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Tango Lover's Guide to Buenos AiresInsíghts and Recommendatíons
By Mígdalia Romero
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Migdalia Romero
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePreparing for Your Tango Odyssey
I have spent more than one and a half of the past four years living in Buenos Aires (BsAs). I was fortunate enough to be able to live there nine months one year. Most of the time I chose to travel alone. During that time, my planning and packing were streamlined, to the point of extreme efficiency. I packed as much as I needed, used most of what was packed, and even created room for purchases made in BsAs. On the day I arrived, I immediately picked up the essential resources to know what was going on in the tango world, and by that evening or the next day I was dancing. This chapter is intended to share what I learned in order to minimize your packing, and maximize your first few days in the city so that more time is spent doing what you are going to BsAs for-dancing! This is especially important when your vacation time is limited.
To assist you in planning, this chapter is divided into four sections. The first talks about the preparation for your trip from home, from deciding how and when to go, to packing your bags. The second section provides you with an orientation to the city, focusing on how to get around BsAs and to the tango venues and resources the city offers. A third section discusses what to do on your first day(s) so as to maximize your tango experience. Finally, the chapter talks about how to manage your money and how to stay connected with the outside world, while avoiding accidents and incidents that could interfere with your tango journey.
WHAT TO DO FROM HOME
Getting to Buenos Aires
On more than one occasion, I have had the good fortune of traveling to BsAs for free, i.e., by using miles accumulated on one of my credit cards, and sometimes buying a few thousand miles to complete the trip. That combination saved me a few hundred dollars. I have also tried to minimize my cost by flying off-season (from January to June or August to November).
There are a number of ways to plan your trip. Depending on your comfort zone, you may want to go it alone for maximum freedom, or go with a friend who shares your passion for tango and your other interests. Finally, there is the option of going as part of an organized tour or a festival, preferably one that allows you some time to explore tango venues on your own.
Traveling alone or with a friend
I have always opted to travel alone. It certainly is more challenging, and can be a bit daunting, but for me it is more satisfying. Traveling alone allows you to come and go when and where you please. It means, however, that you must have a plan. This book will help you formulate that plan.
Tango tours organized from home
Another possibility is participating in a tango tour planned by teachers in the U.S. or in your country of origin. Tango tours provide safety, translations, planned lessons, tours, milongas, and day trips. However, they often lock you into the organizer's agenda, potentially limiting your opportunity to meet and socialize with the locals: milongueros porteños. If you are more comfortable having someone else plan your time and negotiate the language and culture for you, a tango tour is the way to go. Be sure you take it with someone who has experience, and who has successfully organized such tours in the past.
Tango festivals organized by the Argentinean government
Depending on your experience and comfort level with tango, you may be more interested in participating in one of the many tango festivals that the government sponsors. Organizers generally know their city and the tango scene well and attention is usually paid to attracting relatively equivalent numbers of men and women. However, tango festivals and tours are to be avoided if you are interested in dancing only with porteños, or if you do not want to be part of a tourist pack.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to either traveling independently or as part of a tour group. You need to decide what is most comfortable for you.
When traveling alone or when you need to make your own flight arrangements, these are a few sources I have used that offer reasonable fares:
Consolidators: The New York Times and other newspapers often advertise low fares though agencies serving as consolidators. Their ads usually appear in very small print within the travel section of the Sunday paper.
Local Spanish newspaper ads: Newspapers such as El Diario, La Prensa, and other Spanish language newspapers that serve large Hispanic communities throughout the U.S. often advertise competitive airfares.
Travel agencies: Look for agencies in areas of a city that serve large South American communities, since they sometimes offer special airfares.
When to Go
I have experienced all four seasons in Buenos Aires. For me, there is no bad season. Each season has its own beauty. Winters are generally mild (compared to New York) and damp; spring and fall are delightful, and summer can be hot and humid. However, since many dance clubs are air-conditioned, the heat and humidity are manageable.
In addition, each season has its own festivals or tango- tourist draws. There are yearly scheduled international championship competitions, world tango festivals, and ongoing tango celebrations and birthdays. And then there are spontaneous tango events. The city reeks with tango.
