El afilador [The Sharpener]

I’m hanging the laundry out to dry at my parents’ home in Buenos Aires and I hear the familiar harmonica tune tee-dee- deee tee-dee-deeeee. I rush out the door but it’s too late, the sharpener has cycled past. A young couple sees me gesturing and yells “The lady in green is calling you!”

afilador 2

The afilador cycles back to my house. I give him a couple of blunt knives and scissors. We start chatting, or rather, I ask him questions while he works. He tells me that he learned the trade from his grandfather. There’s more to sharpening blunt blades than meets the eye; there’s a different technique for each cutting instrument.

A whetting stone is fixed between the handlebars of his bicycle. When the bike is stationary it rests on a kickstand and the afilador sits on the bike and cycles. The movement of the wheels makes the whetting stone rotate so that he can sharpen blades.

The afilador -let’s call him Daniel-works as a school janitor from Monday to Friday and plies his trade at weekends. He’s also a war veteran. A warrior and keeper of a dying trade.

afilador 1

So what is a telo anyway?

You walk down, say, Tres Sargentos Street in the financial district of Buenos Aires and see a door with a discreet sign above that reads Hotel alojamiento. You see a suited-up man looking over his shoulder before going inside, followed by a woman sporting a secretarial look, who sneaks in; hopefully unseen. You wonder why there’s no doorman to carry their luggage and then realise they had no luggage. “What a strange hotel” you think to yourself.

Since you’re on a limited budget you decide to stay in a hostel. You look up the word in the dictionary and find the word albergue. A youth hostel is an albergue de la juventud. Then you remember seeing the sign for an albergue transitorio somewhere. Is it the same, you wonder?


No, it is not the same. Hoteles alojamiento and albergues transitorios, popularly known as telos(TEH-lows), are hotels where you and your friend, partner, bit on the side, etc., can have some rumpy pumpy for a couple of hours.

These pay-by-the-hour establishments can be found everywhere and are not easy to miss, although some do try to be discreet. They range from the seedy and very basic to the utterly luxurious. Two top-notch telos have almost become household names: Los jardines de Babilonia (The Gardens of Babylon) and Magnus, both located in the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires.

Who patronises these fine establishments? Anyone and everyone from one-night stands or cheating spouses to couples who need a change from routine or twentysomethings who still live at home and need some privacy.

Some telos (use the word with caution) do brisk business during the lunch-time hours, like the one in the financial district, but most are busiest at weekends, especially if they’re located near bars and clubs.

A friend told me. Seriously.

A telo ad

What the Brits left behind: football

The second installment in this series explores the history of one of the most popular sports in Argentina today: football. It can be said that the railway plays a key role here too since many clubs were founded by railway workers in the late 1800s.

Alexander Watson Hutton (10 June, 1853 – 9 March, 1936) was a Scottish teacher who emigrated to Argentina in 1882. He first taught at St. Andrew’s Scots School and later founded the Buenos Aires English High School in 1884. Hutton believed that sports were an important component of child education and introduce football practice at his school.

In 1893, Hutton created the Argentine Association Football League, the first officially recognized league outside of Britain. In 1898 his school put together a team called Alumni Athletic Club, which won ten league titles until 1911, when it was disbanded.

Alumni 1910 (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Up until the demise of the Alumni team, the tournaments were dominated by British players and teams. Gradually, the local population adopted the game and made it the national passion it is today. Hutton’s life was the inspiration for the award-winning 1950 film “Escuela de campeones”. I remember watching this film (decades after its release, mind you).

Film poster

Although Alexander Watson Hutton is considered the father of football in Argentina, he wasn’t the only pioneer. English-born Isaac Newell (Kent, 24 April, 1853 – Rosario, 16 October 1907) was also a teacher who had emigrated to Rosario from England. Like Hutton, Newell also founded a school, the Colegio Comercial Anglicano Argentino, or English High School of Rosario.

Also a keen sportsman, Newell decided to introduce football at this school in 1884, when the first football and set of rules came to Argentina. On 3 November, 1903 the Newell’s Old Boys Club was founded for the teachers, students and alumni of the school and as homage to its director and coach. Newell’s (locals pronounce it nyools) is among the top teams in the country today.

