The Jesuit Trail: Estancias and the City of Cordoba

Back in Buenos Aires, I spent the day napping and hanging out in a hotel room – after I bought my tickets to Cordoba, near the Sierras. And the next day, Friday, I headed out. I had opted for a day ride so that I could see the countryside, but I must admit it wasn’t too exciting. It was mostly flat fields, often with grazing cattle. In many ways the landscape is similar to parts of the US Midwest.

Cows in the pampas - looks like the US Midwest

Cows in the pampas – looks like the US Midwest

While I arrived after dark, I still felt comfortable walking from the bus station to the hostel, which was pretty much a straight shot of about a mile. Perhaps because it was Friday night in a college town, there were a bunch of people (including many single women) walking towards the bus station with their bags in tow.

Since I arrived pretty late, I didn’t really see anything that night, but I planned to head out and explore the city the next day. Saturday morning I was lucky enough to strike up a conversation with an Australian woman who was visiting Cordoba for a few days, and was up for exploring the city together. And it’s an engaging city. The Jesuits made it their headquarters, founding the university in the early seventeenth century. To fund the university, they also founded estancias (loosely translated as ranches or farms) in the small cities around Cordoba, introducing wine to Argentina.

The historic center of Cordoba seems to have a Jesuit church every other block. Since they range over a period of time, their building materials are different, but they share a certain architectural similarity. People from the US Southwest or California may recognize the Spanish influence.

We had lunch at the market, finding a little Middle-Eastern restaurant that was pretty tasty. Our server was so nice, only charging us for the part of the bottle of wine that we drank (and since it was the middle of the day, we only had a glass or two).

We wanted to see the inside of the university, so we took a guided tour in the afternoon. There’s an excellent collection of old books, although much of the Jesuit riches disappeared after the Jesuits fell out of favor with the Spanish king and he disbanded them. I think things were handed over to the Dominicans (as in the monastic order).

There were several estancias I wanted to see, and I knew that some would be closed on Monday. (Surprisingly, they weren’t supposed to be closed on Sunday.) So Sunday I set out for the farther estancia, to the town of Jesus Maria. There is an estancia there, and another one (which my guidebook thought the most beautiful) about a 20-30 minute drive away, called the Estancia Santa Catalina. Apparently the only way to get to Santa Catalina is by taxi, so I wasn’t sure I was going to make it out there. However, when I got off the minibus in Jesus Maria and was trying to get my bearings for how to get to the Jesus Maria estancia, I ran into a British couple who had been on the university tour the previous afternoon. They offered to split the taxi ride with me, so we went over to one of the drivers to figure out how much it would cost. My Spanish more or less saw us through, and we decided it was worthwhile to head out.

We bumped and jolted along a country road, the distant Sierras growing closer, until we came to Estancia Santa Catalina. And it is absolutely lovely.

Arguably the most beautiful Jesuit estancia...

Arguably the most beautiful Jesuit estancia…

Unfortunately, it was also closed. The British couple mentioned to me that there were elections going on and that might be why it was closed. Our poor cab driver felt awful for not having known, and actually turned off the meter on the way back, only charging us about half of what it would have cost otherwise.
Me at the Estancia Santa Catalina

Me at the Estancia Santa Catalina

He dropped us at the Jesus Maria Estancia, which was (of course) also closed. We looked at the outside and then went across the street for a lovely, long lunch outside in the sun. While not the day any of us had been planning, it was actually still a good time.

With so much closed on Monday, I went to the few things in Cordoba that were open. I stopped by a museum that I think is called the City Museum, located near the old city center in a beautifully preserved colonial house. The rooms in the museum are set up to reflect historical Cordoban family life, though primarily focusing on the 19th century. While I really enjoy social history, and this was a good museum, I did feel a little huffy that they made me leave my purse at the front. (Really, a purse? No, my purse is not one of those over-the-shoulder purses the size of a tote.) Since we were supposed to take all documents/money/valuables with us, this resulted in my pretty much having to carry 90% of my purse contents in my pockets or my hands. The guard was chuckling as I kept pulling things out, and if my Spanish had been better, I would have asked him what he expected when he asked a woman to take out all important items from her bag. And then I saw a man in the museum with a briefcase. Go figure! Anyway, despite my having to juggle my belongings, as I said, it is a good museum!

