Argentina is a vast country, twelve times the size of Great Britain. It takes a modern jetliner five hours to fly over the country from north to south. It can take a person a year to do justice to only a part if it. Obviously, for a tourist with around two weeks to spare, selection becomes important. You have to do Buenos Aires, and then choose a containable geographic area; say the north or the south, unless there is a theme to your visit. Being a wine tourist I had to do Mendoza. I also had to see the lake of Glaciers in the South, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I was also interested in Salta in the north, to which I eventually went, gladly, but it was a toss-up between going there or to Cordoba. Areas and activities in which I was not interested included the Iguazu Falls (we have Victoria Falls on our doorstep), visiting an Estancia in the Pampas, which is nothing but spending a day on a farm, and say seeing whales and penguins off the Southern coast (they abound in the Western Cape). There were also things I would have liked to do but didn’t have the time (e.g. Salta Tren des Nubes, Calayate, Clos de los Siete Winery, Santa Catalina, the rock faces of Talampaya Park etc). But one can’t do everything. A great art of life is to learn that you’re bound to miss out on many things. I made sure to ask advice from friends and it proved an invaluable addendum to other sources of information. As always, my reliable Eyewitness travel guide eased my trip there.
Greater Buenos Aires is an enormous city of around 13 million people. It is a city with strong European influences. Parts of it resemble Paris in architecture. This of course makes sense because before the great depression Argentina was the eighth richest country in the world, exporting shiploads of meat to Europe in exchange for architects, builders, plasterers and art deco furniture. Since then the economy has suffered periodic economic collapses, and the one exploitative regime after the other has wracked its citizens. But the people have bumbled along regardless, and I found Argentina a fresh, polished and seemingly prosperous country. So set up a budget and go there. Warning: Hotel rooms are small in Buenos Aires, not unlike Italian and French hotels. Accommodation is roomier outside the capital. Consider paying up for accommodation if you need the space. They all have bidets though, very French, so you can be nice and clean.
When travelling to a new city I always take a city tour to get my bearings. That done, I head straight for the national art museum to see my friends who are waiting for me there, as they are in most large cities. I mean Vincent, Pablo, Claude, Frans, Peter Paul, Edgar and of course Francisco, to you, the great Spanish artist Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, or simply Goya (1746 – 1828). Like most young men of his day Goya was impassioned by the possibilities that the French revolution held for mankind, only to be deceived by the ensuing Reign of Terror and Napoleonic wars, for of course, life disappoints those of noble ideals, turning them into cynics. Beethoven was similarly deceived. He initially dedicated his third symphony to Napoleon, but changed his mind as the destructive plot behind the campaign for La Gloire de la France became clear, dedicating his Eroica symphony – one of the greatest works in music – to all heroic people instead. Here’s Goya again, who like a convulsed voyeur ceaselessly protests the invasion of war and inhumanity in stark scenes he personally witnessed, shouting “No! Horror!” against the rifles and canons and an idealism gone wrong. It infuriates, upsets and makes me cower across an ocean and two centuries of time, here, in Buenos Aires, today, as great art is meant to do. In an adjacent painting Goya captures for us the sick ritual of a group of white-hooded penitents, their backs bleeding from self-flagellation and mortification to flush out the demons of sins beyond pardon, pity or absolution. (Are you enjoying my Argentina travelogue thus far? Good!) Go see the great Goya and other Greats at the Museo Nacional de las Bellas Artes. Also go to MALBA, the contemporary Latin American art museum of Buenos Aires. Look out for the tree tendrils that straighten out into a park bench over two floors and the hot house amongst other works.
