I really didn’t know what to expect on my first visit to Buenos Aires. Vague thoughts of Evita, meat, red wine, revolutions, polo, tango, soccer and rugby mingled – all of which proved to be accurate – but the overwhelming impression I was left with was one of colour. Colourful buildings in the Boca tourist precinct.
Colourful countryside, with rolling manicured fields replete with polo ponies. Colourful, ever-changing graffiti across the city which truly embraces street art. Colourful, welcoming people from all walks of life. And a colourful, passionate, tragic recent history which seems to infuse every element of Argentinian life.
Travelling courtesy of Air New Zealand, which launches Auckland-Buenos Aires non-stop flights later this year, our group was given a quick taste of this city and its amazing, fun, intriguing culture. As with any new destination, a city tour is a must, but you definitely need a guide who can explain the poignant reminders of the harsh dictatorship which ruled the country with an iron fist until just over 20 years ago.
Reminders of the Falklands War with Britain abound, not to mention the brutal regime during which many young people who opposed the junta “disappeared” and their infant children were adopted to senior military families. Symbols representing the mothers and grandmothers who lost their babies are everywhere, on walls across the city and with a weekly parade in the main square to remind everyone that the search still goes on.
Despite this sadness the spirit of Buenos Aires seems irrepressible. Restaurants on every corner serve amazing cuisine – with lots of meat on the menu at every venue. On our first night we visited a soccer-themed eatery where, despite his chequered history Argentinian star Pele is worshipped like a God – and the steak was to die for! But Buenos Aires isn’t just for carnivores, with omnipresent “dolce de leche” – basically spreadable caramel – appearing on every menu; in fact some of our group took a sugar hit at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Tango clubs are everywhere, and a must-do is to have a dancing lesson before dinner and then later head to a “Marengo” to try out your new-found skills. The one we visited featured an amazing band of accordions whose melodies are still haunting my memory.
Rather than being seen as visual pollution, graffiti in Buenos Aires is an expression of the city’s spirit. The ever-evolving landscape sees every blank wall in some districts quickly covered – over and over again – with several street artists becoming quite notorious for their distinctive style and pithy comments on Argentinian society. Some of them have even made a living out of their skills, with shopkeepers commissioning special designs which make their premises truly works of art. In other parts of the city – notably the waterfront area of Boca which boasts one of Buenos Aires’ most popular soccer teams – it would be sacrilege to paint over the walls of the buildings which come in every colour of the rainbow.
Heading out for a day in the countryside saw colour of a different kind – the stunning blue eyes of Juan, our impossibly good-looking personal polo instructor. There are a number of immaculately manicured polo clubs about an hour from Buenos Aires and our group enjoyed a day of spectacular sunshine as we fumbled and laughed our way through a game before watching some of the professionals go to work. I was particularly struck by the efficiency of the two minute lesson sitting on a kitchen stool during which I was taught to ride a horse – fortunately my mount was a veteran polo pony who knew exactly what to do!
On our final night in Buenos Aires we crossed the road outside our hotel to visit a local flower shop. It seemed unusual to see a woman in a brightly-lit florist outlet creating bouquets late at night – and things became even odder when our host knocked on the door and we were granted entry to the store. She proceeded to open the coolroom door, and lo and behold there was a sweeping stairway downstairs – leading to the coolest underground bar and restaurant I have ever seen.
Packed to the gills, Fioreria Atlantico is actually ranked as one of the best bars in the world. I’m not sure what the password was, but once inside our group enjoyed a fabulous atmosphere, with some stunning cocktails and a great meal – definitely a must-do for any visitor to this stunning city.