My love of outdoor markets is bursting here. Today, I went to two of them, and they were great, and both really different from one another.
I headed first to La Boca, which is a neighborhood in the far southwest of the city. It sits right on the Riachuelo river, but apparently most of the neighborhood is pretty sketchy. I had planned to walk, but after an incident with some bad milk early this morning (and the next hour sprawled out on my bed feeling like crap), I decided to take a taxi instead, and I was really glad I did. As I rode down there, the cab passed some spots where I definitely would not have wanted to be walking, even during the day. After about 15 minutes, we reached “El Caminito” (“the little walkway”), which is a spot just off the water.
You know all of those photos you’ve seen of Buenos Aires with the crazy corrugated zinc shacks painted in bright colors? That’s el Caminito. Apparently the people who lived there for years were all really poor immigrants, and they would beg the incoming ships for spare paint in any color they had. Voila. It’s beautiful. The area is really touristy, with someone trying to hand you a flyer every two feet and women in tango clothes who will pose with you for a picture (for a fee), but it’s still totally worth the trip. There’s also a little market set out along the river. I walked around the little strip and then into a few shops on the side streets, and then sat outside, despite the cold, and had a cup of coffee while listening to a whole tango band, accompanying these amazing dancers.
One of the shops sold all of this really cool glass jewelry, and I had a good (and mostly understandable) conversation in Spanish with the woman who owned it, and who also makes the jewelry. Things were going really well until I dropped a necklace and it shattered into, oh, about 14,000 pieces. She was so gracious, and told me over and over again that it wasn’t important. I bought a really lovely necklace and tried to pay for the one I broke as well, but she wasn’t having it. Then I got the hell out of there.
After La Boca, I headed to the complete opposite end of the city (to the north east), to Belgrano. As I’ve said the taxi drivers in Buenos Aires are pretty much constantly pretending they’re in the Indy 500, and this one was particularly nutty. A few minutes into the ride I started feeling a bit car sick, and 20 minutes in I had a horrible realization: I am going to throw up. This was accompanied by the almost-as-terrible thought: I have no idea how to say, “stop,” “pull over,” or “I just vomited in the back seat of your plush Radio Taxi.” I started searching through my dictionary, but the reading made it worse, so I just sat back with my eyes closed and prayed for the next 10 minutes while he attempted to sideswipe buses and barely miss every pedestrian along the way. I’m happy to say that I made it. I got out and sat on a bench heaving for the next half hour, and then I was good to go.
The market in Belgrano is way low key comparatively, which was nice after the chaotic morning. Belgrano is a pretty, upper-middle class neighborhood, and the main plaza, where the fair is held, is right in line with that (read: more expensive—I even saw a couple of stalls that claimed to take credit cards, which never seems to happen here). This held true for everything but the leather goods, which I covet, but am holding back from buying until I find the perfect bag, as they’re the one item that is actually still quite expensive. (They’re cheaper here than in the U.S., and really beautiful, but a big leather bag is still often upwards of $60 or so.) One vendor at Belgrano had a whole table full of painted, etched leather wallets, and they were surprisingly reasonable, so after picking through a hundred or so of them, I bought one. I think it was around $11 U.S., but I love it. One downside is that, it turns out, my license doesn’t fit in the clear pocket, but whatever—the picture of me on it is nothing to display anyway.