I walked around some more, then had lunch and tea to kill the afternoon.

My bus back to Buenos Aires on Tuesday was a late, overnight bus, so I had plenty of time to head out to Alta Gracia to see another estancia. And this one was open! As well as absolutely lovely.

After the estancia, I wandered the town a little more, going to the Che Guevara Museum, in the house he pretty much grew up in. I must say the museum is really overpriced. I also went to the Manuel De Faella Museum, though it sadly wasn’t open since it was undergoing renovations. I’d had no idea that De Faella lived in Alta Gracia after Franco won the Spanish Civil War.

And then, finally, I headed back to Buenos Aires that night, and thus homeward a day or two later after visiting with some friends in BA.

Through the Andes!

Having checked the home page of the Mendoza Sun to make sure the Los Libertadores pass was open, I set off from Mendoza to Santiago by bus. You’ll see a lot of forums and websites and guide books recommend this trip – and you know what? It’s not overhyped. It’s a beautiful journey, even if you are at the mercy of the weather during the winter. In fact, I got a bit snap-happy, so I’ll divide the pictures up a bit for easier viewing!

The bus started out by arriving late, but I was not too worried as I saw a long line of people waiting, including at least three other backpackers. (That’s the most backpackers I’ve seen together actually, so far in my South America travels.) I took Andesmar (same as from Buenos Aires) and was again quite impressed, even with only semi-cama seats. Andesmar actually served snack food on this trip, something I’ve since found out not all companies do.

I was in the very front, across from where the driver would be, but on the upper level – the panoramic seats! Sadly, there was a fine mesh screen at the front of the bus meant either to protect us from the sun or host an ad, so the panorama was a bit blocked, but it wasn’t too bad. And I often had to clear the condensation from the window as well.

We headed out west into the foothills of the Andes. I’m not sure whether this set of hills is a separate range or not. While they are not very high, they are pretty, and every so often we’d come around a corner and catch a glimpse of snow-capped mountains framed by these hills.

A glimpse of the Andes

A glimpse of the Andes

Gradually, we climbed, going around curves, ever higher, until we reached our first snow. And from then on, there was a lot of snow. So much so, in fact, that there is actually a ski lift just past the border into Chile.

Not too long before we got to the Christo Redentor tunnel, we saw this incredible vista of mountains surrounding a valley. A sign stated it was Aconcagua National Park, and I think I saw Aconcagua itself, though it’s hard to be sure I got the right peak! Aconcagua is the highest mountain outside of Asia.

Aconcagua National Park - I think it's the mountain in the distance about to be hidden on the left

Aconcagua National Park – I think it’s the mountain in the distance about to be hidden on the left

We seemed to be more or less on time when we came to a tunnel marking the border. A lengthy tunnel, that, going through a mountain! And then we started seeing these long lines of trucks that looked like they went for miles (literally, since this pass is one of the primary land routes in or out of Chile). Our driver would peek out to see whether there was oncoming traffic and then bypass these semis, in a narrow, curving two lane road with nowhere to pull off. It was a bit harrowing!

We finally pulled up to the border and sat for a couple of hours. The sun was beating down and I couldn’t tell I I were feeling uncomfortable because of the altitude (I think we were up about 5000 feet or more above sea-level) or the long bus ride. It’s probably just the latter.

Welcome to Chile!

Welcome to Chile!

