I arrived in Buenos Aires with no specific itinerary in mind. To be honest, I only really started to read my “South America on a Shoestring” Lonely Planet travel guide and made notes from it while my plane was flying somewhere over the Atlantic. The only things that were cast in stone were two accommodation bookings (to show to Argentinean passport control guys) and my reservation for the Inca trail in November.
I was completely underprepared, which was daunting and exciting at the same time. I actually thought this lack of a modus operandi through pretty well over the past month, having come to the conclusion that I was over prepared for India, which limited any form of spontaneity while I was travelling there. I wanted to do it differently this time around – to go with the flow, to stay as long as I like at places I enjoy, and to not be restricted by flight, bus or train bookings made weeks or months in advance.
I now have two weeks roughly planned ahead of me, thanks to a course in basic Spanish for travellers that I will be starting tomorrow. The language gap here exceeded my expectations and I really felt lost a couple of times since I arrived here.
It’s a strange, liberating feeling when you’re walking down a street, don’t have a clue where you’re going and are surrounded by thousands of people you know probably won’t understand you (or vice versa) if you were to ask them for directions.
In spite of the excitement of living in my own “Lost in Translation” movie plot, I probably would have gone off the rails by now if it weren’t for my Latin American Spanish phrase book given to me by my friend Liani shortly before I left for Argentina. Thanks to this little book, I could at least say I don’t understand (no entiendo) or ask if someone speaks English (Habla inglés) by day one. I have learned quite a few more phrases since then and have progressed to a level where I can order coffee with milk (café con leche, por favor), a beer (cevesa pinto, por favour) and even ask for another beer (una cervesa mas, por favor). Ordering food still is a shot in the dark if I can’t get hold of an English menu (Tien un menu un ingles, por favor), but I was in luck once or twice where friendly locals took pity on me when they saw me translating the menu from my phrase book and tried to explain it to me in broken English.
But more about Buenos Aires.
I understand why some people refer to Buenos Aires as “the Paris of the South”. It might be a bit of a stretch to say this, but it even feels better than Paris thanks to the Argentineans being much friendlier and more helpful than the French. Maybe the Eiffel Tower should be moved here? Everywhere you go in the city you will find beautiful, old school, European charm. The streets are clean, everything seems efficient and there seems to be a theatre or charming café, restobar or eatery around every corner. The people seem laid back, with some even enjoying a glass of wine during their lunch breaks. And I can also tell by the amount of couples I have seen swopping spit in the streets that Argentineans are passionate and romantic.
Buenos Aires also does not sleep over weekends – at least not while it’s dark. You can easily get a table in a busy café at 2am, surrounded by gregarious young and old Argentineans (old enough to be your grandparents), enjoy a steak and some wine while you do some people watching and go to bed by sunrise with the rest of the locals.
Knowing that time is on my side here thanks to the Spanish course, I have not visited many tourist attractions yet, but I did go on an open top bus ride where the information about Buenos Aires’ cultural and architectural heritage was rather overwhelming. I was in a slight panic because of this, coming to the realisation that I am probably not going to be able to cover all the points of interest in this city in two weeks. It’s nice to calm down and come to the realisation that two weeks as a tourist in one foreign city still is much more than most travellers could ask for. I have an opportunity to live here. Well, kind of live here.
I feel lucky to be here. And I’ve got a good feeling that I’m going to enjoy it here.