I can’t believe it’s already been 7 years since I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina for a year. As part of my uni course I had to choose where to go for my year abroad; I immediately removed Europe from the equation since in my mind, Europe is at my doorstep and hence could be explored at any point, so this left me with the choice of: Chile, Mexico, Cuba and Argentina.
Some of you may know that I have some Argentine heritage (kind of) since my grandfather was born there. In the early 1900s, Afrikaans families were offered incentives to go and farm land in Argentina after the Boers’ overwhelming defeat to the British in the Anglo-Boer War. Most of the Boer men who shipped out to settle in South America, taking their families with them, had fought in the savage war against Britain, the nation that had seized their former independent republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State. The Boers left because they had no desire to live under their conqueror’s thumb. Local legend says it was Boers drilling for water who made the first oil strike in a region that currently supplies a considerable portion of Argentina’s fuel needs.
Fact is, that I was hugely curious about this country and discovering part of my heritage so it was a no brainer for me when I put Buenos Aires as my first choice. I was ecstatic when I got the news I was one of 4 who got the place in the UCA (Universidad Católica de Buenos Aires) albeit a little scared since I would be moving to the other side of the world all on my own! I had moved from Italy to Birmingham for university but had done so in the company of my best friend Lavi, who was now about to spend a year in Australia..how could we ever live apart?! You can just imagine the tears. Complete and utter dehydration.
Moving to Buenos Aires: In July 2009 I moved to Buenos Aires, right when the swine flu pandemic was in full blow. I’m not gonna lie, when I first arrived I kinda hated it. Even though my family kindly accompanied me to help me settle in, I had just been catapulted to the other side of the world, far from all my friends, into this MASSIVE city, at a tender age of 19. It was a little overwhelming; I felt like a nobody. I felt lost.
Birmingham is the 2nd biggest city in the UK, however it doesn’t feel big at all. The centre of the city remains highly concentrated in 2 main areas: one for shopping and one for going out and you can easily walk from one to the other in around 20 min. There is no tube and you only really need to get on the train to go from the student area into the centre which takes you all of 10-15 min. Buenos Aires on the other hand is a whole different story! There are several tube lines and it’s messy. The busses are incomprehensible, they wouldn’t accept notes as there is a coin shortage. We spent the first week walking from dawn to dusk and still only covered a tiny portion of the city.
Also, I was expecting heat, sunshine, exoticism. It’s Latin America right?! Well no. Buenos Aires at a first glance feels like a vast European city, just more busy and chaotic. They have real winters. Cold ones. My first purchase was a sheepskin coat because I was freezing my arse off! Their summers however are boiling, and you can go through the 4 seasons in a day, I never saw something quite like it!
But then the fun began. I started to meet up with other international students from the exchange programme and very soon I had more friends and social events than would be advised by health and safety. Americans, Germans, Spanish, French, Argentine, Italian…people from all around the world were coming together to explore Buenos Aires and I slowly fell in love with it.
I learned that one should not necessarily go by first impressions. Especially when moving somewhere new, because we are so fuelled by emotions, we compare to previous experiences and places and sometimes have the wrong attitude. Once you start to meet nice people, discover the secrets of the city, the best places to go and eat, Buenos Aires is stunning.
I lived in Palermo for the first 6 months, which is a trendy area full of shops and restaurants. It has a huge shopping centre called Alto Palermo where you can find everything you need. Warning: clothes are really expensive in Buenos Aires!! I spent the other 6 months in a massive flat with 6 Spaniards in San Telmo. I had heard many bad stories about this area of the city being very sketchy, however I loved it. It was walking distance from the UCA and a lot more authentic and alternative. It’s more like the Shoreditch of Buenos Aires.
Coming over from Europe also meant a massive upgrade in my quality of life, since the pound was so strong compared to the peso and back in 2009-2010 they certainly did not have the inflation they have now so basically we lived like kings 🙂 You could eat a delicious succulent Argentine steak fro around £5 and going to a ‘fancy’ restaurant meant spending maybe 15-20 euros max. Nights out beat any student night in the UK and you were not consumed by guilt the following morning.
One of my first nights out was at the famous Bomba Del Tiempo – an event that took place every Monday from 7-10pm in a warehouse (Sarmiento 3131) and was by far one of the coolest things in Buenos Aires. It’s basically an awesome percussionist band that plays for hours and the atmosphere is just so happy, a bit like a rave, everyone is dancing and having the best time! Below is a photo from when they came to London 7 years later and I of course went to see them! Also because unfortunately that first night I went I got my camera stolen..
Travel Tip: when in Buenos Aires, keep your belongings very safe and close to you at all times. The tiniest distraction and they’re gone! I’ve never seen such skilled and deceitful little pick pockets. I had 2 phones and a camera stolen and I was among the lucky ones..
Apart from that, the good nights out are endless and what caught me by surprise are the going our hours which are actually like in Spain. So you usually pre-drink at people’s houses from around 10-11pm and only go clubbing around 2-3. You can imagine that coming from the UK where you have to be out by 9pm hence drinking by around 7-8 this was a bit of a shock to my system, but I quickly got into the rhythm. We continually discovered new places to go, but here are some of our favourites:
- Club 69 – Kind of like The Box or Cirque du Soir here in London – a bit burlesque and a lot of fun
- Crobar – for those who are not huge fans of reggaeton music (which is played absolutely everywhere) this offers a bit more or electro & techno too
- Kika – a big favourite among the foreigners
- Asia de Cuba – cool place by the UCA university in Puerto Madero
- Big One – this is an interesting club as its name changed. On a Sunday it is called Big One and is open from midday until 11pm, so it’s basically an after party and you can definitely spot the people who are doing an after from their Saturday night
- Pagana – very cool bar in Recoleta
- Pacha of course..
- Club Severino – a bit off the beaten track, but we absolutely loved it as it didn’t only play reggaeton but also big hits from the ’90s and 2000s which really got us going – the likes of Britney, Backstreet Boys, etc 🙂
And there is so much more.. From Monday to Sunday, you literally cannot get bored as there is something happening every single night. Especially if you’re an exchange student, house parties are also happening all the time and things get pretty crazy! One house put a huge inflatable swimming pool in their living room; another time we threw a party that got so out of control that at one point we had around 250 people, it took about 15 min to get from the front door to the terrace (it was a big flat, an ex hostel), the queue for the bathroom was massive and when I passed by I saw 3 guys peeing in the bath, one in the toilet and one in the sink.. We even had a homeless guy make his way up to the party. It was INSANE. Of course the police arrived by 1 am and shut us down.
Overall I can safely say that my year in Argentina was one of the best years of my life. I probably seriously damaged my liver, and also gained 10kg (on my person, not luggage..) but I got to live some amazing experiences, see incredible places and make friends for life. I’ll never forget it!