Within the first days of wandering the streets of San Telmo it was clear street art was everywhere; Argentina has a long history of graffiti, growing and evolving with the ups and downs of the country. Stemming from a form of public expression, statements vary from political, personal, emotional but always intended to be a form of communication. Emotions evident through colors, images and even the locations to which they cover. We were excited to come across Graffitimundo, a tour operator that collaborates with various artists to display their work, provide exposure and educate people about street art and it’s contribution to the culture. The non-profit runs an art gallery in Palermo and offers daily tours in the North and South regions of Buenos Aires. We definitely recommend the tour and even suggest taking both to compare the artists and perspectives.
One of the greatest characteristics about street art is that it is always changing; as the days and weeks pass, life’s elements take effect and the original work settles into the landscape like it was meant to be there. The scribbles and color that shape the walls range from simple to ornate but as someone peering into the culture it contributes to the senses and awareness takes note of the ever evolving stories around you. Graffiti comes with such a connotation and depending on your associations appreciation can vary greatly. We are great admirers of art in all forms and would consider Buenos Aires to be a living gallery full of color that reaches all five senses.
We have laughed at the number of times The Simpsons have been on TV or even referenced in displays of modern art so below are a few shots from a collaboration wall of “Homer”. Artists band together tightly so when there is a meeting of imagination, great things can happen.
El Zanjon de Granados – ($15US)The city of Buenos Aires was first settled in 1536 between two water run-off ravines which naturally marked city boundaries. The Zanjon de Granados is claimed to be the site of the first settlement of Buenos Aires and uniquely displays the underground waterways as they were constructed. Now considered the most important archaeological site in BA, the museum describes the history through it’s many layers of architecture and construction. The original structure, a residence, that covered the zanjones was a block sized mansion. The plague that came over San Telmo forced the wealthy family to flee and the mansion was turned into a tenement where the structure was walled up and built over further burying the sophisitcated drainage system. The building was abandoned in 1985 and left in ruin until the gentrification of San Telmo posed the location as a potential restaurant. Little did the local know what he was about to uncover…
BAFreeTours.com – ($10-$20US)We definitely suggest getting a good overview of BA directly from a “Porteno”. This version of the ‘pay what you like’ Free Tours was brought to BA by a born and bred Porteno, as all tour guides are. There are two different tours you can take depending on what part of the city you have interest in, the “Downtown” tour or the “Aristocratic” tour. We enjoyed the “Aristocratic” tour so much we went back for the “downtown” tour as well. Gaston, the co-founder, was a great host and had us laughing just about the whole time. The BA Free Tours pitch is that they give a solid local-perspective tour and work solely on tips. They are upfront and provide the equivalent value of a tour if it were paid. We thought the tours provided an interesting (opinionated and funny) perspective of Argentine history from a locals point of view and was much more our style than that of a generic [bus] city tour.
Casa Rosada – (Free) Casa Rosada or the “Pink House” is one of those “must do” tours, if for no other reason, it’s a free tour of the President’s office, literally. Oh ya, and that famous balcony where Madonna sang that song from – I mean Eva Peron gave her historic speech to the people. The tour gives you a look into some of the history of the ‘house’, past presidents and important cultural influences. A couple tidbits: only one president was allowed to live in the Casa Rosada due to a handicap and it is not symmetrical because it was originally two buildings – one was the post office, there are several more so you’ll have to check it out. Offered only on weekends, there are free tours in multiple languages. Upon arrival check in with the staff to receive a colored coin for the tour in your requested language. Get there early because the number of tours in English vary depending on the day/weekend or season and people turn out in droves, so be prepared to wait.
Helado at Dylan’s – (~$4US) One of the first things you hear about when arriving in Buenos Aires is the great pride they hold in their Helado – and rightly so! There are Helado stands by the dozen around the city so it may seem overwhelming to choose which one to venture into but look no further Dylan’s Helado in San Telmo is the place to go. I would categorize our visit to Dylan’s as an “helado experience” from the warm welcome, multiple tastings and of course friendly and passionate ice cream enthusiast and owner, Dylan. If you find a better Helado stop in BA be sure to drop us a note and share your experience – because we may have to have a tasting runoff.
San Telmo Market Place – (Free) Every Sunday there is a spectacular market on Avenue Defense that stretches from Casa Rosada to Parque Lezama. Through this market you will find things from trinkets and jewelry to street artists and food vendors. The stands begin to close up in the late afternoon at which time you will start to hear drum circles filling the streets with echoing beats. As in any major city and crowded place, watch your belongings, we’ve heard there are pickpockets; we never experienced any trouble nor did we feel threatened or unsafe but when good reminder to always have good situational awareness and avoid creating the opportunity.
La Boca – La Boca is a ‘working class’ region of Buenos Aires that is seen as the old town but holds the claim as the birthplace of the Tango. We were advised to take precaution and just stick to the tourist streets as it can be considered a dangerous part of town. This forced us to take a closer look at the bus system and begin to navigate the city by public transportation instead of our growing tired feet. The apartment we rented in San Telmo provided us with a SUBE card which was half the battle. After researching online how to take the bus and what protocol was we decided to give it a whirl. We had read that you must actually hail the bus even if you are at the bus stop and once the bus stops, GET ON quick. The buses do not always stop and when they do you must make sure you are ready to jump on or off because the doors do not stay open long and the bus does not sit idle – time is money. Once we arrived in La Boca there were tourist attractions everywhere; the streets filled with bright colors, Tango dancers and restaurants advertising for the deal of the day. The downtown area of La Boca was filled with shops and characters that seemed to tell some kind of story about the times that were. We did not spend much time in La Boca, although it is certainly an area not to be missed when visiting Buenos Aires. We made our pass through the shops and down the streets taking in the colorful buildings and were ready to head out. We did enjoy our stop at the Fundacion Proa Museum exhibiting thoughful modern latin american art. The museum was self guided and did a great job of making sure there was english descriptions for the pieces in each room. Although our time in La Boca was fairly short it is a spot on the map that is a must see for the old culture of Buenos Aires and of course the birthplace of Tango!
Our biggest miss of La Boca was to attend a Boca Juniors match. It is advised that as a tourist you attend the rowdy event with group as it can be hectic enough to be considered dangerous.
Malonga – Everyone you speak to about Buenos Aires talks about the Tango and how important it is to their culture. There are plenty of Malonga’s that cater to the typical tourist that are fun and entertaining and you can even get a chance to learn a few steps. To see the true art form of the Tango find a locals Malonga, however unless you REALLY know how to Tango we advise you to sit back and enjoy the ever talented couples enjoying there night of Tango. We were lucky enough to befriend an Aussie living in BA for several months with the goal of learning the tango and we were able to see a real show in action.
Jardin de Japonese – ($20US) We visited the Jardin in mid-October and were able
Muchos Museums – Many of the museums have half price days or even free days so be sure to check out the deals and hours and work your trip to save you some pesos.
Parks – BA has many parks and when you are traveling with a crazy Lucia dog it is essential to find a place to let your dog run around like crazy. Lucia tends to chase butterfly, bug and bird shadows.
Boca Juniors Game – futbol
While waiting for customs to sort through all of our truck paperwork I was talking to one of the guys helping with translation at the shipping yard and asked him if he could help translate the song. So in rough translation this is what they are singing, if anyone knows a better translation we would love to hear it.
Boca, my good friend this campaign (season) we will support you again We are going to cheer with our hearts This is your fans that want to see you champions
We don’t care what the other teams say I go everywhere you play (stay) Everyday we love you more