Get off the beaten path » Seeing the world from a different point of view

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  • Get off the beaten path

    It's so easy to stick to the tourist trail, stay in hotels the Lonely Planet recommends, eat where everyone else eats and visit all the famous sights you've seen on telly and in magazines. While these experiences can be nice, you'll have the best adventures if you wander off the trail. Who's to say that just because a sight is famous, that it's actually any good? In fact, as soon as you discover what else the world has to offer that is not in the guide book, you'll realise that most famous sights are astonishingly underwhelming - if you can get through the crowds to see them.

    As well as the fact that the greatest sights you'll see, people you'll meet and experiences you'll have are off the beaten path, it's also much cheaper to get off the tourist trail than to stay on it.

    I realise that as soon as you find a place that’s genuinely off the tourist trail you want to keep it to yourself, but if you share, then others will share, and the world will open up around you. I’m not talking about taking three flights, two boat rides and a lift on the back of a donkey cart just to find an empty beach, I’m interested in the gems that are simply hidden away from the regular tourist areas, be it a lesser-known Thai island, a unique area of a big city, an unusual hotel or just a sight that no one seems to have noticed.

    If you've ever come across anything like this, let me know and I'll share it on this site!

    That's me, by the way, jumping in the air at a sand dune in Punta Gallinas, the most northerly point in Colombia.

Six long days in Buenos Aires

I have had twelve hours’ sleep in the past six days. In BA, people don’t eat till 10pm, and if you get to a nightclub before 4am you’re like, so uncool. I’m far from cool. Apparently I’m supposed to nap between 4pm and 7pm and spend the rest of my time partying, but my body just won’t let me go to sleep at that time, despite the distinct lack of it I’ve had over the past few days. It’s not entirely my fault though – I tried my hardest to have a lie-in on my first three nights but the hostel (Tango Backpackers in Palermo) considerately put me in a dorm room on the ground floor next to the busiest street in Palermo where honking traffic starts at 6am, and the windows have no glass – just flimsy wooden shutters. To add to this distressful situation, the dorm was the entrance to the staff room, plus they put a snoring early riser who likes to have the lights on at 7am in the room with me. I did however manage a very attractive open-mouthed power nap on the hostel sofa one evening, but woke up to everyone staring at me, and that was the end of those.

I was also dealing with the news given to me when I checked in to the hostel that the cleaners steal, so we have to lock the door and have all our belongings in the metal lockers whenever we leave the room. My dorm mate and I came home one afternoon to find that, true to their word, his locker had been prised open from the bottom. I had paid the hefty room rate upfront for five nights (you get the sixth night free), but after night three of snoring, car horns and thieving maids I forfeited the money I’d paid and legged it out of there (and realised later that in my desperation to leave the premises I had forgotten my deposit). I then discovered from a friend’s recommendation an amazing hostel in arty district San Telmo called Circus that is big, clean and has brilliant people working there who absolutely made my week. Also, the burritos and tacos from the hostel restaurant gave me the Mexican fix I’d been dying for my entire trip.

Despite the false start, I had a great time checking out the food, parties and cats of Buenos Aires. There’s a botanical garden in Palermo that I kept going back to because it’s full of friendly stray gatos. There are little piles of cat food everywhere and the cats just spend all day eating and sunbathing together. Also full of felines is the famous cemetary for the rich people of Argentina, where they don’t have gravestones but entire houses-slash-churches for their whole family.

To do a recce of the city without having to endure the city tour bus, I hired a bike with a British guy called Dave, my dorm mate. We got lost twice, ended up pedalling for our lives in the middle of a six-lane highway four times and stopped for food 147 times, including ridiculously delicious dulce de leche ice cream and the best street burger in the world, which we ate while watching the geese chase people for food on the banks of a lake. While I wasn’t looking one came and took the last bit of my burger right out of my hand, taking half my finger with it. Then Dave made me laugh for about 15 minutes by asking at what point the small black ducks with yellow beaks become big and grey like the rest of them…

My second night in Buenos Aires began with a tango lesson at La Catedral, an awesome venue without a sign – you just have to be in the know, darling (it’s in the Lonely Planet…). Tango-wise, Dave and I were terrible. I managed to stamp on several other dancers (got quite a few dirty looks) and generally look incredibly stupid. We gave up early and had pizza and red wine instead.

Day three in Buenos Aires was spent shopping. I forked out £97 for some incredibly awesome skinny jeans for my new skinny figure (soon to change) and then I went and ate custard pastries, ice cream, brownies and fresh lemonade (goodbye new skinny figure).

As for the steak, well, all I can say is that food is now ruined forever. Nothing will ever be better than an Argentinean bife de lomo cooked jugoso (‘very rare’). In Argentina they feed their cows well, give them lots of room to play and give them a relaxing massage every night before sending them to bed on plump mattresses with silk sheets. Even vegetarians eat steak here. My first Argentinean steak in Salta was actually really disappointing as they cooked the thing to death (apparently when you say ‘rare’ it means ‘well done’), but it was all uphill from there.

My first BA steak was at an all-you-can-eat place called Siga La Vaca – Follow The Cow. Dave my roommate and I forced down beef of every description until the meat sweats kicked in, then chased it with a chocolate mousse. We closed the place at 1am and went straight to bed. Later in the week I was taken to a more local steak restaurant where I also discovered for the first time how incredible Argentina’s mashed potato is. Following it with a tub of dulce de leche ice cream I decide the country is officially perfect.

I absolutely love Buenos Aires. The graffiti is more street art than vandalism and all the walls are adorned with colourful works of genius; the food, well, I think you know what I think of the food; the people are attractive; the parks are full of happy cats and the architecture is different every corner you turn – although this is hard to appreciate when you have to keep your eyes fixed to the pavement so you don’t step in any of the ubiquitous piles of dog crap smeared all over the ground.

But trying to describe why I love this city is difficult to put into words – it’s just got a buzz, a vibe, an energy that is so alive and exciting. It reminds me a lot of New York City – except everything is in Spanish… Buen provecho!

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May 21, 2011 - 8:17 am

Katherina - Glad you like it! I LOVE it and hope to manage to go back this year in November – there are still a lot of steaks I need to eat!

June 8, 2011 - 3:13 pm

Anna Downing - Katherina, those steaks have ruined food forever, nothing will ever be better than a bife de lomo ‘jugoso’…

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