The Mole Diaries: Buenos Aires (Volume 2)
Buenos Aires by Natalia Romay
Farahnaz Mohammed, studying Hispanic Studies and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, went to Buenos Aires for her year abroad. Here, she gives her top tips for those wishing to go there for their year abroad...
Transport and travelAround the city, the subte (subway) is absolutely amazing. A flat fare of 1.10 Argentinian pesos, regardless of line changes and where you want to go. A negative point, however, is the overcrowding. During peak hours, you will be pushed up against other folk and practically fight your way out. The novelty wears off fast. The buses are intimidating at first – I didn’t use them for ages because I was terrified of being lost – but when you get confident enough in your Spanish and orientation abilities, pick up a Guía T, available all around Buenos Aires newspaper stalls. It’s an amazingly handy map of every bus route in every part of the city. Cheap and worth it – there’s always a bus taking you where you need to go once you check your route through the guide. As for taxis, they’re like anywhere else. Some are friendly, some are quiet, some will rip you off. Generally radiotaxis are the way to go, and there are plenty of them across the capital.
Travelling around South America from Buenos Aires is pretty expensive, depending on where you want to go. Due to the fact it’s such a large country, it takes long hours to get to the country’s highlights on buses. I’d advise against air travel through Argentina as it’s ludicrously expensive. However, the Argentinians have perfected long-distance travel by land, and have amazing buses with seats that turn into beds and meals on board. But let me warn you: no matter how amazing the bus is, after 20+ hours in one seat, nothing is comfortable. And always, always have your own toilet paper. That being said, Argentina’s got a wealth of unmissable sights in bus range: my personal favorites were the glaciers of Calafate in the South, the waterfalls of Iguazú and the incredible vastness of Patagonia.
Porteños y LunfardoPorteño is the word for a native Buenos-Airean and lunfardo is the word for their specific brand of vocabulary and slang. The Argentinians have a beautiful, if at times confusing, use of the Spanish language which you’ll get the hang of, but it’ll take some time and some googling to clarify. Also, if you want to practice Spanish, you have to go out of your way to do it. A surprising number of students and professionals speak English here, and it’s easy to get caught up in making friends and contacts with only English speakers which, while it makes the transition a lot easier, makes for bad immersion. The Porteños are incredibly warm and encouraging to anyone who tries to speak their language, even if you’re not especially good. It’s really hard at first, but don’t be afraid to dive into a conversation! They generally welcome extranjeros with open arms and it’s great to know Argentinians so as to get a better idea of what’s cool and what’s not around Buenos Aires.
FoodThe eskimos apparently have hundreds of words for snow, and the Argentinians have hundreds for meat. This is not a vegetarian’s safe haven, although in the city centre there are other options. Once you go deeper into the country, asado (a whole animal cooked over a spit) tends to be the order of the day. I never quite got the hang of what exactly was what in the dizzying array of styles and pieces of cow, chicken and pig that were on offer, but I always enjoyed whatever I ordered. They can cook meat here like nowhere else, and their world-famous wine lives up to the challenge of accompanying the large dosses of protein. Also, girls, watch out – those alfajores (chocolate covered biscuits with dulce de leche filling), medialunas (croissants, but sweeter and stickier) and all that incredible ice cream is going to catch up with you.
TimeTime is a much looser concept in Argentina. If you set a time, don’t expect anyone to actually show up until an hour later, at least. It’s not impolite here; it’s just the way it works. You’ll find yourself slipping into it too. The Argentinians work on a different body clock. The siesta they take in the middle of the day is wiser advice than you think, considering they stay up partying until around 6 or 7 in the morning, with most people starting to head out around 11pm for pre-drinks or previas.
FootballIf you don’t already love it, you probably will. They are obsessed down here, and with good reason. An amazing amount of natural talent, some of the most intense rivalries between clubs and an incredible atmosphere in the stadium, an Argentinian football game is unforgettable. If you can, try and catch a game at the Boca Stadium. And if you are ever at any game, hope for a goal – the reaction of the crowd is half the fun!
Don’t MissIn Buenos Aires, it’s all too easy to forget to explore the cultural aspects in the midst of the language, the food, the people, the wine, the nightlife and the work that you’re struggling to catch up with the next morning, but carve out some time! The famous street fair in San Telmo stretches for miles and sells everything you can imagine and the neighborhood is beautiful. La Boca is touristy, but well worth a stop, with brightly coloured houses piled on top of one another, lining up in cobbled streets and with tango dancers on every corner. Teatro Colón, el Ateneo, el Museo de Bellas Artes as well as a never-ending parade of shows and musicals, Buenos Aires’ cultural scene is almost infinite in scope.
Adjustment PeriodI fell in love with Buenos Aires, but adjusting to such a dramatic change in pace and intensity of life takes time. It took a few months before I really felt settled, especially with the change in language. Remember not to worry, take everything in your stride and after a while, you’ll forget you lived anywhere else!
All in all, I can’t believe how much this year abroad has changed my way of life and myself as a person, and I’m incredibly grateful I came here. Without a shadow of a doubt, it was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but simultaneously the most rewarding and I definitely haven’t seen the last of Argentina.