Got back last Sunday from our first trip to Argentina and we loved it. Here is the first installment - quite long and only covers day one. Took about 350 pictures while I was there.
Argentina – Buenos Aires Trip – Day 1
Sunday, May 14th.
We arrived at EZE airport in Buenos Aires on a relatively uneventful flight from JFK. It was a direct flight on American Airlines and it took about 10 hours or so. The weather in BA was an unseasonably warm 65 degrees. It was colder in NYC when we left. Baggage claim at EZE was pretty straightforward and all directional signs were in both Spanish and in English (a novel concept yet to be adopted here in the U.S.) After picking up your baggage you have to go through another baggage screening process where you put all your bags again through the x-ray machine. We chose the shortest of the four lines and naturally were stuck behind a couple who were being interrogated by the customs officials for about 15 minutes. By the time we put our bags down; it was about half an hour later. After a cursory look at our luggage, the officials waived us through and said to have a nice day (again, something that US customs and DHS people could add to list).
The next set of doors lead you to a lobby with remise and limousine services and money exchange places. There were no ATMs in sight and we foolishly) changed a hundred US dollars for a paltry 270 Argentinean pesos. (the current exchange rate was $1 USD = $3.07 ARP). We also booked a remise for $68 ARP. As they handed our receipt and told us to follow the chap to the next set of doors, we realized we could have exchanged money at the ATM located near the front gates of the airport and booked a taxi and the taxi stand clearly marked “taxi stand.”
The teenage porter from the remise company put our bags in the car and asked us for a tip. I guess enough foreigners tip him, that he was bold enough to ask for one. I gave him a few coins as I didn’t have any small bills. We hopped in and I used my best broken Spanish to inform the driver of the name of the hotel and the cross streets (to give him the impression, I knew exactly where I was going)
The ride from EZE to Palermo took about 30 minutes or so and the surrounding scenery whizzed by as the driver sped along. When we reached the hotel, I gave the driver a $5 ARP tip (even though I was told by my Argentinean friends that there was no need to tip the taxi drivers.)
The Home Hotel is located in a residential area of Palermo and nothing from the outside distinguishes it except for the glass wall on the front door and the very mod furniture located in the lobby. We were greeted by security guard who opened the door for us and checked in at the front desk. It was only about 11 a.m. so we asked if we could leave our luggage (they said yes) and found out the location of the closest ATM and public phones. The front desk staff at the Home Hotel are very accommodating and spoke English and Spanish. We walked along Honduras and found a gas station and public phones but couldn’t figure out how to use it. From the looks of it, you needed to use a calling card of some kind.
We continued on Honduras crossing a set of railroad tracks (and what looked like the town dump as a lot of homeless people were collaborating and exchanging junk from one back to another) ad few blocks later, wound up on Plaza Cortazar, where it was overrun with hippie types selling everything from beaded jewelry, paintings, rings and anything else you may want. We strolled around for a while but didn’t buy anything. There are many new shops and restaurants around this plaza and we walked around for a while until we came to a supermarket located directly across from a church (San Francisco Javier) . Sunday mass had just let out and people were congregating outside with the priest. A lot of them made a beeline to the small grocery store across the street and we followed them in. I was stopped a few steps into the first aisle and asked to leave my small backpack in one of the lockers at the front. Luckily, we had a one peso coin. I took out our passports and left the bag in the locker.
We walked down every aisle and compared the price of everything with that of in New York City. We wound up buying a huge bottle of water and some cookies called _________ for about 4 pesos and get more change. A little old lady standing in line asked us something in Spanish. It could have been “Sir, this is the 10 items or less line, and you obviously have more than ten items!” or “Is this line moving faster that the other one?” We weren’t sure, and gave her a friendly “No habla espanol”, which she seemed to understand. We picked up our bag from the locker and began our walk back on Honduras to the hotel.
