After a morning full of macaws, we had a slightly more relaxed afternoon plan. We were heading to another clay lick, this time one that’s frequented by mammals like jungle pigs, deer, and other herbivores. Unlike the macaws, the mammals’ schedules aren’t so predictable, so Juvenal warned us that there was a good chance we wouldn’t see anything. Oh, well… what can you do? I’ve been working on my patience, so at the very least, I’d get the chance to practice that.

Before we headed out, though, Juvenal showed us how to crack open a Brazil nut pod. Remember when I talked about those? Brazil nut trees are super tall, and the nuts are contained inside large pods that are similar to coconuts. The pods fall to the ground, and that’s how they’re “harvested”, even for commercial purposes. People just gather the ones that have already fallen to the ground.

Juvenal had said that we didn’t want to get knocked in the head by a falling pod, and after witnessing the effort required to break through the hard outer shell to reach the nuts, um… yeah. Definitely not the kind of thing I want hitting my head. He handed us a machete and told us to take a crack at it (hehe he didn’t say it in those exact words, but he should have). Dad went first, and despite his many strong swings, the coconut held strong. I took a few until I felt like there was no progress being made. Mom even hopped in there for a second. And then Dad went back at it until we finally got a hole big enough to squeeze the Brazil nuts through. Geez. It’s quite the undertaking! And then, that’s not even the end! You still have to crack the casings around each of the nuts, though they had a big nutcracker for that so it was much easier than opening the coconut.

Looking up a Brazil nut tree. I think.
What a good sport! (This was the end of her swing, by the way. This was just bad picture-taking timing on my part.)
Dad was determined to crack it open
There MUST be some sort of trick to this, right???

Here’s Dad in action:

The whole thing is fascinating. The coconuts can have anywhere from 10-30 nuts in them, and based on its size, Juvenal guessed that ours had 20. There were 19. What an impressive and yet incredibly useless skill. I didn’t realize until we got it open that I’ve seen Brazil nuts before. Mom used to buy them, and she said that she used to really like them and then decided that they weren’t worth the effort. Ha. And she didn’t even have to open the pod! But I hear ya, Mom. I tried one of the ones we cracked… it was fine. Kind of bitter. I don’t know. I wouldn’t choose them necessarily, but if I was starving or lost in the rainforest, that would probably be the thing I would go for (though then I would almost certainly die because I’m not sure that the energy you get from eating the nuts is greater than the energy you put into accessing them).

Pulling the nuts (in their final protective layer, as if they needed another one) out of the tiny hole we managed to make in the pod.
And cracking them open to get to the actual nuts inside.

After that whole adventure, we headed out into the rainforest to visit the mammal clay lick, about a 30-minute walk from the lodge. There were a few cool things that we came across along the way…

This mud tube was built by a cicada! This isn’t unique to the rainforest, but I’d definitely never seen one before. They build these when their tunnels are in danger of being flooded, to keep the cicada nymphs from drowning (that’s what comes out of the ground, the nymphs. Then, they shed their exoskeletons and begin transforming into adult cicadas).
This is an entrance into a leafcutter ant colony. It may not look like much, but don’t let that fool you! The nests can be 30-60 meters in diameter underneath the ground. That’s 100 to nearly 200 feet! And they go 6-8 meters deep (20-26ft). Also, did you know that the ants don’t actually eat the leaves that they bring back to the nest? They bring them into a special chamber underground where they cultivate fungus to feed their larvae. THEY’RE FARMERS. Is that not the craziest thing????

At the clay lick, there’s a “blind” to sit in, a camouflaged hut with a little sliver window to look through so that the animals don’t see you while you’re creeping on them. It was kind of rough in there… hot, unventilated, and not the most ergonomically designed… the window is too high if you’re sitting down and too low if you’re standing up. So if you want to keep an eye on the clay lick, you have to stand in an awkward half-squat the whole time.

Since I’m so young and agile, I took one for the team while Juvenal worked on a Rubik’s cube and Mom and Dad lounged. Mostly there was a lot of nothing, nothing, and nothing. I kept having a feeling that something was going to happen soon, but it was just my optimism at work. No herds of jungle pigs came thundering through the forest, though if they had, I absolutely would be saying right now, “I knew they were coming! I must have some sort of gift.”

Finally, I saw some leaves moving! I couldn’t see the rustler at first, but it seemed unlikely that it was very big. Definitely not pig-sized. At first glimpse, it seemed like it could be a snake? But no, as it got closer, I could see that it was a big lizard! I got everyone up to check it out, and while it wasn’t exactly what we were hoping to see, it was better than nothing! I was content with our creepy forked-tongue lizard.

Here comes the lizard!
There he is! He was probably at least 3 feet long. I don’t know. I’m a terrible estimator.
That forked tongue really kind of freaks me out.
Check out the cool patterns on his skin.

We headed back to the lodge, had some downtime before dinner, and then had another activity after we ate! They do a “night walk” each day where you walk around the forest at night with a guide, and he points out all of the cool things that you can see more clearly at night. Mom opted out of this one, but Dad and I went and had a great time!

There was a different guide for the night walk, and after about 5 seconds of walking with him, it was clear why he got the job of leading that activity. He LOVED bugs and night things. He was seriously having the time of his life, and even though I am generally not excited about bugs and night things, his enthusiasm was contagious. We were also lucky because we were the only two people in the group which meant that we could ask as many questions as we wanted!

We started out by wading in some ankle-deep water where he pointed out various frogs and their eggs which look like weird jelly-like globs hanging off of branches. While we were still standing in the water, the guide started shining his light on the surface like he was looking for something. I asked what, and he said “caimans”. WHAT. They’re like alligators! I would have thought he was joking, but that didn’t seem like his style. I freaked out a little and he goes, “but just small ones!” OH, JUST SMALL ONES? THAT’S FINE THEN. Um. NOT. Much to his dismay (and my relief), there were no caimans to be found. Except now that I think about it, just because we didn’t see them DOESN’T MEAN THEY WEREN’T THERE. Ahhhh. Now I’m retroactively freaking out which makes no sense, but ahh, I can still imagine standing in that water and now I’m picturing my reaction if a caiman had come and it is decidedly not chill.

Spot the frog!
See that weird, jelly-like stuff hanging off of that branch? Those are frog eggs.
Another frog! (Smack dab in the middle.)

ANYWAY, we headed back to dry land, past a large, poisonous spider (no pictures of that, sorry. I practically ran past, as if it was planning to leap through the air at me). I started thinking that maybe it hadn’t been a bad idea for Mom to skip this. We saw a bunch of other bugs… grasshoppers and a scorpion spider and crickets maybe? I don’t know. They’re all just bugs to me. I also spotted a little red snake on a tree.

Dragonfly!
Little lizard
Scorpion spider
Check out the tiny snake!
So many bugs.

Then, this was crazy… the guide turned on a blacklight, and it made a little scorpion glow bright green! There’s something in their exoskeletons that glows in blacklights, though no one knows exactly what the purpose is. When it was glowing, it was incredibly obvious because everything around it was that regular, blacklight purple. Then, he switched back to normal light, and we could barely see it because it was brown and so was everything around it.

The best part was when the guide told us to turn our lights off and wait. We stood there in the dark for about a minute before these little glowing things slowly started to appear at the base of the tree near us! Glowworms! Like, what the heck?? Nature is insane!

Mom was asleep when we got back, and it didn’t take long for the two of us to join her. It had been a VERY long day! Thankfully, we didn’t have quite as early of a start the next day, though we still weren’t “sleeping in” by any stretch of the imagination.

A cricket? I think? Kind of terrifyingly large…

If you’re looking for a relaxing vacation where you can sleep in and lounge around, the rainforest probably isn’t a good destination for you. Well, there’s plenty of lounge time, and you couldn’t pick a prettier place… but don’t expect to do much sleeping in. We set our alarms for 3:30AM because we had a 4:15AM meeting time with our guide, Juvenal.

So, what exactly was exciting enough to rouse us at such an absurd hour? Macaws. We’ll get to that in a bit, but at the end of this post, you can be the judge and let me know if you think it was worth waking up well before dawn was even considering cracking.

When our alarm went off, it sounded like it was raining outside, and Juvenal had mentioned that it’s only worth going if the weather isn’t bad. We got dressed anyway and headed to the lodge to figure out the plan.

Juvenal said that he thought the rain might stop, and it was up to us if we wanted to chance it and go or if we wanted to try the next morning instead. I was 100% on team “let’s go” because no way was I trying to have ANOTHER 3:30AM wake up call the next day! The only thing worse than an early-morning wake-up is an unnecessary early-morning wake-up! And what if it was raining even harder then? We delayed for a few minutes in the hopes that it would let up a bit and then grabbed our boots and umbrellas and hit the road. Well, hit the trail. And then the boat.

My first attempt at taking a picture of a flying bird… hehe not great.
Much easier when the birds are moving slowly!
One more…

We had a two-hour boat ride, and by the time we reached our destination, the rain had stopped completely, and the weather was absolutely perfect!! So, what exactly WAS our destination?

Every morning, as long as the weather is nice, you can find huge numbers of macaws gathering at clay licks to, as Juvenal put it, “get their daily vitamins”. The macaws visit these areas to literally eat the exposed clay. Experts aren’t entirely sure of the reason for this behavior, but a leading theory is that the clay contains salt that is otherwise hard to find in the Amazon. Salt is important for many bodily functions and helps to keep the nervous system and heart functioning properly. Animals, like macaws, with a primarily plant-based diet can have trouble getting sufficient salt from their food. Consuming the salty clay helps to cover this deficiency. Another theory is that the clay helps to cleanse the naturally occurring toxins that are found in plants and prevents them from being absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. The sodium theory is more widely accepted because studies of macaw behavior have found that they prefer saltier clay. There was one clay lick in particular in Peru where macaws were seen eating from a specific clay layer, and analysis showed a much higher concentration of sodium there than the layers above and below. This isn’t a behavior of only macaws in the Amazon. Other plant-eating birds, like parrots and parakeets, do the same, and even mammals like jungle pigs and deer make regular visits to the clay licks, though not quite as often as the macaws.

