Posted by: viksav | February 13, 2013

Buenos Aires!! A journey that was “Enlightening and Savage”!!

Beautiful spring/early summer; blooming flowers; warm hearted locals; music, dance and graffiti engulfing the city; engrossing historical facts and culture; graceful and passionate Tango dancers; frenzy fans at soccer game; Gaucho culture and great beginning to relationships.  It was an amazing journey that is hard to express in words as the joy experienced by the beholder cannot be easily put down in writing. So my friends!! As I give this a try, sit tight, strap up and be prepared for a wonderful story.

Where do I start?? How did I even land in Buenos Aires (BA)?? As I reflect on my experience I strongly believe destiny played a big part in the timing of my trip. A lot of deliberation led to me and my friend zeroing on America Del Sur hostel instead of a hotel. We rued our luck on the day of flight for missing an offer of $1000 volunteer voucher from the airlines by a whisker. Bummer!! $1000 gone!! But I took it in stride and felt there was a reason we were flying out that day and Holy Molly!! I was right

Buenos Aires!! The air was warm, you could smell the spring flowers and the airport was bustling with people. I knew barely 2 words in Spanish and to my friends credit he could manage a broken conversation. We managed to hire a cab with a mix of sign language and hostel confirmation receipt. Finally we landed at the hostel and wow!! You could feel the warmth in the reception; the guy’s n gals at the desk helping you were full of energy, had a great smile and were really happy seeing us. We were glad to have selected the place and by the end of our trip we were beyond grateful to all, for the help they provided and it was an emotional good bye. I was overwhelmed when one of them at the front desk called me back as I was leaving the hostel because I forgot to give a good bye hug. Will anyone ever in a hostel/hotel business establishment do that? I would bet less than 0.1%. That is genuine warmth and happiness for me. Kudos!!! A great hostel and amazing people are running it. It feels like a home!!

My friend and I hit the streets of San Telmo market for the first time. Coincidently it was an open market day and the locals were selling handmade goods, local delicacies, cd-s, clothes…u name it we could find it there. It was amazing to see the vendors lined up for more than 10 blocks. The best part of this whole experience was getting to watch the local talented artists – musicians, dancers, singers, painters. They are truly talented!!  And you can feel the music and dance in their blood. They all seem to go into a trance when they are performing, smile on their face, their love for the art rocks your heart and you’re just too engulfed in the moments to even move from that place. Ohh!! I love my job and enjoy what I do but I will be lying if I say I experience the same joy each day. Friends!! The day we achieve such a blissful state, we would be blessed and no amount of money, wealth, laurels can substitute it. In particular I was impressed by a lady violinist with a radiating smile who just rocked with her violin; and an old lady (easily 70+) who was playing musical instrument/s. At 70+ I would be amazed even if I can walk around let alone be smiling and putting up a show for bystanders.

Numerous guide books point to the fact that locals have late dinners and party till the morning hours but honestly it still caught us by surprise to see dinners are usually taken around 11 and parties don’t even begin till 1 in the morning. As we lazed in the lounge area at the hostel waiting for the nightlife to come alive we got acquainted with a band of Irish lasses (well, we came to know they were Irish later) 🙂  As I was digging thru’ the city map I could see at the corner of my eye these 3 lasses waited for more than 5 minutes with wandering looks before coming over to our table. I guess they were hesitant to come across and sit at the table by 2 Indians, digging thru’ the guide books. 🙂 Eventually the army lass walked up and asked if they could sit. (Did not know she was in the Irish Army till later; maybe we would have been scared to oblige 🙂 Nah!!! She’s little dote to scare anyone) It was the beginning of a great friendship and I don’t think neither of us ever imagined the journey for the next 7 days would turn out to be so memorable.