By now, the plaza was hopping with more people. As we walked back over the railroad tracks, we noticed the homeless people had made a god dent in reorganizing the garbage. We were once again greeted by the security guard with a friend smile and checked in at the front desk. By now, we were both ready to take a shower and lie in a comfortable bed. And that’s exactly what we did in room 3 at the Home Hotel. It contained a spacious king sized bed, and a bathroom that was half the size of a studio apartment in Manhattan. Amenities included hair dryer, his and hers bath robes, thick towels, toilet and bidet, huge mirror and sink, an electrical outlet, and of course a huge shower with complimentary shampoo, conditioner and body wash – full sized bottles not the half ounce usually found in hotels.
After a shower and a brief rest we unpacked and got ready to go to San Telmo for the Sunday flea market and antique fair. We asked the front desk to call a taxi for us and a radio taxi showed up in less that five minutes. It took us about 15 minutes to get to the closest street (Independecia and Defensa) to the fair. The cab ride cost about 12 pesos. It was about 3 p.m. and there were still plenty of people perusing the wares. Everything from old maps, antique soda bottles to just plain ol’ crap was available for purchase. About an hour or so later, we left having done a lot of looking but no buying. After looking at our handy amp, we decided that we’d hit Puerto Madero and catch a movie (going back to the hotel mean we would go to sleep and not wake up until the next morning). We walked from the Mercado San Telmo all the way the to the cinema multiplex located at the far end of Puerto Madero.. There were several American films playing and we decided to watch Mission Impossible 3 (praying that it was in English with Spanish subtitles). I gestured and used my broken Spanish to buy two tickets for the 5 o’clock show of MI3 and the teenage cashier rang up our tickets. The matinee rates were over and we paid a whopping 24 pesos for two people (it took us a while to decipher the number and w had to ask her to write it down). Eight US bucks for two people was unbelievably cheap! We considered buying the super combo #3 with the extra large popcorn and 3 gallon tub of Coke but didn’t want to spoil our appetite!
The commercials and previews before the actual feature began lasted about 20 minutes. If this was New York, people would have started throwing things at the screen. But all the local Argentineans just sat back and enjoyed the super combo #3 waiting for Mr. Cruise to make his appearance. There were quite a few young children in the theater now and we wondered if the film was dubbed in Spanish. Surely a 10 year old couldn’t keep up with the Spanish subtitles. Our fears were allayed as the film started and Spanish subtitles appeared. The movie was the usual mix of explosions and displays of Mr. Cruise’s stunt work. Whenever the explosions stopped (the sound system was cranked to 11 and I had to plug my ears) and the dialogue began, I began to nod off. We gave the movie 3 stars and it was definitely worth the 24 pesos!
After the movie was over we tried to catch a taxi back and wound up wandering for a while. We crossed the busy road and eventually wound up at Avenida Independencia where we hailed the Vin Diesel of Argentinean cab drivers. A friendly fellow, he greeted us cheerfully and we showed him our address for the Home Hotel on Honduras. He put the car in gear and sped away. A few minutes later we found ourselves on busy Cordoba street where a bus driver cut him off. Mr. Diesel cursed at him then gave him the finger. Not having exacted his revenge, he started following the bus and pulled up alongside at a red light to give the bus driver several variations of hand gestures (go pleasure yourself vigorously, here is my middle finger do you see it, and another one which I was sure was physically impossible to do). We were praying that the taxi driver didn’t get out of his cab for a physical altercation. After the light turned green (it took forever) he sped and weaved through traffic, bringing us to hotel in record time. Again the fare was about $5 USD.
We were once again greeted at the door by the security guard (who does double duty as the bell hop too I think) and we picked up our key and went back to the room to unwind. By now both of us were hungry and we tried to decide where to go get some dinner. After much deliberation, we settled on ordering room service from the hotel. After dinner, we both slowly fell into a stupor as we watched a multitude of Spanish language channels (not understanding a word, but riveted nonetheless) and fell asleep.
Tomorrow, we had to go find the travel agent who booked our tickets and hotel in El Calafate