I’ve been in Buenos Aires for just over 3 months now; 120 days filled with the spirit of “Carpe Diem,” full of tours, trips, museums, buses, food, displays, exhibits, walking, running, biking, and Spanish-speaking. I’ve done my best to make every day count, to have an new experience, to make a memory, and looking back, I would say I’ve done a pretty darn good job. Despite all of my efforts, however, I was still missing one thing: a simple day of relaxing in the city.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had more time to relax in the last 14 weeks than any self-respecting university student has a right to, but it’s relaxing a different kind. It’s the type that comes with long hours spent on a bus speeding towards a new place, or finally landing in bed after a full day of adventures. They were breaks between the craziness, like coming through a hurricane to find yourself briefly in the calm of the eye, before being swept off again. Let’s be clear; I loved every second of it. It has enabled me to see and do more than I ever thought possible, but the brief bouts of respite are a far cry from those occasional days spent lounging at home because you have nowhere else you need to be, and nothing to do but recharge the batteries. This was they type of day I had been lacking in my stay here in the Southern Hemisphere, until, that is, this weekend. One of my last in the great city of Buenos Aires, and with no grand plans, I finally got a taste of what it might feel like to live as a true porteño.
My Saturday started in genuine Argentine fashion, rising bright and early… at noon, because everyone knows that nothing of consequence happens in the city until maybe 2:00pm.
If we wanted to get technical, however, I suppose we could say that my Saturday had actually started at midnight, right about the time I was finishing an amazing 5-course dinner with my friends Katie, Sarah, and Katie’s parents (that, unfortunately, is a story for another blog). In a country where happy hour ends at midnight, it is absolutely acceptable to wait until the wee hours of the morning to start your night. In fact, it’s common knowledge that most clubs don’t really get going until 3 or 4 in the morning. With that in mind, you could argue that Katie, Sarah, and I were getting an “early” start when we met the rest of group a bar in the Palermo neighborhood around 1. The bar called Chupitos, named after the term for a “shot” in Spanish, and boasted an impressive array of over 40 different alcoholic creations, for all manner of tastes. You could elect a suave, creamy “one star” shot, or have liquor poured into your open mouth before the bartender took your head between his hands and shook vigorously to mix it. After some time bouncing to American pop and talking with some guys from Venezuela, I chose the “Harry Potter,” a magically green potion that the bartender lights on fire before presenting you with a straw to suck it down.
From Chupitos we went to the apartment of one of our friends Lisa, to enjoy some more good music and great company. Now well into the night (or morning), the group ventured back out again in search of a boliche (or club). I’ll be the first to admit that a sea of people and overly-amped music isn’t really my thing, and was on the fence about whether I would join. Upon seeing the $80 peso cover, I decided, along with Matt, that 4:30 was as good a time as any to head back home. We caught a bus back to Recoleta, where a warm bed welcomed me without asking for any sort of entrance fee.
A dreamless sleep brings us back to my Saturday “morning.” Normally, I do everything possible to be out of the house and in the midst of some exciting undertaking by noon, instead of in the midst of a shower, but as I said, today was a porteño day. I did break from tradition a little bit, substituting the Argentine breakfast of toast and dulce de leche for an egg sandwich complete with avacado and Siracha hot sauce. That and a cup of coffee gave me plenty of energy to get out of the apartment and towards the Fería Recoleta, which takes place every weekend in a plaza outside the famous Recoleta Cemetery. Artists and vendors come from all corners of the city to market clothing, jewelry, paintings, woodwork, weaving, and a enormous array of other artesenal products. I drifted through the maze of tends, enjoying the warm sunlight and happy sounds of people spending money.
After my first lap through, I met up with Matt, Marrisca, and Jasmine to meet Lisa in Los Bosques de Palermo, an enormous park that runs for 2 or 3 miles along Avenida Libertador, and is easily one of the most beautiful spots in the city. We paused just long enough to check out another fería, this one celebrating the 281 of my home barrio, Recoleta. It had everything I’ve come to expect from an Argentine fair: impressive artist wares, mouth-watering food, folklore music, and people of all ages dancing with smiles on their faces.
The beautiful weather persisted, and presented us with the perfect setting to lounge on the grass amidst scattered groups of other adolescents. I took the opportunity to break out my recently purchased maté, a hollow gourd that is cured and filled with a tea-like herb called yerba. This custom is about as Argentine as it gets, and it’s quite common to see people walking through the streets with gourd in hand and a thermos slung over their shoulder. About the only place I can think of where I haven’t seen someone drinking maté is a bathroom.
