Our Anniversary Trip to Patagonia

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Nov ’09. Albion River Inn, Mendocino, California.

Bride-bouquet-BW-5466Five years ago, Kristina and I got married at the Albion River Inn on the beautiful coast of Mendocino in Northern California. It was a very spontaneous wedding at a hotel booked five days in advance following a short notice given to a few friends. Obviously most of them couldn’t make it. It was Thanksgiving weekend, after all, what I was thinking? So there were only eight of us, the family members and a couple of friends.

This was an epic day of my life with tons of memories to cherish for years.

One regret is that Kristina’s mom and dad were far away. This is where I could have planned better. There are plenty of ways to get married. Run to Las Vegas, organize a Hawaiian getaway for a hundred guests two years in advance, pretend you’re Lord of the Ring in the Redwood forest, or buy/re-sell a $20M all-inclusive package.

None of these fits my style or financial standing. On that windy day in November 2009, my good friend Mateo, who is a pilot, rented a four-seater plane for us. We flew over the Californian coastline for an hour through the turbulent air, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the Golden Gate Bridge, hidden lakes and rivers, a hillside Buddhist temple in a massive forest, and the waves of the Pacific rolling over dramatic coastline.

That was an experience on its own, an unforgettable one.

Nov ’14. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Five years fast forward. We are enjoying our new life in Buenos Aires with our eleven-month-old Eva. She just started running around like she’s trying to make up for every minute spent in a stroller. We still hadn’t had a chance to visit Patagonia on the Argentinean side.

On this Thanksgiving afternoon, which marked our fifth anniversary, I said, why not go to Patagonia tomorrow? Next thing you know, we got our plane tickets, just minutes before Aerolineas Argentina’s office closed. I hadn’t bought paper airline tickets at an agency for well over a decade. However, a 40% discount on cash exchanged at the dolar blue rate would make a hefty difference one can’t ignore. South-America-Lago-ArgentinoOur flight was leaving from Buenos Aires for El Calafate at six o’clock the following morning.

Dressed for summer in Buenos Aires, with a backpack full of winter clothes, a suitcase full of Eva’s toys in one hand and Eva’s BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light in the other, and a pile of Argentine pesos in a pocket, we skip it through the priority line at the Aeroparque.

That was the most efficient check-in in my travel career. No more than 10-15 minutes from check-in counter to gate. Argentines love kids—so all doors are open in front of you, the traveler with a little baby in your arms.

Lago Argentino

Lago Argentino at estancia cristina Our three-hour flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate was eventless. As soon as we stepped down onto the ground, one thing became absolutely clear: This is a very different world from what we are used to. With less than three habitants per square mile living in the Santa Cruz province, the second biggest province of Argentina, it feels muy tranquilo! The vast abundant land, crowned by the snowy mountain peaks on the horizon, left me speechless for a few minutes. Argentino Lake in Patagonia

Another thing that will steal your attention is Lago Argentino, the biggest lake in the country. In particular, its glacier-infused water. No photo can do justice to how beautiful the color of the water is. Lago Argentino color The water color in Lago Argentino is related to the glacier flow. The lake receives most of the ice from the glacier and thus absorbs most of the “rock flour”—rocks ground to white powder by the ice scraping against the rock floor of the valley. Depending on the concentration, glacial flour turns the lake waters a gray-green hue, or milky turquoise. Absolutely amazing! Then you will notice a tip of an iceberg stuck somewhere on the opposite shore.

Iceberg fell off the Upsala Glacier and now is floating around Lago Argentino seeking a new foster home

A post shared by Vadim Oss (@vadimoss) on

El Calafate

El Calafate is a small Patagonian town. Nothing is remarkable about its architectural heritage, but if you have a lake view from your room it makes a ton of difference. We ended up staying in La Cantera boutique hotel. Although we hoped for the last-minute deal, our discount actually came from paying cash in pesos. A room with a lake view, top-notch service, and the convenience of a ten-minute walk to city center made it the best deal in town.

