South American trip (1): Buenos Aires

Tango dancers in the Plaza de Mayo.

About Buenos Aires I can say that it leaves you with a special flavor – un cierto sabor. At first glance it looks like a European city teleported to South America.

The architecture and the people give you that impression.

Then you hit on its South American personality with the first couples dancing the tango in the street. I only stayed 2 days in the city.

The exponents of life and death stuck in my mind – the cemetery, which is a smaller town in itself and the fascinating tango show seen from the most famous club in town.

In the summer of 2019 I went on an intensive tour of western South America. Passing through five territories of the continent took me through fascinating places, unique in the world. I stood by the Hand of the Desert, looking up at the southern night sky of the Atacama desert, and drove the largest dunes in the world and the paths of desert valleys with such a different appearance that people gave them names like the Valley of the Moon or the Valley of the Planet Mars.

I took night pictures near the Three Sisters in the Valley of the Moon. I gazed westward into the Pacific Ocean, out in the open, alongside the stone statues of the vanished civilization of Easter Island—the eastern tip of Polynesia.

I had lunch in the middle of the Bolivian salt desert and at night I photographed my reflection in the water mirror of the flattest and whitest place on Earth. We stayed in a villa made of salt and cactus wood. We went to the cactus island of the salt desert. I listened to the stories of the astronomers from ALMA – an observatory located at over 5000m altitude, but also to those of the native inhabitants of the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. We drove fast on dirt desert roads to see the flamingos at sunset. I went to Macchu Picchu. I went to Cusco. We saw the oldest pyramids in South America, the over 5000 year old ones from Caral. I went to the witches market in La Paz and saw the singing fountains in Lima.

It was a monumental trip in just one month, parts of which could be monumental trips in themselves. The pretext was the few minutes of solar eclipse, the third solar eclipse for me. The rest of the trips and the fascinating things experienced concentrated within a month make me wonder what I do with my time at home when week after week, month after month goes by without discovering anything notable. And I miss leaving again.

The tour was organized by the SARM Romania astroclub, of which I am a member. The official name was SARM Romania Expedition – South American Eclipse 2019, extending from June 25 to July 22, 2019.

Given the intensity and extension of the trip, we have divided the story into 9 parts, presented in chronological order as follows:

  • Buenos Aires;
  • Chile – Introduction to Chile and The Solar Eclipse 2019;
  • Easter Island;
  • Chile – Atacama Desert, Valley of Death (or Mars) and other amazing places;
  • Chile – Moon Valley and the Flamingo Birds;
  • Bolivia – Salar de Uyuni or the Salt Desert;
  • Bolivia – La Paz, Tiwanaku and other amazing places;
  • Peru – Machu Picchu and Cuzco;
  • Peru – Lima, Nazca and the Caral Pyramids.

Buenos Aires

We arrived there on June 26, in the morning, after a 14-hour flight with Air France, taken from Bucharest, with a reasonable stopover of only 2 hours, in Paris. We followed the night with our flight, crossing the Equator. Towards morning, ice flowers invaded the porthole.

After staying at the hotel, we went on a guided city tour, the fastest way to get a first impression of the city.

We walked along the widest street in the world, as they say – Avenue Yulya. We walked through the extraordinary Plaza de Mayo and saw the colorful houses of La Boca, the modern villas of the famous Palermo neighborhood, the funerary monuments of the Recoleta and Chacarita Cemeteries or the buildings with futuristic architecture in Port Madero, San Telmo, the oldest neighborhood of the capital. Renowned for its distinctive architecture from the colonial period, San Telmo combines the flavors of a bygone era with squares and streets full of life, song and good cheer.

The first contact was with Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada, where the executive office of the country’s president is located. Casa Rosada (painted pink), the presidential palace from whose balcony Peron shouted his speeches to his followers, is today also a museum, where you can see objects that remind of the presidents of this country.

We were staying relatively close to the center. From the first moments I saw the tango dancers in the square. I think that among them, there were the same dancers that we were going to see the next day in the tango show.

In Buenos Aires, people don’t dance in the streets all the time. But it is a city where yes, for real, many times, professional or amateur dancers, dance in the streets, for various reasons, sometimes to promote a show, to get noticed or maybe just for pleasure.

It should be noted that South America is a continent of contrasts. As I said at the beginning, Buenos Aires seems teleported from Europe. Then you gradually begin to know the true South American flavor. Although Argentina is one of the more eastern countries, being inhabited by a majority white population of European descent, social contrasts are present as everywhere. Buenos Aires is, if you will, like a European city but with favelas on the outskirts.

