Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Buenos Aires: Slow Travel in San Telmo

We've been in Buenos Aires over a week now and if asked, I'd have to say we've hardly done anything, except live.

In planning this year, we knew that we couldn't travel fast or very hard because not only would the kids have trouble, but Kerry and I would burn ourselves out. We had the option of going to just one city for the year, or even just a couple, but the more we looked at the map and talked about what we wanted the year to look like, the more places we wanted to go to.

So we compromised. We decided upon slow travel. We'd try to spend minimum a week wherever we went, and quite a bit more in some places.

We spent just about three weeks in Rio. That was a good length of time. We did everything we wanted to do without being rushed. We had time to just live in the city. We had our local supermarket. We got comfortable at our spot on the beach. We walked past the same people every day. We felt the sense of community and neighbourhood.

In Buenos Aires, we've kept much the same pace. Apart from the food tour on Monday we've really only explored the central area and San Telmo on foot. But in doing so, we're getting a good feel for this neighbourhood.

We have found our butcher at Mercado San Telmo. He puts up with my bad and broken Spanish and seems to love it when the kids try to speak a little bit. They've left with candies every time. (Next time we visit I plan on taking his photo.) Kerry goes to the same corner grocery shop (I say corner, but it's not on the corner), and the same vegetable stand. Yesterday, the waiter from our café on Plaza Dorrego waved at Kerry and the kids. I know that it helps that we stand out - the four gringos speaking bad Spanish trying to get by. But it's our little community and it feels good to recognize and be recognized. 

Plus, our confidence has improved. We sort of get things now. We're no longer thrown off when small glass of water accompanies our coffee. The kids not only know what a submarino is (hot milk with a chocolate bar melting in it), but they can comment on whether it's any good and how it compares to other cafés around. We know where and how to get money on the illegal (but nobody enforces the law) blue market with a way better exchange than a bank machine or credit card will ever give.

But best of all, we have the time to have a day like we did today. After walking through the Modern Art Gallery just a couple blocks from us, we decided to walk a few more blocks to a playground area we saw last week. What we found today wasn't really a playground, but better. Normally, I would call it a square, but that evokes images of something in the middle surrounded by sidewalks, and accessible from all four sides. This wasn't that. Instead, it's an area fenced off from the street and surrounded by the backs and sides of three different buildings. Normally such a description would make on cringe and avoid the area, but this area is bright, open and clean. It's a meeting place for the community. 

High school age kids hung out in the corner, some played basketball, and others looked like they were making a movie. Moms were there with strollers. A couple of older people tottered around. Most everyone stopped and spend a moment or two on the exercise equipment. Two different groups brought their lunches to the square and settled in at the concrete picnic tables to eat. A grandpa brought his little grandson and ping pong paddles to use on the ping pong table. But best of all, were the four boys about Eamon's age that had a soccer ball.

When we arrived they were playing a game with the ball over a low net. Like volleyball, but no hands. By the time Eamon moved over to join in they suddenly took up most of the area, threw down their jackets for goal posts and started playing the game. Meaghan then mustered up the courage to join in too. Even as older kids started playing with a different ball over one of the nets, the kids' game continued through the older kids' court -- and no one complained. So many people co-existed in that little space I really don't even have the words to begin to describe how awesome it was.

What I really liked though was how the kids played soccer with a group of other kids for over two hours with no adult interference. The kids made their own boundaries, their own modifications, and took up much of the space without apology or complaints. While I love home and know that we have so very much to be grateful for, I do wish that we would encourage this type of free play as opposed to parents joining in and then making the rules, organizing leagues with rules and refs, or telling kids when and how to play. Even our terrific summer green shack program in Edmonton has a young adult/old youth organizing the games, the rules, and resolving conflicts. I'm not so sure that's how we should be doing things. I have yet to read anything that says free time with free play will hinder our kids.

But I'll leave that tirade for another today. Today, I want to remember how much my English-speaking kids smiled and laughed during their awesome afternoon playing soccer with some Spanish-speaking Argentine boys. 


  1. "Free time with free play" -- that's how it was when I was a kid. Little to no adult supervision -- just us kids! I feel sorry for kids today that they don't have that same opportunity.

    Your "slow travel" is the way to go, I think! I'm enjoying traveling vicariously through you, LOL!

  2. The slow travel is definitely working for us.