After two hours, we were all told to pile off and go into the warehouse-like border and customs building, where we waited in line to get our exit stamp, then another line for our entry stamp, then a third line for our hand luggage to be inspected. Periodically dogs would come through to make sure that nobody was smuggling fruit or anything else that could introduce invasive species into Chile, which is essentially a land-locked island ecologically. That all took another hour. Apparently the dogs are also trained to be drug sniffing dogs because some idiot in the back of the bus tried to smuggle in some pot. It’s not like it isn’t well-advertised that they have dogs at this border crossing – how stupid do you have to be to try something like that?!

Three hours delayed, we set off on the part of the journey that garners the most photos: the around 30 switchbacks needed to get from the pass to the rest of the road through the Andes. This was where my seat choice was fantastic, exhilarating, and, at times, terrifying. But our driver was very cautious and we made it down unscathed.

Traffic on the around 30 switchbacks in the Chilean Andes

Traffic on the around 30 switchbacks in the Chilean Andes

We passed through more snowy splendor until we finally left the Andes. Chile is much greener than the Argentine Andean foothills, as is the case the world over where a mountain range blocks incoming clouds. I saw a lot of cacti, some vineyards, and just what seemed like an astonishing amount of green.
The green of the Chilean side

The green of the Chilean side

Being so late on a Friday (yes, I’m quite aware I’m ten days behind in blogging, thanks), we of course hit traffic in Santiago, further delaying us. Eventually we emerged from the bus into the chaos of the bus station, where I found an ATM and then set off towards the metro. My first impression of Chileans was of how nice they are (an impression that didn’t change in my time there) – when I asked a young woman how to get to the metro, she walked me there, making sure to wait when we got separated by the heavy foot traffic, pointed out where to buy a ticket and what side of the station was the direction I needed!

Buying a ticket was a shock after Argentina, where they never have change for large (or sometimes even small) bills. Since I’d just been to an ATM, I had to essentially use something worth $20 for a $1 ride. I apologized profusely but they honestly didn’t even blink. The subway is fantastic. Physically, the trains remind me of some of the modern metro cars in Paris, and the frequency of the schedule is really impressive. It’s a huge contrast to Buenos Aires. Much though I love BA and its atmosphere, I’m not a fan of the Subte.

My hostel (Hostel Nomades) was great, chilly but with blankets and huge, fluffy down comforters to let me have a good night’s sleep at the end of my journey.

A gallery of my land crossing:

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Not Just Malbec: Tasting My Way Through Mendoza

I was heading out west via that trusty (and cheaper) method of transportation, the bus. Now, I have never had good experiences with overnight buses so far, but I’d gotten a special rate for the cama suite seats on Andesmar and they were supposed to almost fully recline and be similar to business class airplane seats. They would also feed us and offer wine. Well, the food and wine quality was not that of most first class airlines, but the seat comfort was as good as when I got upgraded to business class on my flight home from Istanbul! Good thing, too, since it was about a thirteen or fourteen hour bus ride!

Andesmar bingo - a tradition

Andesmar bingo – a tradition

I arrived at the hostel, dropped off my bags, and decided to take a half day tour the hostel suggested that afternoon to visit one place that made olive oil and two wineries. While I’d originally had plans to just take a bus and visit places on my own, I was a bit tired from the overnight ride (even though I did actually sleep!) and opted for the easy choice. I chatted with a nice Australian couple who were taking a year to travel the world, and started to learn about the wine making process. All these tours get very similar after a while, the distinguishing feature being the passion and details about the winery.

We started by visiting a medium-sized winery in Maipu where we first saw the large metal fermentation tanks. Over my three days of tours, I learned that the first fermentation takes place in either these tanks or concrete tanks, depending on the quality of the wine. They can then be matured either in the bottle (like for whites where you don’t want oaky notes), or in the barrel and then for an equal amount of time in the bottle.

And I learned A LOT about oak barrels! But that’ll come a bit later…

Our second winery was smaller. I enjoyed the tour more, though the wine seemed to have more of an alcoholic bite. (I prefer my wines a bit smoother.)

