After Niels (aka Bentivogli) fell in love with tango, it was little surprise that he also became obsessed with the homeland of the seductive dance: Argentina. Since his first visit in 2003, Niels has been back twice, but he's dreaming of the day when he can move to Buenos Aires.
For now though, Niels has to satisfy himself with living in Amsterdam, where he works as a linguist. I caught up with him to chat about his obsession with Argentina and tango, as well as his views on travel and the environment.
Niels in Pisa, Italy.
You're a self-confessed obsessed fan of Argentina. What do you love about Argentina?
Hm, tough questions first, eh? The country and me simply hit it off right from the start. For starters, I had a lovely conversation on the plane over with an Argentine woman, who not only told me everything about her entire family and circle of friends, but also put me in touch with some of the more interesting figures in the local tango scene. Plus, she offered me a ride downtown from the airport, was determined to help me find accommodation, and wouldn't leave me before having had dinner with me. The best thing was, she was no exception: my encounters with the locals have been like that since. I cannot think of a country with people nicer than Argentinians, although the recent immense increase in tourism has had a somewhat negative impact...
Besides the people, I am in love with the country itself. The cities, though most of them are ugly, are extremely lively and interesting; nature is like nothing I have ever seen elsewhere. I am in love particularly with Missiones and Neuquén provinces; both are host to amazing landscapes and stunning National Parks.
How long have you been fascinated by Argentina?
A number of things conspired to spark off my interest. One of them was the marriage of the Dutch crown prince to an Argentine woman in 2002; I don't think I ever considered Argentina as a travel destination before that, but it got me reading about the country, in particular about the Guerra Sucia. Then, I met a girl from Buenos Aires in Vienna that same year, who I travelled around with for a week. She was extremely critical about her country, which surprised me and made me curious, because I had just read that all Argentinians suffer from a major superiority complex... But the most important reason in the end was tango. I took up dancing in 2002, and was addicted from the start onwards. This made it only logical to go to Buenos Aires, which I am confident to say is the only place where it is taught properly.
So tell us honestly... How good is your tango?
I won't be the judge of that. The basis of tango is that man and woman move as a single body; the dance partially arose from the need to have a decent outlet for carnal desires. The other basic feature, which is commonly neglected in the western world, is that tango is about simple improvisation rather than complex predetermined figures. I would say that I am capable of dancing a tango in close embrace with any woman on any type of music; from the leader's perspective, that is quite an accomplishment.
You live in Amsterdam, a city with a several main tourist sights that everyone knows about. What are some lesser known attractions people should check out if they're visiting Amsterdam?
I am not one for attractions. One should discover one's own Amsterdam rather than visit some arbitrary highlights. That said, places I particularly like are the former docklands north of Haarlemmerstraat, the Amsterdam Historical and Jewish Historical museums, and my own neighbourhood (De Baarsjes, west of center). Visitors should rent a bike (provided they know how to control it!), because it gives you the possibility to get away from the historical center, which is interesting but very one-sided.
You've had some heated debates on Travellerspoint forums about the rise of budget airlines, which you argue has been bad for the environment. Why do you think budget airlines have had such a negative impact?
Basically because the price of transportation stands in no relation to the environmental damage done. Travellers are like sheep: they don't think, they just do what others do. I would like people to travel responsibly, which means a couple of things, two if which I find most important. First, don't try doing in a week what can only be done in a month rationally. That is, don't fly over to Thailand for the weekend, but stay closer at home. Reconcile your ambitions with your timeframe. I am very much aware that travelling is a status thing, and many people fly halfway across the world only because their peers do as well, while they have never explored their immediate surroundings. Second, travel as the locals travel. I find it very disconcerting to hear people brag about 'having done South America' in 3 weeks, without ever meeting a single 'South American'. Slow travel is the best way by far to get in contact with local people.
How have environmental issues affected your travel habits?
To an extent, although one could always do (much) more. I try not to fly within Europe, and take the train instead. I cannot always stick to that; my employer occasionally makes me take a plane, because I don't get the extra time needed for train travel. When I fly, I buy carbon offsets. I know that their effectiveness is questionable, but I cannot think of anything better to do. Third, I have my short breaks close to home; you won't find me planning a NY shopping weekend, for instance. Finally, I don't have a driver's license. Instead I take public transport, cycle or go on foot, which is also a lot healthier.
Do you have any trips planned for this year?
I have a conference in London in September (this time I am allowed to go by train, woohoo!); in November, I fly to South America for five weeks. We're flying to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and don't have a fixed itinerary from there. My girlfriend wanted to see Patagonia, I'd like to go back to Pantanal, but maybe we'll go north as well... very exciting to travel without a fixed schedule.
Check out these past interviews in the Talking Travel series: