BUENAS AIRES, ARGENTINA
AUGUST 6-16, 2011
ATTENDING FIFTH ANNUAL MILONGUEANDO
FESTIVAL AUGUST 8-14
SATURDAY, AUGUST 6: Leave Augusta at 5:30 and arrive Atlanta flight to Buenos Aires (BA) is to leave at 9:00 p.m. Actually leaves at 1:30 a.m. due to mechanical difficulties with original plane. Pilot says problem not fixed to his satisfaction and requests new plane. Once plane is cleaned and luggage/food is loaded we are off. It was a very pleasant and uneventful flight of 9 hours, 32 minutes. BA is one hour ahead of eastern daylight time.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 7: We arrive around noon. The luggage carousel is quite slow but fortunately our bags are among the first on the belt. We did this trip similar to our European trip. We had about $50 US on us and converted about $35. This started our adventure on money. Our taxi driver is waiting and we arrive at hotel. Taxi fee is 150 pesos. The taxi driver drove Steve to an ATM to get cash. No luck. We had to borrow $200 pesos from the hotel to pay the taxi. More money problems to come. Mansion Dandi Royal, Piedras 922/936 in San Telmo hotel was originally a private residence and is 100 years old. Original owners were a wealthy family from Europe. They have since moved to the Recolleta neighborhood where other wealthy residents are. We walk to the Sunday San Telmo market about four-five blocks from the hotel. It was very interesting. Blocks and blocks of street vendors. We want to return next Sunday. We had dinner at a nice little restaurant (La Rosalia) near the hotel. The menu is in Spanish and English, which helps. Service was excellent. This started another learning on BA. We could use our credit card but you can’t add the tip to the bill like the US. At this point, we didn’t know that. We ate at this restaurant several times during our stay. We chose another beef entre each meal.
Lesson #1 Tips must be paid in cash. Only the actual bill can be charged, no tip can be added like in the US. Appropriate tip is about 10% depending on service.
MONDAY, AUGUST 8: The festival starts with ceremonies those who have been here before say it has much less attendance than the previous year. Many from Germany and Australia have not returned this year apparently. Still it is a very nice number of people from various places, especially Canada and US. All classes are held at the hotel, which is convenient. We attend our first two classes: mine in women’s technique with Maria from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m., followed by class with Susana 5:00-6:30 p.m.
We have dinner at the same restaurant. We had another beef entre on the menu. Maria (brazil) and Ernesto (Chile) arrive and eat with us.
We attend el Niño bien Monday evening. Ride with Maria (brazil) and meet Ernest (Chile) there. Marie has slipped in the bathroom and has a large “goose egg” over her left eye. Beautiful venue and the dance floor was packed. We saw Barbara Durr and Hseuh-tze lee there. They were sitting on the opposite side of us. Sans Souci played live music and it is amazing. There were performances by teachers such as Alicia Puns and Osvaldo and Coca Centary.
TUESDAY AUGUST 9: Now the adventure really begins as we’re out of cash and realize we should have brought the debit card as well as the Visa. At several locations we were unable to secure a cash advance on Visa, although Bank of America says we should be able to. Went to many banks along 9 de Julio blvd. and two exchanges. We were becoming worried will be unable to access cash for taxis, etc. We are rescued by a loan from Barbara Durr and Claudia (Steve’s sister – via Western Union).
Lessons #2-5 learned:
1.) Always bring at least $200.00 cash; $500.00 would be better. You can exchange a small amount to get started at the Airport.
2.) BA likes US dollar bills and will accept them.
3.) Always bring debit card anywhere you go, as well as Visa credit card.
4.) Always have a back-up system for obtaining cash, such as American Express or Western Union account just in case.
Our average taxi in San Telmo area was about 15 pesos per trip.
Radio cabs are recommended. Red light in cab window means it is available.
Observations: San Telmo is rundown and dirty (exhaust fumes, trash, cigarette smoke) but you can tell many of the buildings were once grand gorgeous architecture. At one time this was a very wealthy area. The air in San Telmo is tough on the lungs due to the exhaust fumes and litter is everywhere and most people smoke-a lot.
The “in” place to be is Palermo apparently. We did spend some time there. It was much cleaner.
Diane’s Birthday winds up nicely once the cash issue is resolved (great thanks to Barbara and Claudia-Steve’s sister), with dinner at a pub with Regine and Craig from New Zealand. They are really a lot of fun to be with, really good dancers too. It very common to spend at least 2-3 hours eating and socializing in restaurants—much different than the US.
Wednesday August 10: We are settling into a routine of breakfast downstairs at the hotel (closes at 10:30 a.m.), followed by initial class on Milonga from 12:30-2:00, and Practica 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.
