What to Buy in Argentina

If you’re going to Argentina for a week, a month, or several years, you might be wondering what to pick up along the way. We certainly were! Here’s what we’ve come up with as either good deals and/or quintessentially Argentinian items:

Alpargatas

Don’t know what these are? I actually bet you do.  Known in the US as Toms, these canvas slip on shoes with rubber soles are incredibly common footwear in Argentina. You can find them in every store (even the grocery store), and they are significantly cheaper than their $60 per pair US cousins. Stock up on the fun patterns and colors.

alpargatas jastyle

image from jastyle.com

 

Mate Kits

Is there anything more Argentinian than mate? I think not. Take away an Argentinian’s mate cup, and it’s like you took away his left arm. Needless to say, with mate being so ubiquitous, there are thousands of mate designs and materials. Mates can be gourds, wooden, ceramic–the ingenuity given to this simple item boggles the mind. I’ve even seen some extremely high end ones made of sterling silver. Just be careful about bringing yerba mate back to the US–it looks suspiciously like marijuana to US customs. You can buy yerba mate Stateside in more hippie-dippie grocery stores like Whole Foods, and it’s also available on Amazon (as all things are…).  Even if you don’t like the taste of mate, having the actual mate kit is a fun souvenir that really is the most Argentinian thing ever.

image from salmiartesanias.com

image from salmiartesanias.com

Gems and Other Stones

At all of the tourist traps and in all the airport shops, you’ll see all sorts of little statues, beads, and jewelry made of precious stones. Argentina is full of beautiful gems (see: Wanda Mines near Iguazu).  A lot of it can get touristy very quickly–but some of the pieces are beautiful! Generally reasonable prices, particularly outside of the heavily touristy areas.

Wine

Argentina is the land of Malbec. Beautiful, delicious malbec. It’s easy to grab a great bottle of wine at the grocery store for less than $10USD–so save some room in your luggage or home goods shipment for some bottles. Just be ready to pack them up nicely–I like these wine bags.

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

Leather Goods

From purses to belts to shoes to jackets–leather is king, and it is good quality and cheap. There are some really inventive and high quality leather goods to be found in Argentina. I’ve found it best to not just frequent the stores on Avenida Florida, but instead to branch out to more of the boutique places to find some really good deals on really interesting pieces.  If you’re looking for a good brand name, try Prune. They’re based in almost every city in Argentina, and make very good quality. Also, their stores make you feel incredibly fancy–they’re set up like very high end boutiques in the US, and often their associated speak at least a bit of English to help the confused tourist.

Via ArgentinaIndependent.com

Via ArgentinaIndependent.com

ALL THE MEAT

This one only applies if you’ll be here for a while, but if you’re going full on expat and you have a kitchen, take advantage of the incredibly low meat prices (especially high quality, grass-fed beef). That random braising method you were nervous to try with pricey US meat? Do it here!

Home Accents and Hardware from the 1890s to 1940s

Do you have a home in that age range? Get thee to San Telmo! We found lots of neat hardware (doorknobs, drawer pulls, fixtures) from this time frame–and for reasonably cheap. Those years were Argentina’s hey-day, when the world saw Buenos Aires as one of the richest and most luxurious cities in the world. (Harrod’s even had their ONLY other store in Buenos Aires! It’s now shut down since the 2001 economic crisis, but the building still stands with the original sign on Avenida Florida.) Stock up on some of these awesome little items–not just souvenirs, but really practical as well!

The other item in large supply at San Telmo are the old glass seltzer water bottles. In beautiful green and blue glass, these are virtually never seen in the US–but are incredibly common in flea markets in Argentina! Even today, you can get a seltzer man to come to your house and fill up your bottles. (Apparently this is now a hipster thing in the US. )

Via Gringo in Buenos Aires... otherwise known as one of the best blogs about life in Argentina

Via Gringo in Buenos Aires… otherwise known as one of the best blogs about life in Argentina

I’m sure we’ll think of other good things to pick up in Argentina and I’ll have to do a part two! The country is full of exciting street fairs and flea markets–with lots of inventive craftspeople showing their wares.

Buenos Aires and Visa Renewal–Food in Buenos Aires

We spent a few days in Buenos Aires in February to renew our visas…and I’m just now getting around to posting some of our pictures and information!

Since we’re only temporary residents, we need to take the annual trek to Inmigraciones to have Argentinian officials okay us for another year.  Blessedly, between a combination of incredibly diligent fixers and the fact that we’re just renewing, the process was quick, easy, and painless.