Many hotels are located very far from the center, so you need a cab to get around. La Cantera runs a shuttle service from 8pm till midnight to pick up its guests from the bars and restaurants. Nice!

Know Your Accommodation Options

We didn’t choose the easy way to come to La Cantera. We first went to Koi Aiken hotel which is quite far (non-walkable) from the center.

The first room we were given didn’t have hot water at all, nada! The receptionist looked at Eva, then at the dry faucet, and made a remark: That’s the problem!

The second room we were moved to had broken window frames. Let me tell you, the Patagonian wind is not a joke. With overnight temperatures dropping nearly to the freezing point, you don’t want to be stuffing your blanket into these holes in the frame. The receptionist suggested we keep the curtain closed, so the wind wouldn’t blow Eva out of her crib. Another suggestion was to turn the radiator up all the way. We panicked imagining Eva accidentally touching this scalding hot piece of metal. The hotel keeper exclaimed again, That’s the problem!

We decided to give another room a try. All we needed was hot water and no wind howling over our bed. The third room had water running from the faucet but it wouldn’t get warm enough. The hotelier promised again and again: It will get hot, just let it run. No luck! After five or seven minutes we lost hope and she admitted again, That’s the problem!

We called a cab to get away. On the way back in town I was thinking whether or not the tripadvisor rank of 55 out of 77 in El Calafate was fair for that hotel.

So check your accommodation options carefully!

Estancias

Estancia Cristina on Lago Argentino Estancia is a word for many refuges built over time by Patagonian pioneers. They came down here from different parts of the world at the turn of the 20th century and gave this land a breath of new life.

Nowadays the Estancias are protected identities of the Patagonian landscape, and are still around, serving different functions. We were planning to visit two estancias.

Estancia Nibepe Aike

Estancia Nibepe Aike Patagonia Estancia Nibepo Aike is named after its Croatian founder’s three daughters—Nini, Bebe, Porota—and the Tehuelche word Aike meaning “place.” Estancia Nibepo Aike presents visitors and guests with imposing view of Lago Argentino combined with the activities of an active sheep- and cattle-breeding establishment.

Estancia Cristina

At Estancia Cristina Estancia Cristina was founded in 1914 by an English couple, Mr and Mrs Masters. They lived in tents pitched by the lake during their first year. Their new home was named in honor of their little daughter Cristina, who didn’t survive pneumonia.

The Estancia stretches over 22 hectares of land surrounded by glaciers, snow peaks, and lakes of great natural beauty. Even up to today, there is no viable way to get to Estancia Cristina besides sailing on a boat to the most northern point of the Lago Argentino. Mr Masters had to buy and rebuild a steamboat to bring all his family and his cattle to this remote location. At some point the herd grew to also include 27,000 sheep, 30 cows and some 50 horses.

Due to our limited time in Patagonia, we decided to stay at Estancia Cristina only.

Random Recommendation from the Past

Almost a year ago, I randomly met a couple from New York wandering around Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires. They had just got back from Patagonia. We started talking about traveling Argentina and Alexander, the guy, mentioned that they had the best time at Estancia Cristina. I took a note of his recommendation and had it in mind to experience it for ourselves.

It’s totally worth talking with strangers. I get solid proof of this now and then. You never know how it will shape your future life.

Getting to Estancia Cristina

Boat to Estancia Cristina

It takes a few hours to get from El Calafate to Estancia Cristina. Forty minutes on the Estancia’s shuttle to Puerto Bandera, then a couple of hours on a boat. Once arrived, we were astounded by its incredible beauty. There are many things to explore around the Estancia. Plenty of lakes, waterfalls, the lake shore—there is no shortage of things to do here. Estancia Cristina We spent two incredible days at Estancia Cristina exploring its natural beauty and eating well. Their regional cuisine, featuring slowly roasted Patagonian lamb and other local produce, is to die for.  The staff was also incredibly friendly and attentive. The place itself, despite strong winds howling non-stop, is so peaceful and relaxing.

