Monday, January 10, 2011

Buenos Aires, the comedy of errors. Looks like Paris but sounds like Argentina

I loved Buenos Aires.  Maybe it's because it looked and felt like Paris (in most places) but a little more gritty.  Maybe it's because it had almost all the modern conveniences of a developed country, but probably it's because we had such an excellent hostess (Katixa Aboitiz) and great travelling company (Jamie Ruth).  We were welcomed to the Aboitiz household in a lovely suburb just outside the city, where we were given our own private suite (usurped Katixa's bedroom), had 2 excellent homemade meals with great wine (thanks Sean) and dinner table conversation that was even better than the food.  Katixa was such a trooper, she stayed up late with us every night and woke up early the next morning for a full day of work.
 We were there for 2 full days, and didn't quite get everything we wanted to done.  It was 2 exasperating days, a comedy of errors....

Day 0:
Let me first start with our disembarkment from the airplane.  Fees were paid to the Argentine government with moderate haste.  I had read that we should have been able to get a cab to the city for around 80ARS so we walk into the taxi vultures, ask around for rates and get a minimum of 190ARS, someone even asked for 260, we laughed, so we accepted the cheapest we could get.  We were to meet our friends at a train station, and take the train the rest of the way to save money.  The good:  they have train stations, public transit, and it's actually pretty efficient. We arrive at the station and our friends are missing, so we walk around a bit, wait, walk around some more; no friends.  We call.  Oops, we're at the wrong train station.  The one farthest from the airport, hence the hefty fare (doh).
Day 1:
We need to take the train into BA proper from the burbs.  We get directions from our hostess (no wifi and no maps to her place since it's in a private neighborhood).  We promptly ignore her excellent (ly ambiguous) directions.  The guards say go that way, so we do.  We end up at a lovely train station that looks absolutely nothing like the station we arrived at last night, buy our tickets for 8x what they cost us last night and get on the train quickly to realize it's, of course, the wrong train.  Fortunately it is going in a similar direction.  This little mix up made our trip a lot longer than usual, but it was a beautiful ride.  It went through some lovely shopping centers, along the park, then along the water, then connected to initial correct line.  So we decide to start on the far side of the city center and make our way in.  La Boca - the stadium neighborhood.

Street art in La Boca, stadium in the background
After acquiring a map and finding a bus that we think may take us in the correct direction, we're on our way, and hungry due to our long transit times.  The driver stops and points.  We think that means we get off here, so we do.... It's not such a good neighborhood, and the guide book warns us not to stray from the main tourist attractions.  The buildings are interesting and alluring nonetheless.

We navigate to the nearest touristy location and seat ourselves for lunch.  "Menu del dia por favor".  They describe something incomprehensible (for me) say it's 27ARS and we all agree to have it.  Gigantic plates of meat and fries are delivered.  Bill is requested and it has extra charges (+50ARS = no accident).  We contest.  Waiters argue.  I put the money we owe down and try to walk away, but the boys are afraid of brutal force (they were probably right, the waiters looked like mafia).  Cops are involved, and asshole crook waiters win, apparently Argentine cops are a teeny bit crooked.  That was a waste of a good 30 minutes and way too much money.
Get me the hell out of this tourist trap, but how?  The surrounding neighborhoods are not so good.  The guide book says to walk along the water, but a military police advises against it.  Oookaayyy.  It's time for a bus, but we have no change.  Shit.  Three lost gringos in bad neighborhood walk into a grocery store to the stares of all the locals and buy a drink, still not enough change.  A kind woman who has pity on poor gringos offers us change.  Off we go back towards city center.  We want to see museums then the underground tunnels of the city.  We make it to museum #1 around 3:10, it closes at 3.  We make it to next attraction at 3:30, tours are on the hour and we don't want to wait.  We make it to underground tunnels at 3:50, last tour was at 3:30.  You get the idea..... a true comedy of errors.  Along the walk from one to the next, as the boys were talking and walking very fast with their long legs, I was busily admiring the architecture of the various buildings.  Many are built in the old European style but look more Gothic.  Perhaps it's the neglect that makes them more gloomy than those of European cities I've seen.

Day 2:  We had a little less action.  We had figured out the trains and buses (sort of) and had decided it was best to save time and take taxis.  After a bit of sightseeing, we did a tour at 1pm of an old restored building that was once the domicile of a wealthy family.  The family lost their money and it then became tenement housing for poor people.  It fell into disrepair when someone stumbled upon it and decided to tastefully restore it to it's former glory.  They discovered, in the restoration process, a number of old water wells to provide the house with running water in addition to a labyrinth of underground tunnels where the city waterways used to run before the sewer system was installed just after the cholera outbreak in 1868.
Series of underground tunnels running through the city
When we were done with the tour, we decided to quickly grab a taxi to the next destination, only to realize while in the taxi that we had absolutely no cash.  Shit again.  So we ask the driver to stop at an ATM, he obliges, and the ATM is out of cash.  What?  No biggie, we'll try the next one, no cash either, and the next one, nope, the next 5 ATM's are out of cash.  WTF.  As the boys are running from bank to bank trying to get money the taxi cab driver gets out in broken English' Brinks (armored car) stolen, 2 this week (bless all those who attempt English for my sake and know waaay more English than I know Spanish).' Haha.  This is unusual, and that (mafia) guy from the restaurant was involved ;).  We finally make it to the most excellent cemetery I've ever seen!  I'll let the photos do the talking.

Then off to Palermo, the shopping mecca of Argentina, where I couldn't afford to buy anything, but had a lovely frozen yogurt and did a lot of window shopping.
Our excellent hostess and traveling companion, window shopping
We had drinks then a yummy dinner at a Churrascaria in the Hollywood part of Palermo and retired to the Aboitiz suite for a good night's rest. 

Buenos Aires, our love affair was filled with strife and much too short!     


  1. And after ALL that you still loved Buenos Aires!?
    U guys amaze me!
    Angela(fr Newfoundland)

  2. So glad you guys loved it. It is one of my favorite cities in the whole world. It does its best sometimes to frustrate you but you keep coming back for more. The cash thing was crazy...largely due to the fact that the printing presses in BA broke down. There were gas shortages too, lucky your cab travel had a full tank! :-) (Sean)

  3. Funny, our post of BA arrived the same day ;)

  4. I think the thing I'll learn most on this trip is perspective. I know I made it sound not so fun, and it was a little frustrating, but that's part of the adventure. I wouldn't have such a great story to tell if everything had gone right. The accidental train ride was actually really nice. It had AC, and comfy seats, and was along the water and landscaped gardens. And getting lost in a city and seeing different neighborhoods and architecture is one of my favorite things, as long as the neighborhood is relatively safe, and we didn't get mugged or sick. It was awesome.