Buenos Aires is one of those cities where you can spend a week, a month or several weeks and never get bored. But like most metropolitan areas, after a few days of hectic city life, you may find yourself itching for more leisurely and tranquil pursuits.
Now if you’re like me on many of my trips and don’t plan ahead, it’s really not a problem. You can simply take the train or bus on a plethora of day trips or weekend getaways. But be forewarned, many Porteños (the nickname of Buenos Aires’ residents, which roughly translated means “from the port”) may have the same idea, especially during their summer vacation months of January and February.
We decided to head to the town of Tigre, which sits on network of river streams and deltas just an hour or so away from Buenos Aires by train. When we arrived to the train station, there were rows of TV cameras, police and throngs of people milling about outside of the train station. Turns out our luck had taken a turn for the worse and our flexible nature was to be challenged when we learned that the train workers were on strike and the station closed for the day.
As much as this interrupted our plans, I tried to imagine what it was like for average Argentines who rely on train transportation to commute to their jobs, for those fortunate enough to be gainfully employed. Since the days of the Military Rule in the 1980s when dissent carried a much heavier price, strikes and protests have been a big part of Argentine culture.
We quickly changed our shooting strategy and decided to shoot some of the other sites around Buenos Aires. We headed over to the modern barrio of Puerto Madero which is full of upscale apartments and hotels, restaurants, bars and museums. Later we traveled to the outskirts to visit the city’s China Town and Jewish section to get an idea of Buenos Aires’ diversity.
The next day our trip to Tigre was back on and this time the trains worked like a charm. The train ride was lovely and we were entertained by an elderly harp player on the ride over. Tigre lies on an island created by several rivers and is a popular spot for locals. Some have lovely summer homes on the river while others rent places for a night or two if they need a quick weekend away from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. Others, like us, are simply day trippers.
Tigre is also a town where people work and live and carry on with their daily lives (they have a decent soccer team). There is a pretty good downtown where you’ll find an amusement park, a fruit market that seems to sell everything but fruit, and several other things to do. My favorite was the Yerba Mate Museum which was small but very cool and helped me understand why sipping Mate tea is such an important part of the culture for people in this part of the world.
You can travel up and down and around Tigre by boat and the river is a lot like a freeway, with row boats, motorized speed boats and bigger boat taxis like the one we took, all vying for space as they travel up and down the river picking up passengers and dropping them off at various points along the way.
After hitting the Mate museum and a few other popular spots we called it a day. We were due to take another day trip to San Antonio de Areco the following day so we took a late afternoon train back to Buenos Aires where we arrived in time for dinner (which in Buenos Aires can be 10 or 11 pm).
The next day it was up early to catch the bus to the town of San Antonio de Areco, a small and lovely little gaucho (Argentine Cowboy) town a couple of hours by bus from Buenos Aires. After the bus company inexplicably and unceremoniously dropped me and the crew off at the outskirts of town, we took the long, hot dusty walk to the center of town where the town square and church are located. From here you get a sense of the draw for travelers as San Antonio is a quaint and tranquil little town popular with tourists and locals alike.
There is a gaucho museum on the outskirts of town and in the center of town within spitting distance of the square is the Draghi Silversmith Museum which is not to be missed. Juan José Draghi was a master Silversmith who founded the shop which later became a museum and features incredible pieces of his family’s work. These days his son and daughter keep the Juan Jose’s legacy alive.
They have produced customized silver pieces for many famous people the world over including former President, George H. Bush. They toured us around and showed us how they are keeping their father’s legacy alive by continuing to create incredible works of art using his time honored techniques.
If you decide to stay in San Antonio over night, the Draghis also have a beautiful little bed and breakfast just behind the shop and museum. It looks like a lovely place to stay the night and experience the tranquility of San Antonio.
But most people visit San Antonio to ultimately visit one of the many Estancias or ranches that still operate in the region. We decided to visit El Cencerro, a lovely working estancia about 30 minutes away by taxi from San Antonio. El Cencerro is owned by a friendly couple Eduardo and Liliana Herbstein who personally host travelers during the busy summer months and on weekends.
The ranch takes it’s name, Cencerro, from the bell that is used by Gauchos to tame horses. El Cencerro was recommended to me by Frommer’s Buenos Aires guidebook writer, Michael Luongo who had helped us plan our itinerary. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had briefly known Eduardo and Liliana’s son, Leondro, who lived in New York City and once handled publicity for the boutique world music label “Putamayo Records”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been traveling and when I tell someone I’m from New York City, we were able to piece together a connection in a similar fashion (thought usually not so direct). I’m not sure why, but for me it truly makes the world seem like a smaller and somehow friendlier place.
However, for Eduardo and Liliana, no connection is really needed. They could not have been nicer to us or their guests. They arranged for us to have lunch with them and a visiting U.S. family from Miami. The lunch was a typical Argentine meat lovers delight and a menu of what one would expect at a working cattle ranch, plenty of delicious barbeque meat, so vegans beware. There was also some excellent Argentine wine of course!
Maybe it was the wine, but after lunch I succumbed to the urgings of the crew and the Herbsteins and dressed up like a typical gaucho. Then I was recruited by the real gauchos who live and work on site to help corral some cattle. I even tried my hand riding a horse and roping a cow. My Tennessee farm boy background didn’t really help. Too many years of city life had made me soft I suppose.
Later Eduardo took us on a short tour of the nearby town of Capilla del Señor, one of the oldest towns in all of Argentina. From there we saw a couple of big hot air passenger balloons floating in the distance giving some lucky travelers a birds eye view of gaucho territory.
Back at El Cencerro, sipping Yerba Mate at the end of the day with the our new friends from El Cencerro and watching an incredible sunset against the backdrop of cows, horses and windmills gave me an incredible feeling of tranquility and wishing we could stay longer. But alas, we had to say our goodbyes and we took a late night shuttle taxi back to Buenos Aires where we were to regroup before heading out to the lovely Salta Province.
If you are ever in Buenos Aires for more than 3 days at a time, I highly recommend taking a day trip, either to Tigre or to El Cencerro just outside of San Antonio de Areco. It’s a fairly quick, easy and inexpensive way to get a taste of life for the other half of Argentina’s inhabitants who prefer the rural life and the simpler pleasures of life outside the bustling capital city.