Buenos Aires has some incredibly colourful and wacky art on its walls. Everything from schools, shops, houses and markets are decorated with explosions of colour of varying artistic merit. Most aren’t overtly political, many are quite obscure, and some directly relate to what the building does. It certainly livens up our frequent wanderings around our neighbourhood.
On our last Sunday afternoon we decided we really should do something ‘typical’ in Buenos Aires. And what could be more typical than tango?
Instead of going to one of the hugely expensive tango shows (where dinner is included and starts at 10pm, after which the show starts), we decided to try something a little more down to earth, and headed to San Telmo district, where we were told there was more informal tango in some of the squares.
After elbowing our way through the crowds that had gathered for the Sunday flea market, which spreads across a vast area of the barrio and has everything from genuine antiques to beautiful crafts and pottery to ‘designer’ gear, we came across a crowd of locals and foreigners alike surrounding a makeshift dance floor in a shady square. The dancers took it in turns to strut their stuff, and there was most definitely a range of abilities, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it, despite the very serious ‘tango faces’ during the actual performances.
We spent a good hour enjoying the show (and doing our best ‘Craig the mean judge from strictly’ impressions) and it was a lovely way to pass a hot and humid Sunday afternoon.
Balancing work, school, fun and trip planning in Buenos Aires.
I know I’ve been a bit silent in the last couple of weeks, and in part that’s because I haven’t had that much to say, and in part because I’ve actually been really busy. Lauren has been focussing on her schoolwork, and was absolutely delighted to receive her next set of books (Thanks Denise!!). While she works her way through french grammar, Roman invasions of Gaul, and electrical currents, I am focussing on customs reform, international trade and local economic development in Africa.
When it all gets too much, we retire to our local cafe (selected after much market research across a broad range of criteria including quality of coffee, selection of ‘good things’, friendliness of staff, strength of wifi…) and pass a pleasant hour or so with our kindles. Lauren is currently obsessed with the David Walliams books.
Lauren has been attending a local dance school three days a week, and we are both working our way through the Spanish duolingo app. We are both very good at saying different people are eating apples or not eating apples in Spanish by now. Not sure how useful that is, but its a start. In the meantime, my portunhol has served me well.
Of course, after a couple of weeks we started getting itchy feet again, and I’ve been putting in the hours in the evenings planning the next stage of our trip.
This will be a road trip from the Patagonian ice fields of the deep south, up through Argentina and Chile to the desert and salt pans of the north. It’s not an easy thing to plan, especially as no one is used to a single mother and child (and some frankly think I’m mad) – I thought I’d got it all sorted and had reserved a campervan when we found out that in Argentina children must travel in the back seat until they are ten (this rule exists in most countries but normally has an exception for vehicles like campervans if they only have front seats). Even though we will be mainly in Chile, parts of the route will pass through Argentina, and my notorious obsession with actually following the rules means I’ve had to settle for hiring a car with a roof top tent, so that Lauren can be strapped in the back. She’s delighted, but I’m just thinking about those below-freezing patagonian nights and needing a wee at 2am…..
We spent a brilliant day at the Buenos Aires Science museum, made all the more brilliant by being completely free!
The science museum is extremely well equipped, with lots of interactive activities and fun science experiments. There’s a lab where kids can look at all sorts of creatures under the microscope – underside of cockroaches, butterfly wings, enormous ants, miniscule caterpillars – and classes run for kids of various ages on all sorts of fun science stuff. The staff are engaged, interested and welcoming – even to non-spanish-speaking kids and their anxious mums.
We went with Daniela, a Venezuelan who managed to get out before the worst of things, and her 8-year-old son, plus another Venezuelan mum and son. After the initial awkwardness the three kids were soon running around, playing games and interacting in a mixture of Portuñol and English….
First they did a robotics class, which effectively consisted of putting engines on lego trucks. Cue much tussling and negotiation as the three of them all had strong ideas about the aesthetics and construction of the truck. Through trial and error they managed to make something that wasn’t too top heavy but still met each of their rather demanding criteria.
They also did a coding class, which parents weren’t invited to. Lauren insisted she didn’t need me there to translate/support, so we were banished while they got on with things. They were given tablets loaded with scratch and off they went. Lauren figured out how to switch it to English and they all managed to programme a game in the hour and a half class. They were rightly pretty proud of themselves.
The science museum also has a brilliant playground aimed at older kids – every block here has a playground for the littlies, but this one was challenging and educational enough to keep the 8-9 year olds happy. They learnt about centrifugal force by spinning on an axis, while the adults looked on from the shade of a convenient café.
Over beers in the café there was much grumbling about the former president, obviously not much liked by our new-found Venezuelan friends (Daniela’s sister and other friends has joined us by this point) but everyone had to admit that building the science museum was ‘one thing she did right’. I have no understanding of the seemingly pretty volatile politics in this country, but I can definitely agree that the science museum is brilliant!
Chinese new year celebrations in Buenos Aires gave us more insights into Argentina than into China….
Last weekend was Chinese New Year, and a big celebration was to be held in one of the parks about 40 minutes’ walk from our place. We decided to go along and check it out. I thought it might be an opportunity to expose Lauren to some Chinese culture.
It was a strange event.
First of all, we struggled to see any Chinese people. I get the impression there were wild celebrations happening somewhere else, and this was just an excuse for the locals to enjoy the sunshine and the city to gain some inclusivity brownie points.
I felt like grabbing one of the very few Chinese people I saw and asking where’s the real party at?
