The best description of Buenos Aires that comes to mind is “a beautiful mess of a city”. A melting pot of Paris, Barcelona with a dash of Naples and then, when you least expect it, you come across parts that remind you of New York or Tokyo. Argentina has actually been the New York of South America; people from Spain, Portugal, and Italy followed the conquistadors there looking for the brave new world. Buenos Aires’ location was ideal to establish a thriving port town and it quickly became one of the most important trading centres in the new world. The city was a victim of its own success. Growing disparity between the rich port and other parts of Argentina resulted in numerous conflicts and political tension that lasts to this day. That’s the thing that most people immediately notice when they visit Buenos Aires: people protest every other day. Demonstrations usually take place at the Plaza de Mayo, a symbol of Argentina’s independence from Spain.
It is also the place where the “madwomen” protested against the military junta under whose iron regime many people disappeared. The government tried to trivialize them by calling them las locas but they carried that nickname with pride and decency. The mothers even continued their marches after a democratic government seized power again and the “Dirty War” (1976-1983) came to an end. The mothers of Plaza de Mayo simply wanted their missing children and husbands not to be forgotten. Students, intellectuals, political dissidents, members of the opposition parties; everyone who could impose a threat against the government vanished during the dirty war. Afterwards it turned out that many simply were thrown out of military planes above the Atlantic Ocean. Official numbers state that 13,000 people were killed but human rights organizations estimate the real number was more around 30,000. The survivors could return home, but mentally cracked and physically affected after many years in prison enduring endless humiliations and tortures.
Argentinian people and especially the inhabitants of Buenos Aires are easily to mobilize and protest when something is bothering them. From the Falklands conflict to pigeon crap and various political marches, people are all about that freedom of speech. What do they do when they’re not busy marching and shouting? They dance and sing. Buenos Aires is a kaleidoscope of emotions, colours, smells, and shapes. They love their festivals as much as they love being pissed off. Argentinians just like it when there’s something going on. After all they are hot-blooded and very emotional people and can’t handle boredom very well.
The port districts of La Boca and Puerto Madero are some of the favourites among both tourists and locals, also the most lively. The first one is really cool and gives you the feeling of old Buenos Aires with historic, colourful buildings and cosy bars. The second one is more on the modern side with old warehouses transformed into lofts and galleries, shops and restaurants. If I had to pick one of the two, I’d go with La Boca because that’s where you get down and dirty and experience the real Buenos Aires. That’s also where two famous Argentinian football teams were established and the fierce rivalry began. Boca Juniors and River Plate are both very accomplished clubs and derby matches between those two are some of the most heated in the entire world. In 2018 both clubs played also the final of the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League. Then things went completely out of hands; after some other incidents the players bus of Boca Juniors was attacked by River Plate fans and some Boca players were even injured. As a consequence the second leg of the final was moved out of Argentina and played in Madrid. Very sad for the local fans but it created a once in a lifetime opportunity for European football lovers to watch the world’s most notorious derby-match close to their home.
One of the greatest that ever kicked a ball: the late Diego Maradona, played for Boca. In that respect the scene in La Boca is pretty comparable to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. It might not be that much of a ghetto but kids still look up to football players as Gods and dream of becoming professional sportsmen to escape from daily hardship. Those two districts along with San Telmo, are where the nightlife is at; the best spots like Vox, Bebop, and Buenos Ayres Club are all nearby Plaza de Mayo. Walk a bit to the east, cross the river and you’ll arrive at Rojo Tango Show, which is one of the best Tango joints in the city. Also, don’t miss out on the Recoleta Cemetery, one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world.
Apart from kicking a ball, the Argentinian people have also a passion for meat. An average person in Argentina consumes a frightening amount kilogram of beef each year. Although there are always exceptions to the rule: in the nineties the Argentinian national football had a goalkeeper who was vegetarian and nicknamed “Lettuce” by his teammates. Argentina has been an enormous market for beef since its colonial times. Pampas are the fertile plains perfect for raising cattle and Gauchos are the Argentinian cowboys. The peculiar climate, development of railroad and carts capable of transporting frozen meat made the perfect ingredients for a beef powerhouse. As a matter of fact it is comparable, if not even larger, than Texas further up north. Feria de Mataderos is a weekly fair/farmers market that showcases all kinds of traditional food and folk customs. The Slaughterhouse Festival doesn’t sound very appealing in English, but it’s a very pleasant and interesting event that combines various cultural activities such as dancing, horse riding, and asado. Asado is the protoplast of modern barbecue that originates from the Gauchos where they roast tons of meat over pits of coals or open fire.
Regular barbecue is also immensely popular in Buenos Aires and it’s the most common form of street food. They serve choripan, empanadas, delicious steaks but they don’t cower away either from more refined bits like testicles, organs, and tripe. Wash it all down with yerba mate, the Argentinian kind of tea, drunk from characteristic cups. I’m not a huge fan but it must be great for digestion. Normal people would call it disgusting, tasting like the grass pulp you scrape from the bottom of your lawnmower. If you’d rather eat in a locale than on the streets, then you should check La Carniceria at Thames 2317, which is hailed as one of the best spots for meat lovers in Buenos Aires.