Then came the olive oil factory, which was good since we were all starving by then! Lots of yummy olive oil, sundried tomatoes, and dried fruits.
Olive oil tasting (with yummy sundried tomatoes)

Olive oil tasting (with yummy sundried tomatoes)

As if two wineries weren’t enough, I went to a wine bar called Vines of Mendoza to try a flight of local wines (most from smaller wineries) and their “sensory kit”, a box of scents used to help identify individual notes in the wine. It would have worked better if the scents hadn’t been mixed up (and I was a bit annoyed I still got charged for it when I pointed out it was mixed up), but I still enjoyed the experience and the helpful staff at the wine bar – and quite frankly had tried enough wines for one day! I grabbed some dinner after and when they suggested wine, I replied strongly in the negative! Anyway, I had to get up fairly early in order to visit some more vineyards, of course.
Wine tasting with a scent box at Vines of Mendoza

Wine tasting with a scent box at Vines of Mendoza

I had, quite by chance, come across a tour bus run by Cata that did three loops by about seven different wineries in a town called Lujan, with the timing worked out so that you could visit two or three wineries depending on how long you took for lunch. (I think it was called the Viniviticulture bus and I bought the ticket at the tourist office – more people should take advantage of it!) I had read a lot on Tripadvisor about the fabulous tasting menu at Chandon, so I absolutely wanted to eat lunch there, and I chose the other two with that goal in mind.

I ended up being the only person on the bus, which meant I chatted with the Cata guide and had my first tour essentially be a private tour by the sommelier at Dominio del Plata (one of the first wineries run by a woman). This tour was one of my absolute favorites, and the wine was very good (though the third day wines were better). I felt bad having a private tour and not buying any bottles of wine, but given that I still have plans to travel around, it would take a very special wine indeed to have me buy a bottle.

Hills and vines at Dominio del Plata

Hills and vines at Dominio del Plata

We started with an amazing clear view of the Andes in the distance rising over the vineyards. It was quite cold and we speedily moved inside to discuss wine some more. The sommelier had such passion for the wine industry – and given how poorly they are paid in Argentina, it’s definitely a labor of love. She showed me how French and American oak barrels differ in the pore size of the wood, which leads to different amounts of aeration and their different tastes. French oak pores are smaller, so touching a barrel feels much smoother than an American oak barrel. We chatted about wines of the world in this chilly and dim cellar filled with shelves holding barrels upon barrels of wine. I paid for the middle range wine tasting (a better quality of wine) and enjoyed my tasting, learning a bit of the swish and spit (I admit that I googled it the night before) as I realized that I hadn’t eaten enough breakfast to absorb my actually drinking all the wine. Yes, wine tasting is about tasting, not just drinking, and though it broke my heart to do it to good wines, I definitely poured some out so I’d be in a state for to appreciate the upcoming wines. After all, I was going to taste a total of 9 or 10 that day!

Next stop: Chandon. I was so excited to try some bubbly from the Argentine branch of the famous house (yes, it’s Chandon as in Moët et Chandon), but I admit to a bit of disappointment (though luckily not in the lunch, which was superb). Chandon is a big, commercial winery and that’s reflected in the tour, which starts with a glitzy video. I had missed the English tour, which I knew but was ok with as it was needed for the timing for lunch, but I had thought I’d be more or less ok with the Spanish tour. It was, after all, my fourth winery, so the major difference lay in how to produce the bubbles. Well, they didn’t run the Spanish tour because the only other people there were from Brazil, so they did the tour in, you guessed it, Portuguese. Since the tour guide was not a native Portuguese speaker, she spoke clearly enough that I actually understood a lot of it. My Cata guide helped translate the rest. (She joined me on the tour so I wouldn’t be all alone again.) The most interesting part of the Chandon tasting was being able to taste their base wine (aka the wine that goes for a second fermentation) and then what it produced as a bubbly. We tried two different wines. I enjoyed the drier wine more – Chandon Delice was much sweeter so while I enjoyed the first few sips, it quickly grew too sweet. However, I have to admit i prefer champagne! And then came the three course menu (not the six course tasting menu as that would have taken all day.) The food was delicious and I enjoyed the wine pairing (up until more of the Delice was served with dessert, which was just too much sweet). Lunch took quite a while, and I felt bad running over schedule, but with only me on board the bus wasn’t doing its normal three loops anyway.

