For a long, long time Prague has been my favourite city, with Sydney a close second. But finally it has been usurped by BA…. what a city!
I would fully understand if somebody told me they didn’t like BA – it’s not middle of the road, it will inspire passion, in either direction. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. The architecture, the atmosphere, the nightlife, the restaurants, the locals, the tourists, the edge.
Naively, I was rather miffed when Aerolineas Argentinas cancelled my flight on Saturday from Ushuaia to BA, thinking “Well there goes my night out.” I was staying six nights, and had my first night pinned as my late night, a Saturday in one of the world’s great party cities. I needn’t have worried – 5am was the EARLIEST I got to bed between Sunday and Thursday nights.
But there is so much more to the capital than nightlife, the city literally pulses with an energy that is utterly intoxicating, exhilarating and Latino chilled all at the same time. European architecture fills the centro, football is omnipresent, particularly their beloved Boca Juniors, and the locals are as gorgeous as you’ve heard. Portenos / Portenas (literally port men / women) stroll the streets with a confidence that comes from knowing that you’re part of something special. Taxi drivers intersperse their horn blowing and attempts to sell you cocaine with the occasional burst of appreciation for an attractive lady that they are passing. It’s definitely not PC, but nobody seems to be perturbed.
There are people from all corners living in BA, and it is the very definition of cosmopolitan, but lined with an abrasive underbelly of poverty that is never too far from the surface. The regime of Videla still echoes through the city, and a fantastically informative and sensitive bike tour of the city lent real insight as to how it was during those years. We stop at a motorway underpass at a spot that was a bar that was turned into a detention / torture centre, and are shown a basic but incredibly moving monument to some of the many people who were ‘disappeared’ during the regime.
Uruguay is just across the Rio Plata (Silver River) and Montevideo or Colonia can both be easily visited as a day trip, although the ferries are not as cheap as you would expect. Milhouse Hostels (there are three – two in BA, and one in Cuzco) are legendary on the backpacker circuit in South America. Their travel desks can book everything from Tango Experiences to Guacho (cowboy) stays and tickets to La Bombonera to see Boca Juniors play. They also have daily activities that include Spanish lessons, cooking lessons, nightclub excursions, wine tasting and volunteering programmes.
Milhouse manages to balance the fine line between providing first class tourist services and an authentic local experience. The private rooms are better than most three star hotel rooms, the dorms are as good as it gets globally, and the included breakfast (assuming you’re up early enough) is pretty decent too. They’re big enough to provide everything you need, but retain a ‘cosy’ feel where you feel like the bar and reception staff are new friends. And no, I’m not being paid to write this, and I freely admit Bamba Experience works closely with Milhouse, but I’m not just doing a plug here – these guys get it – they understand the joy and hassles of travel, and have done everything they can to add to the experience. I spent time at all three of their hostels, and they all have their own flavour, but do a great job at enhancing your travel experience. Genuinely impressed.
Tango. Not just a part of the travel agent and fighter pilot alphabet 🙂
I hate dancing. I also hate lessons, or generally being told what to do. But BA is nothing if not seductive, so I found myself grinning like an idiot and actually enjoying the rhythm of the city as I tried to move to her steps. We had lessons, then practice, then a show with dinner and drinks…. my annoyingly good looking English companion was ‘randomly’ selected out of the crowd by the dancers all night, and wound up leaving with one of their hats. It is a city so sexy, so oblivious to your existence, that you find yourself swept up in the energy every evening. It looks forward to the next evening, not back with regret. You have to dance with BA, not watch from the sides. My favourite memory is dawn conversations with prostitutes at a late night cafe, over a bottle of Malbec. Completely safe, utterly fascinating and totally Porteno.
However long you were thinking of spending here – spend longer. You still won’t want to leave.