However… if you’re looking for advice on how to get through Argentinian Inmigraciones, we are not the droids you’re looking for. We’re exceeding lucky to 1) have a company sponsoring our employment, 2) to be both employed by said company, 3) to have said company pay for some very nice fixers to speak rapid-fire Spanish at the very grumpy Argentinian criminal records people on our behalf. The DNI (Argentinian National Document–sort of a cross between a drivers license and a passport) is an elusive thing for most extranjeros, and we recognize we’re incredibly lucky to have the process go so smoothly.  Now, on to the process of actually getting the new, renewed DNIs! I’m sure this will involve several hours in a waiting room…

We brought our new coworker (also American) with us to Buenos Aires this time so he could get his paperwork started. It was a nice change to be able to share all of our knowledge about Buenos Aires and Argentina in general with someone else.  Since we had meetings during the day, we stole away once in a while to do some sightseeing close to the hotel.We were right on Avenida Florida, the main shopping thoroughfare, so we did a little bit of window shopping while we hunted down some of the more “exotic for Argentina” cuisine.

Because we’ve been working so much since the BsAs trip and doing absolutely nothing interesting as a result, I’m going to split up my posts a little bit. T took a LOT of great photos, and I don’t want to just throw them all in one post.

So here, in a nutshell, are the places we’ve eaten (and enjoyed) in Buenos Aires.

 

California Burrito–What do you get when American expats really miss Chipotle? California Burrito. Okay, so it’s not exactly the same thing–but it’s close enough to get our mouths watering. Burritos and quesdillas are on the menu here, with some guacamole and tortilla chips. We make it a tradition to always go here the first night. Feels so much like home. 

Filo–Nice Italian food in a very nice atmosphere. (Although watch out for the manikin as you walk in… she can be a little handsy when you walk into her.) Good pizzas, good pastas, and a nice mix of casual and nice. They’ll always have the futbol match on the TV, and I hear the place can get a little loud at the “normal Argentinian eating time” (ie, 10pm).  We’ve always eaten either lunch or “American” dinner (8pm), so that’s never been a problem for us.

Magdalena’s Pantry–Located in the hip neighborhood of Palermo Hollywood, we found this restaurant by searching for where all the expats hang out in BsAs.

Palacio de la Papa Frita— With a name that literally translates into French Fry Palace, you know this place has to be fun! Surprisingly formal for a place whose claim to fame is endless plates of delicious homemade french fries, we enjoyed our steak here (that can be cut with a spoon!) and obviously several plates of papas fritas.  Word to the wise–the portions are huge! It’s definitely possible to cut costs by splitting a meal.

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If we’re going to be honest, though, we often grab some food in the food court of Galerias Pacificos on Florida. A mall food court doesn’t sound exciting–but we’ve always enjoyed the options here. For the homesick foreigner, there’s a Subway that smells just like home (whether that’s a good or bad thing, that’s your call)–and it looks like a KFC will be opening up in there soon! We’ve tried the salad place (that actually does some very nice hot dishes too), the burger place (mediocre at best), and the Chinese place (passable, but nothing to write home about).  We’ve enjoyed the speedy WiFi and plenty of seating in an air conditioned area while we plot our next moves for the day.

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As always, we stayed in a Sheraton hotel–the Sheraton Libertador.  If you’re looking for an American-style hotel in Buenos Aires, I would highly recommend either Sheraton property.

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Buenos Aires–Estancia Santa Susana

In case you’re new to the blog, T and I live in rural Argentina.  So rural that sometimes the water main breaks and the entire town is out of water while every man in town gathers all of the duct tape and WD-40 he can find and stands around a giant hole and tries to fix it. (Welcome to two weeks ago.)

So rural that we often see gauchos (Argentinian cowboys) riding their horses on the way to work. We have more cows than people in our area. (See this post for how rural we are–we had a livestock show, and that was one of the social highlights of the town’s year.) However, it’s one thing to see them, and another to have them explain their customs to you in person. Thus, as part of our Buenos Aires trip last month, we decided to do another Viator trip and take a day at Estancia Santa Susana, about an hour outside of Buenos Aires.

The ranch is gorgeous, in that very pampas way. Flat land as far as the eye can see, dotted with horses and cattle placidly grazing. The ranch’s buildings were gorgeous, including a giant mess hall/dining room where we ate our lunch, horseback rides, a gift shop, and a huge grilling area.