Then there are other things. Visit the famous cemetery in Recoleta, one of the Suburbs of Buenos Aires. Everyone wants to see Evita’s grave and it is unremarkable by the standards of other graves. It’s possibly a good two hours’ worth of you time. Spend at least a day in St Telmo, a vibrant area of Buenos Aires where you can browse for antiques in dozens of shops. It’s one of the older areas and brims with life, people, café’s, street life and is considered to be the true heart of Buenos Aires by many. Stop at Café Dorrego on the main square in St Telmo for a drink; it’ll remind you, with a variation of flavour, of the brasseries on the Île St. Louis in Paris. Drink up the street life and enjoy the buskers and tango musicians. Warning: Be careful of the “original art work and antiques” on sale in St. Telmo shops. A lot are not authentic, even though they swear it is and proffer certificates of authentication. If you’re not an expert and doubt your bargain, especially if it sounds cheap, then follow your instinct. I bought “the Corkscrew Tango”, an “original” piece that the good people at the EdeA Gallery at 771 Defensa are assuring originality by sending me a certificate of authentication signed by the painter no less (see pic). There is no other one like it in the world I was told. Well, the first thing Shirley at Maxwell Framers in Cape Town said of it was that it seemed like lacquer over an acrylic print! So, what I bought is probably a copy by the same artist of one of his works in slight variation. Original, is it not? Also – some of the chandeliers and antiques are also reproductions. I have photos of chandeliers of promised authenticity (French 1930’s they said) which I had checked out by experts in Cape Town who had been there and who know the market. All modern reproductions! And they, too, had the temerity to offer me certificates of authentication! So one learns…
Go to El Caminito, where the city and the tango started. Very touristy though. Warning: Avoid a free tango lesson thrown in as a prize by your hotel or travel agent etc. You will find yourself with millions of yanks in a crowded space and you will learn nothing. We managed to avoid that. Take in the atmosphere of the Boca Juniors stadium nearby if you must. Unless you’re soccer-mad do not go to see a Boca Juniors match. It’s crowded and dangerous with pickpockets and sharps lurking about I’m told. Personally I’d rather you go to a polo match in Palermo instead, but then that’s me.
Have high tea at the Alvear Palace Hotel– a must. Please dress up, for it’s grand and you will be in the midst of smart waiters in red jackets, black bowties and white gloves who will serve you tea, or champagne, quite erect, with one had behind their back in an old-world-styled service. Everything oozes class. You will also notice tables of dowagers in furs having grand moments, a pianist with a far-away expression tinkling the ivories in a corner and huge vases of flowers in front of gilded mirrors. Follow this up the next day with tea at the Café Tortoni, an iconic establishment founded in 1858. Café Tortoni has been frequented by armies of dignitaries and intellectuals over the decades, including the circle of Jorge Luis Borges, their great writer, to which a corner is dedicated. Plea: Despite its history and grandeur, the Café Tortoni remains a café and is not a restaurant. Do not disgrace yourself there by ordering a double burger and chips with a slop of ketchup on the side. It is not the Wimpy in Bellville. Order a delicate French pastry like a mille-feuille. Admire the French architecture of the Avenida de Mayo, and grand buildings like Aguas de Argentina and the Congreso de la Nation.
Go to the Microcentro to see the Casa Rosada and the balcony from which Evita greeted the people, and amble around the Plaza 25 de Mayo with a minor obelisk and the Metropolitan Cathedral where San Martin the liberator lies buried. Tip: Try to go there on Thursday afternoons when the Mothers of the Disappeared do their weekly protest on the Plaza de Mayo. This strongly evokes Argentina’s troubled political past – there’s always a dark side to things. As for statues of men with swords on horses, of which there seems to be one in every square in Argentina including on the Plaza de Mayo; I don’t care much for them. They’ve usually killed, even if out of necessity. I much prefer men with books.
