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Getting about Buenos Aires - a quick guide.

(Photo credit: Kyle M Lease)

Although walking is indeed one of the most interesting ways to get about the inner city, some visitors to Buenos Aires like to venture out and take public transport.

TAXIS/REMIS (private taxi)

Most tourists have the pleasure of a rather entertainingly whirlwind taxi ride whilst in Buenos Aires. It is usually the first thing visitors encounter after stepping off a plane so many are not prepared for the videogame swerving antics these professionals usually undertake. It makes for good conversation once you are safe in your apartment or hostel though. Taxis are super abundant throughout the central city and getting one is as easy as lifting an arm. Safety recommendations is always take a Radiotaxi (it usually has writing on all four doors and a sign on the top), try and hail a cab on the right hand side of the road with a safe place for them to stop (ie not in a bus stop), and try to have small bills on you so you can pay as close as possible to the amount. There are stories of taxi drivers swapping $100 bills for fake ones so keep an eye out for this.


The most important part of this quick guide is about the Sube card. Public transport across the board (except taxis) now usually require all passengers to pay via a Sube card. You may be able to use cash on some train services. Ridiculously, you are unable to pay for a ticket in cash at the ticket counter of the Subway and also unable to buy a Sube card from any train or subway station. So how do you go about getting one?  Sube cards are usually sold at Kioscos. Be prepared to ask at several kioscos because there will undoubtedly be the excuse of ¨we have run out¨ or ¨no we don´t sell them¨ at the first one you try. Once you have your card, your best bet for putting on money is at the subway station or train stations. Very few kioscos are able to put money on your card but you may find some lottery shops (Loterias) will also put money on the card for you. You need to hold the card up to the little machine and the person behind the counter will charge it for you. If your spanish isn´t up to speed, then handing over the money and holding up the card usually gets the desired effect.


Monsters of the road, the buses are a (usually) quick and relatively cheap option for getting around town.  It can also be a rather entertaining insight into the residents´ everyday lives as well as getting you from A to B. Anecdotes include, one driver leaving the back door open while at the bus stop to patiently wait for the passenger leaning out the door (gesticulating fiercely) to finish his argument with somebody on the sidewalk. Another included a man with a flute who argued that the journey was made all the more pleasant as he was providing a soundtrack. Then you have the chance of the odd hair-raising moment like a barrier arm at a train crossing coming down on top of the bus, or the angry waiting passenger banging on the window, unable to understand why the bus driver will not let him on at the intersection instead of the actual bus stop.

The guide for buses (GuiaT - available at most magazine stands and is a great way of having a map of the entire city) does appear to require a university degree to get your head around it, but a wee bit of study of the particular lines you need will have you up to speed.  Once you have the line you want, it is a matter of heading down to the bus stop (always on the right hand side of the road and usually a stop every two or three blocks) and raising your arm to signal to the driver to stop. Occasionally if the bus is full, the bus will not stop and just keep going. Once on board, let the driver know what street you are heading to and he will press a button. Put your card up to the machine and once it has beeped, you can move on. The price is upwards of $6.25 pesos. Note that buses tend to travel in groups (yes the drivers will stop and converse at the lights), and some routes are notoriously unreliable so you may be waiting between 5 minutes or over an hour for a bus. That is the luck of the draw!


http://wander-argentina.com/how-to-take-thebuenos-aires-subway/ offers an indepth (but not quite up to date regarding the Sube card) description of how to take the Subway in Buenos Aires, highlighting train etiquette and giving you the odd spanish phrase that will come in handy. The subway network is much easier to understand and will get you to most places in the city. It costs $4,50 (at the moment - which may increase very soon) to enter the system but beware that most stations do not have the platform in the middle and if you enter on the wrong side, you are unable to cross to the other platform without losing your money. The phrase ¨¨Trenes a Rosas¨ means trains to Rosas, so you can figure out if the train is heading the way you want or not.  A map is available in GuiaT as well.


