A couple of months earlier I received a message from a friend that I grew up with. “Dan, where are you going to be in May? I have some flight credits and I could use a little South American adventure right about now” I was a few months and several thousand miles away from Buenos Aires at the time but I knew that I would be wrapping up my journey there in May. Perfect, I hadn’t hung out with anyone I’ve known in 7 months.
After two and half weeks Couchsurfing at Deni’s in Villa Urquiza I moved across the city to San Telmo, the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires. The cobblestone streets of the neighborhood make for a bumpy ride on the moto. I found a nearby parking garage to keep my bike before I shipped it back home. When I arrived to ask the attendant about rates he greeted me, yerba mate in hand, and offered me a sip. It has to be friendliest city I’ve ever been to. Can you think of another place where a parking lot attendant would offer you a sip of their drink? And yes, I had some yerba mate with him.
So now you know the people in San Telmo are amazing, the neighborhood is as well. Along streets are a mix of well preserved historic spanish colonial homes and others more neglected covered in street art and graffiti. The neighborhood has become a cultural hotspot known for tango dance halls, cafe’s, art galleries, antique shops, and the most popular street market in Buenos Aires. Pretty good considering a century or so earlier the place was deserted when yellow fever plagued the neighborhood killing 10,000 of it’s residents.
My friend Kelli arrived and after dropping our bags at an Airbnb flat we were off to experience San Telmo. Of course the best way to start a day here is with coffee. When Kelli’s order came I laughed out loud. I had not seen a coffee cup that large in months. This is Kelli and her American sized Americano.
American size vs. normal. After months of being in South America, I’ve adapted to their coffee culture.
One block away is Plaza Dorrego, the most touristy part of the neighborhood but I can see why. It is a quintessential European plaza with cafes shaded by trees and performers dancing tango as painters tell the story in oil on canvas. It’s a postcard perfect plaza.
We walked over to the San Telmo Market on Denfensa and picked up a few sandwiches to go from the deli. Along the way we passed this painted on the building.
I never found the homebrew but if you’re there for a few weeks you could enroll in one of their instructional brewing courses. It’s clear San Telmo is now internationally known. People from all over the world have settled down here opening businesses of their own, adding to the revitalization and popularity of the neighborhood.
Just a short walk from the market is a bicycle rental shop. After 2pm you can rent a bike with a lock and return it the next morning for $10. Off we went riding the cobblestone streets, crossing the bridge to Puerto Madero and in to the ecological reserve. It’s a beautiful scenic ride along the bay. Except for a few moments where the trees clear and the city high rises are visible, you are seemingly lost in a wilderness.
By late afternoon it was time for another round of coffee and to have Kelli try to best sweets that Argentina has to offer. Note: If you are on a diet, traveling in Argentina would be difficult. San Telmo has no shortage of delicious desserts to try. Each day of the week we would visit another spot. Dulce de leche con brownie is a must.
Like myself, Kelli travels around the US quite a bit and it seems at least once a year or so we’d be in the same city and meet up for dinner. She is always on the look out for delicious restaurants and we managed to have a lot of amazing meals in Buenos Aires. I would recommend doing some research and find where you want to go. While there are many great restaurants the chances of you just walking into one are slim as we found out after one night of walking block after block in another barrio. We used the popular english food blog, Pick Up The Fork.
One of best meals was at Jueves a la Mesa. It’s one of many closed-door restaurants that make Buenos Aires’ restaurant scene unique. Set in regular homes these “restaurants” are communal dining experiences. Jueves a la Mesa as the name translates to, Thursdays at the table, is only on Thursday nights. With a set menu and price (around $18) you make a reservation and only after do you receive an email with the address. It turned out to be just up the street from Plaza Dorrego. When we arrived we were greeted by the chef, Sofi. No servers here. There were two tables that sat about 8 people at each. The other guests were locals, travelers, and people staying in Bs.As. for months. Each dish was presented by Sofi and the bottles of wine kept being poured. All of the meals are organic and mostly vegan. The conversation around the table made the experience even better. After finishing serving the courses, including handmade chocolates, Sofi joined the discussion.
Following dinner most of the guests at our table walked a few blocks to go salsa dancing. It turned out that half of the women I was with were competition level latin dancers. No pressure, Dan. Don’t let Kelli’s blonde hair fool you, she knows what she’s doing. A ten piece band was on stage and the dance floor was packed. Salsa isn’t very common in Argentina and Kelli said it was apparent because the guys who asked her to dance weren’t that great at salsa. So I fit right in. It was such a fun night out and I made new friends but we still hadn’t experienced tango. We heard the next night there was a great place to go. We walked back under the dimly lit cobblestone streets. Tomorrow we’d learn tango.