After a walk through the European center and the boulevards full of grandiose villas, we arrived in the colorful neighborhood, literally and figuratively, La Boca. Where the famous La Boca stadium is also located. The neighborhood is picturesque. As far as I understood, the underlings of the city had reached an agreement either with the authorities or with tourism companies like… for those who pass by this old disused tram line we do not guarantee safety, otherwise we do not touch tourists.

La Boca neighborhood

Full of street graffiti which, in South America, is ubiquitous and executed at the level of art, unlike vandalism in Europe.

The photo on the left shows a football team with Maradona at the microphone, being a pamphlet.

It is interesting how even the underworld of the city understood the importance of the reputation of a metropolis, from a tourist point of view. In general, South America is not the safest place to be in terms of theft.

But we didn’t have any problem anywhere, although there were cases where even the locals approached us to advise us to keep the cameras out of sight.

The oldest neighborhood is the Monserrat neighborhood, where our group stayed. Plaza de Mayo is the central place where all the key institutions are located, it is where the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (this is an association of Argentine mothers whose children disappeared during the dictatorship, between 1976-1983 – it is believed that over 30k of young people disappeared during that military junta) faced the then government. The group since then split but every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. they demonstrate in silence for the events since then.

The pictures below speak for themselves. One can see how colorful and interesting life is in Buenos Aires.

The second picture in the series above represents the Argentinian mothers whose children disappeared during the dictatorship, 1976-1983.

In the center, however, the city looks like this, speaking of contrasts:


Also on the first of the two days allocated to the city, we visited the Recoleta cemetery, which is a city in miniature with a multitude of architectural styles of the crypts. It is also the cemetery where famous people of Argentina are buried, including Eva Peron.

With an area of 2.8 million square kilometers, Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world. It stretches for more than 360 km from the subtropical to the subantarctic region. The highest peak in South America, Aconcagaua (6962 m) is located on its territory.

Buenos Aires was founded in 1536 by Pedro Mendoza, it was rebuilt by Juan de Garay in 1580.

In 1816, with independence, the city expanded beyond the banks of the Rio de la Plata, absorbing smaller towns and becoming one of the largest port cities in the world. Currently, the city has approximately 13 million inhabitants in its 47 barrios (neighborhoods), of which 3 million live in the compact city area.

The business center looks like any modern city with skyscrapers.

The cemetery is fascinating and I recommend it as one of the main points of visit.

In Buenos Aires it is very easy to get carried away by the scenery and forget that you are still in South America and not Europe.

However, there are still certain points that remind you where you are:

The next day, after breakfast, we set off on an optional half-day trip to the Delta del Tigre (Tiger Delta), where we sailed aboard a boat on several of the Delta’s arms.

The Tigris Delta is thriving due to the development of tourism, and many of the residents of the big cities have built vacation homes or permanent homes here. I saw fascinating houses on the banks, but it is a trip that I would not necessarily include in the itinerary, considering the similarity of this experience to a kind of quick tour through the Danube Delta in Romania.

The Río de la Plata (Spanish for Silver River) is called the common mouth of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers, in the Atlantic. Incidentally, Rio de Plata gives the name of the second football team in Argentina, River Plate, the rival of Boca Juniors. The river is 290 km long and reaches a width of 220 km. The name silver river probably comes from the silver deposits.

Río de la Plata was discovered in 1516 by Juan Díaz de Solís, whose ship was wrecked here, and he encountered Indians wearing silver ornaments. The waters of Río de la Plata are cloudy, full of silt, large ships can reach Buenos Aires only through artificially deepened channels. Moreover, Uruguay (one of the most developed countries in South America) and its capital Montevideo are located on the other side of the river that flows into the Atlantic, the whole region having a high population density.

In the second part of the second day, we walked around Buenos Aires, through the parks. We arrived at the Japanese garden, a place worth visiting.

The Galileo Galilei Planetarium in Buenos Aires is another fascinating place worth visiting.

The building is located in the vicinity of impressive parks.

When we were there, both outside and inside the building there were impressively large meteorites on display.

After walking through the parks we arrived in Puerte Madera, one of the most impressive areas in the city, an area very suitable for evening / night photos.


Puerte Madera has been transformed from a port into an exclusive residential area with luxury hotels, restaurants and interesting historical museums.

I was impressed by the very open way of sharing the exhibits. The meteorite in front of the building was exposed simply without being fenced off, even rust from it could be seen on the paving stones under the exhibit.

When we were in Argentina, it was winter on the continent, being the southern hemisphere. However, the Japanese cherry (Sajura) in the Japanese garden had a few flowers. The garden is also home to many types of plants and trees.