It inspired me to put a 24-hour moratorium on checking my emails.

We also saw some horses running around. They seemed to be wild. My understanding is that they belong to the Estancia and are used for horseback riding excursions. We tried to sign up for one of these tours but with eleven-month-old Eva that wasn’t a good idea 🙂

Discovery Tour to Upsala Glacier

Upsala-Glacier-Pano-1016 Estancia Cristina also offers a Discovery adventure to Upsala glacier, and trekking activities. We signed up for the Discovery tour. You ride on a 4×4 truck up the mountain road through the rocks and ancient forest. The truck ride is a very exciting part of the tour. You will see many lakes, meadows and spectacular mountain peaks.

After a while, the road ends, and you walk a little further to the vista point. The view of the glacier, the channel, the colors of the rainbow above it and snow peaks are splendid.

From the top, Upsala Glacier looks amazingly peaceful. Be prepared to be blown off the cliff if you don’t pay good attention to the wind gusts.

Upsala Glacier by Boat

Upsala Glacier is one of the biggest glaciers of the Patagonian Icefield. It recedes very quickly though. Ten kilometers (six miles) of its body length have been lost in the last twenty years.

All orphan icebergs floating in Lago Argentino were once a part of Upsala Glacier before chipping off and running away from home. Estancia Cristina offers a chance to see the icebergs from a boat. On a clear day the colors will amaze you!

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito-Moreno-Glacier-Pano-1396 Perito Moreno Glacier is what most of the people come for in El Calafate. The glacier is unique because it is one of the three glaciers in Patagonian Icefield that is stable. This means that over time it doesn’t reduce in size. However, the ice is being pushed out from the glacier and collapses in a spectacular way.

The glacier can be observed from many platforms or from the boat. It’s one of the most amazing natural wonders I’ve ever seen. The light reflecting in massive chunks of ice, sticking up to 200 feet above the surface, is something that will stick in my memory for a long time. The glowing blue color of the ice is mesmerizing.

This is the most popular attraction in El Calafate area, a.k.a. a tourist trap. Being on a boat with a couple hundred people who ran simultaneously from one side to another while taking selfies was not necessarily the experience we were looking for. If I had to choose the same tour again I would totally skip the boat part. Or perhaps select a smaller boat tour.

We found it’s much more interesting to gaze at the glacier from land. There are several balconies that allow you to observe the entire glacier from different angles and elevations. The most exciting part was seeing small ice ruptures, when a chunk of glacier chips off the wall and collapses, with cheerful excitement from the crowd.

Here are ten interesting facts about Perito Moreno Glacier.

1. Perito Moreno Glacier is located in Los Glaciares National Park in southwest Santa Cruz province of Argentina. The province is part of the Argentine Patagonia.

2. The glacier is an ice formation that measures 250square kilometers (97 square miles). The Glacier is 30 kilometer (19 Miles) long.

3. Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the 48 glaciers in Patagonian Ice Field. It is an extension of the Andean Ice that is shared with Chile. The Glacier is the third largest reserve of Fresh water in the world.

4. The Los Glaciares National Park, of which Perito Moreno Glacier is part of, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1981 by UNESCO

5. Due to its accessibility and beauty, Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the biggest tourist magnets to the Patagonia region. The glacier is barely two hours away from El Calafate by bus.

6. The Glacier is surrounded by scenic ice-capped mountains and forests such as lengas and ñires.

7. Rapture – Pressures from the weight of the ice slowly pushes the glacier over the southern tip of Lake Argentina damming the section and separating it from the rest of the lake. With no outlet, the water-level on the dammed side of the lake can rise by as much as 30 meters above the level of the main body of Lake Argentina. This eventually causes rapture and the huge block of ice tumbles down on the lake. It is one of the most beautiful sights to see.