The boat docked, and from there, we had an easy 10-minute walk to the viewing area. There was one other tour group already there, but everyone had plenty of space and a good view. Juvenal said that it can get very crowded in the high season, so I felt pretty good about our timing, even though the more unpredictable weather of the rainy season was less than ideal.

Spot the Macaws!
Just hanging out.

When we first arrived, there wasn’t much going on. There were some macaws high up in the surrounding trees, but none of them were anywhere near the actual clay lick. Juvenal said that they partner up for life, so if we watched closely, we’d notice that they go and come in pairs. More and more gathered, and then they started creeping down to lower and lower branches. He said that all they needed was for one bird to make the first move and then they’d all be on the clay. Sure enough, one brave soul boldly landed, ate some clay, and flew away… and then came back after nothing disastrous happened. Pretty soon, there were birds all over it!

Hovering
Getting a liiittle bit closer, with a couple of new friends.
And, he makes his move!
Slowly…
Then, chaos!
And more birds
AND MORE BIRDS
These are all basically the same now, but my gosh I just can’t even believe that this is a real, normal thing. Like, this happens EVERY DAY. What a world.

I’d never seen anything like it! I mean, I don’t know when I would have, but the screeching and the sounds of their wings flapping… well, I think you have to hear it for yourself.

I was having quite the orientation with my new camera. I still wasn’t really sure about the settings or what everything meant, and Dad told me to just shoot on auto because it would still be better than anything I would take with my cell phone. True. The next leg of my trip, after my parents left, was with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, and my uncle knows a lot about cameras. I planned to take advantage of his knowledge, but until then, I just had to make do and play around with it. So… yeah, these aren’t the best pictures. But I’m pretty sure that taking pictures of distant, flying birds is just about the hardest thing to start with.

I wanted to get some pictures of them flying because the colors are even more incredible when their wings are open.
Pretend this isn’t blurry and just appreciate how majestic these birds are.
That one with its wings open on the tree… whoa.
Those two birds flying away on the left are awesome!

The best thing, though, was that Juvenal had a telescope with him. It made you feel like you were right next to the clay lick! And you can literally take pictures through the telescope using a phone camera which is crazy!

Full view through the telescope
Getting even closer…
The wings!
Macaw love
The deep blue feathers are so pretty!

It’s like he’s staring straight into our souls
If I were a bird, I think I would like to be a macaw.

That one on the bottom left is taking a big ‘ole bite. Yummm, clay!

We saw three different types of macaws. The scarlet macaws are, to me, the classics. They’re the ones that look the most rainbow-like. The red-and-green macaws are very similar, but they don’t have yellow feathers like the scarlet macaws. And finally, the blue-and-yellow macaws are pretty easy to separate from the other two. See if you can spot all three types in this photo!

Did you find all three?

At one point, something scared the macaws and they all flew away. It happened so quickly… they were all on the clay lick, and then a second later, they were gone! I guess they just went and took a lap or something because soon enough, they started gathering in the trees again, and the whole creeping process repeated until they were back on the clay lick in full force.

Business as usual…
…aaand they’re gone.
I’m telling you, taking pictures of flying birds is not easy!
Returning to the safety of the treetops
Not a great picture, but I just love those two blue-and-yellow macaws who look like they’re resting their heads on each other.

We’re back!
Getting set for another round at the clay lick

I think I could have stayed there watching until all of the macaws left, but after a while, we called it a morning and headed back to the boat. The ride back to the lodge was so pleasant. There was no sign of the nasty weather from the morning. The sky was blue, and being on the boat on the river was the best feeling in the world. I sat cross-legged on the bench so that I could face forward and look out at the riverbanks and decided that I was at my peak happiness on the river. You think I can live on one of those boats?

The fam with the clay lick in the back left
Juvenal on the ride home

We didn’t see anything too thrilling on the way back, but we did see a bunch of birds. We cruised past another, small clay lick right on the edge of the river. I was no longer afraid of using my camera on the boat, so I had it out (with the strap around my neck and a VERY tight grip in my hands) and was snapping sure-to-be-terrible pictures along the way. The only way to get better is to practice!

Taken from a moving boat
Ride-by photos

It was only about 10AM when we got back to the lodge, but I felt like we’d already lived an entire day! Thankfully, we had some downtime before lunch, and I used the time to lounge on my bed and rest up for our afternoon adventures… which I’ll talk about next time!

Bye, boat!

We’re back in Peru! I know, for a time when travel is all but impossible, we sure do seem to move around a lot. But that’s the joy of the internet! And memories. For me, it’s been fun to relive some past excitement while actually sitting in Pennsylvania, feeling like I’ve had my wings clipped.

So, we last left off in Peru as I headed to the airport from Esperanza de Ana, not to leave the country but rather to meet my parents and kick off our family Peruvian adventure! I had quite the crazy mix of feelings. I was sad to leave EA, happy to see my parents, sad to leave my friends, happy because Jocelyn and her brother were meeting up with us later in Cusco… and on top of my conflicting feelings, it was nearly the middle of the night which is never good for processing emotions or thinking clearly.

Seeing my parents walk out into the arrivals hall was surreal. I don’t think I realized how much I missed them until that moment! Between that and my excitement for the trip ahead, I didn’t have a chance to dwell too much on my feelings about leaving everything else behind.

Do we look like we’re wide awake?

OH! And I had one more thing to distract me… my new camera!!! I had been thinking about buying a real camera for years, and this seemed like as good a time as any to take the plunge. I bought one, shipped it to my parents in the States, and they brought it along with them! This is my first “real” camera, so bear with me… things started out a little rough as I tried to figure out what the heck I was doing, but you’ll see that over my month and a half of travels, my skills went from very rough to kind of okay! (I still used my phone a lot for pictures as well, but the camera was infinitely better for anything requiring a zoom.)

Anyway, after our bleary-eyed airport reunion, we headed to a hotel near the airport to get a few hours of sleep before our morning flight to Puerto Maldonado!

Coming into Puerto Maldonado
It’s a far cry from the brown desert climate of Lima!

One of the major places to visit in Peru, besides Machu Picchu, of course, is the Amazon Rainforest. Most of the rainforest (about 60%) is in Brazil, Peru has the second largest area (~13%), and seven other South American countries contain the remainder. The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, containing more than half of its entire rainforested area.

The Peruvian Amazon covers more than half of Peru, but only about 5% of the population lives there. (The majority live along the coast, like in Lima and its suburbs, where it’s easier to find work.) The two major tourist gateways are Iquitos in the north, home to the famous pink river dolphins and the only place to actually cruise the Amazon River, and Puerto Maldonado in the south, sitting at the intersection of two Amazon tributary rivers, the Tambopata River and the Madre de Dios River.

Check out these river views. What a crazy route!
So cool to see them from above!

I chose Puerto Maldonado because it’s a much smaller city, there’s a ton of biodiversity in that part of the rainforest, and it’s way more accessible to/from the other places we were planning to visit (you can fly direct to/from Lima and Cusco). One of the EA directors recommended an eco-lodge that she had visited, and so, we had our first destination!

After a short flight from Lima, the company picked us up from the itty bitty Puerto Maldonado airport and drove us about 5 minutes to their office in town where we left any luggage that we didn’t need for the rainforest leg of our trip. From there, we had an hour-long bus ride to the Tambopata River followed by a 1.5-hour boat ride to the lodge.

Lunch on the go! Chaufa (fried rice) in a banana leaf
Mom enjoying her chaufa

Along the way, we got our first glimpse of rainforest wildlife! One of the guides spotted three capybaras down by the water (the guides all have eagle eyes, it’s crazy), and we watched them climb their way up probably 15 meters of what seemed like an impossibly steep riverbank. It was extra incredible because capybaras are NOT the most agile-looking animals. They’re the largest rodents in the world and my best description is that they’re like large guinea pigs or maybe large, tailless rats? I would have a picture to show you… but they were too far away for my phone, and I was still in the “new electronics” overprotective mode with my camera (I was certain that I was going to drop it into the river… and I still had no idea how to use it).

Saying goodbye to our boat

Once we reached the “dock” near the lodge, we had a 20-minute walk through the forest with our guide for the rainforest portion of our trip, Juvenal (who-ven-ahl). He gave us some basic rules of the rainforest: Stay together, never put your hand somewhere without looking first (unless you want to risk touching a biting ant or worse), and walk quickly when you see Brazil nut pods on the ground or flowers from their trees. Okay, the first two seem like common sense… but the third one?

The stairs to/from the boat dock
Headed to the lodge

Brazil nut trees can grow to be VERY large: 160ft (50m) tall and with a 100ft (30m) diameter canopy. The nuts are contained in coconut-like pods that are usually around 3-7 inches (8-18cm) in diameter and can weigh more than 5 pounds (2+ kg)! Within each pod, there can be anywhere from 10-30 Brazil nuts. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. The most important thing to know is that the pods fall from the trees whenever they’re good and ready, so unless you want a 5-pound coconut to whack you in the head after a 160ft fall, it’s best to minimize your time underneath the trees during the falling season. Juvenal showed us how some of them had embedded themselves into the ground after the fall. Eek! Don’t have to tell me twice! No, thank you to a dent like that in my skull!