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After a ride punctuated by lots of information from our guide about Argentina, gauchos, mate, and general Buenos Aires tidbits, we made it outside the city and to the ranch. We were greeted by ours hosts, dressed in traditional garb, holding small cups of Malbec and trays of empanadas.

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We scarfed down our empanadas and made our way over to the horses, where we could take  a trail ride. I’ve taken several trail rides, and this was by far the most placid experience ever. Great for those who have had hip surgery or are not really “horse people” (the rest of our group had 20 years on us at least), the horses knew exactly how to line up, and just stood there, waiting for the rest of the party to saddle up.  We walked around the field, and then came back. Not going to lie, I was hoping for something a little more lively, but it was still fun.

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After some time grabbing some photos of the ranch, checking out the gift shop (overpriced–but that’s to be expected), and generally soaking in some vitamin D…

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We went into the giant dining hall and were seated essentially by language group. We ended up in the midst of a sea of Aussies, Kiwis, and Scots who were in town for the Golden Oldies rugby tournament. Apparently, this group of seniors does a rugby tournament in a different country every few years. They were all incredibly friendly–but the wine and beer were endless, and in the immortal words of Robin Williams, “if you’d ever like a linguistic adventure, go drinking with a Scotsman.”  We had some lively conversations about the Scottish independence vote that had occurred the day before (apparently, it was common for families to be split straight down the middle in terms of opinion on this).

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After the obligatory meat feast–where we taught lots of people about morcilla, or blood sausage, which is much better on bread!–they started up a song and dance show. They did the usual tango dancing and gaucho ballads, and then moved into the tricks with the bolas, a throwing weapon used by the gauchos which in simplest terms are three balls tied together with leather strips that are used to catch cattle.  While the gentleman threw around the bolas, he did an intricate tap dance routine. Somehow, we didn’t get any pictures of this. I think we were too transfixed (and waiting for him to hit one of the chandeliers).

Finally, the day ended with a show of gaucho horse skills. They brought out a herd of ponies, and a few gauchos expertly navigated them all around the pasture–with the help of a doggy friend.

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Then they did the high-speed version of the ring grab you can still do at some carrousels in the US. Small metal rings were placed on the top of a wooden frame, and three gauchos would race to the frame to see 1) who could get there first and 2) who could get the ring. They gave out the rings as favors–and I managed to snag one that’s in my keepsake drawer for now! I even got to ride behind one of the gauchos and take a cantering spin around the ring.

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All in all, it was a great trip. We really enjoyed all of the people we met there–and it was nice to have such a diverse crowd of English speakers!

For those of you interested in a review of Viator for this trip–they did a good job. They had a van pick us up at our hotel, and then we journeyed around the city to pick up the rest of our party. The van was comfortable, the guide was very knowledgeable, and spoke Spanish, English, and Portuguese (we had a herd of very boisterous Brazilians in our group). I highly recommend it if you’re looking for the gaucho experience near Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires–The Argentine Experience

I’d like to put in my plug here for Viator.  No, I’m not being paid to do this.  I’ve just found their site, and their tours, to be super-helpful.  In English (with options in other languages), you can search out activities and trips by country, city, and region. We did a Viator on our honeymoon in Amsterdam last year and had a wonderful time at the Amsterdam Dungeon and on a Halloween-themed dinner cruise.  Because we were getting kind of desperate to talk in English to people, we decided to do two Viator activities in Buenos Aires. The first one was The Argentine Experience.

Sort of billed as a “closed-door” restaurant, the Argentine Experience is part restaurant, part cooking class, and part fiesta. It was started by several ex-pats who wanted to find a way to teach the tourists more about how to make Argentinian cuisine, and was financially backed by a famous Argentinian poker player. Located in the stylish Palermo neighborhood, it is a beautiful bar on the first floor for mixology classes, and a kitchen and long farmers’ style tables on the second floor.

We started the evening with a delicious cocktail made from malbec and fruit juices, and the very nice staff kept our wine glass filled the entire night.

Empanadas are generally translated into English as “turnovers,” although I’m not quite sure I would call them that. Empanadas are a staple in Argentinian cuisine. I think we did a rough estimate at some point and said that T and I have eaten over 1,000 empanadas since we got here in January. That’s a lot of empanadas. (They’re small–that’s why the number is so large.) If you’re unfamiliar, empanadas are pastries filled with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables. They’re generally the size of your palm, and they’re great and inexpensive street food.  The tricks to having a good empanada: 1) good ingredients put into them (in our case, a beautifully marinated pulled beef, some delicious cheese, and some malbec-cooked onions), 2) filling it with the correct amount of filling so it doesn’t leak out and leaves 2 cm around the entire circle of pastry, and 3) doing the repulgue correctly. Repulgue is one of those words that has no real English equivalent. It’s used specifically to describe the action taken to seal up the empanada and get it ready for cooking. Repulgue is an art form… which I am not fantastic at.

