Argentina Trip: Buenos Aires Part 1

Pic by John.

In the lead up to this trip, I had three major fears.  They were, these:

1) That John will hate the trip and have a miserable time

2) That I will make such a thorough ass of myself trying to speak Spanish that we’ll be constantly reduced to pantomime, stressing John out and causing him to hate the trip.

3) There will be logistical disasters that complicate things and cause John to hate the trip.

It’s possible there was a theme to my concerns.  

Another from John. I forgot to bring my phone for pictures the first day.

We landed at Ezeiza airport outside Buenos Aires ten minutes early, then sat on the runway for quite a while.  That was ok, since before changing our flights around to something not insane we weren’t going to land until that night.  Any time we got was bonus time.  We paid our reciprocity fee fairly easily, and the biggest hassle getting through customs was just that there were so many people going through.  Then we emerged into the arrivals terminal and this was the part I was really excited about.

“There are going to be people from out hotel there to pick us up.  They say they’ll have our name on a sign, like in the movies.  I’ve never been picked up from the airport by somebody with my name on a sign before!”

John took this picture out the window next to the door to our hotel room.

I still haven’t been picked up by somebody with my name on a sign.  Or John’s name on a sign.  I’m still not sure what happened, but as far as I could tell, nobody was there.  Maybe they gave up and left?  The people I swapped emails with never told the right people?  I don’t know.  But we lost a good chunk of time wandering through crowd, looking for somebody who was looking for us.  Then we hired a cab.  I used a very teeny bit of Spanish, the porter mostly humoring my possibly-too-enthusiastic desire to practice, but I was understanding and being understood.  And then I gawked at billboards the whole way into Argentina and felt continually proud because I could read them.  John kept giving me nervous glances of the, “Are your standards so low that this is exciting and what does that mean for me?” variety.

Obviously I didn’t take this picture: I’m in this picture. Planning things! Also, this is one side of our hotel room. It’s decorated in birds, cats, and skulls. I did not know this when requesting this room. That’s just how things roll, here.

There was a moment outside the hotel entrance, which isn’t marked very clearly as a hotel entrance, where I’m staring at the phone ringer thingie and going, “Oh god, I’ve booked us in a hotel requiring secret agent man communication systems.  Again.  Is this a super power I didn’t know about?”

Instead, a girl met us at the door, and promptly started hefting my gargantuan bag up steep, narrow steps.  I’ve had trepidation over the bag I brought, but my luggage comes in two sizes: Carry-on and “We’re moving to Virginia for the summer, better bring everything you’ll conceivably want for the next three months.”   Carry-on wasn’t going to cut it for three weeks, not with the variety of expected weather, so gargantuan it was.  I only half filled it.  It still felt really, really guilty watching somebody else haul my luggage around.  She wouldn’t let me carry it myself, though.

Our room wasn’t ready quite yet, but they held on to our luggage, gave us a handy dandy map, and we set off in quest of breakfast and an ATM for to obtain local currency.  We found the ATM.  It was out of money.  But, I could read the screens!  The next ATM refused to complete a transaction with John’s card.  Or my card.  “Maybe we should have gotten money at the airport.  I should have thought of that instead of obsessing over finding the guy with the sign,” I say.  But then I got completely distracted by a place across the street selling empanadas.  John had never had an empanada.  We fixed that right away.  Well, I fixed it, since he stood there while I read the menu and then ordered, making it clear both that I wanted four chicken empanadas and that nobody in charge of raising me spoke the least bit of Spanish.  Gone are the days where the only clue in my accent is that it’s not from anywhere, so clearly came from a textbook.  I’d be embarrassed, except I’m probably actually better at conversation now.  *Sigh*

We went back to the hotel, got into our room, and John took a nap while I started planning our evening and getting orientated.  The first thing I realized was that we absolutely had not gone in anything like the direction I thought we had when we went off for bank and lunch.  We’d done the opposite.  Which was weird, so I looked at the map the hotel gave us again.  And then I realized what happened: North on the hotel map is at the bottom.  I’d glanced at it, assumed North was up, then took us North when I should have taken us South.  In my defense, I am on the wrong side of the equator for my navigational instincts to be valid.

My last words to John before he dozed off were something like, “I know steak and sushi are our big food goals.  We’ll probably do steak tonight, and keep our eyes peeled for a promising sushi joint while we’re out and about.” He woke up to, “We’re having sushi for dinner, and going to the bus station, and we’re walking 4km to get there.  And we’re going to stop in places on the way to see if we can find you pants that fit.”  If you don’t know John, picture somebody tolerant and long-suffering.  Now you know John.