The last stop was at Septima, so called because it was the seventh winery of a Spanish wine group. The highlight of this tour was getting to drink some Malbec straight from the barrel. You taste a lot of oak (which is why before sale these wines sit in bottles to age for the same amount of time as in oak) but some people also really taste the malolactic acid fermentation, which I definitely tasted. It makes the wine taste buttery as the lactic acid build up.

Wow, two days in and I’d already visited five vineyards and a wine bar. I was definitely learning a lot, and enjoying it greatly!

Each day the quality of wines had improved, and my last day in Mendoza was no exception. I had really really wanted to go to an up and coming wine region called Valle de Uco with one of two pricey but highly rated tours, but it’s low season and nobody else had booked one during my dates. I’d really counted on it, so decided I would still splurge and go back to Lujan (to different, smaller wineries) on an Anpora wine tour. One of the best tour decisions I have made on this trip.

Why so good? Because there were only three of us plus the guide, and while not every vineyard may have been better than the vineyards I had visited (though some definitely were), the level of the tastings was much higher. In fact, I did break down and buy a bottle of Cabernet Franc that has an astonishing note of green pepper at one winery and a couple of half bottle dessert wines from Caelum, where one if the owners showed us around. (One of the dessert wines was a Malbec – did you know Malbec could make a sweet dessert wine? I didn’t.) Like I said earlier, it was going to require some extraordinary wine to get me to lug them all around for ten days, but these samples showed me a complexity and variety of Argentine wine that I had never realized existed. Even the Malbecs were more complex than the ones I had (and enjoyed) in the States. Of course, I don’t doubt most of them were a more expensive level of wine than what I normally buy, too! Our last tasting was lunch at Casarena, which had recently hired Chef Mun, a great closed-door chef from Buenos Aires whom my landlord in BA had recommended. It was Asian-Argentine fusion paired with wine – a fantastic (ad beautifully plated) ending to the tour.
And as a fitting end to the day, I had a lovely ramble and long talk with one of the Frenchwomen once we got back to town and decided to burn off some of the copious amounts of food and wine.

Hasta la Vista, BA! Part Two…Belatedly

Wow, I’m a bit behind in the writing department. Sorry! Must be all that wine tasting in Mendoza…just kidding, really it’s that I’ve taken too many pictures to upload in a reasonable amount of time. But who said anything about reasonable anyway?

So, back to my final post, final part about my stay in BA (final at least till I return in a few weeks). I was trying hard to see the things I thought I’d really regret having left without seeing. This included the Bicentennial Museum, Puerto Madero, and a quick photo op with Mafalda. (Who’s Mafalda, you ask? All will be revealed in due time, never fear!)

First, the Bicentennial Museum. Built underground in a complex that incorporates the remains of the old customs house, it chronicles Argentine history from settlement and independence to the current government. And opened by the current Peronist government, it’s fair to say it has a decided bias. I had been warned about the bias, but even my limited Spanish gets language that associates the economic policies of the pre- Kirchner governments with the preceding military dictatorship! But overall I still learned a lot about the sequence of events that molded the country. I do have to admit, however, that one of the highlights (other than seeing a beautiful old desk that I love, its having belonged to Sarmiento being somewhat incidental to its sheer beauty), were a set of political dolls in the gift shop. I had heard that there was one of Kirchner as well as one of her husband, and the latter had angel wings to show that he is no longer living…

I walked to the canal from the museum, entering the barrio of Puerto Madero. It was a short-lived port a long time ago, having been outgrown pretty much as soon as it was developed, so for a time it was full of abandoned old warehouses. Then someone had the bright idea to covert the old warehouses into apartments and restaurants, build some new high rises, and make sure that the yacht club was located there – instant gentrification! Now it’s quite a ritzy (and touristy) area, though the ecological reserve there is apparently enjoyed by many porteños. I didn’t go there since I wasn’t in the mood for a park so soon after the Jardín Japonés. Instead, I enjoyed walking around the water, checking out an old Argentine naval sailing ship turned into a museum.