8. The glacier extends to the Chilean fjords and in the east to the Argentine lakes.

9. There are two types of trekking available to tourists on the glacier. The first one is the mini-trekking option that takes about an hour and a half and the other is the big ice option that takes about 5 hours. It is up to you to choose how long you want to remain outdoors on ice.

10. The raptures on the Lake Argentina come in 4-5 years intervals. The last to occur happened on March 2, 2012.

We didn’t have much more time left to explore other areas of Lago Argentino.

Is there anything else equally exciting that we should see on our next visit?

Please share in the comments section.

It’s hard to get to Buenos Aires but it’s two times harder to leave

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It’s pretty hard to get to Buenos Aires from the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps that’s why I heard so little about this amazing place while I lived in the States.

Seven months have passed by quickly and Eva has grown enormously. Yesterday our doctor said she is extra large by Argentinean standards. Well, in a good sense of course:).

It’s time for us to pack our summer stuff and head over to Cartagena, Colombia, a 16th century Spanish colonial town that is currently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then Santa Marta with its Tayrona National Park and magnificent Caribbean beaches. We are also hopeful of visiting San Andrés. Even though we are planning to come back in a few months I find it pretty hard to leave Buenos Aires. We will certainly miss all these wonderful people that we’ve met here.

I thought that pictures of our neighborhood life would explain better than a thousand words.

Viva Buenos Aires!

Iguazu Falls: Absolutely Must See Once in Your Life

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 The Power and the Beauty of Iguazu Falls

Devil Throat of Iguazu Falls from Argentinean sideIn our digital age we’re surrounded by opinions, in list form, of the 10 or 100 or 1000 things to see before you die. I think life expectancy must be on the rise the way people keep adding stuff to their To Do lists. It’s always too soon to die, the list is always growing. But it is also very subjective. A wonder for you could be a “whatever” for others.

Iguazu Falls, though, on the border of Brazil and Argentina, are among the rare natural wonders that inevitably make it onto the top of everyone’s list. Its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1984 started to draw more attention to its beauty, as well as to its ongoing preservation struggle.

I’d heard about this place many times, but didn’t realize how magnificent it actually is.

Iguazu Falls on Brazilian side

Visiting it, at last, happened to be one of the most humbling and exciting experiences of my life. The falls are 1.7 miles long, divided into many different waterfalls by tiny islands and islets dotting the Iguazu River at the edge of the plunge. These falls range from 197 to 269 feet high.

Lush green islands in Iguazu Falls

The Falls’ maximum recorded flow is 45,700 cubic meters per second. To put things in perspective, 45,700 cubic meters is about how much water would be used if every single household in the state of Texas flushed their toilets at the very same moment. That’s how much water was going over the falls every second. That’s a lot of water if you ask me!

To sense how powerful it is, one needs to get very close to the Devil’s Throat, the most dramatic semi-circular water drop at Iguazu Falls.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady, once visited Iguazu Falls. When she first laid eyes on the falls, she exclaimed, “Poor Niagara!”

Poor Niagara indeed!

Where Iguazu Falls Are Located

Iguazu Falls the Triple Frontier region

Near the Falls there are three major cities, in three different countries separated by the Iguazu River. They form a triangle known as the Triple Frontier:

  • Puerto Iguazu, a frontier city in the province of Misiones, Argentina
  • Foz do Iguaçu, a city in Paraná, Brazil, that is three times bigger than its Argentinean neighbor
  • Ciudad del Este, the second largest city in Paraguay

Two of these countries can claim part of the waterfall as their own: Brazil and Argentina.

Keep in mind that 80% of all the waterfalls are on the Argentinean side, while 20% are in Brazil. Each perspective is unique, but you definitely have more options approaching your target from Argentina. When visiting, ideally plan on spending one day exploring the Argentinean side and keep a few hours reserved for Brazil on the following day.

As we prepared for our trip, we read a number of online comments about armies of mosquitoes and bugs attacking visitors on the Brazilian side, so we decided to skip it completely. Dengue fever is a real thing in this part of the world, so we were little uneasy about it.

