One of the best parts of working at an American school in Brazil is having many vacation days, because we receive time off for both American and Brazilian holidays. This past week proved to be the perfect combination of the two, since a Brazilian holiday fell at the beginning of Thanksgiving week, and consequently, we had an entire 5 days off in a row!
I jumped at the opportunity and bought myself a ticket for a week in Buenos Aires. I needed an escape from polluted, dangerous, and stressful Sao Paulo, and decided that some “fresh” Spanish speaking, good air would do the trick, so obviously decided on Buenos Aires! (A lame pun, I know, but I had to do it!) Not only did I want a break from Sao Paulo, but I was also craving a relaxing week immersed in Spanish.
Prior to this trip, most of my Spanish “career” had been peninsular oriented, in other words, focused on Spain. Sure, in college I had a few Latin American lit and culture classes here and there, a week in Honduras, and an afternoon in Tijuana—I don’t really count that as visiting Mexico, but in the end, my Latin American experiences have been fairly limited. Also, after living and studying abroad in Spain for a total of over two years, including various random trips as a high schooler, España has always been my enfoque, my love, my passion.
Argentina, however, has consistently been on my list of countries to see, and something about the country always tugged at my heart. Whether it was hearing about great Argentine beef, awesome Malbec, Italian food, and mate, learning about the desparecidos during “The Dirty War,” or listening to Evita’s “Don’t Cry for me Argentina”, it was a place that fascinated me, and I was so excited to have the chance to travel there.
Finally, the day of departure for Buenos Aires arrived last Tuesday, and, with my luck, Argentina was having a paro nacional, a national strike. Now, I was used to this type of event, since I have been stuck in airports in Europe various times due to strikes. I’ve even had the pleasure of having a flight cancelled because of a last minute air traffic controller strike in Madrid, ohh, what wonderful times. Regardless, the paro nacional concerned me a bit, but I wasn’t too worried because of my past experiences, and knew I’d arrive somehow. Nothing was going to stop me from getting to Buenos Aires….or so I thought.
Upon arrival to Guraulhos Airport in Sao Paulo, I was informed that I could not enter Buenos Aires’ Jorge Newberry Airport, because I had not previously registered for my Argentine Visa. In my research before the trip, I had read that it was perfectly fine for Americans to enter the airport, and then purchase the $165.00 Visa during immigration. Apparently this policy started in November, which is why I hadn’t read about it before. When the TAM Airline representative told me of this, I was so upset, almost to the point of crying, and felt so stupid for not double-checking. I’d always been on top of things, and I was so angry with myself for making such a careless mistake.
Anyways, as it turns out Jorge Newberry Airport doesn’t allow Americans to enter without registering in advance for the Visa, but, neighboring Ezeiza Airport does. Thank God for TAM Airlines, because they switched my flight to one that would depart for Ezeiza just 30 minutes after my original flight. They even did it FREE OF CHARGE, something unheard of in the airline industry these days. As a side note, I definitely recommend traveling with TAM. Even for short flights they provide candy, unlimited drinks, a meal, headphones, and online entertainment! I wish American airline companies do this—I’m lucky to even get peanuts on American domestic flights!
Relieved, I boarded the plane, and at around 11:00 AM, we landed in Buenos Aires. As I stepped out into the airport reading the “Bienvenidos” welcome sign, while hearing the beautiful Argentinian Spanish all around me, I couldn’t help but grin ear to ear.
To say that Buenos Aires met my expectations would be putting it mildly. Buenos Aires exceeded my expectations in all areas, and I fell in love with the city. Many people say that Buenos Aires is “the Paris of South America,” but I disagree. It is definitely “the Madrid of South America.” A friend of mine told me before my trip that Buenos Aires is Madrid combined with Mexico City, and I would have to say that he is right. Buenos Aires is South America. There are traces of poverty all around, and it is evident that it is not Europe, but the lifestyle of its citizens is truly European. Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) take strolls on the streets, have drinks in outdoor plazas and cafés, and are some of the most stylish people I’ve ever seen.
While there, I felt as if I was “at home” in Spain again, but I was in Argentina. Every day I wandered through Buenos Aires’ many eclectic and beautiful neighborhoods, and while gazing at the wonderful architecture, smelling the blooming Spring flowers, seeing old men sitting chatting on benches, and groups of friends sharing mate together in the parks, I felt as if it was where I needed to be. It was so right, and reminded me vividly of my days getting lost in Madrid, only it was different, I was in Latin America.
During my vacation in the Argentine capital, I spent my time jumping back into Spanish literature, reading a novel by Ernesto Sabato while drinking coffee at some of Borges’ favorite spots such as Café Tortoni. I had the best steak of my life, and watched live tango shows in San Telmo. My itinerary even included a Brasil vs. Argentina soccer game in the famous Bombonera stadium of La Boca. The whole trip was amazing, and it was exactly what I needed.
And now, as I write this post, sipping my own mate, I know that this will not be the last time I go to Buenos Aires. Madrid may be my favorite city of all time, but Buenos Aires is a close second, and I can’t wait to go back.
Stay tuned for more posts about what I saw, and more specific things to do in Buenos Aires!