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After we made our “normal” empanada (and ate a bunch of the meat and onions on their own… oops), we had the creative empanada contest, where each person had to take two pastry sheets and make something interesting with their empanada.  It is well known that I am not a great artist. I do not free draw, I do not paint (unless it is a wall–I can do that), and I do not sculpt. It’s just not in my wheelhouse. Imagine my surprise when I was chosen as the winner for my “bear-pig-wombat” empanada.  (In reality, it was supposed to be a carpincho/capybara, but clearly my artistic skills were lacking.) I am now a social media star on The Argentine Experience Facebook page.

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We had the absolute best steak we’ve had in Argentina–and apparently it’s all about how to cook it. They have a special method that T took copious notes on–but it involves cooking it for a long time with two sources of heat (one on either side) and minimal flipping of the meat. Regardless, it was absolutely delicious–and I’m still salivating just thinking about it. The sides of vegetables (the absolute first time we have seen steamed vegetables as a side in Argentina, ever) and the mashed potatoes were awesome.

Then, on to some Argentinian phrases and hand gestures! (No, they didn’t teach us any of the dirty ones.) Basically, it was a great crash course in “things your taxi driver will probably say and do while navigating the insane traffic of Buenos Aires.”  It ended with us yelling “Que te pasa!” as loud as we could. (Essentially, “what the heck are you doing?!?” in Spanish.)  It was presented with a great deal of humor–and in terms that all of the Americans could understand.

Then–onto dessert! We made alfajores–which you’ll remember seeing in this blog post. Alfajores are different to every province, but the ones we made were essentially two vanilla wafers with a healthy dollop of dulce de leche in between them, rolled in coconut shavings, and dipped into chocolate. Heavenly.  And of course, because it is Argentina, we had mate.  They make mate a bit differently in Buenos Aires than they do in Corrientes/Misiones. In Buenos Aires, sugar is a required part of mate, since the drink can be so bitter. We were the only Americans who 1) knew what mate was, 2) had drank it before, and 3) had a vague idea how to prepare it. We definitely got the master class here, and drank a few delicious cups of it to end our meal!

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Overall: Total Win. We met a lot of awesome people–both fellow customers and the staff. It was great to share our experience, and to hear what other people were doing in Buenos Aires–and get great recommendations from the staff about where to get the best tacos. (Thanks, Fernando, for the  Fabrica del Taco rec–it was amazing!)  All in all–do it, especially if you’re only in Argentina for a bit and want to meet some of the great people on staff (who speak English) and learn a bit about Argentinian culinary customs.

We wandered around the Palermo neighborhood a bit after our dinner to soak in the great nightlife–it’s a really hopping place, with some fantastic bars and restaurants. (It was way too early for the nightclubs to even think about being open yet–although we saw some burly looking guys hanging around outside a club called Moscow.) We eventually grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, but got caught in a sea of people who were apparently coming back from a concert, or recital. We must have sat in the middle of an intersection for ten minutes until we found a moment to keep driving!

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Want to learn more about The Argentine Experience? Here’s their website, which includes recipes and fun blog posts.  Also, here’s the site for Viator. They do fun trips in lots of cities, and are a lovely way to do a structured tour or outing when you’re not entirely how to book it yourself–often with door to door service. And nope, not compensated by either of these awesome entities.

Final note: I apologize for these pictures–I do not look good in a chef’s hat, but it’s a requirement of the gig.

 

Buenos Aires–Dia de la Primavera and Sunday Ferias

Our last day in Buenos Aires was a Sunday–and since we were taking the later flight back to Posadas, we had almost a whole day to explore! We decided to walk to the famous Feria de San Telmo, which runs every Sunday in the neighborhood of (you guessed it!) San Telmo.  Some of the guidebooks we were a little iffy of where the feria actually started, but we had heard from one of the people we met at The Argentine Experience that it started near Plaza de Mayo.  Well, no, it didn’t–but we found a cute little eco-themed street fair. Loved the umbrellas!

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We ended up walking a loooong way, past the University of Buenos Aires engineering building, which I am sure was active, but looked to be crumbling. Then we walked up what I swear was the longest hill ever, and walked a few more blocks until we found the end (or beginning?) of Feria de San Telmo.

