Truth be told, I was scared to return to Buenos Aires. A few years back I came the city for about a week, but a good amount of my time there was spent fretting over a misplaced passport, explaining to mad Argentines that I was not from Germany (I arrived just in time for Argentina's terrible loss to the Germans in the 2010 World Cup), or simply dumbfounded by the grandeur and sprawl of the city of Good Airs.
Plaza de Mayo, the cultural and political epicenter of Buenos Aires and arguably all of Argentina. This is where the masses would gather to hear speeches by Juan Peron or his beloved wife, Evita.
It's also the site of some of Argentina's most somber events. In 1955, Argentina Navy and Air Force pilots dropped bombs on the plaza during a rally in support of President Peron, killing nearly 400 of their own citizens as part of an attempted coup to overthrow Peron. This coup failed, but eventually the military was successful in deposing Peron and setting up a military dictatorship (junta) that ruled Argentina for nearly three decades.
The White Scarves represent the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The junta didn't tolerate any subversion or criticism from citizens, and it is estimated that the junta abducted, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, and/or executed between 8,000 to 30,000 Argentines. They ranged from radical left-wing guerrilla fighters to intellectuals who supported free speech. The victims, known as desaparecidos, were mourned publicly by their mothers and grandmothers in the Plaza de Mayo in defiance of the dictatorship, which eventually became a regular silent protest against the injustices carried out by the junta.
After studying in Cordoba (Argentina's second city) for so long before going to the capital, I came to Buenos Aires thinking little of the difference. Buenos Aires had other plans for this yanqui. By the time I left, I realized what Argentines truly meant when they say that Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina are totally different places. To put it in American-friendly terms, imagine the United States and its major cities. Take New York, with an advantageous spot right on the coast and a hub of cultural and economic influence. Then take pretty much all of the rest of the major cities (Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami Boston, etc.) and combine them with New York. Top it off with the political power of Washington, DC. Now imagine your next biggest city in all of the United States being Austin, Texas. Now you can imagine the difference between Buenos Aires and the rest of the country. It is the eighth biggest country in the world, but a quarter of the population lives in one city, and the next biggest city, Cordoba, being comparable in size to Austin.
I was a bit more prepared this time. I'd made friends in Buenos Aires during my previous visit, and after years of keeping in touch online and seemingly-idle promises that we would see each other again I was extraordinarily happy to be able to actually do so. The city remained unmasterable to me in many ways, including a nasty sunburn, getting lost several times, having to sleep on the floor of an overbooked hostel, and punctuated with a postponed departure due to a misbooked bus ticket. All of which was underlined with an ethereal yet unshakeable sense of uncertainty. Will the ATMs be out of cash today? Will there be a power outage today? Is this subway line running today? Which streets will be closed for a protest today?
For all of this uncertainty the perfect antidote is friendship, and that is one thing I had going for me. Over good food and drinksf, my porteño friends provided reassurance that I wasn't alone in feeling overwhelmed by the city at times. It occurred to me that I had been caught in the typical tourist trap of thinking that something different must be bad or broken, rather than doing what I wanted to do in the first place; enjoy the place where I am for what it is. Until then I hadn't realized that I was still perceiving everything through a gringo filter. I wasn't able to take things objectively and focus on what was good: warm weather, incredible food, marathon nights out on the town, and friends old and new. By the end of my time there I was exhausted, much poorer, and still felt like the city had tormented me. However, I now felt that the city was less like a savage beast out to get me and more like a taunting older brother. Its treatment may seem cruel, but in the end I know there's love and hope that I'll come back for more, a bit wiser and stronger every time.
Now that you've decided to go to Buenos Aires, you should consider where to stay. If, like me, you're ballin' on a budget, you should consider Pax Hostel in San Telmo. The location puts you within walking distance of the famous street markets in San Telmo, the Plaza de Mayo, and there is a subway station one block away from the hostel on the main avenue, 9 de Julio.
It's also a magical place. The hostel hosts weekly beer pong tournament for the patrons, so I went down to check it out one evening. Anyone who has played beer pong with me will tell you that I am the worst beer pong player in the world, so I was content to hang out on the sidelines and make conversation among the international grab-bag of hostel patrons. However, as I was only 1 of 2 Americans in the hostel, the manager happily insisted that I enter the tournament to represent the country that invented beer pong. I explained that I would only waste everyone's time, but eventually caved when a cute British girl volunteered to be my teammate despite my malady.
Then, something happened. I think it must have something to do with the same principle that makes the water in the toilet spin the other direction when you flush here, because we won our first game. My teammate, Beth, had first played beer pong just a couple of weeks before, and was about as much help as Shaq at the free throw line. Through the magic of Buenos Aires, the triple-dead spirit of George Washington guided my hand, round after round, and we ended up winning the tournament. If you ever go to Pax, down in the basement bar, scribbled on some paper taped to the far wall titled "PAX BEER PONG HALL OF FAME", you'll see the name of yours truly as proof. I love this city.