Brazil nut pod (I was really taking my life into my hands by pausing to take this picture, so I hope you appreciate it… I was kind of operating on the “lightning never strikes the same place twice” principle, even though that’s a bunch of baloney even in regards to lightning and definitely doesn’t apply in this context).
This tree is funky… look at how weird and smooth it looks! I don’t remember the type of tree, but Juvenal explained that it sheds its bark every so often to get rid of anything that might be growing on it. Cool!
This tree should take some hints from the bark-shedding tree because there’s all sorts of stuff growing on this trunk.
The lodge! This is where the common spaces are, like the dining area, spa, and educational spaces.
If this isn’t the most picturesque place to get a massage…
They have nightly lectures about bugs and other similarly thrilling topics here (okay, that was rude. I’m sure the lectures were interesting… but it’s a fact that they were frequently about things like moths. MOTHS).
The walkway from the main lodge area to our room.
View of our room’s building from the walkway.

We had some downtime after we reached the lodge and used it to get settled. Mom wasn’t thrilled about the room… our rectangular room had only three walls, and even those barely qualified as such. They were made of bamboo and had “windows” (aka openings) just above head level between the room and the outdoor walkway/hallway. And the shower was a step up from floor level, so you could literally see people walking by while you were inside. It’s good that we went in the off-season because if there were people in every room, the lack of privacy/separation would have been more apparent.

The fourth “wall” was left open to the rainforest. Juvenal promised that we probably wouldn’t end up with a jaguar in our room. Heh. I’ll tell you now that we didn’t have any animal issues, but there are some LARGE rainforest bugs. Our beds had mosquito nets, at least. We gave Mom the bed farthest from the open wall, I slept in the middle, and we offered Dad up to the forest.

Yeah, there’s nothing covering that “window”.
Mom quickly claimed the right-most bed.
Turndown service, rainforest edition.
Camera practice. Not especially well-focused, but a cool flower nonetheless.
More flowers as seen from our room.
We saw these tamarin monkeys from our room as well!
How cool is that?
They had no interest in coming inside.
So that was good.
Unfortunately, the bugs didn’t have the same sense as the monkeys. I should have put something in this picture for scale, but this beetle was at least an inch and a half long. Mom wasn’t into it.

We had some time before dark and took advantage of the good weather by climbing the “canopy tower”, a tower that’s maybe 150 feet tall? Its top platform sits up above the tree canopies, and we spotted a few birds flying around and watched the sun start to set before heading back to the lodge. We headed down before it got too dark at the top, and by the time we reached the forest floor, it was juuust light enough to see our way back. The canopy-level and the ground-level are two totally different worlds!

The ground around the tower. I liked the colors.
No shortage of tall trees
Canopy tower.
Family picture at the top of the tower!
Quite a different perspective from the ground!
The viewing platform at the top of the tower
This tree is cool.
Dramatic skies from the top of the tower
Sunset!

Back at the lodge, we ate dinner, slipped into our mosquito-net-shielded beds, and passed out. Not only had it been a long day, but we had a painfully early start the next morning… 4:15AM! I wish I was kidding.

It’s our last day in Argentina, folks! Mike and I had an evening flight back to New York which gave us most of the day to do some last-minute sightseeing. I was excited because it was a Saturday, and Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, is open for tours on the weekends. I made reservations online for the 12:30PM English tour, giving us plenty of time to wake up, get ourselves organized and checked out, and walk over for the tour.

Casa Rosada. We got to make a grand entrance right through the front gate and archway.

We arrived a little early, found the line for our tour, and were chatting to pass the time when the guy in front of us struck up a conversation. This is one of the great joys of traveling – meeting new people in the most random of places. Sometimes you hit it off and become fast friends. Other times… well… you’ll see.

“You two look Argentinian! Why are you in this line?” he asked. I blinked at him. He was asking why we were in the line for an English tour instead of a Spanish one. This, to me, seemed like an unnecessary question because 1. our presence in the English line would imply that we were more comfortable speaking English, and 2. we were literally speaking English to each other before he started talking to us.

Mike, thank goodness, pulled himself together before I did. “Regardless of if we look Argentinian, we aren’t, so we aren’t fluent Spanish speakers.” The guy asked a few more questions, and it eventually came up that we’re Armenian… at which point he said that he was too and asked if he could take a picture of us. OF us, not WITH us. Okay. Weird. After that, they started filtering people through security, and we reconvened inside the building as we waited for our guide and for everyone to get checked in.

The ceiling of the entry area where we waited to meet our guide.

The guy from the line tracked us down again and asked Mike to take a picture of him. Mike asked where he wanted it or if there was something in particular that he wanted in the background. He said, “Oh, no. Maybe just over here with your beautiful wife.” Umm, WHAT?

“Oh my gosh, NO!” I said in horror. “We are NOT married. He’s my BROTHER!” I think some people around us started laughing. I was not laughing. Maybe I overreacted, but this is such a pet peeve of mine. Also, what a weird thing, to request a picture with someone else’s wife??

The guy’s only response, I suppose in place of an apology, was, “Well, all Armenians look the same,” which is a silly thing to say, especially considering he thought we were Argentinian just a few seconds ago. I gave him an incredulous look and was saved from having to respond by the appearance of our tour guide.

The moral of this story is, sometimes, it’s better not to say what you’re thinking. And just because a man and woman are traveling together doesn’t mean that they’re married or even dating. And just because you think someone looks Argentinian doesn’t mean they speak Spanish. And also, what does an Argentinian even look like? Ugh. I’m going to stop before I work myself into a fury.

Admire this floor while I attempt to pull myself back together. There’s nothing like a nice floor to calm me down, ya know?

The Casa Rosada, or pink house, is only “home” to the presidential offices. The president’s actual house is outside of the city, about half an hour away in the suburbs. The fastest way to commute is by helicopter, so obviously that’s how it’s done because heaven forbid that the president should have to sit in traffic.

Anyway, the palace was built on the site of an old Spanish fort, used by the viceroys during the colonial days. After independence, it was chosen as the seat of the executive branch. You might be wondering why it’s pink… why, oxblood, of course! An oxblood/lime/who-knows-what-else mix was applied to the exterior for waterproofing purposes.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the two sides of the building aren’t symmetrical. This is because it started as two buildings, the Central Post Office on the right and the old Government Palace on the left. Tamburini, one of the original architects of the Teatro Colón, designed a central archway to join the two buildings together in 1890.

Spot the differences!

My personal opinion of the building itself was that it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. There are some cool elements, but the interior decor is erratic. It doesn’t feel like there’s a cohesive design, and maybe there actually isn’t. We learned that when a new president comes into power, they can redesign the interior spaces. They just can’t touch the facade. I don’t know. It just wasn’t my favorite.

A potential contributing factor to my opinion was that the tour itself was incredibly boring. It didn’t have to be, but the guide had no concept of storytelling or determining which facts are interesting and which are unnecessary. Mike entertained himself by pointing out terrible lighting and poorly hidden cabling and laughing at my reactions because he knows how much that stuff bothers me. It’s just… if you’re doing work to update a historic building, you can’t just run exposed cables all over the place! Come on, people! At least TRY to conceal them!

Here are some interior pictures. What do you think about the decor choices?

A meeting room. Looks like they could use a bigger TV. I mean, come on. What is that? A 50″?
I liked this wood detail around the tops of the walls.
A painting of Juan and Eva Perón.
This balcony, with its view out to the Plaza de Mayo, has been used for many famous speeches in Argentina’s history. Eva Perón made her final speech from here during a workers’ rally (she died a few months later).
The balcony has a pretty fab view of the Plaza de Mayo.
Another conference room. And seriously, that TV is way too small. Do people sit at that table with the chairs so close to one another?
Really, the whole building is just a bunch of huge rooms with tables and chairs. I guess it is basically just a palatial office building but like… how many conference rooms do you need? (Also, look at that ceiling!)
Stained glass along a corridor
Here’s a better view of that conference room ceiling. Fancy!
Honestly, this little courtyard was probably my favorite part of the whole building. It’s the only part that didn’t feel overdone.
And also, this hallway.
This is the White Hall where the president is sworn in. It’s also used for press conferences and other important events.
The ceiling paintings commemorate the May Revolution and the Declaration of Independence.
The room is pretty epic, but the lighting is so distracting that it makes it hard to really focus on the details. That chandelier has 456 lamps, and all of them are 100x brighter than they should be. My gosh. It’s like the sun… Don’t look straight at it or you might go blind.
Try to ignore the glarey lights and focus on some of the other details which, while completely overpowered by the lighting, are quite nice.
The floors are also fantastic in this room. It’s more Croatian wood (like the wood floors in the Teatro Colón).
This is one of the staircases, the “France” Stairway. The tapestry on the wall was a gift from the French government for the 100th anniversary of the May Revolution.
The Hall of Honor is full of busts of former presidents. It also has a very intense ceiling and very bright lighting.
This is the presidential elevator which seems like overkill for a 2-story building. Maybe it’s 3-stories in some parts? But the president’s office is on the second floor which means that there’s a ridiculously plush bench in that elevator so that you don’t have to stand for the 5-second ride up/down ONE floor.
One more picture of a nice hallway for good measure.

After the tour, Mike and I hopped onto a bus and headed for La Boca, a southern neighborhood of Buenos Aires famous for the brightly colored buildings on its most famous street, El Caminito. In the 19th century, there was an influx of Italian immigrants from Genoa who settled in La Boca. It was a shantytown, overcrowded and dirty, and came into its colorful existence when the residents used whatever paint they could find to brighten up their dwellings. Now, it’s taken on a more touristy vibe, but it still has a certain charm and is filled with vendors selling artwork and handcrafts.

On the approach. Lots of knick-knacks and souvenirs.
El Caminito
In one of the side shops. The colors were almost as blindingly bright as a Casa Rosada chandelier.
Bright! Bright! Bright!
Cool paintings

Even the school is in on the fun!
Walkway by the water
Already melting (but still delicious) ice cream.

We didn’t have a ton of time to spend exploring, but we managed to stroll El Caminito a few times, eat some ice cream, and walk around the neighboring streets. From there, we headed back to the hostel, picked up our bags, and took a cab to the airport.

Whew! Can you believe it? We’re finally finished talking about Argentina!