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Feria de San Telmo is a a huge street fair/antique market that runs every Sunday from around 10am to around 8pm.  (I say “around because it’s Argentina–things don’t really get hopping until about noon, after everyone has woken up frm the effects of their night clubbing.) It’s filled with antique stalls selling rotary phones, vintage silverware, and plenty of artisans selling paintings, mates, and all sorts of other Argentinian handicraft.

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Also, it’s filled with musicians, puppeteers, singers, tango dancers, and artists. I didn’t get a photo of it (boo, me!) but there was a guy there playing a saxophone he made out of a very large gourd–and it sounded just about right! We also saw a band for a local milonga (or tango dance club).  A word of warning–it gets VERY crowded at San Telmo. Watch your wallet–it is a notorious area for pickpockets. We didn’t have any problems (and I love my Magellan’s bag with a wire-mesh strap for occasions like this–Note: crud, looks like Magellan’s has undergone another sale. If they make it back, their anti-theft bags are great), but I can see how the crowds make it very easy for someone to just disappear with your belongings.

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Sunday ended up being a pretty special day in Argentina–Dia de la Primavera, or Spring Day. It always coincides with Student’s Day. The parks were filled to the brim with high schoolers and college students sunning themselves, listening to the free concerts, and playing frisbee or futbol in the many parks. It was a gorgeous day–and it was so cool to see everyone outside and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. We were sad we were only able to get some photos on our way to the airport!

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Buenos Aires–Recoleta

Now that we’ve talked about Eva Peron… let’s talk about where she is buried.

T was a little wary when I enthusiastically told him I wanted to visit a cemetery in Buenos Aires. When we visited Cementerio de la Recoleta … he immediately understood why we were there.  Unlike anything else I have seen before, Recoleta is a city of the dead. It is filled with elaborate mausoleums for the rich and powerful of Buenos Aires.

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What stood out the most for me was how different each tomb looked… and how some looked almost modern and were clearly well-kept by the family, while others were falling into disrepair.

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We wandered the rows for a while, marveling at the workmanship (and occasionally getting skeeved out by older caskets that seemed to warp the wood to almost opening). It’s easy to spend a few hours just wandering around and wondering what every person’s story was. My favorites were the ones that included photos and effects from those who were buried there–the family tried to tell a story of who these people were and what made them special.

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Loved the cemetery kitties!

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Incredibly creepy memorial.

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Some of the most important people in Argentinian history are buried there–including many of their “founding fathers” and pretty much every Argentinian president.  My Argentinian history is fairly rusty, so I wasn’t always quite sure what I was looking at.  We did see the tomb of the La Paz family, which still owns the media conglomerate of Argentina, as well as Carlos Saavedra Lamas, who was the first Latin American Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his diplomatic work in ending the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia (he also did a lot of legal work in establishing rights for workers in Argentina).

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However, by far the most popular tomb is that of Evita. She’s buried in the Duarte family tomb. (Remember how she was illegitimate? One of her legacies was making sure that illegitimate children would be referred to as natural children, in order to give them some legal standing.) It’s not the fanciest tomb in Recoleta, and it’s somewhat hard to find (we trailed a tour guide speaking in English until we found it). But it perpetually has flowers outside of it.

Here’s where I get to tell you the tale of Eva’s body. She died in 1952, and Dr. Pedro Ara was tasked with embalming the corpse and making her as lifelike as possible. The ultimate goal was to create a statue of a descamisada (literally, “shirtless one,” but the word used by Eva Peron to describe the poor in Argentina) with a tomb for Eva’s body in the base. She was to be in a crystal casket and be on display (like Lenin).  However, before the memorial could be creating, in 1955 the military overthrew Juan Peron and dictated a ban on Peronism until 1971. You could be punished for owning a photo of the Perons, or even speaking their names. In those years, Evita’s body went missing. According to this BBC story, her body was probably in a van, behind a cinema screen, in the Buenos Aires waterworks, and was ultimately removed to Juan Peron and his third wife Isabel in Spain.  They set about restoring Eva’s body, which had experienced some deterioration and mysterious wounds. In a very weird twist, they stored the body in their own home, on their dining room table.  In 1973, Juan and Isabel Peron returned to Argentina where they were elected President and Vice President, respectively. After Juan suddenly died, it was Isabel who ensured that Eva’s body was repatriated to Argentina for its final burial in Recoleta.