My friend and I were shocked at first but then soon became jealous after we found they were on a 1 year travel adventure. Wow!! 1 full year full of adventure; traveling to beautiful places, experiencing the local culture, meeting wonderful people, gaining wonderful perspective of the world – who does not want to do it? We admired their courage to take a call on such a journey as we continued our intros. Later in the night we decided to have dinner at a local place; an overzealous waitress welcomed us and she was excited to talk and serve us. I guess she was wee bit too excited 🙂 n forgot my friend’s order. A lot of apologies followed and we finally finished our first supper together and began our quest of conquering the city; an unlikely band of 3 Irish lasses and 2 Indian dudes!! 🙂 It was enthralling as we strolled the city with tons n tons of restaurants, historical buildings, old café’s, artists sprinkled all over the city, amazing graffiti sketched on buildings, buses, trains and ever smiling people. We were all flabbergasted on being informed of an upcoming football game between Argentina –Brazil. We had to go!! A mother of all games that was coincidently scheduled during our visit to the city; and we decided to buy the tickets the next day.

Our band got a new addition the following day; a fellow traveler from Switzerland.  Trust a European to know the importance of football game 🙂 and he hardly needed any convincing to go to the game. We set out in search for the ticket counter where we could get our dream tickets.  It was a nice walk thru’ the city and my friend kept clicking away capturing the city on the lens.  I should be really thankful to him for the all amazing pictures else this whole adventure would have been confined to my memory which I don’t trust it to retain for long. By the love of god, I’m so happy I picked up the stadium seating map from the hostel else we would have been completely lost trying to communicate at the counter. It was amazing how we even bought the tickets; I had to literally show the map and point where we all wanted to sit. As soon as we bought the tickets, the joy on all our faces was palpable; as if we had just scaled Mount Everest!!

After all excitement toned down we hit the restaurant for a quick bite. Boy!! I realized that I should be careful next time before I place a bet with an Irish gal. One of them took up the challenge and gulped down a really huge sundae which will put even a regular triple sundae to shame.  I was shocked but hey I filled my side of bargain and paid for it and for my friend’s sundae. I was not surprised at my friend finishing his sundae but was not ready for Irish gal’s showdown 🙂 We hit the road again and enjoyed the rest of the evening walking down the harbor and admiring all the upscale restaurants.

The next day we all embarked on a tour to visit the famous shrine of Evita Peron in Recoleta. Evita Peron, an inspirational former first lady, was embraced by masses in the late 40’s and early 50’s of the 20th century for pursuing the labor rights, for charitable work and for running the first female political party. It was a long walk of 4-5 miles strolling thru’ the city passing the local landmarks and the upscale neighborhoods. It was cool walking down the widest street ever built in the world, 9 de Julio, that is 9 lanes wide and the views at the center of this street provide a great perspective of the city on either side. It was a hot day and we took pit stops first to savor ice creams and then to grab some supplies at a medical store. Language barrier resurfaced and it was a blast trying to communicate and explain to the chemists what we wanted. ( 🙂 Basically we were looking for gauze pads and wrap to cover blisters on one of the girl’s feet. Try explaining it in Spanish!!)

It was revering to walk through the maze of tombs at the Recoleta cemetery that honored so many great leaders of the past – politicos, artists, generals, revolutionists etc. Of course Evita Peron’s tomb was the center of attraction for all visitors. It’s rare to see so many revered personnel cremated at one single place and guarded as a national heritage. After our long tiring quest we were famished; to quote an Irish saying, 🙂 we’d eat a farmer’s arse through a blackthorn bush! The nearest place, McDonalds!! Lol, a place I would avoid 9.9999 times out of 10 back at home was looking like a dream place; just like white castle for Harold and Kumar 🙂 We culminated our walking tour by visiting Floralis Generica, commonly known as ‘steel flower’ made of steel and aluminum; a popular icon of the city. Walking thru’ the day drained all our energy and we ended up relaxing for most part that evening and the next day. We had to recuperate to build the excitement for the soccer game the following night.