Over the last few years, the City of Buenos Aires has improved its train system and now has comfortable trains that are looked after and pleasant to travel in, running on most lines. The train system is easy and usually reliable and all end up in the hub of Retiro. You can also get the Mitre connection from Retiro that takes you to the station Olivos, where you can access the Tren de la Costa (which goes out to Tigre).

Again, using a Sube card makes using the train super easy. Buying a return ticket (ida y vuelta) makes life easy for your return trip. Keep a hold of your ticket as usually you are asked at the station you get off at if you have your ticket. You can also use your Sube as a swipe on-swipe off card but it is not clear whether or not all stations have this ability yet as upgrades are continuing at the moment.


It is not really worth hiring a car to get around the city as the public transport is so highly available. Note that you are able to use your Sube to pay at the toll booths (peajes) that are scattered about the motorways and routes leading out of the city.

Excerpt from Stories from a travelling tanguera

(Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

The dance floor was hidden up on the first floor, with no advertising to show new tangueros where to go. But of course, the strains of a bandoneon are easily picked up by those in the know and it was with delight that I skipped up the stairs to my first London milonga on a Sunday afternoon.

One of the reasons I know that tango is a part of me, is because I feel at home in a dance hall. I know its systems, its rules, and I love what happens there. Here, the old ballroom had a blackened roof with little chandeliers dotted around the place. It had a gothic feel with its black decor and low lighting, but this was contrasted by the impeccably dressed, and seemingly conservative dancers. There was free talcum powder (often a necessity in humidity), large fans and air conditioners, hot tea, cold water and biscuits to sustain those who were clearly working up a sweat on the dance floor.

My first dance was with a Polish guy who really wanted to whip out quite a few fancy steps that were a bit too fancy for this tanguera who had not danced tango for over two weeks. But his enjoyment was clear, and he simply danced in a style that he liked. And the style in here, is of course, Argentine tango with a twist of Englishness. Names are usually exchanged before the first dance and most dancers use an open or awkwardly half open half closed embrace. In Argentina, the women are given the choice to choose how close an embrace they use and most opt for the close embrace where the connection is at the chest.

My observations showed little quirks that were interesting to acknowledge and different to my experience in Buenos Aires. Here, none of the women danced with their eyes closed. By the time I left two hours later, I think I had seen two women besides myself who trusted their partners enough to dance with eyes shut. The floor had a seemingly haphazard style of movement in a general anti-clockwise direction. The floor came with the usual suspects – the guy out to show himself off, the pair of good dancers, the man who danced the same steps in the same sequence in the same rhythm whatever the music, the woman with the sparkly shoes, the couple who chatted the entire time they were dancing, and the ones who occasionally forgot which direction the flow was meant to go - a rather unforgivable error in Buenos Aires.

New attendees were introduced to the group as a whole, which was a good way to ensure we got dances. The MC was a little over zealous in his introduction of me and told the crowd I had landed from half way across the world that morning. How he got that from stating my name and birthplace is rather puzzling. The birthday dance had the women waiting to cut in on the man but with no tapping of the shoulder of the other woman. Just a simple nod to the man at the end of the 8 bar count.

Eventually I was able to find the dancers who focused on simple moves, musicality and connection. It was in these tandas that I felt most happy and comfortable, able to enjoy myself and the atmosphere the room had. The man who lived in Peru and was rediscovering tango after a long break, moved so gently in a slow tango that I was able to adorn the dance and actually interpret the music.

But my favourite person of the day was my new artist friend, David. He sat in the corner of the milonga and sketched, trying to capture the movement and flow of the milonga dancers. We talked about capturing the essence of the dance, and he admitted having never tried to dance tango but loved exploring the challenge of trying to capture it on paper. Armed with a few colours, paintbrush and pencil, he was sketching long rows of couples, showing the crowded dance floor, and managing to capture both the spark of many people dancing and the intimacy of each couple.