Go to an opera at the Opera Colon. The grand building is still under renovation but its shows are being hosted in adjacent buildings. I was looking forward to seeing Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, but it was unfortunately cancelled owing to the H1N1 ‘flu. So we went to two shows on the Avenida Corrientes instead, the Broadway of Buenos Aires. We saw Vedetissima, a comedy revue where the dancers had the most divine bodies and not much else, extremely tasteful, and the Jazz show Caravan – world class. See a tango show or even better dance at a Milonga. Treat yourself to two outstanding restaurants: La Cabrera in Palermo/Belgrano for a traditional Argentinean meal. It was the tastiest meat I’ve ever had. Another excellent one is Cabaña las Lilas in Puerto Madero, reputed to have the best parilla (barbecued meat) in the country. A good Spanish restaurant is Asturias in Avenida de Mayo, but it’s very Spanish with no English menu – they don’t really care for tourists there, about time. Excellent! Having said that, the food is good all over Argentina. We had excellent meals in unpretentious restaurants everywhere, including in St Telmo. Warning: Argentina is the largest beef producer in the world and is a meat-eating country, and in scale. Do not expect extensive vegetarian/politically correct/salad-preponderant/ organic/gluten-lacto-ovo-intollerant friendly/effete karmic-aware menus, or for that matter sushi or tofu, especially in smaller establishments. For that, rather go to Japan or to Greenpoint. Boerewors-free barbecues are all over though, and are called asados. There is good trout and salmon to be found, most of it farmed in lakes around Bariloche.. At least one fish dish is served in most eateries we frequented though.
It is said that Buenos Aires has the highest number of psychologists per capita of any city in the world, so there must be some stressed people about. Wouldn’t you if you were told not to cry? As a country? On its way through town our tour bus stopped briefly at a park in Palermo. A man walking a dog suddenly stopped upon seeing the bus, and let rip against the damned tourists of the world. We were the scum of the earth, responsible for global warming, the financial crisis, the decimation of equatorial forests and the clubbing of baby seals in Alaska. We were despicable creeps upon whom he spat, he shouted. Understanding frustration extremely well, I opened my window and tried to placate him with a soft “Hola, Hola”. Did this calm him down, gentle friends? No, the very opposite. He let rip into my mother to a degree that I started being sorry I understood Spanish. “Hola, Hola” I persisted. No use. He progressed to my sisters, passing comments on their lineage – inaccurately I must add – before descending to various parts of their anatomy I’ll rather not bother you with. My poor sisters. Their ears probably rang red in faraway London! Thank heavens I don’t have a brother. I shudder to think what honours might have been showered on him. “Hola, Hola”.
Argentineans are otherwise a friendly, easy-going people who engage easily without cloying to one. But be warned: They are a soccer-mad people and you’re bound to be asked questions about El FIFA Mundial de 2010, the strikes at construction sites, the quality of our national team etc. etc. If you’re in a hurry say you’re actually a polo expert.
If you have a day, take the ferry to the Uruguayan town of Colonia, an hour across the river from Buenos Aires. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was founded by the Portuguese in 1680. It has perfectly preserved original houses and a church from the period, and still boasts the remnants of a bull ring. There are the most enormous plane trees lining its avenues. On my walk around the old town I came across a tavern playing Amália Rodrigues fados in keeping with the town’s Portuguese origins. This naturally merited a good glass of wine. Uruguay’s best wines are made from the Tannat grape with which they’re having success and are winning international awards. Tannat is to Uruguay as Malbec is to Argentina as Pinotage is to South Africa, i.e. varietals whose best expressions are found in terroirs within a national border. South Africans must push harder for Pinotage, down their throats too. It’s useless trying to compete with a wall of Cabernet Sauvignons on the shelves of international wine shops.
