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What to expect in Buenos Aires: shared experiences.

The latest book I’m reading has got me thinking about the quirky nature of Buenos Aires and the similar experiences that many of her visitors have that cause them to fall head over heels for her.  Picaflor (by Jessica Talbot) outlines a woman’s journey of discovery - not only of herself but also how she came to find her ‘hogar’ (home) in Buenos Aires. Through her narrative, she outlines the little eccentricities that come with delving through the porteño culture that are often vividly shared between tourists and backpackers. It all begins from the moment you arrive.

Step off the plane and you are sure to experience a taxi ride of a lifetime into the city. Speed limits are treated more as minimum speeds and it seems indicators are defunct. Lanes are mere suggestions of where you could drive should you wish and many taxis appear to prefer driving directly on the line, as if pretending they are a mono-rail. The traffic is chaotic - the buses roar through the streets, inches from the pavement and their sound reverberates off the buildings in the narrow streets. Motorbikes swerve through the traffic with their drivers’ arms slung through their helmets as if looking cool is more important than protecting your head should you come a cropper. Horns are used freely to indicate a car’s presence on the road or their right of way at an intersection. The car fumes mix with the street smells of roasted sweet peanuts and the incessantly and loud chatter of the inhabitants. It’s noisy, it’s intense and it’s so completely Buenos Aires.

The central city usually enthralls its visitors with its schizophrenic arctitecture, where old French inspired buildings snuggle up to horrific 80s concrete designs and ornate wrought iron balconies are reflected in the modern glass towers. But while you are being awed by the view looking up, don’t forget to look down as the footpaths are usually cracked or have a paver loose and the city’s dogwalkers (who can be walking up to 15 dogs at a time) regrettably don’t have the inclination to pick up every doggy doo doo that their charges leave behind. And the loose pavers are a hazard after the rain when unsuspecting walkers have legs and shoes splashed by the hidden dirty pool of water that has gathered underneath them.

Children are very welcome here - an integral part of the family that is to be included in everything. It is not unusual to see young children out and about with their families at midnight, eating in restaurants or choosing their favourite flavour of icecream for dessert from one of the cities many late night heladerias (ice cream shops). Strangers show a particular warmth towards babies, free in their comments of how beautiful your baby is or asking how old they are as a way of introduction to share their own story about their nieto (grandchild) or sobrino (nephew/neice). Children are celebrated and to be seen and heard whenever they desire it.

The change in eating hours also makes an impact on all those who visit here. Don’t go expecting to be served at a restaurant before 8pm. Locals are renowned for their late night eating habits which usually extend well into the wee small hours of the morning. Lunch meanders from 1230pm until 3pm and afternoon tea extends anywhere from 4pm until 6pm. Breakfast is simply a coffee with medialunas (croissants) at some stage during the morning. Coffee is an important part of the diet here (along with mate) and there are a diverse range of cafes dotted throughout the city streets to choose from.

If you have the fortune of befriending a local, you will also be privy to the rich warmness and acceptance that this culture has. Whether your connection is simply a warm hola! from your local greengrocer or as involved as meeting up at a Sunday family asado (bbq), you are made to feel welcome and involved. This is reiterated in the sharing of mate (tea) where a single gourd of tea is passed between friends.  Even if you feel your attempts at the local lingo seem that you are butchering what is a beautiful and sexy language, porteños will be thrilled that you are even making the effort. And, have no fear, the same mistakes are common; estoy embarazada does not mean ‘I am embarrassed’, but ‘I am pregnant’, and be sure to pronounce the n when saying estoy cansado (I am tired) because otherwise you are stating you are married (estoy casado). But porteños don’t mind these little imperfections - they will support you even if you spend your evening inadvertently saying Happy New Anus (Feliz Ano Nuevo) instead of Happy New Year (Feliz Año Nuevo). 

When it comes to tango in this city however, experiences are as varied as the sea is wide. Whether it is hearing strains of bandonean from a cafe, dancing at a late night milonga for the first time or breathing in the heady fumes of a packed dance floor, every visitors experience is unique to them. And with that sort of passion, that's where Buenos Aires worms into your heart and leaves a little piece of herself.

Photo credit and copyright: Rebecca Travaglia


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