Taking rest at the hostel for most part of the next day gave me ample time to read the book, Start Something That Matters, which I had bought along with me. In the book Blake Mycoskie tells the story of TOMS shoes and its message of ONE for ONE movement. Blake Mycoskie during his trip to Argentina was moved by the plight of children who walked barefoot on the blistering summer roads and could not afford a pair of footwear. In an effort to help them and make a positive impact in the world around him Blake Mycoskie started TOMS shoes, the company that would match every pair purchased with a new pair given to a child in need. Since the company’s inception in 2006, TOMS shoes has given out more than million pair of shoes in 23 countries. Blake lives on a sail boat and his favorite quote by Gandhi: Be the change you want to see in the world. Blake stresses the importance of social entrepreneurship in his book and says one can love their work, work for what they love and change the world all at the same time. Profit, passion and meaning all at one given time; an inspirational story that questions rationale of each one of us who express that we are not rich to give back, or we don’t have time to do what we love. The book also exemplifies other social projects initiated by other visionaries who wanted to be a difference in the world. I was moved reading the book and I was still in the middle of this wonderful story.

As the day passed by I was still feeling heavy in the heart reading the story and I was definitely planning to finish the book before I left Argentina. We had a light lunch and we relaxed in lounge area. Soon the excitement of the game took over; we guys wore our no.10 Messi jerseys and were ready for some football. We took a taxi ride to the stadium; the driver of our cab was hell bent on racing ahead of the cab carrying the girls 🙂 he was jovial, funny guy and was constantly pulling our legs. After back n forth confused walking trying to find the gate to enter the stadium we  finally got to see the famed La Bombonera stadium the home of Boca Juniors, one of the world’s best known football clubs and a club  represented by the one and only Diego Maradona.

We had great seats; the view of the stadium was spectacular and crowd slowly started to trickle in. A sea of blue jerseys filled most part of the stadium except for a small visitor section filled by vociferous Brazil fans donned in yellow jerseys. The game kicked off and the excitement, fans, singing, cheers reverberated in the stadium; an experience hard to describe is one of the must have’s in Buenos Aires. The game was slow in the first half but soon picked up pace in the second and the stadium erupted with the first goal by Argentina. We all jumped up in joy and cheered along with the fans but alas our joy was short lived as Brazil soon put one in to tie the game. The game was now being played at a great pace and everyone was on their edge of seats hoping for that miracle goal. Lo and behold, Argentina put the second one in with a scorching hit and stadium was deafening with loud cheers and Mexican waves. The seconds, minutes ticked by and we hoped the score remained as we really wanted to see the Argentina pull this off. One of my friends expressed it will be cool if we had penalty shootout but rest of us did not want to take the chance and hoped to pull it off during regular time.

Here’s an interesting story that exemplifies our ignorance of local football game rules/traditions 🙂 As the final seconds winded down we started to walk towards the stadium exit hoping to avoid mad rush at the end. We were surprised to see everyone in the stadium rooted to their seats and even saw a gathering of officials on the pitch at the end of the game. We assumed the winning team was being given a cup and locals stayed on to cheer the team. We were surprised to hear occasional loud cheers in the stadium as we strolled around the stadium trying to find taxi and wondered why they were cheering so many times for the cup ceremony. Back in San Telmo area we settled down to have dinner and were surprised to see somber mood of fellow locals as we were smiling away giving thumbs up that Argentina won. One of the waiter even expressed in broken Spanglish that Argentina lost. We were confused!! Something was missing and we were shocked and kicked ourselves when we were explained what we missed. Apparently, it was a 2 game friendly series and that night victory gave a 1-1 tie between Argentina and Brazil. So the winner was decided on penalty shoot-out. Lol…our ignorance of the rules and our ineptitude in Spanish language/communication with locals robbed us the excitement of watching the penalty shootout. We were embarrassed and everyone back at the hostel at a hearty laugh. Sadly, Argentina lost in the penalty shootout!! All in all, a day none of us will ever forget in our lives.

