From the outset, we decided to begin this journey by spending a month in Buenos Aires. We told ourselves we needed a base from which to acclimatise: to learn a bit of Spanish, line up some freelance work and launch our respective blogs. But fundamentally, it was because we wanted to loiter in one of the world’s most exciting cities for more than just a few days.
In 2003, I stayed in San Telmo, an atmospheric neighbourhood with cobbled streets, crumbling buildings and an antiques shop or bar on every corner. At that time I hadn’t heard of Palermo, a quaint neighbourhood of cobbled streets and narrow, tree-lined avenues to the north of the Centro. But when I came back for a few days in 2009 on a press trip, I spent one bright morning wandering the streets of the neighbourhood, with sunlight streaming through the branches of the jacaranda trees, gawping at the street art that covers almost every wall and doorway, and generally falling in love with the barrio.
Today Palermo is the centre of the New Buenos Aires, home to up-and-coming designers, trendy art galleries and more bars and restaurants than you can shake a bottle of Quilmes at, so it was a no-brainer that we begin out hunt for an apartment there.
The Señorita and I hadn't used Airbnb before, but after scrolling through hundreds of affordable apartments, we decided to give it a try. The booking process is not quite as simple as booking a hotel room online. Firstly you have to make a request to book the home of your choice; if the owner likes the look of your profile, he or she can make the reservation channel open for you and you can make the booking.
Renters are supposed to get back to you within 24 hours but not all do, and the calendar that shows availability is not always accurate. One place we requested turned out to be booked up, and one landlord, who I had bothered with several questions about the size of the apartment, advised me: “why don’t you just go and book a hotel and stop wasting everyone’s time.”
It turns out that it’s not just private owners who use Airbnb. In creating a global platform by which people can rent out their rooms, apartments and villas, Airbnb has also provided a massive free marketing service for short-term rental and real estate companies. Some of whom, apparently, are less scrupulous than others.
There’s nothing wrong with this, per se – there is still a personal interaction between the user and whoever posted the listing – but it does break the illusion that booking with Airbnb means a one-on-one interaction with the owner of the property.
We eventually found an apartment in a quiet corner of Palermo Hollywood – named for all the film studios that have relocated there. The host replied to messages quickly and was happy to answer additional questions. We even scored a 5% discount on the published rates. We didn’t realise until we arrived that our host was also representing a real estate agency, but we did get to meet the owner who was there to hand over the keys.
The owner told us that his wife had done the interior design and had taken most of the photographs that adorn the walls. It’s a beautiful place, with a breakfast bar, hardwood coffee table and a writing desk in a bright corner of the living room next to the balcony. We just need to stock it with wine and then we’re set.