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Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The first place to go in Buenos Aires for anyone who is serious about devoting their life to beef is La Cabrera, a cosily candlelit restaurant beautifully decorated with hanging model planes, teacups and other vintage bits and bobs. More impressive than the décor was the menu – a long list of meaty delights which I probably would have mulled over for hours if the waiter had not tipped us off about the rump steak. We ordered one each despite being told one was big enough for two and when they were brought over they were followed by every pair of eyes in the restaurant. These were the most outrageously generous slabs of meat I had ever seen, looking more like joints of beef you would pick up back home for a Sunday roast than individual steaks.

When I finally finished it off my plate was covered in blood – it looked like a tiny massacre had taken place and the bodies cleared away. I suppose with the size of the portions in that place that is pretty much what is happening every day. We walked out of the restaurant breathing heavily and toddled slowly to our bar where we could sit down and rub our bellies. We found a place with a live jazz band and didn’t move for the rest of the night. Mostly because we couldn’t.

We spent the next day exploring La Boca, a poor area of the city where colourfully painted streets filled with artists and Tango dancers underline the city’s unique character. It is also home to La Bombonera, the home stadium of football team Boca Juniors where Maradona made a name for himself. He is so idolised in fact that when we took a tour of the stadium we were shown a special box from which the Maradona family has the privilege of watching every game. The stadium itself is not particularly grand but on match days it would be filled with 80,000 Boca fans who passionately (and easily) drown out the 3,000 away fans who are squeezed into one end of the stadium.

Unfortunately, due to some familiar sounding issues around TV stations and money, the Argentinean league was on strike and we were not able to watch the first game of the season – initially scheduled for that week. Instead we found our own game, in a small cage on the corner of some multi-coloured streets, where we held our own against some typically skilful Argentinean and Spanish youngsters. Although my trainers now greet me every day with a wide, frayed smile, it was worth it to get a genuine feel for the area and its people beyond the insincere friendliness of the bar touts and the irritating tango dancers who think you want to have your photo taken wearing their hat.

During the day in Buenos Aires the most common way to pass the time seems to be shopping and the vintage shops of San Telmo caught my eye as I flicked through Time Out Buenos Aires (which would, for the duration of our stay, replace Lonely Planet as our Bible). We walked down a long stretch of road filled with huge white mansions, most of which seemed to be gracefully falling apart. Antique shops sprung up regularly, filled with old, intricate furniture, brass lamps, black and white photographs and costume jewellery. The best finds were a collection of clothes shops where you could get amazing items for a fraction of the boutique prices. I decided I had accumulated enough gaudy cardigans from Bolivia so managed to resist the temptation. I would later come to regret this decision when my hoody disappeared from a club but we can come back to thievery later.

The nightlife of Buenos Aires was the best we’d seen in South America by a long way and after a few days you realise that the most interesting time to explore the city is an intoxicated tour of the various bars, clubs and shows. During our stay we saw live jazz and indie bands, went to a massive hiphop club, a funky little drum and bass club, a bar with a VJ(!) playing 80s music videos and an amazing bar covered entirely in stencil graffiti. Every night there would be something to keep you entertained until the early hours.

One of these messy nights caused us to miss checkout – we were planning to move to another place because we were finding our current hostel, based in the city centre and inundated with trustafarians (middle-class white guys with long hair and beards who come travelling with their trust fund), slightly tedious. Luckily me standing in reception in my pyjamas, pleading ignorance in the voice of a pubescent chain smoker and with one eyelid securely stuck down, was enough to evoke what was either sympathy or fear in the hostel staff and they decided to let us leave. We moved to Palermo where boutiques and pretty streets are fused with a vibrant art scene which seems to spill out of the shops and colour their walls with bold and elaborate designs.

It is very difficult, when writing about a place, to describe the things which reflect the true character – beyond the buildings, parks and museums. One particularly fascinating scene which I saw on numerous occasions in Buenos Aires, was the lunchtime barbeque of the local workmen. The coals would be fired up and by lunchtime a nice collection of meat would be sizzling away ready for the hungry dozens. It was a very sociable set up, with all the workers gathering round to cook and take their share of the meat; it always made me smile. And hungry.

The week disappeared in a blur of late nights and lazy exploration. On the last day we made sure we stopped by the cemetery in Recoleta where Evita and various other famous, eminent and necessarily wealthy figures have their final resting places. The extravagant tombs form beautiful and spooky corridors of stone and statue where cats wander creepily as if they are waiting for their owners to wake from an eternal slumber. Nearby was also an interesting sculpture – a huge aluminium flower which opens every morning and closes every night.

With Buenos Aires suitably sampled and thoroughly photographed we got on our night bus to the Iguazu Falls. Knowing that this would be our final opportunity to experience the luxury of Argentinean buses we decided that only the very best would do. The “suite” ticket was not much more expensive but promised some deliciously unnecessary perks. We had a steak dinner with red wine, champagne and best of all, fully reclining seats with a foot rest that came up to create a completely flat bed! It was better than a plane. In fact, it was better than a lot of the hostels we’d stayed in! But I suppose that isn’t saying much.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on August 30, 2009 from Buenos Aires, Argentina
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Steak, LaBoca, SanTelmo, Barbeque, Vintage and Cemetery

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