Photos of Buenos Aires parks, including the Japanese Garden:

The Museo National de la Imigracion was where the immigrant boats arrived and where they received free meals and lodging for five days to secure their entry into the city (kind of like Ellis Island). Today it is a museum. Puente de la Mujer is a bridge designed by the famous architect Santiago Calatrava (who also designed the “city of science” in Valencia) and wants to represent a couple dancing tango. The bridge is pedestrian and rotates 90 degrees to allow ships to pass.

In the series of photos above you can also see Buque Museo Fragata Presidente Sarmiento. There are two nautical museums in Puerte Madera, one is the Sarmiento and was built in the 1890s as a training vessel for the Argentine Navy. The ship circled the globe six times. The name of the corvette is given by the name of the Argentine president who founded the naval school. He participated in important diplomatic events. Today, visitors can explore the ship and see its armament and living quarters. The deck of the ship is a great place to catch some photos of the Buenos Aires skyline.

Buque Museo Corbeta ARA “Uruguay” Not too far from Sarmiento is a smaller but equally impressive ship, the Uruguay, built in Great Britain. While Sarmiento was used for training, the corvette Uruguay was used in actual naval battles, covert missions and even a 1903 rescue trip to Antarctica by Swedish explorer Otto Nordenskjold.

The ship’s colorful history is on display through exhibits and artifacts inside. In the area there are also the National Engraving Museum, the Casa Rosada Museum and others.

In the evening, after we recovered a bit in the hotel rooms, we went to the climax of the two days, the Tango event, at the Tango Porteno restaurant.

It was more than a show. It was a fascinating musical. The place is in a club-restaurant style. Of course, the show was accompanied by Argentinian roast beef and wine.



But speaking of food and drink..

Food in Buenos Aires

When Charles Darwin crossed the Pampas in 1830 he noted that his “gaucho” guides ate “nothing but beef”. In Argentina, the meal requires special attention, especially the evening meal, those who want to dine earlier than 9 pm will get a puzzled look from the waiters.

The classic Argentinian dish is “parrilliada”, a mixed grill that includes both entrails and chorizo sausages, flank steak, ribs, but also other types of meat, chicken or pork can also be included.

Bife de Lomo is beef tenderloin, and bife de chorizo is beef tenderloin, both of which are considered real delicacies. Vacio, asado or matambre are preferably prepared on the grill, over coals. A dish originating from Italy is Milanesa Napolitana, which consists of a slice of beef cutlet, topped with cheese, ham and tomato sauce.

Besides, many Argentines are of Italian origin.

For a typical Argentinian snack, you can try Empañadas, a type of donut with various fillings, from meat or vegetables to jam and fruit. Other specific dishes are Revuelto Gramajo, a mixture of eggs, potatoes, chicken and ham, Sorrentinos, derived from ravioli but filled with ricotta cheese, ham and mozzarella, or Pastel de Choclo, with meat and corn. Fish, seafood, vegetables and fresh fruit are also part of the menu. For dessert, the most widespread is the famous Dulce de leche, also found in Europe – a caramelized cream of milk and sugar. Churro is a type of oblong doughnut, while Alfajor is made from puff pastry in the shape of a croissant or sandwich, filled with dulce de leche.


The traditional drink is mate, often served as a ritual for family gatherings or for guests. It is actually a kind of tea based on the Mate plant. This is steeped in boiling water, then the tea is served in a domed metal cup called a bombilla.

Argentinians are also great wine lovers and producers. The regions of Mendoza and San Juan are home to the most widespread vine cultures, and the preparation of the wine is deeply influenced by the French, which makes the taste of the drink similar.

Chicha is a native drink, made from malt fermented in terracotta pots.

Other photos from Buenos Aires are on the Facebook page or Instagram.

Useful information:

  • Our accommodation was at Hotel Exe Colon 4* – link.
  • The club and restaurant with tango and steak is called Tango Porteno.

Other information:

  • The mausoleum of General Jose de San Martin, the hero of independence, has an exterior chapel with a permanent flame.
  • The Cabildo de Buenos Aures (City Council) is the only colonial administrative building that still exists today, it is only a part of it because Torcuato de Alvear (mayor of the city 1880-1887) demolished part of it to create the wide avenue Avenida de Mayo .
  • Cafe Tortoni has been open since 1858.
  • Teatro Avenida is a building belonging to the Colon Theater.
  • Barolo Palace is an office building with ornaments inspired by Dante’s “Divine Comedy”.
  • Palace of Congress – the square in front is home to a monument with statues of former members of congress.
  • Manzana de las Luces is an area, or rather a block of buildings where the Jesuit Order laid the foundations of the city’s intellectual life until its expulsion from Argentina in 1767.
  • Iglesia de San Ignacio de Loyola, the oldest church in the city, built in 1722, based on the plans of Il Gesu Church in Rome (1584, Michelangelo).