Travel

In Buenos Aires, This Band of Drummers Is a Hit with Both Locals and Tourists

La Bomba de Tiempo has been playing in the same spot-at the same time-for 17 years.

Photo courtesy of La Bomba del Tiempo
Photo courtesy of La Bomba del Tiempo
Photo courtesy of La Bomba del Tiempo

The lights went out, and my new friends and I fell silent. We and the rest of the crowd were standing in a courtyard with brightly painted, graffiti-covered walls, and the anticipation was palpable. The curtains rose to reveal the words “La Bomba de Tiempo” lit up on a screen, as well as a band of 14 drummers in red boiler suits being led by a conductor. Suddenly: an explosion of rhythms unlike anything I had ever heard.

The only thing I knew when I arrived at Ciudad Cultural Konex in Buenos Aires was that La Bomba de Tiempo, which is both the name of the band and their show, had been performing there every Monday for 17 years. What interested me, in particular, was that I’d heard the same suggestion to check them out from locals and travelers alike. It was a rare instance in which an experience was so intrinsic to a country’s culture that tourists couldn’t appropriate it.

I’d never previously considered that drums could be the main act of a musical performance, but was willing to give it a shot based on the overwhelming word-of-mouth. Typically, I aimed for less mainstream itineraries abroad, though my local Porteño friends insisted that if they could see La Bomba de Tiempo three or four times without being bored, I should at least watch them at least once. So, on an idyllic Argentine summer evening in December 2022, amid the World Cup finals, I found myself at a show so captivating that it ended up being the most extended amount of time in weeks I spent in a public setting without hearing a reference to Lionel Messi.

Photo courtesy of La Bomba del Tiempo
Photo courtesy of La Bomba del Tiempo
Photo courtesy of La Bomba del Tiempo

Before La Bomba de Tiempo formed in 2006, the drummers knew each other from the percussion music festival scene in Buenos Aires. Santiago Vázquez brought the band to life on the heels of having created what he called the system of “ritmo con señas”-which translates to something like “rhythm with signs”-a sign language designed explicitly for conducting musical compositions in real-time. He decided to recruit an eclectic group capable of producing danceable, potent music that genuinely represented the multifaceted culture of their city.

He would, naturally, serve as the conductor.

Vázquez managed to convince 17 established drummers to leave behind their gigs and comfort zones to create a new musical institution. And Luciano Larocca was one of them. He says that none of the bandmates would’ve found their freedom and purpose if it hadn’t been for Vazquez getting them to trust in their collective potential. Especially before they found their now-iconic sound. “I remember that the first two rehearsals, I brought different instruments, and they didn’t work,” he says, “I couldn’t quite find my place, and as a group, we were very far away from sounding good.”A little wanderlust turned out to be the fix to Larocca’s problems. He traveled to the Bolivian jungle that summer and became infatuated with the Afro-Bolivian Saya rhythm. He returned home with a notched, gourd-shaped instrument from the güiro family. Upon listening, Vázquez declared he found his new instrument.

Other performers also conceded to certain agreements to ensure their collective success. And obviously, they all had to learn the system of ritmo con señas. But the challenge of performing while watching a conductor with a guided improvisation system was motivating. Meanwhile, getting a crew of adults to sync calendars presented its own set of issues; Monday at 7 pm turned out to be the only date and time everyone had available.

“The rest is history,” says Larocca, “Seventeen years later, we are still going to the same place at the same time.”

Photo courtesy of La Bomba del Tiempo
Photo courtesy of La Bomba del Tiempo
Photo courtesy of La Bomba del Tiempo

That isn’t to say there haven’t been changes-Vázquez left La Bomba de Tiempo in 2013 to pursue other musical passion projects based on his improvisational language. But the troop had his blessing and support to continue without him, and they began taking turns alternating as the conductor. Not to mention building on and improving their sound.

They have some famous fans, like Carlos Santana, who they opened for at the Dubai Jazz Festival, in 2016. They’ve also performed with national legends like Calle 13, Café Tacuba, and Jorge Drexler, as well as international favorites such as Coldplay. However, touring is limited to a few weeks out of the year because La Bomba de Tiempo’s primary objective has always been to bring joy to Argentina. “I think the city needed a meeting ground like this,” says bandmate Gabriel Spiller. “One that provided a lot of freedom, to listen to music, dance as you want, meet new people, or drink with your friends. Our show created a space that could be a refuge against all evils.”

Spiller is referencing the fact that Argentina has been going through an unfathomable economic and political crisis in the past couple of decades-inflation has skyrocketed, the Argentine peso has plummeted in value, and the country is heavily divided by political power struggles and corruption. There’s no panacea for such deeply rooted national turmoil, but La Bomba de Tiempo has worked hard to ensure their self-managed cultural project keeps their beleaguered compatriots front and center.

La Bomba de Tiempo also intends to keep Ciudad Cultural Konex as their home base. The fact they’ve retained the same weekly venue despite their international demand is a testament to their patriotism and hearts as musicians. The group could have a residency anywhere, yet they continually choose to stay. They’re not motivated by fame and fortune but by celebrating and preserving their one-of-a-kind music.

Toward the end of the performance I witnessed in December 2022, the drummers started to countdown as the crowd all crouched to the floor. Soon enough, the conductor led the band into a final explosion and we collectively jumped into a hypnotic dance and screams.

Otra,” the crowd yelled as the drummers began to walk off the stage. “One more!” From where I was standing, it felt like they were asking for much more than just another song.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Jamie Valentino is a contributor to Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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