I left with my heart singing and an irresistable urge to practice boleos at the bus stop again.

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

Obama's brief brush with tango on a trip to Buenos Aires

If you've been watching the news recently, you will probably have heard about US President Barack Obama's trip to Argentina.  If you are currently visiting Buenos Aires, you may have seen the closed street and men in suits who shut down various parts of the city as the President made his way about. You may have even caught a glimpse of the highly publicised video of Obama being taken through the moves of tango with Argentina's own Mora Godoy. Godoy is one of Argentina's most well known tango dancers - she has travelled internationally for tango, is involved with several tango shows and is a choreographer. She was present at the Official Dinner in order to perform two pieces - La Cumparsita and a piece by tango electronic group Bajofondo.

Apparently she broke protocol in order to ask Obama to dance, who insisted that he didn't know how to dance. Credit needs to be given to Obama for kindly accepting her insistent request and putting himself in a potentially awkward position of dancing the lead role in a dance he doesn't know and in front of the world. The US President managed some pretty fancy footwork as Godoy sashayed around him and finished with a twirl before almost tipping Godoy off balance with an unsuccessful dip.

Lesser focus is given to Michelle Obama who accepted to dance in the shadows with Godoy's partner. No comments are made about her dancing as all eyes were on the showy moves and golden shimmer of Godoy's dress as her and Obama opened with a Gomez Addam's inspired straight arm tango.

Refreshingly (as compared to analysis from international media), Godoy remarked how it was simply a dream of hers to dance with him and how she was focused on dancing with him - nothing more, nothing less. She describes it as a unique experience and gushes about how marvellous and incredible the experience was. For Argentineans, it was simply an expression of an international visitor accepting and participating in their culture.


The passing of the golden voice of tango - Alberto Podesta


"Ah, Rebecca. The unforgettable woman," he commented with a mischievous look in his eye. Even at the age of 89, this gentleman could still smooth talk his way about the ladies, even those over 50 years his junior. Alberto Podesta was the last surviving voice of the golden age of tango and we had the privilege of chauffeuring him to a milonga for a performance. Softly spoken, his manner was gentle until he stepped out on stage and he sang with such strength and vigor for his age. He was still performing at the age of 90, thrilling tango dancers at every performance. 

Late last year, the tango community of the world was saddened by the passing of Podesta. On 9th December 2015, his manager Maria Alejandra Podesta announced  that "At age 91, Maestro Alberto Podesta fell asleep forever. Tango was everything he thought, spoke and breathed. One of the greatest singers, with prolific work in the 1940s. One of my best friends and fellow traveller. I want to remember you forever this way, your smile and your mischief, but above all, your voice and nuances that resound softly entwining my heart. Farewell."

Born on the 22nd September 1924 as Washington Alejandro Ale in San Juan, his natural talent for singing shone through even at a young age. Nicknamed 'Gardelito' (little Gardel), it wasn't until 1939 that he moved to Buenos Aires and began his singing career. Given his stage Alberto Podesta by Carlos Di Sarli who hired him to sing for his band, it was Podesta's dream come true to be singing with Di Sarli before the age of 18. By 1945, his singing career was in full swing and he spent many years touring, bringing to life tango in many cities in the world. He continued to sing life into tango for the rest of his life. 

As I was embarking on my own tango trip to Buenos Aires, I was told by many that if I have the opportunity to see Podesta sing then I must see it. As luck would have it, I saw Podesta perform three times - even once managing to snap a beautiful portrait of him. He was sitting backstage, looking serious and lost in his thoughts, when a mutual friend asked him if I could take his photo. Upon seeing a young girl with a camera in her hand, his face transformed, his eyes sparked and he smiled cheekily down the lens. It is one of my favourite photos and what a treasure it will be now. 

Farewell Podesta. Thankyou for the beauty you have brought to many a milonga and for the performances those of us who have seen you, will never forget.

Further reading