Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Women's Essentials Guide to Buenos Aires - 'Top Ten Tips for Tangueras'

It is with great pleasure that Stephanie Rose has given me the opportunity to host her guest blog. Ten months living in Buenos Aires, of which the last 3 have been spent co-managing a tango house, puts Stephanie in the perfect position to help other women as they plan their first tango visit to the capital.

When I came first to Buenos Aires in 2007 I didn't know what to expect. I was a seasoned traveller having lived in South Africa for twelve years; but this was my first South American trip, and my debut as a tanguera.

After numerous visits since, I thought it was timely to list my ‘Top Ten Tips for Tangueras’. My choices may not be right for every woman, but should provide a starting place for your trip. For new visitors, I shall update this blog from time to time to ensure it is topical. This entry is updated as of December 2017.

TIP 1 - Flight
They tell us when to travel to Buenos Aires and where to stay, but little about the journey to get here - a 15 hours flight, maybe with a delay at the airport or runway. You will spend a day and night travelling in a confined space, so whatever class you travel, select a direct flight if possible, wear flight socks, drink lots of water, decline the temptation of alcohol, and get it done. Importantly, don’t make the mistake of taking a cheap USA connecting flight, requiring a visa and making you immigrate, emigrate and collect your baggage between the two.

Put a travel pack of wet-wipes, eye spray and antioxidant hydramist in your handbag for on the plane, together with your shoulder wrap, and keep a pen and your passport number to hand to complete your landing card in flight. Bring a good read (or your Kindle) for waiting times at the airport.
Consider separating some basic essentials into your cabin luggage - some underwear, a spare top and makeup so if your suitcase goes missing at Ezeize, you have some basics to keep you going.

TIP 2 - Clothes
We pack too many clothes, then wonder why stairs and check-in are stressful. If you are travelling to dance in a mild spring or autumn, why bring lots of changes?

My advice is to bring the essentials and layer clothes: comfy flats or sandals teamed with a couple of pairs of loose lightweight wash-and-wear pants to walk the dusty streets. Remember to take your flight wrap on those cooler nights or under over-zealous air conditioners. Pack a long plastic mac for the torrential downpours, and buy a cheap ‘leave-behind’ umbrella when you get here.

For tango, a couple of pretty, wash-and-drip-dry dresses or tango skirts, open toe tights, plus a pair of tango pants, a cheap throw-away fan for milongas, and your duty-free perfume. Remember, if you want more, Buenos Aires is awash with great tango clothes at keen prices. And don’t forget to pack one pair of trusty worn-in tango shoes. Keep them in your hand luggage should you be ‘Stranded at the Airport’.

TIP 3 - Shoes!
I am surprised that tangueras arrive with a bag full of shoes. Wear your comfy flats for walking uneven pavements, and simply pack a spare pair of tried and tested slip-ons as spares. The best tango shoes can be found in Buenos Aires, and although prices have risen dramatically here, due to import taxes they are still cheaper than outside Argentina. If you plan to stay a while, have them bespoke made by Katrinski. If your visit is short, pop along to Comme il Faut or DNI for a good, safe bet and nice designs. Bear in mind that Comme il Faut Buenos Aires may not stock the full range of shoes available on their European web.

TIP 4 - Hair
As you may have read in Stephen’s blogs, my greatest worry before arrival in Buenos Aires was of ending up with ‘Argentine hair’. There are many gorgeous women with great hair here, but with heat and humidity, hair looks good only for an hour before becoming a frizzy bundle. Finding Daniel Diaz through the BA Ex Pats group was a huge relief. Sassoon trained, tried twice, Daniel ticks all the boxes, and who needs more when it come to cut, colour and chat.

TIP 5 - Tango teachers
Where to start? They say that wherever you are in Buenos Aires you are never more than 10 meters away from a tango teacher. Milongueros accost at milongas, offering their ‘special lessons’, internationally renown performers entice with impossibly elaborate exhibitions. What we want, and what we need may be two different things. After several years of trial and error, I always return to Carolina Bonaventura’s tango school at Mariposa de San Telmo. It is safe and easy to find off 9 de Julio, and offers excellent methodology with dedicated women’s technique classes that are exacting and fun.

Book some privates, and join a group class to make new friends and get invites to milongas with the teachers. If you are young and staying in Palermo you may prefer to check out DNI.
If however you want to major on technique and step up to performance excellence, add in some master classes with top names such as Daniela y Luis.

TIP 6 - Body care

The chemists here in Buenos Aires stock all of the basics you will need, but if you have a favorite body care regime, don’t expect the products you want to leap from the shelves in your local farmacia. You may have to bring them with you. Remember that the sun can be hot, and humidity levels high - so bring protection. The brilliant Incognito mosquito repellent, zapper and bite treatment cream are a ‘must’. Bring a travel hand gel for the milonga, and whilst in Buenos Aires, visit cheap nail bars in the peluquero. If you intend to dance a lot, don’t forget to book a series of pedicures with Graciela at Piedras 1025, San Telmo (tel 15 6700 2479).

TIP 7 - Stay safe
Buenos Aires is not the place to bring good jewellery, favorite watches and Chanel or
Birkin bags. Don’t get me wrong, the city is as safe as many in Europe, but with real poverty on the streets valuables provide a snatch temptation. I restrict myself to stud earrings and a cheap waterproof watch - they send out the right, rather than the wrong signal. If you carry a handbag, bring a small, robust, long strapped one that you can carry in front. Additionally, I pack a fold-away, temptation-free, transparent rucksack in which I keep my mac, dance shoes, fan, hand gel, tissues and mints for milongas.

TIP 8 - Budget
I think Stephen has addressed the need to prepare in advance of your trip. Bear in mind that the days of cheap living in Buenos Aires are over - dining out with wine is still a little cheaper, but other costs, including shopping and milongas are similar to those in Europe, so budget accordingly. When out and about I only carry the money I need, and leave the rest in the apartment safe. Run off a couple of photocopies of your passport before departure and bring your photo driving license - you may need them to authenticate your credit card purchases. Whilst on the topic of credit cards, bring a spare - you never know when you may need it. Place photos of cards and passport on ‘the cloud’ for easy reference in case of loss or theft.

TIP 9 - Food and drink
In addition to steak and pizza, Buenos Aires now caters for a wide range of food needs, so vegetarians and gluten free travellers need have no concerns. Make the most of the seasonal fruit and vegetables that are available on each street corner and supermarket entrances. Find your favorite bakery. If you are lucky to have access to a BBQ, buy bife de lomo from your local butcher, team it with chorizo sausages and invite your friends to cook - and bring the Malbec!

Which brings us onto drink. Whilst they say tap water is safe, many Portenos opt for bottled water, plentiful in the supermarkets. My top three inexpensive wines are: red - Uxmal Malbec (13%), white - Lopez (12%); sparkling - Federico de Alvear, Brut or Extra Brut (11.60%). For a light beer, try the ubiquitous Quilmes Cristal (4.9%). For best value, buy these from your local Chinese supermarket.

TIP 10 - Language
My biggest regret when visiting Buenos Aires is not speaking conversational Castillano adequately. Many Portenos speak some English, so getting by is possible without Spanish, but simply getting-by excludes you from many friendships and experiences. Focus before your trip, get the free Duolingo app, learn your numbers to 100, the names of basic foods and drink and get as good as you can before you leave. I always ask the first names of assistants in shops that I frequent, and invariably get a winning smile for my effort.

Stephanie Rose © December 2017