From Summer to Winter in Nine Hours
Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
53Trip End Oct 17, 2008
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Nine hours, 5015 miles and one pretty rough landing have brought me here to the fog and cool air of wintertime in the southern hemisphere. It's hard for me to believe that not even half a day ago I was melting in the heat and humidity of a typical Atlanta summer afternoon and that the big news of the day was where Tropical Storm Fay was going to hit next. What a difference nine hours in an aluminum tube can make.
I had only wanted to visit places I have never seen but here I am on my first leg of a world tour in a place I have been to three times before. It may have well been my first time though standing there in that airport I didn't even remember. Man, it hadn't been that long so how in the world was all this so new to me? The only thing I remembered from visits past were the nonofficial gypsy cab drivers that try to hustle you into their beat up old cars for a rip off priced ride into town.
Seeing unsuspecting tourists hopping into these nonlicensed taxis made me just shake my head. I don't want to end up completely liberated of all my money and belongings within my first five miles of arriving by getting in one of their cars. $13 one way will get you safely downtown on a Manuel Leon Tienda bus, and though it's pricey, it sure beats getting ripped off by some cab when you aren't on your full game after a 9 hour overnight flight. A pretty comfortable bus got me there after a hectic 45 minute rush hour ride with a few short stops complete with nice skidding sounds. Welcome to Driving 101 Buenos Aires style!!
Watching the scenery change from farms to miles and miles and miles of highrise apartment blocks was the highlight of the drive into town besides being thrown against the seat in front of me everytime traffic stopped. The 14 million people here have to live somewhere and they seem to do it right on top of each other. Picture Eastern European Soviet era apartment houses and you'e got the flavor of the suburbs here. Everything seems like it could use a nice coat of paint and some touch up work to the stucco and concrete that has chipped or fallen off. I never knew there were so many shades of faded gray, white and black that could be found on buildings. In the middle of all this there was actually one pink highrise that added some color to the foggy morning.
The Microcentro, Recoleta, San Telmo, and Retiro are where I spent all of my time in Buenos Aires (or Bs As as those in the know write it. See, now you are in the know about somewhere far away). The whole downtown area has a cosmopolitan vibe to it and life seems to take place on the streets and in the coffee shops that are everywhere. You would almost think you are in Paris or any other big city in Europe. Just imagine really solid 10 story buildings along tree lined boulevards. Well, it is wintertime after all so use your imagination that the trees still have green leaves and that the grey skies are sunny.
Walking around the neighborhoods in and around the Microcentro was a pleasure since I didn't constantly fear getting jacked up like in some of the garden spots I've been to such as San Jose, Costa Rica or Downtown Atlanta. Just maintain some street smarts like in any other big city around the world and off you go no worries. It's very clean, the people are very well dressed, and the ubiquitous American style big city street people and beggars are hidden away. It's like the anti-Atlanta.
No one comes up to you and bothers you either trying to sell you some schlocky souvenir or tries to hustle you into their rug or jewelry shop. It's just a great place to wander around and take in all the architecture and culture. I just have one question though that I don't quite know where to find the answer. Why do parts of this city smell like the lavs on our ATRs? I swear I can't escape some reminder of that plane no matter where I go. The smell just wafts up out of the sewers. Makes a drink of tap water right about now sound great, doesn't it?
The widest street in the world is here, too--Avenida 9 de Julio, and the 9th of July is Argentina's Independence Day. This street is actually more like several batches of fast moving travel lanes separated by grassy medians. They say if a pedestrian is fast, a sprint across it can be had in two lights. I tried to do it in one but it didn't quite work out. The onslaught of 8 lanes of cars with honking, swerving maniacal drivers made me think twice and I had to wait it out on one of the grassy medians along with everyone else. Hey, I tried.
As I was waiting to cross the final lanes of traffic, I watched a taxi cream a guy on a motorcyle. What's crazy is that 5 years ago I saw the same thing happen in just about the same spot here. Motorcyclists obviously need to stay away from me when I am crossing this gigantic and hectic street. The driver seemed to be somewhat ok even though his motorcycle looked a little bit crunched and he couldn't get up. Everyone seemed to just be gawking at him rather than calling 911 or whatever they use. Maybe this is a place too busy to help.
Maybe it's because I don't know much Spanish but the people here really don't seem to be too helpful. I spotted a tiny convenience store and hopped in to get some water and snacks. Balancing too many things in my arms, I got in line and my bottle of water hit the floor. The sound rattled the Chinese man working one of the registers, and he started complaining about it wildly. For good measure he even came out from behind it to pick up my water. I thought how nice, he's going out of his way to assist me now even though he is all spun up.
He wasn't trying to assist me though. He was furious that I had dropped his product on the ground before I paid for it and he shoved a hand basket at me and started pushing everything in my hands down into it. Being so worried about the water, he should have paid careful attention to my chips since he crushed them all. The guy went back up to his register and decided to close it down right as I got to the number one spot to pay at it. He gestured wildly again for me to go wait in the other line. Ooh, punish me you jerk for dropping the water!!
You know what though? I was tired of his BS so I just dropped the whole basket on the ground, gave him a smile, and walked out. If this is typical behavior from storekeepers while shopping I don't know. If I hadn't been dying of thirst, it would have been funny at the time like it is now a few hours later writing about it. I never did get my thirst quenched when I needed it, but it did add some vibrant color to a really grey and misty day.
A few blocks down was an internet store so I decided to go in and check my email. The girl at the desk stared me down from head to toe (twice because I guess she couldn't take it all in the first time), and I asked nicely, "Internet, por favor?" in my best Spanglish possible. With a big roll of her eyes she pointed to the back of the room and just said booth "Numbruh fife." I had made an effort to speak Spanish and she seemed as put out as my Chinese friend did. When I paid she even drummed her fingernails loudly on the countertop as I tried to slowly count out change. The clicking of her pink Lee Press On nails on that cheap formica added such a nice dramatic effect that everyone around us picked up on.
Isn't there a city in the US where they say it's too busy to hate? I think that might be New York. I don't know. I love Buenos Aires but it sure doesn't seem to be the City of Brotherly Love and what little contact I have made with people at stores and snackshops makes me wonder if the city does still find time to hate while being busy. I don't know. I still like it here a lot regardless.
Finally with some food and water in me to fuel me back across the Avenue of Whatever Happened on July 9th, I played Frogger and made my way across it again. I found giant obelisk in the middle of it, too that looks like a smaller Washington Monument knock off, and it was a good place to take a minute's rest from dodging suicidal cars. I read somewhere that it was built in 1936 in less than a month to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the city. So there's your random piece of Bs As info that will win you the grand prize on trivia night.
Since I haven't had much contact with the portenos as they call themselves here other than getting fussed at, I really can't tell you decisively if that's how everyone is or if I just found some of the city's finest. I hope you can get a feel for what it's like down here anyway from what I wrote and the pictures I have added. It's a really neat city, and Argentina is worth a visit. I promise I will try to dig deeper on upcoming stops in more off the beaten path places!!