Argentina would secretly like to be part of Europe.
Argentina is a country that stands out from the rest of South America; its people are well-educated, its infrastructure highly developed, and the food is great (if you like eating vast amounts of beef). Coming here from Bolivia or Peru is like rediscovering civilization. The highway system, economy and culture are all first class. And the Argentines will never miss a chance to tell you how great they are.
Back in 2001 Argentina suffered a collapse of their peso, which was fixed to the US dollar, from a default on IMF loans. Millions saw their life savings vanish into nothing overnight. There were runs on the banks and grocery stores. Only the richest were left unaffected, the rest of the country sank into poverty.
Now with the peso at about a 3:1 rate with the US dollar, the path to exploring this once expensive country has opened. Although the economy is recovering much more quickly than predicted, great bargains on accommodation, food and transport are still available. Buenos Aires has become very popular to visit.
Argentina has a rich history. The country was one of the richest in the world back in the days when shipping around the Straits of Magellan was obligatory. The wealth coming into the country from trade and South America silver and gold mines made Buenos Aires into one of the most important cities in the world. Even today the city has a distinct European feel.
During the WWII era an obscure military official named Peron, married to the famous Evita (played by Madonna on the silver screen), ruled the country. Peron was a Nazi sympathizer and to this day there are many small villages in Argentina with an unusually large German influence. In the ’70s and ’80s came the infamous ‘Dirty War’ when a military takeover occurred with accompanying atrocities and disappearances.
The national embarrassment at the hands of the British in the Falkland (Malvinas) Island wars helped bring the military rule to an end. To this day many Argentines consider the British to be pirates, and a plaque in the south part of the country reads, “Margaret Thatcher was drunk on whisky the day she ordered the invasion of the Malvinas.” The military rule ended, but subsequent corrupt presidents, like Carlos Menem, did little to help the nation recover. Similar histories can be found throughout all the countries in South America.
Argentina has many great places to visit or live. Buenos Aires stands apart as one of the gems of South America. Cordoba is a university town with a young scene and what some claim to be the most beautiful people on the continent. Mendoza has wine, skiing and the beauty of the Andes. Heading south through the Pampas you come to resorts in Patagonia on the border with Chile. You can even go all the way south to the end of the world, Tierra del Fuego, land of penguins and glaciers.
Buenos Aires feels like a city transported straight from Europe with its majestic opera houses and plazas. The intellectual scene thrives here as the Argentines try so hard to be like Europeans that often they forget which continent they are on. Head problems result.
Argentina is more accessible, like the rest of Latin America, by mastering Spanish or Castellano (Cast-eh-SHAN-o) as it is called here. Your Spanish will be thrown off for a while here by the unique pronunciation of the y’s and ll’s and all the colloquialisms. Remember that ‘che’ means ‘hey guy’ and you’ll get by fine.
The Gaucho is something of a national symbol, a cowboy who roams the Pampas drinking yerba mate all day and eating every part of the cow including the hooves. The tango was invented in Buenos Aires, too. It was originally a dance two men would do together as they waited for women in whorehouses. Only in Argentina.