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Now, onto less grisly discussions… there was a beautiful outdoor market on the hill outside Recoleta that apparently runs every weekend. There you can buy all sorts of handmade crafts and goods–it was fun to walk around and see all of the ingenuity and creativity. We have plans to go back next time with a much larger suitcase to get some stuff as gifts and for ourselves! We clearly didn’t plan for all of the beautiful things we were going ot see in the market, and we only brought a small suitcase and two overnight bags total–so we’ll have to go back soon!

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Buenos Aires–Museo Evita

We did more than look at animals in Buenos Aires!  We also decided to check out some of the museums that we’ve been hearing so much about.

We had a disappointing moment at Museo de los Artes Decorativos (Decorative Art Museum) as only the first floor was open, and that floor was filled with a temporary exhibition of Italian paintings. The paintings were nice, but I wanted to see luxurious housewares! A bit of a disappointment, and I think we only spent about 30 minutes there.

Instead, we decided to hoof it over to Museo Evita, the museum all about Eva Peron, who is still referred to on Wikipedia as the Eternal Spiritual Leader of the Nation of Argentina.

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For those of you who missed the movie starring Madonna, Eva Peron was born in the rural pampas of Argentina, became an actress and moved to Buenos Aires, and married Col. Juan Peron, who became president in 1946. She was the first woman to appear with her husband on the campaign trail, and she was a tireless crusader for women’s suffrage.

She was a stylish lady, with many of the exhibitions including her outfits. She embarked on a “Rainbow Tour” of Europe in 1947, meeting many dignitaries and heads of state, wearing an extravagant wardrobe. She was well received in Franco’s Spain, and had mixed reviews in the rest of Europe.  I loved the black evening gown on display with feather trim. It would not have looked out of place in a red carpet lineup today.

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She was very philanthropic, and created her own Eva Peron foundation to focus her efforts on women, children, and the elderly. Through it, she established halfway houses (such as the one the museum is housed in), payments for single mothers, and a nursing school.

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By 1951, Evita’s popularity had reached such a fevered pitch that the population called on her to run for Vice President–something that was frowned upon by the military. The Cabildo Abierto was a giant rally in Buenos Aires held where the approximately two million Argentines attended to support the Peron ticket. However, ultimately, she decided to not pursue the Vice Presidency–which furthered her image as a selfless saint and upheld the strong belief in marianismo (another post for another day–where I’ll actually get to use some of the Spanish degree I earned!).

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By 1950, she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer, and she underwent a radical hysterectomy in an attempt to stop the spread of the cancer and was the first Argentine to try chemotherapy. By 1952, she was in a parade with her husband where she had to be supported to standing with a frame of plaster and wire. She ultimately succumbed to the disease on July 26, 2952.  All official government activities were suspended for two days, and her funeral was attended by over three million people. She was 33.

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Evita is a a contentious figure, particularly in Argentina. Her father was a wealthy rancher with multiple families–of which Eva’s was not the main one, so thus she wasn’t a “legitimate” child. She didn’t have much of a formal education, and was an actress–putting her on the outs with the traditional Argentine high society. Her Rainbow Tour of Europe was criticized as having been an expensive cover for her depositing vast amounts of Argentine money for the Peron’s personal use in a Swiss bank account. She gained more expensive tastes in clothing after her European tour, preferring skirt suits made by Dior and jewels by Cartier. Some have said that even her foundation was just a means to funnel money to the Peron’s personal bank accounts.  Even in her death, critics said that the outpouring of grief by the average Argentine was less of a real feeling of grief, and more of a reflection of how well the Peronist “passion plays” were distributed to the public.  One thing that is true beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Evita forged some of her documents. She forged a birth certificate that listed her as the child of two legitimate parents, and also changed her birth year to make her three years younger.  She was possibly a fascist, and indeed the time when her husband was in power (either in the military or as president) was the time when Nazis were escaping to Argentina–although there has been some discussion that she was less fascist and more the victim of her husband’s influence and went along with his views.

I was surprised that the museum did address some of these criticism, despite its benefactors–it was created by her niece and is funded by her foundation. Although it didn’t reflect all of the criticisms, it did address her illegitimacy, and her “other-ness” within established Argentinian society. The museum noted that she could be incredibly brash and brusque, and that tended to put her at odds with others in power, particularly in the military. It didn’t address the later issues of Juan Peron (google “Dirty War” for a primer on that), but focused only on Evita’s experience.