We sadly had to say our first good bye; our Swiss friend was moving on to continue his adventure and it was not fun. We hoped that one day we will cross roads again, maybe a trip to Switzerland sometime in the future. Later in the morning my friend and I went to the Uruguay consulate hoping to get a visitor visa. Montevideo, capital of Uruguay was only 1.5 hr. boat ride from Buenos Aires and we heard great stories of the wonderful city. Unfortunately we could not get the visa!! We came back to San Telmo and decided to try out the Indian restaurant that we had stumbled upon earlier in the week. It was nostalgic eating the famous Indian delicacy, chicken biryani 🙂 Food was tasteful but expensive by normal standards. It was time to spend our high calories intake 🙂 and we decided to take a tour of the underground tunnels of Buenos Aires – El Zanjon on Defensa Street in San Telmo. It was fascinating peek of a series of underground tunnels under a 150+ year old mansion. The 1 hr. guided tour was intriguing and gave a great hindsight of the city’s history and early settlements. The old mansion has been carefully restored with a great care and it is spotless and immaculately maintained. We were impressed with 2 things; first our guide spoke immaculate English, a rare find in the city of Buenos Aires and second they have one of the best restrooms, which is so clean that it will put any 5+ star hotel to shame 🙂

All of us were very excited that night as we had planned to try out Tango at one of the famous milonga clubs of Buenos Aires, La Confiteria Ideal. Ohh, I forgot!! A day earlier our group got a new addition Mr. Sean Connery. Lol, No he’s not the one and only greatest Mr. Bond but a great guy, from the land of Dutch, who was given the famous name by our Irish friends 🙂 Well, my friend and I got new names too; I hate to give it out but what the hell!! My friend was called out as “Shredder” and I at the beginning was “Denzel” and soon changed to “Denzel-Obama”. It was crazy but hey we had to accept it, after all who can argue with the Irish 🙂 So out we all went to experience Tango, a dance that most Argentinian’s use to express their passion, love and spirit and  is a great visual treat which is a must have experience if you visit the city. Personally we did not think La Confiteria is the best place especially due to our experience with an overzealous gentlemen who was literally forcing us to pay for dance classes and orchestra that was being conducted afterwards. We politely declined and just paid for dance classes. Well, he did not let us off easily and we had to really run away from him to the dance floor.  It was a great experience learning the nuances of Tango; well we had our share of fiasco by stepping on each other shoes and it was the least of our worries.  There were a bunch of people sitting around the floor and we all gave them a hell of show of how not to dance Tango 🙂 But we all were having great fun and I think we did manage to learn few basic steps which really made us appreciate those tango dancers. After sweating out for an hour we managed to slip out hiding from the overzealous guy before he again pestered us to see the orchestra. All in all, a great experience and we can tick off “Tango dance in Buenos Aires” from our bucket list 🙂 Who would have imagined Irish, Dutch and Indian travelers dancing tango in Buenos Aires, but that’s the beauty of traveling, staying in a hostel and meeting people. A late dinner followed we were ready to hit the sack as a new adventure was awaiting us the next day.

A new day and we were all ready for a tour outside the city. Gauchos, Argentine version of cowboys, play a great symbolic role in the spirit of country and the culture is still treasured.  A 1.5 hr. bus ride from the city will give you a great experience of the gaucho culture and you will be bowled over by their amazing display of affection, sumptuous food and wonderful show of talent. As soon as we stepped out of the bus we were greeted by a man well into his 50’s who wore a cowboy hat, a huge knife on his belt, high boots and a warm smile. As we entered this ranch we were welcomed with drinks and snacks, Empanadas.  I love Empanadas but alas they were made with beef and I politely refused and tried to explain in my half broken Spanish-sign language that I eat chicken but not beef. I saw bewildered looks from the poor lady and later I realized how much they valued guests. After 5 minutes I saw another lady walk up to me with our guide to enquire if I was not happy with anything. I was moved by their hospitality and when I explained taking the help of our guide, the gaucho lady took me along to another room and offered me cheese empanadas that were carefully wrapped in a basket. There were more than 200 people that day and seeing this wonderful lady’s concern to make me happy completely bowled me away. I thanked her with the bottom of my heart. By the way, empanadas were excellent 🙂

