Arriving in Buenos Aires around 4 pm, we checked into our hostel the Art Factory in San Telmo and immediately headed to Florida Street to exchange money. The American dollar in Argentina is worth significantly more on the black market than the actual exchange rate a bank would offer. We received 11.4 Argentine pesos for every American dollar versus the bank rate of 8.13 Argentine pesos for every American dollar. Exchanging money felt a little like a drug deal (not that I would know what that is) or like shopping for knockoff purses in New York City. There are dozens of people on Florida Street, a famous shopping district, dressed like everyday shoppers yelling cambio as you walk by. We picked someone who we thought looked legit, who then took us to his office above one of the shops, where we exchanged our money. We made sure to check every bill for authenticity, the watermark being the key. On our way back to the hostel, we stopped at Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires’ most famous café, for a quick coffee. We made plans to meet Carol (my old roommate) for dinner, a reunion in Argentina!
We headed to Carol’s Airbnb in Palermo with two of our friends Cherie and Baron, who we met in San Pedro and then ran into at the Art Factory Hostel, for some wine before dinner. After talking and catching up for a couple of hours we headed to one of the well-known steak houses in Palermo, La Cabrera. Of course we all ordered steak. The pieces that were cooked medium (what we ordered) were delicious, but the ones that were overcooked were a little disappointing. It was nice to have a fancy dinner, but it was definitely way more expensive than expected, especially for meat that had been overcooked. Even still the company was awesome and I was so happy to be with my old roommate again.
Farima and I explored the area of San Telmo the following day wandering around Chile Street and popping into various antique shops and markets. If only I wasn’t backpacking I would have liked to purchase a record player and a bunch of records for my future home. Later that afternoon it started to rain so we quickly hurried back to our hostel for shelter. Once again rain was ruining our chance to explore and see the city, but luckily the hostel was offering a free tango lesson that night so at least we could do something cultural. Tango is more difficult than it looks and the steps are all controlled by the movements of the man’s shoulders. I tried to look down at my feet to follow the steps, but I was always corrected to keep my eyes up and feel the movements. It was an hour lesson in total and I really enjoyed learning at least the basics of tango, maybe I’ll take more dancing lessons one day! Since we had spent so much money on dinner the previous evening, Farima and I decided to go to the market and cook dinner at the hostel that night. While at the market, we met a local (he lived right across the street) who out of pure kindness wanted to buy us a gift. He bought us grapes and told us to stop by and say hello whenever we were around the area. Our two nights at the Art Factory were pretty low-key in preparation for a weekend in Buenos Aires.
It was the start of the weekend and Farima and I checked out of Art Factory to move to Milhouse, a more popular party hostel. After we were all checked in, we met my cousin, Andrew, his friends, and Carol at El Alamo, a local bar to watch the opening game of the World Cup. It was really fun to be in an atmosphere where futbol (soccer) is so popular. After the game, we all headed back to our hostel bar and hung out for a few hours. We met some other guys; Mikey, Matty, and Adam, who were also staying at our hostel and we all headed to another bar a few blocks away (same hostel chain just different location). Everyone was headed to a club later that night, but Carol, Farima, and I decided to call it a night and we headed home around 3 am, which is fairly early for Buenos Aires’ nightlife.
We woke up around noon the following morning and signed up for the bike tour of southern Buenos Aires at 2 pm. Our first stop was Plaza de Mayo, where paintings of white handkerchiefs circle the plaza representing mothers whose children were taken away from them during the Military Dictatorship and given to families with similar beliefs as the dictatorship. These women wore white handkerchiefs and marched around the plaza every week for over thirty years demanding information about their children’s whereabouts. Finally, a blood bank was formed and any child born between 1976-1983 could donate their blood and be potentially matched with their biological parents. Next, we headed to Puerto Madero, home to the wealthy and more commonly known as the center of money laundering. A few minutes from Puerto Madero along the river’s edge where once used to lie a beach and is now an ecological reserve, we stopped for a quick snack. Farima and I had a steak sandwich, while most people tried the national favorite, choripan (sausage in a roll). La Boca was next on the tour and is one of the poorer neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. The area is full of brightly colored buildings and became this way because of the paint that was available to them. Each day ships that came to dock near La Boca would have leftover paint that was given to the locals and whichever color they happen to have that day would be the color of one section of a building. La Boca is also home to one of Argentina’s leading football clubs, Boca Juniors who rival the River Plate team located on the other side of town. A fun fact we learned on our bike tour was about the origins of Tango. It originally began between two mob men at gambling bars and was used to show one’s dominance over the other. Later these men used tango as a sort of foreplay with prostitutes (but is now danced by everyone in Buenos Aires), which is why today you typically see the man dressed as a mobster and the woman dressed rather sexy. The tour ended around 6:30 pm, where we met up with a few friends from the hostel and decided to head to Palermo, which is supposed to have the best clubs in town. First, we tried a club that reached capacity just as we reached the front of the line. The second club we tried had a strict dress code for boys and not everyone in our group could pass (those Californians wearing shorts). It was not looking like our night to get into a club and since our group was pretty big anyway we found a bar for all of us to hang out at.
The next day was a relaxation day…well at least until it was time to go out again. We slept in late and watched the England vs. Italy match at our hostel. Our hostel had a big screen TV in the common area playing all the matches of the world cup. This one was especially entertaining since almost half the people staying at our hostel were English. I was secretly rooting for Italy, but couldn’t be too enthusiastic as I was outnumbered by English fans. One guy, Adam, was so confident he bet his friend that if England lost he would do 10 shots in 10 minutes. Unfortunately for him, Italy ended up winning, the mood of the room drastically changed, and Adam had to take 10 shots. Later that night the hostel had organized buses to go to one of the famous clubs in town. Carol, Farima, and I along with our roommates at the hostel, Connor, Brent, and Liam, and a few others including, Adam, Mikey, and Matty all headed to the club together. The club was huge with 3 different dance floors all playing various types of music. After dancing the night away, we headed home around 5 am and were some of the first to leave. I’ve come to realize my body can no longer handle partying so many days in a row, nor do I particularly want to.
It was Sunday, a day of rest and open-air markets! Farima and I headed to the Feria de San Pedro Telmo, a Sunday market easily taking up at least 20 city blocks selling everything and anything you could imagine. Farima and I both ended up buying some boots since our current shoes had come to the end of their existence. After walking the entire market we headed to El Alamo to meet up with Carol and watch the Argentina vs. Bosnia game. Matty, Mikey, and Adam from our hostel also met up with us to watch the game. It was a lot of fun to be watching the Argentina futbol game in Argentina with such passionate fans. Argentina won and everyone in the bar celebrated! For once we called it an early night since Carol, Farima, and I were headed to Montevideo early the next morning.