Although many football clubs were founded by non-British, it was customary at the time to use English names because the sport had been introduced by the Brits. One example is Boca Juniors, founded in 1905 by Italian immigrants.

Other clubs founded by the British community and still playing in the premier league (In most cases the name was changed to a Spanish one due to varying historical and political circumstances) are:

  • Club Atlético Banfield was founded on 21 January, 1896 by the British settlers of the village of Banfield, 14 miles south of Buenos Aires.
  • Club Ferro Carril Oeste was founded on 28 July, 1904 by 95 railway workers from the Buenos Aires Western Railway.
  • Club Atlético Quilmes was founded in 1887 by J. T. Stevenson as the Quilmes Rovers Club.
  • Club Atlético Rosario Central was founded in Rosario on 24 December, 1889 by English railway workers of the Central Argentine Railway.

Funny factura names (and their origin)

Would you eat a friar’s balls?

Probably not unless you are in Argentina and have a sweet tooth.

A pair of friar's balls: custard and dulce de leche

Facturas are, hands down, the most popular pastries in Argentina. They come in different sizes and shapes and with different fillings – dulce de leche, quince paste (dulce de membrillo) and custard (crema pastelera) are the most popular. People buy them by the dozen from their local panaderías (bakeries) for breakfast and for their mate break in the afternoon. Panaderias do a brisk trade on Sunday mornings, as many people follow the same ritual: get up, get the paper, buy facturas, put the kettle on for mate (or coffee) and sit down to a leisurely breakfast.

Almost every kind of factura has its own, self-descriptive name, like medialuna (a sweeter, denser, smaller croissant) or pancito de leche (milk bun).

However, some factura names have very interesting origins. In the late 19th century, a few European anarchists fled persecution and hid in Argentina. Some joined trade unions and started to spread their ideals, which wasn’t exactly met with alacrity by local authorities. The bakers’ trade union found an ingenious way to fight back. They came up with new names for facturas to ridicule the power elites.

Thus, bolas de fraile (friar’s balls), sacramento (sacrament) and suspiro de monja (nun’s sigh) were aimed at the clergy (extremely influential at the time), vigilante (watchman. It has a rather derogatory sense nowadays) was for the police and  bomba de crema (cream bomb) and cañoncito de dulce de leche (dulce de leche cannon) was for the military.



My 7 Links Project: older blog posts given a new lease of life

I was nominated by Ruth from Tanama Tales to participate in the “My 7 Links” project. I’ll be honest and say that I’d never heard of that project until Ruth included me in her list, but upon reading her post I got excited to participate. It all began when the folks at TripBase set the ball rolling and created a wonderful chain reaction of travel-related posts.

The rules state that one blogger is nominated to take part, then he or she publishes his/her 7 links on his/her blog  and nominates up to five other bloggers.


A photo essay of the Dallas Arboretum in the autumn. The colours are stunning and the atmosphere was magical (even if I say so myself).


In terms of page views, this post on fun facts about Argentina seems to be the most popular.


I’m not sure this post can be called controversial but it did elicit a lot of responses. I’d like to thank everyone for sharing their experiences and thoughts. You’re From Where!? is about how some people’s prejudices affected their perception of my ethnicity and nationality.


I’d like to think that all my travel tips are helpful but since I have to choose one, I’d say that this one about the seaside resort of Mar del Plata, Argentina, provided some useful information for visitors.

Fishermen's wharf


A while ago, some fellow bloggers and I took part in a group post about weddings in different countries. I was surprised to see that my Argentinean wedding aroused so much interest!


I really thought that this post on travel tips about Buenos Aires would be more popular than it was. Oh well.


I’m proud of all my posts but this one about a Texas road trip feels extra special because the countryside reminded me of my home country.

And here are my nominees

Katie from Seashells and Sunflowers

Aledys from From Argentina to the Netherlands for Love

Jenna from Just Doing It

Anu from A Wandering Mind