I wrapped up the day with a quick stop in San Telmo.
A lovely church in San Telmo

A lovely church in San Telmo

I wanted a picture of me with Mafalda, a little cartoon girl by a celebrated Argentine cartoonist. The picture someone kindly took of me turned out terribly and is consigned to digital deletion, but I snuck in another shot of Mafalda herself so not all was lost!


Hasta la Vista, BA! Part 1

Wow, it’s hard to believe I’ve been in Buenos Aires for four weeks and it’s already time to move on. (Mendoza, I’m ready for wine tasting!) I’ve had a good time living in this city, enjoying getting to know it at my own pace. It’s been quite a change from switching cities every few days. I’ve gotten used to seeing dog walkers and avoiding their charges’ detritus. (Almost nobody believes in the scooping here – when I see someone scoop the poop, I want to take a photo of the novelty!


Going to class every afternoon gave me structure to my day. On Thursday we had our written test, which was pretty straight-forward, thank goodness! Friday was the oral exam – each of us had to give a short spiel about our city (or our daily routine), then we had to select a random photo and describe the people in it, and lastly we worked in pairs to run through one of the types of scenarios/dialogues we had in our books, like waiter-customer. I passed! Yay, I have a shiny certificate that lets everyone know that I passed the equivalent of Spanish 101.


Election season has swung into full gear, with people handing out flyers and painting political graffiti (boring and in no way art!) It’s the congressional elections, with the presidential ones coming up in 2015. I have a feeling that there will be a change in president, given what I’ve been hearing from people, but who knows? A lot can happen in a year, and the caliber of the opponent makes a big difference, too.


One thing I haven’t been able to describe yet is the Cartoneros, people who manually go through the bags of trash waiting to be picked up in order to separate out the cardboard, which gets recycled. Most of them have a cart that they wheel around, although in Uruguay and once or twice here I’ve seen the cart drawn by a donkey or mule. It’s a stark reminder of the poverty of many of the citizens here.


In between all of my normal activities, I’ve found time to do some further exploration of the city! A week ago, I went with a couple of friends from school to go food shopping in Chinatown. We got off in Belgrano and walked around in circles before finally finding the few blocks that make it up, but that means we got to see some of Belgrano. (Definitely middle class with some upper middle class thrown in, more modern buildings than old-money Recoleta, and some plastic surgery centers that fit right in.) Small though it is, Chinatown has several markets that we spent a fair amount of time in searching for white corn meal for my friend. (No luck, but at least I bought some shrimp chips!)

I also got to experience a Buenos Aires boliche (disco or club). We went to a gay club, which was very interesting compared to the States. I’d have expected more women there, since in the northern hemisphere women often like to go to gay bars to avoid creepy guys. Not so here, apparently. Anyway, we stayed there till 4 or 5, still several hours before closing time in this city that takes its nightlife very seriously.

And I saw some of the other side of dancing, going to another milonga (this one called Maldita Milonga in San Telmo) to take a dance class and listen to the live tango musicians. I was really impressed with this one, as they tried to teach partnering before teaching the steps to one of the toughest of partner dances. The music was great too. We heard a guitarist and singer opening act and then an orchestra which included four accordions. I couldn’t look away from the accordionists! Especially one, who wore a hoodie and such an intense look of concentration! His whole body got into the music.

