Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Buenos, Buenos, Buenos Aires!
We have just returned from a satiating 10 day trip to Argentina where we ate and drank our weight in steak and wine. The trip did not begin auspiciously at all. In fact, it started so badly that I thought for some time that it was a sign that we should not get on that plane to eat and drink and be merry in sunny Argentina.

Our flight was scheduled for 10 pm and I personally thought that we had all the time in the world to make it. It takes on average 45 mins from our apartment in Leblon to the Galeao international airport with a little traffic here and there. Since it was Friday night, I assumed a little heavier traffic. The website for the wonderful TAM airlines told me that boarding begins 2 hefty hours before the flight (?), so we had to be there in time to drop off luggage and clear security and passport control by 8 pm. Which meant we had to leave home by 7 sharp. We got home from work around 5.45 pm, then I had to finish packing, and the Diplomat for some reason made dinner. I kept thinking how much time we have. At 7, I was yelling at both men to put on their shoes. At 7.15pm, I was sweating that the cab wasn’t coming. At 7.22pm, we were finally on our way. 3 minutes later, and we dove into one of the thickest traffics I had ever seen in my life. Pure parking lot. I began to freak out gradually. The driver kept chattering in southern-Brazilian Portuguese to me, which meant I understood one in 25 words, and those were mostly connectors. He continued waving his arms around which I took to be a calming sign. The Diplomat also was going on and on about unimportant matters, ostensibly to keep my mind away from worrying. I just wanted to scream at everyone to start moving. Then the cabbie decided to take some crazy side road, which he claimed will help us move faster to the airport highway. Speechless and frankly, optionless, I agreed. I was following the route on my smartphone and I noticed that what he did was pretty much the equivalent of going from London to Dublin via Reykjavik. Thankfully, when I wasn’t fainting in the back seat, I was noticing through the cross streets that we were moving while the rest of the city was stuck, which was encouraging. At that moment I did not care anymore in which direction it was that we were moving. It was the fact of the motion that mattered mostly.

And then, miracle of miracles – we were on the highway to the airport, which was more or less smooth sailing.  By then it was already solid 8 pm and I kept telling myself that the 8 pm boarding time was excessive and perhaps a mistake. Plus, we were already checked in online so they should know we are coming. I could see the lights of the airport, I could practically smell the diesel fuel. Another 7 minutes according to the GPS and we would be there. Except that we weren’t - a mere one mile from the airport, traffic simply stopped. No one knew why. Taxis had pulled off the road, people were leaving their cars, meandering through the road. I was getting apoplectic. I had been waiting for this vacation for a long time and I was NOT going to miss it. The Diplomat was asking about the flight on the following day – if looks could burn, the man would have been incinerated by the deathly stare I gave him. It was pushing 8.30 pm. We were moving three inches an hour. And then, miracle of miracles, we slowly moved on and finally got deposited in front of the airport doors. I ran madly inside with Son while the Diplomat was unloading the luggage and fought with a smartly-looking printing machine to get the boarding passes. Then yelled at the line to drop your luggage that we were going to miss our plane, and were directed to an open desk, thus cutting the line. We were assured we had time – they were aware of the traffic and so were waiting a bit but we were cutting it very close. Breathing a nice sigh of relief, clutching the boarding passes, we ran for our lives towards the security area where we encountered a line with 4000 people waiting to pass their belongings through the X-ray machines. It was 9.15 by then and so both the Diplomat and I tried to tell some official looking people that we have a flight that we are about to miss. We got scolded for leaving the line. We decided to be patient and pray that all will be fine in the end.  Not that there was much else we could do anyway. Slowly but surely it was our turn, and we finally passed through the security check.
Then off to passport control, which is where we encountered another massive line. The time – 9.30 pm. I think it was at that point that my nerves gave up and I went into full hysterics/giddy mode – I found everything around me funny and went into maniacal laughter for no reason at all. It wasn’t helping that on the board showing departures our flight was alternatively showing as “Last Call” or “Ready to Board!” If you think there was anyone we could have told that we are currently in the process of missing our plane, you are a fool. The only option was to blatantly cut the line and hope not to get clubbed by a mob of irritated passengers. Which we did not, fearing aforementioned clubbing.

At some point, we noticed a tall, uniformed gay, who was calling any last people for a Delta flight (we were on TAM, the Brazilian airline). All he would do was go around an mutter, “delta? Delta? Delta?” I figured it was the line manager and several times eagerly tried to explain to him our predicament. And every time he would quizzically look back at me and say softly, “Delta??” It sounded like a Monthy Python movie, frankly. In the end, 15 mins before the damn flight, I went back to the guy in Delta trance and loudly explained what was going on. And then he responded, “Why are you telling ME this? I work for Delta!” Which made sense, especially given his massive Delta lanyard and his immense dedication to the Delta cause. Still, it proved to be useful, since he simply pointed out that we should get out of the line without paying attention to the rest of the people in it and get through passport control, and then run for the flight. Which we did. When we got to the gate with 5 minutes to departure, calm and happiness reigned. No one seemed to care that we were massively late. We boarded a bus to the plane, which then went in the wrong direction and for some time drove around the runways looking for the plane. Believe it or not, all was fine in the end and we landed in Buenos Aires around 1.30 am.

This is when Chapter 2 of the unnecessarily protracted trip occurred. You see, prior to leaving, we had procured diplomatic courtesy visas from the Argentinean consulate in Rio de Janeiro, which saved us a solid $160*3. The problem with that was that the courtesy visas are simply a stamp in your passport with handwritten info on them. Every time you show up to the border with those, the border officers gawk and stare at them and wonder what to do with them since they have never seen one like it. At 1.30 am, this exercise was not fun. It took 3 officers 20 minutes to figure out how to process us and let us in the lovely land of Argentina.  Finally, by 3 am, we were safely tucked in our beds in the lovely Sheraton Buenos Aires.

