!Belíssima Buenos Aires!
¡Que bella la Argentina! After a 14 hour flight from Rome, I stepped foot in South America for the first time at the airport in Buenos Aires. My amazing friend Florencia sent a car to pick me up and I made my way to her house in San Isidro, about 25 minutes outside of the center of the city. My driver was a fellow 24 year old intent on practicing his english, myself intent on practicing my spanish, and we spoke in spanglish until we arrived at Florencia´s family´s beautiful home in the barrio el Trebol. I was super excited to reunite with Flor and received a huge ´welcome to Argentina!´ hug when we pulled into the driveway.
We wasted no time in starting the adventure and enjoying the diverse landscape that makes Argentina so unique. A short drive later and we were loading into kayaks along the river delta. I was astounded at the difference in landscape. Just 20 minutes away were the buildings that I saw sprawling endlessly from outside of the plane window. Yet here if you told me that I was on the Amazon River, I would have taken your word for it. The water is a murky brown, adding to the intrigue that anything could be lurking underneath (unfortunately piranhas don´t make it this far south,actually most likely fortunately). As Flor and I glided through the water, the diversity of vegetation blew my mind. Lining the river banks were an assortment of trees and bushes, ranging from eucalyptus trees, to weeping willows, to giant palms, to nine meter high bamboo.
Later that night Florencia had a bunch of friends over for a meeting for an NGO that she helped to start up called Minkai. The NGO focuses on providing educational opportunities through scholarships, free meals, and creating leaders out of graduates in a very poor and rural area of Tucuman. It was a bit of a challenge to understand everything that was being said, but I was surprised by how much Spanish had been stored somewhere in the back of my brain, practically unused since graduating university. But you don´t need to understand every detail to witness the passion that the volunteers for Minkai have for the project. In fact, you can simply check out their web site (www.minkai.org) if you want to experience it for yourself and be inspired by a group of young men and women making a difference in their part of the world.
After the meeting I had my first asado criollo, the grilled meat for which Argentina has reached worldwide fame. Florencia´s twin brother Ignacio (Nacho), an awesome guy who shares a love of sports and the outdoors, grilled up some choripan and beef steaks. We were joined by Nacho´s girlfriend Toia, and Fred. Fred is an ex pat from Belgium who motorcycled extensively through India and has traveled throughout Asia, making for some interesting conversation. We enjoyed the succulent steak and some fine Malbec, the red wine for which Argentina is also famous, until well after midnight. After many hours of traveling and kayaking all day, I fell asleep before my head even hit the pillow.
The next day Florencia and Nacho took me on a bike ride through the neighboring barrios. We ended up in a small park along the coastline with a spectacular view. To the right lies the harbor and the skyscrapers lining the city. And directly across the river lies Uruguay, 45 minutes away on the express ferry. Despite the cloudy weather, a few sailboats enjoyed the breeze along the river in between the two countries.
The food in Buenos Aires is not all barbecues, pizza, and pasta. In fact there is a large number of vegetarian and veagan restuarants in the city. We hit one up called Buenos Aires Verdes in the popular barrio of Palermo. Everything we tried was incredibly flavorful, from crepes to cannolis to lasagna. But the show stealer was a blended drink similar to sangria. Red wine was joined by almond milk, different berries, and some mint to create a slightly frozen concoction of pure deliciousness.
This drink was rivaled in flavor by the food at another vegetarian restaurant in San Isidro called Gratitud. Inspirational quotes line the walls and there are plants on every table, creating a very wholesome environment. I tried a wrap with sprouts, mushrooms, different vegetables, and cream cheese that made my belly happy. But my belly shouted with joy after tasting a passionfruit cheesecake. Just thinking about it now is more than a little arousing.
In order to get a sense of Buenos Aires beyond the food I spent a little bit of time walking around the downtown area. From Puerto Madero it is a short walk to the Casa Rosada, similar to the whitehouse in that it is the office of President Kirschner. Outisde is the Plaza de Mayo, famous for the protests and demonstrations that occur here every Thursday. The most famous of these protests is Las madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the mothers of children who account for los desaparecidos. (During la Guerra Sucia, the Dirty War, more than 20,000 people were killed or went missing from 1976-1983. These people were mainly those suspected of opposing the military junta, which had taken over the government.) It would be an enriching experience to view the protests live, but it is advisable to stay away as the protests can turn violent at any moment. And given that my apperance screams extranjero because of my caucasian skin tone and blonde hair, a violent protest is something I definitely want to avoid.
Walking further into the city I came across a few landmarks, most notably el obelisco and the Congress Building. I especially liked the Congress building with a small park outside and intricate sculptures surrounding a small pool. The building itself is very Greek in its style with massive columns, and an impressive pediment. From on high the Argentine flag waved in the breeze. As I watched it flutter in the wind, I felt glad to finally be venturing through South America.