Your decision about when to go may be determined by your vacation schedule, the season that attracts you, or your desire to participate in a special tango event or tour. Actually, anytime works since you can hear, see, and dance tango in BsAs twenty-four/seven, twelve months of the year. There is no real down time within the tango world, but there are peaks that seem to attract more tourists and thereby result in more crowded dance halls and clubs.
Because Argentina is in the southern hemisphere, seasons are reversed from those in the northern hemisphere.
Winter (invierno) runs from June 21st to September 20th. It is relatively mild (compared to U.S. winters in the north), with some chilly days and even chillier nights. Temperatures range from 40? to 64?F (5?-18? C). The winter of 2007 was particularly nippy, augmented by high levels of humidity, which in colder weather makes the cold feel colder. However, the winter days were interspersed with warmer weather and drier days. Snow is almost unheard of in BsAs. In one hundred years, there have been two snowfalls, the most recent being in the winter of 2007. Spring (primavera) runs from September 21st through December 20th with temperatures ranging from 55? to 85? F (13?-29? C). Summer (verano) runs from December 21st till March 20th with temperatures between 62?-95? F (17?-35? C) and often accompanied by high humidity. Fall (otoño) runs from March 21st through June 20th with temperatures from 44?-72? F (7?-22? C).
Vacation time in BsAs
January is vacation month in BsAs, when many porteños (as Argentineans from BsAs are called) leave the city for vacation. However, given the state of the economy, more porteños are staying home. Nevertheless, it is their summer. As a result, milongas may be slightly less crowded, an advantage for dancers who like to move around the floor.
Special Tango Events
Be sure to search the Web for special events that are going on in the world of tango in BsAs. Three good Web sites are:
http://www.traveltango.com.ar/english/arg/ arg/inicio_arg_eng.htm (An English Web site dedicated to tango.) http://www.bue.gov.ar (A Spanish Web site that provides information and links to services (servicios), including places to stay (donde alojarse) and to activities (actividades) related to tango. There is also a link on the home page to PDF guides for tourists (extranjeros) in ten different languages (guía para extranjeros in diez idiomas).) http://www.tangobuenosaires.gob.ar/ (A Spanish Web site prepared by the Minister of Culture. It contains events specific to tango for the current month).
Some regularly scheduled events are as follows:
February/March: Tango festival (Festival Buenos Aires Tango) May-June: Metropolitan tango championship competitions (Campeonato Metropolitano de Tango) held throughout the city at different milongas. Mid-August: World tango championship competitions(Campeonato Mundialde Tango) for Tango Salón and Stage Tango (Tango Escenario). This is a ten-day event in which many countries from around the world send their best representatives to compete in either of the two categories. October: Tango festival End of November-beginning of December: Bailemos Tango Festival (http://www.bailemostango.com) December 11: National Tango Day (Día Nacional del Tango) features free tango concerts, performances, and guided tours through out the city beginning in the morning. The day commemorates the birth of Carlos Gardel, the national icon of tango, and Julio De Caro, another tango great. Throughout the day there are many overlapping indoor and outdoor opportunities to hear tango and to dance-mostly for free.
Where to Stay
This section touches on your choice of housing, in terms of types of lodging and location. For those who want to dance seven nights a week and until the wee hours of the morning, the overriding concern in selecting a place to stay should be safety and easy access to the BsAs tango scene. The recommendations made in this guide are not meant to compete with or replace your standard travel guides that cover Buenos Aires lodging in depth for the general traveler. (See Addendum 1 for a listing of travel guides to Buenos Aires.)
You may start your search for lodging by Googling "hotels in Buenos Aires, Argentina," or by logging on to the government Web site (http://www.bue.gov.ar), clicking under "servicios" (services), and then "alojamiento"(lodging). Both will provide links for you to look at pictures of the hotels listed. Below are some suggestions for lodging and cautions for tango aficionados who often travel late at night.
Avenida de Mayo is an area replete with old, nicely maintained, and moderately priced hotels that usually include breakfast. Avenida de Mayo is wide, well lit, well traveled, and centrally located with lots of commerce, especially restaurants that stay open late. This is critical, given that serious dancers may begin dancing after midnight and therefore arrive at their residences late and hungry. The Avenida de Mayo strip is near many milongas, and near public transportation. Many of the hotels on this strip have Web sites and pictures of their accommodations.
