Seductive and alluring, arrogant yet unassuming, intense but easy-going… Argentina is an energetic country full of subtle contrasts. It was also the place where I learned, for the first time, to stop worrying. I’m a worrier by nature – most who know me will most likely describe me with as a controlling, OCD freak who needs to plan everything and anything. So upon arriving in Buenos Aires, I was worrying about everything. I had just overstayed in both Rio and Iguazu and felt I was running out of time. I was with travel buddies that were starting to get on my nerves. I had spent way too much money in Brazil. I didn’t know Spanish and I’d heard the portenos could be a bit arrogant about it. I was exhausted after an 18 hour bus ride from Iguazu, but for some reason, once I arrived in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires , my mood immediately lifted. The taxi took us down Avenida de Mayo, the main arterial of the microcentro and looking around me I instantly felt like I was in Europe again. Beautiful architecture, picturesque avenues lined with perfectly trimmed shrubs and sophisticated portenos taking in the sun while sipping lattes on streetside cafes. One can hardly believe you are in a third-world continent when in Buenos Aires. And the that’s the magic of this city, this entire country for that matter.
Argentina has had a rough upbringing, but despite its history of political instabilities, military regimes and constant protests, they gave the rest of the world the middle finger and said, SO WHAT, our country is beautiful and our past has made us the people we are today. So what if the peso devalued. So what about inflation. So what that we are still fighting with Britain over the Falkland Islands. There lives go on, sipping that cappucino in the leafy, suburban streets of Recoleta.
Mind you, the portenos aren’t exactly shrinking violets. They love to voice their opinion and will hold a protest for protests’ sake. In fact they are probably one of the most hostile nations in the world. On that first day in BA, I inadvertently ran into a protest (something about hospitals), which my taxi driver was very annoyed at as they had closed half of Av. de Mayo. He was forced to weave in and out of police cars and people with drums, while all the time cursing them for their stupidity. Every Thursday at 3pm in Plaza de Mayo there is a scheduled weekly protest by Argentine ‘mothers’ whose children “disappeared” during the Dirty War, the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983 – to signify that history must never be repeated. This is quite a touristy show, and is relatively more subdued than other more passionate protests (I have heard of ongoing demonstrations outside the British embassy with regards to the Malvinas/Falklands – complete with burning Union Jacks flags!).
Nonetheless, the Argies have passion oozing out of their pores. And its completely contagious. And so I found myself being just as passionate in everything…learning to dance the Tango (hard!), going on a quest to find the perfect bife de lomo (La Cabrera!), found the bodega that produced the best Malbec (Trapiche!), and even participated in a good ol’ protest against an appalling Bolivian bus company…the passion took a hold of me.. and eventually, I stopped worrying. Because life is too short for worrying. I didn’t care that the bife de lomo cost double a meal I would normally have, or that dancing the tango made me look completely uncoordinated, or that my spanish wasn’t 100% when I had a conversation with taxi drivers. I didn’t care that I got caught in the rain at San Telmo markets and was soaked to the bones by the time a taxi decided to pick me up after an hour waiting. I didn’t care that my point-and-shoot camera broke a couple of days before the end of my trip. I didn’t care that I had no hotel to stay at when I arrived in Auckland – I didn’t care even that I had no return flight booked until the day before!
I pushed on because my passion now was all about living in the moment, I savoured every drop of that malbec, and relished that bife de lomo till the last bite. I worried less about what seat on the plane I would get (evidently, I got an exit row!), wasn’t fazed that buses were late, or that border crossings took a whole day. BUT if I find that the service is crap, I wouldn’t have thought twice about staging a protest about it to demand my money back!
All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.