Florida Street, the pedestrianized avenue in front of our hotel, was wall to wall people. No sooner had we stepped out of the hotel than we were approached by a string of people calling "Cambio, Cambio!". Change making seems to be a big business here and were were warned that any Argentinian Pesos exchanged on the street had a reasonable chance of being counterfeit. How is it that we don't look Argentinian?
We took the shortest route to a nearby park. My plan was to rent bicycles there with which to take a long loop around the downtown area. We had no luck. We passed several places that rented bikes, but only on weekends. It was Thursday.
Parks wild and manicured
We walked further and further hoping the next place would have them and then the next. Eventually, we realized we were going to be walking the route and gave up on the bikes.
We made our way down to the waterfront, passed over a drawbridge, and along several giant boat basins. Each contained a marina or two within and all along the edges were office buildings, high-end loft apartments and restaurants with copious outdoor seating.
Buenos Aires Boat Basins
We made our way along a couple of miles of this before the rectangular basins ended and the river narrowed. It was starting to get really hot, so we used getting out our map to determine our next move as an excuse to sit on a bench in the shade.
Maryanne was keen to go to an area about three quarters of a mile up the river that was known for having really picturesque, brightly painted houses. I also wanted to see them, but they were right in the middle of a neighborhood that several sources openly said was just downright dangerous. Most said the area we wanted to go was okay, provided it was daytime, we didn't wander off the main road and we kept our guard up. Most tourists come in via bus and leave via bus. The advice given was to definitely NOT take the shortest route through the streets on foot from the main part of downtown.
We had a good squint at our downloaded maps and determined that a route along the water seemed like it would be safe enough, so off we went.
The pretty waterfront esplanade immediately turned into fenced-in barge and ferry docks. We went around the fence onto the adjacent road and followed crumbling sidewalks for several blocks past abandoned warehouses on one side and an elevated freeway on the other. This wasn't so bad. It wasn't so good, but it wasn't so bad. There was a lot of dust and traffic and heat, but no suspicious, shifty-looking characters.
This continued a for a bit, and then the elevated freeway kept going straight across a bend in the river. The bridge formed a big wall that we couldn't get around. Damn! We only had about six blocks to go! We backtracked to the nearest underpass and then continued on the other side of the freeway. A cab driver pulled up and asked if we needed a ride. We waved him off and continued.
It was more of the same for a block or two, then we came to a T-junction where one side was blocked off. We took the other leg, which ran inland from the river.
As soon as we came around the corner, we both got a bad feeling. Both sidewalks were blocked by what looked to be some fairly sizable homeless encampments. It looked like a pretty good place for an ambush. We shot a quick glance at each other and without breaking stride, made a tight turn back to where we had just been. We would be skipping the painted houses.
That cab driver was still milling around. We weren't having it and waved him off again. We made our way back to the nice part of the waterfront one road in so that we could avoid the dust and noise of our walk down. It went through a slightly run-down area, but we felt safe enough as long as we walked fast and acted like we knew where we were going.
It wasn't long before we were back to the lofts along the harbor wall. We attempted to walk past a pizza place, but a friendly host (Caspar?) slowed us down just enough to allow a couple of the ultra-gravity chairs to pull us down. We ordered the lunch special: a pizza, a beer each and faina for $150ARS (about $10 or £7). I know what you're thinking. We were thinking it, too. What the hell is faina?
Local street art and Food (Faina)!
Faina appears to be an extra slice of pizza, only with no toppings. It's kind of like the garlic sticks you can get in the U.S. that are also made out of surplus dough. I was still trying to decide its fate when the waiter stepped in and explained: You put the faina on top of the first piece to make a kind of two-crusted pizza sandwich. It's basically a more civilized version of what New Yorkers get when they fold their pizza in half like a taco. I warmed to it very quickly.
Okay, so now we've had food and beer and it was a hot day. Time for a nap. Wait, we don't have time for a nap! We pushed through and headed for a BIG park that lies between the opposite side of the harbor and the Rio Plata/Atlantic. It was here that the whole city seemed to go for their leisurely afternoon strolls, daily runs and hanging out on beach blankets. We strolled amongst them for almost the whole length of the park, before looping back and joining the harbor at one of the pedestrian bridges.
We had planned to swing by the presidential palace on the way back to our hotel, but decided to cut it short. Maryanne had been expecting to be cycling all day instead of walking and wasn't wearing the best footwear. We took the shortest route to Florida St. and then ran the gauntlet of the change-makers.
We had just enough time for showers, and then it was time to head back out. Maryanne had booked us a Tango show.
I had originally balked at the million dollar price, but then I thought about it for a minute and realized that if I was ever going to watch someone dance the Tango, there was never going to be better place in the whole wide world to do it than Buenos Aires. I was in!
A bus driver came to the hotel lobby to collect us and then walked us to the bus parked on the street. We took a meandering route through the city, stopping at other hotels to pick up others. After about thirty minutes, he dropped us off in front of the theater. It looked really familiar. I looked around and realized we had just walked by it on the way to the hotel. The theater was seven blocks down Florida Street!
Inside, we were shown to our table and handed our menus. I had a look around. There were a lot of tourists, but half the room seemed to be locals on a fancy night out. Our meal was excellent and the theater, which was only used for these shows, was stunning.
Desert came along with more wine and the lights came down. I'm not sure what exactly I expected, but it wasn't what I expected. Somehow, I thought it would be like watching ice skating or something, with two dancers gliding across a big floor. Instead, it seemed to be more of a musical, with some attempt at a weak story. The dancing started out mildly and was occasionally interrupted by pure singing numbers to give the dancers time for costume changes. They would come back out and dance more energetically for a while as the singer told their 'story' of heartache or new love or whatever it was supposed to be. This went on for several more passionate cycles until the final number where the singers were singing their lungs out, the band was flailing wildly, and the dancers were doing tremendous floating, spinning, swooping things. There was a lot more cheese that night than we had on our table, but the dancing was definitely worth seeing.
Central bank, and the tango theatre
When it was all done, I stood up, reached out my hand, grabbed my wife, pulled her toward me, and with great passion, tripped over her left foot and stumbled across the room, just catching myself before doing a faceplant on the stairs. Maybe I should stick to walking.
We told the bus driver we would skip the ride back, which he appeared to expect. Then we ...walked...home.
Da da da Dum dum!