Argentina is the one country in the world where a guy can say to a girl "I wanna dance tango with you all night" and she would take him seriously.
The country followed a typical Latin American pattern as military juntas repeatedly seized power through coups, often resulting in brutal purges. These political cleansings, particularly during the "Dirty War" in the late 1970s and early 1980s, led to the presumed disappearance of tens of thousands of people. Since then, efforts have been made to restore some form of democracy. However, frequent economic collapses, characterized by disastrous hyperinflation, have contributed to further instability and crises. Although economic challenges still persist, at least a comparatively stable democratic system seems to be holding its ground now.
With its parks, elegant boulevards and architecture, there is a very strong European influence in Buenos Aires. The main areas are as follow:
- Microcentro, for Plaza de Mayo and shopping. When walking down one of the busy streets, you will hear many guys saying "cambio, cambio". These guys are part of the black market for currency exchange. Basically, you can change your money at an official outlet for one price; or you can exchange cash on the street with these guys and get the "blue" dollar rate – which gives at least 25% more pesos. Just keep an eye out for counterfeit notes.
- Palermo, lots of fancy restaurants, little boutiques, and nightlife.
- San Telmo, a historic cobblestoned area full of rustic cafés, shops and colonial architecture. There are many tango dancers performing on the streets.
- La Boca, the city's first port. It was there on the promenade overlooking a now very polluted dock that the sailors many decades ago danced tango with prostitutes in the night. La Boca is a poor neighbourhood, the buildings are very colorful, due to being often constructed from whatever materials scrounged from the area, and painted with whatever colours were available at the time.
- Recoleta, the city's wealthiest neighbourhood and home to a cemetery where a grave is as expensive as an apartment in London.
To experience the tranquillity of Argentine country life, there's nothing like hitting the trail with the Gauchos, a band of supposedly hard-bitten Argentine cowboys. They give you a horse to hop on and take you on a ride along dirt tracks and grasslands. Riding one-handed Western style, it's supposed to feel like the moment in cowboy films when the baddies ride into town, except it was painfully slow and dull. It's only enjoyable if you want to see horses, chickens, ducks, pigs and dogs.
Afterwards they served an asado (barbecue) of meat raised on the ranch. The strangest dish being the morcilla (a black sausage from blood), which I was more than happy to skip. "Argentinians eat a lot of meat every day, that's why they have such a short lifespan" quipped one of the Gauchos.