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Buenos Aires – A love hate relationship

Buenos Aires – the ‘Big Apple’ of Latin America – is arguably a bitter-sweet wheelchair tourist experience. As we will describe below, there are many pros and cons for this culturally vibrant and beautiful, but also criminal, busy and not side-walk friendly city. And even the Argentineans themselves seem to be divided on their feelings about the city. Javier: “I left Buenos Aires because of its criminality”. Juan: “There is no other place like this!”. So we decided to present this city as a discourse on why the city is worth a visit or not… so that you can choose whether to put it on your destination list.

PRO: The transport situation in Buenos Aires is relatively good for wheelchair users…

Actually the best activity to get an overview of the city is to take the hop-on and hop off tourist bus. It has a designated wheelchair seat and the bus driver assists in getting you accommodated. And best – as wheelchair users – it is for free. However, prepare yourself for a long bus ride, as the round tour takes, at the minimum, three hours depending on traffic. Taxis are the other option and with the taxi company “Premium” you can specially order Camionetas that we found suitable (see link Argentien fuer rollstuhlfahrer). Taxi drivers are the ‘Encyclopedia on the mood and culture of the Portenos (Buenos Aires citizens)’, said Emilia, our Argentinean teacher. In Buenos Aires we found them to be particularly full of information. Some examples: “Tthe population of Buenos Aires gets older and consists of more single households, which results in a stark increase in the dog population” … Or… “Did you know that Hitler did not die in 1945 but lived on for decades in Argentina?” Also the information flow does not seem to end – “I feel guilty if I do not talk to the taxi driver, so I always have a story up my sleeve”, says our excellent city guide Juan.

CON: Traffic is mad

There is no underground option and the buses are not independently accessible – So if you are not a lover of chaotic, large and polluted traffic and do not feel comfortable accepting help from others, this might not be your place. Only a few stops of the underground network are indicated as wheelchair accessible – so we did not even try. Most buses in Buenos Aires have a wheelchair sign but do not be mistaken…without help they are not accessible. The bus drives very close to the sidewalk, lowers the bus and with the help of ready available customers you will be placed on your designated seat. If you prefer to push long distances, also be warned that the condition of the sidewalks is pretty unpredictable….. you can get a brilliant tiled sidewalk for 10 metres and a pot hole loaded one for the next 10. So, independently, this city is not accessible.

PRO: The food was fantastic

We followed our non-conventional philosophy to choose the restaurants with a lot – and if distinguishable – of Argentinean customers inside. Our favorites are Parilla restaurants – with lots of meat dishes (parillas, lomo de bife), but also pasta, pizzas (due to high Italian immigration) and ensaladas (salads). The portions are huge – so best to share a dish and get an extra side one. The service is always friendly, apparently because tourists, unlike Portenos, leave a tip. However, don’t expect the waitress to come to your table on her own initiative. The custom teaches that you need to call her if you want to order.

Creative Cuisine in a winery in Cafayate

CON: Argentina is no country for breakfast lovers

A typical breakfast consists of a coffee with a sweet or toast and bread – if you are lucky, you will get an orange juice. Not enough for us brunch spoiled Germans. Also, be aware that the Asada can be cooked too well…for rare lovers rather order crudo (bloody) and hope to actually still see a bit of pink inside. Also, even if there seems to be a vegan and natural food movement in Buenos Aires, there are very limited options for the vegetarian to enjoy (salads, pasta and French fries). “Cook yourself” advises the vegetarian Spanish teacher Emilia. Most challenging in adaptation for us were the dinner times… As lunch can reach up until 3 pm and as coffee is usually taken around 5 to 7 o’clock, dinner places do not OPEN before 8 to 8.30pm. So sometimes we had dinner in a cafe of toast and sandwiches as we could not wait that long. So these factors sometimes may discourage the culinary exquisite experience….or make you have big lunches and light dinners.

PRO: “Portenos are always in an arty frame of mind”

…told us our excellent city guide Juan. Where a simple shop sign would serve, the Portenans have developed exquisite art creations to attract customers to their shops (put the name). ‘Grafitti’ seems also not to match the extraordinary artistic drawings that we found on some walls. And, of course, there is the dancing culture….the Tango but also the other Latin American dances that can be observed. If you are interested we would suggest, rather than visiting one of the expensive Tango shows, just visit one of the many milongas (e.g. Viruta in Palermo), where everybody practises their dancing moves until late at night. Juan suggests that this extraordinary visible expression of arts all around the city results from the liberation the urban population feels after the long military dictatorship.

CON: Timing of art events is beyond imagination

Authentic band and arts performances in the Argentinean locations can start as late as 2 am! Of course you can enjoy a Tango show for tourists but it will cost you up to US$100 and also not start before 9pm. The other disadvantage is that the arts sites of the city are spread out and you need to cover some distance in between.

PRO: The architectural sights and the district diversity is incredible

Due to their past orientation towards Europe (many Italian and Spanish immigrants), many of the architectural buildings are actually copied from Spanish or French originals and are pretty impressive. Also a visit to the Recoleta cemetery with its impressive Rococo tombs with their accompanying stories is highly recommended. The Museo Bicentinario has a very interesting (unfortunately, only in Spanish) historic overview and the Evita Peron museum has an excellent restaurant where you can enjoy a good lunch. All sites are wheelchair accessible. Also, the diverse districts of Buenos Aires can match all desires – the new hip upcoming Soho of Palermo, the historic district of La Boca, the diplomatic quarters of Belgrano or the shopping mile in Ricoleta.

CON: Buenos Aires is unsafe!

Not just for tourists but also for citizens in general. “There seems to be an acceptance of criminality, which is unimaginable” says our Saltenian Spanish teacher, Emilia. Having been robbed inside our rented apartment in Palermo, we recommend everybody to stay alert while in Buenos Aires. Choose safe accommodation options (check for safe areas, hotels…and apartments with security cameras and porters). Also, be alert when on tour. Do not be flashy with your equipment and make sure you are not followed. I know this sounds like a Hitchcock film but apparently the criminality in Buenos Aires is a mafia that works with all tricks. Also, as police force has been increased on the streets, they seem to divert their strategies to also rob apartments. The police don’t seem as concerned as you would expect and it is said some work jointly with the criminals.

So which side are you on? We are one-one and will be back before our take-off to Cuba for our next adventure. However, sitting below a huge fig tree, in a big unprotected garden in Salta, listening to the sound of leaves and birds – where the most dangerous creature, in form of the house cat called Uschi just walks by… the one might change to two.

Tags: Argentina, Travel with a wheelchair

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