Saturday 5 October just before 8.00 am, American Airlines Boeing 777 descends from a rich blue sky to the warm runway of Pistarini airport, Ezeiza, Buenos Aires, and we descend from the plane into our new life for two months of Argentine tango.
The journey has been eventful. The choice of American Airlines was dictated unwisely by cost rather than convenience, and this was accentuated by the need to exit flight-side on touch down in the USA, to go through immigration and customs, then to repeat the same process within minutes for the on-going flight to Buenos Aires. For this of course, you need ESTA clearance. Flight time and convenience come at a cost, but my advice is to select a European interchange in the absence of a direct flight.
As usual, I took the Tienda Leon coach from the airport to the city. Look for the booth in the arrivals hall flight side. New travellers may be tempted to book a taxi, but for 95 pesos (exchange rate 14 $ARS / £1) the coach is a first choice, taking you directly to Retiro, and then on in small grey taxis to your hotel, hostel or apartment. The coach is quick and affords views over the city as you enter on the Autopista 25 Mao.
The city, Capital Federal, is clearly about to burst into spring. A mild winter, followed by a cold September has confused the seasons. Unlike my visits in February (Argentine autumn) the roadsides are verdant with grasses and the city streets look fresh washed. Within the next few days the pink buds showing on the Jacaranda will unwrap into splendid vermillion.
Our little grey taxi pulls from Avendia Independencia into Chacabucco. We stop just short of Av San Juan outside 1181. This is the tango hostel run by Fabrizio Forti and used by me for two and three months respectively on two of my previous three visits to Buenos Aires. It could be said that returning to the same hostel was unadventurous, but this place is always an adventure in itself. Fabrizio is a slight built tango performer and teacher and has run the hostel for many years. He is there to greet us, and carries Stephanie's case to the first floor.
Fabizio's is run as a private home for tangueros and other visitors. The two floors are self-contained, but on our floor is the tango practice room with balcony overlooking Chacabucco. For tangueros this has distinct advantages. For others, the second floor access to the roof patio garden is a boon.
Our room is that recommended by our friends Rudi y Linda. They have been my companions here at Chacabuco for two consecutive years, but they travel here for two months in the autumn. The room is simple, but with a magnificent marble dressing table, soon to be festooned with visiting cards, candles and fresias. The ensuite bathroom comprises bath, with overhead shower, handbasin and bidet.
Our companions on this trip are Carlos, Silke, Cristina and Alvero. They each have rooms that access onto the little balcony that runs the length of our floor of the house. Carlos is a student studying at the Universidad in Av San Juan. A special cook, Carlos speaks six languages, most fluently without accent, and enjoys jazz. Silke, who we call Sally, is from southern Germany and is staying for two months. By profession, she is the director of a kindergarten, but by appearance a decade younger than her age. Sally too is learning tango, and will accompany us to milongas over the next weeks. Cristina is also a student and tanguera. She owns an apartment in Buenos Aires which she rents to support her on-going studies. Finally, Alvero is a long-term resident. His skill is that of musician, and he sells instruments in the street markets locally.
Life in the house proves to be a social as ever. "Join us for breakfast - we are cooking now" is a familiar call as Silke and Carlos mix their skills. At other times, tango music drifts from the practice room where new steps are perfected or visitors take lessons with Fabrizio. Sharing in a tango house may not be to everyone's taste; but it provides instant companionship with kindred tango spirits, whilst here at Fabrizio's - sufficient privacy when sought. For both sole tangueros and couples travelling to dance, I would wholeheartedly recommend the energy of a shared house or hostel.
The next step is to buy those essentials and luxuries that make a longer trip comfortable. We have brought a travel kettle and small Bodum coffee jug from England. Although it sounds ridiculous, we have also brought chocolate - for this is one area in which the Argentines do not excel. We add fresh towels, shampoo, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, spices, two wine glasses, a bottle of Malbec, fresh bread and empanadas to our shopping list and head out to the local shops.
Visitors should note that credit cards are accepted rarely in shops and occasionally in local restaurants. They are also a very costly way to pay, for the government takes revenue from transactions, especially cash withdrawals. Here there is an active black market for currency exchange - especially US$ - and a stroll along Calle Florida is beset by vendors. I have decided to use Azimo, a British company offering currency transfers at excellent rates. Check out the link on my Facebook page and sign up using the link provided. When doing so, it is worth increasing your allowance. This can be done at no cost by providing proof of identity (more easily done before you depart) - required to avoid money laundering.
So Argentine pesos it is, with simple conversion at the current rate of about 14 pesos for £1. As a guide, breaksfast for two costs 100 pesos, a meal for two with wine currently costs about 300 pesos, pizza an beer for two at 85 pesos. For tango, entrance costs between 25 and 40 pesos per person, with sparkling water at 14-18 pesos. Day-to-day living is thus highly manageable, especially if you prepare your own food with the plethora of fresh vegetables and fruit available from each street corner for a handful of pesos.
In the next entry, I will tell more about tango - after all, that is why we are here and you are reading the blog. Until then, picture this -
The sun is setting over San Telmo. Music and a distant smell of cooking rises in the air. Voices chatter and spring evening birdsong carries across the roof. We are preparing to dance at El Maipui - to stroll there across Avendia 9 de Juilo into Monserat. What could be better than this?