Thursday, July 30, 2009
I must say, when I get a chance to talk about a place, or places that inspire and enchant its less often than I wish. But I guess if everywhere was as incredible as South America, then it wouldn't be quite as unique. Be prepared to break your comfort zone but that is what makes it worth it. Beyond the amazingly inexpensive shoes EVERYWHERE, and the smells of coffee at its finest... there is a special quality to each country's authenticity.
I had the lucky suprise chance to spend a few days in Buenos Aires completely unprepared and unplanned which is rarely how I like to travel. Alex told me we were going to his friend Santiago's farm in the countryside and Santiago picked us up and drove us not to the family ranch, but to the airport.
Its true, its the 'Paris' of the South. Rich with european classical architecture, old money and leather, the Malbec flows easily and inexpensively. You can live like a king, shop like a diva and drink like a fool for a few hundred $Us. It literally stole my breath away and this was in the wintertime. Had I visited in the summer? I wouldnt have made it back home. The boulevards are all lined with 100yr old Sycamores and Jackaranda trees (see above, they are stunning...my new favorite tree) they turn purple in the spring but for the rest of the year they are bright green whispy feathers painting the streetscape. The cemetaries are like miniature cities, much like in New Orleans; your wealth and power dictates the marble and stone in your burial house. Filled with lost cats that watch over the dead, it is a very interesting experience. The hotels and expensive residential buildings are polished and stunning and the waterfront is modern and industrial, blending old with new en esplendor suramericano verdadero! The city never seems to sleep, everyone down here eats at 11pm and heads to work around 10am. They party till 6am throughout the week and have the energy of 18yr olds. We showed up to dinner at 930 and thought the place was closed, but the smells of fresh beef simmering in the background quickly remind you things are just getting started...
Now to spoil the charm, the economy is a complete disaster. This breeds crime and as an american you really are only directed to stay in a few very nice areas. It isnt all gold ofcourse, the rusty favelas sit quietly in the distance reminding you that the world is far from perfect. I had to be very careful with my camera so taking pictures was difficult. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to witness so many beautiful people and sites without being able to capture them. But did I mention, they Tango in the streets at any hour of the day? If you can capture that, even if its with my crappy smaller "nobody's going to steal this" camera its totally worth it!
This city is Milwaukee if Beunos Aires is Chicago. Its calmer, less intense but has a spectacular waterside location. The Rambla, reminds me of Lake Shore Drive with fewer parks. Its quiet in the wintertime ofcourse, even though the weather of winter here is mild. They dress and appear as if they are ready for dogsledding in Alaska as I prance around in shorts. It is hard to find english speaking residents, as their metropolitan exposure is not quite that of larger cities like Beunos Aires. Its very humiliating for me to not know Spanish and I am frustrated to be "that american" trying to speak spanglish. Having an international airport helps, but they seem to be more of a pause in a long trip headed elsewhere. I thought we were staying in the center of town, by the shopping center and 'World Trade Center' buildings because I really didn't know much else than the Rambla. Thanks to Santiago, who is an incredible friend to Alex he drove me all around the "Old City" where I quickly learned our little area was just a drop of rain in the bucket.
The theater, government and commerce buildings felt empty inside their once grandiose shells. I could see that at a time when Uruguay was a major port city in the early 20th century, this area was beautiful and bustling. Now it is as if the wind stole it's sails and its trying to figure itself out. It is extrememly dangerous for this reason, and I would never have been able to see all of this without Santiago and his trusty truck. The city squares remind me of Bryant Park in NY without the people or the maintenance. Such a shame, its like finding a gem in a haystack and I just wish there was an opportunity to polish it. I am so grateful for that tour because now I feel like I have truly seen Montevideo and I can appreciate where this city is going and certainly where it has been.