After a brief cold spell, the weather has gotten much warmer again, so I checked out the Jardín Japonés one afternoon (along with everyone with kids on spring break, it seems!). It’s a lovely, small Japanese garden that was a gift from Japan to the Argentines. It felt like I was in Tokyo for a brief moment! The next day I checked out plaza San Martín in Recoleta and felt like I had stepped into Paris!

It’s getting close to time for me to leave for the Retiro bus station, as you may have guessed from the rushed nature of this post, so I will make a part two to this post and share some pictures of Puerto Madero another time. Until then, enjoy these!

Street Art!

On Saturday, I took a local non-profit named Graffitimundo’s Hidden Walls tour of Buenos Aires to discover the grafitti – more specifically the street art – in four different barrios. We went to the dodgy neighborhoods, La Boca and Barracas. We also stopped in Congreso and Palermo. I have to say, I didn’t realize how good street art could be. I like much of what we saw more than much contemporary art I’ve seen. (Of course, that’s kind of damning with faint praise.) I was impressed, both with the tour and with what we saw. I learned about stenciling versus free-hand and even saw a street decorated with mosaics in an attempt to make it brighter and more cheerful. Real graffiti is a relatively new phenomenon in Argentina, given that there was a military dictatorship during the time most other countries were developing it. I don’t remember every artist’s name, but several are supported by Graffitimundo and will be on their website.

Anyway, enough history! Judge for yourselves whether you like it or not:

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The Many Colors of La Boca

Last Thursday, we had a Spanish class field trip to La Boca, the gritty, colorful, formerly bustling port barrio that welcomed waves of Italian (mainly Genoese) immigrants in the 19th century. Those pictures of brightly painted yellow and blue and red wooden and metal houses that you see in brochures advertising Buenos Aires? That’s La Boca – and more specifically, that’s the area around El Caminito, a cool-looking tourist trap that is meant to be a living museum of what La Boca once was. Those poor Genoese dockworkers used leftover paint from the ships to brighten their abodes – thus the rainbow of El Caminito. Most actual houses in La Boca have lost these bright colors as the area became poorer. There are a lot of squatters and a lot of multi-family apartments in La Boca now, part of why guidebooks warn tourists from straying from the area right around El Caminito and the Bombonera soccer stadium.

Tourist trap or not, it was cold and a Thursday, so it wasn’t too crowded. We started off with a quick visit to the museum dedicated to Benito Quinquela Martín, a man who painted the ships of the port of La Boca and was instrumental in creating (recreating?) El Caminito as an homage to La Boca.

Then we froze more and walked along El Caminito and a street parallel. On the weekends, there are tango shows in the restaurants, which have tiny dance platforms so the dancers can attract customers. (I’m sneaking in a photo or two from Saturday, when I went back to La Boca to take a graffiti tour and there were actual dancers out there.)

People have told me that La Boca (by which they mean El Caminito) is over-rated. I’d honestly just say that you need to set appropriate expectations for yourself. There are only three or four blocks to see, but those blocks, especially when there aren’t too many tourists walking around, are bright and vibrant and lovely.

Dancing through Congreso

One of the women in the level two Spanish class has some connections here and was invited on a guided tour of the Congreso building while she was here. She graciously arranged for a group of us in the first three levels of Spanish class to go, so I got to explore in depth the imposing Congreso last Wednesday!

It started with a little bit of initial confusion, with nobody there to greet us as amazingly our group was closer to American time than Argentine time (aka a group of ten people actually arrived within just a few minutes of when they said they would). Eventually a guide and our fellow student’s contact arrived, and we found out that the guide only spoke Spanish. So anything after this paragraph, take with a grain of salt. I’m only at level one of Spanish, after all!

The guide handed out mini copies of the Argentine constitution to everyone, we went through security, and we were in! First stop, the official ceremonious doors and entryway, almost all of which was made from imported materials. In fact, that holds true for pretty much the entire building.

