Welcome to Buenos Aires, the trilingual (Spanish, English, Italian) capital of Argentina and birthplace of the tango, is full of unique surprises.
For one, more than half of porteños (people of the port city of Buenos Aires) have some degree of Italian ancestry. As such, Italian restaurants abound, Italian is widely spoken, and porteños are more like outgoing Italians than reserved Peninsulares from Spain.
For two, one can see extreme wealth and extreme poverty in the very same frame. The luxury high rise apartments in the posh Puerto Madero neighborhood, considered monuments to the legendary greed and corruption of the Argentine oligarchy, are literally just blocks away from the slums in the impoverished Retiro neighborhood. Understandably, anti-authoritarian graffiti is easy to find.
By the way, do you remember the Falklands War? While there are few highly-visible signs of antagonism towards the British and her allies because of that 1982 conflict, most Argentines care infinitely more about rampant poverty at home and corruption in their own government.
Notice the enormous number of window-installed air conditioners in the high rises, severely taxing the energy infrastructure. This is relatively recent development as the climate has become significantly hotter over the last few decades, allegedly due to unchecked deforestation in the Amazon.
Special Note about the dinero: Because the official currency, the Argentine Peso, is perpetually declining in value, Argentines try to accumulate American Dollars whenever they can. While these so-called blue dollars are officially illegal, dollars were freely and openly accepted everywhere I went. And, because the dollar is preferred over the unstable Peso, your change will always come in pesos. When I visited in February 2014, the official exchange rate was around 8 pesos per dollar, but you could get 13 for 1 on the street and 10 for 1 at most establishments. Some restaurants advertised 11 for 1 if you used a crisp $100 bill. It is not clear to me if spending dollars helps or hurts the people there. I suppose that, in the short-term, it helps those who get dollars and hurts those who don’t… but in the long term the answer is not so clear.
- Saunter around the vibrant, gritty La Boca neighborhood.
- Enjoy a casual, delicious, and inexpensive lunch of empanadas y cerveza.
- Take a tango lesson.
- Visit La Recoleta Cemetery, the final resting place of Eva Perón, and a… a fascinating study in the subjects of death, notoriety, and money.
- Take a guided tour of the Opera House (Teatro Colón). Hint: The best parts have nothing to do with music!
- Finally, no visit to Buenos Aires would be complete without experiencing the raw sensual energy of a tango music and dance performance live.
Vamos! (Let’s go!)