A Local Guide to Buenos Aires
People often ask us how we meet people when we travel and how we make local connections. We use a wide variety of strategies, which we wrote about in this post Meeting Locals, from connecting with people online via their blogs (which is how we met the Taco Mafia in Austin) to using Twitter (as we did with Manoela in Rio de Janeiro).
But sometimes we just use good old-fashioned methods like asking friends if they have any friends in the places we’re visiting who we can meet. That’s how we met Porteño photographer, Marino Balbuena. Marino is a friend of a former Buenos Aires-based hotelier and restaurant-bar owner, Gerd Tepass, who we befriended on our last trip to Buenos Aires. Gerd has returned to his hometown Berlin, but we knew he always had an interesting set of friends in BA, so we asked him to connect us. Simple as that.
We meet Marino for coffee at his home in our old stomping ground of San Telmo, just a few blocks from the apartment we rented on our last trip. With a long list of qualifications in art, architecture, film and photography, Marino is one of those thoughtful, intellectual and highly creative photographers we love to meet.
Although Marino began working as a photographer in the architecture department of the Argentine newspaper, La Nación, and his work is mostly influenced by film and architecture, most of Marino’s career as a photographer has been in the field of fashion.
“I love to photograph people, especially people who wear a mask, to try to get behind those masks. I live to get to the truth, to get to the naivety of people,” Marino tells us. Although he admits becoming a little tired of the pretentiousness of some people in the industry.
Marino still loves to photograph architecture: “I love houses! I love weird and unusual houses, houses that were not built by architects, but built by ordinary people who have added structures to them or details or painted them in a strange way with lots of colour. I think they’re masterpieces in a way!”
Another passion of Marino’s is meditation — so much so that he’s opened a meditation school with a friend right upstairs from where he lives. So if you need to escape while in Buenos Aires, or just want to meet some locals, drop by Marino’s meditation centre, Sereno Luz.
A Local Guide to Buenos Aires — an interview with Marino Balbuena
Q. What do you most love about your work as a photographer?
A. I am very curious and I love to gossip! I like to find out what people are like and I like to know how they live, so for me it’s all about people.
Q. Why should people come to Buenos Aires?
A. Because it looks like the capital of an empire that doesn’t exist! People visiting think after Buenos Aires they’ll discover everything, but in reality there’s nothing, just earth! Half of the country’s population is in Buenos Aires. I don’t know another city like this. It’s amazing.
Q. 3 words to describe Buenos Aires.
A. Chaotic, eclectic, dynamic.
Q. 3 ways to describe the people of Buenos Aires.
A. Proud, united, critical.
Q. Your top recommendations for visitors to Buenos Aires?
A. Visit the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve, Costanera Sur. It’s a great place to walk with fantastic views of the city skyline, and try to do one of their night tours — they are amazing — but they are only held once per month during the full moon. Do a night time ‘Buenos Aires Misteriosa’ guided walking tour to discover the history of crimes, murders and ghosts in Buenos Aires, though it is only in Spanish unfortunately. Take a trip out of the city to have afternoon tea or lunch at Villa Ocampo, an antique house that belonged to Victoria Ocampo, an important cultural figure and famous editor — some of Argentina’s and the world’s greatest writers would meet there — and it’s very beautiful.
Q. Best souvenir?
A. A penguin-shaped jug that is used for wine. You will only find them here in Buenos Aires in the simplest restaurants, I’ve never seen them anywhere else, and I love them. Buy the rustic, pottery penguin, which is what locals like, not the glazed black and white ones, which are just for tourists.
Q. Must-do eating experiences?
A. Two restaurants that are my favourites — they are at opposite ends, yet just 10 blocks apart! — the restaurant at the Faena Hotel+Universe which is fantastic, very extravagant, and very expensive, and El Obrero, a very simple, traditional parrilla that is cheap.
Q. An essential thing to know before coming here?
A. Be careful when withdrawing money from ATMs and make sure you wait for your card! So many people take their money and then leave without their card!
Q. Most important phrase to learn?
A. Es barbaro! It’s like “that’s cool”! But even better! We use it to describe food, fashion, everything. Although in reality it translates to mean the opposite…
Q. Any other advice?
A. Palermo may be the coolest place in Buenos Aires, but most people don’t know that when it rains heavily, it floods! It becomes like Venice — people have even put their boats on Avenida Santa Fe! Tourists arrive and they find Palermo underwater, but it’s great!