Dear Buenos Aires...
Dear Buenos Aires, Argentina...
Being such a foodie, you’ve been on my to-do list for many years Buenos Aires. People have told me of your delicious steaks and wine, and boy were they right. I mean the steaks costs next to nothing, taste amazing, and are cooked over hot coals, which I believe makes everything better. Even the food court restaurants in the mall each had a pit of coals burning in clear sight ready to cook your mall meat. Now that’s some shit I can get down with right there!
At most restaurants, bottles of really good Argentinian Malbec are $8-12 USD after the conversion. Couple that with chargrilled steak and I thought I found a new home. A tip though if you’re headed to visit— after a server hands out a menu at a restaurant, they will not come back to talk, even for drink orders, until the menu has been closed. I’m one that always leaves my menu open because for some reason, I get order panic and can’t remember the name of the dish I want. So usually I leave my menu open so I can cheat like an open book test when they come to take my order. I finally learned the trick though— close the menu, and if you’re like me, keep your thumb jammed in the right page so you can quickly refer back when needed.
But even though the food and the wine were worth the trip, I left a little disappointed, Argentina in what could have been.
I’ve heard from your past visitors your people are a little snotty. I mean … maybe a little right? I found that unless people were being paid to talk to us (like hotel or restaurant employees), nobody was really that nice. If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re going to have an even tougher time. I feel like many of the people with whom Michael and I tried to talk to were probably capable of a little English but were not willing to try.
The subway machines to buy tickets didn’t offer any languages other than Spanish. When we went to the booth to talk to one of the two women working there to ask if they spoke English, they brusquely said, “No!” and went back to reading their books. I then just held up two fingers and put some money on the counter. She took it, gave me change, and gave me back two tickets. Turns out they were two round-trip tickets, but we had to figure that out by using them.
While shopping in a clothing store we were in, one of the employees tried to approach us. When I told him I was sorry, we didn’t speak Spanish, he began to speak English. Here was our conversation:
Employee: You Don’t Speak Spanish? Me: No
Employee: (laughing at us heartily) Good Luck!!
I don’t feel like you are a fashion icon, Buenos Aires. Most of the time my impression was that everyone’s clothes could be washed a little more often, but judging by the laundry hanging on all the balconies, it wasn’t an easy task, so they probably wore things a few more times than they would have liked. I’m gathering from what I pieced together, most your home-washers are small and most people didn’t have dryers. I took inventory of the clothing, which was mostly casual, interestingly enough. Many of the shirts I saw with writing on them were in English, which confirmed my suspicions that most of the people probably spoke a little English.
You, as a city, overall felt dirty and dilapidated. For instance, your sidewalks are in terrible shape. There seems to be a million different types of materials and tiles you have made into sidewalks none of which are working well. I feel like maybe you could attend a cement making seminar somewhere to help you out. I saw two men repairing one of your many damaged sidewalk areas and they didn’t have any modern equipment like jackhammers or backhoes. Instead, the two men were trying to flatten out the dirt underneath with pickaxes, shovels and buckets of water. It was really a mess and looked like was going to take them the entire day and still not be right, could have been accomplished correctly with the help of modern equipment.
Parts of the city are beautifully splashed with color. The kind of color that puts you in a good mood just being surrounded by it. I think every city could learn a lesson from you when it comes to color. Despite those areas, generally your buildings were dirty and badly in need of a power-wash and paint. It also seemed quite common to be dripped on by AC condensation water falling from your window units which weren’t properly draining. When they were not dripping on us, clear tubing just ran down the side of the building and let out right onto the sidewalks.
I’m not an engineer, but it felt like the overall craftsmanship was poor. Many of your buildings I saw being constructed appeared to be using wood that didn’t look strong enough to hold, and also everything just looked a little crooked and off. That picture of our hotel bathroom sink shows how badly someone needs to introduce you to a level. Other times, I couldn’t place my finger on what was wrong, except to say, “That doesn’t look right.” I found your plumbing to be interesting too. I’m not sure what was going on there, but I would wash my hands or flush the urinal and see the rush of water fly by just underneath the grate of the nearby floor drain. Strange.
