Buenos Aires, diez puntos!

Peter and me dancing tangoPeter and me dancing tango Peter dancing with me on his last night in BA at Club Gricel, San Cristobal.


I want to tell you about the Buenos Aires I have discovered during the past month. I am going to share my ten favourite points about living in this vibrant city, and also the ten things that I like least.

I’ll start with what I love:

  1. The sheer choice of tango, teachers, classes and Milongas. There are tango classes running all day every day, countless seminars with the big names of tango and a baffling choice of Milongas running from 3pm to 6am the following day. Each Milonga is completely different in character, not only by venue but also by afternoon or night of the week. I have my favourites but there are many that I have yet to visit. In terms of teachers and classes I have limited myself to Ariel Yanovsky and Claudia Bozzo so far. They are both fantastic and I have time to branch out later.
  2. The possibility of seeing live tango demonstrations in the Milongas every night. Watching the maestros dance is beyond inspiring and pushes me on even when my feet feel crushed and my body is exhausted.
  3. The chance to hear tango music 24/7 on the radio, and live in Milongas, bars and on the streets in the markets. Sometimes I even hear it played live on subway stations as my train pulls in or out. I can buy a new CD for around £2, and dancing to a live tango orchestra takes me as close to heaven as I am likely to get while I remain alive.
  4. The vast range of tango shoes, practice shoes, and tango clothing available. Also there are hundreds of cheap clothes stores where I buy things to dance in and live in. How wonderful it is to be able to buy a new dress for £10 or a cardigan for £5.
  5. The city never sleeps. This means that I can live the bohemian life that I have always loved and stay up all night without feeling there is something wrong with me.
  6. Getting around is easy. The public transport system of El Subte and the buses is comprehensive and very cheap. A ticket for a journey on either costs around 25 pence. Cabs are always available on the streets or by telephone and the price of an average journey is less than £2. Walking is the cheapest option and the city is simple to navigate as it is basically a grid of streets.
  7. The tango map and accompanying booklet with its lists of Milongas by day of the week. This is free and regularly updated. I never go anywhere without it. My first one fell apart with over use!
  8. The food. It is fantastic in quality and variety and is amazing value. There are cafes and restaurants on every block. Coffee and croissants cost around £1, sometimes less and a decent meal may be around £5.
  9. The markets. They are fun, have beautiful crafts especially leather items, shawls and jewellery. There is no pressure to buy which I love so it is possible to spend a day, or an afternoon just browsing and soaking up the atmosphere.
  10. The Argentine people. They are incredibly friendly and welcoming. They have invited me to their homes, complimented me on my tango, put up with my pigeon Spanish, explained how things work here, given me advice, given me their phone numbers in case I need help with anything while I am here… I could go on. Often I have found myself thinking, ‘Well that would not happen in England.’ The Argentines seem relaxed and open spirited. They do everything they can to make my life here happy.

And now the things that  have annoyed me (just a little!):

  1. Everyone wants you to pay with the correct money or as close as possible to it. As the ATMs give out $100 peso notes this is tricky. Every time I buy something I have to think about how I am going to pay. Before I leave the house I have to make sure I have small money for taxis, change for buses or if I have none I have to go and buy something at Farmacity where they will change a bigger note, grudgingly… Now I try to get $240 pesos out of the ATM then it has to give me at least two $20 peso notes or if I am lucky, four $10s.
  2. The apartment had to be paid for in advance including a months rent as a deposit in CASH! The ATMs will only give you $300 pesos at a time but will let you withdraw $900 per day. This meant three transactions at a time every day for many days before I checked in to the apartment. As the apartment costs me 650 US dollars a month you can imagine this was all rather inconvenient. Especially as during the Easter holidays the cash machines were empty and one day I had to try six ATMs before I found one with money… I have now negotiated a slightly more sensible rent payment arrangement because I want to stay on here longer – thankfully.
  3. You might think that paying with a card would be easier than paying with cash but this is not always straightforward. There are usually two different prices one for cash and one for card. You have to present an ID document if you pay with a card, even in a supermarket. I never carry my passport in case I lose it. I use my photo driving licence but of course sometimes I forget it!
  4. The supermarket queues are unbelievable. I have always hated supermarket shopping but honestly in England we are spoilt. I do not know why it takes so long to process people in supermarkets here, but twice now I have left my trolley and walked out because in 15 minutes the queue has not moved. I need to learn to allow extra time, wear comfortable shoes, chill out…
  5. You have to leave your bags at the entrance of supermarkets and many other stores. Sometimes you need a peso to activate the locker and of course I never seem to have a peso. I know this is a trivial matter but when you are exhausted, maybe soaking wet from an autumn rain fall, and desperate to get home…
  6. Often if you go to the toilet at a Milonga you are confronted by a quite scary looking woman who wants you to pay her to hand over toilet paper and hand towels. Again this requires small change which I usually have left behind in my bag under the table… On the upside in La Viruta she makes and sells fabric flowers for your hair – I have bought several! Again it’s all about knowing the score and being prepared.
  7. You need to have your money ready fast at the end of a cab ride or the meter ticks up while you are fumbling in your bag.
  8. Sometimes the entrance to a subway station only takes you onto one platform of the line which means that if you are half asleep (like I often am!) you can have used your ticket to get through the barriers before you realise that the train is heading in the wrong direction. You then have to exit, cross the street and use a second ticket to get onto the correct platform.
  9. The bus drivers can be maniacs! Gabriella and I often comment that surely their job is to safely collect and deposit people at bus stops. But far from it. They seem to delight in leaving the stop while you still have one foot on the pavement, then braking at high speed as they approach every stop sending you flying. If you don’t have a seat you need to hang on very tight.
  10. It’s autumn here and spring in England! While the UK swelters in high temperatures I am getting soaked by heavy rain and have a cold coming on from the cooler nights. I even bought a hot water bottle today. Ah well I know this one is my fault. I could have timed it better, but what the hell – I can live with it!

The latter are of course only minor irritations and every country in the world has its fair share of these, including England. I believe that in Argentina the phrase ‘diez puntos’ is a way of saying ‘OK, cool, fine’ and frankly that is what I think of Buenos Aires, except I would add many bonus puntos! 

Yesterday I sat in a Belgrano restaurant and watched THE massive football derby of the year, between the city’s great rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate. Portenos watch Boca vs RiverFans of both teams packed into the place and stood in the street outside to catch a glimpse of the TV. There was excitement, tension, and ultimately shared frustration at the final score of 1-1. Maybe I haven’t mentioned before that I am a football fan. Well I am, and I thought the game was fantastic. It was a ‘passing’ game. No long hopeful punts of the ball. Both sides fought with passion and determination to the end.

I think you already know how much I LOVE this city, but a city with tango AND great football, well how good can it get?

Read what the BBC says about Boca Juniors and River Plate


2 Responses

  1. Sal
    I always thought that you were gifted enough to become a writer and more recently working towards a professional tango dancer but a Sports Writer too – diez puntos – all three!

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said, especially your annoyances. You gotta move fast out of those buses! And I miss Argentine steaks soo bad. Nothing compares! (Hmmm…I think I already said this before).

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