Catching up with old friends in Buenos Aires

Protest in Buenos Aires.

Argentina certainly ain’t the cheap place it used to be … well it was expensive, then cheap, and now, well it’s certainly not the place to get your bargains! Argentina has had a tumultuous last ten or fifteen years, but I do not even want to get into the politics. The last time Alex and I had been to Buenos Aires (apart from overnight a few weeks back) was in 2000 on our way back ‘home’ when Alex had decided to come and live with me in Australia. We were arriving early on Monday morning and would be leaving the following Saturday. I know, not a lot of time, but we were here on a mission – to catch up with three sets of very, very dear friends.

Market in San Telmo.

The flight from Quito to Buenos Aires (BA) was rather uneventful, in that all went well and we arrived safely. Leaving Ecuador always has me reflecting on my time there, Alex’s time there and life in general, and it’s always hard. I have, over the years, come to terms with the fact that I will always straddle the two continents in which I live and visit frequently. It’s just the way it is! We arrived in BA early on Monday morning, and we now knew exactly how to get to Charo’s house in the beautiful and historic San Telmo … fork out $40.00 for a taxi.  Too expensive?  The only option, unless of course you want to spend two and a half hours on a bus (instead of half an hour in a taxi) with copious lugguge. Not an option.

Charito & Ombi in BA.

Although it was just after 9.00am when we arrived, Charo (very dear friend number 1!) was at work. We had already organised with her to get the key from the porter of the building when we arrived. We were both knackered and so we took ourselves upstairs and had a rest … well, a few hours of sleep. Charo only works half days so that afternoon was a very lazy one; shooting the breeze and talking about times gone by. How did we know Charo? I met Charo in 1999 in Colonia Suiza (Uriguay) when I was backpacking through South America. She was there with her late husband, Piero, a gem of a man. I was sitting at the table of the gorgeous hostel we were staying in and writing furiously. Not sure how it happened, but I soon started chatting to Charo, or Charito as we fondly call her, and we realised that we had a lot in common, including that we could both speak the same three languages; English, Italian and Spanish (although how well I could actually speak Spanish only a couple of months into my South American sojourn remains debatable). Before I knew it, I had met Piero (who had migrated to Argentina from Naples many years ago) and we started to talk in all three languages … about everything and anything. As the saying goes, the rest is history! From that day on I kept in touch with both Piero and Charo, and Alex was able to meet them both as we passed through BA in August 2000 on our way back to Melbourne. Soooooo many good memories!

Musicians in Parque Lezama.

Alex and I both felt tired on that first day in Buenos Aires, so we took it really easy. San Telmo is the oldest barrio, or neighbourhood, in BA. Set around Plaza Dorrego, it’s a gorgeous place and characterised by its colonial buildings, cafes, tango parlours and antique shops. Its cobblestone streets make it all the more atmospheric; lots of artists and artisans and great for people watching (a renowned favourite pastime of mine). Charo and I also walked through the very picturesque Parque Lezama (Lezama Park). Again, a great experiment in people-watching; we saw everything from skate boarders to artists to guitar players to homeless people. I want to add here that the economic situation in Argentina is dire at the moment and that there is thus a huge problem with homeless people.

L to R: Gaby, Nico, Alex, Gonzy, Flopy & Faby.

Mid-week we would be going out to visit my friend Fabiana (very dear friend number 2!) and her family who live about 40 kilometres from the city centre. I met Faby when I was backpacking in Europe when I was twenty-something (only a few years ago!). We travelled through parts of Europe together and had a blast! We have remained friends ever since!

As with all of my Argentine friends, the last time I saw Faby was in 2000, when we also met her husband Gabriel (Gaby) and son Nicolas (Nico). At the time they were living in Palermo, in the centre of BA. Since then they have added Gonzalo (Gonzy) and Florencia (Flopy) to their brood.  What a wonderful family! They live on a spacious property in the country, which we easily accessed by bus. Faby came to pick us up from the bus stop with her youngest, Flopy, and it was as though no time had passed. We only stayed an afternoon and a night but we really made the most of it. We went to the local park with the kids, played outside, had afternoon snacks in their backyard, had a great dinner with the family, and Faby and I reminisced about old times. Just not long enough!  Before we knew it, the next morning we were back on the bus making our way to BA.

L to R: Brenda, Julian, Charo, Julia, Ombi & Nico.

That night Charo organised an impromptu dinner at her place with some of her nieces and nephews, Julia, Juliana and Brenda. It was great … everyone simply rocked up with some food and started cooking.  I felt right at home! We ate, chatted and chilled out, but like all good things the night came to an end all too quickly!

Tango in La Boca.

As Alex and I love walking and exploring we still managed to do a bit of that, including Puerto Madero (like a Southbank meets Docklands) and La Boca, a colourful neighbourhood which has its roots in the settlement of Italian immigrants. It’s not the safest neighbourhood in BA (I was mugged there in 1999 … but I chased my muggers and got most of my things back!  As you do!) and I could not believe how over-touristy and commercial it had become.  It was OTT and streaming with tourist buses, as people crowded the streets to get a glimpse of the colourful houses and couples dancing tango. It’s also known to soccer-mad fans as the home to the Boca Juniors, one of the world’s best known soccer clubs.

Un besote para mi Diego!