We went to Irifune.  They were recommended by the guidebook, had good reviews online, and were near enough to where we were going to be anyway that it seemed like a good idea.  I liked their take on a Spicy Tuna roll, though it wasn’t spicy.  Their honey mustard roll was really good, and the Acedeviche roll was quite nice.  (John thought the Acediviche roll was better than the honey mustard roll.)  The cheddar roll was an abomination, and not at all good, even to people from the land of deep fried cheese.  Overall, it was okay sushi, but not as exciting or good as I’d hoped, and rather more expensive than it was worth.  I’d pay their prices for sushi, but their menu would need to be a lot more interesting and tasty, or their portions would have to be larger.  We walked out hungry, and stopped for slices of Argentinian-style pizza on our way back to the hotel.  That was good.

Our second day was all about dealing with a logistical hiccup that crept up.  Our original plan had us leaving BA on Wednesday on an overnight bus to Bahia Blanca, spending a night in Bahia Blanca (to stretch our legs, not because it’s a particularly interesting place) and then another overnight bus on to Bariloche.  When did the research on bus schedules, there were several options that would work well for that.  Apparently the bus schedules changed for November, though, because it wasn’t possible to do both legs of the trip overnight.  Half the point of doing overnight was so that John’s sabbatical would pay for our transit.  So now we’re doing it in one stretch, which means I need to get us somewhere to stay for two extra nights, and since Argentinian websites never seem to work when I want to spend money on them, I need to by the bus ticket, too.  Snagging an extra night in our BA hotel was super easy.  (I did it in Spanish!  Eventually I’ll have the part where I can make this talking in Spanish thing work integrated into my self-image enough that I’m not smug every time.  Eventually.)

It’s our second day in Buenos Aires.  We have things we need to do.  We have things we want to do.  We’re going to…play with the public transit system!

I am in love with the BA public transit system.  For one, it’s dirt cheap.  AR$1.20 dirt cheap, which is roughly US$.25.  The bus drivers are aggressive speeders.  And the entire system is apparently a hodgepodge of several private companies where they have dozens of routes, an no schedule.  The buses just come.  And come.  And come.  The learning curve for new people is steep, and I am definitely new people, but I am in awe.  The adorable guy manning the hotel desk that day loaned us his transit card to use while we’re in town and it works on all the buses, and the subway.  This city has parrots, cheap steak, and an aggressively active public transit system.  If it were cold and rainy too, you’d never pry me out of here.

There were adventures involved in my learning curve with the bus system, but not particularly interesting ones.  (Failure to get on buses.  Failure to find bus stops.  Failure to be going in the right direction upon getting onto bus)  We acquired our tickets for Bariloche, significantly cheaper ($80 or so) than they would have been on the website, and made our way to our tourist activity for the day, the Jardín Japones, i.e. Japanese garden.  It’s possibel I may have said something to John like, “You originally wanted to go to Japan on your Sabbatical.  So far, it’s like you did, right?”

My favorite part of the garden?  The very un-zen parrots flitting around in the tree tops.  I can’t think of natural element less suited to quiet, orderly peace and relaxation than a flock of parrots, but they were there in force.  It was awesome.  The food in the cafe was pretty good, too.

Then we walked.  A lot.  John didn’t quite believe me about how late dinner starts here until the restaurant I had picked out didn’t even open unitl 8pm.  We ate beef.  And then we took the Subway back to the hotel.

John woke up on day 3 with a sore throat, so I decided that dragging him across large chunks of the city on foot was probably a bad idea.  He wanted to see the ocean, so we went to check out the nature reserve relatively near our hotel.  The handy dandy map they gave us when we arrived din’t show it – it was hiding under a text box showing tourist hotspots – but google maps and the lonely planet guidebook made it look like it was about eight blocks away.  

That wasn’t quite true.  Also, some of those blocks were not quite block sized.  And then once we got there, the nature reserve was rather larger than I expected, meaning we were still over a kilometer away from the ocean.

I rather adore that there’s a marsh close enough to the main stretch of the city to get shots like that one.  Also, that the list of common phrases I was using to brush up had not one, but two ways of talking about sore throats.  It made impromptu trips to the pharmacy thoroughly unadventurous.  (I swore I’d brought drugs for everything.  Left out sore throats, though.)

We did find the ocean.  And then we hung out to spend a quiet afternoon reading, and getting acclimated to the local eating schedule.  Then something bit John and he started to break out in hives.  Apparently I brought drugs for everything except sore throats and allergic reactions.  We cured him with meat, taken internally, with cheese, lettuce, tomato, egg and a bun.

One thing John and I have both noticed and appreciated, the dogs and the children here are extremely well behaved.  There are tons of both everywhere, but we never hear them.  Even a gaggle of school kids on a field trip at the nature reserve basically disappeared because they got so quiet when their teacher started lecturing.  It’s kinda awesome.

If you ever happen to be in BA, eat at this place.  Their on Defensa, several blocks north of San Juan, and they are super tasty.  We ate the dinner for two, and they went ahead and gave us a dessert platter with one of everything when we were sad we couldn’t pick two of the dessert items.  

Today we get on the bus to go to Bariloche.  I’ll switch to using my nice camera instead of my phone camera, which means I might actually manage a picture of wildlife other than cats.

Google+ photo albums of pics from my phone.  Several already in this entry.

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