Buenos Aires – A Bike Tour and Tango

Wednesday was an action packed day in Buenos Aires! More than I expected. Based on the recommendation of a couple I’d met on the Eat Rio food tour, I’d booked a tour with Biking Buenos Aires. I booked the “Heart of the City” tour, and was really looking forward to it. I hopped on the metro and turned up at their offices at 11am, only to find out that everyone else due to take the tour had cancelled, and I was the only person taking part.

I wasn’t sure how that was going to pan out – it was a bit weird thinking I’d be spending the day with just a stranger as my guide, but actually it worked out well.

I hadn’t been on a bike in forever, so was a bit wobbly setting off, but soon got the hang of it!

We set off from the district of San Telmo, and our first stop was a local park. Here, Santiago, my guide explained how the city was formed. There was a cool looking Russian church across the road.

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After that we headed into La Boca – and stopped off to look at the stadium of Boca Juniors – I think they’re probably the country’s most popular football team? Santiago explained how the stadium was always planned to be in the shape of a boat, but how they didn’t get permission to extend it, so it just looks like a half boat now. Apparently fans are fierce – and have been known in the past to throw live chickens at an opposing team!

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Then we headed to Caminito, a really cool street and square where an artist in 1954 started painting buildings in really bright colours. That’s been kept up, and all the buildings are bold.

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It’s an area where a lot of artists live now, so they had lots of little stalls selling paintings. I bought one which cost just about 70 pesos (about £5). I thought it would be a little cool reminder of my time in Buenos Aires.

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Santiago looked after my bikes and gave me 20 minutes to walk around the area. There were a lot of tourists there, and people dressed as tango dancers wanting money to have your photo taken with them, but I declined! I got some cool photos.

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Cycling on, we passed a big road construction project. Here Santiago explained about Argentina’s disappeared. It’s really shocking. He told me that when the dictatorship was running in the country between around 1976 and 1983, they ‘disappeared’ 30,000 people suspected of being communists. Where the construction project was running, they’d found some evidence of bodies, so had stopped it until archaeological work was finished. Pregnant women who were disappeared were kept alive until they had their babies, so today there are lots of children of the disappeared.

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This site was close to the Ministry of Defence where presumably everything was all planned. It was very sobering.

After seeing some of the old Buenos Aires, we headed on to the new – a redeveloped dock area called Puerto Madero. It was a complete contrast from the area we’d just visited, and was full of shiny new buildings – it reminded me a bit of Canary Wharf but without the big skyscrapers.

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Cycling through the Ecological Gardens I was beginning to feel the effects of the sun – it was SO hot! In a good way though. We rode through the gardens, and stopped of at a beach where loads of school kids were chilling out. No sand though!

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Then it was time for lunch. There was a street by the river with loads of little food stalls, so Santiago took me to one of those for a traditional Buenos Aires sandwich – a bondiola.

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Santiago told me the traditional version has ham and fried egg on it as well as pork, so I went all in. It was absolutely enormous!

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I was totally stuffed after that, but managed to get on my bike and keep pedalling. We stopped at a bridge by the Ministry of Defence and Santiago filled me in on the Argentinian economic crisis. It sounded absolutely unbelievable. Basically in 2001, the economy crashed, and everyone was limited to withdrawing 300 pesos a week for their family to live off. Today that’s only about £20! People started bartering – swapping books for tomato ketchup and so on. Protests took place in the main city square, and apparently the President flew off at the time and moved into Shakira’s house! Yes Shakira the pop star – who his son was dating.

The country also went through five presidents in four days. I find it amazing that some place that seems so civilised has such a crazy history.

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Moving on, we headed to another park where we saw a statue of Peron – he’s controversial in Argentina, and I need to do a bit more reading about him, but this statue’s only three weeks old.

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Then we headed to Plaza de Mayo – where the pink Presidential palace is. Apparently on Saturdays you can get right into the Presidential office, but I won’t be here, so I’ll miss out on that.

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Santiago pointed out a cathedral across the square that looked more like a library or law court, and recommended I take a wander to explore inside.

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It was pretty spectacular.

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By now I was beginning to feel my derriere aching a bit from the saddle! After grabbing a couple more photos of the square, the tour was done.

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I’d really enjoyed it – and got a good bit of exercise – we’d cycled around 20km! Though it had been ages since I’d been on a bike, it was fun – cycling’s a great way to get around Buenos Aires, and there’s loads of cycle paths with bumpers to protect you from the traffic. I’d definitely recommend the tour if you find yourself in BA.

I got a picture of me on the bike with my helmet on, but I look ridiculous, so I’m not posting it!

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After catching the metro back to the hotel, I wandered around and went to a bakery called Pani for a spot of dinner. It was a great spot – and the staff spoke English and were really friendly – giving me tips on what to see over my last couple of days in the city. I had a burger 🙁

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While I was having dinner, I started Googling one thing I knew I couldn’t leave Buenos Aires without seeing – the tango. I wanted to avoid a touristy type place or show though, and go where the real locals go – called a milonga.

I found a great website which listed the top 10 in BA, and found one called Malta Milonga that had a live orchestra playing once a week – on a Wednesday! Perfect, so although I was knackered from my bike ride, I headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and took a cab back to San Telmo. Weirdly the place was on the same street as Biking Buenos Aires. I made it there for 10.20pm, having read it was best to get there for a seat by 10.30pm.

Outside it didn’t look like anything special!

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You could easily walk right by. I took the two flights of stairs, and paid my 100 pesos, grabbed a beer, and waited for the action to begin. The orchestra were meant to come on at 11pm, but it turned out to be more like 11.40.  The room had slowly filled up with all kinds of people – old, young, groups of mates, singles.

Then the orchestra took to the stage. It was amazing to watch. There seemed to be no barriers at all to who danced with who – old men asked young girls up, men danced with men. Some people you could tell were brilliant, others maybe not so good, but it was still just really interesting to watch.

It’s obvious people take the Tango really seriously here. While they were laughing while dancing, it’s a big part of life. There was a great friendly atmosphere in the room, and everyone just seemed to be enjoying themselves.

After the orchestra finished, professionals took to the floor, and they were amazing. It kind of made me wish I could do to the tango.

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After a couple more beers, I left at around 1.30am and headed back to my hotel – by this point absolutely exhausted, but it had been a great day seeing the city.