Stunning architecture
Friends! Let me tell you about Argentina! It is a wonderful land of beautiful architecture, nice people, fabulous food and unbelievable wine. All at minimal cost as the local peso is steadily devaluing against the dollar. Buenos Aires reminded me of old Europe. Intricate building facades, streetside cafes, eclectic neighborhoods, steak and Malbec. People – how did I live before (re)discovering Malbec? I know, I know, EVERYONE knows about Malbec but let me tell you – that wine has never tasted the way it does in Argentina. We drank a lot of wine during this trip.

The nuisance and Casa Rosada
Since we could not find a babysitter till our last night in Buenos Aires, we took Son with us to dinner everywhere and the honest child would watch a movie during dinner, and then announce he was sleepy and curl up on a chair next to me. I fondly remember doing the same as a child myself – babysitters did not exactly exist as a concept in 1980s Bulgaria. During the day, we would walk for hours exploring the beautiful city, with Son bored to tears and trying to find himself various entertainment along the way. After all, you can keep a child’s interest in ornate architecture only so much – rather, he’d run around the main square around said architecture, chasing the flocks of tame pigeons used to pottering around the hapless tourists. Or, try to block you from taking a picture by being a nuisance.

The Colors of El Caminito
Among the highlights of BA were Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada, or the Presidential Palace from whose balcony Juan Peron, Evita, Maradona and a smorgasbord of presidents have addressed the adoring crowds. The Palace is indeed pink, a color achieved by the intriguing method of mixing lime with ox blood. The second day we decided to visit the colorful La Boca since all online research said it was really pretty, fun and dangerous as it is full of robbers. It was logical then that we would choose to go. It was Sunday, and the streets of BA were filled with street fairs. La Boca, a small neighborhood in the farther south of BA, is a working class area, ostensibly avoided by middle-class porteños (porteño means Buenos-aireans, btw!).  The colorful El Caminito Lane runs through the beginning of La Boca and frankly, there is nothing scary or dangerous about it, especially on a sunny Sunday morning. El Caminito area is famous for its corrugated zinc walls and roofs, all painted in playful and loud blues, reds, yellows, greens, purples, pinks. Naturally, one needs to be smart about visiting La Boca and keep to the main tourist area because yes, just like Copacabana beach after dark, even the friendliest place turns into a heaven for robbers and the like.

From there, we crossed over to San Telmo, a delightful older neighborhood, home to the lively and elegant Plaza Dorrego, filled with cafes, restaurants, musicians, peddlers and everything else. Since it was Sunday, of course there was an antiques and leather fair. 
One of many bands in the San Telmo street fair

Plaza Dorrego and its crowded cafes
As a result, the streets were packed with people, but that still did not make it fill crowded or unpleasant. Even after we almost got pick pocketed. I carry my camera in sort of a special camera backpack, which is very convenient as it does not dangle from my side when I make pictures. I also use it to put my money and other interesting and useful things. In the throngs of San Telmo, hanging there from my back, it must have been an irresistible target. Imagine then my shock when, as we were walking slowly around the neighborhood, enjoying the colors and the noise, I turned back my head to take a look at something and noticed a pleasant-looking older lady with immaculately coiffed white hair and a cute plastic bag in her hand gently trying to unzip my backpack (little did she know that all my cash was in a secret pocket inside to which she wouldn't even know how to get). She immediately withdrew her hand, and, holding a nice elderly gentlemen under the arm, they quickly began devoting an excessive amount of time to what appeared to be a rather revolting collection of pink statues for sale while hastily moving further away from us in a side street. The Diplomat and I began pointed towards them as we wondered what to do, and noticed that they were frantically gesticulating to someone else. Soon, a group of about 5 younger people gathered around them, and all of them beat a hasty retreat in the side streets. So, if you think you are only going to be robbed at a knife or gunpoint by a group of young punks, think again – grandma had it DOWN and could run circles around Fagin and the Artful Dodger.

Undaunted, we continued our stroll in search of the elusive Parrilla de Freddy (parrilla basically means grill as well as a steakhouse), which was supposed to be a hole in the wall grill spot which amazing food. Problem was, I forgot exactly where it was located and had no ways to checking the internet to dig out the location. So, we just aimlessly roamed the streets until we literally passed by the place!
Bar El Federal - nuts and coffee cake on the house
 It was too early for lunch, so we sat down for coffee and wine at the classic Bar El Federal, which has been there since 1864 and still going strong. Slightly tipsy after a massive glass of Malbec, we went back to Freddy’s and consumed huge quantities of choripán (chorizo sausage sandwich), washed down with some home-made Malbec in a jar. It was time to go back to the hotel and sleep it all off.
Freddy himself at the grill
 The next couple of days were spent exploring Palermo and Palermo Soho, drinking more wine and eating our hearts out. Day 5, at the ungodly hour of 7 am, we boarded a plane to magical Mendoza.

Since this is turning into a kilometrical post, I will save Mendoza for my next post.

1 comment:

  1. Hi!!
    I surely enjoy reading your blog! I am looking forward to take the FSOT test sooner that what I imagine.

    I have a couple of questions for you as a mom:
    - How do you see your son growing in this adventure that your husband and you decided to take?
    -How does kids do in school while transferring from post to post?

    And this I am not sure if you might have any information, but Are parents allow to come with you to the different posts??

    I am looking forward to keep reading your blog!