Buenos Aires is a shopper’s paradise. There are tastes for all pockets, from the expensive Gallerias Pacifico to the pedestrian malls like Avenida Florida. Even if you aren’t a book lover buy a book at El Ateneo on Avenida Santa Fé. This reconverted grand theatre must be the most impressive book shop in the world. The stage has been converted into a brimming piano bar, the stalls converted to bookshelves and around the erstwhile exits readers sit in easy chairs browsing books, from old men in blankets to young women in jeans. I bought Geometry for Tourists by Aldini there, in Spanish of course. Buy Argentinean leather; it’s cheap and good, being a side-product of a huge meat industry. I saw both ordinary and quite exquisite pieces. Buy exquisite. Warning: You have to take time for this and it helps to know your leather. Often you can buy a beautiful piece a few hundred meters away from say the Gallerias Pacifico, but you can also be had. Despite “Clothes maketh the Man” I tend to look at what people say and act and not at what they wear, a dictum I apply to my person as well (haven’t you noticed?). However, I must say the clothes at the male store Etiqueta Negra, to which I went on the strong recommendation of a female friend, was just about the best I had seen anywhere, as had she. Buy. Tip: Carry as little luggage with you to Buenos Aires and shop there. You’re in any case only allowed 15kg on internal flights (less than the 20kg of international economy flights!) Travel light to have room for leather and clothes bought there. Prices are reasonable. In fact, I’d say at current exchange rates the prices are on par with South African prices, if not cheaper. Many things are much cheaper, like taxis, which I used extensively.
There’s so much to suggest, but after six days in Buenos Aires I flew to El Calafate in Patagonia to see the National Glacier Park. This was one of the highlights of my touring life. Take the ferry tour for a day around the lake and gaze upon the glaciers of Uppsala, Spegazzini and Perito Moreno. The glaciers all originate from the same ice shelf high up in the Southern Andes. The winds go around the globe at that latitude, picking up moisture, and then come up the mountain range where all is deposited as snow on an ice shelf. This slowly compacts and eventually flows away, leading to the formation of glaciers. Have a drink on the boat where glacial ice of the day is served on board. Glacial ice is different from the ice in your freezer as it is compacted snow rather than frozen water. Stare at the blues hues of the icebergs broken away from the glaciers on the Lago Argentino. Return the next day for a day trip to the Perito Moreno Park – a natural wonder. Tip: If you intend going there in Winter, do not book your plane ticket and accommodation in advance. When it snows the airport sometimes closes and transport becomes difficult. I was lucky. Although it was July, the tour guide said we were experiencing autumn, not winter. Rather take your chances after checking the weather forecast in Buenos Aires. The pass to the Perito Moreno park costs 60 pesos and is valid for two consecutive days – remember to take it along on the second day or else you will have to pay again. There are many tour offices in the main street of El Calafate from which you can book the tours. Dress warmly. What I didn’t see: The palaeontology of Patagonia, Mt Fitz Roy, Route 40, the world’s southernmost town Ushuaia, the trip to Antarctica… I did however manage to eat at the two very good restaurants of La Tablita and Casimiro Biguá. I also had my only genuine mate out of a gourd in a coffee/bookshop in El Calafate. It’s a bitter tea that everyone in Argentina seems to sip but which is surprisingly difficult to order in restaurants except in tea-bag variety. Mate is to be tried only once. There are only so many acquired tastes one’s system can absorb in a lifetime, and it’s not worth spending one of them on mate. In El Calafate you can try things like black hake, Patagonian crab and some excellent salmon if you become nauseous of meat. If not, apart from the standard parilla, try the excellent sheep sweetbread which is a rarity. There are good wine lists too but they are mostly expensive wines from Mendoza.
From there I flew via Buenos Aires to Mendoza in the wine country Cuyo. Warning: All regional flights in Argentina go via Buenos Aires. This is very frustrating. To get to a town say 500km away, you have to fly 2000km via far-off Buenos Aires. It’s very inefficient for the traveller. Make more use of buses if you can. They are clean, timely, reliable and commodious. We used the Andesmar coaches. The seats are wider than business class seats on aeroplanes and more comfortable. The price of a ticket depends on the angle to which the seats fold open. First class opens flat like a bed, with successively cheaper seats opening 150 and 120 degrees. You save on a flight as well as on a hotel room if you travel overnight, and you arrive fresh. But be sure to have a roll of toilet paper ready. Some of the toilets at smaller stations didn’t have any.
