From San Antonio it was just an hour on the bus to Buenos Aires, where the apartment in which we were planning to spend the whole of August was waiting for us. I had a wallet full of US$ to pay for it, and we were ready to stop lugging the backpacks around for a bit.
Actually, getting the cash to pay our rent had proved to be something of a challenge, as Argentine ATMs impose ridiculous limits on foreign cards. Some of them won’t let you take out more than 320 pesos in one go (which is about fifty quid, and doesn’t go very far when you need to get a month’s rent plus deposit). I got some of the cash while we were in Chile, where the limits are a bit more sensible, although that in itself nearly caused us some problems. At one machine in Santiago, I withdrew about £250, or 250,000 Chilean pesos. The machine chose to dispense this as 50 CH$5,000 notes, an amount so big that it could barely fit through the cash dispensing slot, resulting in Sal and I frantically grabbing at the jammed notes to try and pull them out before the machine closed up again. When we had got them out, I could barely shut my wallet, so I took the centimetre thick wad of notes straight to the casa de cambio and swapped them for 5 US$100 bills…
When we’d tell people that we were planning to stay in BA for a whole month, we tended to get one of two reactions. There are the people who understand why, and then there are those, like the Irish guys we horserode with in San Antonio, who would just look at us aghast and say “A month? Really? What are you going to do?”
Just the other day, we were chatting to some fellow gringos at the Boca Juniors match who’d opted for the latter response. “What have you been doing?” they asked.
“Um. Well. Loads of stuff…”
Perhaps our minds have been warped by all the amazing steak and wine we’ve had. Of course we really have done loads of things in BA, and being in our little place in Palermo, away from all the tourist crowds, has just meant that we’ve had the freedom to take our time. We gradually ticked off the tourist stuff, though, like Recoletta cemetry (eventual home to Eva Peron), the colourful streets of La Boca, the Casa Rosada (presidential palace), the Plaza de Mayo (where the mothers of the “disappeared” gather every Thursday to protest about the murder of their children during the military dictatorship in the late 70s and early 80s), Puerto Madero (the renovated dock area), the Costanera Sur ecological reserve (where we hired bikes and rode along the Rio de la Plata), the races at Palermo Hippodrome (where Sal successfully picked the second placed horse in every race, which would have been great if she hadn’t put all her bets on for the win…), MALBA (the modern art galley), the fine and decorative art galleries, the ballet, tango and that Boca game…
But actually, no, we really spent the month eating.
With so many fine restaurants to choose from, especially in Palermo, we never needed to go to the same one twice. And I can’t stress enough just how good Argentine steak is. Even when it’s not amazing, it’s still head and shoulders above anything I’ve ever had anywhere else in the world. There are many cuts to choose from, but for us it was all about bife de lomo (tenderloin), ideally served jugoso. And as our time in Argentina came to its end, I started to think about my own personal top five…
Top Five Steaks
(5) Don Julio, Guatemala 4691, Palermo
This place has been around for years, and you can see evidence of this in the reviews written on the labels of the wine bottles that line the walls. When I asked how big the cuts were (as we’d made the mistake of not sharing one elsewhere) I was invited over to meet the chef and view a tray packed with raw steak in all its different forms. Mine was excellent, but Sal’s was just a little too done, so this place only makes it to number 5 on the list.
(4) El Solar del Convento, Caseros 444, Salta
This was where we had our first real Argentine steaks, and they were among the best.
(3) Zarza, San Antonio de Areco
After a couple of disappointing meals in Rosario, it was great to get back to some quality cow. The little place we picked for dinner on our first night in San Antonio didn’t look like anything special, but turned out some truly wonderful steak.
(2) El Desnivel, Defensa 855, San Telmo, Buenos Aires
The steaks were so big in El Desnivel in San Telmo that we really should have shared one between us, but we made it through the whole juicy lot of it somehow.
(1) La Cabrera, Cabrera 5099, Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires
We had to wait maybe 90 minutes for a table at La Cabrera but it was worth it. Definitely the best we’ve had. In fact, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it…
Life in BA wasn’t all a bed of thick juicy steak, though. We did have a couple of dramas along the way. I’ve lost count of the number of museums and other tourist sights that were closed for renovations, we didn’t get to see the inside of the famous Teatro Colon (which is closed for renovations that are taking two years longer than they were supposed to) and we were turned away from more than one restaurant that couldn’t fit us in (including one that was completely empty but apparently fully booked).
Oh, and we managed to get ourselves locked out of the apartment, which was fun.
We were heading out for Sunday lunch at a posh Scandinavian restaurant called Olsen, that’s over in Palermo Hollywood and famous for its Sunday brunch. We’d been turned away from there the previous Sunday but this time we had–gasp–a reservation. As we stepped out of our apartment, I turned to put my key into the door that had just slammed shut behind me, but the key wouldn’t fit in.
We had two sets of keys, and when we were in, we tended to leave one of them in the lock on the inside. One set were in my hands. Had I left the others in the lock on the other side of the door, thus preventing me from putting the ones I had into this side? It was the only possible explanation I could think of, making this very definitely my fault. Oops.
After bothering our very nice neighbour, and arranging to meet Eduardo, the building’s doorman, a few hours later, we went off to what turned out not to be the pleasant Sunday brunch we’d been hoping for.
“Is there a key on the other side?” asked Eduardo, when we met him later. “Then I think the only way in will be to poof!” he said, making the sound and action of a door being broken open. We went up to see what he could do anyway, and after a bit of poking about with a screwdriver he had a brainwave.
Our balcony door was open, so he could simply climb through our neighbour’s window, jump onto the balcony and open the door from the inside. Simple.
Oh, except for the fact that our apartment was on the eighth floor, there were at least 2 metres between our neighbour’s window and our balcony, and it was a sheer drop down to the cold, hard street below. Eduardo decided that this was no problem and went off to get what turned out to be the world’s flimsiest bit of rope with which to tie himself on.
Luckily, after some discussion, we managed to persuade Eduardo that this was not such a sensible idea (at one point I gave the rope he’d tied to the neighbour’s window ledge the slightest of tugs and the “knot” he’d tied came instantly free in my hands), and suggested that he might phone us a locksmith…
And so, several hours later, we finally got back into the flat. We weren’t actually there to see how the locksmith–described by Eduardo as “the best in the area”–had managed to get the door open. His default technique had been to take the key that we had, line it up with the lock, and bash it with a screwdriver in an attempt to force it in. After twenty minutes of this, our landlady and her husband had turned up–just back from their holidays and clearly exhausted, poor things. She took us over the road for a coffee while the locksmith and his son, who was subsequently drafted in to assist, battled with the door.
But we got back in eventually. And it wasn’t even my fault. There was no key in the other side. The lock had just decided to die, and we were the ones unfortunate enough to be stuck on the wrong side of it when this had happened. Just as well, I guess, that Eduardo hadn’t risked his life to get inside, as even if he’d survived the drop, he’d probably have just ended up stuck in there for the rest of the day…