You can also take a boat tour of the Falls from either side, if you feel like you didn’t get wet enough exploring on your own.

Furthermore, you can actually book a place on an exciting helicopter ride, in order to view the Falls from on high. The chopper departs from the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu.

If you want to see the entire Iguazu Falls, both the Argentinean and the Brazilian side, you’ll enjoy your experience much more if you set aside at least two days to soak in all the beauty, and to enjoy all that Iguazu Falls has to offer you as a tourist, guest, or visitor to the area.

Getting to Iguazu Falls

While a bus ride from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls may take up to 20 hours, travel by air is quite easy. A flight from Rio De Janeiro or Buenos Aires will get you to Iguazu Falls in less than two hours. The airport on the Argentinean side (IGR) is just 6 miles (10 km) away from the waterfalls, and 13 miles (20 km) from the city of Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. A cab ride will cost you a bit more than in Buenos Aires. For a ride from the airport to Iguazu National Park, we paid 220 Argentine pesos, approximately $20 USD at the dollar blue exchange rate—what you might call the “peer-to-peer” rate 😉

Because we were traveling with a five-month-old baby, we decided to stay at Sheraton Iguazu Hotel, right there in the National Park in front of the waterfalls. Eva seemed to love the rain forest and the sound of waterfalls.

Standing at Sheraton hotel Iguazu in front of the falls

More economical accomodations are available in the city, but these entail a 20-30 minute ride to the Iguazu National Park, where the waterfalls are located. Entry to the Iguazu National park will cost foreign citizens 215 Argentine pesos per person, so a bit less than $20 USD at the “dollar blue” exchange rate as of time of writing. So budget this in, as there is no way around this expense if you want to see the waterfalls.

What to See at Iguazu Falls

Excitement on the train riding to the Devil's Throat at Iguazu Falls

Once you are in the National Park, you can take a free open-air train to Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat). Keep your hands and feet clear from the coatis. These guys feel home at any train station, and may leave you with a nasty bite:

After a seven-minute train ride, you disembark at the top side of the river and have to walk for 1100 meters (0.7 miles) towards the vista point. It’s a nice twelve-or-fifteen-minute walk over ramps erected above Iguazu river.

Ramps at Iguazu Falls

 

At the end of the walk, you will see something absolutely amazing: The Devil’s Throat. It’s hard to capture the power of this place, one needs to experience it.

Just watch the 30-second video below (make sure your speakers are turned down).  This is what I call a dramatic drop:

Besides the Devil’s Throat platform, there are a couple of trails leading to the other parts of Iguazu Falls. You may take the Upper Trail to see waterfalls from the above. Eva was happily asleep when we discovered the Adam and Eva waterfalls. We learned that the white noise of the waterfalls works very, very well at putting Eva to sleep.

 

The Lower Trail will get you as close as possible to the waterfalls from below. Although most people call the spray emanating from the Falls a “mist,” prepare yourself for shower-quality refreshment. It’s so close, you’ll get wet before you snap your first photo:

Did I mention that the rain forest around looks like a film set for Indiana Jones? Oh yeah, because Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was shot there…

You will also see all kind of species, from toucans to eagles and beyond. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Harpy Eagle at Iguazu Falls

 

Whatever you end up doing at Iguazu Falls, it is a very exciting and refreshing experience!

Can you recommend any sights comparable to Iguazu Falls (besides Victoria Falls obviously)?

A Dozen Of Reasons Why You Never Want to Visit Buenos Aires or Never Leave It Again

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Buenos Aires is one of those cities I could never visit, let alone stay in for months, until I figured out how to deal with all the stress it causes me!

Port Of Entry Buenos Aires

 

Many people say Buenos Aires is a great place to visit, but let me explain why you shouldn’t believe me. If you absolutely insist upon going to Buenos Aires, at least read this post so you’ll know what to expect.

Here are a few reasons that should stop you from going to Buenos Aires. Dare to prove me wrong.