Coming up next… get ready for some more recent escapades! We’re headed right back to where we left off in Peru, with me on the way to the airport to meet my parents for 10 days of Peruvian adventures!

Welcome back to the world’s longest day! I’ve already talked about our morning of wandering and visiting Recoleta Cemetery and our tour of Teatro Colón. When we left the theater, it was only 1:30PM! We grabbed some lunch before heading to our next activity, a city tour. Since I’ve already shared a lot of the things we learned on the tour, between the Argentina History posts and other tidbits here and there, I’m going to take you on my own little city tour. And so, welcome to Lara’s “Random Buenos Aires” Tour!

Let’s back up a little and start our tour at lunch. Mike and I went to Galerías Pacífico to eat, which sounds like it could be a very fancy restaurant but is actually just a very fancy shopping center with a food court. I wanted to go for the architectural experience. Mike wanted to go for the food. How fortunate that, in this case, our interests so easily converged! It doesn’t always happen like that.

Galerías Pacífico was built in 1889 to house a world-class department store, home to the latest international fashions. It was completed just in time for the 1890 economic downturn, and the store never opened. In the following years, the space housed the National Museum of Fine Art, offices for a railway company, and a hotel before being transformed into the current shopping center in 1992 (not-so-fun fact: the basement was also used to hold and torture people during the last military dictatorship).

In 1946, five Argentinian artists were hired to paint murals on the ceiling in the central dome. It’s interesting to see how the varying styles of each artist come through in the different panels!

The many faces of the Galerias Pacifico ceiling…
They did coordinate at least slightly, so the general theme and color schemes are similar.
But it is cool to see how the different artists’ styles come through.

While Galerias Pacifico is one of the most popular, Buenos Aires has no shortage of beautiful shopping areas. Mike and I also randomly wandered through Galería Güemes, probably while seeking respite from the heat and humidity. It was completed in 1915 and is much smaller than Galerías Pacífico, but the art nouveau architecture (and air conditioning) made it more than worth a walkthrough. You can also go up to the 14th floor for an inexpensive view of the city, but I had no idea about that at the time because that’s what happens when you don’t plan ahead!

Galería Güemes. Loving that fancy dome!
Mercado San Telmo. Check out that roof structure!

On a less high-end note, I immediately fell in love with the interior of Mercado San Telmo, a market. It’s bright and airy inside, and the metal structure gives it some real personality. It was built in 1897 and hasn’t changed much since. The stalls inside sell everything from food and produce to knick-knacks, souvenirs, and antiques. On Sundays, there’s a big flea market in the nearby streets and plaza, but we, unfortunately, weren’t in town to experience that chaos. Instead, we had to settle for walking through at midday during the week. Honestly, that was fine with me. I’m not one for flea markets, and it was nice and empty which made wandering with my eyes glued to the ceiling less hazardous.

Now, let’s fly across town to the Palacio del Congreso (Palace of Congress), the seat of Argentina’s parliament. If you know anything about the structure of the United States government, you won’t have trouble understanding Argentina’s. It’s divided into three branches: executive (President), legislative (Congress), and judicial (Supreme Court). The legislative branch is composed of two bodies: the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Each province is represented by three senators (6-year terms) and is allocated deputies by population (4-year terms).

The organizational structure of the legislative branch isn’t the only thing taking hints from the U.S. Does this building look like another building you may have seen before? (Attempt to see past the monument that’s obstructing your view.)

Palacio del Congreso with the Monumento a Los Dos Congresos (Monument to the Two Congresses) in front.

If you said, “the U.S. Capitol Building”, give yourself a pat on the back. The two buildings have a very similar form, but the architect, Vittorio Meano, still managed to give it a style of its own. Meano was also one of the original two Italian architects who I mentioned were involved with Teatro Colón. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to see the completion of either because side story: he was murdered by his wife’s lover when he discovered their affair. Eek.

Construction began in 1896, and the building was inaugurated in 1906… but it wasn’t fully completed until 1946. Whew! There was a lot of time-consuming ornamental work, so even though it wasn’t technically ‘finished’, it was occupied before then. The building is mostly marble and granite with an 80m tall bronze-plated dome, and it faces a large, grassy plaza, Plaza del Congreso.

This massive tree is in the Plaza del Congreso. I think it’s a gomero tree, or rubber fig tree. Whatever it is, it’s crazy!
One of the 20-some casts of “The Thinker” made during Rodin’s life can be found in the Plaza del Congreso. It’s surrounded by a fence and sits on a tall podium to protect it from being defaced during protests (apparently it’s happened before).
Palacio Barolo, looking especially tall from this awkward angle.

Only a few blocks from the plaza, there’s one building that towers over its surroundings. Standing 100m tall, Palacio Barolo had to get special permission to exceed the height ordinances when it was built in 1923. Why 100m? To maximize the rentable office space on the site? Silly, of course not! The building is an architectural tribute to the Divine Comedy, a 14th-century narrative poem about Dante’s (the author’s) journey through the afterlife. It’s a prized piece of Italian literature, and the Italian owner and architect turned their passion for Dante into a hulking reinforced-concrete building. Talk about superfans!

The design is completely over-the-top, but it’s a fascinating concept, translating literature into architecture. This is another “maybe someday I’ll go on a tour” building (but they’re not cheap, so it might have to wait until I have an actual income) and then I’ll write a whole post on it. For now, just the basics: The architect pulled various numbers and concepts from the work and translated them into architectural elements. The 100m height corresponds to the 100 “cantos”, or songs, that compose the poem. There are 22 floors for the 22 stanzas in each song, and as you move up the building, you travel with Dante through hell, purgatory, and heaven. The interior is filled with quotes and other decorative details based on elements from the poem. At the very top, there’s a lighthouse that was meant to communicate with its fraternal building twin, Palacio Salvo, located in Uruguay. It was designed by the same architect with a similar style and lighthouse on top… but without the insane Divine Comedy connection.

Random interesting building

Okay, back to the government buildings! We’ve covered the legislative branch, and now it’s time for the judicial. The Palacio de Justicia (Palace of Justice) is home to the country’s Supreme Court. I actually didn’t know what it was when we walked by, but I thought that it looked like a fancy/important building, so I took a picture and looked it up later. Designed by a French architect, it’s not as heavy on the ornamentation as the Palacio del Congreso, which allows the symmetry and simple geometry of the building to stand out. It definitely caught my eye! Also, it’s a little intimidating which seems right for a justice building.

Palacio de Justicia
The plaza in front of the Palacio de Justicia is dedicated to this guy, Juan Lavalle (at the top of the column). He was part of the army that crossed the Andes to help liberate Chile and Peru. He also led a coup at one point (geez, is there anyone who DIDN’T lead a coup?) and only managed to hold on to power for a year before he was forced to resign. Fun fact: his bones are buried in Recoleta Cemetery. Yes, just his bones. He was killed in a time of conflict, and his followers fled with his body to prevent it from being desecrated. They boiled it to separate the flesh from the bones, buried the flesh in an unmarked grave, and took the bones with them. Ew.
La Casa Mínima is the skinniest house in the city, at only 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) wide. It was part of a much larger house that was poorly divided up over time, creating a bunch of reasonably sized houses to its sides and one super skinny house in the middle. Um… has anyone ever heard of planning??

Finally, the executive branch. Sitting on the Plaza de Mayo is Casa Rosada, the President’s house. It actually faces the Palacio del Congreso, which is a little over a mile away, a reminder that power is shared with the people (a reminder that didn’t seem to do much for the military dictators of the 1900s). The Plaza de Mayo is named in honor of the May Revolution which, if you remember from our history lessons, launched the Argentinian War of Independence against Spain. Aside from the President’s house, the plaza is surrounded by other important buildings like the Buenos Aires City Hall, the Cabildo (the colonial town council building), and Catedral Metropolitana, the National Cathedral.

Plaza de Mayo. The white pyramid/obelisk in the distant middle is the “Pirámide de Mayo”, commissioned in 1811 to celebrate the 1-year anniversary of the May Revolution. This was Argentina’s first national monument. The figure at the top represents Liberty.
Casa Rosada, the President’s house
The Ministry of Modernization of the Nation… I just took a picture because I thought it was a nice building.

The cathedral is the main Catholic church in the city, and the first iteration was built on the site in the 1500s. After building a series of collapsing churches (I assume not intentionally, but there seems to be a theme), the current building finally came to be, albeit very slowly. It was started in the mid-1700s as the EIGHTH iteration of the church, and construction went on for about 100 years which seems to be about par for the course (or even kind of fast) when it comes to building grand cathedrals.

Catedral Metropolitana. From the outside, it looks more like an ancient Greek temple than a church.
Looking down the central nave of Catedral Metropolitana.
More Venetian-style mosaic floors! I’m not mad…
One of the side aisles
Walking home

After our tour, Mike and I walked back to our hostel via the waterfront, rather than taking a more direct route. This part of the city was once a port, used for storing goods, but as ships got bigger, a new port was built and the old fell into disuse. In the 1990s, it started being re-developed and became an official neighborhood of Buenos Aires. There’s a walkway along the waterfront that we took on the way home, and it was nice to get away from the more crowded city center for a bit!

The Puente de la Mujer (Woman’s Bridge) links the main part of the city with the new neighborhood, Puerto Madero. All of the streets in the neighborhood are named after women, hence the name of the bridge. Rather than lifting up, like a drawbridge, to allow boats to pass, a portion of the bridge pivots 90 degrees! Pretty cool!

We had only a short time to relax after getting back to our room because we had dinner plans! Our dad works for a big, international company, and one of the people he sometimes works with is based in Buenos Aires! She’s around my age, and after some back and forth where she gave us suggestions for things to see and some general tips for traveling in Argentina, we made plans to get dinner together while we were in the city!

