Steak and Tango: Buenos Aires Homestretch!

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It was bittersweet, but we arrived back in Buenos Aires for the last two days of our trip. Luckily, we still had very exciting things on the agenda! Night one: learn to tango. Night two: eat the most amazing steak on Earth at La Cabrera.

We did little during the day, as per usual these days. We walked the Sunday market by the cemetery and checked out cafe Tortoni (the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires, which was both beautiful and had great coffee).  Afterwards we shared a pre-tango bottle of wine on the second story terrace of our hostel. It was surreal being back in Buenos Aires. We have stayed at the Ideal Hostel three times now on this trip, and being back this time was by far the strangest; I felt as if we should be STARTING a journey rather than ending one.

The first evening, we set out to La Catedral, a local milonga, full of portenos that held cheap tango lessons and had great shows later in the night. We had been there before, 4 months earlier, and loved it! Creaky wooden floors, red brick walls, and full of good wine and local flavor: everything you could want from a tango bar in Buenos Aires. This time, we wanted to take lessons, so we jumped in a cab and took off through the city. 
Very different from four months ago, I managed to flawlessly chat with the cab driver as we cruised through the streets. I’m impressed how much my Spanish has improved in such a short time. We covered a wide range of topics, including European influences in Buenos Aires, the wars between Portugal and its colonial provinces in South America, the places and things Adam and I had done on our trip, and joking about how I would love to buy all the clothes in the city, if only they would fit in my backpack. This is a far cry from four months ago when I would say “Corrientes y Suipacha por favor” and shut up for the rest of the ride.

When we arrived at La Catedral, we sadly discovered the place was closed (damn you Sundays!). Luckily, the driver knew a bunch more milongas in the area, and suggested a few dinner places as well. We were dropped off a few blocks away, and ended up in a restaurant that was full of people (rare for Buenos Aires at 8pm). We decided this was a good place, and sat at one of the only tables available, upstairs, overlooking the restaurant and a stage that was set up. By 8:15 there was not a single table left in the place… And it seemed to us, as we peered down on the crowds below, that EVERYONE knew each other. At first we thought we were being paranoid when it looked like every person kept looking up and staring at us after they walked in. We were the only tourist at the place, but Argentina has such a mix of culture, surely you couldn’t tell that from walking through the door!
  So we ordered a platter and some wine and forgot about the crowds.

Before long, it was apparent that a show was about to start. The emcee got up on stage and started talking. It was hard to understand him over the microphone, and he spoke ridiculously fast, but soon we realize he was congratulating an old woman on her birthday… This was her birthday party, and everyone at the restaurant had come for it. Great, first we crash a funeral, now we’ve crashed a little old lady’s birthday too! We’re on a roll!

Then all of a sudden the emcee switches to English and looks directly at Adam and I “hello my friends, welcome!!” then in Spanish “The couple from Canada ladies and gentlemen! Let’s welcome them to the party by a round of applause!” we get cheered for and whistled at, then out of nowhere a spotlight shines over at us and blinds me. I’m sure I’m blushing as we get a shout out by the announcer within the first 3 minutes of the show… People are still clapping for us. We smile and say thank you, and the show continues. This is going to be an unusual night, I can already tell.

The show went all night and was really quite amazing! It began with a few singers that sang popular Latin music, and a couple classic English songs like Whitney Houston’s “I Will Love Again” and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” both translated into Spanish. The crowds of loved every second of it.  They sang along ruthlessly to each of the tunes, cheering and moving to the music all the while. South Americans are so much more passionate about life it seems, and they certainly love a party!

Next, the tango dancers began. The tango is both beautiful, and sensual, and Adam and I quickly realized we would have looked like absolute idiots at the class. How do you teach steps like that in an hour and a half?! I’m extra thankful at this point that the lessons weren’t available, as it seemed the girls take 3 steps to each one of the guy’s movements! I would have tripped over my uncoordinated feet FOR SURE. Nonetheless, I adored watching the dancers on stage!

After a round of dancing, a large bald man got up on stage and sang opera. He was fantastic! He didn’t even need a microphone; he easily could have filled the restaurant with his voice solo. I decided right then and there that, had I been at an entire opera show, I probably would have cried. Then later, when he broke out with one of my favourite Andrea Bocelli songs, I nearly did.

His son, who was probably about 7, sat on the stage behind him and offered him water between each song. It was very sweet. This kid was anything but shy. At the first intermission, when everyone in the restaurant got out on the dance floor and tangoed, he stood up on the stage and danced as crazily and as hard as he could. He was the center of attention for the entire restaurant, and was hilarious to watch while he shook his hips and his head as his arms and legs flailed haphazardly at his side. When the intermission was over, he ran upstairs to his mom to boast about his stage performance. She praised him and offered a sip of her wine as congratulations. Before she knew it, he grabbed the glass and scalded the entire thing in an instant! I nearly choked on an olive I was laughing so hard as the mother mortifyingly tried to pry the empty glass from his hands! No wonder he wasn’t shy, the kid was hammered!

