Walking block after block amidst a concrete jungle resulted in our group of four struggling to keep up with our tour guide, who was used to the stultifying heat. We had no time to acclimate and found ourselves hot, exhausted and thirsty, despite regular water breaks. But we persevered through packed subway cars, crowded sidewalks, heavy security at a couple of museums, and architectural gems, not all air-conditioned. Our guide spoke English but was not easy to understand.
The next day we had a guide who was born and raised in England. He arrived in Argentina 15 years ago, met his future wife…and the rest is history. I understood him perfectly.
Eager to rest weary legs and feed hungry stomachs after a day touring, we discovered a cafe perfect for a late lunch. We rated the food delicious, but service rated less than optimum. Tipping is optional, 5%-10% recommended, but we decided our waiter deserved nada - nothing. As we got up to leave the waiter raced over waving the bill and in Spanglish panted, “Tip not included. Did not leave tip.” So we threw a few pesos on the table, not wanting to earn a reputation as ugly, cheap Americans.
We finished lunch with ice cream from a kiosk adjacent to the restaurant. Next door was a chocolate shop, across the street a candy store, and next to that a coffee cafe. What a great city!
Two days touring Buenos Aires immersed us in the history and culture of Argentina. During the country’s golden age, the late 19th century and the 20th century up to the Depression, the government sent architects to Europe to study, return home and build a great city. The result - palatial structures, wide, tree-lined boulevards, public parks and open spaces scattered throughout the city, cafes with al fresco seating, an atmosphere conducive to spending time outdoors - the Paris of South America.
None of us studied much South American history in school. We remember reading about events which occurred during our lifetime, including the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in 1992, which killed 21 people, and the Jewish Federation building in 1994 that killed over 80 - people working in the building, folks on the street, a Catholic priest in a church next to the bombed building. We toured a memorial to the slain.
We visited another memorial, modeled after the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., to the Desaparacidos - men and women who disappeared during the country’s dictatorship, approx. 1976-1983. Military death squads grabbed people from their homes or off the street. The individuals were never heard from again. Most were between the ages of 18-26, and some were pregnant. Once the babies were born, the military killed the women and placed the infants for adoption. Today, with the help of DNA testing, Argentina is attempting to unite the children (now adults) with relatives of birth parents. So far, of the estimated 500 adopted babies, 125 have been identified.
I am not a fan of cemeteries, but Buenos Aires is home to one of the world’s most unique resting places. Recoleta Cemetery contains over 6,400 family mausoleums housing over 85,000 individuals. Each mausoleum extends two or three floors underground. If a mausoleum runs out of room old remains are removed, cremated, and returned, freeing space for future generations. Among the cemetery’s permanent residents is Eva Peron. Thanks to Madonna and the movie Evita, Eva’s final resting place is a popular tourist attraction.
We lingered over coffee at an outdoor cafe, observed locals and tourists, visited sculptures and monuments in manicured parks, walked through neighborhoods and street markets, savored late night dinners and local cuisine, attempted to communicate in rudimentary Spanish, and learned about Argentina‘s history and current economic situation - inflation near 50 percent in the last year.
Our time in Buenos Aires ended too soon, but it was time to travel on…
Note: No pictures due to uncooperative wifi.