Along with Charo, we also caught up with Diego (very dear friend number 3!) and had a great coffee at El Gato Negro. I had I met Argentine Diego when we were both living in Quito in 1999–2000. My fondest memories of Diego are of us dancing together (many, many times!) Again, it was like no time had ever passed, as we talked about, well, what we had been doing for the last ten years or so!  We organised to go out for dinner, along with his partner Federico (whom I’d not met before) on Friday night.

With Caro & Luis at Cafe Oui Oui.

Time was simply going too quickly, and I still had to catch up with Carolina (very dear friend number 4!) I also met Carolina on my European backpacking trip, but not at the same time as I met Fabiana (they actually met each other through me in 2000). Hope I have not confused you. Luckily we got to meet up a couple of times as well as meeting her lovely and kind-spirited partner, Luis. Again, not enough time!  Caro took us to a gorgeous cafe called Oui Oui in a neighbourhood called Palermo Hollywood, and yes, the coffee as well as the company was excellent. We both had tears in our eyes as we said goodbye.  This is the thing that I like least about travelling. Having said that, when I think about the calibre of some of the people I have met on my travels, I feel very lucky. It’s not quantity, but quality.

L to R: Alex, Diego & Fede.

I could feel this trip quickly coming to an end and before we knew it we were catching up with Diego and his partner Federico on the Friday night. We had a relaxed night chatting but we were accutely aware that tomorrow it would be all over red rover! Federico and Diego live in a fantastic little place in San Telmo, overlooking all the action.  I loved it!

Having a coffee with Roberto, Gladys & Charo.

Ah, last but not least, I want to mention Charo’s parents, Roberto and Gladys.  They live in the same apartment as Charo in San Telmo, so we saw them frequently in our week there. What wonderful people.  They made us laugh and kept us entertained and Gladys, you are a great cook!  Roberto had us keeling over with some of his expressions and anecdotes. Highly intelligent and not backwards in coming forwards. Both in their 80s … I want to be like them when I grow up!

Saturday morning had arrived. We went out with Charito to do some last minute shopping; we bought some alfajores (sweet biscuits filled with caramelised milk – there are a number of variations) and dulce de leche (caramelised milk), which in my opinion is the pinnacle of culinary utopia. Bags packed, we said our goodbyes to Charo, Gladys, Roberto and Nico (Charo’s nephew who was also living in the house). I would miss them all.

Yep, I had to bin it!

The ride to the airport on a Saturday morning with minimal traffic hardly took any time at all. All went smoothly, and we made it through all the filters with our newly purchased goods … until … just before we boarded the plane. For some unknown reason they have an extra check point at the airport in BA. What, we could not take on our 500 gram jar of dulce de leche (sweetened caramelised milk)! It was over the maximum allowance (50 grams max, I think). I am going to say it as it is … I was spewing! Could I … perhaps, open it up, and smear it into a few zip lock bags? No!!! I could eat it, right? Yes!!!  Sigh! I ripped it open and had a few mouthfuls before ditching it. I mean how many spoonfuls of caramelised milk can one have in a single hit?  I think I made it to three!  Yeh, I suppose worse things really could happen in life!  Can you tell that I REALLY love dulce de leche?

The flight back home was tranquil, but this time I did not sleep much as we were flying early afternoon and would be arriving  in Melbourne at 9.30pm. As it worked out we got into Sydney a little later, which meant that we missed our connecting flight to Melbourne. No biggie, we just caught the next available flight and got in to Melbourne at 10.30pm. We had already cleared customs in Sydney, so we were ready to go when we landed in Melbourne!  Dad’s taxi service was there to pick us up, as always.  Thanks Dad.

Dad dropped us off and we went straight to bed.  We were exhausted! Poor Alex had to go to work the next day!


View from Charo’s apartment window in san Telmo.

Dedication: To my wonderful Argentine friends whom I have come to know and love: Charito, Piero (not with us physically but always in our hearts), Gladys, Roberto, Carolina, Fabiana and Diego. Thank you for your love and friendship – you all mean the world to us and occupy a very special place in our hearts.

Dedicacion: Para mis amigos argentinos maravillosos, quien he podido conocer y amar: Charito, Piero (no esta con nosotros fisicamente pero siempre esta en nuestros corazones), Gladys, Roberto, Carolina, Fabiana y Diego. Gracias a todos ustedes por su amor y amistad – cada uno de ustedes es muy importante para nosotros y ocupan un  lugar muy especial en nuestros corazones.

Books read:

Outrageous Fortunes – The Twelve Surprising Trends that will Reshape the Global Economy by Daniel Altman

“Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends” – Richard Bach.

Next: Ecuador’s turn to ‘visit’ Australia – our niece comes to Australia.

Who counts in Argentina?

Ombi with Florencia (Flopy) outside her home.

Alex and Roberto.

With Faby drinking mate (pronounced ma-tay).
Drinking mate at Faby’s place.
Picturesque window in La Boca.
Ombi and Charo in downtown BA.

Philosophising at El Gato Negro with Diego and Charo.
With Caro … just like old times.
Ombi and Gladys.
Alex in La Boca.
In the streets of Buenos Aires.

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Alex & Ombi

Alex & Ombi

Ombretta (Ombi) Zanetti is a co-founder of She has been travelling the world since 1989 and since 1999 with her partner, Alex, who hails from Ecuador. They both like to venture to the lesser known places. Ombi shares her passion for different cultures through her travel stories and Alex through his lens. Come take a detour or two with them!

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