Oh, what a fun day followed!! We all started off taking a ride on the horses. I wish we could have galloped at a faster pace but I’m glad I did not fall off too 🙂 The ranch also had horse carriage rides in the open field and we heard loud cheers and singing from that direction. Of course it was not a surprise to see our jolly Irish friends, who finished riding the horses earlier, were in the carriage singing Irish songs and cheering wildly. Trust Irish to have boisterous fun 🙂 A grand lunch fit for a king followed and the icing on the cake was the amazing show by the gauchos. The food was tasty, served in plenty and there was a lots n lot of free wine disappearing from our table. Poor fellas never should have decided to serve unlimited wine 🙂 During the lunch I got acquainted with a lovely couple from Belgium and nice girl from South Africa. It felt great to hear the wonderful stories shared by the couple and you could see the timeless treasure of love between them. The girl from South Africa was a psychologist and she was spending a month in Buenos Aires partly on vacation and also to get acquainted with people to understand human nature and their behavior. It’s such a great idea as there’s no better way to learn about the world and people than traveling and enjoying the experience firsthand.

Words fall short for me to describe those surreal moments!! Here I was in a different country sitting down at a table having a grand lunch, being treated like a king by the hosts, having conversation with people who had traveled far and wide from all over the world and I was enjoying every moment just like I would with my own family. Sometimes it’s surprising how one can feel the emotional bond within few moments or days which at times might take an eternity to feel the same. Our table was getting noisier and I could see the wine was finally taking effect on my friends’ 🙂  The show was definitely heating up; the passionate tango dance show, amazing showcase of skills and music caused a stir in the crowd and you could see everyone reverberating with joy. People were truly having fun and it was a great sight to see all of them joining the fun and dancing by the stage.  The lovely afternoon was capped off by a show of horse riding skills by the gauchos. The talented riders showcased all the skills of balance, synchronization, stunts and grace. Many of the ladies in the audience were given a chance to ride on the back and the ladies swooned at the handsome and talented gaucho gentlemen 🙂 Our Irish friends were getting ready to fight each other to lay claim on a handsome young man and ironically I had to push my South African friend to take a ride behind him 🙂 apparently she did not like his deadpan face. Oh!! It was one hell of a crazy bus ride back with our Irish friends singing away in glory. I would be understating if I said we were center of attraction 🙂 Very soon our friends made plans with fellow companions to meet up for drinks and dinner that night at an Irish bar.

Most of them headed to the meet up that night except two of us. We decided to stay back and relax and shared the nice evening talking about each other life experiences. It’s amazing how one can feel at ease and share with someone if the latter shows compassion and is eager to lend their ear. We took late evening walk and had dinner at the same restaurant where we all had our first supper. Very soon we were joined by a group of English blokes with whom we had a chance encounter few days back. One of the blokes was a constant force behind our entertaining conversations. As we relaxed at the hostel our friends soon came back from their evening outing and it looked like they all had a blast. Apparently my buddy had a pleasant evening talking to a local girl and he was kicking himself for not getting her contact information 🙂  In all another great evening passed by and I truly will cherish those subtle moments of one on one conversation, walk and dinner with my Irish friend.

Argentina is famous for leather; my friend and I decided to venture next day to the shopping district to splurge some money. We decided to test the public transport of BA and had to take 2 subways to land in the leather district. The subways were a visual treat with amazing graffiti on all the bogies. As most guys do, we walked into the first leather store we set our eyes on and I bought the jacket. 🙂 I was really impressed by the owner who spoke passionately about the history of the store and how confident he was about the quality of his work to give a life time guarantee. Later we decided to take our lunch at a nearby place recommended by the owner. Very soon we were joined by the same couple we had seen earlier shopping at the store. A really interesting 45 minute conversation followed 🙂 They were from Brazil and were traveling to BA on a short vacation. Here’s the interesting part, they both did not know English and my friend and I had no clue of Portuguese. But thanks to sign language, half-baked Spanglish and painfully slow conversation we were able to learn enough about each other and develop a nice relationship. Trust me it was really amazing how we managed to connect so well. One should see the palpable joy on their faces each time we understood what they were trying to convey and was great to see how such simple things in life can make one happy. Apparently the gentleman was a vice mayor of the city and both of them were lawyers by profession. It was really nice to know them and we were promised a tour of their city if we ever visited their place.  I now knew two more people from Brazil in addition to a pair of Brazilian friends I had met earlier in the hostel. One of the friends from the hostel works for a police bomb squad; isn’t it cool to know someone in the police force 🙂 hopefully I would not need his official help during my adventures in Brazil. In the evening my friend and I decided to visit another Tango dance club and we were mesmerized by a couple who put up a passionate show.

