We arrived in Buenos Aires midday and, oddly, a few hours before we had expected to after being thrown onto an earlier flight upon arrival to the airport in Iguazu Falls (when does that ever happen?). This meant we had time to kill before the landlord of the flat we were renting could meet us. We also had about two tons of luggage each, and carrying mine around for hours was simply not an option for me. Though I'd been doing well, the mighty backpack(s) I had were so heavy they made me break out into a sweat when I put them on. Luckily, Em and Katie weren't keen on the idea of carrying theirs around either, so we had a taxi drop us off at Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. There, we found a cozy table and generous wait staff who weren't bothered by our entourage of bags at the Cafe Dorrego, one of Buenos Aires oldest cafes (there are many, though!).
My stomach was not feeling quite so fine, to be honest, so I satisfied myself with some yerba mate tea while Katie and Em ordered hamburger completas (hamburgers with cheese, fried egg and ham. Hells yeah.) We spent a couple of hours dining there and then headed out to check into our fabulous flat that would be home for the next six days:
The flat came complete with a crazy landlord, but she was sweet, and we were thrilled to be able to stay in one place for six entire days. Just as we got settled, Katie very sadly and unwillingly had to depart to head back to the airport and fly home. (Due to limited vacation days, she was only able to come for the middle portion of the trip.) We said a bummed out good-bye, hugged, and off she went.
And then there were two.
We were completely knackered, so we tooled around the apartment quietly, ran a load of laundry, got some groceries and then had a mediocre dinner at a nearby restaurant. It was rather nice to feel like we didn't have to run out and do everything.
The next day, we decided to walk around the city and visit the palace where Eva Peron gave her famous speech, among other sights. It was then that we began to realize exactly how large a city Buenos Aires is. It makes Manhattan feel tiny in comparison. Our walk from San Telmo to the Palace took a good 30 minutes, and then we made our way up Avenida Florida amongst throngs of shoppers, pedestrians and tango dancers. We stopped and had lunch, then spent the rest of the afternoon....walking. And walking and walking and walking. Finally, it was late, getting dark and we had been on our feet for almost six hours. Yeah. We got onto the metro at Plaza San Martin and headed back to San Telmo for dinner (steak!) at a different cafe on Plaza Dorrego. My stomach was feeling fine again, but I could tell that the two weeks with no enbrel shots was beginning to catch up with me. Somehow, Machu Picchu and the Amazon had been no problem, but walking around on pavement for six hours in a city had done in my feet, ankles, knees and hips. Oy. I took some naproxen that night to help out and hoped sleep would do the rest.
Day number three was spent doing more.....walking and shopping. This time in a neighborhood called Palermo Soho. We metro-d out there and then began browsing in all the fancy boutiques. Around lunchtime, we met up with a friend of mine, Lucas, to see a rehearsal of his latest dance work, followed by coffee at a cafe attached to a theater. We told Lucas we had our hearts set on seeing some real tango, so he agreed to take us out to a place he knew of that Friday night. And then he introduced us to the real love of my life (screw Joshua Radin): alfajores. HOLY SHIT these are goooooood. For those of you who have never experienced bliss in the form of Dulce de leche between two layers of shortbread covered in chocolate, I recommend you get thee to an Argentinean pastry shop pronto. Or to Buenos Aires where you can buy them on the street.
Then, we went on a mission to find tango shoes. To hell with the fact that my feet were misbehaving, I wasn't going to show up at any tango hall with flats on! Sadly, I struck out that day, but Emily found a pair of red stilettos. We celebrated her find by going out to a fabulous restaurant Lucas had told us about called La Zamma. It was filled with locals, and the manager of the restaurant came over to help us with the menu. This is what we dined on:
Followed by dessert:
Followed by these, compliments of the manager:
Day number 4 found us heading to Recoleta, one of the more posh parts of the city, to visit the famed Recoleta cemetery, which is home to many famous Argentineans, most notably the Perons. On our way there, we stopped into one of the heavenly pastry shops on the street to get savory rolls filled with cheese and ham for breakfast.
Now, to call the Recoleta Cemetery merely a cemetery somehow seems inadequate because it is much more like a genuine city of the dead, filled with mausoleum mansions, monuments, alley ways and passages.
We roamed about the never ending mausoleums, then headed for a cafe con leche at a nearby cafe. After that, it was back on the shoe hunting mission. Luckily, my shopping mojo was in better form, and I found these fairly quickly:
I confess, my feet were not feeling so hot when I bought these, and I was feeling a little nervous about my ability to wear them and not be miserable, but I decided I didn't care and pulled out the pesos.
Next up, since you know, it had been a total of two hours (maybe) since we'd eaten, we grabbed a taxi and went to Cafe Tortoni, Buenos Aires' most famous and oldest cafe. There, I finally had my own hamburger completa, as well as one of their specialty coffees. Luckily, the upside of the service there being so, well, nonexistent, is that they don't seem to mind if you stay as long as you like and soak up the atmosphere and history.