1. Open-Hearted People Who Make You Feel at Home

Let’s face it, even the customs officer in Argentina will welcome you with a big smile. Then he will laugh with you when you show horns behind your wife’s head while he struggles to take a photo of her. Would you trust a customs officer that laughs with you?

Taking a photo at the customs

So here comes Argentina…

Whether it’s because of their screwed up political/economical situation or because of some historical reason, Argentines are very welcoming and caring towards other human beings. It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

In the culture I grew up in, people were hammered with all sorts of problems. One social disaster after another, bullshit propaganda, corrupt police, political instability, hyperinflation, food coupons that give you the right to buy milk in a supermarket, I’ve seen it all.  Needless to say, in such a toxic environment, at some point even vodka stops improving social interactions and overall positivity.

In this sense, I don’t get Argentina. People here are open-minded, good-hearted and genuinely nice.

Kristina came pregnant to Argentina. Her appearance, at a supermarket, or on public transportation, or just on the street, stalled all other activities in their tracks. Everyone would give her the right of way and a first-class treatment. People would literally grab her hand at the end of a line in supermarket and walk her towards the cashier, cutting everybody off. She didn’t have any issues during her pregnancy and none of this extra attention was strictly necessary. Still in all, she was happy to get that much help from complete strangers.

San Martin Park Mendoza, argentina

 

When Eva was born, the neighbors in our building brought a bunch of gifts for her. We even didn’t know these people. Our landlady keeps bringing gifts for Eva: blankets, clothes, and most recently this white sweater which she knitted. She said it was getting cold and Eva needed some warm clothes:

Knitted sweater for our daughter

 

One might think: ok, Argentines just like pregnant women and kids. That’s right, they do, but it’s not only that.

We celebrated the arrival of 2014 in a quite unusual way.

The first reason for this is that Eva had been born just a week before.

Secondly, we had no electricity for 36 hours over the holiday. Our neighbor, who we didn’t know at the time, knocked on our door and offered to store all of our perishable food in his fridge. For whatever reason, he still had electricity. (Another reason to stay away from Argentina is because of its inequality:))

We had bought a bunch of organic products that morning, just before the outage, so the neighbor’s offer was accepted with a big smile.

New Year 2014 with candles and no power

 

After our candle-lit New Year’s celebration, another neighbor approached us, saying, “Hey, I bought this extra-long power cord. The next time electricity cuts off, you can use my fridge too.” We were happy to take him up on his offer the next time our power went down, a week later.

I could continue forever with stories like this.

There’s the cab driver who gave us his cell number and invited us to his country house for an authentic argentine asado (an Argentine-style BBQ) with his family. He only knew us because we happened to be in his car on the way to the airport!

Or, the time the Immigration Office required us to submit a letter in Spanish. It would have taken us hours to write something up and we were short on time. We asked a clerk at the counter for help and she spent fifteen minutes of her life writing it up for us.

Why would you ever want to visit a place where people treat you like you’re at home? It could get ridiculous, so that you’d never want to leave, right? It could be a life-wrecking experience, don’t ever do this.

2. Steaks that Will Ruin Your Palate Forever

Dear vegans, vegetarians and raw food lovers. I am sorry to have to bring this up, but there’s something nasty that needs to be said.  One simply can’t ignore how harmfully tasty Argentinean meat is. I might consider starting a vegetarian diet if I had to eat meat anywhere else in the world again.

Argentine have a love affair with their meat. It seems as if they eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Though they’re among the cheapest options on the average menu in Buenos Aires, the steaks here are the best in the world. A dinner for two will cost you anywhere between $15 and $40, tips included.

Steak at La Cabrera restaurant in Palermo Soho

La Cabrera restaurant runs a 40% off happy hour special on weekdays from 7pm to 8pm sharp. A small or medium portion of steak will keep you running till the next evening! The service is exceptional, courtesy of old-school waiters who know tons about the business.

