building postcard you think of when thinking of Argentine Tango. The history of the place is quite different though, as it used to be the first port of Buenos Aires. The first colons came down there to search for silver – but couldn’t find any, and had to fight poverty by building houses with the left overs from the boats they used to come to the area. So the colorful boats ended up making walls of houses and buildings, which were conserved and maintained only in a small area of the district. Today El Caminito is a small corner/triangle which is very touristy, but still absolutely lovely to walk into and enjoy the cafes and tango music playing everywhere. It’s a shame I have no room in my luggage for souvenirs, because there were many beautiful pieces of art for sale by local artists (paintings, drawings, etc). We also took a stroll around the Stadium in La Boca – all painted in blue and yellow, colors of the local team. The stadium can hold 45 000 spectators and even more if you count the people lining up in the streets around the stadium to watch the games. Other travelers paid around 3000 pesos to go see a game, including pick-up from the hostel. I was told the game itself was more like a side show, considering how entertaining watching Argentine football fans actually was directly in the stadium… trying to climb over barb wires and fences, etc.!

After La Boca we headed back in San Telmo for some local fresh empenadas (!!!) and a quick visit of the new rich district of Bs As, Puerto Madero. This part of town was created after they decided to build a second port in the middle of town. It took about 20 years to build the port, after which they realize that the passages they build were too small to actually let the big ships go through (I can smell another bureaucratic paperwork fail right here)… So they used the port for one year, after which the area became the city dump for garbage. Years later, someone decided to buy the garbage land, and with a bit of work, built the new trendy and most expensive area of town.

On Friday night I went out to Milonga La Catedral with some other folks from the hostel. There was a beginner tango class at 9pm, which Argentine time turned out to be more like 10:30pm, followed by general dancing and a live tango orchestra at 1am. It appeared to me that it was more of a touristy/popular milonga, and there were very few actual tango dancers around for me to dance with. I would say at most, there was 5 couples dancing at the same time on the dance floor. The venue itself though, is absolutely gorgeous. From the massive Carlos Gardel’s poster on stage (almost like an altar!) to all the paintings and art pieces on the walls – the place itself is worth seeing. It was 80 pesos for entrance without the class after 10pm.

Now I am realizing this blog post might be one of my longest one (after the West Coast Trail trip report probably), but I guess if you are reading this you are interested and probably don’t mind if I go on and on! So here it goes: On my second day I searched for a lovely café to sit down and enjoy a croissant and a latte – I ended up at a traditional Argentine café, the Victoria, right across the street from the National Congress. It was also the meeting point for the Microcentro walking tour. My guide was really knowledgeable (as she studies history) and took us for a 3hrs walk where I learned a lot about Bs As and the political history of the city. I’d like to brag that I did all these walking tours in the Spanish groups and understood mainly everything – enough to make me proud at this point! We walked from the National Congress, to the Obelisco, to Plaza de Mayo until the Casa Rosa, where Eva Peron (and Madonna) made appearance on the famous balcony.

That evening I went to a smaller local milonga, El Tacuari. There was also a small tango band-orchestra, but not very crowded for a Saturday night. I did meet a local dancer that will come dance with me to his favorite milongas when I get back in town in 2 weeks.

And finally on Sunday I headed down to the San Telmo’s market with some girls from the hostel, before we found a spot in a local pub to watch the game on TV. The market goes all the way from Plaza de Mayo to La Boca on Defenza street. If you need some souvenirs, you will definitely find something you like. There were also street artists performing, including this group that I really liked – Tonimontana. On Sunday night I made it back to the bus terminal and hopped on another 12hrs bus trip to come back to Viedma. I took a cab straight from the bus station to the school on Monday morning and here I am for another few weeks in Patagonia!
I have finally decided on my Visa week plans, and have booked to go up to Iguazu Falls and stay some more in Bs As for the rest of the week. I’ll be looking forward to share these adventures with you!

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