Dining outside should be a pleasure, but be prepared to be hit up repeatedly by homeless people for money while you eat. Even more astonishing is that not once did the restaurant staff of any of the restaurants tell the beggars to leave, despite witnessing them work their way down a line of tables trying to get money.
Most of what I’ve talked about in the negative are personal observations, but the cleanliness of your buildings, your plumbing and your clothes, didn’t really affect the quality of my trip. So now that I’ve sufficiently shit all over you, Buenos Aires, let me remind everyone about your steak and wine. That’s enough to put up with minor snottiness regarding our lack of Spanish.
The weekend markets were also a highlight. We spent the whole day there, and I loved every minute of it. I wanted to buy one of everything. Arts, crafts, jewelry, leather goods, and of course, yerba mate tea which I’d never heard anything about until my visit there. I didn’t know, the tea is made from the leaves of the yerba mate tree. Those leaves are then dried by a wood fire, making it taste like a campfire. It’s served in a really cool gourd, usually made from a hollowed out calabash gourd, and filled to the top with the loose tea. Then a metal straw with a strainer at the end filters out the particles as you drink.
I didn’t particularly like the flavor, but I love tea, had read about all the health benefits of drinking yerba mate, it looked fun and cool too, so I was all in. Then I did a little more research and the Mayo Clinic had this to say about it:
“Yerba mate isn't likely to pose a risk for healthy adults who occasionally drink it. However, some studies indicate that people who drink large amounts of yerba mate over prolonged periods may be at increased risk of some types of cancer, such as cancer of the mouth, esophagus and lungs. Smoking in combination with yerba mate seems to greatly increase the cancer risk. One possible explanation is that mate contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to be carcinogenic. (Tobacco smoke and grilled meat also contain PAHs.) More investigation needs to be done into the safety and side effects of mate.”
So, I’m out. I use the gourd and metal straw I bought for regular tea at home though, so it wasn’t a complete waste. Now, it's time to take you through the city in my fastest moving highlights section.
Transportation - Uber wasn’t like it was in the United States. There were some long waits and cancelled requests, but it worked overall. Your city is big, vast and expansive and it’s not easy to get around. Your subway is difficult to navigate, but at least there’s posters like this in there to keep one entertained while you try to figure it all out.
Hotel - We stayed at the Design CE Hotel de Diseño which was a good location. The room was functional, but it wasn’t the most comfortable room I’ve ever been in. The staff was great and the breakfast was also pretty good. The view? Well, I’ve seen better.
Coke- Comes in glass bottles with real cane sugar. That’s a plus anywhere. There really is nothing like a Coke over ice.
Eating - Buenos Aires is one of those places where people hold their fork with their left hand and the knife with their right to cut steak but instead of setting everything down and then using your right hand to pick up the fork they just leave the fork in the left hand
to eat. While I have vivid memories of my mother yelling at me for maintaining my fork in my left hand, America really needs to adopt this habit. It’s just so much more efficient!
Driving- While it’s not as crazy as India or some of the other countries I’ve visited, my knuckles were white during a few rides. Many intersections outside the main city have no stop signs or lights. It’s just a free-for-all. I’m always amazed by the lack of car accidents in these places. I’m convinced America must have some of the worst drivers in the world. Argentina, your drivers have mad skills! The other thing I loved was that if any of your driver’s got cut off or if anyone came close to hitting them, nobody yelled or screamed. Nobody got mad. Argentinians simply adjusted and kept on going as if nothing had happened. When the same thing happens in America, we would follow the offender and try to fight them. I like your way better Argentina.