After Argentinean steaks, your favorite steakhouse back home will look like an enormous rip-off! Now you see why it’s a good idea to eat locally instead of flying across the world for Argentinean steak.

 

3. So Business-Unfriendly!

Buenos Aires is very business-unfriendly. That is, it’s new business-unfriendly. Meaning, I don’t know how one would go about opening a shop next to ten other established shops of the highest quality, and trying to win their business.  It’s so much easier to enjoy establishments already built by others, than to work your butt off building something on your own.

Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires reminds me of the West Village of Manhattan or Williamsburg, Brooklyn—on steroids. Every other door here is a business. Cafes, restos, design and furniture shops, hardware stores, kids’ stores, barbershops, pharmacies, convenience stores (kioskos), and more. This barrio (that is, neighborhood) has it all. We really don’t need to walk more than three to five blocks to run any errand.

Back in 2010, during the big recession, I got pretty sad watching how small shops in the West Village shut down and were replaced by chains. Despite all their economic difficulties, though, business owners in Buenos Aires keep their spirits up and welcome you with a smile, day in and day out. Oh, and they give you discounts for paying in cash, and punish you with higher prices for paying with a credit card. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here, but one that Visa, MC and AMEX won’t like.

Here’s a few neighborhood finds that will keep you distracted from all the work you need to get done:

On Saturdays, you may run into a Cannoli De Palermo pastry bike, parked on the sidewalk of Thames at Nicaragua Street. Here you can buy the most delicious cannoli and cream puffs, for less than a dollar.

Cannoli de Palermo bike full of pastries

 

The barista at LATTEnTE cafe, in front of the Cannoli bike, makes the best coffee in Argentina. This is where I typically start my morning and check my emails.

On that same corner, you’ll find a unique place, a mix of bookstore, cafe, photo gallery and concert venue. DAIN Usina Cultural is proof that art can attract good business and business can attract great art.

La Dupla at Usina Cultural

 

Victoria Brown coffee & bar is a great spot with awesome interior design.

Mirror on the wall at Victoria Brown coffee shop

 

Street fairs and produce markets are very common here. People just hit the street to sell what they’ve made with their hands (all Argentines are potential Etsy clients), or grown in their gardens. This builds a great sense of community and has the potential to become a great tourist attraction as well, like the San Telmo street fair.

 

On the other hand, why would you buy anything that is not USDA approved or Monsanto recommended? People are safer in a sterile environment of packaged goods, and the bread chews better with yoga mat resin in it. Why start looking for a change?

4. All These Rounded Corners!

All of the world’s celebrated cities have some personality quirks that differentiate them from the rest. I will remember Buenos Aires for its rounded street corners, which provide more space for pedestrians. I haven’t seen such a consistent trend anywhere else in the world.

Here’s how it looks from above, with green lines indicating building footprints:

Street map Gurruchaga and Honduras in Buenos Aires

 

Here are some examples of how this looks at street level:

 

 

Until I came to Buenos Aires, I didn’t realize that I was afraid of 90-degree corners. I am. I usually walk very fast, so every time I turn the corner, it’s a challenge not to run into someone coming the opposite direction. This fear was sitting so deep inside me. Buenos Aires fixed it for good.

Putting in rounded street corners is the most people-friendly thing Argentines have ever done.

First, you can see around the corner better. Your chances of accidentally hitting someone drop to zero.

Second, this type of street plan makes every intersection into a miniature plaza, with extra space for people to enjoy the neighborhood: to stop, look around, have a cup of coffee or watch street performers.

 

 

One funny thing is how some newer buildings still follow this tradition by rounding only the ground floor, with the corner forming a sharp right angle starting on the second floor and continuing upwards.

 

5. Handcrafts and Street Art

If graffiti makes you angry, Buenos Aires is a perfect place to feed your rage.

Tags on the walls of Palermo Soho

Most of the time, though, calling it graffiti would be too ambitious. Ugly tags are all over buildings in this city. It’s sad. Some very nice buildings have been literally trashed by these notorious artists. It’s an epidemic here.