We again have dinner at the little restaurant with Craig and Regine (yet another beef entre)
There is no second class for us today, but we attend an evening milonga at La Ideal with Craig and Regine. It’s a beautiful old building, now quite worn. The dancing is so-so, whereas el Nino Bien was outstanding. You cannot “assume” everyone is a great dancer in BA! There was an orchestra and performance there also.
Thursday August 11: Breakfast and early class again, followed by practica. Today we find a Western Union and collect $300.00 or about 1200 pesos (thanks Claudia!). This is a very easy option to get money transferred. You can pick the money up at any Western Union. You only need your passport, the control number and your address in BA. Whew! It is no fun to have money worries. We had a small dinner at a tiny corner restaurant.
Lesson #6: always ask if they accept Visa first, unless you have plenty of cash. Most have the visa sign posted on the window if they accept it.
Our group dinner at Lalo began about 9:30 p.m. We have our first subte (subway) experience, courtesy of Craig and Regine.
The subte is busy, hot, and dirty, but signs of its former grandeur are around. Fare is very reasonable. You buy a ticket with 10 rides-10 pesos. We can only plan on using the subte until about 10:00 p.m. before it closes. Osvaldo and Coca Centary are the maestros at our table. He is one of the last of the old milongueros but has very bad emphysema–lovely people. The overall culture of Susana’s festival is respect for the traditions and culture of social tango. It really feels good to understand that. Our conversation was a little awkward. Before we come back, we must learn more Spanish. It’s frustrating not to be able to communicate. After dinner we headed to La Ideal for another milonga. We sit with Craig and Regine, the Japanese couple and Maria (from Brazil) and Ernesto (from Chile). Ernesto is so much help as he speaks Spanish (of course) and some English. There was a live orchestra and performances. The DJ played classic AT music. The dancing was much better this time. About 1/3 couples were dancing more open. The floor was not densely packed. One couple was dancing “showcase” moves but they still respected line-of-dance. We left about 1:30. We would have stayed longer but the rest of the table wanted to leave. We’re starting to see a trend. About 1-1:30 the milongas -might- have performances. After the performances folks tend to leave. The dance floor thins out a bit. They also danced Chacarera at this milonga.
Friday, August 12: This is our day off from classes. The day starts with a loud “bang” of thunder about 7:00 a.m. Too bad it is a rainy day; limits our exploring the area. We wanted to see La Boca today-oh well. We went to breakfast at a little “bakery” shop around the corner. It pours while we are in there. There’s no need to hurry, which is good as it is hard to get the waitress’ attention.
The plan is to meet Craig and Regine outside their apartment building on Carlos Calves at 5:00 and take the subte to an afternoon milonga again at La Ideal (El Abrazo). From there will have dinner and possibly attend an evening milonga.
Lesson #7: Bring two small umbrellas
We went to El Abrazo afternoon milonga at La Ideal (upstairs). It’s a much more relaxed atmosphere. Diane got to dance with three local milongueros-great fun! We just goof around with cabeceo. It is taken much more serious in BA except this milonga. It’s still the best way to get dances but some guys were doing the walk-around and cabeceo here.
Lesson #8: The afternoon milongas are much more relaxed, and local milongueros are more likely to dance with tourists at these.
After El Abrazo we went to dinner somewhere along Corrientes. It’s again very nice, followed by a milonga at Salon Canning. This was very crowded, but Diane did dance with one older local milonguero. The floor was very dense. At one point, Diane was going into the cruzada and another lady’s foot was between her legs. At one point, Steve could not move at all in the outside lane. The outer lane was a little ragged. Leaders were in and out of it. So dancing in the second lane would not be advisable. Once again the milonga was supposed to start @ 10:00 but we got there about 10:10 it was already PACKED. We did not get good seating (more on this subject later).
Saturday, August 13: We had breakfast at the hotel. The third milonga class is at 12:30, practica from 3-4:30, and musicality class is at 5:00-6:30 p.m.
As it turns out, the practica was more of an extended lesson on the cruzada. Our second class on musicality was held in the fifth floor room. It was fine, but we were starting to get a little too tired
Lesson #8: Two classes and a practica per day are a little much by the end of the week and following 2 milongas from the previous day.
We eat at La Rosalia, our favorite restaurant on Estados Unitos, about 5 blocks from the hotel.
milonga tonight is: La Nacionale–very crowded. We received a very nice greeting. Once again the place was packed. We should have gotten there sooner. Sat at back of room by the bar. The dancing was very dense. Lesson for the leaders!—keep your heels on the floor. It’s so dense if you pick them off the floor you might come down on someone’s foot!! This is the only milonga we experienced non-tango tandas. They played a cumba/merengue tanda (fun break). Not everyone danced this so there was more room on the floor.
