Day 23: Hola Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, 24. February
What was your longest plane, bus or train journey? I bet 19 hours on a single bus is right up there among the longest a journeys can possibly be. But for a backpacker, these buses are great, because you can save yourself the price of a hostel bed for a night and you get to experience the wastes of South America first hand. Flights in SA are incredibly expensive and, also, I think it’s really important to experience the distances to get a feeling for the wastes of the place. Especially if you’re from Europe, driving for 19 hours usually means that you cross several borders and language barriers on the way. Here, if you’re driving for 19 hours (or even for 30) you might still be in exactly the same country, possibly even in a landscape that hasn’t much changed. Incredible really, even though the view from the bus window gets a bit boring after about 5 hours.
By the early afternoon, we had entered the larger Buenos Aires area and the houses began to get larger, closer together and the general feel was urbane, chaotic and hot. I had been warned about Retiro station many times (mostly about burglaries and the area surrounding the station), so I was on my toes and kept my stuff as close to me as possible. If you followed me for a while, you know how confusing the different bus stations in Santiago were. Well, Retiro was even larger than the central station in Santiago and contained not only busses and trains, but also underground trains and local busses around the station. I found the metro after some aimless searching around the station, bought a ticket and was off to hostel because I was desperate to have a shower and also to change into some lighter clothes. At the end of February, it wasn’t as warm as people had told me about in January and the beginning of February, but it was still incredibly humid.
My hostel (Hostel Estoril Terrazas) was located in the business district of Buenos Aires between Casa Rosada and Congreso. I had booked it after a recommendation I got from someone in Santiago who had lived there for about a month while he was doing a Spanish course. I lived on the first floor, which also gave me access to the terrace on the top floor. The hostel was quite nice, with clean rooms, kitchen and bathrooms, but the mattress was incredibly thin and the location wasn’t great for exploring the more exciting parts of the city.
Since I wanted to explore a bit before it got dark, and because I also really needed a bite to eat, I ventured out and stupidly left my camera at the hostel (the pictures you see are actually from the next day). The thing that strikes you first, or at least it did me, is how much taller the buildings are and how much more dense the city is. Santiago had tall buildings but they weren’t that close together and you always had a sense of the mountains surrounding you (which I am sure is due to the earthquake risk in Chile). Maybe you’ve heard the term “Paris of the south” and that is absolutely true. BsAs reminds you at almost every turn of Paris and “la Belle Epoque”, which is not surprising because the city had it’s heyday between 1870 and 1910, the time period where most of the buildings stem from.
I looked at Congreso and the surrounding streets, almost falling flat on my face on several occasions, due to the potholes in the streets. Slightly overwhelmed by the enormousness, the sounds and the smells of the city (mostly sunscreen lotions, the smell of hot concrete, car exhausts and, contrary to Santiago, no dog urine), I walked back to my hostel after watching the sun sink behind the buildings.
Back at the hostel, I watched a football game on TV with some of the other people and searched for a cool walking tour through he city.