It is a good idea to stay on main avenues, such as Corrientes, Rivadavia, Santa Fe, 9 de Julio, and Callao; all located within easy reach of many milongas. While potentially noisy at night and early in the morning, when taxis fill the streets, establishments along these thoroughfares provide more safety when coming home from milongas late at night. They also are close to main transportation lines. Women traveling alone should ask about hotel security and access to the lobby by visitors. Preferably you would want a secure building that has someone in the lobby who oversees visitors twenty-four hours a day.
Generally speaking, look to stay in neighborhoods (barrios) near most milongas and near public transportation. That includes El Centro, Monserrat, Palermo, Barrio Norte, and Congreso. Upscale areas such as Retiro and Recoleta are generally a little bit removed from public transportation. However, the cost and availability of taxis makes such neighborhoods another safe option.
Tango residences are a relatively new phenomenon. These are privately owned town houses dedicated to tango visitors. In addition to lodging, they often provide access to teachers, dancing space for practice, meals, and other tourism services. These can be researched online by Googling "tango residences in Buenos Aires, Argentina."
For longer stays, look for apartments online at Web sites such as Craigslist (http://www.buenosaires.craigslist.org), as well as in ads in the tango monthly publications, BA Tango and El Tangauta. Both will be described later in this chapter. Always ask about security and access to buildings at night, as well as proximity to milongas.
A subscription to Tangauta will give you access to their magazine online. Log on to http://www.eltangauta.com/ inicio.asp in order to initiate your subscription.
Summer can be hot and sticky. For someone that requires air-conditioning, always ask if the AC is operative. By and large, even without AC, you will feel the breeze for which Buenos Aires (good air) is noted.
What to Pack
In order to reap the greatest benefits from your trip to BsAs, it is important to know beforehand what to expect and therefore, what to pack. In making sure that I am well prepared, I generally overpack. The criteria for overpacking is returning home with clothing you never got to wear, and at the same time, not having room in your suitcase to bring home what you purchased. Poor planning and packing has caused me to buy extra luggage on more than one trip in order to accommodate new purchases. On my first trip, it was for CDs and DVDs, and on another trip, it was for shoes.
I now pack an empty duffle bag into my suitcase to enable me to bring home the bulk items I buy. That always means shoes. The styles, colors, and prices make shoe shopping a sport in BsAs. On these same trips I almost always return home with outfits and shoes that are never worn. I find that I keep wearing my favorite items to different milongas. Men generally notice a well-dressed woman, but most do not really remember exactly what was worn. However, nothing takes the place of "beautiful dancing." In Chapter 3, I will discuss what beautiful dancing means in BsAs.
People tend to dress up for milongas, but within reason. While women may wear dressy slacks, more often they will wear dresses and skirts. And while some men still wear suits, especially traditional milongueros; more resort to dressy sport, wearing a shirt and slacks, but no tie.
During the winter (June through September), men often wear sport jackets, even if they do not wear ties. In the summer, they may wear light jackets to milongas, but remove them early on because of the heat. While the dress code for men has allowed for more casual wear, there is nothing more provocative for me than a well-dressed man. Overall, older men tend to dress up more than younger men. However, even old milongueros are less inclined to wear suits and ties, as they once were required to do. If you are a man who perspires a great deal, a change of shirt may be warranted. Given the intimacy of tango, a well-groomed, well-dressed, and well-scented man is more likely to be noticed by a woman, notwithstanding his ability on the dance floor.
As a woman, I have found that a few comfortable and dressy skirts and tops that can be combined easily are good packing choices, as are dresses that require no ironing and little maintenance. I also pack some dressy slacks to be combined with the same tops. I have found myself always returning to a few favorites, and leaving untouched my one-of-a-kind dressy options. Generally, select clothes that serve double duty, enabling you to move comfortably from an afternoon shopping spree to an early milonga. I have also found myself carrying a wrinkle free change of tops to enable me to move from one casual environment to a dressier event on the same night.
At the milongas, you will see new and trendy styles on the dance floor that will entice you to add to your wardrobe. Be prepared! It may just be in the leg wear, the jewelry, or most certainly, in the shoes. This gives shopaholics yet another opportunity to shop and bring back a new tango accessory, or to start a trend at home.
Excerpted from Tango Lover's Guide to Buenos Aires by Mígdalia Romero Copyright © 2009 by Migdalia Romero. Excerpted by permission.
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