One of the best aspects of traveling is experiencing the local culture. Wherever I go, I enjoy getting to know the local people of that particular area and spending my time doing things that they do. Participating in local culture adds a unique dimension to any travel experience.
With its diverse population, rich in contributions from immigrants from around the world, Buenos Aires, Argentina, is full of culture. The three main cultural influences here are Spanish, Italian, and Polish, although the city is full of global diversity. Spoken Spanish is heavily accented with Italian, and pizza and pasta are popular dishes alongside Argentinian beef on menus around the city. The city also boasts the second largest Jewish population, outside of Jerusalem, just behind New York City.
Travelers from around the world converged on our hotel today to check in for our expedition, celebrate our voyage and socialize over champagne, and participate in an orientation to get us ready for tomorrow. Together, we enjoyed an extensive city tour that took us through the political center, financial district, the bohemian community, and through an area that is currently under gentrification. All around the city, culture abound.
Sights we saw included:
- La casa rosa (The Pink House) - Similar to the White House in the U.S., this is where the President, Cristina, conducts business. However, she does not live in the building, and instead flies in via helicopter to meet with other government officials and ambassadors. This is an area full of daily demonstrations and protests. Today's demonstration involved enlisted veterans advocating for equal benefits as active veterans from the Falklands War of 1982. This war was fought in an attempt to regain Argentinian control of the Malvides Islands from the British. The Argentinian defeat continues to affect many today.
- Tomb of José de San Martín in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires. San Martín was instrumental in declaring independence from Spain and leading the revolution to remove Spanish rule from Argentina. Also of note, the current Pope, Pope Francis, was born in Buenos Aires and used to lead services in this massive church.
- La Boca - a bohemian, artistic community, full of color and flair, La Boca is a fun place to shop for souvenirs and support the local arts community. The iconic corrugated steel buildings used to house recent immigrants to the country, but now many poor Argentinians are also living in this tenement housing district. Residents often share bathrooms, have limited access to kitchens and ample living space, and are bitter cold in the winter and sweltering hot in the summer. Because of the amount of fires that occur in these homes, La Boca has the largest community fire department in all Buenos Aires.
- The tomb of Eva Peron. Born into poverty, Eva Peron became an actress and later married Juan Peron, a famous general who became Argentina's president in 1952. Because of her background and her captivating personality, Eva was widely loved by the people of Argentina, and was mourned by the nation when she passed away at age 33. She was later portrayed by Madonna in the famous musical, Evita, by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice.
Upon returning from our city tour, we went for a small ice cream cone filled with dulce de leche (fantastic caramel-flavored ice cream) and almonds, and then for dinner at a local restaurant.
The customary way of eating dinner in Argentina is to gather at a restaurant very late at night (around 9 or 10). Dinner begins with wine (Argentinian Malbec is fantastic!) and appetizers, followed by ordering large plates of food to share family-style. It ends with dessert, and on the weekends, Argentinians may choose to go to a bar afterward to have a few cocktails before going out to the local club where they dance the night away -- often until 4 or 5 in the morning.
Having a 4:45 a.m. wake up call tomorrow morning prevented us from wanting to explore local Argentinian culture any further than the restaurant for dinner. Back to the hotel we went in search of some much-needed sleep before our next big adventure -- a 4 hour flight to Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the southernmost city in the world, followed by a lunch cruise around the bay, after which we will finally set foot on the National Geographic Explorer and venture out into the tumultuous waters of the Drake Passage.
Good night, Friends! We shall chat again tomorrow!