Mendoza is one of the world’s wine capitals. The quality of wine has improved immeasurably since the early 1990’s when serious foreign capital started pouring into the Winelands. I saw the space-age modern wineries, and the wines – Malbec having found a natural home there – are outstandingly good. I tasted many reserve Malbec wines from the great houses, and I must say they are on par with the best New World wines. An interesting variable of wine growing in Mendoza is the effect of altitude above sea level on wine. At the boutique winery Achaval Ferrer, we tasted barrel samples of Malbec wines grown at 600, 900 and 1200 metres above sea level, the latter grown in volcanic ash. A great experience. At higher altitudes the grapes grow thicker skins, which in turn impart richer flavours and deeper colours to the wines they produce. If you don’t have the time to tour, an excellent place to buy wine in Mendoza itself is The Winery. They have the best wine range in Mendoza and I found the staff knowledgeable.
Instead of struggling with right-hand-side driving, maps and GPS, we decided to hire a winelands tour-guide for two days, arranged by the concierge at the Executive Hotel. The first trip was in the surrounds of the town of Mendoza itself. I visited the wineries of Weinert, Luigi Bosca, Lagarde, Carmine Granata, Achaval Ferrer and Don Arturo. Warning: All estate visits in Argentina are done strictly by appointment, or so I was told. It’s not like on South African wine routes where you drive around and drop in to taste at your leisure. They must know you’re coming. Also, the wineries are not contiguous are they are in say Stellenbosch, and require much travel between them. Bear this in mind if you decide to do the tour by yourself in a hired car. The second day was a longer trip further away from town. The intention was to visit the cutting-edge wineries of Salentein, O’Fournier and Clos des los Siete, at which I had a contact given to me in South Africa. We did the first two and then had a long lunch there with an Australian couple we met. Our respective tour guides knew each other and had lunch somewhere on the premises. We suspected they’re looked after by the winery’s restaurant. The lunch was good and long, and when we were ready to leave at 16H30 the tour guides told us it was too late to visit Clos des los Siete as we had taken too long over lunch. Bad bad bad! Why did they not call us earlier if they knew that was the case? Because (i) if we tarried they did not have to drive all the way there (ii) they could sit and natter at leisure if we took out time, and besides (iii) we weren’t exactly repeat customers. Tip: If you do a wine tour with a driver, insist he calls you away from lunch in time for you to complete the tour as per your contract! But the wines are exceptional. You need at least a week to do the region justice. I brought back four Argentinean wines from the duty free shop at the airport: Warning: Do not try to take wines bought in Mendoza to the airport – it will be confiscated under the international no-liquids rule. It could prove an expensive purchase or the tastiest down-down you’ll ever have. Also, do not risk having a bottle breaking over your leather filled suitcase. You’ll rue not having tasted every drop.
The last leg the tour took me to Salta the Beautiful, in the Andean Northwest, from which we explored the Quebrada de Humahuaca. This was a sight. Salta was founded in 1582. Most of the important buildings and churches are clustered around the Plaza 9 de Julio. (The 9th June is Argentina’s National day. A disproportionate number of streets are named after auspicious dates in their history, or after guys to whom they also build statues on horsebacks with swords.) A day spent in Salta town itself is rewarding. Tip: Try to arrange your visit there on the alternate Saturday when the colourful changing of the guard ceremony occurs around the main square. I was lucky to witness it.
Salta has a vibrant night life in the Avenida Balcarce, a historic area with indigenous houses that reminds one a bit of De Waterkant in Cape Town. There are shows of traditional folk dancing and music in many of the restaurants, which alas were mostly empty at the time. The economic crisis was biting viciously there. A good restaurant at Salta is Jose Balcance at the corner of Mitre and Necochea, where they are trying to promote the best in regional cuisine, like llama carpaccio. Unlike the snake I ate in Vietnam, where I struggled to find a food to compare it to when explaining the taste, I can confidently state that llama tastes very much like kid (i.e. goat’s meat). Warning: Argentineans eat late – they start between 9 and 10 PM. We arrived at this restaurant at 20H15 to be told that they only opened at 9PM! If you can’t last until then arrange for an early evening snack to tide you over.
