The park told us everything...

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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El Rosedal, Palermo, Buenos Aires

                After a whirlwind European trip through 10 capitols in 29 days, a friend and I once sat down, determined to try a different path.  We had followed the guidebooks, heeded the advice, and sprinted through miles of museums leaving a trail of ill-formed and hazy memories laying in our wake. It wasn’t working and we embarked on a new strategy. The next stop, Buenos Aires, was to be different. 

                While it certainly wasn’t original, implementing our plan took more discipline than we imagined.  Could we, avid backpackers and culture addicts, lay down the books, ignore the advice and turn our 4 days of attention strictly to the city-central park of our next stop?  It is a risky proposition. Forgo the name-brand attractions that draw millions of travelers a year in the hope of slowing down to inhale the cultural and social scents.  While we may never admit it, the idea of missing a vital attraction and being called out on that insolence by other travelers down the road can be a tough fear to overcome.

                The central parks of Palermo, 3 miles outside the financial center of Buenos Aires, stretch green and flowered at odd angles.  Six different parks lay within a four square mile area, along with an internationally respected zoo, the Japanese tea gardens and an antiquated planetarium designed, perhaps intentionally, to look like the worlds largest concrete golf ball. 

                While it is always a joy to wander into a park hunkered down amid the swaying metropolis, we often do it in order to rest and relax.  A blanket, a cooler, food and friends are the usual makeup of a weekend in the gardens of a city.  This is something else.  What if we treat the Park as our means to experiencing every cultural aspect that interested us?

 We found that a central park may represent the perfect place for a short-term visitor to experience all the attractions they had intended to visit in separate hurried batches.  The Palermo Parks of Buenos Aires are an engaging example of this.

                Interested in tango? While there are scores of formal restaurants and cabarets that cater to those interested in a staged show, the weekends in the park offer an informal and intimate exhibition.  The performances along a soccer field, only meters from a pick-up game, buzzed with a spontaneous energy.  It was heated daylight, amidst a bustling and populous central area, tinny music leaking from a stereo perched along a curb... and an immediate and private performance.  The sophistication and passion of the tango stood in juxtaposition to the informal environment, and felt all the more genuine for it.

                Other tent-poles of Argentine culture could be found in wonderfully off-kilter examples every day off the week. The heralded meat of Argentina was available at affordable stands throughout the parks.  These small Churascarias sold thin strips of steaks, cooked on open grills and served with onions and a fried egg on fresh bread.  Even in this stripped down and unceremonious presentation, the meat stood out for its flavor and for the friendliness of the kiosk owners. 

Leather goods abound throughout the park, especially on weekends, when stalls are arranged in certain park sections.  Soccer is on display at all hours, and while the quality of play is high, there is a generous flexibility that allowed the not so talented the chance to participate.

Most importantly, the rich history of Buenos Aires was at all times on display.  Not only on the plaques and signs re-telling particular moments of Argentina’s past, but embedded in the people that moved through their park with confidence and grace.  Argentines were open and eager to discuss their history, their failures alongside their achievements.  While a tour guide can present a story and guide books can inform, a history lesson is never so fascinating as when told by those changed by it.

The parks of Buenos Aires served as details of Argentine society that would have been practiced and polished in other circumstances.  The parks, and its people, were an engaging and welcome substitute for the guidebooks that had informed all prior trips.

yenlee says:
Ryan, I enjoyed your fresh and rare perspective on appreciating a city. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to live in Beijing in the early 90s and had an opportunity to patiently observe and integrate into local culture.

What other travel experiences have you had?

p.s. if you have any interest in sustainable travel, i've just started a personal blog at
Posted on: Oct 02, 2007
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El Rosedal, Palermo, Buenos Aires
El Rosedal, Palermo, Buenos Aires
10,204 km (6,340 miles) traveled
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