However, some of the graffiti and street murals are quite impressive. Small businesses often invite artists to paint awesome murals onto their walls. Kudos to these guys!

6. Cab Drivers

Cabbies in Buenos Aires are their own separate topic, but deserve mention here nevertheless. Nowhere else in the world will a cab driver give you the whole history of every neighborhood you drive through, complete with textbook facts and juicy gossip. A typical cabbie will have the best advice about free cultural events in town, show off his incredible knowledge of architecture and art, and then tell you about his experiences living in Italy, Germany and Spain.

Isn’t it quite intimidating to admit that a cab driver possesses so much knowledge that it’s hard to keep up? Why would you put yourself in such a position?

Cab crossing Thames street in Palermo Soho

 

Plus, they are very nice, and don’t mumble on the phone with their imaginative friends all the time. At the end of a ride, you may receive a book in Spanish as a gift. Every time you take a cab in Buenos Aires, be sure you’re ready for some exciting experience.

Are you sure you want that?

7. Football Hooligans

 

A football game in La Boca barrio

 

It’s unnecessary to remind anyone that Argentines are crazy about their national sport. It’s called football. Yes, the same word spoken everywhere in the world. In Argentina whether you’re a guy or a girl, it’s not appropriate to say you don’t like football. The thing is, you do like football, you just may not know it yet. And anyway, the people have their passion and it’s best not to incite their wrath.

Sometimes this passion escalates into nasty fights between hooligans of the biggest rival clubs in Argentine football, Boca Juniors and River Plate. You definitely don’t want to get involved in that.

On the other hand, the experience of attending a football match is one of a kind. Fans never stop chanting, dancing, throwing confetti and cheering their team. It’s such a cataclysm of energy that River Plate and Boca Junior fans are no longer allowed in each other’s stadium. The arena turns into a battlefield.

The image below could be easily tagged as a drone view of the battle of Waterloo. You got the point!

River plate stadium on fire

 

8-12. Tango, Parties, Culture, Being Green and Beautiful

There are plenty of other -1’s that make Buenos Aires such an unattractive place to visit.

You want to learn tango in three days, say, but you don’t want to dance it till 8am. But you will, if you start at midnight. Buenos Aires will make you do things you’ve done when you were 18.

Performer's booth in San Telmo

 

You won’t be able to sleep on Saturday night, as everyone is up till the following morning, even kids.

Back home we always hear about making cities green, but there is always a but. The lack of public funds makes everything so difficult. While corruption in Argentina isn’t necessarily under control, the city of Buenos Aires doesn’t seem to have any problems with the upkeep of its parks, zoo or botanical gardens. The garbage men come a couple of times each night.

Walking around I can’t get rid of the feeling that Buenos Aires is the city made by people for its people.

Tree lined street at the heart of Palermo Soho

 

I’ve seen some of the world’s best art installations and theater performances here in Buenos Aires. Listings for dozens of the first-class cultural events are published by the city in Agenda Cultural de Buenos Aires. 90% of them are free for public!

You will be torn apart trying to decide where to go and what to see first.

Liliana Porter installation in La MALBA

Liliana Porter installation in MALBA museum

 

Then you realize that you need to care your camera anywhere you go in Buenos Aires. With all its authentic colors and signs of its age the city is remarkably photogenic (Paris, be jealous!).

 

P.S. Now It’s for Real!

Are you still interested in visiting Buenos Aires? Here’s my last attempt to discourage you. Dog poop is everywhere here. You will most definitely step in it, especially if you get new shoes.

Parisians , no more complains from you, ok?

 

 

 

To sum things up, the best way to visit Buenos Aires is to be prepared to not want to leave. You just might end up like this, hiding from the rest of the world in a century-old apartment in the heart of the one of the most beautiful city exists today. I’ve been there, I’ve done that.

 

Palermo Soho apartment building

 

 

Would you still come to Buenos Aires?