Evita’s legacy is an interesting one, and one that is wholly Argentinian. She combined radical leadership, spirituality, and femininity into a package that stirred the people to act. It was revolutionary that a woman held the power that she did in the very macho Argentinian society. She is featured on the Argentinian peso, and regardless of the political party, she is still considered an important part of Argentine history. In some portions of Argentine society, she is even considered a saint!

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The museum itself was built in 2002, and is well-presented. There are videos of her speeches and appearances, and plenty of her stylish outfits on display, as well as some items that are related to either her or her works. I enjoyed how the museum told the story of the building’s role as a halfway house founded by Evita’s foundation. It only took about 2 hours to go through the entire museum, and I read everything. If you go, look on the wall near the doors for the plaques with the English translation of (most of) the written descriptions in the room.

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Also, the restaurant attached to Museo Evita is excellent–it had a long line for the sunny patio seats that were pet-friendly, but we were too hungry to wait and took a table inside by a large window and got some vitamin D from in there. The menu was modern, tasteful, and full of variety. I enjoyed my chicken and vegetable ravioli, and T enjoyed his gnocchi, but we absolutely loved the bread best–warm, freshly baked, and filled with fresh herbs. The dipping sauce that came with it was very Argentinian–mayonnaise with sun-dried tomatoes and red pepper, which is not odd to the average mayo-obsessed Argentinian, but definitely was not what we were expecting!

We would highly recommend Museo Evita–it’s a short trip (and pretty close to Zoo Buenos Aires) that is presented in an interesting way with a good cafe to end the afternoon. However–definitely do some additional reading on Evita and, if you’re feeling ambitious, the Peron legacy, to understand how contentious a figure Evita can be. It’s more than “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina!”

Buenos Aires–Zoo Buenos Aires

On a whim we decided to visit Zoo Buenos Aires while we were in town. We had already gone to Temaiken and loved it, but we were already walking around the perimeter of the zoo, and it was a beautiful day, so we decided to pay the approximately $14 each and go in.

The pros: The zoo has a lot of animals you can see close up, much like Temaiken. They’re right there! In many cases, you can feed the animals. Just buy the little bucket of animal feed, and you can feed lots of deer, bison, monkeys, etc.

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They also have maras–lots of them. They are free-roaming, and they are on every available grassy patch. They are friendly and adorable and by far were my favorite part of the zoo. We also saw some free-ranging nutria (kind of a groundhog with a long rat-like tail that gets made into coats in the US)!

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If you look closely near the brush, there’s a whole den of baby maras hanging out there.

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Nutria and rhea

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They also have a large amount of capybaras/carpinchos that you can see up close (though unfortunately not pet…). I was happy to see such a big herd of them. Capys are happiest in a big crowd.

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A whole nest of carpinchos. Plus a nutria with an identity crisis.

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The big con: this is a zoo in the truest of forms. That means that some of the cages are small, the animals have virtually no room to run around, and they aren’t given proper stimulation/toys. Also, the pellets you feed to the animals are one size fits all, so they’re not specific to the animal’s diets. The animals in Zoo Buenos Aires were not nearly as happy as those in Temaiken. Well, except for the maras and nutrias, who seemed pretty pleased overall.

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Was it worth it? Eh. Obviously, there were some high points, but the zoo is a bit run-down, and clearly focused on making the people happy, not so much the animals.

Buenos Aires–Bioparque Temaiken

T and I just made it to a big work milestone, so we decided to take a few vacation days and continue our exploration of all of the sights of Buenos Aires!

One of the first items on our list was Bioparque Temaiken. It’s about 40 minutes outside of Buenos Aires (although a little longer for us, since our taxi got stuck in major traffic due to some sort of political demonstration). All in all, it’s about 50 km outside of the city in Belen de Escobar, which is a suburb of the city very reminiscent of a US suburb. It cost us about AR$170 (or approximately $14USD) each to get in. If you take a taxi, make sure they are willing to wait for you! There’s virtually no taxis in this area. Ours cost AR$1500 ($125) which included the ride there and back, plus four hours of waiting. There are buses that go there (see Viator for the most up-to-date offers) for about $50 per person, including admission and a private guide–but we figured that out after the fact.

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We loved Temaiken. Their focus is on preserving wildlife, rehabilitating animals caught in the illegal exotics trade, and protecting wildlife native to Argentina. All of the enclosures were clean, airy, and bright, and you could get so close to all of the animals. We have never been to a zoo where the animals were so active and looked so happy. Although there are no guide books in English, it’s pretty easy to figure out which animal is which. They do have a 360 degree theatre, which offers one show a day in English. We missed that, though, because we were too busy watching all of the animals! We remarked several times that Temaiken felt like one of the most “American” things we’ve done down here–in that it was clean, modern, well-organized, and everything seemed to happen on schedule. They had several very cute playgrounds for kids, which were well maintained and the kids seemed to really be enjoying! Lots of shade, lots of places to stop and rest.