Sunday dawned on us and very soon we realized our trip was coming to the end. My friend was leaving that night and our Irish friends and I were departing the following day. It was really sweet of our Irish friends to offer to cook dinner. My friend and I decided to spend the day at San Telmo market again as we did not get a chance to explore everything on the first day. As we strolled in the market my friend was adventurous to try out the national drink called maté; historically it was a drink that was shared among friends in a social setting. The lady who owned the restaurant was so kind to actually sit at our table and show how the drink is prepared all the while explaining the tradition and history behind it. We got a chance to see more talented musicians and artists performing all through the market. We even got a chance to see an old jail housed in center of the market. After long walk through the day we were ready for our Irish dinner. 🙂 It was delicious and I really felt the taste of rice, chicken and vegetables preparation was very close to what I cook at home, of course less spicy than Indian food!! 🙂 It was nostalgic sitting and having dinner together in the very same dining area where we all had met for first time 7 days ago. It was a wonderful journey with full of memories.  I felt this was a true travel experience; a combination of fascinating local journey and memorable relationship one develops with fellow travelers/locals.

It was an emotional parting seeing my friend off that night and I could see that my friend had to literally drag himself out from there. I’m sure he was not happy leaving the pleasant experience behind to go back to professional world that at times can be labyrinthine and mundane. It was a slow night to pass by and rest of us lazed around in the hostel. We shared our experiences and promised to keep in communication and hopefully meet again for another exciting adventure. The next day I took time to finish reading my book. Kudos to the Blake Mycoskie!! What an inspiring journey and it was beautifully narrated which really inspires one to take up social responsibility. I really hope to get inspired and work towards making a difference to those in need.  Blake expresses in the book how he realized there’s no limit to materialistic needs and how he regretted leading a luxury life. He eventually moved out of his apartment to live on a boat. Of course he’s not suggesting everyone to do the same but he’s asking each one of us take a step back before indulging in extravagance and ask oneself – Do I really need this? Can I use it to make a difference in someone’s life?

The day arrived!! We were all parting our ways. The girls were headed to the famous Iguazu Falls, one of the many wonders planned in their year long trip.  It was really tough for all of us to say good bye. My manager at work is an Irish and over the years I have always admired for his work ethics and most of all the joy and fun he brought in a gathering. The wonderful trip with these girls inculcated my belief that Irish people are very affectionate and joyous people. You can’t help but love enjoying their company and one should treasure friendship and relationship with these amazing people. It’s really amazing how I was so emotionally connected within a week’s time; as one says u really don’t years and years of acquaintance to build that special bond, with a special person time is not essence.

I was sure I would be meeting them again but just never imagined it would be that soon. Oh, what a lovely vacation followed in less than 4 weeks in Brazil 🙂 it’s another wonderful story that I hope to pen down some day. Serene Beaches, Samba Culture and much more!! As I took the road to the airport, my thoughts were filled with emotions and I knew this journey will be etched in memory for an adventure of life time, gaining wonderful perspective of social responsibility and most important of all starting great relationships. I hope and truly wish everyone enjoys their travels and experiences life changing moments. As the saying goes, Life has an expiry date, ENJOY IT!!

Denzel signing off !! 🙂

Buenos Aires

 

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Responses

  1. Good picturisation of the culture and experiences ,vikram … keep blogging !

    • Thanks Arun, appreciate the feedback


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