And so to Buenos Aires, which I’ll admit right away might just have swept in at the eleventh hour and stolen the crown as my top city of the year. It may not have the relaxed beach-side vibe of Koh Phangan, the lush jungle of Medellin or the vibrant colours of Cusco – each of which gets ten out of ten for “wow factor” – but it’s the first place all year I can realistically see myself living long-term (if London wasn’t calling me back: parents / HR / bank-manager, don’t panic!). Somehow, it’s got just the right combination of all the home comforts you need but enough exoticness to keep me intrigued.
To anyone already familiar with Argentina this may not come as a great surprise – they don’t call BA the Paris of South America for nothing. But for this newbie, I was not expecting to step off the short flight from Peru to find the pilot might have taken a wrong turn and delivered us back to Europe. In Córdoba, our home last month, the architecture, food and even the weather would not feel out-of-place in most European cities – and in BA it’s even more so, with large swathes of the city centre having been modelled on Paris back in the 1800s. Plus, unlike any of the other countries I’ve been to recently, even I could pass as a local. Until I open my mouth of course, because my Spanish still leaves a lot to be desired.
But spend a little time here and you’ll find it’s very much not Europe. A few blocks away from the majestic buildings around the Plaza de Mayo, the equally historic streets become a jumbled mixture of beautiful old houses, interspersed with mid-twentieth century apartment blocks with not much going for them in terms of aesthetic glory. Try getting that through conservation area planning regulations in the UK…! And while neighbourhoods such as San Isidro in the north might look like something out of the Home Counties, only a few miles away there are people living in what can only be described as shanty town conditions. (I feel I ought to point out this is not why I like BA so much – but it is a stark reminder that we’re not in Bedfordshire any more, as it were.)
Some of those areas are on the up, though. La Boca, for instance – right beside the port which gave BA its original raison d’etre – was very much a red-light district in the past. Now, it is better known as the birthplace of that most famous of Argentinian dances, the Tango. Legend has it that started as a sort of scuffle between men waiting in line for … umm… services rendered, which turned into a way for them to show off their prowess (and hopefully get bumped to the top of the queue), and ultimately evolved into the intimate, leg-tangling dance we know today. Having had one lesson, I can confirm that it’s every bit as difficult as it looks. La Boca, meanwhile, has become a multi-coloured must-see, attracting so many tourists with its Sunday market that there’s even a guy dressed up as Maradona charging $10 for a photo with him, should you be as fútbol-crazy as the Argentines.
Another big difference from home is how divergent the politics is, and that everyone has a strong opinion one way or the other (or at least a thorough understanding of both sides). Leaving Brexit aside, there’s such a large middle ground in the UK that it can be difficult to tell the options apart sometimes. Not so here, where the split is essentially between “Peronist” and “non-Peronist” parties. I’m not going to attempt to describe the two opposing viewpoints as I’m sure I can’t do the subtleties justice, but the point is the heated debate they inspire – resulting indirectly in protests and demonstrations every few days. And yes, that name is ringing a bell for a reason. Despite her untimely death at the age of only 33 back in 1952, the legacy of Eva Perón (Evita) and her husband Juan Perón lives on. To many, she remains a saintly figure – but her critics don’t pull their punches. Indeed, by the time of her death, she had acquired such enemies that, after her embalmed body had been on display for 2 years, it was “disappeared” by a new military dictatorship. She was eventually found, 16 years later (during which it was illegal to even mention her name in Argentina), interred in an anonymous grave in Italy. Her final resting place is now the Recoleta Cemetery here in BA – the grandest city of mausoleums you can possibly imagine.
Now, reading this back, I realise none of those are particularly convincing reasons as to why I should like BA so much. I should perhaps have spent this post extolling the virtues of medialunas, mate, Malbec and the many coffee shops strung along Palermo’s tree-lined streets. But I just find this undercurrent of … real life, I guess … fascinating. As I said, BA has me intrigued. Good old RY, saving the best for last.
And on that note, this does bring us onto the elephant in the room – that my time with Remote Year is up. But so is my word limit. So, for the time being, I’m going to leave this as a “to be continued…”! It has to be said, though, I couldn’t imagine a better place than BA for our grand finale.