I visited the disturbing MAAM museum in Salta, the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña. This was nonetheless a highlight of my trip, for the most meaningful things in life are not always pleasant. The museum specializes in high altitude archeology. After studying records and searching Llullaillaco mountain, in 1999 archeologists found three mummies of children that the Inca used to ritually sacrifice on high mountains at the four corners of their empire. These children were selected for their beauty and the standing of their families in society. The higher priesthood selected these sacrificial lambs during religious rites in celebration of key events in the life of the Inca emperor. It was considered an honour if the choice befell your child. The chosen were dressed up in the best robes, showered with gifts, celebrated at large gatherings and then handed over to minders who would take them on a year’s journey to high mountain tops (6700m in this case) at the four corners of the Inca empire where they were left to die alone. Exposure got them before hunger did. The Inca’s did not believe these children died, but that they went straight to The Inca.
Apart from films and the usual museum pieces, the MAAM displays these sacrificed foundlings one at a time for six months behind a screen in a wide airtight glass column. The other two are kept in laboratories. There are warnings for you to opt out if you do not want to see the mummy. The display is very controversial in that these are human beings on display, not mere artifacts, and as such are deserving of our respect. I took a deep breath and paced around the screen and saw a little girl in the lotus position wrapped in a blanket, perfectly preserved for us by snow for over five hundred years. Her face was tilted upwards, her eyes closed, her mouth a little open. Her little shoes and other belongings were on display as well. She was beautiful and shared the features of the indigenous South American people one starts seeing around Salta and increasingly towards the Bolivian border. The museum note says that the left side of her face was probably injured by lightening three hundred years ago. (She is hence known as the Lightning Girl). Photographs were not allowed, but I managed to find one on the Internet prior to reconstructive surgery being carried out on her face. Words fail to express the emotions I felt when looking at her, and when I thought of the probable experiences she must have had in her short life. In a way she did not die after all, for here she was, in a frozen pain stoically borne, beyond complaint, radiance or pathos. What would Goya have painted? Another disappointment from the dark side of Religion.
When you’ve regained your composure, take a day trip to the Quebrada of Humahuaca, a long gorge to the north of Salta. The scenery astounds. Visit the seven-coloured hills around the village of Purmamarca, Tilcara with houses of the original inhabitants before the Inca’s came. I saw llamas there for the first time, as well as a single guanaco. There are four types of camelids in South America, viz. llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas. The first two are domesticated but the last two are not. Llama wool is the coarsest, followed by guanaco, then alpaca wool, which is fine and relatively expensive. The finest natural wool in the world is however from the vicuña, a poncho from which I was told could cost around 1500 USD. If you’re feeling generous my birthday is on the 7th August. Every year. If you’re feeling less generous, the Achaval Ferrer Malbec 2006 grown in volcanic ash at 1200m costs only 120 USD. As I said, it’s on the 7th August every year. The national park also has many giant cacti, which are surprisingly woody, not fleshy. Who would’ve wondered woody, would you?
From there we travelled further northwards to Humahuaca at 3000 metres above sea level, so high my cigar flame-thrower wouldn’t work. Warning: Nice indigenous old ladies will come up to your park bench in the garden in front of the church while you’re having a glass of Lagarde Reserve Malbec 2006 and your Ramon Allones Havana cigar, lit with borrowed matches. They will try to sell you bracelets of Peruvian silver at 20 pesos a throw. “Peruvian silver” is elsewhere known as mass-produced Chinese tin. Genuine. Also – that oh-so-lovely pan flute CD that’s playing down the streets from a curio shop’s speakers and sounds so rustic? Resist. It will sound terrible at home after your CD of Wagner duets.
