Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina (2008)

I get a lot more vacation days than D does every year, so typically I'll plan one trip a year without him. In 2008, I went on a week-long trip to Argentina with three of my girl friends. We went to Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, and the Peninsula Valdes, to see the Magellanic penguins.

Our flight from San Francisco to Miami was uneventful, but we refused to buy sandwiches at $10 apiece, so we were pretty hungry when we landed. Miami International has really terrible food, and several places were closing already, so we ended up at Manchu Wok eating pseudo-Chinese food.

We got to our gate at around 10:15pm for our 11:20pm flight and discovered it'd already been delayed until 12:45am. To make a long story short, the scheduled departure time went from 12:45pm to 1:00am to 1:45am to 2:30am. We finally took off almost 3.5 hours late, around 2:40am, and were served a dinner of chicken and rice. I slept for over 6 hours and then awoke to find a breakfast of croissants and yogurt.

We arrived in Buenos Aires around noon and bought a $22 ride to town. It took a little over 30 minutes to arrive at our hostel, the V&S Hostel Club, where we checked into a 4-person room ($60 with private bath).

For the rest of the afternoon, we walked around checking out the major tourist areas. First we walked through the Plaza Mayor and Casa Rosada area, then down Florida Street.

It wasn't too crowded because it was a Sunday, but there were still lots of street performers and vendors selling snacks.

Afterwards we walked to San Telmo, where we walked through the weekend antiques market in the Plaza Dorrego, and the shops on Boliver and its adjoining streets.

We stopped at a cafe to get a "snack", and ended up with a giant pile of empanadas and an equally giant slice of flan with dulce de leche.

After that we wandered around near the water for awhile before heading to Siga La Vaca for dinner.

The appetizers there were decent; lots of sliced meats, cheese, olives, spanish omelet, and some interesting salads, but the meat was too well done all around. (We tried beef, chicken, and pork.) I'm guessing we could have asked for rarer cuts if we'd spoken better (or any) Spanish. The sauces were yummy so I ended up slathering my meat in mystery red and green sauces. Dessert was pretty good; I ordered something totally indecipherable on the menu, which ended up being ice cream with raspberry sauce and candied chopped almonds. Despite the overcooked meat, it was a rather large meal, so we walked all the way home in order to try and digest it.

We spent the next two days in the Peninsula Valdes area of Patagonia, but returned to Buenos Aires around noon on the third day. Upon arriving at Jorge Newberry (the domestic airport) we tried to get a "remise" (like a taxi but with preset prices). The cheapest quote was for $7.50 but with a 40 minute wait. Next cheapest was Manuel Tienda at $8, but with a 25 minute wait. We went with a quote for $10 with "no wait" which ended up being 5-10 minutes anyway. Oh well.

The driver Felipe was very gregarious and even managed to have a pretty prolonged conversation with the one member of our group that spoke some Spanish. I only understood the part where he asked what we thought of Argentinean men and whether we had boyfriends.

After we checked back into our hostel, we went sightseeing again. Unfortunately one of my friends was having some serious stomach pain so she stayed home, but the rest of us walked down 9 de Julio towards the obelisk, then to Avenida de Mayo. We stopped at the tourist information booth to inquire about getting to MALBA (a museum in Palermo) and discovered it was a bus ride away, so instead we asked about tango shows, and were directed to Cafe Tortoni. There, we bought four tickets at about $15 per person for that evening's show.

We'd heard a lot about the famous Argentinean "mate" drink before arriving, so when we saw a place called "Mate Bar", we decided we had to stop and try it. The waiter was super nice and brought us an order of mate with cookies even before we ordered.

We added a quartet of "pinchos" which turned out to be beef, chicken with veggies (kind of like fajitas), battered fried thin slices of meat, and chunks of breaded fried mozzerella with marinera sauce. The friendly waiter even instructed us on how to drink the mate; pour hot water, stir with sugar, drink, add more hot water, etc. We paid about $10 for all of our food and drink, and went on our way.

Next up was a visit to the Recoleta district. We walked up Alvear Street admiring the fancy houses, hotels, and shops, and then checked out the park at the end, the Santa Pilar church, and the famous Recoleta Cemetary which houses Evita's tomb. The cemetary was smaller than I'd expected but the tombs were grander. Some were quite modern and the coffins were mostly above ground and visible through glass doors!

We had a mid-afternoon snack at Freddo (ice cream and milkshakes), and then walked up Quintana to the Plaza San Martin, where we saw the English Tower (a gift from the local English community), the Palacio San Martin, the monument, and the square itself, where there were lots of couples (old and young) making out. Hmm.

For some reason, the air was terribly smoggy; much more than on the previous Sunday, when we'd been wandering around San Telmo and the Plaza Mayor. A few days later, we finally figured out why; some farmers had set fires trying to clear land for crops, but the fires (over 300 of them) had gotten out of control and consumed thousands of acres, creating a thick blanket of smoke over the surrounding area, including Buenos Aires and parts of Uruguay. We were extremely lucky that our domestic flights weren't affected; we flew out of Jorge Newberry on April 17th and back on April 19th. On the day between, all incoming domestic flights were all diverted elsewhere. Whew!

On the way home we bought some candies and cookies at a "25 hour" store, to take home as souvenirs. We also stopped by the Galerias Pacifico to admire the nice painted ceilings, and then headed back to the hostel to pick up our sick friend.

Around 7:30pm we arrived at the Tortoni Cafe. The show was surprisingly good! I especially liked one segment which included two guys doing percussion with ropes and drums, and the live music was also better than I'd expected.

That night we spent some time using the free internet at the hostel to chat with some ER doctor friends, to try to remotely diagnose our sick friend. There was an episode that involved me and and of the other girls running out to a pharmacy which was just about to close, and trying to communicate with the cashiers using charades and poor Spanish. Luckily, the security guard (of all people!) spoke a few words of English, so we got what we wanted. Actually they were all really nice to us; I'm guessing it was obvious that we were in dire need of assistance. In the end we felt slightly better it being nothing life-threatening, but still didn't know exactly what was wrong.

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