She came to pick us up, and on the ride to the restaurant, Mike and I realized for the first time that she and our dad have never actually met in person! We thought that was hilarious, that we were meeting her before he did. It ended up being a ton of fun! She brought along another friend from work, and they did the ordering, determined to give us an authentic experience. They made sure to get some “normal” things like steak and French fries, plus a couple of classics: cow gland and intestine. Mike took on the responsibility of taste tester. He reported that the gland tasted like “less strong bacon” and assured me that I would survive tasting it. Be proud of me… I did it! And decided that his taste description was spot on, but the texture was a ‘no’ for me. Who wants less strong bacon, anyway? The intestine was less positively received. Mike described the texture as “crusty balloon filled with sandy glue”. The others took a moment to think about it and said, “Yeah, that’s actually a pretty good description.” I passed on that one.

Me, Dad’s friend, her friend, and Mike

We got ice cream after dinner, grabbed a beer (well, except for me), and then headed home once everyone’s eyes started to cross from sleepiness. Our new friend was nice enough to drive us back to the hostel, and I collapsed into bed. When I was like 90% asleep, Mike goes, “That intestine tasted HORRIBLE.” I mustered the energy for a weak, “Okay,” and then I was gone. Sorry, Mike! I laughed about it the next morning, at least.

The flavor of my ice cream was “double chocolate with chocolate”. I didn’t understand what that meant at first, but how can you go wrong with a name like that?? And mystery solved: it’s two chocolate layers around chocolate ice cream. Good choice.
Hehehe. Mike found these burgers at the grocery store and was impressed with their marketing. Who wouldn’t want to try a Barfy burger?

We left off last time as Mike and I were headed to Teatro Colón, the national opera house, for a tour. In case you didn’t know, I have a theater/opera house obsession… and while I mostly mean the actual buildings, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also a fan of the shows. My preference is to go to a performance and just creep around admiring the building before and after the show/during intermission, but we were, unfortunately, in town during the performance off-season. So, our only option for seeing the building interior was a tour which, thanks to the fluctuating exchange rate, had a surprise price of $21ish. Eek! That’s a little steep for my preferences, but it was really the only attraction we were paying for, and to me, it was worth it.

Teatro Colón’s French Renaissance-style facade.

We showed up a few minutes early, and I used the time to scope out the other tour attendees. The tour group demographics were approximately 90% people over the age of 60, 9% ages 40-60… and 1% us. I thought it was funny. I think Mike saw it as proof that we should have been anywhere else but there.

All I can say is, those people know what’s up. The tour was fabulous! And the theater, well, there’s a reason why it’s considered one of the best in the world. As usual, though, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning…

The first Teatro Colón, or Columbus Theater (as in, Christopher), was built in 1857 near the Plaza de Mayo. In 1888, the original theater was closed, and a new one was built, finally completed in 1908 during the city’s golden age. Its construction brought the best of the best to Buenos Aires: architects and craftsmen from Italy, marble from Portugal and across Italy, stained glass from Paris, and mosaics from Venice. The builders worked 16-hour days which sounds brutal, and even so, it took nearly 20 years to be completed. The tessellated floors alone took 2 YEARS. Part of the reason for the long timeline was financial, and part was because the two original architects, both Italians, died during the process and had to be replaced. A Belgian architect was brought on to finish the work, and the result is a mix of Italian and French styles. In today’s money, the estimated cost is $300 million USD.

French with a side of Italian. Whatever it is, it’s awesome.
Hellooo, stained glass from Paris! Looking up in the entry area.
I mean, you look at the floors and can totally understand how they took two years to finish.
It’s a little funny that they have carpets to keep the nice floors from getting ruined by people walking on them… but don’t floors exist to be walked on?

We only visited a few spaces in the HUGE building which is even larger than it appears as two-thirds of it are underground, both beneath the actual building and the surrounding squares. The theater produces everything necessary to put on a show, using its underground workshops for costumes, sets, lighting technology, mechanical special effects, makeup, hairstyling, props, etc. Like I said, EVERYTHING. The underground area also includes rehearsal rooms, offices, and other support spaces. A full-sized practice stage is located beneath the performance stage. Altogether, the theater employs 1,500 people, from performers to technicians to designers and more.

The tour started in the main entry area where the guide explained that builders were brought from Italy specifically for this project. I had just been looking around in awe at the impressive craftsmanship… so that made perfect sense. He said that during the first wave of immigration, 40% of the immigrants were from Italy. These Italian-Argentinians played a huge role in the history of the theater (and the development of the Argentinian “Castellano” dialect).

Walking up the stairs to the second floor

From there, we headed upstairs where the guide pointed out one of the tricks they used to keep costs down. There’s a lot of marble in the building – yellow from Sienna, red from Verona, and white from Carrara, Italy, and pink from Portugal – but there are also places where stucco was masterfully painted to LOOK like marble. It’s amazingly hard to see the difference, a testament to the skill of the painters, but as soon as you touch the two surfaces, there’s no question. The marble, since it’s actual stone, is much cooler to the touch and has a texture, unlike the stucco which feels smooth. Absolutely amazing, though, that they were able to recreate the appearance of marble so faithfully!

The green is real marble, and the white is painted!
On the second floor, looking towards the open air above the entry area.

Just above the entrance is the “Golden Hall”. I bet you’ll never guess the reason for the name…

I know some people think this is too much, but I love it. Come on… it’s incredible!

Inspired by the opulence of Versailles (the French palace), the space was originally a social area for the elite. Now, it’s used mostly for lectures, exhibitions, and chamber music concerts, usually with free admission. The gold leaf is partly real. This is kind of funny… starting from 3 meters above ground, it’s real 24-carat gold. Below that, it’s just painted to look like gold leaf. Another cost-saving measure, I presume?

They could have plucked this room right out of Versailles.
It’s not even fair that other rooms have to exist in the same world with this one.

The chandeliers, unlike so many other parts of the building, were actually made in South America. They each weigh half a ton and have 200 lights! I believe it. Could they BE more blinding? The paintings in the room are painted on canvas and attached to the walls/ceiling, and the wood floors (which you can see peeking out past the edges of the carpet) were imported from Croatia.

Never been happier. 
THERE ARE NO WORDS.

Recently, a big restoration project was completed, making major structural and technological improvements to the building. Some cosmetic restoration was also completed, like in the Golden Hall where workers tackled 100 years of damage to the room and furniture from smoking and pollution. A few areas were left uncleaned to show the difference, and my gosh, if those spots aren’t convincing enough reasons not to smoke, I don’t know what would be.

Can you see the spot left uncleaned? It’s only mildly horrifying…
There’s a stripe left in the molding to show the previous state. Geez! The room is so vibrant now. I can’t picture how drab and dreary it must have been with those grey walls and blackened gold leaf.
Just a few more pictures so that you can appreciate how clean and shiny this room is…
I personally think the chandeliers are a bit much (brightness-wise, not decoratively), but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m obsessed with this room.
I just… I just… I want it.

And, heading towards the auditorium…

Again, I have some opinions about the lighting… but the space is just unreal.
Opposite the Golden Hall is a bust gallery that immortalizes famous composers. These three are Bellini, Gonoud, and Rossini.
They aren’t particularly well-placed for a clear view… but hey, Mozart!
Skylight in the bust gallery.
Okay, it was totally worth importing the stained glass from Paris.

Finally, we got to see the auditorium. It’s the largest in Latin America with a capacity of 2,700 people (300 standing room). Around the main seating area, there are three tiers of boxes and then four more levels of balcony seating. There are also boxes right next to the stage, and looking at them, I wondered why you’d ever want to sit there because the view angle must be terrible. The guide explained that while they do have the worst view of the stage, they are in perfect view of the rest of the audience. Leaders used to sit in these boxes because the most important thing was to be seen, not to actually watch the show. Since those times, the presidential box has been moved to the first level, smack dab in the center with one of the best views in the house.

The stage. Check out the terrible angle of view from those boxes by the stage.
Okay, and now get ready for a bunch of pictures that are basically the same but also fabulous.

Again, we learned about how much was happening out of view. The stage area is actually bigger than the auditorium, with prep areas and lifts to the sides and back to store and transport sets and materials as needed to support the performances. It also is 48m tall (155’) which is the entire height of the above-ground building to allow space for the stage lights. The seating area, in contrast, is only 28m tall (90’).

In the auditorium, there are still more hidden surprises. The ceiling sports a painted dome and low-profile chandelier designed to keep from obscuring anyone’s view of the stage. The dome paintings depict life in the opera house. The chandelier has 848 lights (according to the guide. I guess we wouldn’t want to lie and round up to 850) and weighs 1.5 tons. Geez! But the craziest thing is that musicians or singers can actually hide in the ceiling behind the chandelier! There is space for 15 people, and they use it for any sound effects that come from the sky.

It’s such a satisfying ceiling, isn’t it??

Acoustically, the auditorium is ranked in the top 5 best in the world. It was designed with an awareness of acoustic principles, and the horseshoe-shaped space, as well as the material choices, contribute to its success (the lower balconies use softer materials like fabric and wood to absorb sound, while the upper ones are more reflective with harder materials like marble). There’s also a resonance chamber beneath the seats, created by building a second “floor” two meters below the audience. The 84-person orchestra pit can sit at audience level or be lowered two meters to align with the chamber, sending sound through the space and out into the audience via “vents” under the rows of seats.

The middle box on the first level (above those golden columns) is now the presidential box. Much better for watching the productions than those stage boxes!
It’s so fancy that it doesn’t even look real. But I promise that this is actually how it looked. It’s not some photo-editing magic. I think the “unreal” quality has to do with the lighting.

The theater got a big boost during Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear’s presidency. Remember him? During our mini-tour of Recoleta Cemetery, I briefly mentioned that an Alvear, grandson of General Alvear, served as one of Argentina’s presidents. He also fell in love with a singer, Regina Pacini. Alvear followed her as she performed around Europe, asking her repeatedly to go out with him. Regina refused him time and time again until one night when he bought all of the tickets for her performance, and she went out to dinner with him instead of performing that night.