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Another great kid activity? The farm animal/petting zoo area. It was filled with cows, chickens, sheep, and goats. Also–the lushest vegetable garden (or huerta) we have seen yet. We were definitely salivating as we looked at the huge vegetables, and plotting how to make our own huerta look half as good!

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Bioparque Temaiken is just one portion of the Fundación Temaiken’s mission. Up in our neighboring province, Missiones, they have a full rehabilitation center. They also have a full breeding center outside of Buenos Aires (for those Smithsonian Zoo buffs, it works pretty much exactly like Front Royal). They attract a lot of school groups, and focus their efforts on educating kids to respect the environment, not keep exotics as pets, and teach them about their country.The main attraction was the monkeys, and they had cute little signs all around the park that said things like “Monkeys don’t wear deodorant,” “Monkeys don’t use WiFi,” and “Monkeys don’t use mattresses.”  Very cute.

_DSC0202 There was an on-site animal hospital showing some of the current animals that are receiving rehabilitation. There was an adorable baby aardvark there (did you know they cling to their mother’s back for the first nine months of their lives?), plus some snakes and lizards. In an outdoor pen, they had a sloth that had been hit by a car in Corrientes province (where we are) and received care, and a monkey that had been found in the black market.

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The variety of animals was kind of astonishing–beautiful bright pink flamingos, various varieties of antelope, peacocks, yacares (crocodiles), and much more!

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I think this is one of the only zoos I know of that has a bat (murcielago) exhibit–and you could even go into the enclosure on this one. These were vampire bats, and they were HUGE.

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Our most exciting portion of the day was in the large bird area. T is apparently very popular with birds. We went up to an observation deck in the African bird area, and when we went down the stairs, a bird decided that a step belonged to him, and attacked T’s shoelaces. We had a small crowd watching as the bird pecked feverishly at T’s feet for a while. (No worries–he was wearing steel toe shoes, and we ended up going down the other set of stairs and retracing our steps.)

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Later on, in the parrot area (which was awesome–you can get so close to such beautiful birds) there were two blue parrots that were not happy about life. They were cackling at people and being fairly aggressive. Unfortunately, they were also right next to the exit door. At one point, the birds flew at a little boy! Again, it was T to the rescue–he let the parrots attack his steel toes while I and some other zoo patrons made it through the door.

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The were biting at the cage bars after we left the enclosure!

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Just a few parrots strolling through the underbrush.

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They may look calm here–but these are the two infamous blue parrots.

_DSC0543 _DSC0549 The rest of the bird area was great–again, very active animals and lots of great photo opportunities!

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Temaiken even has an aquarium, complete with some great exhibitions on both local and more exotic fish. There’s a huge tank of rays (which are native to here–we see one near the dam at work all of the time), and there was a really impressive tank filled with giant rays, sharks, and some of the bigger fish. We couldn’t get great photos of that–too dark, but got some other good ones!

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This is a piranha. They are deceptively pretty, with gold sparkles.

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There was a part of the park more dedicated to local fauna–such as the rhea (sort of like a slightly smaller ostrich that’s brown), and maras (which are pretty much what you would get if you crossed a capybara/carpincho with a rabbit).  Maras are one of the national animals of Argentina–and you’ll hear more about them in a later blog post!

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All in all, we had a great time and highly recommend Temaiken to anyone who is visiting Buenos Aires and has a spare day to get out of the city center!

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Buenos Aires–Bookstore Heaven in El Ateneo

I realized I forgot one more set of pretty pictures from Buenos Aires!

I love bookstores–always have, always will. Even despite my strong love of my Kindle (pretty much the best way to get books in your own language no  matter what country you’re in), I love wandering a good bookstore, reading the titles, and seeing what’s popular with the staff and what the best sellers are.

El Ateneo is a book lover’s paradise. Situated in the old Teatro Gran Splendid, the four floor of the bookstore are overflowing with books, movies, and music. The stage itself was turned into a fancy little cafe.

Although I was hoping for a foreign language section (and thus, hopefully, some English books!) or at least a Spanish to Guarani dictionary, no dice to both of them. Oh well, we got to enjoy the beautiful architecture and peruse the pretty books!

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