We spent our last day in Santiago trying to find accommodation in Buenos Aires. We checked out quite a few hostels, but for about the same price of a private room we found we could get a modern, 650 square foot apartment in the trendy area of Palermo Viejo. We made our reservation just as the office was closing down. The lady said we could check in around noon- about the time we were planning on getting there anyway. However, as soon as we got the confirmation email we found out check in would “probably be” 6 PM.
After another night with almost no sleep we awoke at 4:30 in the morning for our flight from Santiago. While waiting in the airport we realized that, as far as longitude goes, we have been all the way around the world already! This next flight would bring our total to 1 & 1/8 times around. We boarded the plane to find a spacious A340 widebody, complete with on demand video in every seat. Funny they have that on the two-hour flight to Buenos Aires but not the 12-hour flight to Santiago.
The flight took off and approached the edge of the Andes at sunrise. These mountains, while not quite as outrageous as the Himalayas, were nonetheless impressive. As in the Himalayas, some mountains looked to be almost as high as we were flying, and they extended off into the horizon as far as we could see. Looking down we could see enormous glaciers, imagining all the while what it would be like to ski down them. We were already getting excited about NEXT ski season looking at them!
We arrived in Buenos Aires, once again, exhausted. Since we had to pay for a weeks worth of apartment rental, and several hundred US$ for a deposit, we went straight for the ATM. We tried all three machines in the airport and none of them we give us any money. These were the first cash machines to give us problems anywhere in the world, including such places as Nepal, China, and Cambodia! We scrapped up most of our remaining foreign currency to exchange, as well as our “emergency money” US dollars, and found we had just enough money to pay for the apartment, a taxi, and dinner. Close call, and also very frustrating. We eventually found an ATM at a bank the next day, but it would only give us about $90 at a time. Buenos Aires has the fewest, most difficult to find and stingiest, ATMs that we’ve seen in the world.
Even though we had six hours before we could check-in and were stuck with our luggage, we decided to go straight to the apartment so we’d know where it was and in case someone was there to let us in early. Someone who was helping a friend move out let us into the lobby, but there was nobody at the apartment we intended on renting. Still, we were exhausted, and there were a few comfy looking chairs in the lobby, so we dropped our stuff and took a little nap, hoping the apartment owners would show up.
About two hours later we were hungry and curious to see the neighborhood, so we thought we go look for a nearby restaurant and try some of the famous Argentine beef we’d been hearing so much about. But first, we decided to look for a bathroom. There wasn’t one in the lobby, so we thought we’d just wait until we got to a restaurant, so we grabbed our bags and headed for the door. It was locked shut! WTF! This is not something we considered possible, since such a thing is against fire code in the US, and we assumed it is the same everywhere, as it had been so far on this trip. Of what POSSIBLE advantage is it to require a key to get OUT of the building? We wound up having to wait another hour until we found someone leaving the building to let us out, and one of us had to resort to creative emergency bathroom measures in the mean time. ☺
Once out on the street, we noticed the neighborhood looked like a ghost town. It was May Day, so almost everything was closed. While walking around we were waved down by three mid-20’s Chileans who were visiting town. They were ALSO locked inside their apartment building lobby, so they had us push every button on the doorbell trying to find someone to let them out. A few restaurants were still open, and we eventually came to jam-packed place called “El Trapiche”. It looked a little fancy, but we thought we’d give it a try since it was one of the only places open. We decided to get sirloin skewers, papas fritas, a bottle of malbec-shiraz wine, and some dolce de leche (a local carmel) and chocolate ice cream. It was all amazingly good, and ran us just around $26! Argentine beef is widely regarded as the best in the world, and now we know why. Sure- you can find a mediocre steak there (not a bad one though), but the good ones are absolutely amazing! Even the ground beef we’d get at the grocery store for $2/pound was like no ground beef we’d ever had. (We’re not heavy red-meat eaters, but we took advantage of our location and had some kind of beef almost every day).
By the time we got back to the apartment it was about time to check in. Although the place was booked through BYTArgentina, it was privately owned by a mother and daughter- Deborah and Elaina. They spent a long time with us giving suggestions on what to see while we were in town, showing us how everything worked, and helping to get us connected to their peculiar DSL internet connection. You can see the apartment by clicking this link.
That night we slept from 10 pm until 11 am. We woke up feeling much better. It was SO nice and refreshing to have our own space for a change. We found the apartment to be very comfortable, although the theme of total-disregard-for-fire-safety continued on the inside. Just as in the lobby, you needed a key to open your own door from the inside. The wall heaters had exposed pilot lights, usually right next to curtains. The balcony had bars to prevent anyone from climbing in, but also making it impossible to get out any way but a single stairwell. We looked around and ALL of the apartment buildings were this way, regardless of how nice they were. It seems they’re more concerned with getting their stuff stolen than burning to death! A phrase we’ve often repeated on this trip is “OSHA don’t live here”.