They fell in love, but she wasn’t willing to give up her career right away. She kept working for five more years, and he followed wherever she went to perform. After the five years, she moved to Argentina, and they got married.

Thanks to Regina’s love of the theater, Alvear paid extra attention to the arts during his time as president. He was responsible for integrating performers into the full-time staff of the theater, whereas it had previously relied on hiring foreign opera, ballet, and choir companies during the season (possible because the summer recess in the northern hemisphere coincided with the winter performance season in the southern). This led to the creation of the Instituto Superior de Arte within the theater, a performance school to train singers and dancers for opera and ballet.

So, you see, the theater really DOES create everything needed for its productions: the sets, the costumes, and even the performers, thanks to the institute. If you’re ever in Buenos Aires and have the chance to go to a show here, GO! And, preferably, bring me with you. Between this and wanting to visit the Museum of Water and Sanitary History, I really don’t think I have any choice. It is imperative that I go back to Argentina! Oh, darn…

I know I already had a picture of the ceiling… but it seems like a phenomenal note to end on, doesn’t it?

Instead of spending another day aimlessly wandering the city, like on our first day in Buenos Aires, we attempted to formulate a plan to make the most of our only full day in the city. The ongoing Lara-and-Mike travel struggle is that, outside of hiking, we have completely different interests. Mike doesn’t understand the point of visiting cities because “What do you do on vacation in a city?” Um… More like WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS QUESTION, MIKE? You go to museums and look at the buildings and walk around and eat ice cream and experience the culture… but the only thing on that list that Mike’s mildly interested in is ice cream (though he’ll say he doesn’t really eat sweets. Get outta here with that), so I’m not quite sure what to do. His input is generally, “I don’t care,” which is not helpful. I try to end up with an itinerary of a few things I hope he won’t totally hate, plus a few that he will but, oh well, because I really want to do them.

We planned to go on an 11AM tour of Recoleta Cemetery and built the rest of our plans around that, picking out some stops to make along the walk there. First, we went to the national theater, Teatro Colón, to get tour tickets for later in the day (a “Lara really wants to do this” activity, in case you couldn’t guess). From there, we did a walk-by of El Palacio de Aguas Corrientes (literally “The Palace of Running Water”) because I read somewhere that it was architecturally interesting. Well, it’s definitely that! I’m mostly confused by it because functionally, it seems like it should be a bland building… like it was built in the late 1800s to be a water-pumping station, bringing running water to the city. Why on earth did they spend the money to import 300,000 glazed tiles and enameled bricks from England and slate for the roof from France, on top of all the cast iron for the structure from Belgium? (Can you say, “World’s Most Beautiful Water-Pumping Station”? I bet this building would win… How much competition could there be in that category?)

The epic Palace of Running Water.
If you were just walking past this on the street, what would you think was inside? Without the benefit of x-ray vision, I can’t imagine that your answer would be “ginormous water tanks and pumping equipment”.

Today, it still is used as an administrative building for the water company, and there’s a museum inside which is the definition of offbeat… The Museum of Water and Sanitary History, featuring (according to their website) pipes, meters, faucets, and “sanitary artifacts” like toilets and bidets. I’m confused by its existence, honestly. But I will say this, if I’m ever back in Buenos Aires, especially without Mike in tow (quirky isn’t really his style), I will absolutely be checking it out.

After taking a lap around the building (a lengthy endeavor, considering it occupies an entire city block), we made our way to El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a bookstore a few blocks away. It’s in an old theater and is, of course, the world’s most beautiful bookstore. Unlike the water-pumping station title which I just made up, this is something that people actually do say. I don’t know who gets to be the authority on these claims, but it’s undeniable… “most” or not, it is very beautiful. I’m biased, though, because books and theaters are two of my favorite things, so combining them is a surefire way to win me over.

The building dates back to 1919, originally built as El Teatro Grand Splendid. In its heyday, it hosted performances by the tango greats (another thing for which Argentina is famous) until becoming a movie theater in 1929, one of the first in the city. It didn’t take its current form until 2000 when, in danger of demolition, it was rescued and converted into a bookstore.

Tell me this isn’t the stuff of dreams.

Except for the seating areas, I imagine that the building looks pretty much as it did in its theater days. The stage is a café. The seating areas have been taken over by bookshelves. There are wrought iron balustrades and gilded balconies. A massive fresco dominates the ceiling. One of the boxes by the stage is a reading nook. It’s a dream.

I don’t know why every bookstore isn’t in a theater. And every library. And really just everything.
“How many times can you take essentially the same picture?” Well, you’re about to find out. And these are just the ones that I couldn’t choose between!
My best attempt at getting a picture of the whole ceiling. It was impossible.
Hmm… I wonder if they’re hiring? I wouldn’t mind working here every day! Wait for meee! I’ll be back just as soon as I can get into the country!
Okay, I have no idea what kind of disaster is happening across the way with the lighting on that wall, but ignore that and focus on the balustrades (the fabulousness underneath the railings). (Hire me and I’ll fix your lighting!)
The bottom box is a reading nook/my future tiny house.
Really I’m just happy that the space was successfully repurposed because what a shame it would have been for this theater to be torn down and lost forever.

I hoped that it would be cool enough for Mike to enjoy even without a love of books or theaters, and I think it was! Maybe it was just the air conditioning that won him over, but hey, I’ll take it. We spent at least half an hour there, wandering around to soak in the general splendor and check out the books. I could have stayed all day (or forever), but alas, the cemetery awaited, so we headed back onto the sauna streets.

The cemetery has free daily tours… in Spanish. Why not, right? Get a little language practice, maybe learn a few things. Well, it was a nice thought, but the only thing we learned was that we were NOT up to the challenge. I caught maybe 40% of what the guide was saying, between the cemetery vocab that I lacked (all of it), the speech rate (rapid), and the castellano accent (strong). My gosh. My Spanish brain maxed out after maybe 20 minutes, and Mike was on the same page. We ditched the group and wandered around on our own.

The entryway to Recoleta Cemetery
Exploring

This is where I discovered that Mike doesn’t have the same appreciation for cemeteries that I do (I love them, in a completely normal/not creepy/not weird or worrisome way). You’re shocked, I’m sure. He lasted maybe five minutes after we left the tour before saying, “Whenever you’re ready to go, I’m ready.” I know he wasn’t trying to put pressure on me, but geez. I thought it was fabulous.

Recoleta Cemetery is one of those sites that everyone says is a “must visit” in Buenos Aires. Established in 1822, it was the first public cemetery in the city, and it’s THE place to be buried if you’re rich and/or important. It’s like a small city, stretching across 14 acres with more than 4600 vaults. It’s a good thing that they took the time to design a layout because without the predictable grid of walkways, it would be all too easy to get lost inside. (As much as I like cemeteries, I am not interested in that. Noo thank you.)

It’s like a city with lots of very small houses.
All of the “streets” aren’t this wide. This is basically a boulevard in the cemetery world. The majority were narrow enough that I could touch both sides by sticking my arms out.

It’s been ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries, and while I’m not looking to dispute that, I do think it’s a weird thing to rank. Also, how many cemeteries did the authors of these articles visit before deciding? What were the evaluation criteria? I mean, it is quite nice. But like… what?

The mausoleums are the definition of extravagant. It’s a little strange, actually. A lot of them have windows, so you can see what’s going on inside. Above ground, there are usually one or two caskets and then some skinny minnie staircase leading underground to what I assume is more casket space? And architecturally, they each have their own personality. I felt like I was walking around an architectural style sampler… a little baroque here, some art deco there, classical and neo-gothic sprinkled about.

Because why not build a mausoleum modeled after a Roman temple?
This guy is missing part of an arm, but that’s a case of neglect (the family moved to another cemetery. What a weird concept haha) rather than the original design intent.
I just love the variety!
I’m always a fan of a good mosaic.
THOSE SPIDERWEBS. Seriously, so artfully placed.
Some are like rowhomes, one on top of the next… and some are like this little freestanding mausoleum-hut. Not my favorite design, but it sure knows how to take up space.
This one seems very… secure. Like a bank vault.
And then there’s this one, open and airy and the complete opposite of the bank vault.
This might be my favorite one. The doors!
This one just happened to be open, so I obviously stuck my head inside to get a better look at the layout… The mausoleums are of all different sizes, but this is what the majority look like inside, more or less.
I don’t know what’s going on with these, style-wise, but they’re definitely unique.
Hotel lobby?
This was just me doing my Armenian duty by seeing an Armenian name and taking a picture because I’m sure we’re basically cousins if you go back far enough.

Even though we skipped out on the tour, I thankfully had done a little reading ahead of time and knew a few of the “famous” mausoleums to look out for.

The legend surrounding this mausoleum is the stuff of nightmares. Rufina Cambacérès was 19 when she died suddenly, of a heart attack. She was buried, and cemetery workers heard strange noises coming from the mausoleum. When they opened it up, they found that the coffin had shifted. Rufina’s body was still there… but the inside of the coffin was covered in scratch marks. She had been buried alive and tried to in vain to escape. True or not, just the thought is enough to make you squirm.
The “General Alvear” referred to at the top was a general during the War of Independence. This massive mausoleum (prominently located just inside the entrance to Recoleta) is also the final resting place of his son, a mayor of Buenos Aires, and his grandson, a president. Bunch of underachievers.
This was built for Tomás Guido, a general in the War of Independence. He helped to liberate Chile and Peru from Spanish rule as well, crossing the Andes with his troops. His wish was to be buried underneath the mountains they crossed, so his son had stones brought from there to Buenos Aires and built this mausoleum himself for his father.

We wandered long enough to see most of the graves I was looking for and to admire the general award-winning beauty and then called it a day right around when we found the Armenian mausoleum. It seemed like a fitting way to end our time there. Plus, we had a tour to catch at Teatro Colón, and I didn’t want to risk being late! Coming up next time, get ready for some fab stained glass!

