Friday, April 5, 2013

Day 192 of 1827: Buenos Aires

This trip is going to be an adventure.  I can tell because I don't have enough clothes to get me to the end of it.

First thing after I woke up this morning, I took a shower — a process that took a little under 2 hours.  Apparently, around the time I was deciding to get clean, everybody else in the building had the same idea, and consequently there wasn't enough water pressure to trigger the water heater in my apartment.

Well, actually that's not true.  There was enough water pressure to take a hot shower... so long as I had the cold water turned completely off.

So I would get the water nice and scalding hot, then add some cold water (which caused the water heater to shut off).  I would then get about 30 seconds of comfortably hot water before it turned to ice.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  For about 2 hours.

By the time I got out, I had only an hour to pack and get to my friend's apartment so that we could all go to the airport.

I ran around grabbing clothes to pack... and I came up short.  I only had about a day's worth of clean clothes.  Awesome.

I had some laundry hanging up from last night, but none of it was dry yet.  However, I managed to find another day's worth of clothes that were dry enough that I felt comfortable stuffing them in my backpack.

Well, at least there's a silver lining; with so few clothes to pack, everything fits in my backpack; I won't need to check my duffel.  I'd always been meaning to try traveling with just a carry-on; I guess I'm finally going to get to find out what that's like!

As I was finishing up, my flatmate stuck his head in my doorway and asked if he could check something real quick.  He flipped the light switch, but the overhead light did not come on.  I checked my computer and noticed that it wasn't charging, either.

Cool.  We have no power.  Well, that's too bad; have fun while I'm in Argentina, roomie!

Actually, it turned out to be kind of a big deal for me, too.  No power meant that the elevators weren't working... which meant hiking down 18 flights of stairs (thank goodness I decided not to take my duffel!).

But wait, there's more!  There's no windows in the stairwell, so we had to make the descent in complete darkness!

Fortunately, I carry a flashlight in my backpack in case of just such an emergency.  It was a bit tricky, but my friend and I managed to make it to the bottom without too much trouble.

We exited the building and hopped back on the motorcycle to ride out to my friend's apartment.  It was a little tough to stay balanced this time, as the tail bag kept pushing my backpack into my helmet, forcing me to lean forward a little bit... and probably giving my friend entirely the wrong idea of my intentions!

As we approached my friend's apartment, we saw her mom in the street waving at us and pointing to the next intersection.  That's odd; did they leave without me?

We rode to the end of the block and pulled over.  I checked my phone and saw a text from my friend; she had gotten the time wrong, and we had actually arrived a few minutes late!

And so the race was on!  We started speeding down Francisco Bilbao looking for their car (and probably breaking more than a few traffic laws in the process).  But after about 15 minutes, we were pretty sure that we'd lost them.

We pulled over so I could call them and try to figure out their location, but with all the traffic noise it was difficult to hear them — and we were running out of time; my flight was scheduled to leave in just under 2 hours!

Suddenly, my friend turns to me and says he'll take me to the airport.  Rock on!  Let's go!

Unfortunately, he was relying on me to navigate, so we got lost on our way to the Costanera.  But eventually we found it and got on the highway...

... and ran smack dab into a ton of traffic.

Ohhhhhh come on!  I have to be at the airport in like 15 minutes!

After what felt like an eternity, we got through to open road, and my friend gunned it down the Costanera.  I wasn't exactly checking the speedometer, but I'm pretty sure we were doing something like mach 2.

Riding top speed down the freeway, wearing minimal safety gear, on a motorcycle that had just recently come back from a 10.000 km trip... in retrospect, this is probably one of the most dangerous things I've done over the course of my travels so far.

It was fun!

We pulled up to departures ("embarques"), and I nearly fell off the motorcycle trying to dismount.  I handed my helmet to my friend, exchanged a quick goodbye, and ran inside.

My friends weren't there.  Somehow, despite leaving late, getting lost and being stuck behind traffic, I still managed to arrive at the airport before everyone else in my group.

A few minutes later, my friends showed up, and we headed to the gates.

First, we had to clear passport control.  As always, the Chilean immigration official was courteous and smiley toward the norteamericanos, although curiously she seemed to be a bit less friendly toward my Chilean friends.

I was let through, as was as my friend from the States, but my Chilean friends had to go back and fill out some kind of form before they could leave the country.  Odd.

Well, with immigration out of the way, the next obstacle to overcome was airport security.

