Upon my return to Buenos Airies I immediately backtracked from the Airport to the hostel I had stayed in previously. Located in the heart of the San Telmo District Tango Backpackers offered familiar/friendly staff, a good location, and excellent facilities. The girl on the front desk, a Bulgarian who had temporarily re-settled in BA, recognized me immediately and welcomed me back with a warm smile. I settled into my room, then set out to explore areas of the City I’d missed previously. It was Christmas day and the world famous Sunday San Telmo outdoor market was taking place near by.
After walking a few blocks to the northwest I stumbled onto the market, which shuts down the entire street and stretches at least a mile across the heart of the city. A narrow cobblestone street it’s lined on both sides with hawkers before eventually dead ending in the main square where the more traditional and established market vendors have their stands set up. There’s also an in-door area but more on that later.
The market is home to everything from small handwoven silver goods, to tango shows and gaucho (Argentinian cowboy) equipment and artifacts. It’s the embodiment of everything I love about outdoor markets, only missing one key element – the food! While you can find just about anything at one of the stands, apparently Buenos Aires has a law against streetside food vendors. As a result the only real food available along the market was fresh pressed orange juice.
Luckily, there’s an old turn of the century style wrought iron marketplace located just off the main square which serves as home to a number of great vegetable, fruit, and meat stands. Sandwiched between old antique shops, and an odd mixture of electric, perfume, and clothing stands they provided a chance for some fresh food. As you’ll note in the picture above, it’s not exactly the most airtight building, as the Pigeons made a strong showing and casually patrolled the space, not unlike local Police officers in their dark blue-gray uniforms.
The level of vibrant color constantly bombarding my senses in the market was absolutely delightful and a fun contrast to the more muted tones I’d grown accustomed to while in the southern part of the country.
It’s impossible to visit Buenos Aires without breathless mention of the Tango dancing, salivating praise for their steaks, and words of caution about the pickpocket scene. While I never had an issue with pickpockets, I was more conscientious than normal. The market isn’t just world famous for its size and antiques, it also has a reputation as a pick-pocket mecca. As I wound my way through the crowd I was always aware of my belongings, and regularly transferred my backpack from my back to my chest. Backpacks in particular are always an easy target and one we usually assume to be a bit safer than our pocket-based wallets.
The collection of People along the route is also a great mixture of characters. Some gorgeous…some colorful. All vibrant and full of life. Of the hawker’s wares some of my favorites included beautiful silver work done with hand woven silver wire often worked in beautiful patterns around polished gem stones and aged fossils. Some even included peacock and parrot feathers. Others created similar works of art but with a waxed, hemp like, multicolored type of thick string gator and jaguar teeth. One gentleman was selling beautiful leather maps, while another sold handcrafted leather bracers and bracelets. Some of the more cultural pieces – vintage Tango posters and the stands with Gaucho saddles, lassos, whips and spurs left me wishing I had the funds, space, and time to make a few purchases.
Starving and a bit frustrated by the lack of any quality food stands, I eventually found a small doorway into a tiny, steaming hole in the wall sandwiched behind two large vendor’s tables. The place boasted the standard open faced grill Argentinians are fond of with a smattering of meat thrown onto it. The place was dingy, the chef a rather hefty older man with sweat tracing its way down his face. Near the door two old men sat and motioned me in as they relaxed and read the paper. I dodged the young waitress as she barreled towards a nearby table balancing a load of plates, and pulled up a chair across from a group of federal police on Lunch break. Slightly intimidating, there were at least 10 when I arrived and over the course of the meal another 6 or so piled in and quickly gobbled up the remaining chairs and tables.
The thoughts you have in a situation like that are always interesting. On the one hand I took their presence as a positive sign that the food was good, and that I was in an extremely safe place. On the other side a little paranoia set in as I processed that with that large a gathering of officers, if anything was going to happen, it would probably be targeting them. If I had been in a place like Israel, or even more dangerous parts of Brazil or Argentina known for active terrorist/drug war attacks and bombings, I’d have probably been nervous enough to debate re-locating. As it was, I ordered the daily special and a coca cola, then settled in to read my book, watch the locals, and relax.
I spent the remainder of the day wandering through Plaza del Mayo, where a group of mothers of vanished political protestors have maintained a longstanding protest. Then wound my way through the districts streets somewhat randomly before striking back towards my hostel.
Once there, I set to the task of booking/exploring and researching the next major leg of my journey. It promised to be somewhat daunting and would be my first major introduction to long distance Argentinian Bus travel.
Stay tuned for a detailed break down of the experience, how to book it, and the costs associated with a RT ticket from Buenos Aires to Iguazu.