To get to Patagonia, it’s first necessary to go through Buenos Aires, a large bustling city where more than 1/3 of the country’s 40 million people live. To get to Buenos Aires, we passed through Washington, D.C., now in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. Here, in the Southern Hemisphere, it feels like D.C. in the summer – super hot and humid! Also like D.C., Buenos Aires is situated next to a river. But unlike the Potomac River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay estuary (where fresh water from the river mixes with salt water from the ocean), the Rio de la Plata is its own estuary – it empties directly into the sea and is slightly salty from the intrusion of ocean water.
Buenos Aires does not readily acknowledge its coastal position, and various commercial/industrial interests block residents from access to their river estuary – this made me appreciate San Francisco’s super open waterfront! But my current traveling partner, Anita (helpfully, an intrepid oceanographer) and I were determined to find the coast and some natural greenery. It wasn’t easy! Happily, along the city’s eastern side – east of the famous Plaza de Mayo – the district of Puerto Madero – the old commercial port that’s now inactive – has been converted into a walkable area with condo highrises, businesses, and restaurants. The muddy estuarine water is visible in the old canals where an ancient sailing ship can be boarded.
But nature remained illusive. Continuing east we finally encountered a large street lined with food vendors. Beyond, a strip of green enticed us to enter la Reserva Ecological Costanero Sur – the south coast ecological preserve. Fences restricted our entry but after walking 1.5 km, we found an access point and bicycles for rent. What a welcome site for our weary legs! We hopped on the bikes and peddled along dirt paths until finally reaching the coast – admittedly with artificial embankment and a beach with large chunks from past human constructions – but with waves and the smell of salt air. Like in San Francisco Bay, the river was being traversed by tanker ships and tug boats going to meet them. Also like in SF Bay, very little of the original tidal wetland area is preserved, but in this one place, a strip of marshland provides habitat for birds and humans eager to escape the concrete jungle of the city. We felt satisfied to have found this nugget of nature!
Postnote: Yes, we’ve also enjoyed the cultural offerings of this very cosmopolitan city! We’ve sampled excellent food and viewed interesting sites, perhaps the most memorable a densely packed cemetery with amazingly huge and elaborate monuments over the remains cittern city’s prominent deceased. The next step is a long overnight bus ride to Puerto Madryn, 10 degrees of latitude to the south. Stay tuned!