Copying our fellow park-goers, Matt, Marrisca, Lisa, Jasmine, and I passed around the maté and munched on tea-time galletitas. Soon after we added an American twist to the afternoon, trading passing the gourd for passing the frisbee. Lisa is on the Ultimate team at the University of Arizona, and she had the foresight to bring down a few discs, which are impossible to find in this soccer-obsessed country. We floated passes back and forth until the sun began to dip behind the trees, and Matt, Marrisca, and I caught the bus home.
I arrived back at the apartment with just enough time to use an evening jog as a way to build up an appetite for the night’s dinner destination. Last night’s amazing meal with Katie’s parents had satisfied my fine-dining requirement, and to balance it out we had agreed upon a infamous spot, simply called Burger Joint. It is the delicious antithesis to every fancy, touristy restaurant in existence. A small neon burger sign is all that marks the hole-in-the-wall spot. The interior looks like something like a post-apocalyptic McDonald’s; mismatched wooden furniture is complemented by decades of drawings and scrawled messages along the walls. A sign next to the door proudly reads “No Kardashians Allowed.” There are no menus. Instead, a chalkboard and cardboard signs hung in the windows show the three options: Mexican Burger, Bleu Burger, or Jamaican Burger. To drink: craft beer on tap, either Rubia, Scotch, or Pale Ale. Once you’ve decided upon your beer/burger combination, you can go up to the register to place your order with the young guy wearing an bright green Element t-shirt and backwards hat.
After brief thought, I settle on the Jamaican burger, complemented by a slightly hopped Pale Ale. Burger, fries, and a beer cost $65 pesos, just over $8 dollars and one of the cheapest dinners you’ll find. After getting our food, Matt, Sarah, Katie, Marrisca, Elaine, and I settle at an outdoor table to see if Argentine can produce a burger worthy of all the hype. Keeping with the theme of the setting, the Joint doesn’t preoccupy itself with presentation; my Jamaican burger and fries sit in a tin tray, beer in a plastic cup. The first bite of burger shows me why: the food here speaks for itself. Thick, juicy, beef mixes with pineapple, bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, and honey mustard to create an explosion of flavor and texture that literally makes me moan with happiness. Because I only eat local meat in the States, it is not very often that I have a true hamburger, and I mean it when I say this is the best I’ve tasted in at least a year. Almost before I realize it, three more bites are gone. I force myself to pause, take a breath, and wet my throat with perfectly cold beer. I bide time munching on the fries, which are every bit as good as the burger, in their own respect: crispy, warm, salty, and paired with a unique Curry Ketchup. The first 30 seconds of this meal were enough to show my why it’s a local favorite, but I still take my time enjoying the rest of it to make sure. By the time I wash down the last bites I’m quite sure of it: I’ve never seen a burger and fries done better.
Yet again, it’s almost midnight by the time our group finishes our plastic cups of beer and looks up from the conversation. Full stomachs and the late hour might suggest bed in other places, but remember, this is Argentina. Keeping with the porteño spirit, we brush the crumbs off our laps and head towards the apartment of our friend Matteo, a young Italian guy who is part of Matt and I’s Spanish class. While we were eating burgers, he gathered a collection of international friends and housemates for an asado on his terrace. If you remember my previous post, an asado is another classic Argentine tradition that means far more than simply “barbeque.” With the grilled meat (which we pass on tonight) comes new friends, happy conversation, music, and copious amounts of Fernet con cola. Matteo’s asado provides all this and more, and I spend the next several hours exchanging ever-improving Spanish with other students from countries such as France, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and the US. Every person I meet is nicer than the last, and it’s not until my eyes close themselves that I finally call it a night. Jasmine, Sarah, and I bid fond farewells, and yet again I find myself on an early-morning bus back to Recoleta and my warm bed.
And so ended one of the most relaxing days I’ve had here in Buenos Aires, the first in which I didn’t stress about seeing that new musuem, or taking photos of those famous buildings, or planning the next great trip. It was a taste of what it could be like to actually live in the city, instead of being a passing tourist. It is an experience that, in its own way, is as valuable as any of the amazing trips I’ve gotten to do thus far, one that you can’t pay a travel agent to book for you.