Since it’s been a while since my last post about Mike’s and my trip to Patagonia/Buenos Aires, let me reacclimate you. We just finished 7 days of hiking, hiking, and hiking, and by some miracle, my feet didn’t fall off (though I did end up losing a few toenails. I’ll spare you the pics but send me a message if you’re interested. Kidding. Kind of. I mean, I do have pictures, and you’re welcome to them if that’s something you’re into. Okay, I’m getting carried away. Back to it).

From El Calafate, we had a bright and early flight to Buenos Aires where we were staying for a couple of days before heading home. We flew into the domestic airport which is conveniently located in the city and then went on a public transit adventure… my favorite. And, a perfect place to start off a list of Buenos Aires first impressions! (Or, you can catch up on the history of Argentina first, HERE and HERE.)

1. Heat/Humidity – Okay, so this has nothing to do with public transit, but I feel like it needs to come first because this was truly my very first impression of the city. When Mike and I flew to Patagonia, we had to change planes in Buenos Aires and walk outside to switch terminals. It was the middle of the night, and the air felt like stepping into a bathroom after someone takes an hour-long, steaming-hot shower. With no ventilation. I have certainly experienced plenty of humidity in my life, but usually the night feels slightly less suffocating! NOPE. I was thankful that, from there, we flew south to cooler temperatures, but that was just delaying the inevitable. This time, we arrived in the morning, and between the humidity and the brutal sun, I was ready to get right back onto the plane.

Not a cloud in the sky! Usually this is considered a good thing, but my gosh what I would have paid for a few clouds riiight in front of the sun…

2. Public Transportation – It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s cheap. You can get practically anywhere in the city. Fresh off the plane, we set out to buy ourselves a transit card (I’m developing quite the collection of these) which was fairly straightforward except that you can’t buy the card and add money to it at the same place because that would be too easy. But, at least you were able to do both of those things at the airport! (If that sounds like it should be a given, trust me when I say it’s not.)

We also used the subway later in the day, and I’m a big fan. Partly because I was exhausted and it saved me from 40+ more minutes of walking… but also because it’s great! The line we took was clean and not shady and impressively prompt. Also, fun fact: the Buenos Aires subway was the first in South America! It was built in 1913 which, as you may recall, was during Argentina’s golden age.

If you need a Buenos Aires transit card, I’m your girl.

3. Bus Lines – I don’t mean bus routes. I mean lines of people WAITING for buses. I’ve never seen anything like this. At rush hour, the sidewalks are full of people lined up like they’re waiting for the latest iPhone. Kidding, there are no tents… but there are seemingly endless lines of people, and they’re just doing their regular commute, waiting for the bus. It’s crazy! And also nice in a way because people aren’t trying to edge you out to get on the bus before you. But, you need to know what you’re doing and start moving as soon as the right bus pulls up because people operate like a well-oiled machine. There’s no time for hesitation.

Also, bus drivers seem to always be in a rush, so be READY when it’s time for your stop. As in, be standing at the door, and start hopping off as soon as the bus slows and the door opens because a “slow”, rather than a stop, might be all you’re getting.

I know you’ve seen this picture before, but it’s the only one I have that even kind of shows the crazy width of the road. Since the obelisk is here, the big medians I mentioned have been replaced by the obelisk island. But, those buildings alllll the way across show where the street finally ends (and it doesn’t get wider here because of the obelisk… it’s this wide everywhere).

4. Avenida 9 de Julio – This is the major north/south boulevard in town, and I don’t even know how to begin explaining this street to you. Mike and I got to enjoy its dedicated bus lanes on the ride to our hostel. Not having to share space with the other traffic probably cut our travel time nearly in half.

How do they have space for these dedicated bus lanes? WELL. It’s the widest avenue in the world, and for maybe the first time after hearing a “most/best/biggest/etc. ___ in the world” claim, I immediately believed it. It’s literally an entire city block wide. Like if you built a city on a grid and then removed the buildings between two of the streets and paved the whole thing, this avenue would be the result. There were something like 16 lanes before the middle was blocked off for buses in 2013. (This is one of those times when I really wish I had thought to take a good picture, but alas, I’ve failed you all. I’m sorry. You can google it, though.)

Crossing it is no simple task and takes far too long. There are multiple traffic lights along the way and no chance of getting across on a single green. First, you cross three lanes of traffic. Then, there’s a “median” with a width equivalent to maybe seven lanes. Next, you cross six lanes, a small divider separating the bus lanes, and two dedicated bus lanes. Okay, now you’re in the middle of the street/where you need to be in order to get on a bus. But, if you’re just trying to get across, you still have two bus lanes, four lanes of traffic, another large median, and three more lanes of traffic before you’re safely to the other side. It’s at least as exhausting as it sounds, plus there’s not much shade which means you’re simultaneously getting fried by the sun. We avoided crossing whenever possible.

5. Drivers – In classic South American fashion, the roads are terrifying, and you couldn’t pay me enough to drive on them. Everyone drives like they’re in a massive hurry (which is funny because probably no one actually is… the pace of life is SLOOOOW), the road rules are mere suggestions, and the lines on the road are for decoration. Defensive street-crossing is required as a pedestrian unless you have a death wish (aka don’t assume that anyone is going to stop for you, even if you have right of way).

6. Money/ATMs – After we made it to our hostel/took some time to chill (literally… I felt like I was going to pass out), we headed back out to find somewhere to exchange money. This turned out to be a much more challenging task than expected. Normally, I would just use an ATM to get local currency, but the fees in Argentina were the highest I’ve ever experienced. For a single withdrawal, the fee was at least $10! (For reference, many ATMs will charge you nothing, or fees are usually in the $1-3 range.) My US bank reimburses ATM fees to a point, but we figured we’d just exchange money because I had some cash and we didn’t need much, making the high fee seem even more ridiculous.

WELL, that was a mess, too! I mean, there are plenty of shady dudes on the street yelling, “CAMBIO! CAMBIOCAMBIOCAMBIO!” (exchange) but forgive me if I didn’t have much confidence in their legitimacy. All of the legit exchange places would only change more than US$100, and we didn’t need even close to that for our last couple of days in the country. So, after all that, we ended up exhausted and frustrated… and getting money from an ATM (after googling to find out who had the least-unreasonable fees. Side note, the best ATM we found in Argentina was, shockingly, in the main airport. It had the lowest fees and the highest allowable withdrawal amount. Go figure).

Mike and I took a break from our exchange adventure to get some ice cream. This heaping cone gets all the credit for carrying me through the day.
That’s Eva Perón, former first lady of Argentina.
Can someone please explain to me why every other country in the world has prettier money than the US?

7. Exchange Rate – Besides the complexity of simply getting money, there’s the added confusion of the constantly-fluctuating exchange rate. When I was doing research and trying to figure out how much things cost, every piece of information I found seemed to be conflicting… unless the price was listed in USD. Since the value of Argentina’s currency is so unstable, many tourist attractions simply list prices in US dollars so that they don’t have to keep changing them.

8. “The Paris of South America” – NO, NO, NO. This is just the kind of ridiculous claim that I despise and immediately dismiss. While I refuse to accept this as an even remotely valid comparison, I will say that the architecture of the city has a very European vibe to it, more than Lima and Quito (the only other South American capitals I have personal experience with). If wrought-iron balconies and café culture were all there is to Paris, then sure. However, you could absolutely NOT go to Buenos Aires and then be like, “Well, guess I don’t need to go to Paris anymore because I’ve basically already been there!” NO.

Welcome to Paris!
Those balconies are fab, but get that glass monstrosity outta here. Paris of the South? Psh!

9. Accents – Every Spanish-speaking country has its own dialect and accent (just like US vs. British vs. Australian English), but Argentina takes it to another level. It’s like Spanish with an Italian accent and then some random Italian words sprinkled in for good measure. They refer to Argentinian Spanish there as “castellano”, and instead of saying that “cas-teh-yano” like you would in normal Spanish, you say “cas-teh-shano”. The “y” and double-L (usually pronounced “y”) take on more of a “sh” or soft “g” (like in “mirage”) sound. There are plenty more differences, but I’ll leave you with just that. We had no problem with people not understanding us, but my gosh it was hard to get used to understanding them!

10. Argentinian BBQ – You can’t go to Argentina without eating Argentinian barbecue (so I’ve been told). After primarily subsisting on ravioli, protein bars, and dried Ramen noodles (okay, that one was just me) during our time in Patagonia, Mike was VERY excited about this. On our first night in the city, we went to a place recommended by the receptionist at the hostel. I put him in charge of ordering since his excitement level far outweighed mine, and so, we split pork chops, a steak, and a plate of crispy waffle fries. What a balanced meal, right? A more thorough commitment to the cultural experience of barbecue would have included some intestines, but for some reason, he decided to skip those.

Mike raved about how inexpensive it was, while my eyes bugged out at the prices when I opened the menu. This is the difference between someone used to NYC restaurant prices and someone used to eating 50-cent-a-bag pasta in a hostel kitchen. (In this case, I’m sure Mike was right, that it was inexpensive for what we got. I’ve also never ordered a steak in a restaurant before, so I had no reasonable reference point.)

They’re not messing around. At the top, it says, “A burning stove is the heart of Buenos Aires.”
Protein, anyone?
There’s actually nothing better than waffle fries. Between these and the ice cream, this was really an ideal Lara food day.

After our protein- and carb-laden dinner, we jetted back to the hostel, courtesy of the subway system, and totally crashed (us, not the subway). Whew! Heat and humidity really take it out of you! Thankfully, we had a functional air conditioner in our room, saving us from the choice between a million mosquito bites from keeping our windows open or potentially dying of heatstroke from keeping them closed. Talk about luxury living!

Last time, we talked about Argentina’s transformation from a land of indigenous tribes to a Spanish colony to an independent republic. It entered the 20th century in the middle of a very prosperous golden age. During WWI, it remained neutral which allowed it to export goods to countries on both sides of the conflict.

