Culture shock and my new best friend...
Both London and New York are often described as cities that never sleep (actually I`ve witness both decidedly sleepy at times!)... but my goodness Buenos Aires can give them both a run for their money! Night and day there are endless things to do, visit, see, consume... and avoid! My first 24 hours in this city I thought I hated it! Not for any other reason than I simply wasn`t prepared for it. I`ve spent the last 11 months in what are essentially developing countries, experiencing wholly new things that are purely latin american. What I felt when I arrived in BA was nothing short of culture shock. I had just come from a latin america that was typically Andean and exactly what I had expected south america to be like... indigenous descendants, alpaca clothing, natural wonders, snow capped peaks, llamas and inca ruins... and in taking that bus directly from Bolivia to Buenos Aires in Argentina I felt that I had been catapulted headlong into this buzzing hive of modern life... coffee shops, ipods, skinny girls, trendy boys and... god help me... Christmas shopping!!! Essentially it was like someone had robbed me of South America and sent me home against my will! I wanted to cry! Perhaps the 32 hour bus journey from hell, getting scammed and dumped in the middle of BA at 6am by my crook of a taxi driver had not helped matters... not to mention the indecipherable Argentinian spanish that was bombarding my ears at high speed and knocking my level of comprehension back by about 6 months! But then, after arriving at my hostel, being greeted by the friendliest of friendly argentinian staff, a good night`s sleep and a fatefull encounter with a previous travelling buddy I began to cheer up and see the place in a new light.
I got stuck for a night or two in a dump of a town called Guayaquil in Ecuador. I had only stopped there to take a bus on to Peru. When I arrived I found myself sharing a room with a London girl called Jane. We hit it off immediately and spent the next 48 hours talking, sharing stories, putting the world to rights and finding that we had a spooky number of things in common! We went our separate ways but stayed in touch with the intention of meeting up again but ended up spending the following months missing each other by a day or two. Jane was in a hurry to get to Argentina to meet up with her Dad and I was slowed down by my volunteering stint in Peru. It was starting to look like our paths were drifting apart. When I arrived in La Paz for my birthday she had literally just left the day before but had given a friend of hers, still in the city, my email. So I met up with him who, of course being a friend of Jane`s, was great too... well the reason for explaining this is that the day I arrived in BA I sat down at the hostel computer and Jane`s friend Dave happened to sit down next to me! Turned out they were staying in the same hostel as me and had arranged to meet Jane for dinner that night! I was so excited! I went along with them and gave Jane a good surprise! The rest is friendship history! We spent the next two weeks enjoying Buenos Aires together and having nothing but fun! It`s so nice to meet another girl traveling alone who you have so much in common with. I`ve met some great people but Jane is what I`d call a proper friend.
So anyway, back to BA! The moment I fell in love with the city is quite distinct for me. The most famous argentinian ballet dancer was retiring from his career as a dancer and decided to put on an enormous free show in the streets of Buenos Aires. Scores of famous Argentinian singers, dancers and musicians came to perform with him. They closed Avenida 9 de Julio which is the world`s largest city avenue and about 300,000 people gathered to watch the show. It was incredible. There was a mixture of tango, ballet and flamenco and it was goose pimple inducingly beautiful to watch. The atmosphere was also so fantastic. The night air was warm and calm. The rich and the poor mixed with the young and the old and everyone, even the most rock and roll, came with their thermos flasks and mate!! That`s when I realised that I was in fact still in latin america... this was just a version I had not yet seen. The Argentinians certainly have their own unique identity, energy and lifestyle. And once you look past the modern European looking people and architecture you see a vibrancy and culture that is 100% latin!
From then on I did nothing but enjoy BA! I went to the Jesus theme park to be reminded of the real meaning of Christmas... erm capitalism! (The give away is there in just the concept of a "Jesus Theme Park"). I explored the city, ate too much steak, enjoyed the tastiest red wine, frequented a few night spots (BA is too much for me. Nothing opens until 2am! I`m getting too old and doddery for that sort of thing!!)... Jane has a very good Argentinian friend in BA and he invited us out for a few drinks and an asado (argentinian bbq involving a ranch load of artery clogging meat!) So being the proper English girls that we are, Jane and I provided tea and cake for afters!
After an exhausting Christmas and New Year it was time to escape Buenos Aires. It`s a fantastic city and I`m glad I gave it the chance it deserved. I can see that it would be very easy to get sucked into staying there for a long time... the music, the street markets, the dancing, the energy... but at this time of year, it`s oppressively hot and humid. That and the fact that my remaining time in South America is rapidly ticking away forced me to say my sad goodbyes to my new best friend and the real city that never sleeps.