Lesson #9: You wait to be seated at the milongas. Single women and well-known milongueros are seated front row along the sides. Couples are generally a little farther back. (More discussion to follow).
Sunday August 14: Final milonga class for us, then we go to the Sunday market. We had to be back by 6:30 for the closing ceremonies. Everyone receives a certificate and Argentine tea cup (with filter) for marte tea.
Milonga tonight–El Beso. nice crowd, excellent dancers, we stay until almost 3 a.m. Once again sitting is crucial
We have been taking the subte to the milongas with Regine and Craig. We take a cab back to the corner of Estados Unitos and Piedras on the way back, as the subte closes at 9:00 p.m..
Lesson #10: When giving the cab driver an address, generally you give the intersection nearest to where you are going rather than the exact address. Saves time and money with the driver searching for the address, and is safer if going to/from getting cash.
Monday August 15: We got up and eat breakfast at Dandi hotel. We need to go to get Steve’s shoes as he won a certificate for a “free” pair of shoes from Neo Tango. We take cab there and walk back. wow (long walk). We meet Regine and Craig at La Federal (four-five blocks from Piedras along Carlos Calves. We had a great time again. We stayed 2.5 hours, Juan Miguel is waiting for us when we get back (about 4:45). We head to the airport.
Lesson #11: Do not bring any fruit back in a suitcase. You will have longer through customs and they will confiscate it.
Summary of most important lessons–
- Learn enough Spanish to carry on a basic conversation. Ordering food, directions, chit-chat on the tanda song breaks.
- Work on your cabeceo! Believe me it does take work! Went the eyes meet- the man does the 1st head node! Don’t take offense if you get turned down. You are a new kid on the block. You have to earn respect. And you will earn it, if you give it!
- Afternoon milongas are much more casual and tourists are more likely to get dances.
- Seating – You buy a ticket when then you wait to be seated. You must “act-right” at milongas. We heard they will not hesitate to ask you to leave if you done. Being regular to certain milongas helped with seating and getting dances. Quoting our friend Regine Barkwith from New Zealand, “We went to El Beso 3 more times (after Diane and I left) and each time got better and better. The last time was one of the best and we were given great seats and got lots of dances. The seating location is definitely the most important thing at the milongas over there.” Couples tend to dance with each other. The lady of the couple will get asked to dance if the guy is dancing with other ladies. Single ladies need to be seated up front close to the dance floor. If you are a couple, you can ask to be seated separately. That way the lady will get more dances. Ladies still need to be actively looking for partners –smile- and look available. Ladies looking board or depressed are not going to get asked to dance much no matter where you are seated!
- Clearly people recognize good dancers. It helps to be recognized. They will get asked to dance much more. So establish yourself at a good milonga. If you are a beginner, just relax and enjoy the experience. Be patient and work on you skills before you go. As a leader, you want to dance with good dancers also because the floor is so dense-you are responsible for 2 bodies navigating the floor. Trying to control an awkward follower so she won’t molest other couples is very difficult and frankly not fun at all and not worth it.
- MONEY!! BA is a huge cash economy. Bring cash with you on the plane! They like American dollars. Wear a “money-belt” to feel more secure. Bring your ATM card and credit card (if you use Visa etc). You can also add a “pin” number to your credit card to get cash at an ATM. American express is taken everywhere down there. Be able to use the American Express card @ ATM machines! Use this as a back-up system along with your regular credit/atm cards. Establish a Western Union account and have a relative do the same. I’m thinking if we had done this earlier we could have done a credit card cash advance to ourselves. This was a very easy backup system for us once we learned it.
- “Pick-pockets” (pp) were a concern (we were warned). We heard about pp spaying “sticking-water” on you and wanting to help you clean up. They will go through you pockets. However, we didn’t experience this. Money belts were a little awkward but secure. Have cab fare in a front pocket and milonga/tip/milonga-drink money in another pocket. You can use your shoe as a “safe” location for money stashes also. Just knocking around town, wear jeans and put your money in the front pocket.
- Have exact change for the cabs. Have 50s, 20s, and 10s. and 2 peso notes on you. Radio cab was honest but some will give you change with counterfeit money. One non-radio cab we took us on a long route, therefore increasing the fee. We did have exact change for this guy.
- Stay in a secure location. We brought our Macbook and it was critical in communicating with friends about cash/meeting etc. We had a safe in our room so we locked everything up when we left.
- Know where you are going before you leave the hotel. Walk like you “own” the place. You will be much less likely to have problems. Keep moving. Your pocket can’t be picked if you are moving. Get advise on where NOT to walk. For example, we were thinking about walking to Nino Bien àNO. Take a cab to and from this milonga!