That evening, determined to have as complete an experience as possible in the city, Emily and I headed off to a football game (aka soccer, in the US). For anyone who doesn't know, Argentina is football crazy, in a very serious and intense way. There are rituals, there are brawls, there are die hard fans. We organized this with a tour group (one of the few things we did not do on our own), so we were picked up in a van at our apartment and driven way out (though still in Buenos Aires) to see the Argentina Juniors against San Lorenzo. Unlike games in the US, there is no alcohol served at all, though they do still sell hot dogs, hamburgers and coke. The fans of the two teams are kept as separate as possible to avoid fights, and the real fans organize themselves in one area of the stadium according to a complex hierarchy-they basically operate like a mafia, and they take the game very seriously. From the moment the players ran onto the field, they began singing and they sang the whole game, nearly nonstop. They also spread out huge banners over top of their entire section. The experience was unreal.
Sadly for the Argentina Juniors and their fans, the game was a major upset and they lost. We had a great time, though, despite the cold weather.
On day 5 (wait, how did it get to be day 5 already?), we took a day trip to Colonia de Sacramento in Uruguay. We took a fast boat (marking our 10th boat ride of the trip) that morning, after breakfasting on some alfajores, naturally. There, we spent the day walking around this rather sleepy, quiet little town. It was a nice change of pace.
On the fast boat back to Buenos Aires that evening, we had only been able to get a ticket in the 'Especial' class, which meant we got to sit upstairs in the swanky section and have a glass of champagne. That was not a problem for us. In fact, if push came to shove, I think I could adjust well to being part of the Especial class when I travel. The boats themselves reminded me of Las Vegas - everything was red, glossy and for sale.
We got back to our dear apartment, and then it was time to get ready to tango. Now, we knew the place we were going to was low key, but since it was our only night out at a milonga (tango hall) and the very last night of our trip, we couldn't help but get dolled up. So we put on our dresses and fancy shoes, and got ready to head out.
I will confess that my feet hurt a lot at this point, and I considered taking a prednisone, but since I really wanted to avoid having to take that if I could, and because I knew I would be watching more than dancing myself, I swallowed some aleve instead and marched out the door.
We met Lucas at a place in Palermo called Club Villa Malcolm. From the outside, you would never have known it was there. The front is a small, unassuming, no frills restaurant. In back of the restaurant, though, the place opens up into a fantastic old gymnasium-like space with towering ceilings, a small stage in the back and a huge chandelier providing the only light for the dancers below. The dance floor was surrounded by small cafe tables, and there was a side room separated by a few columns filled with more tables and chairs and dimly lit by another chandelier. It felt positively magical. We took a seat and began to watch the couples. It was mesmerizing-the music alone was positively thrilling, but to see all these people gathered on a Friday night-old, young, fat, thin, tall, short, you name it. Men were dancing with men, women with women, old with the young-it didn't matter; people had come to Tango. There was such a feeling of old world romance alive that all of us were transfixed. Emily and I were, in turn, asked to dance, but given that we knew absolutely no tango, and it isn't the kind of dance you can just pick up on the spot, we didn't get very far. It was fun to get up and at least try, and our partners were, shall we say, tolerant. I really could have stayed there all night long watching, but before we knew it, it was 1AM and time to depart. Sadly, my camera wasn't able to catch all that much due to the dim lighting, but here is a shot that will give you a little sense of what it was like:
The next day, our last day, we got breakfast at, you guessed it, another old cafe (god, how I wish New York had half the cafe culture of Buenos Aires. Where did we go wrong?), where we were abuzz to read in the paper that Obama had selected Biden as his running mate. We were also in disbelief that we would be getting on planes and flying home because our trip was ending that night. Say what?
We spent our last day seeing La Boca, a colorful neighborhood with a street fair environment, and wandering around San Telmo's markets. We took a nice long nap in one of the parks, enjoying the sun and reflecting on the last three weeks. Oh yes, and we bought massive boxes of alfajores to take home with us AND had one more meal in an old cafe.
And then, as it always does, time passed too quickly, and we were at the airport and it was over.
It's funny how, no matter the length of the trip, the last part of it always seems to rush by the fastest. Although we were in Buenos Aires longer than any other place the whole trip, I somehow felt like we'd barely been there, and that there was so much more to see and do!
On the other hand, thinking back to the start of the trip and my first hikes from hell in Cuzco and Machu Picchu, it seemed impossible we'd only been gone for three weeks.
I felt very sad and unready to leave, I confess, but also incredible for having gotten through the whole thing really remarkably well. True, the traveling had been a little rough, and by the time I got to Argentina, my body was sorely missing the enbrel. BUT, at no point was I not able to do something that I wanted to do because of the RA. At no point did I have to turn back, or stay home and miss out. What's more, I pushed myself harder at certain points of the trip and did things I certainly don't normally do in my everyday life with or without RA. I felt like I had really accomplished a lot.
I learned that I can go a little while without my meds and not be crippled. I also learned that after three weeks off the shots, I was very happy and grateful to get back on them. I proved that I can still do the type of travel that I enjoy most and not be limited by the fact that I have this disease, even if it means it may be a little harder on me than before and take a different kind of planning. I also learned that I LOVE Buenos Aires and really really want to get back there. And I really want to learn to tango. I intend to, though, predictably and annoyingly, my New York life keeps intruding and making that difficult. Sigh.
In the end, this trip really was the trip of a lifetime for me (though I hope for some kick ass sequels) and a real battle of wills against me and RA. And you know what, I WON!
Final scorecount for Me vs. RA on the trip of a lifetime: 17 and 0. Read it and weep.