Friday, January 30, 2009

Embrace your inner tourist

It is a rainy day here in Buenos Aires. Rain showers tend to be scattered but very heavy when they do fall. For a good chunk of time this early afternoon I sat in a café watching people scurry around in the rain while I drank a hot cup of coffee. Eventually, I took a chance between showers, but got drenched before I was even close to my intended destination and retreated back home. Which is just as well, I didn’t have wildly ambitious plans today. The rain is a perfect excuse to stay indoors and catch up on my blogging!

So, I’ve done a bit more sight-seeing this week and am very proud of my adventures and accomplishments.

On Wednesday I went to Palermo and had a lovely day of walking through the parks and gardens as well as visiting three art museums. I was particularly impressed with a small museum near the rose gardens. Not only did it have a picturesque location and some gorgeous Argentine works, but it was also free! I also treated myself to a hot chocolate, which was awkward because it was pretty hot outside, but in the café I was right under the air conditioner and actually quite cold (for a change!)

I then walked to the large art museum which is free on Wednesdays. This was a brightly lit extravaganza of art. They also had a pretty nice exhibit on old Argentine films, but since I’m not an old-movie buff and really not an old-international-movie buff, this exhibit was wasted on me.

The third museum I saw was teeny and if you’d blink at the wrong time, you’d miss it. They had some nice old paintings and some neat exhibits of gaucho tools and clothes.

I wound down my day in the botanical gardens. Argentina has actually seen a bit of a drought lately, so while much of the gardens were lush, there were other parts that were obviously hurting from lack of water. Even though the gardens are right in the middle of the hub-bub of Palermo, they were very tranquil and a nice break from the busy streets. I wrote in my journal and went cat-crazy. This is apparently a popular hang out for cats, either abandoned by their owners or just outdoor animals. They aren’t like wild cats: dirty, mangy, and skittish, they’re actually friendly and reasonably clean and smooth. However, I could only manage to pet one for about thirty seconds before it got restless and wanted to nap in the bushes.

Yesterday, I was supremely proud of myself. There’s a major tourist destination here called: El Caminito. It’s a brightly colored set of houses that were once home to the early Italian immigrants. However, it is located in the neighborhood called La Boca, which is known for being a little sketchy. I think this is strange that such a hot tourist destination would be smack dab in the middle of such a poor place, but people warn you not to stray far from the tourist areas and to keep an eye on your purse. So, not only is it too far to walk, it’s also a walk through a neighborhood you shouldn’t walk through, so I had to take the bus.

Now, I hate taking buses. They make me nervous because they go so fast and far that I often lose my sense of direction. Also, Buenos Aires is full of one-way streets, so sometimes the way back is different than the way there. I really didn’t want to take a bus. But, I really wanted to visit El Caminito. So, I figured out a few bus routes and went on the first one I found. I did ask for help from a few helpful Argentine ladies – which saved me from getting on the right bus in the wrong direction. I also got some help from a well-to-do Bolivian family who was also going in that direction. Their teenage daughter studied English in North Carolina and was eager to practice her language skills.

So, I arrived! Success! And boy, it was touristy! It is probably the most thoroughly touristy place I’ve seen in Buenos Aires. There are souvenir shops everywhere, tango dancers and folk dancers perform on the street and offer to pose in pictures with tourists for tips, and all sorts of vendors compete for attention. What could I do? I went with the tourist thing. I tipped the dancers and snapped a few photos. Also, I visited the fine arts museum, which impressed me. There were nice paintings, a roof top view, and even an exhibit of old bowsprits (the carved parts in the front of boats, normally big busted ladies).

I even treated myself to an indulgent steak for lunch. It was such a big portion, but I managed to cram it all in somehow. The restaurant had a live band, live singers, and live tango dancers, so I figured about $20 for a nice meal and entertainment was well worth it. I felt a little silly because it was so touristy and a bit ridiculous though. But, sometimes you just have to go for the tourist trap to full enjoy being a tourist.

Also, I wanted to buy myself something to commemorate the special day. I felt like I had made a pretty good achievement by using a bus, walking around Caminito, and also just for my general exploration of Buenos Aires. Plus, I’ve been pinching my pennies, so I thought this would be the time to splurge. I went into a shop and bought myself a lovely shawl. The sales lady was very talented, otherwise I maybe wouldn’t have found such an extravagant souvenir.

All in all, I’m continuing to be a busy little sight-seer here in Buenos Aires. Not every day has been wonderful and perfect, but I have had some very lovely adventures and fortunate excursions. I think also being forced into such self sufficiency has really helped me grow and learn a lot. I’ve definitely gotten over the shame factor of speaking Spanish poorly and have embraced many opportunities to speak it and very rarely converse in English.


  1. Aw, I love all the cats!

    No picture of the shawl?

  2. Wow, I am so impressed that you've been speaking mostly in Spanish, being so social, and being so brave as you explore! You go woman!