Tipping- No tip is allowed on a credit card (except for tourist areas). It’s recommended online to leave around 10%. If you don’t have any cash though, you aren’t going to be able to even leave one in most places. From what I saw, most Argentinians didn’t really tip. I’ve got a whole rant about how tipping is out of control, so it was nice that your servers are paid a living wage and don’t expect a regular sized tip. Many of the places write “tip not included” on the bottom. I’m pretty convinced they do this only for tourists who are used to tipping in hopes they dupe some Americans out of some extra cash.
Money- while coins do exist in Argentina, I saw them only once. Almost everything is rounded up and virtually all exchanged money is paper. Genius! I wish that were the case in America— I have a huge jar of coins that every US bank has stopped accepting unless I roll them, which isn’t happening.
La Recoleta Cemetary - I’m normally not one for cemeteries, but this one was so amazing. It’s so old and despite the fact that every 3rd brick on the ground you step on is loose it’s definitely worth strolling through. The best part is that it’s free. A word of caution though, and that’s to be ready for the feral cats that inhabit the cemetery. To have a cat pop out of a tomb while you’re standing in front of it, almost scared a little poo out of me. It didn’t get better any of the times that it continued to happen.
San Telmo Market- As I mentioned earlier, there are many weekend markets, but this one was really great and probably one of the more popular ones. I absolutely loved it.
Rossi and Caruso - A leather goods shop. I was on a mission to find and buy a handbag made of high quality Argentinian leather and I found it at this place. Well priced and great staff. Let’s just say, I LOVE THAT BAG!
Caminito - We went on a paid tour and were dropped us off to explore this area which was so cool and eclectic. The tour guide did warn us of thieves and pickpockets just before exiting the bus, so that detracted a bit from our enjoyment. Thankfully, nothing happened.
Puerto Madero - It’s an up and coming spot with good views and some cool places to drink and get a bite. Worth stopping by if in the area.
Parilla Pena - One of the better steakhouses where we dined. I really enjoyed the food and drinks!
Bangability - Off the charts! I found it hard to concentrate. The sheer number of gorgeous men and women was staggering. It scored a 6! I definitely needed a neck massage from all the rubbernecking. I’m sure this is a naïve American talking, but the people there didn’t necessarily look overwhelmingly Latin. If you muted the voices and the sounds and just looked at the people, I wouldn’t have known I was in South America. This fact makes the high bangability score even more impressive because I generally am attracted to different ethnicities (all of them really).
The cops - Being a former cop, I always pay attention to the police, their uniforms, cars, gear and anything else related to them. I LOVED their uniforms. Most of them had blue BDU pants on, a red polo shirt with a collar and a belt with not a lot of equipment on it. In contrast, most American cops have so much crap now, it looks like Schwarzenegger’s hidden weapon stash in the movie Commando is wrapped around their waste. Not in Argentina— most of them had a belt with a gun, some bullets, and one of those nightsticks I haven’t seen since the Rodney King incident. Don’t worry. They were very nice.
The Incident - I debated on sharing this, but it happened, so I will. Argentina, as a former cop, I have an iron stomach. I have barely ever been sick other than colds and flus. I mean Taco Bell has done it to me, but eating at Taco Bell is like poking a bear. I have no idea what it was, because Michael and I ate all the same stuff, but somehow, somewhere, I got the shits. Not just like some Pepto or Imodium shits, but like the immobilized, stuck in my hotel room because I need the toilet every five minutes, thank Jesus there was a bidet in there or I would have wiped away half of my balloon knot. So, no idea where to put the blame, but that definitely didn’t help my overall fondness of my visit Buenos Aires. We shall leave it at that.
Overall, Buenos Aires, I leave you with a belly full of great steak and wine, a beautiful leather bag that I’ll cherish for a long time to come, a cool tea gourd I forget to use, a little happiness that I was leaving and a really sore butthole. I would come back to see you but probably only if there was an amazing Groupon and a group of fun friends going with me.