Don’t cry for me, Argentina

2012-10-20 14:36

Growing up, I thought the tango belonged to Paris.

After all, one of my singing idols, Regina Belle, sang about a Tango in Paris. But last week I realised just how much a part of Argentinian culture the dance is.

On a humid, Friday afternoon, we arrived on Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world at a staggering 140m, which is named after Argentina’s Independence Day.

We stayed at the luxurious Sheraton Libertador Hotel in downtown Buenos Aires, just a stone’s throw away from the marvellous Plaza de Mayo.

Located in the Monserrat barrio, it is the city’s main square, with its historical impact on the Argentinian nation dating back to the May 25 1810 revolution that led to the country’s independence.

Tourists click away on their cameras in front of La Casa Rosada (The Pink House), the presidential mansion and office.

This is where the legendary María Eva Duarte de Perón, otherwise known as Evita, delivered some of her most famous speeches from the back balcony.

(I won’t even pretend that during my visit there Don’t Cry For Me Argentina wasn’t stuck in my head.)

On most days, the weather was depressingly wet, but everyone’s mood picked up when we arrived at La Boca, a neighbourhood filled with colourful houses that reminded me of the Bo-Kaap in Cape Town.

The barrio is known for La Bombonera stadium, the home of one of the world’s best-known football clubs, Boca Juniors, which Diego Maradona played for.

All-night cafes, clubs and taverns line La Boca’s streets as tango dancers lure tourists to a dance or two for a peso.

After munching on a mince empanada (pastry pie), I was ready to shop in San Telmo, a vibrant neighbourhood known for its street markets.

Filled with bands, beautiful leather goods, jewellery, art and décor items on display, traditional foods and snacks sold from kiosks, it is a sensory feast.

By the time we finished, we had worked up an appetite for one of the local restaurants’ beef-heavy dinners.

A must-see is the Evita Perón Museum in Recoleta, where some of her possessions are on display.

The neighbourhood is home to La Recoleta Cemetery, where Evita and several dignitaries are buried in mausoleums.

While the cemetery resembles an art museum, it also looks like a horror-movie backdrop.

One of my unforgettable experiences was having dinner at a porteño (Buenos Aires native) family house in Palermo Soho.

It was hosted by the Oyuela-Palacio family, who taught us how to knead country bread, make empanadas and prepare Chaja (pronounced Ja-ha), the popular local dessert of fruit, fresh cream and condensed milk.

The family demonstrated typical Argentinian crafts, such as the calabash used to drink mate, the traditional beverage, and the evening ended with a tango.

We had another dose of it at the popular dinner show at Al Viejo Almacen Tango.

After feasting on a three-course meal, we were treated to a three-hour tango show, theatre-style.

Leather is a staple fashion item that can be found at most clothing stores. Local leather factory shops can make a jacket in three hours while you wait.

But I was disappointed by the lack of imagination when it comes to the designs.

I couldn’t find a single trendy leather dress or skirt.

There’s no better end to a trip than with a visit to Santa Susana Estancia ranch, outside Buenos Aires, to experience the gaucho (cowboy) lifestyle.

Our all-women group was treated to a few hunky gauchos showing off their horsemanship during a lively equestrian games session.

We also indulged in a traditional parillada (what we’d call a braai) and tasted the local wines.

This while being entertained by the music and dance of the gauchos.

As I was pulled on to the dance floor to tango with an elderly, flirty gaucho, I reflected on my experiences.

My main thought being that I’d just eaten an entire cow’s worth of beef in a week.

»Seabi was a guest of Trafalgar Tours


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