Next came the room with all the flags of the different provinces, with its stained glass roof under repair. Apparently it’s been under repair for a while, as every time bad weather arrives, the glass gets moved around by the wind. Sounds challenging, and like maybe they need a different way to fix the panels down.

Then came a super imposing room, the center of the building, the Blue Room. The Blue Room is located directly under the dome and houses the constitution (one of multiple original signed copies, if I understood correctly). There is a magnificent chandelier dripping in baccarat crystal and showcasing plaques on the metal part that represent eight or nine important moments in Argentine history. (I didn’t quite get the details on what those events were, however.)

We visited a room used by the senators to relax. It’s full of leather and the scent and atmosphere of old men, which may not be fair as I have no idea of the average senatorial age here – and there was only one senator in the building anyway as it’s between sessions right now. Another room was decorated in pink and was the equivalent room for women. Quite pretty and a nice thought for back in the day, though now, appropriately, both rooms are for both sexes. We disturbed a staffer of some sort having coffee in the pink room, but at some point he stepped out so we could then visit.

Next came one of the most amazing moments: we got to enter the Senate, sit in the senators’ seats, and even go up in the front of the room and sit in the Vice President’s seat. Everyone had been taking a ton of pictures of themselves posing in places during the tour – this was where I stopped taking pictures of just the building and posed myself!

Our foray into the Chamber of Deputies’s side of the building was shorter: we entered the (very large) Chamber and the waiting room in front of it. By now I think people were getting tired, as we had been there for quite some time what with the tour guide’s lectures and all the photo-taking. But we got to wrap up in my favorite room, the library! It was absolutely beautiful.

In fact it was all beautiful. It seemed very European, very 19th century, even though it dates from later than that.

We headed out as it grew dark, and I went off for dinner and then my first venture out to a milonga. La Viruta offers tango classes most nights of the week and is very welcoming to beginners (at least during the class – I got asked to dance several times by individuals who ran away when I told them I was a rank beginner. Not that I blame them. Too much.) I enjoyed it despite the fact that it was extremely crowded in the beginners class. After the classes, the floor opened for dancing (aka the milonga part of the evening) and I enjoyed watching some very good dancers tango. I even managed to not scare someone by my newness and danced!

Doors of Recoleta Cemetery

Tuesday morning saw me back at Recoleta Cemetery, enjoying the view (and getting scammed for a few pesos by the guy saying he was collecting for charity just outside the gates *mental head slap*). This time I got to see Evita’s family tomb as well (the Duarte family).

We got some good views in the bright sunshine:

And having seen posters everywhere showing doors of a city, here’s my attempt at doors of Recoleta Cemetery:

Out and About in Buenos Aires: Feria de Mataderos and Tango!

Sunday and Monday were busy, interesting days! I’ve realized that I don’t have a long time left in Buenos Aires (how time flies!), and I want to take advantage of it.

I had been intrigued by a description of a feria (fair or market) that takes place in the very southerly barrio of Mataderos. It’s known for its singing, dancing, and gaucho-related activities, along with artisanal food, drinks and crafts. The other advantage is that it’s off the beaten path, taking an hour by bus to get there. It was definitely worth it, though! I bought the best dulce de leche ever and had my first choripan (chorizo on bread). We heard live music and even saw people dancing a handkerchief dance to it. As seems to be common at ferias (at least, I also saw this in San Telmo), there was a table loaded with goodies baked by local women. Of course we had to try a piece of cake! We wrapped up the day with a little more shopping, at Ateneo, the prettiest bookstore ever.

On Monday, a group of us finally went to Cafe Tortoni to see a tango show. (We’d only been trying for a week!) We got a great view of the Congreso building while heading to buy tickets. Before the show we went to a parrilla in San Telmo. It was pricey but tasty. Unfortunately, dinner took a little longer than expected (oh so common with a group of people) and apparently my Spanish was not up to par, so we missed part of the show. (I could have sworn they said doors opened at 10, show at 10:30.) Oh well, everyone had fun at least, and what we saw of the show was fantastic.