Unfortunately, in 1929, the global depression reached Argentina, and things took a downward turn. The president’s policies accelerated unemployment, and he was removed from office by a 1930 coup d’état, the first of SIX coups in the 20th century. The years after were filled with electoral fraud, persecution and execution of the opposition, and general government corruption. Abroad, WWII was brewing, and Argentina did its best to stay neutral again, mostly for strategic reasons as it was a major food supplier to Great Britain, and joining the Allies would put its cargo ships at risk. Due to mounting international pressure, Argentina did declare war on the Axis powers in 1944, though the majority of citizens supported continued neutrality.

A 1943 military coup brought in a new era. Various leaders took power over the following years, the most influential of whom was Juan Domingo Perón. He was appointed Minister of Labor after the coup which helped to build his popularity with the lower class. He used his position to strengthen unions, raise the minimum wage, and improve working conditions. After he was elected president in 1946, he became a dictator, increasing the powers of the president, censoring the media, appointing friends as advisors, and imprisoning rivals… but also working towards economic independence and for social justice. His wife, Eva, was very popular with the working class as well and led a great deal of charitable work to their benefit. Together, they were a political power couple. During his presidency, there were improvements in infrastructure, education, and social programs… and with that came increased spending and national debt. The peso’s value plummeted.

What a fab flag.
That’s Eva Perón painted on the side of that building. The last president, Cristina Kirchner, erected a lot of monuments during her term. This one was added in 2010 on the side of the Ministry of Health and Social Development as a nod to Eva’s charitable work.

Perón’s presidency had a rough end. Eva died from cancer in 1952. A coup removed Juan from office and forced him into exile in 1955. For 20 years, the leadership was primarily unstable military dictatorships. The people were dissatisfied, the government weak and unreliable. There were two more coups.

In 1973, Juan Perón was once again elected president and came out of exile. This time, his goal was political peace, and he worked to promote harmony and rebuild the country with his new wife, Isabel, as vice president. After only a year, he died in office from a heart attack, leaving Isabel as president and grossly unprepared for the job. After an economic collapse, she lost the people’s confidence and, in 1976, was removed by the sixth military coup in 50 years.

This began the final military dictatorship with a government that sought to destroy the populism that developed under Perón by whatever means. The subsequent years became known as the Dirty War. Anyone suspected of holding contrary views was an enemy, and over seven years, 9000 – 30000 people disappeared. The numbers are so uncertain because no lists of those arrested have been found. Many of them were young, from high school age to young professionals. They vanished without a trace, taken from their homes at night. They were held in concentration camps, tortured, raped, and murdered. Many were killed by being thrown out of planes over the Atlantic. Despite knowing full well what was happening, the US sent millions of dollars in aid to the provisional government during this period. Later, it was also discovered that an estimated 500 babies were kidnapped from prisoners and given to military families.

Starting in 1977, mothers of “los desaparecidos” (the disappeared) marched weekly around the main plaza in protest, demanding to know the fates of their children. By walking instead of standing in protest, they avoided breaking laws against congregating. At first, they were largely ignored by police, seen as a harmless group of old women. However, in 1978, they managed to spread awareness of their plight when the World Cup came to Argentina and brought international journalists with it.

The dictatorship finally ended in 1983, but it took years for justice to truly be served. At first, the new president, Raúl Alfonsín, aggressively investigated the military government and quickly put the leadership on trial for their crimes. He also decreased general government corruption by half. However, fearing justice, the military threatened another coup unless Alfonsín pardoned them. He gave in to their demands to preserve democracy, signing a law that he disagreed with and that was unpopular with the people, and granted amnesty to all others involved in the Dirty War crimes.

Headscarves are a symbol of the Madres de Mayo. They wore headscarves from the beginning, embroidered with the names of their lost kids. This sign says, “We don’t forget, we don’t forgive, we don’t reconcile.”

In 2005, the amnesty laws were finally revoked, and investigations resumed. The Grandmothers and Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo never stopped protesting, and they continue to march every Thursday to raise awareness, demand answers and justice that still have not come, and keep the memories of their children alive. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo encourage people born during this time period to get DNA tested to learn if they were among the kidnapped.

Madres de la Plaza de Mayo protest. As you can see, it’s more than just mothers now. Many other family members protest too, for various reasons. For example, there are people whose parents were abducted while their mothers were pregnant, and they are hoping to find a long-lost brother or sister (often, babies would be delivered by c-section before the mothers were killed and then given away to military families).

Otherwise, the major issue remained Argentina’s economy. The next president, Carlos Menem, privatized many industries made public during Perón’s presidency. Despite efforts to get the government debt under control, the economy collapsed in 1999, and Argentina entered another depression. The peso was incredibly devalued. People panicked and tried to withdraw all of their money from banks until withdrawals had to be limited. By mid-2002, the peso was at 25% of its former value.

The Plaza de Mayo, the central square in Buenos Aires, is surrounded by the President’s offices, the old cabildo (town hall), and the Cathedral of Buenos Aires. It’s a popular gathering spot for both people and, apparently, birds.

Finally, things started to take a turn for the better. President Eduardo Duhalde appointed Roberto Lavagna, a moderate economist, as Minister of Economy. Lavagna’s reforms brought inflation under control, and in 2003, with the economy on an upswing, the president deemed his work complete and called for elections.

Since then, the economy has continued to have ups and downs. The peso’s value is still constantly in flux, to the point where prices are sometimes listed in US dollars (especially for tourist-type things) to avoid having to change them all the time. I don’t know enough about economics to really understand what’s happening, but the short version is that the economy is still a bit of a mess.

Final fun fact – President Néstor Kirchner was elected in 2003 and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was elected after him in 2007. I don’t have much more to say about them… I just think it’s interesting that there have been multiple husband-wife duos involved in the leadership of Argentina.

And there you have it! The (very abridged) history of Argentina, from the 1400s to now. Is your head spinning? My head is spinning. Next time I promise more pictures! But context is always good for helping to understand a country. When we meet again, be ready to explore Buenos Aires!

Welcome back to Argentina! I know it’s been a while… I’ve put off this post because I had to do some research, and that’s always a bit more time-intensive than when I primarily have pretty pictures to show. Once I get going, I enjoy researching and learning new things, but why is it always so hard to get started? Anyway, you’ve already waited long enough, so let’s get to it! It’s time for some Argentina History!

Like elsewhere in the Americas, Argentina started off with small settlements of various indigenous people groups. Most of these were in the southern part of the country, in what’s now called Patagonia. There were a few different ethnic groups, one of which I’ve mentioned before, the Tehuelche people who were responsible for the name of the park Mike and I visited in Chile, Torres del Paine.

The largest empire of pre-Spanish America was the Inca Empire, but it only crept into a small part of northwestern Argentina in the late 1400s, lasting about 50 years until the Europeans arrived in the early 1500s. Portuguese explorers Gonçalo Coelho and Amerigo Vespucci landed in Brazil in 1502. The Spanish arrived in Argentina in 1516, and the first explorer was killed by tribespeople. Twenty years later (1536), they returned to start a small settlement in the current location of Buenos Aires. It lasted just five years.

The Spanish didn’t give up, though, and in 1542 formed a colony called the Viceroyalty of Peru which included the majority of South America. The main port of this colony was Lima (Peru) on the Pacific side, and there was no Atlantic port. This was great for Lima but bad for everywhere else as it added months to the transport of goods.

The obelisk was built in 1936 as a monument to the 400th birthday of Buenos Aires.
This statue in the main square (Plaza de Mayo) in Buenos Aires depicts Manuel José Joaquín del Corazón de Jesús Belgrano y González… aka Manuel Belgrano (gotta love those Spanish names). He was one of the liberators during the Argentine War of Independence and created the new country’s flag in 1812!

Finally, 1776 saw the reorganization of the colonies and formation of the new Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata which included Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Free from the control of Lima, Buenos Aires became a bustling port and was set up for a prosperous future. (Crazy side note – the Spanish colonies were considered the king’s personal possessions. Can you imagine claiming ownership of half a continent??? That’s absurd!)

Elsewhere in the world, the Spanish were struggling. With the king distracted by the Peninsular War in Spain, the colonists were forced to fend for themselves. They held off two British invasions in 1806 and 1807 and grew confident in their ability to survive apart from Spain. This fed a growing desire for independence as the colonists were already frustrated with underrepresentation in Spanish politics and bans on trade with any country besides Spain. When King Ferdinand VII was captured in 1808, the colonists decided it was time for the Americas to be left to self-rule.

In May of 1810, the colonists overthrew the viceroy, kicking off the Argentine War of Independence. After declaring independence in 1816, Argentina simultaneously entered a civil war as the new country disagreed on whether there should be a strong, centralized government (the Unitarians) or a federation of autonomous provinces like the USA (the Federalists).

Finally, a constitution was signed in 1853, forming the Argentine Republic. It created a government with three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial) and divided power between them, creating a strong executive government with representation from every province. Buenos Aires was the last province to join the new republic and became part of Argentina in 1862.

The Buenos Aires Cabildo housed the town council during colonial times and was the government house of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata. Our tour guide said that this is where the colonists gathered in 1810 and decided to seek independence from Spain (that’s my disclaimer that this may or may not be correct haha. Tour guides say a lot of things…).
The Argentinian Parliament. Fun fact it apparently has the largest bronze cupola in the world (a category which I’m sure has a lot of stiff competition) at 18m tall. The building was inaugurated in 1906 but wasn’t finished until about 40 years later.

Finally, Argentina had some stability! The country prospered thanks to Buenos Aires’s position as a major South American port and became a diverse cultural center. Unfortunately, this golden age only lasted about 50 years. Next time, we’ll talk about Argentina’s tumultuous 20th century. Get ready for coup d’états galore!

The Argentine flag