Although it has a population of 15 million people (almost half the population of the entire Argentina), Buenos Aires is not the super crowded metropolis and the concrete jungle you might expect it to be. The European influence, mainly Italian, is major and based on the architecture we could have easily believed that we were in the middle of Europe. But there are things in this great city that we could not find on the old continent.
The forever present Tango
Of course this is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of Argentina and specifically Buenos Aires – tango, baby, tango! This dance the whole world goes nuts about has Spanish and African origins and developed in the suburbs of Buenos Aires in the 19th century. It was considered the music of the immigrants (mostly Spanish, Italian and French) and it then spread quickly around the world.
I came across this great description of how the dance came to be:
‘The story of Tango as told is that it started with the gauchos of Argentina. They wore chaps that had hardened from the foam and sweat of the horses body. Hence to gauchos walked with knees flexed. They would go to the crowded night clubs and ask the local girls to dance. Since the gaucho hadn’t showered, the lady would dance in the crook of the man’s right arm, holding her head back. Her right hand was held low on his left hip, close to his pocket, looking for a payment for dancing with him. The man danced in a curving fashion because the floor was small with round tables, so he danced around and between” (http://www.centralhome.com/ballroomcountry/tango.htm).
There are multiple ways in which you can watch this fascinating dance in the Argentinian capital. Probably the simplest is to just have a walk around the city (especially Florida street and especially during the weekend) and see a free street performance. Or you can go to La Boca and watch a show while having your lunch. Or you can go to any of the restaurants that offer a special lunch/dinner + tango show. All these are ‘nice to see’ tango performances, and you might either be impressed or disappointed, depending on your expectations. But if you really want and afford to be blown away (at least from what we’ve heard) you should go for one of the posh dinner & show performances – for about 100-200 USD they promise an unforgettable experience :).
La Boca – soccer, tango and art
Boca was very excited to get to the La Boca neighborhood, famous not only for the stadium of their beloved soccer team, but also for the handicrafts, restaurants with traditional dishes and free tango shows all around. Our enthusiasm was high when we got there, but so was the disappointment when we realized that it was nothing but a show staged for tourists. We sat down at one of the restaurants that offered a free show of not only tango, but also chamame – we learned on that occasion that the tango originated in and is specific to Buenos Aires, while in the rest of Argentina the typical dance is chamame and other folk dances. Quite educational:). Although we were not pleased with the food and show so much, it’s possible that other places will be different, so your venture there might be a happy experience:).
Interesting about La Boca is that although it’s one of the most popular places for tourists, it’s in fact one of the unsafest neighborhoods. Some travel guides list the streets you do not want to find yourself on even during the day, let alone after dark, and sometimes the bus drivers will advise you to ‘never get off the bus on this street’. Although the conversation is not a very pleasant one, we really enjoyed interacting with the locals this way – it’s a great feeling knowing that you’re surrounded by people who care for you:).
Talk about a shopping Paradise!! We have met people who intentionally choose BA as their last stop during their trip in South America so they can fill up their bags on the way home. You find anything and everything and you could spend days and days in the shops and markets. One of the most famous shopping streets is Florida street (also famous for pickpocketing truth be told) and if your wallet is full (and you take good care of it) you will surely not get bored around.
What we have noticed and others kept pointing out as well is the difference between BA and the rest of Argentina – everyone is so fit and fashionable in the capital, but this is not the case everywhere else. This does apply to pretty much any other country, I suppose…
Weekend markets and salsa percussion
One thing not to miss while in BA are the weekend markets. We were at one near Florida Street and although we got there quite late, we were still able to experience a bit the spirit of the place. We were there on our last evening, and as a parting gift we were privileged to come across a salsa percussion show that left us speechless!! The quantity of energy and cheerfulness a handful of people were able to create in the middle of the street was incredible, and I immediately decided that if I lived in BA, that street would be the place i’d spend my every Sunday between 5.30pm and 7.30pm for an incredible dose of awesomeness.
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