Vagabonding Field Reports: Living the porteña life in Buenos Aires

The streets of Palermo Soho

The streets of Palermo Soho

Cost: £20 per day. It’s not cheap here and a bad case of inflation means that prices can change weekly, but it’s defiitely possible to live on a budget. I’m renting a room in an apartment shared with an Argentinian girl in Palermo for £250 a month. You can find cheaper options further out of the city. I also bought a monthly yoga pass (£80), and I eat out about twice a week. The rest is spent on groceries, hot drinks in cafes and the odd glass of wine.

Whats the strangest thing youve seen lately?

Buenos Aires is one of the world capitals for plastic surgery. It’s even included in most health plans. Everywhere you go, you see women with slightly rigid looking faces.

On the other hand, if you asked an Argentine person the strangest thing they saw lately, they may well say me – I have a hole in one of my shoes and this is deeply uncouth for style-conscious porteñas – especially in trendy Palermo. People look at my shoes and then at my face – eek!

Describe a typical day.

I’m in Buenos Aires for six weeks to write and learn Spanish while my boyfriend, who I’m travelling with, makes a film in California. I wake up to a breakfast of medialunas (typical sweet Argentine pastries, often with a generous topping of dulce de leche), go to yoga and Spanish, and then back home for lunch. In the afternoon, I’ll likely share a mate, the classic Argentine drink, with my housemate, and then go set up camp to write in one of Palermo’s many excellent cafes. My favourite ones are in bookshops, complete with ladders to explore the shelves. My favourite way to spend the night is at a Puerta Cerrada, which is where someone opens their home as a restaurant, often with all the guests sitting round the same table. It’s a great way to meet locals and travellers alike. Everything happens much later here – coffee time around 7pm, dinner no earlier than 9pm, and if you’re going to a bar, 2am is the standard time to arrive.

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local.

I’ve been to a couple of language exchange evenings, which are set up like speed dating but without the dating part. You get paired with a Spanish speaker for ten minutes, and speak for five minutes in English and five in Spanish. It’s great for practising the language and you get to have lots of random conversations. I’ve talked with people ranging from a medical student who told me the intricacies of mate drinking, to a father of five intent on learning English so he can take his family to the states. When I asked him what his daughters did, he answered with an exasperated response I imagine is common around the world: “They do Facebook.”

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

A Buenos Aires bookshop

A Buenos Aires bookshop

I’ve always wanted to come to Buenos Aires. Everyone always talked about how cool it is – an artistic, European-looking city with a Latin heart that beats to the tune of tango. It’s all of those things, but what I like most is the bookshops – there are hundreds of them, adding a literary note to the romance and passion of the city. Palermo is particularly beautiful with its tree-lined, cobbled streets and endless independent cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. It’s autumn here now so the colours are awesome.

What I don’t like, for now, is that it has all the traits of a major city – it’s busy, frantic, dirty and polluted. There’s a lot of crime and you always have to be aware of your possessions. I took the easy option and decided to live in Palermo, a middle-class area which is safer for a lone female traveller. Although I live with a local and visit other parts of the city regularly, I’m aware my day-to-day life is in a bit of a bubble.

Describe a challenge you faced.

On our first day in the city, before Steve went to California, we had mayonaise thrown at our backs on the subway. We found out when someone came up to us and offered to help clean it up. Luckily we had our wits about us, as we later found out that this is a common pickpocketing scam: one person throws the sauce and the other pickpockets you while you’re distracted and they are helping you clean up. It wasn’t the best welcome to Buenos Aires but it’s part and parcel of city life.

What new lesson did you learn?

My yoga teacher ended the class the other day by saying: “Remember each breath will never come again. We are happy because we are alive.” I like that very much as sometimes, especially when travelling, you can get wrapped up in what you’re doing next, rather than appreciating each moment as it comes.

Where next?

Next up is Patagonia. Whilst I’m enjoying the speedy wi-fi in every cafe and the abundance of vegetarian food, I’m looking forward to being on the move again and back in nature. We leave in about four weeks when Steve gets back.

If you’re interested, you can follow our journey at

Posted by | Comments (4)  | April 28, 2012
Category: General, Solo Travel, South America, Vagabonding Field Reports

4 Responses to “Vagabonding Field Reports: Living the porteña life in Buenos Aires”

  1. Ros Says:

    You make Buenos Aires sound amazing. I’ll have to try and visit it sometime and I’m only sorry not to have made it while you were there! x