On your way back drop into the church at Uquia, where you can see the Cuzco school of paintings of arcabuceros – angels that look like Spanish 18thC noblemen with Spanish weapons, but who have wings. These unusual paintings languished for years in a Buenos Aires museum after being carted away from this church, before their worth was realized and they were restored and brought back. Go see. Also stop at the Painter’s Palette Hill at the Maimara cemetery. The geological formation will fascinate you. Tip: If you decide to do the trip on your own, make sure you stop at the right time of day at the various stops, for the beauty of the geology and the colours are light dependant. You want the sun, not the shade, on the rocks. We stopped on places on the left going north in the morning, and again on places on the left in the afternoon going South, when the sun came from our right. If you have the time, I hear the Train of the Clouds (Tren de las Nubes) in a must, rising on “stilts in parts” to 4200 metres!
Ah, it was all too good. Perhaps I should spend a year in Argentina and get a job like being the heavy breather on Track 11 on Disk 1 of the Buenos Aires-Paris Electronic Tango Anthology (www.pmbmusic.com, double-CD, Tango [neuvo] series, 2007). Or perhaps emit the baby sounds towards the end of the track. I, too, have the right to dream, or what?
General Section for the Traveller to Argentina
1. Take enough US dollars to Argentina – do not rely solely on your credit card. The credit card machines in shops and restaurants are often “out of order”. Also, Visa is the most widely used. My Mastercard wasn’t accepted at a few establishments, neither do I believe is Diners’ Club accepted all over. So, take enough of Uncle Sam’s greenbacks along. That is accepted all over excepting for taxis and small shops.
2. Carry peso notes of small denominations if you use taxis – they often will not have change for anything larger than a 50 peso note.
3. If you do not speak Spanish, have your hotel’s card with you all the time to show to taxi drivers. They do not speak English and might not understand the way you pronounce your hotel’s name. Also ask the concierge to write the name of any place you want to visit on a card for the taxis. Have a map at the ready.
4. If you do speak some Spanish and want to practice it, tell people you are French speaking, else those who speak some English will switch over to broken English and you will spend your holiday listening to bad English instead of foisting your bad Spanish onto them. Nobody speaks arrogant French these days so you’re fine with the French line.
5. Take a pocket knife and a hard plastic plate with you everywhere– it can be useful for a quick snack or for some fruit you might want to buy. Always have toilet paper with you (that goes for anywhere in the world by the way). Always have a corkscrew and two wine glasses at the ready in case the opportunity to partake of a good Malbec – say a Luigi Bosca 2006 Reserve – suddenly presents itself.
6. Tap water is potable in Mendoza, being straight from the Andes, but it’s not the case everywhere. Buy bottled water from supermarkets at around 3 pesos for 2,5 litres. Resist the Evian water at 22 pesos per litre that hotels place in your room for your tantalising convenience. I once opened one by mistake.
7. Argentina is not an expensive country at current exchange rates (one ARS peso = 2.12 ZAR). The discount in prices to European cities is similar to South Africa’s for the same quality merchandise. So one can afford to splash out a little.
8. The two shows to which we went on the Avenida Corrientes both started at 9PM and continued for two hours without an interval. There are apparently no intervals during most shows. So use the restrooms just before the show.
9. It is important to plan your activities according to a daily and weekly schedule. The shops on St Telmo are e.g. closed on a Monday, as is the National Art Museum. Nothing happens in St Telmo before 11AM even on Sunday, the busiest day. So don’t pitch up there early in the morning. You will waste your time. Befriend your concierge – they are good. Many places close for lunch but will be open till late (e.g. travel agencies).
10. Don’t go to a free tango lesson. You’ll end up trapped with millions of tourists in a confined space and won’t be able to move, let alone learn anything. If you want a lesson, a tango teacher told me to go to Tango Brujo. They charge 15 pesos for 90 minutes and you get individual attention, or at least we did. After two lessons and you can hide yourself and your partner in the middle of the floor at a busy Milonga if you have a feel for movement (don’t embarrass yourself by asking those who know to dance with you!). Tango Brujo also has intermediate and advanced classes, as well as classes for special techniques for women. Go to a milonga at Maipu 444 on a Saturday night to see how the locals conduct a tango evening (milonga). A bit crowded though. If you’re gay, the same venue caters for you on Wednesday nights I’m told, as does Tango entre Muchachos.