I put my jacket and backpack on the conveyer into the x-ray machine — I didn't have to take my laptop or any liquids out, and I got to keep my shoes on.  Then I walked through the metal detector.  And that was it.

Well, that was a lot easier than I thought it would be.  What's for lunch?

Our flight was delayed, so we had a few minutes to grab some Subway before it was time to board (a surprisingly difficult endeavor, as they seemed to be out of almost everything).

I slept through most of the flight, so let's just skip forward a bit to where things get interesting again.

Buenos Aires is huge!  I knew before I left that it was a big city, but I had no idea until I was flying over it just how enormous the place is.  Houses and towers stretched for kilometers and kilometers, as far as the eye could see!

We landed at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery by the beautiful Río de la Plata (an odd name considering the water looked a lot more brown than silver... but then Río de la Marrón just doesn't have the same ring to it).

The plane disembarked a long way from the terminal; we exited the plane directly onto the tarmac, where a bus was waiting to take us to the building.  Curious; I'd never experienced that before.

The Chileans and I cleared immigration easily enough, but the other US citizen in our group ran into a bit of a snag.  I had my reciprocity fee receipt from my trip to Mendoza (and the Chileans didn't have to pay anything), but my friend hadn't paid yet.

At Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, there is no infrastructure to pay the reciprocity fee upon arrival like there is at Aeropuerto Arturo Merino Benítez in Santiago.  If you show up, and you haven't paid, you don't get to enter Argentina.  Period.

Fortunately, my friend's cell phone has international roaming, so he was able to log onto the Argentinian immigration website and pay his fee while waiting at the immigration booth.  Phew!

Once we cleared customs (again, nobody asked me for my customs form... why do I even bother filling it out when I come to Argentina anymore?), we hopped a cab out to our hotel:  Gran Hotel Dora in downtown Buenos Aires.  The ride in was very pretty; we passed a bunch of parks and monuments, and the driver was very friendly about pointing them out.

We checked into our hotel and went to our respective rooms for a little bit to recover from the trip over.

I was quite impressed with my hotel room; compared to the other ones I've stayed at in Argentina, this one was excellent.  It was spacious, clean, comfortable, and the bathroom was not gross.  Massive improvement!

Maybe hotels in Buenos Aires are better... or maybe the fact that I wasn't the one picking the hotel this time — that might have had something to do with it.  I'm going to say... a little of both.

We met up in the lobby this evening and went out to the Microcentro near our hotel.  There are a number of pedestrian streets with tons of shops, restaurants, street vendors... and of course, arbolitos.

There's a particular chain of restaurants around here known as El Palacio de la Papa Frita (literally, "The Palace of the Fried Potato").  With a name like that, I was expecting some kind of fast food joint, but the place was surprisingly upscale — and the food was quite sophisticated.  Even their french fries were fancy — somehow they got them to puff up like little french fry balloons.  They were incredibly tasty and fun to eat!

After dinner, we ran a couple of quick errands (I needed to pick up some toiletries from a nearby farmacia), and then we walked around Calle Florida taking in the sights.

By this point, it was about 9 in the evening (quite early by Argentinian standards), and there were two competing dance groups performing in the street.  On one end of the avenue, tango dancers were showing off their (amazing) talents and taking photos with onlookers.

Tango is a fascinating dance to watch; the footwork is incredibly complex, and the dancers were really getting into it.  The movements were both passionate and precise, yet their faces were serene — these guys really knew their stuff!

The tango dancers packed up early, so we went to the other performance nearby – a group of break dancers showing off their moves!  Some of the things these people were able to do... I could scarcely believe what I was seeing!  The dancers flipped, twisted and suspended their bodies in ways that seemed to defy physics; I can only imagine the amount of practice and physical strength it must have required to pull them off....

The show was capped off by the group's instructor who – decked out to look exactly like Michael Jackson – danced to several of MJ's songs, accompanied by a couple of backup dancers.  I thought the break dancers were good, but this guy was amazing!  He duplicated MJ's dance moves and style perfectly, and he really looked the part!

The show finally ended, and the instructor signed off, announcing when and where their next performance would be (proceeds would go to benefit victims of the recent storms and flooding), and with that, life returned more or less back to normal.

We made our way back to the hotel and turned in for the evening.  The nightlife in Buenos Aires might have been just starting up for the evening, but we were already worn out.  Hopefully a good night's sleep will prepare us for everything we have planned this weekend!

Break dance!
I took a few dozen photographs tonight, but only one came out even halfway decently.
I think an equipment upgrade is in order soon!