The place was heaving with portenos who’d brought rugs and even camping chairs as well as picnics and flasks of mate and of course their dogs. On stage when we arrived were two very non-chinese-looking singers, singing in Spanish…. Admittedly under a trio of red Chinese lanterns…
We fought our way through the crowds to some of the stalls – I fancied some Chinese food and Lauren was excited to taste something new – but when we could get close enough to see the handwritten menus, they were all empanadas or other local dishes. Much as I love empanadas, I’d been fantasizing about noodles, stir fries and spring rolls. Maybe even something picante.
Finally, the singers on stage were replaced by what was breathlessly introduced as Buenos Aires’s only Chinese teen-pop dance group …. a bunch of young teens dressed up as naughty schoolgirls going through a frankly bizarre pop routine to pounding chinese pop. Let’s be kind and say the performance might have benefitted from a little extra rehearsal time.
In the meantime, we tracked down something genuinely Chinese – a kung fu demo – although all those participating were local. It was quite fun, although I wasn’t quite comfortable with how close the swirling swords and pikes came to Lauren’s face.… health and safety approved this was not.
We also found some Argentinian acupuncturists, one of whom explained pressure points and acupuncture to Lauren, who seemed blown away by the fact that mummy had done something as alternative and weird (her word) as acupuncture when going through IVF to conceive her.
We were just about to leave when a dancing dragon took to the stage, and as we stopped to watch I spotted a stand we hadn’t seen before, on the other side, which was selling fortune cookies, next door to a place frying up genuinely greasy Chinese food. Success! Something actually Chinese. We stocked up on cookies and oily balls of fried vegetables in various shapes, and happily munched on them as we finally made our escape from the crowds and wandered through the parks and quiet streets back to our apartment.
All in all, I’m glad we went – but I think we learned more about Argentina than about China.
That’s OK, maybe we will just have to include China on our future itinerary …
I feel a bit of a fraud writing a blog post about Buenos Aires, as we basically arrived after a 22-hour bus journey, jumped in a taxi and have spent the last few days hardly stirring out of our barrio.
I have some remote work to do (trying to get my head around Mozambican customs reform again after 6 months is a stretch …) and Lauren has a whole new set of exams to prepare for. She is currently making up sentences that use French expressions such as raconter des salades and donner sa langue au chat. Top marks for anyone who can post what they mean in the comments without googling.
We’ve been lucky that the sweltering 40 degree heat and high humidity that all the Portenos were complaining about broke the day before we arrived, and we were greeted with mid-20s temperatures and a cool breeze.
First impressions? This place is huge, and built on an enormous scale. Wide avenues, sweeping parks full of monuments, enormous roundabouts. You can definitely see why its called the “Paris of Latin America” – lots of beautiful architecture and wrought iron balconies, all gleaming magnificently in the glorious sunshine. Then you come across something quirky like a lavishly painted mural or a weirdly gynecological sculpture, or a waiter is friendly in a café, and you remember you are not in Paris after all…
Our area is a little less glitzy than the swish Palermo, where we had to venture yesterday to pick up my new debit card, or the chic designerdom of Recoleta. But we love it. It was a good choice for a month of stability. A mixture of residential and commercial, we are only a few blocks from a very busy shopping street, but our actual block is sleepy and quiet, with a great verduraria (vegetables, finally!!!), a bakery and two vets.
Speaking of vets, there seems to be one of almost every street, which is not surprising given the number of pampered dogs we have seen in the city. From tiny little pooches who travel in designer doggy handbags, to great big hounds who plod along carrying their own leads in their mouths, this is definitely a city of dog lovers.
Unfortunately, most owners don’t seem to love the city as much as their dogs, and Lauren has invented the ‘dog poo dance’ as she skips down the pavement avoiding the offerings left by our canine neighbours.
So far we’ve done absolutely no sightseeing. Our days have been pleasantly filled with work, chores and cooking. We get up early and work side by side for the morning – stopping at intervals for cups of tea (me) or cereal (Lauren) and to work on our survey of local cafes. Lauren wants a ‘local café’ but of course, before choosing which one to grace with our regular custom, a certain amount of market research is required…..
In the afternoons we shop, cook, and explore the different local streets.
If it sounds idyllic, it pretty much is – although there are the usual frustrations of not knowing what we are doing in a big city. We tried for four days in a row to identify where to get a Sube card – like an oyster card in London, a prepay card you tap to enter buses, metro, local trains etc. Everyone we spoke to and all the online resources said to buy these at ‘any local kiosk’. Yeah, right. Our efforts have been met with closed for the holidays, back in a week to we don’t have them today but definitely tomorrow (they didn’t), to we don’t sell them but they don’t check on the train anyway so just get on….
Anyway, for now we are loving the normality of an apartment, decent internet and a kitchen, and some breathing space to make our plans for Patagonia and beyond 😊
A lush, hidden garden full of hummingbirds in Puerto Iguazu….
The Jardim dos Picaflores is a lovely little place in Puerto Iguazu, and we spent a pleasant afternoon in its shady coolness, watching the hummingbirds and other birds coming and going.
Jardim dos Picaflores, or hummingbird’s garden, is a small garden behind an ordinary-looking house, with lots of canisters hanging up that have a sweet liquid in which attracts the hummingbirds. There are benches under the trees where you can sit and watch the birds, and even a fridge with soft drinks to buy. Its all a bit haphazard – opening hours are from approximately 3pm to 6pm, and you have to hang about by the gate until someone notices you – but this all gives it the slightly mysterious air of a secret garden.
I never realized quite how many hummingbird types there are – the owner has a checklist so you can tick them off if that’s your thing – we were just happy to watch the spectacle of them dashing about on wings barely visible they move so fast, and seeming to hover in the air effortlessly.
I somehow forgot to publish this blog post until now, but it was such a lovely afternoon I wanted to share anyway.