Like every big city we’ve seen in S. America so far, there was a lot of graffiti. Other than that though, Buenos Aires is a very nice place. Some have called it the “Paris of S. America”, and the architecture, people, and numerous cafes definitely gave us that vibe as well. It was very European. The people also certainly look more Spanish/European than Mexican/Native. I guess the Conquistadors must’ve been really…’efficient’ here back in the day. Argentines are a very proud people, even though the country has suffered a long depression, the people still appear in many ways to be living the high life. They all dress really nicely (we looked like complete slobs, with our worn travel clothing).
The other big similarity with Paris is the dogs. It seems EVERYONE has a large dog, and you see dog walkers all over the place, usually holding 5 or 10 leashes. We’ve never seen so many Golden Retrievers before (and, of course, their behavior is as goofy as the goldens everywhere else in the world). Of course, the downside of all these people walking ten big dogs is that there is dog crap all over the sidewalks (also very Parisian).
Another bit of French-esque flair in Argentina is their fondness for wine. They specialize mostly in reds- especially “malbec”, which we seldom see in the US. Every grocery store has a huge selection, with very drinkable table wine for only $3. We splurged for the most expensive bottle in the store for the princely sum of $12. Outstanding. For comparison, we also got the cheapest bottle, which was only $1. It was a bit grape juicy, and not at all complex, but did not taste bad. Coincidently, one of Adam’s mom’s friends has a son who lives in Buenos Aires. Daniel is a wine exporter, (Anuva Vinos) and we found out he only lives about 15 minutes walking distance from where we were staying. We dropped him an email and arranged a tasting. Of course, everything was excellent, and Daniel was even kind enough to let us take the leftover wine home.
We had intended on renting an apartment in Buenos Aires the entire trip, but until recently we had planned on staying there a month as a rest stop. We shortened this to a week, but enjoyed the place so much that we extended it back out to 12 days. We were getting a bit burnt out. I know it sounds unimaginable, but I think most people who’ve been on trips like us would agree (and we’ve talked to many!). Moving around every few days just wears on you, and was beginning to feel not worth the time and money. We REALLY needed a rest stop, and having our own space felt almost like being at home. Since our primary goal was to lay low and rest we took things pretty easy. We’d spend a lot of the day researching the Galapagos islands and Peru or just surfing the net…watching TV…catching up on the news…talking to friends and family on Facebook and Skype…wandering around town taking pictures…trying to re-photoshop some of our favorite pictures from the trip, reading, etc. We were also finally able to get something of a workout schedule in (running and yoga). We’ve gotten a bit out of shape over the past few months, so exercise always makes us feel better. Basically, it was a 12 day weekend, and did absolute wonders for recharging our enthusiasm! We hadn’t told many people this, but we had shortened our trip back by a month so we could spend some time in Albuquerque before we returned to Portland. Now, as we write this (flying westward again, toward the Galapagos Islands!), we’re thinking we’re ready to take advantage of our location again and go back to Portland a mere week or two early.
We also did a lot of walking on days where we felt we needed to get “out of the house”. One day, we took the subway to the centro (downtown) and walked all the way back to the apartment (about five to six miles) via the Recoleta area. While in the Recoleta barrio we went to visit the famous cemetery. On our way in and out several people approached us from “charitable organizations”, either to help kids with AIDS or for maintaining the cemetery, all of whom showed fist-fills of cash. I’m sure a lot of people donate, but we’ve learned on this trip to never donate to a charity who approaches you on the street like this since they are often scams. Once inside, we found that Recoleta isn’t just your everyday run of the mill burial ground. This is where the rich people of BA have been buried with their families for generations. It is set up like a city, with streets lined with large and often elaborate tombs. In the middle of it all, we saw a tomb with flowers all over it. When we got closer we found out that it was the tomb where Eva Peron (or Evita) and her family are buried. We have to admit that this place was a tad bit creepy, and to add to the creepy effect, there are cats everywhere. The families of the “residents” pay to have them fed. It is quite a sight to see kitties perched upon tombs. There are few places in BA without dogs, really only a few parks and this cemetery that the cats can call their own.
After leaving the cemetery we passed the Evita Square. Schnufel posed here, appearing to be either getting chased by or walked by a statue of Eva Peron.
On another day we walked down the Avenue 9 de Julio (which is an amazingly wide street), had great views of the national memorial (looks like a smaller version of the Washington Monument), and then walked to the congress building. The congress building is a very popular place to go and hang out and feed the massive flocks of pigeons.
Our last day in Buenos Aires, we ventured out to see the Plaza de Mayo to see the Pink Palace, which was formerly the presidential building. Eva Peron is famous for appealing to the people from this building, as is Madonna when she played her in the mid- 90’s movie. We also visited Florida Street, which is a very busy shopping district. In the center of this area is a very fancy mall. It had all the normal fancy mall stores such as Christian Dior, Salvador Feragamo, and Luis Viouton, but it had a beautiful fresco painted on the ceiling in one area and an amazing glass ceiling in another.
Now as we finish this post we have arrived in the Galapagos Islands ready for a new adventure. It is much warmer here and we already cannot wait to get into the turquoise blue water and frolic with all of the animals that this archipelago inhabits!