The show continued with another set of the same. Singing, more dancing, then more singing again. The choreography become more complex, and as a result, more impressive! The performances went on until well after midnight, and just watching I was exhausted by the time it was over. Argentina is a dancing culture. You can easily determine this by the sheer number of great dancers that were there that night. Couples, old and young, got up to show off their moves at each intermission, and all of them were fantastic! I wish we had some sort of cultural comparison in Canada.

Our second day in Buenos Aires we spent in the San Telmo district. Still my favourite district in the city, we had no problem hanging out with a few pints in the main square, people watching the afternoon away! This is where we decided it was a good time to add up our collective bus trips over the past four months. Yes, all those hours of hell we had been carefully keeping track of. In four months we had a total of 43 bus trips (not including tours or city buses) for a disgusting grand total of 338 hours!!! When you do the math, that’s 14.08 days, or TWO ENTIRE WEEKS!! Good lord, no wonder we hate buses so much now!

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Thankfully, all of that was behind us. No more buses in South America on this trip! It was our final night on the continent, and we had other things to do… Such as finish our bet!

For those of you that have been following, Adam and I have had an ongoing crib tournament that we have been tallying up since the beginning of January. The rule was, the loser of all the totaled games had to pay for a steak dinner at the famous La Cabrera in Buenos Aires! In the end, the score was Adam: 70, Hilary: 122. Sorry Adam, looks like steak is on you!

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So we dressed up in our best backpacker clothes and went to the steakhouse for 7:30. Turns out, the place didn’t even OPEN until 8. But that didn’t matter, reservations were full and we were already pretty far along on the wait list. How popular IS this place? Also, there are actually TWO locations! One a half block from the first, both of which were packed an hour before opening. Ingeniously however, the restaurant had a few benches and a TV outside that played a blooper reel of the most ridiculous wipeouts. We found this hysterical (and that is an understatement). Although many people loitered around, watching the screen, only Adam and I were curled over in our seats, with tears in our eyes, wheezing breathlessly at how funny this was. Perhaps we had been deprived of comedy for a while (having only CSI on the English TV channels) or maybe it’s true that we do just have more fun than the average passerby. Whatever the case, we sat in line for an hour before we even realized that we were hungry. Well done La Cabrera, well done.

Finally it was our turn. Just as we sat down, they popped open champagne bottles to give to each of the waiting guests in line (jealous!). But not to worry, we had scoped out the menu an hour ago and were ready to start the feast! An amazing bottle of Santa Julia reserva Malbec and stuffed olives with parmesan, almonds, and a sundried tomato with sesames mix in the center. Unreal!  We picked away at this for a while and decided that, on our last night, we would re-read all the blog posts I had written over the last four months… Oh how much we had forgotten!! The horrific airport experience on day one, catching up with friends in Brazil, Carnaval, the Amazon River… and that’s just the first part of the trip! I realized how much I love to describe food in my writing (fancy or otherwise), and my limited vocabulary when it comes to describing scenery… Sorry everybody.

But it really has been an awesome trip. And so, to finish my posts for this trip, why not go out in style and describe another meal!

So for our main course at La Cabrera, we (Adam) spared no luxury. We ordered the nicest thing on the menu. A 500g medium-rare Sirloin Strip Kobe Beef steak… Oh my God. We have been convincing South America that, although Argentinean beef is amazing, we have EXCELLENT Alberta beef as well. It’s hard to impress us Canadians with an “okay” steak. But this Kobe beef blew us out of the water! It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Perfectly seared to medium rare, with a dark red juicy center. Also, it came with a platter of accompaniments. A waiter came around with a large wooden plank of sides that we could choose from. “Take as many as you want!” he said! Big salads with poached eggs and vinaigrette dressing, garlic mashed potatoes, grilled zucchini, spicy dijon mustard dip, palmitos, red pepper sauce, and so much more! We had a table full of small jars to go with the steak, each one more delicious than the last. We actually shared a steak (because the thing was massive) but were both stuffed by the time dinner was over. They added a free glass of champagne for dessert and a lollipop to go! Wow. Hands down the nicest steakhouse I’ve been to, with the most delicious meat I’ve ever had. The Santa Julia Reserva ended up being top of our rating for the wine log (now at exactly 60 different bottles) which made the meal even more perfect. This was not only the best meal of the trip, but also of my life! What an awesome way to finish off four months of travel! We had been at the restaurant for 4 and a half hours (including wait time) by this point, so it was finally time to go home… Actually. Our flight to Canada was scheduled for 9:35pm the following day. How time flies!

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